§ The House having resolved itself into Committee; Mr. Bernal in the chair,
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
rose and said, that he proposed, in redemption of the engagement which he made at an early period of the Session, to call the attention of the House to various subjects connected with the mercantile marine of this country. He felt persuaded that it was wholly unnecessary for him to detain the House by any prefatory statement of the immense importance of the subject to which he invited its attention. He need not dwell either upon the vast amount of capital invested in the merchant service, the large and valuable portion of the population employed in it, or the immense mercantile and commercial interests connected therewith. It was his duty at a former period of the Session to call the attention of the House to a subject intimately connected with the interests of the merchant service, namely, the repeal of the navigation laws. On that occasion, in bringing forward the measure which he felt it to be his duty to propose, he encountered, as he anticipated, the opposition of a great and powerful party, to whose opinions he was aware the principle of that Bill was altogether contrary; and he did not feel any surprise, nor did he express any surprise, at the strenuous opposition which that measure encountered. But he entertained a hope that, with regard to the class of subjects to which he now invited the attention of the House, no such party fooling would be excited, but, on the contrary, that they would be able, in the most calm and dispassionate manner, to turn their attention to this subject; and, by united counsels, to dispose of it in the best manner possible with regard to the great interests concerned. He had already adverted to the change which Parliament had agreed to make in the navigation laws. Now, in any measures for the improvement of the mercan- 213 tile marine, or its relief, he could not, consistently with the arguments he had used in favour of the repeal of the navigation laws, recommend these measures as a sort of compensation for any injury inflicted on the merchant service by the repeal of the navigation laws. If he did so, that would be inconsistent with the arguments he had used in asking the House to agree to the repeal of the navigation laws. If he had believed that an injury would be inflicted upon the mercantile marine of this country by that measure, no consideration would have induced him to propose it to the House. He trusted and believed that the evils which had been anticipated from that measure would not ensue. But while he did not propose any measures which, either now or hereafter, might be brought forward by the Government as beneficial to the merchant service in the light of compensation, yet he could not conceal from himself the fact that the attention of the merchant service would now be directed to all grievances under which they considered themselves to labour with a more quickened attention than when they were—some hon. Members might say "protected," but he said overwhelmed and injured by the navigation laws. And this was an additional reason why the House should attentively consider this class of questions. He did not by any means propose on the present occasion to take a general and complete view of all the questions affecting the merchant service, which indeed would be impossible in any single statement. But there were several questions of great importance to which he had turned his attention; on some of which he would be able to propose measures of relief and improvement, and on others upon which he should be unable to propose any measures that the House could consider as maturely as they deserved, so as to pass them into a law during the present Session, but on which nevertheless he was anxious to place the views of the Government in the shape of a Bill on the table of the House, in order that the House, the public, and the interests more especially concerned, might have an opportunity during the recess of giving to their proposal that attention which the importance of the subject deserved. The statement he had to make referred to several subjects which would be best comprised in a single statement, and he would at once advert to those points to which he intended to invite the consideration of the Committee, The first was 214 the subject of the light-dues paid by the mercantile marine of this country The burden of the light-dues upon the mercantile marine had been long and justly complained of with respect to their weight, their unequal distribution, and many other reasons connected with the system on which they were founded. In other countries the lights were maintained at the public expense, and from the public treasury. In this country they were maintained by tolls on shipping, under the management, not, as in other countries, of some general board responsible to the Government, but ancient corporations, which in England, Scotland, and Ire laud exercised separate jurisdictions, under a general control of a most imperfect and inconvenient kind, which was rested in Her Majesty's Privy Council. That was the general system on which the light-dues were conducted in this country. He had on former occasions declared his opinion to be, that there was much in that system that required amendment; and although he thought it impossible to deal with this question as if they had a mere tabula rasa before them, and as if no such bodies and institutions existed, yet, on the other hand, he considered it to be the duty of the Legislature to improve this system, and make it more in harmony with the wishes of the mercantile marine, and the general principles on which the Government of this country was conducted. He would not on the present occasion retract any of these opinions. He had embodied the views which he entertained in a Bill that he introduced into Parliament last Session. The general principle of that Bill was to substitute for the inadequate and imperfect control of the Privy Council over these several bodies in England, Scotland, and Ireland, an efficient control by a Government board of management, and also to commute the present payments for a tonnage duty imposed upon the shipping at large. To the principles of that measure he still adhered; and if he had considered it advisable to lay upon the table another Bill of a like character, it would be founded upon the same principle, although he believed that the mode of carrying out the details might be materially improved. But inasmuch as any measure that he could introduce upon this subject would have no chance of passing into a law during the present Session, and as it must lie over until next year, he had come to the conclusion that it would not be desirable that he should lay any 215 Bill upon the table in the hope that it would pass during the present Session of Parliament. But, although he did not propose to introduce a Bill thereupon, he had turned his attention to that which he was most desirous of securing for the mercantile marine—namely, the possibility of obtaining for them a considerable and immediate relief from the burdens of the present light-dues. In consequence of this desire, he had put himself in communication with the Trinity-house of London, in whom the management of the English light-dues was vested; and he was bound to state to the House, that he had found, on the part of that corporation, an anxious and ready desire to co operate with Her Majesty's Government on this important question. He was the more bound to make this statement, as he had often stated to the House, that, in his opinion, there was much in the system of the management of the lights by the Trinity-house that required revision and amendment. He had, however, found a ready acquiescence on the part of that body in the desire expressed by the Government to give immediate and substantial relief to the shipping interest in the matter of light-dues. With respect to the finances of the Trinity-house, hon. Members were aware that a great portion of the burden now laid upon the merchant service, arose from a debt contracted by the Trinity-house in buying up certain private lights, for which they had paid about 1,000,000l of money—an operation undertaken in consequence of the representations of the merchant service, who were much aggrieved by the tolls demanded by the owners of these private lights. The Trinity-house, with the sanction of the Government, bought these private lights, and bad paid off a portion of the debt by instalments; so that, at present, a little more than 500,000l. remained yet unpaid. The arrangement made with the Bank of England was, that the rest of the debt should be paid off at the rate of 50,000l. a year; and any material reduction in the tolls could only be effected by spreading the repayment of this debt over a greater number of years. He thought the time had come when the merchant service had a right to this relief. He could also say, that the Trinity-house had turned their attention to an improved economy in the management of their lights. The hon. Member for Montrose had frequently referred to the extravagant system of not employing rape oil in the light-houses. 216 whereby a great loss was yearly incurred. He was glad to be able to state to the hon. Member, that he was informed the other day by the Trinity-house that they had already made the change he recommended on this subject. He believed that the Trinity-house were quite justified in giving this immediate relief to the shipping interest by the proposed economy in their system of management, and also by spreading the payment of the debt over a great number of years. The total gross receipt for light-dues received by the Trinity-house in 1847—he referred to English lights, because he did not believe that there was the same cause of complaint respecting the amount of dues for Scotch and Irish lights—was 318,000l. Of the above sum, the amount received from coasters was 145,000l., and from over-sea traders, 173,000l The Trinity-house proposed to reduce the burden of 318,000l., now levied on the shipping, by no less than 97,000l. a year that was to say, about one-third of that amount. This was the amount of reduction which, after due consideration, they were disposed to make; and they had communicated with the Government as to the mode in which the reduction should be carried out. If, therefore, the mode in which the relief was given should be objected to, he would take that responsibility upon himself. When he came to consider the manner in which the dues as at present levied were felt by the mercantile marine, he found that they were greater and more unequal with respect to vessels engaged in the coasting trade than those engaged in the over-sea trade. The old principle was, that every ship should pay for lights as they had used them; and that seemed fair; but it was only equitable if the light-dues were solely applied to the maintenance of the lights. But when it was considered that a portion of the income from light-dues was applied to charitable purposes, the principle was seen to act unequally to the coasting trade with relation to the foreign trade. He was also of opinion that the value of the cargo constituted a question in the amount of dues to be paid, as well as the tonnage of the vessel; and he need not remind the House that the cargoes of foreign vessels were much more valuable than the cargoes of our collieries, and other vessels engaged in the coasting trade. All these considerations induced them to believe that, having this sum to apply to the relief of shipping, it would be only just to give the larger share of this 217 relief to the coasting trade. Accordingly, of this sum of 97,101l., the amount of the proposed reduction, they intended to apply 70,000l to the reduction of duos now paid by coasting vessels, that being nearly 50 per cent of the whole amount paid by this class of vessels. As it was intended that this altered scale of duties should come into effect from the 1st of October next, an immediate relief would thus be given, amounting to nearly one-half the sum now paid by the coasting trade. He would confine himself on the present occasion to a general statement, rather than enter upon any details; but there was a class of light-dues with respect to which it was proposed to make an immediate alteration. There were some lights on which double tolls were now paid; for vessels not only paid once, but also when they repassed those lights on their return from port. On that class of lights it was proposed to abolish the double tolls. The amount of reduction from over-sea traders in consequence of this exemption, was about 27,000l., making a reduction of 16 per cent upon the whole amount of light-duos now paid by that class of vessels. It was not proposed to add anything to the light-dues; and this reduction of 50 per cent on the whole amount paid by coasters, and 16 per cent on that paid by over-sea traders, was, he trusted the House would be of opinion, a great and substantial relief to the shipowners. This relief, too, was given by no improper interference with the arrangement made between the Trinity-house and the Bank, and it was one which the mercantile service had a right to expect, and from which they would largely benefit. It was an arrangement made, too, at no sacrifice or compromise of any opinion which he had ever expressed as to the necessity of any revision of the principle on which the lights were at present managed; and the House were still as free to deal with that question as before. He should be glad if Parliament were able to deal with this subject next Session; but as he had not been able to propose a Bill with any prospect of its passing this year, he had thought it better to let it stand over for the pro-sent. He thought the shipping interest owed a debt of gratitude to that great corporation the Trinity-house for the manner in which they had met the just demands and wishes of that interest. [Sir J. GRAHAM: Is any Act of Parliament required?] No; the proposed arrangement could be effected by the Trinity-house, with 218 the consent of the Privy Council, under the former Act. He should now come to the other question, which was one of very great importance, namely, the arrangements necessary to be made with respect to pilotage. This subject, as the House must be aware, was not a new one. Formerly—some years ago—when he was President of the Board of Trade, his attention was frequently called to this subject; and the right hon. Gentleman opposite, the Member for the University of Oxford, more than once urged upon him the necessity of dealing with the question of pilotage. When that right hon. Gentleman himself once more tool; his place at the Board of Trade, he (Mr. Labouchere) returned the compliment by calling upon the right hon. Gentleman to deal with that very pressing and important subject. No doubt, both had good reasons for the language which they held upon those occasions respectively; for there could be no doubt that the matter was one which deserved their best attention. Such, certainly, was the opinion of his lamented friend, the late Lord Sydenham, who, with great industry and talent, had devoted himself most assiduously to the pilotage question; and after much consideration and labour, had brought in a Bill, hoping by that measure to carry his views into practical operation. But he (Mr. Labouchere) was sorry to say that at that time local interests were too strong, and public interests too weakly represented, to leave him any chance of legislating on the affair of pilotage with any prospect of eventual success, or to afford a well-founded hope of introducing and carrying any efficient measure on that subject. Although he thought it necessary to make these few observations, he wished it at the same time to be understood that he was not coming forward with any great or general scheme, such as that which Lord Sydenham contemplated; and if he had such an object in view, he certainly should not have thought of bringing it forward at that period of the Session; but even now, though late, he had turned his attention to the matter, with a view to endeavour to introduce some practical amendments without delay into the present system. The system of pilotage in this country was under three jurisdictions—that of the Trinity-house, that of the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, while in some of the great cities and seaports of the kingdom, it was under the direction of certain local authorities and special jurisdictions. Tints, for 219 example, the North Foreland, and that district relating chiefly to the port of London, was under the direction and authority of the Trinity-house; and when he called the attention of that corporation to the subject of pilotage, as well as to that of lights and to the state generally of our mercantile marine, and the whole shipping interest of the country, he was hound most fully to acknowledge the cordial spirit of co-operation with which he was met; and he was therefore enabled to state to the House, that there was a fair prospect of great and practical alteration upon the existing system of pilotage, as it affected an important portion of our mercantile marine. At present, as some hon. Members no doubt were aware, the coasting trade enjoyed an exemption from the system of pilotage; from that burden the coasting trade had some years ago been exempted; but vessels engaged in the foreign trade—the over-sea trade—were still obliged to take in pilots; though the master and mate might both be excellent pilots and well acquainted with the harbours to which they traded, they must nevertheless take in pilots, or at least pay for them. Nothing could be more obvious than that such a practice operated as a severe burden upon the foreign trade. At the time that such a rule was established, there doubtless were very good reasons for it. When the foundations of the present system were laid, he presumed it was considered necessary to make those provisions for the purpose of encouraging the local pilots. But, though that might, at the time to which he was referring, have been all very well, and though it may not now be expedient altogether to abolish the existing system of pilotage, yet he conceived that the time had arrived when it certainly ought to undergo very material modification. He would give an example:—A vessel trading between Liverpool and Dublin had no necessity to take in pilots at either of those ports; but if that vessel in any respect changed her destination—if touching at Dublin she went on to Brest, then she must have a pilot wherever she went; however competent might be her master and mate—however well acquainted with the port, they must take a pilot on board before they entered Dublin. The statement of that instance seemed to him pretty nearly sufficient; he thought that he need not multiply instances; and, having made the point, as he hoped, clear to hon. Members, it now only remained for 220 him to have the satisfaction of saying he was enabled to state, that the corporation of the Trinity-house were perfectly willing—under certain restrictions which were reasonable as to over-sea vessels, to dispense with the use of pilots. Of course those restrictions or regulations would relate to the competency of the masters and mates of those vessels to discharge the duties of pilots in the cases required. It would be merely necessary that the Trinity-house should be satisfied that the masters and mates possessed the requisite qualifications. Upon this subject he admitted that it would be requisite to introduce a Bill; but the measure would be merely permissive; it would enable all bodies at present possessing jurisdiction to allow—if they so thought fit, and were satisfied of the qualifications of masters and mates—to allow them to exercise and discharge the functions of pilots. The pilots at present had a vested interest in their offices, and neither the Trinity-house nor any other body could interfere with that without subjecting themselves to the consequences of an action. [Mr. GLADSTONE requested to be informed whether the knowledge and qualification of the masters and mates in such cases were to be general or local.] It was to be more particularly local knowledge. This Bill would enable also the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, and the local jurisdictions at the provincial seaports, to exercise that power in such manner as they may think expedient for the benefit of our mercantile marine. He was not authorised by any of these parties to give any assurance to the House on this subject; but he ventured to indulge a hope that they would not be indisposed to follow the example, wholly or in part, that had been set them by the Trinity house. It appeared to him that a great point would be gained by establishing the principle that in certain cases pilots might be dispensed with; that vessels should not be under the necessity of taking licensed pilots on board; and that in cases wherein masters and mates were ascertained to be competent to the task, the duty of pilotage should devolve upon them—that was in all cases where they were regularly authorised by the Trinity-house, or by any such sufficient authority. Again, however, he begged to remind the House that the Bill which he proposed to introduce would be permissive; and that its provisions would be so simple and obvious that there could be no difficulty in passing 221 it through even during the remaining portion of the present Session of Parliament. If such a Bill, though permissive, should pass—of which he saw no reason to doubt—he had the satisfaction of being able to say that there was no just reason for apprehending that it would remain a dead letter; as with regard, at least, to the Trinity-house, he had every reason to be satisfied that it would be brought fairly into operation. That was the only measure that he proposed to carry through during the present Session. But there was another matter of very great importance; it was, however, one which he did not mean to submit to Parliament at present; still, although he did not at that moment propose to take the judgment of the House on such a measure, he nevertheless did not despair of inducing hon. Members to give it that degree of consideration which he was most anxious that they should give it, while he was himself desirous of laying on the table of the House the views which he entertained on the subject, in the hope that it would receive from the House and the country, during the ensuing vacation, that attention which its importance demanded, and which the general condition of the mercantile marine most especially required at their hands, He desired emphatically to ask the consideration of the House to the condition of our mercantile marine, especially as regarded the character and qualifications of the masters and mates, the discipline of the crew, and the general wellbeing of the whole service. There had been, as the House must recollect, some discussion on this matter during the debates on the navigation laws. He desired now to revive this controversy no further than to say that truth, and a sense of duty, compelled him to state his opinion, founded on much inquiry, which was this, that the present state of the qualifications of the masters and the mates, the present state of the discipline of the crews, and the general condition of the mercantile navy of England, demanded the serious attention of Parliament. He believed that he spoke the sentiments entertained by all well-informed men—he believed that he should not be contradicted by any mercantile man of eminence, or by any naval captain of experience, when he said that, as regarded qualifications, professional and scientific, the mercantile marine of this country did not stand so high as could be wished; he believed there was no one would contradict him when he said 222 it was most desirable that Parliament should devote to that subject their most serious attention, with a view to considering whether some measure could not be introduced which would be calculated to put a stop to evils of an alarming magnitude—evils which, if not arrested, threatened the prosperity and welfare of that which was considered to be in England a most vital and tender point. On this subject, however, he gave way to no feelings of despondency. In England we had that which constituted the staple of a great mercantile marine—namely, the largest and hardiest seafaring population in the world. But this alone was not enough to make our mercantile marine what it should be. He should not trouble the House by going at any length into evidence for the purpose of proving the position which he had been laying down; but be could not help referring to the reports of our foreign consuls on the state of our mercantile marine, copies of which had been laid on the table of the House. There had been much discussion on the subject of those reports, and an opinion respecting them had been given in another place, to which he could not with regularity more particularly refer. That opinion, to which he attached considerable importance, had been given by Lord Ellenborough, who had bestowed on the subject much attention, and who was an excellent judge of the point on which he had pronounced an opinion. Lord Ellenborough said, that though the consuls might be influenced by a bias in favour of a particular conclusion, and though, in particular cases, they had drawn highly coloured pictures, yet on the whole there was great trust to be reposed In their accounts, and no one could doubt that their descriptions were fair and true. But there were two or three witnesses whoso testimony he could not help calling to his aid, and who certainly could not be suspected of any bias. The first of these whom he should mention was Mr. M. Wigram, who stated, as was the fact, that the captains of merchant vessels engaged in the China and Indian trades were men of a higher order than those usually employed in English vessels trading to ports of Europe, and to that class of offcers his observations did not by any means apply. Mr. Wigram gave the following answer to this question:—Are your cptains in general as well educated and as trustworthy men as the American captains?—Yes, I believe they are; but I do not 223 mean to apply that to the European trade generally; the reports of the consuls on the Continent are too authentic to leave a doubt on that point.Have you seen the reports from the consuls?—I have not read them attentively; but I know their general character, and I am afraid that they are too correct. I dare not challenge their accuracy as respects the continental trade.Mr. Wigram's ships were principally engaged in the East India and China trades. He should next call the attention of the House to the evidence of Mr. Richmond, who delivered his testimony as follows:—If I were to say the English captains had improved, I think I should state that which was not the fact; for the last twenty-five years respectable people hardly ever send a boy to sea, and the consequence has been that we have had to take the captains of our merchant ships from rather a less educated class of men than they used to be fifty or sixty years ago. I do not think their seamanship is one iota impaired, but perhaps their manners may be a little less refined.They had, in the third place, the evidence of Mr. Gr. F. Young, who said—That though he thought a too indiscriminate censure had been thrown upon the commanders of British ships, and not sufficient allowance made for the very large numbers we require, he believed, that taking the whole course of our trade, the captains of many foreign ships are a better class than many in our ships.He should next quote from a book of no inconsiderable authority, the title of which was A Glance at Revolutionized Italy, by Charles Macfarlane, who addressed himself to this subject in the following words:—It wounded my national pride to see the general run of our skippers cut so mean a figure, not only in dress but in manners, when compared with these smart Italian captains. No further back than twenty years ago, the Italian skipper was mostly a coarse dirty fellow, in an ill-cut weather jacket or greco, with a greasy hat and a very empty head under it. The change is prodigious. It seemed to me that, if there had been any change in the masters of our own common merchant vessels, it had been a change for the worse. This is matter of serious consideration, and especially now that hazardous changes are contemplated in our navigation laws.It was to be remembered that the author of that work was a Protectionist.Statists may make their tables, and bewilder us with returns and long arrays of figures, and treat men as ciphers; but if the condition of the merchant captain is getting worse instead of better, it must he seriously doubted whether our mercantile navy is improving; and without that nursery and treasury, what is to become of our national navy? Twenty-five years ago, in every part of the Mediterranean the preference was given to English bottoms, wherever they could be procured, and the rate of insurance was increased upon goods shipped in country vessels. There is 224 no such preference now, nor, as I believe, any difference made in insurances.There were other documents to which he might call the attention of the House, and amongst the number was a statement contained in a memorial from the Chamber of Commerce at Bombay, in the year 1842. In that document the writer spoke in very strong terms of the want of discipline on board of mercantile vessels, and, generally speaking, the incompetency of the captains and other officers; but that he did not impute so much to a want of scientific knowledge as to their low moral character, and, though frequently the captains might possess the necessary amount of knowledge, yet the mates were extremely ignorant and incompetent. Such were the opinions of the members of the Chamber of Commerce at Bombay; and though he had not the document with him, and could not quote the exact words, yet he ventured to say that he had faithfully stated their general purport. Further, he believed that there was a great want of proper regulations, and very imperfect discipline, in force amongst the crews of merchant vessels, much of which, no doubt, might be attributed to want of proper qualifications on the part of the masters themselves: when they were unqualified, it was too much to expect that any thing like satisfactory discipline could be maintained amongst the crews. Unless they proceeded, in the first instance, to render the masters respectable in the eyes of the crews, they could not by legislative enactment venture to strengthen the reins of discipline. He felt it unnecessary to weary the House with any further quotation from the evidence given before Committees, or from the reports of consuls, for he felt that he could appeal to the experience of all Members present in confirmation of the assertion that there prevailed in our mercantile marine a great and lamentable want of discipline; and he thought himself warranted in saying, with respect to the whale fishery, that we have altogether lost it on account of that want of discipline, and that it passed from our hands into that of our American rivals by reason of the superior discipline of the American crews, as compared with those of Great Britain. Having disposed of the first two subjects which he had thought it necessary to bring under the notice of the House, he should now enter upon the third point, and that was, the general condition of the sailors engaged in the merchant service. 225 It was with the utmost regret he was bound to acknowledge, such was the condition of our mercantile marine, that as many as 14,000 sailors had deserted from British merchant vessels in the course of one year. That statement he made on the best information that he could obtain from the office of the Registrar General of Merchant Seamen. There was one subject connected with the condition of the mercantile marine, and more especially with that of England, which he thought, in a peculiar degree, demanded the attention of Parliament, and that was the agreements entered into between the merchant seamen and those who employed them. In every mercantile country there were regulations respecting those agreements; they were not left, as other agreements between employers and employed, to be arranged according to the will and convenience of the parties principally interested. In other trades and businesses, it was usual to leave parties to themselves; in the merchant service, the practice of interference had "always been recognised; and on that point he should quote an opinion expressed—not by an Englishman—but by a person of high authority in the United States of America; it was that of Chancellor Kent, who, in his great work, said—We come next to treat of the laws applicable to seamen; and it will appear, for obvious reasons, that in the codes of all commercial nations they are the objects of great solicitude and of paternal care. They are usually a heedless, ignorant, audacious, but most useful class of men, exposed to constant hardships, perils, and oppression. From the nature of their employment, and their 'home on the deep,' they are necessarily excluded, in a great degree, from the benefits of civilisation, and the comforts and charities of domestic life. Upon their native element they are habitually buffeted by winds and waves, and wrestling with tempests; and in time of war they are exposed to the still fiercer elements of the human passions. In port, they are the ready and the dreadful victims of temptation, fraud, and vice. It becomes, therefore, a very interesting topic of inquiry to see what protection the laws have thrown around such a houseless and helpless race of beings, and what special provision has been made for their security and indemnity.After having called their attention thus to the accurate and eloquent description which Chancellor Kent gave of the ill-advised and mischievous policy which would leave the agreements of the mercantile sailors to mere chance, he thought he had done all that could be considered necessary for inducing the House to adopt, at no distant time, measures for the protection of the British sailor. In proposing an improved 226 system, he hoped the House would understand that he had no intention of proposing any new principles, but merely of laying a ground for obtaining the sanction of the Legislature to that which every one must admit to be necessary, and which indeed the existing law sanctioned in principle, although it did not effect it in practice—the principle of obtaining trustworthy agents in the negotiation and settlement of agreements. Every one acquainted with the subject was ready to admit that nothing really important could be accomplished, unless they began by securing the respectability of the agents employed in negotiating agreements. The case as it at present stood, left the sailor open to the greatest frauds. In America those agreements were usually arranged through the instrumentality of notaries public; but in this country there Was no person of corresponding rank to a notary public to undertake that duty; the broker would not take it, and the unavoidable result was, that it came to be left in the hands of the crimp. Dining the last Administration measures had been taken, by the Admiralty, he believed, for abating the evil, that department insisting that agreements should be made by none but licensed agents, and no man was thenceforward allowed to undertake that species of agency unless he obtained a license; but unfortunately that system fell very far short of what was necessary. The Board of Trade, no doubt, did what they could to select respectable agents, and to exclude from the privilege of licenses all lodging-house-keepers; but still the employment of crimps remained absolutely unavoidable. But from the class of persons so employed, they made it a point to exclude slopsellers; and, without bringing any sweeping charges against any class of men, he might say, that the present state of the law did not afford adequate protection for the sailor. If they wished to effect an improvement in the conduct of the sailors, they must make that class of men satisfied with the contracts into which they entered. If they wished to improve the condition of the mercantile seamen, they must manage to have their contracts with their employers concluded through the instrumentality of a very different set of officers from those who were at present engaged in it. It was also necessary to make a beginning in the way of sanitary reform as regarded the condition of our mercantile shipping. No man who read the report of the Board of Health could for a moment doubt that a very ma- 227 terial change in the sanitary condition of the sailor had become indispensable. It was indisputable that in our mercantile vessels the sailors were stowed away in a manner that could not fail to generate disease, and often even death itself. It was an evil of which no one denied the importance, and, although permanent and extensive improvement could only he accomplished by enlightening the minds of the seamen, and reforming their habits, it still was desirable that something should be done. Thus far, however, he had contented himself with a mere outline. When a Bill upon the subject came to be laid on the table of the House, hon. Members would be enabled to judge for themselves respecting the details which might be comprehended in such a measure. There were three subjects on which it was important that they should legislate. The first related to the proposed practice of the duties of pilots being performed by masters and mates; the second to discipline; and the third to the general condition of the seamen engaged in the merchant service. He had given an outline of the measures that he contemplated; he now committed those plans to the attention of the House, and invited to them the careful and deliberate consideration of hon. Members during the ensuing vacation. He could sincerely assure any one who heard him that he should willingly attend to any suggestions with which he might be favoured on these important subjects; and early in the next Session he hoped that he should be able to introduce the measures to which he had that day called the attention of the House. It unfortunately happened that at present no department of the Government was in any degree responsible for the condition of our mercantile marine. The Admiralty and the Board of Trade—whether with or without professional advisers—were under no responsibility whatever. He proposed to give in this matter authority to the Board of Trade, and with authority responsibility; but, in order to effect all the objects that he had in view, it would be necessary to create or derive from the Board of Trade a department—not a board—but a Department of Mercantile Marine. He proposed that there should be attached to that Department of Mercantile Marine two persons who had been captains in the merchant service of the country. He thought that if any office were to be constituted, possessing executive authority in many important respects over the mercantile 228 marine, that marine had a right to expect that some members of their own body, cognisant of their feelings, and able to give advice on this class of subjects to the President of the Board of Trade, should be attached to such a department. He would now state what he proposed to do with respect to the first point to which he had referred—the qualifications of masters and mates in the merchant service. There was at present a system of voluntary examination for masters and mates. He believed that system had been carried out to a considerable extent, and that it had been generally beneficial to the merchant service; but he had no hesitation in saying, after some experience, that that voluntary system was not sufficient to meet the necessities of the case. He believed, that in some of the outports this examination was not quite what it ought to be. He did not wish to go into particulars, but he would only say, that from the general result of his inquiries he did not think the examinations were sufficiently strict, or that they were working in that uniform and satisfactory manner which was desirable. He proposed, therefore, that in future these examinations should be conducted under the direction of the Board of Trade, through the instrumentality of the Department of Mercantile Marine; that certificates should be given by the examiners, divided into three classes, with reference to the size of the vessels a person should be entitled to command; and that in future every master or mate, before he could be intrusted with the command of a vessel, should be obliged to pass the examination and obtain a certificate. He proposed that this system should be prospective, because he thought it would be inexpedient and unjust—indeed he might almost say impossible—to apply the system to those masters and mates who were already engaged in the merchant service. He conceived that it would be in the highest degree unjust and inexpedient to require men who had been brought up to that service, and whose prospects in life depended upon it, now to undergo an examination for which their previous studies might not have qualified them; but he would propose that all captains and mates who had already commanded merchant vessels should be required to go to the Department of Mercantile Marine, and obtain certificates, not of qualification, but merely of service—that they should be simply bound to prove that they had commanded merchant 229 ships, that they had been masters in the Royal Navy, or that they had been in the service of the East India Company, and that they should then be entitled to command merchant vessels. He proposed also that, in future, if the master or mate of a merchant ship, whether holding a certificate upon examination, or merely a certificate of service, should in the discharge of his duty grossly misconduct himself—proving either a total want of that knowledge which was indispensable to the proper command of a merchant vessel, or that his moral conduct utterly unfitted him to be intrusted with the discipline and superintendence of a ship—such person should be deprived of his certificate. He thought there would be nothing unjust in this provision; but that, on the contrary, it would be attended with great advantage to the interests of those connected with the merchant service, and who were dependent on the skill and qualities of its officers. He might mention also that he proposed that, when a merchant captain was guilty of gross misconduct, attended with loss of life or property, such misconduct should constitute a misdemeanour, for which the offender might be tried before the ordinary tribunals. He believed, from the communications he had had with shipowners on the subject, that they would regard this provision as a very important guarantee against the misconduct and negligence of the persons who had charge of merchant vessels. The two other branches of this subject—the discipline of the crew, and the condition of the seamen—were so much intermixed that he would deal with them together. He had already said that a great deal depended upon the character of the agents employed to draw up contracts between sailors and their employers, and that a very material alteration and improvement of the existing system in this respect were absolutely necessary. He proposed to substitute for the present system of licensed agents shipping officers, to be public officers, established in the principal ports of the country, and through whose instrumentality these contracts should be formed. He was not altogether without precedent in proposing this change. He believed there was no port in the British dominions where, owing to particular circumstances, to which it was unnecessary for him now to advert, the evils attending the crimping system, and the mode of making these engagements between sailors and employers, were so rife 230 and flagrant as in Quebec. This subject excited the greatest possible dissatisfaction and complaint among the mercantile interests of this country; desertions were very frequent; the crimps were bidding over one another for the sailors; the seamen became utterly undisciplined and demoralised; and the high wages they obtained fell into the hands of the crimps and slopsellers—the harpies by whom the sailor was induced to desert, and by whom he was pillaged. Representations had been made to him from nearly every port in England on this subject, and he had stated in reply that it appeared to him the remedy must come from the local legislature of the colony, for he did not see what could be done by Parliament or by the British Government. The local legislature at Quebec applied themselves to the question, and the Colonial Assembly passed an Act establishing a public shipping officer at Quebec, before whom it was required that the contracts between sailors and employers should be made, and who was responsible for their proper conduct and management. From the information which had reached him, that measure had been fully and completely successful; desertion had greatly diminished at Quebec; the complaints of merchants were much less frequent; the condition of the sailor had been improved; and the trade of that port was becoming regular and well conducted. This change was not effected without considerable opposition. Some very import ant interests in the port of Quebec felt themselves greatly aggrieved by the measure, and endeavoured to persuade the legislature to abandon the Act; but the legislature of Lower Canada was firm upon the subject, and adopted the Act, though by a very small majority. The Board of Trade and the Mercantile Board of Quebec were in favour of the alteration; and their wish was that the regulations should be made even more stringent than at present. He thought, then, that the success which had attended the measure in Quebec, afforded strong ground for believing that a similar measure applied to this country would go far to remedy the existing evils. He therefore proposed that shipping officers should be established in the ports of this country; and he believed those officers might be made instrumental at once in affording protection to the seamen and in improving their discipline. He proposed that all ships' agreements should be signed in the presence of the shipping officer, attested 231 by him, and explained by Mm to the sailors; and that all agreements, in addition to the items required by the 7th and 8th of Victoria, chap. 112, should specify the nature and length of the voyage, the scale of provisions to be furnished to the men (such scale to be in accordance with any regulations made by the Board of Trade), and any regulations as to the conduct of the crew on board, and the fines for misconduct, which might be sanctioned by the Board of Trade, and to which the parties agreed. The last subject was altogether voluntary. He believed that on board all well-conducted ships articles of agreement were now entered into with regard to discipline; and he proposed that—suggestions being made by the Board of Trade for maintaining a proper system of discipline, and for imposing suitable fines as punishments for breaches of discipline—the seamen should be invited by the shipping officers to subscribe agreements embodying such suggestions, which would then, of course, be binding and obligatory upon them. The dietary, also, was to be compulsory upon the shipowners as well as upon the sailors. That was a provision intended for the protection of the seamen. He believed that, in the case of all well-conducted ships at present, a scale of dietary was agreed upon by the sailors and their employers; and he considered that it would be a most useful regulation to apply that plan to the merchant service generally. He understood that one-half the quarrels and disputes that arose between sailors and their employers turned upon the question of diet. He believed that in some ships the poor sailor was half starved, and very improperly treated; and he, therefore, thought a scale of dietary properly framed would be a very useful thing, and he did not anticipate any practical difficulty in carrying it out. He might also add, that a logbook, drawn up in proper form, would be supplied to every ship, and that it would be required that the fines levied under the regulations should be entered in that book, which would be a check upon the conduct of the master during the voyage. At present the logbooks of merchant ships were in most cases mere waste paper; but in future every merchant vessel would be required to keep a regular logbook according to the form furnished by the Government officer. He believed this plan would remove many causes of discontent and complaint on the part of the merchant seamen. 232 and that the system of fines would tend to the better enforcement of discipline. He was so much impressed with the absolute necessity of strengthening the means of maintaining discipline on board merchant ships, that he proposed to give to captains having first-class certificates, and commanding vessels of a certain amount of tonnage, a power which he believed to be necessary for that purpose; and although he admitted it was a power against the abuse of which they ought to guard by all possible means, he thought it was one which ought to be intrusted to captains in some eases. He would propose that, for specified offences, they should possess the power of imprisoning on board ship for a limited period. He would require that an entry of the imprisonment should be made in the logbook; and he believed—looking at the evils produced in the merchant service from the want of discipline—that, when they had taken all possible precautions against the abuse of this power, it was for the benefit of the crew, and for the general interest of the mercantile marine, that the captains should be permitted to inflict such a punishment. A far more stringent system of discipline than would be established by this Bill was practised in the American merchant navy, where corporal punishment was very frequently resorted to. Public opinion in the United States supported the merchant captains in the enforcement of that punishment; and he believed the reason was, that those merchant captains were a class of persons in whose general character and conduct the American public placed great confidence. He mentioned this circumstance to show that in that free and mercantile country there was a general opinion that the merchant captains—after means had been taken to ascertain their trustworthiness—should possess great power for the maintenance of discipline. The circumstances of the trade of this empire bad undergone great alteration within the present century. During the war our merchant ships were almost always within reach of ships of the Royal Navy. At present that was not the case. To many of our distant stations in China and the Pacific, the visits of ships of the Royal Navy were few and far between. A merchant ship might be a year or two without coming near a ship of the Royal Navy; and he, therefore, considered it was absolutely necessary that captains of merchant vessels should have the power of enforcing 233 proper discipline among the crews under their command. He proposed, also, that when a ship returned to port her crew should not be paid off on board, as was now the case, but in the presence of the shipping officer; that the shipping officer should then inspect the logbook; that he should hear anything the crow might have to say in the way of complaint; that, in the case of disputes between the captain and sailors, when the amount was under 40s., the shipping officer should have a summary power of adjudication; and that, with regard to disputes, when the amount was above 40s., the shipping officer should have the power of adjudication if both parties agreed to refer the matter to him; but if not, the dispute should be decided in the ordinary mode. This plan would establish a simple tribunal before which questions of that kind could be speedily settled, instead of leaving the sailor—as was at present frequently the case—to call in the aid of some low lawyer, and it would also obviate much of the squabbling and litigation which now took place on the return of ships to port. With regard to the point to which he had before adverted—the sanitary condition of ships—he would propose that a space of not less than eight feet should be appropriated to each seaman in that part of the vessel in which the cabins were placed. There was another respect in which he believed the new functions of the Board of Trade might be exercised with advantage—he meant with regard to the registry of seamen. He believed that the present system of registration of seamen had in a great degree disappointed the expectations of those by whom it was proposed. The system of tickets had been found on the one hand very grievous to the sailor, and on the other very ineffectual in preventing most extensive frauds. He found that forged registry tickets could be bought in Wapping to any extent; and certainly, if the present system, which was very burdensome and vexatious to the sailor, did not answer its purpose, it ought not to be continued. He believed the only point with respect to which the ticket system had any real and beneficial operation, was in the case of apprentices; and he thought, after the change which had been introduced by a recent Act, that no substantial reason now existed for keeping up the system of registry tickets. He wished to give the Board of Trade the power of abolishing the system of registry tickets; and he would propose 234 to unite the registry office with the new department of the Board of Trade, for he thought all that was now done usefully and properly with regard to the registration of seamen, could be effected through the instrumentality of the shipping officers. He therefore proposed in the Bill to give the power of transferring the Registry Office to the jurisdiction of the Board of Trade, and of putting an end to the system of registry tickets. He ought to have stated before that he proposed that a small fee should be taken by the shipping officers upon the agreements between sailors and their employers, such fee not to be higher than that now paid to the licensed agent for performing the same duty. From the fees thus paid, and from the fines levied upon the seamen for breaches of discipline, a fund would be created. It was very difficult to form an estimate of what the amount of that fund would be; but he thought it would probably be about 40,000l. a year. He proposed that the expense of the shipping officers should be defrayed from this fund; but he did not calculate that the amount required for that purpose would be more than about 10,000l, and a considerable surplus would therefore remain. Now, he did not wish to define too closely in the Bill the objects to which that amount should be appropriated, but he thought it might be devoted to very useful purposes. In considering the manner in which that fund should be appropriated, they ought to bear in mind the sources from which it was derived. That part of the fund derived from the fees paid upon, agreements, would come in reality from the shipowners, while the other part of the fund arising from fines—which he apprehended and hoped would be the smaller portion—would come from the sailor; and he thought this difference of origin might fairly influence the application of the money. He had no matured scheme to lay before the House with regard to the disposition of these funds; but he proposed that they should be applied under the direction of the Board of Trade, He thought, that out of those funds good-service pensions might be given to masters and mates in the merchant service whose conduct had been meritorious. He considered that any improvement in the position of masters and mates in the merchant service, was the keystone to the general improvement of the mercantile marine. He attached great importance to that part of the Bill which tended to raise the qualifications 235 of masters of merchant ships, and he had no doubt it would lead to their obtaining increased salaries. The rates of salary now given to the masters and mates in the merchant service were in many cases utterly inadequate and improperly low, and he would be very glad if the measure he now proposed operated in obliging shipowners to give higher wages to those in their employ who discharged the important duty of commanding merchant ships. He considered, then, that part of this fund, might be appropriately given, in gratuities and good-service pensions, to the most deserving masters and mates. He thought, also, that good might be done by giving captains in the merchant service who obtained first-class certificates the right to wear some badge of distinction which would give them a sort of authority in foreign ports, and which would no doubt he gratifying to them; for he believed the raising of the position of these masters in their own eatimation and in that of the public would be attended with very beneficial results. With regard to that portion of the fund arising from fines upon the seamen, he considered that money so derived should be applied to the benefit of the seamen themselves; and he thought means might be found, in conjunction with the Merchant Seamen's Fund, or in some other way, of devoting such money to some object bearing directly upon the well-being of the merchant seamen. There were some other points of a minor description in the Bill—such as an alteration in the system of advance notes—with which he would not now weary the House; for, as he did not press for legislation on the subject during the present Session, he had thought it better to confine himself to an outline of the main features of the measure. He regarded this as a subject of the greatest importance, and he was most anxious that it should obtain from the House and from the country that full consideration which, from its immense consequence to the highest interests of the empire, it amply merited. It was with this view that he had brought forward the present measure. He was very far from supposing that it was not susceptible of great improvement; but with regard to its main principles, he firmly believed that no measure would adequately meet the necessities of the case which was not directed to improve the character and qualifications of those to whom the command of merchant ships was intrusted, to strengthen the discipline of the crews, and, 236 as far as possible, to improve the sanitary and moral condition, and to promote the contentment of the great seafaring body engaged in that mercantile marine which was intimately connected, not only with the wealth and prosperity, but also with, the security and national defence of the country.Moved—1. That the Chairman be directed to move the House, that leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Laws relating to Pilotage.2. That the Chairman be directed to move the House, that leave be given to bring in a Bill for improving the condition of Masters, Mates, and Seamen, in the Merchant Service.
§ MR. GLADSTONE
said, that if the right hon. Gentleman felt that he had reason to thank the House for the attention with which it had listened to his statement, it appeared to him that the House and the country were not less indebted to the right hon. Gentleman for the very interesting and comprehensive view he had taken of a class of subjects to which was attached very little of popular or exterior attraction, but which were at the same time of the deepest and the most vital national importance. He would not attempt to follow the right hon. Gentleman throughout the greater portion of the details into which he had entered, or the plans he had suggessed. It was perfectly obvious that the particulars of those plans would require a far more detailed and prolonged consideration than could be given to them while listening to such a statement as that which they had just heard. He should therefore confine himself to a very few and cursory remarks on different portions of what had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman. Now with regard to the question of light-dues, with which the right hon. Gentleman had commenced his observations, he should state that he was exceedingly glad that the right hon. Gentleman had succeeded in obtaining for the mercantile marine of this country a very considerable remission of the burdens to which they were subjected by that class of payments; and he felt that those who were intrusted with the management of the corporation of the Trinity-house, whatever might be thought of the constitution of that body on abstract principles, deserved the distinct approbation of that House for the disposition they had shown to appreciate with an enlightened judgment the exigencies of the times, and to meet the reasonable demands of those who were peculiarly interested in that matter. He 237 should only add, that he regretted that the right hon. Gentleman had not, simultaneously with the recognition of those demands on the part of the Trinity house, again laid on the table the Bill which he had formerly introduced; because, although the right hon. Gentleman had stated that, by accepting that arrangement with the Trinity house, parliament and the Government would not be precluded from entering into a larger consideration of the question of the light-dues, yet he (Mr. Gladstone) should say that he thought their liberty in that respect would be more clear and unquestioned if there had been some practical assertion, by laying that Bill on the table, of the necessity of a further consideration of the whole principle on which light-dues were at present raised, and on which the management of them was conducted. With respect to the regulations to which the right hon. Gentleman had referred, he took it for granted that the right hon. Gentleman had carefully considered the legality of the system which he proposed to establish. But he could not help saying that the duty of drawing a distinction between the various classes of vessels, and the various classes of voyages, with respect to light-dues, was a duty which it would be necessary to exercise with the utmost delicacy and discrimination. He believed the right hon. Gentleman had referred to only one particular description of remission of dues. The right hon. Gentleman said, as he had understood him, that ships which had sailed from a port at which they had paid the light-dues, should not again be subject to the payment of those dues on the homeward voyage.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said, that what he had stated was, that there were certain exceptional cases in which the light-dues were paid twice, and he proposed to do away with those exceptions.
§ MR. GLADSTONE
was glad to receive that explanation from the right hon. Gentleman, as it appeared from it that he only meant to remove exceptions to the general practice at present in existence. With respect to the question of pilotage he would not enter into that subject farther than to say that he regretted to find that the right hon. Gentleman had taken such a view of the connexion between that question and the repeal of the navigation laws, as to have prevented his having submitted to the House the statement he had just made at an earlier period of the Session; because 238 he (Mr. Gladstone) could not but apprehend that although the plan of the right hon. Gentleman with respect to pilotage appeared primâ facie to be one which it would be very desirable to carry into effect, if that could be done consistently with perfect justice, yet he could conceive that there might be parties who would consider that it would so far interfere with their rights that they would be entitled to ask the House not to proceed to legislate on the subject without a greater degree of consideration than they could then bestow upon it. He should, however, pass from that matter to an omission which he noticed in the statement of the right hon. Gentleman. He meant the omission of the right hon. Gentleman to give them his views upon a subject on which it appeared to him that an exposition of those views was necessary in order to make the statement of the right hon. Gentleman complete, namely, the Merchant Seamen's Fund. The right hon. Gentleman had told them that, under the measure which he proposed to introduce, there might be funds raised which would be available for strengthening the Merchant Seamen's Fund; but he (Mr. Gladstone) regretted to find that the right hon. Gentleman had not given them any specific exposition of his views upon that subject. Now, the general observation with which he (Mr. Gladstone) had set out, that those questions were both difficult and unattractive, and were, at the same time, of the greatest importance, and of pressing exigency, was eminently applicable to the question of the Merchant Seamen's Fluid. They had prevailing, with regard to that fund, the grossest inequalities, which had entailed great hardship and injustice on seamen. In raising that fund they subjected seamen to a tax of a very exceptional character, for no other labourers were liable to a tax on their wages; and the tax was, at the same time, one from which those men derived no corresponding advantage. It appeared to him that it was a very difficult question to decide whether the House ought to resolve on winding up the concerns of the Merchant Seamen's Fund altogether, and, at the same time, compensating those who had claims on it, or whether they ought to endeavour to put that fund on an improved basis. But it was perfectly clear that, in dependently of other objections to the present management of the fund, it was at present galloping towards insolvency, and 239 in a few years they would be driven to legislate with respect to it, whether they should will it or not. He feared that the fund was insolvent at the present moment; but at all events it was perfectly clear that it was becoming every year more and more unable to meet the charges upon it. Under these circumstances, he certainly had hoped that the right hon. Gentleman, who had paid so much attention to these subjects, would have stated to them his views with respect to that fund; and he trusted that the right hon. Gentleman would at least hold himself bound to them thus far, that they were to understand that it was his intention to introduce a Bill for the definitive settlement of that question at an early period of the next Session. So far as he (Mr. Gladstone) was concerned, he could venture to promise the right hon. Gentleman that he would have his cooperation in endeavouring to effect such a settlement, and that he was so sensible of the extreme urgency of the case, that no objections on his part to any minor details of the plan of the right hon. Gentleman would prevent him from giving him his best support on the subject. He should next pass to the great and comprehensive scheme which the right hon. Gentleman had developed in the latter part of his speech. He emphatically agreed with the right hon. Gentleman in the principle that if they wished to make a real reform in the character and condition of our mercantile marine, they should first endeavour to improve the character of the masters and mates; and it was only by what they might achieve in respect to them that they could hope to succeed in their projects with respect to their crews. He believed that wherever they found a ship with a disorderly and disorganised crew, they would, in general, be as fully justified in ascribing the state of such a crew to the inefficiency, or the immorality, or the ignorance of the master, as they would be justified in ascribing the state of a disorderly and disorganised school to the incapacity of the schoolmaster. There could be no doubt but they ought to have such relations established between the master and his crew as would place in the hands of the former ample powers for ensuring order on board his ship; and with whose powers there should be a corresponding responsibility. He was, on the whole, glad to find that the right hon. Gentleman intended to propose a system of compulsory examination for masters and mates, and. 240 at the same time, to make that system merely prospective, and not to attempt to apply it to those who were at present masters and mates. He was, indeed, so fully convinced of the necessity of not dealing harshly with those parties, that he had heard with some doubt and scruple the right hon. Gentleman announce, as part of his plan, that the certificates of service which might already have been obtained by masters and mates, were to be withdrawable in case of gross misconduct; not that he thought there was anything unfair in that principle, but because he could not help questioning the propriety of giving to a subordinate portion of an executive department a power of judging of the conduct of masters and mates, and entailing on them far more severe consequences than any to which an ordinary tribunal would subject them for any offence short of a crime, while they would not have the securities in their favour which a court of justice would afford them. He was glad, however, to find that the right hon. Gentleman meant to define certain cases of gross misconduct which would render masters liable to that penalty; and he trusted that the right hon. Gentleman would find no difficulty in the application of his principle. But he was sure that the right hon. Gentleman would not find fault with him for suggesting that the mode of proving a degree of misconduct, which was to be followed by the withdrawal of a certificate of service, was a matter that would require, in all its details, the most anxious and careful consideration. The right hon. Gentleman had told them that he intended to apply the principle of the compulsory intervention of the public officers in the formation of contracts of service between seamen and their employers. Now, into that, and into many other matters to which the right hon. Gentleman had referred, he should think it premature, at that moment, to enter. The right hon. Gentleman had great ends to attain; and that was not the time for considering the details of his plan. He concurred with the right hon. Gentleman in giving credit in general to the reports that had been made with respect to the deficient state of our mercantile marine. They were not there to disparage the noble qualities that belonged to the character of the British seaman. But that was not the question with which they had to deal; for they were not to be considered as decrying those qualities, or as denying that, on the whole, the mercantile marine 241 of England should be considered the first, perhaps, in the world, because they said that where they found practical defects, they would endeavour to remedy them. But, at the same time, the matter involved so much interference with the free agency of individuals, that it was obviously one of the greatest difficulty, and he should wish to have before him the whole plan of the right hon. Gentleman before pronouncing any definitive opinion with respect to it he could not, however, help making another remark with respect to a particular clause in the Act which the right hon. Gentleman had lately succeeded in obtaining for a modification and almost for a repeal of our navigation laws. The right hon. Gentleman had found that the state of the British mercantile marine was, in very important respects, eminently defective, and he proposed to cure that defective state by a set of regulations involving great interference on the part of the Government, and involving a great complexity and minuteness of rules, and which would place the profession of a seaman, and still more the profession of the master of a merchant vessel, in a kind of pupilage. Now, he did not find fault with the right hon. Gentleman for having done those things; but, with the moderate faith that he had in the success of any merely mechanical set of rules, he was hound to ask himself whether there was no other measure of a larger, more vigorous, and, ultimately, of a more certain operation, which they ought to adopt for the improvement of the character of masters and sailors in the British mercantile marine. He thought there was; and that measure would be, to apply to the command of vessels, and to the manning of vessels, the principle of competition which they had applied to the carrying trade and to the building of vessels. He deeply lamented to find that the right hon. Gentleman had not applied that principle to the manning of ships. The right hon. Gentleman had deprived the shipowner of his monopoly; he had deprived the shipbuilder of his monopoly; but the monopoly of the sailor he still proposed to retain. Now, the right hon. Gentleman had always held—and he had repeated the opinion that day—that in taking away the monopoly of the shipbuilder and of the shipowner, he was not inflicting on them an injury, but conferring on them a great benefit; and he (Mr. Gladstone) could not understand why the right hon. Gentleman was not prepared to confer a similar benefit 242 on our seamen. He was persuaded that every reason that went to show that they bad been right in repealing the navigation laws, would also prove that they ought to allow our shipowners to choose whatever seamen they might please. He was convinced that no system of sanitary regulations—that no system for the examination of masters and mates, however good such a system might be in itself, would enable them to attain the end they bad in view, unless they applied the healthy principle of competition to the system on which our ships were manned, as well as to the system on which they were built, or to the system on which they were employed in the carrying trade. He could assure the right hon. Gentleman that it was not from any wanton desire to revive the discussion on the navigation laws that be had made those observations, but it was because be wished to express his conscientious conviction that a similar relaxation of our laws in the present case lay at the root of any good system for improving the condition of our mercantile marine. He thought they had the most distinct reasons to believe that the repeal of the navigation laws was a safe measure as regarded our shipbuilding and our carrying trade; but he thought the evidence was still more demonstrative that the British sailor could compete with all the sailors in the world. It appeared to him that that fact was sufficiently established by the eagerness with which our sailors were sought after in foreign countries. It was a painful fact, and one which they ought to lay to heart, for the purpose of giving to it its true value, that in one year 14,000 sailors had deserted our merchant service; and no doubt many of those sailors were at present navigating American ships, under the strict discipline which prevailed in the American marine. Our present system did not, therefore, keep our sailors in our own service. On all those grounds he trusted that the right hon. Gentleman might be disposed, during the interval between this and the next Session of Parliament, to reconsider the view he had taken with regard to the manning of our ships since the repeal of the navigation laws. He, for one, was convinced that next Session would not pass over, and ought not to pass over, without an effort being made to give to the British shipowner the freedom to which he was entitled of manning his ships as he might think fit. But while he said that, he did not wish to disparage or to deprecate the importance of 243 the efforts which the right hon. Gentleman had made for the improvement of our merchant service. On the contrary, he was ready to give him the highest credit for those efforts; and he felt most anxious that he should succeed in the difficult task he had undertaken to discharge.
§ SIR G. CLERK
would for the present abstain from offering any observations on the main statements of the right hon. Gentleman, as he proposed simply to lay his Bill on the table for the present Session; but he desired to offer a few remarks on the modification proposed of the light-dues, and with regard to the law proposed to be introduced as to pilotage. With regard to the light-dues, he was ready to concur with the right hon. Gentleman in reducing them to the lowest scale consistent with the safety of the trade on the coasts. He was glad the right hon. Gentleman was disposed to continue them, and only proposed to regulate that tax so as to make it press with more equality. With respect to the right hon. Gentleman's proposition to introduce a Bill, and pass it this Session, with respect to the pilotage, the Cinque Ports would be very materially affected by that Bill, and, as Member for Dover, he had no hesitation in saying he should protest against the passing of a Bill of this sort during the present Session. There were local interests which would be so deeply affected by this Bill as to make it highly important that there should be time to have it considered whether the measure would be acceptable to the shipping interests or not. It was generally understood that the present Session would be brought to a close in three weeks, and what time therefore was there for the consideration of such a measure as this? The right hon. Gentleman had stated that the measure of Lord Sydenham had been defeated by local interests; and did not that prove that local interests did exist which would have to be consulted? He thought he had some reason to complain that the right hon. Gentleman, if he had intended to pass this measure this Session, had not brought it on three months ago. It had nothing to do with the repeal of the navigation laws, and might just as well have been introduced in February last as now. What was the principle of the alteration proposed? He believed no person entertained a doubt that it was absolutely necessary for shipping interests, for the safety of property and life, that there should be upon the British coast a considerable body 244 of experienced pilots who thoroughly understand the navigation of our difficult seas, and who were enabled, from their continual practice of sailing through them, to conduct vessels of the largest draught with safety, where less experienced hands would be liable to expose them to danger. If it were necessary to have them, and they were now to be interfered with in the way proposed, it would be requisite to raise a fund, out of which they would have to be paid to such an extent as would enable them to devote the whole of their time to their duties. Frequent inquiries had been made in reference to the pilotage; and it had been shown that neither the Trinity-house nor the Cinque-port pilots were excessive in number; and it had been stated by several witnesses that the income of the Cinque-port pilots was somewhere about 110l. to 120l. a year—no way an unreasonable sum for persons who were obliged to expose themselves to such imminent risks and dangers as they had to pass through. In order to raise the fund necessary for the payment of those pilots, the principle had been that every ship sailing along our seas was bound to take a pilot. If half of the ships were now to be exempted from that obligation—if this Bill was to make it optional whether a pilot should be taken or not, it would be perfectly manifest that to keep up the present number of pilots (the number could not be reduced) it would be absolutely necessary to call for a higher rate of pilotage from such vessels as did take pilots than they had to pay now. It might be easy enough, by reading a book on the subject, to pass an examination at the Trinity-house, so as to acquire a slight knowledge of the dangers of the Channel; but if such persons had not a practical knowledge on the point, and returned fifteen or eighteen months afterwards and ventured to pass along without a pilot, their theoretical knowledge would in all probability have passed away, and they might find themselves exposed to serious dangers. But what was to be done with respect to foreign vessels? Were foreigners, under all circumstances, to be compelled to take pilots? Would that be consistent with the principle of the present navigation laws? Why, if that were to be attempted, there would be a representation in London from the American Minister next day against it.
§ SIR G. CLERK
could not suppose that the American Government would assent to that for one moment. They would not submit to have their captains examined by a set of commissioners appointed by us, they knowing that their captains were as competent to navigate our seas as our own. This was a most important measure, and he had no doubt the greatest opposition would be offered to it by all persons connected with the pilotage at Liverpool, the Cinque Ports, and everywhere else. He should, therefore, by all the means at his command, try to prevent this Bill from being prematurely discussed; he should oppose its second reading until it had been printed, circulated throughout the kingdom, and every opportunity afforded to all persons interested in it fully to consider it. He trusted, therefore, the right hon. Gentleman would be satisfied by simply laying the Bill on the table for this Session.
§ MR. MILNER GIBSON
observed, that a pilot question never could be brought before Parliament without its always being thought necessary to introduce a clause to this effect, "Provided always, that nothing contained in this Bill shall affect the rights and privileges of the Cinque Ports." There was always some reservation of that sort conveyed in the intimation that they might do what they liked without interfering with the Cinque Ports. Now, it so happened that the Cinque Ports were the great grievances; they formed the subject of all the complaints; and if they were left out of the Bill, it would be like the play of Hamlet with the part of Hamlet omitted "by particular desire." The speech which they had just heard was not the speech of the right hon. Baronet the late President of the Board of Trade, but the speech of the right hon. Member for Dover; for, certainly, he did not collect from his right hon. Friend's observations that he intended to grapple with the Cinque Ports in a manner that would become him as a Minister of the Crown. From the speech of the right hon. Member for Dover, it appeared otherwise. This was not a question affecting the rights of a large body of individuals; and although there might have been a time when the necessities of the country required that large and exclusive privileges should be 246 conferred on the Cinque Ports, that time had long since passed away, and instead of those privileges being a public convenience, they were a public nuisance; and he, therefore, called upon the right hon. Baronet the President of the Board of Trade to deal with these Cinque Ports with a bold hand. He did not believe that the distinguished person who was at the head of them, would throw any obstacle in the way of improvement, if proper representations were made to him. With regard to the pilot system itself, this was the way in which it worked—when ships did not want a pilot he was forced upon them, and when they did want a pilot they could not get one; and for this simple reason, that the system secured to the pilot a certainty of employment and of income in fine weather, which induced him not to take trouble and go to sea in bad weather. If the system secured him an income in fine weather, it was not likely that he would run the risk and danger and incur the wear and tear of encountering the sea in rough weather; and the consequence was, that very often at the South Foreland vessels which were compelled to submit to the charge of a pilot in fine weather, ran the risk of being lost through the neglect of the pilot to go to sea in rough weather. With regard to the corporation of the Trinity-house, he was one of those who had never joined in a tilt against them, because the evils of the light-dues had been occasioned by the acts of the Crown and of the Legislature.
§ MR. CARDWELL
said, if he understood the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, he had brought three questions before them, upon which he proposed to take the opinion of the House. The first of these was to give an important relief to the mercantile marine; and as that measure was not to be disposed of in the present Session, he should say nothing against it then. With regard to the second question—that of pilotage—the right hon. Gentleman proposed to bring in a Bill which he was anxious to pass in the present Session of Parliament. It was merely of a permissive nature, to enable those parties who had the control of the pilotage to make certain remissions in regard to taking pilots where it would be expedient; and at the first view, it certainly did appear a reasonable proposal, which he was not then prepared to object to. At the same time, however, he thought the right hon. Gentleman 247 the Member for Manchester would feel, with him, that it was but reasonable that those parties whom it would affect should have time to consider its provisions; and he should, therefore, defer any observations upon the subject till the second reading, when he would have had an opportunity of communicating with the parties interested in the Bill. With regard to the third and by far the most important subject, the right hon. Gentleman had proposed a course which must be eminently satisfactory to the House. He proposed to lay before them in detail a comprehensive scheme with regard to the mercantile marine; and having done so, he proposed to give the country a full opportunity of considering the measure before any opinion of the House should be asked for. He would, therefore, be no party to raising any objection to this Bill at the present moment, nor did he think any of those obstacles suggested by the right hon. Gentleman would be thrown in his way. He promised the right hon. Gentleman to give his most deliberate attention to the proposition; and in the communication which it would be his duty to hold with those parties whose interests were most affected by it, he would endeavour to arrive at that solution of the question which it was the right hon. Gentleman's desire to attain—namely, the best means of raising the condition of the masters and seamen of the mercantile marine, and of promoting the social advantage and welfare of that class of the community. He had before him a statement of the existing law on the subject, which, did time permit, he should be glad to detail to the House; but, at all events, this he must be allowed to say, that the existing law gave a much larger control over the sailors of the mercantile marine than would be supposed by those who had listened to the statement of the right hon. Gentleman.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said, it now being three o'clock, he trusted the Committee would at once agree to the resolution, and postpone its consideration till the second reading of the Bill. Some doubt had been raised as to whether the Trinity-house had the power to carry out the arrangement in reference to the light-dues; but be had consulted with parties competent to give the best opinion on the subject, and they entertained not the least doubt upon the matter. Indeed, in the case of Scotland, some years ago, a remission was actually made in the same manner that 248 he now proposed, namely, in conjunction with the Privy Council. He trusted that the Committee would now agree to the resolution, and he would fix the second reading for some day next week.
gave the right hon. Gentleman great credit for the measure he had brought before the House, which no doubt had been dictated by a desire to benefit the mercantile marine; but there was one point which he had heard with extreme regret, and that was that it was intended to do away with the registry certificate.
§ MR. HENLEY
said, he thought it most unjust that the right hon. Gentleman should have made such wholesale charges against a whole class of men, as he had done, and than get up, saying it was three o'clock, and cut the discussion short, without giving any opportunity whatever of answering those charges.
§ Resolutions reported.
§ Bill upon the first Resolution, and Bill upon the last Resolution, ordered to be brought in by Mr. Bernal, Mr. Labouchere, and Sir Francis Baring.
§ Bill read 1°.