§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Sir Charles Adderley.)
§ MR. RATHBONE
said, he thought hon. Members might congratulate themselves that they were approaching this difficult and intricate subject in a state of feeling admirably calculated to lead to a satisfactory conclusion. The discussion, so far, had been generally marked by an evident desire to approach the subject with fair argument and without the introduction of irritating language. No one could listen to the speeches of the Members of the Government without seeing how carefully and thoughtfully they had inquired into and weighed all the considerations that ought to affect legislation; and he believed it would be a great relief to all those who understood the real difficulties of the 429 question to know that the Government had taken their stand on the sound principle of English legislation—that a shipowner was to be allowed to conduct his business with the freedom enjoyed in other trades, but held strictly responsible for the use he made of his freedom. Had anybody supposed it possible to combine the two incompatible principles of minute Government interference and direction and shipowners' responsibility, their minds must by that time have been disabused of the notion. The hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Plimsoll) had himself fully and frankly admitted the impossibility of this double responsibility. He stated plainly that if the system of Government surveys and load-line which he advocated were adopted. He (Mr. Rathbone) would use his own words—In the absence of proved subsequent neglect, of course it should relieve from responsibility, as also a properly ascertained and determined load-line should relieve from responsibility for overloading if that line is not submerged. We have practically asserted the responsibility of the shipowner when we require him to repair his ship, and when we define the point beyond which he shall not load, and to talk therefore of holding him responsible if accident occurs even while these requirements are complied with, is unreasonable and absurd.Many shipowners were at first inclined to accept a proposal which would relieve them from responsibility on condition of their compliance with certain minute but clearly laid-down regulations; but they soon saw that, in the first place, it was impossible for Government to assume such a responsibility; and, in the second place, that if it did, it would inevitably lead step by step to such an amount and detail of Government interference—such a gradual and inevitable tightening the iron machinery of Government control—that would crush the very life out of the trade, and utterly prevent improvement and progress. Suppose the Government survey given and the Government load-line fixed, and a certificate of seaworthiness granted to the loaded ship, Government would have dealt with a very small portion, and, in ordinary cases, by no means the most important portion, of the elements of safety for a ship. Government had already ample powers to stop cases of very excessive and conspicuous overloading, and, short of such very excessive and conspicuous overloading, the way in which a cargo was stowed was of 430 far more importance to the safety of a ship than the exact depth to which she was loaded. Was it intended that Government officials were to watch the stowage of every ship and to certify that it was properly done; because, if not, would not the other certificate that the ship was properly loaded, because her Government load-line was not submerged, have the inevitable tendency of setting at rest the consciences of shipowners and the vigilance of the underwriters, the shipper of cargo, the sailor, and the surveyor, whose interested vigilance was far more effective than any Government control? The investigations made during the Recess had clearly shown the danger which must result from a general adoption of Government surveys. On this point he could refer with confidence to the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Board of Trade and to the hon. and learned Member for Mid-Lincolnshire (Mr. E. Stanhope), who, to the great satisfaction of the whole Mercantile community, was now the Parliamentary Secretary to that Board. They had visited together during the Recess several of the seaports, and had examined sailors, captains, surveyors, engineers, machine makers, shipbuilders, and shipowners, and he would appeal to them to endorse his statement that from the evidence of those persons the surveys of passenger ships under the Board of Trade had prevented the safest, the most economical, the most effective, and the best form of ship and machinery being adopted. They stated further that they had been repeatedly compelled, in compliance with the rules of the Board of Trade and the demands of the surveyors, to do that which they did not consider was the most desirable for the safety or the efficiency of the vessel. This evidence came from men who were connected with the most wealthy and powerful shipping companies in the Kingdom; and if men in their position, with wealth and influence at their back, and able, therefore, to hold their own with exceptional vigour against the Government requirements, had been hampered by them, what must be the effect of such a system upon the less wealthy rising set of shipowners to whom we must look for improvement and progress? One of the most valuable parts of the present Bill was that which gave a prompt appeal from the surveyor's decision to skilled 431 referees in doubtful cases; and the mere fact that there was such an appeal would tend to make the surveyors more careful, and their decisions, when confirmed, would carry much more weight with the shipping community. Carrying public opinion with them, their work would be not only more easily, but more effectually done. The hon. Member for Derby offered the option of compulsory classification, and perhaps the most practical answer to that suggestion was, that the largest and most important steamship owners declined to class their ships at all. Out of over 750,000 tons of the leading steamship lines which were represented by the Liverpool Steamship Owners' Association—an association representing one-third of the whole steam tonnage of the Kingdom—over 400,000 tons were not classed in any public register. The reason for that was, not because the owners wished to build ships inferior in strength or quality to Lloyd's requirements, but because they wished to build them in a different and superior manner, and to have their hands free to introduce such improvements as they thought desirable, without having to consult the Committee of either Lloyd's or of the Liverpool Registry as to whether they might do so or not. Besides those Liverpool steamers, those of the Peninsular and Oriental Company and of the Royal Mail Company, and other large London lines were unclassed. That was a practical assertion of great authority and weight that compulsory classification was not desirable. Could it, on the other hand, be shown that the great loss of life at sea which had so naturally excited public interest would be prevented by classifying the whole shipping of this country? From the Report of the Royal Commission it appeared that there were in six years 5,316 lives lost by ships where the cause of loss was ascertained; but of these 5,153, or 97 per cent, were lost in vessels which there was every reason to believe were seaworthy, and only 163 were lost in vessels from unseaworthiness. Besides these lives lost from known causes, there were 5,345 lost in missing ships, the cause being unknown, and of these 4,223, nearly four-fifths, were lost in classed ships, and only 1,122 in unclassed ships. It was, therefore, clear either that the great bulk of these missing ships were not lost through unseaworthiness, or, if they 432 were, that classification was no security against it. Lloyd's, the Liverpool Registry, and the Bureau Veritas were all very well managed, and most useful societies as voluntary societies, and would be generally used by shipowners where there was no great change or improvement going on in the model or machinery of ships; but to make their rules compulsory would impede progress, and could have very little effect on loss of life at sea. But it might be justly contended that those who represented shipping communities ought not to be content with merely demonstrating the dangerous tendency of proposals for legislation, but should show plainly what they thought could be done to diminish unnecessary loss of life at sea. In what he was about to say he might assume that everybody interested in merchant shipping had read or would read the admirable article in the last Quarterly Review, for it contained, in the shortest space possible, the most complete account of the facts and principles of legislation concerning shipping. It was evidently written by one who had made the matter the study of his life, and who viewed it not from a ship-owner's, but from an official and executive point of view. Clause 3 of the Bill, which was a repetition of the misdemeanour clause of last Session, would have a most beneficial effect in saving life. It would impress upon the mind of the most thoughtless that it was a crime wilfully, or by criminal negligence, to send an unseaworthy ship to sea, and the effect of that on public opinion would be more powerful than the deterrent effect of that clause itself. But there were undoubtedly some trades in which there had been unnecessary loss of life, to which we might with advantage direct our attention. These were, principally, the export trade of dead weight—coal and iron—from this country, and the import trade of grain and timber into this country. Now, with regard to the outward trades of iron and coal, as they started from ports in this country, the legislation of 1871 and 1873, with that of last Session, gave ample power to the Board of Trade to deal with them, and survey and stop any ships that they had reason to suppose were either defective or overladen, and all that was needed now was good administration rather than fresh legislation. Again, the clause in the Act of last Session dealing with 433 the grain trade, introduced by the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. E. J. Reed), enacted what was requisite in this respect; and what was now required was such arrangement for the administration of the law that it should be effectual. But with respect to deck-cargoes of timber, he was not sure whether it would not be necessary to go somewhat further than the proposal of the Government; for, from all connected with the trade whom he had been able to consult upon the subject, he had received but one opinion—that the great loss of life in the timber trade arose from carrying deck cargoes in the winter season; and they all agreed in thinking that if the law could be made to affect all, so as to put all ships, foreign as well as British, on the same footing, deck cargoes of timber ought to be prohibited altogether in the winter season. That, however, was a matter for consideration in Committee, and when the Bill got there, he thought it would be possible to show how the object sought might be obtained by a clause not open to the objection made by the President of the Board of Trade to the proposal of the hon. Member for Derby. Before sitting down, he must try to get rid of certain confused ideas which seemed to have possessed the minds of many who were not acquainted with ships and shipowners. He quite agreed with the hon. Member for Pembroke that it was most undesirable to speak of shipowners as if they were better than, or in any respect different from, the rest of humanity; but, arguing the question solely upon the most plain, clear, and pure self-interest, it was a most extraordinary delusion to suppose that the great body of respectable shipowners were interested in protecting the owners of unseaworthy ships or overladen ships from interference or punishment, and that all shipowners must be regarded in this matter as biased witnesses, whose opinion and testimony were to be received with hesitation, as men whose aim and interest would be to throw a shield over the culprits. So far from that being the case, we could not confer a greater benefit on respectable shipowners than, in the first place, to prevent unseaworthy ships being sent to sea and to cause them to be broken up, or, failing that, to drive them under foreign flags; for, if they were to sail at all, they had far better, in the in- 434 terests of British honest shipowners, sail under a foreign flag. An unseaworthy ship under the British flag injured the British shipowner in three different ways. It exposed him to an unfair competition; it increased the insurance which he had to pay, for the underwriters so regulated their premiums that the ships which went habitually safely paid for the ships that were lost; and, thirdly, an unseaworthy ship under the British flag degraded the British flag, and to that extent put it to a disadvantage in competition with other nations. But while we must do all we could by wise and sound legislation, based on the principles that were applied to other trades, to make our shipping as safe as possible, we must be careful lest, by unsound legislation and excessive interference, we drove the heavy trades which were in their nature more difficult and dangerous than other trades under a foreign flag. If we did this we should cause two evils—we should drive these trades from under the British flag, out of the reach, therefore, of that reasonable and wise legislation and control which might be productive of great benefit; we should thereby increase the risk to life which we were attempting to prevent, and we should lose to this country trades which were absolutely necessary to its prosperity and maritime safety. It was in these heavy trades, carried on in sailing ships, that we made good sailors. The work of a large passenger steamer, or a Government steamer, containing everything that human ingenuity and great wealth could provide to make her safe and effective, with its minute division of labour, was no school for seamanship, energy, or resource. It was the practice of some, if not all, of the larger steamship owners not to take even as a first mate, with a view to his ultimately becoming a captain of a steamer, any man who had not served for a certain time as captain of a sailing vessel. As in former times, so now, it was the much-abused sailing ships of the north-east of England that turned out the finest seamen the world could produce. The introduction of steam had brought with it dangers in this respect, which were the subject of constant anxiety to careful steamship owners—and the danger had not been unfelt in the Royal Navy. Considering the large and varied interests which he 435 represented, he hoped he had not intruded unreasonably on the attention of the House. He had tried to show that, in the legislation which was desirable to prevent loss of life and property at sea, it was not necessary—nay, that it would be dangerous—to deviate from the English principles of leaving the action and energy of our citizens free and unfettered by minute Government direction; but holding them to a strict account for the use of that freedom, when they injured or attempted to injure others thereby. He had spoken with some confidence, for he had taken the utmost pains to gain from practical men of all kinds the results of their experience; and the answers to these inquiries had been so uniform that he had acquired an almost certainty that the line taken by the Government in their Bill was wise, statesmanlike, safe, and much more likely to be effective than if we were to adopt the Continental plan of Government surveys and minute interference, which those who had tried it admitted to have failed.
said, that there was a general feeling of regret in the country that the Government had not dealt with that part of the law of Merchant Shipping which regulated the relations between seamen and their employers. These relations were embodied in a code of laws which was at once very peculiar and very stringent. This code was consolidated in the Merchant Shipping Bill of last year, and underwent a great deal of discussion. Several Amendments were introduced into it, and many of its more stringent provisions were only carried by narrow majorities. Towards the close of last Session, Parliament passed two most important measures, by which the general relations between employers and employed were placed on an entirely new footing, and when it was announced that the Government intended to legislate on Merchant Shipping it was expected that they would apply the principles contained in those Acts, as far as possible, to the merchant seamen. It was evident that in order to maintain life at sea men must be subjected to certain rules and discipline. Sailors causing loss of life or serious injury to property by deserting should be subjected to penalties in accordance with the principles of the 5th section of the Conspiracy Act, 1875, and therefore the only 436 excuse for special legislation was to stop desertion in cases where there was no danger to life or property. If any workman, except a seaman, broke a contract he could only be sued for damages in a civil Court; but a seaman who deserted, although that was simply breach of contract, was liable to be imprisoned on summary conviction for three months with hard labour, and to forfeit all his effects left on board, and all the wages he had earned. Again, if a seamen were absent from his ship, no matter from what cause, 24 hours before his ship was due to sail, he could be sent to prison for 10 weeks, forfeiting his wages to the extent of two days' pay. Many other illustrations could be given of the stringent and peculiar penalties to which seamen were subject. Would Parliament venture to impose on any other class of workmen penalties of this kind for breach of contract? But the objection to the law was trifling in comparison to the objection to the procedure by which it was enforced—a procedure to which we did not subject our criminals. A seaman found absenting himself without leave might be arrested by a master or mate, or any other person, without warrant, and it was not necessary to carry him before a magistrate, unless he required it. That need not be done then, however, if no justice of the peace happened to be near the place where he was apprehended. He might at once be taken by main force on board ship and compelled to fulfil his duties. Would they empower any other class of employers to enforce performance of contract by so tyrannical a procedure? There was another reason why these laws ought to be amended. A seaman might be seized in the colonies, in spite of any colonial legislation; so that it was in the power of the mate of any ship to cause the most serious complications between the mother country and a colony whose laws on the subject of merchant seamen were more enlightened than our own. Seamen were as respectable a class and as much entitled to the protection of the law as any other class in the country, and he believed they would never have been treated in this manner if they had had the same electoral influence as other working men. If, however, they were as degraded as some people alleged, it might easily be shown that the class laws to which they were subject tended 437 to bring about such a result. He, therefore, hoped the Government would, in Committee, introduce a code of law relating to the relations between merchant seamen and their employers which should be more in accordance with the enlightenment of the present day, and carry out, so far as was practicable, those principles which the House and the country adopted last year.
§ MR. A. PEEL
said, in common with every other hon. Member, he could not but rejoice that at last they saw the prospect of the settlement of that question for some considerable time to come. The House, he was sure, was now prepared to deal with the subject in a calm spirit, without respect to party, and with a sole view to the welfare of our Mercantile Marine. He held that the establishment of Government survey, to the extent which some proposed, would weaken the responsibility of the ship-owner, and as the principle of the liability of the shipowner, which was the one they had in view, had been asserted in the Bill, he was anxious that nothing should be said that would tend to impair its application to the fullest extent. The Government, however, seemed to doubt the application of their own principles, for they had filled the Bill with clauses that showed they mistrusted the ship-owner, and wished to prevent him from doing that for which they said he was responsible. In dividing the country into districts under Wreck Commissioners the Government, he believed, were following the advice of a gentleman well known at the Board of Trade (Mr. O'Dowd); but he could have wished they had followed that gentleman's advice a little further and abolished advance notes, which were a cause of improvidence, and of so many ships going to sea with drunken crews. ["Hear, hear! "and"No, no!"] He knew there was much difference of opinion upon the subject; but he (Mr. Peel) believed the system of advance notes might be very safely done away with, or at least modified in such a way as to be no longer a main source of the vice and misery of the seaman. The question of laying down rules for the proper loading of ships was one of such difficulty that the idea which had been carried out by the Board of Trade of summoning a conference of experts in order to determine the general instruct- 438 tions to be issued to inspectors as a guide on the subject was almost amusing. Judges of the highest character entertained widely different opinions on this question. Even the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Plimsoll) had not been quite clear on the subject before the House.
§ MR. PLIMSOLL
, in explanation, said, that he held that no particular rule should be laid down, but that each ship should be judged according to the circumstances peculiar to her case.
§ MR. A. PEEL
said, that as regarded the proposed Superior Court, to which appeals might be made from the decisions of surveyors, he did not think there was any ground for complaint; but with respect to the proposed Court of Inquiry, supplemental to the present Court of Justices assisted by assessors, he thought the essential difficulty of the case still remained. There would still be the danger of criminating somebody, and by whatever Court the inquiry was held, there would remain, and always must remain, the risk that the civil or criminal liability of the master or owner would affect the course of the enquiry, and divert attention from what was the main point of investigation—namely, the cause of the casualty. He did not think any sufficient grounds had been shown for the change, and he should like to know exactly what were the motives which had prompted the Government to introduce this great machinery of Wreck Commissioners, stipendiary magistrates, and special assessors, when no substantial grievance was alleged against the old system. He wished to know whether it was intended, in the clause respecting shipowners' liability, to make them responsible for anything which happened to seamen from the act of their fellow-sailors. If this principle were laid down in the Bill, the railway companies would be on the qui vive; their position would be a serious one if they were held responsible for accidents to men in their employ from the acts of their fellow-servants. As to the proposed certificates of health, he hoped they would answer, but his hopes were small. The Act of 1844 provided for certificates distinguishing able-bodied seamen from seamen of any other class; but these certificates soon became a dead letter. He was sorry to criticize the Bill, to which he was not hostile; his sincere 439 desire being to facilitate its passing and settle a question which was not only of great importance, but one of great difficulty.
§ Dr. KENEALY
expressed a desire to say a few words on this important subject. He was sure that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade was actuated by the truest desire to advance the interests of the Merchant Shipping service and the welfare of our seamen. There were, however, parts of the Bill which were open to misconstruction, and should be amended. One clause provided that an owner sending an unseaworthy ship to sea should be guilty of a misdemeanour, unless he proved that her going to sea in such a state was, under the circumstances, reasonable and justifiable. Now what circumstances could justify the sending of an unseaworthy ship to sea? The clause should be made more stringent. The next clause of the Bill related to prosecutions, and laid it down that no prosecutions should be undertaken unless by the sanction of the Board of Trade. That, in his opinion, was most objectionable. The greatest violations of the law took place in consequence of persons not being at liberty to institute prosecutions, because they had not received the sanction of the Attorney General; and in a matter of such great and vital importance as the Merchant Shipping Bill, he apprehended that the public would be apt to think the Government were not sincere when the clause provided that no prosecution should take place except by the sanction of the Board of Trade. He would also suggest to the right hon. Gentleman, that the persons appointed for this particular service under the Board of Trade should be persons who had been in the Mercantile Marine, and of great experience. There was another point which related to what was called ships permanently retired. What did the right hon. Gentleman intend to do with those ships? As he was informed, some of them were in such bad condition that their timbers, if the ships were broken up, would not be found available for any useful purpose. There was another point to which he deemed it necessary to call attention, and that was as to the importance of the manner of stowing grain. As he understood from experienced authority, the best manner of stowing a cargo of grain 440 would be by putting it into bags; and he submitted that the owners of ships should be compelled by a provision in the Bill to have cargoes of grain secured for carriage in bags. Another important point was that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade should not allow loads to be carried on deck. That was a matter calling for the serious consideration of the House, and heavy penalties should be imposed on owners who might allow deck-loading on board their ships.
§ MR. T. E. SMITH
said, on looking over the Bill, he could not again enter upon the discussion of whether it was desirable to have "grandmotherly legislation "for taking care of merchant ships and seamen. There were one or two points which shipowners regarded with considerable regret. The first was that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade had not brought in a measure dealing with other ships besides British, and thus put British and foreign vessels on an equal footing. The effect of the present Bill would be that many ships would be transferred to foreign flags, and their owners would thus evade the provisions of the Act. He objected to Clause 4 on the ground that it adopted an entirely new principle with regard to seamen, and one which had no existence in the case of other trades in this country. Shipowners were entitled to meet with due consideration at the hands of the Board of Trade, inasmuch as he thought it not right to make them answerable for acts of their captains and seamen, when those parties were away at sea, and not under their control. Railway companies were in a far better position: they had the means of exercising supervision over their lines day by day; but not so with shipowners, who knew nothing of what occurred on board their ships when those ships were away at sea, and who therefore ought not to be held responsible in such cases. That was a matter which he hoped would meet with due consideration in Committee. With regard to the new Court proposed to be established by the Bill, he thought it would prove very satisfactory; and with regard to the appointment of two assessors by the Board of Trade, he thought it more desirable that one of the two should be appointed by the local Marine Board. With re- 441 spect to the danger to life from deck-loading, he thought the practice of putting 20 or 30 tons of coal on the deck of steamers leaving port, in the hope of burning them before bad weather came on, most dangerous, and that a clause should be embodied in the Bill to prevent it by the infliction of severe penalties. He regretted, with regard to deck cargoes, that there were any exemptions. He had little faith in attempts to put down deck cargoes of timber; and, with reference to the extraordinary statement about abolishing bulkheads, he always thought they strengthened ships. He believed when they had a fleet of ships under this Bill without bulkheads, there would speedily be an an end to the Mercantile Marine of this country. One result which he did look forward to from the present measure was that there would be a material reduction in the cost of ships.
§ MR. PLIMSOLL
said, he approached the consideration of the question with very great anxiety, he wished, however, to make a few remarks to remove, if possible, some false impressions as to the course he had taken, created by exaggerated statements. The comparisons which had been made by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade ranged in the most extraordinary and mysterious manner over different periods, indeed, the speech itself was a perfect dance among statistics, and he (Mr. Plimsoll) confessed that when he heard the right hon. Gentleman impugn what he had said as to the loss of life, on the authority of a Lloyd's Report, it seemed that it was really impossible there could be any foundation for the charge. He had, therefore, obtained the Report, and looked carefully over it, and he found that the right hon. Gentleman had compared two different periods for his Returns—namely, 1832–35 and 1870–73; but, in speaking of wrecks, he began with the year 1836, and therefore the comparison was not fairly made. He submitted his own statement on the subject, together with the official document, to the Statistical Society, and asked them to provide a return which would be accepted as authoritative on the subject. For his own part, he had dealt but very little with statistics, and his statements of facts had been based upon the findings of Courts of Inquiry, official Returns, Parliamentary Reports, official 442 documents, and other papers of the highest kind; and he now found that the exaggerations of which he was accused were two—first, that one night last Session he had overstated—very slightly—the loss of life in the last year; and secondly, that, whereas, when he spoke of a ship not having been heard of he ought to have said she foundered. But what happened in consequence of these alleged small discrepancies? Three hon. Members of that House upon different occasions and at widely different places had attacked that statement, each of them as if it was a separate error, so that he had been subjected to no fewer than 11 attacks, because he had misstated the total loss of life for one year. The inference was, he thought, irresistible, and that was that those hon. Gentleman would not have fiddled so long on one string if they had had another on which to play. It was not, however, for him to defend these figures, he would let them defend themselves. Then, with respect to the loss of life, the Board of Trade altogether ignored the great improvements which had taken place in the number of light-houses, life-boats, and other appliances which had been introduced of late years for ensuring safety, and the result of their calculation was, that supposing a steamer made five trips in the time it would take a sailing vessel to make one, we should consider ourselves well off if there were only 4½ lives lost by the steamer as compared with one by the sailing vessel. When the first iron vessels were constructed the iron was of the best quality, equal, in fact, to the plates of the best iron boilers, and they were practically unsinkable. He had talked with the captain of one of those ships which had run right against an iceberg and lost all her masts, and yet made her voyage home in safety. Since then it was well known that a very different quality of iron had been used for the construction of such vessels in many cases. It was, he could not help thinking, much to be regretted that the whole matter should thus have been thrown into confusion, for the statement of the right hon. Gentleman was one to which it was difficult to make a reply without trespassing unduly on the attention of the House. He might, however, be allowed to refer for a moment to the latest "Wreck Register"—a document which had been issued by the Board of Trade, 443 and the evidence furnished by which he presumed the right hon. Gentleman would not call in question. In that Report it was stated that of the total number of ships lost on our own coasts in 1873–4, the loss of 30 was attributable to defects in the ships or their equipments, and of the 30, 19 appeared to have foundered from unseaworthiness. Referring to the casualties during the second period of the year, still on the coasts of the United Kingdom, the Report stated that 91 had occurred from defects in the ships and their equipments, so that the loss of 121 vessels in one year was attributable to unseaworthiness. These facts in themselves, it seemed to him, furnished ample evidence that some legislation on the subject was urgently required. In page 10 of the Report it was further set forth that 1,000 had been lost when the force of the wind did not exceed a strong breeze, and that there had been 314 casualties when the ships ought to have been able to hold their course against the wind which prevailed. There were many statements of a similar kind contained in the Report which he did not deem it necessary to quote, and he would now address himself to the Bill before the House, with which he was not at all surprised to find that the shipowners were not displeased, for from beginning to end of it the shipowner appeared to him to count for everything and the sailor for nothing. The Bill sought to protect the sailor by providing certain legal remedies against the shipowner, while it gave to the sailor certain legal rights. He had, however, no hesitation in saying that those legal rights would in the hands of our seamen turn out to be useless, for the penalties to which shipowners were to be made liable would be of very little value, judging from the fact that there had been in 1873–4, as he had just stated, 121 casualties owing to unseaworthiness, while only 22 vessels out of the unseaworthy ships sent to sea within a given time were stopped. He was not surprised at this, because he and they all knew how cheap professional evidence was, and when testimony of that kind was given, the men of course had the matter decided against them. He did not object to the clause, but he did not think it would do any good. He had, indeed, not heard of one single shipowner having been prosecuted by the Board of Trade in 444 England, and only of two in Ireland. Nor from the answer which had been given to him that very day by the President of the Board of Trade did he think the legal rights which the Bill would confer on the sailor would afford him any better protection. He did not think seamen were proper judges of the seaworthiness of vessels, and it was unfair to shipowners that they should be exposed to great loss by giving to ignorant men the opportunity of stopping vessels. The law committed this ridiculous folly—first of all it made the seaman a judge, and then if, however sincere he might be, he made an error, it treated him as a criminal and sent him to gaol. In the case of scurvy, every one knew that it could be prevented by a proper supply of healthy, good food. The Government took care, that in the case of passenger and emigrant ships the provisions were surveyed as a matter of course, but there was no such survey for seamen's provisions. The Act 17 & 18 vic., c. 104, s. 221, provided that three seamen might demand a survey under certain circumstances, but he had not heard of its ever having been done, and it gave an instance how sailors exercised their legal rights. He had before him a list of four vessels belonging to one firm, and on board them 18, 24, 4, and 35 men were dreadfully afflicted with scurvy. Fifteen out of one ship's company died. In order to avoid strong feeling in the matter, he thought it better not to name the firm to which these vessels belonged. The strange thing, however, was, that whenever men suffering from scurvy were landed and able to obtain wholesome food they got better. He was told, though he did not state it as a fact within his own knowledge, that the Admiralty sold their beef and pork when they were no longer fit for the Royal Navy, and that they were supplied to merchant vessels. As he had on the Paper a Motion for Returns on this subject, he would only remark now that if the beef and pork were bad they ought to be destroyed, and not sold to unscrupulous men to spread disease and death on board ship. He believed that with respect to health on board merchant ships, the last Returns of the Board of Trade showed that scurvy was very prevalent, and that a very large proportion of the crews were landed in such a state that they had at once to be sent to their 445 friends or to hospitals, while in some cases the disease was so had that the ship was unable to continue on her course. Now, if men who suffered so frightfully never dreamt of bringing an action-at-law against their owners, what was the use of the legal rights they possessed? The legal liability imposed on the owners and the legal rights conferred on the men were, in his opinion, perfectly valueless. As to the proposed Court of Survey, he sincerely hoped it would not be established. It would be the Board of Trade over again, and in its dealing with the Mercantile Marine that Department seemed to have united the maximum of meddling with the minimum of management. He wondered that shipowners had not insisted long ago on the total re-organization of the Board of Trade and demanded a special Board of Commissioners, consisting of retired shipowners and shipbuilders, who knew all about their business, and who would be able in a very short time to bring about the necessary alterations with the least possible trouble. Such a body ought to have power to make bye-laws about undermanning, boats, and other matters which were essential, but which could not be crystallized in an Act of Parliament. When this was done we should see daylight, and he was persuaded that in a very short time there would be a wonderful diminution in the loss of life at sea, and such an addition to the comfort and safety of the men as would make it no longer difficult to man our vessels, while respectable men would not be ashamed, as they were at present, of beginning life as sailors. With respect to the load-line there was no supervision provided either at the port which a vessel was cleared outwards, or at the port of unloading; and the clause as to grain-loading as it stood in the Bill would be perfectly valueless. Then with respect to deck-loading, the provisions respecting which would be practically nugatory, the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade dealt with that practice in an entirely new way, for through Mr. Thomas Gray, he wrote to Lloyd's Committee and asked them to investigate this subject. That Committee accordingly nominated two gentlemen of great experience, who examined the data of 6,830 voyages made by timber-laden ships from North American ports while 446 deck-loading was prohibited, and in the 10 years following the removal of the prohibition. Although the traffic was now three times as great, and consequently men have a better chance of escape in the event of vessels becoming water-logged, yet it was found there were four times as many lives lost since the prohibition of the practice was swept away as were lost during the period when the prohibition existed. To neglect to deal with that question in the Bill, or deal with it in an ineffectual manner was very silly. The load-line proposed by the Bill seemed to be an owner's load-line, but there was no principle laid down for guidance, and if he chose to put it on the bulwarks probably no one would interfere with him. He objected to the proposal, because owners were often shopkeepers, without the special and technical knowledge requisite for that purpose. It was his intention, instead of recognizing the owner's load-line, to ask for the appointment of a Commission to examine all such load-lines, with power to provide a proper freeboard wherever necessary. The Bill was also defective in not providing a penalty for a wrong load-line, but he should endeavour in Committee to supply the omission. The Bill provided means for better investigating casualties than now existed; but the difference between his proposal and the proposal of the Government was this—that he advocated precaution, while they advocated subsequent inquiry; but the precaution would be infinitely cheaper and more efficacious for the object in view, and when the Bill went into Committee he hoped to give good reasons for inducing Parliament to accept his proposal. Training ships were affected by the Bill, and he saw no reason why little orphan boys at present running through the streets—the waifs and strays of society—should not be taken into training-ships and made seamen after we had got some seaworthy ships, supplied with good provisions. The loss of life at sea, however, was at present so great that it would take a great many of those training-ships to meet the demand for sailors. He had heard of one shipowner, a Member of that House, who had lost 28 men within the last year, and of another, also a Member, who had lost seven ships, whereby 100 seafaring lives were sacrificed. If there were to be such a waste 447 of the raw material as this, he thought the House would pause before it expressed satisfaction with, or assented to, any arrangement such as the Government proposed. Let life be first made safe at sea, so that nothing but unavoidable danger and hardship would have to be encountered, and then there would be no disposition to begrudge any amount of money for training ships. What he submitted to the House was this—that ships which needed repair should be repaired, and that ships should not be allowed to be overloaded. Let there be an efficient survey, so that vessels which had gone through their classes, and were unfit to carry coal and ore on coast voyages, should no longer be entrusted with human lives. On these points, then, it was his intention to join issue with the Government by asking for a compulsory survey. His Amendments would be drawn by able counsel and in a conciliatory spirit, anxious as he was to consult the wishes and interests of shipowners to the utmost. Those Amendments he would give the Committee an opportunity of deciding on by their vote, and might God defend the right.
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
said, it was not his wish to offer any observations upon points which must be more fully discussed hereafter in Committee on the Bill; but there were one or two subjects upon which some misconception existed not only in regard to the provisions of the Bill, but as to the action of the Board of Trade as the Department charged with the administration of previous Acts. It was stated the other day, as it was also said last year, by the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Plimsoll), that it was not the custom of the Board of Trade to hold wreck inquiries, except in cases in which the guilt of the captain in command was concerned. That was not the case, for reports were made in all cases by the Receivers of Wrecks, and if from these reports an inquiry into the circumstances of a wreck seemed to be desirable, the Board of Trade always ordered such an inquiry to be made. In corroboration of that statement, if hon. Members would look through the Wreck Registers they would find that Courts of Inquiry were held where the guilt of the master was not concerned, but where there was reason to believe the vessel was either not seaworthy, or was overloaded, or was an improper ship for the purpose for 448 which she was employed. An objection had been taken to the existing Courts of Inquiry, on the ground that the civil and criminal proceedings were mixed up together. In the dropped Bill of last year a proposal was made on the part of the Government to distinguish between the civil and criminal liability of the captain. That proposition had been abandoned this Session, for the reason that if an inquiry were held into the causes of a casualty, and if the certificate were left to be dealt with by some Court afterwards, the certificate would never be dealt with at all. In small cases the witnesses would never be kept together. Moreover, in such inquiries it was found, as the hon. Member for Warwick (Mr. A. Peel) had pointed out, that it was, in practice, impossible to separate the civil and criminal proceedings. It would be found that when there was anything hanging over the head of the master, and when it was possible that his conduct might be made liable to future condemnation, whether in a Court of Law or by public opinion, then in any formal inquiry the master's mouth was sealed, and it was, therefore, unnecessary and useless to hold two inquiries instead of one. Now, how did the Government propose to deal with this case? First, they proposed to establish a superior class of Judges, called Wreck Commissioners. In the first instance, they proposed to appoint a Wreck Commissioner, specially qualified for the purpose, to sit in London, where it was found impossible for the police magistrates to hear these cases. The Government also took power to appoint two additional Commissioners, because the number of these inquiries would probably be increased, and in cases of great importance a Special Commissioner would be sent down. In doing so, however, the Government did not intend generally to supersede the local magistrates or the stipendiary magistrates, whose powers had been exercised with great advantage. In the next place, the Government took power to make rules; and their object in doing so was that rules should be in all cases strictly prescribed, so that in all inquiries held before two justices, or a stipendiary magistrate, or a Wreck Commissioner, the primary duty of the Court should be to institute a full and searching inquiry into all the causes of the disaster. The 449 rules would also provide that if in the opinion of the officer representing the Board of Trade, or of the Judge, the circumstances disclosed were such as to incriminate any one person, then the Court should be bound to give him notice of all the charges, and afford him, by adjournment or otherwise, every opportunity of meeting the case against him. That was the explanation of the form of procedure which his right hon. Friend proposed to establish by this Bill. To show to what extent the number of inquiries had increased since it had been provided that a legal officer of the Board of Trade should attend to them, he might mention that whereas in 1865 there had been only 37 inquiries, there had been in 1875 274 inquiries, and they had every reason to believe that under the provisions of this Bill the number of inquiries would be still more increased. The hon. Member for Derby seemed to think that the Board of Trade must be remiss in its duty, because it had stopped a great number of ships as unseaworthy and had yet instituted so few prosecutions; but it was the merit of the system now in force and proposed to be continued that it stopped people from committing crime—it actually stopped ships before they were sent to sea and before there was an attempt to send them to sea. The Board of Trade might be justified in detaining a ship, and yet the owner might not come within the letter of the law as criminally guilty of sending or attempting to send the ship to sea. That morning a valuable Paper had been placed in the hands of hon. Members, and it showed clearly the difficulties with which the Board had to contend, the reasons why it had instituted so few prosecutions, and why it had been successful in still fewer cases. The various proposals relating to deck cargoes would have to be fully considered in Committee, but he should be justified in making one remark now. On several occasions the hon. Member for Derby had referred to a report made by two members of Lloyd's at the request of the Board of Trade, and laid before the Commission on Unseaworthy Ships; but the hon. Member was clearly not cognizant of another table, of exactly equal authority, because it was also prepared by Lloyds, but applied to many more ports, and extended over a longer period. It showed distinctly what the casualties were between 1840 and 1862, 450 when the deck-loading law was in operation, and between 1862 and 1872, when it was repealed; and it was a curious fact that this Return was contradictory of the other, because it showed distinctly that the total losses had not increased and that the casualties had actually diminished. This only proved that there were varying statistics which the Royal Commissioners were unable to reconcile, though they attempted to do so; but when the House decided this matter it would do so not upon statistics, but upon arguments in favour of the Government proposal or any counter proposals which might be made. As to grain cargoes, his right hon. Friend had hardly been understood in the statement he had made, for he had fully explained how loyally he had endeavoured to carry out the intentions of Parliament. The difficulty the Department had experienced in considering the peculiar circumstances of so many ports had not been fully realized. It had to discover where surveyors ought to be appointed, where special circumstances rendered such appointments unnecessary, where the underwriters caused surveys to be made which need not be repeated, and the peculiar circumstances of isolated ports. The exceptional position of Taganrog, for instance, to which the hon. Member (Mr. Plimsoll) had alluded, occasioned difficulty, for it was found that an efficient survey there would cost £800 a-year. As regarded surveys at home the instructions were most precise; and, as it was hoped most ships would be inspected before leaving ports abroad, it was believed that such inspection would be the less necessary in all cases here. They had directed the inspection of those ships which showed a list or had met with casualties during the voyage, and, after the experience of two months at the end of the grain season, he believed this would enable them to deal satisfactorily with the question of grain cargoes. He believed the 4th clause of the Bill would not bear the construction which the hon. Member for Warwick had put upon it; it was not the intention of the Government that it should alter the law; and he believed when its terms came to be more fully criticized it would be found that it did not. While thanking the hon. Member for Derby for the careful criticisms he had passed upon the Bill, he did not wish to follow the hon. Member into the 451 statistics relating to the loss of life at sea, because the House would not be governed by a few statistics; the introduction of the Bill proved that the Government was satisfied there was loss of life at sea, which all equally regretted, and that in some cases it had arisen from the unseaworthiness of ships; and the Bill showed that the Government desired to deal as fully as they were able with these cases. They wished to impress upon shipowners the responsibility of the business in which they were engaged, and to require them to show that in all cases they had taken reasonable pains to secure seaworthiness in the ships they sent to sea; and, therefore, it was difficult to understand how it could be said that nothing had been done for seamen. Surely the tendency of such legislation must be to increase the safety of seamen at sea? They continued the enactment of last year which gave seamen a direct means of challenging the seaworthiness of a ship, and relieved one-fourth of a crew from the necessity of finding security for costs; and the only change made was one which would affect small ships in respect of which complaints might be made by one or two drunken men. It would be hard, indeed, if a ship should be detained on such a complaint, and a proviso was inserted to guard against such cases by empowering an officer who considered that a complaint was vexatious and frivolous to require security for costs before detaining a ship. On the whole, he ventured to hope that the proposals of the Government would prove satisfactory to the House.
, as representing the shipping interests of the port of Hull, desired to give the measure a general support; and, while expressing satisfaction that the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Plimsoll) had avoided those personalities which last Session gave a tone of intimidation to his remarks, to confess regret that the hon. Member had not, by apologizing for his past errors, strengthened the sympathy of the House and the country in the cause of the merchant seamen. There was no object in legislation if it was not to protect seamen; there had been no agitation for legislation to protect shipowners, although as a class they had grievous complaints which might justify a counter agitation for their remedy. What he 452 meant was to some extent proved by Board of Trade statistics, which showed that the tonnage—meaning both sailing ships and steamers—of Norway had increased from 640,705 tons in 1864 to 1,245,293 tons in 1874, while the steam tonnage of the United Kingdom had increased from 5,251,757 tons in 1864 to 5,681,000 in 1873—the former increase being double, and the latter only 10 per cent. By imposing restrictions on the shipowners of this country they gave decided advantages to foreign shipowners; and, therefore, instead of an increase of British tonnage, they might find foreigners coming in and taking away the carrying trade of the country. In one year the British sailing ships coming to the port of Hull amounted to 121,151 tons, while in the same year the foreign sailing ships coming to that port amounted to 364,989 tons—there were coming to Hull three tons of foreign shipping for one ton of British shipping. They must, therefore, take care on this subject not to legislate in a manner that would drive British tonnage from the seas. With regard to the 3rd clause of the Bill as to sending unseaworthy ships to sea, the objection entertained by shipowners was that it assumed a person to be guilty before he was proved to be so, whereas it had hitherto been the law to assume innocence till guilt was proved. So far as he had heard, there was no objection to Clauses 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9. In Clause 10, which gave power to one-fourth of the crew to stop a ship going to sea, there was debateable ground between ship-owners and the friends of seamen. At the large meeting of the shipowners in the City the other day, an almost unanimous protest was raised against this clause; but he did not think that even that point would be seriously pressed by shipowners, because they felt it their duty to do all they could to assist the Legislature in passing a law which would put an end to agitation on the subject. With regard to grain cargoes, he could speak, not from theory, but from great personal experience, and he must say, so far as the subject had been brought before him, he considered the action of the Board of Trade had been satisfactory in the extreme. Only last Session he had considered it his duty to call attention to the long list of steamers laden with grain which had foundered 453 in the Bay of Biscay. Since the short Act of last year had come into operation they had not had to deplore the same loss of life and property. There had also been a lamentable loss of life and property in steamers coming across the Atlantic loaded with grain, and they had not had a repetition of those losses. The same might be said of steamers coming from the Black Sea and from Mediterranean ports. That was the best practical commentary on the working of the temporary Act of last Session. The deck cargo clause raised a serious difficulty. He would at once support a measure which in any way tended to prevent deck-loading, and in his opinion the difficulty might be met by providing that, within certain limits of time, no vessel crossing the Atlantic should be allowed to carry a deck-load of any description; but it became a serious question when a proposal was made which, if carried out, would interfere with the great mass of the coasting trade of this country. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade acknowledged the difficulty, and in order to meet it he proposed to put a tax on deck cargoes by charging extra dock dues. But who would benefit by that? The dock companies were perfectly satisfied with the charges they now imposed, and these extra dues would, he feared, tend materially to lessen the dues now received, and would in that way operate injuriously upon the carrying trade of the country. There were some cargoes which could not be carried except on deck. Among these were cattle, fruit, agricultural machinery, wood from the Baltic, which were mostly carried in the summer time, and generally when the holds of the vessels were only half full. It would, therefore, be unfair to impose upon shipowners an extra charge for dock dues in such cases. With regard to a load-line, the shipowners of the port of Hull had met and decided to carry out that provision to the best of their ability. For himself, he must say it was not right that the attempt to solve a difficult question like this should be treated with ridicule or contempt. As a shipowner he had come to the conclusion, with many other practical men, that a maximum load-line should be fixed, and if on going abroad that load-line was varied, it would soon be found out who was responsible for it. Public 454 opinion, he thought, would be strong enough to prevent any attempt to evade the law. He felt it to be his duty to give the Government every assistance in passing this Bill, which he believed would effect the object which all had in view—namely, the protection of the lives of our seamen, without acting prejudicially to the interests of our Mercantile Marine
§ MR. BENTINCK
begged to endorse the comments which the hon. Gentleman who had just down had made upon the language and conduct of the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Plimsoll). Without any wish to be discourteous to any hon. Member, he must say that the hon. Member for Derby had upon more than one occasion been most unfortunate in his statements in this House, and had, moreover, thrown out charges broadcast against the shipowners of this country, than whom no body of men stood higher in public estimation; and, having done so, had failed either to substantiate or to retract them. With reference to this Bill, it was not his intention to enter into any discussion of its merits; but it was impossible to exaggerate its importance. Amongst the grievances put forward justly by the shipowners, one had been that they were harassed by constant legislation, and what they asked for was a permanent measure. He understood that the Government brought in that Bill as a permanent measure, and it was on that ground he wished particularly to offer a few observations. The joint object of the hon. Member for Derby and the Board of Trade was to save life at sea; but both the hon. Member for Derby and the Board of Trade were affected with what in medical parlance was called monomania. They seemed to think that the way to save life at sea was by dealing with one question only. But his right hon. Friend failed entirely to deal with the principal cause of the loss of life at sea, and if the Bill were carried in its present shape, it would perpetuate and sanction the existing state of things, which must lead annually to an enormous loss of life, for which the Government would be held responsible. We had been told that a certain place was paved with good intentions; but unless the Bill was amended, the intentions of the House of Commons would bear the same fruits as the good intentions which were said to exist in another 455 place. He admired the talent, the energy, and the zeal which his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade had shown in handling the question; but his right hon. Friend was immensely overloaded by the multiplicity of business with which he had to deal, and that circumstance had compelled him to neglect what ought to be the most important element of a Bill on this subject. On the question of grain cargoes all were agreed; and as for deck cargoes, they ought, except in coasting vessels, to be altogether prohibited. A great deal was said about the necessity of preventing overloading. But was the House aware of the number of ships lost from underloading? A light ship was quite as dangerous as an overloaded ship, and more so, for in certain cases you could not keep her from going ashore. But there was a much more fruitful cause of loss of life than unseaworthy ships, and that was unseaworthy seamen. If the House would take the trouble to inquire into the cause of wrecks, especially those on our coasts, they would find that a very large number of wrecks were to be attributed not to unseaworthy ships, but to unseaworthy sailors—men shipped as "A.B.'s," who not only came aboard intoxicated, but were utterly unable to perform the duties which they engaged to perform. The only practical way of dealing with this serious difficulty was not to accept anyone as an A.B. who could not produce a certificate of his former service. One of the chief causes of loss of life at sea was want of discipline. Unfortunately, the magistrates, in cases which came before them, generally leaned to the men, and disorderly and mutinous conduct was thus encouraged on shipboard. The Bill ignored that subject altogether. Again, fires on board emigrant ships at sea were often caused by what on shore would be called burglary, but what was known at sea as boring through a bulkhead to get at liquor. Yet, the master of the ship had no power to deal summarily with offences of this description. Another point was the bad form of ships. In bad weather many steamers, especially those going from the East Coast ports to the Baltic, foundered, though they were well-found and well-manned, because they were so long that they were unmanageable in bad weather. That was in a great measure the fault of our tonnage laws, 456 but the Bill did nothing to correct them. A still more grave omission was the failure to deal with the subject of collisions at sea and the blundering "rule of the road." Unless in the event of a collision, there was no legal penalty for not carrying the proper lights at night; but ought there not to be a penalty for disobeying one of the most stringent regulations of the Board of Trade? At present, the penalties were so trivial as to be practically no penalties at all. Substantially the same remark applied to the offence of keeping a bad look-out. Then there was the practice of driving steamers at full speed in fogs and at night, more especially in narrow channels, when numbers of vessels were sure to be near. In a Bill which had for its object the prevention of loss of life at sea, it was unaccountable that such matters should not be provided for, and unless they were dealt with many lives would be lost which might be saved.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
A remark made in the course of the debate by the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Plimsoll) gave considerable pain to some shipowners in this House. The hon. Member for Derby referred to the cases of two ship-owners—Members of this House—and said that one of them had lost 100 men in the course of 12 months, while he quoted some statistics also about the other. Now, shipowners in this House feel that a general statement of this kind, not fixed upon any individual, and one, therefore, to which it was impossible for any one of them to reply, is rather a hardship. I ventured to communicate with the hon. Member for Derby on the subject, and he, approaching the matter with fairness and in the best spirit, anxious to do nothing which should prejudice the great cause he has at heart, has authorized me to say on his behalf that, seeing that the effect of his remarks might be to fix his statements on the wrong men, he regrets having made them at all, as it is far from his desire to create prejudice by any words, unsubstantiated by specific facts, affecting the general character of shipowners in this House. I think the House will be pleased to hear this statement.
§ LORD ESLINGTON
said, he had pleasure in congratulating the President of the Board of Trade and the House on the fact that up to the 457 present there had been an evident desire on the part alike of hon. Members who were shipowners and of those who might be described as treating the question from a national point of view, to approach the question calmly and to discuss it without resorting to the inflammatory language which had on some occasions been used both in the House and outside its walls. He had hoped that the present Bill would be so drawn as to effect a satisfactory and permanent settlement of the question; but he could not so regard it, for the reason that it contained no proposal to consolidate the vast mass of existing law on the subject. He hoped that before the measure left the House an assurance would be given by the right hon. Gentleman in charge of it that it was the intention of the Government to deal with the matter in this sense. It was very proper to rivet upon the shipowners the full responsibility of any action on their part which might endanger the safety of ships and the possible loss of valuable lives; but he contended that before they called upon a man to obey the law they were bound to make him understand what the law was. At the present moment the laws relating to Merchant Shipping were in a state of great confusion; and unless during the present Session some attempt was made to consolidate them, the House would only be adding another statute to the already vast mass of legislation on the subject. The present Bill was, in its main clauses, a re-enacting measure, and the new provisions which it contained were such as would be accepted with gratitude and satisfaction by the great body of ship-owners. Upon one point, however—namely, the constitution of the superior Court which should decide such questions as those relating to the best construction of ships or machinery—he held strongly that one of the referees should be chosen by the shipowners themselves, so that the decision upon these important points should not rest with nominees of the Board of Trade. He regretted that prominence had not been given to the subject of the training of seamen and apprentices. Every encouragement ought to be given to shipowners to carry apprentices. Compulsory apprenticeship could not, of course, be enacted; but it was clearly the duty of the Government to remove any restrictions which at present prevented the proper develop- 458 ment of the system of apprenticeship. In his opinion, the Mercantile Marine should be placed under the control of a competent Board. He would congratulate the hon. Member for Derby on the extreme moderation of his present demands, and wished to point out that while the shipowners of this country were content to accept the main principles of the Government Bill, they would do their best to modify many of its details in Committee.
§ MR. SAMUDA
said, it was important to bear in mind that when they were seeking to pass a permanent measure the Government ought to accept reasonable and proper Amendments from whatsoever quarter they might come, in order that their Bill might be rendered as perfect as possible. Although he agreed with most of the proposals which it contained, there were certain of its provisions which did not in his opinion meet the altered circumstances of the case since the end of the last Session. He should desire to see a provision introduced into the Bill absolutely prohibiting the change of the name of a vessel. It was a common thing for the names of vessels of the most inferior class to be changed, notwithstanding the obstacles the regulations of the Customs and the Board of Trade placed in the way of such proceedings. The result was that the thing was so cleverly done that the public were deluded into trusting their lives in vessels, sailing under a new name, that were utterly unseaworthy. As to deck cargoes the penalty was not sufficient, they ought to be absolutely prohibited in the cases of voyages across the Atlantic, when they were found to be inconsistent with the public safety. It had been said that if all these restrictions were placed on English shipping, the result would be that the trade would be thrown into the hands of foreigners. But the question they had to determine was not as between English and foreign shipowners, but whether, in the interests of public policy, they were justified in making such laws as would tend to the destruction of property and of human life. It had been stated that night, and Returns bore out the fact, that the loss of life owing to the practice of carrying deck cargoes was five times as great since they had been allowed to be carried as it was when they were illegal. The fact was, that it was not in the interest 459 of the nation to allow people to enter into a particular trade which resulted in loss of life. The right hon. Gentleman had made a broad statement to the effect that there was not an increasing loss of life and property at sea; but the only justification for his Bill was that there was an increase in such loss. With regard to the subject, he would remind the House that as he had stated on several occasions the Wreck Register showed in the five years ending in 1853 the total loss of ships was 969 per year, in the following five years 1,118, in the next five years 1,488, and in the last 1,748 per annum. Between 1858 and 1868 the number of ships and steamers on the British register had increased only from 27,000 to 29,000, so that whilst the increase of ships during those 10 years was 8 per cent the increase in losses was 50 per cent. During the same period the loss of life rose from 350 to 850 a-year. Everything ought to be done to restrain the carrying of goods on deck, because he believed that was a most dangerous mode of employing ships. With reference to load-line, he entirely agreed with the view of the Government, and believed compulsory classification to be unnecessary and impossible. The only load-line which it was practical to give to a ship was that load-line which the owner of the ship, acting on his own judgment, decided to be the correct line to use. His right hon. Friend proposed, very justly, to make every shipowner mark his line; but he put no penalty whatever on a non-adherence to that line. He (Mr. Samuda) thought a clause ought to be inserted in the Bill compelling a shipowner who had marked his line to pay for all losses which might result from overloading. He regretted that no mention was made in this Bill of a subject with which the Bill that was dropped last Session proposed to deal—namely, seamen's advance notes. He admitted that a great many disadvantages were connected with the system of making advances to seamen; but he also believed it was absolutely impossible to do without advances of some sort. They ought to face that subject. He fully approved of his right hon. Friend's desire to obtain a certificate of health, and he approved of the plan he had adopted for that purpose; but he feared that he would meet with a great deal of opposition. The right hon. Gen- 460 tleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had brought forward a Bill which dealt with restriction on insurance which he (Mr. Samuda) believed to be the essence of the whole question. He approved of that Bill, but he wanted it to go further, and to provide that the amount to be recovered by insurance in cases of total loss should be restricted to three-fourths of the amount insured. Such a provision would effectually ensure care on the part of shipowners, and prevent to a great extent disasters at sea. On the whole he should give the Bill his cordial support, and assist the Government in passing it as soon as possible.
§ SIR CHARLES ADDERLEY
acknowledged the very encouraging spirit in which the debate had been conducted, and hoped the House would feel that the Bill itself had been framed in the same fair spirit, and with the wish to meet the very serious national evils the existence of which all admitted, their only ground of difference being as to the mode in which those evils could be dealt with most satisfactorily. That Bill was not, as one speaker had described it, a re-enactment of a hasty measure of last year; because the temporary Bill of last year, with the exception of its 1st section, for enabling the Board of Trade to delegate some of its functions to detaining officers, was taken out of the dropped Bill, which was prepared with the greatest care, and introduced with the greatest deliberation at the commencement of the Session. There had been no hurry in the composition of the present Bill, which had, in fact, had a longer period of gestation than almost any measure he knew of; while, moreover, it had had the peculiar advantage of six months' trial as an experiment to test it. There were no novelties in this Bill except two valuable additions; the one the appeal given from the judgment of the Board of Trade surveyor to a new Court constituted for the purpose, and the other, the appointment of a superior Judge for inquiries into casualties. Those two improvements had been very much derived from advice and information acquired on a circuit of some of our principal ports which he had the advantage during the Autumn of making in company with his hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary of his Department, whose advent to the Board of Trade nobody more highly appreciated than 461 he did. While on that tour as much of their time was spent in communications and discussions with the seamen of the various ports as with the ship-owners, and valuable suggestions had been equally obtained from both of those interested classes. The criticisms offered upon that Bill divided themselves into its sins of omission, and its sins of commission. The noble Lord the Member for South Northumberland (Lord Eslington) complained that the measure did not embrace a consolidation of the law. He thought he had given sufficient reasons against attempting this now in his introduction of this Bill; but something had been done in the way of a temporary substitute for consolidation by the preparation of a digest of the law and a copious index which rendered the law perfectly intelligible to anybody. That was, he thought, as much consolidation as he now could do. The various provisions of all the Acts on this subject were so collated as to form, practically, one consolidated Bill, with the advantage of a very elaborate table of reference. The consolidated Bill, which was thrice in vain introduced by the late Government, was not very much better, and rather larger than that to digest. However, he could not, for the reasons he had given in the previous discussion, undertake the consolidation of the whole of the law affecting Merchant Shipping at the present time. The hon. and learned Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst) complained that the clauses in the Bill of last Session on the subject of the discipline of seamen had been omitted in this Bill. That was done purposely, and he thought rightly, because the existing law was not so much deficient as its exercise; and the clauses he introduced were more for the sake of methodizing than altering. His chief alterations were offering an alternative of forfeiture of wages for imprisonment; but he was blamed for intruding the subject altogether in the way of what the House was more intent upon. The hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Plimsoll) had very naturally complained that this Bill did not embody his views in regard to a compulsory Government survey and classification of ships. Now, while complimenting that hon. Member on the moderation with which he had spoken that night, he must remark that that moderation was no doubt due to the 462 fact that the hon. Gentleman had found himself obliged, in attempting to work out his object, to change perpetually his own proposals. The hon. Member's proposition now amounted to this—that ships which were not classed by Lloyd's or at Liverpool should be classed by the Government; and in order to do that he was compelled to ignore all the other registries and all the private clubs, and to except many of the best lines of ships which did not classify or insure at all, leaving to the Board of Trade only the ships that were, in his opinion, badly classed or too bad to class. If, then, the Board of Trade was to have nothing to do but to look after the worst class of ships which endangered life, that was really what the Department attempted now to do as a matter of police; so that they and the hon. Member came unintentionally to a common ground, only he maintained that his was the right and safe principle, and the other fraught with infinite mischief even to its ostensible object. As to the complaint of the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Samuda) that the Bill did not deal with the system of advance notes, the more he thought of the subject the more he saw that it was a matter which the shipowners had in their own hands. If the advance note system led to demoralization, why did they not leave it off, as many of the best lines had already done? He hoped shipowners would see that this was a matter of private arrangement between them and their servants, in which legislation ought not to be called upon to help them. As to sins of commission in the Bill, the clause asserting it to be a misdemeanour to send an unsafe ship to sea; was accused of making men prove their innocence. It was a misconception to say that the Bill threw the onus of proof on shipowners. The fact was first proved which gave primâ facie evidence of a grave crime—that of knowingly sending a ship to sea in a way to endanger life. There was then offered means of self-exculpation by a man's proving that he had used all reasonable means of safety. It was said many shipowners did not know the condition of their ships, but that was no reason why the Government should find such information for them; and there was no other trade that pleaded ignorance of the undertaking and asked Government to supply the requisite science for it. It was supposed by the hon. Mem- 463 ber for Warwick that the 4th clause, disputing shipowners' liability to seamen, deviated from the late Act in including accidents from fellow-servants, but he would see it was not so; the wording was simplified, but the substance remained the same. The hon. Member for Stoke (Dr. Kenealy) asked when it could be justifiable to send an unsafe ship to sea, which words occurred in the Bill and in the existing law. The answer was, when a ship put into a port where she could not be repaired. The hon. Member for Derby said that the issue between them was whether ships should be allowed to go to sea that required to be repaired, and the hon. Member added—"May God defend the right! "but there was no such issue involved. It was admitted that there were ships that needed repair and that they ought to be repaired, and that overloaded ships ought not to go to sea; the only issue was as to the mode in which repair should be secured and overloading prevented. The Government proposed to throw the responsibility on those who understood their own business or ought not to undertake it, and to interfere only when life was endangered; the hon. Member proposed to cast the responsibility on the Government and to invest a Commission, consisting of retired shipowners by the side of the Board of Trade, with executive and legislative powers. Parliament would certainly not permit such a Commission to exercise legislative functions in so important a matter, nor set up a double executive by way of curing one. If the Board of Trade was to undertake unlimited responsibility and partnership in connection with the trade of the country it certainly would require to be reconstituted; but if it was to keep to its proper functions, and only to watch the interests of the public in connection with private enterprize, and see that human life was not unnecessarily endangered, it was not overworked, but was equal to all that Parliament required of it, and there was no necessity to create a second body to hold one rein while it retained the other. He entertained a confident hope that the Bill would furnish a basis for a satisfactory settlement of all the points on which the country were now intent, demanding amendment of the law for greater security of life at sea.
§ MR. E. COLLINS
said, he had pleasure in giving a general support to the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman the 464 President of the Board of Trade, who dealt with this difficult and delicate question in a manner acceptable to ship-owners and satisfactory to the country. It was too much the practice to treat this as if it were merely a shipowners' Bill; he contended it was a question of larger public policy, affecting the more important trade interests of this country. He was not at present disposed to discuss the clauses of the Bill: if he were so disposed, his criticisms would be of a friendly character. He preferred to confine his observations to suggestions to hon. Gentlemen who professed sympathies for seamen, that they could find a large field for them if they directed their attention more to the means for elevating seamen from the wretched habits of drunkenness and disorder, to which they were perhaps more prone than any other class in the community. He regretted to have found persons throughout the country agitating the minds of sailors, and impressing them with a belief that their interests were not provided for, whilst the capitalist classes got all the benefit of legislation affecting shipping. This was not creditable to persons who could better employ themselves in advocating temperance amongst seamen, in educating them in their duties, and in other such measures as might rescue this most valuable class from degrading habits, and render them more respectable than they were. All would cheerfully admit that the hon. Member for Derby had done much to improve the condition of the sailor—he had roused public attention to this most important of our national obligations. Having now advanced the question to a position enabling it to be dealt with effectively by practical men, he ventured to believe that his patriotism and generosity which all admired would find still greater recognition if he now left the subject in the hands of Government, giving them his valuable aid in producing a really good measure. He could not sit down without expressing regret that the hon. Member for Derby had, in his speech to-night, reflected on two Members of this House, imputing to them more than mere words conveyed, when he told the House that within a period of 12 months one had lost seven ships with 100 precious lives, and the other four ships with over 28 lives. Such imputations had been before now disproved, when it was shown to the satisfaction of the House 465 that no blame attached to the owners, since the ships had a high classification and were greatly under-insured. He appealed to the hon. Gentleman in the spirit of generosity for which he gave him credit, to withdraw irritating imputations in deference to the feeling of the House.
§ MR. D. JENKINS
considered that the question of load-line had been satisfactorily disposed of by the Bill of last year, and expressed a hope that the Government would abolish deck cargoes, excepting with regard to certain goods which could not be carried below. He believed that the machinery provided at the various ports for the stoppage of ships reported on as unseaworthy would prove both cumbrous and ineffectual. It was absolutely essential that surveys instituted under such circumstances should be conducted by experienced persons. With respect to the compulsory survey of unclassed ships there was great difference of opinion; but many shipowners were in favour of it, and the proposal of the Government was a step in the right direction, inasmuch as it would tend to prevent disasters at sea, which was as much desired by ship-owners as by any other class. He believed, on the whole, that though the Bill might be improved in Committee, it was a good Bill, and he should support the second reading.
§ MR. E. J. REED
said, he believed that though the measure would not be a final one, it would be, to a considerable extent, a permanent one; because it showed that the Government were desirous of showing their sympathy with public opinion upon those points on which public opinion was generally made up. With respect to compulsory survey, that would one day take its place on the Statute Book, and it would be found to give less trouble to the Government, to shipowners, and be of greater advantage to the public than any course short of such an enactment. Such a thing could not be done in this Parliament, and therefore he should give the Government his most cordial support in carrying through the present measure, and would not be too exigent in regard to any Amendments which might be proposed. They were discussing a general measure, and he deprecated the complaints which had been made by hon. Members on strong expressions of the hon. Member for Derby. It was better to treat the 466 subject as one of national importance than to impart personal considerations like that into it. Ships had exhibited very strange incidents during the Recess; and considering that the Prime Minister had uttered his little personal gibe at a former Minister, because he was a returned colonist, the hon. Member for Derby might be permitted to speak of the vessels in the way he had spoken this evening, although the hon. Member had withdrawn his statement when appealed to by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London to withdraw it. One point was deserving of notice. While the representatives of shipowners in that House deprecated the interference of Government with Merchant Shipping, they, at the same time, insisted on urging upon the Government the duty of making provision for a supply of seamen to our Mercantile Navy. Why should they do that? They were no more bound to do that than to supply workmen for any other trade. All they could do was to aid shipowners in any effort they might make for that purpose. With regard to grain cargoes and the load-line, it would be possible to improve the clauses when they got into Committee; and he would venture to suggest to the Government that before the Bill went into Committee, they might select and incorporate in it such Amendments as had been placed on the Paper which they might consider to be improvements. He thought the Government had done well in concentrating attention upon a few practical leading points, instead of attempting the consolidation of all the statutes as to Merchant Shipping. Such a measure would have led to debates which could have ended, that Session, at all events, in nothing. He regarded the proposal of the Government that in the event of a quarter of the crew joining in a representation to stop a ship they would be exempt from punishment, as one which met the difficulties of the case, and he only hoped that the Government would give to the suggestions that would be made in Committee such consideration that the Bill—which was a Bill in the right direction—might become a workable, and, if possible, a final measure.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed for Thursday next.