HC Deb 26 May 1862 vol 166 cc2216-29

Order for Committee read.

House in Committee.

Clause 65 agreed to, on the understanding that certain Amendments should be brought up on the Report.

Clause 66 agreed to.

Clause 67 (Lien to be discharged on Proof of Payment).


proposed the following Amendment:—In p. 24, line 26, to leave out from "due" to "and" inline 27. Line 28, after "thereof" to insert "or of a release of freight from the shipowner." He said there were three parties in the transaction—the shipowner, the owner of the goods, and the wharfowner. The shipowner kept a stop on the goods till the owner paid the freight. He then gave the owner a receipt, which he kept. He also gave him a release, which he delivered to the wharfowner, and thus got his goods. The document given to the wharfowner was not the copy of the release, but the release itself. This Amendment was simply to make the clause consistent with the usual practice.


assented to the Amendment.

Clause agreed to.

Clause 68 (Lien to be discharged on Deposit with Warehouse Owner).


proposed the following Amendment:—In p. 24, line 32, at end, to insert "without prejudice to any other remedy which the shipowner may have for the recovery of his freight." He said the shipowners had expressed alarm lest there might be collusion between the wharfowner and the owner of the goods, and that they might have as much difficulty in getting the money from the former as the latter. In London the shipowner was protected by the Sufferance Wharves Act, by which he could insist upon the freight being paid into the bank, but these words were desired by the shipowners in the outports.


assented to the addition of the words.

Clause, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 69 to 77, inclusive, were then agreed to.

The postponed clauses were next proceeded with.

Clause 24 (Certificate to be delivered up).

In answer to a question by Mr. HENLEY,


said, the Amendment on Clause 22 would be brought up on the Report.

Clause 24 agreed to.

Clause 52 (Shipowners' Liability limited).

Amendment proposed, In page 20, line 7, to leave out from the words "be answerable," to the end of the Clause, in order to add the words "in damages in respect of loss of life or personal injury either alone or together with loss or damage to ships' boats, goods, merchandise, or other things, to an aggregate amount exceeding fifteen pounds for each ton of their ship's tonnage; nor in respect of loss or damage to ships' goods, merchandise, or other things, to an aggregate amount exceeding eight pounds for each ton of the ship's tonnage, such tonnage to be the registered tonnage.


said, that in the Act of 1853 the words "sea-going ships" were used in reference to the subject-matter of the clause. He did not understand why the right hon. Gentleman should propose to leave out these words, and to make a distinction between steamers and sailing vessels.


said, the object of the Amendment was, that in case of injury to life, or personal injury, the tonnage of a ship which was to regulate the liability in damages, limited by the old Act at a maximum of £15 a ton, should be the gross measured tonnage, and not the registered tonnage in the case of sea-going steamers. In this case, the registered tonnage was estimated after deduction of engine room from the gross tonnage. Unless, therefore, the provision was inserted, it might be possible for a very heavy steamer, having very large engine room and comparatively little stowage, to do great damage, and yet afford very little capital to go against, if she were estimated only at her registered tonnage, that is, her gross tonnage less her engine room. Injury might be inflicted by a ship of little intrinsic value, which yet might be the property of an opulent owner, and it would be unjust that he should escape payment of the penalty.


said, as to the likelihood of fraud to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, he did not see how that could be the case, as it was the Government that fixed the registered tonnage, and not the owners. The proposal of the Government appeared to be a complete departure from the basis of the Act of 1853, which provided that the maximum liability in the case of steamers as well as sailing vessels should be £15 per registered ton. In the case of light dues and harbour dues steamers were taken according to their registered tonnage, and he did not see why that should not be done in the case of damage also. If the present proposal were adopted, it would have the effect of throwing impediments in the way of improving the engine-power of vessels. He had been informed that in the case of the Scotia her liability would be raised to £56,000 by the proposed change of the law, whereas at present it was £36,000, which was surely a sufficient liability for any damage that she might inflict. If it was thought proper that there should be a smaller liability in the case of a sailing vessel than a steamer, lot it be on the registered tonnage. At the proper time he should be prepared to move words which would have the effect of making the liability of both classes of vessels depend on the registered tonnage.


observed, that the observations of the hon. and learned Gentleman proceeded upon the principle that they were increasing liability, which was not the case. By the common law the liability for damage was to be measured by the loss and injury sustained. They ought to be cautious in limiting liability, because it was from incurring liability that persons were cautious, and owners took care to put their vessels in the charge of vigilant and careful persons. With regard to the Scotia, she would be liable, under the present law, to her full value, together with the value of the freight she was earning, and that would be considerably more than £56,000. Therefore the clause before the Committee would limit her liability instead of increasing it. But what would be the effect of adopting the registered tonnage in some cases? If a tugboat were to run down a valuable cargo of silk, ought the liability to extend to only £8 per ton on the registered tonnage? If the tugboat was of seventy tons, her registered tonnage would probably be only twenty tons. If taken on the gross tonnage, her liability would be eight times seventy, or £560. Ought it to be only eight times twenty, or £160, on the tonnage registered? Besides, it should be borne in mind that liability was caused only by culpable neglect, and therefore the Committee should be very cautious in diminishing it. Lord Campbell's Act left shipping, like rail- ways, liable to an unlimited extent; the Merchant Shipping Act confined the liability to the value of the ship and the freight, and now it was proposed that the owners should be liable for a sum estimated on the gross tonnage of their vessels. There might, indeed, be a little increase of liability under the present scheme, as far as the owners of ships were concerned; but that was quite right, because an old ship, or one of small value, might do great damage, and might belong to a wealthy owner or company. Ships of the largest tonnage were those which did the greatest damage, and therefore it was not unreasonable to give ships, as against one another, that amount of claim which depended on the tonnage.


said, he was astonished at the principle on which the right hon. Gentleman argued the question. The case of steam-tugs was exceptional. They were all engine room, and furnished no analogy for the principle when applied to passenger and cargo steam-ships. He simply asked the Committee to adhere to the principle laid down in the Act of 1853. All agreed that a limit of liability should be fixed, and, in his opinion, it was properly determined in the Act to which he referred. There was no connection between railways and steam-vessels in the present instance.


said, the real question for consideration was the mode of ascertaining the value of the ship. The principle hitherto adopted had been that the owner should be responsible to the full value of his ship. The Government did not intend to depart from that principle, but they endeavoured to find some rule by which the value could be ascertained. The measurement on the register was Simply the carrying power of the vessel, and not its actual capacity. In the case of steamers, the more the engine room the less would be the value of the ship according to the system recommended by his hon. and learned Friend. He thought that the true basis on which to proceed was the entire capacity of the ship. The real difficulty, however, was that the shipowner found himself responsible for the lives of his passengers. He took one passenger in the receipt of a large income— say £10,000, and another with £1,000 a year. They all paid the same passage money; but if any accident happened, the shipowner found himself an assurer of the life of each passenger, according to risks of which he had no knowledge. It seemed only reasonable, that if persons thought their lives of such extreme value, they should themselves assure them, and not call upon the shipowner to be the assurer because he happened to be the carrier. The shipowner ought, he con tended, to be at liberty to limit his responsibility for each life on board his vessels.


said, in the case of steamers carrying passengers it might be desirable that some limit should be fixed. But there were many steamers that never carried passengers at all, and it was hard that an absolute limit of £15 per ton should be fixed without allowing for the space for the engines. If a man made arrangements for expensive machinery, and allotted to it a sufficient space for its proper working, the practical effect of the Act would be to fine him for taking such precautions. He thanked the Government for the concessions which they had made in the case of sailing vessels, in reducing the liability from £15 to £8 per ton; but he thought they would do a grievous injustice if they exacted from the shipowner an amount of liability calculated on the gross tonnage of the ship, allowing nothing for the space occupied by the engines and machinery.


said, that he had no objection to the clause on principle, but he objected to its form, because it contained no apportionment of the £15 per ton— that was to say, it did not declare how much was to go where loss of life occurred, and how much where only loss of goods took place. There were no words in the clause which distributed the damage, and therefore the putting it into force would be attended with disputes and difficulties.


said, he agreed with those who thought that great injustice would be inflicted upon owners of steam-ships if the clause were persevered with, and it would also be injurious to the public, because a premium would really be put upon the diminution of engine power on board steamers. The result of an insufficiency of engine power had been proved in the case of the Royal Charter.


urged, that the owners of steam shipping were somewhat hardly dealt with. He should ask the Committee to strike out the Amendment of the President of the Board of Trade, and revert to the original intention of the Bill. It was proposed originally to have only such a rate of liability as would give something like a fixed value to each ship. It was a fact patent to all that before the rupture of the United States the Americans were becoming the great carriers of emigrants, I even to our own colonies; and within the next three years but little of that passenger traffic would have been left to English shipowners. The reason was that English shipowners were under heavier liabilities for loss or damage than those of any other nation. As to the conveyance of emigrants, the American shipowners were under no restrictions whatever. The clause violated every previous agreement and understanding with regard to steam ships. The measured tonnage differed from the registered tonnage, and in steamships a great portion of the carrying power was taken up by the engine. By his Amendment he simply proposed to give such a distinct definition of the liability as should represent an equal degree of it both for sailing ships and steamers.


said, the clause set up no new liability for shipowners. It should be borne in mind that there was a third party, the general public, whose; interest they were also bound to consider. The liability could only arise in cases of culpable fault on the part of those who actually did the damage; in that case the owners were, in accordance with the general law of the country, liable for the acts of their servants. The Bill did, to a great extent, limit the liability of shipowners. It was a question of degree; many persons objected to any limitation at all. The principle of unlimited liability had been broken in upon, and the Government had now made a further reduction in the amount of it; but, on the whole, he thought they had gone as far as they ought to in justice to the public. By placing the particular amount on the tonnage of the ship they did away with all differences between the liability of a valuable ship and of a ship of comparatively small value, and they also carried out the unanimous recommendation of the Committee.


said, the question was, upon what principle would they make a distinction between steamships and sailing vessels? The proposal of the President of the Board of Trade offered a premium to shipowners to diminish the engine room, and he thought the proposal of the hon. and learned Member for Belfast (Sir H. Cairns) the better and more acceptable of the two.


said, that Lord Campbell's Act entailed a statutable liability upon shipowners of which they had no idea at the time, and it was proposed to mitigate it. It was mitigated in 1856, and it was now proposed to carry the mitigation further. All parties agreed that it was reasonable to do so. But the proposal of the President of the Board of Trade was to put an equal value upon all ships per ton, because they did not want bad ships at sea, forgetting that there were different classes of ships. It was clear that the large class of sailing ships and steam-ships had been well looked after, in contradistinction, not to the old and bad, but to the small and valuable ships. Steam-ships were worth more per ton, taking class for class, than sailing ships; but, instead of putting more liability on steam-ships and less on sailing ships, the President of the Board of Trade accommodated matters by a new system of measurement for steamships. There was no principle in what they wore about. Whether rough justice or rough injustice would be done he did not pretend to say, but he rather thought that rough injustice would be done to the humbler class of shipowners—men who owned coasting vessels of from 100 to 200 tons.


said, he concurred in the opinion that a positive premium would be offered to give as little steam power as possible. He also thought that the clause would inflict gross injustice, and he therefore hoped the Committee would support the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for Belfast.


said, it was admitted that the liability of the shipowners ought to be limited, and it seemed to him a reasonable principle to regulate the liability according to the value of the ship. The difference between sailing ships and steam-vessels was obvious. In the one case the whole space was available for freight, while in the other a considerable portion was occupied by the machinery. It was for the interest of the public that the machinery of steam-vessels should be of adequate power, and therefore he hoped the Amendment would be agreed to.


observed, that the right hon. Gentleman had several times stated that the Report of the Committee of 1860 was in favour of the pro- visions in the Bill. He differed from the right hon. Gentleman, and would read the recommendation of the Committee— At present the law inflicts a heavier punishment upon the owner of the vessel best adapted to provide (from her superior construction) for the safety of passengers; and the responsibility of the owner actually increases with the increased means he employs for the health, safety, and comfort of those who embark in his vessel. Your Committee are therefore of opinion that an absolute sum of £15 per ton gross register—[that meant registered tonnage without deduction]— should be established as the definite value of the ship, and that all consideration of freight should be excluded. There was hut one register of tonnage, the gross tonnage alone was registered. He insisted that the Committee's Report was in favour of his Amendment.


said, he differed from the hon. and learned Gentleman in the construction he had placed upon the Report of the Committee. If the Committee meant the registered tonnage only, they would have said so; but the terms used were the "gross registered tonnage." Why was the word "gross" used, except as embodying a meaning different to that of "net"? Did any one suppose that a steamer was not worth more than £8 a ton on her gross tonnage, though that was the proposed limit of liability? The proposal made in the Bill reduced the liability below the limit fixed by the Committee; but the Amendment would restrict that liability further, and to an extent which was not consistent with the public interest. They were asked to take the registered tonnage of steam-ships, though the engines occupied perhaps half the room, and whilst in the case of sailing ships the liability was £8 a ton upon the whole of the tonnage of the ship.


said, he held that what the steam shipowners required was not exemption from liability, but that the liability should be a fair one. Take the Holyhead vessels: was there any analogy between them and the ordinary Cork carrying ships, and was it fair to make one of those vessels, one half of which was necessarily engine room, liable to the same extent as the others? The result of the right hon. Gentleman's proposal would be to induce the owners of these packets to reduce the motive power, in order to reduce the engine room chargeable as tonnage, and the public would suffer in proportion.


said, he joined issue with the right hon. Gentleman as to the meaning of the Committee in their Report. The Committee agreed, that in stead of taking the actual value of the ship, a certain sum for registered tonnage should be fixed, so as to be fair between the shipowner and the public; and that was, indeed, suggested by Mr. Farrar, an officer of the Board of Trade, who must have known very well what he meant when he spoke of registered tonnage.


said, he would desire hon. Members to recollect that the question related not merely to the amount of registered tonnage, but to the pecuniary rate per ton. The Committee recommended an absolute rate of £15 per ton; but while retaining that sum where life was in question, he had reduced it to £8 for goods.


thought that the right hon. Gentleman had completely changed his ground. He first said that he supported the recommendation of the Committee, and then departed from it. He believed the shipping interest preferred the proposition of the Committee without the right hon. Gentleman's Amendment.


complained that the right hon. Gentleman had departed from the proposal he formerly made to the shipowners to fix the rate at £15 per ton, allowing a deduction of a third for engine room.


said, that the proposal made by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade was made in a confidential conversation; it was not accepted by the representatives of the shipping interest; and he thought it ought not to be used upon the present occasion against the right hon. Gentleman. He hoped, however, that the right hon. Gentleman would not make the charge upon the gross tonnage, as he proposed to do.

Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause," put, and negatived.

Words added.

Amendment proposed, To add the words "in the case of sailing ships, and in the case of steam ships the gross tonnage without deduction on account of engine room; in the case of any Foreign ship which has been or can be measured according to British Law, the tonnage as ascertained by such measurement shall, for the purposes of this Section, be deemed to be the tonnage of such ship; in the case of any Foreign ship which has not been and cannot be measured under British Law, the Surveyor General of Tonnnge in the United Kingdom, and the chief measuring officer in any British possession abroad, shall, on receiving from or by direction of the Court hearing the case, such evidence concerning the dimensions of the ship as it may be found practicable to furnish, give a certificate under his hand, stating what would, in his opinion, have been the tonnage of such ship if she had been duly measured according to British Law, and the tonnage so stated in such certificate shall, for the purposes of this Section, be deemed to be the tonnage of such ship.


said, he would propose his Amendment.

Amendment proposed to the proposed Amendment, By leaving out the words "in the case of sailing ships, and in the case of steam ships gross tonnage without deduction on account of engine room.


said, that the Committee having agreed to the rate of £8 per ton, he could not assent to reducing the amount of the tonnage chargeable. The existing liability of the Scotia steamer for goods was upwards of £ 100,000; his Amendment would reduce it to £56,000; and the hon. and learned Gentleman's Amendment upon his Amendment would reduce it to £30,000. Rather than agree to the omission of these words he would prefer the rejection of the clause.


said, that singular misconception had prevailed in the Committee on the whole subject, according to his view of the meaning of the words "registered tonnage."


said, he could not understand the great tenderness which hon. Gentlemen seemed to feel for steam-ships causing damage to other ships which they met. If he were not officially connected with his right hon. Friend, but were exercising an independent judgment on his proposal, he should say that that proposal failed in this, that the true principle which ought to be applied to damage done by steam-vessels or any other instruments conducted by man must be the value of the damage done—not the quality or the value of the instrument causing it. If there was any fault in the proposal of his right hon. Friend, it was that it went too far in mitigation of the liability of steam-ships for damage, and he hoped that the House would not do anything so manifestly unjust as still further to limit their responsibility.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the proposed Amendment."

The Committee divided:—Ayes 103; Noes 90: Majority 13.


moved to add the following words:— Nor shall such damages, in each case of loss of life or personal injury, exceed £100 for each first-class, £80 for each second-class, and £50 for each third-class passenger.


said, that he did not know by what means the hon. Member had arrived at his estimate of the value of the life of first-class passengers, and at the conclusion that it never would be worth more than £100 in any case. He could not agree to any such proposal; but he must leave damages to be assessed by juries according to the laws of the country, without laying down any arbitrary rule.

Amendment negatived.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 53 agreed to.

Clause 61 (Legal Procedure).


said, he proposed to retain the clause. It was a mere question of saving a little to the public without diminishing the efficiency with which proceedings under the Act would be carried on.


said, he wanted to know why a clerk of the Customs was to be at liberty to come into any record court in the kingdom, and prosecute in cases of misdemeanour under the Act, instead of a solicitor or barrister. He thought that the party under such circumstances would not have fair play afforded him. A mere clerk might do that which a professional man would not dare to do. He hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would let those prosecutions be conducted as they had hitherto been. The number of misdemeanours created by the Act was enormous, and it appeared to him that the power proposed to be given by the clause was monstrous, and contrary to the ordinary rules of justice.


said, he coincided with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxfordshire in his objection to the principle involved in the clause.


said, he confessed he had no particular predilection for the clause, but it was intended by it only to enact what had been enacted in the Customs Consolidation Act. He would not, however, press the clause.

Clause negatived.


said, he proposed to leave out the 47th clause, and to insert another in. its stead, to give summary jurisdiction to two justices of the peace in. salvage cases, and to prevent Unnecessary appeals and litigation.


said, he thought that the clause ought to be framed so as to give the magistrates an option whether they would act or not in cases of the kind. As the clause stood it was to be in the power of the Secretary of State to appoint the rota which was to try these cases.


said, that the jurisdiction of the two justices had been found to work well, and he did not expect more appeals than formerly under this clause.


said, he thought the Home Secretary would not appoint a justice without his consent. But he would confer with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State; and if a few words could be added to effect the purpose, it should be done, and the amended clause brought up on the Report.

Clause agreed to.


said, he wished to move the following clause: — That on and after the 1st day of January, 1863, all chain-cables, and anchors bought or sold for use on board British ships registered in the United Kingdom, shall be impressed with an official proof-mark as evidence of having been subjected to an authorized proof equal to the tensile strain applied by Admiralty regulations to all cables and anchors used in the Royal Navy; the Board of Trade to be empowered to make such rules and regulations thereon as may from time to time appear necessary to insure the general efficiency of ships' ground-takle; to grant licences to public and corporate bodies; to apply the required test and authorized proof to all such cables and anchors; to impress a proof mark, and to give proof certificates thereof for production when required. He had that evening presented a petition from a large number of public companies, shipowners, insurance companies, and others in favour of the clause. The Committee of Lloyd's were constructing testing machines with an intention of imposing the test upon all ships coming under this regulation.


said, he feared it would be considered very vexatious to the merchant service if no ship of any kind should be permitted to purchase cables unless marked with a proof mark. But, at any rate, before they were pre vented from so doing, machinery ought to be provided for testing anchors and chains in all parts of the kingdom. The Board of Trade would likewise have duties imposed upon them which, as at present advised, they did not think they could well perform.


said, that as a Member of the Select Committee which sat upon the subject, he wished to remind the hon. Member that the Committee had been very unwilling to recommend any compulsory measures. He could only say that the information which reached him with regard to the intentions of the Committee of Lloyd's differed very much from that which had been received by the hon. Member.


said, he was willing to withdraw the clause for the present, but, at the same time, he would state his intention of submitting it again in an amended form upon the bringing up of the report.

Clause withdrawn.


said, he would move the addition of the following clause, to follow Clause 52:— Insurances effected against any or all of the events enumerated in the Section last preceding shall not be invalid by reason of the nature of the risk.


said, his objection to the clause was, that all the risks referred to were provided for by the law as it stood.


wished to caution the Committee against idly introducing a clause of the description pro posed, which would only have the effect of throwing doubt on the existing law.


suggested that the clause should be withdrawn, and that the Government should take the best advice between that time and the report whether the law was uncertain or not. He (Mr. Henley) had heard that the law upon the subject was at present doubtful.


observed, that the doubt arose from the possible want of interest in the person insuring, and that some declaratory enactment perhaps ought to be passed to prevent open insurances on the lives of persons in whom the insurers had no interest.


said, he concurred with the opinion of the Solicitor General that there was no doubt in the world about the fact that the clause was uncalled for.


said, he would take the recommendation of the right hon. Member for Oxford, and consider the clause before the bringing up of the report.

Clause postponed.

House resumed.

Bill reported; as amended, to be considered on Friday, and to be printed [Bill 136].