§ Considered in Committee.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said, that it was again his duty to call the attention of the House to several questions of the greatest importance to the maritime and commercial interests of this country, and to state the views of the Government on several subjects which materially affected the in 667 terests of our merchant navy. It would be unnecessary for him to detain the House by dilating upon the immense importance of questions affecting the interests of classes than which none were better entitled to the consideration of that House; and by any laboured explanation of the value of those classes, to request the attention of the House to the three measures which it would now be his duty to introduce. The first question which he would consider was, what measures might be expedient to improve the condition of the captains and seamen in our merchant service? Secondly, the state and prospects of the Merchant Seamen's Fund, and the means of placing it in a more satisfactory condition than for a long time past it had been? Thirdly, what improvement might be required in the system of measuring the tonnage of the mercantile marine? These subjects would form the materials for three separate Bills, for although the general improvement of the masters and mates, and the present situation and prospects of the Merchant Seamen's Fund, were closely connected, yet as these subjects included a great variety of details, it would be more satisfactory to make distinct statements. He would, therefore, first explain the proposed measure for improving the condition of the masters, mates, and seamen in the merchant service, and then take the Merchant Seamen's Fund. With respect to the first Bill, then, the Merchant Service Bill, he was happy to say that it would not be necessary for him to detain the House by any lengthened statement, as if the measure were entirely new to the House; because, having had an opportunity of stating his views and the views of the Government on this subject at the end of the last Session, it would not be necessary for him to repeat the general observations he then made. These views he had also embodied in a Bill which had been circulated throughout the country since the last Session. The Bill which he now proposed for the adoption of the House, although it had been materially altered in some most important details, and although, in consequence of communications which had been sent to him, it had received considerable amendments, whereby, as he hoped, the objections made to the Bill of last Session would be obviated; yet the measure now before the House reposed essentially and fundamentally upon the principles which he had then endeavoured to urge upon the House. The provisions of this Bill might 668 be divided into three great heads. He believed, in the first place, without making a charge of a sweeping and general nature against the captains and mates of the English merchant service, among whom there were not a few persons of the highest qualifications both professional and moral, yet, referring to them as a whole, he must declare his opinion that the merchant service of this country did greatly suffer from the notorious incompetency and misconduct of many of the individuals who exercised the command of vessels, and upon whom depended the lives and property of many of Her Majesty's subjects. This, then, was one head of the proposed measure. The next was closely connected with the same subject, for it referred to the want of discipline on the part of the crews which prevailed to a fatal extent in many portions of our mercantile marine. Now, unless they had captains and mates fit to conduct a merchant vessel, and unless they armed the master with the necessary power of maintaining discipline, he was satisfied they would never have the discipline of the crew in a proper state. Lastly, he would consider the evils which the seamen were exposed to from the hardships and injustice practised against them, especially with regard to the contracts which they entered into at their engagement, and when they were discharged from their vessels. He now came to the nature of the remedies which he proposed to apply. He proposed, in the first place, to constitute a department of the mercantile marine as a part of the Board of Trade, who should be responsible to the country and to Parliament for carrying into effect the provisions of the Bill, and who should exercise a general superintendence over the mercantile marine of this country. He had long felt the necessity of such a superintending power, and that the interests of the mercantile marine had suffered from the want of such a department. At present the superintendence of the merchant navy was divided between the Admiralty and the Board of Trade, and, with regard to the latter body, they were without the professional knowledge requisite to enable them to deal with the subject. If the responsibility, therefore, of superintending the merchant navy were thrown altogether upon the Board of Trade, as it seemed desirable should be done, it would be absolutely necessary to give that department some professional assistance. The mercantile department of the 669 Board of Trade would, therefore, include two captains of the merchant service, who would sit as members, and assist the President of the Board of Trade in everything that related to the mercantile marine. He next proposed to establish a system of examination of masters and mates of the merchant service, to make provision for the discipline of the crews, and to substitute public shipping officers for the present system of licensed agents. He proposed to leave to the present masters and mates engaged in the merchant service the free exercise of their calling without undergoing any examination; for he felt that it would be the height of hardship to men who had been brought up under a different system, to be deprived of the power of exercising that calling unless they passed an examination. The clause providing for an examination would, therefore, be prospective, and not retrospective; but as to the future, he felt it to be important to establish a system under which no man would be allowed to command a merchant vessel without ascertaining, so far as was possible, that he was not grossly ignorant of the duties required from him in that capacity. He was aware of the absolute necessity of dealing with this subject with great caution. He knew that if these provisions were suddenly introduced, if the examination were made in too stringent a manner, and if candidates for the situation of masters and mates were required suddenly to undergo a high scientific examination, much hardship and inconvenience might result. But the House might safely intrust to a Government department the mode of carrying out a measure absolutely necessary to the mercantile marine, resting secure that they would not exercise the powers intrusted to them without due consideration, and that they would not attempt to carry out too precipitately an alteration of the present system. He therefore proposed that, as to captains or mates who had already served, it would be sufficient if they obtained a certificate that they had acted in this capacity; and such a certificate, without examination, would enable them to command a vessel. But if it should occur that, in the execution of their duty, any person so entitled to his certificate as having already served, should so grossly misconduct himself as to prove that either from immoral habits, or ignorance of his profession, the lives and property of men could not be safely intrusted to him, he (Mr. Labouchere) would deprive such a 670 man of that certificate, aad would not al low him to exercise the calling of a captain or mate. Such a provision was much required; for instances had come to his knowledge in which men who had been the cause of frightful loss of life had again found employment, and were again intrusted with the care of men's lives and property. He proposed that there be two classes of certificates, according to the acquirements and merits of the candidates, and also separate certificates for those engaged in the coasting trade. There were men perfectly fit to command a coasting vessel, who were wholly unfit to be engaged on the long voyage. It might be said, and it had been said in communications he had received from shipowners on this subject, that very many of the best captains knew little of science—that they did not believe it was so requisite as had been stated to have these examinations—and that they would not enable anybody to ascertain fully the qualifications of many seamen. He admitted that the examination would of itself go but a little way. He knew there were many things that should be known to the person commanding a vessel, that the examinators might be ignorant of, and that in the employment of all such men much should be left to the judgment and discretion of the owners; but he thought, nevertheless, that the examinations would have a great moral tendency to elevate the position and raise the character of our sailors. In saying so, he was not speaking without the experience derived from other countries. Who were our most important rivals as shipowners? The Baltic Powers, and the United States of America. Now, with respect to the Baltic Powers and the city of Hamburgh, where the whole mercantile marine was on a most admirable footing, and he might say especially in the Hanse Towns, there were establishments for the examination of masters and mates, which examinations were strictly enforced, and found to work well. In the United States the captains and mates were not required to undergo a public examination; but the circumstances of the two countries were very different. He heartily wished that the education of our people in this country could be compared with that which prevailed in the United States. He had had occasion lately to see the sums which the State of Massachusetts alone devoted to purposes of education, and he found that in that State the schools supported by the public were so good, that the richest and 671 greatest men of the State preferred sending their children to them in preference to private establishments; and these institutions had the effect of raising up a class of men fitted successfully to follow out any pursuit to which they might be called—any who might, therefore, be employed with the most perfect confidence by shipowners or any other description of employers. If, therefore, it was said we should not have examinations because they were not made in the United States, the difference between the two countries in point of education ought to be considered. He asked the House, then, to insist upon a system of examination of masters and mates being introduced; cautiously, if they pleased, but still introduced; because, by doing so, he believed they would promote that kind of knowledge which was of the deepest interest to the mercantile navy—they would elevate both captains and mates in the scale of their profession, arm them with proper power over their crews, and confer many important benefits upon all concerned in the navigation of the seas. He now came to the second great division of the subject. Believing that the greatest evils now existed in the manner in which the seaman executed his contract with his employers, and in the manner in which, when he returned from his voyage, he was discharged, he proposed to supersede the present system, and to ask the House to consider what ought to be substituted in the room of that which had notoriously and completely failed. He did not believe that he would be here met with the argument that it was dangerous to interfere between masters and employed—that he would be told there was no reason why the sailor and the captain or shipowner should not make their own agreement—that these were matters with which the State ought not to interfere, and that they should be left to the operation of the general law by which all such things were regulated. Nobody could value more than he did the operation of that general law, believing that people could better take care of themselves than the State could do. But it was contrary to all experience, it was contrary to the opinion of every man who had investigated the subject, to assert that the sailor could take care of himself; or that the contract between the sailor and his employer was of that description that it could be safely left to be determined by hazard, and that it was not the duty of the State to interfere for his protection. He must, besides, re- 672 mind the Committee that he was not asking them to establish for the first time a system of interference between the employer and the employed. The system now in operation was a system of interference, and it was established from the experience of the evils which a less degree of interference had produced. It was, he thought, in 1836 when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Oxford was President of the Board of Trade—at least it was during one of the years when that Gentleman was in office, that a Bill was brought in by him which established the present system of licensing agents. No person was allowed to superintend the contract between the sailor and he employer unless licensed by the Board of Trade. The object of this was to prevent crimps, and other persons of bad character, from getting hold of the sailor and inveigling him to his destruction; but after full experience of the Bill it was found to work most unsatisfactorily. The Board of Trade had done its best to give these licenses to none but respectable persons; but they found it extremely difficult to get persons of superior character to be entrusted with the duties. They laid it down as a rule not to give any slopsellers a license, not any publicans; but they could not help giving it to lodging-house keepers. It was therefore found exceedingly difficult to check the many evils complained of, and they had come at last to the conclusion that if they were to have interference at all, it must be exercised in a different manner. He believed there was no country where the interference of the State generally was watched with greater jealousy than in America; and yet there they had thought it right to enact that, except by a notary public, no sailor should enter into any agreement with his employer. We had not the same class of notaries in this country that they had in America; and the agreement there was one of a very minute kind, and contained most stringent regulations. He quoted, when he last addressed the House on this question, the opinions of Chancellor Kent, a great American lawyer, on the subject, in which he stated his perfect conviction of the necessity of the State interfering by law to protect the sailor. He would now quote the words of a still higher authority, a great English lawyer, he meant Lord Stowell, who, in a judgment which he delivered on the 19th of April, 1825, in the case of the ship Minerva, spoke thus of the great dis- 673 advantage under which seamen laboured in entering upon engagements:—On the one side are gentlemen possessed of wealth, and intent, I mean not unfairly, upon augmenting it, conversant in business, and possessing the means of calling in the aid of practical and professional knowledge. On the other side is a set of men generally ignorant and illiterate, notoriously and proverbially reckless and improvident, ill-provided with the means of obtaining useful information, and almost ready to sign any instrument that may be proposed to them; and on all accounts requiring protection, even against themselves. Everybody must see where the advantage must he between parties standing upon such unequal ground, and accordingly these special engagements, so introduced into the mariners' contract lean one way, to the disadvantage of the mariners, and to the advantage of their employers, by increasing the duties of the former, and diminishing the obligations of the latter.The proposal he had now to make on this subject was essentially unaltered from that of last year, though in some of its details it was improved. It was, to establish in the various seaport towns of this country shipping offices, in which would be placed Government officers, who, for a very moderate fee—a fee much less than was given by the sailors now to one of those crimps who haunted them, and not more than was taken in those admirable institutions the Sailors' Homes, established at Liverpool and London—and for this moderate fee it would be the duty of the officer to superintend the contract between the sailor and his employer; to explain to him the provisions of the contract, and, indeed, to superintend all that related to the interests of the sailor. In the same manner on the return of a ship it would be paid off in the shipping office, and the shipping officer would again superintend the whole affairs of the sailor, so far as concerned his discharge. He found, from the communications he had had with various parties, that an apprehension was entertained by some that respectable people would not be found to fill these situations, that the evils of crimpage would return, and that no effectual check would be given to the injuries at present complained of. It was also feared by some that by the substitution of Government officers for private individuals, there might be introduced some kind of interference—which, however, was pointed at in very vague terms—with the operations of trade. But he thought that for the fees which would be paid, amounting probably to about 150l. a year, it would not be difficult to find men in the ports of this country whose characters would be a suf- 674 ficient guarantee for the proper discharge of the duties required. He thought there would be found in the seaports such men as retired captains of merchant vessels, who were living there with their families, and not desirous of going any more to sea, who would readily undertake and perform the duties required on the part of these shipping officers. In the Bill of last Session he proposed that the shipping officers should have the power of determining disputes between the sailor and his employer. He found, however, that much objection was raised to that provision, and he proposed to substitute for it one that would be safe in its operation. He meant only to allow the shipping officer to decide disputes in eases where both parties should agree to refer them to his decision. He thought there were cases where the shipping officer was not the fittest person to settle the disputes that might arise, but there were many other things that by mutual agreement might be decided by him without putting the sailor to expense for lawyers and the like. He would make this provision voluntary, however, and not in the slightest degree compulsory. When he first addressed the House on this subject, he quoted as a great inducement to believe in the good working of the system—he meant the comparative good working, for he did not suppose that all the evils of crimpage would be removed by it—he found great encouragement from what had taken place in the port of Quebec. He could repeat that argument with even greater effect now. Gentlemen connected with the shipping interest well knew that there was no port in the British dominions where the evils he had spoken of were so rife as in Quebec. There was hardly a port of England or Ireland from which he did not hear complaints of the state of matters there. The crews of vessels were greatly injured and demoralised by what took place there; and the hon. Members for Cork and Limerick were well aware that such was notoriously the fact. This state of things continued till 1847, when the colonial legislature passed an Act establishing a public shipping office, precisely on the principle of that which he now proposed to introduce into England. They had had two years' experience of the working of that system, and the results were most satisfactory and encouraging. In the first place, there was this striking fact, that in two years desertions had fallen off one-half. In 1847 the desertions were 3,058; in 675 1849 they amounted to 1,333. He held in his hand a memorial addressed to the shipping master of the port of Quebec in 1849, signed by 100 of the most respectable names, in which they said—We, the undersigned, beg to testify to the exertions you have used in promoting the efficiency of the Act for the shipping of seamen in this port. Notwithstanding the difficulties you have had to encounter, you have met them successfully; and we are persuaded the result will be much in favour of the British seaman and of the trade of the port.He would also trouble the House with a statement from the shipping master, dated January 18, 1850, in which he made use of the following language:—Having the honour of holding the office of shipping master for this port under the Colonial Act, I trust I shall not be intruding on your valuable time if I attempt to lay before you the result of its working up to the termination of the second year. Our port has, indeed, been so long notorious for plundering crimping practices, that it was completely at the mercy of those who considered every ship and every seaman their common prey. At the commencement of the office duties, every conceivable obstruction was thrown in its way by those whose career of plunder was about to be checked, and I had also to regret the want of cordial support from others. The evidence before a committee of the legislature last session proved the office to have rescued the shipping interests from the plunder of 50,000l. a year.He mentioned this to show the vast pecuniary interest those connected with the mercantile marine had in the establishment of a system which would put a check to the great evils to which sailors were subjected. He had also had a document put into his hands, signed by some of the principal firms of Quebec, among whom he found the names of Gilmour and Co., Russell, Wainwright, and Co., and a great many others. These gentlemen, in a petition to the legislative assembly, spoke in the highest terms in favour of the Shipping Act, and were anxious that it should not be repealed. He found great inducement to believe in the good effect of these shipping offices, by the experience they had had of institutions closely analogous to them—he meant the Sailors' Homes in Liverpool and elsewhere. It was not the desire to interfere in the smallest degree with, or to supersede, those institutions. On the contrary, he could not too distinctly say that he felt voluntary exertions of that sort to be beyond anything that Government itself could possibly establish; and, so far from wishing to supersede the functions of such institutions, he proposed 676 to introduce a clause into the Bill to enable Government to adopt these Sailors' Homes, and to make them their shipping offices; to co-operate with them, by furnishing to them the means out of the fees they received to carry on the general objects of those establishments. He now came to the question of the registry of seamen. He proposed, as he did last year, to take power to abolish the present system of registry—not to abolish it at once, for he believed that could not be done without providing some substitute—but to take the power of abolishing it, and to engraft it on the new machinery of the Board of Trade and the shipping offices. He doubted the possibility of altogether dispensing with a system of registry; and he thought, as a means of identifying seamen, it would be particularly valuable for the purposes of a measure to be introduced relative to placing the Merchant Seamen's Fund on a proper and judicious footing. He now wished to advert to the question of advance-notes. His views upon this subject had undergone a material alteration since he last touched upon it. On further reflection, he was not prepared to abide by the opinion he then advanced. He believed that the sailor, on going to sea, must have a power of obtaining money on what were called advanced-notes. But nothing was worse than the present system. The money advanced on the security of such notes was not, in fact, recoverable by law. True, the transaction was legal, but the expense of the process on them was so excessive, that the money was not practically recoverable. Seamen were in the habit of paying most usurious interest—oftentimes not less than 50 per cent on the money lent. It was not easy to abolish the system, but it was most desirable to improve it. The notes never exceeded two months, and the alteration he proposed to make was, that the money should be recoverable by the ordinary legal process, which, not being attended with any great expense, would enable the sailor to obtain money upon much more reasonable terms. A more respectable class of people would advance the money, and the notoriously-bad system which now existed would be abolished. The third great division of his subject was that which related to the discipline and treatment of the sailors. It would go a great way towards improving the discipline of the crews, and of securing good sailors, if means were adopted to insure efficiency on the part of the captains. 677 Having done all they could to improve the character of those who were intrusted with authority, some alteration in the law was absolutely necessary in order to improve the discipline on board their mercantile ships. The main provisions of the Bill of last year, and to which he still adhered, were these: that captains having a first-class certificate should possess the power of imprisonment for certain offences. It was true this general power now existed, but the captains were afraid of exercising it except in a case of mutiny, because it was not expressly given to them by law; and where the power was not actually given to them by law, in a direct manner, the captains were exposed to great hardship. Wherever, therefore, the power of imprisonment could be carried into effect by captains having first-class certificates, it was most desirable that they should, by an express provision of the law, be enabled to do so. He was aware that some apprehension had been entertained that, by giving this power expressly by statute, Parliament would be weakening the power which now existed by the general law; but he had resorted to the highest legal authorities upon this subject, and they had assured him that there was no danger of the general power given by the law being weakened, while they were of opinion that this additional power would be most useful in the maintenance of discipline. He also proposed, as he did in the Bill of last year, that any wilful breach of duty that should cause the loss of, or serious danger to, the ship or to life, on the part of the captain or mate, should be deemed a misdemeanour. A man who, by drunkenness or wilful misconduct, caused the loss of human life or of the ship, ought to be punished on his return home. He also proposed, as he did last year, that the logbooks should be produced when required, and that they should contain an account of all fines imposed, and of all punishments inflicted; in short, that they should, by the entries, enable the competent authorities to judge how far the conduct of the master had, or had not, been proper during the voyage. Various sanitary provisions were also proposed. He had introduced into the Bill some new provisions of a very important description, and which he believed would produce a very salutary effect. It was well known that, on distant stations, and when ships were engaged on long voyages, there existed a great want of some competent authority to adju- 678 dicate on very grave cases that might have occurred on board during such voyages. He proposed that on application to the consul at any of the ports, or to the commander of a Queen's ship, what he (Mr. Labouchere) would call a naval court might be established, composed, if possible, of one commander of a Queen's ship, or one consul; and the rest of the court consisting of not more than three or five members, two of whom should be captains of merchant | ships whom they might find in the port where the court was summoned to be held. This court, so constituted, was to adjudicate upon any grave case of misconduct on the part of any master or mate, or of any want of discipline on the part of the crew, and to such court very summary powers were proposed to be given to meet cases of emergency. The want of such tribunals as this had been very seriously felt; and if the House should agree to their adoption, he believed they would be providing a very efficient remedy for an evil that was constantly producing great mischief. There were also provisions in the Bill for checking desertion, and to meet other evils that at present affected our mercantile marine; but, having already trespassed too long upon the House, he would not detain it longer by entering into a description of them. These were the chief provisions of the measures he proposed. The House would perceive that the Bill was not altered in its main principle from the one of last year, although it contained many new provisions of an important character by which that principle would be more completely carried into effect. He, on a late occasion, alluded to a statement made by a gentleman who was one of the most ardent opponents of the Government when they first attempted to alter the navigation laws, but who was at the same time a man of energy, sense, and courage—he referred to Mr. Lindsay—and who, finding that alteration inevitable, had manfully prepared himself to meet the changes which he know must necessarily follow. He had read various letters recently published by that gentleman, and he was much struck with the I manly genius which they displayed. Mr. Lindsay observed, that that man must be blind who did not see that the regeneration of our mercantile navy had become absolutely necessary. This opinion came not from a mere speculator—not from a man who was looking theoretically at the subject; but it came from a British shipowner, who had the manliness to avow the great 679 evils and the great abuses of the existing system, and who had determined manfully to set about amending them. He (Mr. Labouchere) now asked the House to cooperate with Mr. Lindsay, and with other intelligent and enterprising shipowners who he firmly believed were equally ready to carry out those improvements which the altered circumstances of the age imperatively demanded. He had not the vanity to suppose that the measure which he now brought before the House might not through the practical wisdom of such men be considerably improved. So far from neglecting any suggestions, he heartily desired that the Bill might receive every amendment which their experience could give it. He should attend to the discussion of the measure in its progress through the House, and pay the greatest attention to whatever suggestions might come from those who were practically conversant with this great subject. But he could truly say that, with regard to the main principles of the Bill, the opportunity which had been afforded him of reconsidering them during the recess, had served only the more to confirm and stregthen his conviction of their soundness and practicability. He knew that there did exist in many respectable quarters objections against any interference whatever. He regretted to say that such objections had come from the shipowners of Liverpool, who, nevertheless, had established the Seamen's Home, and who were afraid of any interference whatever on the part of the Government with their voluntary exertions. The shipowners belonging to that port with whom he had spoken had told him, that they were capable of managing their own affairs perfectly well; that they could provide good captains, and equip their ships and crews with every facility required; that they took care of those they employed in their old age, and that it was only their own interest to do whatever was proper and right to be done. Now, his answer to these gentlemen who thus addressed him was, that if every man was like them he would at once leave the whole matter to themselves; but could they, he asked—could any man who knew anything of the mercantile navy of this country, deny that some change was absolutely necessary? Could any man deny that the Government were justified in providing means for insuring efficiency on the part of the masters and protection to the crews to whom were intrusted the mercantile navigation of this great country? He would, 680 in conclusion, only say for himself, that if, by this or any other measure, he could contribute anything towards placing the British mercantile navy in that improved condition which he desired to see it assume, there was no object in public life that would be half so gratifying to his ambition.
§ MR. CARDWELL
did not wish to throw any obstacle in the way of further discussion upon the Bill, but trusted that the right hon. Gentleman would give him au assurance that the day for the second reading of the Bill would not be fixed so early as to prevent ample time being afforded for considering those alterations which had been made in the Bill of last Session. The right hon. Gentleman had paid a compliment to those whom he (Mr. Cardwell) had the honour to represent, and had spoken of an institution in the town of Liverpool which existed for the purpose of carrying out, by voluntary exertions many of those objects which he proposed to carry out through the instrumentality of this Bill. The right hon. Gentleman had also stated that he had endeavoured to mitigate some of the objections which had been urged against the Bill of last Session. He (Mr. Cardwell) trusted that he had been perfectly successful in his endeavours to remove the causes of opposition. But it would be at least premature to say, that he had collected from the right hon. Gentleman's speech how this desirable object was accomplished. By the Bill, as he understood it, the masters and captains of all the merchant vessels would be made the mere creatures of the Board of Trade, inasmuch as the master of every sailing vessel in the country would not he able to go to sea unless he could first obtain his certificate from the Board of Trade. All those who had hitherto commanded vessels were to have certificates; but no person for the future could become a master or captain of a vessel who had not received a certificate that he had passed an examination, from examiners to be appointed by the Board of Trade. Then, again, every master who may have obtained his certificate, whether on account of his previous service, or of his having successfully passed his examination, would be completely in the power of the Board of Trade, as he would be liable to have his certificate withdrawn by that board for any offence. [Mr. LABOUCHERE: Only if the offence were proved before a competent tribunal.] It would still be in the discretion of the Board of Trade to decide whe- 681 ther any crime had been committed such as to disentitle the person of his right to a certificate. These provisions, therefore, whether they were right or wrong, would have the effect of rendering for the future all captains and masters the mere creatures of the Board of Trade. Then, again, the agreements made between the seamen and the owner were not to be considered sufficient unless they were contracted before the superintendents of shipping at the different ports, who were also to be appointed by the Board of Trade. The consequence of this would be, that no crew, and no seaman, could be engaged till the sanction of the officer of the Board of Trade had previously been given to the engagement, and the seamen would also thus become the creatures of the Board of Trade. He was bound to say, that so far as his constituents were concerned, the provisions of the Bill of last Session had caused considerable apprehension among them. The shipowners felt that, being exposed for the first time to unlimited competition with the shipping of all foreign countries, they were at a disadvantage under the Act of last Session, by which they are still prohibited from availing themselves of the cheaper services of foreign seamen; and the difficulties would be increased if they were subjected to the necessity of conforming to whatever might be the regulations of the Board of Trade in every step of their proceedings. They objected also to the production of the log-book; they were fully prepared to admit the necessity of having accurate entries made in the log, and considered the provision, so far, a most reasonable one. The hardship of which they complained was, that they should be compelled to produce the log-book, which might contain entries that did not belong to the particular subject which was required to come under the notice of the Board of Trade, but which referred to private transactions with or on behalf of the owners of the vessels. The right hon. Gentleman must be prepared to meet with considerable discussion in the course of this Bill upon those and other points to which he (Mr. Cardwell) had referred. It was impossible at, present to express any very confident opinion in the measure, and he trusted that ample time would be afforded for its consideration previous to the period to be fixed for the second reading of the Bill.
§ MR. HUME
said, the Bill might be of great use, or might be productive of great evil, according as its provisions were car- 682 ried in to effect. He approved of abolishing the registration of seamen. It had not fulfilled the expectation of the country. He wished to ask the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade whether, seeing the superior character of seamen of the United States, it had not entered into his scheme to establish (as was clone in America) schools in the seaport towns, where apprentices might obtain instruction? He would suggest that, in the first instance, a power should be given to the board to form establishments at which every man presenting himself might be examined for every class of duty. He would make it a voluntary examination. The necessity of such a step was obvious when they considered the competition to which British ships were now exposed. When merchants asked why they preferred foreign ships, the answer was, that the cargoes were better packed and attended to, and that the crews and officers were of a superior class of men to those of British ships. The suggestion, therefore, he had made, deserved consideration. He thought that the individuals before whom the contracts were to be entered into, should ascertain and see that sufficient security was given both to the captain and to the men, so that when either party failed to fulfil his engagement, those documents might be available. He would suggest that magistrates in the sea ports should have the power of deciding disputes between the masters and seamen, and, if possible, without expense; for it was notorious that seamen were the most helpless creatures in the world. He must also observe, that by this Bill a great many new officers were proposed, and, unless some modification of it took place, the right hon. Gentleman would find that objections would be made by those who did not like to be interfered with. There was one other point to which he would advert. To show the strong objection which the owners and masters of vessels entertained against too much interference in their affairs, he might mention that, in answer to 250 letters which he had sent to the I profession, inquiring whether they were willing to have a Government inquest in; case of the loss of a vessel, only five expressed themselves willing to have such a regulation instituted. Lord Auckland had laid down a rule by which, to a certain extent, every officer in the coast-guard was to inquire as to the causes of shipwrecks in his district; and in several cases it had 683 been found that they had arisen from there being no charts on board. That showed the necessity of having some such inquiry carried on, and he thought it would be desirable to establish some means for that purpose. His principle was, that every profession should carry on its business as much as possible by itself; but he could not agree with the hon. Member for Liverpool that the regulations proposed by the right hon. Gentleman would put the sailor in the hands of the Board of Trade. The suggestions he had made were not made in opposition to the measure; on the contrary, the right hon. Gentleman knew how anxious he was on the subject of regulations for the masters of vessels, and that he had endeavoured to collect from the Continental States what their regulations on that subject were, so as to see whether anything might be taken from them to benefit our system.
said, that what had passed in the course of the debate had demonstrated how impossible it was at that stage to discuss a Bill which was dependent on its details for its proper working; at the same time, he must admit that, considering the constituency represented by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Liverpool, that hon. Gentleman had met the proposition of the Government in the most moderate manner. There was only one point on which he must observe as to what had fallen from the hon. Gentleman. The hon. Gentleman intimated that, in his opinion, the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman would render more difficult the competition which we had now to meet with foreign countries in consequence of the trade being thrown open. He (Mr. Ricardo) believed that if there were any point at all on which we laboured under a disadvantage in that competition, it was from the notorious incapacity of some of the masters and mates of British vessels. He did not accuse the masters and mates of mercantile vessels generally of incapacity. He knew that some were better qualified for this duty than those of any other service in the world; but it would be foolish to shut their eyes to the fact that there was a slur cast on the mercantile marine of England by the conduct of some of the masters and mates in the service, and he could not conceive any difficulty arising to them from the adoption of a system that would place them on such a footing as to get rid of the slur. He understood, from the observations of the hon. Member for 684 Montrose, that that hon. Gentleman conceived the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman went the length of doing away with the registration of seamen altogether. He did not participate in that hope—he should be glad if it were so—but he understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that he would introduce such a system as would enable us to get rid of it before long. It was a most useless, onerous, and expensive system, unpopular with seamen, and perfectly inoperative, and he trusted that this would be a great step towards getting rid of it.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said, there were only two points to which he wished to refer. The first was with regard to what had fallen from the hon. Gentleman the Member for Liverpool. He assured the hon. Gentleman that, before the second reading of this Bill, ample time should be given for the consideration of it. With regard to what the hon. Member for Montrose had said as to the education of seamen, it was quite true that in the Bill he had proposed there were no prospective provisions for the establishment of naval schools in our ports. He should be most unwilling to encumber a subject already difficult enough by the introduction of a system—a very grave one, and which required very deliberate consideration. But the hon. Gentleman was aware that, under this Bill, there would accrue certain funds over and above what would be necessary for the support of the shipping officers, and he did propose to take a general power in the Bill which would enable the Board of Trade, if it were found advisable, and there should appear to be a wish for it with the public, to introduce such a system. His hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool had said he objected to the Board of Trade interfering with the Sailors' Homes. There was no wish to interfere with them when he found them so well conducted as was that at Liverpool, to which not less than one sixth of the sailors of that port resorted; so far from endeavouring to set them aside, he would take them up, and appoint the shipping officers managers of them. He believed that these homes, such as the Sailors' Home in Liverpool, might be the means of doing a great deal of good, and he by no means wished to supersede, discourage, or interfere with them. The hon. Member for Stoke-upon-Trent had asked him for a more distinct explanation as to the registration of seamen. What he proposed to do was, to engraft upon the 685 new system such regulations as appeared to be most desirable; but he did not think it would be right, without consideration, to sweep away the registration at once. He took power in the Bill to do so, but he did not in the Bill actually propose to do away with registration.1. Resolved—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, and maintaining discipline in the Merchant service.