§ Order for Committee read.
§ House in Committee.
§ MR. MILNER GIBSON
said, he rose to move for leave to bring in a Bill to amend the Merchant Shipping Act (1864), the Merchant Shipping Act Amendment Act (1855), and the Customs Consolidation Act (1853). The object of the Bill was to give effect to some of the recommendations of the Merchant Shipping Committee, and to amend the Acts he had mentioned, so as to meet the various requirements of the shipping interest, and to remedy those defects which experience had shown existed in the Merchant Shipping Act of 1864. The first material provision contained in the Bill was a proposal to extend to engineers the same system of certificates of competency and service which were now granted by captains and mates of foreign-going merchant ships and home-trade passenger ships. That system had worked extremely well, and it was intended to give to the Marine Boards and Board of Trade power to deal with those certificates upon charges of misconduct. When the Merchant Shipping Bill was passed various classes of vessels had claimed to be exempted from its operations. They did not desire to be subjected to the discipline clauses of the Merchant Shipping Act; consequently the masters and crews of such vessels had not had the advantage of that summary proceeding, one against the other, which masters and crews enjoyed under the discipline clauses of that Act. At the request of those various exempted classes of ships, the discipline 1932 clauses had been extended to them. They included fishing vessels, lighthouse vessels, and some others. Some time since the French Government made a communication to Her Majesty's Government, stating that it was very desirable that some general system of rule of the road should be adopted by international arrangement, so that vessels of all the maritime powers might, when meeting each other at sea, pursue the same rule of the road and thus avoid collision. Her Majesty's Government thought that such an object was very desirable, and rules had virtually been agreed upon in conjunction with the French Government, and it was hoped that other maritime Powers Would adopt them. Those rules would be found in the schedule of the Act. As regarded the carrying of certain lights, fog signals, &c., certain regulations were to be made by which masters of vessels would be made amenable for neglect so far as they were within British jurisdiction, and courts of law would be empowered to decide what parties had not complied with the rules and regulations. One of the most important of the recommendations of the Merchant Shipping Committee had referred to the question of pilotage. The present system, so far as it was compulsory in any of the pilotage districts, was very much complained of. It was provided by the Merchant Shipping Act that a vessel in charge of a pilot of one of those districts might do injury to another vessel through the default or neglect of that pilot, and yet the owners of the former vessel would not be liable for damages, because he was not their servant, but a pilot forced upon them by the regulations of the port. If he was a voluntary pilot, then he was held to be the servant of the owners, and any damage happening through his default would fall upon the owners of the vessel. That was a serious difficulty in connection with compulsory pilots. The Bill aimed at providing a mode of dealing with compulsory pilotage without abolishing it directly by enactment, because the question involved a variety of interests with which it was very difficult to deal. In the Bill, however, there was a provision by which parties interested in any district might petition the Board of Trade, which might issue a provisional order for the purpose exempting any class of vessels in that district from such compulsory pilots, but that order would not have the force of law until confirmed by Act of 1933 Parliament. They did, however, propose to abolish compulsory pilotage in some cases by the enactment, in accordance with the recommendations of the Merchant Shipping Committee. It was proposed that a vessel passing through a pilotage district, but not bound to any port in that district as a place of discharge, should be exempt from compulsory pilotage. That was desirable, inasmuch as under the present system, vessels were deterred from running into harbours of refuge and into anchorage to take shelter. They kept the sea, and underwent great wear and tear, and were occasionally lost in gales of wind from the fear of subjecting the owners to charges for pilotage. It was therefore proposed in those cases to abolish compulsory pilotage in the case of all vessels passing through a pilotage district. Where there was a central pilotage authority, like the Newcastle Trinity House, which exercised a pilotage jurisdiction over the ports of Shields, Hartlepool, Sunderland, and some other places, they proposed to enable such places, by applying for a provisional order, to transfer to themselves the jurisdiction over their own pilots. They proposed, in accordance with the recommendation of the hon. Member for Yarmouth, to make certain provisions with reference to salvage of life and property which would be best understood when the Bill had been laid on the table. It was also proposed to repeal certain clauses in the Customs Consolidation Act prohibiting the carrying of deck loads in timber-ships, which were found to be totally nugatory, and to interfere with the fair competition of the British with the foreign shipowner. There was another point of considerable importance, which they felt bound to deal with—namely, the liability of shipowners. As the law stood, if a ship did damage, the personal liability of the shipowner was measured by the value of the ship and freight. That was avowedly offering a premium on the employment of bad ships, and a man who sent his ship to sea well found, and in all respects did his utmost to provide for the safety and to contribute to the comfort of the passengers, was the man who incurred the greatest amount of liability in case of any accident or misfortune. He contended that the owner of a good ship and the owner of an inferior ship should be on the same level as to responsibility; and taking the exact figure recommended in the Merchant Shipping 1934 Committee, he proposed to limit the liability in regard to sailing ships at a maximum amount of £ 15 a ton. In the case of steamships the measurement would be so made that the same principle would be applied to them as to sailing ships. There was another question which they felt bound to deal with—namely, the unshipment of cargoes of ships, and the preservation of the lien for freight upon goods after they were landed. Under the present law, a great deal of irregular practice went on, because ships could not be discharged, whatever might be the agreement between the shipowner and the shipper, until the expiration of forty-eight hours after the arrival of the ship, if the owner of the goods thought proper to avail himself of that delay. It was perfectly obvious that in these days of fast steamers coming from Continental ports to London only to remain a few hours, and advertised to sail again with passengers, a law of that kind, passed in reference to a different state of things, would become an intolerable inconvenience, and accordingly it was evaded by various expedients. It was therefore proposed to legalize what, in fact, was the practice, and to enact that if the owner of goods did not enter and discharge the goods according to the contract made with the shipowner, the latter should be entitled to enter, land, and insure the goods, and the goods so landed should retain on them a lien for the freight. Thus the business would be conducted with expedition and safety to all parties without the necessity of requiring the Custom House on the one hand, and the shipping houses on the other, to incur a violation of the law. As the law now stood, it was impossible to carry it out. With respect to large sailing ships in the docks, which, perhaps, came under a different head, it was proposed to give to owners of goods a certain time after the arrival of a ship—three days—to enter and commence landing; and if at the expiration of those three days the owners of the goods did not commence landing with all convenient speed, the shipowner would be entitled to do so. Thus means were provided by which the ship might, without unnecessary delay, be relieved from cargo, and the docks from obstruction. He believed that the Bill would be found to be just to all parties, and hoped the second reading would be allowed to pass without much discussion. It was a Bill of very miscellaneous 1935 character. Each clause contained a different enactment; and the discussion would more properly be raised in Committee than on any reading of the Bill. It might be held that all those things might have been introduced in different Bills; but it was very desirable that the whole of the law affecting merchant shipping should be, as much as possible, confined to one or two statutes.
was gratified with the statement of the right hon. Gentleman, as far as it went, and expressed approval of the proposition with regard to engineers. He doubted whether it was desirable to extend the regulations with respect to discipline down so low as to include the case of fishing vessels, while he was prepared to express his satisfaction at finding that negotiations had been entered into with the French and other Governments to establish one "rule of the road." In reference to the question of pilotage, however, he must express his regret that the Bill did not go further than the right hon. Gentleman proposed. Why should the system of compulsory pilotage be continued at all? At Newcastle the voluntary system was in operation, and it worked admirably. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would reconsider the subject. As to the liability of shipowners, he thought the Government had arrived at a very wise conclusion, and he begged to express his thanks to his hon. Friend for having introduced the Bill.
§ MR. BENTINCK
said, he wished to express his concurrence in the opinion that it was extremely desirable to establish an international "rule of the road," but he would at the same time warn the Government against the adoption of any theories on the subject which could not be conveniently carried out in practice. He hoped his right hon. Friend would take care that the captain of a ship should not again be placed in the position he was placed in by the Act of 1855, by which he was compelled either to run the risk of losing his vessel, or run the risk of forfeiting his insurance by acting in direct antagonism to an Act of Parliament. So far as the question of compulsory pilotage was concerned, he would observe that it seemed to him an unfair state of the law that all vessels carrying a compulsory pilot and doing injury to other vessels should be exempt from all liability on that account. He did not ask that every man should be allowed to act as a pilot, but that every man on the sea-coast who could show after an exami- 1936 nation that he was duly qualified to act as a pilot should be allowed to do so, and receive a pilot's remuneration.
§ SIR HENRY STRACEY
said, he was glad to find that some of the improvements in favour of which he had more than once spoken were about to be carried out. He hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would not have before his eyes the fear of the High Court of Admiralty, but would increase the power of local magistrates with respect to ownership and salvage when those claims were of small amount. When they were only to the extent of £200 they could now be adjudicated upon locally; but, unfortunately, they were generally above that amount, and had therefore to be taken to the High Court of Admiralty, whereby much useless expense was often incurred.
§ MR. J. C. EWART
expressed his approval of the proposition to charge a uniform amount of £ 15 per ton in the cases referred to by the President of the Board of Trade. He also thought that, as a whole, the measure was satisfactory.
§ MR. AUGUSTUS SMITH
said, the pilotage of St. Ives was far better served although there were no Trinity pilots, than that of Penzance, where there were Trinity pilots. He strongly objected to merchants being compelled to employ pilots under all circumstances. He would like to see the means established of settling salvage questions on the spot.
§ MR. CAVE
said, that while, in some respects, the Bill did not go as far as a former measure, he thought it would be received with general favour by the shipping interest, and he did not agree with the hon. Member for Norfolk's remarks on compulsory pilotage. He was glad also to find that the right hon. Gentleman had made up his mind at length to grapple with the question of landing cargoes, which had been so long delayed; and though he told them he had not gone quite so far as in a former measure, perhaps in Committee they might be able to induce him to do so.
That the Chairman be directed to move the House, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Merchant Shipping Act (1854), the Merchant Shipping Act Amendment Act (1855), and the Customs Consolidation Act (1853).
§ House resumed.
§ Resolution agreed to.
§ Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. MILNER GIBSON and Mr. HUTT.
§ House adjourned at Nine o'clock, till Monday next.