§ MR. PLIMSOLL,
in rising to move—That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that She will be pleased to issue a Royal Commission to inquire into the condition of, and certain practices connected with, the Commercial Marine of the United Kingdom,said: *Sir, if I were as competent to 1320 speak as I am to work for and to sympathize with the maritime population of this country, I should make a speech which would not be unworthy even of this House; unfortunately, however, I am not, and am even less able to speak in this presence than to assemblies in other places. I trust therefore, Sir, that the House will accord to me its indulgence whilst I endeavour to lay before it a few facts, out of many, upon which I shall found a Motion for an Address to the Crown, even though my statement of facts and arguments should not be as clear as other statements to which it is accustomed to listen. I will do my best to avoid, on the one hand, leaving my statements unsupported, and, on the other hand, overlaying my subject with a redundancy of proof. Before I proceed, one observation further. I wish to guard myself against being understood, in any strictures or remarks which I may use, as applying them to the whole of the shipowners of this kingdom—nothing can be further from my intention than that. I simply wish to describe practices which prevail amongst a part, and, as I believe, but a small part, of those shipowners.
Sir, considering the amount of general knowledge which prevails now on this important subject, I shall not consider it necessary to arrange my subject into as many divisions as a full treatment of it would require, and then support each by appropriate proof; I shall rest my case upon a general statement of the law as it affects this matter—supported by quotations from letters. My statement is that the law will not prevent me nor anyone else from building a ship of any dimensions which fancy or caprice may dictate. That the law will not prevent me from using timber altogether insufficient in scantling and unsuitable in quality in building that ship. That the law will not prevent me from building an iron ship in any way I please, and of so-called steel plates of such a quality that a strong man with a heavy hammer could knock a hole in them—plates, in point of fact, little better than cast metal. That the law will not prevent me, having selected a design for a flush-deck iron steamer, and having had the ship so constructed, from building upon her, after she is launched, a poop 120 feet long, then adding a top-gallant forecastle 50 feet long, then uniting the two roofs and 1321 calling it a hurricane-clock, and then putting upon the latter donkey-engines, steam-cranes, and other gear, in such a way as to provoke the strongest representations that I had simply built one ship upon another, and that the whole must certainly founder the first time she encounters half a gale of wind and a beam sea. That the law will not prevent me, urged by competition, from cutting a vessel in two, adding 50 or 70 or any other number of feet to her length amidships, without any diagonal bracing, any doubling of plates, any additional bulkheads, or any of those appliances which a competent naval architect would think necessary. That the law will not prevent me from keeping my ships at sea in a state of unrepair, fraught with the highest peril to those on board—keeping her at sea until she is 70, 80, 90, 100, or even more years old—from keeping her at sea in fact, when she is so utterly rotten that if she takes the ground or touches a rock she must inevitably go to pieces with quick and sudden destruction. That the law will not interfere to prevent my loading a ship, no matter of what class or kind, with an amount of cargo that shall sink her deck within a couple of feet of the water, and sending her to sea in a condition which not merely excites the forebodings of all on board, but gives rise to many condemnatory remarks on the part of those who see her set forth. That the law will not interfere to prevent me, having built steamers for what is called canal and general cargo traffic, from sending them across the Atlantic and loading them with grain in bulk, a most dangerous cargo, and requiring ships of extraordinary tightness and strength to carry in safety; because, should there be the slightest leakage, the grain absorbs the moisture and swells, and the bursting force thus accumulated beneath the superincumbent weight of the cargo may be easily judged of when we consider the familiar illustration that is afforded in the fact, that, if you lay a flag-stone upon a stool of crocuses or snowdrops in the spring, the vital forces which the spring sets in operation will lift the stone so as to enable them to get forth. That the law will not prevent me from so overtasking the engine-power of my vessel as to load from 17 to 19 tons cargo per horsepower, a fair load per horse-power not being 1322 more than from 12 to 13 tons, and so overtasking the human power on board as to sail a steam-vessel of over 2,000 tons from a foreign port for England with only eight deck-hands on board, three only of whom were able seamen and competent to understand the orders which were given to them. And, lastly, that the law provides for the measurement of ships in such a way as distinctly to encourage the building of ships of an unsafe character, inasmuch as, if you cover your ship from end to end with a hurricane-deck, which will enable the vessel to throw off the seas, you make her liable to considerably increased charges—as tonnages, dues, &c.; which additional charges you altogether escape if you build merely a long poop and a forecastle, thus leaving the engine-hatches and apertures leading to the fire-hole open like a funnel to receive every sea which washes on board. If then, Sir, all this is true, and the law does not interfere to prevent practices like these, the state of things which might be anticipated, even without experience of their effects, would be ample reason why an inquiry should be instituted, with a view to the establishment of a better system. But, Sir, we are not left to á priori reasoning on this subject. We have a great mass of evidence of the saddest and most melancholy character to show that the results which might have been anticipated have followed. The statements which occur with such distressing frequency in the Board of Trade Returns, and the statements which have been so repeatedly made in the Magazine of the Lifeboat Institution, and those which are repeated on every hand by papers published in our seaports towns, constitute what I may call general proof in support of my statement. I should however, I think, make a mistake if I did not submit to the House one or two special instances which have come to my knowledge even within the past few days. This letter reached me February 27th—I was brought up at a seaport town, and was 12 years in a ship-building and repairing yard; six years of the time I acted as outside superintendent, so that I had abundant opportunity of noticing the sort of 'coffins' in which sailors are often sent to sea.—bring a depot for the North, there are two important trades carried on—namely, coal and wood. The coal trade, at least until three years ago—when I left—was principally carried on by small merchants. They 1323 employed schooners, brigantines, and brigs to carry coal from the Scotch and English ports; very few of these vessels were classed, and the majority were equipped in the most miserable way. One merchant whom I could name lost two or three vessels every year, and, generally, all hands with the vessels. He has often been known to send his vessels to sea without proper ground-gear, in order that the captains would have to beat a passage, and not take an intermediate port. I have seen dozens of such vessels that could not be properly caulked, the planks being so rotten that pieces of wood had to be driven in the seams, and if a piece of plank was taken out, no timbers or frames could be found to fasten it to, a plate of iron having to be laid on the ceiling or inside skin for this purpose; then, again, the running gear as a rule was perfectly rotten—rotten masts, spars and sails, and miserable cabins and forecastles: these vessels would make a passage across Channel in the middle of winter, with, perhaps, 18 inches of side above water. The timber-ships are employed running to North America, many of these vessels have no character or class, and their hulls are just as bad as the coal schooners. The timber-ships have generally to bring home heavy deck loads, and you are well aware of the number of such vessels that are lost annually.—being a very handy place for wind-bound and distressed vessels, I had many chances of seeing vessels which had put into the port leaky, carrying all sorts of cargoes, salt, pig-iron, rails, &c. These cargoes are very severe on old ships; often the crews have mutinied, or more properly speaking refused to proceed in the ships, having regard for their own safety, and very often they were imprisoned for doing so. I may add that I have no interest, at least, pecuniary, in this matter now, as I am in quite a different trade, but I know that you are right, although you may encounter a great deal of opposition. I am sure that my old master, who is still a shipbuilder and repairer would give you every information he could in a private way. I have written this letter on the impulse of the moment, so that I beg you will excuse any irregularities. If you wish to make a strong case you have only to visit the seaports and find out for yourself, as I am sure there is abundance of evidence.Then the next letter I would submit to the House is as follows:—The British steamer—,305 tons gross, 193 tons net, 35 horse-power, launched August, 1872, owned by—.Left—for—,27th December, 1872, with 360 tons pig-iron. Arrived at—with difficulty. Left Sunday, 2nd February last, with about 415 tons of wheat on board. Barely got out of the port, the weather being stormy, when she became disabled in the machinery, got down her anchors, and hung on to them till they parted in a few hours, and about 3 P.M., Sunday, went ashore, and was broken up. Of the crew, eleven in number, three only were saved. When the captain's body came ashore it had two wounds near the heart, which, being examined by a surgeon, led to the conclusion that he had committed suicide in his cabin before the completion of the wreck. Lloyd's agent at—, writes, under date of February, 1873—'I was informed by—, an Englishman, representative of Messrs.—, the ship- 1324 pers of the cargo, that the master appeared to be vexed by a letter received on arriving to load, from the owners of the vessel—as to the length of time of the passage. He explained to—that the engines were entirely the cause of the delay. The vessel and engines being new, he said that the latter required an entire overhauling to be cleaned out, as the valves were probably choked, and that they had experienced a good deal of difficulty with them on starting from—, but that the vessel was never sufficiently long in port to give a proper overhauling. Again, putting to sea on the Sunday when storm-signals were hoisted at the head of the harbour, knowing the engines to be defective, must have been considered a most imprudent act. But had he remained in port the vessel would have been neaped—detained by neap tides—for about ten days, to the prejudice of the owners and shippers, and for which he probably would have lost the command of the vessel. I think, therefore, that these reasons, with the fearful position of the moment, may possibly have instigated the act.I will now read part of another letter—A few months ago a crew refused to go to sea, alleging the unseaworthiness of the ship as their reason—they were sentenced to three months imprisonment; another crew was obtained, and the ship left, and went as far as Milford, when the second crew refused to go any further; a survey was ordered, and the ship condemned. Of course, the first crew was then released, but, I presume, no compensation was given them for their unjust imprisonment, and I am told that they lost their clothes, which remained in the ship, when they went to prison. I presume this fact can be obtained from the records of the Board of Trade. I hesitate to burden you with these statements, as I fear you have similar cases ad nauseam; should it however be in my power in any way to help in putting a stop to the fearful state of things now existing, I shall only be too glad to do so.Then the next letter is—My dear Sir,—You have made a move in the cause of humanity for which you deserve immortal credit. I have not seen your book, but I read a review of it in The Times with the deepest interest. Cases have occurred where delinquents have been executed for murder who deserved the gallows less than the monied barbarians who have sent overladen ships to sea. I send you enclosed an illustration of the justice of my statement. But to judge accurately of the disgraceful case you should read the evidence on the inquiry. It was proved that the decks were so laden with bales of cotton that the crew had to stand and walk on the top of them, so as to manage the ship, and Mr.—, a shipowner, examined for the defence, swore that the higher the bales were piled the more it conduced to safety, as if the ship went down the crew and passengers would have a better chance of escaping.The next letter, which I will read a portion of, describes a case which in magnitude is of frequent, and in character of every-day, occurrence— 1325Scarcely a second day passes but the police court here encounters cases of refusing to proceed to sea.' Many occur through the vice of local crimps, but as many perhaps result from the resolve of seamen not to be hastened to a sure and certain death in rotten or overlade ships. Some three weeks since some men were charged with refusing to proceed;' a local shipbuilder and owner surveyed, no doubt for the purpose of conviction, and swore the ship was fit for sea. The men were all but sentenced, but justice happened to halt; a remand occurred; a qualified person surveyed immediately; swore the vessel was not fit for sea, and, lo! the men escaped the punishment which perjury or incompetence, perhaps both, would have inflicted upon them, and probably, in the then state of the weather, they escaped the inevitable doom so often forced upon seamen. The other fact is this—a local iron firm of brothers were engaged to remove and repair the shaft of a large steamer; it had been bent, and cracked, and was totally unfit for use. Being removed and examined, nothing could be done but cutting off the injured part, but the authorities of the ship would not hear of it; it was patched up, but the wound was dangerous as ever. These brothers remarked that it was a scandal to take a ship to sea with such a shaft—'they would not go to sea in her for all the world.' She was bound for America, and they remarked—'if she does get there she will never return.' She did get there, but never returned, and her history was obliterated in the dark and secret sea. No inquiry followed! no record of her fate, no sympathy! her crew, I believe, were erased from life as if they never lived; but the widow and the orphan's moans were heard in Heaven, where these Pharisees will some day be called to judgment! As to evidence, these gentlemen, the officers of Customs, pilots, and men who stow the coal and iron cargoes, could give invaluable and conclusive testimony, and should be called throughout the kingdom, while the gentlemen who related the incident of the broken shaft are prepared to swear to its truth.That extract, Sir, will complete my statement of the case. It will be seen by the House, that, as now stated by me, I have limited myself to extracts from official documents and cases which have come to my knowledge within the last few days. I have done this advisedly for the purpose of avoiding the introduction of controversial matter.
I will now ask the House to consider with me for a moment the extent of the mischief which has resulted from the state of things which I have endeavoured to describe. I have endeavoured to get at the total loss of life recorded in the Wreck Register of the Board of Trade, but the totals are so distributed as to make this very difficult, and I am not even now sure that I have the whole; at any rate I am able to assure the House that the total annual loss for the following four years is not less than I 1326 now give the figures for:—In 1868, the lives lost were 2,488; in 1869, 2,821; in 1870, 3,411; and in 1871, 2,296. In all, 11,016, or 2,754 per annum on the average. I will next ask the House to consider with me for a moment the kind of men that are thus drowned in such appalling numbers; and I will, for this purpose, confine myself to entries which I find in the blue books issued by the Board of Trade—of opinions not uttered by Englishmen, but by the agents of foreign governments, who have been struck with admiration at the heroism and self-denial and humane feeling of our seamen at various times. The blue books of each year are crowded with instances of the same character as those of which I will read to the House a very few. In the blue book for the year 1868, at page 81, it will be found that 12 Englishmen, whose names are given, were rewarded by the French Government each with a silver medal for rescuing, at great risk, the crew of the French galleot L' Anemone, of Nantes. The same page records that a gold medal was given to an Englishman for rescuing, with much risk, the survivor of the ship Courier, of Dieppe. The very next entry is that of the master of the Perthshire Lassie, who was rewarded with a gold medal for rescuing, with much difficulty, the crew of a French ship. Further down we find that an Englishman was rewarded with a binocular glass for rescuing the crew of a French ship L' Aimable Virginie, and treating them with much kindness for 13 days. In the same page 14 Englishmen were each rewarded by the French Government with a silver medal for attempting, at the risk of their lives, to rescue the crew of the French ship Trois Sœurs. These instances might be quoted ad infinitum. In the Wreck Register of 1865 it is recorded that two Englishmen were rewarded by the Government of the Netherlands for their gallant and humane conduct in rescuing the crew of a steamer which was in danger. I should weary the House if I were merely to attempt to read a tithe of these cases; to read them in the blue books is deeply interesting, and makes us very proud of our countrymen; but, although I will not trouble the House with any more special instances, I wish to guard against these being supposed to be at all singular, by stating that in the year 1861 30 instances are recorded where a British 1327 subject or subjects as the case might be were rewarded by foreign Governments for conspicuous gallantry in rescuing and saving imperilled life. Such instances occur in—1862, 39; 1863, 42; 1864, 21; 1865, 26; 1866, 26; 1867, 32; 1868, 53; 1869, 34. In many of these instances, of course, very considerable numbers of men were included in the rewards and commendations of foreign Governments, and we may fairly assume that the cases of courage and self-devotion exhibited are vastly more numerous than those which were brought to the notice of the authorities and followed by reward. Does not the reading of these testimonies to the gallantry and self-devotion of our fellow-countrymen, at sea, cause all our hearts to beat high with pride that the fame of England is thus upheld in the eyes of other nations? Brave, tender-hearted, courageous, we yet suffer them to be drowned by the dozen and score at once, or to suffer torments worse than death to add to the ill-gotten gains of a few bad men. Now, Sir, let us see who they are who mourn the loss of these men.Dear Sir,—I trust that the disappointment you have encountered in the outset of your gallant undertaking will in no wise deter you from what you propose doing. Only be bold enough and consistent, and you will find supporters everywhere. How little true patriotism there is—the base greed of gain swallows up every honourable thought and Christian principle. If I were a man I would uphold the cause publicly. Ah, it makes my heart burn to think that English lads by scores, like my own son, are sent out to perish in rotten tubs, while the 'honest' shipowner sits complacently in his Sunday pew and lays by his guineas with untroubled conscience. So onward I say, for the sake of England's name which is growing fast a by-word among nations."AN ENGLISH MOTHER."
Take another case—Dear Sir,—It is with feelings of deep, deep gratitude that I address you, and trust you will pardon my seeming intrusion. I am simply doing what a vast number of widows and fatherless would endorse. Thank you for taking the part of the sailors, to whom the nation at large owe so much and care for so little. Two years ago I lost my dear husband, he left me to join a splendid steamer called the—, and there were on that same vessel men of tender, loving hearts, and upright minds—37 of the men went into eternity. God only knows how bitter it is to part from those dear as life itself, waiting to hear the old step again, waiting to see the happy manly face, and to hear the voice once more, but waiting in vain, for they have had the bright eyes closed in death, not by loving hands at home, but amid the angry billows, far from 1328 those who would gladly have saved them from such a cruel end.I have not read your book, but have heard about it; it would only intensify a sorrow bitter enough at times. I can only say I know the truth and justice of the cause you set forth, and hope it will meet with the sympathy it demands. One could more fully submit to the loss of friends when all has been done for them, when no fault of carelessness is left to haunt the soul after, but England has permitted men to go to sea in rotten vessels. What is the consequence? Every winter numbers of brave strong men find a watery grave, and all that is left for the poor widows and children is a little sympathy, unless it be in the case of a Captain or Northfleet, then it goes far enough to help as well as pity. How do we act on shore when danger or disease overtakes us? We take every precaution, use the means, then leave the rest to God. But people are in the habit of speaking as if all the loss of life at sea ought to be expected. We know that God holds the waters in the hollow of his hands. He raiseth the stormy wind, but are we to charge Him with what man does? I do not, and how much pain it would save the childless mother, the widow and fatherless, did they but know that all care had been taken of the loved and lost. Your work cannot recall those who are gone, cannot bring back my husband and home, but there are others now on the deep who will thank you for spared lives, and many a tender woman will unite with me in thanking you. May God grant that the interest now awakened may not subside as it has before; for two years I have prayed that someone would come forth, and I have faith to believe that not only something may be done, but all that will ensure the safety of those who leave home and loved ones to ply the great deep. If they are taken then we as a nation could say the Lord hath taken. Pardon my writing, God knows what I feel, may He bless and help you in your work is the prayer of yours respectfullySir, I ask this House to put a stop to this wanton and wicked waste of precious human life, and I gather that that is their will.
I will now proceed to consider the steps necessary to give effect to that will. We must first—and I trust that will be some time before we sleep—appoint a Commission which shall make a thorough and searching inquiry into the whole subject, including undermanning, bad stowage, deck loading, deficient engine power, over insurance, defective construction, improper lengthening, overloading, want of repair, necessity for certificated masters between Brest and the Elbe, rate of speed lawful in fogs, rule of road, and code of signals. I trust Her Majesty's Government will see that the Commission consists of the very best men that can be found for the purpose, and that it is sufficiently numerous, after prosecuting the inquiry, so 1329 far as it can be prosecuted with advantage in London, to divide itself into two sections, one of which might take the East Coast and Scotland, and the other the West Coast and Ireland, so as to lose as little time as possible in completing their investigations. In the meantime I trust this House will pass a Bill dealing with the most obvious and easily-remediable sources of disaster, which Bill can give place to the more perfect and thoroughly-considered measure which we may anticipate as the result of their Report. We may also in the meantime avail ourselves of the ample information possessed by the Board of Trade to compile a series of Tables or Returns which shall greatly aid the Commission when they conic to frame the recommendations which they will lay before the House. I find that the Board of Trade has the most ample records, and the fullest details on this subject—details sufficiently extensive and exhaustive, with the aid of such particulars as we may easily obtain from the Register of British and Foreign Ships to compile the Returns, which I will now suggest to the House should be ordered forthwith. The Returns I suggest are-1st. Debiting all wrecks to the various ports. 2nd. Debiting them to the various kinds of cargo. 3rd. Showing lengths; other dimensions. 4th. Showing proportion of man power to ship's tonnage. 5th. Man power to the weight of cargo. 6th. Showing the proportion of engine power to ship's tonnage. The 7th should show the proportion of engine power to the weight of cargo. For the 8th. Use water draught line for deep loading. And 9th. An alphabetical list of owners, showing the losses of each individual shipowner. And then, 10th. Arranged so as to show first those who have lost none for the 10 years—a large proportion of the whole. Then those who have lost fewest, and so on. And at the end of this list the country will see what they will see. The records of the Board of Trade are amply sufficient to furnish the whole of this information—they are like the still waters of Bethesda's pool, full of latent capability of blessing, and like them only waiting to be troubled by the spirit of inquiry to give forth healing and life. And, Sir, I am satisfied that when the Commission, which I trust this House will appoint this evening, has completed its work and reported thereon, and this 1330 House has adopted such measures, in consequence, as the exigencies of the case may require, so great a change will ensue, that, whereas our fellow-subjects at sea have hitherto pursued their most beneficent calling in constant and imminent peril of their lives, they shall in the future pursue that calling with as much as, or even greater safety, than that in which we travel by railway ashore; and as to the homes of those who are dependent upon them, of those they love, so great will be the change, that, whereas in the past their homes have been like those of the Egyptians on that dread night when the angel of death went from house to house throughout all the land taking his toll of dead, they shall in the future be like the homes of the Israelites on that same night, which, when the angel of death sought to enter, he could not, because they bore upon them the symbol of His loving and protecting care. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving the Address.
§ SIR JOHN PAKINGTON
had great satisfaction in seconding the Motion, having himself in the year 1870 moved for the appointment of a Royal Commission to inquire into the loss of life and property at sea. He was led to take a great interest in this subject from the terrible loss of the large steamer called the City of Boston, which crossed the Atlantic between America and England, which went to sea and was never heard of again. Having put a question to the Government on the subject, he received letters from all parts of England entreating him not to let the matter drop, but to endeavour to institute an inquiry into the practices which led to disasters of such a terrible character, and the loss of such an immense amount of life and property. In the year 1870, when he brought forward his Motion for a Commission, he did so under this great disadvantage—that, owing to the illness of the right hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright), there was no President of the Board of Trade in the House, and therefore the attention of the Government could not be fully given to the subject. The answer he received from the Government was that that huge Bill—which the House must recollect, and which had 700 clauses, and was, he believed, still lying unadopted by the House—dealt with the subject. He ad- 1331 mitted that the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. C. Fortescue) acted in the fairest spirit with reference to the clauses bearing upon the loss of life and property at sea. But the utility of those clauses, in his (Sir John Pakington's) opinion, amounted to nothing, and were insufficient for the great object the House had in view. His object on the present occasion was two-fold. He wished to entreat the Government to concede this inquiry, and to concede anything which would render it most effective. Our national character was involved in this inquiry. He would make no personal charges, for the question was far above any personal charges—he wished to raise one of the most important questions that could excite the interest of the country and the House. The stoppage of the evils which existed was far more important than the question whether A, B, or C had transgressed the rules of propriety. But he had a second object in view, and that was to tender his thanks to the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Plimsoll) for bringing forward this question. The hon. Gentleman had taken up the question in a manner which he (Sir John Pakington) thought must excite the gratitude of every reflecting and right-minded man in the country; he had published a book which they all admired, and which had excited not only the interest, but the sympathy of a large portion of the public of this country. He wished to place before the House some additional reasons for the appointment of the Commission now asked for. He believed that few hon. Members of that House and the public in general had very little idea of the immense extent of the loss of life and property at sea. In the year 1871, according to Lloyd's Lists, which he believed was the highest authority that could be referred to on the subject, more than 13,000 wrecks and casualties occurred, and the lives lost in the course of that year amounted to 2,040. In the year 1872, the autumn of which, as they must all remember, was very severe, the loss was above the average of former years. Of sailing ships the number absolutely lost was 2,682, of which 1,310 were British ships. He would now call attention to the distinction between wrecks and. casualties, and those ships that were either abandoned or foundered at sea, or were what was called "missing." 1332 The number of ships that foundered in 1872 was 637, and the number missing was 135—the meaning of "missing" being ships that went to sea, of which nothing was ever heard afterwards, and. the fair inference was that they had gone down to the bottom of the sea with every soul on board. The number of steamers lost during that period. was 244 of over 100 tons, of which 142 were British ships. From the 1st January in the present year up to this time no less than 50 vessels were missing, many of them being fine iron steamers, and in all probability they had gone to the bottom. Under these circumstances, he considered it the duty of the House to inquire into the probable causes of the terrible loss of life and. property. He believed that the great and prominent cause was overloading. On a former occasion he mentioned a number of casualties that had occurred from overloading. He would now mention a single case—which was a very remarkable one—and in doing so he would refrain from mentioning names. A ship of 550 tons sailed in December from England for New Orleans laden with 786 tons of iron, which was among the substances known to shipowners as "dead weight"—dead weight consisting of iron, coal, and corn. It was the rule of the Council of India that no vessel laden with dead weight should be allowed to carry more than three-quarters of a ton of cargo to each ton of her register, and the rule of the Admiralty with regard to transports was still more stringent, for no vessel was allowed to carry more than half a ton of dead weight to each ton of her register. Now, iron, he understood, was the most dangerous of all dead-weight cargoes, yet here was a vessel of 550 tons register carrying 786 tons of iron. What happened? Just what might have been expected. The ship put into Falmouth in a leaky condition in December, and she sailed again on the 31st January last, but on the 4th February, four days afterwards, she went down. That was a specimen of the evils to which we were liable from the practice of overloading ships. He was happy to add, however, that some passing vessel picked up the crew, who were saved. Another source of these evils, and a more fruitful source than it was generally supposed to be, was the faulty and bad construction of our mer- 1333 chant ships in the first instance. Ships wore badly built, so that they could not float. He would give an instance. On the 1st February an entirely new ship sailed on her first voyage from this country to Bombay with a cargo of coals, and on the 3rd of February, she went down. He had two other cases of the same kind, in one of which what ought to have been a very fine ship of 2,600 tons bound to the East Indies with passengers and cargo, got as far as Portsmouth, but there she was found to be so strained and injured by the voyage that she was obliged to put in, and her passengers were transferred to another vessel. These facts ought to be explained. They were thoroughly disgraceful to a portion of the Mercantile Marine of England, and it was the interest, as it ought to be the earnest desire, of the respectable portion, which constituted the great majority of those who were connected with the Mercantile Marine of England, to have an end put to such a shameful state of affairs. Another fruitful cause of these terrible calamities arose from the habit of overloading the timber ships which carried on the timber trade with America. The hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Plimsoll) had said truly that when a ship was loaded with timber she would not sink, but from the very nature of the cargo there was a temptation, which was too often yielded to, to load timber ships to an extent inconsistent with their proper navigation. Such vessels were often not only filled, but piled up with wood to such an extent, that if bad weather came on they could not be properly navigated. In seconding this Motion, he had thought it his duty to lay before the House some grounds which appeared to him to be convincing and conclusive as to the necessity for a searching inquiry. He saw from the Paper that an Amendment was to be moved by Isis hon. Friend the Member for Hull (Mr. Clay), and he presumed that the object of that hon. Gentleman was substantially the same as that of the hon. Member for Derby and himself. The hon. Gentleman did not object to the inquiry, but wished it to be conducted with all the sanctity and additional authority conferred by having the witnesses examined on oath. For his part he cared little in what shape the inquiry was granted—that point was rather one for the President of the Board of Trade. He felt 1334 convinced, however, that the Government would not again refuse this inquiry, for the feeling throughout the country which had been elicited by the remarkable book published by the hon. Member for Derby put it out of the question for this or any Government to refuse the investigation asked for. It was vital to our national credit, to our commerce, to our Mercantile Marine, and above all to the lives of the gallant men who manned these vessels, and who were now in many instances liable to be shut up in prison because a regard for their lives forbade their going to sea in unseaworthy ships, that the inquiry should be searching and complete, and so long as it was a thorough and boân fide inquiry he himself cared very little as to the mode in which it should be conducted.
Motion made and Question proposed
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that She will be pleased to issue a Royal Commission to inquire into the condition of, and certain practices connected with, the Commercial Marine of the -United Kingdom."—(Mr. Plimsoll.)
§ MR. CLAY
trusted the House would place upon the course he intended to pursue the same indulgent construction as had been placed upon it by his right hon. Friend (Sir John Pakington). Every hon. Member in that House believed the inquiry to be necessary, and he had no desire to delay the appointment of the Commission asked for; he was anxious only that its powers should be larger, and its actions more effective than could be the case if an ordinary Royal Commission were appointed, as proposed by the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Plimsoll). A Royal Commission could not take evidence on oath; a Commission appointed by Act of Parliament and so empowered could; and when the importance of the issues involved were considered, he was sure the House would agree with him that the evidence tendered should be taken on oath. The principal point involved was the welfare of the merchant seamen; but associated with it as a collateral issue, was the fair fame of an honourable profession hitherto held in deservedly high esteem. The whole profession must suffer under the vague suspicions now floating about, and among the members of that profession were some having seats in the House. He knew it might be said that 1335 the chief if not the sole object of this inquiry was remedial, and that it might be narrowed to that; but in that case a Royal Commission and the Commission he proposed would stand on a perfectly equal footing. But he could not believe it possible to conduct an inquiry of this kind without producing evidence which might seriously inculpate individuals, and if so, evidence ought not to be taken, except upon oath. Although careful to abstain from expressing any opinion on the merits of the question, as it affected individuals, he felt bound to say a few words on a personal matter. It was of no use blinking the question. Everybody knew that some hon. Members of this House lay under serious accusations against their personal reputation, and among them was his hon. Friend and Colleague (Mr. Norwood)—his hon. Friend, he wished to say, in a much broader sense than was usually attached to those words. It might have surprised many—it had surprised some—that his hon. Friend had remained entirely silent under these accusations; but the fact was his hon. Friend, first on his own impulse, and then by the advice of friends, determined on defending his character by applying for a criminal information in the Court of Queen's Bench, where, by one of those admirable contrivances by which the law prevents anything from being done in undue haste, he would be unable to be heard until April next. Under these circumstances, his hon. Friend had been urged in the strongest manner by high legal authority to keep his mouth closed here and elsewhere, for fear of putting in jeopardy the success of his application. The Court was very jealous of any interference, and if his hon. Friend had said anything in his own defence on the subject generally, he might be told—"You have invited other interference besides ours; don't come to us. You must find a remedy where you can." It was on that account his hon. Friend had kept and would continue to keep silence in the House, and he trusted that no one would imagine his hon. Friend to be indifferent to a matter which all his Friends knew him to have greatly at heart. The hon. Member concluded by moving the Amendment of which he had given Notice.
§ MR. SAMUDA,
in seconding the Amendment, wished it to be distinctly 1336 understood that his object was to obtain the fullest investigation that could possibly be obtained and if the forms of the House, or difficulties attending the Commission, should be such that the Government, in taking the matter into their own hand, as he hoped they would, found that one mode of investigation was better than another, and equally capable of bringing out the facts with the view of building up legislation thereon, he, for one, was disposed to leave the details in the hands of the Government. With reference to the object of the Motion of his hon. Friend the Member for Derby (Mr. Plimsoll), the time had arrived when it was no longer possible to leave matters in the state in which they were. There was one particular point connected with losses at sea to which the right hon. Baronet (Sir John Pakington) had not referred, and it was that whilst science in other Departments had succeeded in introducing improvements from year to year, and diminishing the number of casualties, the operations in the shipping trade had been attended with very different results. He would exemplify that with a few figures. It appeared from the records published by the Board of Trade that the losses for the consecutive periods of the five years ending in 1853, 1858, 1863, and 1868 were respectively 969 ships, 1,118 ships, 1,488 ships, and 1,744 ships—which showed that there was a continually increasing loss of ships. He had had an opportunity of taking the average up to 1871, and making a similar division for the averages for 15 years, ending at the respective periods of five years before 1871, it appeared that the losses were 1,045 ships, 1,320 ships, 1,611 ships, and 1,805 ships, from which the House would perceive, as he had remarked, that there was a continually augmenting loss of ships. But then it might be said that our trade was now considerably greater, and that the increase in the number of our vessels would account for the increased number of losses. He would, however, be able to show that the House could not rely on any such explanation; for in 1858 the number of ships of all sorts on the books belonging to the United Kingdom was within 100 of 27,000, while in 1868 they were only 29,000; so that while the increase in the number of ships during these 10 years 1337 was only 8 per cent, the increase in the number of losses was at the rate of 50 per cent. Now, the question arose why the increase in the number of ships was so small, and the answer was easy; we very nearly lost as many ships as we built, and the increased quantity of the work of the kingdom was done by ships built being of larger tonnage than those which were lost. The increase in the loss was something enormous. There was another fact which was very significant. It appeared that the most fatal of the voyages which were performed by vessels were those to the Baltic, and among other notes given in Lloyds' List of Wrecks and Casualties was one which showed that in 1870 no fewer than 21 steamers were lost during such voyages. But a more curious and important fact was that these 21 steamers had made only 2,100 voyages, and therefore the loss was 1 per 100 voyages; and taking the period each vessel required to perform its Baltic voyage at something like a month, the life of each of these steamers represented eight years, supposing it had been kept at constant work; in other words, we would be under the necessity of replacing our commercial fleet engaged in the Baltic trade every eight years. Such circumstances involved very serious questions relating to the morality and respectability of the nation, and though he was by no means sanguine of an easy remedy, yet he thought too much care could not be taken to discover the causes of this state of things. Again, in 1871, the 1,575 wrecks and casualties among vessels trading within the narrow seas represented 458,000 tons of shipping, or about £5,000,000 sterling a year. There were two or three more facts which he would mention merely with the view that the House should attach its due weight to the subject. He saw it stated in the official Report of the Board of Trade that the wrecks and casualties for the 10 years ending 1871 amounted to a grand total of 13,300, of which those resulting from stress of weather in a total loss numbered 7,300; those resulting in wreck from various other causes, or from causes unknown, numbered 2,500; while not less than 3,400 were set down as being lost from inattention, carelessness, neglect, and defective equipment; that, put in plain language, meant that nearly one-half of the losses arose from preventible causes, It was these pre- 1338 ventible causes the Commission would have to deal with. One of the most important suggestions the Commission would have to consider, with a view to a remedy, would be the question of insurance, and he had long held a strong opinion that it would be found beneficial to compel every owner of a ship to become to a very large extent his own underwriter. That was no new proposal. He believed such an arrangement was in force in Scandinavia and in some others of the northern countries of Europe. Even in our own country it existed in a very modified form; for in the case of slight accidents—that is, accidents short of total loss—the rule was that an owner had to bear one-third, and he received from the underwriters two-thirds only of the amount of the loss. That was precisely the remedy which he would carry out. Of course, to give effect to such a proposal it should be rendered illegal to value the ships for insurance beyond their actual value—either by subjecting them to be valued by a public officer, or by fixing a maximum value per ton for vessels, according to their different ages and descriptions. This would produce, to a large extent, the state of things which existed in some well-found, well-managed, and highly commended fleets. He had already shown the losses occurring in Baltic vessels, which, for the sake of comparison, would reduce the life of those ships to a period of eight years. They would require them to pay, roughly, an insurance of 12 per cent, and the smallest amount paid at Lloyd's in annual insurance of a steamer was something like 6 per cent. But if they took one of the best-known and best-founded services—that of Cunard's—it would be found that they did not insure. They had been at work more than 20 years; and, to the best of his knowledge, they had never lost a ship. [An Hon. MEMBER: One ship.] Well, one ship. Their line of navigation was one of the most dangerous during a large portion of the year, for they had to encounter formidable icebergs, and some of the densest fogs, yet he understood that there was scarcely a retardation of speed whilst the ships were in that region, so carefully was everything conducted, and so good was the look-out kept. The public had the utmost confidence in them. Then 1339 take Messrs. Wigwam's ships. Their vessels had been at work about the same time, they did not insure, but their vessels were so carefully managed and refitted, and stores of superior quality so extensively supplied, that during their whole career he believed they had only lost two ships. Then there was the line known as Green's line. Here operations were carried on upon a far larger scale, and they insured not at all, or but very little. The total number of ships which they had lost was four or five, that loss amounting to not 2 per cent per annum upon the insurance which they would have paid upon their ships. Then there was the Peninsular and Oriental Company; they were their own insurers, and they were continually paying very large bonuses to their shareholders out of the surplus profits of their own insurance fund. They assured him that their losses had not amounted to more than 2, or, at the most, 2¼ upon the amount of insurance. The result was, that whilst these most perfectly found fleets, were worked at not more than 2 per cent loss, Lloyd's were obliged to charge 6 per cent to insure; and yet very few of the underwriters accumulated any very large amount of money. [An hon. MEMBER: Take Thornton.] Mr. Richard Thornton was a man who speculated in everything, and probably it would be found that his insurance profits did go far to make up the £3,000,000 he left behind him; and besides, his insurances were of a gambling nature. He would insure vessels supposed to be lost at 60 or 80 per cent, and he was often very fortunate. Mr. Thornton's was a most exceptional case, and not one that in the smallest degree affected the comparison he had laid before the House. The competition with Lloyd's was very severe, and yet they could not charge less than 6 per cent for insurance, and the reason was that they insured all the ill-found and unseaworthy ships. No doubt, overloading was the cause of the largest proportion of losses paid by underwriters, and it was easy to understand why it should be so. Competition drove everything to the extremest limit, and, indeed, he believed that it deteriorated the character of all kinds of work. It also reduced freights to the lowest. A scrupulous owner put into his ship only that amount of cargo that he thought she could carry safely, whilst the unscrupulous owner, 1340 having got an amount of insurance that would recoup him, put in 100 tons more, the whole freight on which was absolute profit if the ship floated, and if not, why then he put the insurance money into his pocket. He would give an illustration. He recollected that about the end of the Crimean War a shipowner applied to two builders to give him an estimate for the building of a vessel of 600 tons, which one of them offered to build for £14,000, and the other for £12,000. The work was given to the lowest. The Crimean War finished suddenly, and as he could not get a charter from the Government as he had expected, he was compelled to put his ship at a very low freight on service to a foreign port. The ship had not long left the shore when she went upon some sand and soon tumbled all to pieces, and was heard of no more. The other shipbuilder said to the owner—"You had better have had my ship." "Oh, no," was the reply—"If I had it would never have gone to pieces; as it is, I have the insurance on the ship and the insurance on my freight, and I am better off than I should have been with yours." This incident suggested the very point he wished the House to consider. They should deal with the matter in such a way as to make, if possible, the interest of the owner such that he should make the safety of his ship his first consideration, and profit upon it or the cargo the second. He was prepared to leave the matter in the hands of the Government, and be satisfied with either Commission which they should think fit to issue.
To leave out the words "an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that She will be pleased to issue a Royal Commission to inquire into," in order to insert the words "it is desirable that a Bill be forthwith introduced into this House by Her Majesty's Government for the purpose of constituting a Commission to inquire into upon oath and report upon,"—(Mr. Clay,)
§ —instead thereof.
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. CHICHESTER FORTESCUE
said, he thought it might be convenient that he should state, without further delay, the intention of the Government with respect to this Motion, and 1341 that intention was to accept in substance the proposal of the hon. Member for Derby, though they would not be able to accept the exact words, for reasons which he would give presently. In common with the Mover and Seconder of the Motion (Mr. Plimsoll and Sir John Pakington) he most earnestly desired that the measures now to be taken might—he would not say stop, but—largely diminish the disasters to life and property at sea that had been brought to their attention by the hon. Member for Derby. Being most anxious that the inquiry should lead to fruitful legislation, he was bound in the interests of truth, of the credit of the Mercantile Marine, and of the cause of rational legislation to comment upon some statements made by the hon. Member for Derby in his speech and also in his book. In his opinion some of them were exaggerated, and would lead to a false estimate both as to the amount of folly and criminality existing in the Mercantile Marine of this country, and also to an over-sanguine estimate of the extent of preventible loss and disaster, and of the amount of good which any legislation could possibly effect. The hon. Member for Derby began that remarkable book of his, which he (Mr. C. Fortescue) had read with the greatest care and interest, by saying that he was not capable of writing a book. He could assure him that he entirely differed from him. The hon. Member was very capable of writing a book, and he had, in fact, written a most interesting and remarkable book in the most simple, idiomatic, and racy English. With respect to the statistics of the book, however, he was not able to be so encomiastic, because many of those statistics were open to severe criticism and large reduction. Let not the House mistake his meaning; because, from the intention he had announced, it would be inferred that there was a large foundation of truth in the general statements of the book. The statements made in the official records, from which the most trustworthy parts of the case were derived, furnished a foundation of facts quite sufficient to justify and support further inquiry. Nevertheless, he thought the House would agree with him that things were not quite so bad in the Mercantile Marine as the hon. Member for Derby supposed; and that 1342 in the dreadful occurrences which all so much deplored, there was not so much due to causes which could be prevented by legislation as the hon. Member in his enthusiasm imagined. The most remarkable statement made was, that a large proportion of the wrecks at sea arose from causes which the hon. Member thought could be easily prevented—namely, overloading and unseaworthiness. In the beginning of the book, he estimated the proportion of the preventible losses at one-half, towards the end of the book he said two-thirds, and to-night he had got to four-fifths. The House must not run away with the supposition that anything like that proportion of the losses at sea was due to criminal conduct on the part of the Mercantile Marine of the country, or was preventible by any legislation. It was not always quite clear when the hon. Member spoke of losses at sea, whether he meant losses of lives or of ships. [Mr. PLIMSOLL: Lives, invariably.] But towards the end of the book he spoke of the possibility of legislation saving 1,000 lives by the end of 1873. He was informed on the best authority within his reach that the number of British seamen who lost their lives by drowning in 1871 was 1,500. He wished he could be sanguine enough to believe that any efforts of theirs could save 1,000 out of 1,500; but he feared it was too much to expect. The hon. Member said that the Returns of the Board of Trade attributed half the losses and wrecks on our coasts to colliers and coasting vessels, which contained, no doubt, a large proportion of unseaworthy members; and, considering that these losses were due to unseaworthiness, he estimated that all the vessels could be made seaworthy by Act of Parliament. The figures which the hon. Member took did not all represent total losses; but casualties of all kinds, from trifling accidents to total losses. Out of the total number of casualties, not above one-third could be said to be losses in the proper sense of the word; and therefore while the hon. Member, quoting a benevolent magazine, The Life Boat, put down the losses of ships in the last six years at 6,357, he had good reason for believing that the losses in that period did not much exceed 2,000. In the year 1871, off the coasts of the United Kingdom, there were 1,575 wrecks and casualties, excluding collisions, and of these 1343 1,224 were casualties only, and the number of total losses was only 398, while the number of casualties attended with any loss of life was only 135. The wrecks and casualties of the last 10 years numbered, as stated by the right hon. Baronet (Sir John Pakington), 13,324. He (Mr. C. Fortescue), however, believed that he had much over calculated the number. So far as the Board of Trade was able to ascertain, 1,179 of these wore due to unseaworthiness and unsoundness of gear, the remainder having been due to other causes. Therefore it was impossible to assume that unseaworthiness had been the cause of so large a proportion of wrecks and casualties. Those who knew what happened on our coasts would remember that when a sudden gale sprang up hundreds of colliers and coasters were driven ashore, and that, independently of their unseaworthiness and their loading. They were affected by it no doubt; but not to take these cases into consideration gave a totally exaggerated view of the problem with which they had to deal. Any hon. Member might recollect the gales which had occurred during the last few years, and had sent vessels by the score on the coast. Some few years ago that happened in Torbay, where, in two hours, 60 or 70 vessels were driven on shore. Something of the same kind happened in the neighbourhood of the Tyne, when 96 vessels went ashore, and 77 lives were lost, Now, such casualties as those it was almost impossible to prevent, and he pointed these things out to show that it was not fair to exaggerate the amount of criminality which was said to exist in our Mercantile Marine, and that they ought not hastily to adopt extravagant expectations as to what they could accomplish. The hon. Member for Derby had complained of the Returns of the Board of Trade. Now, those Returns as to wrecks were, he thought, most elaborate and careful. Certainly, great pains were taken to inform the public and bring all the facts home to the minds of those interested in shipping—a service not to be despised. But if the hon. Member was not satisfied with those Returns, and would move for others that he thought more useful, he could only say it would give him the greatest pleasure to consider his wishes and endeavour to meet them. The hon. Gentleman also complained in his book 1344 of the inquiries of the Board of Trade, which he said were much too limited and confined absolutely to the case of passenger ships. There the hon. Member was entirely mistaken; and the House ought to know what the Board of Trade did and had done for some years past. In every case where evidence could be procured in respect to the loss of a ship, an inquiry was held as promptly as possible into all the circumstances by the Receiver of Wrecks, assisted by the officers of the Coastguard, under most careful instructions from the Board of Trade. When the circumstances disclosed any reason for further formal inquiry, that formal public inquiry was instituted. During the year 1871 there were 132 public legal inquiries—he was not now speaking of the ordinary preliminary inquiries—into wrecks and casualties, and out of the whole 132 only 16 related to passenger ships. Then the hon. Member treated with great contempt some of their late legislation with a view to the safety of life at sea; and the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir John Pakington), referring to the provisions of the Bill which he had been able to carry the, Session before last, and which contained all the clauses of the huge Merchant Shipping Act relating to the saving of life, spoke of them at first as effecting nothing, but afterwards said they were insufficient. Well, he did not himself pretend that they were sufficient; but he denied that they were worthless, and he should have been happy at the time, as he would be now, to have done more. The hon. Member for Derby complained over and over again in his book that a sailor could be sent to goal whenever for any cause he refused to proceed on his voyage. That never literally was the case, because whenever there was a lawful cause the sailor could refuse to go to sea; but he had great difficulty in proving a lawful cause, such as the unseaworthiness of the ship, great discomfort, the want of proper provisions and the like. But what the Act that he carried had done was this—and it made all the difference in the world. It had given the sailor, on refusing to go to sea a right to demand a Government survey of the ship. [An hon. MEMBER: At whose expense?] If the sailor was right in his allegation, at the expense of the owner; if the sailor was wrong, he himself had the expense to pay, if he 1345 could. He knew the hon. Member for Derby held that to be ridiculous, and throughout his book he treated all those difficult matters—for difficult they were—as if they could be settled by a word. The expense, if his allegation was wrong, could only be deducted out of the sailor's wages. And here he could not help saying that the hon. Member for Derby did not assist him in carrying the Act of 1871, although he had some difficulty in carrying it, and it came out of Committee not quite so good as it went in. But the fact was, sailors were not always the most perfect characters; and as they obtained a month's advance of wages in many cases before they started from home, they were under a great temptation to make use of any pretence to escape from their engagement, and it was not always possible to believe the tale of a sailor when he came ashore with money in his pocket, and said he would not go on his voyage. Those facts had to be considered if they were to have practical and rational legislation. Cases, were now, however, multiplying every day at our seaports in which sailors bonâ fide refused to go on their voyages on account of the unseaworthiness of their ships, and in which the magistrates called on the Board of Trade to survey the ships; and the result was that the sailors were discharged and the ship left without a crew, when the owners were compelled either to give up the voyage or to repair the vessels. At all events, the sailors were saved, in these cases, from dangerous voyages and from the hardship—which certainly had often happened—of being committed to gaol for causes of a most innocent kind. The hon. Member said it was very wrong to allow the re-christening of ships, by which great frauds were committed, many bad ships passing under new names. Well, by the Act of the Session before last that very thing was forbidden, no ship being now permitted to change her name without the consent of the Board of Trade, which was never given without very careful inquiry, and which was constantly refused. A remarkable instance of that occurred within the last few days. He had seen in a Dublin newspaper a statement that there must be some waggish person at the Board of Trade who had insisted on a ship that rejoiced in the name of "The Devil" changing her name into that of "The Printer's Boy." 1346 He inquired into the facts, and found that a ship rejoicing in the name of "The Devil," which had gone about the world for some time, had applied to the Board of Trade—he did not know whether from some compunction on the part of the owner—to change her name to "The Printer's Boy;" but before that process could be effected a careful inquiry was held, and it was only on "The Devil" proving to be of unimpeachable character that it was allowed to become "The Printer's Boy." Another provision of the Act of 1871 to which the hon. Member paid no attention, but which he was assured was already producing good effects, was that under which the officers of the Board of Trade were required to take the depth of water of a ship leaving port. The great difficulty there, was that that Board did not possess officers enough for the purpose, and he found that if they were to carry out that provision of the Act of 1871, it would be necessary very considerably to increase their staff. He was told that to do it effectually they must employ 10 additional surveyors in the Tyne alone. With regard to deck-loading, especially in timber-laden ships, he had seen statements of the most startling kind as to the loss of life from that cause during the past season. The real figures were quite startling and melancholy enough. He found that, in 1872, 148 lives had been lost in timber-laden ships, 106 of them from deck-loading. Deck-loading was illegal until a few years ago, when the Act against it was deliberately repealed, having proved a dead letter. It could only be effectually prevented with vessels coming from Canada and the United States on the other side of the Atlantic, and he had asked Lord Granville and Lord Kimberley to come to an agreement with those Governments to take precautions against it, for restrictions at the port of loading would do more to prevent this serious evil than any action at the port of arrival. The hon. Member for Derby had spoken of the British sailor as the most neglected being in the United Kingdom; but the truth, on the contrary, was, that he had been the object of much care and thought on the part of Parliament. Going back to 1850, the examination of masters and mates for the Mercantile Marine was established, which, with the withdrawal of certificates for 1347 misconduct, had led to a great improvement. In 1851 the winding-up of the Merchant Seamen's Fund, formed by subscriptions, was undertaken, this having already cost the Government £1,000, 000, and leaving a further expense to be incurred. Means were also provided for recovering the wages and effects of deceased seamen abroad, whereby £543,000 had been distributed among the families of 81,000 seamen, a task troublesome to the Board of Trade, but of the greatest advantage to the persons interested. The survey of passenger steamers was next introduced, and in 1854 his right hon. Friend (Mr. Cardwell) carried the Merchant Shipping Act, which, improving on previous legislation, elaborately provided for the food, medicines, accommodation, and wages of seamen. Inquiries into wrecks were also strengthened by the establishment of naval courts at every important port, and salvage, before confined to property, was extended to life. In 1855 the relief of seamen was undertaken, at a cost of £40,000 a-year, and a money-order system for sailors was established, while in 1856 sailors' savings banks were established, probably the model, and certainly the predecessor, of the Post Office savings banks. In 1859 the Naval Reserve was originated, which, though designed for a public object, had been very advantageous to seamen. In 1862 the examination system was extended to engineers, and the lights of ships and the rule of the road at sea were provided for. In 1867, at the instance of the Duke of Richmond, the supply of antiscorbutics was dealt with, which had been most successful in diminishing scurvy. In 1871 he carried an Act which, though treated with contempt by the hon. Member, had been beneficial. It required the name and draught of water to be legibly marked, prohibited change of name, entitled seamen charged with desertion to a public survey of the ship, and made the sending an unseaworthy ship to sea a misdemeanour. He admitted that, owing to the absence of a public prosecutor, no one had yet taken the trouble of prosecuting under the last provision, and regretted that the hon. Member himself had not done so. While all this had been done for the British sailor, he hoped further measures would prove practicable. He would not underrate the importance of 1348 the hon. Member's proposals for a general survey of ships and for a load-line for every ship, but they were beset with considerable difficulty, and a commission of competent men would have to., inquire whether and how they could be effected. This, though not mentioned in the Motion, would be one of the main functions of the Commission. The insurance system would be another proper subject for inquiry, for though beneficial when properly conducted, there were abuses and dangers incident to it. The dark colours in which the hon. Gentleman had painted the system might be relieved by his mentioning that insurance, as he was informed, was falling more and more into the hands of powerful companies, very different from the feeble underwriters with trifling interests who no doubt existed—companies with capital, able to hold their own against fraud and criminality. Lloyd's Salvage Association, moreover, conferred great benefit on the underwriting and shipping community by its searching investigation into suspicious cases. Turning to the Motion, while agreeing to it in substance on the part of the Government, he thought its terms were too vague. It prayed Her Majesty to issue a Commission to inquire into the "condition of, and certain practices connected with, the Commercial Marine of the United Kingdom." He would suggest the alteration of the Motion, so that it should run in something like the following form:—"That a Royal Commission be issued to inquire into the condition of the Mercantile Marine, so far as regards the overloading of vessels; the unseaworthiness of vessels, whether owing to defective construction, condition, and equipment, or stowage, deck loading, under-manning; and the present system of marine insurance; and to report, if any, and what measures can be adopted to remedy the evils which may be found to exist." Without binding himself to the words of the Reference, that was the kind of inquiry which the Government would advise. Not being able to assent to the words of the Motion of the hon. Member for Derby, he hoped the hon. Member for Hull (Mr. Clay) would not press his Amendment to that Motion. He put it to his hon. Friend, whose intentions and motives he understood and honoured, whether it was on public grounds expedient that the Com- 1349 mission should be turned into the form which his Amendment would give it? It was not, in his opinion, desirable to have a semi-judicial, inquisitorial investigation into the conduct or misconduct of individuals. Indeed, the hon. Member for Derby, in his book, said he did not want an inquiry into the actions of individuals, his object being the amendment of a bad system, and in that object he heartily concurred. The hon. Member for Hull would, however, turn the inquiry into the extremely exceptional one of an Act of Parliament Commission, with powers to administer an oath, and that, he thought, would be to turn it into a wrong direction. There was no precedent for such a Commission, except where individual misconduct was directly at issue; as for instance, where bribery was charged, or in such eases as the rattening at Sheffield. But individual conduct was not here the subject of inquiry, the object in view being the searching out of general existing evils and the suggestion of remedies. The facts of the case were broad and patent as alleged—there was such a number of unseaworthy ships, such an amount of overloading; and these facts demanded inquiry, with a view to discover their extent, and the means of prevention. It would be unwise to divert the Commission from its real object. He earnestly hoped the inquiry would be fruitful of good. If it should tend to render ships more safe, and life at sea more secure, nowhere would greater happiness be felt at such a result than at the Board of Trade, and no one would more rejoice at it than he should himself.
§ Sin JOHN PAKINGTON
explained that the 13,000 casualties to which he had referred occurred not during 10 years, but in the year 1871. They were recorded at Lloyd's and included foreign as well as English ships.
§ MR. G. BENTINCK
said, he hoped the House would not be disposed to take the view of the right hon. Gentleman on that most important question; but that they would adopt the view of the hon. Member for Hull (Mr. Clay), that the Commission should have power to examine on oath. If the Commissioners had not power to administer an oath, the inquiry would prove to be a dead letter. He had been a Member of many public Committees, and about 1350 20 years ago he was a Member of a Committee relative to an Inquiry affecting a question of Privilege. Upwards of 200 witnesses were examined, not upon oath, one half of whom said black and the other half said white; and yet most of them were considered to be gentlemen of the highest respectability. It would be useless to have a Royal Commission to take evidence on which the House would not be able to rely. And assuming that the character of individuals might be implicated in the forthcoming inquiry, it would be unfair to them that this question should be brought before any tribunal, unless under the responsibility of an oath. He cordially concurred in the object the hon. Member for Derby had in view, and in the opinion that had been expressed that Ire was entitled to the gratitude of the House and of the country for having brought forward this subject; but he warned the hon. Gentleman that he was likely to find obstacles placed in his way which it might be very difficult to surmount. In numerous cases as strong as that which the hon. Member had brought under the notice of the House, the most he (Mr. Bentinck) could ever arrive at was a bare recognition of the facts of the case, and an expression of regret at their existence. The hon. Member must therefore be extremely careful how he proceeded, and he advised him to have a voice in the composition of the Royal Commission; otherwise it would be so overloaded with the official and ex-official element, that the result would be that the mode of proceeding would be such that the facts the hon. Member wanted to bring to light would never be disclosed. He would further suggest to the hon. Gentleman that he should himself draw up the Order of Reference. If he did not, he might look forward to being met over and over again with the objection—"You cannot go into that; it is not within the Order of Reference;" and the whole inquiry would be a mockery. He quite agreed with the President of the Board of Trade that the sailor was a very fine fellow, and he, for one, wished him well; but the sailor had his faults as well as other people, and there should be stringent penalties for misconduct on Ids part as well as on the part of the shipowner. All parties should be fairly dealt with, and while he readily admitted that the sailor was often aggrieved, he 1351 was prepared also to assert that the shipowner frequently had cause of complaint. The right hon. Gentleman had stated that under the present law a ship's company, believing the vessel they had engaged to embark in was unseaworthy, were entitled to demand a Government survey. He next said that when the ship had been condemned by the Government surveyor the probable result would be either that she could not be manned, or that she must be repaired. But that was only a probability, and there it was that legislation was wanted. It ought not to be in the power of any man to send a ship out to sea in the condition in which she had been condemned by a Government Inspector. That the chief of a great Department should indicate that such a thing was possible showed how completely hopeless it was to deal with questions of this kind. Difficulty arose from the composition of the Board of Trade, in which there ought to be a naval department with a naval man at the head of it. [Mr. CHICHESTER FORTESCUE: We have one.] Yes; but there should be a man responsible for the conduct of the Board of Trade with respect to the Mercantile Marine. The right hon. Gentleman was responsible, but he was not a naval man, and he could not be expected to understand details which ought to come before him. A large proportion of the loss of life at sea was due to collisions, and many of them were due to causes under the control of the Government. No penalty visited the loss of life when a steamer ran down a vessel in a fog. The Mercantile Marine by-laws required a good look-out to be kept at night, but they allowed a custom to continue under which a look-out was of no use at all. Vessels steamed 10 or 11 knots at night in thick weather when a look-out was useless, and the whole thing was "happy-go-lucky." Unless there was to be legislation on this point the subject would be trifled with. If the Government were allowed to deal with this question in the way in which Governments usually dealt with them, we should not arrive at a satisfactory result.
§ MR. CRAWFORD
said, he concurred in the opinion that the evidence given before the Commission should be on oath, but he did not entertain the suspicion of the last speaker—that the Board of Trade would not effectually carry out 1352 the inquiry, especially after its President had declared how thoroughly he concurred in the policy of the Motion of the hon. Member for Derby. He doubted the soundness of the suggestion of the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Samuda), that no one should be allowed to insure more than a certain proportion of a sea risk, because, although there might be cases in which the loss of a ship would be a benefit, yet it so happened that the shipping trade, like other trades, was carried on with borrowed money, and if a shipowner borrowed two-thirds of his capital, and could insure that proportion only, his own share of the risk might be uncovered. Such a limitation would prejudice the public, and deprive them of the benefits of competition and of the low freights that were due to it. Underwriting was not done, as had been suggested, upon the principle of average premiums. Every risk was considered by itself, with reference to the character of the ship and the value of the risk. Two ships might be going upon the same voyage, and yet one might be of a better class than the other, and also better owned, which was a most important particular. One might have a rather hazardous and unwieldy cargo, and the underwriters taking all these matters into consideration, would charge, perhaps, 5 per cent in one case and 7 per cent in the other. There was nothing like a general average of risk; all risks were incurred upon particular voyages, or for a particular time, or to certain ports and places. The large companies which were their own insurers, and whose ships were well built and well manned, in many cases received large amounts of public money for the performance of mail contracts, and were to that extent placed in a better position than other shipowners. It had been said that iron was a dangerous cargo. So it might be at the bottom of a ship, but when it was properly adjusted there was not a better cargo than railway iron. [Sir JOHN PAKINGTON: So long as you do not carry too much of it.] Of course, one might take too much of anything, or might carry it in the wrong place, but except on these conditions iron was not an objectionable cargo. In regard to the Amendment of the hon. Member for Hull (Mr. Clay), he was inclined to think that it ought to be adopted. It would be difficult to exclude from the view of 1353 the Commission evidence that might affect some persons criminally; and it ought to be in the power of the Commission to take evidence from witnesses, and to give them the assurance that they would not be liable to proceedings in a Court of Justice for anything that they might depose.
§ SIR JOHN HAY
said, that, although he regretted the publication of some of those pages of the hon. Member's (Mr. Plimsoll's) book which cast personal reflections, he thought that the Mercantile Marine and the seagoing population could not fail to be greatly benefited. With regard to the Amendment, it was desirable if evidence were taken that it should be upon oath. He did not see how evidence of a satisfactory character could be given before such a tribunal without the advantage which would thus be derived by the persons accused. Still he trusted that the hon. Member for Hull would not press his Amendment to a division, but that the Government would take the proper means by a Bill to give the necessary powers to the Commissioners. He regretted that the President of the Board of Trade had shown some disposition to limit the inquiry, but he hoped that it would be as comprehensive as possible. With respect to overloading of vessels, there ought to be no difficulty in marking a ship by a maximum load-line, which would show to the surveyor at a glance whether the vessel was fit to go to sea. He should be sorry if collisions were excluded from the purview of the Royal Commission. The President of the Board of Trade himself did not seem to know whether the loss of life from missing ships was included in the Return that had been quoted. The loss of life at sea was put down at 2,000 a-year, and if it did include the missing ships it was not less than 4,000. Even the smaller number was, however, frightful to contemplate. One-third of the loss of life was due to the want of harbours of refuge on the coast, a considerable portion to collisions, and fully one-half to overladen ships. He trusted that the President of the Board of Trade would enlarge the scope of the inquiry, so that the fullest information might be obtained as to all the causes that led to the loss of life upon our coasts, and that he would also take measures for obtaining the evidence on oath.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
said, that it might be doubted whether this inquiry should be instituted by a Royal Commission or by a Parliamentary Commission with power to administer an oath and to compel witnesses to attend. The great object of the inquiry was not to pursue individuals or to establish or refute particular charges, but to investigate the magnitude of the evil and the possible remedies. It would be unfortunate if the inquiry were allowed to trail off into a mere question of personal character. The question was, whether the Commission could attain the objects desired unless the Commissioners were armed with powers to take evidence on oath and compel attendance. He spoke somewhat feelingly on this subject, because he had the honour to preside over a Royal Commission on Friendly Societies, and in that capacity he asked the House to confer on it the powers of administering oaths to witnesses. The House had shown itself disinclined to do so; and he was bound to say that, in consequence, the investigation of the Commission was not nearly so complete as it would otherwise have been. Many cases would be brought forward before the proposed Commission, some of them involving questions of a personal character, and the powers in question would be absolutely necessary. He rose, not so much for the purpose of giving his own opinion definitively in favour of the Amendment, as to say that unless the arguments urged in its support did not meet with a more serious answer than had yet been given to them, the House ought to pause before committing this inquiry to a Commission which would not have sufficient powers to enable them to get at the truth. Therefore, he trusted that before the debate closed the Government would either express some further opinion on the subject, or else promise to re-consider it before a final step was taken.
§ SIR HENRY SELWIN-IBBETSON
remarked that, in appointing this Royal Commission, the House was dealing with a subject which admitted of no delay. Hon. Members knew what delays might attend the passing of a Bill for the appointment of a Royal Commission, and they should bear in mind that if the Commission after its appointment felt that they had not sufficient powers, no doubt, if they asked the House, those 1355 additional powers would be granted to them. This, he thought, was an answer to the Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Hull. The points to be submitted to the Commission appeared to be very clear and distinct. There was almost overwhelming evidence that a very large amount of loss of life and casualties at sea around our coasts arose from the overloading of ships and the unseaworthy state in which many of them were sent to sea. Suggestions had been made that by establishing a certain fixed load-line a solution of the difficulty might be easily arrived at. Besides, it had been suggested by the hon. Member for Derby that the question of insurance entered very largely into the consideration of this subject. The hon. Member for the City of London (Mr. Crawford) was, in his judgment, too much led away by considerations of commercial interests, and had forgotten that we had also to consider the prevention of loss of life. In the old days, when insurance was unknown, owners took care that their ships were in a proper condition when they were sent to sea; but the practice of marine insurance had, as was alleged, produced a change in this respect. These three points, simple enough in themselves, would at once come under the notice of the Royal Commission, and if the evidence supported the allegations the House would be greatly assisted in accomplishing the object it had in view. If the Commissioners should require additional powers they might make application to Parliament, but he hoped they would be appointed without delay, and enter upon their labours as speedily as possible.
§ MR. RATHBONE
said, it was not only undesirable, but practically impossible, to limit the insurance, and pointed out that it was the practice of underwriters at present to make a deduction of one-third for the amount which the shipowner would have to pay for repairs. Take, however, the question of total loss. The insurers could not know within 10 or 20 per cent the amount a ship would fetch, and, therefore, the owner might considerably overstate its value. In his opinion, it would be unwise to impose penalties which would produce only an apparent security. The House was generally agreed that a large proportion of losses at sea resulted from preventible causes, but he maintained that previous 1356 legislation, if properly carried into effect, would suffice to prevent them, more especially the law of last year, making it a misdemeanour to send a ship to sea in an unseaworthy condition.
§ MR. BOUVERIE
said, that the case cited by the right hon. Baronet (Sir Stafford Northcote) of the Royal Commission on Friendly Societies proved the importance of giving the Commission now proposed, power to administer oaths and to compel the attendance of witnesses. A roving Commission, such as had been moved for, could only take volunteered evidence, and it was obvivious that this would not be sufficient in the present instance. He would suggest that the Government should consider the propriety of appointing a Commission at once, and bringing in a Bill analogous to that introduced with reference to Trades' Unions a few years ago, giving the Commissioners the power of administering an oath and compelling the attendance of witnesses. If the House divided he should support the Amendment; but he thought a division would be unnecessary, if the Government would give the House some further assurance on this point.
MR. GATHORNE HARDY
said, he hoped the House would not divide, as most hon. Members appeared to wish for a thorough and complete investigation of this question. The right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Board of Trade had expressed himself to that effect, and proposed that instead of carrying any Motion to-night he should bring forward on a future day one of his own, so framed as to meet with the approval of the House. That meant that the Government would take the whole conduct of the question into their own hands—[Mr. C. FORTESCUE said, that would be so]—and consider it in such a manner as to arrive at the whole truth. There were questions of the deepest moment to be dealt with; and, first in importance, was that of insurance—and as it affected the character of individuals, the evidence respecting it ought to be given on oath. There were questions of ownership—and as to change of the names of ships, which would have to be inquired into. There must be a full investigation to show how these dread disasters had happened, and whether we could devise for them a sufficient remedy. His right hon. Friend near him (Sir Stafford 1357 Northcote) had told him that in another inquiry, which concerned matters of the same kind and involved questions of personal character, they had summoned witnesses who did not come, and that they were not in a position to report to this House a full and true account of that which they had been appointed to examine, and it became this House to consider whether it was doing its duty in passing a Resolution which did not tend to a full and complete inquiry. A Royal Commission had no power to compel the attendance of witnesses; and when they were inquiring into matters so grave as those which had been mentioned by the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Plimsoll), which involved the character of many persons—for they could not get at the facts which it sought to ascertain without involving the characters of individuals—they should consider carefully what the nature of that inquiry should be. It was impossible, for example, to say that a number of ships had been refused insurance at Lloyd's without inquiring whose ships they were. It was due to the shipowners of this country that it should be known whether there was a general or a particular charge. He did not care whether it was A or B, but he wanted to know that it was not every member of the alphabet. He wanted to know whether the Mercantile Marine of this country was conducted with honour and integrity, as he believed the commercial affairs of this country generally were. When they were going to investigate what was, in fact, a charge of an organized system of manslaughter—when they were going to bring charges which involved such an awful contingency—he thought the Government ought to give their assurance that they would take into their serious consideration whether this Commission should not examine upon oath.
said, the House seemed generally agreed that there should be an inquiry into this subject. Statements had been scattered broadcast throughout the land, without any power on the part of those interested to answer them; and these statements were founded—in the beginning, middle, and end—on a very sensational paragraph copied from one of the Wreck Returns of the Board of Trade for 1869. He would not say that the paragraph was inaccurate, because they had lately had to pay £3,000,000 1358 for language which was only less accurate; but he ventured to say that it could not be drawn with any truth from the tables contained in the same Return. The paragraph was a strong one. Speaking of the number of wrecks, it said that if the number was subdivided, it would be found that about a half was represented by unseaworthy, overladen, and ill-found vessels, chiefly employed in the coal trade. That might mean that all that class of vessels were of this description, or that many, or that some were, and he ventured to say that when the tables were consulted, it would be found that not 10 per cent came under the description. The hon. Member who had scattered this information throughout the land was quite candid, because he printed upon the same page, figures that would show something of the truth. His main object in addressing the House was to urge upon the Government that in constituting this Commission they should put upon it some persons conversant with the coasting trade, for the question was one with which naval officers could not be supposed to be well acquainted. It must not be forgotten that on the coasting trade of this country two matters of national importance depended. The one was, that if they got rid of the coasting trade their supply of fuel would be a monopoly in the hands of coal-owners and railway companies; the other was, that the coasting trade was the great nursery of their seamen. The dangers and difficulties which the small vessels engaged in the trade constantly encountered ought, therefore, to be well considered, and it was impossible that its peculiarities could be duly weighed, except by persons possessing adequate knowledge of its position. He did not attach much importance to the question whether this Commission was to be armed with the power of examining on oath. It was natural that the persons who had been attacked should desire to have the evidence taken in the strictest possible way; but when they considered how much the whole matter would turn upon opinion and not upon facts, then the examination upon oath did not seem to him of such great importance. One question which they would have to consider was, whether vessels ever ought to be lost in the storms that took place on this coast, and that surely must be a matter of opinion. 1359 The question of sufficient manning, the effect of the alteration in the build of ships, and the dangers of certain cargoes, were all matters more or less of opinion. He trusted that the Government would be careful of the parties they appointed to serve on the Commission.
said, that he would be able to satisfy the hon. Baronet opposite (Sir John Hay) that collisions at sea ought to be excluded from this Commission. There were in existence very minute regulations issued by the Board of Trade, with a view of avoiding collisions, and those regulations had been accepted to a great extent by foreign nations. It would therefore be a very serious thing that a Commission should be issued, without any concert with these nations, on a matter which affected not only our own ships but the ships of other countries. He might add that his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade had under his consideration the question whether in cases of collision the captain of the offending vessel should not be held guilty of a misdemeanour where there was culpable negligence on his part. With reference to the other point, the whole aim and endeavour of the Government would be to establish a full and searching inquiry into the question with which they had to deal. It must, however, be observed that this inquiry was not to be extended to the conduct of particular individuals, and he could not help remarking that the hon. Member for Derby had somewhat hindered the success of his Motion by making personal charges in the book he had published on the subject. The Royal Commission would not go into charges of that kind—its inquiry would have a wider range. He saw no reason why the Royal Commission should be empowered to examine upon oath. Its members would have to visit the various ports of the kingdom in order to ascertain the real state of facts for themselves, which as men of intelligence and observation they would have no difficulty in collecting, and the scope of their investigations would be limited, rather than extended, were they to have to examine all witnesses upon oath. Should it subsequently be found desirable that they should have that power, in order to prevent their inquiries from being eluded, there would be no difficulty about the House granting it, and he was authorized 1360 to say that in such a case the Government would be perfectly willing to support such a demand in case of necessity. He trusted that the House would accede to the proposition of the Government, and would not insist upon the inquiry assuming in the first instance the appearance of a criminal investigation into the conduct of any individual shipowner, but would, in the interests of the great mercantile community, of that House, and of the public, rather adopt a course that would enable this important question to be most rigidly inquired into.
§ SIR JAMES ELPHINSTONE
said, he hoped that the investigation would be as searching as possible. The speed at which steam vessels propelled at any great power made their way in the dark and in foggy weather was the cause of many of the disasters which occurred, and the vessels coming in collision seldom thought of stopping to ascertain the damage which they had occasioned. There was no man in whom he had greater confidence than the right hon. Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley); but he could not agree with the proposition which he had laid before the House, because the result of this investigation would be to put an end to many of the obsolete ships which the country was now navigating, but which were only fit for firewood. Look at the great loss which was suffered by the timber trade with Canada. Ships which had lost their name and their character were engaged for the purpose of importing timber into this country. They were loaded at a bad period of the year, and were started home from America in the most tempestuous weather. Then decks were only prevented from blowing up by their deck loads, and the sailors employed to navigate them often suffered the most horrible tortures during the voyage. The whole matter was a scandal upon the British nation. He was most happy to support the Amendment of the hon. Member for Hull, for he thought the circumstances should be investigated in every possible way.
MR. ALDERMAN W. LAWRENCE
said, the Royal Commission which the Government was about to issue was expected throughout the country. But that Commission would probably not report until next year, and as no legislation founded on the Report could come into effect before the 1st of January, 1875, 1361 he suggested that in the meantime a short Bill should be passed giving power to the Board of Trade to ensure the effectual carrying out of the Act of 1871 relating to the condemnation of unseaworthy vessels.
§ MR. PLIMSOLL
said, he would thankfully accept the Commission offered by the Government. He trusted that the Government, while undertaking the responsibility of appointing the Commission, would take care that it had all the necessary powers conferred upon it. He intended to introduce a Bill dealing with over-loading, deck-loading, and other similar matters. He would withdraw his Motion.
§ MR. CLAY
said, if the Motion of the hon. Member for Derby were withdrawn, his own proposition that the evidence should be taken on oath would fall to the ground. He therefore objected to the withdrawal of the Motion of the hon. Member. If the Government would undertake that the evidence should be taken on oath, he would not put the House to the trouble of dividing.
said, he believed there was a misunderstanding on the subject, and thought it would be a pity that the House should divide, when a slight explanation would render a division unnecessary. In the first place, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Oxford (Mr. G. Hardy), should not be under any misapprehension with regard to the intention of the Government. That right hon. Gentleman appeared to think that the President of the Board of Trade intended to move for an Address for a Royal Commission. There would be no objection, but, on the contrary, every desire to give the House the fullest information of its intentions in such a manner that, if desirable, they might be qualified; but it was not usual for the Executive Government, when intending to advise the exercise of the power of the Crown, to come to Parliament in order to relieve itself from responsibility. With respect to the Amendment of his hon. Friend the Member for Hull, it did not give to the Commission the power of compelling witnesses to appear before them, nor did it give to them an ulterior power of great importance—namely, that of indemnifying witnesses who might appear before them against the consequences of their evidence. Therefore, the object of those 1362 hon. Members who thought the Commission should be invested with those powers would not be gained by supporting the Amendment of his hon. Friend. The most prudent course, if he might be permitted to say so, was that which had been pointed out by the hon. Baronet the Member for Essex (Sir Henry Selwin-Ibbetson). The Government thought that without the smallest delay the Commission should be set to work. When the Commission was properly constituted, it would feel its own ground. The object of all of them was to have a very searching inquiry, and the Government would be most ready to ask either that witnesses should be examined on oath, or, if necessary, to go further. But it certainly would not be desirable that at the commencement the Commission, which would inquire into matters affecting the whole maritime population of the country, should be vested with powers such as were given to the Commission which inquired into the outrages at Sheffield. Such powers would impart to this inquiry a criminal character. No one was desirous of casting such an imputation upon the shipowners. On these grounds, he hoped his hon. Friend would be disposed to withdraw his Amendment.
§ Amendment and Motion, by leave, withdrawn.