HC Deb 25 August 1880 vol 256 cc46-53

Order for Consideration, as amended, read.

Motion made, and Question proposed; "That the Bill be now taken into Consideration."—(Mr. Chamberlain.)


who had on the Paper a Notice to move that the Bill be considered on that day three months, said, he thought it necessary to explain why he had put down a Notice which was a virtual stoppage of the Bill. The Bill was of a very important character, as it affected the interests of shipowners who carried grain to any extent. He had abstained from opposing it at the last stage, because he had no desire to obstruct it; but he found that it was pushed through Committee at a late hour one night, when he and other Members had left the House thinking it would not come on. He thought both the House and the shipowners had some right to complain of the manner in which the Bill had been forced through the House, without a word of explanation from the right hon. Gentleman who was in charge of it. He had no doubt he should be told that the Bill was the product of a Committee who had carefully considered its provisions; but he could not attach much weight to that argument, seeing how that Committee was constituted. The Committee was a very large one, but was not composed of practical men, or persons such as could, express opinions governed by any acquaintance with the difficulties and dangers attending voyages across the Atlantic. According to the statistics he held in his hand, he found that the average mortality of seamen from all causes was only 19.7, being a lower rate of mortality than was to be found in any other of the great services in the Kingdom. In his opinion, the Bill was a kind of part payment to the late hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Plimsoll) for the seat which he, in conjunction with his wife, gave up to his right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary; and he might remark that the Home Secretary had performed his part of the compact most loyally. There was, however, no Representative of the important port of Liverpool on the Committee. [Mr. CHAMBERLAIN: There was a Member from Birkenhead on the Committee.] Yes; but Birkenhead was not Liverpool. The question was not so much one of carrying grain, as the character of the ship in which it was carried; but it was to be observed that the Bill before the House was very different to that advocated by Mr. Plimsoll; and although it had not received great opposition from shipowners, it was, nevertheless, highly offensive to them. He contended that the Bill would injuriously interfere with the shipping interest of the country; and he protested against the conduct of the Government in hurrying the measure through the House without giving opportunities of considering it fairly and fully.


submitted that the course adopted by the Government was quite justifiable. When he introduced the measure, he explained its provisions at great length; but in view of the lateness of the Session, and the pressure of Public Business, he refrained from speaking at any great length on the second reading and in Committee. Had there been time, he should have been most happy to have made a further statement. The Committee from whom this Bill emanated was appointed with very much the same Reference as that which was given to the Committee which the late Government had appointed to consider the same matter. It consisted of the same Members, so far as the voice of the constituencies enabled them to be chosen, with some Members added from both sides of the House. Of the 27 Members who sat upon it there was a very fair proportion of shipowners. The Bill of Mr. Plimsoll was a Bill to compel the shipowners to put the whole grain cargo in bags; but this Bill did not carry out that intention. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Hull (Mr. Norwood) had described the Bill as operating to regulate trade and to annoy the members of the shipowning interest. Well, he could not understand what had caused the hon. Member to express himself in so strong terms in regard to a Bill which had the approval of nine-tenths of the shipowners of the country. He said this, because he had been in communication with many of the large shipowners of the United Kingdom, and in its present form the Bill was approved. It was urged against the Bill that it did not touch the main cause of the losses. Well, it did not touch one of the main causes. The Government were dealing with only one branch of the subject. They should remove one serious cause of loss; and next Session, when the Committee was re-appointed, they should proceed to deal with the other branches to which attention had been called. But the House should not think that this cause of loss was a slight one. From 1873 to 1880, 274 grain-laden vessels were lost, and 2,799 sailors lost their lives. He did not say that in every case they lost their lives through the shifting of the cargoes; but in 139 cases evidence was taken, and in 32 cases out of these 139 there was shifting of cargo, and the shifting of cargo was a contributory, if not the only, cause of loss. The hon. Member had described the Bill as an aspersion on the shipowners; but he could say that he, as President of the Board of Trade, was as much prepared as anyone to resent any aspersion on that class. He thought the enterprize of that body, no less than that of the sailors, who in these matters must not be forgotten, was something of which the country had cause to be proud; but it was impossible to deny there were some among them whose conduct demanded the interposition of the House. The Bill did not deserve the sweeping charges of the hon. Member, for it only sought to make more clear and definite the provisions of the law as it now stood. The Committee had before them two of the largest Liverpool shipowners, and they said that the precautions provided in this Bill were what every prudent shipowner would adopt. He did not believe that the Bill would in any way interfere with legitimate enterprize; and the Government felt they could not face another winter without removing a serious cause of loss of human life. He hoped the House would now proceed to consider the Bill.


said, he did not rise to oppose the progress of the Bill, nor even to find fault with the President of the Board of Trade. Still, he regretted that the President of the Board of Trade had not been able to secure a full discussion of this important Bill; and he hoped that would not be taken as a precedent for the future treatment of important interests. He could only congratulate himself on the results of the Committee's labours. Hon. Members would recollect that some opposition was made with regard to the course to be adopted as to Mr. Plimsoll's Bill. He had thought it was the duty of all parties to have this great subject investigated by a Committee, and he acknowledged his gratification at the result; because it had been proved beyond all doubt that, if Mr. Plimsoll's Bill had been accepted as it was, there would, in all probability, have been considerable danger of life being sacrificed, and not only that, but the evidence showed that there would have been a very unnecessary burden cast upon the shipping trade of the country by forcing the owner to use sacks and bags on all occasions. The President of the Board of Trade had said that the Bill was very acceptable to the shipping trade generally. He was quite aware that a great number had accepted it; but it was impossible to look at Clause 5 of the Bill without seeing that it was virtually throwing the whole responsibility as to the construction and loading of grain ships upon the Board of Trade. Virtually, as time went on, the clause would make the Board of Trade responsible for the kind of ship used and for the loading of all such ships. The clause would relieve the shipowner; and he imagined that no Court would hold him liable if he had complied with the regulations of the Board of Trade, and his ship was constructed according to their rules. He confessed he looked upon this Bill with very great apprehension. As years went on, the interference of our great Departments with the transactions of business must tend to check the spirit of enterprize and the spirit of invention. For himself, he was of opinion that the evils against which the Bill was directed would have been better met by inquiry into the loss of missing vessels than by such regulations as the Bill proposed. He should, however, offer no opposition to the measure; and he would, on the present occasion, content himself with asking whether it was intended to put Clause 5 into operation to any very large extent, and when the regulations under the operation of the clause would be introduced?


observed that, as the Bill was the outcome of the Bill introduced by Mr. Plimsoll, and subsequently by himself, he should like to say that he entirely approved of the alterations made upon it. Those alterations entirely went with his own opinion in the matter. When he joined in the introduction of the Bill he had told Mr. Plimsoll that there would be other provisions at least as effective as carrying grain in bags; and he mentioned, as one of them, the adoption of a longitudinal division over the keelson. That was now the principal recommendation in the Bill. He was pleased that the alteration had been made, and pleased to think that it had been possible to legislate on the subject during this Session, so that they might not have another winter with the disgraceful loss of life that had been sacrificed in previous winters for want of a Bill of this nature.


said, he was convinced no evil results to the shipping trade would arise from the Bill. Whenever beneficial legislation was proposed, they always had gloomy forebodings which were never realized.


disputed very much the correct ascertainment of the causes which had led to vessels foundering at sea. There could only be a haphazard guess as to those causes. As to this matter, prevention was better than cure, and on that ground he highly approved of this Bill; and he had no doubt, although there were some points that might not be entirely to his mind, that it would bring about good results, and would act as a deterrent to bad men.


thought that no sufficient answer had been given to the statements made by the hon. Member for Hull (Mr. Norwood). The conduct of the Government in connection with this Bill, which was not the only one forced through, required consideration on the part of the House; and not only that, but the conduct of Government in introducing measures at a late period of the Session without adequate discussion.


defended the Bill. He had sat through the Sittings of the Committee, and had taken a great deal of pains with reference to the evidence; and he was very glad that the Government had not frustrated the labours of the Committee by failing to introduce the Bill.


said, it was not sufficient that a Select Committee should have inquired into this question. This was one of those subjects which ought to be discussed in Parliament, so that the country might know the result of their legislation upon a matter which affected the welfare of very important interests. They had a right to expect a statement of the character of the Bill, and of the grounds upon which it was presented to Parliament. He did not think the Government had any reason to complain of the way in which their measures had been treated this Session. ["Oh, oh!"] There had been a great desire on the part of the House to facilitate the Business of the Government. ["Oh, oh !"] Some very important measures had been introduced which had not been mentioned in the Queen's Speech; but there had been no attempt unduly to delay those measures. They had a right to complain that measures of great importance should not be made the subject of proper explanation in this House.

Motion agreed to.

Bill, as amended, considered.

Amendment made.

Amendment proposed, in page 1, line 22, to leave out from the word "unless" to the word "not," in line 23, both inclusive, in order to insert the words "if he,"—{Mr. Warton,)—instead thereof.

Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.

Amendment proposed, in page 2, lines 12 and 13, to leave out the words "supported on suitable platforms laid upon the grain in bulk."—(Mr. Norwood.)

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Bill."

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Another Amendment made.

Amendment proposed, in page 2, line 26, after the word "that" to insert the words "in ships with two or more decks."—{Mr. Norwood.)

Question, "That those words be there inserted," put, and negatived.

Clause 4 (Precautions against shifting of grain cargo laden in port in Mediterranean or Black Sea, or on East Coast of North America).


moved, in page 2, line 29, to leave out "one-half," and insert "three-fourths," his object being to exclude from the operation of the Bill ships carrying less than three-fourths of their cargo in grain. He considered that a stowage of grain forming less than three-fourths of the total cargo was perfectly safe.

Amendment proposed, in page 2, line 29, to leave out the words "one-half," and insert the words"three-fourths,"— (Mr. Norwood,)—instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words 'one-half stand part of the Bill."


supported the Amendment.


hoped the Government would accept the Amendment. He believed it met with the approval of most practical men.


could not accept the Amendment, and pointed out that its effect would be to exclude the great majority of grain-carrying ships from the operation of the Bill.

Question put, and agreed to.

Other Amendments made.

Clause 5 (Exemption from precautions specified in this Act for ships laden in Mediterranean or Black Sea, or on East Coast of North America).

In reply to Viscount SANDON,


said, it was not his intention to deal with every individual case of grain-loading that might be submitted to the Board of Trade for approval. He proposed merely to deal with the cases of ships specially constructed for the grain trade.

Bill read the third time, and passed.