HC Deb 13 June 1870 vol 201 cc1987-2008

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Shaw-Lefevre.)


said, that if the House agreed to the second reading he hoped the Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mr. Shaw-Lefevre) would give them an opportunity of debating the measure on the Motion for going into Committee. The shipping interest had for many years urged upon the Board of Trade the necessity for amendment and for consolidation of the laws affecting shipping, and he admitted that the second demand was very largely though not entirely complied with in the present Bill. He gave the hon. Gentleman every credit for the care and ability he had brought to bear on the preparation of the Bill; but some finishing touches to the work was still required, and he trusted the measure would pass the House in so complete a shape that no further legislation on this subject would be necessary for many years to come. The law relating to the settlement of accounts between the shipowner and the shipmaster ought to be very simple; but under the existing system it was complex. There were the amounts due for wages, disbursements, and the liabilities incurred by the master. The Bill gave the master a lien on the ship; but in regard to the second matter he would have to look into the Admiralty Court Act of 1861 for guidance, and in regard to the third he would find there was no statute law affecting it, and that the late and present Judges of the Admiralty Court had given conflicting decisions on the question. He cheerfully admitted that most of the alterations proposed by the Bill were improvements, and would bring the law more in accordance with the circumstances of the present time. He regretted, however, that the Secretary to the Board of Trade had not grappled with the whole subject of ownership of British vessels. The present state of the law, and the rapid development of steam vessels was surely transferring the whole carrying trade to limited liability companies, and he trusted some changes would be made in the law, so that single owners of vessels might not be placed at a disadvantage as compared with shareholders in limited liability companies. It was advisable under these circumstances, that the law should fix the liability on those who should justly bear it. The present state of the law also exercised a deteriorating influence on the quality of British seamen. The Bill required amendment in several points, but he thanked the Secretary to the Board of Trade for many provisions in his measure, and he hoped that when the Bill came into Committee the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Shaw-Lefevre) would be willing to adopt some of the improvements that would be suggested. He especially thanked the hon. Gentleman for the changes he proposed to make in the laws affecting Courts of Inquiry into the causes of losses at sea, and the courage with which he had dealt with several of the decisions come to by Courts of Inquiry. The hon. Gentleman had, by his action, in this respect, shown that, however bad a law may be, judicious administration may correct it. Errors of judgment were, under the present law, punished as crimes—a practice from which one's sense of justice revolted. He heartily supported the second reading of the Bill.


said, he desired to make an appeal to the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government respecting the difficult position in which this Bill was now placed. He was sure that the right hon. Gentleman did not desire it to be supposed that the Government were indifferent to all measures—however important—which had no connection with party interests. This Bill was of the highest moment. It affected the whole of our vast shipping trade and the lives of our 200,000 seamen. It contained 700 clauses, and he was sure that he should not be misunderstood when he said such a measure ought not to be brought forward except by a Department at the head of which was a responsible Minister of the Crown. No one could possibly lament more than he did the visitation of Providence which had deprived them of the presence of the distinguished Gentleman at the head of the Board of Trade. No one could admit more readily than he did the ability with which that Department had been represented in that House by the Secretary to the Board. But, nevertheless, the hon. Gentleman was a young and inexperienced Member of the House, and he (Sir John Pakington) submitted that it was not consistent with Parliamentary practice that a Bill of such magnitude as this should be entrusted to any but a responsible Minister of the Crown. Moreover, what prospect was there that, at the present advanced period of the Session—with the Education Bill, and other measures of indispensable importance to be disposed of—justice could be done to a Bill such as this, dealing with a variety of extremely important questions. As far back as the beginning of May he felt it his duty to bring a portion of this subject under the notice of the House, when he made most painful statements, which had not since been impugned, and concluded by moving for the appointment of a Royal Commission to inquire into certain matters connected with this great and complicated question. He was opposed, however, by the Government, who refused to accede to the Motion, on the ground that a Bill relating to the subject was already before the House. On that occasion he might remark several hon. Members on both sides of the House, and particularly the hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Graves), fully agreed with him that an inquiry was necessary, although they thought it could be conducted by a Select Committee better than by a Royal Commission as he had proposed. Six weeks had elapsed since that Motion, and now, in the middle of June, they were asked to read the Bill the second time. That was not the manner in which such a subject should be dealt with. He would beg to suggest to the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government that the most prudent course would be to withdraw the Bill, and to institute an inquiry. If inquiry were now to take place legislation would properly follow in the next Session; and he was convinced not only that nothing would be lost, but that much would be gained by the delay, for hurried legislation was never effective.


said, while he felt great sympathy with the hope of the right hon. Baronet who had just addressed the House, that an inquiry would be set on foot, he could not see that that was a sufficient reason for preventing the passage of a measure which would confer great advantages on the country generally. The object of the right hon. Baronet, when he brought forward his Motion some weeks ago, was to obtain a general inquiry into all matters connected with the large loss of life which mainly resulted from the overloading of ships and the sending of them to sea in an unseaworthy condition or improperly equipped. He himself believed that enormous loss resulted from this, and, indeed, he laid before the House statistics showing that last year, in the Baltic trade alone, no fewer than 22 vessels out of 282 were lost. He granted that inquiry was needed to ascertain the causes of this loss, but a proper investigation would extend over a long period; and here he might take occasion to remark that whereas the right hon. Gentleman wanted an inquiry in order that it might be followed by restrictive legislation, he wanted it in order that more complete information might be afforded to the shipowners, who would be thereby enabled to take precautions against future loss. The Merchant Shipping Bill would certainly deliver us from some of the great evils which now existed, as it contained clauses which every honest shipowner must hail with satisfaction. First, there was a clause providing that every shipowner who sent a vessel to sea in an unseaworthy condition, either from being over-laden or any other cause, should be guilty of a misdemeanor. Another clause provided that sailors should be exempted from the penalty of being declared deserters if they quitted a vessel they believed to be unseaworthy, and which on investigation proved to be so. Again, the iniquity wrought by changing the names of vessels after they had acquired a bad notoriety was fully provided against. It also dealt with an important danger that arose from the practice of placing cargoes on the decks of vessels which had been already loaded below deck to the greatest possible extent. The Bill, however, proposed to enact that, if when a ship was built she was intended to carry a deck cargo, a notice to that effect must be given by the owners, and entered on the register, and the tonnage dues of the vessel increased proportionately, so that both notice of the intention so to use the vesssel would be registered, and the qualification of the vessel to carry such deck cargo ascertained. All these were matters of vast importance, and it would be a hardship on the commercial community if the benefits which the Bill would confer were withheld for a considerable time while an investigation, as desired by the right hon. Baronet, was going on. In almost every instance where those Baltic vessels were lost they were well insured, and he had no doubt that in many cases the loss had been converted into gain. If every insurance were made recoverable only to the extent of two-thirds or three-fourths of the value, the owner would be at no disadvantage with regard to the money which he would have to pay on his policy, while he would himself be the under-writer for the remaining portion of the value of the ship, and would thus become materially interested in the safety of the vessel, and everything that tended to insure it. If this Bill were referred to a Select Committee it would very probably be lost sight of altogether.


said, he could not help sharing in the regret that there had been so great a delay in bringing the Bill before the House; but while he was sorry that the President of the Board of Trade was not able to be in his place, he thought it fortunate that the measure had fallen into the hands of his hon. Friend the Member for Reading (Mr. Shaw-Lefevre) who he knew had taken the utmost pains to ascertain the feelings of the whole mercantile community on the subject. He must confess that he was anxious to advise the Government to take, if possible, a larger and more comprehensive view of the question. He was afraid that as the Bill stood it would only have the effect of patching up legislation, and of making confusion worse confounded by extending the principles of the present Acts, which were admitted to be very defective and unintelligible. Much of the present legislation on the subject of shipping had been the result of compromise. He was not, however, prepared to deny that the Bill was a great improvement on that which had been introduced last year and withdrawn. It was, however, he thought, susceptible of a greater amount of amendment than could be made in it during the remainder of the already overworked Session. It was the general impression that the wording of some of its clauses was ambiguous, and that it dealt with many points in a way which was too minute. The criticism of the Glasgow Steamship Association, which was well worthy the attention of the House, was to that effect. The first portion of the Bill, which related to the registration of ships, consisted of nearly 100 clauses, and it was generally felt that a considerable reduction might with advantage be made in their number by dealing with the matter either by Orders in Council or by Schedules. Then the question of mortgages, which was very important as regarded registry, and of the precise amount of liability which attached to mortgagees, of the liability of part owners to each other and to the general creditors, were wholly untouched by the measure. The second part of the Bill dealt with the officers and seamen of the Mercantile Marine. There was a very strong conviction that the relations be- tween seamen and the owners and captains of vessels were not what they ought to be; that legislation had done much to separate them, and that our seamen had deteriorated—he did not mean to say morally, but physically. Upon that subject he should be prepared to lay before the House such facts as would, he thought, convince hon. Members of the necessity of further inquiry. The seamen themselves had by a Petition, to which 3,000 signatures were attached, asked for such inquiry. The shipowners had also asked for it, and there was not an association in Liverpool, he believed, which had not, by resolution, at all events, made a similar request. He was, therefore, strongly in favour of referring this portion of the Bill to a Select Committee, and at a later period of the evening he would make a Motion to that effect. As to the question of measurement, the Liverpool sailing and steam shipowners alike objected to the system which was proposed by the Bill; while with regard to casualties, although he had opposed the Motion of his right hon. Friend (Sir John Pakington) when he sought to obtain the appointment of a Royal Commission to inquire into them, for reasons which he then gave, he stated that if the matter were referred to a Select Committee he should not object to the adoption of that course. He would now come to points which were not in the Bill, but which ought to be in it, if it claimed the smallest title to be considered a Maritime Code. Many important points of Maritime Law were never dealt with in the Bill. For example, bottomry, respondentia, general average, jettison, stoppage in transitu, sale of cargo, barratry, rights and liabilities of part owners, and abandonment of voyage, and other such questions. On these points the laws of England were only to be found in the reports of decided cases or the treatises of text writers, who had endeavoured, with more or less of success, to bring these decisions into harmony. In the last addition of Pritchard's Admiralty Digest, 4,000 cases were collated, so that there was ample material for a Bill which would establish a really valuable code of Mercantile Law if Parliament would only give the requisite time and attention to it. Some two or three years since an Imperial Commission in France had inquired into the Maritime Code of that country; and every one of the points to which he had alluded, as well as all those comprised in the Bill, were embraced in their Report and dealt with in the French Code. There ought to be no difficulty in our adopting the same course. He might be told that the Bill was already too bulky. But in his opinion it might be reduced one-half. For instance, the portions relating to lighthouses and harbours might be omitted, and the Emigration Acts substituted. Lighthouses really had nothing to do with ships, except that the ships were unfairly made to pay for them. And what had the conservancy of harbours to do with a Shipping Code? The Chain Cable and Anchor Act, which should appear, was quietly dropped out. Was it the intention to repeal that Act? If they merely desired to put under one cover all the Acts relating to the shipping interest they might possibly pass a Bill this present Session, though, if with such contracted views, he had great doubts if they would succeed. In the present state of Public Business, however, it was impossible to pass this Session a Bill which should be worthy of the House and of the nation. More care and inquiry should be devoted to the preparation of such a measure. A portion of it should be dealt with practically upstairs, and a large portion of it should be treated by a Royal Commission; not such an one as usually came under this term, but one where all interests were represented, and which should be presided over by one of the Judges, such a man as Mr. Justice Willes, if he could be induced to devote himself to the reform and consolidation of our Maritime Laws. Then, next year, the House would be able to approach this question more satisfactorily, and lay down principles which should guide for all time a great maritime nation like ours.


said, the House was much indebted to the care and ability shown by the Secretary to the Board of Trade, and while regretting, with other hon. Members, the absence from that House of the President of the Board, he did not think that was any reason why why they should not proceed with the Bill. He thought, however, several portions of it were objectionable, and especially that which made a shipowner liable to the penalties of a misdemeanor for having a ship at sea in an unsea- worthy state. If a vessel were absent from port for three or four years she might become unseaworthy, and it would be very hard that a shipowner should be subject to prosecution for misdemeanor for acts of his servants over which he could have no control. Instead of making the shipowner more responsible than he now was, he thought greater responsibility should be thrown upon the masters and. officers of the ship for negligence in navigating their vessels. He must dispute the accuracy of the statement by the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Samuda), that most of the vessels lost were insured. The very opposite was the case, for the small coasters which were lost were mostly uninsured, both vessel and cargo. It would be a hardship to oblige such small shipowners to insure a certain amount of the property they sent to sea. If the hon. Gentleman's principles were adopted the small shipowner would be driven out of the trade altogether; and he was sure the House would never entertain a proposition of that kind. He would not detain the House at present; but he would reserve what he had to say on the Bill till a later stage, when he intended to move that the Bill be referred to a Select Committee.


said, he was in favour of immediate legislation and future amendment, rather than inquiry with a view to future legislation. Although the Bill was voluminous, it was not all new, for it was a measure of consolidation, and therefore the House ought not to be frightened by its magnitude. Respecting nineteen-twentieths of the existing law there was no dispute. The new and important provisions of the Bill had for their object the enforcement of additional precautions for the saving of life. He thought there was great weight in what had fallen from the hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Graves), and he yielded to no one in the interest he felt in everything connected with the welfare of our sailors. In that part of the Bill which related to the registration of ships the draught of water was to be marked on the hull, and the authorities were required to make a record of the fact. The sending a ship to sea in an unseaworthy condition was created a misdemeanor; and, in addition to that, power was given, in the case of a seaman leaving a ship on the ground of the vessel being unseaworthy, to authorize the justice, instead of committing the man as a deserter, to appoint a competent surveyor to examine the ship. Taking these points into consideration, he thought it would be much better to proceed to legislation at once, and make such improvements in the future as experience might suggest, rather than to shelve the matter for two or three years by making further inquiries into the matter. He thought it desirable that the Board of Trade should be directed to institute an inquiry in all cases involving loss of life, instead of merely having the option of doing so. The Bill had been canvassed throughout the country by the shipping authorities, maritime Chambers of Commerce, and other bodies concerned, who had been in constant communication with the Board of Trade, and the amount of labour which had been expended upon it ought not to be lost. The country would be deeply disappointed if the matter were shelved. It was generally admitted that the present Bill was a great improvement on that of last year, and he thought the House ought to assist the Government in still further improving it. It did not appear absolutely necessary to undertake the task of completing the measure during the present Session, and he thought it might be separated into portions, some of which might be referred to a Select Committee.


Sir, I do not rise to enter in detail into considerations connected with the clauses of the Bill, with which I have, indeed, only a general acquaintance; but it is only just to the right hon. Baronet opposite (Sir John Pakington) that I should, in the spirit in which he addressed the House, make a reply to the appeal which he addressed to me. It should be borne in mind that to-night we are only considering whether we shall proceed to the second reading of the Bill or at once abandon the effort to pass it, either in despair or upon the deliberate preference of the doctrine of the right hon. Baronet that the present is the time for inquiry rather than legislation. The right hon. Baronet based his appeal on two grounds. First, while handsomely and appropriately acknowledging the ability of my hon. Friend the Secretary of the Board of Trade (Mr. Shaw-Lefevre), he contended that a Bill of this nature ought to be in the hands of a responsible Minister, meaning thereby a Member of the Cabinet—a proposition to which I cannot accede, although I fully admit that the observations of the right hon. Gentleman were prompted by public considerations in regard to the merits of the case. There is nothing unusual in the management of such a Bill as this by my hon. Friend who now represents the Board of Trade in this House; and I believe, had the right hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright) been present, my hon. Friend would still have been entrusted with the conduct of this measure. When we examine the points which come up for discussion in constituting a Mercantile Maritime Code, we find they are all points which do not involve considerations requiring that the responsibility of the Cabinet should be brought to bear upon them in any special sense; and I am sure that the energy, experience, and ability of my hon. Friend render him quite competent to deal with them in this House. The first great effort to create a Code of Law on this subject was made by my right hon. Friend the Member for the city of Oxford (Mr. Card-well), in 1854, when he was not a Member of the Cabinet; and many important measures could be named which have been carried through this House by Gentlemen who were not responsible Ministers of the Crown. With regard to the subject itself, the right hon. Baronet must be struck by the tone of the debate. With the exception of the senior Member for Liverpool (Mr. Graves) all who have spoken have been favourable to an immediate attempt at legislation; and it would be premature to decide now that there is no hope of passing the Bill this Session. First, the real decision of that question must depend upon the success of the efforts which my hon. Friend will make after the second reading to elicit the opinion of those who are most competent and most entitled to be heard in regard to particular provisions; for this is one of the Bills which, in no inconsiderable degree, are passed rather by the country than by this House. I do not mean by political pressure, but by practical discussion at local centres, where knowledge and experience are accumulated. All that has been said, especially by the right hon. Baronet who has so strong a sense of the defective condition of Maritime Law at this period, is calculated to impress upon the mind a feeling that it would, indeed, be very unsatisfactory if, because we cannot at once stride on to absolute perfection, we were to let another winter pass without effecting those great and important practical improvements in certain portions of the law which the present Bill aims at accomplishing, and which, if I can trust the general expression of opinion in this House, there can be no reason to despair of our effecting with a moderate expenditure of time and labour. I am sure that the right hon. Baronet, whether he is or is not satisfied with the reasons that govern our conduct, will feel that they involve no disrespect to him; but it is my opinion that, under the circumstances of the case, and looking to the general concurrence of feeling in this House, that we should not do our duty unless we were to go forward to the second reading of the Bill, with the intention of giving every facility and assistance we can, in order, if possible, to carry into law a Bill which, if it falls short of absolute perfection, is yet a useful and valuable measure, and represents very great progress in maritime legislation.


said, this Bill, though presented as one measure, was hereafter to be considered as 13 separate Acts of Parliament, a plan of proceeding which rendered discussion at this stage almost useless, and one which, he believed, had not been hitherto adopted. He wished to ask the Secretary to the Board of Trade whether all former legislation was to be repealed by the 700 and odd clauses of this Bill, many of which professed to be re-enactments?


said, there was a Bill before the House to effect such a repeal.


said, repeal and re-enactment were usually effected in the same Bill. In this measure there seemed to be some omission as to wreck, for it did not vest the property in anybody. There was also in the Bill a clause of a very unusual kind, which gave power to enforce the sale by private persons of any rent-charges which they might have on lighthouses, and there was no provision for notice being given to them. He was glad to find that the Bill abolished the mixed proceedings of inquests and trials as to the losses of ships, though he did not think the "quasi-criminal" tribunal proposed in the Bill would be satisfactory. Some other points, especially that about the Board of Trade purchasing wreck, would require consideration in Committee. Another part of the Bill was very questionable—that which gave special powers to the magistracy to deal with maritime offenders—while in one instance there was a great departure from the existing law, and he did not know how the alteration could be maintained in this particular case, if it was not also to be made general. That instance was, the allowing defendants in cases of assault to be examined as witnesses. There were many other points about this measure which required discussion; for instance, the Bill attempted to deal with overloading and the unseaworthiness of ships, but in so delusive a manner that it would be almost better not to touch the subject at all, for there was a Saving Clause which was quite equal to the Equity Clauses in the Irish Land Bill. It was to be a misdemeanour to send a vessel to sea "so as to endanger life," which raised one question. Another question was, whether the ship was sent to sea under circumstances which were "unavoidable and reasonable." How it could ever be reasonable to send an unseaworthy ship to sea, he could not understand. That qualification opened a very convenient door for escaping from the provisions of the Bill, while a third would raise some very nice questions for the lawyers hereafter to decide. Unless the Government could legislate on the subject in a more satisfactory manner than by this Bill, it would be almost better to leave the matter alone, because they professed to hold out something, which was, however, so fenced and guarded that it absolutely came to nothing. It would be better to wait another year, and then pass a perfect measure, because if the present Bill became law it would unsettle everything, while it must be afterwards amended. He suggested that the Government should consent to the Bill being referred to a Committee upstairs, before whom the shipping interests might battle over it and get it into such a shape that it would pass without discussion, and be more satisfactory than if so many clauses were fought out in the House.


said, he thought it would be a most desirable step to pass the Bill as a measure of consolidation, and as a basis of whatever subsequent legislation might be deemed requisite in respect to shipping. He believed that the Board of Trade deserved thanks for the way in which mercantile opinion throughout the country had been consulted, and for the pains which had been bestowed upon the measure. They all regretted the absence of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board, but although the right hon. Gentleman might have advocated the measure with more eloquence, he could not have devoted to it more pains or brought to bear upon it more practical knowledge and ability. The hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Samuda) had said that last year 22 ships out of 282 engaged in the Baltic trade had been lost; but it was difficult on these figures to arrive at his conclusion that the average life of a ship in the Baltic trade was only four years. The hon. Member had suggested that a limit should be imposed on the risk covered by marine insurance; but he believed that such a proposal was illusory and impracticable, and also contrary to the spirit of prudent legislation. To say it should not be lawful, for example, to insure more than two-thirds of the value of shipping property would be to attempt to discourage prudence, and in consequence would be to throw the shipping trade into the hands of large companies and very wealthy private owners. Moreover, if the attempt were made, a mutual insurance company based entirely on honour might be easily formed that would entirely defeat it. He thought it was very desirable that every part owner of a ship should be liable for all the responsibilities of the ship. In conclusion, while he thought it very desirable that there should be a perfect Code of Shipping Law, he believed that if that Bill were carried to a successful termination, an important advance would be made in the development of commercial legislation, and a measure passed that would give much satisfaction to the shipping interest.


did not agree in the expediency of passing an imperfect measure, which they would have to pull to pieces again next Session. He thought that unless a satisfactory Bill could be passed it would be better to defer legislation altogether. This was not a party question, and the Bill might be viewed as the work, not of one, but of two or even of more successive Governments. When it was objected that the measure was not in the charge of a Member of the Cabinet, he congratulated himself on not being in the same position as the Secretary to the Board of Trade; because if the late Government had remained in Office a little longer, it might probably have been his own duty, though not what was called a responsible Minister of the Crown, to introduce legislation on that subject. Those who had charge of those matters were rather unhappily placed. There was a constant outcry for legislation on the part of the shipowners, and while he was in Office scarcely a fortnight passed without his being asked whether he had not a Bill ready. Yet when measures were proposed relating to that question it was most difficult to carry them, because on the one side they were held not to be stringent enough, and on the other side to be too stringent. It had been objected to the present Bill that it was a compromise; but he did not think any legislation on that subject could be carried which was not a compromise. He should vote for the Bill, though in many of the observations made as to the faults, both of omission and commission, he entirely agreed; but he thought that the debate had shown that the House was quite capable of amending it, and that with the assistance of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxfordshire—than whom no man was more capable of picking holes in any Bill—and with the aid of other Gentlemen who took an interest in the question, a Committee of the Whole House might be able to deal with the measure or with a considerable portion of it. As to what the hon. Member for Liverpool had said about bottomry, barratry, and various other legal questions, such as were contained in the pages of Abbott on Shipping, he thought that these subjects might well be included in a separate Bill, instead of being embraced in a Bill like the present, which sought to regulate the practice of merchant shipowners and seamen rather than the law relating to shipping. To refer the Bill to a Committee upstairs, taking evidence on all those various subjects, would be simply to shelve the whole measure. He felt sure the Secretary of the Board of Trade would consult all interests, and even recast the measure if necessary. He had ventured to suggest on a former occasion that the Bill, which really contained 13 Acts of Parliament, might be divided and passed piecemeal, some questions being, if advisable, referred to Committees for further inquiry. The question, however, before the House was, whether they would give the Bill a second reading, and, deeming legislation to be necessary, without saying this was perfect in any sense, he thought that it ought to be read the second time.


said, he desired first to express his thanks to hon. Members for the manner in which the Bill had been received, and also for the way in which they had spoken of his work in connection with it. He must plead guilty of the want of one qualification—not being a Cabinet Minister; but he had always felt in all the work he did that he was responsible both to the House and the country. As had already been pointed out, his present position in that matter was not very different from that occupied by many former Vice Presidents of the Board of Trade. The hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Graves) had suggested that it would be better to postpone that Bill until they could have a much larger measure dealing with all the numerous questions affecting shipping, freight, insurance, and other subjects. No doubt, it would be a most desirable thing to have a Code treating of every branch of Shipping Law; and, certainly, if he should hold his present Office for any lengthened period, he would endeavour to bring that about. Still, he thought it would be better, with that view, to codify so much of the Law of Shipping as was in the statute book, leaving to a future occasion those parts of the subject comprised in the unwritten law. If there was a difficulty in passing a Bill of 800 clauses, how much more difficult would it be to pass one containing 1,600, which would probably be the number required to carry out his hon. Friend's very wide scheme? In reference to the remark of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley), he would say that, though the Bill dealt with 13 different branches of subjects, they were treated in a manner calculated to enable the House to discuss their merits in the most convenient and satisfactory form. The hon. Member for Liverpool recommended that the Bill should be referred to a Select Committee, and with reference to a particular branch, of the subject proceeded to give the House a very gloomy view of the state of things. There was, no doubt, a great deal of force in what the hon. Member said; but he had looked only at one side of the question, and there was another of which a much more favourable view could be taken. The hon. Member referred, he believed, only to seamen belonging to long-voyage sailing vessels. Now, he (Mr. Shaw-Lefevre) had made much inquiry on the subject, and he found that the seamen employed on board steamers were in a vastly improved condition. Voyages in steamers were made at stated times, the service was regular, the men employed in them were able to spend a certain period with their families, and the consequence was that most of the best men were drafted into the steam trade, and perhaps, as a consequence, the average of seamen in sailing vessels had somewhat deteriorated. But he looked forward with hope to an improvement in the condition of our seamen, which was certain to result from the increase of steam. Then, again, during the last 14 years the wages of seamen in sailing vessels had not improved. He had learnt from inquiry that there were a large number of efficient seamen if only shipowners would give higher wages, and then they would have no difficulty in getting the seamen they wanted. In the Bill now before the House, there was a considerable number of Amendments having in view the improvement of the condition of seamen generally; these Amendments had been laid before the House, and had met with approval not only from hon. Members most interested in the subject, but from the country at large. The House must not take the Bill to be of a more extensive or ambitious character than it really was. It was, in the main, a Consolidation Bill. It was admitted to be essential to bring together all the existing Acts, which were in a state of chaos, and the opportunity was taken of making various Amendments, which had been pointed out in the Memorandum to which he had called attention, and had been explained in great detail. He had reason to believe that nine-tenths of those Amendments; had been accepted by persons most interested in the question, and that the points of difference were really confined to a very few clauses. It was that circumstance which made him think that the Bill might pass this Session if hon. Members would only exercise a little forbearance and not raise discussions on points not contained in the Bill. He admitted there were subjects open to debate, such as the light dues, the constitution of the Trinity Board, and others not dealt with in the Amendments; but if hon. Gentlemen would insist on discussing these subjects either in Committee of the Whole House or in a Select Committee neither this nor any other Consolidation Bill could pass this Session, or in any normal Session. The only chance of consolidation at present was that the House would mainly confine itself to the Amendments which had been printed, or to such others as were pari materia. He would now say a few words on the subject which had been brought before the House on a former occasion in so forcible a manner by the right hon. Member for Droitwich (Sir John Pakington). The right hon. Baronet admitted that if the course he recommended were adopted it would postpone legislation for the present year. He understood the right hon. Baronet to desire that the Bill should be postponed until next year, and that it should then be referred to a Select Committee. His answer would be very much the same as it was in the debate three weeks ago. He admitted to some extent the evil of which his right hon. Friend complained, but he did not believe that the number of losses of vessels or lives had increased for some years past. He admitted that there was a certain number of cases in which vessels were lost from overlading, which had given rise to great anxiety, and in view of these they had inserted in the Bill several Amendments. It seemed, therefore, not unreasonable to ask his right hon. Friend, if not satisfied with these Amendments, to propose others himself, and he (Mr. Shaw-Lefevre) would be happy to give them the best consideration. The Bill on this subject introduced by the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Plimsoll)) was no doubt deserving of consideration; but, although desirous of affording every fair opportunity for discussing its provisions, he did not think that it dealt with this important subject in the most effectual manner. The right hon. Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley) had objected to the clause which made it a misdemeanor to send a ship to sea in an unseaworthy condition. Though there were some exceptions in the clause which would diminish its effect, he did not think if they examined it carefully it would be found to diminish the penalties where it was desirable that penalties should be enforced. He accepted the version of the right hon. Baronet (Sir John Pakington) as to the Sea Queen, though he was bound to say he could not quite concur in it. He thought that there was evidence on the other side which went to show that there was a different cause for the loss of that vessel. But supposing the version of the right hon. Baronet to be correct, the case seemed to be precisely one to which the clause would apply. The law as it stood at present relieved the seaman from going to sea in an unseaworthy vessel. But what happened was this—The seaman was arrested as a deserter if he left the vessel; and, practically, he had no opportunity of calling witnesses as to its condition. What the Bill before the House proposed was that, in the first place, the seaman who left a vessel because she was unseaworthy would not be considered as a criminal; he might give evidence himself, and call in a Board of Trade surveyor to speak to the condition of the vessel. In the case of the Sea Queen the seamen knew her exact state, and complained that they were going to sea in an unseaworthy vessel; but they were afraid to leave her lest they might be treated as deserters. In three cases their wives came before the Court and said that their husbands would not leave the vessel because they were afraid of being treated as deserters. But that was precisely such a case as the Amendments in the Bill would meet. It might be said that in no case would sailors be induced to leave a vessel because she was unseaworthy; but the experience of the Board of Trade was very different. There were a great number of cases in which seamen left their vessels on the ground of their being unseaworthy. In some cases there was no ground for such assertions; but it must be admitted that in other cases these objections were well founded and reasonable. Many other subjects had been referred to, but those were points of detail, which would more properly be considered in Committee. He promised that, between this time and the Committee, no effort should be wanting on his part in order to ascertain the views of hon. Gentlemen, particularly of those who represented shipping communities. Meanwhile, he had reason to believe that the Amendments would be accepted without much difficulty, and there would be few cases which would give rise to prolonged discussion. No doubt there were other points affecting the condition of our seamen which might be dealt with. But there never was a time when our Mercantile Marine was in a more pre-eminent position relative to that of other countries, and he hoped this measure would consolidate and maintain that pre-eminence, and would long preserve our Mercantile Marine in its present proud position.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be committed to a Committee of the Whole House for Monday next."


, who had given Notice of a Motion, That the Bill be referred to a Select Committee, so far as regards Part 2, relating to Masters and Seamen, said, he did not think he had taken too gloomy a view of the condition of our seamen. Some months ago a representative Committee was formed in Liverpool, which sent out queries on this subject; and 89 per cent of the answers stated that the seamen had deteriorated as seamen, 65 per cent stated that they had deteriorated in physical condition, and 71 per cent that they had deteriorated in respect of subordination. This Committee recommended that, before being rated as A.B.'s, seamen should obtain a certificate of competency; and the seamen themselves desired this, with a view to their protection from men who did: not know their duty. They also recommended that advance notes should be rendered illegal; that sailors' lodging-houses should be licensed; that communications should be opened with foreign Governments with a view to put down the crimping system; that the Government should provide training ships at all our large seaports, encourage as much as possible the apprentice system, and establish a compulsory benefit fund for seamen. These questions not only affected the welfare of our seamen, but the national prestige, and ought to command attention in legislating upon this subject. Seeing, however, the desire of the Government and of the House that no impediment should be thrown in the way of the present Bill, he should withdraw his Amendment, strongly convinced though he was that a preliminary inquiry ought to be made.


said, he was somewhat surprised at this withdrawal. His own proposal would be to refer Parts 3 and 6 to a Select Committee; Part 3 having reference to overloading, and Part 6 to collisions. It was impossible to pass a Bill of 700 clauses this year without a precipitancy which the Government would regret unless they referred these parts of the measure to a Select Committee. He was not a shipowner; he did not represent a seaport; but he was anxious to save the lives of his fellow-countrymen, which were now destroyed at the rate of hundreds every year. This was no light matter, to be disposed of out of courtesy to a Government or to anybody. Although he did not profess to have any practical knowledge of the subject, letters had poured in upon him from all parts of the kingdom, and it was clear that the overloading of vessels and collisions were fertile sources of danger. Moreover, both were subjects of great practical difficulty, which could only be satisfactorily settled by bringing together competent authorities before a Commission or a Committee appointed to carry on an impartial inquiry. He believed a Royal Commission would really be the most effectual mode of conducting the inquiry; but he was quite prepared to intrust it to a Committee upstairs. The matter, however, was a grave one. The important facts which he had detailed the other day had none of them been gainsaid; and he would, therefore, urge the Government to consent to his Motion that the Bill be referred to a Select Committee so far as regards Parts 3 and 6 of the Bill, with power to take evidence with respect to the best mode of preventing overlading of ships and collisions at sea.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the words "be committed" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "to a Select Committee, so far as regards Parts 3 and 6, with power to take evidence with respect to the best mode of preventing overlading of ships and collisions at sea,"—(Sir John Pakington,) —instead thereof.

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


said, that after the debate that had been held upon the second reading it would be very desirable to allow the Government a short time to consider what was the best course to pursue. At the present moment, certainly, the Government were not prepared to consent to a reference of the Bill to a Select Committee, if to that reference the condition were attached that the Committee should take evidence. At the same time, it would be advantageous that a little time should be allowed for considering the matter, and his hon. Friend and the right hon. Baronet opposite would not be prejudiced if it were now agreed to adjourn the debate.


said, he was ready to accede to the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman.


said, he hoped that if the Government took any other course that that of merely allowing the Bill to be committed in the ordinary way, the fact that he had expressed a willingness to yield to their appeal would not prejudice him in raising the question as to Part 2.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill committed for Monday next.