HC Deb 08 July 1863 vol 172 cc398-408

Order for Second Reading read.


, in moving the second reading of this Bill, said, that having had some experience of the difficulty of insuring the good quality of anchors and cables, he had come to the conclusion that legislative interference for that purpose was called for. In that opinion he was supported by the great body of the mercantile classes, and also of the chain and cable manufacturers. Evidence had been given before a Committee of that House, a few years ago, showing the necessity for a measure like the present, and how great risk to life and property was caused by the use of defective anchors and chains. The object of this Bill Was therefore to provide that machinery for testing the quality of those articles should be established in different parts of the country; and that licences should be granted by the Board of Trade to corporate or other bodies for the erection of such testing apparatus. He did not intend to interfere with the manufacture of cables and anchors; but he proposed that the Board of Trade should appoint a competent engineer to see that the proving machinery was kept in good order. The Bill would render it unlawful for makers and dealers to sell unproved anchors and cables, and would require every British vessel to be equipped with stamped anchors and cables. The measure would not have a retrospective effect, but would, if passed, come into operation on the 1st of January next. The hon. Member for Northumberland (Mr. Liddell) desired that power should be given to corporations to raise money for the erection of testing machines, and he saw no objection to the introduction of a clause having that object. He had no doubt that testing machines would be placed in all the principal towns where they would be requisite for the proper carrying out of the Bill. That would be a great advantage to the small shipowners, for whose benefit such a measure as this was most necessary. The larger shipping companies were better able to protect themselves in this matter; and, indeed, a system was practised by Lloyd's under which anchors and chains were now subjected to proof. Yet one-half of the shipping of the country was not passed at Lloyd's; and Lloyd's themselves required such a test only in the case of first-class vessels. If, however, this Bill passed, every master, sailor, or passenger would know that he was going on board of a ship which would be properly provided with ground tackle. He was sorry to have had an intimation that the President of the Board of Trade meant to oppose this measure, on the ground that it would be an undue interference with trade; but he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would change his intention, if he had ever entertained it. The Bill would give much less trouble to the Board of Trade than any other matter which that Department had under its charge, while at the same time it would have a beneficial effect in regard to the safety of life and property. He begged therefore to move the second reading.


, in rising to second the Motion, hoped the House would not pronounce a decision adverse to the principle of the Bill. This was analogous to those cases, common to all trades, in which the makers of genuine and valuable articles sought the protection of the Legislature against the makers and vendors of worthless and spurious imitations; and the public in general asked for protection in a matter in which they could not protect themselves. The objections taken against the Bill on a former occasion were twofold; the first against compulsory testing itself, the second against Government interference. With regard to the former, it might be enough to say that underwriters, shipowners, and manufacturers all agreed that the badness of iron cables and anchors was a great and growing evil, and were doing their best to put an end to it; and though inconvenience would doubtless be felt at first in sending articles already manufactured and disposed of to be tested, that was an inconvenience which would gradually die away, and anything was better than the continuance of a practice so destructive to human life as the use of bad cables and anchors had been. It had been said, and might be again, that you might as well exercise supervision over ropes and rigging; but those were matters upon which a sailor might judge for himself, whereas it was perfectly impossible for him to judge of the quality of a painted chain cable or anchor, and his life might be sacrificed by the criminal parsimony of his employer. Well, then it was objected that many people were killed on railways, but that there was no proposal to test the iron used for rails or wheels. That was only half true. Railway companies had to pay heavily for the privilege of killing passengers for the sake of economy. Evidence was taken in such cases of the quality of the iron; whereas when a ship went down at sea no such evidence could be obtained, and if the owners were covered by insurance, they lost nothing, but the poor men lost their lives, and their families lost those who earned their bread, and were too often thrown upon the parish. Then it was said that each link must be stamped, or else fraud might take place. No doubt fraud might take place, as it probably did in the case of gold and silver marks, but it would seldom be worth the risk in the case of iron cables, and certain lengths might be stamped at each end without any difficulty. But was Government interference necessary? Might not all this be left to Lloyd's committee and private enterprise? Lloyd's regulations were most valuable; but Lloyd's was a company of private individuals, and their recent regulations might be rescinded by subsequent resolutions. Besides, a very large number of ships were not classed at Lloyd's at all. Whereas, if this Bill became law, any vessel on a voyage with untested chains and anchors would be on an illegal voyage, and would forfeit her insurance, just as a passenger vessel with an insufficient number of boats now does. This Bill extended the practice towards that considered necessary for Government vessels, but only partially so, for Admiralty anchors were proved by fire and water as well as by strain, and in Admiralty cables the practice of filling the links with heavy stay pins of inferior iron was restrained. If this Bill passed, he believed that private enterprise under Government inspection would be quite sufficient to furnish and work testing machines to carry the law into operation, and he intended in Committee moving an Amendment in Clause 1 to that effect; but he was quite sure that the principle of the Bill met with almost universal approbation, and that the provisions it contained gave general satisfaction; and if Government opposed it, it only showed that the Government set a higher value on the safe conveyance of their stores than on the safety of the lives of a numerous and most valuable class of Her Majesty's subjects.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."


said, that the Committee to which the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Laird) had referred, had reported against the compulsory testing of anchors and cables. This Bill, however, was a compulsory measure. If they were to enter upon a course of such legislation, where were they to stop? If they interfered with the shipping trade at all, they would soon be asked to go a great deal further. No doubt many vessels were lost through having bad anchors and cables, but still more were lost through having insufficient spars, or through being constructed of bad iron. Were they, then, to have a Government Inspector examining and certifying as to the quality of every spar, and the sufficiency of every iron plate? It was all very well to say that any sailor could judge for himself as to the quality of a spar; but it might have dry rot, or some other defect not visible to the eye. Again, many ships foundered at sea from their bad construction. Must they, therefore, have Government surveyors in all their shipbuilding yards to see that vessels were properly built? If the Government thought proper to interfere in the matter of anchors and cables, they ought to interfere in these other matters, which were of quite equal importance. Moreover, this Bill was so crude that it would be totally impossible for the Board of Trade to carry it out. How, for example, were they to be sure that the certificate of proof, when produced, was the certificate which really applied to the cable or anchor then on board the ship? He doubted whether the feeling of the shipowners generally was in favour of this Bill. It was for the interest of the shipowners themselves to supply their ships with good anchors and chains, and most of the large shipowners now tested their anchors and chains; but that was no reason why the poor man should be compelled under heavy penalties to do the same. It would be much better to leave the matter to their own option. On these grounds, he would move, as an Amendment, that the Bill be read the second time that day two months.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day two months."—(Mr. Lindsay.)


said, he was surprised at the course taken by the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Lindsay), and still more at the likelihood of this measure being opposed by the President of the Board of Trade. Few Bills had been introduced in that House which were more important to the shipping interest. He believed the great majority of the shipping interest were in favour of this measure, and on behalf of his own constituents, he was anxious to see it passed. The hon. Member for Shoreham (Mr. Cave) appeared to think the Bill was retrospective in its character; but it would not come into operation till the 1st of January 1864.


said, he thought this measure would impose very grave responsibilities upon the Board of Trade, and also duties which it would find very difficult to perform. If, however, the House sanctioned the principle of the Bill, that Department would do its best to carry out the spirit of the enactment. Everybody admitted the desirability of every ship being provided with good anchors and cables. The difficulty was how to secure an object of that kind by legislation. The matter was really one of detail. Two objects were contemplated by the Bill—first that no untested anchor or cable should be sold after a certain date in this country; and second, that no British ship should be allowed to leave a British port unless it was equipped with certificated anchors and cables. To effect the first object, it was said that somebody would set up testing machines; but there was no security taken that that should be really done. No doubt there would be testing machines in parts of the country where there were large manufactories of chains and anchors; but in other places the small coasting shipowners would have no testing apparatus near them, and the expense of sending their anchors and chains to be proved at a distance would be greater than they could bear. The Board of Trade was to license persons to put up testing machines; but would people be found to invest their capital on a chance of that sort in all parts of the kingdom? If not, then they would establish a monopoly of chain and anchor making in certain districts, and the smaller manufacturers in other districts would be deprived of their trade. Again, the Board of Trade was to fix the charges made for testing; but how were the officers of that Department to tell what were the proper charges for these operations? If they fixed the scale too low the owners of the apparatus would discontinue the business; if they fixed it too high, they would be imposing undue burdens on the shipping interest. Then, as to the second object, how were they to secure that a vessel should be equipped with a tested anchor and chain? He presumed a Custom-house officer or Government Inspector must go on board and examine not, perhaps, every link—which would, perhaps, be necessary to make a good job of his work—but every length of fifteen fathoms, to see that it had the Government stamp on it. Such a process would detain the ship an hour or two, and also necessitate an increase in the official staff. All our first-class ships and all vessels employed by the Government, or engaged in conveying emigrants, were already required to have their anchors and cables tested, and in the case of those ships no measure like the present was necessary. It was the coasters only which were not provided for under the present voluntary system. Was it necessary, then, to legislate for the case of the coasters alone? There was no evidence that coasters were lost from the bad quality of their ground tackle. The fact was that the coasters were in the habit of going to sea insufficiently manned, and consequently the ground tackle they used was not heavy enough or strong enough in proportion to their tonnage. He was not prepared to offer an unqualified opposition to the second reading; but if the Bill were read the second time, it would require extensive alterations to give effect to the intentions of the House; and at that period of the Session there was little chance of passing a really efficient measure. He would therefore recommend that the Bill be delayed for further consideration. It would impose a great additional charge on British shipping, from which foreigners would be exempted. Was the present stock of anchors and chains—a great proportion of them, no doubt, excellent—to be condemned as old iron, without compensation to the parties, unless they went to the expense of sending them to be tested, perhaps to a distant part of the country? The expense thus occasioned might be equal to the value of the property, without reference to the fees for testing to be fixed by the Board of Trade. It would, he thought, be very hard to call on private parties to bear all this expense for some object of public utility, without compensation. No doubt, the object was a philanthropic one, although in some quarters there might be a little feeling that it would bring manufacturers of anchors and chain cables into particular localities, and thus create a monopoly; he did, however, hope that while he would not stand in the way of the second reading of the Bill, hon. Gentlemen would consider the details, and seriously pause before they gave their assent to the machinery contained in its clauses.


said, that there were two hon. Members to whose opinions on questions affecting the mercantile marine they were all disposed to attach weight—he meant the hon. Member for Birkenhead and the hon. Member for Sunderland—and when those two were found to be at issue, the House might naturally feel embarrassed; and in this perplexity all they could do was to form the best judgment they could for themselves. The right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down (Mr. Milner Gibson) spoke in very doubtful language, but, upon the whole, he appeared to have come to the conclusion that he could not support the Bill. He hoped the House would show him that they entertained a very decided opinion on the question, and then he had no doubt the right hon. Gentleman would conform to it. The hon. Member for Sunderland had referred to the Report of the Committee four years ago; but he (Sir John Pakington) thought it would be much better to be guided by the arguments which had now been adduced. It was said, if they interfered with anchors and chains, they would next have to deal with rigging and spars. But that was one of the weakest of arguments. Here was a practical grievance; let them deal with it, and not be deterred from doing so by the apprehension that if they did what they could to cure one evil, they would perhaps be called on to remedy some others. This was eminently a commonsense question. They wanted protection for the mercantile marine. They had clear practical proof, year after year, that protection was required. The right hon. Gentleman said there was no evidence that coasters were lost through defects in their anchors and chains; but he maintained, as a matter of common sense, that no ship was safe in going to sea unless her anchor and cable were seaworthy. In the tremendous and memorable gale at Balaklava no fewer than thirty transports had been lost, and Admiral Dundas's Committee had reported that those ships had been lost through defects of their anchors and chain cables; while none of Her Majesty's ships had been lost, which had good anchors and cables. Shipowners, to the value of 1,000,000 tons of shipping, and eight or nine insurance offices, had petitioned in favour of this Bill. Let the details be considered in Committee. They were not now considering the details, but the principle of the Bill. They should remember one thing, that no ship of the Royal Navy went to sea without a tested anchor and a tested cable. Now, what it was possible to do for the Royal Navy it was possible to do for the mercantile marine. He therefore hoped the House would pronounce an unhesitating decision in favour of the second reading of the Bill.


hoped the House would not agree to read the Bill a second time. It was not only unnecessary, but most impolitic, to interfere in matters of this kind, and endeavour to do that which shipowners were well enough able and altogether disposed to do for themselves. What, under this Bill, was to prevent the owner of a ship of 1,000 tons, having only economy in view, to take an anchor which was only capable of holding a vessel of 500 tons? It had been said that shipowners were in favour of this Bill, but he was not prepared to endorse that opinion. On the contrary, he held in his hand a letter signed by the Secretary of the General Ship Owners' Society to the Board of Trade, objecting to the Bill. He believed he was speaking the sentiments of many of those whom he represented when he said not only that this Bill was unnecessary, but that it would be at once burdensome and ineffectual for its object.


said, with reference to the objections of the hon. Member for the City of London (Mr. Crawford), it would be very easy to make regulations by which ships of a certain tonnage should have anchors and chains of a corresponding size and strength. This was already required by all Insurance Offices in London. It was intended to provide that there should be testing machines erected in convenient places, to which anchors and cables might be sent to be tested, and the expense to a ship would not be more than from £2 to £3, while one testing might serve as long as the ship was on the register to which it belonged. With regard to coasters, the anchor was their last resource, and in a gale many of them remained under weigh, because it was known their anchors would not hold them. With regard to the argument about monopoly, it was not every country blacksmith who shoed horses that could make a chain cable; the anchor and chain cable interest was already confined to particular districts, and he did not see why a small chain should not be tested as well as a large one. An unfortunate acrobat had lost his life by the snapping of the eye of a hook by which the cable was made fast on which he was performing; and the other day, at Lloyd's testing house at Blackwall, the chain cable, weighing 15 tons, intended for a ship of 1,800 tons, which should have borne a strain of 72 tons, broke at a strain of 18 tons—only three tons heavier than the chain itself. The right hon. Gentleman opposite seemed at a loss to know how the duties which this Bill would impose on the Department could be performed; but if he would appoint as Inspector Mr. Robert Bowman, who had given evidence before the Committee, all his difficulties on that score might easily be obviated. The right hon. Gentleman (Sir J. Pakington) talked of the details of this Bill; but in the Merchant Shipping Act, which consisted of 626 clauses, everything had been provided or, even to the testing of a captain's brains—except, indeed, the only thing which was of indispensable necessity to the preservation of the whole life and property embarked—namely, the ship's anchors and chains.


said, it did not necessarily follow, that because anchors or chain cables broke, the material was therefore bad or the workmanship defective. The force of a gale might be so great that no anchor or chain cable could resist it. He opposed this Bill on principle, as an unwarrantable interference with the shipowners of this country in the proper conduct of their own business. He had no reason to believe that the majority of shipowners of this country were in favour of the Bill.


said, it had been stated in evidence before the Committee which inquired into that subject, that 81 per cent of the cables manufactured in this country were defective. The fact was that the whole of that manufacture was a system of fraud and iniquity; and the result of that fraud and iniquity was a deplorable loss of life at sea. The Bill would afford a remedy for that evil; and he hoped it would receive the sanction of Parliament. The arguments advanced by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade against the measure seemed to him to militate in its favour; and he certainly saw no reason why the Board of Trade should refuse to undertake the new duties which it would impose upon them.


said, that his constituents in Tynemouth had informed him that they were in favour of the Bill, and he should therefore give to it his support.


admitted that in passenger ships, where the lives of many were exposed, it might be very proper that Government should keep a watchful eye over anchors and chains; but when it was said we want to protect our ships, it should be borne in mind that the ships did not belong to them, but to the shipowners; and, if Government was to interfere in such matters, there would be no end to their interference, and great injury would be done to the free course of trade.


, in reply, said, that the Chamber of Commerce and the Shipowners Associations in Glasgow, Newcastle, Liverpool, and other places, with the manufacturers in Staffordshire, had petitioned in favour of this Bill.

Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

The House divided:—Ayes 119; Noes 44: Majority 75.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read 2°, and committed for Tomorrow.