§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ SIR CHARLES ADDERLEY
, in moving that the Bill be now read the second time, said, that its object was to secure a more accurate measurement of what might be called the freight-bearing capacity of merchant ships. The action of the Suez Canal Company in respect of the measurement of the tonnage of British vessels had rendered the passing of the Bill a matter of urgency. The Bill contained nothing new except in two or three of its earlier clauses, for the rest of the measure was a transcript of the sections of the existing Act relating to the measurement of tonnage. In point of fact, it was little more than the embodiment of the decision upon the deductions from gross tonnage to arrive at a net register tonnage on which 1221 dock dues should be charged, which was come to by the International Commission at Constantinople, on which the principal maritime nations were represented, and its introduction now had been precipitated by the late action of M. de Lesseps. It laid down, in the 4th clause, a clearer and more accurate mode of arriving at net tonnage by limiting the deduction for engine, crew, and navigation spaces. The sliding scale of engine space deductions in the Act of 1854 had produced great unfairness, and vessels had been constructed for the purpose of evading restrictions, the uppermost deck being brought down almost to the middle of the ship's depth, while the upper part had been so constructed as to carry much weight, and yet escape dock and harbour dues. Unseaworthiness had in many cases been the result. The new system was already in force for vessels passing through the Suez Canal, and in many cases it had led to a reduction of the dues, so that probably nobody would suffer increased charges except those who had been hitherto reaping an unfair advantage. It was important that the House should deal with the question without delay, and he hoped the measure would be passed that Session. Other countries would, no doubt, be encouraged to follow their example. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving the second reading.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Sir Charles Adderley.)
§ MR. GOURLEY
suggested the reference of so technical a Bill to the Board of Trade or to a Select Committee, that the evidence of practical men might be taken. A Committee of the Whole House could not deal satisfactorily with a measure which involved complicated mathematical calculations. The Suez Canal Company would be enabled by it to charge on a high tonnage, instead of at a high rate.
§ MR. MACGREGOR
begged to impress upon the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, the propriety of referring the Bill to a Select Committee. The 4th clause which the right hon. Gentleman thought the only one capable of objection, was the only one he considered just and right. 1222 He strongly objected to the 5th clause; but Clause 6 was the most objectionable of the whole; it practically put into the hands of the Board of Trade, the complete power of revoking, varying, or altering the mode of measurement, and the mode of making allowances for the whole of the merchant shipping of the country. Again, Clause 7 looked very much like an arrangement by which the Board of Trade would have every facility rendered them for entering into law-suits with shipowners. They had taken advantage of the powers they already possessed to a very large extent, and the ratepayers of this country had had to pay sweetly for it. In every case, where law-suits of the kind were entered into, the Board of Trade had been defeated, and had had to pay for it. There were other clauses which required very close looking into. Many of them related to technical matters, and therefore ought to be drawn up by men possessing technical knowledge, and criticized closely by others possessing such knowledge; therefore he would suggest to the Government the desirability of allowing the matter to go before a Select Committee, where the most important interest, the Mercantile Marine, might be heard, and give expression to their views before the passing of the measure.
§ MR. D. J. JENKINS
, as a practical seaman, condemned the 5th clause of the Bill, relating to the space between the main deck and the hurricane deck of a ship as most dangerous, and he should certainly oppose it in Committee.
§ MR. T. E. SMITH
said, the Bill was drawn up haphazard, and with the usual reckless style of the Board of Trade when dealing with the merchant shipping of this country, and he hoped it would not be allowed to pass without the most careful scrutiny of its clauses in Committee.
§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
said, that as the clauses of the measure were identical with those of the Bill introduced by himself on the part of the late Government some three years ago, and the provisions of which had been carefully considered two years before, he felt bound to assist the right hon. Gentleman opposite in carrying it through the House. He denied that there had been any recklessness or haphazard legislation on the part of the Board. There was no novelty in the Bill, but he thought it 1223 would be a great advantage to the country if it were adopted, for the existing mode of measurement had given rise to great evasions, and it urgently required amendment. The only alteration in it was in the 4th clause, so that he was inclined to think that the matter should he a subject of conference with the Board of Trade, and that it was hardly necessary to refer it to a Select Committee. The International Commission had adopted the system of measurement under the Bill for the Suez Canal, and had recommended it for adoption by other countries.
regarded this as one of the fairest Bills that could be proposed. It would put an end, moreover, to that system of shipbuilding which had been going on in order to evade tonnage dues—a system that had produced most dangerous ships, imperilling the lives of our seamen and passengers. He strongly objected to deck-loads, and hoped that matter would be included in the penalties, inasmuch as this practice not only endangered the ship, but navigation generally. Low free-boards and deep waists were also dangerous, and if deck-loads were prohibited, this dangerous feature would disappear.
said, that the Bill was not required, for it was only brought in to legalize a form of measurement which had been instituted by an International Committee in the interests of M. de Lesseps, and which was nothing else than a tax on British shipowners, as they would find from the increased charges levied upon the ships that went through the Suez Canal. So far as the shipowners were concerned, they had the strongest desire to co-operate with the Government in carrying out any measure which could conduce to the safety of our shipping; but with regard to the measure under notice, his objection was that shipowners had not had sufficient notice of it, and did not know what it was intended to effect.
§ MR. NORWOOD
said, he did not object to the second reading of the Bill; but he maintained that its provisions could not be properly settled, unless it was referred to a Select Committee. Some of the clauses as they stood might, in his opinion, injuriously affect the shipping trade.
§ Question put, and agreed to.1224
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be referred to a Select Committee."—(Mr. Norwood.)
§ SIR CHARLES ADDERLEY
objected to that course. There was nothing new in the Bill, except the 4th clause. The only question they had to arrive at was the right mode of ascertaining the freight-earning capacity of merchant ships. He hoped the proposal would not be carried.
§ MR. T. E. SMITH
thought a conference with the Board of Trade on the part of members of the shipping trade would be infinitely preferable to referring the Bill to a Select Committee. Time must be allowed for calling together the several representatives to assist at the conference, and if there were an assurance that that should be done, he should advise the hon. Member not to press his Motion.
§ SIR CHARLES ADDERLEY
expressed his readiness to meet the views of hon. Members in regard to the conference.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for Monday next.