HC Deb 10 July 1845 vol 82 cc377-83

Order of the Day for receiving the Report of the Merchant Seamen's Fund Bill in order to be postponed.

Sir Howard Douglas

said, as the Mover of the Resolution embodied in the Report for the postponement of this Bill, he would, with the permission of the House, say a few words in reply to the reference made to him. The Resolution which he proposed was seconded by his hon. Friend the Member for London (Mr. Lyall), and vigorously supported by another hon. Member, now no more, whose untimely death this House must lament, his Friends mourn, and the mercantile marine of this country might justly deplore. So sustained, the Resolution was agreed to by a large majority; and he (Sir Howard Douglas) hoped that Her Majesty's Government would give effect to that Resolution, by moving the postponement of this Bill till the next Session of Parliament. Having been a member of the Merchant Seamen's Fund Committees of the last and the present Session, he had ample means and opportunities of considering, deeply, the important subject of forming a Merchant Seamen's Fund, adequate to the wants and necessities of the mercantile marine. He objected to the present Bill, because it was, in principle, unjust, and injurious to the shipping inte- rest and to the seamen themselves belonging to the Port of Liverpool and other great ports extensively concerned in the Foreign and Colonial trade, as well as many others; and because it would sacrifice their interests to those of minor and less well managed ports; and because by amalgamation of the funds, the rates of pension for merchant seamen would be reduced to one scanty rate of uniform inadequacy. This Bill would abolish local funds; deprive first-rate ports and many others, of the superior advantages which they now possessed in an exclusive management of their own funds, and take from them the means and the power of providing for the widows and children of seamen. But very imperfectly should they discharge their duty to the mercantile marine of this country, the true basis of its commercial and naval power, if they did not devise some more comprehensive measure, by which a fund might be formed, sufficient to provide for the relief and support of merchant seamen, their widows and children, upon an adequate scale, worthy the munificence of this country; to raise generally the condition of British merchant seamen, and hold out additional inducements to them to remain in the service of their own country, instead of wasting their youth and their strength under the flag of Foreign States, returning only when worn out, to seek in their own land, provision for old age, from funds too scanty for the relief and support of those who devoted their use and strength to the service of the British marine. Such a comprehensive measure might, he (Sir H. Douglas) thought, be devised. He was not prepared to indicate the sources from which its means might be drawn, nor to detail the process or machinery by which such a measure might be carried out. This however, he would say, that he relied on the public spirit and liberality of that great shipping and trading community, of which he had the honour to be one of the Representatives, that they would cordially and liberally co-operate with the shipowners of the United Kingdom, generally, with a view to devise some comprehensive measure that might really be adequate to the great and important objects in view, deserving the favourable consideration of tier Majesty's Government, and which he hoped would be met by the liberality of that House, as he was sure it would with the universal approbation of the country. That he had not overrated the public spirit and liberality of that great shipping community with which he had the honour to be connected, he would request the permission of the House to read a passage from the Report of the proceedings of a Meeting of the Committee of the Shipowners' Association of Liverpool, expressly assembled to take into consideration the course which he (Sir Howard Douglas) had taken with respect to this Bill, and with reference to the Motion of which the hon. Member for South Shields had given notice, to recommit that Bill. That meeting came unanimously to the following resolution:— This Committee, therefore, earnestly request Sir Howard Douglas to persevere in his intention to meet Mr. Wawn's proposal by a direct negative, authorizing Sir Howard, at the same time, to assure Her Majesty's Government of the entire readiness and anxious wish of this Committee, to concur in any well matured and comprehensive proposal, for ameliorating the condition of the seaman; tending, while in health and strength, to improve his condition, and to retain him in the service of his own country, and to increase the provision made for him when old or disabled—objects which this Committee are prepared to recommend to the shipowners at large, even at the price of submitting to further taxation themselves. He (Sir Howard Douglas) had read this resolution to the House with pride and satisfaction; and in the admirable terms in which it was expressed, he would appeal to the shipowners of the United Kingdom generally, to meet cordially the invitation which this resolution held out, and would earnestly recommend to the favourable consideration of Her Majesty's Government to meet, in that spirit, any such practicable and comprehensive proposition as the great body of the shipping interest of the United Kingdom might be prepared to suggest, on a future occasion, with a view to the adoption of such a comprehensive measure as that indicated in the Report now under consideration, in lieu of proceeding with this Bill.

Sir G. Clerk

regretted the necessity for postponement, but hoped that during the recess a more comprehensive measure might be devised.

Further consideration of the Report postponed till next Session.

House adjourned at two o'clock.