HC Deb 19 August 1831 vol 6 cc289-92
Mr. Hodges

presented two Petitions, one from the Corporation of Gravesend, the other from the Directors of the Steam-Boat Company, praying that the Bill introduced by an hon. Alderman (Wood), for regulating the speed of Steam-vessels on the river, might not pass into a law, as it tended to vest great power in the Corporation of London, and contained many vexatious enactments which would materially affect steam-navigation in general, on rivers. When the Bill came before the House, he should take that opportunity of stating his objections to it.

Mr. Alderman Wood

said, it had been found absolutely necessary to bring in the Bill, in consequence of the continual loss of life, and injury to property, occasioned by the rapidity of those vessels, the owners of which seemed perfectly indifferent to that danger to which they exposed other persons, particularly those in small boats; and as there was no law at present to restrain them, it was absolutely necessary that such proceedings should be checked. He intended to ask for a Committee above-stairs, where the subject could be maturely considered, and where the hon. Member opposite would have an opportunity of judging of the merits of the measure.

Mr. Maberly

thought the principle of the Bill, which went to interfere, by legislative enactment, with the pace at which Steam-Vessels proceeded, was ridiculous. If it were successful, they would next be called upon to regulate the speed of coaches, and probably the rate at which men were to walk. The object of the Bill was, to prevent Steam-vessels from proceeding at a rapid rate, which was their chief excellence. What was the use of their having such light coaches, and admirable roads, but to facilitate communication. Independent of this, however, some of the clauses of the Bill were objectionable, as giving additional power to the Corporation of London. If these vessels were improperly managed, the proprietors were liable to have heavy penalties inflicted on them for misconduct. He decidedly objected to the Bill.

Mr. O' Connell

observed, that although it might be ridiculous to control the pace of Steam-boats where there was sea-room, yet they had no more right to race in a crowded river than coach proprietors to drive furiously in a crowded street or market. The loss of lives on the river had been great, and the injury to the watermen severe, for which there was no redress. Some interference was, therefore, required on the part of the Legislature.

Mr. C. W. Wynn

thought, that the proprietors of those vessels might, if they acted improperly, be punished at Common Law, on the same principle that coach proprietors were made responsible for carelessness or improper conduct. If loss of life occurred by the speed or mismanagement of a Steam-vessel, the owner or offender could be prosecuted for manslaughter.

Mr. Hodges

thought, the hon. Alderman ought to postpone the Bill for a week, because the Corporation of Gravesend had not had notice, and that body was greatly interested in the question.

Mr. Dan. W. Harvey

approved of the Committee up-stairs, which was the only proper way to investigate the question; but he must object to the principle of the Bill. It was ridiculous to interfere with the speed of Steam-boats by such a measure as the present. But he was of opinion, that higher penalties than at present ought to be imposed upon those who had the management of them, and that a more summary mode of conviction ought to be established. At present, when any damage was done to a boat by a Steam-vessel, the owner, who was probably the only witness, could not recover compensation. He could only summon the owners before the Lord Mayor, who had the power to inflict a fine; but this was handed over, not to the sufferer, but to the Overseer of the parish, which was a most absurd piece of legislation, and ought to be amended.

Mr. Hume

objected to the regulation of Steam-vessels by an Act of Parliament. It was, doubtless, in the remembrance of the House, that a Bill with somewhat similar enactments had been proposed by the Lord Advocate, in consequence of the sinking of a vessel in the Clyde, by which many persons lost their lives. The Bill was opposed and withdrawn, and what was the result? the Commissioners who had the management of that river, drew up regulations applicable to the navigation of Steam-vessels on that river, since which, no accident whatever had occurred. The Corporation of London had sufficient power to enforce similar regulations, applicable to the state of the river Thames, and until that measure had been tried, he should object to the appointment of a Committee.

Mr. Wilks

said, that such had been the loss of life, and such the fear caused by the many accidents which had occurred, that there was a general opinion, that some measures were necessary, to prevent the racing of Steam-boats in the crowded parts of the river, on the same principle as rapid travelling was punishable in the vicinity of the metropolis by Act of Parliament. The law was at present so defective, that there was no power to obtain redress for injuries, unless at an enormous expense.

Sir Charles Burrell

said, persons were positively afraid to take boats below bridge, on account of the danger, to be apprehended from Steam-vessels, to the manifest injury of the watermen, and as there was at present no remedy in case of accident, he should support the proposition of the worthy Alderman. Perhaps, however, the best course would be, to empower the Corporation of London to put a pilot on board each Steam-vessel, to regulate its speed in the river, and who should be responsible for accidents occurring through wilfulness or neglect.

Mr. Alderman Wood

declared, that the Corporation had not the power of punishing in these cases, or establishing regulations applicable to the state of the river, as had been supposed by the hon. member for Middlesex. If that had been the case, the House would not have been troubled on this occasion. Several prosecutions which had been instituted to prevent racing had failed, after being attended with much expense, and one or two were still in progress. But he feared it could not be stopped, unless some summary punishment could be inflicted. The Corporation of London had this power with regard to stage-coachmen, and the result was, on the whole, beneficial. A man had lost his life no later than last week, by two Steam-vessels running a race to ascertain which should pass first through the middle arch of Westminster-bridge. He gave notice, that he would move for the Committee upstairs on Monday next.

Petitions laid on the Table.