HC Deb 04 July 1867 vol 188 cc981-2

said, he would beg to ask the Vice President of the Board of Trade, Whether his attention has been called to the daily and constant overcrowding of the Steam Ferries between Granton and Burntisland; whether it is in the power of the Board of Trade to prevent the Steam Ferries from carrying more passengers than they are allowed by the Board of Trade Certificate to do; whether it is in the power of the Board of Trade to compel the North British Railway Company (who are the sole owners of the Ferry) to run proper and adequate boats for the accommodation of the public; and, if the Board of Trade has not the above power, to whom the public are to look for redress, and whether some means cannot be taken to prevent the boats being so much overcrowded?


said, his attention had been directed to the subject by his hon. Friend, and by others on former occasions. The law was clear on the subject of passenger steamers, and was laid down in the 309th and 319th sections of the Merchant Shipping Act of 1854, which enacted that no steamer should carry passengers without a certificate from the Board of Trade. That certificate was granted on the declaration of a surveyor of the Board of Trade that the hull was in a seaworthy condition, that the boilers were sound and properly fitted with safety valves, and that there was a life buoy on board. The surveyor also stated the number of passengers that could be carried with safety; a notice of which was placed in the cabin. Beyond this the Board of Trade had no power to decide whether vessels were "proper or adequate." There were penalties under the Act for neglect of these provisions; that for overcrowding being £20, and 5s., or, if the fares exceeded 5s., then double the fare of every passenger carried in excess. Any person might set the law in motion; but as the informer did not get any of the penalty, there was no inducement to do so except in the case of persons aggrieved. It was not the duty of the Board of Trade to prosecute in such cases. It would be exceedingly expensive to send an inspector to and fro to count the passengers in these boats, and such a course would lead to unnecessary and very objectionable centralization. These ferry steamers were a kind of water omnibuses, and their regulation, like that of the traffic of the streets, might, he thought, properly be left to the local authorities, who had in some cases exerted themselves effectually. If, however, they neglected to move in the matter, then it was perfectly competent for the travelling public who went backwards and forwards in these boats every day in the week to protect themselves by putting in force the provisions he had mentioned.