HC Deb 20 September 1831 vol 7 cc261-3
Mr. Mostyn

presented a Petition from Beaumaris respecting the loss of the Rothsay Castle steam-vessel, praying that a law should be passed prohibiting any vessel of that description from carrying passengers without being duly licensed, which license should be only granted or renewed upon a certificate from competent persons, that such vessel was sea-worthy.

Col. Sibthorp

said, that when the Committee, of which he had the honour to be Chairman, should have presented its Report, it was his intention to bring in a Bill for the better regulation of Steamboats.

Mr. Hume

was convinced, that, no good would be done by the interference of the Legislature. If men were not careful of their lives, and neglected to make the necessary inquiries before embarking, he did not sec what the Legislature could do. If they were to legislate on Steam-boats, he did not see why they should not be called upon to legislate respecting the safety of Stage-coaches, houses, &c.

Sir Thomas Baring

was surprised at the statement of the hon. member for Middlesex, that the House ought not to pass any legislative measure, but to leave every person to take care of himself, and as certain the security of the vessel in which he embarked. He would ask, how was that possible? The hon. member for Kerry who had so often occasion to pass the Channel, could best answer the question how it was possible to know the character of the vessels, and the persons that commanded them.

Mr. O'Connell

said, the hon. Baronet had been rather unlucky in his reference. There were two classes of packets from Dublin to Liverpool, and he took care to embark in that class which had the best character. There was no comparison between the two; those which sailed to Liverpool, and belonged to individuals or companies, were excellently arranged; but from Dublin to Holyhead there was no competition, as all the packets were under the management of the Post-office, and they were deplorably bad. He trusted the Post Master General would see, that some improvement was made in that quarter, and not oblige passengers to go round by Liverpool.

Mr. Hodges

thought that some regulation for preventing accidents was necessary.

Mr. Henry Grattan

said, he had been informed by a former Mate of the Rothsay Castle, that four years ago it had been condemned as a vessel not seaworthy, and on that account had been taken off the high seas to ply on the coast, where less risk was apprehended. For his part, he generally took care to choose the safest vessel, and preferred coming by the Post-office packets, because there was a greater degree of security. He thought, that if a survey was made by some competent person, there would be less danger to the public.

Mr. Alderman Venables

hoped the Committee would produce such a Report as would enable the House to agree to some legislative enactment, which might contribute to the safety of passengers. He was sure it must be satisfactory to the petitioners to know, that the measure was under consideration.

Mr. C. W. Wynn

said, if a law was introduced upon such a subject, there was no reason why it should be limited to Steam-boats. The same argument which applied to Steam-vessels passing between Dublin and Liverpool would apply with equal force to the packets which sailed between Liverpool and New York. He believed the general impression was, that the packets from Liverpool to Dublin were insecure, and, therefore, that travellers went a longer way to reach their destination. He lamented the loss of the Rothsay Castle as much as any man. He believed it would only be reasonable to apply regulations to steam-vessels, as to every other mode of conveyance, and he, therefore, thought, the only legislative measure they could adopt was, to provide for the vessel's not being overloaded. But a previous inspection of the power of steamboats, he did not think to be practicable.

Mr. John Campbell

agreed with the hon. member for Middlesex, and thought the public ought to take care of themselves. He must decidedly enter his protest against legislating on the subject. If what the hon. member for Meath had stated could be verified, the proprietors of the Rothsay Castle ought to be indicted for manslaughter; for there could be no doubt that it was a crime to send a vessel to sea not sea-worthy.

Mr. Warburton

also was against any legislative enactment, because it would afford the passengers no security, and would only lead to jobbing. When gas came first into use, some accidents happened, and he recollected a gallant General, now dead, proposed that a General Surveyor should be appointed, with a salary of 500l. a-year. If the same course were adopted regarding Steam-boats, they would have many Supervisors with such a salary, who, instead of attending really to the safety of the public, would be more anxious about projects of their own. Individuals must be left to their own discretion, and it was absurd to suppose, that the Legislature must provide the public with prudence. The Common Law was sufficient to guard against the evil.

Mr. George Robinson

thought any discussion premature till the Report of the Committee was received.

Petition referred to the Select Committee on Steam Navigation.