§ Order for Committee read.
§ House in Committee; Clauses 1 to 16 inclusive agreed to.
§ MR. ANDERSON
moved, as an Amendment on Clause 17, page 6, line 1, to leave out from the word "and" to the word "the," line 4, and from the word "seaman," line 14, to the end of the clause. The clause provided for the repeal of the 13th and 14th Victoria, cap. 93, sec. 61, 1050 that the advance notes should be receipted when discounted for any seaman, and that the holder might sue for the recovery of the same, provided the seaman had been properly discharged by the master, or had sailed from the port of departure. The effect of the Amendment would be to make the grantor of advance notes entirely responsible for them, and in no case to exempt him from their payment, whether the man had left the ship or not, it having been shown that the holder had given proper value for them. His object was to render the giving of such notes (which were usually for two months' wages before the ship sailed) so hazardous as greatly to check the practice. He did so because he considered that the practice led to reckless and improvident habits in sailors, to desertion, and to fraud. The late atrocious cases, of burning of ships in India by native seamen, was attributable to the system of advance notes: these native seamen—he would not believe British seamen capable of such a diabolical act—there was little doubt, set fire to the ships, in order that they might not have to work for the money they had received and spent. Although the Amendment might be considered an extraordinary one to be proposed by a shipowner as he was, he was satisfied that nothing short of some such enactment would check a system, the suppression of which, he was confident, would ultimately prove highly beneficial both to the shipowner and the seaman.
approved of the Motion, but thought it would be better to abolish the tickets altogether, or to limit them to one month. Two months' pay was about the price of a kit, and consequently seamen, knowing that they could by means of these tickets procure a new kit for their next voyage, were in the habit of pledging the old one. Hence a rose the habits of improvidence complained of. It was observed that a ships carpenter seldom pledged his chest of tools; and the reason was, that as two months' pay would not buy a new one, he was aware that if he did so, he would not get a fresh berth. The limiting of the tickets to one month, would produce a similarly beneficial result to common sailors.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said, that the whole question of advance-notes was one of very considerable difficulty, and he admitted that the sailor, when he had obtained them, was too apt to take the earliest opportunity of leaving his ship. His hon. Friend (Mr. Anderson), as a remedy 1051 for that evil, proposed, not that it should be illegal to grant advance-notes to sailors, but that the shipowner should do be at his own risk, and that they should he always recoverable against him, even though the seaman should have deserted. And this, his hon. Friend thought, would make the shipowner cautious how he granted advance-notes except to men whom he knew to be worthy. His (Mr. Labouchere's) fear, however, was, that the Amendment might operate too stringently, and that its effect would be to put an end to the whole system of advance-notes, which he believed would be a very great hardship to the sailor, as it would be the means of depriving them of making the necessary purchases for their voyage. Under these circumstances, he trusted that his hon. Friend would not persist in his Amendment.
§ ADMIRAL BOWLES
suggested that the advance-notes should be limited to a month, in the hope of next year being able to dispense with them altogether.
said, there was nor thing a sailor was so sensitive about as Ms pay, and it would be better to leave things as they were.
§ MR. ANDERSON
said, that his object was to teach the seamen habits of providence and self-dependence, which, from a tolerably extensive experience, he was convinced was not so difficult as was often supposed As, however, be had had but little opportunity since the Bill was printed, of consulting shipowners on the subject, and there were so few Members connected with the shipping interest present, he would not press his Amendment.
§ Amendment withdrawn.
§ Clause agreed to; as were the succeeding clauses up to Clause 24 inclusive.
§ ADMIRAL BOWLES
then proposed the following Clause:—Whenever the crew of any British vessel which shall have been wrecked or abandoned on the high seats shall arrive at any place out of Her Majesty's dominions, it shall be lawful for any naval officer in command of any ship of Her Majesty, or, in the absence of any naval officer, for the consular officer within whose consulate such place Shall be situated, to summon a naval court to inquire into the causes of such shipwreck or abandonment, and the said naval court shall send to the Board of Trade a report of the result of such inquiry, together with such remarks on the conduct of the master and crew of the ship so lost or abandoned as the circumstances may require.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said, he had prepared a Clause to effect precisely the same 1052 object, and perhaps when the hon. and gallant Admiral heard it he would consent to withdraw his own Clause, and allow his (Mr. Labouchere's) to stand in its place. [The right hon. Gentleman then read his proposed clause.]
§ ADMIRAL BOWLES
said, he was quite ready to give up his own clause in favour of the one which had just been read.
§ SIR JAMES GRAHAM
said, that be looked upon the Clause as a most salutary one. In Her Majesty's service the presumption always was against the loss of a vessel, and there was no case in which a vessel was lost in the Queen's service, however high might be the reputation or standing of the officer in command, in which every circumstance connected with the transaction was not fully investigated. He must say also, considering the great number of merchant ships that were lost, and the high rate of the insurances, that, in his opinion, the presumption should always be against the loss of the vessel, and that something like an inquest should take place in every case. He was sere that the system would be very much in favour of insurances. It appeared to him to be an excellent principle, and his only doubt was whether ultimately it would not have to be carried much further.
§ Clause agreed to; as were the remaining Clauses, and also the schedules.
§ MR. ANDERSON
proposed the insertion of the following Clause, being the first of three of which he had given notice:—That so much of the Act 7th and 8th of Victoria, cap. 112, sec. 50, as exempts Seamen quitting Merchant Ships and entering on board of a ship of war, from forfeiture of their wages, as in other cases of breaches of their articles of agreement, shall be repealed.He contended that the provision which he proposed to repeal, conferred an arbitrary power upon Queen's officers, which occasionally was, and frequently might be, exercised to the great loss and injury of the owners of merchant vessels. At the same time its effect was of a demoralising tendency, for it afforded a direct premium for ill-behaved and mutinously-disposed sailors to break their contracts with their employers, and desert from the merchant service into the Navy. He would state a case, which he thought would be strikingly illustrative of the detriment suffered both by shipowners and merchants, from the law as it now stood. A ship called the Anna Robertson, belonging to a friend of his, had recently arrived in London from China. 1053 At Hong-Kong, when receiving her cargo, twelve of the crew, having first refused to work, left the ship and entered on board two ships of war, the Medea and Royalist, on that station, where they were received, and the master compelled to pay up to the day all their wages and deliver their clothes; both of which would have been forfeited had they quitted the ship under any other circumstances. They were the best seamen which the Anna Robertson had. The master had great difficulty in replacing them, and after a detention of ten days, when in consequence of the setting in the south-west monsoon, every day was of the utmost consequence, he was obliged to proceed to sea with a crew of inferior men, sickly and unfit to do seamen's duty, but such as he could pick up. On his voyage towards England he encountered, off the Cape of Good Hope, a heavy gale. The men which he got at Hong-Kong, being most of them sickly and debilitated, were soon knocked up, and became unfit for duty. In this state, but after the gale had subsided, he was met and hailed by Her Majesty's steam vessel the Hermes, then proceeding on service from the Cape to Algoa Bay. The commander of the Hermes first asked the master of the Anna Robertson, whether his ship was leaky; and being answered in the negative, he then inquired if he wished to go into Algoa Bay. The master of the Anna Robertson replying in the affirmative, and that he had so many of his crew sick and disabled, that he found it difficult to work his ship; the commander of the Hermes said, "Then I will take you in," and accordingly took the ship in tow and brought her into Algoa Bay, the whole service occupying but a few hours, and the weather moderate. On the ship being anchored in Algoa Bay, the commander of the Hermes brought a claim against the master of the Anna Robertson for salvage; and on 500l being tendered to him for the service rendered, he refused to accept it, stating that he would take nothing less than what the law would give him. He accordingly lodged a claim of 3,500l. in the Admiralty Court at the Cape of Good Hope, and arrested the ship. After must delay caused by the the prosecution of the suit, an award to the extent of 1,500l. was given in favour of the commander of the Hermes. A difficulty then arose as to raising funds to discharge this claim. The master of the Anna Robertson used every endeavour to obtain it on advance, but was unsuccessful, and as a dernier 1054 resort, was compelled to sell part of the cargo. Those proceedings occupied nearly four months, during which time the Anna Robertson, with her valuable cargo, lay exposed in the roadstead of Algoa Bay, and rode out two south-easterly gales, which drove on shore and totally destroyed several vessels; a fate which would certainly have been hers had she not been furnished with ground tackle of a very superior description. The loss to the owners of the ship and cargo, caused by the circumstances which he had just detailed, is estimated at not less than 4,000l. Now, he had no hesitation in saying, that every fact which he had stated, could be satisfactorily substantiated. And what was the state of the law which this presented to their consideration? Why, that the law sanctioned the taking away of the crew of a merchant vessel, by the commander of a ship of war, to such an extent as to endanger her being navigated; and when this proceeding dh the part of one naval officer had rendered the ship helpless, the law then enabled another naval officer to take advantage of that circumstance for his private benefit, and for a few hours' service performed with a ship, the property of the public, and he a paid servant of the public, to make as it were a prize of her, and subject the parties concerned in her to the heavy risk and loss which he had just stated. He trusted that with such facts as these before them, the Committee would be convinced of the necessity of altering a law so injurious and oppressive in its operation, and he should certainly press his Amendment to a division.
§ Clause brought up, and read 1°.
SIR FRANCIS BARING
said, that there had been last year a discussion upon this very subject, and upon that occasion very great complaints had been made of the operation of this clause of the 7th and 8th of Victoria. At that time, however, he stated, and he now repeated, that he had issued very strict regulations upon the subject, and that any complaints with reference to it which might be made to the Admiralty would be fully investigated by them. He particularly requested Gentlemen upon that occasion, when they had any complaints to make, to forward them at once to the Admiralty; and he thought it rather hard, therefore, now, upon officers on the other side of the globe, that charges should be made against them in the House of Commons without any notice having been given to the Admiralty, more particu- 1055 larly because he had stated both publicly and privately his readiness to go into any complaints that could be brought before him. One of the directions which he had given upon this point was, that a report, in. every case complained of, should be sent to the Admiralty, containing a statement of the circumstances under which the men had entered the naval service; and he was bound to say that those reports did not entirely coincide with the stories which he sometimes heard, nor did they lead him to abandon the impression he had formed, that this provision was a great protection to the seaman. In some points of view it might possibly act injuriously to the owners; but he hoped that the Committee, in their anxiety to do justice to the owners, would not entirely overlook the interests of the seamen. Owners were not always aware of what took place on board when their ships were at sea; and there were instances before him which led him to believe that it was not always the fault of the seaman or of the naval officer when a man left his ship and joined the Navy. Suppose a case in which the master of the vessel either acted oppressively, or thought it his interest to get rid of an inconvenient man, the man would have no protection whatever unless he volunteered for the Queen's service; and if he were deprived of that protection, he would be left completely at the mercy of the master of the vessel. It could not be said that there was any breach of faith with the owner of the merchant vessel in that case, for he engaged his men with the full knowledge that they might enter the Royal Navy if they were so disposed. The directions of the Admiralty to officers commanding Her Majesty's ships were that they should receive no man unless he left his ship perfectly well manned; and they were distinctly warned that they should use no temptations whatever to induce men to leave their ships, for if they did so, their conduct would be liable to severe censure. He trusted that the Committee would come to the same conclusion as they had done last year, and that they would think it of importance for the Navy, and still more for the seaman, that this provision should remain law.
was very much astonished at the course taken by the right hon. Baronet the First Lord of the Admiralty. Hitherto he (Mr. Ricardo) had laboured under the impression that the law now complained of was instituted solely for the purpose of manning the Navy, but now it 1056 appeared that a second object of it was to protect the seaman against the ill-treatment of the master. If it were a protection for the seaman, why not allow him to desert into the merchant service from the Royal Navy, because if a Queen's ship did not happen to be lying in the port, the seaman would have no protection at all? He must also complain of the state of the law in this respect, for there could be no doubt that it operated as a great hardship upon the mercantile marine. He hoped his hon. Friend would divide the Committee, and, if he did so, he should certainly vote with him.
§ SIR JAMES GRAHAM
regretted that the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Anderson) was about to divide in a Committee so thinly attended. The question at issue was one of very considerable importance, and he should be sorry if it were to go to the country that it had been decided upon in a House, in which there were not at the most liberal calculation more than fifty or sixty Members. He certainly never would have consented to the repeal of the Navigation Laws if he had conceived that they should therefore be called upon to abandon the power which Her Majesty's Navy possessed on distant foreign stations, in peace as well as in war, of admitting freely on board Queen's ships seamen quitting their engagements on board merchant vessels, with this reservation, that while so receiving them proper precautions should be taken not to disable merchant vessels. The crew of Her Majesty's ships were constantly being diminished by deaths in distant quarters of the world; and if the commanders of those ships were not allowed to receive volunteers from the merhant service, their force would become inefficient and incapable of protecting our merchant marine. As he understood the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty, there had been recent regulations issued with respect to the practice, checking the abuse of power on the part of Queen's officers. In defence of the abuse of that power, he had not one word to say; but he did say, with regard to the use of it, that with respect to the safety of our trade itself on any foreign stations, 1057 it was indispensable that the practice should be preserved. He had heard it termed "desertion," this quitting a merchant ship to enter the Queen's ship; but he held it to be necessary to maintain the honour of that service that at all times it should be open to the reception of volunteers. Now, there was a very strong feeling that impressment should cease. He had always doubted whether in time of war it would be possible to dispense with impressment. But if it should, surely it was their duty to keep open to the utmost extent every facility for volunteering. Neither could it be said that there was any breach of agreement in this matter, because every master of a ship when he entered into a contract with his seamen, knew that this law existed. He admitted that the system had been in past times abused; but he believed now that every proper precaution had been taken to prevent abuse. If not, let other steps be adopted. He had no doubt that his right hon. Friend (Sir F. Baring) would not object to lay upon the table the regulations which the Admiralty had issued on this subject, and then let the commercial interest point out their objections to those regulations. All he maintained was, that this power must be upheld. In war it was absolutely necessary—in peace it was directly necessary in many cases, and expedient in all. The principle of volunteering must be maintained to the utmost possible extent; and he should extremely regret if in a hasty manner, and in a Committee so thinly attended, so great a principle, connected with the maintenance of the efficiency of the Queen's naval service, should be sacrificed.
§ MR. FORSTER
had no confidence in the discretion or forbearance of Queen's officers. The system was beyond doubt a most intolerable grievance, and it had met with an extremely bad defence at the hands of the right hon. Gentleman (Sir J. Graham). It could no longer be endured.
said, it was impossible to sit still and hear one's profession abused in this way. Two or three British merchants had got into the House, and they constantly at the end of every Session fired off their guns and attempted to destroy the British Navy. It was only in the House of Commons that he heard the Navy abused, and in that House he regretted to say he seldom heard anything of their good deeds. Why, it was only eigh- 1058 teen months ago that a frigate had assisted eight merchant vessels from California, whose crews had entirely deserted them.
§ MR. ANDERSON
trusted that after the observations which had fallen from the right hon. Baronet the First Lord of the Admiralty, the right hon. Baronet the Member for Ripon (Sir James Graham), and the gallant Admiral (Admiral Dundas) near him, the Committee would indulge him with its attention to one or two observations in reply. The First Lord of the Admiralty said that any cases of hardship under this law would receive consideration if presented to the Admiralty. Now, he begged to ask the First Lord, and also the Chancellor of the Exchequer, whether, if the case which he had stated were presented to them, duly substantiated, they were prepared to indemnify the owners of the Anna Robertson and her cargo for the loss they had sustained? Neither of the right hon. Gentlemen ventured a reply; but he (Mr. Anderson) would answer for them—neither of them could appropriate a farthing of the public money to such a purpose, because what these naval officers had done, the law authorised. The right hon. Member (Sir J. Graham) contended for the continuance of the law on two grounds:—1st. Because it was necessary for recruiting the crews of ships of war on foreign stations; and, 2nd. That it was necessary for protecting seamen from ill usage on board merchant ships at foreign places. Now, he (Mr. Anderson) could see no necessity for it on the first ground, for seamen could be sent abroad to recruit the crews of ships of war, the same as soldiers are sent to recruit regiments. But, admitting that there was a necessity, why was the shipowners' interest to be sacrificed for the public benefit? Their must remember that the shipping is no longer (and in his opinion happily so) a protected interest. They had, therefore, no more equitable right to subject the shipowner to loss and risk for the purpose of manning the ships of the public, than they had to pull down a man's house for widening a public thoroughfare, without indemnifying him for the value of it; and indemnification was all that his Amendment proposed. If a necessity for turning the ships of the public into receptacles for dishonest seamen really exists, at least let the public indemnify the shipowner. That was all he asked. As to the right hon. Gentleman's second ground—protection to merchant seamen, he surely must have over- 1059 looked the fact, that at this very moment they (the Committee) were engaged in making an Act of Parliament that would give to merchant seamen an easy and summary remedy in foreign places for any ill treatment they might receive. And now for the gallant Admiral below him (Admiral Dundas), who had accused him (Mr. Anderson) of abusing the naval profession, and of firing off guns at the end of the Session to destroy the Navy; he thought he might safely appeal to the Committee whether anything which had fallen from him deserved to be termed abuse. The naval officers alluded to had only done what the law authorised. He had stated facts which had only very recently come to his knowledge, and, in discharge of his public duty; and believing them to be correct, he had made use of them without feeling any necessity for considering whether they might be palatable or not to the gallant Officer.
§ Motion made, and Question put, "That the Clause be now read a Second Time."
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 12; Noes 32: Majority 20.
§ MR. ANDERSON
then proposed his second Clause, which was as follows:—That such provisions of the General Merchant Seamen's Act (8th and 9th Victoria, cap. 112), and of the Mercantile Marine Act, 1850, as compel seamen in the merchant service to obtain and produce registry tickets, shall be repealed.The House would perhaps recollect that last Session he had pointed out fully the absolute uselessness of the register ticket system for the chief object of its establishment, namely to facilitate the manning of the Navy—that these tickets might be purchased of crimps for half-a-crown each—that they led to wholesale falsehood and fraud among seamen, and to place them more under the control of crimps. In support of these assertions he would again refer to the evidence given before the Navy Estimate Committee by the gallant Admiral the Member for Gloucester (Mr. F. Berkeley), a Lord of the Admiralty, whose duties were chiefly directed to the manning of the Navy. That gallant Officer stated in a very decided manner that the registration and ticket system was altogether useless as to any facility for manning the Navy, and that it operated so vexatiously towards British seamen as to drive them in disgust to seek employment in the service of foreign countries. He (Mr. Anderson) was not opposed to all registration; 1060 on the contrary, he considered that a registration, which might be established at every custom-house, where seamen should be paid their wages on concluding a voyage, and registers kept of their characters, and to facilitate the manning of merchant vessels by bringing the seamen and shipmaster, or owner, in communication with each other, without the intervention of crimps, would do much good; and if a seamen's savings bank, where they could deposit a part of their balance of wages, under a Government guarantee, and at an encouraging rate of interest, were added, it would tend much to improve their habits, and do more for their benefit than all the shipping masters in the world.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said, he regarded the subject as of too important a character to be disposed of in an incidental manner upon a Bill of this description. It was one which ought to be carefully considered by the House, and only decided after full and mature deliberation. The present system of registration had been discussed upon the Mercantile Marine Bill last year, and again when the Estimates were before the House. His own impression was, not that the present system was not susceptible of improvement, but he should he very much afraid of sweeping away the system of registry tickets before they were fully prepared with some efficient substitute. He promised, however, that his continued attention should still be given to the subject. He need hardly remind the Committee that he had undertaken the winding up of the Merchant Seamen's Fund; but he was afraid, unless he had some such check against fraud and persecution as these registry tickets provided, that it would be impossible to accomplish it in a satisfactory manner.
§ MR. ANDERSON
said, that as, in the present state of the House, he felt that it would be useless to go to a division on any question in which the Government did not concur, he would not trouble the Committee to divide.
§ Clause negatived.
§ MR. ANDERSON
then proposed his third and last Clause, which was in the following terms;—That such provisions of this Act, and of the Mercantile Marine Act, 1850, as apply to the personal supervision of shipping masters over the engagements and discharge of seamen, shall only be applicable when the services of a shipping master for that purpose shall be required by the master, owner, or any seamen or seamen concerned in such engagement or discharge; and nothing con- 1061 tained in the said Acts, or either of them, shall authorise any shipping master to interfere in the engagement or discharge of any seaman or seamen unless the master or owner, seaman or seamen, shall request the interference of such shipping master for that purpose.His object simply was to make the supervision of shipping masters a voluntary matter, dependent upon the desire of the masters or sailors to employ them or not, as they thought fit. He saw no reason why the master and the seaman should not be able, if they mutually thought fit, to conclude their own arrangements without the intervention of these shipping officers.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said, that although this proposition was brought before the Committee in the modest guise of a clause, yet that it was, in fact, a proposition to repeal the most important provision of the Mercantile Marine Act of last Session, and of which this Bill was, in some particulars, an amendment. The most important portion of that Bill was that which provided for the establishment of Shipping offices for sailors, in order to provide that their engagemants should be made in a regular and uniform manner, and to secure them against the monstrous evils arising from the employment of crimps and the ordinary go-betweens. He believed that the system of Shipping offices was working satisfactorily to all classes of the mercantile marine; and from the ports of London, Liverpool, Bristol, the Clyde, and elsewhere, he had received the most gratifying assurances of the mode in which it was working, and of the benefits which it was conferring, both upon the owners of ships, and upon that class which he valued quite as much as the shipowners—the sailors employed in the navigation of their vessels. If it were made optional, as his hon. Friend proposed, whether the crimp or the shipping officer should be employed, then all the arts and seductions of the crimps would be exercised in order to lead the sailors away from the regular Shipping offices, and the main principle of the Bill of last Session would be destroyed.
said, he differed entirely from the right hon. Gentleman as to the working of the Mercantile Marine Act in this particular; for he confidently asserted that it had been productive of great inconvenience both to the shipowners and seamen. He denied that it had succeeded in putting down crimps. Newcastle, Sunderland, Southampton, Yarmouth, and other ports had prayed for the abolition of these Shipping offices; and he trusted that 1062 his hon. Friend (Mr. Anderson) would divide the Committee.
§ Clause negatived.
§ Preamble agreed to; House resumed; Bill reported.