§ MR. FENWICK (Northumberland, Wansbeck)
in calling attention to the conditions under which Chinese subjects were employed on British ships, and in moving: "That, in the opinion of this House, the conditions under which Chinese seamen are employed on British vessels at ports in the United Kingdom calls for an immediate investigation by a Select Committee of this House, with a view to determining whether the provisions of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1906, are sufficient to enable the Board of Trade to prevent abuses arising out of the employment of Chinese in the British Mercantile Marine," said the Resolution would be seconded by his hon. friend the Member for Middlesbrough, who had, perhaps, a more intimate personal knowledge of the question dealt with than he claimed to have. The hon. Member had had considerable practical experience of seafaring life, and as the House knew, he himself was not a sailor, though some of his friends said that he was a good sailor, because often as he had been on the water he was yet in blissful ignorance of what it was to be sea-sick. He wished to state at the outset that, speaking on his own behalf and of those in whose interest this Resolution was brought forward, neither they nor he had any complaint to make against the employment of Chinese in our mercantile marine qua Chinese. They did not wish in any way to curtail the employment of these men, nor did they wish to ask for anything in the nature 619 of protection or even preferential treatment for Seamen born within the four corners of the United Kingdom. All that they claimed was that if Chinese or any other foreign subjects were employed in the British mercantile marine they Should not be employed under terms and conditions which practically amounted to sweating or unfair agreements which tended very largely to deprive British-born subjects of their legitimate calling. They understood, and he believed that the Board of Trade would assist them in this respect, that wherever Chinese or the subjects of any other foreign Power were employed in the British mercantile marine they should comply strictly and to the letter, with the provisions laid down by the Board of Trade, both by their regulations and in their recent legislation. It was within the recollection of the House that recently they had devoted a large portion of their time to the consideration of legislation and the laying down of conditions and rules for the regulation of the mercantile marine especially with a view of improving the condition of the British sailor. It was true that the regulations and the legislation to which he had referred were based very largely upon the recommendations of a Departmental Committee, which only arrived at them after very full, careful, and exhaustive inquiry. He would remind the House of some of the things which were provided for by the President of the Board of Trade under the Act of 1906. The Act provided, amongst other things, that no foreign seaman should be permitted to engage on a British vessel unless he was able to speak and understand the English language. It also provided that no able seaman should be engaged unless he was able to prove at the time of his engagement that he had served at least for three years before the mast or in the capacity of seaman. It also enacted better food regulations and laid down what they considered to be a reasonable and rational scale of allowances which the British seaman ought to have; and that no person should be shipped as a ship's cook unless he held a certificate granted by a school of cookery, approved by the Board of Trade. These, in his judgment, were very wholesome provisions indeed, and 620 it seemed to him that it ought to be the duty of the House to see that the regulations which were imposed by that. Act were strictly and literally observed. The importance of the language test would, he thought, be admitted by every Member who had the honour of listening to the speech in which the President of the Board of Trade introduced his Bill two years ago. He would like to quote one passage from that speech to show the importance which the right hon. Gentleman attached to the question of language. The right hon. Gentleman cited several instances which clearly showed the danger to those employed in our mercantile marine, arising from the employment of men who were, it might be, physically fit in every respect to discharge the duties imposed upon them, but who were, in consequence of their want of knowledge and clear understanding of the English language, absolutely unfit to bear the responsibility imposed upon them. The President of the Board of Trade spid—There is overwhelming evidence that the lives of men engaged at sea are endangered by the fact that you have seamen on board who do not understand the English language, who consequently do not understand the word of command, and who, especially in moments of emergency, are absolutely worthless for that reason.This Resolution was brought forward not for the sake of protection, but absolutely in the interest of the safety of those employed in our mercantile marine. The Act, as the House would remember, only became operative on 1st January of the present year. Some considerable grace, it seemed to him, was allowed to ship owners to prepare for all the consequences of the Act when it became operative. What had happened? Only on the previous Saturday the stipendiary at Cardiff was engaged in an inquiry into the stranding of a steamship, called the "Huddersfield," off Hartland Point on 27th January last. That vessel had only been a few days at sea, and as the remit of the inquiry the master's certificate was suspended for six months. The stipendiary, in giving judgment said—The attention of the court had been drawn on several occasions during the last five years to the danger to life and navigation arising from the employment on British ships of foreigners having an insufficient knowledge 621 of the English language to enable, them to understand the necessary orders and to make the communications necessary to be made in the performance of their duty.What were the facts relating to this case? Two of the crew gave evidence before the Court of Inquiry, and neither of them understood a word of the English language. [An HON. MEMBER: Were they Chinamen?] One was a Greek, and he believed the other was a Chinaman, though that was not stated in the newspaper report. The man at the look-out on this occasion was a Greek who did not understand the English language, and although he saw that the vessel was approaching broken water, and ought to have been able to give intimation to that effect and to call attention to the danger which the vessel was running, he was unable to do so in consequence of his inability to find the words necessary, and the vessel was stranded in consequence. Although this man had the advantage of an interpreter he was still quite unable to understand the nature of the warning which he ought to have given. The court went on to express the opinion—Unless some vigour, care, and vigilance were exercised in giving effect to the restriction on the employment of foreign seamen contained in Section 12 of the Merchant Shipping Act of 1906, the restriction was both futile and illusory.He contended that that was the case, and that unless more careful supervision was exercised at the ports of the United Kingdom by the superintendent or some other person in authority when a crew was signing on, to take care that these men really did understand the English language and the nature of the duties they were called upon to par form, the regulations of this House would become simply illusory and a sham. Probably the case of a vessel which signed on on 31st January this year, one month after the provisions of the Act became operative, was familiar to the Secretary to the Board of Trade. The instructions of the Board of Trade as laid down in the Merchant Shipping Act, provided that what was known as the Dis. A., which applied to the question of nationality, should be produced at the time when seamen were being signed on. In this case some thirty-eight 622 seamen of a foreign nationality were signed on without Dis. A. having been submitted to them. It was perfectly true that by the Act of 1906 they regarded the Chinese and lascars just the same as any subject of British India, and in that respect they made a great mistake, because it was very easy for a Chinamen coming from anywhere-outside of Hong-Kong and Shanghai to cry off, on the ground solely that he was a British subject. Practically no steps, and certainly no efficient steps steps, were taken to ascertain whether these men were British subjects or not. In cases such as these, very careful consideration was required. Unless a man hailing from a foreign country was capable of showing by documentary evidence that he was a British subject, he ought to be prevented from signing such articles. What was the value of all their restrictive legislation and of their regulations if they simply accepted the ipse dixit of any man who sought employment in the mercantile marine that he was a British subject? A Chinese, Norwegim, or Russian sailor might go down to the shipping office and say his papers had been either stolen or mislaid, declare that he hailed from Hong Kong or Shanghai, and claim to be a British subject, without producing any evidence to show that such was the case. He maintained that, in the interests of safety and proper discipline in the mercantile marine, such an individual who was unable to produce documentary evidence as to the place of his nativity should be rejected on that ground. The same thing applied with equal force to the case of rating. According to the Shipping Act, no man was entitled to be rated as an A.B. unless he could produce evidence that he had served three years before the mast or as a seaman. The House would here again observe the great laxity that was displayed in all such cases. He had in his possession the articles of agreement relating to three vessels, and not a tittle of evidence was produced to show that the men had served for any length of time before the mast. In another case-thirty-eight seamen of foreign nationality had signed on as ordinary seamen, practically without having had any experience of the duties to be performed 623 on board ship. Seventeen of these men had left German vessels, two had left Russian vessels, and four had left Norwegian vessels. He maintained that in the absence of documentary evidence these men ought not to have been treated as British subjects, and they were not entitled to the covering clauses in the Act of 1906. Steps ought to be taken to prevent such men being employed In the British mercantile marine. The Secretary to the Board of Trade might reply to his contentions by saying that the Board of Trade were fully aware of the danger that existed, and were doing all they could to meet it. He believed that was so. He believed the Board of Trade were determined as far as they could to put an end to these questionable practices. He might also remind them that they had had very little opportunity as yet to gain experience of the operation of the Act, and to say that no inquiry was needed in order to deal effectively with the two questions he had raised. He was quite alive to the importance of such an answer. He recognised that if they set up an inquiry it would be very difficult indeed for the Board of Trade to exercise even the powers they possessed, either under the Act of 1906 or former Merchant Shipping Acts, until that inquiry was completed and its findings reported to Parliament. He could see the force of such an argument, but there were other points on which it seemed to him there was good ground for the request that an inquiry should be made without delay into the conditions prevailing in the mercantile marine. They had the case of crimping. Almost very day they had articles in the newspapers calling attention to the fact that so-and-so was in the habit of providing Chinese and other seamen for the British mercantile marine, and was able to do it on certain very easy conditions, so far as the shipowner was concerned. According to Section 111, of the Act of 1894, however, it was laid down that—A person shall not engage or supply a seaman or apprentice to be entered on board any ship in the United Kingdom, unless that person either holds a licence from the Board of Trade for the purpose, or is the Owner, Master or Mate of the ship, or is bona fide the servant and an the constant employment of the Owner, or is a Superintendent.624 They had advertisements appearing in the public Press in the name of gentlemen who were willing to procure such subjects for the advantage of the shipowners. The following which appeared in one of the London newspapers only a month or two ago was an example. It came from Cardiff and ran as follows—GENTLEMEN,—Encouraged by the fact that owners of ships have lately applied to me to secure Chinese crews for them, I most respectfully beg to call your attention to the fact that I always have good and reliable men in my house ready to join vessels at the shortest notice and at any port in the United Kingdom, provided half their fares and half expenses of transfer of luggage are paid. When employing a Chinese crew, you only require about two more hands than Europeans, but the difference in costs, not only in wages, is balanced by the cheaper scale of provisions the crew demands. Hoping to have the privilege to select a crew for you on some future occasion, I remain gentlemen, very respectfully yours, AH SAM.He would like to know whether this man held a licence from the Board of Trade as a recruiting agent for Chinese seamen. If he did not, then he thought very drastic steps ought to be taken immediately in order to put an end to this state of things. He also gave in his advertisement a food scale which the Chinese would require, and it was practically about one-third of that which was only two years ago laid down as an adequate scale for European seamen engaged in the mercantile marine. In many cases, too, European seamen had to complain of the unfair contracts with which they were confronted from time to time. It was perfectly true that they were signed by the men with their eyes open, but the condition of employment in the country was so precarious that in every branch of British industry a man was not always strictly speaking a free agent when in search of work. He was often compelled by sheer force of circumstances to sign a contract which, if he were freer, he would not be likely to sign. He had before him a contract in which there was a clause providing that if the cook deserted in a European port, and a substitute had to be found, and higher wages were demanded by the substitute (which was usually the case in European ports) then the difference had to be paid out of the wages of those engaged on board the vessel. Such conditions seemed to him to be 625 monstrous in the extreme. We were opening the ports of the United Kingdom and making them practically collecting grounds for men of foreign nationality who by the lower rate of wages which they were prepared to take were practically driving Europeans out of the service of our mercantile marine, which was at this moment manned to the extent of 40 per cent. by seamen of a different nationality from our own. This was a condition of things that we could not look upon with anything like complacency or satisfaction. In the matter of the Workmen's Compensation Act again they had ground for a careful inquiry by the Board of Trade. They had evidence that the operation of the Workmen's Compensation Act was tending probably more than anything else to drive European seamen out of our mercantile marine. That was a very undesirable thing, and unless they were prepared to tighten up the regulations provided by the Board of Trade and by legislation, the improvements which they expected they were effecting in the lot of the British sailor, which was always an arduous one accompanied by danger, were being frittered away and passing into the hands of men of a totally different nationality. He remembered when the original Workmen's Compensation Act was passing through the House that the late Sir Arthur Forwood, himself a large shipowner, and deeply in favour of extending its provision to seamen, in moving an Amendment to that effect, said that the British seaman was the worst paid, the worst organised, and the least able of all British workmen to take care of himself. It was in the interests of this class that this Motion had been brought forward; he sincerely appealed to the Board of Trade to grant an inquiry if possible, and he trusted that their labours in this respect might not become futile and illusory.
§ MR. HAVELOCK WILSON (Middlesbrough)
said he was afraid he would not be able to be quite so calm on this matter as his hon. friend, because be had had to deal with the question of shipping and shipowners for a good many years, and of all the employers in the country he knew of no class who were more inclined 626 to take advantage of their workmen than the shipowners. There were exceptions. There were a good many shipowners who did well by their employees and did everything they could to make the conditions on board ship all that could be desired. What was it that they had to complain of? For a good many years he had complained of the unrestricted employment of alien seaman on British ships, not that he objected to any foreign seamen being employed because he was a foreigner. All he said was that if these shipowner believed, and some of them said so, that the foreigner was a better man the shipowner ought to pay him better wages, and if he was engaged as a sailor he should be a competent man. That surely implied that he should be able to understand the orders given him. If he could not understand his orders he was not a competent man, and that observation applied equally to firemen. There was no class of employer that he knew of that had libelled and defamed their own countrymen to a greater extent than the, shipowner. According to statements of some shipowners the British seaman was a grumbler, would not attend to his work, never did what was right, and in fact was the worst man that they could possibly find to have on board ship, Many years ago the shipowners gave a preference to the Swedes and the Danes. They got them at less wages, but by and by those men commenced to ask for better pay and the shipowners had no further use for them. They then tried the Germans and Belgians with the same result, and they went all round Europe even taking in Turks and Greeks, but as soon as the men asked a better price for their labour their services were not required to the same preferential extent. Now the shipowners had got to India and China. He had been told more than once by Presidents of the Board of Trade that be must not ask for any conditions for the lascar or the Asiatic, because he was a British subject, and that if they asked that he should have proper accommodation and food he-would not be employed. Now it seemed that to some extent the shipowner had tired of the lascar, and had gone in wholesale for Chinamen. He thought some months ago that this 627 question was becoming very serious indeed. Ten years ago the only liners carrying lascars and Chinamen were those trading direct from the United Kingdom to the East and back, but during the last nine months it was not only the liners that had taken on Chinamen, but nearly the whole of the tramp steamers. He would respectfully suggest to his right hon. friend that when the Board of Trade were compiling figures they should be a little more fair to the seamen's side. The last quinquennial Return gave the percentage of lascars employed as about twenty-four or twenty - six. That was entirely misleading, because the lascars and Chinamen were employed in the foreign trade principally, and the number of lascars and Chinamen in the foreign trade employed as sailor, firemen, and petty officers was 30,000, while the number of Britishers did not amount to more than 59,000 of the same class. If they took from that the total number of men employed in the Western Ocean trade, it would leave nearly 60 per cent. of the men employed in foreign-going vessels to be Chinamen and lascars. When the next figures came out they would show a great increase, because he found that Ah Sam and Ahon were extensively circularising shipowners, pointing out that they were able to supply Chinamen at low wages and with a food scale a third of the cost of that provided by Act of Parliament for Europeans. There was another evil connected with that. The lascars engaged in India commenced their voyage there and went back to India and were paid off there, but the Chinamen they were now complaining of were becoming residents of the ports of the United Kingdom, commencing and finishing their voyages here. During the past eighteen months there had been an increase of no less than ten Chinese boarding houses in the East End of London. Two years ago they had not one Chinese boarding house in Cardiff. Now they had eleven or twelve. At Liverpool they had multiplied in the same way, and if any hon. Member visited the West India Dock Road to-morrow he would wonder where all the British inhabitants had gone to, because the Chinaman monopolised every public-house and every den 628 of infamy in that particular locality. He had to complain of the action of the Board of Trade in this matter. His hon. friend had already read out to the House from a copy of an agreement certain clauses which provided that if any Chinamen deserted at an American port the remaining Chinamen were to pay the expenses of a watchman during the time the ship remained in port. That was not an isolated case, for he was present in a mercantile Marine office when a crew was signed on, and a man who was acting as interpreter for the crew was the Chinese crimp who was supplying the men to the shipowners. He called the superintendent's attention to the matter and told him that he would hear more about the subject. He had seen a good deal of interpreting done in his time. His hon. friend had said that the men had signed this agreement with their eyes open, but he could assure him that they did not know what they were signing. It had to be remembered that this was a crew signing on for a British ship and signing as able seamen, whilst not one of them was able to produce a scrap of paper to show whether he was a soldier, a sailor, or a fireman, and this was the crew of a ship which was to be allowed to sail down the Channel. At any rate, the Board of Trade could stop that, and lay down that they would not allow those crimps inside their office. Surely they could insist upon a competent interpreter being provided, and that every man must produce his certificate of discharge. He knew they lad them and he would tell the House why. Before the end of last year the language test was not in operation, and a good many Chinamen when asked their place of birth gave a truthful answer, and many of them stated that they came from Hong-Kong, Canton, and other places in China. But the Chinaman was a cunning fellow, and he was smart enough to discover that according o the Merchant Shipping Act if he could prove that he was a British subject the language test would not apply. Consequently the Chinamen were advised to conceal their actual place of birth and give Hong-Kong instead. Many of those Chinamen had seen 629 previous service in British ships, and he had taken the trouble of searching their records, and he found that in nearly every case where a Chinaman had given Hong-Kong in his latest engagement, on previous engagements the same Chinaman had given quite a different place of birth, and this proved clearly that those Chinamen were with impurity deceiving the Board of Trade. It was necessary that they should have this matter thrashed out, because it was becoming a very serious question; this kind of thing was being done by shipowners in order to defeat the benefits conferred by the new Merchant Shipping Act. But this raised a much more serious question. The shipowners who went in for that class of labour knew that if a Chinaman died there was much less responsibility attaching to them than if they employed Europeans. A Chinaman might come out of the stokehole overworked, jump overboard, and that was the end of the matter; but if a Britisher did the same thing, the probability was that some friend of his, probably his wife, or some member of his family would bring forward a claim against the shipowners for compensation. Chinamen were overworked, and he was going to give to the House some figures which he thought would startle even his right hon. friend. Recently they had had a Colonial Shipping Conference, and he wished to show how easy it was for the Board of Trade to make mistakes. At that Conference, in discussing the question of the number of men dying on board ship he stated that fifteen or twenty men every month committed suicide on board ship. Mr. Norman Hill, the representative of the shipowners, was very much struck with that statement, and Captain Chalmers challenged him on the point. Captain Chalmers said that he had the official Returns for the five years 1901–1906 inclusive, and the total number of suicides in British ships amongst firemen and trimmers during that period was 152. When Captain Chalmers was asked about disappearances he said they were put down as supposed suicides and the number was 159; that made 311 in five years. He was going to quote from the quinquennial return of the Board of Trade, Table 2, ratings and nationality 630 of seamen. He found from that return that the total number of trimmers and firemen employed on 4th April, 1906, in the mercantile marine was 46,787, whereas Captain Chalmers said the number was 120,000. If they took away from the 46,787—and he was justified in doing so—the men in the coasting trade, it brought the total down to 39,565 British seamen, foreigners and lascars employed in the foreign trade. The deaths from suicide in the year 1907 amongst firemen and trimmers were seventy-five; one in 527 men committed suicide; deaths from suicide, missing and disappearance, were 150; and that worked out that one man in every 263 employed in the stokehole including Chinamen, lascars, and others, committed suicide in one year. The deaths from suicide, missing and disappearance, heatstroke, numbered one in every 217; on shore the deaths from suicide were only one in every 4,000. That terrible state of things now existed on board ship, and he did not care whether the men affected were lascars or Chinamen, if they were being done to death through overwork, it was the duty of the House of Commons to step in and put the matter right. He thought that explained why a preference was being given to those poor unfortunate men who were not able to speak for themselves. He wanted the Board of Trade, if they were going to inquire, to make a fairly full inquiry into the whole affair. He believed that the Board of Trade had now a good many powers in their hands, and if they would only take into consideration the rating of men he believed they had very ample powers. The Board of Trade had power to detain any ship as unseaworthy in consequence of being undermanned. If a ship had taken on a crew of Chinamen, none of whom could speak English or produce a scrap of evidence that they were reliable and competent, he submitted that that ship was not seaworthy, and that it was within the power of the Board of Trade to say to the owner: "I will not allow your ship to go to sea, because I do not think she is properly manned." In putting it that way, he was putting it in a reasonable and fair manner. He would be the last to prevent any man entering employment as long as he was competent 631 to do the work and was getting fair conditions. Many of these men did not eat the same class of food as Britishers. It was astonishing how little food these men were provided with. The following shows how these men are fed. Daily scale of provisions for lascars and other native seamen:—For Home-Trade ships. Rice, 1 lb. 12 oz.; Dal, 6 oz.; Ghee, 2 oz.; Chillies, 4 dr.; Garlic, 8 dr.; Salt, 8 dr.; Turmeric, 8 dr.; Dry fish, 4 oz.; Onions, 8 dr.; Water, One gallon of 8 pints. For Foreign-going Ships. Rice, 1 lb. 6 oz.; Flour, 10 oz.; Dal, 6 oz. Ghee, 2 oz.; Salt, 8 dr.; Curry Stuff, 1 oz.; Dry fish, 4 oz.; Vegetables, 6 oz.; Tamarind, 1 oz.; Tea, 4 dr.; Sugar, 1 oz. 8 dr.; Lime-juice, 1 oz.; oil (mustard) 12 dr.; Water, six pints daily. He submitted that that was not sufficient food for the kind of work these poor unfortunate men were called upon to do, and in despair they sometimes jumped overboard. He believed that accounted for the serious number of Chinamen and lascars who died from heat stroke or committed suicide. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board would promise a full and careful inquiry.
Motion proposed, and Question proposed, "That, in the opinion of this House, the conditions under which Chinese seamen are employed on British vessels at ports in the United Kingdom calls for an immediate investigation by a Select Committee of this House, with a view to determining whether the provisions of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1906, are sufficient to enable the Board of Trade to prevent abuses arising out of the employment of Chinese in the British Mercantile Marine."—(Mr. Fenwick.)
§ MR. AUSTIN TAYLOR (Liverpool, East Toxteth)
said the hon. Member who had just sat down had accused the shipowners of being of all employers the most unscrupulous, and, if the statements made were justified, the terms of this Resolution ought to be much wider than they were. In listening to the speeches of the mover and the seconder of the Motion, he was struck with the confusion of thought or argument between them. The Motion before the House was strictly confined in its terms to Chinese seamen 632 employed on British vessels at ports in the United Kingdom, but the speeches of the hon. Members really constituted an attack upon the employment of foreigners in the British mercantile marine. The mover seemed to indicate that provided a seaman could make out he was a British subject, everything was all right, and he could be employed without question. That was not the terms of the Motion. What was desired evidently was that the foreigner should be excluded altogether. [Cries of "No! no!"] That seemed to him to be the argument lying behind the speeches of the hon. Members. If that was not the case, he was very glad. He was not there to justify any ill-treatment of seamen of any nationality. During the time the recent Merchant Shipping Bill was passing through Committee, he thought the members of that Committee would agree that those representing the shipowners raised no objection to the various improvements and mitigations put forward for the benefit of the British sailor. He would only say that he could not think the proportion of foreign sailors in our mercantile marine was suffering anything from that Act, but had shared equally with the British sailor in the benefits it conferred. He thought the shipowners as a body were not the unscrupulous men the seconder of the Motion had indicated. He asserted with confidence that shipowners as a body were honourably carrying out the spirit of the Act, and the case which the hon. Member for Middlesbrough had brought forward did not justify the belief that since the passing of the Act the proportion of foreigners, whether Asiatic or European, in the mercantile marine had substantially increased.
§ MR. HAVELOCK WILSON
said he could not give the figures, because they had not yet been published by the Board of Trade, but he could say there were dozens of vessels carrying Chinamen now which a few months ago were carrying Britishers.
§ MR. AUSTIN TAYLOR
said he was not prepared to accept the statement until he saw some official justification for it. The hon. Member appeared to assert that foreigners of European origin had disappeared from the British mercantile marine. Did they not form part of his Union? Was it possible for the hon. Member to get up in the House and represent that foreign sailors from the Continent were displaced in the British mercantile marine and that there were no European foreign sailors on board British ships?
§ MR. AUSTIN TAYLOR
said the hon. Member came very near to saying it when he gave the House to understand that there had been a process of getting rid of the European foreigner in order to replace him by the Asiatic. He did not believe that in this matter of employing foreign seamen the shipowner was altogether a voluntary agent. He spoke with some knowledge when he said that in the class of ships where foreigners were employed it was more often than not the fortune of the British shipowner to employ them because he had no alternative. There seemed to be an impression that every British steamer did nothing but trade to and from the ports of this country, but the fact was that many vessels were absent from these shores for nearly a year at a time, and it was not always possible to get British sailors to ship on these vessels.
§ MR. AUSTIN TAYLOR
Does the hon. Gentleman say that every steamer leaving this country could be manned by British seamen?
§ MR. AUSTIN TAYLOR
I dispute that: I give it the direct negative. He believed it was not possible to man the British mercantile marine to-day with British sailors, however much they might desire to do so, and when they manned them with British sailors such was the 634 nature of the employment that when these vessels put into, foreign ports desertions took place. The idea that it was to the advantage of the shipowner to getrid of his crew in a foreign port in order to replace them with cheaper labour was one of the mistakes which people not directly acquainted with the question fell into. There was nothing more annoying to a shipowner than to see in his accounts the items of "blood money" that had to be paid to foreign boarding masters for replacing deserters from his ships. He did not profess himself to have the slightest sympathy with those who wished to substitute for British or European sailors cheaper Asiatic labour, but he believed one of the reasons why Asiatic seamen were engaged in the Far East was that they would stick more closely to the vessel than the sailors of British or foreign European origin who were shipped here. It was not to the interest of the shipowner that Chinese shipped in the Far East and brought here should leave the vessel. They were shipped for the round voyage, and they were entitled to remain by the vessel, and it was not to the interest of the shipowner that they should desert. He felt that the House was naturally disposed, as if he were not a shipowner he himself would be disposed, to resent the employment of Asiatics at all in the British mercantile marine, and to be perfectly candid with themselves and with their own prejudices, was it not a fact that almost everybody felt that the Chinaman or lascar, whether a British subject or not, was for racial reasons someone whom they would rather see substituted by a British-born sailor if they could get him. But let them not exaggerate the extent of this necessity. He had read the evidence given before the American Commission on their mercantile marine. The Americans employed Chinese in their ships in the Pacific. No doubt there were abuses there just as there were on some British ships, but the report of the Commission went to show that even American shipowners, with all their racial feelings, found that it could not pay them in the Pacific if they displaced the Chinese who at present manned their ships and substituted American seamen. However, he felt they must be candid in the matter, and while deploring the necessity for the 635 mercantile marine's being manned so largely in these waters with. Asiatic sailors, they had to recognise that it could not be altogether avoided. He only spoke for himself; but he would call the attention of the House to the strictly limited character of the Resolution. It dealt purely with Chinese sailors engaged on British ships in British ports, and lascars, foreigners like Greeks, Turks, Jews and infidels were left out of it. If there were abuses of a grave character connected with Chinese labour engaged in British ports, he would, so far as he was personally concerned, have not the least objection to their being made the subject of inquiry. He hoped, however, the House would not act precipitately, but would be sure from official and authoritative sources as to the extent of these abuses, if they existed, and whether they were of a grave character, before they allowed a very natural racial feeling to influence them unduly in their proceedings.
§ MR. HOUSTON (Liverpool, West Toxteth)
said he was entirely in sympathy with the Motion moved by the hon. Gentleman, whom he complimented upon the temperate and at the same time forcible language with which he had brought it before the House. He very much regretted that the seconder had indulged in the exaggerated statements and irresponsible language for which he was so well known. He agreed with the object of the Motion, not merely as a pious opinion, but as one which he had put in practice for the past twenty-five years. He had a decided objection to the employment of foreigners of any nationality in our mercantile marine. He looked upon such as a source of danger to our country and an evidence of an element of the decadence of our nation. To his mind it was extremely regrettable, when one viewed the appalling amount of unemployment in this country, that they should have to employ foreigners to make up the shortage in the mercantile marine. But they all knew it was impossible to make sailors out of full-grown men. This was a question which ought to be dealt with by the nation. The shortage of British seamen in the mercantile marine was due entirely to the great diminution in the number 636 of sailing ships which, in the old days, carried a number of apprentices and boys. These were, unfortunately, rather in the way on board steamships. He had tried the experiment himself, and he was sorry to say it did not turn out a success. Regarding the employment of foreigners, some little time ago he had the percentage of foreigners taken out in the whole of his fleet, and it worked out at about 2 per cent. There would have been no foreigners employed at all had it not been that vacancies caused by desertions abroad had to be filled, and the only possible men to be obtained were foreigners. In this matter of the exclusive employment of Britishers he had had to fight against his captains. Most sea captains considered the Norwegian or Swede or German a more desirable seaman than the Britisher; as a rule he was more sober and more amenable to discipline. He looked upon such men as a greater element of danger to our country than Chinamen would be in the case of war, as we were less likely to be engaged in a great naval war with China than with nations nearer home. No one had a kinder heart towards British sailors than he had. He had sailed with them himself, and it could not be said of him by anyone that he had not been a good comrade and a good employer. There was no better man afloat in times of danger and emergency than the British seaman, although he was not always so sober or amenable to discipline as he should like to see him. Reference had been made to the boarding-house master and the seaman. Why did the boarding-house master exist? Ever since the abolition of imprisonment for desertion in the case of seamen, it was a common practice for men to come down to the sailors, home and to sign articles to be on board at a certain time and not to come on board at that time, or sometimes they came down to the ship and then for some reason or another cleared out of it. Were they to delay the sailing of a ship for the want of one or two men? Then came the boarding master with his substitutes, and he was bound to say that in most cases the substitutes were anything but satisfactory. He remembered once himself, when a young man and an officer on board a liner, sailing on 637 Christmas Eve. A number of men did not turn up, but the boarding-house master did with his substitutes. He took the precaution to have the men's bags opened. They all had good substantial bags, but out of one man's bag he turned a pair of window curtains, a blanket, and some straw. That was what the man was provided with to go across the Atlantic. These substitutes would not be required if the sailor would join his ship when he had signed articles. He endorsed everything that had been said as to the inadvisability—he would like to use a stronger term—of employing foreigners on board ship who could not speak English, nor understand it. He quite agreed that a ship in that position was in an unseaworthy condition, and he sympathised with the unfortunate captain and officers who had to take a ship out to sea in such a condition. But what was often as great a danger was that the British seaman came on board sometimes in a state of intoxication. He was speaking, not as a "tramp" owner but as the owner of liners, which he thought it would be admitted were a higher class of ship, in regard to Chinese labour and Liverpool in particular, he would refer the mover and seconder of this Motion to shipowners not on that side of the House but on the other, to Liberals, to gentlemen who, at the last general election, denounced Chinese labour in the South African mines as the very worst kind of slavery, and yet did not hesitate to employ them on, board their ships. True, these Gentlemen were free traders, and he had no doubt that they thought and they were entitled to think that they should have free trade in labour if they were to have free trade in regard to imported articles. No doubt the hon. Member for Hexham might be able to say something about Chinese labour. So far as the Chinaman was concerned, he had many faults but he had many virtues also. He was sober as a rule, industrious, frugal, and healthy. True, he did indulge in vices, and very serious vices, but he did not do so at times when he was at work or was expected to be at work. The opium den was a very deadly place, but it did not interfere with the sailor or fireman on board ship, whereas 638 drink did interfere with the British sailor's performance of his duty and his efficiency on board ship, ["Oh!"] It was all very well for the hon. Member behind him to sneer at this. He was as good a friend and, perhaps, a better friend, to the seaman than the hon. Member. He did not rate them as angels; they had their faults. In spite of them, however, they deserved kindness, sympathy, and consideration. Therefore he had the greatest sympathy with the Motion of the hon. Member, and would not have spoken as he had done but for the expressions used with regard to a class of gentlemen in this country who, he maintained, for patriotism, respectability, honour and ability, were second to no other class in the country.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY TO THE BOARD or TRADE (Mr. KEARLEY,) Devonport
The subject to which my hon. friend the Member for Wansbeck calls attention is one of extreme importance, dealing as it does with legislation which has been passed in the last two years by this House, and in a special sense with the administration of it under the responsibility of myself and my right hon. friend so long as we are at the Board of Trade. I desire to associate myself with the compliments paid to my hon. friend on the moderation he displayed in bringing forward this Motion and in presenting his case, more especially because I recognise that it deals with subject matter as to which the House may be deemed to be somewhat sensitive. The desirability of the employment of Chinese labour has been combated in this House, and therefore it is very liable to excite prejudice, but my hon. friend was very careful to put his case before us in a fair and square manner. In the terms of the Motion and by his speech my hon. friend, contrary to my hon. friend who seconded, has confined in the main part the issue to the engagement of Chinese seamen in home ports. My hon. friend the Member for Middles-borough emphasised and amplified many of the facts and arguments brought forward by the hon. Member for Northumberland, but he enlarged considerably the scope of criticism over a very 639 wide field, and even if I were disposed to endeavour to reply to him, I am perfectly certain that the time would not allow me to give him any satisfaction on many points which he has referred to in his speech. The Motion seeks an investigation into the "conditions under which Chinese seamen are employed on British vessels in the United Kingdom, with a view of determining whether the provisions of the Act of 1906 are sufficient to enable the Board of Trade to prevent abuses arising out of the employment of Chinese in the mercantile marine." This rather assumes that we are made acquainted to-night for the first time with conditions and circumstances arising out of the passing of the 1906 Act, and that no administrative steps are being taken to insure that the benefits conferred under particular sections are working in the direction contemplated. I shall hope to show during the course of my speech that there is no ground for any assumption of this kind. In preparing for the Act coming into force we took the greatest care to consider the matter in all its bearings. We took the best expert advice that we could get, not merely from shipowners, but from the hon. Member for Middlesbrough himself, and others with a view of applying it in such a way that it would bring about the results for which the Act was passed. Since the Act came into force we have had representations made to us and certain communications pointing in certain directions, and we have not neglected the warnings so given, and long before the notice of this Motion was on the Paper we had already taken steps to gather information as to what would happen or was likely to happen detrimental to our legislation. I am entitled to put that before the House, because I rather gathered that my hon. friend is under the impression that he was revealing to us to-night much informa- 640 tion which we had not before obtained. Under the Merchant Shipping Act of 1906, and also under another Act, the Workmen's Compensation Act of the same year, the position of the seamen in our mercantile marine has been enormously improved and great advantages are conferred upon them. In the first place, the seaman has obtained for the first time a statutory food scale, the enforcement of which gives him a far more liberal and varied dietary than he hitherto secured by voluntary arrangements. In the second place, his housing conditions on board ship have been materially bettered by the increased space allotted to his use; and in the third place, he is, under the Workmen's Compensation Act, protected in case of loss of life or injury. But it has been definitely stated by my hon. friend the Member for Wansbeck and my hon. friend the Member for Middlesbrough, that these benefits, instead of accruing to the advantage of the seaman, have worsened his position in the United Kingdom ports. That raises in a direct form a question of serious importance, and it is this, as to whether the bettering of the condition of the British sailor contemplated by the recent Acts passed for his benefit, is to be allowed in practice to prejudice him in the eyes of his employers. In view of the importance of this question, I have made personal investigation into the employment of Chinamen in British ships in British ports, and as it was desirable to endeavour to secure first-hand information, I thought I could not do better than interview the various marine superintendents who supervise the engagement of crews at London and the principal outports. It appears that for the last two or three years there has undoubtedly been a growth in the employment of Chinamen in British ships in our own ports, and there is a general consensus of opinion among the Marine Superintendents that recent legislation 641 is likely to accelerate it. I do not put it higher than that, but as to the tendency, I have figures supplied to me by the marine superintendents. I will first of all give a summary of those given to me by the marine superintendents of the three leading marine offices in London, situated at Poplar, Dock Street, and the Victoria Docks. These figure, include some other Asiatics, but the majority of the men are Chinamen. In 1905 448 Chinese seamen signed on. In 1907 they had increased to 1,211, and from 1st January to 22nd February, which represents about the seventh part of this year, there were 256 signed on. I multiply that by seven and estimate the total quantity for the year, which works out at 1,792. So much for London. I have also the figures for the leading outports, viz., Glasgow, Liverpool, Cardiff, Barry, and Newport. In 1905 in the outports the number of Asiatics engaged was 1,424; in 1907 the number had grown to 3,173, and for that period of this year to which I have referred the number was 544, giving 3,808 as the total for the year if multiplied by seven.
§ MR. KEARLEY
I have them at the office and shall be pleased to give them to the hon. Member. Summarising the results, we have 1,872 signing on in 1905 in the same ports, 4,384 in 1907, and, on the commutation I have used, 5,600 this year. That is a serious figure. My hon. friend has been perfectly frank in saying they do not wish to interfere in any way with the employment of Chinamen or other Asiatics abroa, in their legitimate sphere. They are directing attention in a forcible way to the increase of employment of the Chinaman in the United Kingdom. What is the explanation of these figures? My hon. friend says that the explanation 642 is to be found in the fact that those who employ Chinamen hope to escape the liabilities and obligations of that beneficial legislation which we passed two years ago, and to which I have made reference in detail. I suppose they expect to save money. They certainly do so, because in no part of the United Kingdom is the Chinaman receiving the same wage as that paid to the British or European sailor serving on the same ship. I do not think too much stress can be laid on the admission of my two hon. friends that they do not in any way wish to interfere with the employment of Asiatics in their proper sphere. I am bound to point out that it is no part of British policy to prohibit the employment of foreigners, as such, in the mercantile marine. That point has been emphasised by my hon. friend, but he pointed out that in the interests of safety, the Act of 1906 prohibited the engagement at ports within home trade limits of foreign seamen with insufficient knowledge of English. He referred to the speech of my right hon. friend in introducing the Bill, when he quoted cases in justification of that section, and as illustrations of the sort of things we sought to legislate against—cases almost identical with the Huddersfield case referred to by my hon. friend. The language test does not apply to any British subject or any inhabitant of any British Protectorate, nor to lascars; and although we have only had two months experience of the working of this section, there are indications to show that these exemptions are being used by Chinamen in such a way that they are, in effect, defeating the very objects we had in view when the section was passed. My hon. friends pointed out—and I am bound to agree with them in the main—that practically every Chinaman signing on in home ports declares himself to come from Hong-Kong or Singapore, and so claims the benefit afforded to any British subject. We 643 are not surprised, knowing he is a wily customer, that all documentary evidence that might be offered to show that he is not what he claims to be has disappeared, so that there is really no definite record of his nationality. Not very long ago the marine superintendent either at Barry or Cardiff refused to admit some Chinamen as British subjects, and give them the benefit of the section unless they proved their nationality. They immediately trooped into the town and came back armed with statutory declarations. That gives an idea of the direction in which this language test is being abused. I have another figure that I glean from Poplar. It illustrates the position mo it vividly. It should be remembered that until this year there was nothing to be gained by Chinamen by mis-stating their birthplace. Therefore, the records of the places whence they came were probably more or less accurately supplied. There were shipped from Poplar last year, 590 Chinamen, of whom only 190 claimed to have been born at Hong-Kong or Singapore. This year already, out of the 192 that have been shipped, 162, or 94 per cent. declared that Hong-Kong or Singapore was their place of birth. So I do not think it is a matter that requires very much arguing to show that the wily Chinaman has detected the weak spot in our armour and is utilising it to his own special advantage. Before I say what we are prepared to do, perhaps I ought to deal with some of the special points that have been referred to. My hon. friend referred to the illegal supply of seamen—to crimping—and wanted to know whether a particular man with a Chinese name was licensed to supply them. Of course he was not licensed. We know what is going on, but our difficulty at the moment is to get sufficient evidence to bring about a prosecution. But last year we were successful in Cardiff in prosecuting one of these Chinese boarding-masters for procuring 644 seamen, not being licensed, and I assure the hon. Member that the man whose letter we have had read to us will not escape our attention if we can get the necessary evidence. The penalty is £20 for each man illegally supplied. I am familiar with the agreement to which the hon. Member has referred. It was signed, as long ago as May of last year. The question is as to whether an illegality has been committed. By Section 114 of the Act of 1894, any stipulation may be inserted, in an agreement if agreed to by the parties concerned, always provided it is not contrary to the law. The whole point is a legal one, and the matter has been communicated to our solicitor, and his opinion has been invited. If I find that an agreement of this kind is illegal, we shall know exactly what to do to prevent its occurrence. But I do not hesitate to stigmatise the agreement as most harsh and unconscionable, one quite unusual, and one that no decent shipowner would attempt to support or back up in any way. I think my hon. friend went out of his way to make observations about shipowners that he was certainly not entitled to make. There may be shipowners who do things they ought not to do, but when the hon. Member spoke of them as being among the worst employers to be found anywhere, I think, if I may say so, that that is a statement that ought not to be made.
§ MR. HAVELOCK WILSON
I think my hon. friend did not catch what I said. I said that many shipowners were all that could be desired, but that a large number of them were the most unscrupulous employers I know in the country. I stand by that statement absolutely.
§ MR. KEARLEY
I can say on the part of the Board of Trade, in connection with the Merchant Shipping Bill, that the Department has had from time to time 645 to consult the shipowners on many questions which tended against their pockets and in the direction of the interests of the class whom the hon. Member represents. The experience of the Department leads me to say without hesitation that a more upright and honourable body of men willing and anxious to do their best to improve the lot of those whom they employ than the shipowners cannot be found. That does not prevent the hon. Member or the Board of Trade from saying it has come to our notice that there are certain shipowners who must not be taken as a type; but these are individuals for whom we can have no particular regard when they act contrary to the practice of the best shipowners. My hon. friend has referred to Chinamen engaging without producing their discharge book. But there is no legal obligation on the part of these men to produce their discharge book. A master is compelled to give a seaman a certificate or discharge book, so that he may have a record in seeking further employment, at the end of his voyage, but there is no obligation on the part of the seaman when he goes to seek employment to produce the book. I am not quite sure, even assuming we had the power, which we have not, to impose the obligation on every seaman to produce his discharge book, that we should carry the hon. Member for Middlesbrough with us.
§ MR. KEARLEY
I do the hon. Member an injustice. I thought possibly at times he might find it work hardship, but I make no more of that. The argument has been used that a man 646 who signs on without being called upon to produce his discharge book gives no evidence of his competency. The hon. Member knows that a master is bound to engage a competent number of deck hands. Does the hon. Member deny that? They are the Board of Trade orders, and no marine superintendent would dare to allow a ship to go to sea unless there is a sufficient number of competent deck hands on board. If this condition is not satisfied there is a remedy provided in an appeal to the surveyor, and the Department is certainly not lacking in the power to see that ships go to sea properly manned, and ships can be detained until the crew is made up to a competent strength. The Board of Trade are doing that. Not long ago a ship wanted to go away with only five deck hands, the minimum number being six. The superintendent pointed out that under such circumstances it would be an unseaworthy ship, and the master engaged another man. It turned out that the additional man engaged had never been to sea before, and the matter was again reported, and that ship was not allowed to go to sea until an efficient man had been substituted. I know that the hon. Member is an advocate of a manning scale, and he wants to have on board so many A.B's. The hon. Member has put forward the recommendations of a previous Committee, but there was no unanimity about that Report; no two members of that Committee agreed to the same thing. The hon. Member is at this moment a member of an Advisory Committee on the subject of manning, and he can fight the question out there. As to the course which the Government proposed to follow, we do not desire the Select Committee which we are 647 invited to appoint, because we have a better alternative. It would be impossible for a Select Committee to report in less than two years; and the Board of Trade are unwilling to transfer to other shoulders their responsibility for administering this Act—a responsibility which they are perfectly competent to discharge. With a fairly full knowledge of what has happened and of what the tendency undoubtedly is the Board will investigate this matter in order to check and nip in the bud the abuses that threaten to defeat the object of legislation. One thing the Board is determined to do at once, and that is that, when Chinamen in the United Kingdom ports claim as British subjects an exemption from the language test, the title to exemption will have to be proved.
§ MR. KEARLEY
I expected that question. I know there will be some difficulty. At present there is no system of registration of birth in China, but we have our Consular officers in China, and we have our own marine superintendents in Hong-Kong and Singapore, and I do not think it is beyond the wit of the Board of Trade to bring into existence some system of identification which will provide a check. We have determined to act in that matter straight away. As to the food scale for Indian lascars, the Board of Trade has been in communication with the Indian Government, and we are awaiting their reply. Criticism has been mainly addressed to the food scale which is not a statutory one, that which is provided for Chinamen. As to that the Board of Trade are instructing their marine superintendents to watch 648 most carefully the food scale inserted in articles of agreement where Chinese are employed, particularly in respect of its adequacy. I think I have dealt with all the points raised, and I have endeavoured to do so in a frank way. I would ask my hon. friend not to persist in his Motion for the appointment of a Select Committee, because I feel confident—and I say this in the interest of the seamen—that the Board of Trade will be able to deal with this matter satisfactorily. It will be investigated at once, and we shall take good care, as is only fair, that all the interests concerned will have an opportunity of being heard. It is in that spirit that we shall try to bring the matter to a satisfactory conclusion.
§ MR. JOHN WARD
said the hon. Member for the East Toxteth Division of Liverpool had addressed the House in the interest of the shipowners as he usually did on occasions like this, but he had utterly failed to deal with the points raised by the Member for Middlesbrough. He had absolutely avoided the question of the language test, and he had jumbled the figures which had been quoted in support of the Motion. Before the Motion was withdrawn it was necessary to make clear that the figures supplied by the Board of Trade amply justified the contention of the hon. Member for Middlesbrough. He did not understand his hon. friend to include all shipowners in the category to which his remarks referred, any more than he understood the hon. Member opposite when he referred to the drunken habits of sailors to ask the House to take it for granted that there was not a sober British sailor. It had been stated in the course of the discussion that the British seaman was a 649 man who usually took his trade union with him, and that he usually wanted as good a food scale as he could possibly secure. The suggestion of his hon. friend the Member for Middlesbrough was that that being the case, the British seaman was gradually being ousted from the mercantile marine. It had also been stated that the shipowners, having tried Scandinavian seamen and found that they tried to approximate to the wages and conditions of British seamen, were gradually dispensing with British seamen, and turning out European sailors generally, for the purpose of taking on a more docile and less remunerated class of labour so far as the manning of the ships was concerned. The hon. Member for the East Toxteth Division had not met that case. The figures with respect to Scand navian labour on board British ships showed that in 1901 there were 3,385 Norwegians, and in 1906, 3,449, or an increase of only 64. In 1901 there were 1,492 Danish seamen on board British ships, and in 1906 the number had decreased to 1,453. The Asiatics employed on British ships had increased from 4,164 in 1891 to 11,644, as appeared from the recent returns of the Board of Trade. These figures clearly showed that not only British seamen, but other European seamen were gradually being ousted from the mercantile marine, and that their places were being taken by the more docile Asiatics who would work under the most slavish conditions. The hon. Member for the East Toxteth Division had not contended that the Board of Trade figures were incorrect. The figures showed clearly that the tendency was to dispense with the labour of British seamen and to replace it by Asiatic labour remunerated on a 650 different scale. He hoped shipowners would never try to approximate the food scale of the British sailors to that of the Asiatics. He was not prepared to assent to British workmen, either in the mercantile marine, or any other trade, being reduced to the conditions which it was possible to impose on Asiatics. It was morally certain that if such a danger arose, the change would be strenuously resisted and organised labour would fight before it submitted to worse conditions than prevailed in European countries to-day. Two years ago Parliament passed certain industrial legislation. Much had been done of late years in connection with industrial legislation. The mercantile marine had been brought under the Compensation for Injury Law, and a series of reforms had been introduced in the Mercantile Shipping Amendment Act. He had been delighted to hear the hon. Member for West Toxteth state that he refused to employ Chinamen in his fleet on principle.
§ MR. JOHN WARD
said he was still more delighted to hear that from the hon. Gentleman; but from the figures quoted by the Secretary to the Board of Trade, there was not much room to doubt that some shipowners were gradually attempting to evade the expressed wishes of this House regarding the conditions of the mercantile marine by employing Asiatic labourers in preference to European labourers, whether Continental or British. This unquestionably required very serious attention on the part of the Department of the Board of Trade responsible for the administration of these particular Acts. Under 651 these circumstances he wondered why the House was not treated to a fuller discussion of the matter in the speech of the hon. Member for East Toxteth Division of Liverpool. It might have been different had they been discussing Church disorders; but the position which the hon. Member took up was no answer to the proposition of his two hon. friends. He thought the offer of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade was extremely satisfactory, and seeing that the Board of Trade had made a promise to take the subject into very serious consideration, and had expressed their determination to enforce the law, he thought they had done a very good evening's work.
§ Mr. WILLIAM RUTHERFORD (Liverpool, West Derby)
said that there was one aspect of the employment of Chinese on British ships which had not been much referred to, but which had exercised considerably the people of Liverpool. Chinamen were allowed to escape, or at any rate did escape from steamers in port, and had gradually formed in Liverpool a colony which now amounted to many hundreds, and tended to increase. Certain things of a very objectionable kind went on in that colony. He was not one of those who would venture any opinion whatever as to the suitability of Chinamen being employed on board ship. That was out of his ken, but he was told that some shipowners who employed Chinamen said that they made excellent sailors. The hon. Member for Hexham, who had opposed him at the last election, when he was charged with being a party to the importation of Chinamen into the Transvaal, was a Gentlemen who himself employed some 652 thousands of Chinamen on board his ships coming into such British ports as Liverpool and London. He did not make any charge against the hon. Member, for he was convinced that it was sometimes an excellent thing to employ Chinamen, and a good thing also for the shipowners; but he wanted to know what the hon. Member for Hexham thought were the great advantages of employing Chinese seamen exclusively.
§ MR. HOLT (Northumberland, Hexham)
said he had not intended to intervene in this debate, but circumstances had arisen which made it necessary for him to do so. One of the reasons why he was inclined to hold back from taking part in the debate was that he thought his old antagonist would insist on dragging him into the discussion, and he preferred to speak after the hon. Member rather than before him. He reminded the hon. Member that, if he knew anything of the character of the business he carried on, he would see that the Motion did not refer to it. It referred to the engagement of Chinese sailors in British ports.
§ MR. HOLT
said that the Motion referred to a different thing altogether. The hon. Member was entitled to bring forward a Motion himself with regard to employment if he desired. He entirely agreed with the Motion, and was glad the whole question was going to be thoroughly inquired into. So far as he and his firm were concerned, they had done nothing they were ashamed of. They were quite prepared to have everything connected with the engagement of sailors thoroughly and publicly inquired 653 into. It would dissipate a good many misconceptions on the part of the hon. Gentleman. It had been said that it was the duty of British shipowners to send their ships to sea in a thoroughly sound and sea-worthy condition; but he thought no evidence could be adduced of any ship manned by Chinese coming to grief on account of these crews. As far as he was concerned in regard to any of the vessels of his line he would be quite willing to submit them to the arbitrament of any competent committee of underwriters that could be found, and he was quite sure that that would be the case with other shipowners. The Chinaman was not necessarily an inefficient seaman, and he did not think that he was cheaper than the English sailor. There was very little in it, as any shipowner who had investigated the matter would tell them. These men were paid about £3 10s a month whereas the British sailor was paid from £4 to £4 10s. a month. There was therefore not much difference in the wages, particularly as a Chinese crew would exceed an English crew in numbers. So far as diet was concerned they found that it cost just as much to feed a Chinaman as to feed an Englishman. He thought the Board of Trade should insist that whatever was the class of labour employed on a ship there should be the same diet or an equivalent diet for all. Of course people of different nationalities did not like the same food, but there should be a diet which was equivalent in value. Then, again, the accommodation provided for the men should be equal, and he thought that a great deal was being done to improve the condition of men on board our ships. In securing this, public opinion had been of great advantage and everybody was taking steps in favour of the 654 seamen. The hon. Member for West Toxteth had alluded to him in the course of the debate and had also expressed great interest in the British sailor, expressing a great wish and desire to benefit him and to open up better career for him. He had spoken very emphatically of his devotion to the British sailor, but he had also spoken of the drawback which his habits of intemperance created in the eyes of many people. Might he suggest that if the hon. Gentleman felt in that manner upon this subject he should give a very cordial support to the Licensing Bill of the Government? If he wished to give the British sailor a better chance in his competition with the foreigner the hon. Member ought to do his very best to support the Government's Licensing Bill and to endeavour to strengthen its provisions and improve the habits of the British sailor which were a far greater detriment to him than all the foreigners.
§ MR. FENWICK
said that after the statement made by the Secretary to the Board of Trade he wished to ask the leave of the House to withdraw his Resolution, but before doing so he could not help expressing his regret that a tone of recrimination should have been 655 introduced into the debate by the two hon. Members for Liverpool who had spoken on the other side of the House. The House would do him the justice to say that in moving this Resolution he had studiously refrained from bringing any recriminatory charge against Gentlemen on either one side of the House or the other, and he regretted more than he could say that the two hon. Members had gone out of their way, as it seemed to him, to bring a charge such as they had brought against his hon. friend the Member for Hexham. He begged to ask leave to withdraw his Resolution.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE (Mr. LLOYD-GEORGE,) Carnarvon Boroughs
moved the Adjournment of the House.
§ Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Mr. Lloyd-George.)
§ MR. MORTON
protested against the House adjourning at five minutes to eleven, and at a time when the Bills of private Members might be considered and perhaps passed. If, however, the Government would not allow them to do so they could not bring them on, but some of the Bills were of the utmost importance. Some of them, like his Bill for the regulation of sea fisheries in Scotland, were absolutely necessary to carry out the present law as to illegal trawling, and if the Government refused to allow them to do anything with it they would be backing up companies and trusts, and aiding them to break the law. But the Government would not allow private Members to legislate on any subject, 656 and he thought that they were entitled to a little more consideration. Nearly all their rights and privileges had been taken away from them, although there was no doubt that a good many of the measures proposed and carried through the House by private Members had been just as good as those which hid been brought forward by any Government. He thought the time had come when the Government should not attempt to impede public business in this reckless way, but should allow them at least to go through the Orders of the day. He hoped the Government would reconsider its action and not obstruct necessary and useful legislation.
§ MR. T. L. CORBETT (Down, N.)
thought that after the news which had just arrived from Hastings, culminating a long series of remarkable bye-elections, the desire of the Government to retire at the earliest possible moment to think over the situation was only natural, and he therefore agreed that the House should rise.
§ CAPTAIN J. CRAIG (Down, E.)
said that he certainly did not agree that, after listening with great interest to the Naval debate, and the discussion upon the employment of Chinese in British ships, they should go on to consider the question of the prohibition of medical practice by companies. Such a proposal seemed to him to be one which would not commend itself to any hon. Member in the House, and he hoped the House would agree to the Adjournment.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at one minute before Eleven o'clock.