HC Deb 25 July 1850 vol 113 cc211-21

Order, as amended to be considered, read.


said, that several days had been occupied by the Committee on this Bill, and many alterations had been made, and new clauses proposed and inserted at the last moment. Many hon. Members interested in the subject had not been aware of the nature of those clauses and alterations. He complained also of the vexatious interference of many provisions of the measure with the ordinary business of the shipowners. Even a seaman's wages could not be paid without the intervention of a third party. Under the circumstances, and considering that important alterations had been made and new clauses inserted, proper time for the consideration of which had not been given, he felt that on the part of his constituents he had a right to ask for further time, and he should therefore move that the Bill be recommitted.

Motion made, and Question put, "That the Bill be recommitted."


hoped that his hon. Friend would excuse him for not going into the merits of the Bill in answer to his animadversion. It was certainly quite true that the Bill had occupied the attention of the Committee during several mornings, and that it had received several very important Amendments; and he took this opportunity of acknowledging his obligation to the hon. Member for Oxfordshire and to the right hon. President of the Poor Law Board for the suggestion of many improvements. But the alterations that had been made at the last were not of a very momentous kind, and were founded upon points that had before been amply discussed, and they were embodied in clauses which would be brought up on the report, and the Bill would be reprinted, and the whole Bill would be considered on the third reading. He must oppose the Motion for recommittal.


said, he had received letters from his constituents complaining that these alterations had made the Bill very different to what it had been when they had last seen it, and that they had not had proper time for considering those Amendments.


said, he had Amendments of importance to propose, and he hoped the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade would accede to the Motion of the hon. Member for South Shields, as it would be far more convenient to consider such details in Committee than upon the third reading.


thought the only effect of going into Committee again would be to give Members the trouble of going through the clauses again. It was certainly unfortunate that the clauses to be proposed by the right hon. Gentleman had been printed in a way that they were mingled up with the other votes relative to private business; and might have escaped the eye of hon. Members who had no interest in private business, and were, perhaps, not very scrutinising in looking over their papers. The most useful course, however, he thought, would be to consider the Bill as amended, and the Bill would then be reprinted with all the alterations. Hon. Members would then have a fair right to ask the Government that between the reprinting of the Bill and the third reading, ample time should be given to communicate with all parties interested in the subject.


hoped that suggestion would be adopted, and time be given to communicate with Scotland upon these latter Amendments. The Bill, as it now stood, was not, in point of fact, the Bill which was known as the Mercantile Marine Bill No. 2. It was "the Mercantile Marine Bill No. 3."


said, that the only difficulty which pressed upon his mind with regard to any amount of delay was, that they had arrived at a late period of their sittings; and he did attach the greatest possible importance to the Bill passing in the present Session. The most considerable and important of the Amendments that had been lately made, did not affect the principle of the Bill, or the interests of shipowners, but chiefly related to the legal forms in carrying the Bill into effect, and were such as the House was perfectly competent to consider, and involved not the slightest necessity for their sending all over the country to consult their constituents. If hon. Members would facilitate the passing of the Bill, he would endeavour to give as much time as possible between the reprinting of the Bill and the third reading. He was so anxious that the reprint should be done quickly, that he had made special arrangements which he hoped would place the complete reprinted Bill in the hands of hon. Members tomorrow morning.


trusted that the right hon. Gentleman would assent to no delay that would endanger the passing of the Bill in the present Session; and that, the third reading would be taken as early next week as possible, so that the Bill might be sent to the House of Lords in time.

The House divided:—Ayes 3; Noes 61: Majority 58.


, in moving the adoption of a clause of which he had given notice, said: I shall refrain from pressing on the attention of the House any of those higher and more serious topics which naturally present themselves to the mind, but which this is not a fitting place to discuss. I will only beg to be considered a petitioner, asking in behalf of the seamen of the mercantile marine, a body of between 200,000 and 300,000 persons, that they may receive that protection which secures to all the working classes one day of rest out of seven. Above 100 years ago, when an Act was passed analogous to the present, for regulating the discipline of the Royal Navy, it was required that— all commanders, captains, and officers in or belonging to His Majesty's ships shall cause the public worship of Almighty God to be solemnly, reverently, and orderly performed on board their respective ships, and that the Lord's Day be observed according to law. Will it not be equally strange and inconsistent if, when in 1850 we are legislating for the better organisation and discipline of the mercantile marine, we should neglect to secure to our seamen, who are perhaps more severely worked, by night as well as by day, than any other class, besides being exposed to the vicissitudes of weather and climate, that rest and relaxation which all their fellow-subjects enjoyed on a Sunday? I can scarcely anticipate any opposition to my proposal. The only objection I have heard is that it is unnecessary, because all our best commanders of merchant ships already observe Sunday with becoming decorum and propriety; but we are legislating not against the good but the bad, and I grieve to say that a large proportion of our seamen are still denied that privilege which I am now seeking to secure for them. I am told, also, that; this enactment will give rise to frivolous and vexatious complaints; but we have entrusted the magistrates with the power of giving costs under such circumstances, and I do not, therefore, anticipate any inconvenience of that nature from securing to our seamen this just and necessary privilege. The Bill which we are passing contains many stringent clauses against; them; but the Committee may be assured that we shall more easily secure their attachment to their Sovereign and their by country by consideration and kindness, than by suspicion and severity.

Clause— And be it Enacted, That the Lord's Day shall be observed according to Law, and no work shall be done on that day which is not absolutely necessary for the cleanliness and preservation of the ship and stores, or for its safe and careful navigation if at sea or proceeding to sea; and if the master, owner, or consignee of any ship shall cause any unnecessary work to be performed on the Lord's Day, he shall, on being convicted thereof, be liable to a penalty of live pounds for every such offence.

Brought up and read 1°.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the said Clause be now read a Second Time."


assured the hon. and gallant Admiral that he was not in the least disposed to treat with any other feeling than that of the greatest respect any suggestion emanating from him. For it was well known that in addition to the care and attention which the hon. and gallant Gentleman bestowed in that House upon the welfare and interests of merchant seamen, he also devoted a large portion of time in his private capacity to the same object; and the greatest advantages had arisen from the exertions of the hon. and gallant Admiral, and of several other naval officers. With regard to the present proposition, he (Mr. Labouchere) had communicated on the subject with some of those shipowners who were most distinguished; in that body for their care and consideration of the religious and moral welfare of their sailors, and for their anxiety to promote, by every means in their power, the proper observance of the Lord's day on board their ships; and they had stated their opinion that any interference of the kind was unadvisable, and that enforcing the performance of divine service would, in many cases—he hoped not generally—lead to scenes of profaneness, rather than of sanctity. But he also objected to the extreme vagueness of this clause, which was altogether too general. Even on shore it was often difficult to define what was and what was not a proper observance of Sunday; but on ship-board the difficulty would be far greater; for how was it possible to lay down what a sailor must and what he must not perform, and what was exactly and strictly a work of necessity. That must depend upon the state of wind and weather, the position of the vessel, and a variety of contingents impossible to foresee and define, and impossible for the House to consider. Such a provision would lead to nothing but the most vexatious effects, and so far from causing a reverent observance of the Sunday, he believed it would tend in a direction exactly contrary to that object which the hon. and gallant Admiral was desirous to attain. He repeated that the result of his communications with the most respectable shipowners had convinced him that the proposal was impracticable.


said, that all he wished was that the seaman should have a day's rest: he had said nothing relative to divine service; but, considering the long time which this Bill had occupied, and the opposition now offered to his proposal, he should be sorry to cause unnecessary delay by an ineffectual persistance in the clause. At the same time, he must add that he was extremely sorry to see so many Members ready to vote against a resolution having such an object as this.


said, he was most auxious to record his vote against the clause. He begged to remind the gallant Admiral that upon a former day he had implored him not to persist in moving an impossible clause.

Clause withdrawn.


then, pursuant to notice, moved the adoption of a clause to relieve shipowners from a serious grievance. The Merchant Seamen's Act provided that a seaman deserting his ship on a voyage should be subjected to certain penalties, among which was the forfeiture of wages. But by two other clauses it was provided that if a seaman quitted a merchant ship, and went into one of Her Majesty's ships, then he gained a complete impunity. The master of the merchant ship was compelled to pay the wages up to the day the man left the ship, and the shipowner had no remedy. He (Mr. Anderson) had on a former occasion moved a clause to the effect that the going on board a Queen's ship should not be an exemption. It would be in the recollection of the Committee that he divided it on that Amendment, the result of which division he considered entitled him to say that ho certainly had the sense of the Committee with him, although owing to certain Ministerial arrangements, to which he need not more particularly allude, the physical force of it was rather too strong for him. He hoped, however, now to obtain this small concession of relief to the shipowner. It was then argued that this privilege was necessary for the public service; but now it should be recollected that the shipowners no longer belonged to the protected classes, and therefore their claim was now more just than ever. The right hon. Baronet the Chancellor of the Exchequer had said that no complaints had been made, and that if any representations of hardships had been sent to the Board of Admiralty they would have been attended to. But he apprehended that the Lords of the Admiralty had no power to give redress under the Act of Parliament, and it was to give them that power that ho proposed this short clause.

Clause— And be it enacted, That if in the course of a voyage any 'seaman' shall quit his 'ship' without the consent of the master, to enter into Her Majesty's Naval Service, and shall be received into such service, and the owner shall thereby incur any additional expense, loss, or damage, it shall be lawful for the Lord High Admiral, or the Commissioners for executing the office of Lord High Admiral, to indemnify the owner for such additional expense, loss, or damage, to such extent as to them may appear just and reasonable.

Brought up, and read 1°.

Motion made, and Question put, "That the said Clause be now read a Second Time."


said, that the question had been already discussed and decided, and he hoped, therefore, that his hon. Friend would not now press his clause. If there were special circumstances that had caused loss or damage to the owner, he should think the Admiralty would entertain the case. But he really thought it would be unwise for the House of Commons to pronounce opinion in this manner by a clause in a Bill upon a matter of this kind, which, in fact, involved a great question of national policy. It was a question affecting the public service in regard to the manning of the Navy, and should not therefore be decided in an incidental manner.


said, that if the right hon. Gentleman would say that the Admiralty had the power of granting compensation in cases of serious injury, ho had no doubt his hon. Friend would he satisfied, and withdraw the clause. But it had been brought forward in the belief that in cases of damage there were no means of relief.


said, that the proposed clause gave no additional power to the Admiralty. To effect its object it should have specified the funds from which the Admiralty was to take the compensation. At the same time the Admiralty might find the means of compensation in very extraordinary cases if they thought fit.


said, it might he true that the clause did not practically carry out its object; hut, nevertheless, the subject demanded consideration, and he gave notice that he would have a clause drawn up in the form which the right hon. Gentleman had just described, and which he should propose on the third reading.


said, it would be most satisfactory to hear the opinion of a legal Member connected with the Government upon the point.


said, that the grievance in question was much felt by the shipowners. He could understand the necessity in extraordinary cases for a ship-of-war taking a seaman from a merchant ship; but it was fair when the act was done, that the owner should have compensation for loss and injury sustained. It would seem that the Admiralty had power to make compensation, but no funds to pay it from.


said, that this was a subject which should receive more consideration from the Government than they had yet bestowed. The shipowner was now in a very different situation from that in which he had been. By this Bill considerable restriction was imposed upon tin1 shipowner, and the Government refused to give any countervailing advantages, and refused to consider the strange position in which they would be placed under the new regulation. The question was, whether, when the Government took seamen from merchant ships for the public service, they were not bound in common justice to give compensation for loss and injury sustained by that act. He doubted, indeed, if this clause would carry out its avowed object; but still if the principle were recognised by the House of Commons, the Government would be compelled to find the means of carrying it into full and active operation; and he was happy to hear that if this clause was withdrawn, the noble Lord the Member for Colchester would raise the question, and the Government might be assured that the question would be raised again and again until a just settlement was made.


said, that to allege that the Admiralty had the power of compensation, but no funds to pay it from, was a more evasion of the question, and nothing else. A great deal was heard about the necessity of a large navy to protect our commerce; but he confessed that so far as his own experience went, he was not able to discern those great services it rendered, especially to merchant ships. It was made the special duty of merchant ships to supply men to the Queen's ships, under a special necessity. It had been suggested that the Government should take one man and give another; but what would be the result of that? Just that that they would take a good man away, and give a bad one in return.


opposed the clause, and defended the Admiralty from the insinuations thrown out by the hon. Member. He considered that the law which enabled a seaman to resort to a man-of-war, was a great protection and valuable privilege to seamen, for it enabled him to escape from a ship where he might have been ill treated, to one where he would be well treated.

The House divided:—Ayes 25; Noes 48: Majority 23.


then moved after the word "characters" to insert the words "and when thereto required by any owner or master of a ship." The object of this Amendment was to limit the interference of the shipping masters with the ordinary business of shipowners. By the provisions of this Bill all agreements with seamen were compelled to be entered into before the shipping master. This, in the case of men leaving a vessel, as they often did, at the first place at which the ship touched after leaving her port, would occasion great delay. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade must institute very large establishments to do the work on the Bill, and these arrangements must cause positive obstruction to the shipowner's business. He would now take occasion again to put the question to his right hon. Friend which he had on several occasions already put to him, but to which he had never yet received anything like a satisfactory answer, namely, whether his right hon. Friend was in possession of any information showing that it was an extensive practice of the shipowners of the united kingdom to deceive the seamen in regard to the signing of their articles of agreement at the commencement of a voyage, or to defraud them of their wages at the termination of it? Unless he could show that, he (Mr. Anderson) contended there was no justification whatever for subjecting the shipowners to the surveillance of shipping masters. He felt certain that, although a few isolated cases might possibly be found, no extensive practice of the kind could be shown. As to the shipping masters being a protection against the crimps, nothing could be more fallacious, as he had already endeavoured to show. In this opinion he was supported by the opinion of some of the most extensive shipowners of the kingdom. His right hon. Friend, instead of giving a plain answer to this plain question, was in the habit of quoting the opinions of two, no doubt, highly respectable gentlemen as being favourable to this shipping-master establishment, namely, Mr. Richard Green, of London, and Mr. Allan Gilmour, of Glasgow. Now, although it was, no doubt, but natural that his right hon. Friend, like other men, should occasionally "think his own geese swans," he (Mr. Anderson) could name gentlemen, such as Mr. Money Wigram, Mr. Dunbar, &c, whose opinions would carry as much weight among all who were practically acquainted with shipowning, as that of Messrs. Green and Gilmour, without any disrespect to them; and who would decidedly be opposed to the establishment of shipping masters as being useless for any good purpose, and calculated to prove a serious obstruction and embarrassment to the shipping interest. He strongly deprecated the appointment of a public officer to interfere in every petty detail relating to the shipping and crews, and he certainly should press his Amendment.


seconded the Amendment.


said, the alteration of the hon. Member struck at the most important parts of the Bill, and he hoped the Motion would not be pressed. This system of substituting the regularity and responsibility of a public officer for the present irregular manner of performing the duties, was a decided advantage to the shipowners themselves. To illustrate this, he would state a fact relating to the establishing of shipping offices in Canada. The last arrival from Quebec brought a document in the shape of a memoral of merchants and shipowners there, and in which it was stated that after full experience of the Act for the regulation of the shipping of seamen, they had become convinced of its beneficial operation, and they requested the Legislature not to accede to the request of parties locally interested for the repeal of that Act. They stated that they were merchants of Quebec, and were interested in the preservation of a law which protected the shipping interest. So the hon. Gentleman would see that these petitioners did not consider the shipping offices and public functionaries as a vexatious interference. They further said, that the Act for regulating the shipment of seamen had done great service by putting down the combination of "crimps," preventing desertion, and taking care of the welfare of the seamen, and they petitioned the Legislature not to repeal that law. He therefore hoped the Committee would not sanction the Motion.


contended that the case of Quebec afforded no analogy with that of England. There might be a necessity in Quebec for such regulations, which had no existence over here. All those with whom he had communicated entertained great objections to this minute interference, and thought that it would work a great deal of evil.


complained that his constituents greatly objected to this clause, and considered it an evil.


said, that his hon. Friend had called upon him, accompanied by some of his constituents, and had certainly left him (Mr. Labouchere) under the fullest impression that the constituents of his hon. Friend were favourable to this Bill. They had certainly wished him to make two alterations relative to the coasting trade, and he had been unable to comply with their request; and to this circumstance might probably be attributed a great deal of the opposition manifested by his hon. Friend. But the gentlemen who accompanied his hon. Friend were certainly not unfavourable to these shipping offices; but, on the contrary, had expressed their opinion that the establishment of them would be good policy. The corporation of Newcastle had signed a petition also in favour of the measure.

Question put, "That those words be there inserted."

The House divided:—Ayes 8; Noes 78: Majority 70.


said, the House would feel the importance of sending this Bill up to the House of Lords as soon as possible. He had ascertained now that the Bill could be reprinted and placed in the hands of hon. Members to-morrow morning, thus giving Friday and Saturday to consider the amendments and alterations. He proposed, therefore, to fix the third reading for Monday next. Mean while, the reprinted Bill could be sent by post into the country; and the alterations, though numerous, he considered were not such as affected the great body of the shipowners.


, on behalf of the same I interest in Scotland, complained that the time was not sufficient to consider the recent alterations.

Other Amendments made; Bill to be read 3° on Monday next, at Twelve o'clock, and to be printed.

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