HC Deb 10 February 1876 vol 227 cc163-86

Considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)


, in rising to move that the Chairman be directed to move the House, that leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Merchant Shipping Acts, said, the Committee would recollect that he had introduced a Bill on the same subject, with the same title, last Session, which, unfortunately, was dropped; but he had the good fortune to retrieve some of its most important clauses in a short and temporary Act at the end of the Session. In one point of view he was not sorry that those important clauses were so temporarily passed, because an opportunity had thus been given of a six months' experiment to test whether they were wisely conceived and worked satisfactorily. It was now a gratification to his own mind to have to recommend to Parliament to make permanent all the provisions which were temporarily passed in the Act of last year, and which, with one exception, were all taken out of his original Bill; and he wished to show to the Committee that the experience of the last six months, though certainly only a short term, still afforded some test, and had been satisfactory. The Bill he asked leave now to introduce proposed to take up other clauses also of the dropped Bill, and to make two or three additions which he hoped the Committee would consider improvements. Before he described the provisions of the Bill in detail, he might, perhaps, dispose of one suggestion which had been freely and widely made—namely, that Parliament would do more wisely to proceed at once to the consolidation of all the Acts relating to Merchant Shipping. He thought he could adduce two valid reasons against adopting that suggestion. The first was that generally it was unwise to go on amending at the time of consolidating any portion of the law, because every amendment gave cause for further consolidation, and the process would become interminable. He therefore thought that in this case, as in all others, it was wiser to finish amending the law before proceeding to consolidate it. He had another reason—he thought this would be a most unpropitious time to attempt to consolidate the Merchant Shipping Acts; because there was certainly an amount of excitement in the public mind on the subject which would render it unfit to discuss all the details of something like 20 Acts of Parliament. A consolidating law would consist of at least 600 or 700 clauses; and, in the present state of the public mind, it would be difficult to put up for discussion such a map of details without running the risk of appealing from decisions which Parliament had formed in calmer moments to the impulses of more exciting and less dispassionate times. He had himself attempted, in the Bill that was dropped last Session, to consolidate the discipline clauses of the Merchant Shipping Acts, but he certainly found by experience that it was not a wise attempt; and therefore he did not now propose to re-introduce that portion of the dropped Bill. They had spent the greater part of the time allowed in Committee in discussing the re-enactment of what was already on the Statute Book. He had thought it wise to avoid the repetition of such delay, and had confined the provisions of the Bill to the points most prominently before the public. The late Government had attempted to consolidate the Merchant Shipping Acts in three consecutive years, and their Bills for that purpose, introduced in 1869, 1870, and 1871, now to be found in the Library, certainly were a valuable repertory of information; but on every occasion they were brought forward without any legislative result. He thought the Members of the late Government would therefore agree with him in refraining from consolidating. When he spoke of the agitation of the public mind he did not wish to deprecate or depreciate the value of the agitation which had arisen on this subject. On the contrary, he thought that agitation had roused the attention of Parliament to very important purpose; but, at the same time, it must be borne in mind that a vast deal of exaggeration and misstatements of facts generally attended agitation, and this case would prove to be no exception to the general rule. He would indicate very briefly some heads upon which statements were greatly exaggerated—the deterioration of our merchant shipping; the disasters which were represented as increasingly happening; the deterioration of our seamen, and the greater amount of recklessness, disaster, and loss of life. The conclusion which must be arrived at after a careful examination of statistics of the highest authority was that British tonnage had trebled since 1835; that British ships clearing for foreign ports had sextupled in the same period; that the men em- ployed in British ships in the trade of the United Kingdom had doubled in the last 20 years; and that British ships were not only absorbing the trade of the United Kingdom, but the best trade of other countries also, some of which was even falling off, and coming into the hands of British shipowners. Again, the wrecks since 1836 had steadily decreased in proportion to the number of voyages; and whereas for every life lost between 1832 and 1835 the tonnage was 4,600, for every life lost in the years 1870 to 1873 there were 13,000 tons employed in the foreign trade of the United Kingdom, so that the falling-off in the loss of life was the most remarkable part of these records. He thought it desirable to correct these misrepresentations and exaggerations, and he thought so for four different reasons. In the first place, for the credit of the country; secondly, in the very interests of the agitation itself, as such misstatements might render men sceptical as to the evil which did exist and which should be met; thirdly, because such misstatements and misrepresentations should make them doubly cautious lest they dealt under the influence of any panic with a subject of such vital importance as the shipping interest of this country; and fourthly, as the evil of recklessness which they had to deal with was so shown to be a very exceptional one in the general enterprize of the country, it was the duty of the Government strictly to confine itself to those exceptional cases, and not to attempt to take part in the general conduct of the enterprize, nor to render itself responsible in the place of the undertakers by prescribing the mode of conducting it. The main spirit of the Bill was to check reckless imperilling of life in the merchant sea-service of this country, and with this view to take steps simply as a matter of police for the public protection, but, at the same time, to refrain from harassing the whole Mercantile Marine by needless and even mischievous interference.

He would now proceed to describe the contents of the Bill. The first enacting clause laid down broadly the principle that any man who sent a ship to sea without taking reasonable precautions that it was sent in such a condition as not to endanger human life was guilty of a misdemeanour. That was the law at the present moment. By the first statute on the subject—the Act of 1854, Section 239—any master or seaman who, by neglect of duty, endangered life, was guilty of a misdemeanour. The Merchant Shipping Act of 1871 extended this liability to the owners of ships and to all persons having authority to send a ship to sea. The temporary Act of 1875 extended the liability still further; it not only made anyone, whether owner or other person, who sent, or attempted to send, or was party to sending a ship to sea in an unseaworthy state guilty of a misdemeanour, but also the master who took the ship to sea in that condition. It was a recommendation of the Royal Commission to extend the provision of 1871 to the master; and he introduced a clause to that effect in the dropped Bill. But the clause which he first drafted was largely extended by the hon. and learned Member for Durham (Mr. Herschell), and was, in fact, now called "the Herschell Clause," and had the advantage of his high authority, though it was so extended with his own full concurrence. It was, however, open for the owner to show that he had taken reasonable means to insure the safety of his ship. He had observed that in a discussion on the subject the Shipowners' Association considered this provision as a hardship upon the owner, and not in the spirit of the English law. But they entirely misunderstood the object of the provision, for it was not against, but in favour of, the shipowner that the permission of exculpation was offered. When it had been proved that a ship had been taken to sea in an unseaworthy state, there was a primâ facie case against the owner; but this provision gave him an opportunity of showing in exculpation that he had taken all reasonable precautions; and as it would be impossible for the prosecutor to prove a negative, or that he had not taken reasonable precautions, this was the shipowner's proper defence. That clause put the owner of a ship and all engaged very much in the position of other carriers. When an accident occurred on a railway it was usual to prosecute the company's servants for manslaughter through whose fault a loss of life was occasioned, and it was for them to avoid the charge by showing that they had taken all reasonable care. A very important provision in this clause was the registering a managing owner in every British ship, so that there should always be some one under the obligations, and subject to the liabilities of ownership in the Act. There were no successful prosecutions under the 239th section of the Act of 1854, and under the Act of 1871 he believed there were only two. But the Board of Trade had now, under the Act of 1875, a very efficient Law Officer, by whose assistance the law had been more actively put in force than before; and although he (Sir Charles Adderley) could not say, as but a short time had elapsed, that there had yet been a completely successful prosecution under it, yet he believed the indirect operation of the law had been very effective.

The next subject with which the Bill dealt was the obligation of a shipowner to his crew—that he or his agents should take all reasonable precautions to make and to keep the ship in a seaworthy state. This was one of the clauses of the dropped Bill of 1875. Before the Act of 1875 the Common Law bound a shipowner to his crew as a master to his servant—that he would take due care, especially in dangerous employment, to have his machinery in safe condition. But there was no warranty of safety; and in the ruling ease on this subject, "Couch v. Steel," it was decided in 1854 that seamen could get no damages for injury from unseaworthiness. It was found that there was a statutory obligation to find medicines, but not a safe ship. It was the opinion of the Law Officers in 1865 that a seaman could refuse to sail on the ground of the unseaworthiness of the ship; but when once he had sailed there was no redress for damage in the voyage. The Act of 1871, with a view to amend that unsatisfactory state of the law, allowed to the seaman as a plea in defending himself against a charge of desertion, that the ship was unseaworthy; but in order to get the benefit of the provision he had first to desert. It also gave seamen a right of inquiry by the Board of Trade if a fourth of the crew complained. The clause which he proposed to introduce adopted Section 9 of the temporary Act of 1875, which gave the seaman a civil remedy for injury sustained by the unseaworthiness of a ship, thus imposing on the owner an obligation to the crew out of which he could not contract himself. It brought the seaman within the operation of Lord Campbell's Act; if he lost his life his widow had a claim, but the owner's liability was kept, as heretofore, limited. As to the detention of unseaworthy ships, the Bill next proposed to embody the provisions of the Act of 1873 for the surveying of ships, but substituted an easier and more expeditious Court of Appeal against the judgments of surveyors; and with the provisions of the Act of 1873 it embodied those of the temporary Act of last year for appointing district officers to whom the Board of Trade delegated their powers of detention. The process of detention under the existing law was this: Whenever there was any complaint made to the Board of Trade that a ship was unseaworthy, or when the Board of Trade had reason to think that a ship was going to sea in that condition, they might send a provisional order for her detention and an officer to survey and report. Upon receiving that report the Board of Trade could send a final order for the ship's detention until the conditions of the order were fulfilled. There was now an appeal to the local Admiralty Court—that was, the County Court. It was proposed that an easier appeal should be given to the shipowners against the judgment of surveyors. The Bill substituted for the County Court a Court of Survey, consisting of a Judge and two assessors, one the nominee of the Board of Trade, the other of the Local Marine Board or Association of Shipowners. To this Court shipowners might appeal in the case of any charge of overloading, and even before appealing they might require the Board of Trade surveyor to take an assessor with him, and settle the point at once. In more serious cases of unseaworthiness the appeal was to be only against the final order. If a Board of Trade surveyor refused to certify to the safety of a passenger or emigrant ship, the same Court was open to the shipowners' appeal; and if a point of science or an important principle were involved, either the Board of Trade or the shipowner might refer it to scientific referees appointed by the Court of Appeal. The Judge of the Court of Survey would be either a stipendiary magistrate or one of a list of fit persons stated in the Bill; while one of the assessors would be a persons of nautical, engineering, or other special skill and experience. These provisions, he hoped, would fairly meet the wishes of the ship- owners for a more easy and satisfactory Court of Appeal and the just demands of the case. The clause also made permanent the provisions in the temporary Act of last year as to officers to whom might be delegated the powers of the Board of Trade in case of emergency. Upon this point he would state what he had done in execution of the first section of the Act of 1875 under which he had to make these appointments. After Parliament was prorogued, he sent the chief professional adviser of the Marine Department of the Board of Trade, Captain Murray, to make a circuit of the districts throughout the whole Kingdom and report as to the condition of the Survey staff. Captain Murray's Report, which had been laid on the Table, showed the necessity of an entire re-organization of the staff. The fact was that the Survey staff of the Board of Trade had from time to time, by numerous Acts of Parliament, had so many and such difficult and complicated duties thrown upon them that they were no longer adequate, either in number or qualification, for the discharge of all these duties. They had to inspect ships, survey ships both as to their loading, equipment, and machinery, examine officers for certificates, record the draft of water, and attend to tonnage measurement. These numerous and onerous duties were imposed upon a limited number of surveyors, receiving, he must say, rather inadequate pay. Shipowners might also, with some justice, ask for a higher class of officers to deal with more important questions and to superintend the ordinary staff, so as to insure greater order in their action, and, what was of more importance, greater uniformity of judgment. With this view, following Captain Murray's Report, he had made a consultative staff in London, besides the district Survey staff; he had put principal officers over 10 districts, which embraced the whole coast of the United Kingdom; and these officers would superintend the whole staff of their respective districts. He had also given authority, under the Act of 1875, to some existing officers to detain ships on the part of the Board of Trade, and subject to their sanction; and he had also weeded out what might be called the in effectives of the staff, and placed efficient men in their stead. On the whole, he thought he had fully carried out the intentions of Parliament, ex- pressed in Section 1 of the temporary-Act of 1875; and he had the gratification of knowing that what he had done was thought satisfactory in the different districts where the principal officers had been placed. The reports already made by these officers showed, too, that great benefit had already ensued, and there had already in consequence been less overloading; and that by the presence of these officers on the spot many questions had been settled by amicable correspondence instead of by dilatory reference to the Board of Trade, while they had given material assistance in carrying out the objects of Parliament last year.

Next he came to the question of grain cargoes. Immediately after the passing of the Act of 1875 the Foreign Office sent a copy of the Act to all our Consuls at grain-exporting ports, and told them to report upon any violations of Section 3 in the Act of 1875. Here he might frankly say, for he had no wish to detract from the credit due to the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Plimsoll), that it was owing very much to his exertions in the Black Sea that the Board of Trade took the steps they did. The Board telegraphed to our Consuls to do what they could to carry out the Foreign Office order, employing fit persons to go on board ship, with power to incur expenses to the amount of £2 per ship. There could be no doubt that the hon. Member did great service in visiting the grain ships, giving information as to the Act, and offering advice. But, at the same time, the hon. Member would probably acknowledge that a Government could not do exactly the same thing which could be done by a private individual in a matter of this kind. The hon. Member's name naturally carried great weight on this subject, and his advice was readily taken. But a Government officer was not received in the same way. His advice was in the nature of a Government order, which, unless he had some means of enforcing it, would perhaps be better omitted altogether. Much, therefore, of the private action of the hon. Member was more effectual than the action of the Government, which had rather followed his suggestions and in his wake. All, however, that the Board of Trade could do was done. The telegrams to our Consuls to take these steps were immediately followed by a circular of instructions, with orders to report home monthly, and in special cases to report immediately, and at the same time to call the master's or the agent's attention to any violation of the Act. In December the Board of Trade sent out a second circular of instructions to all Consuls, Vice Consuls, and Agents, empowering a selected list of them to employ persons to inspect, and they were told to send home reports of all British ships loading or unloading grain at their respective ports. The Baltic, Black Sea, and American ports comprise seven-eighths of the grain-loading ports, and in many of these ports vessels loaded under local regulations, or under the strict supervision of the Government or of underwriters. From such ports, therefore, reports were not required. Instructions were also given to all Board of Trade Surveyors at home to inspect grain ships arriving with any "list" or appearance of improper loading, and to enforce penalties where the Act had been violated.

The next clause related to deck cargoes. This was a very difficult subject to deal with. The Committee must bear in mind that already in the eye of the law deck-loading was in itself primâ facie evidence of unseaworthiness; it was cargo in an improper place, impeding navigation and causing danger. Goods on deck were not covered by a general insurance of goods, unless there was a special trade usage; and they gave no claim to contribution if jettisoned, though they were made to contribute to general average. The Customs Act of 1862 abolished the prohibition of deck-cargoes of timber, not only because the prohibition had proved impracticable—a sufficient reason in itself—but because the attempts to carry it out were mischievous. Some things must be carried on deck, since they could not be carried anywhere else. The law ought to check in every possible way such deck cargoes as need not necessarily be carried on deck; and, at all events, the law ought not to give a premium for that kind of loading, as it did at present, inasmuch as deck cargo was the only kind of cargo which did not pay tonnage dues. Various proposals had been made for checking unnecessary deck cargoes. The first proposition was to prohibit them altogether. Among the Notices of Amendments to the dropped Bill of last year was one to prohibit the discharge of all cargoes as might be so imported, and to prevent them from being landed. In his judgment such a proposal could hardly be supported by Parliament. Suppose a deck cargo brought safely across the Atlantic, and, to the delight of eager customers, arrived safety at an English port, it would be absurd to say—"By all the rules of the sea you ought to have gone to the bottom, and you must put out to sea again to ascertain whether you will not go to the bottom." The second proposal was that no vessel should go to sea with a deck cargo without a licence from the Board of Trade. Now, although he had the highest respect for that Department, he could hardly expect that Parliament would give it power to grant such licences. The third proposal was that extra port-dues should be levied on deck-loaded ships generally; but then these dues would be levied equally on all deck-loads of whatever kind they might be, and the rule would apply very unequally in different cases. For Ms own part, he was in hopes that the Bill proposed a mode of dealing with the difficulty that would prove satisfactory to the House. It was intended specifically to exempt some cargoes from prohibition—such as cattle, meat, and several things which must be carried on deck; but with regard to unexempted cargoes carried on deck, or in any space not included in tonnage measurement, such space would be measured into tonnage measurement and uncovered cargo on the open deck would be measured by its area and the rectangle of its bulk. This, he thought, was a very feasible plan, and would provide an effective check on deck cargoes, or, at least deprive them of their present unfair advantage, while at the same time it would not do more than was in itself reasonable. The proposal was free from all the objections applicable to the plans he had just alluded to. It would give no offence to foreign nations—it would not lead to evasive awning decks—it would carry out the fair principle that all cargo bearing space should pay. He was told by the men most acquainted with the subject that no difficulty or delay whatever would arise, for a ship coming in with a deck cargo would be met as usual by a Customs officer, who would measure that portion of her cargo which was so carried on the way into port. Coasters, however, would not be included in this provision. It was also proposed to insert the deck-cargo clause of the dropped Bill. That was merely a precautionary clause; but it had had considerable effect as a caution. It rendered it imperative on every owner of a ship which cleared with a deck cargo to insert in the log both the quantity and quality of the cargo carried. This would be of great importance to him in case of any question arising as to casualty. The next clauses of the Bill related to the load-line, which, as the House was well aware, was one of the most difficult and most vexed questions connected with the Merchant Shipping Laws. The present Bill would make permanent the 5th and 6th sections of the temporary Act of 1875. The reports he had received from all parts of England with regard to the enacted load-line were satisfactory, with the sole exception of Liverpool, where, at all events at first, some attempts were made to render the provisions of the Act ridiculous, if not nugatory, by fixing the load-line absurdly high. But, after a little reflection, the shipowners found it was not quite such a trifle as they had imagined. In the first place, the load-line by the words of the Act indicated the point up to which the owner intended to load, and, consequently, if the vessel were lost he would have to prove to the underwriters that he had not really loaded the ship up to that point—for the underwriters, of course, had a right to assume he had done so. Again, in the agreement with the crew it was a very important check, as it gave them a right, which they would not otherwise possess, to make claims and remonstrances. Besides, for marking so as to mislead there was a penalty of £100, which might be repeated any number of times. Consequently, it had been found at Liverpool that the matter was serious, and practical, and evasive load-lines had been changed. At the same time, he was anxious that there should be as little as possible of uncertainty or arbitrariness in the judgments of the Board of Trade surveyors as to the overloading of ships. He wished, therefore, to ascertain whether any general rules could be laid down by way of instructions to surveyors, so as to render their judgments about overloading as far as possible generally intelligible and uni- form. For the purpose of procuring the best opinion on the subject he had invited a committee of 12 persons, of whom four were from Lloyd's, four from Liverpool Lloyd's, and four from the Board of Trade, as the best judges, to decide whether any such general rules and principles could be laid down. They debated the subject for two days, and on the third day they separated without being able to come to an agreement. It might be concluded, then, that such general rules were impossible. Every ship, every voyage, every cargo, and every season made the load-line a matter of utter uncertainty. Under these circumstances, he simply proposed to incorporate in the present Bill the load-line section of the temporary Act. He would next advert to the system of wreck inquiries by the Board of Trade. Objection had been made to the mode of such inquiries because, though they were really intended to be principally useful for eliciting the circumstances of a casualty, they took the character of a criminal proceeding against the captain. In an inquiry into the cause of a wreck it was of the greatest possible importance that all the information that was procurable should be forthcoming, and it must tend to vitiate the inquiry if the evidence of the captain, not to criminate himself, were excluded. It was also objected to the present system that, under it, masters of vessels were brought before Police Courts. The dropped Bill of last Session endeavoured to meet this objection by restricting the inquiry to an inquest, leaving anything in the nature of criminal proceedings to the Courts of Law. All question as to the officer's certificate would thus be decided separately elsewhere. But any endeavour in that way would only render another inquiry necessary to investigate the competency of the master to hold his certificate. However restricted the first inquest might be, the master would have before him the fear of afterwards losing his certificate, and his evidence would be just as much impeded as if the two inquiries remained as now in one. The Bill, therefore, gave up all attempt to divest the inquiry of so far a criminal character, as to involve the competency of the master to retain his certificate. The Bill proposed to take up a suggestion of the Royal Commissioners by the appointment of a superior class of Judges to con- duct the inquiries, to be called Wreck Commissioners—three in number, of whom one only would at first be appointed to preside over the largest—namely, that of London. The existing tribunals would continue with this addition. The last important wreck which had occurred—that of the Deutschland—showed the importance and illustrated the usefulness of such a step. It was most important that an inquiry should take place quickly, and before the very best authorities; but it turned out that there was no police-court in London which was ready to undertake such an inquiry. A letter was received by the Board of Trade from Sir Thomas Henry, to the effect that it was utterly impossible from the enormous amount of work he had to dispose of to undertake it; and in that letter, which would be laid before the House, he gave extremely good reasons why in such cases not only time but special qualifications were necessary to render the inquiry complete and satisfactory. Under these circumstances, the Board of Trade commissioned Mr. Rothery, Registrar of the Admiralty Division of the High Court of Judicature, and he undertook the inquiry as an Inspector of the Board of Trade under the Act of 1854. He believed that anyone who had followed the proceedings would agree with him that the inquiry was in all respects a full and satisfactory one. While it was so, it nevertheless afforded evidence of the fact that the difficulty as to placing the captain in the position of a defendant could not by any means be avoided. It would, he thought, be found that the Wreck Commissioners, if agreed to, would be a superior and better-qualified class of judges than now existed for the purpose in view. The Bill also proposed that the Wreck Commissioners should be allowed to take depositions in the same manner as the Receivers of Wrecks now did. By such means it was very probable that a great improvement would be effected by the fact that such depositions so taken would gradually supersede the protests now made before notaries.

Two clauses only remained for him to touch upon, and one related to the subject of training ships. He need say nothing to enforce the view that if they could get well-trained and well-disciplined boys to supply the Merchant Marine with better crews they would do more for the safety of ships and for the abolition of the reign of crimps than any Act of Parliament could effect. The Government could not undertake the charge of schools for that purpose. That was impossible. Fortunately, however, there were a great number of persons in the Kingdom who were ready to do so, and the number happily was increasing. It should be remembered, however, that in the existing state of things most of the school ships were filled by boys who had been committed by the magistrates under the Reformatory or Industrial Schools Act, and thus only public aid was given for the supply of merchant ship-crews by training boys of the worst class, and premiums were given out of public funds to the employment of such boys in preference to boys of respectable parents, who would supply merchant crews of the best materials. He knew it was very easy to show objections to grants of public money for the purpose of training the independent poor in any kind of industry, and that such a system would be open to the grossest abuse. Still, he thought that aid could safely be given from special funds to existing training-ships, and to new training-ships which he hoped to see established in all parts of the Kingdom, to enable them to train boys of respectable parents for the merchant sea-service. What the Bill proposed on this subject was to authorize grants out of any surplus of the Shipping Office fees—which surplus they might expect to become greater than now—in aid of school ships training boys of respectable parents who had not been committed by a magistrate, and who when turned out from training and obtaining employment in a merchant ship passed an efficient examination. He had hoped to get a larger sum out of which to make such grants by shipowners assenting to a special fee—say of 3d. a ton—on engaging crews; but he had not met with sufficient encouragement to justify him in making the proposal. He trusted, however, that the small beginning he might be able to make would if successful and found practically useful, lead to greater results in the future. The proposal would be greatly supplemented by what had been done by his right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty, who had made an offer on the part of the Admiralty to such boys so trained, and who entered the third class boy Naval Reserve, by which they would have certain payments, a dress every year, and the prospect of a pension, and that he could not but think would have great effect in holding them permanently to the service.

He now came to the last clause, which proposed something in the way of a certificate of health to be procured by seamen on their engagement. There was no greater source of danger to ships than the diseased and rotten state in which seamen joined their vessels on starting. He had heard of a number of cases occurring on the Thames, the Mersey, and other rivers, of ships having to be taken to the sea by foreigners, owing to the drunken and diseased condition of the British sailors on board. A large number of such seamen were left abroad diseased, and the expense of bringing them home was a charge upon the taxpayer of this country, now amounting to about £30,000 a-year. It would be of great importance, then, in every point of view, that steps should be taken with a view to secure that this advantage to shipowners of throwing a diseased crew on the support of the country, should be allowed only when they had taken the little trouble to see to their being first engaged in a healthy state. Medical officers were employed at public expense to enable them to do so—paying only a fee of 1s. per man. He proposed, therefore, that unless the captain had taken the slight trouble of obtaining a certificate of the fitness of his crew for service, the cost of bringing his sick men back should be charged not to the taxpayer, but to the owners of the ship. Having avoided many of the topics that occupied so much of their attention last year, and which were better suited to a consolidating than to an amending Bill, he trusted that they had in the present Bill of 32 clauses fairly and carefully attempted to meet all the points in which the public were chiefly interested at the present time. Many who were personally interested in this question in this House had met the subject in a patriotic spirit, and had endeavoured to carry out, even at considerable sacrifice to themselves, what the public interests required. He could not but think that those who represented the demands of the public were also inclined to put forward those demands in a conciliatory spirit, and divest them of anything like hostility to the great shipowning interests. He therefore felt confident that this Bill would be passed, and that when passed it would meet the objects which the public had in view. If the Bill should pass he could promise that the Board of Trade would vigorously, faithfully, and carefully carry out its provisions. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving the Resolution.


, whilst congratulating the right hon. Gentleman on the clearness and, simplicity which characterized his statement, regretted that he had not introduced a Bill to simplify and consolidate existing laws. He thought the proposals contained in the Bill so simple that very little time need be occupied in passing the measure as it stood. At the same time, he could not regard the proposal as altogether satisfactory, in that it did not fix any one with the responsibility of determining the load-line. This responsibility ought, in his view of the subject, to be undertaken by the Government, in order to satisfy the public mind on the question. It was proposed that the grain-loading clauses should be left as they were last year; but he adhered to his own opinion that the only way of dealing with the matter was to provide that one-fourth of the cargo should be stowed in bags and loaded on the top of the bulk. As to deck cargoes, he failed to see why one portion of the cargo should be exempt from tonnage dues whilst another was liable to them. Some information was required as to what the right hon. Gentleman had done during the Recess with respect to foreign Governments. If restrictions were to be placed upon deck-loading in British vessels they ought also, by international agreement, to be imposed in the case of foreign ships. The Court of Survey proposed to be constituted was an improvement upon the plan contained in the Bill of last year; but he could not say the same with regard to the training-ship scheme, unless the Government was prepared to undertake the sole responsibility of establishing such ships at the expense of the country, and so providing for the merchant service the improved class of seamen which was so much required. On the whole, there were many objections to various clauses in the Bill; but he should reserve himself for their discussion during its future progress, and especially when it went into Committee.


said, he did not propose to offer any general opinion on the subject of the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman until he had had the opportunity of reading it and considering it carefully; because, although the statement which they had heard was lamentably short of what would be necessary as a satisfactory solution of the question, he was conscious of the great advantage of the Government taking up the measure, and of the possibility of improving it in Committee. He should meet the Bill with every disposition to see an opportunity of amending it rather than of embarrassing the Government and seeking to keep open the question a day longer than was absolutely necessary. He would like, however, to make one or two remarks upon some of the principal points. He had been very much struck, on the subject of the survey of vessels, with the complaint on the part of shipowners that the onus of proof was thrown upon them, that the vessels which had been lost started in a thoroughly seaworthy condition. The right hon. Gentleman (Sir Charles Adderley) contended that this was a mistaken view of their position. Because nothing could be proved, inasmuch as anybody who could tell anything was at the bottom of the sea. The difficulty of proving a negative was so great that he saw no reason why they should regard the position as unfavourable to them. The right hon. Gentleman had taken much credit for the fact that an efficient Law Officer had been appointed to see that the provisions of the Act of last Session were carried out, although he admitted that there had been no conviction under the Act. Surely if that efficient officer had done his duty he might have discovered in some out of the 500 or 600 cases in which the Board of Trade had stopped ships which were proved to be unseaworthy, sufficient evidence to have convicted the shipowners of an intention to send an unseaworthy ship to sea. He saw no reason why ships should not be placed on the same footing with factories, mines, and mills, and properly qualified persons sent to inspect them, armed with authority to require all necessary conditions to be complied with. The right hon. Gentleman proposed to leave the subject of grain cargoes as it was left last Session, and he added that the Board of Trade issued instructions to its agents on this point. He (Mr. Plimsoll) had seen those instructions, and they warned the agents that they were not to interfere in any way. That was the only trace he could find of any instruction in the Circular. Whilst he felt thankful that duly qualified officers were authorized to go on board ships, they were indebted for that to the Foreign Office, for the Board of Trade gave him a curt refusal to make any such arrangement, and it was only when Lord Derby was referred to that the thing was granted. With regard to deck cargoes, the right hon. Gentleman had said that the legislation that existed before 1862 prohibiting deck cargoes had been absolutely nugatory He (Mr. Plimsoll) was astonished to hear that statement, because one expected a Minister of the Crown to inform himself on these points. A Circular was issued by the Board of Trade itself to Lloyd's in 1874, asking for information on this very subject. Lloyd's employed two gentlemen of great ability—namely, Messrs. Jansen and Wakefield—who examined the records of over 6,800 voyages of timber-loaded ships for 10 years during which deck-loading was prohibited, and for the 10 years after the prohibition was removed in 1862, and they reported to Lloyds, who, he presumed, reported to the Board of Trade, that the loss of life since 1862 was vastly greater than when the deckloading was prohibited. The evidence was most conclusive on the point, though at the moment he forgot the figures. The right hon. Gentleman made himself a little merry at his (Mr. Plimsoll's) expense, because he desired to prevent deck-loaded timber ships from entering British ports, and had asked whether such ships were to be sent out to sea again to be lost. He, however, was not to be deterred from carrying out his object by ridicule of that character. Of course such ships were not to be sent out to sea again to be lost; but heavy penalties might be imposed upon all such ships which entered our ports, and the effect in time would be to prevent them being sent here. That legislation of that kind if properly enforced would be successful, had been proved by the Indian Government, who had imposed heavy penalties on all over-crowded and ill-found vessels which brought home the pilgrims return- ing from Jaffa, and had thus put an end to the evils sought to be repressed. The right hon. Gentleman had expressed himself satisfied with the legislation of last year as to the load-line; but upon that point he should be prepared to join issue with him in Committee; because one of the right hon. Gentleman's own supporters had said, with regard to many of the ships sailing from the port he belonged to, that the load-line might just as well be put upon the funnel as where it was placed under last year's statute. Shipowners who placed a very fair load-line on their ships in our ports buried that line completely when they got into the Black Sea, and thus it became utterly valueless. In the present Act there was no penalty for submerging the load-line, such as it was. The right hon. Gentleman also described how he had got 12 representative gentlemen to try to devise some general scheme by which it might be decided when a ship was overloaded, and they had failed. No doubt they would fail, because the problem he set them was the wrong problem. The question was not how to get a general ruling, for such a thing could not be devised, but—"Can you, or any two of you, on any ship submitted to you, find a safe load-line for that ship?" The Bristol Chamber of Commerce had recently passed a sensible resolution on this point; but the only method of determining what was a fair load-line was by considering each individual case. No general principle could be applied to these matters. But there would be no difficulty whatever in experts dealing with each case, and the load-line already in operation would greatly facilitate their labours if such a commission of experts should be appointed. The Board of Customs were already in possession of the lines of each ship; and if the Government were desirous of arriving at a satisfactory conclusion he should recommend them to get the 12 gentlemen to go through the returns made by the shipowners, and where they found that an ample free board had been allowed put those ships aside and deal with the remainder one by one. The right hon. Gentleman had said that the inquiries with regard to lost ships generally became inquiries, not into the seaworthiness of the ship, but into the guilt or innocence of the captain. That was precisely what he (Mr. Plimsoll) said-last Session, for which he got into dreadful hot water at the hands of the right hon. Gentleman. What he said would be found in the debates as well as the manner in which his remarks were received. Undoubtedly it was the case that these inquiries resolved themselves into the guilt or innocence of the captain and not the seaworthiness or otherwise of the ship. It was unnecessary that he should disclaim all intention of libelling all shipowners; but the right hon. Gentleman had given an illustration of the abnormal position into which this great and important question had drifted when he informed the House that ships were frequently taken down the river by foreign crews until the drunken and diseased English sailors were put on board of them. Why, he asked, were shipowners treated entirely different from other employers? Suppose the railway company had said in respect to the Abbots Ripton collision—"Oh, the engine-driver was drunk and the stoker was drunk," and had urged that as an excuse, would not the public say—"It is your business to provide sober men?" Why should the shipowner be relieved from responsibility for the acts of their servants? Why should shipowners not inquire into the character of their servants, and see the sort of people they were engaging? If a drunken crew were put on board at the last moment, who was to blame—the men, who were helpless, or the sober men who sent them to sea in that condition? He did not see why shipowners should not be held responsible, like any other class of employers, for the people they employed. He must now repeat what he said at the outset, that when he found, although the clauses of the Bill were apparently unsatisfactory, that there were clauses dealing with survey, deck cargoes, load-line, and grain cargoes, he thought that even if the Bill might not be such as the House and the country would accept as it stood, yet it would afford a framework which the House in Committee might fill up with some very good and useful legislation. While reciprocating the kind expressions used towards himself, he hoped the Government would approach the subject with a disposition to accept the opinion of the House in the matter. He trusted the decision on each separate issue as it arose in the hands of the House, confident that so far as the House could ac- complish it, they would have good and useful legislation on the subject.


said, the failure of last Session was to be attributed mainly to the fact that the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman had not precedence over the Bills of his Colleagues; it was postponed to almost every Bill of his Colleagues. But even when the House finally got into Committee upon it the House would recollect that the measure had hardly been properly considered by the Cabinet itself, and the right hon. Gentleman did not receive from the Prime Minister the support which might have been expected. The House might hope that these mistakes would not be repeated this year, that this Bill would be properly considered, and that full opportunity would be given for the discussion, not only of its clauses, but also of the very important Amendments which would probably be proposed by the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Plimsoll). He regretted to hear what the President of the Board of Trade had said with respect to the question of consolidation. He (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) thought a Consolidation Bill ought to follow this Bill immediately. The President of the Board of Trade seemed to think that there could be no consolidation, because there was too much excitement in the mind of the public on the subject; but without some interest in the public mind it would be impossible at any time to carry a Consolidation Bill. Therefore, he could not but think that, considering the somewhat meagre programme which the Cabinet had laid before Parliament, it would be possible to carry not only this Bill, but also a Consolidation Bill which would reduce to something like order the great chaos in which all shipping questions were now. He must admit that from all the information he had received with respect to the appointments made during the Recess under the measure of last Session, they were judicious and good ones. He was quite certain that one appointment made by the right hon. Gentleman, or rather by the Prime Minister—namely, that of the hon. Member for Lincolnshire (Mr. Stanhope) to the Board of Trade—had been received with great satisfaction by the House, and he might say by the country. He did not propose on the present occasion to go through the many details stated by the right hon. Gentleman; but there was one point on which he must say a few words. The House would recollect that last Session the right hon. Gentleman proposed in his Bill that a sum out of the Mercantile Marine Fund should be applied to the training of boys for the Merchant Service. He wished to know whether the right hon. Gentleman would lay on the Table any scheme under which that money would be laid out in the training of boys for ships. Last Session the right hon. Gentleman, he believed, was unable to give the House any scheme, for the best of reasons—because he had no scheme at all. [Sir CHARLES ADDERLEY dissented.] At all events, the right hon. Gentleman was not able to give it to the House. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would tell the House what sum of money he would contribute towards the training of boys, and subject to what conditions. The right hon. Gentleman's proposal involved, directly or indirectly, the taxation of shipowners, and they were entitled, he thought, to know on what conditions this money would be spent. As to the other details of the Bill, they would be better discussed on the second reading.


admitted that the Bill went further than he had anticipated, and he was glad that it did so. It proposed to legislate on three out of the four important points which had been under deliberation last year. It did not deal with the question of load-line as the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Plimsoll) would wish; but he (Mr. E. J. Reed) apprehended that the object of legislation was not to embody the views simply of one particular individual, but to legislate for the general satisfaction. What was wanted was that the Government should show they were disposed to go as far as the country desired them to go, and that had certainly been done in this instance. But though it did that, he himself was of opinion it might have been better had the Government gone further. For himself, he believed that a survey of ships by the Government was perfectly practicable. He did not agree with the hen. Member for Derby that the load-line proposals were unsatisfactory. That subject, it ought to be borne in mind, was full of difficulty, and the right hon. Gentleman had shown that the owner's load-line had many bene- ficial indirect effects. With regard to the question of deck cargo, as with regard to the question of a load-line, he thought that the proposal of the Government was an extremely well-considered one; but he doubted if it would be found to be a final one; or that it was all that the Government could fairly be asked to prescribe. He believed that the Bill was a very fair proposal as a whole, and that, both in what it did and what it admitted of being done in Committee, it put before the House a measure which they might well receive with satisfaction and thankfulness.

Motion agreed to.

Resolved, That the Chairman be directed to move the House, that leave he given to bring in a Bill to amend the Merchant Shipping Acts.

Resolution reported:—Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. RAIKES, Sir CHARLES ADDERLEY, and Mr. EDWARD STANHOPE.

Bill presented, and read the first time. [Bill 49.]