HC Deb 02 July 1861 vol 164 cc235-42

said, he rose to call the attention of the House to Report of the Select Committee on chains and cables of 1860, and moved that in the opinion of this House it was the duty of Her Majesty's Government to take measures to ensure that all sea-going vessels, especially those employed in the carriage of passengers, should be sufficiently supplied with anchors and chains, properly tested as to strength and workmanship. All the statements he had made in moving the appointment of that Committee had been borne out in evidence. It was proved, in the first place, that the cables supplied to ships belonging to Her Majesty's service were seldom or never found fault with. They were subjected to tests so very effectual that on very few occasions were they discovered to be defective. It was proved by the evidence of manufacturers that the state of matters was so bad that nothing but an authorized compulsory test would be of any use. It was proved that a large portion of the chain cables used in the merchant service were made of inferior material and workmanship. At Liverpool no less than 821/2 per cent of the anchors sent to be tested failed under a test of comparatively limited pressure. At Sunderland, where the insurances offices, or "northern clubs," were more exacting, and where a testing machine had been in operation for a considerable period, the cables were of a better quality. There all the chain cable makers who were examined concurred in the necessity of a test, wishing to protect themselves against the manufacture of inferior articles. So bad were some of the cables that they had been known to break on accidentally falling out of the cart in which they were being conveyed to the harbour. The Report further stated that the iron which in Staffordshire was fit for no other purpose was manufactured into chain-cables, chiefly used for small vessels. The wrecks on the coast of the British Islands, and which amounted to over 1,000 last year, were principally of small vessels. No inquiry took place as to the nature of the cables of those vessels; and, whereas the chain which brought up coals and the men who mined it was tested, and the owner was liable to the punishment of manslaughter if the chain broke; only put the same coals into a brig and wreck the vessel on the Yarmouth Sands, owing to the defect of her ground tackle, and nothing more was heard of the matter. The total loss of life on the coasts of the British Isles amounted to more than a line-of-battle ship's company; and a very considerable portion of the deaths might be attributed to defective cables. It might be said that it was not the duty of the Government to prescribe to merchants the way of rigging their ships. But that was an exceptional case. Government did interfere in various ways where human life was concerned; and he did not think it would be carrying that interference too far if they included the testing of chain-cables in the category of Government interference. The Committee came to the Resolution that good grounds had been laid by the evidence before them of the absolute necessity of public tests, and especially that all vessels employed in the conveyance of emigrants or Government stores should be obliged to furnish themselves with tested cables. There could be little difficulty in carrying out such a test. The Committee were unanimous in their recommendation; and that which the Committee saw in theory, the dock companies interested in the management of such a supervision of cables had investigated practically. One point had thus been brought out, that a ship could now procure a cable which would hold her under any ordinary circumstances of wind and weather of a cheaper description than those which ships were formerly supplied with, the weight of the one cable being much less than the other. His object on the present occasion was not to force on the Government any abstract Resolution, but simply to find out whether it was their intention, with such a mass of evidence before them, to take up and deal with this question. He knew the difficulties which attended the efforts of private Members in endeavouring to pass a Bill on such a subject, or he should have undertaken the task himself. When the matter was of so much importance to the country in every respect, he thought it was the bounden duty of Her Majesty's Ministers to take it up and make it a Government measure.


, in seconding the Motion said, that as a Member of the Com- mittee, he cordially concurred with his hon Friend as to the necessity, propriety, and imperative duty of the Government in taking measures to satisfy themselves that all vessels leaving the ports of this country, especially those carrying passengers, were properly supplied with anchors and chains duly tested by proper authorities. It would afford him the highest gratification if the Government would give a satisfactory reply to the Motion.


said, the hon. Baronet had succeeded in eliciting a great deal of valuable information on the subject of the chains and anchors supplied to merchant vessels through means of the Committee for which he had moved last Session, and in calling the attention of the shipowners of this country to the great importance of having cables and chains in use which had been adequately tested, he had done a very good service. He (Mr. Gibson) had read over some of the evidence, and he agreed in the main with the opinion to which the Committee appeared to have come. He would read the main recommendation of the Committee. They stated— That although they cannot overrate the advantage of having the chains of every vessel subjected to a test, they are unwilling to recommend that the test should be made compulsory. Now, in that lay the whole question. If he were a shipowner, he should certainly desire that every chain cable he used should be properly tested, to see what strain it would bear; but if the plan of the hon. Baronet were carried out—if the test were made compulsory—contrary to the recommendation of his own Committee, a very great deal of inconvenience and expense would be occasioned to shipowners, and it would be necessary to have at the various ports throughout the country Government officials to see that the cables and anchors of every ship were properly marked. Then, where was such a supervision to end? There must be some limit. If the Government were to test the anchors and chains, why not also the masts and spars? Where one vessel went to sea with a defective anchor or chain many were provided with defective spars and masts. It would be necessary, therefore, first to inquire what proportion of wrecks were caused by defective anchors and chains, and what by bad masts and spars? He believed that very few wrecks in proportion were caused by imperfect chains and anchors. It was said that the anchors and chains of men-of-war rarely failed. But they were made much heavier than those in the merchant service, and it could not be intended that merchant vessels, with their small crews, should carry these heavy anchors and chains. He should say, however, that, as a rule, merchant vessels were supplied with anchors and chains that were too light. All the service that could be rendered in a matter of the kind the hon. Gentleman (Sir James Elphinstone) had performed by calling public attention to the subject. He doubted the policy of any legislative measure, and thought that the Committee had come to a wise decision when they recommended Parliament not to subject the chains and cables of merchant vessels to any compulsory test. He thought it would be very impolitic to place any such Resolution on their Journals as that it was the duty of the Government— To insure that all sea-going vessels, especially those employed in the carriage of passengers, shall be sufficiently supplied with anchors and chains properly tested as to strength and workmanship. He must, therefore, ask the House not to agree to the Motion.


said, that he wished to bear testimony to the ability and energy with which his hon. Friend (Sir James Elphinstone) had brought the matter before the House. When his hon. Friend (Sir James Elphinstone) first brought the question before the House, he (Mr. Bentinck) was much impressed with its importance; but the views he then had of its importance fell very far short of those which he was compelled to entertain at the termination of the labours of the Committee of which he was a Member. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade had endeavoured to give a trivial aspect to the matter, and he had not grappled with the question in a manner which its importance demanded. He had thrown a sort of suggested slur upon the statement of his hon. Friend (Sir James Elphinstone) as to the large proportion of wrecks upon the coast which were caused by the badness of anchors and chains; but he had not endeavoured to show that the statement was not strictly accurate. Under these circumstances they were bound to believe the evidence taken before the Committee, and, if it could be shown that a large loss of life could be averted the Government were bound to take the duty on themselves. As to the extensive system of fraud practised in the manufacture of chains and anchors, the President of the Board of Trade would himself have been startled if he had heard it, and he would not then have treated the subject as one of trifling importance. Eighty-two and a half per cent of the chains which were tested at one of the principal sea ports failed under a very much smaller amount of pressure than it was considered they ought to bear; and, in addition, most of the chains made were not tested at all; because those who made them knew that they would not stand the test. On the coast with which the right hon. Gentleman was best acquainted, hundreds of light colliers had nothing but their anchors and chains to trust to in a gale, and went ashore like a snowdrift if their chains and anchors failed them. The professional evidence was all one way. It established that a great loss of life took place on the coast of England owing to the defects of anchors and chains, particularly the latter, and that there was but one way for the Government to take the matter up—namely, by making the test compulsory. The right hon. Gentleman altogether rested his case on the fact that the Committee did not recommend that the test should be compulsory. He (Mr. Bentinck) had in the Committee opposed this paragraph of the Report, believing that the Committee, in hesitating to recommend the compulsory test, were shrinking from a responsibility that they were bound to undertake. So long as the Government, with the evidence they had before them, refused to deal with the question, he considered that they would be responsible for the casualties and loss of life which occurred form the badness of chains and anchors. The right hon. Gentleman said that the proposal would entail inconvenience to the shipowners. "Inconvenience" seemed to be an odd word to use under the circumstances. If it was inconvenient for the shipowners to submit to regulations by which anchors and chains might be tested, it was a much greater inconvenience for men to be drowned and ships to be lost in consequence of the want of good anchors and chains. The right hon. Gentleman proposed to leave the matter of the shipowners, but that was exactly the present state of affairs; and it was because the shipowners were too shortsighted and indifferent that the hon. Member for Portsmouth called on the Government to make up for their want of energy, foresight, and humanity. The House had just been told that merchant vessels, being shorthanded, could not carry the same anchors and chains a men-of-war; but the question was not the weight and proportion of the anchors—it was the defective character of the chains, and the systematic frauds practised by a great number of chainmakers in this country. The honest chainmakers, being damaged to a certain extent by those fraudulent proceedings, desired to have some regulation established by which the work of the honest man might be distinguished from that of the fraudulent dealer. A large amount of life and property was annually sacrificed in consequence of this fraudulent system, and all the evidence went to show that the evil might be averted by the adoption of some plan of compulsory testing; and he had heard nothing from the right hon. Gentleman to justify the Government in saying that they considered themselves exonerated from any responsibility in not attempting to deal with the fraudulent practices which led annually to great loss of property and life.


said, he thought that the hon. Member for Norfolk had not dealt quite fairly with the observations of his right hon Friend the President of the Board of Trade; for, instead of saying that the matter was of trivial consequence, his right hon. Friend acknowledged the importance of the subject, and stated that he was glad that the Member for Portsmouth had brought it under the consideration of the House. What his right hon. Friend objected to was that the Government should take on themselves the entire responsibility of testing anchors and cables for the merchant service. If they did so they must test those articles, not only when they were new, but after they had been used for a certain number of years, so that it might be ascertained that they were in good working order. He agreed with his ritght hon. Friend in thinking that if the Government interfered in this sort of way with the trade of the country, they would have the shipowners in a body complaining that their liberty of action was trammelled and controlled by the Government of the day. No one was a better judge of what the shipowners thought of interference of the part of the Government than his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade. The House would remember that a Merchant Shipping Act was passed some time ago, in which various measures were taken as prope precautions for the preservation of life and goods on board passenger ships. Since then they had never ceased to hear from the shipowners that they had been unduly ineterfering with their private trade, and that the measure was productive of great inconvenience to shipowners and the public. Well, then, if they undertook to test anchors and chains they must do other things. They must see that ships had proper pumps, masts, and sails, for instance. The hon. Member for Norfolk (Mr. Bentinck) had said that many ships were lost for want of proper anchors and chains, but he might have gone further and said that many of them were lost through bad pumps, and from the want of good masts and sails. If the Government was to make itself responsible for the ground tackle of ships it must do it for other matters. He was extremely glad the subject had been brought before the House, because he hoped it would induce the insurance offices at Lloyd's not to insure ships which were not properly found. They were the people who were most deeply interested in the matter, and if their attention were called to it by the discussions there much good might ensue.


said, that as a Member of the Committee which had been alluded to, he fully concurred in most of what fell from the hon. Baronet (Sir James Elphinstone) in reference to this question. With respect, however, to the testing of chain cables, he was at a loss to understand how the system proposed by his hon. Friend could possibly be applied. From experience in Government yards he was able to say that the test was not merely applied to new cables. Old ones, which had had years of service, had to undergo a series of examinations before they were served out again to other ships. He was at a loss to understand how to secure to merchant ships what the Admiralty did for the Royal Navy. He could not, there fore, support the Motion.


said, that the right hon. Gentleman had entirely forgotten the latter part of the recommendations of the Committee, which was, that from 1861 all ships which came under the Passengers' Act should be required to produced certificates that their cables had been properly tested. No one asked the Government to test the cables themselves, but merely to provide that a proper sanction should be placed upon the marks of testing, and that the forging of the marks should be made penal, so that the parties examining the cables might have some sort of guarantee that the cables had been properly tested when they saw those marks upon them.

Lloyds at that moment required tests, but the complaint was that the test was fallacious, and the way the Report proposed to deal with the matter was, by making it necessary that the chain should have passed through a certain test yard.


said, that when ships were first built they were supposed to start with good gear of every description, and when they came to Lloyds for their second registration they were put into dock, and it would be no hardship to require a second test on that occasion when they took a different class from what they took at first. With regard to restrictions he was opposed to restrictions of all kinds except in cases that affected life. A book was lately issued which showed tha iesehe last eleven years a total of 6,883 annmat had lost their lives by shipwreek, and what would the country give now to have those men? [Mr. MILNER GIBSON: How much of that loss was owing to bad chains?] Out of a long list of casualties to vessels a vast proportion were set down as "stranded," and if those vessels did not lose their anchors first the commanders must be mad. The argument derived from pumps did not apply, because every ship had got a good pump; and the reason why pumps went wrong was, either because the sand got into them, or they were chocked by the shifting of the ship's cargo.

Motion made, and Question, That, in the opinion of this House, it is the duty of Her Majesty's Government to take measures to ensure that all Sea-going Vessels, especially those employed in the Carriage of Passengers, shall be sufficiently supplied with Anchors and Chains, properly tested as to strength and workmanship.

Put, and negatived."