§ Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [28th May], "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ Question again proposed.
§ Debate resumed.
in moving, as an Amendment—That it in the opinion, of this House the exceptional Law by which seamen are liable to arrest without warrant and imprisonment with hard labour for simple- breach of contract should be repealed,956 said, he hoped the House would not consider it inconvenient, upon the opportunity afforded by the second reading of the Bill to benefit merchant seamen, if he called their attention to the very exceptional laws affecting that class of persons, especially as those exceptional laws called for redress. Merchant seamen were subject to exceptional law, not only when they were at sea and out of the natural limits of the Kingdom, but even when on shore engaged in working beside ordinary labourers in the docks they were exposed to penalties to which no other workmen in the country were liable. They might, if they had broken a simple contract of service, be arrested, not only by the police, but by the officers, owners, or consignee of the vessel, and were, on conviction before a justice of the peace, liable to imprisonment under circumstances in which any other person would only be liable to civil process. He did not suppose that any other class of people would have submitted so long to such an injustice; and he believed that the reason why their rights had been so little considered was because they belonged to a class which did not possess any electoral powers. Had they belonged to any of the more powerful classes of the country, he was sure that the attention of Parliament would have been called to the subject, and that their grievances would have been redressed. He hoped he was not appealing in vain to the new Parliament, when he invited new Members of the House who came there with generous sentiments towards all classes in the country, before they became corrupted by the atmosphere of that House, to consider a class which had no political power and to see that that class had justice done to it. In 1875 there was a Bill for the amendment of the Merchant Shipping Act, and so convinced was the Board of Trade that the then condition of the law could not be maintained, that great modifications wore proposed in that Bill, which was considered by the House of Commons and passed through Committee, where a number of modifications were introduced, which, although they greatly ameliorated the condition of the merchant seamen, did not, in his opinion, go far enough. The Bill was then laid aside. In the following Session that Bill was passed which gave such satisfaction to the workmen throughout the country, but 957 from which the merchant seaman -was cruelly excluded—namely, the Master and Servant Act. An appeal had been made on this subject by the late Member for Derby (Mr. Plimsoll) and others, and promises were held out that the case of the merchant seaman should be duly considered. But that consideration had never been given. In the following year, when the new Merchant Shipping; Bill was passed, he (Mr. Gorst) himself had moved an Amendment and received the most distinct pledge from the then Government, which was given by the Secretary of State for the Home Department, that the matter should receive immediate attention. The evil was recognized, a remedy was promised, and nothing remained but to carry that promise into effect, and yet nothing more had been done than to draft Bills which had been put into the pigeon holes of the Board of Trade, while the merchant seamen remained in a condition which was confessed by the Committee of 1875 to be without excuse. Of course, Her Majesty's Government had not made any pledges at present; but Members of the Government had used the strongest language on the subject. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt), when he was out of Office, described the existing law relating to merchant seamen as by far the most severe and barbarous Criminal Code which was known in this country, and which, he believed, was unexampled in the law of any other country in the world. It was, he said, to that Criminal Code that the seamen of this country were subject; a Code under which they suffered, and at that day were suffering, the most cruel and indefensible injustice. After quoting the law, the right hon. and learned Gentleman proceeded to say "they were asked to enact what he would call this piece of brutal legislation against the seamen of the country." They had already had evidence that many things which had been said by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen when in Opposition might be found inconvenient to recollect when they were in Office; but he hoped that the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Derby, who he regretted was not in the House, now that he was Secretary of State for the Home Department, would recollect the words which he used in 1875, when he sat upon the 958 Front Opposition Bench, and that some attempt would be made by the present Government to remedy that brutal legislation of which he had complained. His object in bringing these circumstances before the House was that he thought the present Bill, intended for the benefit of merchant seamen, was one which went in the wrong direction. The shipping interest of the country had, for many years, been the subject of legislation by the Board of Trade. The law took charge of the builders, masters, owners, and seamen of vessels at every turn; and he was told, although he had not heard the speech made by the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mr. Evelyn Ashley), that in introducing this Bill he described the seaman as a kind of foolish child, who required a nurse to attend him in every seaport, and whose every action needed the attention of the Board of Trade. Now, that seemed to him to be a wrong principle on which to legislate for the great interests of the country; and he again appealed to hon. Members who had recently come into that House, and to their principles of political economy, to assist him in vindicating a doctrine which in books was always highly praised—namely, that of "freedom of contract"—the principle of allowing grown men to make their own agreements, and to trust them to take care of their own interests. He believed if seamen were left to make their own bargains a great many instances of recklessness in connection with unseaworthy ships would disappear. An advance note was merely an instrument made by the seaman, just in the same way as an instrument might be made by a ploughman; it was a mere order to pay money on condition of the seaman going to sea. It had been found that this instrument in some cases, although not in all, gave rise to great extravagance on the part of the seaman, whoso advance note was cashed by the dealers in slops, who went by the name of "crimps," and that very often half the money was lost, and the seaman sent on board drunk and incapable of performing his duties. Now, the reason why this document had a peculiar validity which tempted a man to cash it was because the condition of going to sea could be enforced by imprisonment. That constituted the exceptional value of the advance note. The crimp said to him- 959 self—"lean get people to enforce this condition by having the man taken up and put in prison if he won't go to sea." Now, it appeared to him (Mr. Gorst) that instead of putting a new restriction upon the right of the seaman and shipowner to make a contract, it would be better to abolish the cruel and barbarous law which gave this document its effect. Therefore, he suggested that instead of adding one more to the already too numerous laws under which the shipping interests groaned, they should put a stop to the arbitrary imprisonment of seamen, and then the advance note system, so far as it was objectionable, would fall to the ground. There were two courses before the House—one, that which was proposed by the Secretary to the Board of Trade, that when they found a document doing harm, they should make a special law prohibiting the making of that document, a course which was against all the principles of political economy and legislation which hon. Members, before they came into that House, were accustomed to regard as sound. The other, which was embodied in his Amendment, and which was recommended by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Derby, was to get rid of the barbarous and brutal law to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman had alluded. It was a course in accordance with all the principles of political economy, because it would put a stop to exceptional class legislation, and put the seaman on the same footing as all the other working men in the country. It would also stop an evil without resorting to infringement of the principle of freedom of contract. For those reasons, he begged to move the Amendment of which he had given Notice.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "it is the opinion of this House the exceptional Law by which seamen are liable to arrest without warrant and imprisonment with hard labour for simple breach of contract should be repealed,"—(Mr. Gorst,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to he left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. NORWOOD
said, that when a few evenings ago his hon. Friend the 960 Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mr. Evelyn Ashley) had moved the second reading of this Bill, and explained at length its provisions, he (Mr. Norwood) had made an appeal for the adjournment of the debate, on the ground of the lateness of the hour, and in consequence of the small number of Members present, under which circumstances it had appeared to him that a question of such importance both to the shipowner and sailor could not be fully and fairly considered. The same objection existed on the present occasion, and he found that a further difficulty had been raised by the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst), which raised a side issue. With many of the opinions uttered by the hon. and learned Member he could cordially agree; indeed, he had always contended that there was too much legislation of a somewhat grandmotherly character which militated against the interests of merchant shipping, and that many of the regulations were very minute and vexatious. His hon. and learned Friend had made some very broad observations as to the barbarity and extreme cruelty of the power of arresting seamen without warrant; but he had not explained the circumstances under which that power could be exercised. The great mistake made in endeavouring to legislate for merchant seamen was that persons failed to understand the exceptional character of the circumstances connected with a seafaring occupation, and the distinction which existed between the conditions of the ordinary workman and seaman, which were so different that no precise parallel could be drawn between the two. The power to arrest without warrant, to which the hon. and learned Member for Chatham objected, related solely to the non-fulfilment of contract on the part of a seaman to join his ship. The law had environed the seaman with every possible safeguard. It did not allow a seaman's contract to be made in the ordinary way; on the contrary, the captain of the ship and crew must appear before an officer at the Marine Office of the Board of Trade; the agreement was most carefully and elaborately worded; it was read over to the seaman, who undertook at a specified time to join the ship and proceed on the voyage. Now, in the case of a ship loaded with 961 a cargo of great value, with the passengers on board and everything ready for sea, hon. Members would see that the most extensive injury would be done to the shipowner by the non-fulfilment of that agreement on the part of the seamen to join the vessel. He had heard it said that a civil remedy would be sufficient to deal with the case; but no civil remedy could be enforced against the sailor, who had no local habitation nor property which his creditors could seize. To sue him in the County Court for default of agreement was, therefore, a simple farce. The fact was, that when they engaged seamen who, for certain reasons, anything but valid ones, did not turn up at the appointed time, except for the power given by law to arrest, which was one very rarely exercised in this country, there would be no means of enforcing the agreement. He assured hon. Members that in the case of vessels abroad, particularly in the case of British ships in the Colonies, if it were not for some such power which enabled the master to keep his crew together, it would be almost impossible for him to conduct the business of his employers. He must, therefore, protest against the denunciations of this power of arrest on the part of the hon. and learned Member opposite.
said, that the observations he had made, against which the hon. Member for Hull (Mr. Norwood) protested, were quotations of the language of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt).
§ MR. NORWOOD
said, he thought the hon. and learned Member had rather adopted the quotations of the right hon. and learned Gentleman. But he wished to state why he objected to the Bill then before the House. He had listened to the exposition of the Bill by the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mr. Evelyn Ashley), who, it appeared to him, seemed to have the impression that the merchant seaman was a foolish and reckless man, incapable of taking care of himself in any respect; that he was attacked by enemies existing in every port, and that it was absolutely necessary by legislation to protect him from the earliest moment of his career. There was a clause in the Bill, which had for its object to strike at the custom of granting advance notes. He knew 962 of no more rational and straightforward form of contract than that of advance notes. The seaman, perhaps, came from a Southern voyage and shipped on board a vessel for a port in North America, and, in consequence, required warm clothing. Being hard up, he required an advance of money for that purpose, to obtain which the captain drew upon the owner at three days after sailing for the sum agreed upon, provided the seaman sailed in the vessel. That, of course, was a most necessary proviso, because, as he had already explained, a seaman could not be attached by civil process and the advance be otherwise lost. His hon. Friend (Mr. Evelyn Ashley) wished to persuade the House that this advance was obtained in every instance for improper purposes; that it went into the hands of people who cashed it at an enormous discount, and reaped a large benefit in consequence. But he (Mr. Norwood) had had experience of the working of the system of advance notes, having paid them by thousands, and his experience was that, as a rule, they were presented by the relatives of seamen. He protested against the description of the sailor which had been given by the hon. Gentleman, who, he believed, had been misled by the course of procedure which existed in one or two ports. He (Mr. Norwood) believed that in Liverpool the crimp was to be found, and also in Cardiff to a large extent, and in London to a lesser extent; but in the port which he represented and the North of England generally and Belfast, they did not know what a crimp was. He held that advance notes were a system of accommodation to the seaman, and one of the simplest documents possible, and he protested against that attempt to make seamen in one or two ports in the Kingdom moral and provident by an Act of Parliament interfering with the freedom of contract. He did not mean to say that the question of advance notes was a vital matter to the shipowner; but it was a very important matter to the seaman, who frequently had need of an advance of money, and he could assure the House that the regulations of that Bill would be very easily evaded. But there was a particular difficulty which would result from the doing away with this simple form of advance, and which would infallibly bring into action a most objectionable system—namely, 963 that the captains of our ships would be-come shopkeepers. They would say to a seaman —"I cannot give you money; hut I have everything you want on hoard, and if you come there I will fit you out." The captain would then charge an enormous price for an extremely inferior article, and at the end of the voyage a long hill would be presented to the seaman by the master of the ship. He had, on several occasions, investigated matters of that kind; cases where a seaman had died in a foreign port, and in which, instead of his relatives getting the wages due to him, they had a long bill presented to them by the captain, and received little or nothing in the shape of hard cash. Again, favouritism would be shown to the seaman who had most transactions of the kind. If the Bill were carried in its present form, he thought the Board of Trade would be doing away with an ordinary sensible contract, which, in nine cases out often, resulted in good to the seaman, and would, thereby, expose him to be plundered by the captain of the vessel. He protested against these continual endeavours on the part of the Board of Trade to interfere with the details of trade which had recommended themselves to the requirements of the times, and which attempts were generally unsatisfactory, always irritating, and rarely attained the object desired. He was rather alarmed at the policy which seemed likely to be pursued by hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench, who had already brought forward more than one Bill which attacked the interests of Merchant Shipping and he began to tremble for the future, after the baigain that had passed between the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Derby and Mr. Plimsoll, who had said he could do more for the seamen by resigning his seat, than by retaining it, because the Government had it in their power to do more in one year than he could in 20 in carrying his peculiar crotchets. He had not seen that apparent contract repudiated in the speeches of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, who had expressed his strong sympathy on all occasions with the sailor. He did not object to that, because he would not allow anyone to assert in that House that the right hon. and learned Gentleman had a higher 964 or truer interest in the sailor than he (Mr. Norwood) had. But he must say he entertained a fear that the trading interests of the country were going to be harassed by the present Government, and he protested at the outset against the principle of interfering with the details of trade. He held that the Jess they interfered with those subjects the better. He advised the light hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Cnamberlain) to follow the example of his Colleague the senior Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright), whose principle was to meddle and interfere as little as possible with the details of trade. In conclusion, he wished to say that he opposed the Bill, as the first of a series of Bills which he feared were to be directed against the freedom of trade and contract; and he would say to hon. Members who had recently taken their seats in that House for the first time, that there was no true Liberalism, but a false and bastard Liberalism, in endeavouring to restrict personal freedom, and regulate trade by Act of Parliament. It was as false a principle as the attempt to prevent a man from taking a glass of beer by Act of Parliament, because the practice was occasionally carried to excess, and he certainly objected to measures like the present Bill which interfered with an innocent form of contract, simply because humanitarians, uninformed of the facts of the case, had got the idea that some bad use was made of it, in some few instances, and that, therefore, you were to abolish it in other parts of the Kingdom where it did very good work.
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
said, he was prepared to accept the advice of the hon. Member for Hull (Mr. Norwood), that he should follow in the steps of the senior Member for the borough which he had the honour of representing; but he would remind his hon. Friend that his objections to the Bill appeared to be grounded rather upon a fear of what the Government might do, than upon anything they had done up to the present time. It was, in short, a speech directed against the possible intentions of the Government, and which could hardly apply to the moderate little measure which they had brought before the House. He ventured to point out that the Bill and the debate had raised two issues. They had to ask themselves, in 965 the first place, whether the object they had in view was expedient? and, in the second place, whether that object could be attained by the method proposed? He should have said, but for the speech just delivered by the hon. Member for Hull, that there was a pretty strong agreement among men of various Parties to put an end to that abominable system of advance notes. It was not one Commission, or one body only, which had reported against that system. There was, in 1873, a most important Commission presided over by the Duke of Somerset, who was not the sort of man to lose sight of practical considerations from any desire of "grandmotherly legislation." That Commission came to the unanimous conclusion that the system of advance notes ought to be abolished, and the statements contained in their Report were so strong and concise that he would venture to read an extract, which ran as follows: —The evidence before us leads us to the conclusion that the system of advance notes is one great obstacle to the amelioration of the condition of merchant seamen. All the witnesses whom we have examined admit that the system is most pernicious, but it is defended on the ground that without this advance the sailor could not pay for his lodging on shore or procure the clothes requisite for him when he joins a ship. In practice it seems that the advance note is handed over to the lodging-housekeeper, not usually in exchange for cash, but in discharge of debts which the sailor has been induced to incur….. After careful consideration of the numerous evils attending this mode of pre-payment we recommend that advance notes should be declared illegal….. We feel, however, convinced that unless this mischievous mode of payment be discontinued, the seamen will never be raised from their servile dependence on crimps and taught to rely on their own industry and intelligence.That was a state of things very different from what appeared to exist in the town of Hull, as described by the hon. Member who had just spoken. Again, in 1878, a Committee of that House had been appointed to consider a Bill affecting the condition of merchant seamen, and before that Committee a good deal of evidence upon the subject of advance notes had been given. He found that Mr. Williamson, a large shipowner of Liverpool, gave evidence to this effect. Speaking not only for himself, but also as the representative of shipowners in Liverpool, he said the association of the latter at that port was anxious to have the system of ad- 966 vance notes discontinued and made positively illegal, and he added that at the largest meeting of shipowners held in the town it was resolved that the notes ought to be rendered illegal, and that their abolition would only cause temporary inconvenience, while it would tend to make the reckless and dissipated seamen more provident and keep him out of the hands of crimps. Again, at the meeting of the central committee of the united body of shipowners, held in London in 1876, a resolution was passed that they would offer no opposition to the abolition of advance notes. He could also farther quote from the evidence of many other witnesses, all of whom were unanimous that advance notes were the primary cause of the demoralization of the British seaman. As a result of these recommendations, the Government had introduced a clause into the present Bill for rendering advance notes absolutely illegal. The hon. Member for Hull, however, had declared the advance note to be the purest and most innocent of documents. He noticed the objections raised to this Bill came chiefly from Hull, where the evils described did not seem to exist to the same extent as in some other ports; but he did not think that the shipowners of Hull interfered for the purpose of standing in the way of what was admitted to be an immense improvement in all other parts of the country. The evidence from Hull went to show that a seaman, when about to join his ship, was generally destitute and required clothes, which he could not get without this advance note, and that if he must have an advance of money, that was the best way to give it. But it had been put before the Committee by many witnesses that whatever the object of obtaining the note might be, the sailor did not obtain clothes in exchange for it. Mr. Tully himself admitted in cross-examination, "either that the sailor got nothing at all, or only the most miserable slops." Another witness said that "the money did not go in clothes or necessities, but that it was spent in debauchery." It was also admitted that the least rate of discount charged upon these notes was 10 per cent, and several witnesses stated that it went as high as 60 or 70 percent; while one gentleman, an outfitter, stated that he charged 7½ per cent discount, and required the rest of the advance 967 note to be taken out in clothes—a transaction the unfairness of which the House would readily understand. There could he no doubt that, by means of these advance notes, the crimps did cheat the sailor in a most abominable way. He confessed that he was unable to see why the fitting-out of the sailor could not be better secured by an advance in cash made by the shipowner or master at the time the man joined the ship; indeed, he was convinced that the difficulty could be surmounted in some way or other. It had been objected that the abolition of advance notes would lead to the masters of vessels becoming purveyors of clothes. But that was the case at the present time, when almost every master of a ship had a slop-chest, from which the sailors got what they required in the way of clothes. With regard to the argument about freedom of contract, in connection with which new Members of the House had been invited to preserve the pristine purity of their political economy, he (Mr. Chamberlain) thought it could not be maintained in face of the fact that freedom of contract had already been interfered with by the Legislature when the interest of any particular class seemed to demand it. It had been held that a bill of exchange was ipso facto invalid where no material consideration was given. Again, freedom of contract had been interfered with when it was refused to railway companies to contract themselves out of liabilities to their passengers. That was also notably the case with the truck s\-stem which formerly existed in the mining districts and which had been abolished. The hon. Member for Hull appeared to be afraid that the Government was entering upon a course of interference with the trade of the country; but, with regard to this particular measure, he (Mr. Chamberlain) pointed out that it was a legacy which had been received from their Predecessors, and the clause which they asked the House to accept would have been brought forward by the late Government, so that he felt tolerably assured of the support of hon. Gentlemen on the opposite side of the House. With regard to the Amendment proposed by the hon. and learned Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst), he was of opinion that, after the alteration which it had undergone, it was totally irrele- 968 vant and could not be moved on the present Bill. The exceptional law to which the Amendment referred ought and should be considered, and early next Session, although he could not pledge himself to accept the words on the Paper, a Bill should be introduced for dealing with the whole subject. He ventured to think that the law in its present condition could not be defended. Some remarks had been made in the course of the present debate as to the language employed on this subject by his right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department on a previous occasion. He (Mr. Chamberlain) did not know why it should be suggested that his right hon and learned Friend was inclined at that moment in any way to go back from what he had said, and he ventured to assure the hon. and learned Member for Chatham that his right hon. and learned Friend would adhere to every word which he had uttered in reference to this matter, and that the Government hoped to carry out in Office the principles that they had expressed in Opposition. The hon and learned Gentleman said he hoped that might be the case, but that he had been waiting in hope. Well, he had not been waiting long. The Government had not been in Office many weeks, and did he expect that all the pledges they had given could be at once fulfilled? Now, in order that the hon. and learned Gentleman might make his Amendment relevant to the scope and purpose of the Bill, it was absolutely necessary that be should retain the second portion of it, which was to this effect —"That such repeal would render unnecessary the exceptional legislation to restrict the power of seamen to make contracts." He (Mr. Chamberlain) held that it was entirely in contradiction to the evidence given before the Select Committee of which' the hon. and learned Gentleman was a Member. He found that the witnesses all agreed that even if the power of imprisonment possessed by employers were taken away, the crimp would still find occupation amongst the seamen. They would probably require even higher interest than at present; and what the condition of seamen would be reduced to under those circumstances, seeing that 60 or 70 per cent was required now, he left the House to imagine. What was said before the Committee 969 was, that the crimp would still advance money and trust to getting the seaman drunk and then getting him on board ship. Under those circumstances he thought the House might fairly allow the Government to make this preliminary improvement, and leave them the time they asked the House to give for the consideration of a greater and more complicated subject, with the certainty that in the course of the next Session they would propose some measure to deal with it. He would add that the subject of discipline and the punishment and penalties for breaches of contract was a matter of exceeding difficulty. It had been carefully considered before the Committee in 1875; but the Bill which was proposed to deal with it, and which had the support of the hon. and learned Gentleman, still left the anomaly very much where it was before, and would practically have created a new offence under the name of fraud. It would have constituted the offence of receiving these advance notes and not afterwards joining the ship, and for that offence it would have indicted the penalty of six weeks' imprisonment.
said, he had never supported any proposal of that kind; it was a proposal made by the Committee, but hud not received his support.
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
said, he was sorry for having misrepresented the views of the hon. and learned Gentleman upon that subject, and, of course, he dropped that matter as far as he was concerned; but it remained the fact, that the late Government did propose to deal with the matter in a way which was thoroughly unsatisfactory. The noble Lord the Member for Liverpool (Viscount Sandon) had also introduced a Bill proposing to deal with the same subject; but that, again, would leave the law in an exceptional and anomalous position. It was, of course, not possible, in that short Session, to deal with such a matter; and he hoped he might confidently ask the House to accept the great good which was now offered the seamen, in the hope that it would not only greatly ameliorate 970 his condition, elevate his character, and teach him thrift and providence, but also that it would be, at all events, one step towards the abolition of that exceptional and anomalous legislation which they must all deplore.
§ MR. SPEAKER
My attention has been called to the form of the Amendment moved by the hon. and learned Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst), and it appears to me that the Amendment is not strictly relevant to the subject of the Bill; and cannot, therefore, be put.
said, he did not know whether he might now put the Amendment in the form in which he gave Notice of it, for the purpose of enabling the House to continue the discussion?
§ MR. BENTINCK
said, at that hour of the night he would not attempt to follow the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade through his various remarks on the subject of advance notes. All he would say was, that although he believed every man acquainted with the subject was fully of opinion that the worst possible consequences arose from the system of advance notes, they had it from the highest authority that it was almost impossible to do away with them, He must express his regret at the answer of the President of the Board of Trade to his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst), because it appeared to him that the right hon. Gentleman had virtually undertaken on the part of the Government to adopt his Motion. Now, he thought that would be a source of great regret to almost everyone who had carefully considered the question. His hon. and learned Friend had told them that the laws relating to seamen which gave the power of arrest without warrant were exceptional; but he entirely ignored the fact that the whole case of the seaman was exceptional, and that there was no affinity whatever between the position of the labourer and the position of the seaman. The labourer was always forthcoming in the event of his being guilty of a breach of contract; but the seaman, under those circumstances, was not to be found, and therefore the idea of taking out a warrant trying to take up a man who had no home and no local 971 residence was an impossibility which, he thought, could hardly have suggested itself to the mind of his hon. and learned Friend. But he (Mr. Bentinek) further asserted that the law, as it then stood, was the best law which could be made for the seaman himself; because, what happened? The seaman, having signed articles, got into had company, became the worse for liquor, and was not forthcoming when he ought to join his ship. Surely, then, the best thing that could happen to that man, was to hand him on board directly anyone could get hold of him. He thought anyone who was able to take a practical view of the question would endorse his view of it; and, without going any farther into the subject, he hoped they should not hear from the Government a repetition of the assurance which just fell from the President of the Board of Trade, that he was prepared to endorse the views of his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Gorst) on the abolition of the right of arrest.
§ MR. WILLIAMSON
said, he asked the indulgence of the House, as a new Member, while he made a few remarks on a subject with which he, as a shipowner, had some acquaintance. He had considered this important though short Bill, and could estimate to some extent the evils it proposed to deal with and the remedies which it offered. The provisions were short, and mainly two. The hon. Member for Hull (Mr. Norwood) had waxed eloquent on what appeared to him to be the lesser of the two evils which the Bill proposed to remedy. The major difficulty was, he (Mr. Williamson) thought, the fact that so many men got the rating A.B. without having undergone the proper training to qualify themselves for that description. That, in his opinion, was one of the greatest evils that the Mercantile Marine of their country suffered from. The next evil was undoubtedly the demoralization caused by the crimp system, and by the desertion of seamen abroad. In supporting the Bill, which he did most heartily, he did so chiefly because of the provisions relating to the training of seamen. It would be within the recollection of hon. Members, especially those connected with the shipping interest, that in 1854 the compulsory apprenticeship system ceased, and that because of the utilitarian, but perhaps not very patriotic, senti- 972 ments which then pervaded the shipping interest of the country, Parliament failed to substitute any measure of training and preparation to take the place of the apprenticeship system. Now, that state of things was sought to be remedied by Clause 5 of the Bill, which provided that seamen should not be entitled to the rating of A.B. unless they had served for four years. They all knew that at the present untrained men, perfectly unskilled in seamanship, were put on board vessels, and after one or two voyages got the rating of A.B. from careless captains, on one pretence or another, and possibly by forged certificates. They knew that a very large proportion of the men in their Mercantile Marine were untrained seamen, and that the largest proportion of their best trained seamen were Scandinavians. That was a grave evil, which this provision of the Bill would thoroughly remedy. He need not enter into the second branch of the subject, which had been exhaustively dealt with by previous speakers; but it was a fact that when men had a very small balance of wages due to them they were more ready to desert their ships, than if they had to receive four or five months' wages which would have been forfeited by desertion. When men on arrival at a foreign port knew that they had very little money to draw they were easily persuaded by crimps to leave their vessels in search of higher wages, and consequently great harm resulted from the present system. He thought that the experiment of stopping the advance note might well be tried, though he regarded it as the least important part of the Bill. Something had been said about "grandmotherly legislation," and about the infringement of freedom of contract; but he would point out that Governments in all times and ages had interfered with the habits and arrangements of the people, and Mr. Leckie said, with regard to legislation on the drink traffic, that—Those measures formed a striking example of the manner in which legislation, if not overstrained or ill-timed, could improve the morals of the people.He hoped no effort would be made to prevent the speedy passage of that measure through the House, and that it would not be delayed by being referred to a Select Committee.
§ MR. MACDONALD
said, he would take that opportunity of saying that, so far from the Bill before the House being likely to damage the Government in the eyes of the country it would, in his opinion, have the contrary effect. No one more than he admired the heroic conduct of the late Member for Derby (Mr. Plimsoll) in his work for the emancipation of the British seaman; but he looked upon the provisions of that Bill as likely to produce far greater results of a moral kind in the interests of the seaman than any other that had been put forward by him. Besides the evidence referred to by the President of the Board of Trade, evidence had been given that the advance note had not been used for the welfare or interest of seamen, but in giving, in some cases, 80 per cent interest, for the purpose of gratifying the very grossest passions. But they had heard from the hon. Member for Hull (Mr. Norwood) that he did not wish for any "grandmotherly legislation" in regard to those matters; but, on the other hand, he (Mr. Macdonald) trusted that, once for all, they should get rid of any grand fatherly care with respect to advance notes, that had been the means of steeping the seaman in the lowest possible condition which could be conceived. There had been a time when, in every mining district in England, there was a truck-shop, which stood in the same relation to the miner as the advance note stood in relation to the seaman. The same objections had been raised against the abolition of the truck system as were now urged against the abolition of advance notes. It was said the miner could not live without a truck-shop; they were bound to supply his wants; they were bound to minister to him, because he was an unfortunate creature and could not take care of himself. But the moment the truck system ceased thrift and providence began among their mining population, and in those districts where the truck-shop was formerly to be found they had in its place co-operative stores. He thanked the Government for bringing in the Bill, and trusted they would take care to proceed with it promptly, and not be misled by wheedling on the one hand, nor "grand fatherly" care of advance notes on the other, in their endeavour to raise the seaman to the position which he ought long ago to have occupied. His present position 974 was a scandal on their boasted civilization.
§ MR. J. G. TALBOT
said, he wished to ask the President of the Board of Trade the course he proposed to pursue with regard to the Bill which stood next to that now under consideration? His noble Friend (Viscount Sandon) had introduced a Bill almost identical with that now proposed, with the addition of two clauses, about which they did not then ask any opinion, He suggested that the Bill of his noble Friend should be read a second time, and then that the opinion of the Government and the House should be taken on the two clauses.
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
said, they certainly did not intend to take the Committee that week. He thought that the two clauses referred to should be moved in Committee as an addition to the Bill,
§ MR. BURT
said, he should like to join in expressing his satisfaction that the Government had taken an early opportunity of introducing this measure, with which he entirely agreed; and as a Member of the Committee of 1878, he could testify that whatever differences of opinion there might have been on the part of witnesses on other points, the almost unanimous opinion on the part of shipowners, captains, and others was against the advance note system. He would remind the hon. Member for Hull (Mr. Norwood), in reference to one of his remarks, that if seamen possessed votes they would very seldom have opportunities of using them, and that had their condition been of a different kind the inequality complained of would have been removed before that time.
§ Original Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed for Monday next.