HC Deb 24 February 1880 vol 250 cc1352-82

in rising to move the appointment of a Select Committee to make inquiry concerning the recent foundering of Ships laden with grain, coal, and other heavy or hulk cargoes; and to ascertain whether such founderings are due to excessive cargoes or to defective dimensions or construction, or to the employment of vessels unsuited for the trades or voyages in which the Ships were employed, or to any other and what cause; and to report whether any change in the Law affecting Merchant Shipping is required to prevent the recurrence of such losses, said, he need hardly assure the House that this subject had of late very much occupied the attention of the Board of Trade, and need scarcely say that any question affecting the lives of our sailors was one of interest to every hon. Member of the House, on whatever side he might sit, or whatever might be his politics. He was quite aware of the great interest which the question excited in the country, and fully recognized the duty of diminishing as far as possible every danger to the brave men who navigated the ocean under the British flag. He was quite sure that the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Plimsoll) was the last man who would wish to claim for himself any exclusive rights or feelings of humanity in this matter. They all wished that the lives of our sailors in their very hazardous calling should be as safe as possible. They all admitted that some inquiry was greatly called for into the terrible loss of cargo vessels from foundering during the last two or three years. For some months past he had been aware that many gallant ships had been lost in the Atlantic and Bay of Biscay, without, he regretted to say, any record of how the loss occurred. With these facts before him, some months before the matter had been taken up by the hon. Member for Derby, he (Viscount Sandon) had consulted the best authorities on the subject, and he made up his mind that as soon as Parliament met he would announce that it would be necessary that a Royal Commission or a Select Committee of the House should be appointed to inquire into the loss of those ships. These losses, it should be remembered, had not been confined to grain ships, but had been very remarkable in the case of cargo ships generally during the last three or four years. He was well aware that the loss had been heavy in the grain trade; but it had extended very much to heavy cargo ships, and he made up his mind to wait until Parliament met, so that he might have an opportunity of consulting hon. Members on both sides connected with shipping, as to whether it would be better to have a Royal Commission or a Select Committee of that House. His own impression was that it would be better to have a small Commission of five or seven Members, who would go very carefully into the inquiry, as experts; and as soon as Parliament met he put himself into communication with an hon. Member on the Opposition Benches to know if he would take the Chair, and he resolved to ask the hon. Member for Derby to take a seat on the Commission. After consulting, however, more and more with hon. Members acquainted with shipping, he came to the conclusion that it would be better to have a Select Committee for the sake of speed, as it would be desirable to get a good judgment on the matter as soon as possible, so that if legislation were needed we might have it during this Session. He was aware it was possible for the hon. Member for Derby to say—"Why not pass my Bill at once, and secure human life by forbidding grain to be carried in bulk, and after that have your inquiry as to the security of the cargo trade generally?" His answer to that was that, with the evidence he had before him, no Government or responsible Department would venture to support the Bill of the hon. Member without inquiry. If they found a certain amount of evidence which made it extremely doubtful that the proposal of the hon. Member would promote the safety of human life, they were bound to pause before passing the Bill. It remained for him now to show that there was an amount of evidence from responsible persons which would lead a man to believe that it was a very moot question with men well acquainted with shipping whether, if they passed the hon. Member's Bill, they might not increase the danger to human life. Having made very careful inquiry on the subject from those best qualified to judge, not only shipowners, but men who had to risk their lives navigating ships—officers and men—there was a very grave doubt in his mind on the matter. The Chamber of Shipping of the United Kingdom was one of the most representative Bodies in this country. Almost every large port was now represented by its leading men in this Chamber of Shipping. He would ask the House to listen to the opinion of its Chairman, Mr. Glover, a man of very high standing and position. Mr. Glover said, in his inaugural address— I should point out that, so far from putting all wheat and maize into bags lessoning losses in the American trade, it is certain the main cause of such losses would he aggravated thereby. It is well known that want of stability, rather than cargo shifting, has led to many of the recent disasters. So much weight of cargo is above the centre of gravity that the ships, in nautical phrase, 'turn turtle.' Grain in bulk occupies less space than grain in bags; consequently, with the same number of tons of weight on board, the vessel entirely laden with bags would have more weight above her centre than if she had grain in bulk below, with the adequate quantity of bags above, according to the Canadian practice, and, therefore, would be more tender—in other words, have less stability—and would more easily turn over. It would be deeply to be regretted if an effort to lessen loss increased the very cause from which most of the recent losses have happened. Such an opinion as that would of itself make any Government or House of Com- mons hesitate before passing the Second Reading of such a Bill as that of the hon. Member for Derby without very careful inquiry. What was the opinion of the Mercantile Marine Service Association, Liverpool?—an association which was deeply interested in the matter, as being composed of masters and officers, not of owners. They wrote to him officially to say that— Mr. Plimsoll, M.P., in his well-meaning efforts to obtain the legislative prohibition contained in his Bill, should understand that the evils he seeks to prevent or diminish would be thereby increased. If the faulty design and formation of so many double-bottomed ships is not carefully investigated and checked, and which they are persuaded lie at the root of the whole difficulty, these losses will continue. His point, therefore, was that to enforce merely the carrying of grain in bags instead of in bulk would increase the danger to human life. From Glasgow, Messrs. Allan, one of the leading firms, wrote— The question is most important, involving vital interests, and is not to be measured by the mere cost of bagging grain. Bulk grain is heavier than bagged, and serves to keep the centre of gravity of a laden ship low. A ship was safer, therefore, because she was kept stiff, when she carried grain in bulk than when she carried it in bags. But he wished the House to understand that he was expressing no personal opinion on the question; he only wished to appeal to the sense and judgment of the House, and to beg them to consider the whole matter carefully before taking any decisive action, as it was felt to be one of the greatest doubt and difficulty by practical men. He had carefully watched this matter for some time, and he would wish to state what the Chamber of Shipping—the opinion of whose chairman he had already quoted—had done when they came to a vote on the question. After a long discussion, the proposal in favour of carrying in bags rather than in bulk was put aside, and the carrying of grain all in bags was disapproved. They then passed this resolution, that— The Executive Council take into consideration the question of carrying grain cargoes with the greatest amount of safety, and take such steps as they deem necessary. Members of the Shipmasters' Society of London had also expressed opinions on the subject, and there was amongst them a grave difference of views. The chair- man attributed losses very much to the build of the ships. Within the last three or four years, he said, a great change had taken place in the ships themselves. They were unstable. He added that he believed the real question at issue was not the carrying of grain in bags or in bulk, but whether the modern system of having a water-ballast tank and a double bottom was not the real cause of these disasters. No doubt there was great difference of opinion on the matter. He was not saying that the hon. Member for Derby was wrong; his point was that the subject was of such extreme importance that it demanded the most careful consideration of Parliament before any Bill was passed with respect to it. Again, the Shipmasters' and Officers' Protection Association of Scotland had sent him (Viscount Sandon) a copy of a Petition addressed by them to the House. These were not the shipowners, but consisting, as the Association did, entirely of masters and mates, comprised the very people who were most interested primarily in the saving of life. This Association represented Leith, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Greenock, Dundee, Aberdeen, and a number of other ports in Scotland. They begged the House to have an inquiry, to go into the modes of construction and loading for the trades in which these vessels were engaged. They lamented deeply the losses which had taken place; but they particularly lamented the use of water-ballast tanks, and of vessels with what were known as double bottoms. According to these witnesses, 92 per cent of vessels which had lately foundered at sea with grain cargoes had been double-bottomed vessels, and a large number of vessels of this class had foundered at sea while loaded with homogeneous cargoes, and in the proportion of three with such cargoes to one with grain or seed cargoes. These, surely, were important matters demanding very grave consideration. Other testimony came from Ireland. The Limerick Chamber of Commerce had communicated to him the result of a meeting held at Limerick a few days ago, at which they had resolved that the Bill of the hon. Member for Derby would be injurious to the importers of foreign grain, while the freedom of foreign ships from the like restrictions would be detrimental to the shipowners of the United Kingdom. All these facts showed that the matter required deep consideration. Again, he had received an important deputation from the Shipowners' Association of Liverpool, who hoped the House would hold its hand before it advised them to adopt the expensive system of carrying grain in bags. They stated that their vessels had been one of the chief mediums for carrying grain, and that no losses of any extent had been incurred through carrying it in bulk. The steamship owners had spoken in the same tone, remarking that they carried a greater amount of grain than any other body in the United Kingdom, and they had asked that the burden should not be put upon them unless it was undoubtedly necessary for the security of human life. He had also a letter from Mr. C. Mac Iver, one of the patriarchs of the shipping interest, who feared that the change proposed might have the effect of diverting the grain trade from British to foreign bottoms. Now, he did not say that the hon. Member for Derby was wrong, possibly the hon. Member might prove to be in the right, even in the face of such strong testimony; but, in any case, he hoped he would admit that the House was bound to investigate the subject. Let them not, in their zeal to save human life, do that which might increase the loss of life and endanger the enormous interest engaged in the grain-carrying trade. It was no trifling matter to interfere with the course of so great a trade. The rapidity of the movement of grain was one of the great elements of its cheapness, and at present it was rapidly transferred from one ship to another. It was clear, therefore, that the introduction of an intermediate process, such as that of putting it in sacks, would infallibly increase the time and cost of loading. If the proposed process did not, after all, turn out to be necessary, he trusted that the House would not rashly interfere with the existing conditions of the trade. There was one point to which it was specially necessary for him to allude, because on it the hon. Member for Derby had based his Bill—he meant the 16 ships which the hon. Member had stated had been lost during a recent period through improper loading of grain. Now, he had analyzed the loss of those 16 ships, and he found that two of them—theBerninaand theHomer—were not grain ships, but were laden with general cargo; and that two others—theZanzibarand theSurbiton—carried mixed cargoes. The remaining 12 were wholly laden with grain, and of them one was stranded, and was not lost on account of grain-loading; another was sunk by a collision; another came to grief through the machinery breaking down; and another, theBurgos,foundered off the coast of Newfoundland. That reduced the number to be dealt with to eight. Of these eight cases, inquiries had already been held into the loss of theHeimdall, Alphonso, Tiara,andEmblethorpe.In the case of theAlphonso,the Court attributed the casualty to the giving way of a false bulkhead which had been erected to enable the ship to carry a grain cargo. In the case of theHeimdall,the Court found that the casualty was due to want of experience on the part of the master with respect to the stowage of grain and the fitting of shifting boards. The Court of Inquiry found that theTiarawas not a vessel of sufficient stability to carry a grain cargo, especially during the winter months, in the Bay of Biscay. The Court were of opinion that the loss of theEmblethorpewas due to instability from the form of the vessel. Inquiries were pending in the cases of theJoseph Peaseand theTelford.That, the House would see, would reduce the whole of the 16 cases to a very small number, and proved that the losses were not to be attributed to the stowage of grain in bulk. Twelve vessels had been lost in the last three months, of which seven were grain and five were coal vessels; and this went to show that it was highly probable that their loss was owing, not to improper stowage of grain, but to some fault in the construction of the ships. He hoped the House would not be led astray by the evidence as to the extraordinary smallness of the cost of loading in bags which was given by persons representing the sack interest. All had rushed forward to say that they would be ready to meet all the requirements of the grain trade if the House should resolve that it was necessary to carry grain in sacks. With regard to the question itself, he wished to impress on the House that it was a matter for the fullest and calmest consideration. As far as he had seen, those who were the most conversant with the subject attributed the loss of these vessels to water-ballast tanks, to double bottoms, and to changes in the build of the ships, and every shipping man had told him inquiry was urgently needed in this matter. The House expressed no opinion whatever upon the Bill of the hon. Member for Derby; but as men of business they were bound to take the widest interests of the country into view. They were bound to see that an inquiry by careful, sober, and serious-minded men should be made into this question before they submitted themselves to the doctrine of the hon. Member for Derby. He trusted, therefore, that he should have the support of the hon. Member for Derby in moving the appointment of a Select Committee to inquire into the cause of those losses which they all deplored, and that he should have the hon. Member's support in securing that examination; and if legislation were necessary they might have wise and sensible legislation even before this Parliament came to an end. The noble Lord concluded by moving for the appointment of the Select Committee of which he had given Notice.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Select Committee be appointed to make inquiry concerning the recent foundering of Ships laden with grain, coal, and other heavy or bulk cargoes; and to ascertain whether such founderings are due to excessive cargoes or to defective dimensions or construction, or to the employment of vessels unsuited for the trades or voyages in which the Ships are employed, or to any other and what cause; and to report whether any change in the Law affecting Merchant Shipping is required to prevent the recurrence of such losses."—(Viscount Sandon.)


said, he had to thank the noble Lord the President of the Board of Trade very heartily for the course which he had taken, and for the promptitude he had shown in taking it. He had also to say that he agreed in very much that the noble Lord had said. He thought the noble Lord had placed the case very fairly before the House; but he believed him to be misinformed on one or two very important particulars. When the noble Lord gave the reasons of several bodies of shipowners against the principle of the Bill he (Mr. Plimsoll) was amazed at their feebleness. He differed from the opinion of Mr. Glover and the two other authorities cited by the noble Lord, that because grain in bulk was heavier than grain in sacks, they would, therefore, raise the centre of gravity higher by loading in sacks. They said that if they put grain in sacks which would occupy 10 per cent more space than if the grain were not in sacks, they would raise the centre of gravity of the ship higher. But those who shipped grain in bulk knew very great effort was made to fill up the holds quite close up to the underside deck plank. Therefore, how could it be possible to put the centre any higher if they had got it as high as they could? It must be obvious to anyone that the centre of gravity remained precisely the same in both cases. The only real difference was that 10 percent more would be put under deck in the one case than the other, and, in his opinion, the lightening of the ship to that extent would often make all the difference between safety and peril. The noble Lord referred to a Petition which had been sent to him, praying that instead of passing his (Mr. Plimsoll's) Bill the House would order the whole subject to be inquired into. But he considered there was no competition between the proposal of the noble Lord and his Bill. If there were any competition, he would admit that the mode of dealing with the difficulty as proposed by the President of the Board of Trade was incomparably the best. But they were not in competition; one supplemented the other. He was aware that other things besides grain imperilled the safety of ships, and often great danger arose from the shape of the ships. These were subjects that, of course, demanded inquiry; but they had the ships, and they must be dealt with, and with regard to the proposed alteration in the form of ships to enable them to carry grain in bulk, it must be remembered that, although it was possible to lengthen them, it was impossible to increase their depth or width so as to render them safe for carrying grain in bulk. The question was, could ships be rendered safer by enforcing the rule that grain should be carried in bags instead of in bulk? The noble Lord had stated facts with regard to certain ships which he (Mr. Plimsoll) confessed had startled him. He was surprised to hear that the four first-named ships were not grain-laden when they were lost, and he should have to make some further inquiry with reference to them. But theAlphonsowas damaged, as the inquiry of the Board of Trade showed, by a bulk- head being injured. If the grain had been in bags, would this have happened? In another case, the loss occurred through the master being ignorant how to stow grain in bulk; but if it had been in bags the master would have been at no need to acquire such knowledge in addition to his other qualifications. In another case, it was said that the ship did not carry grain, but cotton seed; but that was grain according to the Act of 1876. He should be glad to second the noble Lord's Motion, and hoped that the Committee asked for by the noble Lord would be appointed, and that its inquiries would be proceeded with as rapidly as possible; but, at the same time, he asked whether it was possible for that Committee to report in time for efficient legislation on the subject this Session? He would, therefore, urge the passing of his Bill, for it would be advantageous rather than otherwise to the efforts of the Committee for them to have the practical results of one year's working of his Act before them, so that they could consider whether it was a failure or otherwise. He forbore to mention the steamers which had been referred to by the noble Lord, as he found by so doing he offended the owners; but he would ask the attention of hon. Members to certain evidence in support of his view that carrying grain in bulk was the cause of the loss of many ships, and especially to that of Mr. W. Dickinson, of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and other shipowners of the North of England, who concurred in the opinion that nothing short of the enforcement of the rule of grain in bags would secure the safety of the ships—an opinion that was endorsed by large numbers of ships' captains. But it was said the cost of carriage would be much increased if grain were carried in bags. But the consumer was already paying for the bags, because the cargo was brought to the ship in bags. He had recently travelled down the Danube from Vienna, and had stopped at every grain port. There he saw the people of the country carrying the grain on board British ships in bags and emptying it into the holds. In French and other ships the bags were sewn up at a cost of 1½d.a dozen, and he could not help reflecting that an Englishman's life was as valuable as that of a Frenchman or an Italian. Those who had petitioned against his Bill had done so not because they disagreed with its provisions, but because they did not think that it comprised the whole case. Seventeen hundred officers associated in a society in Sunderland had sent a Petition, in which they said that a great amount of loss had been occasioned by vessels shifting their cargoes and foundering, and in which they asked the Board of Trade to compel the owners of steamers to carry their grain in bags and not in bulk. He had received a letter from Mr. William Young, a steamship master at Newcastle-on-Tyne, in which he said— I have been for many years a steamship master in the grain trade, and I am convinced there are no means of securing the grain except by carrying it in bags. The proposed remedy, which, if applied for one winter, would throw such a flood of light upon the subject in hand, was an exceedingly cheap one, as appeared from a great number of letters which he had received in answer to inquiries he had made to satisfy the noble Lord that there was no reason for the shipowners calling out that an enormous burden was being thrown upon them by the Bill. Tenders had been sent by various firms. One would charge 1d.per sack per month; another ½d.per sack per week; another ½d.per sack per week, 10 days being allowed for the first week; and so on. This, he pointed out, would be about the maximum cost, 1½d.on each sack of grain in cargo, say, from America; and that, he maintained, would not fall upon the ship's owner or the importer, but upon the consumer, who would have to pay for it 1–18th part of ¼d.on the price of a 4 lb. loaf. A letter he had received from Mr. W. M. Jaffray, agent for Mr. D. Mac Iver's steamers, put the additional cost caused by using bags at an average of 4 cents, and that sum covered the cost of sending back the bags to New York. Mr. E.B. Hadley, one of the largest millers in the world, stated that wheat was imported from India, New Zealand, and Australia in bags and sold to the miller. The cost of the bag would not average more than 8d.per quarter; but the bags could be sold again at the same price. The adoption of his remedy for a single winter would not involve any structural alteration in a vessel, or any considerable outlay of capital. It would not, in fact, involve the stroke of a chisel or the driving in of one nail. Some shipowners—for instance, the son of Mr. C. Mac Iver—adopted the precaution which he advocated; and all that he was desirous of doing was to render the practice of those who were careless of their ships similar to that of those who were careful of them. He had also in his hand a letter from a maker of sacks, in which the writer said that he could supply them at the rate of 6d.each, that they would last about 12 months, and that at the end of that time he would be glad to take them back at the rate of 2d.each. The House would therefore see that the expedient which he advocated was one which was exceedingly inexpensive. If there was, he might add, any real reason to fear that our trade would suffer at the hands of foreigners, he should not object to the introduction of any Amendment which might obviate that apprehension. It had also been pointed out to him that a large number of vessels which plied between this country and New York were specially constructed for the carrying of grain, in which grain could be conveyed quite as safely as in sacks, and it was unnecessary to say that he had no wish to extend the provisions of his Bill to cases in which to do so would be needless. He would be very foolish if he were to introduce into the measure anything which was unreasonable; but he had, he trusted, shown the House that the proposal which he made was inexpensive in the extreme. It would, he might add, obviate the necessity for the employment of surveyors at foreign ports. It would be self-acting, too, while it would not have the effect of hurting the ships in the least. The passing of the Bill would, besides, throw a flood of light on the proceedings of the Committee which the noble Lord proposed to appoint, and the whole machinery would be superseded as soon as action was taken on their Report, so that the measure would practically be one which would be in force for a single year only. In conclusion, he had merely to say that in Canada the principle of his Bill was strongly commended. Previous to 1872, a law had existed in the Dominion, by which a fine of $40 was imposed in the case of ships not being loaded according to regulation. It was found, however, that shipmasters preferred to infringe the law and pay the penalty. In that year, a stringent law was accordingly passed, compelling the proper loading of grain vessels, and, as a result, he had received a letter from the Port Warden of Montreal, in which, after referring to the loss of six steamers in 1872, the writer stated that the alteration of the law in rendering necessary the production of a certificate to show that a ship had been laden in accordance with the law, and had put to sea in a seaworthy condition, had operated so satisfactorily that during a period of seven years which had since elapsed no report had reached him of a grain-carrying ship from the port of Montreal having been lost from the shifting of the cargo. He had also a letter from the Assistant Minister of Marine in Canada, to show the good results which had followed from the action which had been taken there in the matter; and it only remained for him, having called attention to those documents, to thank the House for the patience with which they had listened to the remarks which he had felt it to be his duty to make.


said, the speech which they had just heard, and that of the noble Lord the President of the Board of Trade, must have convinced the House that this was a subject on which an inquiry must take place. To legislate hastily upon it would be doing injustice to one of the largest trades in the country, and nothing would better meet the views of practical men in the North of England than the appointment of a Select Committee of that House to inquire into the matter. He must, therefore, congratulate the noble Lord on having decided to take that step. He would not anticipate the labours of the Committee by entering into a discussion on the details of the question; but he might just remark two things—first, that many ships now carried grain which were never intended to do so, and which were quite unfitted to do so, either in bags or in bulk; and, secondly, that double-bottomed ships, for which he must take some responsibility, were designed not for the grain but for the coal trade; and it was not known that any ship in carrying coal had capsized, whether double-bottomed or not, if the cargo had been properly trimmed. He therefore hoped the attention of the Committee would be directed to these matters, which were a great source of mischief in the shipping trade as at present conducted.


pointed to the importance of the question now under discussion as fully justifying the Notice of opposition which he had placed against the Bill of the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Plimsoll), with the object of bringing it within the operation of the half-past 12 Rule. The Bill affected shipowners generally; and, therefore, it would have been very unfortunate had it been taken up at 1 o'clock in the morning in an empty House, and all he wanted was that a full and proper inquiry should be held before the House committed itself to any particular policy. The construction of ships was a most important element of the question which the proposed Committee would have to consider. He himself had often been surprised at the extreme narrowness of some of those which came through the Suez Canal, and had even thought that they were too narrow to carry ordinary cargoes with safety. There could be no doubt that some reform in the grain-carrying trade was necessary; and he thoroughly approved of the course the noble Lord had taken in referring the subject to a Select Committee.


said, that if the question before the House had been the Second Reading of the Bill of the hon. Member for Derby he should have supported it. But the hon. Member himself had acknowledged that there were matters which required serious investigation, and that some modification of that Bill would have been required, and sending it to a Select Committee would have been the best way to deal with it. For instance, the provisions of the Bill were not necessary in vessels of small size, and some ships were now constructed to which it was not necessary to apply the provisions of the measure. In his opinion, the noble Viscount opposite (Viscount Sandon) had proposed too large a range of inquiry for his Committee. He would point out to the House that under the Merchant Shipping Act, whenever the loss of a ship took place, an official inquiry was held into the causes that led to it. Those inquiries had been limited to cases in which the conduct of the officers of the ship might be called in question. But in cases in which vessels went down with all hands, of course no inquiry into the conduct of officers could be held. He was glad to see that of late the Board of Trade had instituted inquiries into all cases of missing ships before the Wreck Commissioner; and the result of several of the recent inquiries had been the procuring of some very valuable information to shipowners, merchants, and underwriters. Of course, where a vessel foundered at sea, the chief questions that should be inquired into were with regard to its construction and mode of loading the cargo it carried. This was a good reason for limiting the inquiry to grain cargoes—that week after week they had the most valuable inquiries held by the Wreck Commissioner into the loss of vessels, and that they, therefore, were collecting valuable information on many points connected with the general loading of vessels. Already a beneficial alteration had taken place in the mode of constructing vessels. For some reason or other, a few years ago, vessels were built with very much too deep, perhaps in order to show a high, free-board, and the result of the experience gained had been to show the error of that construction. The practice of building vessels in that manner had been already abandoned. The inquiries had shown that the vessels which foundered were constructed with a depth disproportionate to their beam. He thought that the inquiry ought to be limited to the question of grain cargoes alone, for by that means the labours of the Committee would be brought into a narrow compass, and they would be enabled to Report in time for legislation during the present Session.


said, that the House was very strongly in favour of the Committee asked for by the noble Lord the President of the Board of Trade. He could not follow his hon. Friend who had just sat down in wishing that the state of the inquiry should be limited to grain cargoes only. He was prepared to urge that the scope of the inquiry as proposed was not sufficient, and that it ought to be enlarged in order that a thoroughly satisfactory result might be obtained. In the first place, he wished to remind the House that there were two matters before it—one, that of the Committee proposed by the noble Lord, and the other the Bill of the hon. Member for Derby. In the course of his observations in moving for a Committee, the noble Lord had stated that he did not wish the Committee to deal with the Bill of the hon. Member for Derby; but by the arguments he used the noble Lord seemed to be altogether opposed to the proposals contained in that measure. He should feel disposed to vote for the Bill of the hon. Member for Derby as a practical measure to endure for a limited period; but, nevertheless, he considered that this Committee might be very useful to supplement improvement in the mode of dealing with naval matters generally. The objection to make the Bill of the hon. Member for Derby a permanent measure appeared to him to be that it dealt, he believed satisfactorily, with cargoes of grain only, but that it did not touch cargoes of other material, such as coal and iron. He held in his hand a list of 14 vessels lost in a comparatively short time; he believed they were the identical ships referred to by the noble Lord. Of those vessels seven were grain laden and seven were not. It was perfectly clear to the House that if the Bill of the hon. Member was carried it would leave altogether untouched the seven vessels not laden with grain; and if they were to follow up their legislation on grain-laden vessels by attempting to deal with the other seven ships, they would find that they would require to be divided into three or four categories, according to their different cargoes, and dealt with in a separate manner. Indeed, it would lead to the introduction of legislation to govern the mode of loading each ship, and require stevedores to carry out their work by the sanction of an Act of Parliament. It did appear to him that the proposal of the noble Lord was liable to some objection from its not dealing thoroughly with the subject. It was proposed to do what everyone would desire to see done—namely, to search into the defective construction of ships, and into all other matters which it might be desirable to investigate connected with grain-laden vessels. But it would be most dangerous for Parliament to take upon itself to legislate as to the best construction of ships. In his opinion, the inquiry ought to be directed to ascertain whether there were not some general propositions which might be laid down and converted into law for minimizing the risks of ships at sea. He believed that some such propositions might be laid down. In his opinion, the chief, if not the only mode of insuring greater safety at sea was to deal with the question of insurance. If they limited insurance so that the owner could not only have no profit from the loss of his ship, but that he must be a loser by its loss, then they would give the shipowner the greatest possible incentive towards doing everything for the preservation of his ship and cargo. It was no new proposal that he was making, for it was the same principle which governed the case of house insurance from fire. If a person insured his house for a larger sum than the house was worth he could not receive it. The insurance offices in the case of loss could either re-build the house or pay the amount which they considered it worth. But in the case of a ship insured at Lloyd's, a bargain was entered into between the shipowner and the underwriter, by which the value of the ship was taken to be a certain sum, and in case of total loss you could not go behind this sum. If a ship met with an accident, not a total loss, then the whole amount insured was not recoverable; but if a total loss ensued, then the underwriter was bound to pay the whole sum whether the ship was worth it or not. It did appear to him to be a cardinal point requiring investigation as to whether shipowners should be allowed to insure vessels for a larger sum than they were worth, and whether they ought to receive more than three-fourths of their value in case of total loss. The House was aware that some of the greatest shipowners—such as Green and Wigram and the Peninsular and Oriental Companies—did not insure at all. Their greatest profit was derived from not insuring, and the course they adopted was this—They did what was necessary to insure the safety of their ships by seeing that there was no defective loading nor defective equipment nor any undermanning. It had been mentioned by some hon. Members during the course of the debate that many of the ships lost at sea were very much undermanned. Frequently in vessels of 1,800 or 2,000 tons there were so few men that there was no possibility of making a relief if any of the crew were disabled by illness from attending to their duties. In the event, therefore, of any accident occurring to some of the crew, a ship which was so undermanned would be practically helpless. But at present there was nothing to induce shipowners to man their vessels properly, because if the vessel by any chance arrived at its destination, then the shipowner had effected a saving in the expenses, and if it was lost, then he obtained his profit from the underwriters if he had insured beyond its value. He thought if the risk of loss were thrown upon the shipowner one of the greatest elements of difficulty in this matter would be overcome. In his opinion, they could not do better than leave the risk to the shipowner as to the safety of the vessel, restricting him only to make his profit from the success of the enterprize, and not from the loss of the vessel. If that were done, shipowners would soon discover the most satisfactory mode of constructing ships, and of equipping, and even of stowing ships. Our past experience of legislative interference in naval construction was such as to point to its avoidance in future. Formerly, the mode of measuring ships for tonnage was such that a very bad state of things indeed was produced; but by the present method of registration much improvement had been effected. If some method could be devised by which the risk of loss of vessels was thrown upon the owners, and their profit was made dependent upon the success of the enterprize alone, there would be a proper guarantee for good construction. He thought it of great importance to take into consideration in this inquiry all the various questions bearing upon the subject, and that very much good might be done by framing some general regulations for all shipping, rather than limiting the inquiry to grain-laden vessels.


said, that the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets had introduced a very large question into the debate. Although he agreed that the subject of insurance was one requiring consideration, yet he trusted that the scope of the present inquiry would not be enlarged. In saying that, he did not mean that he considered an inquiry into the question of insurance would not be advisable; but, in his opinion, the question of grain-laden ships was one well deserving the attention of the Committee, and one which required a speedy answer. If the Orders of Reference were enlarged, he doubted whether they would have any Report upon the subject in that Session of Parliament at all. He agreed with very much that had been said with reference to the Bill of the hon. Member for Derby; and, in his opinion, he looked for the best remedy in one direction. In his opinion, it was not necessary that grain should always be carried in bags. If grain were shipped in vessels without bulkheads, or any means of preventing the action of the sea, no doubt the vessel would get a list in one direction from the shifting of the cargo; but if a vessel were separated in compartments it was quite unnecessary that the grain should be stowed in bags. Even when stowing bags or sacks, grain might be liable to displacement by some accident, as bags themselves were liable to shift. He was glad to hear from his hon. Friends that such means of improved stowage had been adopted, that in some cases grain could now be carried in bulk with perfect security. He thought that the Committee would have enough to do in reporting to the House as to the desirability of the Bill of the hon. Member for Derby, and as to the proper precautions to be adopted in the stowage of grain cargoes. Upon the basis of the Report of the Committee, legislation could be made which would enable grain to be brought into the country without unnecessary risk to human life.


was inclined to think that the scope of the inquiry proposed was quite wide enough. In his opinion, it would be very undesirable to extend the inquiry which the Committee was to undertake. With regard to the observations of the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets on the subject of insurance, he would like to mention that the subject was fully gone into by a Royal Commission a few years ago. They reported most strongly in a direction suggested by the hon. Member, and recommended that insurance upon vessels should be limited. In the opinion of the Commission, many of the losses at sea arose from over-insurance. Upon the recommendations of that Committee, so far as his recollection went, the Government prepared a Bill which they laid upon the Table of the House; but for some reason with which he was unacquainted that Bill had never been proceeded with. For his own part, he was most strongly in favour of the Bill, and he regretted extremely that the Government had never carried it through. Unfortunately the Bill never got so far as the Second Reading; and, therefore, hon. Members had had no opportunity of expressing their opinions with regard to it. Having once fallen through, the Bill was never re-introduced, for what reason he could not state. When such a Bill should be again brought before the House he ventured to say that it would receive a great deal of support from that side of the House. It was his conviction that a very great deal could be done for insuring safety at sea by limiting the amount of insurance to be effected upon vessels. It was only by making shipowners lose money by the loss of their vessels, and preventing the loss they sustained being entirely covered by the insurance, that they could bring the motive of self-interest to bear upon them.


thought that, in dealing with the question of insurance, it would be found very difficult to gauge the value of ships. For instance, four years ago a vessel might have been worth £20 a-ton—a short time ago its value would have fallen to £5 a-ton—and it would probably now be worth £8 per ton. As between the shipowner and the insurer, he did not see how the value of a vessel under those circumstances could be ascertained. It seemed to him that was one of the most difficult questions that the Government would have to deal with, and that it was one which required more research and inquiry than was made by the Royal Commission to which reference had been made. The question which the House had then to consider was that raised by the hon. Member for Derby—namely, the loading of grain in bulk. The question was whether grain in bulk could be made what was designated in shipping language "good stowage." It was worthy of remark that vessels were now constructed for the purpose of carrying grain, and in such cases the grain was first stowed in the between decks, then beneath the lower hold, and above the water ballast. The plan of loading was to run in the grain from elevators. First the main hold was filled, and then the between decks; when the vessel got in a sea way the grain in the lower hold settled down, and if the cargo shifted in consequence of the water ballast at the bottom shifting, then, in many instances, the vessel capsized. In his opinion, it was quite impossible to load a ship properly with grain in bulk, and the only remedy was to enact a law that grain should be carried in bags, and not in bulk. The opinion of practical men—he meant those materially concerned in the navigation of their ships—was distinctly in favour of abolishing loading in bulk. He had recently had the honour of presenting a Petition from over 1,700 shipmasters and owners, in which it was stated that grain could only safely be carried in bags. The Petition went on to ask that a Select Committee might be appointed to inquire into the question, and also into other matters connected with shipping. But while he held the opinion that grain could not safely be carried in bulk, he also thought there were some exceptions to the rule. He believed that the hon. Member for Derby was disposed to make an exception in favour of vessels engaged in the Montreal trade. Those vessels carried grain between decks in bags; but in the lower hold, with the exception of two or three tiers, the grain was carried in bulk. But the grain in bulk was placed between boards and partitions in such a manner as to prevent any chance of shifting. Vessels engaged in the coasting trade would also probably form an exception to the rule, because they were mostly of a small size, and it was not necessary, in their case, to stow the grain in bags. He held that, whether vessels be great or small, there was danger in carrying grain in bulk, unless some measures had been taken specially to adapt them to this purpose. Some vessels had been fitted with bulk-heads, and others had also been divided into compartments. When, therefore, vessels of this kind were in question, an exception might be granted to vessels so specially adapted for carrying grain by Board of Trade licence; but where they had to deal with vessels constructed, as at present, with between decks and lower hold, and water ballast underneath, he held that it was impossible to carry grain in bulk with safety. He had not come to any hesitating conclusion on this question, for it had occupied his attention during a long time, and after considerable discussion with the members of the Shipowners' Society in Sunderland. When he said that the members of that Society were nearly all men who had themselves been to sea, and were personally ac- quainted for that reason with the navigation of ships, he thought that he was placing before the House sufficient evidence to prove that the opinions of such men ought to be received with considerable attention by hon. Members. One of the members of the Society to which he had referred, and who had been for 30 years at sea, and was then one of our largest shipowners, had told him that "when leaving port with a cargo of grain in bulk he never felt himself safe until the cargo had twice shifted, after which, in all probability, there would be very little chance of its shifting again;" the settling down, as expressed in the sea phrase, being then complete. The opinion of that shipowner had had with him more weight than any other opinions which had been laid before him, especially those of men of theory who had no practical experience in the loading and sailing of ships with grain cargoes on board. He would like to see the Government introduce a temporary Bill dealing with this question, which was one upon which the House already possessed abundance of information. It was perfectly true that differences of opinion existed upon this subject; but it was found that all the shipping associations, not with standing the differences of opinion amongst them upon some points, admitted the importance of an inquiry into the question of ships laden with grain. Not only the losses of last winter, but those which had occurred previously during a series of years, were quite sufficient to prove to the Government, to hon. Members, and to the country generally, that something in the shape of legislation was necessary with reference to the loading of grain cargoes. What he held to be necessary was that some measure should be passed such as that which had been submitted to the House by the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Plimsoll), providing that all grain coming to the United Kingdom should be imported in bags, with the exceptions to which he (Mr. Gourley) had alluded in the case of vessels specially adapted to the trade. But, in dealing with this question, they had also to deal with the question of the carriage of grain by foreign ships. Now, it was the opinion of many shipowners in England that if it was made compulsory that all grain coming to the United Kingdom in British vessels should be imported in bags British shipowners would be handicapped by foreigners. There was a great deal of truth in this objection. The remedy, however, which he suggested was that it should be made the rule that all grain imported in bulk, whether in British or in foreign ships, should be subjected to a duty of 1s.or 2s.per quarter, according to the ports from which such grain might be imported. Hon. Members would see that unless the grain imported, say, in Swedish or Norwegian vessels, was subjected to this regulation, those vessels would practically get a large portion of the grain-carrying trade. He would make it law that any ships bringing corn in bulk from the Baltic should be subject to a differential duty of 1s.per quarter, and that those carrying grain in bulk across the Atlantic should be subject to a like duty of 2s.per quarter; and this, in his opinion, would prevent British ships from being handicapped by foreigners. There were some other points to which he would allude. He thought that the simplest and safest way of dealing with the question of stowage would be to enact that all grain carried across the Atlantic, with the exception of that coming from the port of Montreal, which was already subject to exceptional local rules, should be imported in bags. It had been found that in the Californian, Calcutta, and Australian trade, all grain was, at the present time, so imported. But it was said that the putting of grain into bags would cause much loss of time. No doubt, it was true that some loss of time would be occasioned; but it was clear that in a very short time the merchants, both in the United States and in the United Kingdom, would adapt themselves to the new state of things, and that when vessels arrived at New York and other ports they would find their cargoes ready in bags, just as they now found them ready for shipment in bags in Australia and Calcutta. There was no place in the world where a vessel could be loaded more quickly than in Calcutta, the rice and wheat being at that port always shipped in bags; and there was, therefore, no reason why wheat should not also be shipped in bags from the American ports. Had the question been raised by the shipping interest instead of by the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Plimsoll), he felt sure that the Government would have at once assented to the change recommended by that hon. Member. He hoped that the necessity for dealing promptly with this question would be seen by hon. Members; and if they would legislate with regard to the loading of grain as between this country and the United States, he had no doubt that the shipping interest throughout the country would agree with him that the best mode of dealing with the subject would be to enact that all grain coming from Atlantic ports should be imported in bags.


pointed out that a great difference existed in the capabilities of ships for carrying grain cargoes in bulk as between the coasting and ocean trades, for they all knew the difference between taking a short run from Ireland or Scotland, as the case might be, and crossing the Atlantic. He trusted that due protection would be given to the coasting trade, which was so essential to the interests connected with our own ports. As regarded the distinction between the ocean and coasting trades, it would be found on reflection that the danger which was apprehended from the former would be very much diminished in the other case, in which it was quite practicable to carry grain with safety by looking to the state of the weather. He expressed his satisfaction with the Bill of the hon. Member for Derby; and, having regard to the opposition which it was likely to meet with, he thought that the course taken by the Government would give satisfaction both to those who were in favour of the measure and to those who opposed it.


would have voted for the Bill of the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Plimsoll) with some qualifications. He (Mr. D. Jenkins) contended that whether grain be stowed in bulk or in bags, it would be necessary to exercise care that the cargo should be safely secured, for every seaman knew that even a cargo stowed in bags was not safe without shifting-boards were made use of. But there were other points of greater importance than this which required to be looked into. For instance, the over-loading of vessels was a very serious question; and, in his opinion, the Act of 1K76 relating thereto was altogether a failure. He would like to see some plan adopted for fixing the maximum load-line, which should be marked on the sides of all ships, and which, he believed, would prevent the very great evil of over-loading, that was now the cause of so much loss. Again, there was the question of undermanning, from which, no doubt, a large number of casualties occurred. With regard to the build of ships, he did not care what was their form of construction as long as they were navigated with skill; for, in his opinion, the safety of a ship depended upon the skill and care with which it was navigated—irrespective of its dimensions. He hoped the inquiry would tend to do good, and that loss of life would be lessened as soon as the Select Committee had made its Report.


said, that the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Gourley) had stated that he placed great faith in the opinions which he had received from practical men. Now, he (Mr. Bates) had received a document from Sunderland, which had, no doubt, also been received by many hon. Members. It emanated from the Society of British Ship Masters and Officers in Sunderland, and was a list of 30 steamships which had been lost. Hon. Members would be astonished when he told them that 28 out of the 30 vessels lost had been built in Sunderland and the adjacent ports, and that 24 of them had been fitted with water compartments. He maintained that the Bill which they were now discussing was, however well meant, valueless for the purposes for which it was intended, for the reason that it did not in any shape or way touch the root of the evil. He believed that the great cause of loss among these ships was that they were too long, too narrow, and too deep in build—that was to say, that they had too great depth of hold, too little breadth of beam, and too great length; in addition to that they had water ballast compartments. When a ship was loaded with cargo, as a matter of course the ballast compartments were empty, consequently there was a space of from one to two and a-half feet in the bottom of the ship empty above which the cargo was stowed, and the grain being raised in this way became more liable to shift, and the ship, in consequence, to "turn turtle" and to go to the bottom. In order to remedy this, he suggested that these water ballast compartments should be so fitted as to be able to receive grain in bags, which would give the ship more stability. That a cargo of grain could be carried safely in bulk he had no doubt whatever; but, in order to insure this, it was necessary that the ship should be divided into compartments made of iron. As to shifting-boards, he believed them to be valueless for this purpose; but if the vessel were divided down the middle by iron bulkheads running fore and aft as far as the engine-room, the cargo would be then in two equal portions, and if the vessel lay over one half of the cargo only would go to the lee-side. The expense of this arrangement would only occur once—namely, when the ship was built, and would be, in his opinion, in the end, less than the cost of modern bulkheads. It had been said that this plan would unfit the ship for general purposes; but he answered that these iron bulkheads could be fastened in such a manner as would allow them to be taken down when the ship was going to load a general cargo. They had only to be fastened to the keel, keelsons, beams, and other parts of the vessel with screw-bolts, and then they could be taken down when necessary, and would cost less in the end to the shipowner than shifting-boards. He would just give hon. Members his opinion as to what these grain-carrying ships ought to be. Ships crossing the Atlantic with grain cargoes should have greater strength and greater propelling power; they should not be more than seven times their beam in length, and they should not be more than two-thirds of their beam in depth. If they were fitted with water compartments, they should be so made that cargo could be stowed in them, and they should be fitted in compartments. Something had been said about the handicapping of British shipowners; and this was, no doubt, a very serious matter. He thought the best plan and the only plan to meet this difficulty would be to levy a fine upon all cargoes brought in bulk, whether in foreign or British ships, unless they were certified by the Board of Trade to be fitted for such cargoes in the manner in which they now certified for the carrying of passengers.


having no knowledge of ships, would not have entered upon this debate, were it not that in Ireland large quantities of oats were grown and exported coastwise. Now, if the Bill was carried as it then stood, it would apply to this Irish coasting trade and ruin it, while, at the same time, it would place the grower of oats at a great disadvantage. Had the Bill come before the House he should, in the interest of the trade to which he had referred, have voted against it. The vessels engaged in this coasting trade were of a peculiar construction. They were short and broad, and very few accidents had occurred to them, from their sailing over seas which were calmer than those which had to be crossed in other trades, and from their having an opportunity of running into port when a storm occurred. He trusted that the noble Lord would not entertain the suggestion of the hon. Member that the Bill should be passed provisionally; but he joined with those who wished to see a Bill passed during the present Session, which he trusted would be very carefully framed with a view to the protection of the interests which were involved in legislation upon this subject. He thought it would be a most unfortunate thing to adopt the suggestion which had been thrown out for a system of differential duties, which, in his view, savoured too much of Protection.


said, there could be no dispute as to the advantages which would result from the appointment of a Committee; but it must be borne in mind that no legislation could take place this Session, or, perhaps, during the next. With regard to the suggestion that the scope of the inquiry should be widened, so far as marine insurance was concerned, he reminded the House that that had been fully dealt with in the Report of the Royal Commission, and that the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had promised to introduce, and did introduce, in 1876, a Bill for dealing with maritime contracts. But he did not believe there was any means of securing the maximum of safety until the shipowner had a greater interest in his ships coming safely to port than he now had in their not arriving. He knew that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had taken the best possible advice before withdrawing the Bill to which he had referred. It was most important the Government should deal with this question, because it did not affect grain cargoes alone, but all cargoes that floated in British bottoms. He would not put his experience against that of the hon. Member for Plymouth (Mr. Bates); but he had had the advantage of assisting the other day on a Committee, before which the best possible information was laid with regard to this question of grain cargoes. The question was put to that Committee,—"What would be the advantage of a Bill such as that brought in by the hon. Member for Derby?" The answer was from all sides that there could be no doubt that loss of life occurred from defective construction, but that the greatest blot on our carrying trade was the shipment of grain cargoes in bulk, and that from this cause there arose a greater loss of life than from all other causes put together. It had been urged that the additional cost of carrying grain in bags would increase the price of the grain; but it was necessary to place the advantages of this plan against its disadvantages. In the first place, it would materially diminish the cost of insurance; in the second place, the grain would be brought to market in a much better condition than at present; in the third place, there would be a great diminution in the loss of ships and cargoes; and, in the fourth place, there would be the saving of life; and, quite apart from this saving of life, he impressed upon the House that the advantages of the proposed plan would be equivalent to the pecuniary outlay for sacks. Having regard to the fact that they might enter upon one or more Sessions before legislation upon this matter took place, he asked the noble Lord the President of the Board of Trade whether—not for the coasting traffic, but merely for long voyages—he could not see his way to introduce some provisional measure, until such time as the whole question could be considered, which would require that all grain cargoes should be brought to this country in sacks? This proposal would go a great way to give experience and to guide legislation in that House; it would also show whether grain cargoes could be carried in bags without any large increase in expense, and whether a saving of life would be the result. The present system of carrying grain was the greatest blot upon our carrying trade; and he hoped it would be possible by some temporary measure to deal with it until the Committee could report, and a Bill could be brought in on the subject.


thought that the House would now feel that it was time to close the discussion, which he might justly characterize as having been very useful and interesting. "With regard to the speech of the hon. Member for Sheffield (Mr. Mundella), it seemed to him to be based upon the idea that the Committee could not report at all that Session. He had purposely confined the Reference in order to shorten the labours of the Committee; and he hoped that it would be able to report before the end of the Session, as he was most anxious that its recommendations should be carried out at once. The questions raised were most important, for they concerned human life. He saw no reason why the Committee should not get through its labours speedily, and report in time for a Bill to be brought in and passed before the end of the Session. He did not wish to be understood as meaning that the result of the labours of the Committee would be to show that any legislation whatever was necessary. He was certainly of opinion that if they could do without legislation it would be better, for any unnecessary fettering of a great industry should be avoided. He was sure that the hon. Member for Sheffield would agree with him upon that point. But if it were found that legislation was necessary, then he hoped that it would be completed during the present Session. He would observe, with reference to what many hon. Members had stated regarding the grain trade, that he was not at that moment prepared to say that the proposals of the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Plimsoll) were necessary. So far as he was informed, since 1875, the grain trade of this country had greatly increased, until the value of the imports now amounted to £150,000,000 a-year. But the proportion of ships engaged in the grain trade which had been lost was comparatively small, whereas there had been many hundreds of lamentable calamities to vessels laden with other cargoes. He thought it was really a question to be considered whether grain was the real cause of the loss of many vessels. Suppose that the carrying of grain in bulk was dangerous, and that great additional security to human life would be afforded by its being carried in bags. But, as he had previously stated, there was a great difference of opinion upon that subject, and that it required investigation. He had expressly guarded himself from stating any opinion upon the subject; but people of great experience had expressed the view that the danger to human life was not increased by the stowage of grain in bulk. He hoped that the Reference had been so framed that the question would be fully decided. With respect to the question of insurance, there was no doubt that the matter was one which required consideration. He wished to protest against one or two observations of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Sunderland (Mr. Gourley), in which he laid down the maxim that grain could not be safely carried in bulk. To that proposition he could not give his assent, but should wait the issue of the labours of the Committee.


remarked, that he had laid that proposition down with certain exceptions. He had stated that it was the general rule that vessels engaged in the Montreal and the coasting trade were exceptions.


said, that no doubt the hon. Member did not mean his assertion to be a sweeping one. The other point against which he must speak was a most serious suggestion to come from the other side of the House—that was the proposal that all ships that carried grain in bulk should be forced to pay a duty of 1s.or 2s.per quarter upon the grain so carried. He was surprised to hear those doctrines propounded by hon. Gentlemen upon the other side of the House; and if they were seriously meant he should not-wonder if the Government were shortly asked to again put duties upon corn. So long as he had the honour to occupy the position he did, no protective duties of any kind would be put on. It must be understood that the object of the Government in this case was to obtain a thorough investigation, so that they would be enabled to legislate on the subject. Nothing would induce the Government to assent to the Second Reading of this Bill until investigation had convinced them that it was really required for the preservation of human life, and that it would not have the effect of destroying the great shipping interests upon which this country so much depended.

Question put, andagreed to.