HC Deb 30 June 1884 vol 289 cc1736-40

Order for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment on Second Reading [19th May] read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Adjourned Debate be postponed until Monday next." — (Mr. Courtney.)


said, he thought the time had now arrived when the Government ought to make up their mind as to whether they intended to proceed with this Bill or not. The matter was one which affected a very large number of important interests. He understood that there had been extensive negotiations between the Government and the shipowners as to what was to be done with reference to this Bill; and after the long speech which had been made by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade in moving the second reading of the Bill, it was quite time that the mercantile community should know whether the Government really intended seriously to proceed with the measure that Session or not. The Government had announced their intention very unexpectedly of proceeding with the London Government Bill on Thursday next. That Bill was, however, in its infancy; and if the Government were determined to have one large measure this year they had better proceed with one upon which they had made some progress, and on which there had already been discussion, rather than enter into the arena with such a Bill as the London Government Bill, in regard to which they knew it was hopeless to expect to make any material progress that Session. Seeing that the Merchant Shipping Bill was a matter which affected very important interests, the Government ought seriously to make up their minds as to what they intended to do. There had been a rumour that they intended not to proceed further with the Bill; and if they had arrived at that conclusion it was time they should take the House into their confidence, and not hang up such important interests as those which were concerned. If they had made up their minds and intended to proceed with, it no further, the sooner it was taken off the Paper the better.


said, he fully recognized the anxiety of the hon. Member and of all hon. Members who were interested in shipping to know what was to be done with this Bill; but he was not in a position to announce what course the Government intended to take in the matter. His right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade was not in his place at that moment; and he was unable to say more than this—that it would depend on the progress made with Business during the next fortnight what measures the Government would press forward. He believed it was the desire of hon. Members that this Bill should go on; and he had no wish to throw any obstacle in the way of its farther progress so long as there was a hope.


Is there a hope?


said, that no doubt on Monday next the President of the Board of Trade would make an announcement in regard to the Bill.


said, the House were placed in a somewhat extraordinary position, seeing that there was not a single Cabinet Minister upon the Treasury Bench. They had been told that another right hon. Gentleman whom he did not see in his place—the Home Secretary—proposed to proceed with the London Government Bill on Thursday; but the second reading of that Bill could not be expected to be decided in one night. The Government would find it necessary to allow three or four nights for the debate. They had now reached another very important Bill; and his hon. Friend the Secretary to the Treasury, when asked to give some information in regard to it, was able to give none whatever. Surely something ought to be done to relieve the natural anxiety of the great shipping interests throughout the country as to whether the Government intended to proceed with this Bill or not. Her Majesty's Government had had a very good stroke of fortune in the course of that evening, and had been able to get through a good many Bills. He thought they ought to have shown some gratitude in return by inducing some Cabinet Minister to remain in his place — some responsible Minister of the Crown, who would be able to tell the House what Bills were intended to be gone on with and what were not. The Merchant Shipping Bill was one of the most important Bills which could be pressed upon the attention of the House, and he thought the House had a right to know whether the Bill was to be proceeded with or not. If the Secretary to the Treasury could not inform them the best thing would be for the hon. Gentleman to send for one of his Colleagues who was a Member of the Cabinet in order that the House might be informed whether this was a serious Bill or not—whether it was one of those questions intended to be decided in the present Session, or one of the measures which would be sacrificed in the coming 'Massacre of the Innocents."


said, there were many serious questions involved in the Merchant Shipping Bill. In the first place, a great number of people believed that further provision ought to be made for the protection of life at sea. On the other hand, there were persons belonging to the shipping interest who had been very violently and almost personally attacked by the President of the Board of Trade; and there was a third class of persons who were deeply interested in shipping questions generally. All these persons were entitled to know how soon the matter would be settled. If the Bill were put on the Paper, first for one day and then for another, and the Government really did not intend to proceed with it, they were inflicting a great injury on all these three classes of persons. Above all, it must be remembered that a very violent attack had been made by the President of the Board of Trade upon different individuals; and it was absolutely necessary, whatever might happen to the Bill, that the debate upon the second reading should be continued, because the persons who had had these accusations made against them must be afforded an opportunity of refuting them. He therefore hoped that on Thursday a distinct statement would be made as to the course which the Government intended to take; and if the Government declined to state what course they proposed to follow, he should feel very strongly inclined to move that the Merchant Shipping Bill be taken as the first Order on Thursday.


said, he had listened with surprise to the observations of the Secretary to the Treasury on the Merchant Shipping Bill; and, as the Representative of a shipping port, he desired to make one or two remarks. He had understood that the Bill was, at any rate for this Session, dead and buried. The reason he had come to that conclusion was this—the President of the Board of Trade, during the debate on the second reading, announced that he was willing to grant a Royal Commission for the consideration of certain questions which were raised in the Bill. A few nights after his hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr. C. M. Palmer), who had taken a foremost part in raising objections to the Bill, asked the right hon. Gentleman whether he did not propose to grant this Royal Commission, and, if he did, what would be brought under its purview? He had listened very carefully to what the President of the Board of Trade said on that occasion, and the next morning he consulted The Times newspaper in order to see it his impressions were borne out. What the right hon. Gentleman said was that, practically, every question which had been raised in the Bill, even including the burning question of over-insurance, ought to be referred to the Royal Commission if a Royal Commission were granted. That being so, was it not trifling with the House for the Secretary to the Treasury to come down and say that he was not sure whether the Bill was alive or dead. He ventured to tell the hon. Gentleman that it was dead — that it was dead as it ought to be; and the only course which the Government could take, if they really wanted to discuss these great questions in a proper fashion, and to enable the shipowners of the country to give an answer to the unjust allegations made against them, was to submit the whole question either to a Select Committee or to a Royal Commission.


said, he quite agreed with the hon. Member who had just sat down that the Bill was to all intents and purposes dead; but he could quite understand why the Secretary to the Treasury did not like to take upon himself the office of undertaker and decently inter it. If the hon. Member would put the Bill down for Thursday, the President of the Board of Trade would probably be able to come down and take charge of the funeral obsequies himself.


said, he could not help thinking that the course taken in regard to this Bill was an extraordinary and an unusual one. They were now in the month of June.


For a few minutes.


said, they were still in the month of June, and this was a little earlier than usual for making suggestions of this kind to the Government as to their not being entitled to keep an important measure upon the Paper in order to avail themselves of every opportunity they could for passing it into law. It was said that the measure was dead. There were a great number of persons who did not wish the Bill to be killed, although, no doubt, there were many Members who did not wish it to pass, and who desired to assist in killing it. Under these circumstances, the Government were taking no unusual course in naming that day week for the consideration of the Bill, instead of taking it off the Paper. Indeed, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South-West Lancashire (Sir R. Assheton Cross) himself admitted that it ought not to be taken off the Paper until there had been some further discussion with regard to it, even if the Bill were not proceeded with subsequently. He, therefore, hoped that the proposal of the Government to put down the Bill for Monday would be assented to.

Motion agreed to.

Debate further adjourned till Monday next.