§ Order for Committee read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."—(Sir Charles Adderley.)
Mr. GORST: moved—
That, in the opinion of this House, the Merchant Shipping Acts should be so amended that the breach of a contract of service not involving danger to life or injury to the ship on the part of a seaman should be no longer punishable with imprisonment and forfeiture, and should no longer render such seaman liable to be arrested without warrant within the United Kingdom.
The hon. and learned Gentleman said, the clause that he put forward was one of simple equality for the seaman, and it was designed to put an end to an anomaly under which merchant seamen at present laboured. The anomaly was one of recent growth, because when the
Act of 1854 was passed there was nothing peculiar in forcing the completion of work under penalty of imprisonment, and the grievance now complained of was one of degree, and not a grievance of kind. But though there had subsequently been a change in the Labour Laws a peculiar anomaly had been suffered to remain with reference to merchant seamen. All other workmen were exempt from imprisonment for non-fulfilment of contract, except in extraordinary cases, such as those in which the workmen knew that if they broke their contract they would probably endanger human life or expose valuable property to destruction or serious injury. With that exception they were not liable to imprisonment for breach of contract. There was a clause in the Merchant Shipping Act of 1854 which rendered seamen guilty of a misdemeanour, and therefore liable to imprisonment, for misconduct of a kind that endangered the ship or endangered life or limb. That was a clause analogous to the clause in the Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act, and no one would complain if that clause, if it were desirable, should be made more stringent in its provisions. But seamen were further liable to imprisonment for breaches of contract committed not when the ship was on the sea, but when it was in the United Kingdom, and even when the seaman himself was on shore. He would give an instance. A seaman for neglecting or refusing, without reasonable cause, to join his ship or to proceed to sea, or for absence without leave within 24 hours of sailing, or for being absent at any time without reason, was liable to 10 weeks' imprisonment with hard labour. If, therefore, a seaman broke his contract to go to sea he would be liable to 10 weeks' imprisonment, which was a liability to which no other person in the whole country was subject. He (Mr. Gorst) was by his Resolution asking the House to affirm that in the United Kingdom a seaman should be treated like other people. It was not for those who claimed that all classes should be equal before the law to show the right to such treatment; but for those who asked that there should be exceptional treatment to show why there should be such exceptional treatment. Still, if the House would indulge him, he would meet by anticipation some of
the arguments which they would no doubt hear in the course of this discussion. There was what he might call the trade argument. It was said—"You cannot carry on the business of a shipowner unless you have power to imprison the men for not going to sea." But that was an argument which was used over and over again when the Bill affecting workmen on shore was under consideration in that House without being yielded to. There was no class in the country which was allowed to carry on its trade by forcing the men to carry on their contracts by imprisonment; and why should the shipowner have a power which no other trade in the country was allowed to exercise? They were all familiar with the case of the engine-tenter who would not lower people down into the coal pit, because that case was brought before the House over and over again; and they could not conceive a stronger case, because the refusal of the tenter to perform his contract would bring all things to a standstill. The House, however, would not listen to that case, nor would the Secretary of State for the Home Department, and at the present moment the engine-tenter who broke his contract of service was liable only to civil and not to criminal proceedings. But if he might put the matter in the most forcible manner before the House he would refer to the only exception that Parliament made—the exception in the case of the gas stokers. Contrary to the general principle of the law, they were still liable to imprisonment if they broke their contract. In the first place, a great many hon. Members did not agree with that exception, and even those who did agree to the exception in the case of the gas stokers would be by no means bound to make an exception in the case of seamen. Why were people who were in the employ of gas and water companies bound by imprisonment to fulfil their contracts? It was entirely in the interest of the public, not of the employers, that that exception was allowed by Parliament. Would the inhabitants of London suffer if two or three ships in the East India Docks could not go to sea? or would Liverpool suffer if some sailors struck and would not go to sea? His point was this—that there was no class of men in the country except persons employed by gas and water companies
who were allowed to be imprisoned for a breach of contract, and then only when the effect of their breach of contract was to deprive the inhabitants of some city or populous place of their gas or water. He now came to another argument which was likely to be used, and that was the argument that seamen when they engaged for sea usually received advance notes or money, and that as a security for the repayment of those advances, you must give the shipowner the power to imprison them if they did not fulfil their contract. That was the very argument that had been used in the discussion on imprisonment for debt, and it would be really giving the shipowner a power to imprison for debt. It would be giving the shipowner a power of imprisonment for debt which no other trader enjoyed. It seemed to him that this argument was really a very strong argument in his favour; because the abolition of the power of imprisonment for breach of contract, if it did not actually destroy, would be a great interference with the system of giving advance notes. He did not vote for the abolition of advance notes, but he never disguised from himself the evils which advance notes caused; and if they could abolish them, not by special legislation, but by abolishing special legislation, he thought that it would be a good thing. There was a condition in the advance note that the man should go to sea, and there was no objection to notes being given to good seamen, but only to bad seamen. This was because it was known that the bad seamen could be looked after and could be forced to go to sea. But if the imprisonment were taken away, he should think that people would cease to advance money upon these advance notes, so that by abolishing the exceptional power of imprisonment they would indirectly interfere with the advance notes. The next argument which he would notice, he would call the discipline argument. When, upon the second reading of the Merchant Shipping Bill, he made a few observations upon the subject, his right hon. Friend (Sir Charles Adderley) thought that his proposition to exempt men from imprisonment for not fulfilling their contracts was irreconcilable with the proposition of the hon. Member for West Norfolk (Mr. Bentinck) in reference to securing discipline at sea. He (Mr. Gorst) was as strongly in
favour of maintaining strict discipline at sea as the hon. Member for West Norfolk could possibly be; and he would never be a party to any legislation that would weaken the power of the master to control his men at sea. But discipline at sea did not depend upon statute law. A master had a right at Common Law to maintain discipline at sea; but that was a right which was in existence only when the ship was at sea. There was the greatest distinction between a ship in harbour and a ship at sea. One of the reasons why discipline was so bad was because, as things now stood, they treated their sailors a good deal too strictly before they went to sea, and not strictly enough when they were at sea. He should like to see a distinct line drawn between the treatment of seamen upon the voyage and the treatment of them before they went to sea. The utmost liberty should be given to seamen before the voyage commenced, but coupled with such discipline as would be necessary for safety. But the real object for having power of imprisoning men who were absent from their ships without leave was not the maintenance of discipline, but to force the men to go to sea; and when they so forced them to go to sea, under a pretext about the maintenance of discipline, they were really getting a power from the law under a false pretence. There was one other argument which he did not think that they would hear in that House, but it was very commonly used, and it was this. It was said—Granted that we treated seamen differently from other people; but then they were so reckless and improvident that they should be treated like children, and not like other people. He did not suppose that any one would use that argument in its naked form in that House; but he would say of it, in the first place, that premises were not true as to all seamen. There were among seamen, as among every other class, men of the highest respectability and character, and who had a right to claim the same liberty as was enjoyed by other persons. If it were said that seamen were really so reckless and improvident that they should be treated as children, he would ask hon. Members whether they accepted that state of things as permanent. If they did, then there might be some reason for exceptional legislation; but if they expected to raise
and elevate the class of seamen, then the first step would be to do away with this exceptional legislation, for they could not make them respectable unless they gave them the same rights as other people. Exceptional modes for obtaining a better class of men, by training ships and otherwise, would all come to nothing so long as they stamped these men with degrading and exceptional laws. He had now answered by anticipation some of the arguments which they were likely to hear, and perhaps it would be right in him to stop there; but even at the risk of being injudicious he should like to carry the case a step further and express the opinion that there would be special advantages in extending to seamen the principles of the Labour Laws of last Session. What was the case which they had to deal with? It was the case of a man who had voluntarily entered into a contract to go to sea, and who in a few days was so reluctant to fulfil his contract that nothing but the threat of imprisonment would induce him to do so. In such a case it might be that the man was a bad seaman, or that the ship was a bad ship; but would it be wise to force a bad seaman to go to sea by the threat of imprisonment? Would it be of advantage to the owners or to the rest of the crew that they should have a bad seaman thrown among them? The best thing that could be done would be to let him go and thank God they were rid of the man. But in the case of a bad ship—in that case the conditions of the law was, that they gave a man a choice between being drowned or going to prison. The right hon. Gentleman (Sir Charles Adderley) would say that the man might call for a survey, and he could, if he got a fourth of the crew to join him; but perhaps he could not do that, or he might not have legal evidence, but only ground of suspicion. He believed that cases were constantly occurring in which men, by the threat of imprisonment, went to sea in ships in which they would not otherwise sail. Suppose that one of the crew of the Talisman, when they were at Cardiff, had reason to suspect that the ship was going upon a piratical expedition; then look at the man's position. If he had no legal evidence, though very good ground to suspect—evidence which was quite conclusive to his own mind, yet not any matter of evidence which was producible
in a Law Court, they would then have a man who would be driven either to go to prison, or to become a pirate. He said that that was a state of the law which ought not to be allowed to continue. He thought the abolition of the power to force a man to go to sea by imprisonment would be one of the best securities they could take that the ships and seamen that went to sea were both in a satisfactory condition. He did not wish to undervalue the legislation that had taken place in reference to the security given by the Board of Trade surveyors; but he must confess that, if he were driven to an alternative, he would almost rather sweep away every other restriction, if he could only leave the seamen perfectly free up to the very last moment to refuse to go to sea upon the ground of the un-seaworthiness or the inefficiency of the ship or crew. He believed that the effect of such freedom would be to induce owners to be very careful as to the condition of the ships and their seamen. If the seamen were left perfectly free down to the time of sailing, then he (Mr. Gorst) would not care how strict was the discipline at sea, provided that it was only such as was necessary for the security of life and property. He had brought this matter forward, because it was one that he felt very strongly indeed on, and he should be glad to hear any argument that was brought forward in a candid spirit; but, unless good reasons were shown to the contrary, he trusted that the House would insist upon our seamen having the same rights as were enjoyed by other people.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "in the opinion of this House, the Merchant Shipping Acts should be so amended that the breach of a contract of service not involving danger to life or injury to the ship on the part of a seaman should he no longer punishable with imprisonment and forfeiture, and should no longer render such seaman liable to be arrested without warrant within the United Kingdom,"—(Mr. Gorst,)
Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
said, the House would recollect that, in the Bill of 526 last year, considerable attention was directed to the question of discipline. The discipline clauses were much modified, and he regretted the present Bill of the Government did not deal with the important question now raised. Now that labourers generally were freed from imprisonment for breach of contract of service, he did not see why seamen should be kept under any exceptional law. He concurred in the opinion that it was necessary to maintain discipline when once a seaman was on board ship; and in the case in which a vessel put into port, and he there deserted, the question which arose was one which, in his opinion, required careful consideration. Where, however, the ship had not left its port of departure, he could not see in what respect the contract of service of a seaman differed from any other contract of service. There were, he might add, only two clauses in the Bill which affected the seaman in any degree—one by which it was sought to compel the shipowner to induce him to undergo a medical examination before he went into a vessel, the other which gave the Board of Trade power to contribute towards the maintenance of training ships. Now, he could not help thinking that the Government would do wisely to omit those two clauses from the present Bill. The latter was almost nugatory, because the Mercantile Marine Fund, out of which the contributions were to come, furnished last year absolutely no surplus income at all, while the average surplus during the past four or five years was not more than about £2,000 per annum. He would in those circumstances suggest to the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade that it would be well if he were not prepared to adopt the course recommended by the hon. and learned Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst), that he should omit the subject of the discipline of our seamen altogether from the Bill and confine it to the question of ships and their material, leaving the equally important question of rendering our seamen as seaworthy as possible to be dealt with next year. He doubted, he might add, whether it would, on the whole, be wise for the State to undertake, on a large scale, the training of boys for the Merchant Service, for a scheme of the kind, although there was no doubt a good deal to be said in its favour, was beset with 527 considerable difficulties. For his own part, he concurred in the justice of the proposition laid down by the Government—that it was the duty of the shipowners themselves to bear the charge of training boys for the Merchant Service, but he had not as yet seen any great anxiety manifested by them to be taxed for the purpose.
§ MR. GOURLEY
considered that the question which had been submitted by the hon. and learned Member for Chatham would require some investigation by the Board of Trade. He (Mr. Gourley) had always held the opinion that the law operated harshly in obliging a magistrate before whom a seaman was brought, for, it might be, unintentionally quitting his ship, to send him to prison without giving him the option of inflicting a fine. He should like to see it, therefore, in that respect, assimilated more to the Master and Servant Act which was passed last Session. The Motion before the House was an abstract one and difficult to deal with, and if the hon. and learned Member for Chatham received some assurance from the President of the Board of Trade that he would deal with the matter in an equitable spirit, he hoped the Motion would be withdrawn.
§ MR. BENTINCK
said, he thought it was something like a fatality attending a Bill the object of which was to prevent the loss of life at sea, that suggestions should, time after time, be made which would tend greatly to increase that loss. They could not draw any comparison between a seaman and a labourer on land, and legislation for sea-going and shore-going business must be entirely different. The good men in the service wanted legislation which would deal with the black sheep and malefactors, who were the cause of discredit to the Mercantile Marine and of great loss to their employers. He believed that if Parliament assented to such a Resolution as that now submitted they would entirely put a stop to the possibility of carrying on successfully the business of the Mercantile Marine.
§ MR. PALMER
regretted that the Government had not dealt with all questions relating to the discipline and training of seamen in a separate measure. He supported the Resolution because he was of opinion that sailors ought not to be exceptionally treated, but should be 528 dealt with precisely in the same way as working men on shore. It was true that sailors were regarded as exceptional creatures and treated as children who were incapable of taking care of themselves; but he believed this arose from the vicious system connected with the Mercantile Marine, especially in reference to crimps at the seaport towns. As a large employer of labour he protested against the principle of levying rates and taxes for the purpose of enforcing civil contracts.
§ MR. SERJEANT SIMON
said, he was partly answerable for the particular clause in the Labour Acts of last Session to which reference had been made in the present discussion, because it was passed in the amended form in which he proposed it to the House. He had contended last year, and always should contend, for equal laws for all our countrymen, and against any exceptional laws for the protection of any particular interest. He was, however, bound to admit that exceptional laws were required in certain cases—as, for example, to maintain discipline in the Army and Navy; and he was willing to consider any well devised suggestion which had for its object the maintenance of discipline on board mercantile vessels as well as on board Her Majesty's ships. The existing law, however, differed in principle from such enactments as these; and, in his opinion, it was neither creditable nor necessary. He could not sanction the principle that a man should be arrested and imprisoned merely for a breach of contract, or until it could be shown that a public injury would otherwise ensue. This was the exception in the Labour Law passed last Session. The case of the gas stokers was provided for not to protect the gas companies, but to protect the public, and prevent large towns from being left in darkness. It might be a terrible thing if a number of emigrants were to find themselves in a port where, at the last moment, when expecting to sail, all the seamen had deserted the ship, because they knew that there was no law to touch them. With regard to the Resolution before the House, he concurred in its principle, and therefore would support it, but he thought that it would require some modification in its terms, which he thought were too wide, before it could be embodied in an Act of Parliament.
§ MR. HENLEY
said, that thoughthis Resolution was plausible on the face of it, still anyone who read it with the exceptions which the hon. and learned Member had introduced into it, must be convinced that service at sea and service on shore were entirely different, and could not properly be subjected to the same regulations. The exceptions were, endangering life and damaging the ship. Who was to tell what might endanger life? A ship might be at anchor in fine weather now and might go ashore by-and-by, and all become wreck and ruin. If we were to analyze these things, we must come to the conclusion that in cases where serious danger was involved we must apply a different punishment. If the laws were changed, and danger to the ship or loss of life were to ensue because the sailors had abandoned the vessel, the question was, whether the sailors would not have to be indicted for manslaughter, as railway servants were sometimes indicted. Believing the Resolution would have a mischievous effect, he hoped the House would not adopt it.
§ MR. D. JENKINS
said, a discontented crew was not worth having; and if before the ship left port the men showed any signs of discontent he would rather discharge them and get a fresh crew. With regard to drunken and abandoned characters, one half of these men were not seamen, but mere loafers, who came on deck, got a month's advance, and then were seen no more. He agreed with the Resolution, so far as it went, but there was a danger of men leaving a ship, even in Greenwich Reach or in the Downs, and he held that an exceptional enactment was required to compel such men to remain on board and do their duty.
§ MR. HOPWOOD
cited the existing Act, the 239th section of which, he said, provided for the very cases put forward by the hon. Member who had just sat down and other Gentlemen, by rendering the offenders liable to prosecution for misdemeanour. If that was the case, this Motion was redeemed from the charge of being specious and plausible. With regard to the discipline clauses, the history of their enactment was somewhat singular. We did very well without them until about the middle of last century, when complaints were made that seamen were not keeping their contracts, and an Act was passed for their regulation. That 530 Act was passed, notwithstanding the opposition of the mariners, who prayed to be heard against it. The punishment for breach of contract first enacted was 30 days' imprisonment, and at that it remained until 7 & 8 Viet., when it was increased to 12 weeks, which in 1854 was reduced to 10 weeks, at which it now remained. He asserted that that punishment was preposterous in amount, and that its effect on the Maritime Service of the country was most injurious. In great numbers of cases men made engagements to serve on board a ship they had never seen; and then, when they got sight of her and did not like her appearance, and did not wish to serve, they were forced on board just because they had signed articles. Such legislation he declared to be most objectionable and pernicious. If they gave up the practice of making advances they would get rid of a great deal of this unsatisfactory state of affairs and many other accompanying evils. He believed the passing of the Resolution before the House was necessary for the removal of the difficulty which at present existed, and thought a case ought to be made out to induce the House to reject it.
§ LORD ESLINGTON
said, he wished to point out to the House a few considerations on which he was prepared to contend that they should pause before they assented to the relaxation of discipline which would result from the adoption of the principles contained in the Motion of the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Gorst). By the legislation which took place on the relations between master and servant last year the agreement entered into between a workman and an employer was made a matter of civil contract. But if a workman made a civil contract of this description, and the master could prove damage in consequence of its non-fulfilment, the latter might require him to make compensation, and in default of payment of such compensation the workman might be sent to prison. But if an owner of a ship sustained damage by reason of breach of contract by one of his seamen, and called upon the man to make him compensation, it happened in the great majority of instances that the man had no means of making compensation. He knew the case of as fine a ship as was probably in the Merchant Service which was about to set out a few days ago from 531 the London Docks, but which, owing to the state of the tide, turned round again, when everyone of the engineers and firemen on board walked ashore and left her. Suppose, he asked, the owner of that vessel had contracted under heavy penalties to carry the mails, and that in consequence of the desertion of his men he was unable to perform the contract, how could he obtain compensation for the loss which he would incur? That he regarded as a very serious aspect of the question, and he hoped the House would pause before it sanctioned legislation which, in such circumstances, would take away from the owner all the control he could have over his men. He hoped his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chatham would not deem it necessary, at least on the present occasion, to press his Resolution to a division.
§ MR. BURT
observed, that it was over nine years since imprisonment for a breach of a workman's contract with his employer had been abolished. At that time all sorts of evils were predicted as the result of that step, but those predictions had all been falsified; and so well satisfied was the House with what it did in 1867 that last year they were engaged in confirming and extending the same principle. A seaman under the present law might be arrested without warrant, and imprisoned for 10 weeks for desertion, and forfeit his earnings; but why should the sailor be treated differently from the rest of the working men of the country? It seemed to him that the arguments which had been so well urged by the Secretary for the Home Department and others in favour of the Employers' and Workmen Bill last Session applied to the case of the seamen with equal, if not with superior force, because a seaman was less able than an ordinary working man on land to protect himself, inasmuch as he could not enter into those combinations which, like the trades unions, wielded a great power. Indeed, the seaman was debarred from exercising any kind of direct political influence; and if he possessed that power he would not be placed in the invidious, and unjust position which he now occupied. The grievance complained of was not a sentimental one, for it came home to the seamen in their own persons and in those of their families; and it had been stated to him on good, authority 532 that a short time since two seamen had actually been sent to prison with hard labour for two months, although they had never quitted their ship, where their presence had been passed over unnoticed, simply because they, being tired after having worked during the whole night, had gone to their berths and were not observed at the time. He could very well understand the remark of his hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland (Mr. Gourley) that there was not so much difficulty in getting men as in getting good men; when, in addition to the dangers, the privations, and the hardships inseparable from his calling, there were kept in the background the policeman and the gaol to enforce service at sea. He trusted that some assurance would be given by the Treasury Bench that something would be done to remove the present harsh, arbitrary, and unjust provisions that existed in the laws so far as seamen were concerned; but if none were given, he hoped that the hon. and learned Member for Chatham would divide the House upon his Motion.
§ SIR CHARLES ADDERLEY
said, he thought he had reason to complain. Last year he was blamed for occupying time in discussing discipline clauses before he came to the points upon which the House seemed to be most interested, and required should be dealt with first. Now that he had postponed the discipline clauses, the complaint was that he should have dealt with them first. Hit high or hit low, it appeared he could not please some hon. Members. It was much to be regretted, in his opinion, that discussion of the Bill in Committee should have been postponed by the Motion of his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chatham, especially seeing that the hon. Member who had just spoken had a Bill on the subject. He believed the House was in earnest in wishing to deal with a measure providing for the greater security of life at sea, and he would remind hon. Members that, when in Committee, they would have every opportunity of expressing their opinions on every subject connected with the Bill. He very much concurred in the principle of the Motion before the House, but not in its details. The law was clear, that the relation between the shipowner and the crew was that between an employerand his workmen, and arose out of contract. 533 No doubt a breach of contract, being a civil wrong, ought to be dealt with, as a general rule, by a civil remedy. But the law had thought it necessary to make exceptions—both on shore and at sea, and gas stokers might be dealt with criminally for breach of contract, and breach of contract in service at sea under certain circumstances was also by many statutes treated criminally, owing to the nature of the service. If a crew were to be drowned owing to the desertion of some of them, would the hon. and learned Member (Mr. Gorst) say that it was not a proper case for criminal proceedings? The Commission on the Labour Laws saw that the peculiarity of the sea service was such that it must be exceptionally dealt with, and they were specially excepted in the Master and Servant Act. Service ashore and service afloat could not be treated alike, nor could they treat the offences of seamen wherever they were in the same way, whether committed on shore, or in a home or foreign port, or on the high seas. The exception to the civil remedy arose obviously from the necessity of discipline to prevent danger to life and property on board ship, and the exceptions admitted by the hon. and learned Gentleman would swallow up the propositions laid down in the Amendment. Where, under the varying circumstances of sea-service, would the hon. and learned Member draw the line, and say that the offences of seamen involved no danger to life? It had been said that the proposition of the hon. and learned Member would do good, because it would indirectly have the effect of destroying the advance note; but surely that was not the way to deal with a mischief of that sort, which had already been discussed by Parliament on its own merits. In dealing with the question before the House, it should be remembered that seamen were peculiarly protected by law—there was no class of workmen so nursed by the law, and who had so many advantages given them. Was the hon. and learned Gentleman prepared to say that the seamen were willing to forego these advantages, in order that they might be placed in all things on the same level as other workmen? The hon. and learned Member said nothing in his Resolution on that subject. It was a one-sided Resolution. With regard to their engagements, the summary mode of reco- 534 vering their wages, the many provisions for their food, medicine, lodging, their care during sickness, they were specially protected by law. The hon. Member (Mr. Burt) said they might be forced on board, and when their agreement was once signed they were compelled to serve, whatever the state of the ship might be. The hon. Member could not be aware of the state of the law. If a sailor when he went aboard found any symptom of unseaworthiness in the ship, the Government, on his complaint, was bound to make inquiry at their own cost, whether his complaint were true or otherwise. For his part, he was inclined to agree with the hon. Member for West Norfolk (Mr. Bentinck), who had frequently stated in his place that the chief cause affecting the safety of ships was want of discipline. It was a well-known fact that ships were often obliged to go to sea with an imperfect crew, in consequence of the men deserting just when the vessels were going to start. That was a prolific source of danger; but hon. Members seemed to think nothing of that, and it was proposed to leave such matters to civil actions for breach of contract. The Report of the Commission on Unseaworthy Ships said that although many lives were lost through unseaworthy ships, yet there were many more lost by unseaworthy crews. Indeed, it was too often the case that the want of discipline at the commencement of the voyage was the cause of casualties. He (Sir Charles Adderley) would not recede from the principle he advocated last year. He believed the subject of discipline was one which required consideration. The general purport of the clauses in the Bill of last year was to give the sailor, convicted of the offences now under consideration, an alternative of fine and forfeiture of wages instead of imprisonment; and to limit the powers given to the shipowners, as to arrest without warrant, so that they should not go beyond what the circumstances of the case rendered necessary. These, however, were subjects rather to be dealt with by consolidation of the existing laws than by casual additions to them on this or that point, and he was perfectly ready, with the earliest time and opportunity, to deal with them. In conclusion, he appealed to those Members who had urged the Government to deal with the general question not to 535 countenance the intervention, before they came to the discussion of the Government measure, of another subject which could not be included in that Bill.
§ MR. MUNDELLA
said, the right hon. Gentleman hardly did justice to the hon. and learned Gentleman who had brought forward this Resolution, because it expressly excluded cases "involving danger to life or injury to the ship." He (Mr. Mundella) believed the existence of unseaworthy seamen was in a great measure due to the present state of the law. It was argued that if the law were altered shipowners would suffer immense losses; but, as a matter of fact, first-class shipowners, as he understood, never required to exert their full powers. The Report of the Royal Commission showed that the great cause of the deterioration of seamen was the advance note, and until that were abolished there was no hope for the amelioration of their condition; and the keynote of the advance note was this power of summary arrest. If this power were abolished shipowners, instead of counting the number of men they put on board, would rather weigh their quality. The right hon. Gentleman talked of their being "nursed" by the State. It was high time that these men should not be kept in leading strings. The arguments now urged in reference to seamen were used last Session with regard to working men generally; but though terrible consequences were predicted as the result of the change in the law, no such consequences had followed. They would do the best service to the shipowners, the safety of the ships, and to the whole Mercantile Marine, by adopting this Resolution and setting the seaman free.
Mr. MAC IVER
admitted that up to a certain point the seamen had a real grievance, but when they had once gone to sea the conditions were altogether changed, and the captain and officers ought then to have powers more than existed at the present moment. Indeed, the powers they had were being weakened every day; and proper discipline had been seriously lessened by what was done last Session, and by the Act of 1873. He particularly objected to those clauses by which a fourth of the crew could stop a ship and have her surveyed. The fact was, that such a survey was of the wrong description, 536 and was conducted neither at the proper time nor under proper conditions.
§ MR. MACGREGOR
said, that the discipline clauses of the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman enacted with still greater rigour than previously existed the clauses giving facilities for the imprisonment of seamen. It had been said that seamen were treated in a different manner from other people, because of the great care which the State took of "Poor Jack." Was it taking great care of him to put him into prison upon every pretence? If a single sailor on board a ship with a crew of 30 or 40 was found smuggling, and ran away, the Custom House officers were entitled to take all the other men on board the ship, and also the stewardess, and put them in prison. He (Mr. Macgregor) sympathized with the Motion of the hon. and learned Member opposite; but, at the same time, he should like certain modifications introduced. He found great fault with the Board of Trade measure of last year, because it had a large number of clauses dealing with every other subject but the one the people wished for legislation upon—namely, the safety of life at sea. The time of the House had been frittered away without dealing with the matter which was of the greatest interest. He pointed out that the arbitrary powers which were so much objected to were not in force in Scotland, in which country it was necessary to obtain a warrant before a sailor could be imprisoned. He never felt the want of the arbitrary powers in force in England; but he did not want to find fault with shipowners of this country who used those powers, for they perhaps had to do with a worse lot of men. He trusted the President of the Board of Trade would give the hon. and learned Member for Chatham an assurance that if he did not now press his Resolution he would have an opportunity of proposing, by way of addition to the clauses of that Bill, provisions for carrying out the object he had in view. It was desirable that they should as speedily as possible get into Committee on a measure about which the country was so anxious.
§ MR. MACDONALD
expressed great pleasure in finding so many Members on both sides of the House urging that pains and penalties in connection with the laws of contract should be abolished, 537 or, at least, that all classes of workmen should be put on an equal footing as regarded contracts of service. He could remember the time, some 30 years ago, when he stood almost single-handed outside of the House—in the House the very mention of the subject would have been laughed at—in maintaining that the gross inequality of the law ought to be swept away for the seamen as well as for every other class in the labouring community. If the President of the Board of Trade intended to take his stand on the principle of his last year's Bill on the question of the discipline of seamen, the House could have nothing to expect from him, and he hoped the hon. and learned Member for Chatham would go to a division.
§ MR. RATHBONE
said, he did not think it was necessary that the law should remain as stringent as it was now in regard to seamen, but, nevertheless, he did not see his way to voting for the Motion, because, if carried, it would negative the Motion for going into Committee, and delay the progress which they were so desirous of making.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, he thought it was impossible to dispute the proposition contained in the Resolution—namely, that seamen ought not to be more severely treated for breaches of contracts of service than other men when they involved neither danger to life nor the safety of the ship. He would vote for the Resolution if a division were forced; but he would rather see it withdrawn. Both sides of the House were in its favour; but if a division took place it would be sure to be defeated, and a false impression might thereby be created. He would suggest that the hon. and learned Member for Chatham should withdraw his present Motion and bring up clauses at a later stage of the Bill for giving effect to his principle, without now further delaying the progress of the measure of the Government.
§ THE CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER
said, he thought the course indicated by the right hon. Gentleman who had just spoken was a reasonable and sensible one. He did not know whether it might be possible in the course of the Committee on this Bill to discuss clauses of the character suggested by the hon. and learned Member for Chatham. There was nothing in the title or the character 538 of the Bill to exclude the consideration of such clauses if the Committee should be disposed to entertain them hereafter. But the mere passing of a Resolution of this sort would be simply impeding the Bill and losing valuable time. The Government thought that in bringing forward this Bill they had adopted the most practical means of attaining objects which the House and the country had at heart. It was not proposed as a complete settlement of all the questions relating to Merchant Shipping. The wisest course for the House to adopt on this subject, he believed, was not to attempt to do too much at once.
§ SIR GEORGE BOWYER
recommended his hon. and learned Friend to withdraw his Resolution, and to consider the framing of some clause that would meet his object. It was to be hoped that criminal remedies would be applied only to those cases which the civil remedy was not sufficient to meet; and, if that were done, sailors and their employers would be adequately protected.
said, the President of the Board of Trade, in the beginning of his speech, spoke almost in a tone of petulance of the proposal of this Resolution as an obstruction to legislation. He (Mr. Sullivan) warned the Government against falling into the error of 1875, and treating as obstruction that which was giving them an indication of the deep-seated feeling of the country. He believed that if the power of imprisoning seamen were abolished, if labour on deck were brought in the eye of the law to the same level as labour on the floor of a manufactory or a workshop, and if the dishonest minority of shipowners were deprived of all personal interest in over-insuring their ships, a score of Amendments that might otherwise be placed on the Paper would be rendered unnecessary. Now, as to one of those points, there was already before the House a measure which would deal with it, and as to the other point the hon. and learned Member for Taunton (Sir Henry James) intended to deal with it. All he asked was an assurance from the Treasury Bench that clauses would be brought up by the President of the Board of Trade as had been suggested on that side of the House and acquiesced in by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. There were five classes of persons, any 539 one of whom might arrest a seaman without warrant for having deserted his ship—the commander, the mate, the shipowner, the consignee, and the ship contractor. To these he might add a sixth, "or any person specially authorized in writing by the owner, master, or consignee." Any of these might deprive the seaman of the protection of British law, and arrest him without warrant in any part of Her Majesty's dominions. Who were in the House to maintain this clause? Not the shipowners. That task was reserved for the President of the Board of Trade. [Sir CHARLES ADDERLEY: I was the only person who said that that clause ought to be struck out.] He (Mr. Sullivan) would observe that in the case of seamen imprisonment was the penalty resorted to, because it was alleged that the seamen were too poor to fear a pecuniary penalty. Then why not treat working men on land in the same manner? British seamen never deserted in British waters without valid reasons. He (Mr. Sullivan) hoped Her Majesty's Government would awake to the conception of the fact that this was one of the important subjects which required their immediate attention.
expressed his willingness to adopt the course suggested by the right hon. Member for Bradford, and approved by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and therefore would withdraw his Resolution. He did not quite understand whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer pledged the Government to bring forward clauses having the effect required; but, if the Government did not bring forward such clauses, he would.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ MR. W. HOLMS
rose to move his Resolution—That greater facilities and encouragement should be given to the engagement and training of apprentices by shipowners.In doing so he quoted the Report of the Commission on Unseaworthy Ships in support of the opinion that the character of British seamen had deteriorated. It was important that shipowners should be encouraged to engage a larger number of apprentices. Unless a greater number of boys were trained for the Merchant Service there would be no improvement in the quality of our sailors, 540 and no decrease in the number of foreign seamen employed in British ships. It might be urged that it was no part of the duty of the State to provide skilled labour in any branch of industry or commerce; but it should be borne in mind that this was not merely a commercial question. It was a great national question, as the Mercantile Marine must always, in time of war, be the principal Reserve from which men would be drawn to man the Royal Navy. At present our Navy consisted of 60,000 men and boys, with a Reserve of 17,000 men; but in the event of a great war, this number would be altogether inadequate. History repeated itself, and he would remind the House that in 1813 we had 147,000 men and boys in the Navy, and that at a time when the population of the country was not two-thirds of what it was now. What he would ask was the position of the country now compared with 30 years ago, so far as the training of boys was concerned? Previous to the repeal of the Navigation Laws in 1849 it was compulsory upon every shipowner to carry one apprentice to every 100 tons burden. In 1845 no fewer than 15,704 apprentices were enrolled; but in 1874 that number had decreased to 4,445. A great change had also taken place with reference to the employment of foreigners. In 1851 we had in our Navy 5,793 foreigners; but in 1873 we had no fewer than 19,840. To illustrate more distinctly the change that had taken place, he would take the case of 23 vessels whose size varied from 144 to 1,488 tons. They sailed from the various great ports of this country for India, America, China, the Mediterranean, and the Baltic. In 1849 these 23 vessels had 473 men in their crews, and in 1869 the crews were reduced to 372. He was not prepared to say how much that was owing to improved mechanical appliances or to under-manning. But they had specific information with regard to the composition of the crews of those two periods, and to that he wished to call particular attention. In 1849 these 23 vessels carried 81 apprentices, and in 1869 they carried only nine apprentices and six boys. In other words, in 1849 they carried 17 per cent of apprentices to the!whole crew; whereas in 1869 the proportion was only 4 per cent. So far as regards foreigners a change also had taken place. In 1849 these vessels carried 21 foreigners, which 541 wasas near as might be 4 per cent of the crew. In 1869 they carried 53 foreigners, or something like 14 per cent. Another change that had taken place was, that while the number of able seamen had decreased, that of ordinary seamen had increased. We had, therefore, this unsatisfactory state of matters—that the number of boys and youths in training so as to become skilled seamen and prepared to fight the battles of their country had steadily diminished, while the number of foreigners, who, in the event of war, might turn against us had steadily increased. Now, he wished to call attention to what had been done to remedy this state of matters. In 1859 the Royal Commission on Manning the Navy recommended that we should have 12 training-vessels, each with 200boys on board. If they were to take the time of training as four years, they would only supply 600 trained youths per annum; but this suggestion was not carried out. Nevertheless, they had abundant information with regard to training-ships. If they left out the Conway and the Worcestershire, which were training-ships for officers, there were still 15 training-ships. Those ships trained boys at an average cost of £20 4s. 6d. per annum, and last year they supplied 1,194 boys, but of this number only two-thirds went to sea, the other third having deserted or taken to other occupations. The question he wished to bring before the House was, how could we best encourage shipowners to carry an additional number of apprentices, without in the slightest degree interfering with their perfect right to carry, or abstain from carrying, them as they might think proper? That could only be done by appealing to the interest of the shipowners. Various modes had been suggested, but that which he believed had found most favour was, that in proportion to the number of apprentices carried there should be some reduction in the light dues. He would suggest that for every vessel of less than 200 tons carrying one apprentice, and for every vessel of more than 200 tons carrying at least one apprentice for every 200 tons, there should be a deduction of 25 per cent from the light dues. He would endeavour to show what inducement this would be to the shipowner. The average income from light dues for the last five 542 years had been £405,000 per annum. If they deducted the amount paid by foreign vessels—namely, 26½ per cent, or £105,000—they would find that there was contributed in light dues £300,000. They would also find that the total tonnage of other than river steamers was 5,708,000, or roundly, 6,000,000 tons. It, therefore, followed that the amount paid by the shipping of this country was about 1s. per ton per annum. Therefore, if they took a vessel of, say, 800 tons, on an average she would pay £40 per annum for light dues, and if they gave a deduction of 25 per cent that would be equal to £10. At present, on an average, one apprentice was carried to every 400 tons—such a vessel, therefore, at present carried two apprentices—but if carrying four, there would be an inducement of £10 for the two additional apprentices, or £5 for each apprentice. It might be naturally asked, how many shipowners would take advantage of this? It was extremely difficult to form any opinion on this point; but in the first place, steamers would not take advantage of it, or large vessels going long voyages, and for this reason, that they did not carry so many apprentices as a rule, and as the light dues were levied by a passing toll, their contributions were smaller than in the case of vessels making shorter voyages; and, therefore, his proposal would not probably offer a sufficient inducement to such vessels to increase their apprentices. He would assume that half the vessels of this country would take advantage of this deduction and have extra apprentices. If they did so, they would have 3,000,000 of their tonnage carrying, not 7,500 apprentices, but twice that number; and for that the shipowners would receive a bonus upon the light dues, which they paid—namely, £150,000, of 25 per cent, or £37,500 per annum. He did not wish to say one word against training ships, so long as they were used for reformatory and industrial-school purposes, because they were training boys, who otherwise would be left uncared for, to be useful men; and if they were not sent to training ships they would require to be sent to some other industrial school. The next point was whether the light dues could stand the proposed deduction. The average income from the light dues during the last five years was £405,000, and the ex- 543 penditure had been considerably less than the income. The net average excess of revenue over expenditure during that period was £45,600. It, therefore, followed that even if they took the amount he suggested they had a considerable margin left. But, further, they had in the Mercantile Marine Fund a surplus—chiefly arising from light dues—amounting to upwards of £286,000. It seemed to have been forgotten, that while the country had been giving training vessels for the encouragement of children of less provident parents, they gave no encouragement, but really threw obstacles in the way of the children of respectable parents joining the Mercantile Marine. Under the Act of 1854, any person other than the shipping master engaging an apprentice to the owner of a ship was liable in a penalty of £20, and the shipowner so receiving a boy was also liable to a similar penalty. It appeared to him that this restriction was not only unnecessary, but most mischievous, and ought to be removed. There was another point to which he wished to allude. As the law now stood, a shipowner could not pay off an apprentice, however bad he might be. The Committee on Unseaworthy Ships reported on this question that there was a difficulty, and that it would be convenient that it should be removed. He would only add that if such a course as that which he had indicated was adopted, it would not add a single official to those we now had; while it would tend to increase the number of trained British sailors and to diminish the number of foreigners in our employ; and by making our Mercantile Marine more efficient, it would contribute to the safety and power of the Empire.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "greater facilities and encouragement should he given to the engagement and training of apprentices by shipowners,"—(Mr. William Holms,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ SIR CHARLES ADDERLEY
said, he hoped the hon. Member would not suppose that he did not take a deep interest in this question if he did not at present 544 answer his observations. The hon. Gentleman had three Notices of Amendment on the Paper, and as they embodied the one before the House, it was to be hoped he would not press this to a division. The proposal of the hon. Gentleman was a novel one. He proposed that English shipowners having apprentices should have a bonus paid out of the light dues. This would be to tax the whole commercial world for the benefit of a class, and it would also induce shipowners to dismiss their men and take boys, in order to get rid of the light dues.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ Clause 1 (Short Title) agreed to.
§ Clause 2 (Construction of Act) agreed to.
§ Unseaworthy Ships.
§ Clause 3 (Sending unseaworthy ships to sea a misdemeanor).
MR. MAC IVER moved, in page 1, line 12, before "sends" to insert "wilfully" the object being to limit criminal liability for sending a ship to sea which might prove unseaworthy to those who did so "wilfully." He was supported by the high authority of Mr. Justice Brett, who, as he had just been informed, had in his charge to the Grand Jury at Liverpool, held that day, used words which had an important bearing upon the Amendment. They amounted, in effect, to a condemnation of the clause as it stood in the Bill. The learned Judge, referring to the Act passed last year, observed upon the absence of the word "intentional" in reference to the sending of unseaworthy ships to sea, and stated that such omission would change the principle of our criminal law. It was to be regretted that a Bill, which in most other respects was a good one, should at its commencement be disfigured by such a clause as this. What had British shipowners done, or what had British shipmasters done, that they should be subjected to such legislation? The fault in regard to these proposals was not with the Government. They had done no more than give a proper consideration
to what they had every reason to believe was the respectable shipowning opinion of the port of Liverpool, urged privately upon them through the hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Rathbone) and supported in the House of Commons with all the eloquence of the hon. and learned Member for Durham (Mr. Herschell). He had the greatest personal regard for these Gentlemen. They had, no doubt, acted in entire good faith. The clause in question originated with the Merchant Shipping Act of 1871, and after a most eloquent speech from the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Herschell) was introduced with certain alterations into the Merchant Shipping Act of last Session. His (Mr. Mac Iver's) three points were—first, that the clause was useless; second, that it might work injustice; and third, that it was dishonest. In regard, to the first point, it was only necessary for him to call attention to the fact that the clause had been practically without results. The truth was that all such legislation was wrong in principle, because based on the assumption that vessels were purposely lost. Except in the rarest instances vessels were not purposely lost; and preventible disasters arose from ignorance rather than crime. But even with the greatest care, with good ships and good crews, there would always be disasters of some kind, and in considerable frequency. The legitimate dangers of the sea still remained, and no shipowner, however prudent, could hope to be entirely exempt from disaster; but with the disappearance of the vessel there commonly disappeared alike the evidence of guilt, if there were any, and equally the evidence of innocence. It was therefore entirely wrong that the ordinary principles of British law should continue to be reversed, either as regarded shipowners or as regarded shipmasters. The innocent shipowner might find it impossible to prove his innocence, and if anyone were caught by such legislation it was likely to be the unwary rather than, the guilty. He thought that his first point was established as well as the second. Such legislation had no terrors except for respectable private shipowners. The clause was only intended by its promoters as a means of defeating other legislation. The objection of his hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Rathbone), and certain active members of the Steamship Association to all
legislation in regard to load-line was well known, and they hoped by means of this clause to provide a plausible remedy which might frustrate the legislation that was really required. By the leave of the Committee he would read the following extract from the last Report of the Liverpool Steamship Owners' Association—
The Association beg also to record their obligations to Mr. Herschell, Q,C., the Member for Durham, who gave their views the fullest consideration, and acted with Mr. Rathbone in the course which he took in reference to the Bills, and also devoted much time and thought to the preparation of the clauses inserted in the Act of 1875, which are intended to supply the deficiency of the 11th section of the Act of 1871.
It was apparent from other portions of the same Report that £500 had been spent by these gentlemen in obtaining the clauses referred to. They were now most anxious to get rid of them, for, although the hon. and learned Gentleman's (Mr. Herschell's) clauses had been round the leading solicitors in Liverpool, and although his hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Rathbone) had—fortified by the opinion of these gentlemen—endeavoured to convince the general body of shipowners that the clauses were safe ones, the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Rathbone) had not been successful. The clauses were safe only so long as they meant nothing; but the House of Commons did not intend them to mean nothing. Legal acumen was one thing, but practical considerations were another; and at the present moment there was not a seaport in the Kingdom where respectable shipowning opinion was not wholly against those clauses. Clause 3, in its present form would be opposed from every quarter of the House of Commons. It was at variance with the general principle of the Bill. The Bill—in the main—was a good one, and was at least an honest endeavour on the part of the Government to discriminate fairly and properly between that amount of supervision that was reasonable and that which was not. It was valuable as much for what it would repeal as for that which it enacted. It swept away several of the most objectionable portions of recent legislation, in so far as recent legislation involved a meddlesome and improper interference with the daily details of a shipowner's business. The Bill placed a proper responsibility upon shipowners in regard to determining
their own load-line, and if it was less satisfactory in regard to survey it was at least an improvement upon previous statutes. He would conclude by saying emphatically that the notion of preventing disasters by intensifying the responsibility of shipowners was "absolute rubbish," and that it would always be easier to reach the ships before they sailed than to punish the owners of un-seaworthy vessels after their ships had gone to the bottom.
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
observed, that the clause as proposed to be amended would stand thus—that every person who wilfully sent, or attempted to send, a ship to sea in such an unseaworthy state that life was likely to be endangered, should be guilty of a misdemeanour; and surely if it was "wilfully" done, the punishment should be a much more serious one than that of a misdemeanour under this Bill. The clause simply threw upon a person who sent an unseaworthy ship to sea, the burden of proving that he had used all reasonable means to ensure the ship being sent in a seaworthy state. He hoped the Committee would not sanction the addition to the clause.
§ SIR HENRY JAMES
expressed his great gratification that the Government had declined to accept this Amendment. If the word were inserted the clause would be entirely useless. He thought the House should be on its guard against the shipowners' Amendments which were being hawked about the Lobby. The proposal of the insertion of the word "wilfully" had been allotted to him at one time, but he refused to undertake it. He wished to speak with the greatest respect for the abilities of Mr. Justice Brett; but his opinion on a matter of this kind ought to have no greater weight than if delivered as a Member of the House of Commons. He thought the fact that a ship had been sent to sea in an unseaworthy condition should be primâ facie a ground of offence. The duty of a shipowner was to see that a ship was sent to sea in a seaworthy state, and if it could be shown that the ship was seaworthy when sent to sea the owner would be exonerated from all blame. The clause was exactly what was required.
§ Sir GEORGE BOWYER
said, he thought that the insertion of the word "wilfully" in the clause would be a very 548 great mistake. He pointed out that if a shipowner sent a vessel to sea with the knowledge that she was unseaworthy, and the vessel and crew were lost, he rendered himself liable to a charge of murder.
§ MR. NORWOOD
protested against the remarks of the hon. and learned Gentleman (Sir Henry James) in regard to the Amendments proposed by the Committee of Shipowners. This was a matter in which the shipowners were deeply interested, and it was not right to seek to prejudice the House against fair discussion of their Amendments. The clause was, in fact, opposed to the principles and the practice of the Common Law. The law presumed that every man was innocent, until he was proved to be guilty by a fair trial by a Judge and jury. In this case there would not even be the form of a trial, for the ship owner was assumed to be guilty until he proved his innocence. If a man did send knowingly an unseaworthy ship to sea it ought to be punished even more severely than a common misdemeanour. He thought the clause in the Act of last year, of which the present one was a copy, had been passed in haste, and he trusted that the House would see the propriety of amending it.
§ LORD ESLINGTON
said, that the hon. and learned Member for Taunton was not very accurate in his recollection. The word which the shipowners had asked him to propose was not "wilfully," but "knowingly." The hon. and learned Gentleman had shown a warmth and prejudice which he hoped the House would not imitate.
§ MR. WATKIN WILLIAMS
was of opinion that the insertion of the word "wilfully" would altogether destroy the effect of the clause. The only person who could know whether the ship was in a proper state to be sent to sea was the shipowner, and if he neglected that duty he ought to be amenable for the consequences.
§ MR. O'REILLY
said, the only argument he had heard in favour of the introduction of the word "wilfully" was founded on the principle of the English law that the guilty intention must be proved before conviction. That was no doubt so in strictly criminal cases, but there were other offences which rested upon the absence of rectitude. If they inserted this word they 549 might make the penalty as severe as they wished, and it would be only the safer for the shipowners, as the severer the penalty the more a jury would hesitate to convict.
§ MR. RATHBONE
contended that any owner who was so far culpably negligent as to wilfully send an unseaworthy ship to sea was a criminal, and ought to be punishedfor it. Shipowners must take their choice between one of two courses—either to submit to Government supervision or to take the control of the matter into their own hands, and abide the consequences. He, for one, was prepared to take the latter course, and, if criminal, to go to prison.
said, thee was not the slightest fear of the evils arising which the hon. Member who proposed the Amendment apprehended. The word "wilfully" was not necessary, and though the clause looked very savage it was practically a most harmless one.
§ Sir JOSEPH M'KENNA
reminded the Committee that a prosecution could not be instituted under the clause without the consent of the Board of Trade.
§ SIR ANDREW LUSK
supported the Amendment. He declined to leave the matter entirely in the hands of the hon. and learned Member for Taunton (Sir Henry James), who was ready to take a brief from any side. He protested against the shipowners being subjected to the process of vivisection. This clause applied not only to the shipowner, but to every person who might be connected with sending an unseaworthy vessel to sea—so that the shipbroker, who knew nothing whatever about it, and even the master of the tug which was employed to tow such a vessel to sea, would come within the clause. If a man went home drunk it might be said he was likely to set his house on fire; but if he did they would not therefore indict him as a criminal. In the Mines Regulation Act they had inserted the word "wilfully." Why should it not be inserted in this Bill?
§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
said, that there had been no instance of a shipowner being convicted for sending a ship to sea in an unseaworthy condition before the Act of last year. It was satisfactory to know that at the present moment Mr. Justice Brett was engaged in a trial of that kind. He believed if the word "intentional" were retained the Act would be rendered nugatory.
MR. MAC IVER
said, that the shipowners did not deserve the taunts of the hon. and learned Member (Sir Henry James). They were few in number in that House, but they were honest men, who desired as strongly as any person that the lives of our seamen should be protected. The clause was opposed by all the respectable shipowners in the country. The opposition to the Amendment had been based on the mistake of believing that vessels were purposely lost, which, unless in the rarest instances, was not the case. The vast number of cases of the loss of ships occurred from causes with which this clause could not deal. In almost all those cases the evidence of guilt, if it existed, had disappeared, and in 99 cases out of 100 the evidence of innocence had also disappeared. The clause would only be a terror to the honest man.
§ MR. PLIMSOLL
said, if it were provided that no unseaworthy ship should be sent to sea all dispute as to whether it was done intentionally or not would be avoided. If shipowners complied with the necessary preliminaries, and did not send their vessels away until they had been inspected and pronounced seaworthy, they could not reasonably be held responsible for any casualty that might occur.
§ SIR HENRY JAMES
regretted that anything he had said should have given annoyance to the hon. Member (Mr. Mac Iver) or other shipowners. He had no such intention; but merely wished to say that the class affected by the proposed legislation were taking a view contrary to that held by many independent Members of that House.
§ MR. T. E. SMITH
, as a shipowner, wished to state that he had no intention of moving or supporting anything to evade the object of the Bill, which he believed to be the saving of human life. He thought the Amendment would be nugatory, and that the shipowners ought to accept the responsibility which it was sought to place upon them. Whether what was proposed by this clause was the spirit of the English law or not, he was sure that it ought to be the spirit of the law. If a man wilfully sent a ship to sea which was unseaworthy, and lives were lost in consequence, he was guilty of murder, and ought to be punished.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.551
§ MR. WATKIN WILLIAMS moved that the Chairman should report Progress. They were now entering on a class of very important Amendments, which could not be properly discussed at that late hour.
§ SIR CHARLES ADDERLEY
expressed a hope that, before reporting Progress, the Committee would decide upon the next Amendment, which stood in the name of the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Plimsoll).
§ LORD ESLINGTON
thought it too late to enter into the discussion of an Amendment that must necessarily occupy a considerable time.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, he hoped Progress would be reported and that the Bill would not be taken again until Monday.
, on behalf of the hon. Member for Derby, who, he said, was too much fatigued to proceed further with the discussion of the subject that night, expressed a similar hope.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, the Government were exceedingly anxious to proceed with the Bill on account of its great importance; but, at the same time, he was willing, under the circumstances, to agree to report Progress on the understanding that the Bill should be proceeded with as the First Order on Monday.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ House resumed.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.