HC Deb 18 May 1854 vol 133 cc571-85

Order for Second Reading read.


said, he had no wish whatever to oppose the second reading of the Bill, because he regarded it as a praiseworthy effort, on the part of the Government, to consolidate the mercantile marine laws of the country. He was also quite aware of the time and attention which had been bestowed on this Bill by his right hon. Friend (Mr. Cardwell), who had received with great courtesy every suggestion that had been made to him; still he could not avoid mentioning that there were some defects and some deficiencies in the measure, although he would not then enter into details which would more properly be noticed in Committee. He would observe, however, that he thought his right hon. Friend had made one or two mistakes in interfering with the enactment of the Mercantile Marine Bill of 1850. The first of these was very important—namely, his transference of the powers of the various local marine boards to the magistrates. Now, he had the honour of being a mem- ber of the Liverpool Marine Board for the last three years, having been nominated by the hon. Member for Taunton when President of the Board of Trade, and he could, therefore, bear testimony to the efficiency with which the affairs of that Board had been conducted. Indeed, he considered that no board could be more complete or perfect than that constituted under the Act of 1850. Yet it was proposed in this Bill to transfer their power to magistrates—none of whom might know anything about ships—perhaps not able to tell a bowsprit from a mainmast. Nor had he heard that there was any just or substantial reason for the change, except that some members of the Board complained that a considerable portion of their time was occupied. That, however, he did not at all hold to be a valid reason, because if gentlemen had not time to devote to their duty at the Board, they might retire, and others could be found to take their places. The alteration proposed he held to be very objectionable; but as he intended to move an Amendment to that clause when the Bill was in Committee, he would not then further allude to the subject. But there was also a very great deficiency in the Bill which he wished to point out—namely, that it did not re-enact the apprenticeship system, which he looked upon as of considerable importance. The House would remember that a short time ago he had moved for a return showing the number of apprentices in the merchant service in 1850, when the requirement was abolished, as well as the number during the three years after its abrogation. From that return he found that on the 1st of January, 1850, there were in the mercantile service 31,636 apprentices, while on the 1st of January, 1854, there were only 13,826. Now, he must say, if the mercantile marine was to serve in future as the nursery for the Navy of England, that it was the duty of his right hon. Friend to re-enact the requirement clause—which, however, he (Mr. Horsfall) readily admitted was originally abolished at the request of the shipowners themselves. The Board of Admiralty had been in communication with the local Marine Board of Liverpool, which Board had communicated with the Shipowners' Association of that port, and it was found that the language of that body was, that "That they were then under restrictions; but that if they were allowed to man their vessels as they liked by the seamen of other countries, they would he prepared to consider the question of the reenactment of the apprenticeship system." Well, concessions had now been made in that matter, and that body therefore now came forward with perfect consistency to petition Parliament in favour of re-enacting the clause requiring apprentices to be taken in all merchant vessels. He was aware, however, that his right hon. Friend had received a counter-memorial from a minority of the shipowners of Liverpool—gentlemen to whose respectability he was well pleased to testify. At the same time, it was his intention to move the re-enactment of the requirement clause in the terms of which he had given notice. But there was another far more important omission in the Bill; he alluded to the fact that no notice was taken in it of a question the most interesting to shipowners throughout the country. He referred to the operation of the Act, the 9 & 10 Vict. c. 93, commonly called Lord Campbell's Act. Now that Act either did, or did not, apply to shipping; if it did, and it had been held by the courts of law to do so, he maintained it was the duty of the Government to have introduced a clause to that effect into the Bill. That Act was originally intended to apply to railway accidents only, but in consequence of the decision of the law courts, shipowners were placed in a position perfectly inconsistent with every principle of justice. For in what position did they stand? He was not desirous to exempt the shipowner from any responsibility which should legitimately fall upon him, but it had been admitted by Lord Campbell himself that he had never intended that Act to apply to shipping. Under its operation the wealthiest shipowner might be ruined in a single hour. There was no limit to his responsibility, and he asked that the shipowner should be placed in the position in which he was previously to the passing of the Act. Under former Acts the liability of the shipowner had been confined to the value of the ship and freight; and in asking now that their liability should be confined to that, he thought that they were not asking too much. With the law, as it existed, no prudent man could own a ship. He certainly would not undertake for any premium that might be offered to carry a cargo of passengers under the present law and the liabilities which it imposed; and he trusted that in Committee the right hon. Gentleman would insert some clause which should confine the liability of shipowners to the value of the ship and freight. If that were not done, he was satisfied that the Bill would frustrate one great object which the Government had in view the giving protection to emigrants going abroad; for it would prevent all prudent men from owning vessels, and none but speculators and adventurers would engage in the trade. If the right hon. Gentleman did not do so, he should himself propose a clause to that effect in Committee.


said, he must remind the House of the part which he had taken in the discussion on the "manning clauses" last year. Since then war had been declared, and he thought the value of the British seamen must have been raised, because the want of men was more felt. The commerce and the wealth of this country depended on our having the supremacy of the seas. To secure this, we must use every means in our power in the encouragement and cultivation of seamen, and it was a matter which deserved their grave consideration, that within a period of four years the number of the class upon whom our supply of seamen must depend had been diminished from 34,000 to 13,000. That was a change of the law which he had also objected to, and he had moved the House on a previous occasion to reinstate the apprentice clauses. Of all the measures he had ever known carried as affecting the moral supremacy of the country, these two measures for repealing the manning clauses and the apprentice clauses were the most serious, and he believed it would be long before the right hon. Baronet the First Lord of the Admiralty succeeded in repairing the mischief he had committed in supporting their repeal. He believed, however, the Admiralty had done their best in endeavouring to man the Navy, with this exception, that they had not, as was always done before at the beginning of a war, induced seamen to enter by the offer of a bounty. Bounties were offered to marines, to the coast-guard, to every department of the Army, but seamen alone were excepted from the rule. The consequence of this was, that they had got abundance of landsmen, but not abundance of able-bodied seamen. He therefore hoped the Government would take this opportunity of reinstating the apprentice clauses in the present Bill. They could never make men into seamen. It was rarely found, indeed, that a man of twenty-one years of age ever became reconciled to the sea, or that he acquired the smartness necessary for a sailor. He was glad to learn, how ever, that the Admiralty had entered a number of boys in the Royal Navy, and no doubt they would get good topmen in this way; but the good leading seamen— the men who could do their duty from stem to stern—must chiefly come from the merchant service where they had learned the necessary duties of a seaman. And yet how much this matter was neglected in the mercantile navy might be inferred from this fact, that of 400 or 500 ships that sailed from Liverpool in 1851 with emigrants, two-thirds of them had not a single boy on board. He thought legislation on this matter had been somewhat stealthy. In 1848, when the Navigation Laws were repealed, nothing was said about doing away with the manning or the apprentice clauses—nay, the present First Lord of the Admiralty opposed the suggestion when it was made, and yet last year these very points were carried. He hoped the Government would now take the advice of the hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Horsfall), and reinstate them, or at least the clause with regard to apprentices.


said, it was not his intention to offer any lengthened remarks upon this Bill, but, as a large shipowner himself, and as the representative of a large shipping port, he considered it his duty to oppose the suggestion that had been made with regard to the reinstatement of the apprentice clauses. The hon. Member for Liverpool said, that the reinstatement of these clauses was favourably looked on by his constituents. Now, the clauses might be viewed with favour by the Shipowners' Association, but that Association did not compose all the shipowners of Liverpool, and as soon as it was understood that the Shipowners' Association had petitioned in favour of the compulsory apprentice clauses, another memorial, most respectably signed, was sent off against the re-enactment of them. He should be very much surprised indeed if, to the grievances which the shipowners of this country already laboured under, this House were to add a new one. With regard to the subject of advance notes to seamen, he had had a long conversation on that question with the President of the Board of Trade that day, and that right hon. Gentleman felt, with him, that it would be most desirable to refrain from all legislation on the subject if it was possible to avoid it. Many attempts had been made to enable the sailor to realise the full value of those notes, but all had failed. It would be the greatest possible boon if the House could put down these advance notes altogether, not to the shipowner only, but still more to the seamen themselves. They were the great inducement to desertion; hut, still more, they encouraged improvident habits on the part of the sailors, who, if they once found that they could not get a supply of money to fit them out for another voyage, if they wasted what they had received from their last, would be forced to learn habits of economy, and to retain from each voyage at least as much as would fit them out for another. He thought legislative interference was injurious as between the shipowner and the sailor, in the same way that it would be considered injurious as between the master manufacturer and the mechanic and artisan. What he would recommend was, that there should be a savings bank and a money-order office in connection with every shipping office, so that the sailor, on being paid off, might send home a portion of his money to his wife and family at once, and place another in the savings bank, sufficient to provide him with the necessaries for his next voyage. With regard to what had been said by the hon. Member for Liverpool, as to the spirit of the law in reference to the limitation of the responsibility of the shipowners in the case of goods and merchandise, he saw no reason why that responsibility should not also be limited in the case of passengers. He thought that in a country like this every facility should be afforded to capitalists to invest their money in ships; but as the law now stood, capitalists had reason to dread such investments, because the responsibility was not limited to the value of the ship and freight, but extended to every penny the owner possessed; so that the wealthiest capitalist who held but a small portion of a ship might at any moment find himself a ruined man. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would not consent to re-enact the manning or the apprenticeship clauses; and, though the law in this respect might be left as it was, he could assure the hon. and gallant Member for Bath (Captain Scobell) that he need not be afraid that British sailors would ever be superseded by foreigners in our mercantile navy. For his own part, he had no dread of the competition of foreign seamen any more than he had of foreign shipowners, but the best way to maintain the supremacy of the British mercantile marine, and consequently of the Navy, was to remove all the restrictions which yet remained, and to give free scope, as far as practicable, to its energies and skill, that its resources might be fully developed.


said, he considered the re-enactment of the apprenticeship clause essential, in order that a sufficient body of effective and competent seamen might always be found available for the maritime service of the country. He always looked upon the mercantile service as the nursery for the Royal Navy, and was anxious, therefore, that the efficiency of the marine, both in numbers and competency, should be maintained.


said, he fully concurred in what had been stated by the hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Horsfall) as to Lord Campbell's Act. He thought that the courts of law, having strained this Act to a purpose for which it was never intended, had inflicted a severe blow on the shipping interests of this country, and placed shipowners in a very disadvantageous position as regarded their American competitors. He should be glad if the system of advance notes could be got rid of altogether. He thought it was a fallacy to legislate for ships as a particular property, differing from all others on account of their presumed connection with the Royal Navy, and that it was equally a fallacy to mix up the interests of the two services. Merchant-ships ought to be left to their own regulations, and not be subject to codes laid down by that House for their internal management and government. These, however, were questions which would arise in Committee. The principle of the Bill he understood to be the consolidation of our mercantile marine laws, but it appeared to him that the Bill was rather the re-enactment of the shipping laws that existed than a codification. At the same time, he rejoiced that the Bill had been laid upon the table; and, as the representative of a mercantile community, he begged to thank the right hon. Gentleman for it.


said, whether this Bill was a complete code or not, it would certainly be of the greatest service as a consolidation of about fifty different Statutes into one, and in the name of his constituents he begged to tender to the right hon. Gentleman his congratulations for the service he had rendered to the mercantile community. He agreed with the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Lindsay) that it was of the utmost importance to encourage habits of economy and forethought among the sailors, by putting down advance notes, and establishing savings banks. With regard to the question of unlimited responsibility in case of accidents, he admitted that that was in itself a large question; but that with which the House had now to deal was a question of a much narrower kind, and he would be glad to see it brought to an issue as it stood. Until the passing of Lord Campbell's Act the law was clear that the responsibility of the shipowner was limited to the ship and cargo. It was generally admitted that Lord Campbell's Act was not intended to alter that law; but, by some accidental negligence of phrases, without discussion or deliberate intention of the Legislature, it was held to have altered the law. Now, assuming that statement to be true, was it not reasonable to think that, in consolidating these Acts, the Government should declare the intent of Lord Campbell's Act to be what it was from the first intended to be? It would then be left open to the Government, if they thought the law should be changed, to propose the change in such a way as would bring the whole subject under consideration, and have it thoroughly discussed.


said, he cordially concurred in the second reading of the Bill, and begged to offer his congratulations to the right hon. Gentleman on the service that it would render to the shipping interests. There were many details, however, in the Bill, which he thought would require serious consideration in Committee, as they would not be likely to further the object the President of the Board of Trade had in view. A great deal had been said about apprentices; he differed from what the hon. and gallant Member for Bath had said on this subject, and trusted that Government would allow matters to take their course, and not attempt to legislate on it.


said, he was ready to bestow his pity on those who might lose their fortunes by the injury done to shipping, but his pity was still more called forth on behalf of those who lost their lives. It was quite intolerable to hear it contended in that House that shipowners should be exempted from the responsibility with regard to damage or injury, &c., which rested upon all the rest of their fellow-subjects. He thought this was a Bill for which the whole body of the mercantile marine should be thankful to the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade. As the law at present stood, it was hardly intelligible to lawyers. By spending an hour or two in his closet a lawyer might no doubt come to understand any point under dispute, and a shipowner might sometimes also be able to overcome the difficulty; but it was impossible for others to make out what the law at present was. He held, therefore, that this Consolidation Act would be of the greatest possible service. It had been said that it did not deserve the name of a code, but he maintained that it was more deserving of the name of a code than any that existed in any other country in the world, or that ever did exist. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would consider the propriety of enacting that every ship of a certain burden should have the law on board for the use of the master, the officers, and the men, who might thereby be enabled to settle disputes when abroad. The hon. and learned Member for Sunderland (Mr. W. D. Seymour) took exceptions to the Bill, on account of the phraseology of the old laws not being preserved; but if the new phraseology was better than the old, he thought no great objection could be taken. He heartily thanked the right hon. Gentleman for the measure, and looked upon it as a great boon to the mercantile community.


said, he must deny that the shipowners desired to get rid of any responsibility that ought in justice to attach to them, notwithstanding what had fallen from the hon. and learned Serjeant. They were quite ready to admit that their ship and freight should be liable for injury, done either to property or persons. It should be remembered that masters and mates were to be examined by a Government Board, and that the master, the officers, and the ships were to be under Government inspection; and on that, as well as other accounts, the shipowners held that they ought not to be liable to a greater extent than the value of the ship and freight. He believed this was, on the whole, a very good Bill, though he thought some of the clauses might be left out with great advantage. As to measurement, he would recommend that a schedule should be inserted laying down the mode to be followed, but that power should be given to the President of the Board of Trade to correct the schedules from time to time, as science might point out.


said, he concurred with the hon. and learned Member for Kilkenny (Mr. Serjeant Shee) in thinking this Bill a very good consolidation of the law of shipping. He considered that it was a mistake to suppose that shipowners were exempt from liability for the negligence or incompetences of their servants either under Lord Campbell's Act or the general law, nor did he think that they had any right to claim exemption from that responsibility.


said, he had listened with attention to many of the suggestions which had been made by Gentlemen well qualified to give opinions, and he was much gratified at the tone and spirit in which the Bill had been received, because it was one which, from its magnitude, ought to receive the general concurrence of the House before it could be passed into a law. If he might take the liberty of specifying a particular opinion to which he attached value, he should say it was that of the hon. and learned Member for Kilkenny, who was the editor of Lord Tenterden's great work on the law of shipping, and therefore there was no one who could be a better judge of the difficulties of making any alteration in the law. The Bill, he wished the House to bear in mind, was an endeavour to effect, not a codification, but a consolidation, of the Statutes, which was a different thing from codification—a system which had been adopted without any success in this country, although there had been many instances of consolidating into a single Act all the enactments of Parliament on the subject of a particular law. In this Bill there had been repealed forty Acts of Parliament on the subject of shipping, ranging from the time of Elizabeth, and some 1,000 clauses, in order to bring the law within legitimate and intelligible limits. Then, with regard to the language adopted, they had made choice of new language where it was necessary for greater perspicuity and clearness. When there was a choice between new and old language, they employed the old, because it had the stamp of judicial decisions, and the risk of future lawsuits was thereby greatly excluded. The hon. and learned Member for Sunderland (Mr. W. D. Seymour) had suggested that they should leave out minute regulations, and only insert the general principles involved. That principle had been adopted where it was possible, but in the particular matter to which he had referred, the measurement of ships, it was found a matter of great difficulty. Now, it was not at all new for Parliament to endeavour to lay down the principle of getting the accurate measurement of a ship, but the difficulty was to say how they were to obtain that accurate measurement. He thought, therefore, it was a matter upon which the will of Parliament must be taken, and which must not be left entirely to the arbitrary decision of any individual. A great deal depended upon the mode of measurement. Toll was paid to every dock company in the kingdom, not according to the principle that you should have an accurate measurement of capacity, but according to the rule and mode by which you carried that measurement into effect. Now, the mode proposed in the Bill would leave the tonnage of the country at exactly the same quantity at which it now stood, doing, therefore, no injustice either as between shipowner or dockowner; but any alteration which did not comply with that principle would injure one or the other considerably. Speaking generally of the mode proposed by the Bill, of so taking an adequate number of measurements, and so applying a mathematical rule as to obtain, with a great approach to accuracy, the fair capacity of a ship, relieving the shipowner from those restrictions which now impeded the exercise of his skill and the improvement of models—this plan in the Bill had received the sanction of every authority to which it had been submitted, and of all those most competent to form opinions upon the subject. Besides the other objects contained in the measure, he proposed, if the plan of the Government relating to salvage received the assent of the House, to incorporate with the Bill the whole scheme with respect to wrecks and salvage, making the measure, therefore, one complete manual relating to the mercantile marine. The utmost pains had been taken in the consolidation of the Statutes, and he might state that he was indebted to the Judge of the Admiralty Court for the kindness with which he had, on two separate occasions, gone through the Bill, and given him the invaluable assistance of his great legal ability and knowledge. With regard to the objections which had been taken to the measure, the hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Horsfall) objected to the proposal to transfer certain powers from the local marine board to the justices in regard to the trial of masters charged with incompetence or neglect. It appeared that on this particular point the shipowners of Liverpool did not agree with their representatives, for they stated, after considering the clause, that they thought the mode in which he proposed to leave it a great improvement and a relief to the local marine board. But it was not intended to relieve or to disparage the local marine board. What the Government proposed was, that in cases where masters were charged with neglect or incompetence there should be a judicial inquiry. After having awarded an officer a certificate for competency, the local marine board ought not, he thought, to be judges as to whether that officer had conducted himself in such a manner as that his certificate ought to be withdrawn. His certificate ought not to be withheld upon any other than a judicial investigation, and by the finding of a recognised public tribunal. The hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Lindsay) had alluded to the subject of savings banks and advance notes. No person could more regret than he (Mr. Cardwell) did the habits of improvidence into which seamen were but too frequently led, and in so far as the system of advance notes ministered to those habits they were no doubt to be regretted. He thought, however, they could not legislate upon the principle, that a sailor was to be treated like a child or a minor, as one who could not be intrusted with his own resources, and that he could not be placed under restrictions from which every landsman was free, in making his own contracts. Another subject alluded to by the hon. Member was that of savings banks, and the hon. Member would, no doubt, be glad to hear that he (Mr. Cardwell) had anticipated his proposition on this point, and that in the course of the last Session of Parliament, putting himself into communication with his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he had introduced into the Savings Banks Bill a clause for the special object of giving to sailors in seaport towns facilities for making their investments and for obtaining the advantages of savings banks. Those advantages, in London and in Liverpool, were already made use of, and nothing could be more satisfactory than the way in which the Sailors' Homes in those two places conducted the operations of their savings banks. He now approached the subject of the liability of the shipowner. Before committing itself upon this subject, the House should clearly understand what the law now was, and what was really the proposition intended when they were asked to create this limitation. The shipowner was under no legal liability, arising from what was commonly called Lord Campbell's Act, to which every other subject of the Queen was not equally liable. The difference between the two classes of persons was, that the shipowner was accustomed to be intrusted at one time with the charge of a very large number of lives under circumstances of hazard. The law had made no distinction between him and other persons, and with the exception of that important practical difference, no distinction existed. If an accident happened at sea through the neglect of his master, the shipowner might be liable, no doubt, to the whole extent of his fortune, just as a man was liable on shore if any accident happened through the carelessness of his servant while driving a vehicle. The subject was certainly a very important one for consideration, and he was not surprised that the hon. Member for Liverpool should have taken the opportunity of calling attention to the subject. With regard to the question of apprentices and seamen, the hon. Gentleman proposed in Committee to submit a clause, which had received the sanction of the shipowners of Liverpool, for making it compulsory upon shipowners to take a certain number of apprentices in proportion to the tonnage of the ship. That subject had been very fully discussed in the last Session of Parliament, and the House had then been of opinion that it was not desirable to have that restriction, nor did he think the House would be of a different opinion now. His hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Bath (Captain Scobell), had expressed his belief, that the provision for allowing our merchant ships to be manned by foreign seamen had been productive of much mischief. The hon. and gallant Member said—"Only think of the circumstances in which we are placed, and the difficulty of manning our fleet with British seamen;" and he complained—for this was what his complaint amounted to—that they had succeeded in manning the fleet without having recourse to impressment and without having even given a bounty. Now he (Mr. Cardwell) thought that, when we were wanting British seamen to enlist into our Navy, it was the worst possible time to endeavour to prevent the employment of foreign sailors in the merchant service. But he held in his hand a return supplied by the Registrar of Shipping, which showed the result of the mischief to which his hon. and gallant Friend referred—the mischief which had followed from setting free British shipping from every possible limitation and restriction. This return came down to the 31st of March last. The House would be aware that the last returns presented showed the very largest number of British seamen ever employed in the history of this country, and that it was in the last Session of Parliament that they removed all restrictions from the employment of foreigners. Well, the whole number of foreigners employed in British foreign-going shipping in the last quarter had been no more than 2,499 men. If this were multiplied by 4, it would give something less than 10,000 men; and if they looked at the returns already upon the table, they would find the whole aggregate of British seamen was, in the last year 190,000 men. Having abolished the restriction to which our shipowners were subjected, they found foreigners employed to the extent of only 10,000 men in the year, while 190,000 British seamen were in the service. This was the mischief which induced the hon. and gallant Member for Bath so seriously to exhort them to retrace their steps, an exhortation which they certainly were not prepared to comply with. The hon. and gallant Member had quoted returns to show that the number of apprentices had fallen off; the number of apprentices would very naturally fall off, when the shipowners were relieved from the necessity of taking apprentices, whether they would or not; but the returns by no means showed that the number of boys applying themselves to the sea service had fallen off; on the contrary, the number of boys in the commercial marine rising to be seamen was on the increase, though, now that the former restrictions upon the shipowners with regard to apprentices had been removed, these boys were no longer called apprentices. He had been in communication with the shipowners of London, Liverpool, Lloyd's, and with the principal persons interested in the Bill; and he had the satisfaction of knowing that the Bill had their general concurrence, and that they regarded the consolidation of the law into one Statute, as now proposed, as certain greatly to facilitate the operations of their trade. That being so, he hoped the House would allow the Bill to pass this Session.

Bill read 2o.s