HC Deb 04 June 1852 vol 122 cc67-72

Bill, as amended, considered.


moved the following Clause:?— Provided always, that whenever the owner, charterer, captain, or consignee of the ship shall be dissatisfied with the decision of the Emigration Officer, in any matter in which such decision is rendered authoritative by the provisions of this Act, then, and in every such case, it shall be lawful for the owner, charterer, captain, or consignee to apply to two Justices of the Peace having jurisdiction in the Port; and such Justices, or one of them, shall, by order, under their or his hand, appoint two disinterested persons, having acquaintance with the subject matter in which such decision may have been given, to hear the appeal of the owner, charterer, captain, or consignee, against such decision; and such two persons shall return their determination upon such appeal in answer to such order, and upon such determination the Justices or Justice shall make such order as to them or him shall in the premises seem meet, and such order shall be final and conclusive. He said, he should have been the last man in the world to propose such a proviso if it interfered at all with the comfort or the safety of passengers. He did not find fault with the enactment that the emigration officers should examine into the various matters connected with the regulation of passenger vessels; but if the owner or the master found himself aggrieved by their decision, on any point, he ought to have the right of appeal; the loss of time and consequent expense that would arise from it, would be too serious a matter ever to be resorted to, except in cases of great hardship. Was it right to intrust to any individual, without appeal to some competent tribunal, a power which might be abused from caprice, ignorance, or vindictiveness, and add to the burdens which the shipowner now laboured under? He might be told that the shipowners may bring their case before the Emigration Commissioners in London, by whom, he must say, he had always been treated with the greatest courtesy when he had occasion to call on them; but suppose a complaint be made, the agent states his own case and defends himself. Being an appointment of the Commissioners, they are not likely, if they can help it, to condemn their own judgment in the selection of their servant, when the shipowner may be unknown to them, and his representations would, of course, have less weight. An appeal to London from the outports, considering the loss of time and expense it would incur, with the chance of missing wind and tide, would make the remedy, in many cases, worse than the disease. The Emigration Commissioners having great power, it was natural that they were not willing to relinquish it, and there was no doubt but that the right hon. Baronet consulted them on these matters. It was said much of the present Bill was not a new enactment, and that there had been no complaints against it. The former was true, and equally true that there had been many abuses of power under it; but, as there was no proper court of appeal, the parties had to submit, and it was a reason for not re-enacting those clauses. As he (Mr. W. Brown) considered it right and due to the country, and not ultimately injurious to the shipping interest, to vote for the repeal of the Navigation Laws, he considered he was equally bound, as far as he could, to aid in removing all unnecessary burdens from their shoulders to enable them to compete with their foreign rivals. It was extremely hard on them that there were some clauses in this Bill which you cannot enforce against foreigners, but you always can against British owners. He did expect those Gentlemen on the opposite side of the House, who had called out so lustily for protection to the British shipping interest, would vote for the proviso he had submitted to then-consideration. The agent must have a universality of talent, which few men possess; he must be a judge of the beams, the decks, and of the berths, and the best means of separating the sexes. He must he a judge of the sufficiency of the hospitals, and of the conveniencies that are necessary to relieve nature, and of lights and ventilation, which men of science cannot efficiently accomplish. He is to determine what boats, life-buoys, fire-engines, and night-signals are necessary. The manning of the ship is subject to his dictum. The quantity and quality of provisions and water for passengers are to be determined by him; he is to survey the crew; he is to regulate the stowage of the cargo and stores; he must have the knowledge of a cooper, to judge of the sufficiency of the water casks or tanks; he is to see what stewards, cooks, and cooking apparatus are sufficient When foreigners embark as passengers, he must be a linguist, to be able to judge whether the ships must take interpreters. He is to be the judge of the qualifications of medical men, and he ought to have the knowledge of a chemist, as he decides upon the quantity and quality of medicines, of the surgical instruments necessary, and the quantity of disinfecting fluid that passenger ships must carry. No man could possess all that knowledge, however clever he might be; and it was only in the event of capriciously abusing his power, either from ignorance or vindictiveness, that an appeal ever would be made. It did so happen, that, as there would not be time to appeal to London in all cases, when a passenger from any cause thinks he is entitled to the return of his passage money, he may bring the case before the magistrates. And to show how power can be abused, even by a person who was represented to him as a captain in the Royal Navy, Captain Brown-rigg, it appeared that a passenger of the name of M'Kay claimed his passage money back from an agent, Mr. Hunter, and to sustain that claim, Captain Brownrigg was his witness. The case came before the sheriff at Greenock, and was dismissed as frivolous and vexatious; but Captain Brownrigg could not forget his defeat by Mr. Hunter, and another opportunity offered to show his vindictiveness. He summoned Mr. Hunter before the magistrates, at Glasgow, for some alleged irregularity. There were three on the bench. They considered Captain Brownrigg's conduct so improper that they made him pay Mr. Hunter's costs. Clothed with a little brief authority, although this gentleman resides at Greenock, if he get angry with the master or agent of a vessel, he will not receive a notice of his services being wanted at Greenock, but insists on the party giving notice at his office in Glasgow, which causes unnecessary delay, which he (Mr. W. Brown) hoped would prove to the House that the discretion of agents is not always to be trusted. In addition to the burdens which the shipping interest already bear, which he would briefly state, they were adding others; not only the foregoing, but Lord Campbell's Act, as it is called, which leaves the owners of steam or other vessels liable for any losses that might arise to passengers who have an action for damages against them in the event of the vessel on board of which they are being run down by them at sea; and if a steamboat be going more than five or six miles an hour, it would be taken as an evidence of carelessness, when, in dark nights and fogs, they can hardly see the stem from the stern of the ship. Mr. M'Iver, Messrs. Cunard's partner, told the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, (hat he had sold his interest out of forty steam vessels, for an accident, which the owners could not control, might ruin a rich shipowner. He had an action brought against him for an unavoidable accident of this kind, and compromised it. This Act was a new and recent burden. The old ones were, excessive lighthouse dues; pilotage where the mate and master were competent to the charge of the vessel; consul fees abroad; the manning clause, which was considered one of great hardship, as other nations were under no such restrictions; desertion from merchant vessels to ships of war: although the sailors violated their contract, the captain was obliged to pay their wages up to the day, and allow them to take their clothes. The timber duties and other minor matters were certainly great grievances, and no less so were the heavy salvage charges claimed and paid by British shipowners to men-of-war for rendering them assistance in distress, which ought to be rendered by national vessels for a very moderate charge. He (Mr. Brown) hoped he bad made a sufficient case to induce the House to accept his proviso.


said, this Bill was to consolidate and amend the laws with regard to the conveyance of emigrants, and was brought in at the recommendation of a Committee which sat last year. In the previous Acts there was no such appeal as that proposed by the hon. Member at the instance of the shipowners of Liverpool. The Committee to which he alluded recommended no such appeal, and, what was more, there had never been any complaint as to the want of this appeal. The present was not a moment, when emigration was so much increased and increasing, to do away with any of those securities which existed for the preservation of life among passengers by emigrant vessels. He would rather abandon this Bill than consent to the proviso which would destroy the object contemplated by the measure.


said, it was impossible than an emigration officer could be a competent judge of all the miscellaneous subjects which he was required to examine into in the course of his inspection of a ship; but if he were of a vindictive disposition he had the power of harassing the owner or the captain of a ship in a manner against which they ought to be protected. It was exceedingly hard that such a power should be vested in any individual without an appeal being allowed to some tribunal unconected with the accused; and it was, therefore, to provide such a check that he brought forward this Amendment.


said, he should support the clause, and knew not on what ground the power of appeal could be refused.


said, that this clause had been brought forward for the most extraordinary reason, because the hon. Member for South Lancashire (Mr. W. Brown) had not stated a single case of hardship that had occurred under the existing law. The Amendment, he believed, instead of being advantageous to the shipping in- terest, would be most detrimental to it. He was satisfied that the only effect of this clause would be that both Justices and Shipmasters would be landed in the Queen's Bench upon such a simple question as whether a cask of biscuit was good or bad. He was satisfied that the Government officer was as likely to be as impartial as any Justices.


denied that only one case of hardship had occurred under the present system. He knew many himself, which he was only prevented from detailing by the late hour of the night. He hoped the Bill would not be allowed to pass without this clause.

Clause brought up, and read 1°.

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

The House divided:—Ayes 25; Noes 73: Majority 48.

Amendment made: Bill to be read 3° on Monday next.