§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Sir Charles Adderley.)
§ MR. MONK
, who had given Notice that he would move an Amendment, to the effect that no measure would satisfy the just expectations of the country which did not contain efficient provisions against the overloading or improperly loading vessels about to proceed to sea, said, he did not so much complain of the Bill for what it contained as for what it did not contain. Everyone must have sympathized with the President of the Board of Trade, when the painful necessity of withdrawing the Merchant Shipping Bill was forced upon him by the Government. He did not blame the right hon. Gentleman; but he did blame the Cabinet, in which, unfortunately, the Board of Trade was not directly represented. He was very sorry to see a temporary measure of that nature introduced, for he considered the provisions of the Bill to be wholly inadequate to the requirements of the case. Persons quite as competent as the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade to form an opinion maintained that a compulsory load line was essential for the safety of merchant vessels, and 226 he would ask him whether it was not possible that, under the Bill, some provisions should be made for the fixing of such a load line for each vessel by some competent authority? As Notices of Amendments to that effect had been given, he should not move his Resolution, and should give his support to the second reading.
§ MR. BATES
I rise, Sir, alike with regret and reluctance—regret that the hon. junior Member for Derby (Mr. Plimsoll), when he had the opportunity, did not come forward and acknowledge that he had done me a grievous wrong. My maxim through life has been, when I found, either from intemperance of language or ignorance, I had done another wrong, to take the earliest opportunity of acknowledging my error and asking forgiveness. Had the hon. Member for Derby followed that course yesterday, I should not have been necessitated to ask your permission to put the Question on the Paper which I have read from my place to-day—namely, that the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister would, on the part of the Government, assent to my request to grant me a Select Committee to inquire into the truth or falsehood of charges or allegations brought against me as a shipowner and a man, in order that you, Sir, the House of Commons, and the whole world can decide Aye or No as to my fitness longer to occupy the proud position of a seat in this House. I will take this opportunity of expressing my grateful thanks to the right hon. Gentleman for his answer to my request, and also for the kindly expressions he has used towards myself, and I may assure the right hon. Gentleman that in the result he will find that, although I am aware he has only a very poor supporter in me as far as making myself heard in debate is concerned, yet he has a truthful one, and one whom he may safely add to his already other numerous Friends in the House. I said, Sir, I rose with reluctance, and that is because yesterday week I asked the indulgence of hon. Members while I said a few words in reply to the attack made upon me without any warning or notice of any kind by the hon. junior Member for Derby, and which was so cheerfully conceded to me by the House. Sir, I am obliged again to-day to ask the same indulgence, and I trust before I sit down hon. Members will consider I have not 227 asked this unreasonably. When I made the statement I did on Thursday last, I was not prepared to answer the charges so fully as I could have wished, and simply for this reason—that from the period I first had the honour to appear here as one of the Representatives of the good people of the borough of Plymouth, I have devoted my time to their service, and taken no active management whatever in my business affairs. I do not make this statement with a view of shirking any responsibility; just the reverse; for I fully confirm every action of those I left in my place; and if I had to do the work over again, I should just act as they had done. They are, Sir—I am proud to say it—my sons. I have alluded to these matters for the purpose of showing hon. Members that I was hardly in a position on Thursday week last to reply so fully as I now can do to the statement made by the hon. junior Member for Derby, and to repel, not only by my own assertions, but by proof of documents that I hold in my hand, a statement that I hesitate not to designate as cruel, unwarranted, and untruthful. First, Sir, I would correct a slight inaccuracy in what I said last Thursday week—namely, that I had lost five of the six ships named by the hon. Member for Derby in the years 1873, 1874, and 1875. Since that day I have learnt that, although one of the ships left England in June, 1873, yet she left Calcutta early in 1874. On her return, therefore, she could not have been lost in 1873. However, I think this is immaterial. The ships were lost in 1874 or 1875. I also stated that the six ships named were classed Al. They were so classed; but, in addition to this, I find four of the six were also classed double A 1 in Lloyd's Register, three of them with a star, and which denotes they were constructed of heavier or stronger material than required by Lloyd's rules. I have taken the particulars of each ship from the certificates kindly furnished me by the secretaries to the classification committees, and to whom I am indebted; for, as hon. Members will understand, the originals of these documents were all lost in the respective ships; and, with the permission of the House, I will occupy their time only a few moments longer by reading these particulars. The Melbourne, iron ship, 1,636 tons register, was classed* AA 1 in Lloyd's, with the 228 special star denoting being heavier plated than the rules of Lloyd's require, also classed A1 20 years in the Liverpool Surveyors' or Underwriters' Book, as shown by the duplicate certificate now in my hand—she was specially surveyed by Lloyd's in Dundee in June, 1873, as also shown by the duplicate certificate now in my hand. This ship sailed, I believe, in June, 1873, for Calcutta direct, and, if I am not mistaken, sailed again from Calcutta for London in January, 1874, along with two other vessels of equally high class, one of which also belonged to me—namely, the William Fairbairn. This vessel put into the Mauritius a wreck. The other two were never heard of. The Tethys, iron ship, 1,219 tons register,* AA 1 at Lloyd's, built under special survey and classed with the star, denoting extra strength, also classed A 1 in red in the Liverpool Book, as shown by the official certificate I now hold in my hand—this ship was specially surveyed by Lloyd's in London on the 24th February, 1874, and sailed for Sydney with a general cargo in March, 1874; arrived at Sydney, all well; loaded a cargo of coal for San Francisco, and sailed sometime about August; was never heard of afterwards, and whether lost in 1874 or 1875 no one can say positively. The Euxine, iron ship, 1,594 tons register, classed A 1 in the Liverpool Book for 20 years, and continued for eight years as first-class—this ship loaded a cargo of coals in the Tyne in June, 1874, for the Peninsular and Oriental Company, sailed a few days afterwards along with two other iron ships, and one wooden ship. The Euxine and the two other iron ships of the highest class were burnt at sea about the same time and about the same place; the wooden ship arrived at her destination, Bombay. The Nora Greame, iron ship, of 1,001 tons register, classed A 1 20 years in the Liverpool Book, as per certificate I hold in my hand, specially surveyed in October, 1874, as shown by this certificate, loaded a cargo of coals and sailed shortly afterwards, was spoken or seen off Madeira, all well, and never heard of afterwards; whether lost in 1874 or 1875 no one can ever say. The Foundling, iron ship, 1,186 tons register, classed AA1 in Lloyd's, as shown by the duplicate official certificate from Lloyd's I have here, and also classed at Liverpool, and specially surveyed by 229 Lloyd's on the 14th of September, 1874, as also shown in the official document, loaded a cargo of coal, sailed from Liverpool in June, 1874, and was burnt at sea in November, and has been repeatedly seen and reported as being still afloat, but, of course, a mere shell. The Sydney Dacres, iron ship, 1,380 tons register, classed at Lloyd's* AA 1, built under special survey, as shown by the official document I hold in my hand, and which also shows she was specially surveyed in February, 1874, she is also classed in the Liverpool Book A 1 20 years, in red. This ship sailed from Liverpool, I think, for California, arrived there safely, loaded a cargo of wheat for Liverpool, was abandoned off the Skelligs, West Coast of Ireland, in February, 1875, afterwards picked up by tugs sent for her, and brought to Liverpool, discharged her cargo, rudder replaced, and all damage made good by Messrs. Laird Brothers, and is now on her voyage again to California. It was necessary this ship should be valued in her damaged state, in order to ascertain for the salvors the value of the property saved. For this purpose the salvors appointed one valuer, and the owners for account of underwriters appointed the other valuer. Ultimately, they agreed for the purposes of the suit that the value in her damaged state was £14,000 odd. The ship was only insured for £12,000. Consequently, I submit that the only mode I have of proving what I stated the other night—namely, as to my mode of insurance—is that one out of the six ships condemned by the hon. junior Member for Derby was providentially not lost—and that in her damaged state she was valued at £2,400 odd more than insured for, and that when repaired and made ready for sea she was worth £6,000 more than she was, or now is, on her present voyage insured for. Now, Sir, I come to a vital point—the insurance. The six ships named by the hon. junior Member for Derby were insured for no less and no more when ready for sea with stores and provisions on board for 12 months than £64,000. The ships registered 8,016 tons, which gives £7 19s. 11d. per ton, and, as already said, all classed A 1 20 years. But I find that four of the six were also classed in Lloyd's A* A 1; three of them with the extra*. I hold in my hand an affidavit from the Admi- 230 ralty brokers—sworn to before the magistrates on the 26th of July, 1875, stating that the six ships alluded to by the hon. junior Member for Derby were worth in the market £105,235, or £13 2s. 6d. per ton; consequently, at the time of sailing they were uninsured to the extent of £41,235. Now, it is not every shipowner that dare make such an admission. All shipowners have not been blessed with the world's gear to the extent that I have been. But, Sir, though poor, there are many honest ones, I know; aye, Sir, and as good as the best of us. But, Sir, what might have been the result, if such an one had been attacked as I have been? Why, if he had stated probably the truth regarding his losses, his credit would have gone, and he would have been ruined. If he had not proved his loss by the loss of his ships, he would have been condemned by such a statement as made by the hon. Member for Derby. I trust, Mr. Speaker, I have made this matter clear to you and hon. Members. I trust I have proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the accusation brought against me by the hon. junior Member for Derby is as unjust as it is untrue, and in con-elusion I have only to thank hon. Members for allowing me to make this statement, and to say that I have made it from original documents now in my hand, and I beg every hon. Member to do me the favour to examine and compare them.
§ MR. PLIMSOLL
said, that when silence was desirable and seemed likely to facilitate the progress of the Bill brought in by the Government to remedy the state of things which existed in the Merchant Marine, he observed silence. On the present occasion, however, it appeared to him that a short statement on the subject of the Bill before the House would not hinder Business, but would rather facilitate it and leave them in a much better position to deal with the matter in Committee than they would be in if he forebore addressing the House. He could assure the House that he had read the Bill with the utmost possible pleasure, because it appeared to him that if the clauses of which his hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. E. J. Peed) had given Notice were adopted, they would form just the other half of the measure, for the matter as it now stood before the 231 House seemed like a steam-engine with-out a governor. The Bill would entrust extraordinary powers to men utterly irresponsible, who would have to some extent to work in the dark, or on inaccurate information—sometimes, perhaps, capriciously. If, however, the Amendments of his hon. Friend were adopted, the officers in question would know exactly what they were doing, and would exercise their enormous powers with wisdom and discretion. It was very desirable that the gentlemen for that highly responsible position should be first-class men, and they should be selected with the utmost discrimination, and should exercise their powers with the utmost caution. They should be gentlemen of position who would hold their own against the shipowners, and not such persons as many of the present surveyors, people of no weight in the ports, and who had no authority over the shipowners, and who were sometimes carried off to sea and put on a boat in mid-ocean to find their way home as best they could. He was encouraged to hope the proper men would be appointed by the names which were on the back of the Bill, for he noticed with great pleasure that the Premier and the Chancellor of the Exchequer were jointly sponsors with the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Board of Trade for the measure. It would be necessary that he should, with the leave of the House, make a few remarks as to the present position of the Mercantile Marine. It had not always been what it was now. It was in a very bad position in 1839 and the previous years. In the year he had named, however, a Select Committee was appointed to inquire, and they found the state of things so bad that on their Report a Bill was brought in by the Government and passed into an Act the same Session to remedy certain evils connected with the Mercantile Marine. That Act was passed for one year, and was re-enacted in 1840. It was again re-enacted in 1843, after inquiry by a Royal Commission. In both cases it was found that the losses were less than in previous years, more especially as regarded timber-laden ships, where the number of the losses was reduced from 56 to 23, with the saving of 200 lives of seamen. In no one instance was it found that any of those horrible cases stated in the Report of the Committee 232 of 1839, as to the crews being reduced to the necessity of existing on the remains of their comrades, had occurred. This measure was re-enacted and extended in 1853, but then came a change to which it was necessary to refer. In or about 1847 a powerful agitation prevailed to break down monopoly in the interests of the public. A great number of persons became so enamoured of Free Trade and freedom of commerce that in the course they had adopted they disregarded the spirit of those who had originated the agitation and clung to the latter merely, and, under the name of Free Trade, allowed merchants and shih-owners to do as they liked—forgetful of the objects of those who had first advocated Free Trade and to the changes which had since proved so beneficial. It was in no unkind spirit that he referred to the course taken by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham in opposing the Factory Acts when they were first brought before that House. The right hon. Gentleman, however, was a statesman and possessed large sympathies, and was not ashamed subsequently to avow that he had been mistaken in adopting that course. But there were other smaller men of shallower capacity who were not so easily impressed by the circumstances, and one of those unfortunately acquired considerable power in one of the administrative Departments of the Government; and in 1862 the legislation, the effects of which he had described, was swept away without notice to the public. He had turned to the debates upon the subject, and he found, that with the exception of a word or two uttered by the then President of the Board of Trade in the House of Commons, on leave to bring in a Bill, no word of reference was made to such a vital change in the law. Yet he might say, without exaggeration, that it might be computed that nearly 20,000 of Her Majesty's subjects had been drowned in consequence of that night's work in the House, when a Schedule of the Act passed in silence, and, probably, nearly £30,000,000 of property had gone to the bottom of the sea. He could not trust himself to speak of that in any terms whatever at that moment. In the Autumn of 1872, in Montreal, there was a law passed prohibiting the loading of grain in bulk, but the penalty for infringing that was only 233 $40. Several large steamers thus loaded went to sea, and all were lost. In the early part of 1873 the Minister of Marine brought into the House of Commons there a Bill, by which the penalty was raised to $800, and ships were absolutely prohibited from sailing in that condition, and the consequence had been that in the last two winters not one grain laden ship from Montreal had come to grief, and not one either from that port laden with timber. Shortly after similar action was taken by Boston and New York, and from those two ports not one vessel was reported missing during the winters of 1873 and 1874. What he would ask the House to do with the Bill was to restore that salutary law, and to put them back into the position in which it was shown that legislation saved nearly two-thirds of the losses which then afflicted the country. Before concluding what he had to say upon this point, he would point out that the extra cost to the shippers from loading grain cargoes in bags instead of in bulk was only 6d. per quarter, subject to a reduction by the sale of the bags on arrival. The Bill which had been introduced by the Government was intended to endure for one year only, and he thought, therefore, that it might be safely supplemented by the Amendments which would be proposed by the hon. Member for Pembroke, which were necessary to prevent overloading, which was recognized as being a serious source of loss. The experience of the Indian Government on the point was most valuable, as it showed that where a freeboard of three inches for every foot of immersion was required, out of 200 ships per annum employed, there had been only a loss of two, which had been destroyed by fire. It would be necessary to have a load line introduced into the Bill, for this reason—that though the surveyors might prevent ships from going from their own ports in an improper position, they could not do so when loading abroad. Since so much attention had been paid to this matter, the loss of outward-bound ships had much decreased, whilst the losses of homeward-bound vessels had much increased. Many of them came with such a cargo across the Bay of Biscay that the wonder was how they got home at all. That fact simplified the action of the House very much, because it could adopt the identical 234 words of the clauses in the old Act, which would give them firm ground under their feet. Now, as to the survey of unclassed ships. It might be enlarged a little, as the Bill was only for 12 months, with great advantage, he thought. In Lloyd's List there were 15,000 ships, of which 7,000 were un-classed, and 2,654 of the unclassed ships had forfeited their class for lack of repairs. He would ask the Government to take power, at any rate, to survey them during the 12 months. Was there any reason whatever to suppose that the hidden history of ships was different now from what it was years ago? What was the state of things in former times? From a Parliamentary Blue Book, which could not be called sensational, he found that in a ship called the Lucy, after 19 days' privation, only two of the crew were left alive. In another case the crew were left without water or provisions until reduced to the necessity of sacrificing four of their number by lot for the preservation of the rest. In the Earl of Kellie the second mate and two men were reported to be starved to death; and in the Caledonia, two who were reported to be near death had their throats cut for the sake of their blood. In another, four bodies were found under the maintop all dead, with part of one of their comrades hung up, as if in a butcher's shop. In the Anna Maria, part of the leg of a woman was found, which had evidently served the crew for food. Probably, while he was addressing the House, similar scenes of horror and suffering were occurring. On the whole, he thought that he had made out his case, and had shown the necessity which existed for fresh legislation on this subject, and for the adoption of the additional clauses which would be proposed to be added by the hon. Member for Pembroke to the Government Bill in Committee. Before the lapse of the ensuing year, he was satisfied that the House would be in possession of such evidence on the subject as would make them grieve that the question had not been more effectually dealt with years and years ago. He would repeat that such scenes as he had alluded to were going on now, probably at that very moment; and he asked the House to stop them. By doing so, they would stop an enormous loss of life; and while he would rather appeal on this 235 subject to the love of man in man's heart, it was not to be forgotten that it was a question involving also the safety of millions of property. In conclusion, he would ask the House to put down their foot firmly upon any attempt to kill the proposals of the Government by talking against time. [Ministerial Cheers.] The shipowners had known, more or less, that the state of things he had attempted to describe had all the while existed, but they had never opened their mouths to ask for any legislation on the subject. No sooner, however, was legislation attempted—he spoke in general terms—than they invariably talked the remedial proposals to death, with the view of obstructing any reform. ["No, no!"] Was not that true? ["No, no!"] He said, and maintained, that it was true; but he would not enlarge upon the point, for the cheer which had been raised satisfied him that the House was in no temper to tolerate conduct of that kind. He would say no more, but merely thank the House for the attention with which they had listened to him.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
observed that whatever might already have been the merits of the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Plimsoll) in the eyes of his countrymen, it might fairly be said that he had added to his claims upon their gratitude by the manner in which he had conducted himself, not only in his speech on the present occasion, but throughout the whole of the discussions in the course of the Session on the subject of Merchant Shipping. Instead of striving to thrust himself or his own measure before the notice of the House and occupying time unnecessarily by an exposition of his views, he had ever been ready, when he could, to give way to the proposals of others, so that, whether it was by one hand or by another, the great object to which he had devoted himself might be forwarded. The hon. Member was deserving of gratitude, not only for the services he had rendered in connection with the proposals before the House, but also for the example he had set of the spirit in which they ought all to proceed, and of the truth which he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) thought ought to be impressed upon the minds of all public men—that they should all be more anxious that the right thing should be 236 done than that any particular person or party should have the credit of it. No one could deny that the hon. Member, by the energy and ability with which he had pressed this matter for some years upon the public, had done much to bring it into the prominence which it now occupied; and whatever might be the ultimate legislation on the subject, and by whomsoever the Bill might have been framed, the name of the hon. Gentleman would be inseparably associated with that legislation. But it must be remembered that this was a question upon which there was no real difference of opinion as to the objects to be attained, and, moreover, that whatever had been the exertions and services of the hon. Member for Derby, he had neither been the only one, nor the first who had laboured in the same cause. The hon. Member had himself recalled to their memory the course of inquiry and legislation on this matter which had distinguished the last 30 or 40 years, and while he was referring to the Committee of 1843, he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) could not help remembering that his first official work had been to prepare an analysis of Reports of the evidence placed before that Committee, for the use of his right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich, who was at the time Vice President of the Board of Trade. He could well remember also the interest which the Report of that Committee excited. The hon. Gentleman was quite right in saying that the evidence brought forward on that occasion produced a great impression, and that it led to legislation. It led to a valuable Report, and it led to legislation founded on that Report. Indeed, almost, if not quite, every recommendation of that Committee was ultimately adopted, and now formed part of the legislation of this country. Examinations of masters and mates, a new system of inquiry into losses by wreck, the establishment of sailors' homes—these and a large number of other matters which were then brought for the first time under the notice of Parliament had been carried into effect. From time to time since then there had been improvements made by legislation in the means of preserving life at sea, and in the condition of the Merchant Shipping generally. The question of overloading, which so very much inte- 237 rested the hon. Member for Derby, bad been frequently under consideration, and his noble Friend (Lord Hampton), then a Member of that House, took a very deep interest in it. If he mistook not, the hon. Member for Derby and Lord Hampton had been in communication on this subject at a very early date. The subject was, as he had said, one on which they were all agreed, and their desire was to provide proper remedies. They also admitted that there did exist—in spite of all that had been done—in spite of all their exertions, Royal Commissions, and Acts of Parliament—in spite also of all the efforts of the administrative Departments—he said they admitted that there did exist many evils which it was most desirable they should attempt to remedy. He would not go into questions of statistics. He had heard statements—which, perhaps, were somewhat exaggerated—as to the loss of life which occurred. Very wide figures had been mentioned, and it might be possible to show that they were not at all accurate. But the fact was he had lived too long among statistics to attach the value to them which some people were disposed to do, and whether the figure was 5,000 or 6,000, or whether it was 2,000—which was, perhaps, the more accurate calculation—if there was any considerable number of our fellow-subjects who lost their lives from causes which it was in the power of Parliament to prevent, it was their duty to exert themselves to find a remedy to save those lives, no matter what the numbers might be, and not to relax their efforts till they had done whatever it was possible for them to do. They had to consider, of course, how far the causes which undoubtedly did conduce to this melancholy state of things were removable, and how far, especially, they were removable by legislation. A very large proportion of the loss of life at sea arose, as they were well aware, from causes which could not be touched by any legislation of the character proposed by the hon. Member or by any of the Amendments which had been put on the Paper with reference to the present Bill. They talked of the classification of ships, of the survey of ships, of overloading, of grain cargoes in bulk, and so forth; but a very large proportion of the lives that were lost were the lives of passengers conveyed in ships which had been well 238 surveyed, which were in a sound condition, and which either were classed or stood so high that if classed they would rank among the very best. There was, he repeated, a very large proportion of human life which was necessarily exposed to danger at sea, and much loss of life unfortunately occurred from causes with which, as he had said, legislation was powerless to deal. But, nevertheless, there were matters with which legislation had dealt, and might deal, and no doubt the actual condition of ships, the soundness of their materials, the correctness of their construction, and the circumstances in which they were allowed to put to sea in regard to equipment, loading, &c, were points which Parliament might very properly take up. But deal with them how they might—deal with them by any system of rules which might be embodied in an Act of Parliament, or by any powers which might be entrusted to a Department—they might depend upon it that something more was necessary in order to meet the difficulties of each and every case. If they relied upon the words of an Act of Parliament, they would leave themselves open to very great mischiefs which they might think they had prevented, but which they would not be able to prevent. The only way in which they could really hope to deal effectually with these matters was by evoking the aid of the owners of ships and those who had the management and control of them. No doubt, they must be watched by a proper Department, and whatever Parliament could advantageously do by means of legislation they ought to do; but whatever they did, they must take care not to weaken the responsibility of the persons to whom he had referred. Now, the object of the Government in the Bill which was introduced at the beginning of the present Session was to improve the provisions of the law for the purpose of enforcing the responsibility of the shipowners, and for the purpose of aiding in the work which they did. But when they came to deal with a question of this sort it was found to be very complicated and difficult. It required to be approached with ample knowledge—it required to be approached with temper, with time, and with patience. In this, above all other questions, time must be given for a full development of the views of all persons concerned, and 239 for a fair representation of the consequences which must result from the proposed legislation. No doubt, it had been a great advantage to the Government in framing the Bill to have the assistance of the valuable Report of the Royal Commission by which this subject had been considered. But no Report of a Royal Commission could take the place of discussions in Parliament. A Report of a Royal Commission could not be challenged in the same way as the clauses of a Bill, which put the recommendations into a practical shape, which were examined by all the persons whom they affected, and in discussing which it might appear that unexpected consequences would flow from the legislation, and that difficulties not before appreciated had to be overcome. He was bound to say—speaking entirely from the impression made upon his own mind—that the difficulties of the task had grown on him as the discussion of the subject proceeded in the House. And not only was that so, but also the necessity was brought home to him of going a little further in one particular direction than the Bill of the Government proposed to do. That particular direction in which he saw that discussion showed they would have to proceed in the future was in the direction of dealing with the great question of insurance. We might do what we would in the way of enforcing penalties, but by legislation, depend upon it, we should not get at the motives of the shipowners—at the motives of those who were sometimes exposed to temptations, though sometimes they might have acted from carelessness. The aim of Parliament, therefore, should be in every possible way to strengthen the interest of shipowners in taking care of their ships and their seamen. Of course, the shipowners of England were like the rest of their country-men, men of high feeling and generous impulses, and as a body were as anxious as men could be for the welfare and safety of the crews whom it was their pride to have at their command. But, at the same time, we knew they were exposed to great temptations in times of pressure, and it was only too possible from time to time there might be found among them "black sheep," as they had been called the other day—men who brought disgrace on their occupation. But it should be borne in mind that as 240 long as we attempted to deal with this matter provisionally, and only by legislation, we were trying to regulate a great business by discussions in this House conducted by persons, a very small minority of whom alone had a practical acquaintance with the subject—persons who could not avoid being influenced by feelings most honourable, most humane, and most creditable, but which interfered with calmness of judgment, and who might be disposed to look with suspicion upon objections taken by those who understood the subject, as if they were prompted by interested motives in raising them, but who, at the same time, might be perfectly incapable of doing anything wrong. It was exceedingly probable that in such a case Parliament might be betrayed into laying down regulations not only of an insufficient character, but the very insufficiency of which might lead to mischief in another direction. It should be remembered that this was a business carried on in keen competition with foreigners; a business of the highest national interest and importance; and a business in which, if a man knew he was stopped from doing something which he believed he might safely have done, he would be under a great temptation to do something else which he knew to be dangerous, but which Parliament had not yet found out, so as by law to prohibit. If, for instance, Parliament said, "Such shall be the mode of loading," but had omitted to notice something else which it could not be expected to find out, would not the ship-owner naturally say—"Oh, if Parliament has not found out this, there is less objection to my doing it; for I am free to do what I know to be for my own interest?" Therefore, the real object of Parliament should be, if possible, to get at the motive of the shipowner, endeavouring to reach him through that, and supplementing it by such regulations as might seem fit. But that was a task of the greatest delicacy and difficulty, and it was one which ought not to be undertaken at the fag-end of a Session with a jaded House. The more ready people were to make sacrifices of their time—and the House would always be anxious to make such sacrifices—the more fear there was of being betrayed into something dangerous from the very anxiety and precipitancy by which they were actuated. He would say, then, he 241 was convinced, though the Government might be exposed to taunts and criticisms, that, upon the whole, under the circumstances in which they found themselves, they exercised a wise discretion—at all events an honest discretion—in endeavouring to put off this delicate, difficult, and important legislation to the next Session with the firm determination to take it up in the proper spirit at the very beginning of the Session. But the immediate question was with reference to the Bill before the House, and on that subject he could only say it was a Bill which proposed to meet what might be called an exigency, and as far as possible to provide for objects which had to be provided for at the present moment. It was, after all, a Bill which did not go further in principle than the Acts which Parliament passed a year or two ago, especially the Act of 1873. It followed the lines of the Act of 1873 which hon. Gentlemen opposite had the credit of passing, and which he believed to be a most valuable Act. It had been shown by the experience of the last year or two to be most effective in stopping some kinds of mischief, and it might be more so as time went on, should it be taken as the basis of legislation for giving greater powers to the officers of the Board of Trade. It might be said that this was entrusting great powers to irresponsible and untried men. His right hon. Friend when he announced that he would bring in this Bill made an apology to the House for asking for so much power. He said his reason for asking for a temporary measure only was that they were going to ask for powers which Parliament might have refused to grant to them in perpetuity. The Government admitted that they were assuming a very great responsibility, and that the President of the Board of Trade and his staff were taking on themselves a most difficult and important duty. But they trusted to the indulgence of Parliament and of the country and to the assistance of those who were able to aid them in this task which they had thought it right to undertake. If the Government were asked how far those who might be employed would be competent for the duty to be entrusted to them, they might, at all events, point to the success which had so far attended the working of the Act of 1873, and to the fact that the men employed had been 242 able to do a great deal of good work. They could say that the men employed under that Act had made comparatively few mistakes, for his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade had stated that out of 558 merchant ships which were stopped, 515 were found to be stopped rightly, while there were others which were still in question, and with regard to some 50 or 60 stopped for being improperly loaded, not one had been shown to have been stopped improperly. Therefore, the Government did say with some confidence that they would entrust such men as they could find to carry on this business with such instructions and superintendence as the Government could afford. But it was not only to the staff of the Board of Trade at present that they would look; they would also look to others for aid. And here he might state that they had received from Lloyd's assurances of the most encouraging character; that they were ready to place their services at the disposal of the Government, and give what assistance they could in carrying the Act into effect. When the House got into Committee it might be necessary to consider whether any provisions should be made in order to guard against possible abuses of the power proposed to be given to the crew of objecting in certain cases to go to sea. Nobody wished to encourage anything in the nature of vexatious or frivolous complaints. Under the present law, that was a difficulty which would have to be met; and if it was thought necessary to introduce any words to meet the case of frivolous and vexatious complaints, the Government would be ready to deal with the matter. With regard to other points, he felt quite sure that the spirit which had animated the House in the discussion which had been held would still prevail. There was another subject on which he wished to make a remark. The Bill of the Government was confined to an important, but very narrow object. It related only to the power to stop un-seaworthy ships going out of this country. Still, that went a good way, because by the term "unseaworthy ships" they did not mean ships only which had leaks or were of very bad materials; the words would apply to cases of overloading or improper loading. Therefore, in respect to deck cargoes, as regarded ships going out from this 243 country, the Board of Trade would have ample power to exercise all the authority necessary. But, undoubtedly, there was another side to the question upon which stress had been laid and upon which the Bill did not touch, but which the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. E. J. Reed) proposed to deal with. He alluded to the questions of deck load and carriage of grain in bulk, the question of load line, survey, and other points. There was also the question of the imprisonment of seamen. Now, he proposed to distinguish between those questions. Some of them related to matters which would involve the House in long discussions on very intricate subjects, which, in his opinion, would inevitably affect the progress of the measure. He would join, if he might venture to say so, his appeal to that of the hon. Member for Derby that they should conduct their discussions on this Bill in such a manner as to secure that that which they were determined on passing should pass quickly. Therefore he would say, on the part of the Government, that they would deprecate the introduction into this measure of provisions which would be likely to lead to questions of difficulty and complication. If the door were opened to the questions raised by the notices, it would be difficult to close it against other debatable questions. Amongst those questions was that of the load line, and without pronouncing an opinion, for he did not feel himself competent to do so, as to the propriety of attempting to fix a load line, it was one which would lead to long discussions on points of very great difficulty, and one which he should be exceedingly sorry to see introduced into the question of the Bill upon the present occasion. He observed that, in reality, what was proposed would take the shape of leaving it to the discretion of some Commission or public Department to fix a load line, and when they looked at the proposals that were made, at their diversity, at the fact that the hon. Member for Derby did not propose that his Bill should take effect before the 1st of January next, and at all the circumstances, he thought there would be a general concurrence of opinion on the part of a majority of the House that it would be unwise to complicate their proceedings by introducing the load line question. "With regard to other questions he would admit there was some 244 difference. There were the questions of deck cargoes and grain in bulk. As to those matters it would be premature at that present moment to express the final views of the Government upon proposals which might be made; but this he was prepared to say on behalf of the Government, that they considered, looking to the importance of those questions, the interest which they had excited, and the manner in which the hon. Member for Derby had conducted his campaign in the matter, that it would be in accordance with the feelings of the House and just to the hon. Member, while it would not be disadvantageous generally, that they should give a fair opportunity for the discussion of those portions of the question. Unless they assented to some part of the Instruction proposed, the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. E. J. Reed) would be precluded in Committee from submitting his clauses, and as they did not desire to preclude those considerations they would be prepared to admit an Instruction which would allow clauses upon those points of deck cargoes and grain in bulk to be discussed, excluding on the other hand questions of load line and survey, and provisions with regard to the imprisonment of seamen. But to avoid misconception of the views of the Government he must add that they were not prepared off-hand to adopt the suggestions of the hon. Member for Pembroke. Deck cargoes were a subject of anxious consideration at the time to which the hon. Member for Derby had referred, and the painful Report from which extracts had been read was then before Parliament; and it had ever since been a question which had from time to time attracted public attention. He could not at that moment remember upon what ground the repeal of the Act took place in 1854; but his impression was that the provisions were repealed because they were found to be unworkable. The hon. Member for Derby said provisions had been made which had checked, and almost extinguished, the abuse of grain cargoes in the Atlantic trade, and he said we ought to legislate in the same direction, because those provisions had been attended with such excellent results. But did not hon. Members at once perceive the difference between the two cases? The legislation to which the hon. Member alluded was adopted at the port of export and by the 245 country of export; and it was the action of the exporting country which must be called into operation in order to deal with those evils. Nothing could be more creditable than the course that had been taken in the matter by the Canadian Government and the great body of under-writers of New York, and they had had their reward, for he had just been told that since those regulations as to shipping grain in bulk came into force the rate of insurance on grain cargoes from San Francisco to this country had fallen from five guineas to 45s. a-ton, showing where action was taken by those who were interested the truth of the observation of the hon. Member for Derby, that proper legislation and provisions would add to the wealth of the country, as well as to the safety of our seamen. But that action, as he had said, had been taken by the exporting country; and they had a much more difficult and delicate task to deal with. How were they to regulate grain cargoes in this country? They could not by legislation here ensure the adoption of proper regulations for shipping grain at Odessa. [Mr. PLIMSOLL: Yes.] They might resolve to punish those who had infringed such regulations when they came to this country; but were they to touch the ship which came across, or the ship that did not? If the ship came across with safety it would be found very hard and difficult to punish the man who had brought his ship over in safety; and if they sought to punish the man whose ship had been lost, where were they to get the evidence? They would find that they were entering upon a most delicate and difficult task; and although he did not say the subject was not worthy of consideration, or that they were not prepared to entertain and discuss proposals which might be made by Gentlemen whose authority was very great in matters of the kind, he guarded himself and the Government against its being supposed that they were insensible to the difficulties of the question, or that they were prepared to adopt the proposals which might be made. But they would consider them. They did not wish to shut them out. Unfortunately, he did not hear the Notice given by the hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Rathbone), but he knew he had paid great attention to the subject, and his suggestion might afford some solution of the difficulty. All that the Government de- 246 sired was that the question should be as fairly, as fully, and as frankly discussed as possible. They were prepared to give their best energies and their best time to the consideration of it; and from the feeling of the House he thought they might close the Session with a measure which, though far from complete, would be really a step forward, and with pledges given of a material character for a thorough dealing with, and a sifting of, the question in the next Session of Parliament. There was only one other point to which he wished to allude—he meant the Amendment of which Notice had been given by the hon. and learned Member for Durham (Mr. Herschell). It was an Amendment which was strictly germane to the purposes of the Bill, and one which the Government would have been willing to adopt if their Merchant Shipping Bill had proceeded. That Amendment made it penal for any ship-owner or any other person to send, or take part in sending, an unseaworthy ship to sea. They heard, in the Answer given to the hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Evelyn Ashley) yesterday, that in one respect the present law had been ineffective; and they believed that the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for Durham would meet the difficulty. At all events, they were prepared to accept it; and they were grateful to the hon. and learned Member for the assistance he had lent them in the matter. That was the position in which they stood. They regretted exceedingly that they had not been able to go on with more complete legislation that year. But he must say for himself that he should prefer the matter standing over to next year to attempting to pass a complete Bill and failing to do so; for if they passed a half-measure they would be stopped from taking it up again, as it would be held to have been disposed of in 1875. He believed they would come to the consideration of the matter next year with enlarged experience and increased determination to grapple with that difficult subject; and he believed that the small measure they were asking the House to adopt on the present occasion would be of use not only in averting some amount of misery and suffering during the coming winter, but as forming a foundation for future legislation.
§ MR. A. PEEL
said, he should not have taken any part in the debate had 247 he not been Secretary to the Board of Trade when the Acts of 1871, 1872, and 1873 were passed, which the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer now proposed to supplement by this temporary measure. He agreed with almost everything which had been said by the right hon. Gentleman, and, indeed, he should have found it difficult to disagree, because the speech of the right hon. Gentleman was couched in such general terms that he did not see the immediate application of it to the question now before the House. It was true that the right hon. Gentleman said the root of the evil was insurance; but they had agreed to defer that question until next Session, and they had now to deal with a specific remedy for a specific evil. He regretted that they were driven into a corner by the action of the Government, and had not sufficient elbow-room to go into the question fairly, as they might have done if the original Bill of the Government had been proceeded with, for they might have introduced Amendments which would have made it a satisfactory measure, and should not have run the risk which they had since incurred by dealing with a vital and important question in a state of excitement which was not conducive to its proper settlement. He wished to remind the House that the Act of 1873, which repealed former Acts and provisions, was an important one, as it comprised provisions dealing with nearly everything which could be found wrong in a ship, and amongst other things it enabled seamen on a charge of desertion to obtain compensation for any unnecessary detention, and it gave the Board of Trade power to stop ships for a variety of reasons, amongst them being over or improper loading. A weak point, however, was found in that Act. The Board of Trade had to act through the report of a surveyor, who was not competent to stop a ship, and the consequence was that it frequently incurred odium, if not ridicule, because in the interval between a report being sent by the surveyor and an order being made to stop the vessel to which it referred, the ship had sailed. The Government in proposing to remedy that defect had done a very good work. He was much gratified at the tone of the speech of the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Plimsoll) towards the Bill, but he expected nothing else, for he would 248 remind the House that that hon. Member had, at a trades union meeting in the country, stated that he felt satisfied with the action of the Board of Trade in stopping vessels which had been overloaded. The hon. Member claimed that there had been a wonderful decrease in overloading since he had taken the matter in hand, and he certainly was entitled to make that observation. He (Mr. A. Peel) hoped the Bill would be read a second time; but he also thought some of the Amendments upon the Notice Paper might be usefully introduced. The mere duration of the Act for a year was in itself no answer to the complaints of the shipping interest: but the evils were admitted, and he thought the Government might even go further than they had ventured to do. In regard to deck cargoes and the Act of 1839, the Chancellor of the Exchequer had not stated that it was only passed for a year, and that it was made permanent in 1840. This Bill was to meet an emergency. They would not probably come together again till the winter was well through, and without harassing the shipping interest, he thought it would be possible, following the course taken in 1839, to pass a stringent measure which would have the effect of preventing during the winter the acknowledged evils at present arising in the North Atlantic, especially from deck cargoes. He did not wish to speak without book on the question; but, in the Appendix to the Report of the Royal Commission the evidence of Mr. Fry, whose experience of the North Atlantic trade extended over 30 years, was quoted, to the effect that during the season of 1872, 62 large vessels sailing between the St. Lawrence and Great Britain were totally lost, and he said he was convinced that fully three-fourths of the losses of wood-laden ships in the North Atlantic trade were owing, directly or indirectly, to the practice of carrying deck cargoes. He did not wish to shut his eyes to the difficulties of legislating for deck loads, and there was much force in the inquiry of the right hon. Gentleman as to how they could punish a man whose ship had arrived in safety. But, knowing that great loss of life did result from the practice, it would be right to insist upon proper precautions. He thought, therefore, they could legislate now to prevent deck loading, if they 249 were convinced that a great loss of life took place in consequence of it. Under the Bill a large number of surveyors would have to be appointed all over the country. They would be entrusted with very difficult and responsible duties, and if he referred to an ominous clause in the Act of 1872, which imposed a penalty upon accepting bribes, it was only to point to the danger of appointing as surveyors men with a small salary, who would be open to temptation; while, on the other hand, they could only obtain experienced surveyors by paying them at a high rate for their services. He thought that the Bill would, on the whole, be satisfactory, and while he admitted that a much more stringent measure than the present one would harass an important and increasing trade, still if the Government could see their way to deal with deck loading in such a manner as would meet the difficulties during the ensuing winter, he felt sure that they would still further satisfy the expectations of the country.
§ LORD ESLINGTON
said, he must express his regret that in the calm and lucid statement of the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Plimsoll) he had not given utterance to some expression of regret for the language he had used with reference to the hon. Member for Plymouth (Mr. Bates.) "It was never too late to mend," and a blow having been inflicted which affected that hon. Gentleman's reputation in the most cruel manner, he would still hope that the hon. Member for Derby would offer some expression of his regret to the hon. Member for Plymouth. He wished to make a few remarks as to the course indicated by the Government, and to make some remarks as to the regulations which prevailed in the Dominion of Canada relative to the loading of grain ships, and the carrying of timber deck loads. He did not wish to check the impulse of the House to legislate in that direction, but the question was not without difficulty, and he would remind the House that at Montreal, the principal port for the exportation of grain, the conduct of the shipping was under the absolute superintendence of a gentleman who brought 50 years' experience to the work, and who had obtained an amount of public confidence which could hardly be expected to be given to the officers of the Board of Trade, The law there was that 250 every shipmaster preparing his ship for the carriage of corn should give notice to the superintendent or port warden, who took care that the dividing planks were properly fitted, and satisfied himself that the timber was properly seasoned and of a right description. These precautions were the result of a strict law, and therefore, in legislating on this subject on the spur of the moment, and in regard to cargoes shipped all over the world, they must not be too hopeful that their legislation would be all at once successful. No vessel leaving a Canadian port was allowed to have more than a certain quantity of grain without a bulkhead. These facts were ascertained and recorded by the harbour master. The House, however, must not be too sanguine in expecting the same results in legislating for cargoes shipped from ports all over the world. It was difficult to regulate the loading of grain ships from Russia, Turkey, and Egypt, for example, because our laws were inoperative in foreign ports. We could only proceed against those who had broken the law when they arrived at home, and we could merely empower our Custom House officers to initiate a prosecution. If, however, a ship arrived safely there would be great reluctance on the part of a jury to convict, and the success of the voyage would go a great way towards exculpating the shipowner. The House should remember that this was a trade on which millions of money depended, and if any restrictions were placed upon the importation of grain with the view of regulating it, they would have as loud an outcry against the arrival of ships bearing the people's food being impeded and restrained as they now had against overloading. Allusion had frequently been made to the number of ships that had passed off Lloyd's Register, and which, it was said, were to be numbered by thousands. The hon. Member for Derby spoke of these ships as having lost their class, and as being un-classed and unseaworthy. But many of these ships which passed off Lloyd's Register obtained classification from other societies; and it was to be presumed they only obtained such classification after survey. He would not vouch for the calculation; but he had heard it said that 60 per cent were registered in the books of the German Lloyd's and in other foreign registries, in every one of which 251 classification could only be obtained by survey. When a demand was made for the strict survey of ships, it seemed to be taken for granted that the trade was in the hands of great firms. But the chief trainers of our seamen were the small shipowners, and if their enterprize were checked the monopoly of the trade would be thrown into the hands of the large shipowners. Small shipowners carried on the greater part of the coasting trade, and they were, perhaps, the most skilful navigators in the world. The small ships were oftened owned and navigated by a man with the help of his own sons and nephews. The trade formed a noble nursery of seamen, and, on the whole, it was safely conducted, and the House should be very careful not to interfere with it. He should be glad if the Government would insert some protecting words in the clause empowering one-fourth of the crew to call for a survey and prevent a ship from going to sea. The ordinary crew of a vessel of 500 tons was eight men; and if two of them were foreigners, or chanced to be ill-conditioned men who came on board in a state of intoxication, it would be dangerous to give them the power of threatening the master with a survey. He was very glad to hear from his right hon. Friend that words would be inserted in the Bill to prevent frivolous attempts to obtain a survey of ships about to proceed to sea.
§ MR. E. J. REED
said, he was sure that hon. Members speaking on this subject would bear in mind that it should be discussed in view of the fact that they were approaching the end of the Session, and without any attempt or desire to gain an advantage over the Government. It should be discussed in a tone entirely free from Party bias, and they should rather support the Government, and not put any unnecessary obstruction in their way. He feared that the object and wish of hon. Members on that side of the House were alike misunderstood by the Government. They had no desire to impose upon the Government any precise regulation or form of words, but only to induce them, in view of the feeling prevailing outside the House, to go that length which was necessary to give satisfaction to the country, because it was the duty of a Government to do all that was necessary to maintain public tranquillity. The Government were bound to consider 252 what was most for the public benefit, but he regretted the very cautious and guarded speech which fell from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. ["No, no!"] The Government had introduced a Bill on this subject, which they saw fit to withdraw, and it was not till there had been a strong expression of public feeling that a temporary measure was introduced. He repeated that he had listened with regret to the exceedingly guarded nature of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. It was a speech well adapted to the introduction of a Bill at the commencement of a Session, but very badly adapted to the bringing in of a measure like that before the House at the end of a Session, and under the circumstances out of which it had arisen. When they were legislating on load lines and deck loads it was necessary to be very careful, but it was important to pass a measure which would cause satisfaction to the public. Notwithstanding all the guards with which the right hon. Gentleman had surrounded the subject, he (Mr. Reed) was glad that the Government in Committee would consider the question of grain cargoes and deck cargoes, and if they introduced clauses which would strike at the root of the evil their proposals would meet universal concurrence on that side of the House, and he, for one, did not care a single straw whether the words of the necessary Amendments were those of the President of the Board of Trade or those of which he had given Notice. He had, however, heard with much regret that the Government were not willing to entertain the questions of survey and load line during the present Session. They were thus about to act as though their own measure did not virtually involve the settlement of a load line for ships, and the consideration of whether ships were or were not seaworthy. A moment's reflection, however, would show that the measure must imply a definition of load line, and the question of soundness or unsoundness. Could the President of the Board of Trade or any agent acting for him lay hold of a ship on the ground that she was overloaded without defining the line beyond which she ought not to have been loaded? Assuredly not; and, therefore, what they asked, in the interest of trade and commerce and of the shipowners themselves, was that the Government 253 should not wait till a particular ship was overloaded, but should, in the first instance, tell the shipowner the point beyond which he could not safely load the vessel. That was a more business-like and statesmanlike proceeding than that the authorities should step in just at the moment when a ship was on the point of being sent to sea. He trusted, therefore, that Her Majesty's Government would by some form of words of their own, in Committee carry out that which was really involved in the Bill. The same argument applied to the question of soundness. The President of the Board of Trade could not stop a ship on the ground of unseaworthiness without being in a position to show that she was unseaworthy. Why, then, should not that also be done long before the vessel was ready to proceed to sea? There might be reasons against the course he suggested, but if there were, they were Departmental reasons—reasons arising out of the labour and duty the measure would throw upon the Board of Trade. But that was no sufficient argument against the proposal, because the Board of Trade existed for the purpose of performing those duties, and he believed the right hon. Gentleman opposite the President of the Board of Trade would be the last man to shrink from the exercise of a public duty of this nature. Although he had high authority for believing that the removing of obstructions from the Committee was not necessary in this case, yet he considered it only respectful to the Government to omit from his Instruction all mention of deck cargoes and the stowage of grain cargoes; but he would be false to the views he had expressed, and to the support he had received, if he did not raise the questions of survey and load line, and he should, therefore, alter his Notice in that sense. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had alluded to the fact that the Government were guided in the matter by the Report of the Royal Commissioners on Unseaworthy Ships. For his part, he believed, and firmly believed, that that Report lay at the root of the errors which the Government had committed. He gave them credit for having followed strictly the recommendations of the Report, but to show that those recommendations were wrong, he had only to point to what the Commis- 254 sioners had said as to load line. They said that undoubtedly the mere free-board of a ship was not a proper thing by which to define its safety, and further, that the surplus buoyancy of a ship above water was the proper thing, or as near to the proper thing as could be got at, to define the safety of a ship. Thus, for the very reason that the House would have adopted the term "surplus buoyancy," it had been avoided in the Report of the Committee, who had finessed with small considerations and had avoided broad ones, thereby leading the Government into the greatest difficulties. In fact, he believed the Government would have drawn a much better Bill without than with the Report. In his opinion, the facts to which he had referred demanded that the House should step somewhat out of the usual course, and should see whether they could not pass a measure which would give general satisfaction. His conviction was that there was such a disposition on the Opposition side of the House as would enable the Government, if they chose, to pass a measure that would be generally approved. The hon. Member for Hull (Mr. Norwood) had given a Notice of an Amendment with regard to the load line, which the Government would not be justified in rejecting, which went to the extent that the shipowner should be compelled to mark upon the side of his vessel such load line as he thought would fairly represent the carrying power of his ship. He believed that if the Government accepted the Amendment of his hon. Friend so that the Courts might be able to deal with them, in the event of any accident occurring, there would be no serious opposition to it. What had caused public agitation and resentment was, the fact that shipowners should go on overloading beyond all sense of decency and propriety; and what was asked for was not a scientific definition of a load line, but the fixing of a line beyond which it would be opprobrious to go. He trusted that the Government would receive in all sincerity what had fallen from hon. Members in Opposition as to their being a great disposition on their part to have concurrent action in this matter with a view to the passing of a measure which would give satisfaction to the country and meet the objects which all had at heart.
§ MR. BENTINCK
, in reference to the statement which had been made by the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Plimsoll), in apologizing to the House yesterday for the expressions he had used the previous week, said, he must express his surprise and regret that the hon. Member should not, either upon that occasion or when he rose to speak upon this Bill, have taken the opportunity of distinctly withdrawing the grave charges he had preferred against hon. Members of that House. He understood that the hon. Member, having preferred those charges, had not withdrawn them.
§ MR. PLIMSOLL
rose to Order. The hon. Member was discussing a subject that was not under the consideration of the House.
§ MR. BENTINCK
, continuing, said, he also regretted the fact that the hon. Member for Derby had not told them it was his intention to prosecute these charges. He (Mr. Bentinck) therefore hoped that the hon. Member for Plymouth would persevere in the course of which he had given Notice, and would move for a Committee, whose Report he hoped would entirely exonerate the latter from the charges made against him by the hon. Member for Derby, if they had not been already altogether refuted by the conclusive statements which had been made by the hon. Member for Plymouth to-day. He ventured to ask leave to say a few words with regard to this Bill, because it appeared to him that the further the House got into the subject the greater were the difficulties that had to be encountered, and the more hopeless did a settlement of the matter seem. With respect to grain loading, for instance, he was informed that loading corn in sacks would very much enhance its market price. The object of the House of Commons, stimulated as it was into action by the agitation now going on out-of-doors, was to prevent loss of life at sea; but it appeared to him that neither the original nor the present Bill of the Government, nor the Bill of the hon. Member for Derby, really touched the main causes of that loss of life. It had been said by the highest authority that upon a careful examination of the Wreck Register it was a question whether any legislation could have an appreciable effect in diminishing the loss of life at sea. In all 256 the three Bills he had referred to, it had been assumed that the loss of life at sea was mainly occasioned by the unseaworthiness of the ship; whereas that was, in reality, one of the minor causes of that loss. The main causes of the loss of life at sea were collisions, strandings, fires, shipping heavy seas, forcing quick passages, bad seamanship, icebergs, and floating wreck, none of which causes could be made subject to an Act of Parliament. There was another point which had to be considered in connection with the enormous loss of life. He meant the form of ships. A long ship propelled by steam would carry a large amount of cargo with comparatively a small amount of propelling power, and, therefore, she was a peculiarly profitable ship to send to sea for mercantile purposes. But that long ship when she fell in with bad weather ran an unusual risk of being lost. Scores and hundreds of vessels had gone down in stress of weather simply because they had been built out of all reasonable proportion. But was the House to be asked to deal with the form of ships? Then came the question of overloading. This was a question involving great difficulties. It was, perhaps, impossible for anyone who was not a scientific builder to say what was the proper load line for a ship. Were they going to leave this point to be decided by a Board of Trade surveyor, who probably had no knowledge of the subject whatever? And, if so, when was he to decide it—when the ship was built, or when she was going to sea? Then, if they dealt with the question of load line in one sense they must deal with it in the other. Hundreds of ships went to sea without sufficient ballast and were lost in consequence. Therefore, Parliament would have to consider the case of vessels which were not loaded enough. How were they going to deal with them? Were they going to say that a ship must be loaded up to a certain mark? It was obvious that they must take the question both ways. He believed that, if statistics could be procured as to the number of ships lost from being overloaded and the number lost from not being sufficiently loaded, the latter would be found to form the majority. He would not impede the progress of the Bill, because they were bound to carry something; but he hoped the House would bear in mind the warning 257 of the noble Lord near him (Lord Eslington) that if the powers given were carried out in a spirit not conciliatory, the effect might he to destroy altogether our coasting trade. He had no wish to discourage those who might be appointed surveyors, but he could not help thinking of the immense powers they would wield, and of the enormous amount of capital over which they would exercise unlimited control, if they were allowed on their own responsibility and judgment to stop a ship from going to sea. Then as to this survey of which they had heard so much. A ship was to be stopped and was to be surveyed. Some hon. Members might not be aware, however, that in order to be properly surveyed a ship must discharge her cargo, must be taken into a dry dock, and must be stripped of her copper, and that might mean ruin to the shipowner. He hoped those to whom the work of inspection was entrusted would bear in mind the grave responsibility which devolved upon them and that in trying to do good they would not really do harm in carrying out the duties they had to perform. These were points for the consideration of the House, and whatever was done respecting them, he hoped that nothing would be carried out which would damage the great mercantile interests of this country.
§ MR. HERSCHELL
, referring to the remarks of the hon. Member for Plymouth (Mr. Sampson Lloyd) on the preceding evening, as to the number of Amendments placed on the Paper with reference to the Bill which had been withdrawn, denied that in doing so he had had any desire to obstruct the progress of the Bill. It had been said that they must give satisfaction to the country. "What they ought to do, rather, was to give satisfation to their own consciences. Nothing could be more dangerous than a competition of philanthropy on this subject. It seemed to him that justice had hardly been done to the shipowners in the discussions which had taken place upon this subject. As far as he had seen, they had had no desire whatever to impede the progress of legislation, but, on the contrary, had been animated by an honest wish to make the Government measure as good as possible. He had seen none of that esprit de corps, blinding them to the vices of the present system, which had been suggested as the characteristic of these 258 discussions. There might sometimes be a tendency on their part—and it was a natural tendency—to overrate the difficulties, but surely it would be in the highest degree unwise to ignore the suggestions which came from those ship-owners, who had practical experience in the various matters which it was the duty of the House to consider, and who knew the subject best. With regard to the Bill before the House, he was one of those who felt that in adopting some of the measures which were recommended there was considerable danger, and did not think that those who were desirous of legislating on this matter would gain anything by shutting their eyes to those dangers. The question of a load line was one of the utmost importance, but was surrounded with grave difficulties. His hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. E. J. Reed) had said that every time a ship left port, the officials of the Board of Trade could fix a load line; but an enormous fallacy underlay that theory. The officials might, of course, tell when a ship was overloaded, but they could not, and did not, fix an exact line. The proposal that every ship-owner should fix his own load line was not surrounded by so many disadvantages, although he did not believe that its employment could be so regulated as to secure that saving of human life which they all desired. There was considerable danger connected with legislating on the load line, and, therefore, the subject ought to be approached in a calm and dispassionate spirit. But, at the end of the Session, there would be a disposition to accept without discussion that which, at another time, would not be accepted. Then, with regard to the compulsory survey of unclassed ships, the danger was that, while diminishing the responsibility of the shipowner, they would only lull themselves into a false security, and would not get what they wanted. At the present moment there were 6,000 unclassed ships, and he asked where were they going to get the army of Inspectors to survey them? Ship-owners who were wicked enough knowingly to send out unseaworthy ships would not stop short at an attempt to bribe the surveyors who might be appointed, and he thought it would be a matter almost of impossibility to obtain so large a number of surveyors as would be required for this purpose, and to be 259 sure that they were all men of the necessary knowledge, and the necessary honour and probity. Besides, a survey perpetually carried on by the Government would be a dangerous thing. He had been engaged in a great many cases where the ship was undoubtedly unseaworthy, but where she had been surveyed and had excellent reports from persons who would be said to be competent. Therefore, let it not be supposed if we were to have a Government survey that we should have security. But if we had the machinery, it might be well to have occasional surveys. Just as general domiciliary visits would be objectionable, while a raid into a given district or street to put down crime would be allowable, so single surveys for the purpose of weeding out unseaworthy ships might be useful. But then as to another matter, the loading of grain in bulk, that was an evil which could be ascertained without that special skill and knowledge which would be required in the matters to which he had just alluded. Here it would be seen at once that the shipowner had not done his duty, and upon that point legislation was essential, seeing that the winter was coming on, that there was likely to be an enormous influx of grain, and that, if things were left as they were, numbers of our sailors might go to the bottom. Again, in the matter of deck cargoes, there was a source of danger to which we could not shut our eyes, and shipowners themselves admitted it. There was no insuperable difficulty in dealing with that evil, and he would urge the Government to deal with it. He earnestly hoped that the House might, before the close of the Session, pass a satisfactory measure—a measure which they might be able to look upon with satisfaction as likely to result in the saving of the lives of their fellow-subjects—the saving of the lives of a body of men to whose manly courage they were so much indebted, and who united with that courage an almost childish simplicity and helplessness which urgently called for sympathy and aid.
§ MR. BAILLIE COCHRANE
said, he only rose to offer one suggestion to the right hon. Baronet the President of the Board of Trade, that the Inspectors to be appointed, while they looked after the seaworthiness of vessels, would also take care that a sufficient number of 260 boats should be provided both for passengers and crew, in case of any disaster occurring at sea.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
said, he thought the Chancellor of the Exchequer must feel that the indulgence he bespoke for the Government measure had been accorded to it, and that considering the gravity of its provisions and its somewhat unusual character, the House had treated the measure with impartiality and fairness. The right hon. Gentleman, as some excuse for its imperfections, spoke of its being proposed in an emergency. No doubt, the emergency existed, and he (Mr. Goschen) would not inquire into the causes which had produced it; but the indulgence he bespoke for the Bill was, what might be asked for the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act after Government had shown themselves unable properly to organize the police. This was practically a proposal to suspend the Habeas Corpus Act as regarded shipowners, and he thought the House generally would feel that the proposals of the Government Bill, stringent as they were, had been received with fairness by the shipowners. As what he stated on a former occasion had been referred to by the hon. Member for Hull (Mr. Norwood), he begged to explain that what he did say was that the Bill was not so stringent as might have been expected from the first announcement of the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government. He did not give any opinion as to whether the Bill went too far or did not go far enough. Of course, it was a stringent Bill, and was only justified by the emergency in which the Government and the country found itself. The Bill must be treated from two points of view—from that which it included and from that which it excluded. The debate that day had rather been with regard to the topics which it excluded than upon the provisions which it contained. The Chancellor of the Exchequer very properly invited attention to the points which were omitted from the Bill—the regulation of grain cargoes, the regulation of deck cargoes, compulsory survey, and the question of the load line. The right hon. Gentleman assented to the discussion in Committee of deck loads and grain cargoes, but rather demurred to any discussion in Committee of the questions of compulsory survey and load line. The House, however, 261 would remember that the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Plimsoll) refrained from pressing his own Bill, because he expected, and was led by the Government to expect, that he would be able to raise many principles embodied in his own Bill in Committee on the Government Bill, and it was because of that that he yielded discussion, and therefore he (Mr. Goschen) trusted the Government would not think it necessary to prevent the discussion of those points, whatever might be their own views upon them. Some parts of the question had been most ably discussed that day, and he congratulated the hon. and learned Member for Durham (Mr. Herschell) upon the able speech he had just made on the subject of load line and compulsory survey, in which he had stated his opinions on what might be called the less popular side of the question with so much courage, frankness, and ability. It was most important that opinions should be expressed on both sides of these questions with freedom and frankness. The Government might be perfectly certain that even if those subjects were discussed, they would be discussed not with the view of obstructing, but facilitating the progress of the measure. A practical and business-like discussion on those subjects in the House of Commons would tend to quiet the public mind. It would also facilitate business if the Government had a distinct policy upon the question of deck loading. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was not disposed to admit that it could be dealt with; at the same time he had loft it open to the Government to adopt regulations should it be the opinion of the House that such regulations should be passed. As it was evident they would make some regulations under pressure, it would be much more business-like and practical if they would at once set to work to prepare a clause to be introduced into their Bill. The same remark applied to the question of grain cargoes. The Bill would only deal with outward-bound ships; there was no provision in it which touched ships coming to this country. On that head, he did not think the argument of the Chancellor of the Exchequer at all conclusive. It might be possible to deal with deck cargoes coming from foreign countries. Even at that time of the Session, he thought shipowners would be ready to accept of clauses, if carefully 262 drawn, dealing with deck cargoes and cargoes of grain. The hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. E. J. Reed) understood it would be open to him to raise in Committee the questions to the discussion of which the Government assented, and which he hoped they would consent to deal with; and he retained his perfect freedom on the questions of compulsory survey and a load line, as to which it would be well that the public should not derive the impression that the discussion of those subjects had been shirked in any way. He (Mr. Goschen) trusted the Bill would pass that Session, and that the several matters to which he had drawn attention would be considered in Committee, with the view of making the measure as complete as possible under the circumstances.
MR. MAC IVER
said, that the hon. and learned Member for Durham (Mr. Herschell), in his admirable and eloquent speech, had misstated the case of those who advocated survey and a load line. Deferring to the speech of the noble Lord the Member for South Northumberland (Lord Eslington), he (Mr. MacIver) said, there was no difficulty in knowing what was done in Montreal. The same thing was done voluntarily at every port in the United States at which grain was shipped; there was no difficulty in saying what ought to be done, but there was difficulty in expressing it in the clauses of an Act of Parliament, and he guarded himself against accepting the proposals of the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Reed) as they stood. He hoped the House would agree to the second reading of the Bill without a division; and he wished to congratulate the Government upon the excellent spirit and intention in which their measure was conceived. He thought it afforded a better opportunity for fairly debating the only questions of immediate importance than was possible with regard to the voluminous measure which had been abandoned. There were other questions of importance in regard to which he had ventured to give Notice yesterday, in the hope that, after matters had been sufficiently discussed amongst the parties interested, the Government would themselves bring in by-and-by a complete measure for consolidation and amendment of the laws relating to Merchant Shipping, and would also bear in mind that the in- 263 creased duties which railways and shipping had brought upon the Board of Trade rendered every day more necessary some considerable change in regard to the economy of the Department. If the withdrawal of his proposed Amendments would facilitate in any way the passing of the measure, he would cheerfully place them on one side. He had just received a letter from a London solicitor of very considerable experience in regard to shipping, which was so entirely apropos that he would read an extract from it to the House. The writer said—The saddle is being put on the wrong horse-The Government is not to blame; the late Government did exactly as they have done, or, indeed, they did worse. Sir Charles Adderley has done his best, and Mr. Disraeli very likely spoke the simple truth, when he said he withdrew the Bill with regret. The real blame rests with the permanent officials of the Board of Trade. They made the Royal Commission a delusion, and got the present Government first to propose a monstrous measure, and then to shrink from a discussion of it.Those views were very widely held, and he had therefore taken the liberty of stating them to the House, but he did not mean to say that he entirely concurred with them. He had, personally, a great deal of respect for the able permanent officials of the Board of Trade, some of whom were personal friends; and he had no desire to bring any charge against them, except that he thought they were overworked, and that some considerable change in the internal economy of the Department was really required. He differed entirely from the Commissioners on the subject of classification and survey, and thought that the facts of the case were as clearly demonstrable as that two and two made four. Liverpool was second to no port in the Kingdom either as regarded its steamships or as regarded its sailing ships, and the simple truth of the matter was that almost every one of the magnificent vessels on which the Liverpool people prided themselves was already in some form or other surveyed. The splendid iron ships for which the Mersey was so well known were, almost without exception, already surveyed and classed, and he challenged his hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Rathbone) on the subject, as he had done on a former occasion. How, therefore, he asked, could it be reasonably maintained that the principle 264 of survey was a bad one? In regard to load line, the opinion of the Royal Commissioners was equally decided, and he thought equally without foundation. In conclusion, he said he did not like the Act of 1873 at all. He thought its provisions in regard to the detention of unseaworthy ships had mainly been exercised against the poorer class of ship-owners, and in a manner destructive to the coasting trade of the country. He said that the powers in regard to detaining ships were already excessively arbitrary, and far greater than they ought to be, and that what was really required was not that those powers should be increased, but that they should be more judiciously administered. He was quite sure, from what the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade had said on a former occasion, that the Government would be inclined to take that view of the subject, if it could be sustained in debate. He thought the question so little of a Party one, that he might tell the Government that, if they carried the Bill in its present form, the effect would be to worry the ship-owners without protecting the men, and to discredit the Conservative party at every seaport in the Kingdom. But as the Government were evidently desirous that the measure should be made a good one, he hoped the House would agree to read the Bill a second time, without a division, and so enable the right hon. Gentleman (Sir Charles Adderley) to bring these questions to a satisfactory solution.
§ MR. RATHBONE
said, there were two Liverpool steamship-owners living who had been examined before the Royal Commission, and one of them was Mr. Charles Mac Iver. He (Mr. Rathbone) had seen a letter in a newspaper from an eminent shipowner stating that the load line had not so much importance as was generally ascribed to it.
MR. MAC IVER
interrupted, and said that his hon. Friend (Mr. Rathbone) had stopped in the middle of a sentence; and that the next few words, which it did not suit his hon. Friend to read, entirely altered the meaning.
§ MR. DISRAELI
I wish, Sir, to impress upon the House the necessity of remembering that it is of the greatest importance, especially on a subject upon which we are mainly agreed—to read this Bill a second time, and I trust that 265 the House will refrain from entering into a protracted debate, which might render it impossible to come to a final resolution before the usual hour of suspending our Sitting. I, myself, have expressed before—and I wish to express again—the painful regret with which my Colleagues and I felt it our duty, or rather our necessity, to give up our Shipping Bill. But I must say this—that I was convinced when we came to that decision that we had no other course. I am not going to impute to hon. Gentle-men opposite any feelings in putting Amendments on the Paper other than those arising from an imperative sense of duty, and I look upon such Amendments generally as evidence of the great interest which the House takes in the question. I believe, too, that very great advantage is gained by those who are responsible for the government of the country, in studying and treating with respect the suggestions of their opponents, who are only performing a Parliamentary duty in making those suggestions. But still, it was the duty of those who are responsible for the conduct of the Public Business to look at the number of Amendments of which Notice had been given, and when I remind the House that on the day when I had the mortification to announce to the House that it was impossible for the Government to proceed with this measure, the number of Amendments on this Bill was 178, and that 140 of them were suggested by hon. Gentlemen opposite, I think the House will acknowledge that on the 22nd of July that was evidence that could not be disregarded in coming to a conclusion on this subject. I shall not stop to allude to the accusations brought against the Government for preferring the conduct of another measure to that of the Merchant Shipping Bill. The Merchant Shipping Bill was not sacrificed in any way to the Agricultural Holdings (England) Bill. If we had resolved to attempt to proceed with the Merchant Shipping Bill, neither of those measures could have been passed. These, however, are controversial questions into which I do not now wish to enter. We have been charged, also, with having introduced a merely temporary measure, and the accusation was, that we ought to have announced our intention when we withdrew the Merchant Shipping Bill. At present, 266 that is an observation that may be made with very great success, even in this House, and it would be, no doubt, triumphantly received at public meetings. But if nothing had happened to stir up the feelings of the country, I should like to know what chance we should have had of passing a temporary Bill? I cannot conceive, and will not attempt to describe, the countenances of hon. Gentlemen opposite if we had made such an announcement; but the Government having been obliged to give up the mea-sure, did not lose sight of the subject. They immediately considered whether it was not possible, under the existing law, which was passed by our Predecessors—but which fact will not prevent me from doing justice to its great merit, and the benefits which have accrued from it—whether it was not in our power, under the law of 1873, by increasing our staff, by drawing up new regulations, or by some other means, to effect some improvement in its administration, and obtain the result which we all desired. We felt—I will not say the absolute necessity, but the great desirability of some statutory assistance—and we had arrived at that conclusion, especially with the assistance of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who has shown to-day how deeply he is interested in the subject, and how well qualified he is to treat it. But we also felt that it was vain to come down to this House and ask for a short Bill to increase our powers. When, however, this excitement arose, we felt that we could appeal with some advantage to the House. And it is not under the pres-sure of public opinion, but with the assistance of public opinion that we have introduced this measure. The Vox populi has not coerced us, but has aided us, and it is with the greatest satisfaction that I now see the possibility of passing a measure which I trust will be both salutary and sufficient. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Mr. Goschen) treated the measure when it was first introduced as one of very slight proportions, and went out of his way to say that it had already disappointed the expectations held out by me when I first intimated our intention to bring it forward. I entirely adhere to the statement I then made to the House. For myself, I may say that I would not be responsible for 267 the measure if it were to be permanent. Sir, the right hon. Gentleman now speaks in a very different way. He has compared the measure to a suspension of the Habeas Corpus, and certainly that is a description which hardly agrees with the terms in which he spoke of the Bill when it was first introduced to the notice of the House. But whatever may be its character—whatever may be its ultimate result, I trust—and indeed know—that we are all agreed upon one point—namely, that we should read the Bill a second time, and therefore I must point to the clock as showing that there are "breakers ahead," and that we must not lose any time in doing so. I hope, on Monday, we shall go into Committee—the most important part of the proceedings on the Bill—and arrive on that day at conclusions which will give satisfaction to the country.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed for Monday next.