HC Deb 28 July 1842 vol 65 cc764-7
Captain Fitzroy

rose to move for leave to bring in a bill to require and regulate the examination of all persons who wished to become masters or chief mates of merchant vessels. He would remind the House in the first place of what was the present condition of our mercantile marine? Since the peace, our merchant vessels had increased exceedingly in number. The cessation of war had been followed by the spread of our shipping over every part of the globe. During the war the merchant vessels of this country sailed in convoys, or in companies of two or three. At present they found them bearing singly to every quarter of the globe, and it became additionally necessary to ascertain the qualifications of the commanders. The East India Company's marine was the last mercantile establishment in which an examination of officers was insisted upon. In our immense mercantile marine, numbering upwards of 20,000 vessels of upwards of fifty tons burden, there was no examination of any kind with respect to the qualification of officers; and however able and trustworthy the majority of commanders might be, there were too many instances in which the indignation of Englishmen was roused at the conduct of those who were entrusted with the command of vessels. He hoped that in a future Session the attention of the Government would be directed to the subject. His present object was to introduce a measure which had been prepared by a great number of practical and experienced persons connected with the shipping interests. He would remind the House that one of the most marked recommendations in the report of the com- mittee which had sat in 1836, for the purpose of investigating the causes of shipwreck, was the recommendation that boards should be constituted for the examination of officers in the merchant service. It might be thought, perhaps, by some, that it was sufficient if the ship-owner or merchant himself was satisfied with the commander's capacity; but let the House bear in mind, that passengers who went out in ships, and the country generally, were interested in the capabilities and qualifications of captains of vessels. The length of a passage depended almost entirely upon the judgment, skill in navigation, and practical seamanship of the captain; and from the time the vessel left the shores of our country until its arrival in a foreign port, the lives of all on board were in his hands. He once met a ship in the Pacific Ocean which was six or seven degrees out of her longitude, and upon his asking the captain how it was, he replied, "Why, Sir, we do not come here to navigate; we come here to fish."His plan was, that there should be a certain number of boards of examiners, say ten, in the principal ports of Great Britain, the principal being in London, two in Scotland, two in Ireland, and the rest in the chief ports of England. He proposed that these boards should consist of four examiners in London and three elsewhere; that there should be a principal examiner and secretary, who should have the chief executive management of the whole system, assisted by the corporation of the Trinity House on practical nautical matters, but subject to the control of the Board of Trade; that the examiners of the different boards should be all practical seamen, chosen by the ship-owners of each district, the whole coast being divided into districts for the purpose, and that in order to combine practical experience the men thus selected should have been in command in the merchant service for a certain number of years, one of the three in the southern hemisphere or distant parts of the world, another chiefly in coasting, and the third in the navigation of steam-vessels. He proposed that the expense of the boards should be defrayed by moderate fees to be paid by each officer examined on receiving his certificate of qualification. That masters who paid 3l. and mates who paid 30s. for their certificates, should thenceforth be entitled to go to any part of the world; and that the masters of ordinary coasters should pay 2l. and mates 1l. These fees, which would not be repeated, were considered as by no means exorbitant by persons conversant with the subject, inasmuch as pilots round the coast paid from two to three guineas annually for their licences. It was not proposed to interfere with masters or mates of merchant vessels now in employment, or who might have been employed six months previous to the passing of the act. They would only be required to furnish themselves with a certificate of exemption, for which they would have to pay, masters 10s. and mates 5s. These small fees were intended to cover the expense, for small as they were, when the House considered the number of ships of fifty tons (which were alone intended to be subjected to the provisions of the act), they would see that the sum received would be amply sufficient to pay the expenses of the examiners. He proposed that three - fourths of the receipts of each board should be appropriated to its own use, and the other one-fourth be transmitted to the central board. lie thought the examiners would be found desirous of the appointment, not so much for the salary, as the distinction among their class it would confer. Thanking the House for the patience with which they had heard him, he would ask leave to bring in the bill, not, however, with a view of pressing it forward this Session, but in order that it might be printed and circulated in the country during the recess, and thus enable the House to collect any objections that might be urged against it.

Mr. A. Chapman

seconded the motion, at the same time he declined to pledge himself to all the details of his hon. and gallant Friend's measure. He was glad the subject had been brought before the House, and it could not be in better hands than those of his hon. and gallant Friend.

Mr. Gladstone

felt glad that his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Durham had directed his mind to this subject, and he quite concurred in the wisdom of the course which his hon. and gallant Friend had adopted. There was a strong desire that some such measure as the present should be passed into a law; but it was also true that there were great differences of opinion among ship-owners as to the details of such a measure, all which would require grave consideration, before Parliament could proceed to legislate. The subject had been brought under the consideration of the Board of Trade, but he felt that the matter was not ripe for legislation, and he had also felt that, although there were means of communicating with insurance offices and ship-owners, yet that there was another class, namely, the ship masters and mates themselves, whom he could not so readily communicate with, and who would require to see the provisions of the bill. He, therefore, approved of the course adopted by his hon. and gallant Friend in merely introducing the bill, so that it might be printed for the perusal of the parties interested during the recess. They would thus receive suggestions from all the parties concerned, and might proceed with the matter next Session with the hope of effecting something beneficial.

Sir T. Troubridge

would not oppose the present motion, as he thought that, after the statement of the Vice-President of the Board of Trade, the measure was quite safe in the hands of the Government.

Mr. Hume

thought, if the masters and other officers of ships were to be examined, it might become a question whether engineers entrusted, in their office, with the lives of her Majesty's subjects, should not be examined also. He was unwilling to consent to any measure that would fetter the private industry of individuals; but he thought if a measure of this kind was to be adopted, it ought to be undertaken by the Government. He did not think the House would be warranted to allow a private Member to carry a measure involving interests of so much importance.

Sir G. Cockburn

said, that this was a very large and difficult question. He thought it would be necessary to go very fully into the question before that House determined on any legislation on the subject. He thought that his hon. and gallant Friend who introduced the bill had taken the proper course with respect to his measure.

Leave given.