Oral Answers to Questions — Overseas Goods (Marking of Destination)

– in the House of Commons on 9th December 1942.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Colonel Ralph Glyn Colonel Ralph Glyn , Abingdon

asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of War Transport whether he has yet received any evidence which shows that the existing practice with regard to the labelling of cargoes for overseas destinations has imperilled the safety of our convoys at sea; what is the conclusion of Mr. Justice Tucker's Report on this matter; and whether he has any further statement to make?

Photo of Sir Adam Maitland Sir Adam Maitland , Faversham

asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of War Transport whether the Report on the investigation into the working of the security side of the convoy system has been received; and whether he can make a statement to the House thereon?

Photo of Mr Philip Noel-Baker Mr Philip Noel-Baker , Derby

With your permission, Sir, and with the permission of my hon. Friends, I will answer these Questions together at the end of Questions.

Later:

Photo of Mr Philip Noel-Baker Mr Philip Noel-Baker , Derby

I have received no evidence which shows that the existing practice with regard to the labelling of cargoes for destinations overseas has imperilled the safety of our convoys. After the fullest inquiry into all the allegations which have been made, and after hearing the evidence of many competent witnesses, Mr. Justice Tucker has reported that, in general, the existing system, and the instructions given by the Ministry of War Transport to shippers, railways, and others concerned, are not open to objection on security grounds. In particular, he reports that it is neither desirable nor practicable to change the present practice of marking cargo with the name of the port of destination. In most other respects, he recommends that no change should be made. He points out, however, that in one instance the present instructions concerning an operational convoy were not fully obeyed. While this did not, in his view, in fact imperil the convoy, he recommends that further measures should be taken to ensure that, in future, the Ministry's instructions shall be fully carried out. Mr. Justice Tucker recommends one other change which, While not essential for purposes of security, will, nevertheless, be of advantage. My noble Friend has already taken steps to put these recommendations into effect, and to impress on all concerned how necessary it is that the instructions given shall be fully carried out. I regret that it would not be in the public interest to publish the full text of Mr. Justice Tucker's findings, but I take this opportunity of expressing to him the gratitude of His Majesty's Government for the energy and thoroughness with which he conducted his inquiry, and for the Report which he has made.

Photo of Colonel Ralph Glyn Colonel Ralph Glyn , Abingdon

May I ask the hon. Gentleman whether the speeches that were made did not cause undue alarm and despondency and produce a very bad effect, and whether those who made the speeches gave evidence before Mr. Justice Tucker's Committee?

Photo of Mr Philip Noel-Baker Mr Philip Noel-Baker , Derby

In answer to the last part of the question, some of those who made speeches certainly did give evidence before Mr. Justice Tucker. I agree with my hon. Friend in thinking that it was most regrettable that speeches should have been made which spread unjustifiable alarm among the public and caused needless distress and anxiety to relatives and friends of merchant seamen, and I think it would have been much better if the critics would have consulted my Noble Friend in private before they made accusations in an indiscriminate manner for which there was no foundation whatever.

Dr. Russell Thomas:

In order to restore confidence, will the hon. Gentleman circulate the terms of reference of Mr. Justice Tucker's Committee and the list of witnesses and organisations who gave evidence before the Committee?

Photo of Mr Philip Noel-Baker Mr Philip Noel-Baker , Derby

If I may, I will tell the hon. Member now what were the terms of reference and who were the principal witnesses. The terms of reference were: To examine the system of marking goods destined for shipment and to report whether, in the interests of safety of ships, any changes, and if so, what, are desirable and practicable, having regard to the necessity of avoiding confusion and delay. Mr. Justice Tucker heard representatives from all the principal Government Departments concerned—the Admiralty, War Office, Board of Trade, etc.—Customs and Excise, the Security Executive, the Crown Agents for the Colonies, the Railway Executive Committee, the Chamber of Shipping, the National Union of Seamen, the National Council of Port Labour Employers, the Officers' Merchant Navy Federation, the Mercantile Marine Service Association, and two firms of Liverpool shipping agents. He also saw Lord Cork and Orrery, Lord Chatfield, a Naval officer with unrivalled experience of Malta convoys, a Merchant Navy cadet, and some members of the general public. He also had a very large volume of correspondence from the public, a memorandum from Sir Percy Bates, and many other Departmental minutes and memoranda.