HC Deb 17 February 1864 vol 173 cc682-95

Order for Second Reading read.


said, that in moving the second reading of the Bill he would, in the first instance, give a short history of the various attempts that had been made at legislation on this subject within the last three years. It would be in the recollection of the House, that in 1860 a Committee was appointed, of which the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth (Sir James Elphinstone) was the Chairman, "to inquire into the manufacture of anchors and chain cables for the merchant service." That Committee reported that good ground had been laid by the evidence before them of the absolute necessity of public tests, and recommended that all vessels employed in the conveyance of emigrants, troops, or public stores, should be obliged to furnish themselves with tested cables. In 1861 his hon. and gallant Friend brought in a Bill on the subject, which passed its second reading, but it did not go further. In 1862, at the request of many shipowners and Members of that House, he (Mr. Laird) proposed the insertion of a clause in the Merchant Shipping Bill of that year, to render it imperative that all anchors and chain cables sold after 1st January, 1864, should be impressed with an official proof mark. The clause was well supported, the only objection to it being that it would be better to make it the subject of a distinct Bill. Consequently, he last year introduced a Bill; but owing to the delay which occurred in ascertaining the views of the shipping interest and chain cable and anchor manufacturers in reference to it, it was not introduced till late in the Session. It passed a second reading by a considerable majority, but he was obliged to withdraw it about the middle of July, there being no chance of passing it at that advanced period of the Session. In withdrawing it, however, he gave notice of his intention of again introducing the measure in the present Session. According to the promise he then gave he had introduced the present Bill, which he asked the House to read a second time. The difference between the Bill of last and that of the present Session was principally confined to alterations in some of the clauses of the former Bill, He had omitted the clause relative to the appointment of Inspectors by the Board of Trade, and he had limited their interference to the licensing of corporate bodies and persons not being manufacturers to erect testing machines. Power was also given to the Board of Trade to authorize corporate bodies to raise funds for the purpose of erecting them, and also to regulate the charges to be paid at the various testing houses. The object of the Bill was to make the manufacturers responsible for the articles they sold. One objection raised to the measure was grounded on the additional cost of anchors and chain cables of a quality that would stand the proposed tests. With regard to the extra cost of anchors and chain cables capable of being tested up to the Admiralty standard, he had ascertained that in the case of a 1,000 ton ship, worth £20,000, it would be about £35. He had received communications in favour of the measure from various parts of the country from persons interested in shipping. Lloyds' Com- mittee supported it strongly, and they were very anxious that it should pass. The General Shipowners' Association, who opposed the Bill of last year, expressed their warm approval of the present measure. He had received the following letter from that Association:— General Shipowners' Society, 12, St. Michael's Alley, Cornhill, London, 12th Feb., 1864. Sir,—I have the honour to acknowledge receipt of your letter of the 9th inst., with copy of Bill for 'Regulating the Proving and Sale of Chain Cables and Anchors,' and I am directed by the Committee of the General Shipowners' Society to state, that they concur in the objects of the Bill as now introduced by you into the House of Commons; recognizing as highly important a measure which shall make it unlawful for makers and dealers to sell or supply for the use of ships any chain cable or anchor which shall not have been previously tested and duly stamped, in accordance with the provisions of the said Act.—I have, &c. (Signed) WM. BONAR, Secretary. John Laird, Esq., M.P., &c. The Peninsular and Oriental and other large Companies, and various Chambers of Commerce throughout the country, had also expressed their approval of the Bill, as well as nearly the whole of the principal chain cable and anchor manufacturers of the kingdom. They considered the Bill, if passed, would secure the manufacture of a good article, and would prevent inferior articles from being brought into the market. It was said the provisions of the Bill would operate adversely to the freedom of trade in the manufacture of these articles; but surely when ho proved that nine out of every ten of those who used them and made them were most anxious for such a law, it was a conclusive answer to such an objection. There were also communications in favour of the Bill from shipowners all over the country. It had been objected against the measure that, if it passed testing, machines would be required in all the small ports throughout the country. To that he need only answer by the well-known fact, that the chain cable manufacture was carried on principally in Staffordshire, New-castle-on-Tyne, Chester, and some parts of South Wales, the tendency being to concentrate the trade in districts where coals and iron and labour were cheapest, and that testing machines were already established at London, Liverpool, Birkenhead, Staffordshire, and about to be on the Clyde, and various other places. Besides, the Bill would not come into operation till July, 1865, so that there would be ample time to establish any quantity of testing machinery which would be necessary. Upon the necessity which existed for providing good anchors and cables he need scarcely dwell. The losses sustained by our shipping in the Black Sea, where all the cables manufactured for the Admiralty stood their ground, while those of private ships failed, afforded a sufficient illustration of how important was the question. From the Returns of the Wrecks of last year it appeared, that ninety-three vessels were lost from the parting of cables—a fact that showed the absolute necessity of taking steps for protecting the lives of seamen and passengers. The difference between the cost of a good article and a bad one was really, as he had shown, not worth consideration, even if much larger than it really was. From his own experience as a shipowner he could vouch for the vast superiority of the Admiralty over the merchant standard for anchors and cables. When in business he had found in vessels built by him, and furnished with anchors and cables tested to the merchants' standard, that the ground tackle was continually giving way. He had therefore determined to adopt the Admiralty standard. He had found much difficulty in inducing manufacturers to meet his wishes; but he had insisted, and since then he had heard no complaints from ships he had supplied with Admiralty tested anchors and cables. He regretted that the hon. Member for Sunder-land (Mr. Lindsay) did not support the Bill. Last year his objection to the measure then brought forward was that it would operate as a hardship upon small shipowners. He (Mr. Laird) replied that the present Bill would favour the small owners. If the Bill passed, the small owners, who were now put to expense and trouble in getting cables tested, would have no longer to incur it, as all such articles manufactured would have applied to them the Admiralty test before being sold. The small shipowners would therefore be put on the same footing with the large shipowners, many of whom took care to have their anchors and cables tested. He hoped the Bill would receive the sanction of the House, and in that hope would now move the second reading.


seconded the Motion for the second reading, expressing a hope that the House would Bee fit to pass the Bill. The increase of wrecks in 1862 had been something like 40 per cent over the preceding year. Referring to the Return of Wrecks issued by the Board of Trade (which he lamented was not brought down to the latest possible date, and placed in the hands of Members), it appeared that 14,000 men connected with our merchant shipping were annually put in jeopardy of their lives from shipwrecks, and that 1,000 actually lost their lives last year. With such appalling statistics were they to allow slight inconvenience and slighter expense to shipowners to stand in the way of a measure which if passed into a law would be productive of such immense relief, and which might at any moment be amended if amendment were found necessary? During the last severe gale eight or ten ships had been blown away from the coast of Northumberland, driven on to the coast of Holland, and wrecked, with the exception of one which, anchoring in the South Elbe, had ridden out the gale for seventeen days, and thus had saved the lives of the crew. It had been proved in evidence, in the Committee over which he had presided, that the difference in cost between absolute danger and absolute safety in the matter of anchors and cables only amounted, in a small vessel of 250 or 300 tons, to £7 10s.; and in a ship of 1,000 tons to £30 or £35. It appeared, from the Wreck Return for 1862, that the tonnage wrecked, or seriously damaged, amounted to 325,949 tons—an excess of 72,711 over the preceding year. Taking that at £10 per ton, on an average of good, bad, and indifferent, it gave a loss of £3,259,490 in those ships. When it was considered that that loss of money had been accompanied by a loss of 800 lives, and by 14,573 persons being placed in jeopardy, he thought it was almost time for the House to interfere. The number of wrecks ascribed to defective ground tackle was 203; but, as the wreck chart only showed the position of the wrecks without giving the primary cause, he thought that many ships were lost from the cables or anchors parting, and the vessels then drifting some distance before they were wrecked. Since the question had first been brought before the House, a remarkable change of feeling had taken place in the country. At first, he and his hon. Friend (Mr. Laird) had been assailed by a cry that they were about to introduce another restrictive regulation on the trade, which was already too much hampered. Now, petitions had been presented from all in the country who were interested in the manufacture of good and honest chain cables. There were petitions from various Chambers of Commerce in the United Kingdom, the Committee of Lloyds', the General Shipowners' Society of London, all the maritime insurance corporations, the underwriters of London, Liverpool, Bristol, Glasgow, Dublin, and Belfast, the great steam shipping companies, the Peninsular and Oriental, the Royal Mail, and the Cunard—all had signed and deposited petitions in favour of the Bill. He trusted, therefore, that the time had come when the House would in its wisdom see fit to pass the second reading, and eventually to carry the Bill.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read the second time."—(Mr. Laird.)


The hon. Member for Birkenhead had justly observed that there existed throughout the country an earnest desire that Parliament would provide if possible, by special enactment, that no merchant vessel should proceed to sea unless she was provided with ground tackle of sufficient strength to give every possible security for the lives of the seamen who navigated such vessels. He believed that these were the sentiments of chain manufacturers, shipowners, and persons generally who were interested in shipping, and he believed also of a majority of the Members of that House. It was very natural that it should be so, for the question dealt with the lives and safety of a large body of the people of this country; with a class, in fact, who, by the nature of their avocation, by the dangers to which they were constantly exposed, and by their general habits of life, were specially entitled to our sympathy and protection. He was not, therefore, there to deny the necessity of considering some measure like the present. The facts upon which it was founded were sufficiently established by the Committee of 1862, of which he (Mr. Hutt) had had the honour to be a member, as it was then proved that a number of our merchant vessels habitually proceeded to sea without having tackle of sufficient strength to hold them against the dangers which they might probably have to encounter. This being the case, he thought it was the duty of Parliament to provide, by all reasonable and practical means, for the reform of such a state of things; and this was the view of Her Majesty's Government. Agreeing, therefore, in many of the reasons which the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Laird) had urged in support of the Bill, and agreeing also with the principle of that Bill, he was not going to oppose the second reading. Still, however, agreeing, as he did, as to the magnitude of the abuse to be remedied; agreeing also as to the duty of Parliament to remove, by all attainable means, abuses of this nature, he must still confess, that he had not full and entire confidence in the efficiency of the Bill for that purpose. He was not going, on the second reading of the Bill, to enter minutely into all its details, nor to follow the hon. Member for Birkenhead in all the remarks he had made; but there were one or two observations which he felt bound to offer, as to the probable practical efficiency of the measure. His hon. Friend proposed to provide that all anchors and cables furnished to merchant shipping should be, in the first place, submitted to a test of a certain strength, and that certificates that such tests had been applied should be furnished to the Custom House officers before the vessel could be cleared at the Custom House. So far this was very good; but the Bill provided no means of tying this certificate and the cable together. No one was to examine the chain and ascertain that it agreed with the certificate. He could not see why a fraudulent person might not use the certificate for a chain different from that for which the certificate was issued, or to pass any number of chains by authority of the same certificate. Another point to which he called attention was, that there was no limitation to the effect and duration of the certificate. A person might send a ship to sea with anchors and cables properly tested and certified; the anchors and cables might be seriously strained and injured during the voyage by use or by neglect; the anchors and cables, however unfit for service, might still be on board-ship; but the certificate would still purport that they were in a sound and perfect state. He submitted these suggestions to his hon. Friend in the hope that the defects he pointed out might be remedied in Committee; and he could assure him that he (Mr. Hutt) should enter the Committee with every disposition to mature the Bill into a practical and efficient measure.


said, his constituents took great interest in the Bill. If firearms and cannon, by which life was destroyed, were required to be tested to ensure their being used with safety, he thought anchors and cables, so frequently instrumental in saving life, should have a similar endorsement, so that the public might know when they obtained proper articles. It had been stated that 80 per cent of the anchors and cables used in the mercantile navy were below the proper standard of excellence. That was surely reason why legislation should take place. In Committee all difficulty about certificates and the weight of cables could be obviated. If passed, he believed that the Bill would be the means of saving a vast amount of life.


said, that this subject had been brought before the House by the hon. Baronet the Member for Portsmouth (Sir James Elphinstone) in the year 1859. The hon. Baronet made an appeal to the feelings of the House, and a Committee was appointed to consider the subject. That Committee examined a great number of witnesses from different parts of the country—shipowners, chain and cable manufacturers, and others—and there was no doubt that the feeling of the majority of the Committee and of the majority of the witnesses was in favour of an attempt to prevent any but efficient chains and anchors from being sold: but nine out of the eleven members rejected the proposal for a compulsory test. He believed the recommendations of the Committee were being carried into effect to a considerable extent. The rule had been adopted at Lloyd's that no vessel should be classified, unless she carried anchors and cables which had been tested. Testing machines had been established in Staffordshire, where many of the cables and anchors were manufactured; also at Sunderland, Newcastle, and other places; and the result would be that before long shipowners would not purchase any cable or anchor that had not been subjected to the proper test. They were the parties most interested in having properly-tested anchors and cables, for in the event of the underwriters finding the articles inferior, the insurance would be vitiated. He trusted the Report, to which reference had been made, would be more generally circulated. It had been stated that ninety-three vessels had been lost last year in consequence of being furnished with insufficient anchors and cables. He questioned whether all those vessels had been lost in consequence of defective anchors and cables. The pressure of a hurricane was sometimes so great that no chain could resist it, and he doubted very much whether these vessels would not have been lost if the present Bill had become law. Nine out of the eleven members of the Committee rejected the proposal of the Chairman of the Committee for compulsory tests. If this Bill could be carried into practice and effect, he (Mr. Lindsay), considering the object in view, would give it his cordial support—nay, he would do so if it would effect only one-tenth part of the object. But that he feared could not be done; and then the effect of passing the Act would relieve shipowners from the duty they were under to the public, and make them throw all responsibility, so far as their cables and anchors were concerned, on the Act of Parliament. They would say they had complied with the provisions of the Act, and there they would consider their personal responsibility ended. But how was the principle of this Bill to be carried into practice? The Bill provided that the Board of Trade should grant licences for erecting testing machinery; but suppose nobody took out any licences? Licences would certainly not be taken out in remote districts, because the number of chain cables and anchors to be tested would not be sufficient to pay for the erection of the testing machine, and so the small manufacturers in remote districts would be destroyed, because no manufacturer was to be allowed to test his own anchors and cables. The effect would be, therefore, to give a monopoly to the large manufacturers of Staffordshire and Wales, where, of course, testing machines would be erected. On the other hand the Bill would really have the effect of destroying one of the largest manufacturing firms in the country, he meant Messrs. Brown, Lennox, and Co., provided no person set up a testing machine, for the Act prohibited them from doing it. The manufactory of those gentlemen was in Wales; there would be no testing machines in their neighbourhood; they could not be allowed to test articles manufactured by themselves; and, therefore, unless they could induce some company or corporation to establish such a machine, they would be forced to abandon their manufacture, and dismiss their 3,000 or 4,000 workmen. Another provision in the Bill which would require alteration was that which forbade the sale of untested cables, after this Act came into operation. There were in various places, particularly on foreign stations, large stocks of cables now on hand; and if this provision was adhered to it would be necessary to compensate their holders. He would further ask how, after a certificate of testing had been given, they could know that the anchor or cable certified was the one on board the ship, unless an officer was appointed to examine every cable or anchor in every ship. He had thought it right to point out these defects in the Bill, but he should not offer any opposition to its being read a second time, and when it got into Committee he would do his best to make it effective.


said, with regard to his hon. Friend's last observation, that this was a new and dangerous principle, it was really no new principle; it was simply carrying out the principle, the double principle, he might say, on which the legislation of this country so often proceeded—that of making certain requirements in the first instance, and then insisting also upon certain results. In rising to support the second reading—that was, the principle of the Bill—he would first concur in the remarks of the hon. Baronet and of the hon. Member opposite, respecting the valuable Return of the Board of Trade respecting wrecks. He did not know on what principle blue-books were distributed to Members; they frequently got those of the most local and partial interest, while others, which were of general interest and importance, were left in the office till called for, so that they often missed them altogether. He need detain the House with very few observations on the principle of the Bill; it had been fully discussed last year, when a similar measure was passed by a majority of the House; and in 1862, when a clause to the same effect was proposed in the Merchant Shipping Acts Amendment Bill. Since those discussions the popularity of the Bill had steadily increased, and hon. Members who had objected had withdrawn their opposition. The necessity was proved by the resolution of the Committee of Lloyd's Register, which showed that Underwriters required protection against the great and growing evil, the worthlessness of iron chain cables. But all ships were not registered at Lloyd's, and Lloyd's was a private company which might alter its resolutions, so that the Bill proposed to give a wider scope and greater permanence to the application of the principle laid down by Lloyd's committee. His hon. Friend (Mr. Lindsay) approved of Lloyd's resolution, yet the difficulties he had mentioned of testing machines being erected in small places, and the consequent concentration of manufactories in the hands of a few great firms, followed as much from the resolution as from the Bill; and it was equally open to his objection, that shipowners ought to take care of themselves, and not be dependent on others in such matters. It had been said that this Bill would have a tendency to lower the standard of manufacture. He thought that many shipowners, and especially public companies and foreign governments, would still go to those manufacturers whose work was very superior. Still, it might have a tendency to lower work to the standard in many cases, while rising it in others. But they must strike the balance of advantage and disadvantage, and he had been told by an Underwriter, that under such a system he would be far better protected than he was at present. So much for the principle of the Bill. With regard to the details, he believed there would be found many of the difficulties alluded to by right hon. and hon. Members opposite. He had proposed an Amendment last year allowing manufacturers to test their own work under inspection. The House had not thought right to pass it. Still he was justified by the practice of the Admiralty, which allowed the firm of Brown, Lennox, and Co., to which allusion had been made, to test the great mooring chains at their own machine under supervision. Messrs. Brown, Lennox, and Co. made nearly all the chains for the Admiralty and the Trinity House, and these were first tested at their own works at Cardiff for protection against their own workmen. They were then, with the exception he had mentioned, tested at the various dockyards. It would be of no use, but an expense to the public, subjecting these to a third test; and he proposed in Committee moving an Amendment exempting public bodies, not being trading companies, from the operation of the Act. There were other points of detail, such as the absence of a penalty for the infringement of Clause 7, the question whether the Act should apply to goods made for exportation, and whether there should be a provision for extending the time at which the measure was to come into force, if necessary, as had been done in the case of Lloyd's resolution. These were questions for the Committee; and with these observations he was quite willing to support the second reading of the Bill.


said, he also was a Member of the Committee which had inquired into that subject, and he differed from his hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, who also sat on that Committee, as to the expediency of their passing the measure, one of the main objects of which was to protect small shipowners who could not guard against bad manufacture, and who were not assisted by the rule at Lloyds. His hon. Friend was opposed to the Bill. He believed that some of the arguments which his hon. Friend had employed against the Bill might fairly afford reasons for its adoption. His hon. Friend told them that the measure was unnecessary, because Lloyd's at present required that their anchors and chains should be tested. But if Lloyd's had thought proper to adopt such a precaution, that fact naturally afforded a reason why a similar security should be provided in the case of the rest of the shipping of the kingdom. His hon. Friend also told them that shipowners for their own sakes would purchase the best cables; but experience had shown that they did not always do so; but if it was their interest surely the Legislature ought to give them facilities for doing so. His hon. Friend had afterwards used the very remarkable argument, that as there were many cases in which no want of precaution could prevent calamities, the Legislature ought not to interfere in the matter. But it was stated in the blue-book that in the year 1862 not less than 203 casualties at sea had occurred solely in consequence of the use of bad anchors and cables; and they ought not surely to abstain from an attempt to prevent the recurrence of such an evil merely because there were other calamities which were placed wholly beyond their control. His hon. Friend said, that the Committee which inquired into that subject had abstained from recommending compulsory legislation; but he (Mr. Bentinck) believed that the Committee had come to that decision because they supposed that, after the publicity which had been given to the evil by their inquiries, it would work its own cure. That expectation, however, had not been realized, the evil had increased instead of diminishing; and he could not help thinking that if the matter were again referred to a Committee, a majority of the members would be in favour of compulsory legislation. The right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Board of Trade, had expressed his apprehension that the certificate and the chain could not be tied together; but he (Mr. Bentinck) believed that a chain that had been tested could be properly stamped —which could be as easily done as stamping a bank-note; and that the object in question could thus be attained. It appeared to him that there were two strong objections against rejecting immediate legislation. First, it would be entirely inconsistent with the practice with respect to other things; for instance, they insisted on gun-barrels being tested; gun-barrels were tested to lessen the danger of human life; and, therefore, they should carry out the principle in a matter ten times more important. Unless something were done, they would, in effect, be sanctioning a system of fraud. Secondly, by refusing to deal with this subject they gave an encouragement to fraud, and put out of consideration the enormous pecuniary loss which occurred to this country from the want of a proper remedy, to say nothing of the still more important consideration of the loss of life. He held that they were not only bound to pass this measure, but to pass it in the most stringent form.


said, he was surprised to hear the objections to the Bill endorsed by the hon. Member for Sunderland, himself a shipowner. Shipowners were not all rogues, but if they were the ninth clause would render them guilty of a misdemeanour. He apprehended no difficulty whatever in connecting the chains with the certificates. The fact seemed to be overlooked, that before the Committee which took evidence on this subject, strong opinions in favour of testing were expressed, both by shipowners and manufacturers. He had himself presented a petition, having a similar object, from the Mercantile Marine Association of Liverpool, a body numbering over 1,000 members, principally captains and mates of vessels, who surely ought to know something on the subject. Where there was a will there was a way; and the Board of Trade, if they were determined to carry out the principle, would find there was no difficulty that might not be easily surmounted


said, he did not intend to offer any opposition to the Bill, which, however, seemed to him not to be founded on a right principle. It seemed to proceed upon the assumption that at least all cable-makers were rogues. He did not see why it was to be assumed that cables required to be tested any more than the cordage or other essentials of a sea-going vessel. As for the testing of gun-barrels, he held it to be objectionable; there were many other articles, suck as iron girders, taking an important place in manufactures, with which the Government easily abstained from interfering. With reference to the words in the eighth clause, "all vessels insufficiently equipped with anchors," he was surprised that the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Laird), whose attention had been so pointedly drawn to the word "equipping" by recent discussions upon the Foreign Enlistment Act, should not, in framing the Bill, have rendered his meaning more intelligible.


thought the matter had been treated too much as an owner's question, and was anxious to say a few words on behalf of the crews, whose necessities compelled them to take service in vessels which were often indifferently found. In his experience as a magistrate, cases had come before him of men deserting from a vessel loading ore upon a rock-bound coast, where it was necessary to slip anchor and be off when the wind came from the south. The vessel parted her cable several times; in fact, whenever they put out an anchor strong enough to hold a ship the cable invariably gave way, and when they got out a cable of suitable resisting powers the anchor invariably came home. The magistrates felt that it was not a case in which they could direct the men to return to the ship, and dismissed the complaint. He believed that the state of facts he had described applied very largely to the coasting trade, and it was, therefore, high time for the Government to step in and offer these men some security, that the best means should be taken to secure their safety; for when a man shipped himself on board a vessel he could have no idea how the vessel was found in her equipments. The constituents of the hon. Member for Sunderlnnd (Mr. Lindsay) were so convinced of the value of testing, that they established a machine at Sunderland; and, in consequence, the character of the chains made at that port now was better than that of chains made elsewhere. There was no objection to this Bill that could not easily be removed, and he hoped to see it amended into a good working Bill.

Motion agreed to.

Bill read 2°, and committed for Wednesday next.