§ LORD MARCHWOOD
My Lords, I beg to ask His Majesty's Government whether they have come to any decision regarding the request for an impartial inquiry made in the Mercantile Marine debate of the 10th September last, and further, what steps are being taken for planning in advance to meet the situation which will confront the shipping industry upon the cessation of hostilities in order to secure that our Merchant Fleet will be in a position to provide for the officers and men the most favourable conditions of employment.
§ THE MINISTER OF WAR TRANSPORT (LORD LEATHERS)
My Lords, since the debate of September 10, I have very carefully considered the issues which I then promised to look into, and I still adhere to the decision that I could not accept the request for the setting up now of a Royal Commission. Whilst I am unable to commit the future, I can assure 639 my noble friend Lord Marchwood that if he raises this question again on the cessation of hostilities, the Government will then be in a position, in the light of the circumstances then prevailing, to give a definite decision as to the advisability of an inquiry covering the wider aspects of the whole future of our Merchant Navy. I can assure your Lordships' House that His Majesty's Government realize to the full the importance and urgency of the problem which will confront us, and, as in other phases of post-war reconstruction, will plan in advance to meet them. Continuity of employment, improvements in methods of entry and training, of seagoing personnel, are matters in regard to which, among others, I have been in communication with the National Maritime Board. I have asked them to give immediate consideration to these problems and bring them to the stage of definite proposals as soon as possible. The aim of the Government, like that of the noble Lords who have raised the matter in debate, will be to secure, so far as can be done, that after the war the British Mercantile Marine shall be maintained in an adequate state of strength and in a position of full efficiency, in which term I include the best attainable conditions of employment for the officers and men who are serving the country so well.
§ LORD MARCHWOOD
My Lords, whilst the noble Lord has not gone as far as I should have wished, I am very grateful to him for his general assurances and for his invitation to raise the question again upon the cessation of hostilities. I do hope, however, that he will then recognize the necessity of impartial inquiry. The officers and men of the Merchant Navy and those connected with the shipping industry will be heartened by his statement, seeing in it an earnest of the Government's intention to do all that is possible to improve conditions for the mutual benefit of all concerned.
I would also like to take this opportunity of paying a tribute to the noble Lord the Leader of the House, Lord Moyne, for his great work in bringing to the notice of the administrating officers abroad the necessity of doing all that they can to assist the officers and men of the Merchant Navy when they are in our Colonial ports. His work has given the greatest satisfaction and is much appreciated. 640 Lord Chatfield, who I regret is unable, owing to illness, to be here to-day, wishes to identify himself closely with the remarks I have made with reference to the Leader of the House and the noble Lord who has replied, the Minister of War Transport.
§ LORD MOTTISTONE
My Lords, on the last occasion, when this matter was raised, it will be remembered that Lord Chatfield, the noble Earl, Lord Cork, and I took part in the debate and urged the noble Lord, the Minister of War Transport, to take some action at once. I rise to say that we rejoice that while the noble Lord, Lord Leathers, cannot see his way to accept the idea of a Royal Commission—to which we three did not attach the same importance as did Lord Marchwood—he does not, to my great relief (a relief which no doubt my noble friend the Earl of Cork will share) propose to wait until the war is over before going into the problems which we all want to see solved, and is taking steps with a view to removing some of the anomalous and cruel circumstances which have affected some of our merchant seamen and which have been described by the noble Lord, Lord Chatfield. He says that he has now remitted to the Maritime Board questions which he wishes to see put right, and I understand that if they put before him something which he by administrative action can cure or alleviate he is prepared to take action so far as it is possible to do so. That is a great advance, and I hope the noble Lord will be able to do much to secure for the merchant seamen that place in our national life to which they are so fully entitled.
Since that debate I have become identified in an honorary capacity with the marine engineering side of the Mercantile Marine and I need hardly say how glad I shall be to think that through this reference to the Maritime Board by the Minister of War Transport that body of men who in this war of submarines suffer perhaps even more than those on the bridge and on deck, will have the measure of advantage which may be expected to result from his benevolent consideration. In conclusion I would say that all of us who have known Lord Leathers know that he is the kind of man who, having taken on this tremendous job of war transport, will carry through anything that he knows to be right, and that we can trust him to see justice done.
My Lords, since this matter was last debated on the initiative of Lord Marchwood, I have been in touch with the National Union of Seamen, and I venture now to offer some very brief remarks on their behalf with regard to some of the points which have been raised. I believe that they should read the reply of Lord Leathers with some satisfaction. The National Union of Seamen have the same attitude towards the request for an inquiry as they had before—they do not think it can serve a useful purpose at the present time for two reasons, and I would ask the noble Lord, Lord March-wood, whose sincerity in this matter we all appreciate, to pay great attention to these two reasons. In the first place, they state, there can be no useful inquiry until the future policy with regard to the British Mercantile Marine is decided by His Majesty's Government, and they entirely appreciate the fact that in present circumstances that is asking too much. The Government cannot define their future policy in advance.
Before you could have a useful inquiry—and I put this to my noble friend in the most friendly manner—you must know what the Government's policy is, and they cannot lay down their policy until they know what shipping is afloat, and, above all, what is going to be the attitude of the United States Government and the American Seamen's Union—because the United States is going to have a very large Mercantile Marine, and their attitude is bound to affect the attitude of His Majesty's Government.
The other point is that the National Union of Seamen are terribly hard worked at the present time and they could not spare the men to watch and take part in such an inquiry. They are stretched to the uttermost, ministering to the needs of their members and in doing their best to help win the war. I think the noble Lord Lord Leathers would be the first to agree that they co-operated from the beginning with the Ministry and did their best to solve difficult problems. Generally speaking they do say that British seamen would not be prepared to go back to the conditions prevailing in the Mercantile 642 Marine before the warr and owing to the different circumstances of the Merchant Service they are opposed to the idea of uniform or anything resembling naval formality. That, I know, is a detail, but it is a matter which is very present to their minds.
THE EARL OF CORK AND ORRERY
My Lords, as one who spoke in the original debate on Lord Marchwood's Motion I would like to make a few remarks. I suggest that Lord Marchwood deserves a great deal of gratitude not only from the Merchant Navy and from your Lordships' House but from the nation as a whole for having pressed the claims of this very important service. As a supporter of Lord Marchwood I accept with, I must say, restricted enthusiasm the answer given by the noble Lord for the Government, but I do so because I note that he speaks of the cessation of hostilities, and if we are to judge by our previous experience that will give time when the war is over to have a Committee set up that should come to important conclusions. But that Committee must be a very strong Committee and a very impartial Committee, because if we are to have a Merchant Marine worthy of this nation, if the men who man that Merchant Marine as officers and seamen are to have the generous terms which I am sure this country wishes them to have, it will require large subsidies from the Government. The only possible Committee of inquiry that can decide how to apportion the expense between the shipping industry and the national Exchequer must be a strong body, and it must be an impartial body, or we can never expect to have its findings agreed to by the various interests which will be involved. They will have to delve into the affairs of great companies, and it will want some of the best brains we have, not connected with the industry, to produce a satisfactory result.
My noble friend Lord Strabolgi has mentioned the question of uniform, and in this connexion I may say that my noble and gallant friend Lord Chatfield, who, I am sorry to say, cannot be here, was very much misrepresented after the original speech he made. He touched as an aside upon uniforms as a means of protecting merchant seamen from the slights which they undoubtedly suffer, and to insure that they get the recognition 643 they deserve as representatives of a service upon which we are absolutely dependent. A note has been sent to me by a member of your Lordships' House on this very subject, enclosing a letter from a soldier in Libya from which I would like to read the following extract:I wonder if you know any one who would interest himself in the condition of merchant seamen abroad. Although, as everyone knows, the work of these men is as dangerous and essential as any, they are given no uniform; merely an inconspicuous little badge 'M.N.' Consequently, when a troopship comes in, all sorts of admirable organizations spring to action and give troops, sailors, and airmen a wonderful time; but one sees groups of seamen in civilian clothes wandering miserably round, and no one takes any notice of them. The job these men do is worth more than that, and the main remedies are publicity and a Navy-type uniform.It was that particular point that my noble friend Lord Chatfield emphasized. There are plenty of men in the Merchant Navy who would like to have a uniform to show that they are serving their country in the most distinguished way at the present time.
§ LORD LEATHERS
May I just assure your Lordships that each month as the war goes on we shall strive more and more to secure better treatment for the people at sea? We shall endeavour to improve their lot and their status, too.
§ The LORD CHANCELLOR informed the House that he had received from the Registrar of the Brighton and Lewes County Court (held at Brighton) a Certificate that Alexander Leigh Henry Baron Burgh in the peerage of England was, on the 7th day of January, 1941, adjudicated a bankrupt.
§ The LORD CHANCELLOR acquainted the House, That the Clerk of the Parliaments had laid upon the Table the Certificate from the Examiners that the further Standing Orders applicable to the following Bill have been complied with:
§ Newcastle and Gateshead Waterworks [H.L.].
§ The same was ordered to lie on the Table.
§ House adjourned.