HC Deb 28 July 1875 vol 226 cc145-62

Sir, I rise to move for leave to introduce a Bill to make provision for giving further powers to the Board of Trade for stopping Unseaworthy Ships. This measure the Government recommends to Parliament on the postponement of their larger and more complete measure for the amendment of the Merchant Shipping Acts. The House is aware that that complete measure proposed means for checking the overloading of ships; for making more definite the liability of shipowners in respect to loss of life and damage to property at sea; for consolidating, or, rather, codifying the provisions for discipline at sea; and for improving the mode of inquiry into casualties at sea. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Mr. Plimsoll) also introduced a Bill on this subject, but mainly on opposite principles—a Bill for supplementing the classification of ships by private registry offices, through the Government undertaking to complete the classification and periodical survey of all ships. I believe that the Government Bill was framed on the right principle. It was framed on the principle on which all our legislation has hitherto been based—namely, that of enforcing responsibility on those who conduct the Mercantile Marine service of this country to take all reasonable precaution or means in their power to protect the lives of those who are employed by them at sea. Unfortunately, the measure, by delay, has lacked time for thorough discussion and for passage through Parliament this Session, and it has had, consequently, to be postponed. I believe the Bill of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby—and in that opinion I shall I think be borne out by the great majority in this House—is based on wrong principles. ["No, no!"] Well, I merely wish to point out to Parliament the difference between the two Bills. That of the hon. Member for Derby attempted not only the punishment of offenders, but a needless and harassing Government constant inspection and warranty of all unclassed ships, and on the part of Government it actually undertook the conduct of the merchant shipping itself; and, as I think, a Bill based on that principle, so far from securing life at sea, tends rather to a greater loss of life at sea, by removing the principal check of the liability of those who are conducting the service, and the responsibility of seeing to all practicable security from off their shoulders. I point out the different principles of the two Bills brought before Parliament this year for the purpose of showing that, while in the case of the Government Bill we were unable to proceed this Session, yet, considering the other Bill, we were unable to adopt it in lieu of the Government measure, because we believe that it proceeds on a wrong and dangerous principle. But there are measures which may be passed in the interim, and which may remain in force until the Government is able to pass more complete legislation on the subject. Measures may be taken which will have the effect of more effectually stopping, in the meantime, unseaworthy ships from going to sea. This is not the first time that we have attempted legislation with this object. We have passed many Acts already; and I may point out the stimulus which was given to legislation on the subject by the hon. Member for Derby only followed upon our first attempt to legislate in this direction. There are the Acts of 1871 and of 1873, which empower the Board of Trade, upon complaint, or upon their having any other means of believing that the ship going to sea is in an unseaworthy condition, to detain her for survey; there are also powers under those Acts enabling one-fourth of the crew of any ship to allege in defence of any one of their number who had deserted or absented himself from the ship, that the ship was unseaworthy and in a dangerous condition demanding survey. I can only say that these powers have been honestly carried out to the best ability of the Department. During the last two years the Board of Trade have stopped 558 ships under these powers upon the ground of want of survey and bad construction, and about 58 ships have been stopped on the ground of their being overloaded. Nobody doubts that unseaworthy ships are sent to sea; but what I want to point out to the credit of the Department, and, of course, to the satisfaction of Parliament, is, that such care has been taken in exercising the power under these Acts, that out of these 558 ships stopped on the ground of unseaworthiness, 515 were, on investigation, proved to have been unseaworthy, and others are now under investigation which may add to the number, showing that scarcely any vessels have been stopped except on good grounds. Considering the great importance of stopping the great mercantile traffic of this country upon insufficient grounds, I think that the House will congratulate itself that the Acts passed in the interests of the lives of our fellow-subjects have been carried out with so much success for their object, and so little vexation to the well-conducted shipping interest. Of the 58 ships stopped on the ground of overloading, all of them had to be lightened of their cargoes. These are great powers, and they have been carefully acted on. At the same time, owing to the nature of the Acts, they have not been applicable to all emergencies, or adequate to all possible occasions; but they are capable of great expansion. What the Bill that I now ask the leave of the House to introduce seeks to do is to carry out still further the provisions of these Acts in the particulars to which I have alluded; to strengthen the Executive by giving the Government the power of more rapid and direct action in this direction. The Bill proposes to enable the Government to appoint a sufficient number of officers forthwith, and from time to time, to detain unseaworthy ships—that is, ships in defective condition, or overloaded, or improperly loaded—for the purpose of being surveyed, and not allowed to go to sea till set right, without waiting for authority from the Board of Trade, but immediately reporting. The House is aware that the Surveyors of the Board of Trade can only now report; upon which authority is sent down to the officers of Customs, and the proposal of the Bill is to give the Government the right to delegate such powers. The Bill is proposed only for one year, both on account of the strong powers asked for, and as a guarantee that the Government will lose no time next Session in legislating more completely on the subject. The Bill also proposes to allow one-fourth of any crew to demand a survey of an alleged unseaworthy vessel without the preliminary of desertion, and without even the necessity of giving security for costs incident to the prosecution of the complaint, precautions, of course, being taken against frivolous or vexatious allegations. Now I hope these two provisions, which are the main provisions of the Bill, will be sufficient to prevent a great number of unseaworthy ships from going to sea, in the interval between this time and the passing of a measure next Session of a more comprehensive character. And it will also encourage Parliament to give the Government these powers for the occasion, that they are powers which can in no case be vexatious to owners of good ships, and can only be a terror to those who own bad ships. In any general measure there must be provisions of a more or less harassing character to the owners of good ships; but special powers to selected officers to detain glaringly overloaded ships from going to sea till righted will not interfere with well-conducted trade. There is also this advantage—that the second provision enables seamen themselves to set in motion the inspecting officers without the preliminary of having to incur the charge of breaking the law, and without the embarrassment of having to give security for costs, though liable to punishment for frivolous complaints. I can only conclude by saying that these preventive measures for increasing the security of life at sea are, in our opinion, of the first importance; and I know perfectly well that there will be no difference of opinion upon either side of the House, that Government should have adequate powers for such an object. We are all equally anxious for the increased security of the lives of our seamen in a necessarily perilous and most important national service. We can only differ as to the best means, and the necessary powers and interference of Government for the attainment of that end. I hope Parliament will consent to give the Government the powers which they ask for on the present occasion. I can speak for the sincerity and earnestness of the Government in wishing to carry out their full and complete measure on the earliest occasion next Session. I deeply regret the delays which have postponed the measure which I had in my charge, and I can only promise, on behalf of the Board of Trade, that if Parliament will now give these special powers to the Government, they will be resolutely and effectively carried out in the Department itself. I now move for leave to introduce the Bill.


Mr. Speaker, the course which Her Majesty's Government have adopted with regard to legislation upon Merchant Shipping has placed the House in considerable difficulty; but, being in this difficulty, I think it is the duty of the House of Commons to see how we can best extricate ourselves from it calmly and dispassionately, doing full justice to the great interests of life and property involved. I am sure that it will be the universal wish of the House that we should approach the question, as I have stated, with calmness, and that in a matter so vitally affecting the lives of seamen and the prosperity of our Merchant Shipping we should exclude Party considerations. The hours remaining at the end of the Session are so few that I think we shall all be disposed to approach this question in a business-like fashion, and to consider the proposals of Her Majesty's Government upon their merits at the present juncture. I shall not follow the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade in his contrast between the original Bill of the Government and the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Plimsoll). I think it is almost unfortunate that he should at this particular moment have introduced such a comparison at all. As regards the Government Bill it is withdrawn; as regards the Bill of the hon. Member for Derby, that is still before the House; but everyone must be aware that to carry it at the present period of the Session would be an exceedingly difficult, if not an impossible task. At the same time, I wish to say that I should consider personally that the hon. Member for Derby, and those who are in favour of his Bill, will be perfectly in their right if they run their Bill against the Government Bill, and attempt to press it upon the acceptance of Parliament. But while I say that they will be perfectly in their right if they follow that course, I think it would be to be deplored if those who do not hold the view that it is wise to accept a compulsory classification or the regulated load line, should allow their judgment now to be biassed either by the withdrawal of the Government Bill, or by the incidents which have taken place since in connection with this agitation. Let the Bill of the hon. Member for Derby stand upon its merits, as he has proposed it, and as others may be able to sustain it by argument. And, on the other hand, I am sure the House of Commons will not allow itself to be influenced in its opinion upon this great question by the temporary incidents which have taken place upon it. It appears to me that what we have to do to-day is to proceed to consider what may be the best means of extricating ourselves from the difficulty in which we are placed. Of course, it is hard upon the shipowners that at the close of the Session they have to consider a proposal on the spur of the moment such as has been made by Her Majesty's Government; and while I give every credit to the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade for endeavouring to remedy, to a certain extent, the withdrawal of the Bill of the Government, at the same time we must regret that that withdrawal was not accompanied at the time by an explanation. The Bill was withdrawn by the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister with but a formal and ordinary expression of regret, and the Government would have saved themselves very considerable reproach and comment if, when the Bill was withdrawn, they had stated that they would substitute some such measure like the present for it. It would have facilitated, I think, the discussion of the measure in the House of Commons, and, still more, it might have prevented that display of feeling out-of-doors which, creditable as it is in many respects, sometimes impedes calm and dispassionate legislation. I think the Government will feel that this display of feeling is due to a certain extent to their having withdrawn the Bill without showing that they intended to deal with the question until the current ran so high that they were compelled to introduce a Bill to deal temporarily with the subject. But we have now the announcement of the Bill, and I do not, as far as I can judge on the first announcement of its provisions—I do not think it is of so stringent a character as we were led to believe it would be by the short explanation which fell from the Prime Minister the other evening. I am sure that the shipowners will consider it with every desire to strengthen the hands of the Government, feeling, as they will do, that it is directed, not against the good shipowners, but against the bad ones. I venture most humbly to bespeak an impartial consideration for the measure of the Government. With regard to the withdrawal of their Bill, the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade has stated—and I think it may be fairly repeated—that he himself would wish it to be thoroughly understood in the country that the Bill was withdrawn not on account of any pressure of the shipowners in this House to prevent or obstruct its discussion, or from any obstruction offered to it here, but on account of other causes. Let me recall in one sentence only the history of that discussion. There was but one day for the second reading of the Bill, and when an adjournment was moved, my hon. Friend the Member for Reading (Mr. Shaw Lefevre), sitting on this bench, supported the Government in requesting that the Motion for Adjournment should be withdrawn. Therefore, there was no obstruction on that occasion. On the next occasion, when the Bill went into Committee, there was a discussion only till 9 o'clock, and the rest of the evening was spent simply in postponing the consideration of two clauses, because the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade did not entirely understand them himself. The third night was spent on the "advance note;" and that that discussion was rational was shown by the Government themselves abandoning their proposal at the conclusion of the evening. On the next night great progress was made in the Bill, the 30th clause having been reached. I feel it right to again state, therefore, that no action of the House of Commons with regard to the Government Bill has at all obstructed its being carried through this House. If it has been withdrawn, it has been withdrawn without any of these extraneous causes; but I am anxious not to allude to those causes, because I think our duty now is to discuss the proposals of the Government with every desire, notwithstanding any temporary inconvenience, to pass a measure even in the few hours that remain of the Session—a measure which may tend to save life and to remove that imputation from our Merchant Service which late events have, to a certain extent, cast upon it.


I think, Sir, that under the peculiar circumstances in which this subject stands, the course taken by the Government in regard to it is the only one they could take in view of the naturally excited state of the public mind caused by what I must consider the unfortunate withdrawal of the Merchant Shipping Bill. But I would express once more the great regret I feel that the management of Public Business could not have been so conducted as to admit of the discussion and of the passing of the Merchant Shipping Bill, and I wish to point out to the House, in a few sentences, that, in my humble opinion, the course now proposed is not unattended with inconvenience. This is the second time that a Merchant Shipping Bill—a measure of a very important character in its bearing upon that great interest, and not sufficient, as I think, for the purposes of ensuring safety—has been passed at the end of the Session, at a time when the month of August is about to commence, and we are in this position—that before we can have an opportunity of considering deliberately the requirements of the Merchant service, we are called on to increase the powers of the Board of Trade. I say, then, that this question is in a most unsatisfactory position. It is unsatisfactory, because it works an injustice on shipowners, and is not efficacious for the saving of life. I say it advisedly, and I maintain that no Government surveyor—though I imagine it is the object of the Government to secure the services of the most competent men to conduct this difficult duty with competent skill—that, however, is a Treasury question, and no statutory enactment is necessary for paying them salaries adequate to secure such men; but I say that no Government survey will be satisfactory, and that no Government surveyor can execute this difficult duty with a just regard for the shipowners and for the safety of human life, unless he has a thorough knowledge of the history and antecedents of the ship. That knowledge was possessed by the surveyors of the several associations; but to lay your hands on the defects, it is necessary that there should be the means of tracing the ship back to her origin, in order to know where defects exist in her, and, when necessary, to order the necessary repairs. No Government survey of a ship can decide fairly for the owner or fairly for the crew, and therefore a Government survey requires to be discussed in all its bearings, and I think the Government have acted wisely in taking these powers for a limited time, The Bill is a provi- sional Bill, a stop-gap, but is not a thorough Bill. I trust that the increased power of detaining ships may, in the course of the next few months, be exercised with discretion, but, at the same time, with firmness. We have, however, a distinct pledge from Government that at the earliest opportunity next Session the whole of this question shall be before us. Pending the introduction of a comprehensive measure, I trust we shall not allow ourselves to proceed to legislate upon this difficult and delicate subject, agitated by anything like emotional feelings or sensational observations. This is a subject of a technical and difficult character. I can speak to that effect from some experience—and we cannot expect this House as a body, or the nation at large, to enter into the considerations and appreciate the difficulties that surround the solution of this great question. If we make a mistake we may inflict an irreparable injury on perhaps the greatest interest the world has ever seen, and upon which the commerce of the country is so dependent. It is, therefore, most desirable that the subject should be dealt with in a calm, impartial, judicial spirit. I implore the House—though it may be somewhat excited at this moment—to consider the question deliberately. I think the Board of Trade deserve credit for the course they have taken; but the powers they ask for are difficult to exercise, and we are going now to increase the difficulty and the responsibility which attach to them. I trust, however, they will be entrusted to men competent to perform them, and that the Government will not hesitate, from considerations of cost, to obtain the best assistance they can get.


I do not moan, Sir, to remark upon the conduct of the Government in withdrawing the Bill, or to compare that which the right hon. Baronet the President of the Board of Trade has just asked leave to introduce with that of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Mr. Plimsoll), which stands for a second reading to-morrow. It is not my intention either to oppose the introduction of the Government measure, to which, however, I confess I see some grave objections. Our time is very limited for discussion, and it would be absurd to enter now on the discussion of its proposals. We must have the Bill printed and before us, and we must discuss its provisions; and we shall then, no doubt, be able to form a judgment on them, and to compare them with those which have been so much advocated in the course of these discussions. Even now, late as it is in the Session, I would suggest whether it would not be desirable, if not right, to embrace in the discussion the principles of the Bill of the hon. Member for Derby. I only now rise to speak on my own part and that of Friends near me, that it was not understood that this Bill, when its introduction was promised, was to be brought in without protest or comment on our part, but that we reserved to ourselves the right of, on the second reading, taking steps to ensure an ample discussion for the purpose of urging on the House the principles contained in the Bill of the hon. Member for Derby.


Our moments are so precious now, that every speaker in this debate will best show his sincerity to the object in view by talking as little as possible. The first duty before us is to have the Bill passed a first reading, so that we may see it in print, and at once know what exactly are its provisions; but I may indicate in a sentence or two my disappointment with the measure proposed. I invite the attention of my hon. Friends around me to this, that there should be before us one or other of these courses—either to give up the Bill of the hon. Member for Derby, and endeavour to engraft on the Government Bill such Amendments as may bring it nearer perfection than it is in its present state; or, should the Bill of the Government be found incapable of satisfactory Amendment, to stand by the Bill of the hon. Member for Derby. Now, in order that right hon. Gentlemen opposite may know what is before them, I wish to point out that they have failed to notice two important points that are least debated on this sore question—namely, they do not deal with the question of deck-loading, nor with the carrying of cargoes of grain in bulk. Now, shipowners themselves will say that these are the points in the Bill of the hon. Member for Derby which are least objected to, and yet they are the two that this. Bill leaves untouched. I protest, for one, against that failure in the Bill of the Government. I do not pretend to speak in the name of the hon. Gentleman; but I believe that he himself would have opposed it, and that the shipowning Gentlemen themselves have a serious objection to committing powers of this description to officers of the Board of Trade, and that, if driven to a choice, many would prefer to give up an additional week to the consideration of the Bill of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby, so that they might see in black and white in the clauses of the Bill how they stood there, and how their property was to be affected, rather than be handed over blindly to the discretion or the competency, unproved as it is, of the officials of the Board of Trade. I hope the Bill will be placed in our hands as early as possible, and that the Government will tell us when they mean to proceed with it.


Sir, with reference to the remark of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Mr. Goschen), which I must say I heard with surprise, that the provisions of the Bill do not seem to go far enough, I cannot, of course, form a judgment of the nature of those provisions, until we have an opportunity of perusing the measure itself. It does appear to me, however, that the powers the Government propose to take are of a very serious character indeed. That it should be in the power of a portion of the crew of a ship to stop that ship, and demand that a survey shall be made upon her, just as she is about to commence her voyage, and that they should not be in any way responsible in the event of the survey being against them, does seem to me a very large power to give. I am not going to discuss the Bill now, however, as we shall have an opportunity of doing so hereafter; but I cannot allow the House to imagine that it is not a power of a most vital character. For the very fact of retarding the departure of a ship with a large and valuable cargo must involve the owner in a considerable loss. It may be thought by some a small matter that the power of stopping vessels from proceeding to sea should be placed in the hands of officials at the out-ports; but it is, in reality, a very serious and unprecedented power. We, the representatives of seaports, have much reason to complain of the position in which we are placed. We have been in constant communication with the Government on this subject. We have been down to see our constituents respecting it, and just as we thought it likely that our labours would come to an end, we found ourselves thrown over, and permitted to discuss neither the Bill of the Government nor that of the hon. Member for Derby; and now, at a moment's notice, we are compelled to swallow the Bill just introduced by the Government. Reference has been made by the hon. Gentleman below (Mr. Sullivan) to the desirability of a discussion of the proposals of the Bill of the hon. Member for Derby. We should be delighted to have the opportunity. I think it desirable, in the interests of the shipowners and of the community at large, and also for the sake of the House itself, that there should be a complete and calm discussion of the principles involved; and I shall deeply regret if we close our labours and go back to the country without having had an opportunity of correcting the misapprehensions and exaggerations in regard to figures and details which now exist. I believe there is the greatest desire on the part of the shipowners and their Representatives to treat the matter in a fair and candid spirit. I do not find fault with the President of the Board of Trade, and it is only an act of justice to the right hon. Gentleman, with whom I have had much communication, to say that, although differing often with him in opinion, I have always found him actuated by a sincere desire to press forward this important question.


said, he thought the difficulty in which they were placed had arisen from the want of sympathy with the feelings of people outside of the House on that subject, and he believed the Bill now about to be brought in would not allay the public anxiety. That anxiety existed because, from one cause or another, rotten ships, overloaded ships, ships with excessive deck cargoes, and ships with improperly-stowed grain cargoes were sent to sea. And the only step now proposed to be taken was to enable the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade to send representatives of his Department to watch the going out from the ports of those vessels which were popularly believed to possess the faculty of drowning, and which, in fact, did drown, Her Ma- jesty's subjects. He invited the Government to consider whether it would not be wise to embody, in a temporary measure of that kind, some legislation that would go to the causes of the public alarm. He did not deny that, under the Bill, there would be some limited increase of the relief which had undoubtedly been felt in consequence of the activity of the Board of Trade in stopping ships. No doubt, the Government would do a little good by going a little further along the same path; but that would afford no effectual remedy, or prevent the sending to sea during the coming winter of improper ships, or of ships which were improperly loaded. In the matter of deck cargoes, what difficulty could there be in incorporating in that measure the provision in the hon. Member for Derby's Bill, forbidding any ship from going to sea in winter with a deck cargo without the permission of the Board of Trade? Why should the Government confine their measure to the narrow object of adding to the number of watchers at the ports? They proposed to allow rotten ships to be fitted and prepared for sea, to allow them to be loaded improperly, and to receive deck cargoes, and then they would appoint watchers to put their hands on them at the last moment. Why not prevent the thing at the outset? They might easily legislate against deck cargoes; they might further provide against the improper stowage of grain cargoes; and they might also, when public feeling was justly excited on a question of life and death, compel every shipowner in the coming winter to obtain a certificate that his ship was seaworthy. It might be said that would bear hardly on the shipowner; but the present state of things bore hardly on the feelings of the country. The right hon. Gentleman told them he had stopped 558 bad ships and 58 overloaded ships, thus holding out to the country the strongest confirmation which could possibly be given that the general statements of the hon. Member for Derby were correct. Why, then, should the Government themselves not go straight to the point, and give them, even in a temporary measure, some of that protective legislation which the public required? He admitted that there was more difficulty in regard to overloading. But the President of the Board of Trade, by taking proper advice and not confining himself entirely within the limits of his Department, might, with assistance from other quarters, be enabled to deal with overloading. The Government, in short, could do something with these matters, and if they did, he thought they would stand in a better position before the country, after dealing with the evils against which the public protested, instead of only seeking to increase powers which had been found insufficient. He objected to the cardinal principle which the right hon. Gentleman laid down as the only sound basis of their legislation. He agreed with the hon. Member for Derby in thinking that what the country wanted was not the responsibility of the very persons who were arraigned for neglecting the safety of the lives of their sea-faring population, but that their legislation should be directed to affording a remedy against palpable well-known and remediable evils. This was, in some respects, a peculiarly paternal country. They were told what they must do, and what they must not do, and the fact was, they could hardly do a single thing in this country without being interfered with by some Act of Parliament or some public Board. Some time ago, at Pembroke, they had a long altercation as to whether a chimney should be raised 40 feet high or only 20 feet; but the parties were compelled to raise it 40 feet because of the legislation of that House. And if Parliament dealt in that way with the height of a chimney and a thousand other things in all their daily lives, why were they to be told that the only security for the lives of their seamen was the responsibility of those very shipowners who had been drowning them up to that moment? He took the shipowning Members of that House at their word, when they stood there and declared, as they had done repeatedly, that legislation of the kind which the hon. Member for Derby sought would not affect them, because they did not send bad ships to sea or overload them. Then, why did they protest against that legislation? He did not wish to imply that any hon. Member of that House was interested in the class of ships against which protection was wanted; but he asked them to support those who resisted the machinations of men of bad character who were reckless of the lives of our seamen. The Government would, he thought, add error to error, if they limited the Bill to the provisions mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman. A Bill so limited would not satisfy the public mind. Moreover, he maintained that, by a little courage, they might just as well as not insert in that measure clauses which being avowedly temporary would, at the same time, be effective, and while giving satisfaction to the country would also redound to the credit of their framers.


said, that as his name was on the back of his hon. Friend the Member for Derby's Bill he might be excused for saying a few words. He hoped that Bill would not be forgotten, and that the House would in some way or other be asked to decide upon its principles; for he was quite sure that the country would not be satisfied with the measure just proposed by the Government. That measure did not strike at the causes of the evil, but would only take precautions to watch it. But watching an evil would not do any good. It would not do to say that the shipping interest was very great—what they had to do was to save the lives of their seamen, and to protect them by all the means in their power in carrying on their dangerous calling. That was what the Bill of his hon. Friend did, and he (Mr. Roebuck) was certain that his hon. Friend would not be at all content, unless some step was taken to get the House to decide on what he thought were the proper precautions for attaining that object. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade merely proposed to watch the ships going out; but why not watch them when they came home, as the whole of the mischief generally occurred on the homeward voyage? He should also take steps to protect our sailors in foreign parts, and if they did that they would protect their lives. Why should they not in this Bill consider the question of overloading? Why should they not consider the question of deck loading? Why should they not consider the mode of shipping grain in bulk? These were all things which they could do if they only pleased. At all events, he promised them that the promoters of the hon. Member for Derby's Bill would attempt, if they could, to run their Bill against that of the Government, and would propose the necessary remedies if the Government did not do it themselves, so that the Government and that House would be made responsible for the Act which might be passed.


said, the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. E. J. Reed) had asked the question why honest ship-owners should object to legislation which would not touch themselves? He (Mr. Rathbone) answered, because they believed the legislation referred to, although it would not touch their interests, would cause more loss of life than it would save. ["No, no!"] He spoke the opinion of the very large body of shipowners who had been successful in saving life, and their practical judgment was surely entitled to some weight. The hon. Member for Pembroke had also asked why the Government during the coming winter should not undertake to survey everything connected with the shipping that would leave our ports. It should not; simply for this reason—that the attempt to do it would be vain; that they could not do it so effectually; and that the result of their trying to do so would give a charter of indemnity to those who wished to be careless or dishonest. One of the most important points relied on by the hon. Member for Derby was a compulsory classification of ships. Now, he had taken a list of ships which that hon. Member had reported as missing, and he found that all those who had lost any number of lives were classed A 1 at Lloyd's. He did not, of course, mean to suggest that there was any connection between their being so classed and that loss; but he wished to point out that that was no protection at all, and that by substituting any such provisions for the responsibility of the shipowners, they would take the responsibility off the only parties who really could save life and property at sea. In the present excited state of the public mind they could not calmly discuss those questions, and he regretted that the Government should have withdrawn their former Bill on that subject. He thought they had now, by their present Bill—although he could not speak positively until he had seen it in print—probably taken another step in the direction which had been found very effectual. At that period of the Session, and with the present excitement out-of-doors, it would be very undesirable to attempt to deal with all those complicated questions in a hurried and imperfect manner.


contended that the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. E. J. Reed) had struck the right key in his remarks. In eight weeks of 1873 no less than 30-odd grain-laden steamers were reported sunk or missing, and all had been built within five or six years. Why did that immense fleet go to the bottom? The underwriters said that the expenditure of £50 upon each of those vessels for the purchase of sacks would, in all probability, have saved two-thirds of those vessels. He wished to know when the Government would take the second reading of their Bill; whether it would be put down as the first Order of the Day; and, whether they would give any facilities for discussing the Bill of the hon. Member for Derby side by side with it?


I merely rise, Sir, to express a hope that the House will allow the Bill to be brought in, which cannot be done if this discussion be proceeded with at this hour. I would suggest that, considering the time of the year, the second reading should be fixed for Friday morning, and I hope that the Bill will be in the hands of hon. Members to-morrow morning. [Mr. MUNDELLA: The first Order?] The first Order. The hon. Member for Sheffield will find, on studying the Parliamentary forms of our Constitution, that every legitimate means will be offered for obtaining what he wishes without my interfering to assist him.

Motion agreed to. Bill to make provision for giving further powers to the Board of Trade for stopping Unseaworthy Ships, ordered to be brought in by Sir CHARLES AUDERLEY, Mr. DISRAELI, and Mr. CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER.

Bill presented, and read the first time. [Bill 274.]