HC Deb 24 March 1823 vol 8 cc663-6

The report of this bill being brought up,

MT. Ricardo

said, he objected altogether to the principle of the bill. He thought it was a maxim, that no person ought to be controlled in his own arrangements, unless such control, was rendered necessary by paramount political circumstances. Now, no such necessity could be shown in support of this bill. In his opinion, it would not be more unjust to enact a law, that every surgeon should take a certain number of apprentices, to encourage the progress of surgical science, than it would be to pass this bill, rendering it imperative on the masters of merchant vessels to take a given number of apprentices, in order to encourage the increase of efficient seamen. He denied this bill would cause an addition of one seaman to the number now in the service. So long as there was employment for seamen, there would be encouragement enough for them; and when there was not, those who were now here, would resort to foreign countries for employ. The only effect of the bill would be, to reduce the wages of seamen; and that alone would render it objectionable. He would move, to leave out from the word "repealed," to remove the compulsory condition for taking a certain number of apprentices from the bill.

Mr. Huskisson

agreed, that whenever any measure, interfering between employers and the individuals employed, was proposed, some strong necessity or political expediency ought to be shown for it. It had been the uniform policy of parliament, to maintain the maritime greatness, and strength of this country, by measures which necessarily operated as restrictions upon individual convenience. On this principle the Navigation laws and Register acts were founded. The hon. member was not, perhaps, aware, that there were two-descriptions of apprentices. There was one class in the nature of parish apprentices, whose service was compulsory; and another class who went to sea voluntarily, to acquire the science necessary to enable them to follow the profession of seamanship. As the law now stood, apprentices were liable to be impressed at the age of 18; but the present measure would protect both these classes of apprentices up to the age of 21. The bill would not only afford this protection to masters of merchant vessels, but would be highly beneficial to the naval interests of the country, by affording the best means of education to a race of skilful pilots and seamen.

Mr. Sykes

complained of the great haste with which the bill was proceeded in, to the utter prevention of his constituents from informing themselves as to its nature and extent. He had hoped, that all new restraints upon commerce were at an end.

Sir G. Coekburn

said, that the principal merchants and ship-owners had been consulted as to the expediency of this measure, and that all had considered it as a boon extended to the interest with which they were connected. By the protection afforded under this bill, apprentices in merchant vessels might now, for the first time, become second and first mates, without being liable to impressment.

Mr. Marryat

said, he had been for forty years extensively engaged in the shipping trade, and the experience hell had derived from this circumstance, induced him to give his hearty support to the bill. It was, with him, a rule never to advance any seaman, unless he had served regularly by apprenticeship. Much had been urged respecting a free trade, and the advantage of removing all restriction; but if the opinions of the advocates for non-restriction were pushed to their full extent, horses would not be broken in, nor children be made to go to school, for these were restrictions. Buonaparté had once said, that if he had a throne of adamant, he believed the politi- cal economists would grind it to powder. In like manner, the political economists in this country were ready to grind the navy and shipping interests to powder, rather than abandon their favourite theories.

Mr. Bernal

was unfavourable to the principle of the bill; but, as the amendment, if carried, would take away the benefit given by the bill, of extending the exemption from impressments, he trusted his hon. friend would not press it.

Mr. Gladstone

supported the bill, and concurred in the statement, that it had received the unqualified approbation of the ship-owners.

Sir I. Coffin

approved of the bill, not only because it afforded additional protection to the merchant service, but because it was calculated to maintain the naval strength of the country.

Mr. Bright

expressed his approbation of the bill, which was, however, rather a modification of the existing law, than a new measure; for, by the 2nd and 3rd of Anne, which had never been repealed, masters of all vessels, of above 30 tons, were bound to take one or more apprentices, according to the rate of tonnage.

Mr. Hume

recommended his hon. friend to persevere in his opposition to a measure which was about as useful and politic as a statute of one of the Edwards for the better stuffing of feather-beds. There was as little reason for the regulations imposed by this bill on the masters of merchant vessels, as there was in that instance for an interference with the craft of the upholsterers. If the bill were to pass into a law, the effect would be to man the whole of the merchant ships with apprentices. It had been alleged, that seamen were scare and wages high, and that this bill would tend to increase the numbers and diminish the rate of wages. But, if it were true, that the supply of seamen was not at present equal to the demand, the well-known principle would draw more men to the employment. The chief objection to the bill, however, was the principle of compulsion, by which it was supposed that seamen would be taught their duty. Now, it was well known, that we had had the very best of seamen without the operation of any such principle; and if so, coercion could do nothing but harm. This coercive system would, in fact, create a supply beyond the demand, and could not fail of being mischievous. His hon. friend did not object to the whole of the bill, but to the compulsory clause. If that were withdrawn, he would allow the rest of the bill to pass.

The House then divided: For the Amendment, 6; Against it, 85.

List of the Minority.
Bennet, hon. H.G. Wyvill, M.
Grenfell, Pascoe
Smith, Robert TELLERS.
Sykes, D. Ricardo, D.
Whitmore, W.W. Hume, J.