HC Deb 02 August 1859 vol 155 cc871-81

said, he rose to move— That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying Her Majesty to be graciously pleased to enter into negotiations with the Government of the United States of America, for the purpose of presenting the assaults and cruelties committed on Merchant Seamen engaged in traffic between this Country and the United States, and of bringing to justice the perpetrators of such offences, many of whom escape with imounity in consequence of the defects of the present system of international jurisdiction. The subject had engaged the serious attention of men in high places, and also enlisted the sympathies of a large body of persons both in this country and in the United States of America. The question was, whether many injuries should remain unredressed, and a large amount of crime should go unchallenged and unpunished. The point he was about to ask the House to consider was, in what manner they could best put a stop to the series of outrages and cruelties which were committed on the high seas in connection with the merchant traffic between England and the United States. It could hardly be considered a question especially affecting the United States, as the proportion of American seamen sailing under the merchant flag of the United States did not amount to more than 17 per cent. The remainder of the crews was made up of men belonging to all nations, no small portion of whom consisted of our fellow-countrymen. The outrages to which he alluded, had in a special manner attracted the attention of the inhabitants of Liverpool, which was the great entrepot of that traffic. It was stated by them that unhappy men arrived almost daily in their harbours who, in consequence of the cruel treatment which they had received on the voyage, were obliged to be conveyed to the hospitals of the city, where some of them died of the injuries which were inflicted upon them, while others remained there for a long time un-recovered. Now, the Government of the United States had expressed through their Consul a desire that so disgraceful a state of things should be remedied, while, on the other hand, the people of Liverpool had taken up the subject with a warmth beyond the wont of Englishmen. Yet it did not appear that Her Majesty's Government had taken any steps to bring the perpetrators of those crimes to justice. A résumé of the whole facts was to be found in a pamphlet, written by Mr. Bright, an eminent merchant of Liverpool, and addressed to his hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Whit bread), who was to have brought the subject before the House, but who, unhappily had joined Her Majesty's Government, and who was in consequence incapacitated from employing his talents out of his own department to the advantage of either the House or the country. He (Mr. M. Milnes) had therefore deemed it to be his duty to take the matter up. The grievance which he wished to be redressed divided itself into two branches. There were, first of all, the cases which came within the operation of the extradition treaty existing between this country and the United States. The clauses of that treaty, however, were so intricate and involved as to render it impossible, even in the case of the gravest crimes, to tiring any criminal to justice. There was, for instance, the case of the outrage on board of the ship Etivan, the case tried before Baron Bramwell last year, in which the offence was committed 2½ miles from what was considered the limit of the jurisdiction of England. Baron Bramwell charged the jury to acquit the criminal, on the ground that no case had been made out; but he gave him up to the American authorities, to be conveyed to the United States. The moment the man touched his native shore, he absconded, and got off scot-free. Two other cases of a similar description occurred within the last year. Only within the last month, a most atrocious murder was committed by a Corsican sailor on board an American ship called the Mountaineer. The vessel touched at Sunderland, on her voyage from Amsterdam to New Orleans, and the captain applied, through the Ame- rican Consul, to the magistrates at Sunderland, for a cell in which the culprit might be kept in safe custody until the return of the ship to America, undertaking, at the same time, to pay all the necessary expenses. This seemed a very reasonable request, but the answer written by Mr. Waddington, on behalf of Sir George Lewis, the Secretary for the Home Department, to the Consul, was to the effect that the request could not be complied with unless the offence came within the 10th Article of the Treaty of Washington between England and the United States; and that even if it did, the magistrates could not interfere without a warrant from the Secretary of State, granted upon the formal demand of the United States Government, under the extradition treaty. The consequence was that the murderer escaped within a few days after his arrival at Sunderland. He was recaptured and taken on board again, but he succeeded in escaping a second time, and he was now wandering about the country with perfect impunity. He thought it was the duty of Her Majesty's Government to make some arrangement with the United States by which prisoners so charged might be kept in safe custody, and every means taken to bring them to justice. The cases to which he had referred, although of a most serious character, were comparatively of rare occurrence, and they could scarcely be compared to the class of cases which he wished chiefly to bring under the notice of the House. He referred to those minor outrages which were continually occurring on board American ships, and excited so much indignation and reprobation in Liverpool. They knew that the Amercian merchant service was a rough and ready one, and he did not wish to complain of the captains of the ships. Indeed, in almost all the cases he had investigated the cruelty was committed not by the captain, but by some of the crew, and the captain did all in his power to restrain it. These cases were so frequent at Liverpool that they had obtained a name for themselves, and were known in the hospital there of "Consuls' cases." From June, 1857, to June, 1858, there were no less than 135 of these "Consuls' cases" sent to the hospital. From June, 1858, to March, 1859, the number of cases was 80; during the latter period 23 additional cases were treated in the workhouse. The Society of Friends of Foreigners in Distress had also published a report on the subject, which showed how great was the evil of which he complained From that report it might be learned of what kind and nature those cases were. In four of them the sufferers were Germans. One was a Hessian, who was set to work, and so ill-treated that he was obliged to be laid up in the hospital. The next was a Prussian, who had been a waiter in an inn, and who was engaged as a steward on board a vessel, but was put to work as a common sailor, and so injured that he was confined for fourteen days. The third was a Bavarian, who was engaged to assist in unloading a ship, and had his arm broken. The fourth was also a Bavarian, and had his arm smashed. Nobody could deny that there had been cases of violence and cruelty; and the continued impunity given to these cases operated most injuriously, not only upon the American merchant service but upon our own. These habits of ferocity and cruel treatment of merchant seamen in this country, of which we had seen examples, arose in a great measure from the anomalous state of the law. He had received a letter from a gentleman, whose name in American literature stood so high that every word which came from him was important, even if his character were not marked as it was by eminent feelings of humanity, he meant Mr. Hawthorne, the distinguished writer of fiction. He stated that in his view the majority of these cases of cruelty did not arise amongst Americans. It very often turned out that on board these ships the only American was the man who took no part in the affair, namely, the captain. Such was the tone also adopted by the New York Commercial Advertiser, which in a recent number had remarked, Certainly the subject is important. The humanity and generosity of this country and Great Britain should be glad to unite in some feasible reform to prevent this reign of cruelty and violence. He hoped he had satisfied the House that the case was one of great grievance, and that the only question was how to remedy it. He thought the House would agree that the remedy must lie in one of two directions. Either to give additional power to the American consuls by which they themselves would be able to take the responsibility upon themselves and rectify the evil, or to obtain a convention with the United States, under which these offenders might be brought to justice, and treated as if the injuries had been com- mitted on English soil. He hoped he should not be met with technicalities, but that Her Majesty's Government would see whether, without contradiction of the principles of international law, that law might not be so supplemented as to prevent the evil which now existed. The giving of additional power to the consuls would naturally occur to any one who investigated the subject. It was true that it was the practice of the English nation to refuse extraterritorial power to any body of foreigners residing within this kingdom; at the same time, in that respect, we had acted exceptionally to the rest of Europe. The law during the middle ages, and down to our own time, was that for the purposes of public security and advantage a nation should permit foreigners to exercise within its boundaries such jurisdiction on its own subjects as might not be injurious to the common weal. This power had been asserted by the French Government, and the great memorial of Colbert, which had been treated as the manual of the consular service ever since, established that no Frenchmen should under any circumstances submit to be judged by any other country than his own. The consul, it was said, was nothing more than the executive Minister of the colony of his fellow-countrymen established in the country, and this principle had been carried out with great severity by the French nation. In 1814 it was urged that this principle should be abandoned, and this only took place after much resistance by the Due de Broglie. He thought, therefore, that by some extension of power they might enable the American Consuls to judge the more simple and more frequent of these cases. He know it might be said that other evils would perhaps arise. He was bound to say that he had heard of cases at Havre in which the absolute jurisdiction over American subjects, assured to the consul by a convention with France, had been grossly abused. If the giving power to the consuls was not the right remedy he did not see why they could not come to an arrangement with the United States by which these cases might be judged by the native tribunals of this country and America. It might not do to apply the rule to the graver cases, but it might be made to apply to all cases which would come ordinarily under the jurisdiction of a stipendiary magistrate. He hoped that in one direction or the other Her Majesty's Government would negotiate with the United States, and in settling the matter in a satisfactory manner perform an act not only of humanity but of justice.


seconded the Motion. He thought it a defect in the present state of the law, that in the case of serious crimes all the punishment the consul could inflict was to make the captain of the ship pay a sort of fine.


said, his hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract had, he thought, done good service to his own country and to the community of the United States by bringing this subject under the consideration of the House, and he had stated with great distinctness the evils which arose from the existing state of things. He need hardly remind the House that the territorial law of this country was hardly competent to deal with the evils which had been brought before them. In the first place, this country could not, except by treaty, exercise any jurisdiction over crimes committed on board foreign ships upon the high seas. Their jurisdiction extended merely to crimes committed by foreign sailors on board foreign ships within three miles of the coast. Except within these limits the Crown of England had no power to exercise jurisdiction, and it was only by a ratified convention with the United States, or with any other Power, that this jurisdiction could arise. In the treaty concluded with the United States by Lord Ashburton in 1842 there was an article that stipulated for the mutual extradition of criminals. It included persons charged with murder, assaults with intent to murder, robbery, arson, forgery, and uttering forged papers. When a murder, or an assault with intent to murder, is committed on board an American ship on the high seas, it is by the construction of the law supposed to be committed on American territory. And if the ship put into an English port, and the offender were claimed through the American Minister, he would be delivered up and sent to America for trial. The expense incurred in sending the prisoner and the witnesses back to the United States to have the case investigated by the American courts would have to be paid by that Government. In practice it was found that this process was rarely carried into effect, and did not lead to the punishment of offenders. That, however, was the course under the present convention; and if it was not pursued the offender could not be made amenable, any more than if he had committed the same crime on the soil of the United States. The question then arose whether it was possible to make any convention with the United States by which this class of criminals could be brought to punishment. One obvious means of effecting this object would be to extend the number of crimes comprised in the article of the treaty of extradition, and include these cases of manslaughter and aggravated assaults on board ship. But under this article, the remedy, on account of the necessity of sending the witnesses to America, was difficult, expensive, and rarely resorted to. Another course suggested was to obtain for English magistrates a jurisdiction over those offences in this country, giving the United States a corresponding jurisdiction over English sailors committing similar crimes on board English ships. This would be in the power of the two nations to agree to by convention, with a legislative sanction in each country; and, if the Government of the United States were willing to agree to such an arrangement, he saw no injury in it to either nation. This would overcome the difficulty caused by each country exercising an exclusive jurisdiction over its own ships on the high seas. Another course suggested by his hon. Friend was to give the consuls of each country a jurisdiction in these cases. He was not prepared to say that even that plan, if the two Governments agreed to it, and Parliament gave it effect, could not be carried out. It was true that this country had never yet allowed any foreign Power to exercise any criminal jurisdiction within its territory, nor did the case of the consuls in the Levant furnish a precedent strictly applicable. But it should be observed that this would be a jurisdiction over offences committed on board ships on the high seas, and therefore, strictly speaking, within the territory to which the ships belonged. It would be an entirely new system. If they were to arm the American Consul at Liverpool with criminal jurisdiction he would still virtually be exercising jurisdiction under the English law, As the consul, however, could not be learned in the English law he would necessarily be forced to avail himself of the assistance of an assessor who could advise him upon the law of England, so that he would only be formally sitting in Court, while an English barrister would virtually be trying the prisoner. That would resolve itself into British administration of justice; and he doubted whether such a mode of solving this difficulty would find very much favour. At the same time he did not express a confident opinion against it, but he quite agreed in the general scope of the Motion of his hon. Friend, and that this was a matter which might form a subject of negotiation between this Government and the Government of the United States.


said, that this was a subject of no small importance, for no doubt within the last few years there had been many allegations of cruelty committed on board American ships. He wished that the hon. Gentleman who brought forward this Motion had told them whether many prosecutions had taken place for such crimes in the courts of the United States; for it was hardly possible that all the cruelty would be committed on the outward voyage and none on the voyage home to the States, and if it were committed on the voyage home there would be the American courts to appeal to on the ship going into port. The records of American courts might show what was the state of things and what view was taken of these crimes in America, and such information might go far to show how to remedy the evil, if evil existed. The Secretary for the Home Department had said, that it might be agreed that our stipendiary magistrates might deal with such cases, and that the American magistrates might deal with similar cases occurring on board our ships; and this might be all very well when American law and American courts only were in question; but if we came to this arrangement with America bow could we refuse to come to a similar arrangement with Austria, Russia, or Spain, and would the Government be willing to subject an Englishman who had committed an assault on the high seas to the tender mercies of the Russian police? He hoped that these allegations of cruelty on board American ships which had been made within the last two or three years, might have arisen from circumstances, from some cause or other, accidental, and that such things would not again be so much heard of. With regard to the question of Consuls dealing with these matters, there did not occur to his mind the same difficulty in carrying out that suggestion that there was in giving the courts of the two countries jurisdiction in such cases. The principal difficulty seemed to be that if the Consuls acted they must give the Consuls power to confine prisoners in their prisons. He did not think it necessary that they should act on the laws of the country in which they acted, but that they might administer the law of their own country. It was, however, a subject beset with difficulties, though certainly there would be no harm in negotiating upon it; but whether the negotiation would lead to any practical conclusion was another matter. He hoped that care would be taken not to get us into difficulties of a worse description whilst attempting to deal with an evil which was certainly not our own.


said, the subject of the Motion had engaged the attention of the law officers, not only of the present Government, but of those which had gone before it. All attempts, however, to induce the Government of the United States to agree to any rules in respect to the matter had proved unsuccessful from the jealousy with which they guarded against any interference with the administration of their law. The proposition of the United States Government always had been that an American charged with an assault upon the high seas should, on his arrival in this country, be taken before an American Consul, who should be invested with criminal jurisdiction. To that proposition, however, he, as the law officer of the Crown, in conjunction with his colleagues, would offer a most strenuous opposition. He certainly never would be a party to any criminal jurisdiction being exercised in this country, except in the name of the Queen, and according to the laws of the country. The right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down had adverted to the possibility of our being required to extend the same principle to Austria, Russia, and other States having arbitrary criminal laws if we entered into a treaty with the United States; but he (the Attorney General) did not think that that consequence would at all follow, because in the case of the United States the bargain that might be entered into would be in accordance with our inalienable claim to reciprocity of jurisdiction, and that involved the administration of a criminal law similar to our own, and founded on the same principles as our own. The Amerians had conventions with France on this subject, and the representations that had been made to the Government of the manner in which the authority established by those conventions was exercised would surprise the House, and would be a warning against the adoption of any similar rule in this country. Nothing was more common than for the captain of an American merchant vessel, on entering a French port to go immediately to his own consul and accuse his whole ship's crew of mutiny and have them imprisoned, in order that he might keep them in safe custody until he intended to sail again, when the crew was delivered up to him on board. He mentioned that on the authority of our own Consul in France, and he thought the House would never consent to any similar jurisdiction being given to the American Consuls in this country. There were three things to which he hoped, if this Address were voted, the attention of the authorities would be directed. One was the facilitation of the working of the Extradition Act which, for the reasons mentioned by his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, did not answer the object for which it was passed; the other was the establishment of a reciprocity of jurisdiction with reference to the offences that had been mentioned; and the third was the establishment, if possible, of a summary jurisdiction in order to dispose of those quarrels that arose with regard to contracts between British seamen and their employers on their arrival at a foreign port, and similarly with regard to foreign seamen on their arrival at an English port. He could assure the House this was no new matter—it had been frequently under discussion. The House itself had had cognizance of it eight or ten times during the past six years, and he earnestly hoped the Address moved for by the hon. Gentleman would be productive of some good understanding between the two countries as to the means which ought to be adopted for remedying the evil complained of.


said, in reply he had to thank the House and the Government for the consideration they had given to the subject, and he had no doubt the discussion which had taken place would materially promote the humane object he had in view. With respect to the number of trials in America he would remind the right hon. Member opposite (Mr. Henley), that there was a great difference in the crews of inward and outward bound ships. There was no difficulty in getting sailors to go from Europe to America, but in manning ships to return to Europe there was fierce competition, an extensive crimping system was carried on, and much cruelty was practised. He hoped his Friends in the Government would not overlook the case of the murderer, who was now at large, because the authorities of this country had no power to secure him. The powers of the extradition treaty, which were now ex- clusively confined to the metropolitan magistrates, should be extended to the stipendiaries at Liverpool and the other seaports.

Motion agreed to.

Resolved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying Her Majesty to be graciously pleased to enter into negotiations with the Government of the United States of America, for the purpose of preventing the assaults and cruelties committed on Merchant Seamen engaged in traffic between this Country and the United States, and of bringing to justice the perpetrators of such offences, many of whom escape with impunity in consequence of the defects of the present system of international jurisdiction.