§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ SIR CHARLES ADDERLEY
, in rising to move that the Bill be now read a second time, said, he was fully sensible of the importance and delicate task he undertook. It would add another statute to too many already existing, affecting one of the most vital interests of the country, and which was most sensitive of any Government interference. The Bill arose from a just claim on the Legislature that it should do all in its power to diminish the perils to which the gallant seamen who manned our merchant service were, to some extent, unnecessarily exposed. Under such an impulse, the House might easily run into inconsiderate and mistaken legislation, which might inflict the most serious injury upon the shipowners who were honourably engaged in a great enterprize, and which, so far from securing the safety or improving the condition of the seamen, 506 might supplement the necessary perils of the sea by the graver perils of a Government protection still more treacherous and disastrous than the sea itself. He had, therefore, in recommending legislation to the House, approached the subject with the deepest anxiety and sense of responsibility. He had not intended to say a word in moving the second reading of this Bill, because he had fully explained the objects of the Bill on its introduction. He had, however, since given Notice of his intention to substitute a new clause for Clause 41, relating to the liabilities of shipowners, and to introduce a voluntary load-line clause into the Bill; and he should, therefore, best consult the convenience of the House by making a preliminary statement to show how the Bill would then stand. If the House would read it a second time, he would move for its committal pro formâ that these insertions might be made, together with such Amendments on the Notice Paper as he could wholly or partially adopt. The object of the measure was to secure increased safety at sea and a diminution of the unnecessary perils to which seamen were now exposed, while avoiding at the same time any mischievous interference with shipowners in carrying on their business. A pamphlet had been just received by Members of the House, circulated by the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. MacIver), in which the two principles were fairly placed in direct antagonism—that of making shipowners answerable for the safety of their ships; and that of Government undertaking to be answerable for them. He gave his preference to the latter principle, on the ground that shipowners were not necessarily experts, and their ships often came to grief with no criminal intention on their part, or even knowledge of the cause. He therefore thought that, alone of all trades, the shipowner should have guaranteed to him the profits arising from his trade, while the Government should be responsible for supplying him with the requisite knowledge for conducting it. The hon. Member hoped that the day would come when the Government would include within itself a representative marine department—that was to say, a department to represent shipowners, the head of which would be a sort of Controller General of Mercantile Marine, as the First Lord of the Admiralty was at the head 507 of the Navy. The Bill was drawn on a directly opposite principle. It proposed that the Board of Trade should continue to watch over public safety and enforce the legal consequences of negligence or recklessness in private enterprize, violating its public responsibility. The Bill would provide—first, for improvement in the discipline and condition of seamen; second, for a better equipment of ships. Its third object was the prevention of unseaworthy ships going to sea. Then it proposed to deal with and improve the system of inquiry into casualties at sea; and, lastly, to amend the law as to the liabilities of shipowners. The first proposal to which he had referred included the abolition of advance notes, which had been freely canvassed as a needless interference with the freedom of contract. It was, in fact, quite the reverse. The effect of allowing advance notes to be given was an unparalleled licence to enable the most improvident of our fellow-citizens to anticipate their wages and get into extra debt. No other class of workmen in the Kingdom had any such specially recognized power—he would not call it privilege—and in the case of sailors the result was simply a handing them over to the mercy of crimps. The advance note was altogether different from the allotment note, by which a seaman could provide for his family in his absence, and no interference with the allotment note was proposed. The simple result of abolishing advance notes would be that a seaman arriving at a port with a certain amount of wages would, as now, be cleared of all his property; but he would not be trusted any further, and would be obliged to engage himself to sea again. It was said that there might be cases where the sailor arrived at a port destitute of money, and that then the advance note was necessary. Of at kinds of relief the worst was to enable the seaman by some extraordinary process to live upon anticipated earnings There was a provision introduced into the Bill to enable the master to grant the seaman any necessary clothing at a reasonable price. The second object to which he had referred—namely, the better equipment of ships, had regard, among other things, to the supply of boats which ships would be obliged to carry. The existing law on this point was, by the Bill adapted to present cir- 508 cumstances. The hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Reed) proposed, also, on the subject of equipment that the iron used in shipbuilding should be subjected to a Government test, and the proposal was worthy of consideration—the fact not being lost sight of that a severe test would materially increase the cost of shipbuilding. With respect to the third object to which he had alluded—namely, the stoppage of unseaworthy ships the question was what was the most effectual means of preventing unseaworthy ships going to sea; whether by the Government dealing only with particular cases, or undertaking to guarantee the condition of all ships, at all times, in the Mercantile Navy. The Bill maintained the principle of the existing law, which he considered a far more effectual provision against carelessness and negligence than if the Government were to attempt to do the shipowners' work. The principle which the Bill followed was the right mode of dealing with the matter; it prevented men doing wrong rather than undertaking their work for them; it was a terror to evil doers without harassing those who did well, while the contrary plan would be a terror to well doers, and a screen, and impunity for those who did ill. Both plans were preventive in theory, but the one was effective practically, the other a delusion. That Government officers should undertake the survey of every ship, with any real effect, or justifiable pretence of giving a certificate of seaworthiness on every voyage, would be a delusion. Even the present survey which the Legislature had imposed on the Board of Trade was more; than the present staff of surveyors could satisfactorily perform. His opinion was confirmed by what he had seen the other day upon the Tyne, crowded with ships, loading with great celerity, and going to sea at all hours of the night and day. It was not to be supposed that the officials would be able even to know the draught of water of all the vessels which so went "out, and if the principle of survey which had been proposed were adopted it would probably be found necessary to quintuple the number of surveyors, and the end of it would be that a sort of bill of safety would be given by the Government without any adequate security to every ship screening their owners from all liability. It was proposed, on the contrary, to 509 increase that liability, and to strengthen the office for the purpose. The Government intended not only to increase the staff of surveyors, but to establish a higher class of officers as superintendents, who, posted at the principal ports of the Kingdom, might be trusted to act upon their own responsibility, without in all cases referring, in the first instance, to the Board of Trade. If the Government were to attempt to carry into effect a general survey it would be out of their power to provide a sufficient staff of surveyors, and still more to get this higher class of superintendents without whom the proceeding would be a simple sham. An incomplete and unreal survey would be more dangerous than the present defective police, and would be attended with the worst possible consequences. The House must consider, in weighing the proposition of the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Plimsoll), how far he had found it tenable himself. That hon. Gentleman had repeatedly found it to break down under him. His first proposal was that the Government should undertake a universal survey—a survey of the whole Mercantile Marine, comprising about 26,000 ships, and that this survey should be repeated from year to year, as would be necessary if it were to be of any use. The hon. Member found this proposal utterly impracticable, and he tried to free it from obvious objection on that score by agreeing to except from that survey the best lines of ships, such as the Cunard, which would not need it. In his Bill of this year the hon. Member extended the exception—he proposed now that the Government should undertake to survey only unclassed ships. But what did that mean? Why that the Government should enter into partnership with private registry associations with classified ships. But, in the first place, a Government survey must be very different from a private classification, not only different in its actual meaning and value, but still more different in the way in which it would be understood throughout the country. On that ground alone it would be impossible that Government could enter into partnership with private associations. In the second place, it would be a difficult question what associations in partnership with Government survey, to recognize. Of course, Government would recognize Lloyd's and the Liverpool Association, 510 and it would be difficult to refuse American registration, and the Veritas, and private clubs. The hon. Gentleman said that the Board of Trade should decide what associations should be recognized. That would be a very delicate function he would throw on the Board of Trade. But supposing the Board of Trade, with greater sagacity than the hon. Member generally gave it credit for, made a wise selection, what then? Classification and terms of registry varied perpetually and must vary. Competition led to constant change and lowering of standard. The Government would either have to adopt some sort of average standard among all the associations, or it would have to dispute every standard which differed from its own. At all events, the Government would get implicated in a most uncertain and capricious influence on the insurance of ships and the liability of owners. In fact, the hon. Gentleman himself had made a complete exposure of the un-suitableness of his own proposition. But even if we could get a test of seaworthy construction and state of repair, there were other elements which would have to be taken into consideration when deciding on the seaworthiness or unseaworthiness of a ship on every voyage. The lading and equipment of the ship, and the character of the crew, among other things, would have to be taken into account. What to his mind was the worst part of the hon. Member's plan was that it would remove the last check upon the carelessness and negligence of shipowners, and he had found, generally speaking, that the best shipowners did not want this survey, but that the worst were ready enough to accept it. The object of the Government in framing their Bill had been to interfere as little as possible with private enterprize while taking security of the owners for the safety of vessels and for the lives of those who were on board of them. This was the principle of all our laws. We sought to stop crime, but we do not search everybody's pockets from time to time to ascertain they contained no stolen property. If we interfere in reference to sanitary arrangements we did not search every house, but only those which were suspected; and in reference to public health the Government had generally kept to the line that they should remove nuisances only. The Government had never con- 511 templated guaranteeing the seaworthiness of all ships, but only stopping un-seaworthy ships; and they had found the greatest difficulty in doing this without injury and mischief, and their attempts had not been so satisfactory as they could have wished. It was a very difficult and delicate task for an officer at a distant port in England, however honest and sagacious he might be, to report to London that a ship that was about to sail was unseaworthy, and the delay occasioned might entail the gravest loss and injury to the shipowner without justification, and without benefit to anyone. Surveyors frequently differed in their judgment as to the seaworthiness of ships, and any attempts at laying down rules for their guidance, was full of hazard, and might occasion the gravest consequences to the mercantile community. He had himself found the subject a most difficult one, and the duty he had to discharge in connection with it was not the most satisfactory part of the work he had to perform. The question was brought prominently before the consideration of the Royal Commission; and it was proposed that there should be a load-line fixed so that there might be no uncertainty, because everybody could see the line. But there occurred the insuperable difficulty of how the load-line was to be fixed, because it would have to be based upon half-a-dozen kinds of variable data. There was the question of the construction of the ship. One kind of cargo also would require a different load-line from that which would be required by another kind of cargo. A ship which was going across the Atlantic or the Bay of Biscay would require a totally different load-line from the same ship going only to the Baltic or about the coast. The seasons of the year required different load-lines. The Royal Commission, therefore, said that they were not prepared to recommend a fixed load-line; they were not ready either to recommend an elastic load-line; and they thought it a most reasonable mode of proceeding not to come to any decision until the provisions of the recent Act had been tried for, at all events, a year or two. The experience of the Acts of 1871 and 1873, he confessed, had not been very satisfactory, the judgment and the reports of the various surveyors made to the Board of Trade having 512 about them so much uncertainty as in itself amounted to a very grave evil. The general proposition he intended to make in Committee upon the Bill was, that shipowners should upon every entry for clearance of their ships make a declaration stating the maximum figure in scale of feet on the sides of their ships beyond which they did not intend to load them. This declaration should be made at the Customs, and entered in the log and articles of agreement with the seamen. He should, however, modify that proposition to this extent—that the declaration in question need not be made for every entry for clearance when the ship continued in the same service and carried the same kind of cargo. The shipowners might if they chose send a notice of such declarations to the Board of Trade, and if the Board of Trade made no objection to the terms of those declarations it should have no power to stop any ship which had the declared load-line above water. He thought that this proposition would meet the difficulties of the case as well as was possible. The remaining class of clauses related to the liability of the shipowners. He had already given Notice of a clause which he should propose to substitute for Clause 41 in the draft Bill. Under the Act of 1862, which formed the existing law on the subject, the liability of the shipowner for damage done on board his ship without his fault was limited to £8 and £15 per ton, and where he was in fault his liability was unlimited—that was to say, he was thrown back upon his common law liability to the full extent of the damage done. It appeared to him that the words "unlimited liability," as used in the draft clause, had, been introduced unwisely, as it meant no more than the existing liability to the full extent of damage. The only novelty proposed had been the extension of liability to the act of an agent. He proposed to substitute a clause that would merely render the shipowner liable to the extent of the damage his own act had caused, and that he should not be able to contract himself out of this liability by any bill of lading. It was ascertained that it had not been the view of the Commission that the owner should be liable for un-seaworthiness caused by the acts of his agent done without his knowledge at a distance, the draft clause had, therefore, 513 been withdrawn as too severe and stringent. The new clause to the effect that no shipowner should be able by his bill of lading to contract himself out of the limited liability to which he was now exposed for damage caused by unseaworthiness, as far as he had been able to ascertain, there would be no objection to. He was deeply interested in the success of this Bill. He did not take any credit to himself for the draft, for he was indebted for, what he was sanguine to hope would be a satisfactory and permanent measure, to the very eminent ability and industry of the officers of the Board of Trade; and he believed that there was no Department of the Government the head of which was more ably supported. For his own part, he had carefully investigated and tested the merits of the Bill to the utmost of his power, and had taken every means by communication with all the different classes interested to ascertain that it was the best proposition that could be submitted by the Government to Parliament on this most important subject.
§ MR. T. E. SMITH
May I ask whether it is obligatory to insert the draught of water in the declaration?
§ SIR CHARLES ADDERLEY
Yes; it is obligatory to make the declaration, but not to send notice to the Board of Trade. All he could say, in conclusion, was that in the discussion of this Bill, he hoped the House would bear in mind that they had all the same object in view, and that the only question between them was, which was the best way of accomplishing that object. He hoped the discussion would not be apparently divided between sailors' friends and ship-owners' friends, for there was no such division among them in this debate. He was sure that there was no one in that House who did not wish to guard the seamen from all unnecessary risk—it went to the heart of Englishmen that everything should be done to effect this. All that the Government asked to-night was that the Bill should be discussed on the second reading with the view of determining whether it was based on a principle which would most effectually carry out that object. With that feeling he moved the second reading.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Sir Charles Adderley.)514
§ MR. NORWOOD
begged to assure the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down that in moving his Amendment he was actuated by no feelings of factious opposition. It was true that he had, on more than one occasion, in that House, expressed the opinion that, so far from requiring more legislation, the Merchant Marine suffered from an excess of Parliamentary and Departmental supervision; but he frankly admitted that it was impossible for the Government, on the Report of the Commission on Unseaworthy Ships, not to endeavour to carry out its suggestions; and if his objections to the Bill were confined simply to its provisions, it was probable he would not have troubled the House at this stage, but would have endeavoured to alter clauses in Committee. The right hon. Gentleman, in his opening remarks, expressed the feeling of responsibility which he, as head of the Board of Trade, entertained in introducing this important Bill. He (Mr. Norwood) trusted the House would allow him, an humble Member of the House, to say that he participated, in some degree, in that feeling of responsibility. He felt that, on the present occasion, the House had a right to expect from a practical shipowner a candid expression of his views upon the main questions involved in the" Bill; and he would therefore endeavour to divest from his mind the thought that he was speaking on behalf of any class of his constituents, and recollect above everything the great national importance the measure assumed. The right hon. Gentleman entered at some length into the details of the Bill. He deprecated too close an examination of those details, because he said the proper time to consider them was in Committee; but when he informed the House that it was his desire to commit the Bill, after the second reading, in order that he might reprint it with Amendments, he (Mr. Norwood) thought it was reasonable that those who had suggestions to make should have an opportunity of doing so, and he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would think it desirable to 515 accept some of them. The Bill was virtually built upon the Report of the Commission on Unseaworthy Ships, and as that was his first opportunity of addressing the House on the matter since the reception of the Report, he thought it only right that he should pay a tribute of gratitude on behalf of the shipping interest to those who sat on the Commission. They conducted their investigations during two Sessions. A more laborious, and a more independent Commission never sat, and their Report contained a complete analysis of the matters brought before them. When hon. Members examined the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman, they would be scarcely surprised that he (Mr. Norwood) was somewhat disappointed with its contents. He did not think the drafting of the clauses had been so well considered as it ought to have been; and he saw in it too much of the hand of the lawyer—perhaps, he might say the criminal lawyer. There was a part of the Bill he could not agree with, though it followed the recommendations of the Commission. He alluded to the preremptory abolition of advances to sailors. He admitted that some evils did arise from the abuse of them; but, as a practical man, he doubted whether it was possible, in the present condition of their seamen, at once to do away with those advances. It was a growing custom in the Baltic and other short trades for seamen to supply themselves with provisions. Now they were not a class possessing capital. Their earnings were small and precarious, and he doubted their being able to lay in a stock of provisions without obtaining an advance. As to giving a captain the power to deduct a portion of a man's wages for provisions or clothing, in course of time it would degenerate into "Truck." It was impossible to do without advances in foreign ports. The desertion of British seamen from their ships in ports where wages were high, was such that many ships were almost denuded of sailors. The only way to obtain men was to make a considerable offer in the way of advances. The advance given in British ports, he thought might be limited to a certain sum. He ventured to suggest £1; but he was of opinion that there should be no limit at all to the right of giving advances in foreign ports. The discipline clauses, from 9 to 24 of the Bill, 516 were practically re-enacting clauses, which the Schedule repealed. They were the original clauses in the Act of 1854, though in one or two instances offences were enlarged and punishments were increased. He gave the right hon. Gentleman credit for his intention; but, as a shipowner he objected to meddling with those discipline clauses. They had caused irritation to the sailor, and, as a practical man, he should have been quite content to have had recourse, as he could now, to the clauses of the Act of 1854. One objection to the Bill was that it was too much a Bill of Pains and Penalties. It contained too much in the shape of coercion, and too little in the shape of encouragement. The next important clause he would refer to was the one with reference to training ships. He was much disappointed with that clause. He thought the shortcoming of the Bill was, that the Government had not sufficiently considered the recommendations of the Commission with reference to the necessity of some steps being taken to secure properly qualified seamen. The Government proposed to take from the Mercantile Marine Fund a certain sum for the education of boys. The surplus on that Fund was entirely derived from light dues, and it was not right that they should take what was contributed to, and belonged to a certain extent, to foreigners for a purely national object. Only three years ago a great reduction was made in light dues from those profits, amounting to about £80,000, to the relief of shipping. He was one of those who went so far as to say that it was the duty of a great country like England to light its own coast, and that light dues ought not to be charged on merchant ships. The Royal Navy and yachts paid no light dues, nor did foreign ships sailing round our coast, but which did not enter into any of the English ports. He objected then—distinctly and emphatically—to the proposal to divert this surplus from its legitimate application to the reduction of light dues, but he objected further to the inadequate nature of the proposal. The surplus of the Fund last year was only £22,000, and if £15 was allowed for each boy, as suggested, there could only be 1,200 boys assisted; as they required 2 years' training they would only get 700 or 800 each year. There was an- 517 other branch of the Bill which would require a considerable amount of attention when they got into Committee, and that was the proposed change in inquiries into "Wrecks and Casualties. He was willing to admit that the proposal of the Government was a decided improvement upon the present law, which was certainly in a most unsatisfactory condition. He did not, however, intend now to go into the details of the subject, because he trusted that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade (Sir Charles Adderley) would see his way to accepting the Amendments which would be placed on the Table of the House. The right hon. Gentleman had withdrawn the unlimited liability clause. He was exceedingly glad to find that he had done so, and as it had now disappeared from the Bill, he need say nothing about it, further than to remark that the Government raised much opposition and had given much trouble and anxiety to shipowners by its introduction. The right hon. Gentleman had made an important statement with reference to the load-line, and so far as regarded the general principle laid down he fully agreed with him; for he contended that it would be dangerous to relieve shipowners, to any considerable extent, from the responsibility of managing their own affairs. But the argument would be stronger if there were less Departmental and Government interference than at present. The wonder was, that the Mercantile Marine of this country had assumed such large proportions under the burden of 10 or 12 statutes containing some 1,300 clauses. The proposal of the right hon. Gentleman was one which he could not object to, inasmuch as it was very similar to that embodied in his (Mr. Norwood's) own Bill and Amendments. The line should be placed in the first instance by the owner himself, who ought to be the best judge of the capabilities of his ship, and its principal object should be to remove the complaint that under the present system the seamen had no opportunity of knowing beforehand the extent to which the loader intended to immerse the ship. He intended the load-line to be a notice that to that extent and no further, the owners claimed the right of loading the ship; and if the ship should be immersed beyond 518 it, from that moment the seamen's liability to serve should cease, and his articles should be discharged. If the Government adopted that suggestion they would require few surveyors at the outports to enforce the law, for the seamen themselves would look well after it. He objected to the Government undertaking a general survey of ships. They were not dealing with the mercantile value of ships, but the saving of life at sea. The classification of ships was no guarantee for security of life, for it was possible that the oldest collier in the Tyne might be more seaworthy than the most costly-built ship. For a ship might be surveyed and passed to-day, and she might be unseaworthy tomorrow. The principle of classification and survey ought to be rejected by the Government. If it was adopted, the public at large would be depending upon a broken reed. He now came to his chief objection to the Bill—on which he based his Amendment—that it virtually ignored the recommendations of the Royal Commission for improving the condition of our seamen and ensuring an adequate supply of qualified men. That was a subject of national importance, for it was admitted on all sides that our seamen were deteriorating, and their condition becoming more and more unsatisfactory. The Commissioners, in the opening paragraph of their final Report, called attention to its important bearing on the loss of life at sea by pointing to the fact that a ship might possess the highest class at Lloyds, be well fitted and stowed, and yet be unseaworthy from the want of skill and care in the master and officers and of an efficient and sufficient crew. They supported that statement by a Return showing that out of 1,096 Board of Trade inquiries, excluding collisions, there were 60 casualties, involving the loss of 86 lives, arising from defect in the stowage or construction of the ship; and that in 711 casualties, 1,371 lives were lost from the neglect of the crew or the bad navigation of the masters. The magnitude of this subject would be seen from the fact that on the 31st of December, 1873, our registers contained 21,421 sailing ships and 3,662 steamers, together 5,681,963 tons of shipping, and, excluding masters, employed about 203,000 men. He did not refer to the fishermen round the coast—a class of 519 men whose condition was satisfactory—and he trusted that the Government would look after them for the reserves. Of the above 203,000 men, he regretted to say, there were 20,591, or 11¼ per cent of foreigners, and only 15,000 boys—of whom about half were apprentices—to supply the constant waste of seamen from various causes. He gladly admitted that the greater number were well conducted, hardworking men, who understood their business, but unfortunately there was a considerable residuum of inferior men, whose moral condition was very unsatisfactory. A large number of them had little experience at sea, and were, in fact, impostors, for they shipped as A.B.'s when they had not the slightest claim to the title, had gone through no apprenticeship, and had little acquaintance with the working of a ship. The causes of this evil were two-fold. One was the great expansion of our merchant shipping, and the extent to which steamers had supplanted sailing ships. The demand of late years had exceeded the supply of trained seamen, and masters were often compelled to complete their crews with almost any men that offered. It was very difficult to make good seamen on board a steamer, and space being so valuable there was little room to accommodate a number of boys; consequently steamers, as a rule, did not carry boys. There was no doubt that in physical condition a considerable proportion of our seamen were certainly not A.B.'s. Dr. Leach, the able and experienced medical officer of the port of London, informed him that disease of various kinds existed among these men to a large extent. Vessels were leaving port continually, and when they got into blue water one-third of the crew were found incompetent as A.B.'s, either from disease or want of proper knowledge, and the work was inefficiently performed. The result was loss of life at sea. He (Mr. Norwood) could adduce evidence of the most important character from Constantinople and from China to show the serious deterioration as to conduct and physique of our seamen, while the investigations of the Liverpool Committee, and the evidence before the Royal Commission were to the same effect. There was also an argument which he would address to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Not 520 less than £33,000 a-year, taking the average of the last few years, had been paid out of the Consolidated Fund to bring home seamen who, having been placed in hospitals abroad, were brought back at the expense of the nation, and who too often re-shipped to perform duties for which they were incompetent. The other cause of the deterioration of our seamen was the abolition of apprenticeship. In the five years, when compulsory apprenticeship existed, no less than 58,700 boys were apprenticed to the Mercantile Marine; whereas in the last five years there were only 21,370, or about one-third of that number; and it was a well-known fact that a majority of those apprentices left the service and did not remain at sea. The whole question as to the cause of the deterioration of seamen, and the means by which that evil could be remedied, lay in the fact that a good sailor could only be made by training from a boy; a man in middle life rarely made a good sailor. It was, in his opinion, impossible to revert to the system of compulsory apprenticeship; but he thought the Government might indirectly do much to encourage the carrying of boys in merchant ships, and to enforce the duty of every shipowner to bring up boys for the service. Some large steam shipowners took this view of the case. They said—" We know and care nothing about the deterioration of the men; we can obtain them by our extra pay, and we care not who suffers." That was an attitude with which he had no sympathy. He thought, therefore, that the suggestion of the Royal Commission was a good one—that if a shipowner did not choose to train boys he should pay a certain sum upon his tonnage as a contribution towards training ships and schools. Now, provided that they got a good supply of seamen by a system of training-ships and schools, and that they could induce shipowners to train boys for the sea in greater numbers, the question remained—how to keep them contented and efficient? Without doubt, one great source of discontent amongst sailors was that they had to associate on board ship with a class of men who, while receiving the same wages, were no better than, and whom he ventured to call, impostors. Nothing could be more disheartening to a respectable sailor, with a thorough knowledge of his business, than to find that 521 on board ship he was doomed to associate with men who were physically and nautically incompetent to do their share of work. What was the meaning of A.B.? It was able-bodied. It meant not only that a man should have sufficient nautical skill, but that he should be physically able to do the work required from him on board ship; and he thought it would be well if all A.B.'s were required to produce a certificate at the time of engagement as to their nautical and physical capacity. Some hon. Members would probably object that it would tend to increase the rate of wages to able-bodied seamen; but, if they could get the article required, most shipowners would be happy to pay a higher rate of wages. If the Government would take the matter in hand in a discriminate manner, commencing with the A.B.'s, and show men that by proving themselves competent to do their work in a seamanlike manner that they would get 10s. or £1 a month extra, a great benefit would be conferred not only upon sailors but upon shipowners. No doubt a medical examination presented difficulties which would have to be surmounted by judicious arrangements, and he would suggest that a Government surgeon should inspect the men at their own houses if desired; but he believed that the moral and social position of the A.B.'s would be raised, and the effect would be to keep together a first-class body of men in their Merchant Marine. With respect to training ships, he was not satisfied with their present state. They were managed at a very considerable cost to the country. The double system of industrial school ships, and the sending of two classes of boys into them, was not satisfactory. There was no guarantee that the boys would remain in the service. Many of them did not enter the sea service, and he doubted whether one-third of those paid for by the country remained in that service. He hoped the Government would not encourage these quasi-criminal schools, but would encourage the humble and honest parents of children at our ports in preference. He considered the statement of the right hon. Gentleman opposite was, upon the whole, a satisfactory one, though he hoped to receive some assurance that the Government would grapple resolutely with that most fruitful of all causes of maritime 522 disaster—the carelessness and incompetency of the crews. He did not look upon the present state of affairs as regarded casualties as being permanent; on the contrary, he believed they were going through a very abnormal period, and he had a strong hope and belief that before two or three years had elapsed they would find their shipping casualties very much less in number. For himself and his hon. Friends who represented seaports, he could say that they recognised their duty and protected the interests of those whom they employed. He protested against the manner in which shipowners were branded as men incapable of those proper feelings which actuated every Englishman; and he declared their sincere desire to improve the condition of those who rendered such important services to the country as our seamen, and their willingness to cooperate with the greatest cordiality with the Government to that end. He begged to move the Amendment of which he had given Notice—
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "any measure purporting to amend the Law affecting Merchant Shipping is insufficient and unsatisfactory which does contain provisions for securing a supply of properly qualified Seamen by encouraging the carrying of Apprentices on board Ships, and the establishment of Training Ships, and which does not provide for a Medical Examination of Seamen upon their engagement at a Shipping Office,"—(Mr. Norwood,)
§ —instead thereof.
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. T. BRASSEY
said: The hon. Member for Hull (Mr. Norwood) has done well to invite the attention of the House to the supply of seamen for the merchant service. When we are assured that our seamen are declining in efficiency, it is most important to ascertain how far that opinion is supported by the facts of the case. Several witnesses before the Commission on Unseaworthy Ships spoke strongly to the deterioration of our seamen; but the most important evidence in support of this view of the case was furnished by the Committee of shipowners formed at Liverpool in 1870. This Committee not only investigated 523 the actual condition of the merchant service, but they undertook the far more difficult task of contriving a remedy for the evils of which they complained. They suggested that seamen, before being rated as A.B., should obtain a certificate of competency; that advance notes should be declared illegal; that sailors' boarding-houses should be licensed and under inspection; that the Government should invite foreign Powers to put down the crimping system abroad; that there should be additional training ships; and that a compulsory benefit fund for seamen should be established. Turning from the dark to the brighter side of the picture, it is to be observed that shipowners are not unanimous in condemning the seamen of the present day. As a rule, the owners of steamships are satisfied with their men. There is, however, great difficulty in procuring good crews for sailing ships. Mr. Beazley, of Liverpool, whose interest in the question has never flagged, made the same complaints to the Committee of 1860 on Merchant Shipping. Then, as now, the disparaging statements made on the one side were refuted by the more favourable opinions of other witnesses. Again, we are assured that our ships are manned by foreigners. Undoubtedly many foreigners are employed under the British flag; but their number does not increase. In the year 1872, the percentage of foreigners to British seamen was 11.24; but the corresponding figure for 1864 was 12.6. The introduction of foreign seamen into the national Mercantile Marino is not confined to British ships. In the United States a large proportion of foreigners are employed, not only in private but in public vessels; although the tonnage of that country has not, like our own, been rapidly increasing. The same difficulty is experienced in Germany. Such is the scarcity of seamen on the coasts of the German Ocean and the Baltic, that ships, when ready to go to sea, are sometimes detained for weeks from the impossibility of obtaining a crew. It is said that there is a growing distaste for the sea among the population on the German sea-board, and that the desertions among the ships sailing from Bremen last year amounted to 15 per cent. In our own case, the scarcity of seamen may be explained, not so much by the abolition of apprenticeship, as by 524 the rapid increase in the tonnage of our shipping, and, especially during the last three years, by the great augmentation in the number and size of sailing ships. There is another aspect of the case, which deserves consideration. If seamanship had decayed as much as it has been supposed, would it have been possible to make continuous reductions in the number of hands required to navigate the ships? The proportion of men to 100 tons, in sailing-ships engaged in the foreign trade, has fallen from 3.93 in 1854 to 2.70 in 1870; and this reduction has not been confined to the most modern type of vessels. I have spared no pains to acquaint myself with the facts of the case, and the many widely differing opinions which prevail on this subject; and it is my firm conviction that, on the whole, the falling off in the quality and character of our seamen is confined chiefly to the long voyage sailing ships. Assuming, however, that their proportion is not greater than it was, there can be no question as to the fact that there are a large number of foreigners employed in British ships, and that among our seamen there are tens of thousands of ill-disciplined and incompetent men. When therefore a proposal is made by the shipowners for the substitution of a system of training in special vessels for the old plan of carrying apprentices, and when, too, we have reason to believe that the State and the shipowners may advantageously work together for a common object, I maintain that it is the duty of the Government not to neglect the opportunity afforded by a happy combination of circumstances. In the view of the shipowners, the training system is now, and always has been, advocated chiefly as a means of enabling them to man their ships with less difficulty than they experience at present. It would clearly be contrary to public policy to entertain the proposal from their point of view. The supply of seamen is, after all, a question of wages, and a proposal to establish training ships at the public charge could not be sustained, if it were made solely for the purpose of enabling a privileged section of employers to obtain skilled labour at a rate below the market value. The Commission of 1859 recommended that training ships should be established solely with the object of recruiting seamen for the Naval Reserve, and 525 their proposals for the attainment of this object were approved by the recent Commission on Unseaworthy Ships. As to the precise amount to be given in view of the service to be rendered in recruiting for the Naval He-serve, it is a question in which the Admiralty and the Board of Trade must work together. It is for the officers responsible for the naval defence of the country to determine the standard of strength at which the Naval Reserve shall be maintained. The necessary number of the Reserve having been fixed, it then remains for us to ascertain how far we may rely on the merchant service in its actual condition to supply the men we require. Considerable progress has of late been made in recruiting for the Reserve; but we are still far short of the numbers indicated in the Report of Lord Cardwell's Commission. Since the date of that Report, great events have occurred, which should tend to increase rather than to diminish our requirements for national defence. There is no reason to doubt that the Reserve would be found, in the hour of need, a valuable support to the Navy. The opinion of Sir Cooper Key, who commanded the fleet on the only occasion when a large body of these men have been embarked, the Reports of the Admirals who have annually inspected the force, the opinions of those who have been recently in command of the drill-ships—I would specially refer to the Raper recently read by Commander Brent—all tend to establish a favourable impression of the value of this force. Up to this point we have been able to show that an almost unbroken unanimity of opinion exists in favour of the training system; but the same unanimity is no longer to be found when we come to consider the best means of providing the funds required for carrying out the plan. Certain it is that if shipowners desire that a large number of boys should be trained, in excess of the requirements of the Naval Reserve, they must bear their share of the expense. Proposals for granting money from the public funds towards the maintenance of training ships have recently been approved by the Congress of the United States. American shipowners have experienced the same difficulty that we have encountered in obtaining seamen. A recent Act of the 526 Legislature of New York has authorized the Board of Education of that city to maintain a nautical school, to be conducted under the supervision of the Chamber of Commerce; and, under an Act of Congress of June, 1874, authority has been given for the use of certain national vessels for training purposes, and officers are to be supplied by the Navy to act as superintendents in these school ships. There is a special provision that no person shall be received at such schools as a punishment for crime. The discipline and routine of the Navy are to be observed as far as practicable. The boys are to be trained for a period varying from 18 months to two years, and they are to be awarded certificates of rating and general character, or leaving the training ship. Having made one voyage, boys desirous of continuing their studies in navigation, so as to qualify themselves as mates or captains, can be again received on board the school ships. Under this Act the Navy Department has fitted out for the State of New York a vessel of the United States Navy, and it is intended to establish similar vessels at Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Norfolk, and San Francisco. While I trust that the Government will yield to the force of argument and to the seductive influence of a good example, by giving their cordial approval to our propositions, I am well aware that it is in vain to expect, by any plans for their improvement, that we can overcome entirely the force of the adverse circumstances under which our seamen, from the nature of their calling, are compelled to live. The sailor boy must quit his home at a tender age, and must pass his youth amid the temptations to be found in every seaport. How much, of whatever there is of good, in human nature—frail it must be at the best—is derived from home influences.We love the precepts for the teacher's sake.In proportion as we value these blessings for ourselves, we shall sympathize with the sailor in his moral and social privations, and rejoice that among his class there are to be found so many who have escaped the contaminating influences to which they are exposed. No provision seems to have been made in the Government plan for a seaman's pension fund. I presume, therefore, 527 that it is intended that seamen belonging to the Naval Reserve shall alone become eligible for pensions. Unless there be some tie to bind the British seaman to his native country, it is idle to incur expenditure in training up lads for the sea. Two conditions are necessary to prevent desertion. First, the wages must be adequate; and this is a shipowners' question. Secondly, we must establish, in accordance with the recommendation of the Manning Committee of 1860, a voluntary, self-supporting pension fund for seamen, under the encouragement of the Board of Trade.
§ LORD ESLINGTON
apprehended that the Amendment was intended to be rather in the nature of a "rider" to the Bill, than as anything of a hostile character. The spirit in which the measure dealt with the question of the training of seaman was right; but the method in which it dealt with it was extremely inadequate for the purpose. The Amendment might, however, have taken the form of an Instruction to the Committee, and with this advantage—that the Government would have been left free in their course of action; and no one, at least on that side of the House, wished to hamper the Government in this matter. There was one great fact that should be carefully borne in mind in those discussions, which, though they might not promise at that moment to be very animated, would be considerably prolonged. That great fact was the state of public feeling on that question. Whenever the account of a shipwreck reached this country the heart of the nation was very much stirred, and it was only natural, when feeling and sentiment entered into such a matter, that a certain amount of exaggeration should arise, and with it, also, no small amount of misconception as to the cause of the disaster. Due respect must be paid to that feeling, which they admired, because it originated in the natural impulses of men. But, further, they must be prepared to sacrifice some opinions, possibly of long standing, in deference to that state of public feeling, provided, of course, they did not allow that sacrifice to go beyond the limits which reason and common sense assigned to it. The shipowners of this country had lately shown that they were prepared to make some concession to the state of public feeling 528 on that subject, and great credit was due to them for the action they had taken in that respect. He was very sorry that the means did not exist for bringing to the actual test of fact the amount of loss sustained at sea, because the older records of such casualties were so imperfectly kept that it was impossible to apply to them the only true test—namely, the relation and proportion they bore to the amount of tonnage at present employed; to the number of persons at any one time on the sea; and to the number of voyages the ships made, which were now, of course, largely increased by the substitution of steam power for sails. But the public were apt to be carried away by the bare statement of the loss of life, which, however painful in itself, was, in a national point of view, a very uncertain guide indeed. They were prone to forget the vast increase of our commerce, and the unconquerable nature of the elements in the face of which it was carried on. They would presently have to consider the question of classed and un-classed ships, as to which the figures were very instructive, and also consolatory to some extent. An analysis of loss of life by shipwrecks in the six years from 1867 to 1872 showed that the whole number of lives lost was 12,048, or about 2,000 per annum; and of that entire number 6,105 were lost in classed ships, while 5,943 were lost inunclassed ships. That was a curious state of things, when it was said it would be a great preventive of loss of life at sea to have a compulsory classification of ships. With regard to our coasting trade, the Returns were so accurate, that the calculation of the loss of life could be made to a nicety. In 1856 the tonnage entered and cleared in the United Kingdom was 10,970,000 tons; and in 1872 it was 25,714,270. In 1856 the number of lives imperilled on the coast of the United Kingdom was 2,764. The lives saved were 2,243, and the lives lost were 521. In 1872, when their tonnage had increased by 15,000,000 of tons, the number of lives imperilled upon their coast was 5,224. The number of lives saved was 4,634, and the number of lives lost was 590; so that only 69 lives were lost more than in 1856, though the tonnage had increased by 15,000,000 of tons. He did not quote these figures as a reason why they should not take every possible precaution to save life at sea because that 529 noble institution the Life Boat Association, played a mighty part in the saving of life, and no praise which the House of Commons could bestow upon that institution was too high for its noble and successful efforts, but to show that on our coasts at least loss of life did not increase largely with the increase of trade. In seeking to guard by every possible means against loss of life, there were two distinct policies which presented themselves. One was, in effect, to put the shipowner's business in commission. It said—"We will fix his load-line, we will insist upon compulsory classification, we will certify the iron which he uses in building his ship." This was a policy which weak men and some careless men would gladly embrace, for it would relieve them from a responsibility which rendered them timid, and which, indeed, was more than some minds could bear. But strong men, who were conscious of a capacity to transact their own business, would reject that policy, and the result of its adoption would be to drive many of the most competent shipowners to other pursuits. Moreover, it was not a policy which was likely to serve the object they had in view—namely, the saving of life and property at sea. The second policy—and it was that of the present Bill—was to leave the shipowner free to build his ship, to equip his ship, to stow his ship, and to send her to sea as he pleased, subject to the condition that he must send her to sea in a seaworthy condition, and that heavy penalties would be incurred when this requirement was infringed. This was an intelligible policy and was an honest endeavour to carry out the recommendations of the Royal Commission. That Commission and its Report had met with a good deal of criticism, particularly at the hands of the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. MacIver), who objected to the constitution of the Commission and asserted that its Members were so constituted, and had adopted such a course, that they could find out very little. He said they had found out very little; but it was wonderful they had found out anything at all. One thing, however, they had found out and promulgated—namely, that it was a very unwise course to hamper British shipping with unnecessary trammels, and that was a considerable discovery, if judged by past experience. 530 In 1849, when the Navigation Laws were repealed, the shipowners went to Mr. Labouchere, who was then at the head of the Board of Trade, and said—"If you sweep away these laws, you must improve the condition of the seamen." The Board of Trade was struck by the force of their statement, and the result was that in the great commercial Code of 1854 there were many provisions passed bearing on the welfare of seamen. But it was not foreseen that by establishing shipping offices under the superintendence of representatives of the Board of Trade a great doubt would be created in the seaman's mind as to whose servant he really was. He was led to feel that he owed a kind of double allegiance, and this fact had a very material bearing on the question of the deterioration of the class, for the result of that legislation had been extremely prejudicial to the maintenance of discipline on board ship. The Royal Commission not only found out the inefficacy of the past policy, but ascertained also that if good seamen were wanted they must be trained. It was strange that a Royal Commission should be required to teach Parliament that self-evident fact. He should have thought the experience of the Royal Navy was sufficient to have told Parliament that if they wished to have good seamen they must train them. They might build the best ships, stow them in the best manner, and have them owned by the best of men, but unless they were sent to sea with seaworthy crews all their efforts would be in vain. The discipline clauses of this Bill, which were very severe, were re-enactments of the existing law with increased penalties, but that law had been a considerable failure as regarded the improvement of seamen, and he would ask the House to consider whether, if they imposed heavy penalties and treated seamen with severity, they were not in duty-bound to listen to seamen's grievances when presented to them, with the view of applying a remedy. The inevitable effect of harassing legislation would be to drive our ships under foreign flags. He once remarked that it was a dangerous thing to encourage foreign competition, and he was told that British workmen were not afraid of it. The surveys carried on under the Act of 1873 had been in some cases irritating, oppressive, and very expensive. He 531 should like to know from his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade why the cost of surveys carried out by the Board of Trade should be treble, quadruple, and sometimes five times as much as surveys conducted by Lloyd's? He would not mention the names of ships, though he would give them privately to his right hon. Friend; but in one case, while a Lloyd's survey cost £3 15s., a Board of Trade cost £16 12s.; and in another case, while a Lloyd's survey cost £4 5s., a Board of Trade cost £12 19s. The fact had been communicated to him from a small port which he represented, that since the passing of the Act of 1873, 9 percent of its shipping had been transferred to foreign flags, and 150 of its best seamen had gone to work in mines and manufactories. He quoted that fact as a warning against harassing legislation. A third discovery was made by the Royal Commission. They ascertained that the Board of Trade, as at present constituted, was—he would not use so strong a term as incompetent—but utterly inadequate for the performance of the duties which Parliament imposed upon it. He was disappointed that, when they were going to legislate anew, a re-construction and strengthening of the Board of Trade did not precede this new legislation. Would it be believed that, up to a few weeks ago, this public Department, charged with the supervision of the two mightiest interests in the world—the railway and the shipping interests of this country—notwithstanding the mass of legislation it had to administer and watch, was compelled to beg, borrow, or steal legal advice from the Department of the Customs whenever it required it? His right hon. Friend had now supplied that defect, and for the first time in the history of the Board they had got a legal adviser of their own. He (Lord Eslington) said, without fear of contradiction, that the position of his right hon. Friend was not a proper one. He said distinctly that the President of the Board of Trade, charged with the supervision of these gigantic interests, ought to be a member of the Cabinet. He could not bring forward his measures or command the time and attention of Parliament with that authority which he ought to do, unless he was a member of the Cabinet. He ought to fill a higher position than that of being occasionally 532 examined as a witness before the Cabinet. We had got into the extraordinary habit of passing a Merchant Shipping Bill once a year. The great Code of 1854 imposed enormous duties on the Board of Trade in relation to lights, signals, compasses, pumps, and other matters, and the Act of 1873 gave it power to inspect a ship's machinery. It was remarkable that in the matter of coloured lights science had not produced a light which came up to the standard required by the Board of Trade. Recently a shipowner ordered the most improved boilers, of economic construction, from a most eminent firm, and the pressure was to be 70 lbs to the square inch. The Board of Trade Surveyor at first refused to pass them at a greater pressure than 48; after three months correspondence he rose to 60, and finally he rose to 70; but supposing the owners had been wanting in pluck they would have agreed to 48; they would then have lost a third of their motive power, and they would have navigated the ship at a greatly increased cost. He had said that the shipowners had shown of late a praiseworthy spirit of concession and compromise in this matter. They had many of them sacrificed a long-entertained opinion against a load-line. He confessed he did not like a load-line, because when once established there would always be a disposition in the charterer to insist on the ship being loaded to that line, whatever the nature of the weather, the cargo, or the circumstances of the voyage. Moreover, the establishment of a load-line necessarily tended to lessen the responsibility of the shipowner. The idea of a fixed load-line applicable to all ships was utterly absurd; but to fix a load-line with the consent of the builder, the owner, and a competent surveyor of the Board of Trade was in the nature of a compromise that had been thought of, and a good deal might be said in its favour. He entirely disagreed with his hon. Friend the Member for Hull (Mr. Norwood) as to the abolition of advance notes. It was abroad their effect was most injurious. If wages were high in the port at which the ship arrived, there was a tendency in the seamen to desert to get higher wages, and with these higher wages the advance note immediately got into the hands of the crimp. If, on the other hand, wages were low, some captains would rather 533 connive at desertion, so that they might ship their men at easier rates. The advance note abroad was a direct stimulus to desertion. On the abolition of the advance note the opinion of the Commissioners was unanimous, and he was glad to see that that recommendation was adopted by his right hon. Friend. The Government Bill presented a sound basis, and the present moment was very favourable for legislation on the subject. His right hon. Friend had mastered the subject; he had not shown great pertinacity in sticking to his own ideas, but had acquainted himself with the opinions of the shipowners; and perhaps he would have done still better if he had taken them into his counsels somewhat earlier. In conclusion, he would remind the House that the eyes of the maritime nations of the world were at this moment fixed upon what England would do in this matter. Foreign nations had no jealousy on such a subject, but would gladly follow in our wake, if the House should be able to frame a sound working measure, which would combine the utmost security to life with the minimum of interference with the conduct of shipping and mercantile enterprize.
MR. A. FEEL
said, he was during 1872–73 Secretary to the Board of Trade, and he mentioned that fact because it was during that period that the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Plimsoll) commenced his agitation, wrote his book, and enlisted his services in the cause of the merchant seamen of this country. He was able to say with some authority what was the amount of influence the hon. Member exercised upon the legislation of the country. He was willing freely to admit the services that the hon. Member rendered to the cause of the merchant, seamen, and that he was actuated by disinterested motives on their behalf; and if the hon. Member did not wake up the Department—which he (Mr. Peel) should be sorry to admit he did—he supplied that stimulus of outside feeling which was necessary to enable the Department to carry out the measures they were resolved upon. Without that feeling among the public outside, the legislation of that period would in the then state of the House of Commons have been impossible. The noble Lord (Lord Eslington) had alluded with some feeling to the plethora of legislation on the subject of the Mercantile Marino. He quite 534 agreed with the noble Lord. He trusted that the Bill would be read a second time, and that it would be the means, not, perhaps, of finally settling the matter, but, at all events, of securing stability of legislation for some years to come to an interest that had been too much harassed by constantly recurring schemes of amendment of the law. His first impression was that the Bill bristled with penalties, and that although it was to a considerable extent a mere re-production of existing legislation, yet that where it proposed to amend the existing law, it did so in the direction of increased stringency. He doubted whether it was good policy to introduce new penal clauses of such stringency. The existing provisions directed against the same offences were not carried out, and if the penalties were increased there would be no guarantee that they would touch the offenders. By the Bill mutiny at sea was made a penal offence, and it was also penal for a seaman to be found asleep at his post. Under the existing law, however, a seaman could be proceeded against penally, who by his neglect directly affected the life and safety of those on board his ship. He did not know whether the new Bill would be more efficacious than the present law. The Bill also made the shipowners liable in response to the public feeling that life was unsafe at sea, and that it might be made more safe if penalties were attached to offences which the law could not now punish. The existing law, however, made shipowners liable for acts of negligence leading to loss of life at sea. He was glad that the right hon. Gentleman had modified the stringency of the clause as it originally stood.
§ SIR CHARES ADDERLEY
said, that the liability of the owner was not increased, but he was made liable for the act of his agent.
§ MR. A. PEEL
said, that however that might be, a seaman who neglected to keep a proper look-out was punishable at present; but the instances were so rare that one of the witnesses before the Royal Commission said he did not remember a single case of prosecution for this offence. "What was the use, therefore, of increasing the penalties when not a single man had been brought to punishment for breach of the present law? At the same time, 535 he fully agreed that a man who slept at his post was deserving of punishment. For his own part, he congratulated the Government upon what the Bill did not contain, quite as much as for what it did contain. A great deal of courage and determination had been shown by the Board of Trade in resisting the attempts made to introduce two things which he thought would be fatal to the Mercantile Marine, and those were compulsory survey and a compulsory load-line. The policy of a compulsory survey had been completely exploded by the evidence, furnished before the Royal Commission. The result would be to reduce the responsibility of the survey to five or six public bodies or private companies, and finally to reduce the responsibility to a single head, which the Board of Trade would eventually cut off, and thus simplify the process of arriving at a Government survey. As to the load-line, it varied according to half-a-dozen different data, or even more. It could not possibly be fixed, and it must be variable according to a great many different conditions. He was certain that the Board of Trade would not attempt to make a compulsory load-line. What the right hon. Gentleman proposed amounted to this—that a shipowner, before clearance, was to state the maximum figure beyond which he did not intend to load, and he might, but was not compelled to, send notice to the Board of Trade, and if they did not object the Board of Trade would not be afterwards competent to stop the vessel on the ground that it was overladen. [Sir CHARLES ADDERLEY: That it is laden above that line.] He (Mr. Peel) saw a very serious danger in this clause—namely, the germ of Government inspection and supervision in the matter of load-line, as in the case of an universal survey. The shipowner was to fix the line, and might send it to the Board of Trade. But suppose he did not send it? There would then be two sets of ships, one having a Government guarantee by having a load-line, sanctioned by the Government authorities, and the other vessels sailing comparatively at their own risk. The latter class, however, would naturally like to have some kind of Government guarantee of their condition, and hence he was afraid of drifting into a system in which the Government might attempt to fix the load-line, but under such 536 various conditions that they would often "make the word of promise to the ear, and break it to the hope." There remained the still more grievous danger of where to stow the cargo, and where the centre of gravity should be. He confessed he should like to have some further guarantee that this load-line would not be supervised or supplemented by the Government, but that the shipowner would be left to fix it on his own responsibility, and that the Government should not be called upon to guarantee the load-line or to free the shipowner from his proper responsibility. The course he had taken with respect to that Bill was based upon a thorough conviction of the fact that there were two lines of policy distinctly before the House, and that the House was now called upon at this crisis of Mercantile Marine legislation to decide definitely between them. The two lines were not parallel, but divergent. One was the policy adopted by the Board of Trade in 1871, further acted upon in 1873, and now supplemented by the Bill of the present year. The other was the policy advocated by the hon. Member for Derby. The House must make up its mind as to which course it would follow. The hon. Member in his speeches had alluded to the questions of survey and load-line; but under which of the surveys the hon. Gentleman had advocated were they to live for the future? The hon. Gentleman had constantly changed his ground as to the load-line he should adopt. In one of his speeches the hon. Gentleman said that the policy he had recommended, and which was carried out by the Board of Trade, had already borne its fruits; that less lives were lost, and that the number of grossly overladen ships sent to sea had diminished. It appeared from a Return to the Board of Trade that in the five months ending the 30th of September last, the number of vessels reported as defective in hull, machinery, or equipment was 118, of which 101 were found to be unseaworthy. On the other hand, the cases of overloading were few, amounting in all to 10. These were proofs that the policy inaugurated in 1871, carried further in 1873, and now sought to be extended, had worked well, and that they ought not to be asked to retrace their steps. Even if that policy was supposed not to be effecting the amount of good that was expected of it, it was too soon to say that 537 it had failed. He thought that the Government had taken the best course in abolishing the system of advance notes. There would be difficulties, no doubt, but they would right themselves; and, at any rate, the evils arising from the crimp system would receive their deathblow. As to apprentices, there could be no guarantee that when they had entered the service they would remain in it, for the rate of pay was small as compared with what they could earn in other occupations. He contended that though they could not adopt any particular load-line, yet it must be the wish of all to guard seamen against all unnecessary perils; but, on the other hand, there was no desire to make martyrs of shipowners by constantly harassing them by legislation year after year. He had no desire whatever to shield the few guilty shipowners from the consequences of their malpractices; but he warned the House against embarking in the policy recommended by the hon. Member for Derby, which, though it was prompted by the best, the purest, and the most disinterested motives, might, if carried out, cripple and strait-waistcoat the Mercantile Marine of the country, and stand in the way of that which was an essential condition of its well-being and success—namely free and unshackled action and enterprize.
§ MR. BENTINCK
most cordially endorsed the views of the hon. Member for Hull (Mr. Norwood). He did not think there was anything in the Amendment that was antagonistic to the principle of the Bill; and, should the hon. Member be driven to a division, he would vote for his Amendment; but he trusted that his right hon. Friend (Sir Charles Adderley) would suggest a course which would obviate the necessity of a division. The question before the House involved the actual commercial supremacy, and therefore the very existence of this country, and went much further than any consideration of the well-doing or otherwise of one of our great branches of commercial enterprize. No Government or Board of Admiralty would think of entering upon a great European war unless the Mercantile Marine of this country was in a sound and prosperous state. In his opinion, the whole tendency of recent legislation, since the repeal of the Navigation Laws, had been antagonistic to the well-being of 538 our commercial and Mercantile Marine. Without entering into the question of the expediency of the Navigation Laws, he asserted that to them was to be attributed not only the welfare of our Mercantile Marine, but the great maritime supremacy of this country for centuries, and when they were repealed a blow was dealt to that service which inflicted injuries upon it that it was high time should be remedied. Turning to the Bill as it now stood, he felt bound to state that in consequence of what he had learnt from the highest authorities on the subject, he had altered his opinion with regard to the policy of advance notes. Although the principle of advance notes was indefensible in theory, they were indispensable in practice, because it was found that without them it would be impossible to man our mercantile Navy. He would suggest that by extending the time for the payment of the advance notes until the man who received them had rendered service for the period for which they were given, the inconvenience arising from this most objectionable practice might be somewhat diminished. It was absolutely necessary, seeing how greatly the present law had been abused, although, perhaps, only in a limited number of cases, and in view of the strong public feeling that existed on the subject, that the question of the load-line must be dealt with, and less inconvenience would result from it by requiring a definite load-line to be marked upon the outside of the ship than by leaving the matter to be determined according to the caprice of the surveyors of the Board of Trade. Steps should also be taken to ensure greater discipline in the Merchant Service, which recent legislation had tended greatly to relax, while there was a tendency on the part of the magistrates to view the misdoings of sailors with a degree of leniency that was altogether fatal to discipline in the Mercantile Marine. There was no greater cause of loss of life at sea than want of discipline, and it was not right that the man by whose negligence on the watch a ship was run into and lost with all hands should be punished merely as though he had committed some trifling fault. The Bill contained some serious omissions. He had heard with great pleasure from his right hon. Friend (Sir Charles Adderley) that one of the great objects of the Bill was to diminish the 539 risk of loss of life at sea; but in this Bill all reference to some of the more important and paramount causes of loss of life at sea had been omitted. They had heard a great deal about bad ships. No doubt, bad ships led to a great loss of life; but he believed that the number of lives lost in ships badly built and not fit to send to sea was infinitesimally small compared with the loss of life arising from other causes, among which none was greater than bad manning of ships. A bad crew would lose the finest ship that ever went out of harbour. The Bill entirely omitted the subject of the manning of ships. Some means should be provided to secure a proper manning of our merchant ships. At present men who did not know the commonest duties of seamen presented themselves to be engaged as A. B.'s. Our merchant ships were not over-manned, and if out of a small ship's company one or two hands were black sheep, that ship's company was inefficient. An act of one of those black sheep might lose the ship. Frequently after a ship had left port the master found that one-half of his men were drunk and the other half incompetent. Could we wonder at the many casualties at sea? "We gave no security whatever to the owner or master of a vessel as to the character or qualifications of the men whom he shipped. In a Bill of this kind, having for its object to decrease risk, should not one of the first things to be dealt with be the furnishing of some guide to the owners and masters of merchant vessels as to the class of men whom they were shipping? Nobody would believe the sort of rubbish that was picked up to serve as seamen. Many of them did not know the meaning of "starboard" from "port," and could not be trusted at the helm. If they were sent to the helm before their competency was tested, the result might be the loss of the ship with all hands. He trusted his right hon. Friend would lend a favourable ear to any suggestion that might be made to enable those who were charged with the selection of men to ascertain their qualifications. There was another question of still greater importance. One of the most prolific causes of the loss of life was the present state and condition of what was called the "rule of the road at sea;" but its proper designation would be the misrule of the road. The best proof that he 540 was not vilifying the regulations known as the rule of the road was that all the most important countries in Europe had in various shapes addressed the Government to induce them to alter the rule of road at sea, but no impression was made on the Government. His right hon. Friend could not escape dealing with the question without incurring the responsibility of the loss of life which might hereafter occur. There was another question which had been entirely ignored, and perhaps it was the most important one of all. He would ask hon. Gentlemen who were conversant with the subject whether one of the great causes of the loss of countless iron steamers at sea without apparent cause was the disproportion of the length to the beam of those vessels, which rendered them unmanageable in bad weather? One of the first objects to which the attention of his right hon. Friend ought to be directed was the mode of measurement. He appealed to his right hon. Friend not to be afraid of dealing with the whole of the details of this great question, which affected not only the property of a large and wealthy portion of the community, but even the very existence of a maritime country, as well as the saving of life. Unless he dealt with these matters in a broader spirit, he would fail in the objects which he was so desirous of attaining.
§ MR. PLIMSOLL
said that, feeling ill, and being desirous to proceed home, he would only make a few remarks. He did not oppose the second reading of the Bill; on the contrary, he should be glad to have it read a second time. The President of the Board of Trade said he introduced it in the hope that the Board of Trade would assist him to make it what it ought to be; and he hoped that the Bill would be improved by Amendments he desired to propose in Committee. He wished to introduce three things and to get rid of two. The three things he wanted were—first, a compulsory survey of all unclassed ships; secondly, the establishment of a maximum load-line; and thirdly, the adoption of a test for the quality of iron to be used in the building of future ships. The two things he wanted to get rid of were deck-loading, except under special limitations, and the practice of carrying grain cargoes in bulk. The survey he asked the House to enact was a survey by either 541 Lloyd's or the Liverpool Board. The right hon. Gentleman objected to recognizing private associations, and pointed out several which might claim to be included; but, for himself, he proposed to recognize only the two he had named. The hon. Member for "Warwick (Mr. A. Peel) said, that private clubs would seek to be included, but private clubs did not class ships. There would be no difficulty on the score of precedent in recognizing the two associations he named, because Parliament had already recognized private societies in relation to ships. For instance, chain cables and anchors were tested by such societies and firms as might be licensed by the Board of Trade to do that work, and what he proposed was merely an extension of that principle. He need not go outside the Bill for a case in point, because the Bill proposed that the Board of Trade might licence such persons as it might deem qualified to examine and test ship's compasses. It was said, to recognize a survey by either of the two societies he had named would be to destroy the responsibility of shipowners. He did not think their responsibility at present amounted to much; he had never heard that anybody but the Quins and somebody at Waterford was ever made responsible. Be that as it may, responsibility would not be destroyed, because two-thirds of the ships now afloat in the Mercantile Marine were already surveyed by these societies, and to include the other third would clearly be to place them in the same position as the two-thirds that were surveyed. Nobody denied that the owners were responsible because the ships were classified, or alleged that the owners were harassed on that account. The survey he proposed would reach the unclassed ships, and would include a great number of very good ships and a greater number of very bad ships. To meet the case of the good ships he would propose to give the Board of Trade power to exclude from the operation of the Act such classes as they might deem fit; so that it did not seem to him that any other ships would be meddled with than those which stood in need of interference. One of the Appendices to the Report of the Royal Commission gave a list of 104 in various stages of decay, and that list indicated the class of ship that would come under the operation of a clause like this. The need of such a survey 542 would not be disputed by anyone who reflected on the fact that, under the very imperfect Acts of 1871 and 1873, 440 ships had been stopped and surveyed, and only 16 were found fit to go to sea. He did not suppose the House would be content to reduce this inspection; we must assume that the practice would remain as it was, unless, indeed, we improved it. Suppose it remained, what became of the objection that it was difficult to say suddenly that a vessel was un-seaworthy? He said so, too; and that being so, we had better hand the work over to persons who were specially qualified to do it, and give notice that at regular intervals, the work would be done deliberately and carefully, instead of leaving the question to be decided in an emergency on the judgment of an officer of the Board of Trade. Admitting the difficulty of the case, was not his mode of dealing with it far more rational than that of the right hon. Gentleman? He was glad to see to-day that the London Shipowners Association had withdrawn their opposition, and had agreed that when ships had passed through all the classes at Lloyd's and were no longer fit to be classed, it was high time somebody looked after them. The difficulties in the way of adopting a load-line were not insuperable. If a competent Board composed of the best men to be found were empowered to survey all ships separately and ascertain for each what would be a proper maximum load-line, they would take into consideration her age, the material of which she was built, her strength, any peculiarity of dimensions, whether she had full lines or fine lines, and whether she had any deck structures, an awning deck, or a spar deck; all these circumstances would be taken into account by a commission of the best practical men who could be found, and they would then determine the maximum load-line under favourable circumstances. Outside the conditions named there would be only three disturbing considerations, which would be the season of the year, the nature of the cargo, and the nature of the voyage. For instance, a winter voyage across the Bay of Biscay with a cargo of pig iron would be very different from a summer voyage across the North Sea with a cargo of coke. He proposed that the maximum load-line should be the centre of a large disc, and 543 that the disc should be of such a diameter that the bottom line would be the load-line under unfavourable circumstances. This brought the whole case into a nutshell; in this way any modification could be made by practised and experienced men. The centre line would be the maximum load-line, and the line at the bottom of the disc would be the guiding line under unfavourable circumstances. No doubt, it was difficult to fix a load-line, but was not this a more rational way of dealing with the difficulty than leaving it to be decided on the spur of the moment, perhaps at night, when a vessel was going to sea? The officer who stopped a vessel and required 120 tons to be taken out practically established a load-line. He had understood the President of the Board of Trade to concede this point; but he had little idea it was to be done in such a fashion, and that the owners of ships were to fix the load-line. Many ships were owned by three or four small tradesmen, chiefly men who—and it might be said without any disparagement to them—had clubbed their money to buy a second-hand and nearly worn-out ship, and they had not the special knowledge which would enable them to fix a load-line. A man who had recently lost a large ship under distressing circumstances, and who had lost three steamers out of seven in a short time, began life as a clerk in a shipbroker's office, and had worked his way up; but he had acquired no technical knowledge of ships, and he put 2,000 tons of cargo into a ship registered to carry 957 tons. When the tailor was left to decide how much cloth he would sell for a yard, the grocer how much tea for a pound, and the spirit dealer how much brandy for a pint, then, and not till then, should he expect the House to allow shipowners to decide upon load-lines. He was glad the London shipowners acknowledged that a load-line was desirable; and he thanked them for saying so. The third point was that the iron used in shipbuilding was to be tested. Much of the iron that was now used was little better than cast iron, and, although calculated to bear a strong pull or a tensile strain, it was so brittle that the slightest accident caused a ship to break up like earthenware. The hon. Member for Hull (Mr. Norwood) said, that that was beneath the consideration of Parliament; 544 but surely if, when a woman bought a silver teapot, Parliament provided that she should be able to ascertain whether it was silver, it was not beneath their attention to see that when a man bought iron to build a ship he should have what he paid for. Deck loads were a source of great danger, and he proposed to abolish them as a matter of principle, leaving the Board of Trade power, however, to sanction them under circumstances where they might be inevitable, as in the ease of vessels carrying fruit. He thought the House would admit that, although it might sometimes be desirable to carry a couple of thrashing-machines on deck when the vessel was going across the North Sea, it would not be advisable for her to carry seven or eight, especially as there was no necessity for it now that the hatchways were made so large. With regard to the importation of grain in bulk he found that up to the fall of 1872 there was a great fatality among vessels loaded with grain coming from Montreal and Quebec, shipowners preferring to pay the penalty of $40 which attached to the practice rather than forego their profits. But in the beginning of 1873 a law was passed requiring shipowners to stow their cargoes to the satisfaction of the port authorities, and since then—in the words of a Member of the Canadian Government—" Not one single vessel sailing from those ports with grain has met with any accident whatever." Now, that he regarded as a very strong proof not merely of the necessity for such legislation as he proposed, but of the probability of its efficiency when put into operation. The hon. Member, in conclusion, stated that in Committee he would give the House the opportunity of voting on the following points:—The survey of unclassed vessels, the adoption of a load-line, a test for iron, the prohibition of deck loads except within certain limits, and the prohibition of grain cargoes in bulk.
§ MR. CAVENDISH BENTINCK
thanked hon. Members on both sides of the House for the very flattering terms in which they had alluded to the Bill of the Government. There were only two principles at stake, one urged by the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Plimsoll) and the other supported by the Government. The question had been carefully considered before a Royal Commission—a 545 body eminently qualified to test the merits of such a question, because it could sit at any time of the year, and this Royal Commission sat for two years, and thoroughly investigated the question. The Commission heard at length the hon. Member for Derby, and all the witnesses he brought, and finally decided every point against him. Under these circumstances, the Government had no alternative but to base the present measure on the recommendations of the Royal Commission, and that had been done with certain variations which had been explained. What was the objection to the system of classification proposed by the hon. Member for Derby? In the main, it was that they would be delegating powers which ought to be exercised by Her Majesty's Government to a certain number of companies which were more or less in the nature of commercial speculations. Was there any great advantage in handing over this power? The next point was, the testing of the iron. His right hon. Friend (Sir Charles Adderley) had referred to the Amendment of the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Reed), which would no doubt be duly considered when the proper time should come, and it was quite possible that then statements might be made which would give entire satisfaction to the country. The next question was as to the load-line, in which the hon. Gentleman differed from his right hon. Friend. This matter could be considered carefully in Committee, and then they might have a chance of arriving at a satisfactory result. But he might point out that the Commissioners whom the hon. Member proposed to entrust with the settlement of that great question were hardly in agreement on any one point, judging from the evidence given by them before the Royal Commission, and there would, therefore, be no reasonable probability of their arriving at a satisfactory decision. A recent case had established the difficulty of deciding the point. A ship started on her voyage, but was stopped. The question of the load-line was raised. The surveyor of the Board of Trade viewed the ship, but no agreement could be come to as to the load-line, which the shipowner was asked to fix. The hon. Member for Derby had stated correctly that since the Act of 1873 came into operation 440 ships had been reported to the Board of Trade, 546 and that of these 404 had been found to be unseaworthy. The fact showed, in the first place, that the Board of Trade surveyors did their work extremely well. It was a fact, too, which he considered creditable to shipowners, for whom he had the greatest sympathy. He was glad to have heard them that evening so highly spoken of as a class, as from an intimate acquaintance with many of them he believed them to be a high-minded and honourable body of men. Considering the enormous number of ships which left our ports, the fact that after all the complaints that had been made only 440 ships had been stopped since the passing of the Bill of 1873 spoke well, indeed, for the efficiency of the British Mercantile Marine. On the part of Her Majesty's Government, he had to thank the hon. Gentleman the Member for Hull (Mr. Norwood) for the very kind manner in which he had expressed himself with regard to this Bill; and, indeed, he did not find fault with any of its most material parts. As to advance notes, and discipline clauses, those questions would be better discussed in Committee. As to the support of training ships the funds must come from somewhere, and they could hardly ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to consent to a Vote for that purpose. He did not see where a fund more available for the purpose than that proposed could be found; but any suggestion upon the subject should receive proper attention. The question, however, was a mixed one, and no satisfactory settlement of it could be come to, unless the Education Department, the Home Office, and the Admiralty concurred upon it. As regarded the apprenticeship question, the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Norwood) knew that compulsory apprenticeship had been abolished, and that hence there was a great difficulty in reviving it. For his own part, he regretted that it had not been retained not only in the Mercantile Marine but also in every trade; but, still, when a thing was once abolished, it was extremely difficult to resuscitate it. The next point to which the hon. Gentleman referred was the necessity for seamen passing an examination in seamanship before they could get employment; but in a voluntary service it would be very difficult to enforce any such thing. Representing, as he did, a seaport town, he knew the difficulty there was in getting 547 crews together; but that difficulty would be increased under such a provision as that of which the hon. Gentleman was the advocate. In the Act of 1867 there was an enactment that the Board of Trade might appoint medical officers to inspect seamen in order to see if they were fit to go to sea. No doubt the Act was permissive, but what the result? In 18 ports where local Marine Boards existed its provisions were a dead letter; and in the remaining 130 ports, where medical inspectors were appointed, the examinations had been infinitesimal in proportion to the number of seamen. The Government, therefore, could hardly legislate further in this direction, unless there was a very strong expression of public opinion in favour of such legislation. Most of these things, however, were matters of detail, and he hoped that the House was prepared to accept the principle of the Bill.
observed, that when the Bill of the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Plimsoll) was before the House last year he voted in what turned out to be the majority against it; but that majority was so small that had he and his hon. Colleague (Mr. Norwood) voted the other way the second reading of the Bill of his hon. Friend would have been carried. There had occurred since that time a considerable change in public opinion upon the question under discussion, and the change could not be more strikingly manifested than it was by the speech of the hon. Member for Derby himself. Nearly every speaker who had addressed the House on this subject had announced the fact that there were two principles before the House—the principle of the Government Bill, which was to throw the responsibility upon the shipowners, and the principle of the hon. Member for Derby, which was to endeavour by surveys and load-lines to prevent accidents at sea. But there was another point which had been entirely overlooked, and that was, that they did not allow any passengers to go to sea without their being protected by a Government survey; and it was only when it came to a question of the lives of seamen that the Government stopped short, and said it was not necessary to take any steps in the matter, and they would leave the seamen to take care of themselves. That Bill, with its penal enactments, treated seamen as persons who 548 were not only to be drowned without consideration, but to be punished without mercy and almost without consideration. The hon. Member for West Norfolk (Mr. Bentinck) said, the whole tendency of legislation since the repeal of the Navigation Laws had been antagonistic to our Mercantile Marine; but it was a remarkable fact that the shipping tonnage of the United Kingdom since 1852 had increased during 20 years from 4,400,000 to 7,200,000 tons. Who were they dependent upon for this increase in the Mercantile Marine? They were dependent upon the seafaring population of the country; and it appeared to him the first duty of the Legislature was to protect the lives of our seamen with the same care and caution that it exercised with respect to passengers. When this Bill was launched before the House, he brought it under the notice of the Chamber of Commerce at Hull, and other institutions, and all with singular unanimity condemned every clause. The greater portion of the loss of life which annually took place at sea was in connection with the small coasting ships and the merchant steamers employed in carrying grain from America and the Black Sea. Owing to the manner in which many of these vessels were constructed, with double bottoms for water ballast, the centre of gravity was so displaced when they were loaded, that when getting into the trough of the sea they overturned and went to the bottom. Their steering gear, too, was often of such a character that it frequently broke, and the vessel thus disabled, was left to the mercy of the sea and often perished. It was to these two causes, far more than to overloading, he attributed the greater number of casualties of this description at sea. The proposal to render illegal the practice of giving advance notes to seamen had been condemned by all the local Marine Boards and Chambers of Commerce which had considered it, while the discipline clauses were such as no shipowner would think it worth trying to enforce, and few magistrates would convict upon them. Then came the question of safety, and how that was to be effected by calling upon the shipowner to make certain marks on the side of his vessel he was unable to understand. As the clause dealing with the question of liability had been altered, he would not now offer any 549 observation upon that point. What the hon. Member for Derby wanted was that there should be a load-line fixed for each ship, and that unclassed ships should be passed by some satisfactory system of survey. Perhaps, with the present constitution of the Board of Trade, it would be impossible to carry out those two objects to the satisfaction both of the shipowners and the public; but he thought a means might be found of obviating nearly all the difficulties which had been raised in connection with that subject. At present in each marine district there existed a local Marine Board, but it was practically without any real power. He would suggest, however, that each large maritime district should have its local Marine Board re-constituted; that it should be allowed to manage its own maritime affairs; and that questions as to survey and load-lines should be settled in each particular district, but, of course, with an appeal to the central authority at the Board of Trade. He would suggest that these local Boards should consist of the stipendiary magistrate, the collector of Customs, and one representative each to be selected by the Chamber of Commerce, the local underwriters, the Board of Trade, the shipmasters, the seamen, the shipowners, and the Admiralty. A Court so constituted would, in his opinion, do all the necessary work in a satisfactory manner, and at the same time save much of the delay which now arose from the necessity of referring all matters to the central authority. He saw no insuperable difficulty in the way of deciding upon a form of load-line which would be simple and easily understood, but which, at the same time, would answer all practical purposes. With regard to deck-loads and grain cargoes, it would, he thought, be necessary to make some new regulations; but he trusted that, in addition to being efficient, they would be such as not unduly to tie the hands of English shipowners. Towards the end of 1872 there were about 500,000 tons of steamers and ships building in this country. In 1873 it was reduced to 300,000 tons, and in 1874 it was reduced to about 160,000 tons. They were handicapped to a great extent by foreign competition, which was daily increasing. In 1873 about 18,900 tons of British sailing ships cleared out from the United Kingdom 550 and 23,000 tons of foreign shipping, and if it had not been for a large accession of strength to our steam marine we should not have been able to boast of our marine supremacy. Considering the concessions that had been made by the President of the Board of Trade, the support the Bill was likely to receive from the hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby, and that the tendency on both sides of the House and shipowners generally was to make mutual concessions, he should withdraw the Motion of which he had given Notice for the rejection of the Bill.
§ MR. MACIVER
expressed regret that the Circular he had issued had been misunderstood. The case which the President of the Board of Trade had so effectually demolished was not the case which he (Mr. MacIver) had endeavoured to set up. He was glad to see the earnest desire shown by the House to second the honest endeavours of the right hon. Gentleman to bring about a better state of things with regard to maritime legislation. He hoped the question would not in any way be put aside, and thought that if hon. Gentlemen would continue to treat the Bill in the same fair spirit they had already evinced, that it could be made a really effective measure, such as would answer the purpose which they all had at heart. Reference had been made by the President of the Board of Trade to certain proposals of his with regard to the constitution of the Department. What he (Mr. MacIver) meant by these proposals was merely to point out that the circumstances of to-day were very different from those of 20 or 30 years ago; and that he (Mr. MacIver) thought the increasing duties of the Board of Trade would, before very long, render it necessary for Parliament to consider what ought to be done in order to deal with those increasing duties. Questions affecting shipping would, no doubt, form an important element in such consideration. He (Mr. MacIver could not see that there was any real antagonism between the proposals of the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Plimsoll) and those of the Government. The Tightness or wrongness of "load-line" and "survey" depended entirely upon what was meant by load-line and survey. Certainly, some system of survey was possible which would not be liable to 551 the objections that had been raised. The very best vessels in the country were surveyed; and, so far as he (Mr. MacIver) was aware, without any evil results. He (Mr. MacIver) could not believe that liability to survey had any effect whatever in lessening a proper feeling of responsibility on the part of shipowners. The Peninsular and Oriental Company's, and the Royal Mail Company's vessels were all surveyed; the Inman Company's vessels, those of the White Star Company, and the many other fine steamers carrying emigrant passengers were subjected to a still more perfect form of survey; but one which, of course, was inapplicable to ordinary trading vessels. Still, something might reasonably be clone in that direction. He knew what survey meant, and spoke from some experience on the subject, having the year before last been legally responsible for the conveyance of 72,000 passengers under the provisions of the Passengers Acts. The House could not but be struck with the fact that all vessels were not equally liable to disaster. The vessels of many companies, in many trades, were navigated with comparative safety; while others, sailing alongside of them, were as conspicuously unfortunate. There was generally a reason for it. Occasional disasters might occur to the best of ships; and, in steamers, the connections between the machinery and the sea were such that hidden imperfections might easily arise, and, notwithstanding the greatest care, such vessels might sometimes unaccountably go to the bottom. If a man lost a ship, therefore, it did not necessarily follow that he had been to blame; but while accidents here and there might thus have occurred, it was impossible so to explain away the foundering of ten or a dozen steamers in the Bay of Biscay within the last few months. No other explanation was possible than that some, at least, of these vessels had gone to the bottom from causes which might have been prevented; and, as he (Mr. MacIver) thought, from causes preventable by legislation such as might fairly be held to be in harmony with the principle of the Government Bill. To meet such cases he would suggest, not merely the marking of a load-line, but that survey, going as far as was reasonable in the direction of the survey carried out with respect to passenger vessels, 552 should be adopted. It had been alleged that the emigration survey had failed, and instances like the loss of the London had been cited. It was said—" Here is a ship surveyed by the Board of Trade and by the Emigration authorities, in which everything was done, yet it has gone to the bottom;" and this particular case was not unfrequently used as an argument against the principle of survey. It seemed to him that the occasional failure of survey was no argument for its abolition, but rather for its improvement. As well might the prevalence of crime be used as an argument for the abolition of the police. He (Mr. MacIver) did not bring any charge against the officers of the Board of Trade. The Act of 1873 had, no doubt, been applied with as much care and judgment as was practicable; but its only good results were from the survey clauses. Even the bad form of survey which the Act of 1873 represented, had been the means of detaining many unseaworthy vessels; but he knew that there were many instances where vessels had been needlessly stopped, and their owners put to great trouble. The Act of 1873, besides being of irregular and uncertain application, was open to the further objection that it dealt only with vessels sailing from British ports; while it was to vessels returning to British ports that preventable disasters had most frequently occurred. But disasters to homeward-bound vessels might, he (Mr. MacIver) considered, to some considerable extent, be prevented by such legislation as he understood was now contemplated by the President of the Board of Trade. There was no real difficulty in regard to load-line. Every shipowner of his acquaintance had a load-line, and there was no difficulty whatever on the subject, other than want of the will; and want of the will existed to a larger extent than the House would readily believe. He did not mean that people wished their ships to go to the bottom—they wished them to go safe. But profit often depended upon deep loading. Some people were ready to run greater risks than others, and others again ran risks ignorantly; but both might, too often, be found united in their objections to load-line and survey. They preferred legislation on the principle of responsibility; and very naturally they meant a responsibility which amounted to no- 553 thing. He would remind the House of the old proverb that "to cook your hare you must first catch it." It was right enough to punish wrong-doing shipowners; but there was not merely the difficulty of ascertaining the facts, there was also the difficulty of ascertaining against whom to proceed. In all the years in which he (Mr. MacIver) had been a shipowner, it would have been impossible to prove that he was legally a shipowner at all. His name was not on the register. Again, how were they to enforce personal responsibility, as against the partners in limited liability companies? It was not the fact that legislation on the principle of load-line and survey would necessarily relieve shipowners from their proper responsibilities; certainly, not from responsibilities that were worth anything. The Board of Trade gave certificates of competency to masters, officers, and engineers; but that did not relieve shipowners from liability for the doings of their certificated servants if, in the result, those servants proved to be incompetent. And so with regard to the ship herself. Neither the marking of a load-line, nor even a certificate of survey from the Board of Trade need necessarily relieve the owners from any responsibility whatever. The Bill of the Government had many good points; but it was open to improvement, and he hoped in Committee to be able to suggest some Amendments which he thought would tend to better carry out the great objects which the President of the Board of Trade had in view.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
said, the President of the Board of Trade had told the House that he and the Government sympathized with the shipowners of this country. That was a sentiment which everybody would be ready to endorse; but he had missed in the right hon. Gentleman's speech any allusion to provisions for another class of persons deserving attention, and that was the seamen. He was not going to enter upon subjects with which he was totally incompetent to deal—which were nautical questions with reference to load-lines and surveys. But the President of the Board of Trade said that this Bill was divided into various parts—one having reference to wages and another to surveys; but there was one great chapter of this Bill which began at the 554 9th clause, and which had to do with discipline. That chapter of discipline re-enacted—and in some respects made worse than it was before—by far the most severe and barbarous criminal code which was known to this country, and which he believed was unexampled in the law of any other country in the world. It was to that criminal code that the seamen of this country were subjected—the code under which they had suffered, and at this day were suffering, the most cruel and the most indefensible injustice. The proposal to re-enact this code would give the House an opportunity of reviewing this legislation and reflecting whether they would or would not endorse it. The character of this legislation was of a most extraordinary kind. It began with the officers of the ship; and it said with respect to them, that if they were guilty of gross acts of misconduct, of drunkenness, tyranny, or negligence, proceedings might be taken against them, and if the case was proved they might lose their certificate or be reduced to a lower grade. That was the only punishment. But when the Act came to deal with the men—not for gross misconduct, drunkenness, or negligence, but for offences of a minor character—we then came to such severe penalties as in no other case had ever received the sanction of Parliament in our time. He would ask any Member to look at the 17th clause. That clause stated that—Where any person was guilty of desertion or a kindred offence, the master or any mate, or the owner, ship's husband, or consignee of the ship to which the offender belonged, or any person specially authorized in writing by the owner or master of the ship, might arrest the offender, without warrant, in any place in Her Majesty's dominions, and also in any place out of Her Majesty's dominions, if and so far as the law of that place so permitted; and every constable should give to the person making the arrest such assistance as he may require. The person arresting the offender might, and in case the offender so required and it was practicable, should, convey him before some court having cognizance of the offence, and for that purpose might detain him in custody for such period not exceeding twenty-four hours as might be necessary.Then there was this extraordinary provision—If any such arrest appeared to the court to have been made on improper or insufficient grounds, the person who made the same or caused the same to be made should incur a penalty not exceeding twenty pounds; but the 555 infliction of that penalty should be a bar to any action for false imprisonment in respect of the arrest.That a seaman illegally arrested should not have the remedy which was open to every other subject of Her Majesty—that of bringing an action for false imprisonment—but should be limited to a penalty of £20, was a disgrace to our legislation, and would be a disgrace to the legislation of any land. It was said that what they wanted was to elevate the character of their seamen, and to attract men to the merchant service; and yet they were going to enact against them laws to which no other of Her Majesty's subjects were liable—laws worse than existed in the worst days of crimping; yes, they were asked to enact what he would call this barbarous, this brutal legislation against the seamen of this country. The hon. Member for Hull (Mr. Norwood), in his very interesting speech, told the House that shipowners did not wish for legislation of this severe character, and that it was a pity the Government had introduced these clauses into the Bill. Hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House had expressed a wish that something might be done to attract seamen rather than to drive them away. He hoped that when they got into Committee on the measure this Bill of pains and penalties of the most aggravated character would be considerably modified. The fact was that the 16th clause provided that men might be imprisoned for a period of three months in cases of desertion. It might be said that this 16th clause was practically a consolidation of several clauses of the Merchant Shipping Act of 1854. That might be so, but was no excuse for the clause. Before that Act the law was of a mild character, and how it was that the Act of 1854 could have passed sub silentio through the House of Commons he could not understand, except it was that at that time there was a great attraction at the gold diggings, and sailors were in the habit of deserting to them. But the consequence was that under it men were frequently being sentenced to six, seven, eight, and ten weeks' imprisonment with hard labour at Cardiff, Liverpool, and other ports for absenting themselves—sometimes unavoidably—from their ship. In one case at Liverpool a man had been sentenced to six weeks' imprison- 556 ment with hard labour because he had been drunk over night and had overslept himself, and had not, therefore, joined his vessel. It was legislation such as that they were called upon by the Government to re-enact. A Return which had been presented to Parliament on the Motion of the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Plimsoll) brought some curious facts to light. One man had been imprisoned for three weeks because he had refused to sail in the Elizabeth Knowles—a vessel which had subsequently to put into Milford Haven in a leaking condition, and which, on being surveyed by the surveyor of the Board of Trade, was reported to be utterly unseaworthy. There was another case. The Sir Robert Macdonald put into Weymouth for repairs. She was surveyed by the Board of Trade and found perfectly unseaworthy. At that time her crew were imprisoned in Usk Gaol for refusing to go to sea in her. The Home Secretary having been written to, replied that "under all the circumstances of the case" he would recommend their release. They had been sentenced to 10 weeks' imprisonment, and perhaps" under all the circumstances of the case "any Government would have recommended their release. Such was the state of the case under the law in its reformed state, and the question was, whether they were to re-enact a law which had such a practical application as this? Some mitigation of the matter was attempted by the legislation of 1873; but the survey was to be granted under this condition—that one-fourth of the crew must complain of the unseaworthiness of the ship. But why was one man to be sent to prison because he did not wish to lose his life in an unseaworthy ship, if it was perfectly possible he was right and able to prove his case? Of course, it was desirable that there should be some protection against malicious complaints; but this was a point with which it would not be difficult to deal. In the Act of 1873, however, there was another provision which gave a seaman who had been sent to prison for refusing to proceed in an unseaworthy ship compensation; but such compensation was to be granted to him by the very men who wished to send him to sea. This was the character of a chapter of the Bill which had not been discussed that evening, and he hoped the House would 557 consider that he was justified in drawing attention to it. He was quite sure that if they were to get the merchant seamen of the country to join cordially in action with the shipowners, it would only be by treating them as men who deserved to be respected. The amendment of the existing law would be very much facilitated by the proposal of the Government to do away with advance notes, which had been regarded by many persons as justifying proceedings of the kind he had referred to; but he was at a loss to understand how the President of the Board of Trade had reasoned himself into the opinion that that abolition would not be an interference with the freedom of contract. If the Bill should be the means of enabling them to revise legislation in this respect he should think himself fully justified in supporting the second reading. He could not sit down without expressing regret at many remarks which had been made with reference to the hon. Member for Derby. He thought the House ought to reflect that if it had not been for the patriotism and benevolence of that hon. Member they would probably not have seen this Bill at all. It was to the hon. Member's labours that they owed the Bill of 1871; to his benevolent exertions that they owed the Bill of 1873; and to his exertions that they owed the fact that both the shipowners and the Board of Trade had become alive to the absolute necessity of remedying the existing condition of things; and he felt that the hon. Gentleman might view with satisfaction the manner in which public opinion had been ripened on the question. He trusted that the Bill would be amended so as to make it worthy of the objects it sought to accomplish.
§ MR. RATHBONE
I share with every hon. Member of this House in the indignation which has been aroused by the revelations which have been brought to light by the exertions of the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Plimsoll); but I am most anxious that the remedies we propose for these evils should be effectual, and that they should not take a direction in which they would aggravate the very evils and crimes which we so anxiously seek to put an end to. Therefore, representing as I do the largest shipowning port in the world, I venture earnestly to ask the attention of the House for a short time; for I have 558 reason to know that some hon. Members of this House are quite unaware of the serious consequences that will ensue both to the lives of our sailors and to the maritime power and greatness of England, should any false steps be taken in dealing with the management of the merchant shipping of this country. I have heard hon. Members—and clever men too—speak as if it really did not much matter what was done. I have heard it said—"I suppose the 'right thing' is to vote for both Bills," as if the measures advocated by the hon. Member for Derby and the Government Bill did not proceed on diametrically opposite principles, or that to give a popular vote on the question can do much harm. But I venture to say that this is not the opinion of any of the statesmen who have given attention to this subject; and it is not the opinion of the great bulk of those shipowners who have in practice been successful in avoiding loss of life and property at sea. I presented to the House this evening a Petition from a body of men whose practical experience I conceive is entitled to some weight in the House, for it represents the deliberate opinion of the Steam Shipowners' Association of Liverpool, whose members own 779,258 tons, being about one-third of the whole steam tonnage of Great Britain. The Association has been in existence 15 years, and, as I am advised, no one of its members has ever had a single vessel detained by the Board of Trade, or a single case of unseaworthiness made out or rightfully imputed against a single one of his ships. These men have, by their practical success in avoiding disasters at sea, established a right to speak with authority when they come forward to point out how these disasters can best be avoided, and, at the same time, to give warning of the danger of increasing those disasters, and destroying our mercantile prosperity by injudicious legislation. They have given to this matter, as they state, prolonged and careful consideration. They have called to their assistance some of the ablest, and on this subject the most experienced lawyers in the kingdom, and the result of this practical and legal experience is embodied in the Petition against the Bill of the hon. Member for Derby, which I have presented, and in the Amendments on the Government Bill, of which I have given Notice. These 559 men state, as the result of their practical and successful experience, that the legislation proposed by the hon. Member for Derby is not only based on an erroneous principle, but would fail utterly to reach the small number of disreputable shipowners aimed at; that it would tend to transfer the responsibility from the shipowner to the Government, or Association, and surveyors acting under Government authority, to remove inducements for improvement, to discourage the enterprize which has created the British Mercantile Marine, and to reduce all vessels to the comparatively low standard of efficiency which must necessarily be adopted as the Government test. They point out how, by amendments in law and administration which shall not violate the principles of English legislation, the increased safety sought can alone be attained, and the dangers they give warning of avoided. Now, I am quite aware that there are many shipowners who disagree with my constituents on this subject. Many of them, terrified at the prospect of unlimited responsibility, are joining in the cry for futile or injurious interference, in order to escape the penalties and liabilities with which they are threatened. The reason of this has been well stated in a single sentence by one of the best legal authorities on this subject. Mr. Squarey, formerly legal adviser to both the Steamship Owners' Association and the American Chamber of Commerce, and who, as such, had very great experience in shipping matters, but being now legal adviser to the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board, he is entirely out of private practice and able to give an independent and impartial opinion, writes—Mr. Plimsoll's Bill is a real, though, as I think, a mistaken effort to accomplish the end he has in view. Looking at it from a mere selfish shipowners' point of view, I should decidedly prefer Mr. Plimsoll's Bill to that of the Government, because the latter will certainly place the shipowner under liabilities for sending unseaworthy ships to sea which he is not now subject to, whilst the former—so far as it is in any degree a practical scheme, will, I am afraid, relieve the shipowner from liability, without securing the object sought—viz., the preservation of life at sea. But, in truth, I do not believe Mr. Plimsoll's Bill to be practically workable at all.I will, if the House will allow me, try to give practical reasons for what I have stated. And first let me point out the magnitude and importance of the inte- 560 rests with which you are dealing. Mr. Henry Jeula, in a table forwarded to Lloyd's, shows that more than 57 per cent—the exact figures being 57.70—of the whole steam tonnage of the world is British, and 37 per cent of the whole sailing tonnage of the world is British; and when you consider how much more work a steamer does than a sailing vessel, it may be stated that more than one-half of the world's maritime work is done by British shipowners and British sailors. Our proportion was even larger a few years since. But, by the opening of the Suez Canal—and this is a matter for the most serious consideration of the House—this country has lost the vantage-ground which it once possessed, especially with regard to the trade from the East, for when that went round the Cape, England was the natural depot for that commerce. Now, however, the vessels bringing the produce of the East, have to pass near Venice, Trieste, Marseilles, and other ports which are situated near to the districts in which much of their cargoes are consumed. It is not, therefore, surprising to find that the percentage of British sailing vessels to the total tonnage of the world has fallen from 43 per cent in 1870, to the 37 per cent in 1874, and that of steamers from 59 per cent in 1870, to the 57 per cent in 1874. Now it is only the energy and enterprize of our shipowners who, the moment the Canal was opened, set to work to build numerous vessels peculiarly fitted for its trade, that has enabled us to retain as much as we have retained of the carrying trade and commerce of the world. But I wish particularly to guard myself from being supposed to advocate the promotion of the prosperity of our Mercantile Marine, or even the maintenance of our naval supremacy at the expense of the lives of our seamen. If we are called upon to maintain the prosperity of our Mercantile Marine at the cost of tolerating criminal or negligent disregard for the lives of our British seamen, then the House would say, and the country would say, let our maritime prosperity go, even though our marine supremacy should go with it. But what I maintain is, that the same measures which contribute to the prosperity of our Mercantile Marine contribute to the safety of our seamen. There is no real conflict between the interests of the sailor and the interests of the shipowner. 561 Really sound legislation will ultimately benefit both. To this point I shall address myself. There are three modes of dealing with this question, which are now practically before the House. First, that proposed by the hon. Member for Derby, and those who agree with him in their Amendments on the Government Bill, and the hon. Member has also embodied his proposals in Bill No. 2. That mode is practically to direct the shipowner how he is to manage his business, and to interfere with his management of it. Then there is the proposal of the Government, in the Bill now before us, to strengthen previous legislation, leaving the shipowner free to carry on his business with the same liberty that is afforded to other traders, but, as in other trades, holding him responsible for his misdeeds. This Bill, even with the modifications proposed by the Government, would materially increase the liability of the shipowner, and this, with the appointment of a legal officer of the Board of Trade, whose duty it will be to put the law in force, would, I have no doubt, very much tend towards the diminution of disasters at sea. But, after the most careful consideration, we have come to the conclusion that it would be possible to make the law stronger and even more effective than either the proposals of the hon. Member for Derby, or the Government Bill would make it. At the same time, our proposed Amendments avoid the very great dangers which we foresee would result from the adoption of Mr. Plimsoll's proposals—dangers of creating a false sense of security on the part of all those whose vigilance is absolutely necessary for the security we seek to attain. We propose, then, a different course—to impose a scale of punishments for attempts to send unseaworthy ships to sea, varied and graduated so that they will in practice and reality be inflicted, and therefore practically deterrent; and if our Amendments are adopted, together with efficient machinery for putting them in force—and without this no law that you can pass will be of any use—we venture to say that our proposals would, as far as the law is capable of contributing towards that end, reduce the loss of life and property at sea. Now, it is urged upon the Government by the hon. Member for Derby, and many kind-hearted people, who are naturally indignant at 562 the unnecessary sacrifice of life which the conduct of some—comparatively very few—unprincipled shipowners inflicts upon our sailors, that Government should undertake by a system of surveys applied to everything connected with a ship—to the iron of which she is built, to her build, to her loading, to her equipment—to avoid these dangers. But I maintain—and what is more to the purpose, the Royal Commission, after hearing evidence on all sides maintains, in its most able Report—that if you attempt by Government machinery to do that which the shipowner alone can do, you will utterly fail. You may—nay, I admit that you will—in occasional instances, prevent a few more unseaworthy ships from going to sea; but, in order to do this, you will so diminish the responsibility felt by the great mass of shipowners that a greater number of lives will be lost, and a greater amount of property destroyed than if you adhere to those principles of government, to which I maintain the order and prosperity of this country are mainly due. That principle I take to be that the Government will not interfere at every turn to make it impossible for people to do wrong—that is in itself an impossibility; but that it will take care that, if people do wrong, or attempt to do wrong, the law shall punish them, and thus mark that to do wrong, or attempt to do wrong, is infamous and dangerous also. Every respectable shipowner is interested in having unseaworthy ships stopped. A badly-found overloaded vessel, sailed on "over-screwing" principles, is just the most mischievous competitor a respectable shipowner can have. Such vessels pull freights down in some trades to such a point that well-found vessels can hardly live in them, and besides lessening the profits of first-rate shipowners, they bring discredit on their common calling. But what we contend is, that those principles of English law, which experience has shown to be most successful in dealing with other crimes, should be applied to the crimes of a negligent shipowner. You may make it very dangerous and infamous for shipowners to send unseaworthy ships to sea, by attaching proper penalties to such a breach of the law, and providing for their enforcement; but you never can put every British ship—in this country, at sea, and in foreign ports—under efficient minute 563 supervision. But I do say this, that the hon. Member for Derby, and those who agree with him, are so far right when they say that it is not enough to attempt to punish the criminally negligent shipowner when he has sent an unseaworthy ship to sea, and when, perhaps, she has gone to the bottom with those on board who might have given evidence of her unseaworthiness. Any clearly proved, deliberate, or negligent attempt to send an unseaworthy ship to sea—whether she actually goes to sea or not—should be severely punished; and those who are interested in the matter will have seen that I have placed on the Paper an Amendment calculated to carry this out. My great desire is, that we should devote our attention and efforts in this matter to what is practicable, and not attempt what is impossible. The tendency of recent legislation has been sadly too much in the direction of substituting Government inspection for individual responsibility—and there is no trade in which such mistaken interference will be more fatal than that of a shipowner. Any one who is at all practically acquainted with the subject, knows that a ship's seaworthiness depends upon a great number of complicated conditions, which it is almost impossible for an Inspector, upon a casual survey, to judge of. The Royal Commissioners say—The safety of a ship at sea cannot he secured by any one precaution or set of precautions, hut requires the unceasing application of skill, care, and vigilance, from her first design to her unloading at the port of destination. She must be well designed, well constructed, well equipped, well stowed, or she is not seaworthy. She must he also well manned and well navigated, otherwise all precautions as to her construction and as to her stowage will be unavailing.Discretion as to the proper loading of his ship must be left to the shipowner, or, under his directions, to the manager, on whom the responsibility rests for sending the ship to sea in a seaworthy condition, which responsibility it is inexpedient to diminish. We have, therefore, come to the conclusion, though not without regret, that we cannot prescribe any universal rule for the safe loading of all merchant ships.It has been admitted by the hon. Member for Derby, and the universal reputation which British shipping enjoys proves, that these criminal, or criminally negligent shipowners, are an extremely small proportion of the large body of shipowners; and it is almost capable of 564 arithmetical demonstration that, if by Government interference in the management of ships, you relax the vigilance and sense of responsibility of the large majority of shipowners, you will, on the general balance, increase the loss of life and property at sea. Besides, disasters will take place in a state of things under which you cannot bring legal or moral responsibility home to the shipowner. I wish that every Member of the House had read with care the Report of the Royal Commission. It will be remembered that, when that Commission was appointed, the shipowners complained loudly that they were hardly represented among its Members, and it is fortunate that such was the case, for the conclusions which the Commission has drawn from the ample evidence which it took, are, in consequence, above suspicion of bias in the direction of shipowners. Now, anyone who will read these Reports carefully must be struck with the increasing strength of the impression on the part of the Commission of the great danger of substituting Government management for the vigilance of those interested, and the responsibility of the shipowner. That which was an impression in their first Report becomes a clear and decided conclusion in their final Report. Now, I wish especially to call attention to the fact that any certificate of survey, or any load-line, can only deal with the lowest requirements consistent with safety; that the careless or dishonest shipowner will scheme to do as little as possible, and that it is the too common tendency of the minds of men in every profession, when the law interferes to lay down a legal requirement, to assume that what the law exacts is all that duty requires. Thus any low average of legal requirement has a tendency to shield the guilty, and to lower the general standard of the trade to which it has to be applied. I confess I am surprised that the severe Amendments of which I have given Notice have not been put upon the Paper by the hon. Member for Derby. They are so clearly those which are dictated by experience of the success of his efforts during the last eighteen months in preventing unseaworthy ships from going to sea. Even under the defective legislation, and with the defective machinery which the Board of Trade has had during that time for carrying the Act of 565 1871 into effect, from the 5th of August, 1873, to the 31st of January, 1875, 465 vessels were stopped by the Board of Trade for defective hull, equipment, &c.; of these 14 were found to be seaworthy, 421 were condemned as unseaworthy, while on 30 the surveys were pending. And, again, 36 ships were stopped for overloading or improper loading, were declared to be unseaworthy, and had to be lightened or trimmed; and, moreover, if I am rightly informed, the operations of the hon. Member for Derby have already caused to be broken up a large proportion of those ships which have brought so much scandal on our Mercantile Marine. But the hon. Member for Derby will say—"Though I have been able to stop so many ships, how many more have gone to sea overladen or unseaworthy? And where are your successful prosecutions under your criminal clause?" Well, I will tell the House why those prosecutions have not taken place. The eleventh section of the Act of 1871 enacted that, if any person having authority to send a ship to sea sent her to sea in an unseaworthy state, &c, he should be guilty of a misdemeanour, unless he proved that he used all reasonable means to make her seaworthy, and was ignorant of her unseaworthiness. Now, I am informed that when a prosecution was desired, one difficulty under this section was, whom to prosecute? In many cases a ship is fitted for sea by one owner or agent, but actually sent to sea by another who is wholly ignorant of her unseaworthiness. The one could not be convicted, because though he knew her to be unseaworthy, he did not send her to sea; the other could not be convicted, because though he sent her to sea, he was not responsible for her unseaworthiness, and did not know she was unseaworthy. But the hon. Member will say—How, then, do you propose to catch these gentlemen? I have taken the best legal and practical advice I could obtain, and with such aid an Amendment on Clause 31 has been drawn, which I have placed on the Paper, and which I believe will not only meet the difficulties I have pointed out, but will really catch the guilty parties. And if it be not yet sufficiently stringent, I do not suppose I shall be told that it is beyond the power of the Government or a Committee of this House to make whatever alterations may be necessary 566 to render it completely effectual. The Board of Trade have already appointed a legal adviser to act as a public prosecutor in these matters, and as they have promised to appoint in the out-ports, where these offences are most frequent, responsible officers who may be trusted with discretionary powers to act in case of emergency, and when we have, as proposed, greatly increased facilities for detecting such offences, and fresh and easily enforced penalties for attempting to commit them, we may reasonably hope that these offences will be made so difficult that they will be practically abandoned; and this will be done by measures which will raise the standard of duty, and increase, instead of diminishing, the personal responsibility of the shipowner. And now let me just call the attention of the House for a few moments to the effect which will be inevitably produced on the future maritime progress of this country by any law which, as proposed by the hon. Member for Derby, would make classification compulsory, or which will practically give to a Government department responsibility for the construction and equipment of our ships. Perhaps the question will be best understood by those unconnected with shipping if I were to give an illustration. I shall first illustrate my meaning by the history of an individual case, and I shall then show the experience of a large body of men. I will take the well-known case of the Cunard Company—a company, the success of which is justly a source of national pride. Well, everybody whom I have heard speak upon the subject, able to watch the rise of that undertaking, and to estimate the causes of its success and immunity from disaster, I have found to agree with me in attributing that success, not wholly or even mainly to the enormous Government subsidies which it enjoys, but to the intense, pervading, never-resting, ever-watchful, concentrated sense of personal responsibility over every branch of its business in which Mr. Charles MacIver, its managing owner, lived and moved, and had his being while he was building up that concern. Now suppose the future Mr. Charles MacIver to contemplate the building up of a similar enterprize. What state of matters will he find, if we are to follow the advice of those who call thus loudly for Government direction and control? He will find, if this 567 well-meant advice which is now offered by some of the Amendments before the House be adopted, the iron of which his ship is built, and every part of her workmanship and equipment, certified by Government. He will find, if this Bill passes, a certain person certified and inspected by Government to adjust his compasses. He will find another man, inspected and certified by Government, to examine his anchors and his chains; and he will find prepared to his hand, a captain, mates and engineers, inspected and surveyed by Government, as the proper parties and the only parties for him to employ. I would ask the House to consider whether the British character, with its hardihood, its energy, its self-reliance, its enterprize, and that pervading sense of duty which we claim as one of our national characteristics, has been created by such a system of minute interference, and whether it can possibly co-exist with it? I say it cannot. And, if it cannot, will not the lives of our British seamen be far more insecure under such a system than they are now? But I know I shall be met with this argument,—that you do not seek any such minute surveys; but I would point out that, if once you make a Government department or association responsible in any way for the build and equipment of vessels, they will inevitably, feeling their responsibility, be led by degrees to lay down rules for such build and equipment. Why, even the experience of our commercial associations shows that such rules have a tendency to become injuriously rigid and even unsafe; much more would this tendency prevail in a Government department. The hon. Member for Derby, feeling that this was the case, has, with an anxiety not to injure our maritime commerce which I frankly acknowledge, proposed, in substitution for a Government survey, classification at Lloyd's or some other similar association; and, certainly, associations like Lloyd's or the Liverpool Registry, would be less likely to be guilty of unnecessary interference than a Government department would be, these associations being much more under the influence of the mercantile and shipping communities, who are their customers, and for whose favour they are actively competing. But, fortunately, on this question we have actual and 568 undoubted experience to warn us; and I must ask the attention of the House for a very short time longer, while I state the results of that experience. It is as I have said the experience of large bodies of men distinguished for their success in avoiding disaster. No doubt a very large proportion of the Members of this House are under the impression that, when people talk of un classed ships, they are speaking only of those dangerous ships which have run off their class, and which are not classed because they cannot obtain a class at Lloyd's, or any other similar association. This is very far from the case. On the contrary, a very large proportion of the best shipowners never class their ships at all. I have a list of these; and I find that the Peninsular and Oriental Company's ships are, as a rule, unclassed; that the Royal Mail Company's ships are unclassed; that the ships of the Cunard Line are unclassed. The ships of the Brazil Line, and of Holt's China Line, also appear on this list of unclassed ships. But without wearying the House by enumerating them, I may state broadly that the majority of those steamship owners who have standing and reputation sufficient to enable them to ensure their ships on most advantageous terms without Lloyd's classification, are not in the habit of classing their steamers; and I will tell the House why—because Lloyd's and the Liverpool Association, and other associations of underwriters, though, as I have said, they are much more open to representations from the shipowning community, who are their customers, than a Government department would be. Even they have from time to time laid down such rules for building ships as stood in the way of improvements—requiring strength to be put where, strength not being wanted, it diminished, instead of increasing, the buoyancy and safety of a ship; and enforcing forms of construction which were not only not economical, but were positively not as safe as other forms. Whatever fresh associations you form will always have a tendency to stereotype the improvements which they themselves have made; and as they get old and rich, to distrust and obstruct further change. I have tried to picture to myself how the best shipowners—the members of the Liverpool Steam Shipowners' Association for instance—would act under the pro- 569 visions proposed by the hon. Member for Derby, and I will tell you at once that these men would form an association of their own, which would, of course, be recognized by Government; and, though they have been in their younger days among the most energetic and improving shipowners, they would be, in their turn, one of the most powerful obstructions I can conceive in the way of the Charles MacIvers or Alfred Holts of the future. Let me point out to the House by a practical example how utterly worthless such a provision would be to prevent the disasters we complain of. The hon. Member for Derby, in a letter to The Telegraph, of 18th March, gives a list of 28 vessels that were posted at Lloyd's since the 1st of January as missing, and which were supposed to have foundered at sea with all hands, together with the number of lives that were lost on boad of them. Of these 28 ships only 6 very small ones were unclassed, of which only 3 of 34 tons, 40 tons, and 85 tons respectively—one being a fishing vessel—were British. Three of the largest vessels on the list, through which so many lives were lost, were not only classed, but were classed in both books in the highest class; while the sailing vessels were generally classed in the highest class in which at their age a vessel can be placed. I think, Sir, I have shown the danger and the useless-ness of this compulsory classification, and I do not hesitate to say, had we been compelled to submit to a Government survey, or to Lloyd's classification, before all those great improvements which have been made in the building of our ships took place, that those improvements would have been delayed—to say the least—and we should not occupy the position which we now occupy in the Mercantile Marine of the world. Anyone who remembers the disastrous influence which even an erroneous mode of levying tonnage dues exercised on the model of our ships, and the wonderful improvement in their construction which followed the removal of that influence, would hesitate before he takes any part in compelling British shipowners to submit the construction of their ships to a Government survey. In conclusion, I hope the House will see that, of the two directions which it is proposed legislation shall take, the one is sound in principle, and will be effect- 570 ual and safe in practice, while the other is unsound, and will be ineffectual and dangerous. The one is recommended by all the statesmen who have had experience in the Department to which this question belongs. It is recommended by the Royal Commission in their able Report. It is advocated by a large body of those shipowners who have themselves been most successful in averting disaster, and it is in accordance with the spirit and practice of English legislation. It proposes, while leaving the honest shipowner the same liberty enjoyed by other Englishman, of carrying on his trade without being subjected to minute Government interference with its details, to hold, every shipowner sternly and strictly responsible not to expose to unnecessary danger the lives of his sailors. The other direction in which it is proposed to legislate would lead to the interference of Government in the management of shipping in consequence of the acts of a few careless and greedy men. But we contend that to treat men as helpless and immoral, is the most effectual way of making them so. We wish, therefore, to point out the danger of treating all concerned in shipping matters alternately, as children and criminals, and of hereby relaxing the vigilance, diminishing the sense of responsibility and duty, and lowering the standard of action of all concerned in the construction and management of our Mercantile Marine. I regret to have been obliged to detain the House so long; but I am deeply impressed with the responsibility that attaches to us, if by any mistaken legislation we should increase that loss of life, and those evils which it is the anxious wish of this House, as much as possible, to diminish.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Gourley.)
§ MR. DISRAELI
said, he thought the proposal was not in accordance with Parliamentary usage. The principle of the Bill had been accepted on both sides of the House, and the speeches which had been made in the course of the discussion, however interesting and ingenious, were, with very rare exceptions, Committee 571 speeches; and even the hon. Member for Derby, whose general views might be supposed to form a system opposed to the policy of the Government, had announced it to be his intention to move Amendments at a future stage of the measure. He, therefore, trusted the debate would not be adjourned. Ample opportunity would be afforded to hon. Members to express their opinions on the Bill both in Committee and on other occasions, and it was therefore to be hoped that the House would proceed at once with the second reading.
§ Question put, and negatived.
§ Question again proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. MACGREGOR
said, he had been connected with a seaport town many years, and he remembered, 30 or 40 years ago, it was said the sailors of the time were inferior to those who had gone before them. They were now hearing the same story over again. His opinion, however, was that the seamen of the present day were a better set of men than those who had gone before them. They were more sober, more careful of their money, and more to be trusted in many ways. He regretted that it was proposed to do away with advance notes; he was not at all satisfied that they would get on without them. A comparison had been made between seamen and ordinary workmen, but ordinary workmen got their pay at home every week, and could spend it at home; whereas to the seaman, his pay was of no use when he was at sea, and he might be away for some years. Besides, there might be circumstances which rendered it necessary that seamen should have money before going to sea. They might have come from a sick bed; they might have had deaths in their families, and they might require a new kit to go to sea with. In the port with which he was connected, instead of giving advance notes, they were accustomed to give advances in cash to well-known men. He regretted that such advances were to be made illegal by this Bill. As to the provision to enable captains to carry a supply of clothing on board ship, he was afraid that it would degenerate into a very bad truck system, and there was nothing more to be deprecated. They had heard a marvellous 572 speech by the hon. and learned Gentleman (Sir William Harcourt) as to the bearing of the criminal law on seamen, and he was sure every friend of the British sailor must be grateful to him for stating the case so powerfully. It was the same, however, with regard to the whole legislation relating to seamen. It was really extraordinary what facilities were afforded for getting sailors into prison. At Leith the other day, 22lbs of tobacco were seized, the man who had smuggled it slipped through the hands of the Customs House officers, but the whole of the remainder of the seamen, seven in number, who were on board the vessel were sent to prison for six months, although the magistrates, who were compelled to send them to prison, expressed their thorough belief that these men had not even any guilty knowledge of the smuggled tobacco. It would not be more absurd if an umbrella disappeared from the lobby of one of their clubs, and every member who happened to be present was sent to prison on suspicion of having had something to do with its theft. He hoped an Amendment would be introduced into the Bill to prevent the Customs authorities acting in such an extraordinary manner. They were told that the safety of sea-going ships could not be assured by any one or a series of precautions; therefore they were asked to believe that the proper way to manage their ships was not to adopt any precautions at all. He felt persuaded that if some such load-line as that proposed by the hon. Member for Derby was adopted, it would be more satisfactory to the shipowners of the country than the load-line proposed in this Bill. He therefore trusted means would be found by the President of the Board of Trade to adopt some such load-line.
§ MR. BATES
believed the shipowners of Liverpool and other ports would admit that this Bill was in the right direction, although there were one or two points which might require revision in Committee; those referring to advance notes, for instance. Sailors, from their habits, really could not get on without advance notes; and many of our ships without these notes would be stopped for want of men. Iron used in the construction of ships should be subjected to the Government test No. 1 or No. 2. It had been recently found out that the iron in 573 some ships—injured by a collision—was little better than cast iron. This would not have been the case if the Government test had been applied. He contended that no grain ought to be carried in ships in bulk, but half, at least, of the cargo should be in bags. As to the 25th clause, he submitted that it ought not to stand; for if it did it would be found that some of the provisions in the sub-sections, especially No. 4, held out a premium for the building of bad ships. With some alterations the Bill would be a good one, and he should therefore generally support it.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn. Main Question proposed.
§ MR. D. JENKINS
said, that as he had an Amendment on the Paper, he begged to move the adjournment of the debate.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. David Jenkins.)
§ MR. DISRAELI
said, he hoped the hon. Gentleman would not persevere in the Motion, inasmuch as there was, he believed, an understanding on both sides of the House that the debate on the second reading should conclude that evening.
§ MR. SHAW-LEFEVRE
trusted that, if the Bill were now read a second time, ample opportunity for addressing the House upon it would be given on going into Committee.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ CAPTAIN G. E. PRICE
said, before the second reading was agreed to, he would support the clauses which had reference to discipline on board ship, and the imprisonment of seamen under certain conditions.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed for To-morrow.