§ [The question was as follows:
§ To ask His Majesty's Government, whether they consider that every possible step is taken at the ports of the United Kingdom to keep secret the destination of ships that are loading therein.]
§ THE MINISTER OF WAR TRANSPORT (LORD LEATHERS)
My Lords, the point to which the noble Earl, Lord Cork, has drawn attention this afternoon is not one that is easy for me to reply to freely. Obviously the machinery by which we safeguard the movements of our shipping cannot be discussed in public. I can, therefore, only assure the noble Lord that all practical steps have been and are taken to keep secret the destination of our ships loading in the ports of the United Kingdom, and these methods are kept under constant review by all the authorities concerned. Your Lordships will understand and realize that the type of cargo loaded into ships is bound to give some indication and lead to some clue as to the destination of the ships. For example, if quantities of Arctic clothing are put on board or if quantities of uniforms for tropical climates are loaded, the men 411 engaged are often able to make a pretty good guess as to what the destination of the ship may be. There is no way by which we can prevent men experienced in the loading of the ships from putting two and two together and for this reason no security system can be perfect. Nevertheless, I consider that the existing arrangements are in every way satisfactory.
THE EARL OF CORK AND ORRERY
My Lords, arising out of that answer, for which I thank the noble Lord, I would like to bring to his notice, which I do in this way because I think it would give some satisfaction to the officers concerned, a certain incident which came to my knowledge, of which I was informed not at first hand but at second hand by an authority who had met the young officer of a ship lost in the last Malta convoy. This young officer stated that before the convoy had started there had been much comment among the officers of the ship that part of the cargo contained the word "Malta." This cargo was loaded in a great port in the north-west of England within easy reach of a German Legation. Of course nobody can answer for all the men who have to load ships at a port, but I thought the noble Lord would like this brought to his notice so that it could be prevented in future. I can quite understand it is very hard to disguise altogether the destination of a ship, but surely they might do something else than have the actual port on the goods going into a ship.
§ LORD LEATHERS
My Lords, may I say one word on the particular point raised by the noble Earl? This very question has had the utmost consideration from the beginning of the war, and care is taken in every case to have no identification at all as to the destination of cargo or equipment, and I cannot easily accept it that this case referred to by my noble friend has really substance behind it. There is such care, and it has become so much the custom to avoid giving any indication of the destination of goods, that what the noble Earl has suggested would be the most dreadful thing to have happened. I really have no evidence of it and cannot believe that it has taken place, but I shall be happy if evidence can be given to me to follow up this very matter because it is fundamental to the whole security system on which we rely.