HC Deb 16 May 1877 vol 234 cc1024-30

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Captain Pim.)


in moving that the Bill be read a second time that day six months, said, the hon. and gallant Member who had charge of the measure had on a recent occasion expressed sympathy with the overburdened shipowners, and yet by this Bill he would impose an additional tax upon them; and he not only proposed to do that, but he proposed to levy a tax on the poor sailors, amounting to 5 per cent of their wages. In carrying out his scheme the hon. and gallant Member inserted provisions requiring the assistance of the Board of Trade. He was of opinion that the hon. and gallant Member had not received the assent of that Department to such provisions. It seemed to him, taking the wages of seamen engaged in the Merchant Shipping Service at £5,000,000 a-year, a tax of 5 per cent upon that would amount to £250,000 a-year, and it was proposed by that means to raise a fund sufficient for the establishment and maintenance of Mercantile Marine hospitals for sailors. The Bill, which was full of objections, provided that a Medical Board should be established, and that medical inspectors should be appointed at different seaports, to whom the sailor should submit himself for inspection every time he got engaged for a voyage, long or short. No matter how healthy and vigorous the man or boy might be, he should submit himself to such inspection; and even a stewardess on beard a passenger ship would be required to submit to this examination. The Bill provided that 10 medical inspectors should be appointed at London, Gravesend, Hull, Shields, Southampton, Liverpool, and other ports—one at each port —and the sailor, within seven days of having signed articles of service, would probably have to go to a far distant port to undergo a medical examination. Thus from Swansea to Liverpool there was no provision for the establishment of a hospital. The Bill also professed to provide for the inspection of ships' medicine-chests; and, in short, for the general medical superintendence of the whole of our seamen. There were, however, only 10 towns included in the Schedule, and the whole machinery of the measure was utterly inadequate for the objects it contemplated. In conclusion, he must say he never recollected so arbitrary and unjustifiable an interference with individual rights as was suggested by most of the clauses of the Bill. He therefore trusted the House would reject such a Bill, which even contained a provision for the inspection of women who might get situations in the hospitals.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Mr. Whitwell.)


thought that the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Gravesend was highly qualified to deal with this important question. It was a subject of the greatest interest, and he regretted that the hon. Member for Kendal had expressed himself in what he (Mr. Whalley) considered an unfair criticism of the provisions of the Bill. The objections taken to its details by the hon. Member were matters for consideration in Committee, and did not at all affect its principle, which the House would do well to sanction. The fact of the condition of the health of seamen was of great importance, as was well known to everyone who engaged them for voyages. He might state an instance wherein he himself had engaged a crew for his yacht. The vessel got into a position of imminent danger, and owing to the condition of three or four of the sailors, who were diseased, they were utterly helpless and unable to work; and the yacht and the lives of those on beard narrowly escaped being lost. Considering the special temptations to which our seamen were often exposed, he thought the medical examination to which the Bill proposed to subject them involved no greater interference with their personal rights than was justifiable for their own good under the circumstances. With regard to the Board of Trade, their incompetency and indisposition to take the necessary steps for providing a remedy to obtain an efficient supply of sailors was to be regretted; and he therefore hoped the House would not longer postpone the matter, and would support the second reading of the Bill of the hon. and gallant Member for Gravesend.


complained of such a measure being presented to the House without any reason assigned for it. The object of the Bill was really to apply to seamen the principle of the Contagious Diseases Acts—a principle which was quite opposed to the feelings of the masses of the people. Moreover, the measure was totally unnecessary. The amount of inefficiency arising from sickness among seamen was in point of fact very small, and the evil it proposed to remedy was already treated by the ordinary institutions of the Service. The great evil with which we had to contend in connection with that class was intemperance, and it would be well if the existing temptations to drink were diminished. At a public meeting of seamen held last year in Sunderland, every one held up his hand in opposition to the principle of this Bill.


took exception to the arguments which had been urged against the Bill. These had all been directed to matters of detail. For instance, if it were found desirable, it would be easy to introduce a few words in the clause exempting the stewardess from the provisions of the Bill. Really, if, on the second reading, the Bill could only be met with objection on matter of details—if nothing else could be shown than that, it would indicate that such a Bill or such a principle as that involved was a necessity to the Mercantile Marine. He did not think there could be any doubt in the mind of any human being that something should be done in reference to this particular evil. When he heard the hon. Member for Sunderland just now speak of New York, he was reminded that there was something like the principle of this Bill actually in operation there, and owing to that, among other causes, shipowners in New York found it more easy to man their vessels effectively than we did at this moment in this country. With regard to certain classes of disease among sailors, it was desirable, not to say necessary, to take some steps. Surely, without going into the details of the Bill, or squabbling as to whether women should be included in these examinations, the House should assent to the principle of the measure, and so mould it, even at the instance of a private Member, failing the Government taking it in hand, as to be a permanently useful measure. He confessed he would much rather see a matter of this kind introduced with Government influence though on the lines indicated. It should be an efficient measure, dealing with a great evil. No one who had any knowledge of our Mercantile Marine would say that relatively it was a worse class than any other in the country, and certainly he had no wish to depreciate it; but it was a profession beset with temptations on all hands, and without saying the Bill was everything that could be desired, he was extremely anxious that something should be done to provide for the health of those going to sea. He cared very little if that were done by this Bill, or effected by any Governmental action; but he would be content if by ventilating this question now or hereafter, either the Government, or a private Member, should take into consideration the fulfilment of a duty which he regarded as a public one. But whether it were so or not, it was one essentially necessary for the well being of the seamen and of our Mercantile Marine.


thought the measure one of the most impracti- cable which had ever been introduced in that House, and stated that both by seamen and by shipowners its principles and details had been universally condemned.


also opposed the Bill, which contained two principles—the one was the compulsory examination of seamen, and the other was a tax of 5 per cent upon them for such examination. It appeared to him that both principles were highly objectionable, and opposed to the principle of civil liberty. He argued that there was no public necessity for the proposed examination; and even if such a necessity existed it was not the seamen, but the country, that should be taxed for the purpose.


said, there was nothing extraordinary in requiring men to undergo a medical examination for their own good. It was done in the case of candidates for the Indian Civil Service. In the present matter the country which was most jealous of civil liberty—namely, the United States—set us an example, and made the very same deduction from the wages of the seamen which was proposed in the Bill before the House. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Board of Trade would take the question into serious consideration.


observed that the object in view was undoubtedly similar to that of the Contagious Diseases Acts, it being for the interest of the public to guard the health of the men engaged in the service of the Mercantile Marine. The present Bill proposed a compulsory inspection of the men at the time of engagement, and this he opposed on the simple ground that it was impossible. Was it likely that the owners or the masters of ships would endure a system which forbad the crew to sign the articles till they had submitted to a medical examination? Was the shipping service of the country to be stopped for such a reason as that? It was true that the evil which it was sought to remedy was a serious one. He believed a very large proportion of the accidents at sea were due to seamen being unfit for service when they went on beard. Frequently it was necessary for ships to put into port simply for the purpose of getting rid of such men and putting others in their place. It would be well if this state of things could be remedied, but unfortunately the plan proposed by his hon. and gallant Friend was not practicable, and on this ground he disapproved the Bill. If the seaman refused the examination, the hon. and gallant Member had not provided by his Bill any police force to proceed to bind and strip him for the purpose of undergoing such examination. If the House passed such a Bill it would remain inoperative. The existing law, he might mention, provided for the inspection of seamen voluntarily. In connection with every shipping office in the country there was a medical officer whose services the master of a ship might procure for a very small fee—a shilling an inspection, he thought. He did not see what else could be done unless it might be to offer an absolute inducement to the seamen to undergo examination. With regard to the proposal which was also contained in the Bill that hospitals should be established at certain ports in the Kingdom at the expense of all seamen—in other words, that in particular places a special and local provision should be made by a tax levied upon sailors in general—he thought it was a proposal so manifestly unfair that the Mercantile Marine could hardly be expected to concede or even to entertain it for a moment.


hoped that the measure would be read a second time.


protested most strongly against this Bill becoming law.


denied that seamen were hostile to the Bill, for Petitions in support of it had been adopted at large meetings of sailors, and urged that there was a great necessity for such a measure being passed. He held that at the present time the Mercantile Marine of this country was in the most disgraceful condition of which it was possible for any man to conceive; and he had no hesitation in saying that if the principle of the Bill had been in force in this country many and many a ship which was now lying at the bottom of the sea would have been saved. It had frequently been found that owing to the sickness of certain men the rest of a crew were unequal to the work of managing a vessel in a gale of wind. His Bill was founded upon the American plan of dealing with this subject, and that plan had been found to work most satisfactorily. If the House endorsed the principle of the measure by assenting to the second reading, he should be willing to agree to the introduction of Amendments in Committee.


thought the Bill would be quite unworkable. It would, in his opinion, be utterly impossible to carry such a measure into execution. He denied that there had been any deterioration of the men in the Merchant Service during the last 25 years. Indeed, anyone who made such an assertion only showed his ignorance of the whole subject.


entered a protest against the attempt of the hon. and learned Member for Gravesend to Americanize our Merchant Navy.

Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

The House divided:—Ayes 11; Noes 212: Majority 201.— (Div. List, No. 130.)

Words added.

Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.

Second Reading put off for six months.