I beg to move,
That recognising the paramount importance of shipping and shipbuilding in war-time this House regrets the absence of efficiency and foresight in the administration of the Ministry of Shipping, and calls for a speedy expansion in the shipbuilding programme.
There is so much to say in support of this Motion that I shall make only a few preliminary and general observations. The first is this. We are raising this Debate in order to ensure the utmost efficiency of the Mercantile Marine during the war. That is a vital necessity, for otherwise we may be starved into submission. My second observation is this. Our purpose is to secure the maintenance of the Mercantile Marine at the close of the war. That is essential if we are not to be reduced to the standing of a third-rate Power, and if we are to safeguard the standard of living of our people. The third observation I want to make is this. I disclaim any intention of making a personal attack upon the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Shipping. There have been criticisms of the right hon. Gentleman from various quarters. I have not joined in those personal criticisms since the right hon. Gentleman's appointment, and I will tell the House why. If the right hon. Gentleman resigned as a result of this Debate, and the Prime Minister replaced him by someone else from the party opposite, it might make no difference whatever. In shipping we are not primarily concerned with the personnel, although undoubtedly the question of personnel enters into the discussion, but with policy. If the policy is sound, no matter who the Minister may be—although naturally we should always welcome a Minister with drive, force and initiative rather than one who was lethargic and complacent—if we could organise an efficient and effective policy as the basis of the administration of the Ministry of Shipping, we need not worry ourselves unduly about the gentleman at the top.
There may be in the course of this Debate disclosures that may be regarded by some hon. Members as unpalatable. There will be no excessive revelations. We have no intention to afford comfort to the enemy, but, on the other hand, to conceal facts may assist the enemy. Moreover, the party for which I am speaking, within the limits of its decision to support the cause in which the country is engaged, bears a heavy responsibility. If we refuse to disclose the facts in order that remedies may be devised for existing defects, or, if you like, alleged defects, we shall be castigated in the future for having failed to do what was right and proper in the present circumstances. There can be no divergence of opinion as regards the first words of this Motion. We are all agreed about
the paramount importance of shipping and shipbuilding in war-time.
There is unanimity on that score. Furthermore, I think hon. Members will join me in asking for
a speedy expansion in the shipbuilding programme.
There may be divergence of view regarding the words of the Motion which relate to what we regard as
the absence of efficiency and foresight in the administration of the Ministry of Shipping.
Over and above that, there can be no dispute as to the discontent which exists, particularly in shipowning circles, with regard to the administration of the Ministry of Shipping. Shipowning circles are seething with discontent, and, to judge from statements which have been made, certain shipowners are violently indignant with the Ministry, while hardly one of them has had a good word to say of it. If there is any doubt on this subject, I summon to my aid the various shipping periodicals such as the "Journal of Commerce," "Syren and Shipping," "Shipping World" and "Fair Play," all of which, week in and week out, attack the right hon. Gentleman's Department on various grounds. In the current issue of "Syren and Shipping" it is reported that Mr. Leslie Mann, who is Chairman of the North of England Shipowners Association, said, among other things:
After six months of war it is to us, as to the great majority of those engaged in the shipping industry, incredible that the Department of the Government entrusted with the control of the country's most vital services should be allowed to make these costly mistakes.
That indictment has been supported by Sir Philip Haldin, who is President of the Chamber of Shipping this year; by Lord Essendon, who was spoken of as a possible Minister of Shipping before the right hon. Gentleman received his appointment; by Mr. R. S. Dalgliesh, a well-known shipowner, and, last but certainly not least, by Viscount Runciman, who has used very strong language about the conduct of the Ministry. Therefore, I beg of hon. Members not to discount the statements which may be made from this side of the House in the course of the Debate, but to consider the allegations made by those who are primarily concerned in this vital industry. I think the position can be focussed better, if I read the House part of a communication addressed to me by a well-known shipowner. He writes:
The Ministry commenced operations by directing ships to certain markets where the need was greatest, and the shipowners, whilst resenting direction, but realising it was necessary in the national interest, endeavoured to assist the Ministry by pointing out errors of direction and giving helpful advice. This was immediately taken as an effort to defeat direction, and officials of the Ministry made it quite clear over the telephone, in letters, and at personal interviews, that what the Ministry ordered must be carried out without: comment. Ships were ordered about the world just like taxi-cabs regardless of the suitability of the cargo for which they had been sent. Shelter deck steamers, built for the carriage of large cubic cargoes, were sent to such places as Narvik to load ore whilst single-deck ore carriers were sent for large cubic cargoes. Owners still protested, but, in effect, were told to mind their own business and do as they were ordered. Complaints rolled in; the Ministry was having a rough time with owners complaining that their warnings had only been too true; ships were lost, lives were lost, and hundreds of thousands of pounds were being frittered away. Agitation was likely, so the Ministry forestalled it by announcing a general requisition after 1st February.
He goes on to say:
The wholesale requisitioning started and chaos again reigned. Owners were again told they had to do as they were told and further they had to see that it was done, as though they were running the ships themselves. One owner was told in the dead of winter to get his steamer off to Montreal at once. When the clerk at the Ministry was told, in no polite language, that Montreal had been frozen up since December and was likely to be in that condition until some time in May, he replied that he would look into the matter at once.
That is the general tenour of the allegations made. But I do not rest the case which we submit to the House in support of this Motion on statements by ship-
owners alone. Some of us on this side have been at great pains in recent months to gather information, in order to satisfy ourselves that all was well, because, apart from our general concern for the efficiency of the Mercantile Marine, we are particularly concerned about the effect of inefficient administration on the conditions of the seamen. Therefore I wish to present to the House certain examples of misdirection and mismanagement at the Ministry, or, if the right hon. Gentleman prefers it, alleged examples of misdirection andmismanagement at the Ministry. Much depends on the answers which the right hon. Gentleman is to give in the course of this Debate.
Ships were ordered for voyages on the North Atlantic trade which had never been employed on that trade before. There can be no doubt about that. It is common knowledge in the shipping industry. Ships were employed on the North Atlantic trade which had previously been employed on other trades for which they had been specially built. Hon. Members do not require to be reminded that many ships are specially built for particular trades. There are ships built for the timber trade; others for the iron ore trade; others for coal; others for the Pacific trade; others for the Orient trade; others for the North Atlantic trade and, as I am reminded by one of my hon. Friends, there are ships specially built for the Baltic to be employed in carrying timber.
What was the result of employing ships on the North Atlantic trade which had been specially designed for other trades? It was that damage was frequently sustained, and that the vessels had to be laid up for repairs. Ships were ordered to proceed for inward cargoes. The Ministry does not concern itself, in the main, with outward cargoes. It is not concerned with exports as such. It is concerned with inward cargoes for which ships require to be requisitioned, at the request of various Government Departments such as the Ministry of Food. The shipowners endeavoured, as one might expect, to secure outward cargoes. They were unable to obtain outward coal cargoes. However desirable it might be to export coal they were unable to obtain licences. What was the result? Scores of ships have left this country in ballast and the right hon. Gentleman will not deny, and anyone who knows anything about the North Atlantic trade must agree that a ship proceeding in ballast across the Atlantic Ocean, particularly in mid-winter, is a danger to itself and all concerned. The position was that ships were ordered to proceed for inward cargoes and then the orders were countermanded, thus leading to delays. Ships were diverted from one port to another for no apparent reason as a result of which cargoes were delayed.
Ships were ordered to collect inward cargoes, for instance, at several ports at the Plate, some on the coast and some up river, when it would have been much easier to have allowed a vessel to load a cargo, say of grain, at one port. The result is that money and time have been wasted. Any shipowner who trades in the River Plate knows that it is not efficient to send vessels of a particular draught up the river. Difficulties are bound to arise and in any event, from a business standpoint, it is highly desirable that the loading of a particular commodity should take place in one port. There is no special difficulty about this, except in the mind of the official of the Ministry who directed those operations. Ships are being delayed in the Bristol Channel ports for want of coal, both as cargo and for bunkers. I do not wish to say much about the bunkering position because I have a great deal to say about shipping and shipbuilding, but there is discontent at present about the bunkering position. Many delays are due, and have been due all along, to an absence of dry-dock facilities. We have no information about what the Ministry proposed to do in that respect. At present ships are waiting in Cardiff for berths and yet, strangely enough, berths are available in Newport, 12 miles away. That is a very strange position and is the sort of thing which very rarely happened before the Ministry took charge. I could give many illustrations of the delays which have occurred as the result of orders issued by the officials at the Ministry.
I wish to say a few words now about delays due to another cause. I refer to delays which are attributable to the shortage of crews. Here I am bound to say to the right hon. Gentleman, with the utmost kindness, that he is to some extent responsible. He will recall that I ventured to speak to him personally on the subject of the organisation of labour supply a few days after his appointment. I informed him then that it was a question which was bound to arise in an acute form before the war had been many months in progress. Our experience in the last war showed what had resulted from the demand made upon the Mercantile Marine then. Nothing, however, appears to have been done. Very strong representations were made to the right hon. Gentleman by a group of hon. Members on this side who formed what is known as the Shipping Committee, and the right hon. Gentleman promised a close examination of the problem. That was after there had been several months delay.
What happened in the meantime? I do not wish to go too far back, but round about the Christmas season over 60 vessels were laid up for want of crews. For one reason or another, crews were not obtainable. As I say, I do not want to go too far back to give examples, and I take the right hon. Gentleman back only a few days. I have been making careful inquiries into the subject, and this is my information. In the week ending 13th January, 14 ships were held up, the maximum delay being eight days. In the week ending 20th January, 17 ships were held up; in the week ending 27th January, 14; and in the week ending 4th February, 27 ships were held up and the maximum number of days' delay was n. [An Hon. Member: "Ocean-going steamers?"] Cargo carriers. I am not speaking of coastal vessels, though there has been a good deal of delay with regard to them. That rather affects the Admiralty. Is it necessary that this should go on? I should only weary the House by giving figures about which there can be no dispute, but what I have said by no means exhausts the list of delays which have occurred. I am ready to concede that delays have occurred due to causes over which the right hon. Gentleman can exercise no control. For example, ships have had to be mounted with guns and the decks have had to be stiffened. I think the Admiralty are to be blamed in that respect. They were advised months ago of the need for the speedy stiffening of decks in order to mount the guns that were necessary for the protection of the crews, and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty informed me 18 months ago that 2,000 vessels were having their decks stiffened. It is a most unsatisfactory state of affairs.
Apart altogether from shortage of crews, there have been some flagrant examples of misdirection. I will give one illustration. There was a vessel—it is undesirable to give names—which was lost off Land's End 10 or 12 days ago. She was originally part of a convoy. She was diverted to Liverpool for the purpose of unloading. Then, for some unaccountable reason, she was diverted to London to unload. When she reached London only a Third of the cargo was discharged, and she was there for 10 days. Then she was diverted to Manchester and, on the way, was lost. If she was mined there was a grave dereliction of duty as far as the Admiralty is concerned, because she ought to have been demagnetised when in London. Someone is responsible for that disaster. Diversions of that kind appear to be quite unnecessary. The worst part of the story is that she carried a most valuable cargo for one of the Services. I will not say what it was, but the cargo was lost.
I think I have said enough as far as misdirection and maladministration and delays are concerned. I want now to present to the House a short picture, as I see it, of the Ministry. To begin with, no great alacrity was displayed by the Government in creating the Ministry. I believe that is a main cause of the trouble. If the Government had created it when we on this side asked for it many months ago, before the war, plans would have been prepared. For example, rates of hire would have been negotiated and settled, thus reducing discontent in the shipping industry, and, obviously, many other difficulties would have been surmounted. But, for some reason, obstacles were placed in the way of the creation of the Ministry. It has been alleged that the officials were not very happy about it. The Mercantile Marine Department of the Board of Trade thought itself so efficient and competent that, in its judgment, no other organisation was required. However, as a result of strong pressure brought to bear on the then President of the Board of Trade, it was agreed to create it, not because the Government thought it necessary but as a gesture. What happened? The officials who were at the Mercantile Marine Department were dovetailed into the Ministry of Shipping. They were very competent as far as questions of survey, the engagement of crews, food scales and various other matters were concerned, but the administration of a great industry is a very different proposition.
Let us see the picture. The right hon. Gentleman has requisitioned the British Mercantile Marine. There are a few ships yet to come here unrequisitioned but, as soon as they arrive home, they will come within the general scope of the requisitioning scheme. It has been said by some that this is nationalisation of the shipping industry. Of course, it is nothing of the sort. It is a travesty of nationalisation. We on this side have never conceived nationalisation as being the sort of thing in which an industry or a service is taken over by the State and run by the Civil Service. To take over an industry—yes. To buy up the owners or confiscate their property, as the case may be—though we do not lend ourselves to that proposal—and to administer the industry by experts on both sides who understand it—and there are men with expert knowledge on the labour side of industry—that is our conception of nationalisation. This, however, is not nationalisation. I could use a very strong word about it. It is a kind of hybrid organisation—an amphibian organisation. That is perhaps the best description of it. Having requisitioned the vessels, the right hon. Gentleman leaves the management in the hands of the owners, but under the direction of the Ministry. I should have preferred, for purposes of efficiency during the war, to have requisitioned the vessels and fixed reasonable rates of hire on the basis of normal peace-time profit. After all, no objection has been raised in this quarter of the House to peace time profits. The industry should be left in the hands of experts, outside the Ministry, to direct it efficiently and in accordance with the general policy adumbrated by the Government, who should have one or the other but not the combination of both, which has led to the present unsatisfactory position.
I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman when he proposes to conclude the negotiations in respect of requisitioning rates? There has been considerable delay in coming to a decision. Who is to blame? Are the shipowners asking for too much? Is the right hon. Gentleman demanding that they shall accept what they regard as too little? The sooner we get rid of the discontent in the shipping industry, the sooner we shall promote efficiency. You cannot have a discontented industry operating efficiently in war time. I invite the right hon. Gentleman to furnish some information as to the position in respect of requisitioning rates. I invite him, at the same time, to explain why he has entered into agreements with certain neutral countries for the use of their vessels at very favourable rates while he declines to accord the same treatment to British shipowners. I have no doubt there is a very reasonable explanation but we are entitled to know what it is all about.
I understand that certain agreements have been entered into with the Norwegian, Greek and Swedish Governments, and that rates are fixed. I believe the general chartering arrangement, as far as finance is concerned, is 16s. a ton deadweight, and there is provision for meeting the liability of war risk insurance premiums. On the other hand, I am informed that the rates which have been paid to British shipowners up to now are in the region of 4s. 6d. a ton deadweight. It may be that the matter has not been fully negotiated and they will receive about 6s. or 7s. a ton, but there is surely a very great discrepancy between those rates. It has led to this remarkable state of affairs, that Norwegian seamen on certain kinds of ships are earning £30 a month. The effect of that is that British seamen, though they have recently negotiated a wage settlement, are not at all happy working at foreign ports alongside Norwegian seamen who are earning twice as much as they are though all are undergoing equal risks. That calls for an explanation.
We are also entitled to some explanation as regards the profits of the Ministry. The right hon. Gentleman hires out the ships to various Government Departments. He pays the shipowners 4s. 6d. a ton deadweight. There may be an increased rate later. What are the freights charged to the Ministry of Food and the Service departments? Is the right hon. Gentleman making a huge profit and, if he is, what is it proposed to do with it? Is it to be a fund for the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or is it to be used for the purpose of replacing obsolete and lost vessels in the course of the war? If that is the purpose I do not object. If the right hon. Gentleman contemplates the creation of a fund for the purpose of replacement, and holds it in reserve, that may be regarded as an alternative to providing shipowners with high profits to enable them to replace obsolete and lost vessels. But we are entitled to some information on this point.
As regards the shortage of crews, I would venture one or two constructive propositions. A large number of Norwegian seamen are returning to this country from the whaling fleet. There are several thousands of them, and I am informed by representatives of the Norwegians Seamens' Union that at least 1,000 of these men would be available for the British Mercantile Marine, and that many would be prepared to sail for the rates at which British seamen are being paid. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will do all he possibly can to find employment for these men. I am sure he can do it, because if we are to purchase more shipping and build more ships, we shall soon require a very large number of men. There is another point in that connection. I am informed that Norwegian seamen, shipwrecked as a result of enemy action, and brought to British home ports, are regarded as aliens and have to be repatriated at the Norwegian shipowners' expense. Occasionally there are Norwegian ships in this country which the right hon. Gentleman has chartered and which are delayed because of shortage of crew. We have had experience of that recently in several ports. Surely there can be some relaxation of the Aliens Order to enable Norwegian seamen waiting to be repatriated, to be employed on Norwegian vessels, thus preventing delay. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will take notice of this point.
I pass from the Ministry of Shipping and the general administration of the shipping industry to the question of shipbuilding. The first point I wish to make is, that the fact that shipbuilding has been transferred from the Ministry of Shipping to the Admiralty is, in itself, a justification for our Motion. Why was that transfer effected? It could not possibly have been effected because the Ministry of Shipping were undertaking the task of replacement satisfactorily, for, if so, there would have been no need for it. I think that is a fair point to make. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty is not present, although he has sent a very efficient substitute. I want to refer to something the First Lord of the Admiralty said in this House some weeks ago when he informed us that we had 18,000,000 tons of effective shipping.
I think he was speaking in another connection when he used that figure, but on the occasion I heard him he said that we had 18,000,000 tons. Of course, we have nothing of the sort. What are the facts? We began the present war with a Mercantile Marine of 6,722 steamers and motor vessels, totalling 17,891,134 gross tons, compared with 8,578 vessels, totalling 18,892,089 tons at the outbreak of the 1914 war, which represents a deficit of 1,856 ships, totalling more than 1,000,000 tons. But when we are speaking of effective shipping, what do we mean? The right hon. Gentleman included in the list of effective vessels the "Queen Mary," of 80,000 tons, the "Mauretania," the "Empress of Britain," and over and above that a large number of liners and cargo liners which had been converted by the Admiralty into armed merchant ships. The First Lord of the Admiralty spoke of having made several captures from the enemy, but he has also captured many vessels from the British Mercantile Marine Service which obviously cannot be included as effective cargo carriers. Moreover, it is quite wrong to include in the list liners above 15,000 tons with their scant cargo-carrying capacity. In addition the House may be surprised to learn that some vessels, built for the meat trade, and having refrigerating capacity, had their machinery completely gutted before they were converted into armed merchant ships, and, I understand, some difficulty has been experienced in securing refrigeration space for the carriage of meat. That does not seem to indicate efficiency.
In 1914, we had 2,813 ships of 13,000,000 odd tons on which we relied for our carriage of food and raw material. To-day, we have 1,751 of 12,000,000 tons, and on the assumption that we exclude liners beyond 15,000 tons and some between 10,000 and 15,000, our effective tonnage therefore is no more than 10,000,000 tons. I deplore it; but let us face the facts. The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty is a very vigorous and virile person. I am more than ever convinced of that since I had the opportunity of meeting him on a question affecting the Mercantile Marine, particularly in regard to the arming of vessels so that the men who sail them shall be in a position to protect themselves against the enemy. But I am not at all satisfied with all that has been done, although progress has been made. I am not attacking the First Lord of the Admiralty—when we see vigour we work with him, although we do not always agree on policy—but the right hon. Gentleman does indulge in highly coloured passages of oratory which lull the people of this country into a false sense of security. That is not at all satisfactory. The First Lord of the Admiralty presented a balance-sheet to the House the other day of losses and gains and arrived at the conclusion that on balance we had lost in the first six months of war round about 200,000 tons. If the right hon. Gentleman ever decided to give up politics and go in for company promoting, and issued a balance-sheet of that kind, he would find himself in one of His Majesty's institutions.
It is not only the right hon.Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty who is to blame. The Lord Privy Seal, who I am sorry is not here, spoke, in the agricultural and food Debate the other night, of the paucity of losses sustained, and then referred to the "Queen Elizabeth,"despatched to New York. He said that he hoped in the future he might be able to utilise the services of the "Queen Elizabeth"; but anyone who says that—I am saying it more in sorrow than in anger—is not fit to occupy a seat on the Government Front Bench. Everyone knows that the "Queen Elizabeth" was built for North Atlantic trade. The fuel need, in the course of 12 months, is almost as much as would satisfy 50 per cent. of the Navy. It consumes an extraordinary volume of fuel. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty appears to think that that is an exaggeration. Well, let it go, though I will withdraw it, if it is thought better that I should. I would rather understate the case than exaggerate. There can be no question, However, of utilising a vessel like the "Queen Elizabeth." It would have been better still if she had not been built. I would rather have 15 to 20 vessels with cargo-carrying capacity, than a "Queen Elizabeth," even in peace time, and I hope that never again shall we build vessels of this kind—vessels of 30,000 tons perhaps, but if you go beyond that, I think it is a waste of money.
Let us come to the balance sheet. I have had some figures made up relating to the matter, and I want to make a statement in a general form, because perhaps it is not desirable to give actual figures. However, I will give only one. It is a very alarming state of affairs that in the course of the first six months of war we have lost from one cause or another rather more than 750,000 tons of merchant shipping. In addition to that, many vessels that have been damaged are not included in the losses sustained. Many, no doubt, can be repaired in a little while, but many cannot be repaired for weeks or months because of the absence of repairing facilities and dry-dock accommodation. I do not like it at all, but it is better to face up to it so that we can devise some remedy. On the asset side of the balance sheet, presented by the First Lord of the Admiralty, he included the "Queen Elizabeth." That presents a false picture of the position, because she cannot be included as an asset for the purposes we have in view. Therefore to say that all that we have lost on balance is a matter of 200,000 tons is a travesty of the situation which simply will not do.
I do not want to make too much of this, because I prefer to come to the more constructive side of the question. If we are to criticise during the war we have to suggest remedies. But before I do that, I want to say a word about another right hon. Gentleman. I put a Question to the Minister of Labour, whether he could state the latest figures of unemployment in the shipbuilding and engineering industry. His answer was that he was having the figures extracted—this was last Wednesday—and that I would receive them as soon as possible. Of course I had to have them at once, so I telephoned the Department next morning, and I was given them. It only shows how quickly they can act if they like. If I had not asked for the figures the next morning, I should still be waiting for them. Why hold up information like that? It is very silly. Let us consider the answer. At the present time we have in the shipbuilding and repairing industry 16,774 men unemployed, and I am sure that surprises hon. Members. In marine engineering there are 1,643 and in general engineering 20,853— that has nothing to do with constructional engineering, or production of motor vehicles, cycles, or aircraft where there are a great many more. As I understand it, the Admiralty, for the purposes of replacement, require a matter of 20,000 skilled workmen. Here they are. Not the whole 20,000, but if the Government comb out the men in the Services who were formerly employed in the repairing and shipbuilding industry, I am satisfied that the discrepancy could be made up to some 3,000 or 4,000 men.
I will put certain proposals to the Admiralty. To begin with, they should be asked to relinquish as much shipbuilding space as possible for the building of merchant ships. I attach considerable importance to that proposal. One of the results of transferring the building of merchant vessels from the Ministry of Shipping to the Admiralty will be to enable the First Lord of the Admiralty to build naval vessels in excess of his needs in this particular year, having regard to the preponderating power of the British Navy as compared with that of the enemy, and to do it at the expense of replacements in the merchant fleet. I understand that in the majority of shipyard centres, taking it by and large and without giving the details from each district, 70 per cent. of the shipbuilding is on naval account and only 30 per cent. for the Mercantile Marine. There should be a much more suitable allocation, and the needs of the Mercantile Marine must be considered.
The Admiralty should also be asked to release as many skilled men as they can for work on merchant shipping construction. A merchant ship of from 5,000 to 10,000 tons can be built in about four months. The Civil Lord of the Admiralty. said the other day that a vessel of that kind would take seven months. That is wrong. They can be built now in round about four months. Arrangements should be made so that something like mass production could be obtained, although I am not asking for the standard ships such as we had in the last war, for they were of little value. The shipbuilding should be adapted to the capacity of the particular shipyard concerned. Berth space should be utilised to the full. Some berths are being used for building 5,000-ton vessels when 15,000-ton vessels could easily be accommodated. The speed of the new ships is a matter of importance. A convoy can proceed only at the pace of its slowest vessel. A speed of 16 knots is sufficient to get away from a submarine, we are informed, and the Admiralty should aim at building ships of that kind.
As regards the lack of skilled workmen, I understand that there are in Southampton and other places experienced workmen who are normally engaged in luxury shipbuilding. They are highly skilled and could be usefully employed in the shipyards. They should be provided with facilities for transfer and, if necessary, given maintenance grants. The whole question of night lighting requires instant investigation. The Government have so far failed to grasp the situation. At Dundee, which is a large shipbuilding centre, there are glares every night from the shipbuilding yards which could attract enemy aircraft. Some form of protected lighting should be installed so that the men could work during the night if need be. Lastly, I want to direct attention to the position on the East Coast. There has been a suspension of shipping facilities and difficulties about convoying the slower type of vessel, as a result of which there has been disorganisation and dislocation in the coal trade and many miners have been unemployed in consequence.
May I say a word about the tributes paid to the officers and men of the Mercantile Marine? I have listened in the House in recent months to glowing tributes to the men of the Mercantile Marine. I am satisfied that the personnel appreciate all the kindly sentiments that have been expressed, but they cannot help recalling the position at the end of the last war, in which 14,000 merchant seamen lost their lives and many thou- sands were wounded. At the close of that war eloquent tributes were paid to the gallantry and heroism of those men. It is all very fine and`large, but the men, while appreciating all the nice things that`have been said of them, and while anxious to perform their duty and to give service in an unstinted fashion, as they are now doing, are anxious to secure an efficient Mercantile Marine so that they may at the close of the war have the best conditions that the country can afford. If you wish to pay tribute to these men, you should see that they are granted the very best conditions that the industry can give. I venture the opinion that, far from`having exaggerated the position in my speech, I have understated it. There have been no excessive revelations and nothing that I have said would bring comfort to the enemy. There has been some talk of being bombed to death. Those of us who have examined this problem are not afraid of being bombed to death, but we may be starved to death unless we are mighty careful with those matters to which I have referred. To guard against this dreadful possibility, we must have the utmost efficiency and co-operation. I move this Motion, believing that a case has been made out and that we are entitled to come forward and ask for greater efficiency and foresight in the administration of the Ministry and for an acceleration of our shipbuilding programme.
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I appreciate the reference which he made to the fact that there was nothing personal in this Motion. I have been for a long time a Member of this House, and one thing that I count of more importance than almost anything else is that I have friends on every side of it. I appreciate, of course, that it is desirable under our democratic system that opportunity should be taken`at suitable times to review the problems which face this country; and at a time like this it is desirable that the problem of shipping, which is one of the most vital of our problems, should be examined closely from the point of view of efficiency and as to whether everything has been done that ought to be done.
Before I begin with some of the important aspects of the Ministry's work and policy I propose to give a general account of the way in which the work of the Ministry is actually being done. I went to the Ministry of Shipping at a time when it was being re-formed on the basis of the old Shipping Ministry of the last war.
It would not be in accordance with the spirit of those of us who are working at the Ministry if I did not take the earliest opportunity of speaking of the wonderful spirit, to which the hon.`Member has referred, of the members of the Mercantile Marine. I`want to emphasise that this service is a free service; there is no conscription and no kind of compulsion. In a sense, of course, there is none of that kind of glamour which is attached to the Armed Services of the Crown. While it is not a combatant Service, experience has shown that the Mercantile Marine is open to the most violent and if I may use the word, inhuman attacks by the enemy. The penalty of service in the Mercantile Navy and the fishing fleets is a substantial risk of life through these attacks, and I would like to pay testimony to the courage and devotion`of the men serving in them.
The Royal Navy itself owes a large debt to the Merchant Navy and fishing fleet, which have made a substantial contribution to the manning of our Fleet. Several thousand officers and men, apart from the Naval Reserve, are manning naval ships and those on the "Rawalpindi" gave a good example of what they can do and how they can play their part. Even in time of peace the sea has an inevitable number of risks, and the men who sail the seas have to face crises which make calls upontheir strength and courage at very short notice. During a war like this those occasions are multiplied, and it is a matter of pride for anyone holding the office I do to realise how splendidly they are responding to them. We have fine ships and a great body of experience in their management, but all this can be of no avail if we have not the right spirit in the men who man them. I do not want to touch on anything controversial, such, for instance, as the question whether training under sail or steam is the better method, but it is clear that the facts to-day are showing that the experience, skill and efficiency of our people at sea are being maintained.
There are 160,000 men who man this Force, including a valuable contribution by the Empire, particularly by India, which provides the Lascar crews, and the great majority of them come from comparatively humble homes. I need not go into details of the heroism they have displayed. The King has rightly seen fit to recognise some of the outstanding acts of gallantry. As far as I am concerned in the task which lies before me, I shall take every opportunity of keeping these matters in the forefront. The work of the Ministry could not be possible unless on its personal side there was close co-operation and assistance. I assure the House that the representatives, not only of the shipowners and officers, but of the men, come in and out of the Ministry of Shipping and are in close and daily touch with the officers and shipping advisers in the Ministry. I stress that point, because I appreciate that we cannot run the Ministry unless we have that atmosphere of close and informal co-operation.
Reference was made also to the shortage of skilled engineers. These skilled engineers are vitally important, and it is a testimony to the value of the Board of Trade certificates of competency, now issued by the Ministry of Shipping, that holders of these certificates are sought after not only for work at sea but in many other directions. As the facts of the shortage became clear,the Department called representatives of the owners and of the engineer officers into consultation. It was decided that, without prejudicing the safety of the ships, which of course was a vital point, there should be issued what we call temporary permits to enable experienced engineers without certificates to serve during the period of the war. I wish to emphasise that this is purely a war-time measure, and that it is an arrangement made with the complete good will of the representatives of the officers themselves. No doubt somebody like Hitler would have handled this in a very different way, but I emphasise again that the arrangement was settled by discussion round a table and it is working effectively now.
There is one other thing I should like to say about these negotiations. We have in the shipping industry the National Maritime Board, which provides very important negotiating machinery for arriving at agreements regarding conditions at sea. Perhaps the House would like to have some details of the action which the National Maritime Board has taken since the war began. Once more I would emphasise that we are using this machinery without the intervention of the Government in order that we may have the support both of the shipowners and those manning the ships. Since the war began the following arrangements have been made by the National Maritime Board: (1) An increase of £2 per month in the wages of navigating and engineer officers. (2) An increase of £1 per month in the wages of adult ratings in the deck, engine room, and catering departments. (3) An increase of 10s. per month for boys. (4) Payment of war-risk money of £5 per month to officers and ratings, and £2 10s. per month to boys. Those amounts are increased by 50 per cent. if a vessel not constructed as a tanker carries a substantial cargo of petrol in drums or tins, which is an additional risk. (5) An increase in the annual leave of officers in the smaller type of home trade ships. (6) The granting of war-time leave to ratings; one day's leave with pay for every two months' continuous service. (7) The payment of compensation for loss of effects in the case of a loss by marine risk; if the loss is by war risk, the compensation is paid by the Government. (8) The payment of a month's wages to all men whose ships are lost by enemy action, of which the Government pays half. I hope the House will appreciate that, whatever criticism may be made of the Ministry, this list gives an indication of the things which we have been able to accomplish through the machinery which existed before the war began.
In time of war I am anxious to do the best I can, irrespective of the Geneva or any other recommendations. I was asked, further, whether arrangements could be made for the issue of free railway warrants to officers and men proceeding on leave to their homes, and I am glad to be able to announce that I am arranging for this to be done once every six months. Details of the arrangements are still under discussion, but a notice will be issued very soon. As the House knows, in recent years the question of improving the accommodation for crews has been pressed from all sides. For new ships a new minimum standard was set up, and that, of course, is being enforced. We are in touch with the shipbuilding industry to see that it is carried out. The position with regard to existing ships is a little more difficult. Some hundreds of ships, I am glad to say, were altered before the war, but, of course, the extent to which alterations can now be made is very much limited by the necessity of avoiding delay in the turn-round of ships. In so far as we can carry out the work without causing undue delay, every effort is being made to see that it is done.
The provision of life-saving appliances is another side of this problem which the circumstances of the war bring home to us with special emphasis. In peace-time there were regulations as to the number of lifeboats to be carried by a ship, and other safety measures, and all our reports and all the losses suffered under war conditions have shown that within their limitations the provisions made have proved to be really satisfactory. The circumstances of modem war, however, require that additional steps should be taken. Rafts were provided in the past on certain classes of ships, but we have now decided to make it compulsory for rafts to be carried on all ships going to sea in the danger area. That is now a definite order. These rafts carry lights which enable them to be seen by those who have been thrown into the sea and by rescuing vessels. If any of those interested in this problem will come to the Ministry I shall be delighted for them to see some of the modern types of lights which have been invented, some of them by technical officials of the Ministry.
We have also pressed forward with the provision of life-saving waistcoats. Those who have had experience of wearing the ordinary lifebelt at sea know that it interferes in some measure with the wearer's freedom. The waistcoat, which was recently devised, is now being manufactured by some 20 different firms, and is being supplied to the crews of cargo ships and fishing vessels. A large number of defence and safety measures have been adopted and are being applied, and all new ships built to Government account of over 2,000 tons gross must have a properly-fitted motor boat. Smaller ships Going on foreign voyages must either have a motor boat or have an outboard motor fitted to one of the ship's boats.
In some cases it is not suitable to do so. Our business at the moment is to get an adequate supply of materials in order to enable these safety measures to be complied with. On the question of the defence of merchant ships we have, of course, been in very close touch with the Admiralty. Many of the larger ships had been strengthened before the war, but in the face of bombing and machine-gunning attacks smaller vessels, and particularly fishing vessels, have had to be given further protection. I am grateful to the Admiralty for the rapidity with which they have dealt with the matter, and while the ultimate aim is to provide the ships with a high standard of defence we have been able, in the interim, to give these smaller vessels the use temporarily of a smaller gun. In many cases this has already been used most effectively, and I am sure that it has not only given courage to the crews but also the satisfaction of being able to hit at the enemy whenever he came near them.
But the right hon. Gentleman must appreciate that seven weeks ago a deputation waited on the First Lord of the Admiralty and directed his attention to the need for speeding-up the arming of these vessels and promises were made. Those promises apparently have not been fulfilled, because the guns were not available; and not only that, but the type that was installed in some vessels did not prove to be of very much value. We must ask for an acceleration of this programme, because it does have an effect on the desire of the men to go to sea.
I am sorry to interrupt again, but the hon. and gallant Member for Chertsey (Captain Marsden) has raised a new point and we had better have it cleared up. The arming of merchant vessels of all types is of considerable importance. It is not right to ask men to go to sea unless we can give them some measure of protection. It has been suggested that the onus is upon the owner to ask for the arming of a vessel. Is that true?
No doubt the right hon. Gentleman will reply to my question. He knows. Must the men wait until the owner of the vessel has asked for the arming of the vessel? Or does the right hon. Gentleman's Department, in collaboration with the Admiralty, arm the vessels irrespective of the onus of the owners?
I can assure the House that every effort is being made to produce armaments of all types for these ships. Of course, there is the question of supply; these things are not just lying about waiting to be picked up at once. Undoubtedly great advance has been made and there is no suggestion that owners who are not arming will be allowed to stand in the way of arming, so far as I am concerned.
Would the right hon. Gentleman tell the House specifically whether in present conditions the onus is or is not upon the owner? If so, does the right hon. Gentleman expect men to go to sea if the onus is not being discharged on their behalf? Would he welcome a strike to insist on the change?
Not that I know of. Another matter to which I would refer is the problem of additional wireless operators on these ships. Up to the end of February some 600 ships had been provided with a second wireless operator. Steps have been taken in conjunction with the Post Office, to expedite the training of these wireless operators. Before long we may hope to have a greatly increased supply and there will be a sufficient number available to provide two operators in all sea-going ships which the Admiralty consider should be so provided.
I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman again on this matter. I repeat that I am really sorry, but would the right hon. Gentleman say whether his Department contemplates giving a wireless set to the smaller coastwise vessels so that they can at least communicate with the shore themselves as is done by many trawlers to-day? Would he undertake to see that that is done?
Of course, there are certain restrictions on the use of wireless. Experiments are now being made with special wireless methods of communication, and these are being developed as rapidly as possible. I would like to say a word about training. I have mentioned the deficiency of engineers, but in addition to that, special arrangements have been made for the training of unemployed stewards or firemen for service on deck. A number of schools have been set up throughout the country for this purpose. We have five open and about 50 trained men are turned out each week. This scheme should help materially in solving a part of the problem of finding the men necessary to man our ships.
Yes, deck hands. At my request the Dominions Office has been in touch with the Government of Newfoundland, and I hope that it will be possible to get a considerable number of men with sea experience from our oldest colony. Now there is the problem of shipbuilding, to which reference has been made. Before the war—
The question of personnel is very important, and before the right hon. Gentleman leaves it, I would ask whether he is aware that many ships are likely to go into commission and that men will be required? Is he satisfied that he can obtain the men under the present training schemes without calling upon Norwegian seamen who may be available for employment and service in British vessels?
All that I can say is that our training schemes can be readily extended. In regard to what the right hon. Gentleman says about Norwegian seamen, I shall look into the matter, but it is clear that a Norwegian seaman is not a British subject and, unless under special conditions, could not be allowed to remain in this country. On the other hand, I am prepared to see whether Norwegian seamen could be transferred to Norwegian ships that are here and that require extra men.
Certainly. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty will no doubt deal with shipbuilding from the point of view of his Department. Before the war, as the House probably remembers, the Board of Trade had arranged with the Admiralty for the allocation of shipbuilding capacity in the yards of the country for the first year of war. Under actual war conditions that plan has come into operation, and from 1st February responsibility for merchant shipbuilding has been transferred to the Admiralty. That step was taken, as it was in the last war, for the practical purpose that the control and organisation of the shipbuilding industry should be under one direction and that there should be opportunity for flexibility.
The only other point is that the responsibility for indicating the type of ship to be ordered remains with my Department. There is another responsibility which I have to discharge. The House will remember that in March last the President of the Board of Trade announced that loans and grants would be made to assist owners to build new tonnage. As a result of the large quantity of tonnage which, very fortunately, was placed, we are to-day in a very much better position than if that had not been done. The scheme, as was announced in October, has been continued and is now completed. As a result loans for over £4,750,000 have been granted in respect of some 55 vessels. Each application has been carefully examined by a Committee under the Chairmanship of Sir Alan Rae Smith to whom I and my Ministry are very grateful for very valuable assistance as financial adviser.
I cannot say offhand. As regards the other part of the original scheme, providing for grants as distinct from loans, I have given careful consideration to the effect of war conditions on the original plan and I hope very shortly to be able to discuss this matter with the shipowners. The Motion before the House—
Does that conclude all the right hon. Gentleman has to say on the subject of replacement and his arrangements with the shipowners? Is that the end of the story so far as he is concerned? Can he say nothing about the question which I addressed to him as to whether he can provide any plan or guarantee that there will be a reserve fund for the purpose of replacing vessels during and at the close of the war? Or does the right hon. Gentleman propose that ship owners will be able to meet depreciation out of the higher rates in contemplation?
I am proposing to deal with that aspect of the matter. I was explaining the position in regard to shipbuilding assistance. The loans are quite definite, and in regard to the grants, I am about to discuss that matter with the ship owners.
The Motion before the House accused the Ministry of Shipping of lack of foresight. I wonder whether the House realises how much more rapidly steps have been taken in this war than in the last to take full control of our shipping resources? I do not think the House realises exactly what the position as to requisitioning is. Let me try to tell the House. I will re count the steps by which we have proceeded. At the outset it was thought wise by those responsible—I do not differ from that view—to bring shipping under the control by a system of licensing. While the shipping programme of the Ministry of Food and the Ministry of Supply, which together now account for practically the whole of our imports, were being formulated, owners should be left free to choose their trades and submit their charters for subsequent approval. Experience quickly showed that the licensing system did not guarantee the provision of the volume of tonnage necessary for vital programmes running into hundreds of thousands of tons a month and requiring the allocation of ships up to a definite tonnage and for definite dates. What appeared to be a licensing system had rapidly to be transformed to one of drastic direction under which owners had to realise that unless they chartered for particular business their applications for licences would have no chance.
This was not satisfactory from any point of view, and we came to the conclusion that requisitioning would be both fairer and more efficient in the actual circumstances of the case. It would be fairer because the burden of carrying Government cargoes at controlled rates did not fall equally between one owner and another. If hon. Members will look at it from that point of view, I am sure they will realise that this is very important. The first important step was taken when in December I requisitioned the tonnage necessary to import grain across the. Atlantic at the close of the St. Lawrence season. There is, of course, a period during which the St. Lawrence automatically becomes frozen up, and it was essential to get out of the St. Lawrence as much grain as we could before that actually happened Therefore, however much one may dislike doing these things, I came to the conclusion that we had to take these ships.
In January I extended this system to the carriage of all cereals, sugar, oil-seeds and some of the more important mineral cargoes. Everybody will realise that these mineral cargoes are essential for carrying out our armaments. Before long, substantially the whole of our tramp tonnage will be operating under requisitioning, apart from the tonnage in the coastal and short sea trades. Allliners which complete their discharge in this country after 31st January come under the liner requisitioning scheme. There is, however, a difference between the liner scheme and the requisition of a tramp. In the case of a tramp steamer full use is made of the owner's experience and so far as possible, their agents continue to be employed, but the control of the voyage and the allocation of the vessel to a particular import service are under the direct control of the Ministry. The liner scheme is a different one though similar in financial effect. The Government rely upon the organisation and the services of the liners themselves, and they continue to conduct their regular service on our great trade routes to the Dominions and foreign countries as if they were still being run on their own account. The financial results of the liner's voyage will be for Government account, but the booking of cargo and the commercial operation of the ship will remain in the hands of the liner organisations themselves. I have emphasised in my letter of instructions to the lines the importance of doing everything possible to maintain and expand the export trade. The House will realise that it is essential that we should keep the export trade going.
The lines are, of course, subject to my instructions as to the cargo to which they should give priority. They are also subject to any instructions I may give as to the routeing of the ships and their ports of call. Indeed one result of the requisitioning scheme is to make it far easier to reduce unnecessary ports of loading, which might otherwise be maintained in the interests of the goodwill of a particular line, and also to control the number of ports of discharge. The hon. Gentleman made reference to an occasion where a ship came in one port and in going round to a second one was lost. That is the kind of happening which we are trying to avoid, although it cannot be avoided in every case.
Well, quite a considerable proportion of the cargo. It was on its way to unload at Liverpool when this disaster occurred. The loss of the ship was a serious matter, and no one regrets it more than we. It is perfectly clear that one cannot always discharge the whole cargo at one port, because there is the difficulty of internal carriage. One has to take into account the condition of railway traffic and other transport in this country. It is essential in war time that ships should be concentrated on the most essential voyages, regardless of ordinary commercial and competitive conditions and they should carry only the most needed commodities. The licensing sys tem did not require that a ship should perform a particular voyage—
It is very difficult for me to put my point of view when I am continually interrupted. I was saying that it is essential in war-time that ships should be concentrated, regardless of ordinary commercial conditions, and the licensing system did not requite that a ship should engage on a particular voyage; it only ensured that a ship should engage on an approved voyage. Under these conditions it is impossible to plan ahead and ensure the regular execution of large-scale shipping programmes. Moreover, no scheme of controlled rates can show exactly the same profit, and owners would naturally concentrate on those trades which showed the larger profits. The power of direction of the tramp tonnage and the right to require liners to adjust their ports of call, to divert vessels from one trade to another and to bring into the direct trade of the United Kingdom vessels which would normally be engaged far a field are essential measures for the achievement of the imports upon which we and our whole life depend. That is the fundamental reason why we have done what we have done.
Many of these considerations do not apply with equal force to the ships that are engaged in the coasting and short sea trades. At present these vessels are in the main operating under a licensing system. The administration of that system is decentralised for the simple reason that a great many of the local problems can only be dealt with by local bodies. We have nine area committees in various parts of the country but all operating tinder the closest supervision of a special division of the Ministry. Whenever there is any particular problem such as that of bringing coal to any particular part of the country where there may be a shortage that of course is a matter which is immediately dealt with by the Ministry.
It is not by saying "Order!" that you can suppress an important matter of this kind. Is it not true that in connection with this trouble I suggested to the right hon. Gentleman that he should gather together certain vessels which he had at his disposal, convoy them to the North-East coast, fill them up with coal, and convoy them to the South; that the right hon. Gentleman said it was not so simple as I thought, and yet a day or so afterwards he did so? Is that not true?
I cannot argue with the hon. Gentleman on statements of which I have no recollection. When the matter was brought to the Ministry of Shipping all possible steps were taken to deal with it at once. Beyond that I can say nothing. Although many shipowners do not agree with the policy of requisition, it is only right for me to acknowledge the loyalty with which shipowners have co-operated with the Ministry of Shipping and I would like to express my gratification at the willingness of the lines generally to lend their whole-hearted co-operation to my proposals.
There is the question of rates of hire. The extension of requisitioning made it more than ever urgent for the Government to fix the rates of hire for requisitioned ships. It is desirable that the rates should be settled by discussion with the shipowners' representative organisations and so far as is practicable that they should be agreed. This course is specifically provided for by the Compensation (Defence) Act of 1939. It is a matter of regret to me that it has been so long before these rates have been settled. The subject, of course, is a complex one and the House will realise that we have to deal separately with the following classes of ships: First, deep sea liners, cargo and passengers; and, secondly, deep sea tramp ships. We have also to agree rates for the coasting, home trade and near trade liners and the coasting, home trade and intermediate tramp ships; and, finally, for oil tankers. We decided to discuss in the first place the two classes subject to general requisitioning, namely, deep sea liners and deep sea tramps. I can only say that the proposals of the Chamber of Shipping were embodied in a printed document of 75 foolscap pages and were submitted to the Ministry just before Christmas. Meetings began on 9th January. During the course of negotiations representatives of the liner owners have themselves proposed a good many almost fundamental alterations in their proposals and have materially altered the ones first put forward. Frequent meetings have taken place, and I hope that the meetings which have been arranged to take place this week will bring this matter to a close. The owners of requisitioned ships are not being left without payment while these matters are still being negotiated. They are receiving advances of hire in accordance with a definite schedule and these advances are paid monthly.
The rates are being fixed with the object of fairly covering owners' costs and makingprovision for depreciation and a reasonable return on capital. It would not be right to include in the rates provision for meeting losses or for building up reserves, apart from the normal allowances for depreciation, but I do not overlook the fact that in due course the industry may find itself confronted with serious difficulties after the war. I am glad to say that important work has been accomplished in connection with the rates of hire, first in reaching agreement as to charter conditions and next forworking out a scheme for compensation for ships lost by war risk. This scheme is far advanced. With regard to compensation for losses, the principle of the scheme is to allow owners of ships lost by war risks an unconditional payment in cash equal to the amount for which the ship was insured against total loss against war risk in the Mutual Clubs before the war, and, in addition, such further sum as an independent tribunal may have from time to time approved before the time of loss as representing a proper current value for the purposes of the scheme. But this further sum will be held in a trust account, and can be drawn by the owner only when he signs a contract for the replacement of the lost ship. This he will be entitled to do in a period of five to seven years after the war.
Another point with which I would like to deal relates to shipbrokers and chartering agents. I recognise that the Government's decision to requisition British shipping has reduced the volume of business which shipbrokers and chartering agents would otherwise enjoy. It has to be remembered that such business as continues to be done is done upon a high level of freights with correspondingly larger commissions. I appreciate the great value to the nation of the Baltic Exchange, and I have received with sympathy representations made to me on behalf of shipbrokers generally. What I am unable to agree is that when a British ship is requisitioned, and is allocated to one of the supply Departments for bringing home a cargo purchased on their account, there is any justification for the payment of the ordinary commission which would arise out of the ordinary relation between the shipowners and the chartered in the open market. There is no longer any question of finding a ship and arranging a rate of freight. I, therefore, fail to see with what justification the brokers should be paid for acting as an intermediary between myself and my right hon. Friends the Minister of Food and the Minister of Supply.
At the same time, I am anxious to find some means to co-operate with the Baltic Exchange, and to provide some fund out of which payments may be made to individuals or firms who are hard hit by the policy of requisition necessitated by war conditions. I have therefore made two proposals. First, I told the Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers that I would support their desire to institute a pool of the commissions of 1 per cent., normally payable on outward fixtures of time-chartered neutral vessels directly managed by the Ministry of Shipping, so that the Institute may have a small fund at its disposal for meeting cases of exceptional hardship. They will appoint a Rota of Brokers for the transaction of this`business which might otherwise go to firms in no particular need of support. Secondly, I have intimated to the chairman of the Baltic Exchange that, as part of the arrangement for co-operation between the Ministry of Shipping Chartering Office and the Exchange, I shall be prepared to set aside 1 per cent. out of the commissions payable to the charterers upon all charters of neutral tonnage effected by the Chartering Office and to pay that amount into a pool to be distributed amongst shipbrokers and chartering agents whose business has been seriously reduced. The arrangement is subject to certain conditions among which I should mention that it would be reviewable when the fund reached an amount of £30,000. I regret that these proposals have not yet been accepted, but I trust that, upon consideration, those concerned will recognise this as being an honest endeavour to meet the situation.
The House, I am sure, will not expect me to pay commissions for services not rendered or to depart from the general policy laid down. The hon. Gentleman made reference to imports in neutral ships. I have said, of course, that a considerable proportion of our imports are brought in normally in neutral ships. Under war conditions our need for neutral cargo vessels and tankers remains. We have made arrangements with a number of neutral owners, and are assured, I think, of satisfactory assistance. His Majesty's Government are satisfied that the agreements which have been made for that purpose are to the`mutual advantage of both sides. The rates payable to neutral shipping are higher than those paid to our own shipping. That is inevitable. In chartering neutrals we are competing in an international market. We cannot just settle the matter as though they were within our own fold. We cannot obtain shipping unless we are prepared to pay rates which are related to the rates payable in the world market. We can prevent rates of freight for British ships from rising above a reasonable level, but we cannot do this for foreign shipping.
Was it necessary at the same time to give an option to the neutral shipowners to have their vessels replaced by vessels provided by us? That has not been done for the British shipowners.
That is only a question of building ships in this country when the war is over rather than seeing them built elsewhere. We must realise, of course, that some of these freights from different parts of the world have increased by 600 per cent. That will give the House some idea of the position. I much regret that I cannot give the Housedetails of the arrangements that have been made with neutral shipowners. Such arrangements are confidential, and it would be against the public interest to state the terms. I am prepared, however, to show the terms to the Select Committee on Expenditure, which is the proper body for that purpose. I should like to add that I appreciate very much the loyalty of the shipping Press of`this country for the way in which they have refrained from making these matters public.
I turn to the question of shipping policy after the war. Anyone who has read the history of our country must realise that it is essential for us to have a reliable, efficient, and well-run Mercantile Marine. We hope to re-establish, when the war is finished, the circumstances in which trade and commerce can flourish. But first, we have to win the war. No one can forecast what conditions will be when the war is finished. No one can say with certainty that any promises that any Government made to-day could, in fact, be carried out. But I am sure that we shall require a comprehensive building programme, and a rebuilding of the Mercantile Marine. Our merchant fleet must be able, both in numbers, and efficiency, to take their proper place. If it had not been for this war the Government would have asked Parliament to help in material fashion with finance. For myself, I believe that we are on the point of a settlement with the shipping industry which will provide at least reasonable security under existing conditions; and, since nobody can foresee what the actual conditions after the war will be, we must face the problems of that time when they arise. In those circumstances, I hope that the co-operation which I have secured from the shipping industry and the friendly meetings that I have had with representatives of every class of the shipping industry will be continued, and that they will realise that not only the Ministry of Shipping, but His Majesty's Government, are determined to do everything in their power to see them through.
I should like to associate myself with the words of admiration and gratitude which the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Gentleman above the Gangway used with reference to the officers and men of the Mercantile Marine. As the right hon. Gentleman said, this is a non-combatant service, and a voluntary service. In spite of that, its members have been called upon to undergo attacks which are callous and cruel, and which are as cowardly as they are calculated. I do not think that the experiences of those who are called upon to navigate ships in the black-out of the sea can be understood by anyone who has not experienced them. This House and the country will not tolerate any delay in giving essential defenses to those ships, whether large or small; nor will they be willing to think that the crews are suffering discomforts which can be overcome. The right hon. Gentleman said that his was one of the most vital of the Departments. In my opinion, he did not pitch it too strongly; he might have said it was the most vital. There are some Departments, and some Ministries which could disappear, and we might still survive. But if that great service over which the right hon. Gentleman presides were to disappear, the war would be lost, and there would be no future for us when the war was over. In some industries there is a difference between our peace aims and our war aims, and we find ourselves called upon, in the insanity of war, to do many things which are normally repugnant to us. But in this service the objects of war and the objects of peace are the same: to maintain an efficient Mercantile Marine and to see that it survives.
The House has listened with great interest to the long and comprehensive survey which the right hon. Gentleman gave, but I must confess that he made very little contact with the Motion on the Paper—I will not say that he treated it with entire contempt. The hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell), in his opening sentences, mentioned two objects. One was the preservation of the efficiency of the Mercantile Marine, and the other was the maintenance of its existence. I should like to come, straight away, to the decision which the right hon. Gentleman has taken for preserving the Mercantile Marine. As I understand, he does not propose to make provision now for the ultimate replacement of the fleets. It seems to me that that is a very grave decision. One way to make certain of losing the peace is to keep on saying that post-war difficulties must be dealt with when they arise. The provision for replacement of the Mercantile Marine is an integral proportion of the freight charge which has to be made at the present time. I heard with satisfaction that the arrangements and discussions between the right hon. Gentleman's Department and the owners of ships of various kinds are proceeding on a friendly and satisfactory basis, but nothing can be satisfactory which does not provide, as we go along, for a complete replacement of the Mercantile Marine. Obviously, it is a task of very great difficulty.
There are many different types of ships. Their original value varies greatly, and nobody knows what their value may be when the war comes to an end. It could be dealt with by making a flat rate of remuneration to owners on such terms and conditions as would enable them to make their own provisions. If I understood the right hon. Gentleman aright, he proposes to have a rate of remuneration to which there should be added something— the extent and effect of which I did not gather— which should be placed in a trust fund to be held until after the war and then disposed of to shipowners in proportion to the amount that they had paid into the fund. We shall a wait with great interest and view with considerable scrutiny the proposal when it is put forward by the Government. I hope that it will be on such terms and conditions, that due regard having been paid to the incidence of taxation, the Mercantile Marine shall be enabled to continue its traditions and business after the war, as it has done in the past. That is an essential condition which ought to be made quite clear at the present time.
The right hon. Gentleman said that the owners of the various vessels accepted directions from him in regard to the conveyance of cargo and freight, but he did not deal with the criticism by the hon. Member for Seaham with regard to the ships which were going out in ballast. The hon. Member for Seaham made a statement which amazed me. He said that the Ministry were not interested in, or concerned with, the outward cargo. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman would accept that statement or whether he would not, but, if he is not responsible, then he ought to accept responsibility as soon as possible. The hon. Member said that a ship in convoy which is in ballast is a menace to everybody concerned, but I cannot think that it is impossible, with a little forethought, for ships that are going in ballast to Australia, New Zealand, or Canada, to find 1,000 tons of cargo of some kind. If there is that close co-operation between ourselves and the French, and if there are not 1,000 tons of cargo lying in English ports that could be put on board these ships, inquiry should be made of the French authorities to see whether it is possible for them to export something which is more valuable than ballast.
I will answer the hon. Member later, but I would not like the Debate to go on for a considerable number of hours under a misapprehension. It is not the case that ships are sent out in ballast when suitable cargoes are available. It is a matter with which we are very much concerned, and we intend to get cargoes for as many as possible. I will give a fuller answer later.
I am glad to hear that it is, at all events, receiving attention, as the matter is very urgent. The Parliamentary Secretary will have full sympathy with me, I know, when I say that what we really want is the reverse of what some of us were asking 12months ago. At that time we were urging the Government to utilise reserves of shipping by bringing into this country any material that would be useful to the country during a war, but to-day we want to reverse that. It is a lamentable thing that ships should leave these shores without a cargo. Seeing that our exchange arrangements are very largely under the same hat, we ought at least to see, if there is nothing available in this country, whether we could not sound the French authorities as to whether theycould supply something. The Government, in a case of this kind, should act on their own responsibility and take the risk. It is better that we should take out goods to where they can be used than that ships should go out in ballast. I believe that, irregular though such an action might be in peace-time, it would receive the support of the country.
I cannot feel that our position at the moment is satisfactory with regard to the shipbuilding programme. The hon. Member for Seaham put direct questions on that point, and I venture to associate myself with them. I am not clear, although I listened as attentively as I could to the right hon. Gentleman, what the position really is. There is only one possible and satisfactory answer to the question with regard to our shipbuilding programme, and only one that would satisfy this House, and that is, that we are already utilising to the uttermost every berth, all the material which is available, and all the men who are available. That is the only possible satisfactory answer to that question. The next best thing is to See that every plan is made, and that we are rapidly working up to the position in which every available resource will be utilised.
There are many questions which one would like to ask in this connection, but one hesitates to do so. Speculations have come into our mind this afternoon about which I should like to know, though I do not press for an answer. We know now that the shipbuilding programme is being co-ordinated between the Admiralty and the Department of the right hon. Gentleman, but in the minds of some of us there is a doubt whether the economic advantage lies between the building of capital ships and the building of merchant ships. That is a matter which constantly ought to be in the minds of those who are responsible at the present time. Have steps been taken for the laying down and continuous building of ships of a standard type? When we remember the extraordinary development of shipping in the United States of America in the last war, when between 1914, when 157,000 tons gross shipping were put into the water, and 1919 the amount had sprung up to something like 3,500,000 tons of shipping, we can realise that there are very great possibilities. I do not know what possibilities there may be on those lines in this country.
When the hon. Member for Seaham was accusing the right hon. Gentleman of lack of foresight in regard to shipbuilding and trade, I think he was barking up the wrong tree. I think that the target of his criticism ought rather to be the Ministry of Labour. One heard with satisfaction what the right hon. Gentleman said about the training of men in some of the subsidiary occupations so that they might become deck hands and able seamen, but the whole question of shipbuilding in this country is a question of man-power and nothing else. The hon. Member for Seaham mentioned that some 16,000 men had been reported as unemployed in the shipbuilding industry, and I would like to see a detailed analysis of those men. If there is any man who has any claim to skill in shipbuilding, he would be very welcome on Merseyside, as there is no unemployment there of skilled men, and we could do with any men who might be sent along. I cannot see at the moment how we are to increase our potential manpower for shipbuilding unless there is a different scale for training and preparation than we have seen up to the present time.
If the right hon. Gentleman has not already done so, I suggest that he should call for a review of that position, in consultation with his right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour. I know of only one form of shipyard labour in which there is any substantial unemployment at the present time. In some ports a great many ships painters are out of work. I do not think that they ought to be. A little attention given to that problem would find ways in which they could be employed. In these days neither unions nor anybody else will stand in the way of any man doing work which would carry out the programme of the hon. Member for Seaham, who wishes to see a complete revival of the Mercantile Marine. The hon. Gentleman has told us that he believes that all concerned are friendly, and I am sure that he is right. I would expect nothing else. We call for the immediate consideration of these problems so that able-bodied men connected with shipbuilding shall be utilised in any capacity in carrying on this work.
Again I do not ask for an answer, if the question ought not to be put, but I would like to know whether anything could be said about the shipbuilding facilities in Canada, and whether we are making any attempt to utilise them in any way at the present time. We are well aware that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister has control over priorities and things of that kind with regard to the wood that is brought into the country, and I should like to mention a matter that is exercising the minds of some people, namely, the relative value of the imports of steel and timber of various kinds. Many people, I understand, believe that steel is a more valuable material to be imported, is more economical and has a longer life than the timber which is used at the present time. That is a matter which calls for consideration.
I hope that we shall hear before long of the settlement of the questions which are outstanding with regard to the terms for the use of the ships. There should be a fair rate for the use of the ships, which should include in some way an assurance that the owners should have replaced not merely war losses but losses due to obsolescence. That is the real question with which we are faced at the present time, and I sincerely hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able before long to announce that he has reached a satisfactory conclusion in these matters. I want to quarrel with the Minister in a mild way. I wish he would not, as so many of his colleagues do, make comparisons between the present war and the war of 1914–18. It is not the same war and nothing like it, and it would be a salutary thing for all of us in public life in this country never to make reference to that war, except where the comparison was disadvantageous to us at present. To say, as compared with the last war, that things are so much better, leads to a complacency which should be no part of our mental make-up at the present time.
In considering the: Motion which is now before the House, I think we must be surprised at the small proportion of the attack which has been laid against actual matters of efficiency and foresight. We have not had a suggestion that in the organisation of its approach to the problem, the Ministry has fallen short of our expectations, but we have had divergencies into questions of policy and principle, which are always legitimate subjects for political disagreement. I would like to pursue one point which was raised by the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) and the hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White) and on which I am sure the House would be glad to have some further information. The point concerns the principles which are behind the carrying out of the policy of requisitioning adumbrated by the right hon. Gentleman to-day. It seems that, despite the wanting which the hon. Member for East Birkenhead has given, it is necessary to consider the lessons we learned from the policy of requisitioning and its application during the last war.
I do not think that the Parliamentary Secretary will quarrel with the statement that one of the greatest disadvantages of that policy was that the effect was to concentrate our shipping on imports and on the shortest sea routes, to take away our shipping from trade with a great number of export markets and, in that way, to do harm to the industry and leave it in a much less efficient state to deal with post-war problems. It had a further effect as my hon. Friend is well aware. The effect on prices which was caused by the rise in the cost of shipping services was small—not infinitesimal, but inconsiderable, compared with the effect of other factors. But one factor which, I suggest, did operate in raising prices during the last war, was the concentration of shipping on the shorter routes, and the limitation of markets which that involved. As a result there was, of necessity, a rise in prices which could have been mitigated to some extent if shipping had been kept on the routes and in touch with the markets which were possible by proper direction. Therefore, in this war, when we realise that the Minister, by control of shipping, can not only limit but, even, destroy our export trade in many parts, we want a stronger reassurance than we have had that the needs of our export trade will control the operation of the requisitioned ships and that we shall not have, as occurred so often in the last war, a surrender to the service Departments of immediate import needs at the expense of the export trade.
I think that a consideration of the drop in our trade and the rise in prices makes it imperative that this consideration should receive the most weighty attention and that the principles governing it should be made clear to this House. I intended to develop a little more fully the position of the shipping brokers and charter agents which my right hon. Friend dealt with in the course of his speech but, in view of the proposals which he has put forward, it would, obviously, be better to leave further consideration of that matter until we have had time to digest them and realise their full import. We do not want inside information, or figures in connection with the negotiations which are going on about the rates, but I think we ought to have the principles made clear to us, if it is possible to do so. We must realise that, at the present time, it is not merely a question of covering expenses and depreciation and having a reasonable return for capital employed. In the present peculiar circumstances we have to commit ourselves, and the House ought to ask for the creation of a reserve which will be a definite, militant factor in preserving the position of the Mercantile Marine when the war is over.
I will not go into the figures of the past, which are common knowledge, but I would like the House to realise, and the Parliamentary Secretary to assure us that he realises, what has been the effect of the rates of freight obtaining for neutrals and the controlled rate in regard to British shipping. May I take one simple example on which I am open to correction if my premises are unsound or my arithmetic faulty? My hon. Friend knows that recently in the River Plate trade the average tonnage of the vessels has been 6,500 dead weight. The average rate has been 28 dollars, and the time which it takes to make a voyage there and back is, in the ordinary way, 86 days. That is the period for neutral ships which are not under convoy and have not, therefore, the delays to which our ships are subject. They can count on making four voyages to the Plate in one year, or gross earnings of £145,600. Against that, British ships at the controlled rate, with the delay occasioned by the necessary convoy system, are able to do three and one-third voyages a year and to make £46,000. The comparison, therefore, shows that the neutral shipowner is making an additional sum of £100,000.
Will my hon. Friend make his charge a little more specific? It is common ground, of course, that we pay a great deal more to neutral tonnage bringing maize from the Plate than to British ships doing similar work. Is his charge that we could have got neutral tonnage cheaper or, if we could not, that we should have left the maize there or, does he say that we should pay the same amount to British shipowners, even though that would have been much more than sufficient to give reasonable remuneration? What exactly is the mistake he thinks we made?
I will endeavour as far as I can to enter into the somewhat strict range of categories which my hon. Friend has allowed me. I think the third of his suggestions is nearest to the point of my argument but it is not the whole of my argument. What I say is this: If under the conditions which obtain a neutral shipowner is making £100,000 more on the operation of a ship than the British owner, then the Government must provide a fund which will either pay a greater rate—not necessarily the whole—than is being paid, or provide shipowners with a reserve which will enable them to compete with neutral shipowners whose reserves are being so largely augmented. Let me take the case of a 6,500 ton ship such as is being employed in the Plate trade. As my hon. Friend knows, even with the raised prices that obtained just before the war, the cost was about £93,000. The difference, apart from the amount that is supposed to allow a British shipowner to provide expenses, depreciation and return on capital, is enough to let the neutral shipowner buy another ship. My hon. Friend knows that the value of a ship plying in the Plate trade is about £30,000. To look at the problem from another aspect, the neutral shipowner is making an annual profit of three times the value of his ship. I do not mind exactly how my hon. Friend ties me down to criticism, but I do suggest that from whatever angle it is regarded, it cries out for a remedy, and the remedy is to enable British ship owners to provide reserves which will allow them to compete with most favourably placed neutrals after the war. What we want—and the House generally will agree on this with the hon. Member for Seaham—is some clear indication of how the question of competition is to be dealt with when we face the problems which will exist during the war and after the war, but which have to be dealt with at the present time.
There is one other aspect of the same problem which I will not develop but which I must indicate. Owing to the particular difficulties which the shipping industry is undergoing, the very rapid changes from year to year in its outlook, and in the profits that are made, it is clear that the standard basis of the Excess Profits Tax will have the effect, in many cases, of imposing a 75 per cent. general tax on all profits that are obtained. While I agree that the Government have the support of Members in every quarter of the House in securing that too great a profit shall not be made by any industry in the country, it is a matter for consideration whether an industry, which has to provide not only for the special losses caused by the attacks of the enemy but for the intensified competition which is bound to come when the war finishes, should not have some consideration as to its treatment in the way of taxation.
Another point I should like to develop is the form which the new proposals are to take. Are the ships which are to be built to have their nature determined by the immediate needs of the Admiralty, or by the general economic problem which will face this country and its traders, not only during the war but afterwards? The shipping community have always said that they would be able, themselves, to deal with that problem as quickly as a Government Department. One is always prepared to accept a responsible opinion from the Government on a matter of that sort, but we should like to know what is the policy and what are the factors which determine the type of ships to be built, and the time that is to be spent on building them? On the general point, I should like to say that although requisitioning was not a popular move, it is a policy which the shipowning industry will, I am sure, do its utmost to make a success. But it must be remembered—indeed it is apparent—that requisitioning is only a matter of requisitioning the ships. You cannot compel people to work the system unless you can show them that their work, their energy and their initiative are to be used in channels which are valuable and which will lead to success.
I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary not in any spirit of criticism of requisitioning—because I am accepting it and am merely endeavouring to indicate the difficulties which confront those who have to work it—to consider first the question of how he is to see that our export trade is given its full weight and position in determining the employment of ships and, secondly, whether he accepts the principle that payments for the use of the Mercantile Marine to-day will cover not only the ordinary factors but will make provision for the economic struggle which is bound to follow the war? If he can satisfy not merely the shipowners but people in places like Liverpool, which is deeply concerned in maritime matters and cares deeply for the things of the sea, on those two points, then, I think, that the policy, despite the criticisms which have been levelled against it, will be accepted, worked, and made a success. I would ask him to let out the light which we all know he has inside him on these economic matters, and to make them clear to those who have to put them into actual practice during the war.
I do not propose to follow the hon. and learned Member who has made such an interesting speech, but there was one point on which I did not find myself in entire agreement with him. He thought that we were debating this question from a partisan standpoint. He said that it was only the question of political disagreement. If that is his view, I do not share it. We have placed this Motion on the Order Paper because we are fundamentally dissatisfied with what we believe to be a lack of drive in the Ministry of Shipping. We believe that there has been unnecessary delay in the development of the most vital industry in the country. My hon. Friend the Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) called attention to the fact that a ship which had made a long journey to this country with a cargo, was lost in the course of being transferred from one port to another. That sort of thing occurred in the last war, and we thought that the experiences of the last war and the lessons we had learned, would have prevented any likelihood of such a thing happening again. The gravamen of the case we bring against the Government, quite as much as against the Ministry of Shipping, is that the warnings which have been addressed to the Government during the past two years from all sides of the House have been unheeded. No attention has been paid to them. There has been a failure to realise the gravity of the present shipping problem, and we believe there has been a failure to prepare against the eventualities which a long war will produce.
We cannot see, and I am afraid I did not see it in the speech of the Minister of Shipping, that there has been that vigorous prosecution of building replacement programme which is essential if we are not to find an adverse balance of tonnage year after year. I submit that because of these things there has been a progressive loss of confidence, not only among hon. Members but among ship owners and seamen and all those who have any intimate knowledge of the industry. Warnings have been directed to the Government in the past from all sides of the House. Almost two years ago, every Member who took part in the Debate on 15th June, 1938, said that the situation which then existed was causing considerable anxiety. The hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White) said:
It is clear that we may have to rely in time of emergency increasingly upon our own resources and our own shipping, and that we may find ourselves in real difficulties."—[Official Report, 15th June, 1938; col. 234, Vol. 337.]
Anyone who reads the report of that Debate will find that speaker after speaker expressed doubt as to whether the situation, as it was then, provided a sufficient margin of safety and whether the shipbuilding resources we had then would be adequate to meet the situation likely to arise. I find that hon. Members who are shipowners and who have unrivalled knowledge on the matter were in agreement with the warnings uttered by hon. Members on this side of the House, and a remarkable thing about that Debate is that I cannot find any single speaker disagreeing with the warnings which were directed to the Government to the situation which was then arising. What was the Government's attitude to this very important matter? On 9th February, 1938, the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence said:
Ton for ton and ship for ship substantially we are in as good a position as we were in 1914."—[Officai. Report, 9th February, 1938; col. 1123, Vol. 331.]
That was the attitude of the Government expressed by one of its Ministers, but I do not think anyone who had any knowledge of the situation agreed with the Minister. His statement was attacked by Sir Archibald Hurd in the "Shipping World." On 8th July, 1938, attention was again called to the very serious situation which existed and the statement of the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence was again attacked. The Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence stated that we possessed 20,000,000 tons of cargo space. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), who made a brilliant analysis of the situation, showed that after the exclusion of tanker tonnage and the Dominion and Colonial tonnage, which is needed for local services, the actual tonnage we had was 15,000,000. The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) said that the Mercantile Marine possessed 2,000 fewer ships than in 1914. Apart from those figures, during recent years we have been building very large ships. This matter was referred to this afternoon by my hon. Friend the Member for Seaham and the hon. Member for East
Birkenhead (Mr. White). If ships of the "Queen Mary" type are taken into account in the total tonnage figures, it leads to a swollen cargo tonnage and does not give a fair indication of the position. General tramp shipping is the most vital part of our shipping, and to forget that is to imperil our existence.
I should like to know what has been done to improve the situation since those grave warnings were uttered nearly two years ago. What was done between that time and the commencement of hostilities? What has been done during the last six months? I do not anticipate that I shall receive an answer to these questions, and I shall not press for one; it is not my desire, or the desire of any other hon. Member, to embarrass the Government in this Debate. However, we feel that the general situation is of such a character that the matter must be discussed in order that the necessary drive may be obtained. It would be interesting to know what building programme has been evolved. The Minister stated that £4,750,000 has been allocated for the building of some 53 ships, giving a total tonnage, perhaps, of 200,000. I do not know how long it will take to complete the work for which that allocation has been made, but unless it is completed within a very few months, there will be no opportunity of over taking the losses that we are sustaining. It would be interesting to know exactly what is regarded by the Government as the safety line of mercantile tonnage. I am given to understand that there has been a disparity in the calculations, and that the shipowners hold a view which is entirely different from that taken by the Government. The question is whether we contemplate meeting future tonnage losses by building. A question which was asked by the hon. Member for East Birkenhead was how far the Royal Navy have priority of building over the Mercantile Marine. There is a possibility that a time may come when the ships of the Mercantile Marine may be just as precious and valuable as even the ships of the Royal Navy. As far as one can see, the war is likely to be won or lost on the question of food, and because foodstuffs are likely to play a very important part in the final decision, the question of shipping becomes of paramount importance.
The National Shipbuilders' Security Limited, by their method of rationalisation, closed a number of yards and sacrificed 40 per cent. of the shipbuilding capacity of this country. Viewing the situation to-day, we have to regard that as having been a suicidal policy. Slips which would be invaluable to-day have been taken from us. The nation has been doubly hit. We have suffered the loss of those yards. Moreover, as was stated in one of our Debates by a shipowner Member, because of the combine forcing up prices for shipbuilding, his firm was able to give an order for only one ship where it had intended to give an order for two ships. Not only have we lost facilities for shipbuilding, but we have started the war with a smaller tonnage than we might have had if that policy had not been followed.
Are all available shipyards being used to their maximum capacity? My hon. Friend the Member for West Walthamstow (Mr. McEntee), in dealing with another matter in the Debate last Friday, called attention to the fact that in Belfast there is intense unemployment in the shipyards. My hon. Friend said—and the Minister of Supply did not disagree—that men who ordinarily worked in the shipyards in Belfast are unemployed to such an extent that they are almost at the point of starvation. I wonder whether the shipyards that are available to the Government are being used to their maximum capacity. Is there that amount of drive which is essential to success? In the last war, there were no heavy sinkings until the latter part of the second year of the war. We had the services of a very large proportion of neutral tonnage. There was a considerable amount of United Slates tonnage at our disposal. On 5th December, 1939, the Minister of Shipping told us that directly and indirectly no fewer than 7,364 vessels were employed by the United States of America in making a contribution to the Allied cause in 1918. No one knows better than the Minister that there is now an absence of the neutral tonnage which we had during the last war. There is a diminution compared with the last war, and that diminution does not permit of complacency on our side. Obviously, it is the policy of the Nazis to make a drive on the neutrals with the idea of intimidating them so that ultimately we shall lose the services of neutral shipping. As the war advances, there is the possibility that the amount of assistance we shall get from neutrals will diminish rather than increase. During the last war, despite the fact that we had neutral assistance, we were doing everything we could to provide for building emergencies.
Are the Government doing anything to extend the capacity of the shipyards of this country? Are any steps being taken to mobilise the labour that will be necessary if we can in any way increase our shipyard capacity? The number of trained men dismissed as a result of the activities of National Shipbuilders' Security Limited, a little over a year ago, was 40,000. It is more than likely that that labour has become diffused. Numbers of these men have gone into other industries. Are any steps being taken to compile a register which might make it possible to bring back into the industry the men who were forced out of it by those circumstances? What lies ahead? To-day, the armies are fighting on a very narrow front, but we have to consider the possibility of an extension of the area of hostilities, and if that happened, the strain would fall on shipping. Cargo shipping space would then be required, not for the transport of foodstuffs, but for additional work in connection with the Army and war needs. Moreover, one has to take into account the mechanisation of the Army, which means that for every man who is sent overseas a greater tonnage of cargo space is required than was required in the last war.
I want also to refer to the black-out restrictions and their effects upon the loading and discharging of cargoes. One thing that is of the utmost importance in the shipping world is to turn ships round quickly. In the last war, as a result of the manipulation of labour, it was possible for men to work 14 or 15 hours a day. Owing to the Home Office regulations with regard to the black-out, and because of the narrow interpretation of those regulations in some of the larger ports, work is being restricted to seven or eight hours a day. The working hours in loading and discharging cargoes are reduced by half as compared with the last war, which means that ships are in harbour much longer than they were, and we are not getting the same value out of them as in the last war. With regard to the convoy system, I think everybody will agree that it is working well. One can speak only in terms of high praise of all that has been done. I want, however, to refer to the question of the assembling of the ships. I gather that in some cases the ships are assembled at vulnerable points and that they are at those vulnerable points for perhaps a couple of days. Surely, it would be possible to work to a timetable, and to arrange for a synchronisation of the arrival of the ships at the point of assembly.
Hon. Members on this side believe that many of the difficulties which confront the Minister at the present time are due to lack of action by the Government before the war. Last Friday, my hon. Friend the Member for West Waltham-stow referred to the fact that over a year ago the Government were large purchasers of timber. They purchased timber in other countries and left it there. The Minister of Supply did not disagree with that statement. If huge purchases of timber were made by the Government, I cannot see why they should have left the timber in another country for a year unless the whole of the Cabinet held the same point of view as was expressed by one Minister, who said, "What a fool I should look if the war did not come."
There is also the feeling that if the tonnage were available, there would be a lack of personnel. The Minister touched upon that matter when he pointed out that he had arranged for a school, or schools, at which men from below deck, stewards and so on, could be trained as able seamen. I feel that there should be a policy of training. This country has never followed a policy of training for the Mercantile Marine. In most, if not all, maritime countries, there is a system of proper training. They have their methods of teaching both officers and men. We have so far not attempted to do it. I wonder whether the Minister in endeavouring to find personnel would be prepared to consider the training of young men who would be willing to undertake this work if they were given to understand that they would not, after having served some sort of short apprenticeship and having done a certain number of voyages, be called up for military service. I should imagine it would be possible to regard young men who are prepared to serve in the crews of merchant ships as doing work which is as essential to the country as military service. It is obvious that there must be a comprehensive, co-ordinated policy if the war is to be successfully concluded. The decision of the present war will probably be determined by food supply. I believe that 70 per cent. of our food supply comes from overseas. Therefore, I would urge that a vigorous, far-seeing and realist policy is necessary if we are to win through in the days that are to come.
It will perhaps be for the general convenience if I intervene at this stage to state how we are discharging our responsibility for merchant shipbuilding. I have no objection to the manner in which the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) introduced this discussion. It is true that he was critical, but he was always helpfully critical, and he made a number of suggestions which I have noted and with which I will deal in the appropriate place in my reply. The House will remember that the Civil Lord of the Admiralty on 27th February gave a review of the position at that date. For the benefit of hon. Members who may not have been present then, I will repeat briefly what he said, but before doing that I would like to set a background to the shipbuilding position. It is a truism to say that the shipbuilding industry in the post-war years suffered from a slump more severe than that in any other industry. The House will remember that an attempt was made in 1930 to rationalise the industry.
Although criticisms have often been directed at the steps subsequently taken, I think it will be found that in the result the steps then taken are now standing the industry in good stead. I know, of course, that there was a good deal of distress and of heart-burning caused when shipyards were closed so that capacity might be adapted to demand, but I am informed that the result has been that the potential capacity of our shipyards is not less to-day than it was at the highest peak of building in the Great War. I say that in no spirit of complacency, but because it does give some measure of existing capacity provided it is fully utilised. The shipbuilding industry suffered a further setback in 1938, and after negotiations with the industry the Government introduced their shipbuilding subsidy proposals in the spring of 1939. It is no secret, I think, that at the outbreak of war the tonnage under construction, as far as the Navy was concerned, was upwards of 900,000 tons and tonnage under construction, as far as the Merchant Service was concerned, was in the neighbourhood of 750,000 tons.
Since the outbreak of war the Admiralty and the Board of Trade and subsequently the Ministry of Shipping have caused the stimulation of orders both on naval and merchant shipping account. As regards merchant shipbuilding, the Departments concerned were aiming at a programme which was considered in peace-time as being essential to war-time conditions. The House knows that early in the year the responsibility for this was taken over by my right hon. Friend and the Board of Admiralty, and this dual responsibility is now being discharged by my Department as it was in 1917. The Admiralty is now responsible for utilising all the capacity of the shipyards. Here I take up the point made by the hon. Member for Whitechapel (Mr. J.Hall), and I think the hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White); if as the war proceeds it becomes necessary for work to be turned over from naval construction to the construction of merchant shipping, that will be done. I agree that there may come a stage in the war when a merchant ship is almost a more precious thing than a warship. I would not like to estimate the calorific value of a merchant ship as compared with that of a capital ship. [An Hon. Member: "Economic, not calorific."] The point is that without a capital ship a merchant ship could not function, and without a merchant ship a capital ship would have nothing to defend.
Clearly, the Department of State that can most easily direct a fair balance between the defensive needs of the country in the way of warships and the requirements of merchant shipping is my Department. Since the responsibility passed to my right hon. Friend, he has secured the services of Sir James Lithgow, who is not only a shipbuilder himself but the son of a shipbuilder and, I believe, the grandson of a shipbuilder. In addition to that he has intimate knowledge of the industries associated with shipbuilding, particularly the steel industry. Sir James Lithgow has joined the Board of Admiralty as controller of merchant shipbuilding and repair. He is assisted by Sir Amos Eyre, himself a well-known shipbuilder, who for four years prior to the war was chairman of the Shipbuilding Conference. He with his staff has been transferred from the Ministry of Shipping, where he was director of shipbuilding and repairs, and he is now performing a similar function at the Admiralty.
My right hon. Friend has also secured the services of Mr. William Westwood who was general secretary of the Ship Constructors and Shipwrights Union. He has joined the staff of Sir James Lithgow as principal materials officer, and I think the House will agree that his wide experience of shipbuilding and intimate knowledge of labour problems will be of the utmost assistance. I should like to thank the union concerned for releasing so able and so valuable an official. Several hon. Members have referred to the need for securing co-operation with labour and the trade unions. I have seen letters from arm-chair critics printed in local papers suggesting that the trade union movement is not playing its part in this war. I should like to say, as one concerned in negotiations with the leaders of a variety of trade unions—including some of the biggest in the country—that I never wish to meet men of higher integrity or of greater ability or who are more concerned to secure the quickest and most successful prosecution of the war. They have been exceedingly helpful. It is only by co-operation with the unions concerned that we can settle this big question of labour and material.
The House will want to know how in the short time that Sir James Lithgow has been at the Admiralty—that is, since 1st February—he has planned his campaign. The first thing he has done is to initiate the fullest and most up-to-date survey of the existing capacity of all shipyards and to arrange for the placing of new orders where capacity is not being used to the full. I can assure the hon. Member for Whitechapel that at the present moment every berth in every shipyard is being used to its fullest capacity.
Including Belfast. The director has appointed two regional directors, with appropriate staffs, one for Scotland and one for the North-East Coast of England. The second question with which this Department has been concerned has been that of placing orders for the necessary materials, and placing them at the appropriate date, so that the maximum programme can be carried forward without delay. As regards steel, arrangements have now been made for securing the delivery of steel supplies to the shipyards at a date when those supplies will be needed. No steel will be delivered before it is required, so no steel will be lying idle and unemployed. A similar survey has been made as regards timber and engine capacity.
I would not say there is no shortage, but steps have been taken to meet any shortage. The next and most important problem is that of labour supplies, and on that matter, as I have said, we have the advice of Mr. William Westwood. It is well known that there is an acute shortage of skilled labour to man the existing shipyards. The hon. Member who opened this discussion and several other hon. Members have referred to the fact that there are 16,000 men in the shipbuilding and ship-repairing industry who are unemployed. It must be a confession of failure if at the very time when we are embarking on this tremendous merchant shipbuilding campaign hon. Members in this House can point to the fact that there are skilled men unemployed. I accept their condemnation if that remains the fact, but there is some doubt about the exact skill of these men. Of those 16,000 men, according to the latest Ministry of Labour "Gazette," there were just about 6,000 who were skilled. It is very wrong that 6,000 skilled men should be unemployed.
The hon. Gentleman knows that there have been last week, and there are continuing this week, conferences between the Minister of Labour, the Shipbuilding Federation and the trade unions concerned, and one of the chief points which is being determined is the availability of labour—whether in fact there are these numbers of unemployed—and, if so, how they can be immediately absorbed. If it is true, as it may well be, that some of them have not had up-to-date experience, it should surely be possible to make arrangements for training them so that their skill can be used. It is this problem which the Government consider to be the most urgent, and it is being considered at the Ministry of Labour by those who are in the best position to consider it. The hon. Member for Seaham told me the other day—his advice has often been useful to me at the Admiralty—that there must be a large number of men who were originally in the shipbuilding industry but who in the bad times had drifted into sheltered industries. I followed up that suggestion immediately, and a survey will be made to see how far we can attract back to the vital needs of shipbuilding these men who, though perhaps doing important work, are not performing work as important as that. That, I consider to be one of the most urgent labour problems.
Will the hon. Gentleman at the same time ascertain from his right hon. Friend at the War Office how many applications have been made for the release of skilled men from the Army, and how many have been granted? I am informed that one union applied for the return of 300 skilled men and that up to date very few have been released.
I think my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State dealt with that the other night, and I think he said the equivalent of two divisions had already been released. [An Hon. Member: "That is not the point he dealt with."] He was dealing with the release of skilled men from the Army; it will be within the recollection of the House. That process has been steadily going on, and I have no doubt it will be accelerated. The Civil Lord the other day mentioned that we needed immediately in the shipyards 20,000 skilled men. I believe that is the very minimum figure. At the same time the House will be gratified to learn that, since the war started, the number of men employed in the shipbuilding and ship-repairing industry has gone up from 90,000 to 131,000 last week. That is a considerble advance. But it is no good being too optimistic with that rate of advance. For several reasons I do not believe that this additional labour of some 40,000 men has gone into the building of new merchant ships. I think it has gone mainly into repair work on merchant ships and ships for the Navy which is always going on, and the House will appreciate the magnitude of the burden imposed on private ship- yards in respect of the work of conversion of ships large and small for the purposes of war. The work of repair and conversion in regard to the Navy and to merchant shipping in the very severe winter has been intense and has put a very heavy burden on all shipyards, and, when we say we have increased the numbers in the shipyards by 40,000, the House must not take it from me that those men are engaged in building new ships, although I wish it were so. We can only express a hope that when this process of conversion, which is necessarily heavy in the first months of war, is finished it will be possible to use the services of these men in the vital work of new shipbuilding.
Many hon. Members have asked in the last few weeks about the possibility of opening new shipyards. The short answer is that it is clearly a wiser policy to use to the fullest capacity, as regards labour and materials, the shipyards which now exist before further yards are opened. The Controller, Sir James Lithgow, and myself have received a number of deputations from Members of the House and from outside, and I think the position is now understood, though I will not say endorsed.
I am sorry I did not make myself plain. All existing berths are now used to the fullest capacity, but, if we had more labour, we could place further orders. There are a number of yards which could soon be brought into operation, and I think in existing yards, where the berths are full, the whole process could be accelerated. I am in the presence of Members who know more about it than I do, but I am informed that in the existing berths we could accelerate business by employing at once perhaps 20,000 men. If we can do that, that is obviously our first task before we start the opening of other yards.
Finally, the right hon. Gentleman wished to know what is the maximum output of merchant shipbuilding at which we aim. This is the one question that I am unable to answer. As usually happens, what the House most wants to know is what the Minister is least able to disclose.
If the hon. Gentleman is not satisfied, he will correct me. I want to give the broadest answer I can, without disclosing actual figures. I could say, of course, that we intend to achieve the maximum capacity of which our shipyards are capable, subject always to the governing test of the availability of labour and material. We certainly hope to achieve a rate far in advance of the annual rate of sinkings to be expected from the enemy. The task imposed on us is not a light one, and we shall need all the good will and all the help that we can get, both in the House and outside. I put no limit to the amount. I simply say that we shall accelerate it to the maximum possible extent, subject to the availability of labour and material. That task is one of the most important which could fall to the lot of any Government Department needs no gainsaying, and, when the surveys which are now going on and the results of the conference at the Ministry of Labour are known and the position clarifies itself, my right hon. Friend will seek an early opportunity of stating the position more clearly and more fully than I can. I hope the House will feel that we are seized of the gravity of the problem and that we realise that no single task falls on any Government Department which is more closely related to the successful prosecution of the War.
Are we to understand that the Government aim at building 1,500,000 tons of merchant shipping this year? That is the only interpretation that one can put on his words, the fact being that, as we have lost 750,000 tons from all causes in the first six months, it is essential to produce at least 1,500,000 tons. Is that what the Government aim at? Does the hon. Gentleman seriously suggest that we can build in the first 12 months of the war 1,500,000 tons of new merchant shipping?
I did not give any figure. I said that all that we could do was to utilise to the full the existing capacity and to expand it as labour and material became available. Further than that you cannot go. I said we hope that in a year's time we shall achieve a rate far in excess of the annual rate of sinkings from which we suffer.
Did I understand the hon. Gentleman to tell the House that our capacity for building merchant ships to-day is greater than ever it has been before, even at the peak of production? Has he discussed with Sir James Lithgow the action of Shipbuilders' Security? He blotted out the entire shipbuilding industry in my constituency. The hon. Gentleman said he had rendered a great service to the nation, but at least five shipyards, with steel supplies on their doorsteps, have been completely obliterated. Surely he will not let a statement of that kind pass. Whatever he has done, he surely cannot be given credit for a great service to the country when he has entirely blotted out an industry.
The question put to me was, Are we in any way governed by any agreement made in the past about the restriction of output? The answer is "No." Not for one moment will any agreement reached in the past have the slightest effect when we come to decide what capacity is available.
The hon. Gentleman has appealed for the good will of the House towards the endeavour to replace ships which have been sunk and the new and extended shipbuilding policy. The essential word in his speech is "potential." He said the potential capacity for building new ships to-day was actually greater than it was during the last war. The short point that we have to analyse and dissect is the difference between "potential" and "actual." There is a world of difference between the meanings of those two words. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty may have the potential qualities to succeed his distinguished chief and to write and to perform his duties as the First Lord is doing at present. I suggest that I might have the potential qualities to become a great Minister of State, but the fact is that I remain a back bencher. I hope that this House will keep in mind that word "potential." The Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty, in giving his words of comfort, overlooked the fact that in my own constituency a great shipbuilding yard was closed down, in the name of rationalisation, by National Shipbuilders' Security, Limited. How can you have potentialities for building new ships when 3,000 men are put out of work, when Jarrow's shipbuilding potentialities are no longer there, when the hon. Gentleman admits that there are 6,000 skilled men out of work, and when there is a total of 66,000 men connected with shipbuilding who cannot find employment? The hon. Gentleman tries to get away with it by suggesting that these men, at the dictum of rationalisation, may have lost their skill, but I ask him to think again.
As far as this side of the House is concerned, while we have the utmost good will in backing every endeavour of the hon. Gentleman's Department, we shall not rest content with potential figures. We would rather have the actualities of the position. The Minister of Shipping has also made a statement. We cannot be cross with the right hon. Gentleman. I could not be cross with him for longer than 55 seconds. He has a beautiful bedside manner, but this House does not want a sedative, although perhaps the Department over which he presides may need a No. 9 pill. When my hon. Friends put down this Motion it was not done in a spirit of carping criticism. The shipping group among the Members on this side of the House is no new thing. It has been in operation now for over three years and can rightfully be called the "ginger" group as far as shipping matters are concerned. I can tell the right hon. Gentleman, with all the kindliness of spirit of which I am capable, that this shipping "ginger" group will continue in office and will watch every step he takes in his efforts to promote a real rationalisation in the shipbuilding industry. The right hon. Gentleman gave us a good lecture, this afternoon and quoted the blessed word "precedent" referring to what we did in the last war. But we face entirely new conditions, as far as this war is concerned. There is potential destruction from the air, not yet measured as a new factor, which the right hon. Gentleman and the Admiralty must take into consideration. I agreed with the hon. and learned Member for the West Derby division of Liverpool (Mr. Fyfe), who, I believe, is connected with the shipowning industry, when he said that there was little which was specific in the statement. There was, however, one specific statement made by him in regard to the inauguration of a "helping hand" fund for indigent Baltic brokers. I hope that when this fund comes into being he will remember not only the Baltic brokers but the clerks and their families who may have to seek public assistance. We are concerned with their well-being also.
There is another factor, and that is the question of the North-East coast shipping We have had the blessed word "precedent" and the thrice blessed word "potential," and now, I presume, in the reply we may have that other blessed word "vulnerability" thrown at us like a brick. As far as the Humber estuary is concerned, not a ship of any size has been lost. The most important ships which have, unfortunately, come to a sad end off the Yorkshire coast have not been lost in the Humber estuary. One loss was caused by the foundering of a Danish ship, which refused a tug to take it safely into Hull. I would draw the attention of the Parliamentary Secretary to the fact that because the Admiralty did not clear the fairway of the wreck, a Greek ship and another ship piled themselves up on the sunk Danish ship and three vessels were lost instead of one. I plead with the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Shipping to bear in mind that not I ship has been lost coming into Hull with cargoes for the seed-crushing industry in my Constituency.
The seed-crushing industry is directly concerned with the production of carpet and of cloth for our seamen and airmen. The lubricant necessary for the production of that cloth comes largely from the city of Hull. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will review the position seriously and see that Hull has its fair share of shipping to prevent a continuance of the congestion which is now undoubtedly taking place. The seed is being landed at Liverpool and there is railway congestion in Lancashire and Yorkshire while at the same time people in my constituency are on short time and the whole industry of Lancashire and Yorkshire requires the lubricants. I would remind the hon. Gentleman also that the best port for landing wool from the Antipodes is Hull. Ships are being diverted and there is unnecessary delay. Only to-day I had a bitter complaint from the leaders of the textile industry in the West Riding, because they cannot obtain adequate supplies of wool. I ask the right hon. Gentleman and his Department to see whether it is not possible for Hull to have a better share of shipping, seeing it has been so badly hit by this cruel war.
I would remind the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Shipping that he is on his trial; he is not yet in the dock. We remember what he tried to do in the last war. I believe he had some connection with shipping but we also remember the melancholy sequel to the last war when National Shipbuilders' Security, Limited, came on the scene. He is not responsible—it is not his baby—but I suggest that the academic idealism of the junior Burgess of Oxford University (Sir A. Salter) "went west" after the last war. We hope that the great contribution he has made on paper is not purely academic and that he will see to it that some of his plans for dealing with the position after the war are brought to fruition.
Those who go down to the sea in ships have been treated shabbily by this House and by the country in the last few years. When we go down to our constituents, we find that the seamen do not want wreaths of laurel leaves but would rather have a good dinner. They take all that happens as part of their day's work and do not realise that they are heroes, which, in truth, they are. Here, in this House, every Member is at one in paying them the praise which is their due. It is the solemn duty of the House to see that the seamen get a square deal and that the House shall show some foresight, vision and statesmanship, at a time when we are fighting for the real freedom of the seas and international law and order, so that these men may be able to go about their lawful occasions after the war. Therefore, we look to the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Shipping and his Department, and to the Parliamentary Secretary to do what is their simple duty—to see to it that our men who go down to the sea in ships shall be able, in decency and in comfort, to fulfil their tasks, and at the same time fulfil the task which, as we all appreciate, will keep the body and the soul of this nation together.
I would begin by joining in the very eloquent tribute which the hon. Member who has just sat down has paid to those who go down to the sea in ships. I do not think he could place that praise too highly. In war time one notices that our mouths are full of praise for our seamen and fishermen, but that in peace time we are apt to allow the economic aspect to outweigh our gratitude. After all, as the hon. Member pointed out, the sea is the foundation of our well-being, our existence and our freedom, and I, for my part, shall make a point of seeing to it, as far as any back-bencher may, that when we pass into the calmer waters of peace we do not forget our fishermen and seamen. Having said that, I regret that I must throw a potential apple of discord into the Debate, albeit only a small apple, and I trust that nothing I say will be mistaken by the other side. I confess to being a comparative layman in matters of shipping, and I have, perhaps, unnecessary anxieties about a Debate such as this. I would like the hon. Gentleman opposite to consider the general question of a Vote of Censure in war time. I was having a talk the other day with a neutral who takes an intelligent interest in our politics. He said, "I cannot understand why your Opposition put down what are virtually Votes of Censure in war time. I understand, and people who are informed about your political affairs understand, but it gives the impression in certain quarters, and I find it among my own people, that Votes of Censure are taken to be a lack of national unity." I am sure that that is the last impression that hon. Members opposite desire to convey. I am all for the Government being told off if necessary, but I wish this Debate could have taken place under some other auspices than that of a Vote of Censure. Perhaps it is a small matter and that my anxieties are unnecessary.
I trust that the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) will forgive me if I express some apprehension at his having given publicly the alleged facts that he has given this afternoon. I acquit the hon. Gentleman of the desire to say anything that might be useful to the other side, but I wondered whether he gave a thought to the sum total of the information he was giving. Were I an enemy I should have learned from his speech about the shortage of crews and the supposed chaos at the Ministry. I should have learned that the word of the First Lord of the Admiralty was to be doubted in the matter of losses and tonnage, and have learned certain facts about East Coast shipping. I should know that a certain boat was carrying military cargo when it was sunk and about a number of Norwegian seamen coming to this country. Knowing the methods of the enemy, I should not be surprised if pressure were brought to bear on the neutral in question to see that the services of these seamen were not available. I may be over-stressing my anxiety, but it has seemed to me in past Debates, and I felt it this afternoon, that we are in danger of giving out information which might prove of value to the enemy. I do not say that we should not have Debates and facts put to us, but I question whether open Debate is the best vehicle. Hon. Gentlemen opposite can, as they have said, play an integral and important part in making well-directed criticism of the Government.
Having said that—and I am grateful to hon. Gentlemen opposite for allowing me to say it without interruption—I would like to say that if the position is so gloomy as the hon. Member for Seaham has made out, would he explain one point? He will agree that thousands of British ships are travelling over the oceans, are being convoyed safely and are arriving in our ports. We have in that respect mastery of the seas except the Baltic. There is a corollary to all that. If these ships are arriving at our ports they are being unloaded, turned round and cleared, and are sailing again. Obviously these thousands of ships could not come and go from our ports unless the Ministry of Shipping were organising them well and keeping them on the move. The hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways.
You can make it better, but the hon. Member for Seaham left me with the feeling of blank despair and that the Ministry were incapable of dealing with a single ship of any kind. Perhaps he over-painted the picture.
On the contrary, I have said that I approve of well-directed criticism, because that is the prime function of any of the Opposition. The hon. Gentleman, however, gave only one side of the picture. We are now in the seventh month of the war, and can it be said that privations in the way of rationing and so on have been severe? It is astonishing that at this stage, with the sinkings to which the hon. Gentleman referred, we should be getting such a high standard of food. I maintain that our shipping is being kept moving and that the Ministry of Shipping are putting up a good show in view of their difficulties. The hon. Gentleman, in his interesting and informative speech, visualised a Ministry of Shipping full of experts. I thought the Ministry was full of experts.
I have here a pamphlet which I received this morning from the gentleman whom the hon. Member quoted—Sir Philip Haldin. He pays a tribute to the Government, and on page 4 he says:
Wisely, also, the Government, from the outset, sought the advice and co-operation of many of our leading shipowners who are today in charge of Departments of the Ministry. Without wishing to be invidious, I would in particular mention Sir Vernon Thomson, the Principal Shipping Adviser and Controller of Commercial Shipping at the Ministry, to whom our industry owes more than they are ever likely to know. He and his colleagues are performing a vital service for the nation and the industry.
It seems to me that my right hon. Friend was on right lines when at the beginning he brought in all these experts. These points are fairly obvious, but I want to pass to this question of foresight. Too lightly has the fact been skipped over that there were something like 750,000 tons of merchant shipping on the stocks when the war broke out.
If the hon. Gentleman does not accept those figures he will agree that there was a great deal of shipping on the stocks as the result of the Act of last year. Surely there was great foresight in bringing in that Act. I gather from working men in my division, in the steel industry in particular, that during long periods of unemployment they get out of training, as it were, and require hardening up and getting into the run of things again. That six months of re-buliding programme which the Government encouraged by their Act has had the effect, not only of filling our slips, but of giving the necessary personnel time to get into full working swing. That is a matter which should not be overlooked. The hon. Gentleman also referred to the differentiation of the rates paid to neutrals and those paid to British shipowners. It does not seem to me a matter in which we can hope to have much control. The point is that the neutrals are not in the war and if they are to take risks by coming into our war they will naturally expect to be paid for it. There is another consideration which overrides that one. Shipping in the British Empire is not so big a proportion of the world's shipping as to be able to bring pressure to bear on the remainder that is not in the Empire. There are the great main routes such as those engaged in the South American carrying trade to the Low Countries, Scandinavia, Italy and so on, which can in no way be influenced by anything we might do in relation to our own rates. It is a matter on which I fail to see that there can be any control.
Obviously there is bound to be some discrepancy between rates paid to the neutrals and those paid to British shipping, but we have a bargaining power with certain neutral countries. Surely we might properly take advantage of it.
I agree with the hon. Member, but how could we use our bargaining power with the lines I have mentioned? We must use our bargaining power to the limit, but there will always be a differentiation of rates. The problem that seems to arise is what our ship owners are to receive. It is a question of whether we should pay very high rates now and expect them to build up reserves against replacements, or whether we should pay a fair rate of profit now and by an Act of Parliament safeguard the position in regard to replacements. In any case, I consider it necessary, although I gather from the hon. Member that the shipowners would not agree, that we ought to have a Ministry of Shipping in peace time. Here is one of our fundamental industries and it is virtually a department of the Board of Trade. I would like to see the Ministry continued after the war, by which time we shall have had the benefit of the hon. Gentleman's advice on a great many occasions. We should have a Ministry to ensure that we never, in the slightest degree, forgo that eminence on the sea which has been our birthright. We have to maintain that at all costs, particularly after this war. I believe that the fairest way of dealing with replacements would probably be by some Act coming into operation now and carried out under a Ministry of Shipping after the war.
I cannot think of an occasion since I have been in the House when I have found myself so fundamentally in disagreement with a speech as I was with the speech of the hon. Member for Rutherglen (Mr. A. Chapman). For smug complacency, for the finding of nothing at fault with this Government, it is difficult to find anything comparable with that speech. I would remind the hon. Member of a very great statement made the other day by a right hon. Gentleman who was Prime Minister in the last war. He said, "The last war was won by criticism." That statement is full of pregnant meaning, and I commend it to the hon. Member and to the right hon. Gentleman and the others on the Treasury Bench. It is a matter of very great regret to me that this Debate has attracted so little attention, and that there have been so few Members in the House, especially during the speech made by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty. It was a cogent and very useful speech and, as usual, most lucid.
I think shipping holds a key position in this war, whether it be a long or a short war. So far as we can see, unless new movements are about to take place, there may be a stalemate on the military front, and it may easily become a war of resources. At present we are losing a very great number of ships. The hon. Member for Rutherglen said, "Well, look at the number that are coming in." But there is not a Member of this House who would not like to see a good many more coming in. That there are 1,500,000 unemployed is largely due to the fact that sufficient raw materials are not coming into the country. The food position will depend to a very large extent— almost wholly this year, until the autumn comes—upon the measure of success with which ships escape the perils of the war and arrive in this country with cargoes of food. Therefore, I regard shipping as the key to the situation, and no wonder that it is causing a great deal of anxiety to many of us.
The Minister of Shipping made one unfortunate slip during his speech. He corrected it as soon as he heard a murmur from this side of the House. He had been about to compare what has been done by the Ministry of Shipping in this war with what the Ministry of Shipping did in the last war. Very rightly the hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White) deprecated such a comparison. The comparison between conditions in this war and in the last war are comparisons which the critics of the Government are entitled to make, if the effort made by the Government is less than it was in the last war, but it is unfortunate that the Minister should have recalled what was done in the last war. These matters are more familiar to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Shipping than to any of us. He had experience of them in the last war. Everything that has been done now was done in the last war before the end of it. Therefore, we should have benefited by the experience gained then, and should have begun this war by introducing them.
Let me mention one or two. Requisitioning is now the policy—I agree that it has been open to criticism and that some still disagree with it, but in my view it was the right policy—but why was it not introduced earlier? We had had the experience of the last war. We knew that it was necessary to conserve all our shipping, that it was necessary to have a guiding hand to say where that shipping should go. Why was not requisitioning introduced until some time in December or January? Then there is the decision to hand over all shipbuilding to the Admiralty. That was done in the last war. Why did we leave it until 1st February before taking action in this war? Five months elapsed before the experience of the last war filtered through to the minds of those responsible for the government of this country. It is five months lost—not, of course, entirely lost, I agree; but the directing mind of the Admiralty ought to have been utilised from the 3rd September and not from the 1st February. It was unfortunate that the right hon. Gentleman should have referred to what took place in the last war.
There was a still more significant matter referred to by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty. He told us that to-day there is a meeting between the Admiralty, the Ministry of Labour, and, I take it, representatives of the Ministry of Shipping on the question of training men so that they may be able to work in the shipyards. That is after 6amb#x00 BD; months of war. Figures were cited by the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell). Somewhat similar figures were cited by me and others as long ago as November. Why has it been left to the end of the second week in March before calling those people together to see what can be done about training more men for the shipyards? I was amazed when I heard the first statement made by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty. I misunderstood him. I thought he was saying that all shipyards in this country were being fully utilised, that every berth in them was in use, but it turns out that that is not quite right. What is happening is that every shipyard which is open has got ships on its berths, either under repair or building. There are also a great number of shipyards which were at work in 1920 and 1921 which have not been opened but which could be opened. What is happening with regard to them? An answer was thrown across the Table, but what we are anxious to know is how many derelict shipyards there are which are not being used, and what has the Minister of Labour been doing that he has left it to March before training the men.
The shipping situation is a very serious one. I do not want to go through all the figures given by the hon. Member for Seaham, but I myself have also been looking at the figures. We have less shipping to-day than we had in 1914. In addition, in 1914 we had only something like 750,000 tons of tankers, and to-day we have something like 3,500,000 tons. I have taken the figures of 1938 rather than 1939 because then I could get full figures, and I find that whereas in June, 1914, we had 19,257,000 tons of shipping, in June, 1938, we had 17,781,000 tons. In the 1914 figures tankers accounted for only 750,000 tons and in the 1938 figures the tankers represented about 3,500,000 tons. Therefore, my figures are reduced from something like 18,500,000 tons to about 14,300,000 tons. The figures really cause the greatest anxiety when we get down to the actual tramp steamers and liners which will carry raw materials, finished articles and, especially, food.
Let me direct attention to the food situation. How much more are we now dependent upon imports of food? I take the figures of 1913 and 1938 in order to show a complete comparison. In Class I, which includes all foods, like wheat and flour, and feeding-stuffs of all kinds, we imported in 1913 18,500,000 tons and in 1938 21,139,000 tons. In Class II, oil seeds and so on, the imports were 980,000 tons in 1913 and 1,500,000 in 1938. The total figures for 1913 of food and feeding-stuffs was 19,500,000 tons and in 1938 22,750,000. Therefore, we are more and more dependent upon shipments from overseas, and it is no wonder when we look at our agricultural figures. In 1913 we had about 14,293,000 acres under the plough, and in 1938 only 11,861,000 acres. Therefore, the food situation is all the more serious. It is also a serious one when we look at the figures of British sailors. The persons manning United Kingdom vessels engaged in trading in 1913 numbered 178,000 British and 78,000 foreigners, including lascars, a total of 256,000. In 1937—the last year for which I could get full figures—the number of British seamen had been reduced to 132,000 and we were employing 58,000 foreigners and lascars, a total of 190,000. On foreign trade we were employing 169,000 as against 208,000 and in the home trade 21,000 as against 48,000. I realise that there are new gadgets, and so on, but that does not account for the tremendous drop in the figures. That is the position which is facing the Ministry of Shipping.
The real problem facing us is, What is the power of replacement? We know the figures on one side. By direct enemy action, by bombs, by torpedoes, and by other dreadful means, we have been losing our own ships at the rate of 100,000 tons a month. Those are the figures which have been used. I am glad the Parliamentary Secretary agrees with me that the figure was 600,000 in six months. The neutral figure was 400,000 in six months; that makes 1,000,000 in six months, and, at that rate, it is 2,000,000 in 12 months. Many of these neutrals cannot be said to be 100 per cent. supplies, but they are supply Powers, and it is a factor with which we have to reckon. I understand that the neutrals of Norway, Holland and Denmark have not yet started a full programme of replacement. It depends upon us what is to happen.
What are we doing? The only figure that was given by the Parliamentary Secretary was that, whatever those direct losses, he could assure the House that they would be replaced. I wonder what figure he had in mind. Very rightly, the hon. Member for Seaham tried to get the figure and suggested 1,500,000. I do not know whether that suggestion meant 1,000,000 in British tonnage and 500,000 in neutral tonnage, but it should account for all our disadvantages and losses in the war. I want the House to realise that the loss by direct enemy action is only one of the losses which we are undergoing at the present time. There is the loss of time on contracts, in collecting the goods, waiting for the last boat to arrive which will take the contract, and the time lost during the voyage, when you take the speed of the slowest vessels, which sometimes is very slow. There is a loss of time when you arrive in this country, because all the boats go into one port instead of being spread out. You get congestion at the ports and among railway wagons on the sidings. All that is lost tonnage, and tonnage time is valuable.
There is another series of losses. Those who go down to the sea in ships know only too well the perils of the sea in ordinary times. In 1913, the figure, which I was looking at a little while ago, of ordinary marine losses was 220,000 tons. If you add to that figure losses which are indirectly due to enemy action, to accidents—because when ships are steaming at night without lights there are bound to be collisions—to ships entering ports and so on, there is a considerable loss of tonnage and tonnage time. You can add to that figure the loss by direct hits. Our problem is therefore one of replacement, and I am sure that is daily, hourly, and every second in the mind of the Parliamentary Secretary.
The Parliamentary Secretary did not mention building outside this country. We know that all our yards have not been utilised. When are they going to be utilised? That is an important question. When will the Minister of Labour do his duty instead of counting heads, as has been his sole duty in the past? I accused him on another occasion of acting like a clever schoolboy who was able to give the correct answer for any problem in mental arithmetic. When will he help men and put them in training? We want the men to be put at work. On the last occasion, we built largely in the United States. An hon. Member gave figures to show that prior to the war there were well under 500,000 tons, and that by the end of the war the tonnage had reached 3,500,000. In the last war we built types of boats that did their work extremely well. We built also concrete boats. It might interest the House if I said that I had a case in 1924 or 1925 concerning a concrete ship, which was still at sea. It had been sold to Italian shipowners for £450,000, and it had been built by builders in concrete who had never built a ship before. The ship travelled well and brought materials info this country. What is being done by the Ministry of Shipping in regard to that matter, as well as in regard to our Dominions?
I again express regret that there are so few Members in this House who are interested in this serious problem. It is the centre of the whole situation. If that breaks down, this country breaks down, and the work of the Navy and of the Army will be wasted. All our wonderful traditions have been handed down by our fathers, and if we criticise the Government it is because we are afraid that we are losing those traditions. I want to be in a position to hand those glorious traditions down to my children, and that is why I am begging the Ministry of Shipping not to wait for months. They have been waiting to produce these ships for replacement purposes. I have every confidence in the Parliamentary Secretary. He has been through this matter before, and in everything he does he will have the good will of this House.
I am sure the House and the country will be greatly indebted to the Opposition for having put down this Motion. We have been ready to point out what we believe to be the general interests of the country, as well as the deficiencies, of the Ministry of Shipping, and to indicate the general position occupied by the Government, but we have been unable to interest Ministers themselves in the policy, which they are now operating. At the present moment, this country's share of world trade is still 37 per cent., gauged by our imports. The total overseas trade between the Empire and foreign countries is not less than 53 per cent. Of world trade, an exceedingly favourable figure even at the present time. Our shipping had, unfortunately, seriously depreciated on the outbreak of war, and totaled only 36 per cent. of world tonnage, against 52 per cent. in 1914. It is true that the Empire's share of trade has increased, but the proportion of tonnage has considerably dropped. In regard to Empire trade with other countries, it is interesting to mark the serious position in which we are placed by being dependent upon foreign tonnage. In this matter we have no reserves.
In the old days we carried 20 times the number of ship tons that are being carried to-day. As far as the United Kingdom is concerned, the average haul of grain in 1913 was 5,000 miles; to-day it is over 6,000 miles. At that time it was common for us to take coal, say, to the River Plate and other great ports, but to-day a great many of those journeys are being done in ballast. Sugar, in spite of the growing of sugar beet in this country, represents a distance of over 6,000 miles on the average, as against the haul of 2,000 miles in pre-war days. As the House has learned to-day, our losses have been formidable and we are entitled to ask whether they are being fully replaced. I can tell the Minister that as far as Tyneside is concerned, there is a shortage in every class of shipyard worker. When Ministers say that labour is available, are they relying for their figures on the Employment Exchanges or are they testing the actual position as far as this labour is concerned? With regard to apprentices I would like to know whether full advantage is being taken of the opportunity to raise the agreed proportion in relation to the number of journeymen and whether in most of the great shipyards apprentice schools are being established such as we have in the shipyards and engineering trades on the Tyneside, to enable apprentices to take their places in the ranks of labour in a shorter period than is possible in places where these schools are absent? I know there is a large waiting list of young men eager to become apprentices to the shipyard and engineering trades.
We recognise that a good deal of the shortage is due to the services taking many of our most skilled men, particularly those who are just reaching the journeymen's age when they are most valuable to their employers. I have no doubt that the Ministers concerned will look closely into that side of the matter. While we recognise that the Services must have their proper quota of skilled mechanics and engineers, there is a possibility of a comb-out to aid in dealing with the unquestionable shortage of shipyard and engineering labour which exists. On Tyneside, the hours worked extend to 8.30 p.m. and all week-ends. There is a degree of willingness on the part of the workers there—I suppose it is common throughout the country—but I think the Minister should note that I am very credibly advised that this cannot continue and the men cannot keep up this strain and pressure. A substantial number of men are required in the Tyneside yards and engineering shops to relieve this pressure. In spite of conferences between employers and trade unions, I suggest that we should have an independent labour controller to deal with every phase of this class of labour. Only then will the actual data be obtained to enable a comb-out of labour to be made from our municipalities. I can assure the Minister that in the Tyneside municipalities there are still many shipyard workers who would be very eager to aid the nation in this endeavour if appropriate terms were arranged for reinstatement and so forth, and for safeguarding their pension rights.
In the matter of guns, it is satisfactory to know that there is no shortage as far as mercantile tonnage is concerned. In that respect the Ministry have played an important and vital part in making this provision. As regards the repair yards there does not seem to be the amount of progress that the situation demands. That may be due to a lack of shipyards or of dock accommodation, required for certain repairs, or it may be that the proportion of vessels requiring repairs has got out of hand, but we know that on our coasts, through enemy action and through ordinary marine risks there are a number of vessels which are capable of repair and which should be brought promptly into service. We have not yet heard from the Minister whether it is intended to open new shipyards. I agree with the suggestion that the present yards should be utilised to their maximum capacity before engaging in the construction of new ones, although if this war is to continue, there is little question but that it will be necessary to use the whole of our capacity, even in the construction of new yards.
Now I come to the question of the control of shipping by the Ministry. This is a matter which should receive more consideration from the House. We have had from the Minister a somewhat complacent and optimistic statement with regard to shipping management, but this is a highly technical business and requires years of practical management and experience. I am informed that, at the moment, there is a controversy at the Ministry between the Civil Service side and the owners, and that at present the Civil Service is in the ascendant. If that be the position, we can understand the challenges which have been made by our few shipping journals and by individual shipowners that the civil servant, excellent as he is, has not had that practical experience of the rough-and-tumble of ship management and of the handling of freights and the diverse types of modern tonnage, which is changing very rapidly in many directions, to be able to deal with the position as it should be dealt with to-day. So we have complaints of serious mishandling and delays. I have been told by a leading shipowner of vessels being lost unnecessarily through going to two ports to discharge. Another charge relates to a matter which could, perhaps, be easily remedied. It is that there is no continuity of association between the main body of shipowners and the Ministry itself. If an owner telephones the Ministry regarding any point, he may reach an appropriate person, but next week he may be put in touch with some entirely different person, so that he has
to deal with the subject from the beginning again. That happens with frequency. On 12th March I asked the Minister of Shipping
whether he will take steps to meet the urgent need for the appointment of a central advisory committee, with full control over administrative details, to meet daily in future, and also the establishment of a ship management committee to handle all tramp ships, thereby ending the prevailing confusion, mishandling of vessels and loss of valuable time?
The Minister replied:
I am not aware of the existence of conditions such as those suggested in the last part of the Question. The management of ships under the control of the Ministry is in the hands of a division staffed by ship owners with long and intimate acquaintance with the problem of running ships, and I see no advantage in establishing committees to take over this work."—[Official Report, 12th March, 1940; col. 1108, Vol. 358.]
The statement which was made to me by one of the largest owners of tramp tonnage in this country was that, although there was a division in the Ministry responsible for the management of ships, that division was dominated by a civil servant, and that the best results would not be achieved until an organisation controlled by those who understand ship-owning was set up. I sent a copy of the Official Report, containing the Minister's answer, to the shipowner who had asked me to put down the Question. In reply, I received this letter from him, dated 15th March:
My dear Adams: I am much obliged to you for sending me the Official Report of the Parliamentary Debates. I was at the Ministry of Shipping yesterday, and all I can say is that they are in a hopeless state.
I cannot believe that a statement of that kind would be made without foundation by a gentleman who is giving his services to the Ministry, and who is more than anxious to render the maximum service, both with the tonnage which he owns and with his personal efforts. With regard to the profits earned by freights, I am glad to see that neither on time charter nor otherwise have freights risen to the extent which they did during the last war. For that, I think, the policy of the Government is largely responsible, and the country is indebted to them. I remember that in the last war our requisitioned tonnage received 12s. 6d. a ton dead weight per month, but on the open market, the rates of neutrals and Allies reached the phenomenal figure of
100s. per ton dead weight per month. For grain freights to the Plate, 225s. per ton of cargo was paid to neutrals—£17 per gross registered shipping ton. Illustrating the phenomenal nature of these freights, I may say that was equal to double the cost of a new pre-war ship; and these vessels were able to take three or three and a half cargoes per annum. That is a position which has not yet been rectified. It will not be sufficient for the Ministry to give the requisitioned rates, which, I am advised, barely enable our owners to pay a reasonable profit and meet the necessary depreciation, and leave them nothing for replacements at present or after the war. No doubt, the Ministry, with the interests of the country at heart, will see that if they do not make the replacements themselves and resolve on a nationalised shipping industry, they will make such financial provision as will enable the existing or subsequent owners to make the replacements and to bring the British Mercantile Marine up to a reasonably safe level, post-war.
I will refer to one or two other necessary reforms. The House will note with some satisfaction that the Ministry is recommending that all future cargo or similar vessels shall be fitted with motor lifeboats. I am not satisfied with a mere recommendation. If certain owners do not trouble to put in motor lifeboats, the Government, apparently, are taking no powers to compel them. We have seen what has happened with recent sinkings. I have not the slightest doubt that if some of the lesser tramp ships had had motor lifeboats on board, their other lifeboats could have been towed to safety. We have heard in certain cases of boats reaching safety and all on it being seriously exhausted, while some had died as a result of two or three day's exposure. Therefore, the Government must make it obligatory to carry motor lifeboats, not only in the case of tramp tonnage but in the case of trawlers. I am advised that for trawlers the lifeboat should have a 16-feet outboard engine. Out-board engines, which are very common in all our ports, can be lifted out from the smaller boats without difficulty. In the case of the larger vessels, it will not occasion any delay to have these new engines, which can be provided at a relatively small cost—the larger ones from, say, £100 to £150. That ought to be made not optional, but strictly obligatory. The question of hatch coverings has not been mentioned. If all vessels were fitted with modern hatch covers—not the ordinary timber covers—there would be a considerable strengthening and defensive quality given to each vessel so fitted. That is another story, but it is worth looking into because it is a question of considerable importance.
A better organisation is required for convoys as they affect certain of the faster vessels. I am acquainted with an owner of large Diesel engine vessels, and he volunteered, immediately war broke out, to place 50 per cent. of his tonnage at the disposal of the Government, a patriotic action, which was accepted by the Ministry. The whole of those vessels are driven by Diesel engines, and in slow convoys, which travel, on an average, at the rate of 7½ knots, they are compelled, although they normally travel at from 13½ 15 knots, to travel at this slow rate. They are under an obligation to leave their vessels in the convoys once they enter, and the result has been, he informed me to-day, that three out of six of his vessels have been damaged through the vibration of the Diesel engines due to the reduction in their speed. Anyone who knows the Diesel engine will realise that you cannot reduce speed and submit also to the ordinary hull vibrations without serious risk of damage. He informed me that the bed-plates of engines had been fractured, and that the vessels had been damaged owing to the fact that they were compelled to travel at this slow pace in convoy. I suggest, speaking as his mouthpiece, that vessels that have a speed of say, 13 knots, once they get out of the Channel, where the danger from the submarine and the bombing aeroplane is not very considerable should be released from convoy, provided they are armed with two guns and machine guns. I am certain that the masters would prefer to be permitted to leave convoys and attempt their voyages, which they declare they would carry out in perfect safety, rather than having to travel so slowly in convoy.
In my judgment the Government are greatly blessed by having so magnificent an Opposition as the present one. I believe that we have been decreed by fate to strengthen and vitalise the Government in this great emergency, although at present our efforts have not been re- warded with the amount of fruit to which our great task entitles us. The Government, in many particulars, perhaps even in this particular, pursue a course which is somewhat zig-zag in character like that which a vessel adopts when attempting to avoid the ardent U-boat. Yet, we will persevere.
One cannot conclude any observations in this House on this topic without adding a commendation of our sailors in the Mercantile Marine, particularly when we recognise that many of the men who are employed upon the high seas to-day in our mine-sweepers and in fishing vessels, and indeed in our tramp vessels, are volunteers in the real sense of the word. One hears on the North-East Coast these men telling each other of the precautions they take. They take every precaution, they leave their gold watches at home, put on old clothes and old boots, workaday clothes of the oldest character. They are satisfied that they have done the proper thing, because they have nothing to lose but their lives, a matter of relatively small concern to many men who are handling our mercantile tonnage. I am satisfied that this Debate will revitalise the Ministry of Shipping upon the lines that we have indicated in the discussion; that our shipyard workers will be relieved of undue pressure, and that this section of the national endeavour will in due course meet all, and more than all, its obligations to the State.
It is not my intention to speak at any great length, but I want to draw attention to one or two points which affect myself and my colleagues in the Hull area. This area has been devastated during the last six months and I world like to know from the Ministry of Shipping, and from the Admiralty, what assistance they are going to give in order to bring Hull back to a working port. My colleague has already referred to these matters, but if I feel somewhat bitter on this issue, I would ask the House to recollect that one-fifth of the population of the City of Hull is entirely dependent upon the fishing industry. At the port of Hull there were somewhere in the region of 220 trawlers, and the Admiralty have left us with only 46, which are insufficient for a population of that kind. Surely, in the case where an industry has been taken from a port of this character, it is necessary to try to get something else to take its place. We are not here trying to blame the Admiralty, for in this respect they have been exceedingly good to us. They have done their best, but what has been done is no solution of the difficulties of those who are living on the port side and are endeavouring to get a livelihood. There is no general argument of vulnerability, as on the North-East Coast, that can be continually thrown at us. That kind of argument is somewhat played out.
Some of the shipping that used to come into the port of Hull has been transferred to other ports to be unloaded, but, I would ask, What happens in many cases to the ships which get to other ports? In many ports ships are being held up and after a very considerable time are sent to other ports, with the result that merchants are kept waiting and trade is being lost. I can hardly agree with one hon. Member who said to-day that because we had initiated a Debate of this kind we were doing a disservice. Anybody who has listened to this Debate will realise that it has been more than justified, if only because we have had a statement from the Ministry as to their intentions. The hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) was perfectly correct in raising this matter.
For 18 months or two years we have been continually at the Board of Trade, asking them to set up a Ministry of Shipping. They did not do so until they set up the Ministry out of, I suppose, some respect for the Opposition and been use they thought it would allay our feelings for the time being. Listening to the statements made to-day, one would imagine that there has always been complete co-operation between trade unions arid the Government. In many respect's that is true, but it is not true of the officers union, which is an organisation catering for 18,000 officers on board ship. Under the National Maritime Board there are panels of masters set up, on which there are six representatives of the authorities and six of this organisation, and, unfortunately, it is laid down in the schedule of the National Maritime Regulations that the six who are appointed have to be elected by a ballot of seafaring men and men at sea. This means that although you tell them you recognise their
organisation, it really has no power to voice before the Board the complaints of its members. May I quote one or two observations made by this organisation? I have four cases in my possession, of which I will quote two, and if notice is taken of these a great service will be done. There can be only one remedy, and that is a full and complete recognition of the organisation to state their cases on behalf of members. Case No. 1 says:
The master of a well-known passenger liner was recently instructed by his owners to transport over 100 Germans, presumably over military age from an East African port, and was informed that a guard for the Germans should be provided by utilising his stewards. The master was naturally very concerned at receiving these instructions as he considered the possibility of over 100 Germans endeavouring to take charge of his ship and handing it over to a German raider. He further considered the consequences of arming civilians and the general advisability of his stewards using firearms in order to maintain discipline on board and expressed his concern to the company's agents and to the naval authorities. The master's anxiety with regard to the character of these Germans was communicated to the owners, either by the agents or through the naval authorities, and, to his surprise, he was relieved from his command at the East African port and ordered to come back to the United Kingdom on a different vessel as a passenger. On his arrival in this country he was asked to appear before his directors and having stated his case was asked to resign.
That seems to me to be one of the worst forms of victimisation of a person who was endeavouring to carry out his duty without giving him the right of appeal through his trade union to state his case before the Board. Case No. 2 says:
The master of a well known Scottish tramp company had the temerity to ask his owners for an increase in pay pointing out that the wages he was receiving now were considerably less than he received from the same company in 1918. The owners pointed out that it was apparent that he was dissatisfied with his conditions and suggested that he should send in his resignation.
In fact, that person was ultimately discharged. I would like to impress upon the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary that those are serious issues and are matters which are creating a disturbance. I want to appeal to the Minister himself not to look upon the city of Hull as a port to which all shipping is to be closed, and I would ask him not to disperse our people any more than is being done, or to make another Jarrow. Our people feel that there is a tendency on the part of the Ministry to close the port altogether. There are plenty of things that could be
done for us, if the Ministry would do them, and I trust that the Ministers concerned, in conjunction with the Minister of Labour, will help to keep our port open and reduce unemployment, bearing in mind that the fishing industry is one of the most important in this country from the point of view of trade.
I have a great deal of sympathy with the hon. Member for Central Hull (Mr. Windsor). Probably he would get more assistance for the port of Hull if he dealt with the Home Office, and endeavoured to get removed from the immediate neighbourhood of the docks and the port the large number of aliens who live there and who undoubtedly give away a great deal of information.
That is a rather serious statement of the hon. and gallant Member's. Can he supply hon. Members who represent Hull, or better still the Government, with the names of any residents in the port of Hull who have been guilty of such a practice?
I am not talking about the people of Hull. I am suggesting that if we could get spies away from the East Coast and from the port of Hull, things would be better. I have given information to the Home Office in regard to people who are there. I fear that I have not the sympathy of the hon. Member, which I thought I was sure to get. I thought we were going to find a remedy, not for closing down the port, but to enable ships to go there. Perhaps if we have an inquiry into the case of some of the residents in the immediate neighbourhood of the port, we may be able to get more shipping.
I am glad that this Debate is taking place. We can agree with the first line of the Motion, but I could wish that the Debate in regard to the other part could have taken place in secret Session. The hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) has quoted a number of very serious cases. I am certain that there are many hon. Members who know of individual cases which perhaps it is not wise to quote. I have knowledge of some myself. It is a great pity that we have to ventilate this matter in open Session, because a great deal of the information is bound to be somewhat comforting to our enemy.
I have always had the greatest regard for our Civil Service. It is the best in the world, and absolutely above reproach. I was pleased to hear the Minister of Supply say the other day that notwithstanding all the miasma of troubles which appear to be hanging over some Departments, nothing has been done by, or proved against, any member of the Civil Service. While the Civil Service is a wonderful organisation for peace, it seems to me that it is not adapting itself to the emergency of the war. The Government have taken a number of personnel into the Ministry of Shipping, but the business of shipping is a life-time study. Men who have graduated from boyhood to manhood and devoted the whole of their time and energies to the intricate business of shipping have been called in by the Government to give their assistance. I know that certain gentlemen have been called in. Is their advice taken? When they discuss these matters, is their advice taken, or do the permanent officials say, "Well, it was not like this in 1914; we did this in 1915. The problems to-day are similar and we will go on in the old sweet way"? That is very largely the trouble, as it seems to me, at the moment.
Then there is the question of the convoy system—ships sent out to Norway; absolutely ridiculous so far as trade is concerned. There were already half a dozen ships up there unsuitable for the purpose; and they are all aground. That is a very serious state of affairs. We must realise that we started this war 2,000 ships short, and with a building programme for larger ships., not what you may call the average-sized tramp. It means that when we lose one of these ships we not only lose the tonnage which goes down, but we lose relatively about two to one of what we lost in the last war. We want to know on whose advice these ships were sent to Norway. Was it on the advice of some permanent official? Was it on the advice of someone from the City, and was there any inquiry made into it? Has anybody been suspended for it? Has anybody suffered for it; and are the ships still aground? We know they are aground. It seems to me a scandalous waste of important and irreplaceable tonnage. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty says that our capacity for shipbuilding is as high as at the peak in the last war. Is it being used to capacity? The peak of our capacity in the last war was in November, 1917. Are we producing as many ships to-day? Is the tonnage we turn out equal to that, which was produced in November, 1917?
Except for naval supply and material, and the ability to turn out ships, we are able to build what we did in 1917? Apart from that we are all right? Then there is the question of what you may call the capture of neutral shipping at the beginning of the war. I should like to know the inner history of how it was that neutral shipping has been able to get away with 130s. as general freight when we only get 45s. I should like to know how it was we were not able to capture the Swedish markets, and instead Swedish ships took over a route which we used to work, and which we shall never get back again. It seems to me that there has been a lamentable absence of any kind of initiative in this matter, and I hope something will be done to put it right. We find ships with shifting boards sent to Norway and ships in ballast sent to Canada. Everyone knows the danger of sending ships out in ballast at certain times of the year. We had a golden opportunity of putting exports on board. Even if we had sent them freight free, we could have filled the ships, subsidised our exports, and got some currency back. I do not want to detain the House, because I am very anxious to hear the reply of the Government to the arguments put in the course of the Debate. I hope that better use is to be made of our tonnage, and that the 1,500,000 tons which we can produce per annum will be produced. When this is done we shall begin to have some hope that we shall not be defeated because of a shortage of food, of which so much comes from overseas.
This Motion credits the House with recognition of the fact that shipping and shipbuilding in our country in war time are of paramount importance. Having listened to the eloquent speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Sudbury (Colonel Burton), I can well imagine that in the House that is true, at any rate outwit the Treasury Bench. Good intentions have been expressed from the Treasury Bench from time to time, but during the three years I have been a Member of the House I have been almost heartbroken at the failure of those good intentions to fructuate into good work. In my humble submission, this Motion is well founded when it expresses regret at the absence of efficiency and foresight in the administration of the Ministry of Shipping, and when the term "Ministry of Shipping" is there used, I think it can quite properly be used to gather up that Ministry's predecessors who, on behalf of the Government, took charge of the shipping and shipbuilding industries. My hon. Friend the Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) laid a very heavy indictment against the Government, and that indictment did not lose one whit of its force by the calmness and restraint with which it was put forward. The situation is not a pleasing one, and it is a situation that speaks of past failure to carry out expressed intention, and worse than that, failure to foresee what was coming and to take appropriate precautions before the avalanche of war was hurled on the country. That is the position inside the House.
The position in the country is not dissimilar. As I listened to the speech of myhon. Friend the Member for Central Hull (Mr. Windsor) my mind was carried back to 1924, when I took a very minor part in an election in the North-East of England. The election was of historic interest in that an English K.C. lost his seat and a Scottish K.C., fighting in that English constituency, lost his deposit. When I arrived in the constituency I took a walk to get some fresh air before I went to a meeting to let the people know the truth of the Labour party's policy. In stopping to ask a little fellow the way, I was struck by a mark on the side of his head. I asked him whether he had received a kick from a horse. "No," he said, "that was done by a German shell when this town was bombarded by a cruiser." That gives a typical instance of how the people who live on the seaboard understand the paramount importance of shipping and shipbuilding, particularly in time of war.
I know what the people of Greenock are thinking about shipping and shipbuilding. During the depression, conditions were very terrible because unemployment was very severe. Things are busy at the present time. Time and again I have had to bring the position of the Caird shipyard to the notice of the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Shipping, and one of the earliest Questions which the right hon. Gentleman answered as Minister of Shipping was a Question which I put about the Caird shipyard. The people of Greenock know the situation. They know the lack of prescience on the part of the Government. When I was elected in 1936 the Caird shipyard was fully equipped. It was not being used. It had been put there by authority from Parliament obtained on the solemn promise that the yard would provide increased employment in Greenock for all time, but that promise was ruthlessly broken. I hope the promises we have heard to-night from the Treasury Bench will be much more carefully and loyally fulfilled.
In 1936, the Caird shipyard was equipped and capable of producing ships. Time went on. This war did not break out unexpectedly. Right hon. Gentlemen opposite saw the shadow coming while the thing was yet far off, and the Government had ample opportunity to make use of that great yard with all its magnificent equipment; but they did not do so. The terrible thing about it is that when the war was just coming on that valuable equipment was scrapped, sold under the hammer, and the Caird shipyard is now an empty carcase. It has been eviscerated, and it is of no use for the purpose for which, at great expenditure of capital, it was carefully equipped. On whom can we lay the responsibility for that state of affairs other than on the Government, who were well warned that that place would be required for the purpose for which it was designed? Accordingly, when the time comes to-night I shall, with the greatest conviction, go into the Division Lobby to record my vote in favour of the Motion.
The Government have a terrible responsibility for the present state of affairs. There has been a lamentable lack of drive. Assets have been thrown aside, opportunities lost; and even now we have from different Government Departments a completely illogical line of conduct and a policy that is, in fact, self-destructive. Let me again take Greenock by way of example. The Minister of Shipping knows the matter to which I am about to refer, because there has been remitted to his Department from the Home Office the question of the deaths due to the black-out at Greenock Harbour. When a problem becomes involved and too difficult for one Department, it passes the problem to another Department. Following up that characteristic policy of the Government, the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary passed on the question of the loss of life in Greenock Harbour—the loss not only of the lives of soldiers and sailors but of the lives of civilians—to the Minister of Shipping. Greenock Harbour is blacked out, and though it is almost alongside the public street, there is no protection to prevent men falling into the water, but if you go a little way along the sea front you will come to a spot where a boat is being built, and that boat is illuminated. Why? To let the men get on with their work. A little shaded illumination at Greenock Harbour would not only save the lives of men in the fighting Forces but would save the valuable lives of civilians who are of tremendous importance at the present time.
What is the position with regard to personnel? The hon. Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty confessed—I think it was a confession—that 16,000 men in the shipbuilding industry are unemployed. I regret to think that over 800 of them have to be put to the debit of Greenock in the books of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour. That is over 15 per cent. of the total personnel of this industry in Greenock. Surely that is an alarming state of affairs, and it is the undoubted responsibility of the Government. May I emphasise one point put very forcibly by my hon. Friend the Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell)? The shipping industry is a vital industry in war time and it is a great industry in peace time. During this time of war, it is the high duty of the Government to see that the shipping industry is carried on to the days of peace, which we know will follow, because we are going to come out of this war triumphant and victorious having vindicated the cause of freedom. It is for the Government who are now taking such a firm control of shipping, to see that there is shipping to carry on with after the war.
If it had been left to the shipowners they would have built up reserves, which would enable them to replace their boats at the end of the war. That matter is now being taken out of their hands. It is for the Government to see that there is provided the wherewithal to replace vessels at the end of the war and to enable us to attack the problems of peace with the same energy and success that the Government promise now to put forward in the building of ships. I would suggest to right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench that good resolutions are dangerous things. If those good resolutions are not carried into effect then, according to the old saying, they lead to a very, very dismal place indeed.
If the right hon. Gentleman prefers intentions, then I would say the Government have been full of them, but up to the present those intentions have not eventuated in good works. I hope the good resolutions of which we have heard so much and so many this evening will meet with a better fate, but in order to ensure that the Government have some kind of drive behind them, I appeal to the House to support my hon. Friend the Member for Seaham in his Motion.
We are discussing in this House to-day the condition of an industry that is as vital as anything connected with the war. Neither the Army, the Navy, the Air Force nor the civilian population can live without the services of the great Mercantile Marine. I regret that, until 20 minutes past nine, at no time in the course of the Debate have there been more than 25 Members in the House. At this moment I think I am right in saying there are fewer than 40. Any hon. Member wicked enough to try to stem this Debate might call the attention of the Chair to this fact, and the House would have to stand adjourned. I think it is a very sad thing that when we are discussing such an important service so few people have troubled to come into the House to hear the full story. But there is no question of what they will do when the time comes to vote. Without having heard the case, hon. Members will be sufficiently complacent to follow the lead of the Government Front Bench and will stream into the Division Lobby against the Motion.
I would like to call attention also to the speech made by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Shipping. He came to this House with some such viewpoint as this: "Well, this is an Opposition Motion. They are just going to discuss the difficulties of the Mercantile Marine in so far as it affects the men in their various trade unions, and they will probably raise the question of the evil intent of the Maritime Board. Anyhow, whatever is said, I have my brief. Here it is, and you have got to hear it." That is how I regard the statement of the right hon. Gentleman. He never took the trouble to answer a single specific point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell). At the present moment the hon. Gentleman who is to follow him is not here to listen to what is being said, or to make notes for his reply. I propose to put several very important questions to the right hon. Gentleman. The hon. Member for Rutherglen (Mr. A. Chapman) adopted the Panglossian theory, "Everything is for the best in the best of all possible worlds." He spoke with such a smug complacency that if it were not for the job he holds one would be astounded that any Member of this House could get up and make such a speech.
What was the burden of his speech? He said, "Surely there is no lack of unity between the two sides of the House." I will answer him at once. If the purpose is effectively and quickly to win this war, then there is no lack of unity and there is no lack of determination on either side of the House. He seemed surprised at the idea that it is the duty of an Opposition to bring before the Government and before the country things which we feel the Government are not doing effectively and thoroughly. Surely that is the duty of an Opposition. Or does he want us to sit here as a sort of mutual admiration society and say, "What good fellows we all are. Let us take our £600 a year and say, 'God bless the taxpayer. He is the mug.' "
Certainly it is the duty of the Opposition to criticise when criticism does not matter very much, but, if it is very important, please do not criticise. That is really the burden of his statement. This is not an ordinary Debate on shipping. We hesitated a long time before we asked the House to listen to our case. We have no desire, in our criticism of the Government, to bring comfort to the gentleman whom we are fighting, but unfortunately he knows too well the weakness of our mercantile shipping problem. This Debate is not likely to encourage him to strike harder than he otherwise would. He is striking as hard as he dares at this service at present. On the other hand, it may help to strengthen our position if it causes the Government and the country to realise the seriousness of the situation.
So many figures have been bandied about that I propose to put before the House a series of figures which I suggest are irrefutable. They are culled from the same sources as those from which the Minister himself might cull his. When the First Lord first came to the House, in one of those moments of ebullience which so often come to him he assured us that we commenced this war with a merchant shipping capacity of 21,000,000 tons. This, of course, was the total Empire tonnage. It included every ship from 100 tons upwards. But if we eliminate, as we ought to, all vessels under 2,000 tons, such as trawlers, coastwise shipping, and near Continental shipping, the figures take on a very different character immediately, and if, as we must, we further deduct all our tanker tonnage vessels over 12,000 tons now being used as troop ships and ships to maintain those troops, and all cargo ships in the service of the Admiralty as auxiliary cruisers, the figures mentioned by the First Lord will be reduced to something less than half. What were the actual figures in 1938? United King- dom tonnage over 100 tons was 17,675,000, Empire tonnage was 3,044,000, total 20,719,000, I imagine that that is the figure the right hon. Gentleman used in a broad way when he said we started the war with 21,000,000 tons of shipping. Our refrigerator tonnage is rapidly being destroyed. Fifty-eight per cent. of the world's tonnage at that time was on the United Kingdom register. If we omit all vessels under 2,000 tons, we get a figure of 15,555,000 on the United Kingdom register and 1,966,000 for the British Dominions, or a total of 17,548,000.
That is the present position by eliminating those ships, and that is comprised of 6,979 ships, equalling a total tonnage of 17,420,000. Our tanker position was 410, of a total capacity of2,672,000 tons, or 28 per cent. of the world's total tonnage. Of course, there are many vessels from 1,000 to 2,500 tons employed in the Continental trade and in the Western Mediterranean. But, if we take the returns of the Registrar-General of Shipping in tonnage groups, we shall get to an approximation of our actual position with regard to merchant tonnage. He says that between 2,500 and 4,000 tons gross there were in 1938 351 vessels, equalling 1,100,000 tons. There is practically no tanker tonnage within this figure. It is this class of vessel which is the handiest type that we have in the service of the country and in which the greatest decline has appeared. If we group all ships together from 1,000 to 4,000 tons, we have 1,075 vessels, equalling 2,300,000 tons.
Now we take the group from 4,000 to 6,000 tons, which consists mostly of deep-sea tramps and small cargo liners. There were 934 of such vessels, equalling 4,700,000 tons. In the group, again according to the Registrar-General, from 6,000 to 9,000 tons, which includes ocean-going tramps, cargo liners and mixed cargo and passenger liners, and omitting the tankers, we have 413, equalling 3,000,000 tons gross. The next groups are from 9,000 to 12,000 and 12,000 and over. These consist of large cargo liners, mixed cargo and passenger liners and include 24 tankers. Omitting the tankers in the 12,000 ton class, the group shows 135 vessels of 1,381,000 tons gross, whilst the 12,000 tons and over group shows 120 vessels, of 2,288,000 tons. If we omit the tankers, the number and gross tonnage of vessels on the United Kingdom register of 2,500 tons and upwards are 1,884 vessels, with a total of 12,277,000 tons. That is a long way lower than the 21,000,000 tons which the First Lord gave us. That is not the end, because, if the vessels of 12,000 tons and over are omitted and we deduct the tonnage mainly interested in the carriage of passengers and mails now engaged as auxiliary cruisers, troopships, etc., we get a figure of 1,764 vessels, equalling 9,996,000 tons. That was the real hard core of our shipping position at that date. There are, of course, fewer at present owing to enemy action.
Another eminent gentleman, Sir Archibald Hurd, the historian of the Merchant Navy in the last war, and the managing editor of the "Shipping World" to-day, says, as a further depletion of that tonnage, that the basic fact is that our need of tonnage is greater to-day than it was, because our essential supplies have to be carried a greater distance. United Kingdom trade with the Continent has diminished, and trade with far distant countries and the Dominions has increased, involving much longer hauls, and my hon. Friend the Member for Consett (Mr. David Adams) showed instances of that. If you take a ship in the Near East trade, it can do 50 voyages in a year, whereas in the trade with Australia it means 2½ voyages a year. That is coupled with the fact, as he has pointed out, that the hauls are longer. Sugar is a case in point. The average haul a few years ago was 2,000 miles, but in spite of the fact that we have a great beet-sugar industry in this country, more sugar is being imported, with an average haul of 6,000 miles. So we have the position that with this limited tonnage we have longer hauls to go.
Therefore, with 2,000 fewer ships, the supplies of food and raw material for a larger population than in 1914–1918 have to be carried longer distances, with a much higher percentage of tanker tonnage required, which, of course, cannot carry general cargoes. It will thus be seen that the figure of 20,000,000 tons given by the First Lord is reduced by over half. The hauls are longer, the population is larger, and with the new type of mechanism I understand that where in the last war it took one ton of material to every soldier, it now takes something like 12 tons per soldier. If that is so, it is another serious call on the capacity of our ships. In addition, there is the importation of aeroplanes which take up a larger cubic space compared with bulk cargoes. It will therefore be seen that our Merchant Navy is potentially further reduced.
Who is to be responsible for oil fuel? In the last war we had coaling stations all over the world where ships could pick up coal and get on with their job. I understand that in the agreement with the Norwegian Government the ships of Norway, practically the whole of them—I know the figure, but I will not give it—are to transfer their registry to this country for the period of the war. Who is to be responsible for their fuel? Obviously the country in which they are registered, and thus there will be a greater demand on our tanker tonnage to utilise these ships. Enemy tonnage is largely lost, tied up at home or in neutral ports, sunk or scuttled—mostly scuttled, one might say. Neutral shipowners will demand ever-increasing rates for their services, saying nothing of the advantageous position in which they will be left when peace comes. We had the experience of the last war to guide us on that.
May I turn now to shipbuilding? It is no use the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty coming to this House and saying that Sir James Lithgow, when he was managing director of National Shipbuilders' Security, Limited, did good work on behalf of the country when he rationalised shipping. When Sir James Lithgow instituted National Shipbuilders' Security, Limited, in February, 1930, the end was to close down redundant shipbuilding yards and to rationalise shipbuilding, but the net result was that the output capacity of this country was reduced from 3,000,000 tons to 2,000,000 tons. It was proudly stated on behalf of National Shipbuilders' Security, that our overhead charges had been reduced by £1,000,000 a year—one ton less potential capacity for this country gained meant £1 saved in overhead charges. When the Parliamentary Secretary says that the potential capacity of our shipyards is greater to-day than at the end of the last war, how can he substantiate that, when, in fact, we have lost one-third of our total ship production capacity, as everybody knows? According to the figures, 70 per cent. of the yards to-day are on Admiralty account and 30 per cent. only on merchant shipping. If that is so, we get a figure then based on 2,000,000 tons of a merchant shipping output of 600,000 tons a year, until the Admiralty are satisfied with what they want.
What I think was far worse for shipbuilding than even the closing down of the yards was the throwing out of employment of so many thousands of men who have never found their way back to the industry. What is the position? The figures I give are figures quoted from Mr. Westwood. He stated that when National Shipbuilders' Security, Limited, started there were employed 20 years ago 312,000 men in the shipbuilding industry, and to-day there are 120,000 men. These men who have gone out of the industry must have become widely diffused in other industries. In my own union we have many hundreds of these men employed on statutory undertakings with pension rights. If the Parliamentary Secretary, or the First Lord of the Admiralty, stated that if the men came back to the shipbuilding industry for the period of the war the Government would see to it that their jobs were guaranteed, and that there would be no loss of pension rights, I believe many hundreds of them would come back to their old work on behalf of the country. The Government have done it for the Armed Forces, who are to have their jobs back at the end of the war. Why not appeal to the patriotism of these men to bring their skill back to the shipyards on behalf of the country? They would have the knowledge that when the war was ended they could go back to the jobs they were forced into by Sir James Lithgow and National Shipbuilders' Security, Limited.
In 1938 there were 165 ocean-going merchant ships being built, representing a total figure of 1,241,000 tons. I was glad to have my figures checked by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty, because on 1st January, 1939, there were fewer than half this number on the stocks, and the total amount building or on order was 750,000 tons. That is the figure he gave, and it is the figure I give. It approximates to this, that if the yards are in fact full to capacity, 70 per cent. of them are on Admiralty account and only 30 per cent. on merchant shipping account. It brings us very close to the figure by another method. The Government have known for years that this war was coming to us. There was no shadow of doubt about that. It has been estimated, and I am sure the facts are right, that the minimum shipbuilding programme made necessary by replacement—and this is in peace time—in the next 10 years, to maintain our 17,670,000 tons gross on the register of the United Kingdom, is 12,900,000 tons, or an average of 1,290,000 tons per annum for the next 10 years. Incidentally, that figure is double the production in the 10 years preceding.
It is remarkable that 1,290,000 is practically the figure of the Government's programme for the war. The right hon. Gentleman gave the figure of 1,300,000 per annum. The Government, therefore, are visualising only what is the annual replacement programme in peace-time and are taking no cognisance of losses by enemy action and marine peril. That is a sad commentary on the position of the Government. If we take as a guide the first half-year, in which we have lost about 750,000 tons by enemy action and marine peril, it was revealed—and it has been concurred in by the representatives of the Government—that we are left with a deficit of 200,000 tons—and that at a time when we have been able to purchase ships and capture ships and augment the tonnage by means that will never come twice. If that deficit of 200,000 torn is correct, it is fair to assume that, the sources that we already had having left us, we shall have a 400,000 tons deficit every year during the war.
If we add the 400,000 to the 1,290,000, we have a necessary building programme, as a minimum, of 1,600,000 tons a year. Do the Government think that we shall get that this year, with 70 per cent. of the yards on Admiralty account? This figure takes no cognisance of the many thousands of tons of shipping laid up and awaiting repair owing to enemy action, and this at a time when Government speakers over the wireless are telling us that this country must pay for the war out of its exports. This is the first time I have had an opportunity of congratulating the new President of the Board of Trade on his appointment. I am sure that his business knowledge will be worth something to the Government, and if he can bring any force or drive to break down inter-departmental barriers, he will do the Government and himself great credit. If we have not the ships, how can we export?
What do the Government intend to do to remedy that position? I am sorry if I offend the hon. Member for Rutherglen again, but the Government have known for over two years the steel position of the country. Let us assume that on paper Sir James Lithgow has got his scheme out. It is far better that we should state these things definitely and have done with them. It was estimated two years ago that the need would be 17,500,000 tons of steel perannum. What is the total capacity of this country? It is 14,500,000 tons. What is the actual output at the present moment? It is 12,000,000 tons. It is nonsense, therefore, to tell the House that the yards can give us such a huge output when, on the face of it, if there is any semblance of truth in the figures I have given, it is impossible to achieve the things which the Minister tells the House he contemplates doing.
It is the same story with regard to timber. Everybody knows that we started the war with a shortage of 1,000,000 standards of timber. The Government had no idea that the Baltic would be closed to us and never dreamed that these awful Russians would do this, that or the other. They thought that the Baltic would be as free to us as it had always been. What did they do? The Baltic having been practically closed to us, they turned their eyes to Canada, but they turned too late, because the St. Lawrence was frozen up. If they are getting any timber out of Canada, it is not by way of the St. Lawrence but by a haul which is so long that it is almost impossible to get timber here.
What are the Government doing about man-power for shipbuilding? I have given them one suggestion, and I believe it is a good one. Whenever the Government has appealed for volunteers to come forward in defence of their country for freedom, we have never had any lack of men. I ask the Government to look seriously at the proposition I have made. But what about man-power in the Merchant Service? At the outbreak of war a large number of officers and men belonging to the Royal Naval Reserve, the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and all the various institutions associated with the Navy in peace-time were called to the Service. The Admiralty is con- tinually making demands for more men from the Merchant Service and are rapidly drying up every reserve from which that service might have drawn men. I refer to the trawlers, coastwise ships, passenger ships, and the steward classes. The men in all these categories might have been of use to the service except that higher duty called them into the Navy. When the right hon. Gentleman met representatives from this side of the House he was asked what he had done about men, and he revealed that very little had been done. He seemed to think that there was an effective joint labour supply scheme in operation, but it was pointed out that that scheme differed from port to port and that there was no uniform practice. He does not seem to understand that with the introduction of the convoy system the whole method of obtaining labour was changed. No ship followed its normal route or destination, and, therefore, as the ships were placed under the controller's orders, so he found himself with plenty of dockers but few seamen.
Many ships have now been waiting, not only for days, but for weeks for one or two more men to make up their complement. My hon. Friend cited a few cases. I have a few. On 10th February there were 19 ships that were waiting a maximum of 11 days for crews and a minimum of one tide. On 17th February, 21 ships were waiting a maximum of seven days and a minimum of half a tide. On 24th February, nine ships waited four days to half a tide; on 2nd March 11 ships, for days to half a tide; on 9th March eight ships, four days to half a tide. I have also a case where four A.Bs. were wanted and a ship was held for four days in which to obtain them. Has the right hon. Gentleman brought into being an organisation? If he says he has, then I hope we shall be told to-night what has been done to meet the difficulty apart from peace-time organisation.
How is the Minister using the ships at his disposal? The Government rightly claim that the convoy system has been effective, saying that only one ship in 500 convoyed has been lost by enemy action, but how many ships have been lost while proceeding to the point of assembly without any protection, and how many have been lost after being successfully convoyed to this country through being left to proceed to the final port without escort or protection? I do not wish to give any comfort to the enemy, I yield to nobody in my desire to see this country come successfully out of the war, but I believe that honest, straightforward criticism is one of the means of getting things done effectively. My hon. Friend the Member for Seaham quoted the case of one ship. It is no good the right hon. Gentleman riding off by saying that this was a ship originally intended for Liverpool when she was sent to London, had part of her cargo taken out and was then sent on to Liverpool. The real point is that in her case the whole cost of the convoy was wasted. It costs money to convoy ships. Speed is reduced. The burden of cost increases in ratio to the speed—according to the slowness of delivery. This ship comes in by convoy, is taken into a London dock, is kept there for three days for what I think is called de-Gaussing—they never completed it—and then a third of her cargo is taken out. That ship contained some of the most important minerals necessary to the prosecution of the war. Afterwards they turned her out into the Thames again and lost her at Land's End on the way to Liverpool. It is a crying shame that it should have happened.
It is no use saying the railways are congested. Who congested them but the Government, by taking away the means of transport by road? The hon. Member for East Hull (Mr. Muff) said that Hull had no shipping in at all. It has to live mostly by its seed-crushing. That seed can come into Liverpool and be carried overland, and yet the Government cannot carry aeroplanes and important minerals for the prosecution of this war from London to their destination. The Government hazarded that ship and in the hazarding lost her through sheer incompetence. [Interruption.] An hon. Member says the Minister ought to lose his certificate. I doubt whether he ever had one, but if he had I am sure he would not have it now.
There is the case of another ship which arrived at a North-East coast port, loaded with pulp—the dock there may be tidal—I do not know. She arrived at that North-East coast port in the evening, she could not get into the dock, and was told to go out and wander about for the night which she did, and the enemy got her. Here is another serious case. A ship came to this country and anchored a mile off a lightship. On the afternoon she arrived she was visited, presumably for reconnaissance purposes, by a German aeroplane which afterwards went away. The next day another German aeroplane spattered her with machine-gun bullets. The master asked for assistance. The lifeboat came out to the ship and said, "It is evident you are not in any distress; we cannot help you, but for your information we can say that the lightship has been asking for assistance for you for some time." On the third day another German aeroplane came and dropped four salvoes of five bombs and machine-gunned the ship and the boats. The ship was lost, and the crew were ultimately picked up by a small Dutch vessel and taken ashore. Is that the right way to look after our shipping? And then the hon. Member for Rutherglen says, "Please do not say too hard things to the Government. They are doing their best." It is not good enough.
I look back at the picture which I have presented to the House, and it is this: That the number of ships in service at the moment is half the tonnage as put before the House by the First Lord of the Admiralty, and the total of new ships cannot equal our losses in tonnage. That the Minister has no vision as to the proper management and manning of ships, and no adequate arrangements have been made for a proper labour supply. That the convoy system, excellent in itself, must reduce our capacity to import and export owing to the time taken to assemble the ships for convoy and to disperse the assembly on their arrival, and that the convoy system is slower by virtue of the fact that the pace of the convoy is conditioned by the slowest ship. That the Government have hazarded ships after safe arrival in this country by convoy, and have lost ships through affording no proper protection to ships proceeding to points of assembly for convoy and, after their arrival in convoy, on their journey to the ports assigned to them. That no real effort is being made to intensify our shipbuilding programme. That the steel and timber position of the country leaves much to be desired.
If this indictment were not enough to damn the Government, it has set out to antagonise every element that goes to make up the shipbuilding industry. At the outbreak of the war, or shortly afterwards, the Baltic Exchange and the Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers were asked under what conditions they would be prepared to work for the Government. After a long discussion it was agreed that they should set up small committees dealing with particular types of trade which they could best handle, and they were offered by the Government 1per cent. commission on the total freights carried. This was to be paid into a pool, and after remunerating their members on the basis of their 1937 figures any surplus was to be returned to the Government. On the 27th November they received a notification, without any previous consultation, that the scheme was to be scrapped. They were to abolish their various committees. The Government were to charter on their own account and had appointed Sir Philip Runciman to carry out this service with regard to neutral tonnage, and had set up their own chartering office with a staff of some hundreds of inexperienced people to run it.
What madness it is to scrap a service in the shipping industry, which has come to efficiency by a policy of trial and error, and which has ability to match cargoes with ships. It was left to another hon. Member to tell how necessary it is to match cargoes to ships. These men had ability to arrange for speedy delivery with a minimum number of ships in ballast, and their only desire was to serve the country and maintain their organisation intact until after the war. It may be said that a Socialist Government would nationalise this industry; very likely, but no Socialist Government would be so daft as to wreck every organisation existing in the industry in taking it over. Rather would they take it and use those organisations and pay for their services, as they should be paid for. The right hon. Gentleman should have done so and not treated them in so cavalier a fashion.
I want to give two instances of what I mean. Here is the case of several ships. One is the "Keimata." She was taken over by the Government, and her subsequent employment was to load in Halifax for New Zealand by way of Panama. She had on board about 150 tons of oil, in other words, sufficient for 10 days' steaming. An application was made to the Customs in Liverpool for sufficient oil to reach Panama with a safe margin. The following points were made: The vessel required full bunkers in addition to her full water ballast of 1,200 tons, to make a safe passage of the North Atlantic in winter-time, and it would not have been possible to load this vessel in Halifax without her double-bottom tanks being full, as she would have been without the necessary stability. The Liverpool Customs refused the application, and it was referred to the bunker department of the Ministry of Shipping. Their expert, Mr. Bowler, made the following comments, that the vessel could only have sufficient oil to reach Halifax, and that the vessel would have ample stability with the amount of oil which he proposed to give for the passage. When asked what knowledge he had of the position he stated that he had looked the vessel up in Lloyd's book. Everybody knows that questions of stability do not appear in Lloyd's List.
There it is. This ship ultimately got away and did her work. There are five other ships which show what the Ministry are doing. There are the "Sylvia de Larrinaga," the "Rupert de Larrinaga" and the "Richard de Larrinaga."These ships were sent to the Plate. The first-named vessel was to load linseed, and the second was to load iron ore. The cubic capacity of the "Sylvia de Larrinaga" is such that she can load a full cargo of a commodity which measures not more than 52 cubic feet. That of the other two vessels enables them to load full cargoes of lighter commodities, measuring up to 58 cubic feet. All those vessels could load full cargoes of maize or iron ore, but the "Sylvia de Larrinaga" selected to load linseed, which measures 58–59 feet in bulk and 60–63 feel in bags, can perforce only load a much smaller proportion of her deadweight-carrying capacity than either of the two other vessels. On the other hand, the cubic capacity of the "Richard de Larrinaga" and the "Rupert de Larrinaga" is not wholly occupied by ore or maize cargoes. The "Ramon de Larrinaga" and the "José de Larrinaga" were allocated to load from the River Plate. This is an important point. The Ministry informed the owners that they found these vessels to be quite unsuitable for the Plate trade, although they have been almost exclusively engaged in it for a number of years. They were told that they had not shifting boards and they requested the owners to supply them with a full set forthwith. Every shipowner and broker knows that shifting boards are not required in the Plate trade, and the owners' brokers had to teach the Ministry an elementary point in shipowning to prevent them wasting the country's money by supplying and fitting unnecessary timber and needlessly delaying the vessel.
I think I have said enough to show that these are not isolated cases that we have brought before the House. The House ought to give serious consideration to the position of the country at this moment. Of course, they will not do so, but I would say to the right hon. Gentleman and the Government that he represents: Your job is to get on or get out. What a sad commentary it is that in the "Daily Telegraph" last Saturday, over the name of "Peterborough," it was stated that a humorous shipowner had said that the secret weapon of Herr Hitler at last had been discovered; it was found in the Ministry of Shipping.
I will do my best to answer the criticisms that have been made of the Ministry of Shipping since my right hon. Friend spoke earlier this evening. I should say at once that I shall not be able to answer a great deal of what has been said by the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken because he was dealing with matters which are within the competence of the Admiralty rather than the Ministry of Shipping. I cannot deal to-night with the question of shipbuilding, and I do not think it would be prudent of me to attempt to explain his figures and statistics for the First Lord of the Admiralty. I think that on an appropriate occasion he will certainly do that himself. I would just say in passing that if the Hon. Gentleman will look at the speeches of the First Lord he will see that a good deal that he says by way of qualifying the figure of 21,000,000 tons has been said by the First Lord himself.
Turning to this Debate as a whole, I think I may say on behalf of my right hon. Friend as well as myself that while we cannot be expected to find any particular pleasure in the precise wording of the Motion before the House, apart from the wording of the Motion, we welcome the opportunity of presenting the policy of the Ministry of Shipping and also of collecting the advice and suggestions of Members of this House. We have had a long and varied Debate this evening. We have had criticisms, sometimes perhaps acidulated, rarely acrimonious, often constructive, and I can assure those who have criticised us that we shall examine very carefully all those detailed comments that have been made but which it has not been possible to inquire into in the course of the Debate this evening. In these days the Minister of Shipping needs to be Argus-eyed and to have as many ears as eyes. He certainly does welcome the opportunity of being able to utilise the eyes and ears of the Members of this House and the many sources of information from which they draw. This evening I start on my maiden voyage under this flag. I start with rather a considerable cargo of criticism. Some of it-perhaps would reckon a little more by bulk than by weight. To use our shipping jargon, it would be rather a measurement than a dead weight tonnage.
I do realise that there is a great deal in these criticisms that we shall have to consider, and consider seriously. I shall do what I can to answer those criticisms, but as the space available is limited by the inexorable hand of the clock and the Rules of this House, I may, I think fairly, try to lighten my ship by setting aside certain matters as outside my scope. In the first place, I shall not be able to say much about most of the detailed cases which have been brought before us. The hon. Member for Rotherhithe (Mr. Benjamin Smith) cited at the end of his speech about half a dozen cases. He will realise that I could not bear these ships in mind; but we shall inquire into them, and, if he desires, will write to him, telling him the result of our inquiries. The House will have been rather struck, I think, with the number of times that a single case has been quoted of a ship which went to London, discharged part of her cargo, and was then taken round to Liverpool.
She started, but was lost on the way. It is one of the objects of our requisitioning scheme to see that the ports of loading and discharge shall be reduced to the utmost possible extent. This was a ship which was discharged under her ordinary commercial conditions, and had not come under requisitioning. We are endeavouring, where possible, to reduce the number of double discharges, to secure that, the cargo is loaded entirely for one port. With regard to shipbuilding, I shall not be able to add to what my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty said. I think, too, I am entitled, by the terms of the Motion, to decline to follow the criticisms that have gone back beyond this war and the creation of the Ministry of Shipping. I do not think I am the most appropriate person to discuss the question of Government policy over a considerable number of years. I do not think the terms of the Motion require me to accept a responsibility so retrospective. The Ministry of Shipping, after all, was born rather less than five months ago, and I do not think my right hon. Friend and I need accept the doctrine of pre-natal sin. I shall, therefore, confine myself to the criticisms of what the Ministry has done or has not done since its birth five months ago. Perhaps the Opposition will agree with me, at least in this sense that we have in that record enough to answer for.
I should like to say a few words about the general conditions under which merchant shipping has to work and be directed in war time. We have heard more than once a description by the First Lord of the thousands of British ships, in port and on the high seas, being convoyed and protected in every way. I should like the House, as a background to the criticisms we are discussing, to think what those ships mean under war conditions, from the point of ship management and direction: the assembly of the ships; their timing and selection, so that they shall not have to wait too long for a convoy, so that there shall not be excessive differences of speed in the convoy; all the consequent arrangements that result from the fact that they come not separately, but in bunches, in a convoy; all the rearrangements that follow the fact that they are carrying Government cargoes, bought by the Government, selected by the Government, no longer imported under peace-time conditions. Above all, what follows from the fact that the demand for shipping considerably exceeds the supply, and that, for reasons which everybody knows, and with which, I think, everyone agrees, the main economic system under which the demand and supply of any article and any commodity are adjusted in peace time, has had to be replaced? You can no longer decide what cargo the ship should carry and what voyage should be undertaken, by asking which is the cargo which pays best and which is the voyage which will pay best. Once you have so far scrapped the working of the ordinary economic competitive system, which adjusts supply and demand by the fixing of prices; once you have bought the things the country must have through the Ministry of Food and the Ministry of Supply; you can no longer look to prices and to profits to help you, except to a very small extent, in determining what should be brought and what should not be brought.
It is a tremendous task, and it is a novel task. Under the conditions of peace time no one anywhere has to decide up to what point it is desirable to bring in food at the expense of raw material, up to what point it is desirable to prefer raw material for manufacture for export to raw materials for manufacture for the home market. Nobody has that kind of experience and nobody has, except in bits and fragments, that kind of skill. There has been no precedent and no experience since the last war for work of that kind. That, I suggest, gives a background against which one has to consider all the particular problems we have discussed to-night, as to whether requisition is better than licence, what kind of organisation you want in the Ministry of Shipping; as to whether the sending out of a ship on a particular occasion in ballast rather than with cargo is right or wrong—
With great respect to the hon. Member, it may be right. There are times when, while a particular ship could get a cargo, it is better that the cargo should be taken by a later ship, and not by that one. There are times when it is so important to get a particular block of commodities of vital importance to the country that you may have to sacrifice, say, some of your export trade for that purpose. I would like to say one thing to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for the West Derby Division of Liverpool (Mr. Fyfe), who complained of the requisition system in the last war, that it had the effect of destroying a good deal of our export trade. He had in mind, I think, not only export trade but the intermediate carrying trade between foreign port and foreign port. It was not the requisitioning system which led to that result. The requisitioning system was the instrument of policy for increasing the imports into this country at the known and definite expense of foreign exchange considerations and certain foreign trade. Because of the strain upon foreign tonnage in the war we could not afford to keep up certain foreign trade at the expense of bringing in less imports than we would otherwise have had. Such decisions as to priority are the task not only of the Ministry of Shipping, but of the whole machine of Government, culminating in the War Cabinet, and associating with it the machinery of Allied co-operation, which, happily in this war has started at an advanced stage very quickly, and is working well.
You have thus to decide, without having a price index to tell you which is right or not, whether it is right or not that a given ship should be sent out with an export cargo or whether it should be sent out in ballast in order to bring the imports with the least delay. It is not to be assumed, as the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) rather assumed, that, if ships go out in ballast across the North Atlantic, it is necessarily wrong. Even under peace conditions, there are so many more ships required to bring our imports from the North Atlantic than there are cargoes to be carried out that some ships have to go out in ballast.
It is wrong, if you can find ships which are more suitable, or if the ships which you send are completely unsuitable, but it was so important to increase our imports from across the North Atlantic that, acting on the best advice in the world—because we have the best shipping advisers—we deliberately sent out certain ships on the North Atlantic which we should not have sent, if we had had a longer time and if we had had other ships from which to choose. Even if we were able to replace every ship we lost, we should still have to come to difficult priority decisions, for at least four reasons. In the first place, as the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) pointed out, navigation under war conditions reduces importing capacity. It is inevitable that a given number of ships will bring in less goods than they would under peace conditions. In the second place, a great number of our ships had to be withdrawn from importing capacity for naval and military work. In the third place, in peace-time, we have about one-third of our imports brought in by neutral tonnage and cannot expect as much by neutral tonnage under war conditions. In the fourth place, it is inevitable that we should bring in additional quantities of raw materials for war manufacture. If then we never lost a ship at all, we should still have the extremely difficult problem of priority decisions and be under the necessity not only of bringing only the most essential imports but of importing the maximum, even at the cost of sacrificing foreign exchange.
I am 100 per cent. with the hon. Member that we must build every ship we can. That is the definite policy and intention of the Admiralty.
To come to the question which was discussed more than any other—the relative advantage of requisitioning and licensing—my right hon. Friend explained the general system, and gave the main reasons, but I would like to add a few more words, especially to the hon. Members for Seaham, East Birkenhead (Mr. White), Consett (Mr. David Adams) and West Derby, who expressed their preference for the system of licensing. It is important to bear in mind what is the difference between the licensing and requisitioning systems. Requisitioning does not, as many think, take ships away from shipowners and hand them over to incompetent civil servants to manage. Under the requisitioning system a ship remains under the management of the owner in the ordinary sense. The owner provides the crew, pays the crew, gets the stores and in general provides the ship as a running concern. The difference is that the Ministry of Shipping and not the owner decides more directly and more positively what the ship is to do, what cargo she is to carry and on what route she is to go. It is true that under a licensing system, by always saying no to every job you do not want an owner to do you can ultimately induce him to do what you want him to do. That is a negative system that can be changed into a positive system.
But no one who has had experience, as I have had, of the attractions and the defects of a licensing system and a requisitioning system both in the last war and this one, will for a moment question the statement that under a licensing system it is extremely difficult to avoid living from hand to mouth, extremely difficult to plan ahead and to decide the kind of questions to which I have referred, as to whether, having regard to the national needs, it is better that a ship should go out with a cargo which may be very lucrative to the owner or whether it should go out with a less lucrative cargo in order that it may more quickly bring back a cargo needed by the Government and bought by the Government. It is precisely because a particular cargo is so essential that the Ministry of Food or the Ministry of Supply will have bought it, will have fixed the price, and it is more likely than not that the cargo which is left outside control, and which will bring in a higher profit, will, therefore, be more lucrative to the owner who asks for a licence.
Under requisitioning, you can, as you cannot under a licensing system, plan ahead, take a look at your whole programme of imports, look at the whole of the ships operating. You can make a plan of the whole, and no one who has not access to the whole of the facts can do that. That is why it is not possible to utilise the ordinary methods of a ship broker. An hon. Member referred to the fact that we are displacing the shipbroker. He must bear in mind that 80 per cent. of what now comes into this country comes in as part of the programme of the Ministry of Food or the Ministry of Supply. Almost every ton which comes in under requisitioning, is a cargo of something brought by or on behalf of one of these two Departments. When that happens the proper counterpart of the purchase of the commodity by the Government is undoubtedly the requisitioning of the ship to carry it. It is the Ministry of Shipping that must marry the ship to the cargo. In these circumstances there is no position for the shipbroker in respect of this part of our work.
That does not mean that we have no expert knowledge at our disposal. It has amazed me that so many hon. Members seem to think that the Ministry of Shipping, which directs the employment of the ships, is a Ministry of civil servants. The hon. Member for Consett referred to some controversy, of which I had not heard, between civil servants and shipowners, and spoke of the ascendancy of civil servants. I have been looking through the staff lists and I see that the Controller of Commercial Shipping is a well known shipowner. I see that the man at the head of the Shipping Management Branch is a shipowner, with shipowners under him. The same is true of the commercial services division and the liner division—I see the same thing in the majority of the executive branches of the Ministry. They are not there as advisers, but are actually in executive control of those branches.
I was surprised to hear enunciated by the hon. Member for Consett a doctrine which, if it meant anything, apparently meant that he wished the Ministry of Shipping to be synonymous with control of the shipowners, by the shipowners, for the shipowners. I am not giving that as my opinion of what the position is. Certainly, it is not that. There are other great offices held by people who have Civil Service experience. I think the House will realise from the description I have given of the kind of tasks which fall on the Ministry of Shipping that the questions of priority decisions require that a decision on a particular ship shall be related to the whole framework of Government and Allied policy. These are questions on which Civil Service experience is very valuable. We have in the Ministry a real combination, a real union, a real co-operation of shipowner experience-on the one hand and Civil Service experience on the other, but to speak of an ascendancy of the latter is really fantastic. If hon. Members will look at the composition and method of work of the Ministry, they will realise that to speak of that is completely to misunderstand the position.
I should like to say a few further words about the question of exports. It is not the case that because we have the direct responsibility, on behalf of the Ministry of Food and the Ministry of Supply, for seeing that the imports which are being bought for them are brought in, therefore we set aside as being of no importance or of inferior importance the need for supplying tonnage for exports. In general, the tonnage necessary to carry exports from this country is available. Here and there on particular routes there may be some difficulty, but in general the shipping that is wanted for the carrying of exports is available and will be available. Certainly, the Ministry, before they allot a ship, do constantly see whether there is any proper export job that that ship can do. The Ministry may say "No" in a particular case, and it may seem very wrong to the shipowner concerned that they do say "No," but that shipowner will not realise, as the Ministry will have realised, that the reason they say "No" is, as often as not, because they know that there is another ship rather better placed to take that cargo available very soon and under better conditions.
A particular ship may well have been denied a licence to carry a cargo of coal, in all probability for the reason that it was known by the Ministry that another ship was better placed for carrying that cargo, the only one available in the particular case for that particular market. In general, it is not true that coal exports have been limited by a shortage of tonnage or a failure to allot tonnage. Recently, the boot has been on the other leg. Before that, there were certain difficulties in dangerous areas such as certain parts of the North Sea, but in general the tonnage to take coal out has been and will be available. The hon. Member for East Birkenhead asked, in relation to exports, whether we could not plan with our French colleagues. We have the whole mechanism and organisation which will enable us to see that if there are no exports for a ship of ours going out in ballast, and there is a French cargo, that can be arranged. But, in general, what is true of British ships is also true of French ships. To some extent the imports coming in are more than the exports available and saleable, and therefore there is ample tonnage for the exports.
Let me say a few words on the question of neutral shipping rates; a question which was raised by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for the West Derby Division. It is true, of course, that we have paid and are paying more for neutral shipping. What is the charge? Is it that we are paying more than we need pay? We cannot, for reasons which the House will understand, publish the whole of the agreements.
I hope the hon. Gentleman will be fair, as I know he intends to be. He knows that I have all the information as regards agreements with the neutral countries, but I did not indicate where that had been published. I gave nothing away.
I was not suggesting that. I was about to ask the hon. Gentleman what is his opinion about those rates. I may say that we have now given to the Select Committee of this House, which is inquiring into expenditure, full information as to the rates which we are paying. It is true that we are paying a great deal more than we are paying to British shipowners, but does any hon. Member think that in the circumstances of our supply position we would have done better not to pay those rates, and to leave the cargo behind or does he think that if we had to pay these higher rates and were right in paying them, that for that reason and no other reason we should have paid similar rates to British shipowners even though those rates were in excess of reasonable remuneration? Here let me again deal with the speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for the West Derby Division. While of course, the Government do realise the vital importance of the post-war position, still that is a problem that will have to be faced by whatever Government and Parliament is here at the end of the war. It can to some extent be prepared for now, but I suggest that it cannot be met by paying rates a long way in excess of what are required to provide for normal depreciation and to give reasonable remuneration, in order that shipowners may be able to form reserves adequate to meet all possible competition after the war.
What would be the consequences of following such a policy? Whatever may be the solution of the problem it cannot be found on those lines. Enormously inflated values of ships would follow and there would be not only a repetition of but even an increase in the scandals that arose in the last war. It is a problem that can be partly dealt with by building now to the utmost of our capacity and in other ways, but I do not think it is possible completely to solve it until we are more clearly in sight of the end of the war and know the conditions under which the war will end.
I think I have covered as many questions as I could without detailed inquiry, of which time would not permit. I should like, in the few minutes that remain, to turn to that one part of the Motion with which we on this side agree, that is the preamble, the part which recognises the paramount importance of shipping and shipbuilding. For the last five or six months the enemy has concentrated his main combatant effort on the attack upon merchant shipping and, above all, on merchant shipping coming into this country. We shall need not only the
efforts of the Royal Navy and the Merchant Marine; we shall need also the full co-operation of the public in order to encounter this danger. I should like to give one or two facts which I hope will be both an encouragement and a stimulus. We have been losing British ships by hostile action at the rate of about 100,000 tons a month. In the whole four years of the last war we lost at an average monthly rate of over 150,000 tons—50 per cent. more—and, with four years of loss at that rate, and with a tonage in 1918 lower than we now have, we were still maintaining an Army of 2,000,000 in France and some half-dozen great foreign expeditions as well. That is one half of the picture. The other half is that we did not do that by importing more in our ships. We did that because the public, throughout the whole processes of industry, had been able to adjust its life to a reduction of imports, a reduction from 52,000,000 tons, excluding oil, in 1913, to 34,000,000 tons in 1917. What we did before we can do again. We need to do it, not because the enemy is, on his record, succeeding in his attempt, but, first, in order to insure against the hazards of the future and, secondly, in order that we may so have a margin of strength which we can use to increase our war effort wherever it is most needed and so make victory once more certain and achieve it more quickly.
|Division No. 55.]||AYES.||[10.59 p.m.|
|Adams, D. (Consett)||Dunn, E. (Rother Valley)||Henderson, J. (Ardwick)|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, S.)||Ede, J. C.||Henderson, T. (Tradeston)|
|Adamson, Jennie L. (Dartford)||Edwards, A. (Middlesbrough E.)||Hills, A. (Pontefract)|
|Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (H'lsbr.)||Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwelty)||Hollins, J. H. (Silvertown)|
|Ammon, C. G.||Edwards, N. (Caerphilly)||Isaacs, G. A.|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Gardner, B. W.||Jackson, W. F.|
|Banfield, J. W.||Garro Jones, G. M.||Jagger, J.|
|Barnes, A. J.||George, Megan Lloyd (Anglesey)||Jenkins, A. (Pontypool)|
|Batey, J.||Gibson R. (Greenock)||John, W.|
|Beaumont, H. (Batley)||Green, W. H. (Deptford)||Jones, Sir H. Haydn (Merioneth)|
|Benson, G.||Griffith, F. Kingsley (M'ddl'sbro, W.)||Jowitt, Rt. Hon. Sir W. A.|
|Burke, W. A.||Griffiths, G. A. (Hemsworth)||Lathan, G.|
|Charleton, H. C.||Griffiths, J. (Llanelly)||Lawson, J. J.|
|Cluse, W. S.||Guest, Dr. L. H. (Islington, N.)||Leach, W.|
|Daggar, G.||Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel)||Leonard, W.|
|Dalton, H.||Hall, W. G. (Colne Valley)||Macdonald, G. (Ince)|
|Davies, Clement (Montgomery)||Hardie, Agnes||McEntee, V. La T.|
|Dobbie, W.||Harris, Sir P. A.||Maclean, N.|
|MacMillan, M. (Western Isles)||Rathbone, Eleanor (English Univ's.)||Viant, S. P.|
|Marshall, F.||Richards, R. (Wrexham)||Walkden, A. G.|
|Mathers, G.||Ridley, G.||Watkins, F. C.|
|Milner, Major J.||Riley, B.||White, H. Graham|
|Montague, F.||Ritson, J.||Whiteley, W. (Blaydon)|
|Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Hackney, S.)||Robinson, W. A. (St. Helens)||Wilkinson, Ellen|
|Mort, D. L.||Shinwell, E.||Williams, E. J. (Ogmore)|
|Muff, G.||Silkin, L.||Williams, T. (Don Valley)|
|Naylor, T. E.||Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe)||Wilmot, John|
|Noel-Baker, P. J.||Smith, E. (Stoke)||Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)|
|Oliver, G. H.||Smith, T. (Normanton)||Woodburn, A.|
|Paling, W.||Sorensen, R. W.||Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)|
|Parker, J.||Stewart, W. J. (H'ght'n-le-Sp'ng)||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|Pethick-Lawrence, Rt. Hon. F. W.||Thurtle, E.|
|Price, M. P.||Tinker, J. J.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Quibell, D. J. K.||Tomlinson, G.||Mr. Adamson and Mr. R. J. Taylor.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lt.-Col. G. J.||De la Bère, R.||Kimball, L.|
|Adams, S. V. T. (Leeds, W.)||Denman, Hon. R. D.||King-Hall, Commander W. S. R.|
|Albery, Sir Irving||Denville, Alfred||Knox, Major-General Sir A. W. F.|
|Alexander, Brig.-Gen. Sir W.||Dodd, J. S.||Lamb, Sir J. Q.|
|Amery, Rt. Hon. L. C. M. S.||Doland, G. F.||Lambert, Rt. Hon. G.|
|Assheton, R.||Dorman-Smith, Col. Rt. Hon. Sir R. H.||Latham, Sir P.|
|Astor, Major Hon. J. J. (Dover)||Duncan, Rt. Hon. Sir A. R.||Law, R. K. (Hull, S.W.)|
|Baldwin-Webb, Col. J.||Duncan, J. A. L. (Kensington, N.)||Lees-Jones, J.|
|Balfour, G. (Hampstead)||Dunglass, Lord||Leigh, Sir J.|
|Balfour, Capt. H. H. (Isle of Thanet)||Eckersley, P. T.||Leighton, Major B. E. P.|
|Baxter, A. Beverley||Eden, Rt. Hon. A.||Lennox-Boyd, A. T. L.|
|Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H.||Edmondson, Major Sir J.||Levy, T.|
|Beauchamp, Sir B. C.||Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E.||Lewis, O.|
|Beechman, N. A.||Elliston, Capt. G. S.||Liddall, W. S.|
|Bennett, Sir E. N.||Emery, J. F.||Lipson, D. L.|
|Bernays, R. H.||Emrys-Evans, P. V.||Llewellin, Colonel J. J.|
|Bird, Sir R. B.||Entwistle, Sir C. F.||Lloyd, G. W.|
|Blair, Sir R.||Errington, E.||Loftus, P. C.|
|Boles, Lt.-Col. D. C.||Erskine-Hill, A. G.||Lucas, Major Sir J. M.|
|Boothby, R. J. G.||Etherton, Ralph||Lyons, A. M.|
|Bossom, A. C.||Everard, Sir William Lindsay||MacAndrew, Colonel Sir C. G.|
|Boulton, W. W.||Fox, Sir G. W. G.||McCorquodale, M. S.|
|Boyce, H. Leslie||Fremantle, Sir F. E.||Macdonald, Capt. P. (Isle of Wight)|
|Bracken, B.||Fyfe, D. P. M.||McEwen, Capt. J. H. F.|
|Brass, Sir W.||George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke)||McKie, J. H.|
|Briscoe, Capt. R. G.||Gibson, Sir C. G. (Pudsey and Otley)||Maclay, Hon. J. P.|
|Broadbridge, Sir G. T.||Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir J.||Macmillan, H. (Stockton-on-Tees)|
|Brocklebank, Sir Edmund||Gluckstein, L. H.||Maitland, Sir Adam|
|Brooke, H. (Lewisham, W.)||Glyn, Major Sir R. G. C.||Makins, Brigadier-General Sir Ernest|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. E. (Leith)||Goldie, N. B.||Manningham-Buller, Sir M.|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Newbury)||Gower, Sir R. V.||Mason, Lt.-Col. Hon. G. K. M.|
|Bull, B. B.||Graham, Captain A. C. (Wirral)||Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J.|
|Burghley, Lord||Greene, W. P. C. (Worcester)||Medlicott, Captain F.|
|Burgin, Rt. Hon. E. L.||Gretton, Col. Rt. Hon. J.||Meller, Sir R. J. (Mitcham)|
|Burton, Col. H. W.||Gridley, Sir A. B.||Mitcheson, Sir G. G.|
|Butcher, H. W.||Grigg, Sir E. W. M.||Moore, Lieut.-Colonel Sir T. C. R.|
|Butler, Rt. Hon. R. A.||Grimston, R. V.||Moore-Brabazon, Lt.-Col. J. T. C.|
|Caine, G. R. Hall-||Guest, Lieut.-Colonel H. (Drake)||Morgan, R. H. (Worcester, Stourbridge)|
|Campbell, Sir E. T.||Gunston, Capt. Sir D. W.||Morris, J. P. (Salford, N.)|
|Carver, Major W. H.||Hacking, Rt. Hon. Sir D. H.||Morris, O. T. (Cardiff, E.)|
|Cary, R. A.||Hammersley, S. S.||Morris-Jones, Sir Henry|
|Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.)||Hannah, I. C.||Morrison, G. A. (Scottish Univ's.)|
|Cazalet, Major V. A. (Chippenham)||Hannon, Sir P. J. H.||Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cirencester)|
|Channon, H.||Harbord, Sir A.||Munro, P.|
|Chapman, A. (Rutherglen)||Harland, H. P.||Nall, Sir J.|
|Clarke, Colonel R. S. (E. Grinstead)||Haslam, Henry (Horncastle)||Neven-Spence, Major B. H. H.|
|Clarry, Sir Reginald||Haslam, Sir J. (Bolton)||Nicolson, Hon. H. G.|
|Colfox, Major Sir W. P.||Hely-Hutchinson, M. R.||Nield, B. E.|
|Colman, N. C. D.||Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel A. P.||O'Connor, Sir Terence J.|
|Colville, Rt. Hon. John||Hepworth, J.||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh|
|Conant, Captain R. J. E.||Higgs, W. F.||Orr-Ewing, I. L.|
|Cook, Sir T. R. A. M. (Norfolk N.)||Hoare, Rt. Hon. Sir S.||Palmer, G. E. H.|
|Cooke, J. D. (Hammersmith. S.)||Holdsworth, H.||Peake, O.|
|Courtauld, Major J. S.||Holmes, J. S.||Perkins, W. R. D.|
|Courthope, Col. Rt. Hon. Sir G. L.||Horsbrugh, Florence||Pickthorn, K. W. M.|
|Craven-Ellis, W.||Howitt, Dr. A. B.||Plugge, Capt. L. F.|
|Critchley, A.||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hack., N.)||Ponsonby, Col. C. E.|
|Croft, Brig.-Gen. Sir H. Page||Hudson, Rt. Hon. R. S. (Southport)||Procter, Major H. A.|
|Crooke, Sir J. Smedley||Hulbert, Squadron-Leader N. J.||Profumo, J. D.|
|Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C.||Hume, Sir G. H.||Pym, L. R.|
|Cross, R. H.||Hunter, T.||Radford, E. A.|
|Crowder, J. F. E.||Jarvis, Sir J. J.||Raikes, H. V. A. M.|
|Cruddas, Col. B.||Joel, D. J. B.||Ramsbotham, Rt. Hon. H.|
|Culverwell, C. T.||Jones, Sir G. W. H. (S'k N'w'gt'n)||Rathbone, J. R. (Bodmin)|
|Davidson, Viscountess||Kerr, Sir John Graham (Sco'sh Univs.)||Reed, Sir H. S. (Aylesbury)|
|Davies, Major Sir G. F. (Yeovil)||Keyes, Admiral of the Fleet Sir R.||Reid, Captain A. Cunningham|
|Reid, J. S. C. (Hillhead)||Somervell, Rt. Hon. Sir Donald||Wallace, Capt. Rt. Hon. Euan|
|Reid, W. Allan (Derby)||Somerville, Sir A. A. (Windsor)||Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Reith, Rt. Hon. Sir J. C. W.||Southby, Commander Sir A. R. J.||Ward, Irene M. B. (Wallsend)|
|Robertson, D.||Spens, W. P.||Wardlaw-Milne, Sir J. S.|
|Robinson, J. R. (Blackpool)||Stewart, J. Henderson (Fife, E.)||Warrender, Sir V.|
|Ross Taylor, W. (Woodbridge)||Stewart, William J. (Belfast, S.)||Waterhouse, Captain C.|
|Rowlands, G.||Storey, S,||Wayland, Sir W. A.|
|Royds, Admiral Sir P. M. R.||Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)||Webbe, Sir W. Harold|
|Ruggles-Brise, Colonel Sir E. A.||Strickland, Captain W. F.||Wells, Sir Sydney|
|Russell, Sir Alexander||Stuart, Lord C. Crichton- (N'thw'h)||White, Sir Dymoke (Fareham)|
|Salmon, Sir I.||Stuart, Rt. Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)||Williams, C. (Torquay)|
|Salt, E. W||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Sir M. F.||Williams, Sir H. G, (Croydon, S.)|
|Salter, Sir J. Arthur (Oxford U.)||Tate, Mavis C.||Wilson, Sir Arnold (Hitchin)|
|Sandeman, Sir N. S.||Taylor, Captain C. S.||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel G.|
|Selley, H. R.||Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A. (Padd., S.)||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Shakespeare, G. H.||Thomas, J. P. L.||Wise, A. R.|
|Shaw, Captain W. T. (Forfar)||Thomson, Sir J. D. W.||Wolmer, Rt. Hon. Viscount|
|Shepperson, Sir E. W.||Titchfield, Marquess of||Womersley, Sir W. J.|
|Shute, Colonel Sir J. J.||Touche, G. C.||Wragg, H.|
|Simmonds, O. E.||Train, Sir J.||Young, A. S. L. (Partick)|
|Smiles, Lieut.-Colonel Sir W. D.||Tree, A. R. L. F.|
|Smith, Bracewell (Dulwich)||Tufnell, Lieut.-Commander R. L.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Smithers, Sir W.||Wakefield, W. W.||Captain Margesson and Lieut.-Colonel Kerr.|
|Snadden, W. McN.||Walker-Smith, Sir J.|
Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.