HC Deb 06 July 1882 vol 271 cc1597-9

asked the President of the Board of Trade, Whether, taking into consideration the great losses sustained by owners and crews of fishing vessels since the passing of the "Payment of Wages Act, 1880," on account of the desertion of men when the vessels have been on the point of sailing for the fishing grounds, and the inefficiency of the only remedy suggested by the Act, viz. the institution of civil proceedings against the offenders for the recovery of damages which, in the majority of cases, are not likely to be recovered, he will so far amend the said Act as to exempt fishermen from its operation?


asked the President of the Board of Trade, Whether, inasmuch as the section of "The Merchant Seamen's (Payment of Wages, &c.) Act, 1880," abolishing the punishment of imprisonment for desertion from fishing vessels on the point of sailing, was not inserted until after the Bill had passed through Committee; and that such consternation was caused in the fishing interest on its becoming generally known, that a Circular was issued by the Board of Trade, purporting to show how smack-owners could escape this particular section of the Act; and, whether the Board of Trade is aware that test cases were tried, under the advice contained in the Circular, and that they have all signally failed to bring the offenders to justice, and that, as this section is inflicting heavy loss, not only on those whose capital is employed in the fishing trade but also on the seamen themselves, as the absence of one man or boy prevents the whole crew from going to sea, and deprives the remainder of their share in the earnings of the vessel, whilst any personal remedy against the deserters is utterly valueless, as they abscond in the clothes of their employers and have no goods to distrain upon, the Government will take some steps to prevent an important interest from being seriously injured by hasty legislation?


, in reply, said, that both Questions seemed to him to contain disputable matter with which he was not to be supposed to agree. He must point out that the imprisonment section of the Payment of Wages Act of 1880 was not, as supposed, inserted after the Bill had passed through Committee. The subject of it was discussed on June 1, 1880, on the second reading of the Bill, and again on June 24 in Committee. It was then agreed that clauses dealing with it should be brought up at the next sitting of the Committee. This was done on July 15, after the clauses had been on the Notice Paper for a considerable time. They were agreed to in Committee, after some discussion. No Circular was issued "to show smackowners how to escape the provisions of the law." The object of the Circular issued was to remove misapprehension on several points as to what the law really was. He was not aware that test cases under this Circular had been tried and had failed, though he was aware that certain cases had been tried at Hull, and that the magistrates had held that an apprentice was liable to a month's imprisonment for wilfully disobeying commands. As to the main point raised by both these Questions, he had to say that the Govern- ment were not prepared to re-enact on behalf of a particular class of employers engaged in the fishing trade, and as against a particular class of seamen, the anomalous provisions of the old law, which gave the power of arrest without warrant and of summary imprisonment for a breach of civil contract, after similar powers had been abolished in the case of all other workmen. He was aware that inconvenience had been caused in the first application of the new law, and he was considering what arrangements could be made to assist in the maintenance of order, and to insure the performance of their legal obligations by the crews of fishing vessels.