HC Deb 13 March 1823 vol 8 cc550-2

The House having resolved itself into a Committee on the act of the 37th Geo. 3, c. 73, for regulating the number of apprentices to be taken on board British Merchant Vessels,

Mr. Huskisson

observed, that great inconveniencies had arisen in the merchant service, from the existing regulations respecting apprentices. In some vessels, particularly those in the West India trade, a certain number of apprentices were required to be taken; while in the vessels in other trades no such obligation existed. Now, this might be an advantage or a disadvantage, according to circumstance. In peace, it would be a disadvantage to be obliged to have a certain number of apprentices, when for nearly the same expense the same number, of able seamen might be had. In war, it would be an advantage, when able seamen were difficult to be got. One object of his bill would be to make the advantages equal in all merchant ships; and this he proposed to effect by a clause, that every merchant vessel in every trade should have an equal number of apprentices, in proportion to her tonnage. He also proposed to give to apprentices greater protection against impressment. At present those of 17 years of age were liable to be impressed after three years service. He proposed that apprentices should not be liable to be impressed under the age of 21. Another subject which called for the interference of the House was, the desertion of apprentices from merchant ships. It was a common practice to give to seamen on outward bound voyages, two or three months wages' in advance, with the understanding that they were engaged to the ship out and home. In cases of desertion at fo- reign ports (which were not unfrequent in consequence of the temptation held out of higher wages), the seaman forfeited whatever wages were due to him; but this was very trifling, as the wages advanced were rarely covered by the voyage out. To remedy the evil, he proposed to give the owners of the ship from which the man deserted, a power over the wages accruing to him from his services in any other by which he might return. The right hon. gentleman moved for leave to bring in a bill "for regulating the Number of Apprentices to be taken on board British Merchant Vessels, and for preventing the Desertion of Seamen there-from."

Mr. Bernal

was glad to see the subject taken up by the right hon. gentleman. He would suggest to him the propriety of taking into consideration the whole state of our laws regarding merchant seamen, and of forming out of them one clear and consistent code. By so doing, he would confer an essential benefit on the shipping, interest of the country.

Mr. T. Wilson

said, that the protection which this bill would give to apprentices until they reached the age of 21, would create for the country a nursery of active and able seamen at the least possible expense.

Mr. Hume

hoped the right hon. gentleman would not hurry the bill through the House, on account of its vast importance.

Mr. Huskisson

said, that the measure had the support of the shipping interest.

Mr. Ricardo

wished to know whether the sailors were friendly to the measure. He had no doubt that their employers were so; because they would be enabled to lower the rate of wages by increasing the number of apprentices. He thought the navy would not receive that benefit from it, which seemed to be anticipated. Our sailors would seek employment in the merchant service of other countries, if the rate of wages was unduly lowered in their own. Should that be the case, where would gentlemen find that nursery for the navy, of which they now talked so largely?

The motion was agreed to.