HC Deb 31 May 1880 vol 252 cc876-82

Order for Second Reading read.


in moving that the Bill be now read the second time, said, he understood the Government would consent to the Motion on condition of its being referred to the Select Committee on the Merchant Seamen Bill. With that understanding he was perfectly content, and therefore it was unnecessary that he should make any observations to the House on the subject.

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


said, perhaps, before the Bill was read a second time, the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade would be good enough to tell the House exactly on what conditions the Government had assented to the second reading of a Bill on this important matter, which excited some controversy in the last Parliament?


understood that his hon. Friend in charge of the Bill (Mr. Anderson), in proposing that the Bill should be read a second time, was quite willing that afterwards it should be referred to the Committee which had been instructed to inquire into the losses of ships laden with grain and other heavy cargoes in bulk. There the details of the question would be carefully considered, and he hoped the recommendations of the Committee would approve themselves to the House.


said, this was a matter of very serious consideration. He had taken some interest in the question in the previous Parliament. The House had not yet heard one reason why the Bill should be passed. The hon. Gentleman in charge of it merely rose and said it was to be referred to a Select Committee. He would ask the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade what was the use of asking the House to pass the second reading of this Bill, if it was to be referred to a Committee? There were very serious and grave considerations involved in the matter, and if the Bill was to be so referred he was perfectly willing that it should be; but he could not see any object in passing the second reading before it came before the Committee. [Several hon. MEMBERS: It must.] Well, if it was a rule of the House that the Bill must be read a second time before it went before the Committee, of course he was perfectly willing; but, at the same time, he would ask some Member of the Government to state whether they agreed to the Bill as it stood, or whether they would propose, when it came before the Committee, that any clause of it should be dropped, or whether they considered that some better Bill might not be framed in order to meet the exigencies of the case?


wished to say a word before the Bill was read a second time, because to him the reference of a Merchant Shipping Bill to a Select Committee had a very ominous sound. He had heard a great deal of Bills which had been referred to Select Committees, and had never got any further; and ho only hoped this Bill might not be one of the many Bills stifled in that way. It was a very simple measure, and might, ho thought, almost be passed by the House without referring it, inasmuch as it simply filled a blank in the Merchant Shipping Act which was passed by the last Parliament. However, he did not oppose the proposed reference; but simply rose for the purpose of making an inquiry respecting the constitution of the Select Committee, because, an hour ago, the Prime Minister threw out some very ominous hints as to the mode in which those Select Committees were henceforth to be constituted. He would, therefore, like to know whether the Select Committee to which this Bill was to be referred would be formed according to the ancient usage and practice of the House, or whether it would be formed upon that new system shadowed forth by the Premier? Because, if the latter was to be the case, he thought it very probable that the labours of the Committee would lead to very little utility, for it would certainly not be regarded with confidence by hon. Members sitting on the Opposition side of the House. Ho would be unwilling to sit on any Committee which was not fairly and properly constituted. Therefore, he hoped this Committee would not be selected by the Prime Minister as the one upon which the new method was first to be tried, because this was really no Party question. It was a question which affected the saving of life, and upon which both sides of the House were equally zealous; and he hoped that on this occasion they might have a Committee appointed in the usual form.


said, the Bill was exceedingly important, but it should be borne in mind that it contained a clause which provided that the suggested legislation should only remain in force 12 months. Now, if the Bill was to bo referred to a Select Committee, no matter how it was constituted, ho could not help thinking that, at this period of the Session, there was a strong probability that no such measure could this year become law. The subject-matter of the Bill ought to bo fully and fairly debated in the House. His name was on the back of it, and he gave his hearty support to the general principle of the measure. It pointed, at all events, to the direction which legislation ought to take, although several of the clauses would require considerable modification. That was just the feeling which made him think that the whole subject ought to be fully considered, which it could not be at this period of the sitting, and therefore he would move the adjournment of the debate.


seconded the Motion, and remarked, that if the House passed the second reading it would be understood to assent to the principles of the Bill, and would be instrumental in handing our trade over to foreign countries. If it were proved that the shipment of grain in bulk was the cause of those terrible losses this Bill would only apply to British ships, and he maintained that it would be wrong for the House, without hearing any arguments from the Mover of the second reading, to assent in a few moments to a Bill which, practically, would work not in favour of, but against, this country. He supported the adjournment of the debate because they had heard no reason why foreigners should be preferred to ourselves, although he confessed that, if it were proved that these accidents to ships occurred from loading in bulk, he should feel that he had a question to decide between his feelings of humanity and his preference for the interests of this country. That was a matter which they could not discuss that night, and therefore he supported the adjournment.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Mac Iver.)


said, that it was a little significant that the adjournment of the debate was moved and supported upon totally different grounds. It was moved by the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Mac Iver), as he had said, with the view to hasten the time when the Bill might be carried into law; but the hon. Member for South Essex (Mr. Baring) supported the adjournment, because he said he was totally opposed to the measure. The principle of the measure was that greater security should be given in the case of grain cargoes carried in bulk, in order to prevent the present undue loss of life. In passing the second reading of the Bill the House was only affirming that prin- ciple, and not the particular form by which the Bill proposed to carry it into effect. Under those circumstances, it seemed to him that the proper place for taking a discussion upon the matter was before a Select Committee, where the matters relating to the construction of ships and the peculiarities of different vessels would be properly considered, and where evidence would be taken. When that Committee had reported, as he hoped it would in time for legislation during the present Session, it would be possible to carry a Bill which would put the principle in operation. He should like to make one observation with reference to the remarks of the hon. and learned Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst). He said something about a new principle being imported into the nomination of this Committee. He (Mr. Chamberlain) believed that the names of the Committee would appear on the Paper on Tuesday next, and the Committee would be nominated on Thursday. It would then be found that the nomination had been made on the principle of taking Members from both sides of the House, the majority being furnished by the supporters of the Government, and the minority from those who did not come within that category. He hoped that the hon. Member for Birkenhead would consent to withdraw his Motion, in order to permit the progress of the measure, which was of such importance in its effect upon the preservation of human life.


said, that he hoped his hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Mac Iver) would not press his Motion for an adjournment, as it might lead to a misconception. The Bill related to a matter of very great interest, but, at the same time, a matter of very considerable difficulty. They had before them the task of making a proper provision for the safety of ships, and, at the same time, of avoiding injury to the trade of the country; and he thought that they would do well to remit the question to the consideration of a Select Committee. In that manner, the matter would receive a careful and elaborate consideration, and they would be in the best position to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion. He hoped that the Motion for adjournment would be withdrawn.


said, that he begged to withdraw his Motion for the adjourn- ment, as he was satisfied with the information which had been given by the right hon. Gentlemen the President of the Board of Trade.

Question put, and negatived.

Original Question again proposed.


said, that, as his was one of the names upon the Bill, he wished to make a few remarks. He had presented a Petition from the Hull Chamber of Commerce and Shipping against the Bill in its present shape. It was felt in Hull that the Bill ought not to interfere with the British trade, but only with the American trade in the winter months. The hon. Member for Glasgow (Mr. Anderson), who was in charge of the Bill, had departed from the original intention, and had extended it so as to include the English trade, and that had created a considerable amount of opposition to the measure. If limited to the American grain-carrying vessels, which carried on their trade during the winter months, there would be no opposition to it. It was well known that a large loss of life was caused in that trade; many steamers carrying grain from America had been lost, as was thought by many, from the fact of their carrying grain in bulk. The question was a most important one, and the shipping trade generally of the United Kingdom was strongly in favour of some measure of that kind with regard to the American trade. It appeared to him that at that period of the year there ought to be an inquiry which would occupy as short a time as possible. He would suggest that the Bill should be referred to a Select Committee to inquire into it, independently of the large Committee which was charged with the inquiry into the general question of loss of life at sea. He begged to propose that this Bill should be referred to a Select Committee, and not to the general Committee on Loss of Merchant Shipping.


said, that he hoped that the hon. Member for Hull (Mr. C. H. Wilson) would not persevere in his Motion. He thought that the Committee on Merchant Shipping was very properly charged with this question. Doubtless, the question of insurance would take them a long time; but the inquiry as to grain cargoes would be taken in hand by the Committee at once.

Original Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed to the Select Committee on Merchant Shipping.