§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
Sir, in moving the second reading of this Bill, I have to express my regret that I have been unable to call the attention of the House to the subject at an earlier period. In the course of this Session, on several occasions, the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst) has pressed the Government to give an early day for the second reading of this Bill. I certainly do not complain of the pressure which he has endeavoured to put upon the Government. I think I am right in saying that it was dictated by a friendly interest in the Bill; and I am sure that he has at heart, as much as I have myself, the object which the Bill is intended to accomplish. But I can assure him that I have been at least as anxious as he is, and with greater reason, to bring the matter to an issue; because, in the course of the long and somewhat heated controversy 686 that has taken place on the matter outside the House, many harsh things, some unjust things, and some untrue things, have been said about myself and about the Department which I have to administer; and although, on the present occasion, I intend, as far as possible, to dismiss these things altogether from my mind, in so far as they are not essential and pertinent to the discussion, yet I do feel that it is due to the House, and due to the Board of Trade also, that there should now be made a full statement both of the facts and the information which are in my possession, and upon which I have formed my proposals, and also a full explanation of those proposals themselves. Sir, I do not think the delay that has taken place, although I greatly regret it, has been altogether unprofitable. It has enabled me, at all events, to have conferences with gentlemen, most representative men, whose large experience and great knowledge of affairs has put them in a position to offer very valuable advice, and who are fully qualified to represent the interests which the measure is expected to touch; and as a result of the frequent conferences I have had with those gentlemen I cannot but hope that the way is somewhat smoothed. I think I have been able, at least in their case, to remove some of the misunderstandings that have unfortunately prevailed; and I am quite certain that I have profited by the advice and suggestions they have been good enough to give me. I shall tell the House, in the course of my speech, what has been the result of these conferences; but, in the meantime, all I want to say is that, while I think that the main principle of this Bill—the principle, that is, that it is a wrong, an inexpedient, and an immoral thing that a man should be able to make a profit out of the loss of his ship, with the lives he has in his charge —while I say that this principle, indisputable and undisputed, has not been denied, as far as I know, by any person in the course of this controversy, yet, when we come to discuss the means by which effect shall be given to that principle, I have not been presumptuous enough to suppose that I could, of my own motion, devise a perfect scheme that could not possibly be amended. I have always been of opi- 687 nion that, in a matter so difficult and so complicated, it was certain that the proposals which might be originally made by the Government would be very considerably altered and improved by discussion; and I have always anticipated that this work of amending, criticizing, and improving the Bill would be performed by the Grand Committee on Trade, my experience of which last Session convinced me that no better or more powerful instrument for the purpose has ever been devised. Unfortunately, shipowners, acting, as I think, entirely under a misapprehension of the; nature of the inquiry by such a Committee, have shown themselves indisposed to refer the Bill—at all events, in its present form—to a Grand Committee; and, that being so, I have not hesitated to say, both in this House and in answer to applications made to me, that I should be perfectly ready to meet the representatives of the great interests concerned in friendly discussion to endeavour, as a preliminary step, to remove, if possible, the chief points of difference between us, in order that the matters of detail, which would still stand; over for discussion, might, by common consent, be referred to the Grand Committee.
I do not conceal from myself that the great obstacle to anything like a satisfactory settlement of this question has been the irritation, widespread and very deep, which has prevailed among all classes of shipowners, and which has been founded upon the impression that great and undeserved imputations have been made upon their character as honourable men, which they were bound to resent. Well, I think the shipowners are in this matter under an entire misapprehension. I am not conscious of having made any such charges against them. If I have done so—if by any deficiency in the necessary qualifications which one has to apply to general statements I have produced this impression—all I can say is, I am very sorry for it, and that I hope any failings in the advocate will not be allowed to prejudice a good cause. But I will add this—that, having read over the various speeches I have made on this subject, I am unable to see what is the ground for the impression which has prevailed among the shipowners. I have 688 tried on every occasion to guard myself, in the most distinct terms, against being supposed to bring anything like a sweeping and indiscriminate charge against this class of Her Majesty's subjects; and on every occasion I have appealed to the majority of shipowners—to what I called on one occasion the vast majority of respectable shipowners—to co-operate with main bringing about an improvement in a state of things which all agree with me in thinking deplorable. But the misunderstanding has existed, and has prejudiced the settlement of the matter; and it, therefore, becomes necessary that I should try once more, in the presence of the House, to state what are the allegations on which I found this Bill. I will endeavour to state them plainly, and I hope I shall do so in terms that will not give offence to anybody. I have resented the statement that I have brought charges against shipowners; but we will not quarrel about words. I have made two distinct allegations— you may call them "charges" if you think fit. The first allegation I have made is that there are black-sheep in shipowning as well as in every other trade with which I am acquainted; and that it is the duty and the interest of all good shipowners to do all in their power to discountenance the proceedings of the less scrupulous members of their body. That is the only allegation I have made with respect to persons; but I have made another allegation to which I attach much greater importance. After all, though we are bound to legislate for exceptions, we should not be justified in touching the whole of these complicated interests, if it were only for the sake of legislating for exceptions. But I have brought a charge against the law—not against persons, but against the state of the law—and what I have said is, that any law which enables a man to make a profit out of the loss of his ship and the loss of his crew is a law contrary to sound policy. I say that, as long as human nature is what it is, one of the most powerful motives to which we can appeal is the motive of self-interest; and I say that I desire to enlist this self-interest on the side of safety, instead of allowing it to operate, as it now does, in the opposite direction. Well, Sir, these are the two charges I have made, which have been repeated in various speeches 689 of mine, and have appeared, amplified and enlarged, no doubt, in documents issued from the Board of Trade. I confess that, that being so, it is with a little surprise I have read speeches by Lord Salisbury—one of them delivered at Lillie Bridge, in Chelsea, and another in Manchester—in which the noble Lord the Leader of the Conservative Party described this Bill as an. unjustifiable attack upon a great interest, and as being made on horrible and fantastic grounds. Well, I am sorry to have to answer the noble Lord in his absence; but that is inevitable, I am afraid. He cannot come down to me, and I would not, if I could, go up to him. But I will only say this—that I think the noble Lord has a very short memory, and I think he must have forgotten entirely all the proceedings, in reference to this subject, of the Government of which he was a Member; and, above all, he must have forgotten the speeches made by his Colleagues in that Government in this and in the other House of Parliament. Why, Sir, this is not the first time attention has been called to the circumstances on which I found my proposals. It has been a subject of consideration and anxiety to several Governments, and to none more than the Government of our Predecessors. In the year 1876 the Government of Lord Beaconsfield brought a Bill into this House, dealing with this subject of Marine Insurance and Marine Liability, which was called the Maritime Contracts Bill. That Bill was thought of so much importance that it was intrusted to the Leader of the House, the right hon. Gentleman who is now Leader of the Opposition; and the right hon. Gentleman, I must say, showed such a mastery of this technical, difficult, and complicated subject that I am going to quote from the speech which he made on that occasion; because I cannot find any words which more adequately or more admirably represent the views which I have attempted to put before the public, and upon which alone I base the proposition I am now going to make. The right hon. Gentleman said, on February 10, 1876—It is the opinion of the Government that we should take a step further for enforcing more strictly than at present the liability of shipowners, and throwing on them more distinctly the duty of taking care that their ships 690 and the lives of their seamen on hoard of them are properly provided for. As I said before, whatever the Government can do in this matter the Government is attempting to do; but, after all, what the Government can do is as nothing compared with what the shipowners themselves can do. The Government may stop one or two patent leaks, or prevent one or two patent evils; but, after all, it cannot take that care—that continuing, that efficient care—which a shipowner is himself liable and bound to take of his vessel; and it is, therefore, to the exertions of the shipowner that we are mainly to look for improvements in this matter."—(3 Hansard,  144.)Then the right hon. Gentleman went on to say—But there has long prevailed in this country and elsewhere a system of insurance, the effect of which is that if a man partially insures his ship he mitigates his loss; if he wholly insures her he covers his loss; and if he over-insures her it is possible that his loss may become his gain. Therefore, unless proper attention is paid to this subject, and care is taken to prevent, as far as possible, the over-insurance of ships, it is possible that a system most excellent in its intentions, most valuable in its working, may be the cause of great abuse and evil." —(Ibid. 146.)Further on in his speech the right hon. Gentleman said—God forbid that I should impute to shipowners as a class, or, indeed, to any man, that he would deliberately send his ship to sea overvalued, in the hope that she may be lost; but I would point out that this practice of overvaluation exposes shipowners to very great temptation. And not only has it that effect, but it produces on seamen and the public at large an unsatisfactory feeling—namely, that the loss of a ship may be an actual gain to her owner—a feeling which cannot be at all good for the service. It cannot be satisfactory that that which is loss of life and property to a great mass of the population should be not only no loss, but a subject of gain, to any one class of that population."—(Ibid. 149.)That is my case. I should be perfectly content to rely upon that language, and not to go one atom beyond it, in order to recommend these proposals to the House. I confess I hope and believe that I may make an appeal to both sides of the House, and to all Parties in the House, to treat this matter as altogether outside Party politics. I am sorry that the noble Lord, to whom I have already referred, has treated it differently. For my part, I will not follow his example. I do not claim for Liberals, and I do not claim for the Liberal Government, any monopoly of interest in the safety and welfare of the sailor. But I say that, having made these proposals on 691 grounds similar to those I have just quoted, I hope I may have from the other side of the House a large measure of support for the Bill I ask to have read a second time. Going back for a moment to the allegation that these statements of mine are horrible and fantastic charges, I should like to say that in repudiating such allegations I do not rely alone upon what has been said by the late Government, or by any Government. I am quite content to accept the language of shipowners themselves. I shall have to quote a number of shipowners in the course of my observations; but at the present moment I will only quote two short extracts, which have recently been brought to my notice. One is an extract from a Circular headed "Turnbull and Sons Steam Shipping Company." Messrs. Turnbull, of Whitby, are the well-known shipowners, who manage with great skill and integrity a very large fleet of vessels. I am informed that this Circular has been issued by the shareholders in the Company, who happen to be advocating the formation of a new Association for self-insurance; and in the course of it I come upon these words—It is an acknowledged fact that there are fewer ships lost, and less sacrifice of life at sea, where self-assurance is adopted.Is that a horrible and fantastic charge against shipowners? If so, it is made by shipowners, and I only accept it from their mouths. I have noticed also in the papers a trade advertisement of a great line of steamers, the National Steamship Company (Limited); and this trade advertisement concludes with a notice to the effect that—This Company takes the risk of insurance up to £100,000 on each of its vessels, thus giving passengers the test possible guarantee for safety and avoidance of danger at sea.I shall have to return to this matter presently. In the meantime, I pass on to another ground of the opposition which has been so strongly expressed to this Bill. I admit fully that this Bill means a great alteration of the law and practice affecting the shipping interest if it is passed. There is no doubt that it would cause, in the first instance, at all events, considerable inconvenience to the interests affected, and considerable disturbance of trade. Under these circumstances, it is quite natural—and I do 692 not complain— that this great industry should resist the application of this new measure to them. All experience shows that you cannot pretend to interfere in any way with any great trade or industry in the country with the full consent and approval of that trade itself. Let anyone try now to deal with the licensing legislation, and see how far he will have the approval and benevolent support of the Licensed Victuallers. Let anyone try to deal with the Banking Laws. Let us take our illustrations from the past. Let us consider what happened in the case of manufacturers when the Factory Acts were first proposed to Parliament. I say it with great regret, having been a manufacturer myself, and being still proud to have belonged to that great class; but I am bound to say that very few manufacturers supported the application of the Factory Acts. They protested against them on the ground that they disturbed their trade; that it meant a transfer of their industry to other countries; and that they were wholly unnecessary laws. Now, however, it is admitted, with common consent, that they have been of the greatest possible advantage, not only to the women and children whom they were principally intended to protect, but to the manufacturers themselves, who derive advantage from everything that improves the condition of their workpeople. But these Acts were opposed by almost every manufacturer in the House. The same thing happened with regard to mines. The legislation for mines was strongly opposed by the mining interest. It will be in the recollection of the House how, in the present Parliament, the Employers' Liability Bill was opposed by hon. Members, and especially by the late Mr. Knowles, who was universally respected in this House, and who was as honest as the day, and as transparent as possible; yet who came down here, believing every word he said, and declared that he and all his fellow mine-owners would be ruined if the Act were passed, and that foreign countries would reap enormous advantages. We all know that those doleful predictions have not been realized; that no one has been injured by the Act; and during the short time it has been in operation it has conferred great advantages upon those interested in it. But on 693 that occasion the shipowners came down and voted against Mr. Knowles in favour of the application of the Employers' Liability Act to the mine-owners. Now, I ask the shipowners to show good cause why the mine-owners and manufacturers should not vote against them when I propose that equal laws should be applied to the sea service.
I say, then, that the shipowners will have to make out a very good case, and will have to show very good grounds, against further interference with their trade. They will have to show that the necessity is less than it is in other trades which have been constantly interfered with by Parliament. Well, is the necessity less? I shall have a good deal to say about that presently; but, in the meantime, I will mention only one fact as having some bearing on what I am now saying. As soon as this Bill was introduced, in the very heat and fury of the storm raised at its introduction, there was held a great meeting of delegates of the shipping interest at the Gannon Street Hotel. All sorts of persons connected with shipping attended; there were present the picked men in the trade, selected because they were the best fitted to bear aloft the flag of this great profession, and to vindicate the character and honour of the trade they represented. They were certainly not in a very friendly or conciliatory mood towards myself upon that occasion; and I am afraid they did not make any practical suggestion I was able to utilize on a subsequent consideration of the subject. A full account of the meeting was given in The Shipping and Mercantile Gazette, and I have taken from that paper the names of the delegates who attended. Of the 59 picked men present 49 were shipowners in their own names, others were shipowners not registered in their own names, and many held shares in Shipping Companies. Forty-nine, as I say, were registered in their own names. I have looked up the matter, and I find that in the last five years these 49 owners, who, it must be remembered, were picked men, have lost 65 ships and 367 lives; and that, of the 49, nine alone have lost 36 ships and 177 lives. I beg the House to understand what my object is in bringing these facts forward. I am not going to found any accusation against these gentlemen. That is not the purpose of my argument. It may well be—I hope 694 it is—I have no reason to doubt it—that every one of these casualties was such that no human skill or human foresight could possibly prevent it. They are all, perhaps—I dare say it is so—the act of God; but what I say is this— that the trade of which such statements can be made concerning the picked men in it, and in which a loss of life so terrible is an ordinary incident, is not a trade that can come here to assert its independence of criticism, and to say that it will not assist in making the changes which are suggested in order to save life in future. I should like, before leaving this matter, to say a word about another meeting held about the same time—a meeting of the Chamber of Commerce of Liverpool. Although the Chamber of Commerce of Liverpool had disapproved of many portions of the Bill, they gave it a careful and exhaustive consideration, for which I am exceedingly grateful. They made many admirable suggestions, the majority of which I found myself able to adopt; and if all shipowners had given me the consideration on this question which the Liverpool Chamber of Commerce did we should have come to an agreement very early. At this meeting of the Liverpool Chamber of Commerce there was a gentleman present whose name was Captain Hatfield. He denounced the Bill as one which would hamper a legitimate industry; he denounced the Chamber for giving it a moment's consideration; and he intimated that it was a Bill which should be kicked out at once. With much rhetorical emphasis he took the Bill out of his pocket and threw it on the floor and stamped upon it. The incident seems to have been the cause of much laughter, and it had almost passed out of my mind when a correspondence in a Liverpool paper between Captain Hat-field and Mr. James Samuelson, accusing Captain Hatfield of having lost ships, and specifying the date, excited my curiosity, and I made inquiries. This is Captain Hatfield's history. I find that since 1877—less than seven years— Captain Hatfield has owned 12 ships, and in the course of that time has lost 11 of them. Adding together the periods for which each vessel has been owned respectively, I find that he has lost annually one in three of the ships he owned; and then he goes to the Chamber of Commerce in Liverpool, and says— 695 "Mr. Chamberlain is hampering a great industry." Is this an industry the House of Commons is going to protect? It is not an industry at all; or, if it is, it is best described, in the sailor parlance, as "the trade of selling ships to the Underwriters." It is a trade by which nobody benefits—by which the Underwriters do not benefit, although, perhaps, they do not lose.
§ MR. MACIVER
I rise to Order. I wish to ask you, Sir, whether the right hon. Gentleman is in Order in making personal and libellous attacks of this description without giving previous notice in order to afford the possibility of a reply?
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
I will not take any notice of the language of the hon. Member who has interrupted me; but I may say that I have taken these facts from documents which I shall be willing to lay upon the Table of this House, and with regard to the accuracy of which there cannot be the slightest possible doubt. There can be no doubt that during the last seven years the gentleman to whom I refer has owned 12 ships, of which he has lost 11; and if the hon. Member desires it I am prepared to give him the names of them. I have said nothing more than that. To make such a statement as that would not be libellous outside of the House, and I do not see that it can be libellous to make it inside the House. What I say is, that this trade—this industry—is not a profitable industry to the nation. It cannot be a profitable one when 11–12ths of the capital invested in it goes to the bottom of the sea; and that is what has happened in the present case. Before leaving this branch of the subject, I will now quote the words of another shipowner of a very different class, to whom I desire to pay all honour and credit. The proceedings of this meeting of Liverpool shipowners were opened by the reading of a letter from Mr. Papayanni, who said—I do not intend coining to the meeting, because I cannot speak in public. I am in favour of the passing of the Merchant Shipping Bill into law, with or without modification. I am not afraid that my interests will he affected; but even if they would, I see no reason why sailors' lives should be sacrificed to save my interests. It matters not whether the statistics 696 are exaggerated or not; whether the yearly number is 4,000, or 3,000, or 2,000, or less; it is quite enough for me to know that lives are lost, and that lives may be saved by the passing of the Bill, whether many or few. I have no right to dispose of other people's lives, and say that only 3,000 are lost annually. If I do not feel disposed to help the sailor and his family, I ought not to oppose those who are willing to do so. In my opinion, this is not a purely commercial question, to be dealt with in the ordinary way of business. I shall be obliged if you will hand this letter to the Chairman at the meeting. — I remain, &c., BASILIO PAPAYANNI.I say this is a letter that is a credit to the man. who wrote it, and I believe the spirit it expresses is shared by many shipowners, if I may judge from the expressions of opinion from shipowners which have reached me, and with which many others, I have no doubt, sympathize.
I now pass on to state the points which I am going to prove to the House; and if I fail in proving them, then my case for the Bill will, of course, be seriously weakened. I propose to show to the House that the loss of life at sea is excessive, and that it is increasing rather than diminishing. I propose to show, in the second place, that it is due to causes which are more or less preventable in their character. I propose, in the third place, to show that all impartial authorities agree that an increase of care and precaution would diminish these losses; and, in the last place, I propose to show that the state of the law and the practice of the trade undoubtedly tend to relax ordinary motives for care, and afford a temptation to negligence. If I prove these propositions, I hope the House will not accept the responsibility of further delay, but will do something to improve and amend a law which I think, under the circumstances, will stand self-condemned. The House is aware of the immense magnitude and importance of this trade with which I am attempting to interfere. I will start with an admission that no unnecessary obstacle should be thrown in the way of the development of this trade; and if there is any word, line, or clause in the Bill which interposes unnecessary obstacles, which hampers the trade without directly tending to the saving of life, then that clause, or line, or word, ought to be omitted or amended; but I must say that up to the present time, although the shipowners have been more or leas complaining, we do not seem to have 697 interfered very seriously with the prosperity of their trade. I say that the shipowners have been, more or less, complaining. I dare say it will be in the recollection of the House, or, at any rate, of those hon. Members who are older Members than myself, that the indignation and anger which were expressed at the passing of the Navigation Laws were quite as great as anything which has occurred at the present moment. Coming down to a later time, we know how much discontent was expressed by shipowners in the early stages of what is known as the Plimsoll agitation; in the later stages the voices of the shipowners were drowned by the display of popular feeling which Mr. Plimsoll succeeded in arousing; but in the earlier days the shipowners complained, as they complain now, that any attempt to touch their trade would hinder its development, destroy its prosperity, and drive it into the hands of foreigners. What really happened? I have here the figures for three decennial periods, which are as follows:—I hope I am not troubling the House; but I will give the figures in thousands of tons, omitting the hundreds. In 1862 the steam tonnage of the country was 537,000 tons; in 1872 it was 1,537,000 tons; and in 1882 it had reached 3,335,000 tons; it had, therefore, increased six-fold in the period to which I allude. The sailing tonnage diminished slightly in the same period. It was 4,335,000 tons in the first period; in the second period it was 4,155,000 tons; and in the third period it was 3,586,000 tons. The total had greatly increased, from 4,872,000 in 1862 to 6,921,000 in 1882; and, enormous as that increase is, it does not represent the real facts of the case, because the substitution of steam for sail gives a much more effective carrying power, which is reckoned in some quarters as something approaching to five times the value of the old carrying power. But, taking it at four times the value, the whole increase appears to be from what would have been equivalent to 6,483,000 effective tons to 16,926,000, or an increase of 161 per cent. No doubt, that is an immensely satisfactory state of things; and we should have nothing but satisfaction to express if it were not for this terrible loss of life which continually accompanies the development of the trade. I will now deal with the figures relating to the 698 loss of life, concerning which much controversy has arisen; but the controversy is due, in part, to some confusion arising from the different Returns which have been made dealing with different parts of the same subject. There was a valuable Return moved for by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Westminster (Mr. W. H. Smith); but that Return is not the one to which I will refer on the present occasion, because, in the first place, it includes Colonial ships, with which, I think, we have not much to do; and, in the second place, it omits other causes of loss of life besides drowning in wrecks and casualties at sea. I refer now to a Return presented on the first day of the Session, numbered [C. 3875]. It is a Return which I may describe as the most complete of any ever presented to Parliament. It professes to give the total loss of life by drowning or accidents in British merchant ships registered in the United Kingdom. The loss of life among passengers I do not intend to refer to, because it is so extremely varying a figure. If an emigrant ship happens to be lost the Returns for that year at once go up abnormally, and nothing like a clear average can be obtained. I am sorry to say that even this Return must be taken with some qualification. I find, however, that the qualification does not affect the purpose for which I am going to use the Return. I should not, however, be candid if I did not explain that fact. The first column professes to give the number of masters and seamen employed. It has been taken from a Return prepared by the Registrar General of Seamen, but prepared for a different purpose. It has been drawn up with no regard to the loss of life at sea. It was ordered by the House of Commons, with a view, I believe, to show what number of men might be counted upon for the Royal Navy; and, upon examination, I discovered that it included a certain number of men employed in fishing vessels. Well, I believe that, in order to make the figures accurate as showing the number of men exclusively employed in the Mercantile Service, we shall have to deduct a seventh or an eighth. But the House will see that, as far as this alteration has any effect at all, it will make the case appear worse than it does in the Return as it actually stands; be- 699 cause, if the men are fewer, the proportion of loss of life will appear greater. As I shall, however, show, that is corrected by another observation which I have yet to make. The second column gives the number of seamen lost in wrecks and casualties. It is taken from The Wreck Register, and is absolutely accurate. The third and fifth columns show the number of seamen lost by accident when the vessel was not damaged nor the crew drowned— for instance, when they were washed overboard, or fell from the mast. This, also, is prepared by the Registrar General of Seamen, and it is prepared in connection with the duty which falls upon him of distributing the estates of deceased seamen. I find it is incorrect in several particulars. For instance, if a man had no estate, although drowned by accident, he would not be included in this Return; consequently, the real loss of life would be greater than appears here. That would also make the case worse than it appears in the Return. On the other hand, I find that there are some duplicate Returns, and also that a certain number of these cases are accidents arising in connection with fishing vessels and Colonial vessels; so that altogether a deduction, which is also about a seventh or an eighth, must be made from the total for these various causes. Therefore, putting aside any loss of life by accident or casualty, which does not come before the Registrar General of Seamen, we get the result that, although the figures in the several columns are not absolutely accurate, the proportion shown in columns 7 and 8 may be taken as practically correct for every purpose. With those observations, let me call the attention of the House to the facts as disclosed by the Return. In the first place, taking the total loss of life, and dividing the 12 years embraced in this Return into periods of three years, the results are these. The total loss is 9,314 in the first three years; in the next there is a slight falling off, the number being 9,181; in the third period the number is 7,612, a great falling off; and in the last three years 9,553, which is the highest figure in the series, showing, therefore, as I have already said, that the loss of life, on the whole, is tending to increase rather than to decrease. Now, the decrease in the third period can be 700 accounted for in this way. It followed almost immediately on the Plimsoll agitation; and although I do not myself think the legislation of that time can be said to have produced any very great result, yet I think that the attention which was called to the matter, and the self-examination of shipowners themselves in view of the agitation going on around them, had a very advantageous effect in diminishing the loss of life. Well, Sir, the proportion of seamen lost to the total number employed was one in 72 during the whole period named, and one in 66 for the last three years. Some of the shipowners have complained, with reference to these figures, that I have always referred to the worst year, 1881. That was because, at the time when I first took hold of the subject, 1881 was the last year for which we had any Return. But these shipowners have gone on to refer to the great and satisfactory diminution which took place in 1882, when the loss fell to 2,832, having been 3,748 in the previous year. But, Sir, unfortunately that was only a very temporary improvement. Since the presentation of this Return we have got one for 1883, and in that year the loss of life went up again. It amounted to 3,304, and that is more than in any previous year of the series, excepting 1872, 1874, and 1881. It amounts to a loss of one in 66 of the whole of the seamen employed.
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
It includes the whole of the merchant shipping registered in the United Kingdom. Certainly, it includes vessels engaged in the coasting trade; but it must be taken with the qualification I have already explained to the House, which vitiates, to some extent, the Returns of the Registrar General of Seamen. That, however, does not at all affect the proportion. This increase during 1883 has taken place chiefly under the head of missing vessels; and missing and foundered vessels are of the class of cases which are always referred to by shipowners as the only class for which they ought to be held responsible. They assort that the other classes ought to be eliminated from the comparison; but that they are fairly liable to criticism in the matter of missing and foundered vessels.
§ MR. CHARLES PALMER
Would the right hon. Gentleman give the distinction between missing vessels and other casualties?
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
No; I cannot give that, because it is not in the Return. I may say, however, that whilst the losses from missing vessels in 1882 were 881, and from other causes 629, in 1883 the losses from missing vessels were 1,251, and from other causes 662. One argument in reference to these figures is that we ought to take into account the great increase of tonnage, to which I have already called attention, and the great increase in the number of voyages. That, I think, is an entire misapprehension, and has nothing to do with the argument. The danger is not measured by the tonnage, or by the number of voyages. What we have to look to is not the tonnage or the mileage, but the time during which the sailor is exposed to risk; and there is no reason to suppose that the time of employment of an ordinary sailor now occupies a larger period in each year than it did before. Now, I say that these figures constitute, at all events, a primâ facie case. There is terrible loss of life. The shipowners complain that I have taken a single year. Well, drop the single year and take the whole 12. What is the fact with regard to the whole of these 12 years? It is this—that in that time 36,000 men suffered violent deaths; and of the whole number one in six lost his life. [An hon. MEMBER: One in 66.] No; one in six of the average number employed in the whole 12 years, of every man, every boy, every officer, and every seaman, lost his life in the British Merchant Service. Go on, and carry that a step further. If you assume that the average working life of the seaman is 24 years, then you will find that one in every three will, in the course of his working life, perish by a violent and dreadful death. [Murmurs.] Many who go on a forlorn hope have a much better chance of existence than our British sailors. I hear a little murmuring behind. I hope there will be no misunderstanding. I am not at present drawing any conclusion from these facts, and certainly I am not basing upon them any charges. If I have to bring any charge I will endeavour to bring it so that nobody shall be under any misapprehension as to who 702 are the persons against whom I bring it. All I say of these figures, and I am sure I carry the House with me—shipowners as well as other Members—is that a trade with such incidents as these, it will be agreed, is not altogether in a healthy or satisfactory condition. It cannot be regarded with equanimity, this tremendous loss of life, or be considered a necessary incident of any traffic. I may take an extreme view of this matter; but I ask myself sometimes whether we are justified in carrying on a trade if such a loss of life as this is inevitable in connection with it. We boast of our national prosperity, take pride in the development of our national wealth and national enterprize. These things, good as they are, may be bought too dear; and, in my opinion, they are bought too dear if they cannot be bought without a sacrifice of life such as I have described.
But, Sir, this loss, instead of increasing, ought to have gradually decreased, considering what has been done by Parliament, by public authorities, and private philanthropy to diminish loss of life. I will not speak of legislation. I do not think it has been very successful; but even that has done something. But take the enormous improvements which have been going on around our coasts in regard to harbours. In the course of 12 years the Tyne, the Wear, and the Tees, have been deepened; these rivers have become magnificent waterways, and there are now found at their mouths safe harbours, where formerly no shelter could possibly have been obtained. The same process has been going on all around our coasts. The lighting of our coasts has exhibited an extraordinary development. I am informed by the Lighthouse Boards that during the period which I have chosen there have been erected 10 new lighthouses, while 6 new light vessels have been provided. During the same time 11 lighthouses and seven light vessels have been greatly improved and furnished with all the modern improvements; and there has also been created all round the coast a system of fog signals from which the best results are expected. I am told that over £500,000 has been provided for new works alone, and nearly £4,000,000 have been expended in the maintenance of the whole system. The National Life- 703 boat Institution, in the same period, reports that 9,744 lives have been saved, either by their boats or in connection with services for which they have given rewards. Appliances under the control of the Board of Trade have saved 4,765 lives; and yet, in spite of all those tremendous efforts, the annual loss of life at sea is increasing continually; and having been one in 72 in the first period of three years of the time to which I have referred, it has become one in 66 in the last year for which we have any Return.
I will ask the House to consider this from another point. This seems a tremendous loss of life; but it will seem still greater if you contrast the loss of life at sea with the loss of life in the most dangerous land pursuits. Take the case of railways. In 1873 the number of persons employed was 274,000, of whom 773 were killed, or one in 354. The loss of life at sea is five times greater than the loss of life among the employed on railways in 1873, since which time accidents have been diminishing. although I do not know what the number employed now is, I know this at least—that it is in excess of what it was in 1873, and yet the number of lives lost has been reduced to 553; so that I am certain I am within the mark if I say that not more than one in 600 annually lose their lives in the service of the Railway Companies by violence. Then I come to the case of mines, and I take for the purpose of comparison the average of nine years, during which I find the loss of life was one in 454, which is, I think, about one-sixth of the loss of life which takes place at sea. And whereas in the first three years the loss of life was 506, in the last three years it was only 455, although there was a great increase in the number of hands employed. I have endeavoured to find out the loss of life in the sea service of other countries, and I have obtained from the Foreign Office certain figures; but I am not sure that implicit reliance can be placed upon them. The information is to the following effect:—In Italy, for five years past, the loss of life was one in 454 of the seamen employed; in the Netherlands, one in 232; in Norway, during a period of eight years, one in 277; and in Germany, the worst case I could find, one in 123 on an average of five years. I really am not justified in asking the 704 House to rely on these figures; but, so far as they go, they would seem to show that loss of life is less in foreign sea service than in our own.
Now, Sir, I cannot help thinking there has been a little too much readiness in some quarters to accept this terrible and deplorable loss of life as an inevitable incident. I do not believe that it is an inevitable incident. It is impossible to say how many of those lives could have been saved; but what I can show the House clearly is, that those lives have been lost from causes which are in the nature of preventable causes. I do not mean, by that, that all of them could have been prevented; but they are in the nature of causes which might have been modified, according as greater or less precautions have been taken. In order to show this clearly to the House, I propose to analyze the Returns for a single year, and I take the Returns for the largest year, 1881. The total loss of life in that year—3,748—was one in 56; of that number, 2,352 perished in wrecks and casualties. Dividing them again under different heads, I find that 104 lost their lives owing to collisions. Now, collisions form one of the causes which shipowners in some quarters believe should be entirely eliminated from our calculation. The shipowners say—and this appears reasonable at first sight— "How can you possibly hold us responsible for an error of judgment of our captain thousands of miles away?" I think, however, that I can show the House that the irresponsibility of the shipowners is not so clear. There is still a responsibility from which they cannot escape. I will quote one single fact in corroboration of that opinion; and that is, that the Underwriters, who ought to know something about it, insist that in collision cases the shipowner shall take 25 per cent of is the risk. It is true that 25 per cent is frequently covered by honour policies, or in some other way; but, at all events, the shipowners are required to take 25 per cent of the risk; so that, so far as the practice and intentions of the underwriting business goes, shipowners are required to take a quarter risk in collisions. From this it would appear that it is held that if they bear part of the risk collisions are less frequent. I have just received a preliminary Report 705 of the Committee nominated by the Society of Arts upon Collisions at Sea. In that Report, presented in May, 1884, the Committee says—The Committee has no doubt, judging by the evidence, that the illegal practice pursued by many steamers of proceeding in fogs at speeds other than moderate is not only very common in the Merchant Service, both in the 'open ocean' and in the 'narrow waters,' but is the almost invariable practice in the 'open ocean' by many of the most important lines of steamers.I can only say that, if this Report be accurate—and it is based upon the evidence taken by the Committee—that is, if steamers are breaking the law by proceeding at full speed when they ought to go at moderate rates, then I say every shipowner is responsible, should a collision take place, for showing that he has, at least, given definite and distinct instructions to his captain and officers that they are not to break the law. Then there are other causes of these casualties which are, more or less, under the control of the shipowners. I have a letter from the Committee of Lloyd's, dated the 28th of February, 1884, in which they say—Although the Committee are unable, for want of materials, to form an adequate opinion, they cannot but think that collisions are mainly due in some part; to the fact that steamers sometimes do not carry their proper complement of able seamen to keep watch and to furnish look-out.I shall have to say a word upon the subject of under-manning directly; but I wish to point out for the consideration of the House that, at all events, what I have stated shows that even in cases of collision, although there is a probability that in a majority of instances the owners have no control over the casualty, yet there may remain some proportion of cases in which they must have such control. I come next to cases of stranding. Strandings are accountable for 585 lives in the year 1881. I find that here, again, I can appeal to the Underwriters. Mr. Danson, a well-known Underwriter, who has written a pamphlet on recent losses, says—Stranding is occasionally only a partial escape from foundering. It is now and then sought as such. It is most common with steamers, and too often comes of hugging the land, and shaving headlands to save time.I might also refer to a case tried by Mr. Raffles, the able and well-known 706 stipendiary of Liverpool, in which the Court held that the owner was to blame because he had not provided proper charts for his captains. In such cases, of course, stranding might be due to causes which might be controlled if greater care had been taken. And such, also, is the opinion of Mr. Rothery, with regard to both stranding and collisions. Mr. Rothery, the Wreck Commissioner, I am sorry to say, is very unpopular with shipowners. Shipowners are a very sensitive race, and also a very censorious race. I am bound to say that I am still smarting under their sting. I say they are censorious— I hope without offence —because I find that everybody who has the misfortune to differ from them comes in for their unmitigated condemnation. It does not matter who it is, whether it is the President of the Board of Trade, or Mr. Rothery, who sits as an impartial Judge in the Wreck Commissioner's Court, or whether it is the Admiralty Court, or Local Courts, which give a decision against them, or those officers who have to administer the Department of the Board of Trade—as, for instance, Sir Thomas Farrer, the Permanent Secretary; or Mr. Gray, the Assistant Secretary of the Marine Department; or Sir Digby Murray, our Nautical Adviser— for one and all of them, I am sorry to say, the shipowners have not a single good word. I cannot help thinking, however, that their criticism would be more weighty if it were not quite so indiscriminate. Some of us may have been culpable perhaps; but it is difficult to believe that this can be the case with regard to all of us, and that all are equally culpable. As for Mr. Rothery, I can only say that, by the common consent I believe of all who know him, he is a very able and intelligent man. He is absolutely impartial, and has no personal interest in the matter in any way. He sits as a Judge; and although I do not suppose he would claim to be infallible any more than any other Judge, yet I do think that when he expresses a serious and deliberate opinion in his official capacity, at least it is entitled to some respect and consideration. Now, Sir, Mr. Rothery has presented a Report, which has been made a Parliamentary Paper, and is in the hands of the House. He has examined into all the cases which have come before him 707 since his appointment as Wreck Commissioner, and he has made an analysis and given the result, which has boon laid before the House. He says, in the course of his Report, February 22, 1884, in connection with strandings and collisions—We also find, on examining the Returns more closely, that in cases of stranding or collision the fault, as might naturally be expected, rests in general either with the master or with some person on hoard the vessel; but oven in these cases the owner is not always entirely free from blame. The casualty may have been duo to her having been sent to sea in an unseaworthy condition, or badly equipped, or with an insufficient crew, or without proper charts; and, in these cases, the owner must bear his share of the Responsibility. Again, in many of these cases, the casualty may have been due to the expressed or implied instruction of the owner that the master should make a quick passage; for I find, in a great number of these cases, the casualty is due to reckless navigation, arising either from the vessel having been run at too great a speed on a dark night or in a fog, or from the unwillingness of the master to lose time by stopping his vessel to take a cast of the lead, even though in entire ignorance of his true position.Well, now that I have said that, I must say a word upon the subject of under-manning, which has always been a cause of loss of life at sea, and is becoming a more frequent and serious cause of loss of life. I find, for instance, certain general facts from which I am inclined to draw that conclusion. It appears that while the tonnage between 1871 and 1882 increased by 23 per cent—that is to say, from 5,634,000 in 1871 to 6,921,000 in 1882—the number of men employed declined from 218,000 to 212,000, or a decrease of 3 per cent. So that while the tonnage has gone up 20 per cent, the number of men has gone down 3 per cent. Of course, the decrease in the number of men employed is due partly to improved appliances. [An hon. MEMBER: To steam.] Yes; no doubt, steam has had a great deal to do with it. The introduction of steam machinery, steam winches, steam apparatus for lowering and raising sails—in short, the more general use of machinery—justifies a certain decrease in the number of hands. But the decrease is, in many cases, more than can be justified. It ought not to be carried too far, for steam, though it can do a great deal, cannot keep a look out. You must have men of intelligence to do the work that is expected from many sailors. I 708 have taken another series of facts and interesting figures on this subject from The Liverpool Journal of Commerce, which took account of the number of men employed in 25 steamers at two different periods. In the first period the number of hands was 1,083; in the second period it was 939; while in the case of 35 sailing vessels there were 767 hands in the first period, and 718 in the second. But another illustration, still more significant, I take from a very interesting Circular addressed to the Members of the House of Commons by the Scottish Shipmasters' Association, which dealt with this amongst other subjects. They compared certain vessels, not at different times, but with certain other vessels belonging to different owners; and this is the result of their comparison. In 16 vessels, with a total tonnage of 20,384 tons, there were 600 hands employed; while in 16 others, with a total tonnage of 20,957 tons, or slightly more, there were carried only 366 hands; and they ask the question—and it seems to me difficult to answer it—if the owners of the first-class vessels thought it necessary to employ 600 hands to manage 20,000 tons, how was it possible that the owners of the other vessels could think that 366 hands could manage 20,000 tons?
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
I am afraid, that information is not given in the Circular. The names of the ships were given; but, I think, not the voyages.
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
I cannot give that information. I cannot give all the particulars. I can give only the sources of my information—namely, the Scottish Shipmasters' Association, who, I have no doubt, will be able to give further particulars. My hon. Friend (Mr. Norwood) is anxious that we should contrast this matter in cases where the circumstances are similar. Well, I will take a, case that I think is significant, though I should be sorry to press it too far. I am going to ask the House to consider the cases of two vessels, both belonging to owners of whose honour, integrity, and high character there cannot be the slightest doubt. Both were in the same place, 709 at the same time, on the same day. On the evening of September 2, 1883, they were called upon to sustain a terrific storm in the Bay of Biscay. One—the Inchclutha —went down with 26 hands; the other—the Ajax —weathered the storm, and came home safely. Now, is there anything to account for that? It may have been a mere accident; one ship may have been more fortunate than the other. But there are some facts connected with these ships which may have some bearing on the question. The ship that was lost—the Inchclutha —had 26 effective hands, as against 43 effectives carried by the Ajax, the tonnage of the latter being 374 gross tons more than the tonnage of the former. If the crew of the Ajax were reduced in proportion to the tonnage of the other vessel, the comparison would be 26 effective hands in the latter, as against 37 in the Ajax. There was an inquiry into this case, and the Court found that the Inchclutha was seaworthy, and not overladen; but that, though her gross tonnage was 374 tons less than the Ajax, she carried 187 tons more cargo, and was, therefore, in a less favourable position to weather the storm. I find, also—I do not attach much importance to it, and I only mention it because the subject of insurance will form so large a portion of my argument —that while the Ajax was self-insured, the Inchclutha was insured £1,000 above her cost, with no allowance for depreciation, and £6,300 on her freight, being the total amount at risk. Taking all these facts into consideration, I do think the question of under-manning is one deserving the most serious consideration. I have not, however, thought it right to include in the Bill any provision to fix a statutory limit in respect of the manning of ships; and for this reason—that the moment you declare a statutory minimum, it has a tendency to become the practical maximum. The result of this would probably be that we should get an average worse than the present. But under-manning will be one of the things which will be brought under the definition of unseaworthiness; and unseaworthiness will involve heavy penalties; so that, as this will be an indication of the intention of the law, I hope that owners will be induced to look very carefully to the manning of their ships.
710 I must go on to deal with further loss of life. We have dealt now with collisions and with strandings; and I come next to the cases in which ships are put down as missing, or as having foundered. There was in 1881, in these cases, a loss of life of 1,559. The Wreck Commissioner reports that, so far as his experience goes—that is to say, since 1876—one-half of these cases of loss brought before him were due to causes for which the owners were responsible. He says that he has had 127 of these cases before him, and that in 67 the owners or their agents on shore were to blame. In the Returns for 1881, 104 lives are accounted for under the miscellaneous heads "explosions," "spontaneous combustion," "breakdown machinery," &c. Out of 45 of these cases brought before Mr. Rothery, the Court found the owners to blame in 17, and it is possible that some of these casualties might have been prevented. Now, I come to the last column of the Returns from the Registrar General of Seamen —1,123 persons drowned and 273 killed from other accidents. Taking them as they stand, I find that they are classed by the Registrar General under the following heads: —Drowned, 494; washed over, 162; fell from aloft, 166; fell over board, 167; lost from boats, 45; fell over on leaving ships, or coming on board, 40; miscellaneous, 49. Under the head "Accidents other than drowning," we find—fell from aloft, 117; fell down hold, 26; other falls, 11; killed by ma chinery, 4; struck by spars, 14; killed by the sea, 16; killed by exposure, 7; killed by burns, &c. 15; killed by drink, 2; killed by miscellaneous causes, 61. I think the House has seen from this classification that it is clear that there is plenty of room for care, and that a little more or less negligence must make all the difference in the Returns. These accidents may have been due entirely to the fault of the men who suffered from them, or they may have been due to defective equipment, or improper ma chinery, undermanning, or overloading. If a ship is undermanned, the crew may be overworked, and so they become unfit to perform their ordinary duties, and liable to accidents. If a ship is over laden, she may get water-logged, the sea comes over her, and the men get knocked about and hurt, perhaps killed or washed overboard. I have 711 with me a number of cases in which it is alleged that the accidents are owing to one or other of those causes; but it is enough for my present purpose to go through this list. There is not one single head to which this loss of life is attributed, which is not a class of what I call preventable loss—by which I mean not loss which could certainly have been prevented, but loss which might possibly have been prevented. The facts which these figures disclose constitute a very serious state of things. I am not going to appeal to the sentiments of the House of Commons. Common humanity will suffice to make us give the facts serious consideration. I have been accused of having been sensational in my statements. [Mr. MAC IVER: Hear, hear !] I take up the cheer of the hon. Member for Birkenhead, and I tell him that I do not think he will find in any language of mine statements so sensational as the facts. I cannot help it if the facts are sensational, and people may well shudder when they hear that thousands of their fellow-creatures are hurried every year to a premature and dreadful death. And these people are not Soudanese—although I do not wish to depreciate the interest the House should take in people who are not subjects of Her Majesty— they are our fellow-countrymen, who are especially entitled to our sympathy and protection, not only because they are engaged in a calling necessarily perilous, but also because upon them depends the maintenance of that commercial prosperity of which we are so proud, and, in a sense, upon them depends our very existence as a nation.
Well, I say we are bound to carry our inquiry a little farther. I have shown what is the amount of the loss, and what is the character of the loss. Now, I am going to call attention to the opinions of authorities who will, I think, be respected, as to how far these losses are preventable. At present I have only said that they may be prevented; but I am going to show, on the authority of people who command confidence and respect, and not on my own authority, that many of them might be prevented. I have already quoted the opinion of the Wreck Commissioner; I will now quote the opinions of the Assessors who sit in his Court. Who are the Assessors? They are appointed by the Home Office, and are independent 712 of the Board of Trade. I have nothing to do with them. They are sea captains, or naval captains of great experience, who have no personal interest in these questions, and who sit to advise the Court upon technical matters. I invited three of them—those who had most experience—to give me the benefit of their views. The gentlemen whom I consulted were Captains Methven, Castle, and Parish. They, as I say, are all of them sea captains, who have been 20 and 30, and even as much as 40, years actively engaged in their profession; and they have given me their opinion in writing in the following terms:—In our opinion (1) a ship properly constructed, loaded, manned, and navigated, ought to be able to keep the seas and perform her voyage in all weathers, excepting only in those exceptional cases where the weather is phenomenally bad; (2) there are many losses that are certainly due to under-manning, including strandings and collisions; (3) a great many ships, as at present loaded, are doomed to founder if they meet with successional gales, such as those which have recently happened, and which experience shows we must expect.That statement is most significant, and is well worthy of the attention of the House. According to these gentlemen, many vessels leave the coast doomed to founder, unless they are so fortunate as to escape gales, the possibility of which may arise at any moment. They go on to say—(4) If an owner were to give the master proper means for insuring safety, and were to make the safe prosecution of a voyage the first consideration, there would be fewer losses; (5) if a loss to the ship was to be more felt by the shipowner than it is, he would take more care in loading his ship and selecting proper officers and crew, and losses would materially diminish.Well, Sir, that is the opinion of these three gentlemen, who occupy an official and judicial position. Now, I am going to call as evidence the shipowners themselves—shipowners quite as honourable as any in the country. My first witness is Mr. Dawes, a manager of one of the greatest and most splendid undertakings known to British enterprize—the British India Steam Navigation Company. This gentleman, with his colleagues, has under control 160,000 tons of shipping; and his authority, therefore, is entitled to some weight. he says—I am myself fully persuaded that a very large proportion of the losses at sea are preventable. The chief causes of the disasters are 713 overloading, under-manning, and over-insuring.Then, I will refer to the opinion of Mr. James Harrison, a well-known shipowner of Liverpool. He says, in a letter he wrote to an hon. Member, and which was forwarded to me—I thoroughly agree with him in his view that this terrible loss of life through foundering, &c. is, to a very large extent, a preventable loss. I speak as a shipowner of much experience.MR. MacGregor, the Managing Director of the Glen Line, which owns altogether about 37,000 tons of shipping, says he agrees with the remarks I made to a deputation which waited upon me; and he points to under-manning as an evil only in degree less than that of unfair loading, and he calls attention to over-insurance as a question of paramount importance. I have got other quotations, but I am afraid of wearying the House. ["No!"] Then I will give one more opinion. It is that of Mr. Laing, who is a shipowner at Leith. Speaking at a meeting of the Scottish Shipmasters' Association, on the occasion that my Bill was under consideration by them, he said—With regard to Mr. Currie's vessels"——Mr. Currie being the President of the Association and Chairman of the meeting—the remarks of Mr. Chamberlain did not apply, as Mr. Currie had every reason and inducement to keep them right; but he (Mr. Currie) did not see the vessels going to sea out at Shields laden down to the gunwale. Instead of going across the Atlantic he would not go to London in them. Neither the lives of those on board nor the thought of desolate homes affected the cupidity of such owners.Now, Sir, those are the words of a shipowner speaking to shipowners. Now, I should like to quote, as a sample of others, the opinions I have received of one or two shipmasters. Mr. Cassap, who is a shipmaster of some experience at Sunderland, in a letter he wrote to The Shields Gazette, says—It unfortunately has become too common with owners, without an iota of feeling or of principle, to get their ships insured high, running them at all hazards, and loading them in an unfit state to contend with the elements, quite regardless of the lives of those on board.Captain Jackson, who for the last 28 years has been actively connected with 714 first-class sailing and steamships, writes to say—Until it is made the positive interest of a certain class of owners to keep their ships afloat, neither ships nor sailors will get fair play.I think I have said enough, to show that there is a prevailing opinion amongst all classes of persons who are qualified to judge of these matters that, at all events, a considerable portion of these losses might be prevented if increased precautions could be enforced. Well, now, do not let it be supposed for a moment that I endorse any charge, if any charge has ever been made against any shipowner, that he has deliberately sent his ship to sea that it might be lost, and that the sailors might be drowned, for the sake of gain. If such a man existed he would be a monster in human form; he would be guilty of murder, and hanging would be too good for him. I do not say there have not been people who have gone very close to it. I will quote one case—that of Berwick and Houldsworth. It was proved that these men had lost 15 ships, one after another, in order to get the insurance, and they were brought up and convicted in the 15th case; one was sentenced to 20 years', and the other to 15 years' penal servitude. In these cases, however, I believe, they so arranged matters that there should be very little, if any, loss of life. But that is not the charge. The charge is not that shipowners deliberately do anything of this kind. The statement made is this—that unless it is distinctly their interest to take every precaution, even those which are doubtful, they will not take all the precautions which they ought to take; because it is an essential feature in this case that you cannot say about any particular precaution that it will infallibly save life. Take the case of over-loading, and suppose a vessel with a freeboard of 4 feet. No man in the world can say that if that vessel had a freeboard of 4 feet 1 inch she would be quite safe, but that with a freeboard of 3 feet 11 inches she was absolutely unsafe. But no one can deny that with 4 feet 1 inch she would be more safe than with 4 feet, or with 3 feet 11 inches freeboard. All I want to do is to put on the shipowner every pressure I can, in common fairness and ordinary reasonableness, in order to induce him to take as many and as great precautions as he possibly can. And I 715 am quite certain that when it is done the loss of life at sea will be very much less than it is at present.
Well now, Sir, I ought, perhaps, to say a few words as to the failure of our existing legislation, because I admit that it has not succeeded. I think we have proceeded on wrong methods and principles. We have attempted to do two things. We have attempted, in the first place, to establish a kind of Government supervision, because we have given power to the Board of Trade to detain ships which their officers think to be unseaworthy; and, in the second place, we have endeavoured to fix criminal liability upon shipowners who are proved to have been in default in respect of precaution which they ought to have taken. Now, as regards the first point— Government supervision. It has been used to a very considerable extent; it has been used, perhaps, with some good effect. Since 1876 I find that down to last June we have detained altogether 832 ships on various grounds; and of that number only 13 have been released unconditionally — that is to say, only 13 have gone to sea without the alteration either in the loading or in connection with repairs, or in some other way which the Board of Trade thought it necessary to require. But although we have done that, and although, therefore, it is probable we have prevented accidents which might otherwise have occurred, we have acted under circumstances of the greatest difficulty; we have always acted with a sword suspended over our heads. If any of our officers make mistakes—and it is impossible that these officers, who are not very highly paid, and who are required to work in isolation, can be omniscient and omnipresent, and can avoid making mistakes at times—if any of our officers make mistakes, the Board of Trade is had up for improper detention, and a jury always gives the heaviest damages in a case in which guardians of the public purse are defendants. Consequently, we have to be exceedingly cautious, and we allow many cases to pass in which we cannot approve of the condition in which vessels leave the country, because we dare not stop them, for fear of making a mistake. As I have said, that is not all. To do his duty without failure, an officer of the Board of Trade must be omniscient 716 as well as omnipresent; he must be on the spot every moment of the day and night, in order that when vessels leave the port—and there are hundreds leaving some ports every day—'he may be able to say, on the spur of the moment, whether they are seaworthy; whether the construction of a vessel is right; whether her loading is right; whether her stowage is right; whether she has got a sufficient crew; whether her hatchways are properly ventilated; and whether a hundred other requirements, which, at present, I cannot recollect, are complied with. It is impossible. You are putting on the men more than they can possibly accomplish, and numberless cases have escaped our notice. Why, the worst case which has happened since I have held my present Office is that of the Marlborough. Although I am quite prepared to admit I do not suspect the owner of having deliberately sent the ship to sea in order that it might go to the bottom, still it was a case in which the grossest negligence was practised. It was a case in which it was proved conclusively before the Court that the ship was sent to sea over-loaded—grossly over-loaded—and also under-manned, and that in spite of the reports which had been made by previous crews, who had come home from voyages in her, and refused to have anything more to do with the ship—one set of men after another leaving her, because she was so unsafe at sea. That vessel was not stopped by the Board of Trade, although she had a load line of only 4 feet, when she ought to have had a load line of 6 feet at least. She was not stopped, and why? She completed her loading at 8 o'clock one dark night in November, and she went from the pier-head at 5 o'clock the next morning. Is it possible that an officer of the Board of Trade can interfere in such a case? I may mention another case to illustrate another of our difficulties; it is the case of the City of Limerick. Here, again, I am not going to attach any blame whatever to the owners. The City of Limerick was a vessel of 2,700 tons gross. She was built in 1855; but after that she was altered and built up in various ways with deck erections, until she had one storey piled on the top of another, and we came to the conclusion that she was absolutely unsafe. She was detained; 717 the owner appealed; the Court of Survey released her; and the Board of Trade was condemned in heavy damages, which it has since had to pay. No blame, therefore, could be cast on the owners, because they may appeal to the decision of the Court of Survey to justify themselves. Yes, Sir; but what was the result? What was the sequel to the story? She made her voyage out; but, on a subsequent voyage home, she went to the bottom with all hands. Another vessel of the same character, and, I believe, connected with the same concern —the City of London —also went to the bottom with all hands, in November, 1881. The Board of Trade, I admit, may be wrong; the Court of Survey may be wrong; but, after all, the owner knows more about the matter than anybody else; and I would like to think that, in every case, it was distinctly and clearly to the owner's interest that every precaution should be taken. Then, I do not think that he would run so great a risk as he sometimes seems inclined to do at present. Sir, I cannot conclude the case against the present legislation better than by using the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Hull (Mr. Norwood), who, speaking to the Chamber of Commerce of Hull, some time ago, said of the Board of Trade—They attempt to regulate and to dictate to the shipping community of this country as to the conduct of the most difficult, most intricate, and most technical business existing on the face of the earth; they have undertaken, in point of fact, to lay down rules for the conduct of a business which requires of the ablest and most experienced person all his energies to successfully conduct. And what has been the result of this legislation? The result of this legislation is the natural outcome of a Government undertaking what they are incompetent to perform. The result has been that the parties whose interest was to protect themselves, and to provide for their own safety, have proved themselves perfectly indifferent, because they say—'The Board of Trade and the Legislature provide certain regulations for our protection, and, therefore, it is unnecessary for us to take any trouble to protect ourselves.'I agree with every word of that portion of my hon. Friend's speech, and I am glad he used those words, because, if I had done so, they would have been described by Lord Salisbury as amounting to a fantastic and horrible charge.
Then, Sir, I have said we have also endeavoured by legislation to fix criminal 718 liability upon the owners. This has failed in practice, and no recent prosecution has succeeded. You are trying to fix criminal liability on a man who, after all, may not be guilty of a criminal offence. If you are going to prove a criminal offence, your proof must be overwhelming. It is not enough to have circumstantial evidence, however strong; you must have absolute proof of the man's intentions. You can show the most extraordinarily culpable negligence. You can show that the ship was unseaworthy; that her equipment was disgraceful; and that she was overladen. All these things have been shown, over and over again. But you cannot always demonstrate that the owner was cognizant of these things, and that he deliberately allowed the ship to go to sea in that condition. There is another argument used, and it is this. If we prosecute the owner, and bring him before the Court, we are then asked—"Why did not the Board of Trade stop the ship? It must have been because they thought her seaworthy." And the Court refuses to convict. If, on the other hand, we do stop the ship, then it is said that the criminal act was not complete, and that, perhaps, at the last moment, the ship would not have been sent to sea at all; and thus, in one way or another, these prosecutions break down. And it is not to be wondered at. Here is a case illustrative of the difficulties we have to contend with—the case of a vessel which foundered in 1881, with 27 men on board, and which the Court found was overladen. She was insured for £16,000, at the rate of £15 per ton, which was altogether beyond the value. The vessel was 20 years old, and the Assessors advised the Court that a first-rate new vessel could have been bought for the same money. The Court thought so strongly with regard to this case that, in order to mark its sense of the conduct of the owners, it charged them with the cost of making the inquiry. But punishment of that kind must necessarily be a very inadequate one, supposing the owners to have been guilty of so serious an offence. I had the strongest legal opinion that it would have been useless to prosecute, as the overloading took place at Odessa, and the owner was not there at the time, and that, consequently, it would be impossible to fix responsibility on him. It would be impossible 719 to say what amount of knowledge he possessed with regard to the matter. Then, agreeing with my hon. Friend behind me (Mr. Norwood), and other shipowners in this House, I must say I think that if legislation has hitherto been on wrong lines, we ought, in the future, to put it upon right lines. But we shall never do that, until we can rely upon the shipowners, and not altogether upon the Government, for the management of this business. But I do not think we shall ever be able to rely upon the shipowner, until we make it impossible for him to make a profit out of his loss.
My object is to make it to the personal interest of every shipowner who has a larger knowledge of all the facts, and a greater power than anyone else, to take every possible precaution, and give the turn of the scales always in favour of safety, and to hesitate to incur a risk which otherwise he might be inclined to venture upon. The present law is the very reverse of this. I will describe the present law in the words of a gentleman who, I think, will be recognized as one of the highest living authorities on the subject. Mr. Hollams is a gentleman who has had as extensive experience of shipping cases as anyone; and he has been employed on almost every insurance litigation for a generation—generally on the side of the shipowners. Well, he has said to me that what the present law does is this—and it is impossible to put it better—the present law says to the shipowner—"Buy your ship as cheaply as you can, equip her as poorly as you can, load her as fully as you can, insure her as highly as you can, and send her to sea. If she gets to the end of her voyage you will have made a very good thing of it; if she goes to the bottom you will have made a very much better thing of it." That is the state of the law as described by Mr. Hollams. That, I say, is the opinion of a gentleman who is not a sensationalist, but who is pretty well known as a tolerably cool lawyer; and I say that a law which can be described in these terms is a scandal to the country, and ought at once to be amended. There are two ways in which we can do that. We can, in the first place, insist on the civil liability of the shipowners to the passengers and owners of goods, whom their 720 negligence may injure; to the seamen in their employment; and to the underwriters with whom they make contracts; and, in the second place, we may attempt, at all events, to prevent the possibility—I will not call it the probability—of over-insurance—that is to say, making a profit out of the loss of the ship. Dealing with over-insurance first, I say that on this subject there is an overwhelming consensus of authority. The matter, I think, was brought before the House so long ago as 1836, when a Committee was appointed to consider the subject. I find the argument stated in an old copy of Tait's Magazine as far back as 1833. Every one of the dangers and evils that I am endeavouring to describe to the House, and that I would prevent, are mentioned in an article in this old magazine—a magazine published 50 years ago. Half-a-century has elapsed; this evil has been recognized during the whole of that period; and yet nothing has been done. The Select Committee on Shipwrecks, in 1836, said that—The system of marine insurance, though affording the means of protecting individuals from excessive loss, has nevertheless a tendency, by transferring the pecuniary responsibility for such losses from the owners of ships to the underwriters who insure them, to induce less care in the construction of ships, less efficiency in their equipment, and less security for their adequate management at sea; inasmuch as the risk of such loss to the shipowners can be covered by a fixed premium of insurance, which, being charged on the freight and then recharged on the goods conveyed, fixes the real responsibility and the real loss ultimately on the public, as all the parties actually engaged in the transaction can secure themselves from any participation in such loss by the aid of marine insurance.Then, in 1873 and 1874, the Unseaworthy Ships Commission made its Reports; and they went very carefully into this question of insurance, and made some very important observations in reference to it. They stated, for instance, that—The system of our marine insurance, while it protects shipowners against losses which would otherwise be ruinous, tends to render them less careful in the management of their ships.…. The contract of marine insurance is in its essence a contract of indemnity, and the spirit of the contract is violated if the assured can make the occurrence of a loss the means of gain. The law has, however, allowed a considerable deviation from this fundamental principle.…. It appears to us that our whole system of insurance law requires complete revision, for not only does it allow the shipowner 721 in some cases to recover more than the amount of the loss actually sustained by him; but it also, on the other hand, deprives him of an indemnity in cases in which he ought to be protected by his insurance.And they go on to say that it appears unwise to interfere with the contract between the assured and the underwriter, unless the whole system of marine insurance is completely revised; and they recommend that an attempt should be made to induce foreign nations to confer with regard to framing and adopting a general Code of insurance law. They also recommend that there should be a further inquiry into the subject. Now, Sir, there was an inquiry into the question of foreign law, and we have now all the particulars of this matter, and I shall have to call attention to the difference between the foreign law and our own in a few minutes. But, having obtained this information from foreign countries, the Government of Lord Beaconsfield did not think it necessary to wait for further inquiry. They thought the time had come for action; and in 1875, when there was a debate in the House, raised on the Motion of the hon. Member for Hastings (Mr., now Sir Thomas, Brassey), Sir Charles Adderley, now Lord Norton, in the course of the discussion, speaking as President of the Board of Trade, said that—He took a deep interest in the subject of marine insurance, because he believed it lay at the foundation of the amendment of the law which he had in hand at that moment, relating to the safety of our merchant ships and the prevention of recklessness in our Mercantile Marine.… Unless it was desired to postpone a settlement of the matter, there was no need for another Royal Commission. The evidence of the men best acquainted with the subject in this country had been obtained. It was no longer a question of facts, but a question of policy; and, that being the case, he thought the Government ought to take it up themselves.… He did not propose, however, to wait for an International measure. … He did not fear legislating separately for this country as likely to drive men to foreign insurance. … The fear that they would was only a bugbear in the discussion, for Englishmen knew their advantages in insuring here, and how difficult it was in some cases to recover foreign insurances."— (3 Hansard,  1763–5–6.)That was the opinion of the late Government in 1875. It was their opinion in 1876, when they introduced the Maritime Contracts Bill; and I shall be much surprised to hear that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen sitting on the Front Benches opposite have changed their 722 opinions during the interval. It would be a pitiable thing if that which they thought right and proper in 1876 they should now consider improper, because it is introduced by a Liberal Government, instead of a Conservative. I may just refer very briefly to some of the authorities on this question. There is a well-known authority, Arnould, the recognized authority in matters affecting marine insurance. He says—The very essence of the contract of marina insurance is that it is a contract of indemnity, … and its whole spirit is violated if the insurer can make the occurrence of such casualties the means of gain; for this would give him an interest in procuring sea losses, which would be opposed to every principle of commercial policy.Then Benecke says—Every contract of insurance is, in its nature, a contract of indemnity. The consequences of this kind of over-valuation are so great that they deserve the attention, not only of the underwriters, but of the Legislature.The present Mr. Justice Butt, examined on this question before the Royal Commission, stated that—Over-insurance produces loss and unseaworthiness.And Mr. Walton, the well-known solicitor, connected with Lloyd's, who has also had great experience in regard to maritime insurance, says—Over-insurance is lowering the seaworthiness of ships.All this took place in 1874, and yet, owing partly, perhaps, to causes over which neither the House nor the Government had any control, the matter has been postponed until the present day, and nothing has been done. Now, I do not think the House will have any doubt as to the evil effects of over-insurance; but I am going to test that by some practical illustrations. We are able, by one or two cases, to establish a sort of comparison between the results of a system of insurance and a system of either no insurance or limited insurance. In 1869, Mr. Gray, the present Assistant Secretary to the Marine Department of the Board of Trade, made a Report, which was presented to Parliament, upon the loss of life in the Baltic; and, among other things, he pointed out these facts. There were 220 Swedish steamers engaged in the coasting trade, which, owing to the custom of the trade, were uninsured, and only three had been 723 lost in 10 years. He also pointed out that there were 215 English steamers engaged in the English coasting trade, which were presumably insured, and 17 had been lost in 10 years under circumstances necessitating a Board of Trade inquiry—that is to say, a loss of nearly six times as many insured ships as uninsured ships. Then I have seen a letter addressed to the hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Samuel Smith) by Mr. Davidson, of Valparaiso, who says that, some years ago, the losses sustained by the underwriters at Valparaiso were so great that they combined and agreed that in future they would not take any insurance, unless the owners would take a liability of 25 per cent. Mr. Davidson also says that the effect was marvellous, and that an immense amount of money was spent on equipments and repairs of steamers, and the losses had now become as rare and infrequent as they previously were common. I have here also a letter from the Secretary of the Humber Mutual Marine Insurance Company, who says—Honest shipowners cannot but coincide with yon in your endeavours to deal with the above question in a fair and legitimate manner, as you propose doing. My Company has, at the present time, 60 vessels on its books, all engaged in the home or coasting trade, running equal, if not greater, risk than the long sea traders. Before admitting a vessel, competent Surveyors inspect her thoroughly and value the ship. We then underwrite two-thirds only, the owner risking one-third; and he is not allowed to cover elsewhere, under penalty of forfeiture of all benefits. The success of the plan speaks for itself. The past three years we have only had one total loss, and not a single life lost. A similar Company in this port, with 100 vessels, has had about eight total losses in three years, with about six lives lost.
§ MR. C. H. WILSON
said, that letter was from a Club owning river craft, and he did not think much importance could be attached to it, or that it could be quoted as relevant.
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
I think that letter is of great service, and I cannot see how a letter of that kind can be considered irrelevant. At all events, I quote it, as I quote all these Papers, at the risk of wearying the House, because I want to put myself on one side, and I want the House to understand that all these statements are made not on my own personal responsibility. I do not make myself responsible for them, except so far as I am responsible for 724 information supplied by my Department. My statements to-night are all supported by underwriters, shipowners, and gentlemen whose names I have given to the House, and whose authority can be weighed. Then I have tried to test the question in another way. This is a comparison made by the Board of Trade. I have selected, in the first place, 12 steam undertakings, which I know to be either self-insured, or upon which the owners are accustomed to take a portion of the risk. These steam undertakings comprise 396 vessels, manned by 18,400 men, so that we are dealing with large figures and a large average. In five years, I find that these steam undertakings have annually lost about one man in 840 by wreck alone. I am not speaking of casualties by other accidents, but by wrecks alone. I have taken from the whole steam shipping of the country these 12 selected undertakings for the purpose of comparison; and in the balance, which comprises 3,446 ships and about 70,600 men, I find that they have lost annually, during the same time, one man in 148. That is to say, the loss of the selected undertakings was only one-sixth of the loss of the whole of the rest of the trade. I only wish to quote one more authority in reference to this subject, and this is an authority to which I really attach considerable importance. I am going to quote the Duke of Argyll, and I do so, because, at least, I imagine that be will not be supposed to have any erroneous ideas as to the sacred rights of property, or the impropriety of anything like unnecessary interference with freedom of trade or freedom of contract. The Duke of Argyll, in his well-known book on The Reign of Law, says, at page 405—There seems good reason to believe that there is a direct relation between the amount of life and property annually sacrificed by shipwrecks, and the legislation which recognizes and sanctions insurance to the full amount of the value of ships and cargo. The cause of this is obvious. Care for life is less eager and less wakeful than care for property. This is true, even when men are dealing equally with their own property and with their own lives. It is still more true when they are dealing not only with property, which is their own, but with lives which belong to others. The inevitable effect of such insurance is therefore to relax the motives of self-interest, which are the strongest incitements to precaution.When in "another place," Lord Salis- 725 bury gets up, and makes once more his unfounded statement that I have brought a horrible and fantastic charge against the shipowners, I have no doubt the Duke of Argyll will be able to answer it. I will only say, in addition to what I have already said, that the presumption of the existing law is in favour of some such alteration as I am now proposing. What is the case with regard to one of our insurable interests? What interest can be more fitly insured than seamen's wages? If a seaman loses his wages through his ship going down, and he is cast abandoned on the shore of a foreign country, his wages stop from the moment when his ship goes down. All his claim is upon his country—it is a sort of pauper claim—and he is sent home at the expense of the nation; and, at the same time, he is prohibited by the law from insuring his wages, which he would have received if his vessel had made a successful voyage. I think that law goes too far, and is unfair to the seamen; and I should like to permit seamen to insure their wages as well as a shipowner to insure his ship. But, at all events, I may point to this fact—that it has been in the minds of legislators that, if you want to get security, you must give to all persons a direct personal and direct pecuniary interest.
Then I come to another point of great interest. It is said by the shipowners —"All you say is very true as to this matter of the law. It is a bad law; it is a law which ought to be amended; but do not think you will gain much by it, because although, under the law, it is possible to over-insure, as a matter of fact a shipowner does not do so, and it is so rare that you will find little advantage in stopping it." But is it rare? I have said that when the time came I would give the House overwhelming proof that it is not rare, but is the commonest thing in the world; and now I am about to keep my promise. In the first place, let me take a singular fact—a curious thing that occurred only the other day. The last striking loss which has occurred is the loss of The State of Florida, belonging to a great line of steamships against which I have nothing to say. When the news came to this country that that ship was lost, the shares of that line went up immediately on the Glasgow Exchange. That, I 726 think, is a singular fact. At the end of April, these shares, or parts of these shares—I am not sure whether they are quoted whole or in part—were quoted at 72s. 6d. The news of the loss came to this country on the 7th or 8th; and in the course of the next few days these shares touched 90s. Since then they have gone down again, and the last quotation I have had is 77s. 6d. I have asked for an explanation, and the explanation given me is this—that subsequent news showed that the loss was due to a collision; and when that became known on the Exchange it was thought possible that some liability might rise against the Company, and accordingly speculation in the shares took a different direction. At all events, this is true—that the people who knew most about the matter—the dealers in Stocks on the Glasgow Exchange, buyers and sellers, and otherwise—thonght, whether they were right or wrong, that the loss of this ship was going to be a gain to her owners. Now, I have some other facts of importance. Over-insurance is possible upon ships, upon freights, upon expenses, which are a separate insurable interest, and in the shape of double insurance—that is to say, insuring the same thing twice over under different heads. What I state is that over-insurance of ships is a very common thing, and over-insurance of freights among a large number of owners is still more common. I have a list of 23 ships belonging to different owners, built in different years, from 1864 to 1883, and I find that the insurance value of these ships is stated in the Club books at £569,000. I have had them valued by three different valuers, independently—no one of the three knowing what value the others put upon them. The first of these gentlemen was Mr. White, a well-known underwriter, who is underwriter, I think, to the Marine Insurance Company, and he put their value at £428,250. Then I applied to Mr. Stringer, who is also well known, who has had great experience as a shipowner and underwriter, and who is a member of Lloyd's; and he made a calculation which he had had confirmed by a firm of brokers in the City, who are well known as engaged in a large business as valuers of ships. He put the value at £426,733; and it is a singular coincidence, tending to show the correctness of the figures, that here 727 are two gentlemen, neither knowing what the other was doing, coming within £2,000 of each other in their estimates. Then I asked one of my own Surveyors—who was formerly employed under Lloyd's Register and the Liverpool Underwriters—and he made the value £447,500. Therefore, taking the mean of these three valuations, I find that the value of these ships in 1883 was about £434,000, and that the insurance value was about 31 per cent above the average value which these three gentlemen put upon them. The insurance valuation was £569,000, and the mean of these three valuations was about £434,000. I have taken the year 1883; but in 1884 there has been a reduction in the insurance values, and the shipowners make a great deal of this. They say that this reduction has shown that they have paid close regard to the change of value from year to year, through the depreciation in ships from time to time. But, unless I am very much mistaken, the reduction of value in 1884 has been something very exceptional indeed, and is not paralleled in any of the previous five years. The reduction in 1884 has taken place, partly because there has, no doubt, been a depression in shipping, and a great reduction in the value of ships, which everybody was bound to take notice of; and also partly because of the agitation about my Bill, upon which I will only say that if it proceeds no further, it will have done a great deal of good. In 1884, taking the same list of ships, one is now laid up; but for the remaining 22, the insurance value, after the reduction has been allowed for, is still 12 per cent above the average value as given by these three gentlemen. Then I inquired to see how far this was borne out by the valuation of another list of ships. I took another list of 14 ships belonging also to separate owners—and I may say that the names of these ships are at the service of hon. Members, and, if it is desired, may be given in a Parliamentary Paper—built between 1862 and 1883. I treated them in the same way, and I found that they came out at an insurance value in 1883 of 28 per cent above the real value as fixed upon the mean of the Reports of the three gentlemen I have named. I was not able in this case to test the result in 1884, because I am told that six of 728 these 14 ships that I took for comparison have been lost. Then I have another calculation of the same sort. I have taken six ships which were lost or missing in 1883, and I find that their value, on the average of the valuations made by the three gentlemen I have mentioned, is 101,000; but the actual sum for which they were insured was £129,000, and accordingly the owners received 27 per cent above the value which these impartial gentlemen placed upon the ships. In almost every one of these cases the freight was insured. Now, I will deal with another set of calculations on the same question, but from a totally different point of view. I am now going to deal with vessels which are offered in what are known as Crosby and Co.'s lists. In Crosby and Co.'s lists there appear for sale a number of shares of ships, and I have taken 62 ships; parts of which are offered for sale in one of those lists. The price at which they are offered for sale would give £1,091,860 as the value of the ships. The insurance value of these same ships in the club books is £1,303,900, or 19 per cent above the value for which they are actually offered for sale. And remember, this is an offer; it is not the market price; it is the price at which these people are willing to sell, and is presumably, therefore, the full price put by the owners upon their property. Therefore, the price which the owners themselves put upon their property is 19 per cent less than the amount for which it is insured. Again, I have a list of 9 vessels, of the value of £144,000, shares in which are offered for sale; and I find that the insurance value in the East Coast Mutual Insurance Club of the same vessels is £172,000, so that the valuation is 19 per cent above the price at which they are offered. Some of my critics complain that I make general statements, and that they cannot examine into them; and when I make particular statements, then they say—"Oh! these are exceptional cases." I try to meet them, in both ways. I have made general statements, now I will make particular statements, and I select from a very large list to illustrate what I have said. Here is the case of the Mangerton, which was lost the other day with all hands through being overladen, according to the finding of the 729 Court of Inquiry. It appeared that she cost £28,500; but it was estimated that she had depreciated in value by £6,000, and was, therefore, worth £22,500, if tested in the way in which we test property in land. She was insured for £32,000—that is to say, for £3,500 above her cost, and £10,000 above her then actual value; and the managing owner, when asked why he insured her for this amount, very candidly said, in reply, that the shares were selling for a price equivalent to that. What did that mean? That he was running her at a great risk in order to make a better dividend, and that he then regulated his insurance according to the value which the payment of this dividend gave to the shares in the market. Then there was the case of the Derbyshire, in which one life was lost. The Court of Inquiry condemned the ship as unseaworthy, as not well-found, and as overladen. The result of that was that the sea broke over her, swept her from end to end, and washed two men from the wheel, one of whom afterwards died from his injuries. The cost of that vessel in 1875 was £16,000, and she was insured for the same amount for seven years up to 1882, without any deduction for depreciation. She was then reduced in value to £12,000, and £12,000 was the sum at which she was insured when she was lost. In June, 1882, one of the shareholders in that ship wanted to sell, and application was made to Messrs. Kellock, the valuers, who were asked to value the ship, in order that he might know what price to ask for his share. The valuers valued her, at the time when she was insured for £12,000, as worth between £9,500 and £9,600; and after she was lost the managing owner, in giving evidence, said he considered that she was not worth more than £7,000 or £8,000 in the market, and yet he had insured her for 50 per cent above that sum. Then there is the Said, which was missing in 1883, and 18 hands went to the bottom with her. She was insured for £16,000; but, on being valued by my orders by Messrs. Bayley & Ridley, a firm of valuers in the City, she was found to be worth only £11,000. The West Ridge was missing in 1883, and 28 hands perished. An inquiry was held before Mr. Baffles, at Liverpool, and the Court found that she was fully laden. 730 She was insured for £15,000, but only valued at £13,000 by Messrs. Bayloy & Ridley. Then there is the case of the Consolation in 1883. She was insured for £17,000; I have been informed on good authority that her cost was £17,000; she was 10 years old, and she was valued by Bayley & Ridley at £11,500 at the time of her loss. In the case of the Sybil Wynn, an inquiry was also held; and the managing owner, who gave his evidence very fairly, said he always insured her for the same amount—namely, £2,550; and he did not, beyond a small reduction of £50, seem to have had any doubt that he was right in doing so. The ship was valued by Bayley & Ridley at £1,100; and the Court, which consisted of Mr. Baffles and two Assessors, found that the vessel was very fully laden and insured much beyond her value. They did not think, however, that there was any indifference on the part of the managing owner or the master to the safety of the ship. The Aberaman was lost in coming home from San Francisco; 20 hands were lost with her. She was insured in 1883 for £14,500, although her cost in 1881, with the cost of repairs added, was only £13,261. Her estimated value was £12,000. The Court found that she was too deeply laden. Her gross freight was insured. The owner was examined as to how he came to insure her at £14,500, and he admitted that he had added 10 per cent to cost, that being, he said, a usual mercantile transaction. Then we have another case—that of the Emily. That was a most unfortunate vessel—or, perhaps, I ought to say she belonged to a most fortunate owner. Her owner, when he was examined, would not say how often she had been stranded, though he admitted that she had been stranded twice in the preceding year, and that, on one occasion, he had received £4,500 for one of these strandings. She was a vessel of 787 tons burden, and was worth, according to the Assessors, about £10 a-ton, which would make her worth altogether about £8,000. She was valued by Bayley & Ridley at £9,000; but she was insured for £14,000. She was stranded. Fortunately no lives were lost; but the owner made, as far as I can make out, from £5,000 to £6,000 on the loss of his vessel, besides £200 on freight.
But these are by no means the worst cases—the worst cases are those of what 731 are called "single ship Companies," which have sprung into existence only during the last few years. Originally established by a most respectable firm in Liverpool, for a very reasonable purpose, and found advantageous for speculation, they have since been established by other persons, who had much better have had nothing whatever to do with them. What happens is that a man who calls himself managing owner, and who is in some cases merely a financial speculator, starts the single ship Company. In some cases these managing owners are broken-down tradesmen, linen drapers' assistants, waiters, or other people in similar walks of life. These people make a contract for a ship, and then they spread broadcast throughout the country their prospectuses, promising 20, 30, and even 40 per cent dividend, and assuring everybody that under no conceivable circumstances can there be any risk, inasmuch as if the vessel is lost they will recover her full value by insurance; and in this way there has been a tremendous development of shipping speculation throughout the country, and, to a large extent, among classes who ought to have had nothing whatever to do with such matters—women, Dissenting ministers, working people, especially in Yorkshire and Lancashire, have been tempted to invest their money in these Companies, with which they ought to have had no connection whatever. These are the people who have made the progress of this Bill so difficult. They are the people who have flooded the House of Commons with letters complaining of the losses which the Bill will compel them to sustain. The managing owners have sent out their circulars, full of the most extravagant misrepresentations as to the object of the Bill, and the intentions of the Government, and declaring that these people who have invested their money will be absolutely ruined if the Members of this House do not stop the Bill—and these poor people, who are merely dupes and who are not to be blamed, except for want of care in making their investments, have sent letters to Members al over the place, and urged them on no account to allow the Bill to proceed. I have here two instances of the way in which the system works, and I take the first case from the circular of the 732 gentleman who acts as managing owner to me of these Companies. It is the case of the Coldra. She was insured for £9,000, has been valued at £6,000, and was lost; and the managing owner mid the shareholders 24 per cent per annum as a profit on the ship, as well as returned to them the entire original capital. Twenty-four per cent profit! How is it made? It is made by allowing nothing for depreciation—allowing nothing for one of the first expenses of any ordinary business. The depreciation is to be got from the underwriters when the vessel goes to the bottom; and the entire original cost is returned to the share-holders. The other case is the case of he Verdi, which was insured for £14,000, and has been valued at £11,500. According to the circular to which I refer, she made 30 per cent dividend during her career, and returned to her shareholders £232 on each £218 invested. Now, it must be remembered that, in all the cases of this sort, the liability is absolutely limited; and if the ship owned by this single ship Company does any damage to anyone else, or to another vessel by collision, or injures anybody among the passengers, or damages the cargo, and if the ship goes down and the insurance money has been paid over, there is nobody to come upon. The people injured are absolutely without remedy under the existing law. As to the remedy for such a state of things, there is a clause in the Bill which deals—though very inefficiently, I am afraid—with this question. It does not go nearly far enough; but it has been greatly misapprehended, and has created no end of difficulty and a sort of panic among people not engaged in shipping, but holding shares in Limited Companies. It has been said that, by Clause 33, I was doing away, once for all, with the whole principle of limited liability, and that no man's capital would be safe under it. But, Sir, the principle of a Limited Liability Company—the ordinary principle and intention of limited liability is, that the creditors of the Company, who have due notice of its position and of the way its funds are invested and of the amount of its assets and of the extent of the uncalled capital, are to be debarred from having any claim on anything beyond those uncalled assets. That is quite fair. The creditors are parties to the 733 transaction, and are fully aware of the position of the Company. But it is quite a different thing when you seek to bind by this limited liability people who are not parties to it in any way—people who are injured by the negligence and fault of the Company. When a ship is run down by the gross negligence of the captain of one of these Limited Companies you may not get any remedy. I wish the House to understand—what, perhaps, it does not know at present—that shipowners have an immense advantage over all other people, because they have a permanent statutory limited liability quite apart from, and independent of, all other law. For all the damages to goods which their ships may cause, their liability cannot be greater than £8 per ton; and for all injury to life, or to goods and life combined, their liability cannot be greater than £15 per ton, though, in all other trades, the liability is unlimited. I do not propose to alter this in the Bill; but I wish to point out that if these Companies have no uncalled capital, if they have distributed their assets, then the liability of the shareholders ought, at least, to reach to the £8 and £15 limit, in case they do damage. That is one of the proposals I make, and I think it will meet with the approval of the House.
Another question that we must consider is the over-insurance of freight. It is usual to insure the gross freight without deduction for expenses. It is also usual—no; I will not say usual, but it is not an uncommon thing, to make a double insurance for outfit and expenses, and it is not at all an uncommon thing to insure both the homeward and the outward freight, and to recover the whole amount of the freight without any deduction for the expense incurred. I will give only two or three instances of how this works in practice, in order that the House may see that I do not speak altogether without book. In the case of the Matilda Hilyard, the vessel was valued at £2,000, and was insured for £4,750. The freight, homewards and outwards, was insured for £4,000, and the disbursements were insured for £2,680, and I calculate that the owner will make a profit of £2,750 on the ship, and about £3,000 on the freight, if the insurances are all recovered. How, I say that a case like that can only be described in one way—it is a case where the owner 734 makes a bet against the safe arrival of his own ship. Then there is the case of the Triumph, which went to Auckland with her homeward freight insured for £10,000. She was wrecked a few days after her arrival—I believe soon after leaving the harbour—and before a single ounce of homeward cargo was on board, and while she still had a considerable part of her outward cargo on board. Yet the charterers will recover the whole of the £10,000 for which the homeward freight was insured. Then there is the case of the Dunstaffnage, which was wrecked between Dundee and Liverpool, with a loss of 23 lives. She was insured for full value, and her outward freight and her homeward freight from Calcutta were also insured, though not quite to the full amount. In that case, what happened when the ship went down? Why, the owner recovered the whole of his insured outward freight, although he had saved all the wages and expenses due on the outward voyage from Liverpool to Calcutta; and, so far as the homeward voyage was concerned, he was saved every possible kind of expense, and yet recovered the full amount of insured gross freight.
Well, Sir, I ask the House, after the statement I have made, and I hope I have not overburdened the case—I ask the House whether I have not done what I undertook to do—whether I have not given overwhelming proof that this practice does prevail to a very considerable extent? There can be no doubt—and I do not attempt to deny it for a moment—that legislation may cause inconvenience, but no greater inconvenience and no greater sacrifices than the respectable members of the trade may reasonably and fairly be called upon to bear. Our legislation, the other day, against dynamite, no doubt, put the manufacturers of dynamite to great inconvenience; and, possibly, if they had had the power, they would have protested against and prevented that legislation. In regard to this matter of over-insurance, I point it out to the House as a dangerous practice, and I say that you ought to put a stop to it, even though the change may cause some inconvenience. I must ask the House now to allow me, as shortly as I can, to explain the main provisions of the Bill; and, in doing that, I have to ask attention also to the Amendments to the Bill which have been agreed upon 735 in communication with the shipowners with whom I have been in conference, and which Amendments—thongh I do not pretend that I altogether like them—I am, nevertheless, willing to accept if the House will be pleased to allow this Bill to be read a second time. In that case, I should propose to commit the measure at once, pro formâ, in order to insert the Amendments, so that the House may have an opportunity of estimating their effect. I will not ask the House to proceed with the remission of the Bill to the Grand Committee until after Whitsuntide, at a time when I hope the whole subject will have been before the country and the interests concerned, and when, I trust, there may be a generally favourable opinion of the measure, without which, I admit, it would be very difficult for me to proceed. Well, Sir, what the Bill proposes is this—that the insured person shall not gain by the loss of the thing insured. The principle of the Bill is that a contract of insurance is a contract of indemnity. I know that that is not the opinion of the hon. Member for Forfarshire (Mr. J. W. Barclay), who, in the debate in 1875, said he thought that every owner ought to bear at least one-fourth or one-third of the risk. That is also the opinion expressed in this House by a Gentleman who used to be very much listened to in this House on shipping matters—I mean Mr. Samuda. Well, Mr. Samuda has written to me to say that the evidence before the Royal Commission showed that, unless there was some risk to the owner in this matter, there would be no satisfactory diminution in the loss of life at sea, and that it was absolutely incumbent on every shipowner that he should have some pecuniary risk in his venture, whenever he risked the lives of others. I have got a paragraph here to the same effect from a speech by Colonel Hill, the well-known shipowner of Cardiff; and I quote him, because his testimony proves that the better class of shipowners have given a deal of attention to this subject, and are not disinclined to give it favourable consideration. He says—If the underwriters were to insist upon the shipowners taking a solid portion of their risk, or, in other words, were to decline to insure for full value, we should hear much less of overladen and unseaworthy vessels.Well, I confess that I agree with this 736 view; but I have not thought it wise to attempt to go beyond what I believe is the state of public opinion in this matter at the present time; and, therefore, the clause in the Bill which deals with insurance permits insurance in every case to the extent of a full indemnity. Practically, the Bill deals with insurance on ships in Clause 6, and that clause provides that all policies in excess of value shall be void as to such excess value; and the result of that would be that, no doubt, in every case of valuation the policy would be liable to be opened. It is said that this would not only interfere with the security which the shipowner ought to enjoy in this matter, but also that it would prevent the common practice of bankers to advance money on these policies which, at the present time, are incontestable. I do not know that that is a convincing argument against the proposal. I have said all along that you cannot touch this question without causing some inconvenience to trade; but consider what may happen under the present system. You may have a managing owner, who is really only a financial speculator, and who knows very little of the details of this business, which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hull (Mr. Norwood), who thoroughly understands the whole of it, has pointed out, is a business of the most intricate and difficult nature. You may have the owners of a ship who are mere shareholders in a Company with limited liability, and who hardly know the stem from the stern, and behind them you may have the capitalists—the banker finding money for this great speculation, never having seen the ship, knowing nothing of her capacity, or her character, nothing of her quality, nothing of the men whom she carries, and quite unable to influence in any way the conduct of the parties who are managing the undertaking. Well, I say, Sir, that as a speculation that may be all very well if it merely concerned property. It is a kind of gambling, I believe; but I do not know that the State need go much further than it has done in preventing it. But what I object to is gambling in human life. I have said already, and I say again, that in these cases the counters are the lives of the men who are carried in these vessels. All these people I have supposed to be ignorant—I have 737 not supposed them to be conscious of the wrong they are doing—but it is not right that the lives of our sailors should be at the mercy of ignorance, any more than they should be at the mercy of negligence. Well, Sir, my own feeling, I confess, is that the proposal to open valued policies is one which might be defended—one which, if we had time to carry this matter through the hostile discussion it would have to meet, we might hope to have settled by the present Parliament. But we have not time for the lengthened discussion of these matters; and my endeavour has been, in concert with the gentlemen who offered me their advice and suggestions, to see whether we cannot find a modus vivendi— a compromise which, although not giving me all that I want, still gives me a good deal that I want, and would meet all that is reasonable in the objections made to my proposal. Well, Sir, under this Bill, as I propose to amend it, and as it has been agreed upon in conference with the gentlemen I have referred to, there will be two limitations put upon that power to open valued policies. In the first place, the policy will only be liable to be opened on proof that the excess of valuation is an unreasonable excess over the true value. It will have to be shown that the valuation put on the ship is such as no reasonable man could be expected to put on it. The second limitation is that the application to open the policy must come from 50 per cent of the insurers. There will, therefore, be no possibility of a single litigious underwriter questioning the matter; and this has been a point about which the shipowners appear to have been very much afraid, though, I think, without reason. Fifty per cent of the underwriters must concur in applying to have the policy opened.
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
Oh, of course, 50 per cent of the value. I was going on to say that, comparing the Bill as it will be amended with the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Hull, and with the Maritime Contracts Bill brought in by the late Government, I have to admit that, to my very great regret, my Bill will be less stringent than either of those two. In both of those measures, although the valuation was to be binding, except in 738 the case of insurance in excess of real value, there was no provision such as I have been describing, and which confines the power of opening a policy to a number of not less than 50 per cent in value of all the underwriters insuring. Well, then, Sir, comes the question of constructive total loss; and with regard to that legal fiction, I must say that it is the most tremendous practical joke that anybody has ever heard of. For what does the law of constructive loss say? It says that when a man has insured a vessel and she has become damaged, that if the cost of repair is greater than her value when repaired, he may recover the whole of the sum insured. But the whole of the sum insured may be greatly in excess of the real value; and therefore the law gives a man an interest to swear down the value of the ship to the lowest possible point, in order to obtain for her the highest possible amount. Here is a case which puts the whole matter in a nutshell—it is a case which actually occurred. There was a ship insured for £36,000, and she was abandoned. The underwriters salved her and brought her home, and tendered her to the shipowner; but the shipowner said—"The cost of salvage, plus the cost of repairs, would be £16,000; and the total value of my ship, when made as good as new by repairs, would be only £15,000. I therefore claim £36,000 from you." And he actually got it! Well, that appears to be a most preposterous state of things. The Courts have spoken of it in the very strongest terms of disapproval, and I am quite convinced that no one can agree with it. What we propose to do is important in two senses. We propose to say that the insurance value of the ship shall be the absolute value for the purposes of constructive total loss, and that will have two effects. A man will not be able to recover for his ship more than the sum which he can show to be her true value—he will not be able to prove that her actual value was only £15,000, and yet so to insure her as to recover twice or three times as much for her. In the second place, it will be a sort of self-working clause, which will tend to keep down the insurance value to the true value. It will be to the interest of the shipowner not to put an exorbitant value on the ship, or it would have to 739 be estimated for constructive total loss in the event of damage.
Then there is the question of the insurance of freight; and as to that, all I can say is that the Bill proposes that the net freight only shall be recovered, and that there shall be a deduction from the gross freight of the expenses still to be incurred. That, as a matter of fact, stood in the original Bill; and although I have some verbal Amendments to make to it, they will not in the least touch the effect of the clause, which will be exactly the same in practical working when I shall have inserted the Amendments as it is in the present Bill. Comparing it with the Maritime Contracts Bill of the late Government, and with the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Hull, I find that both those Bills are identical in this respect with the Bill now before the House. Then there is the question of the insurance of premiums. In the Bill, as it stands, it is declared that a premium of insurance shall not be an insurabla risk; but that is an evident mistake, which is inconsistent with the description of the Bill as given in the accompanying Memorandum. It is clear that there may be cases in which the premium of insurance extends beyond the voyage on which the loss occurs, and in which, therefore, so much of it as is at risk ought to be recoverable. Well, Sir, we now propose to correct that mistake, so that a premium of insurance may be insurable; but only the actual value of the risk is to be recovered. That removes all the objections which have been taken, and justly taken, to the clause as it stands. It was really a slip in the drafting that I am glad to correct. Then there are provisions in the Bill, which will not be practically altered, against double insurance. Some change will be made in the form of these clauses, but not in their practical effect. The whole object in this matter is to prevent insurances under two names, or by means of two policies for the same thing; and I may say that clauses similar to these, and attempting to carry out the same object, appear both in the Maritime Contracts Bill and in the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Hull, to both of which measures I have already referred. The only alteration that we make in the clauses is that we propose to alter the penalties—I think this is in connec- 740 tion with Clause 6 of the old Bill. In the Bill, as originally presented to the House, the penalty was to be a penalty equal to the excess of the insurance over the real value; but in the amended Bill I propose to reduce that to a penalty not exceeding one-half of the excess.
Now, it is said that the law will be evaded if this Bill comes into operation; but, even so, it will be much better than that the law should give its sanction to a bad practice. I think, however, we have prevented anything of the sort by the clause which will remain practically unaltered—Clause 12—in which we give underwriters power to treat all honour policies as double insurance; we give them power to recover double insurance, both against the person who underwrites honour policies and also against the insured; and, at the same time, we impose a heavy penalty which may be recoverable by the Crown; and we require, in all cases of loss, a disclosure of the policy before the owner can recover the insurance.
Then there is the most important question of unseaworthiness. With respect to it, the Bill makes a great change upon the present law. The present law implies an absolute warranty of seaworthiness in a voyage policy at starting; but there is no warranty in a time policy; and neither in a voyage policy nor a time policy is there any warranty to keep the vessel seaworthy during the voyage. The Bill proposes to assimilate the time and the voyage policy; and it proposes, further, that there shall be a warranty that the owner, by himself, by his agents, or by his servants, shall use all reasonable means to keep his vessel seaworthy. There have been great objections taken to that, which, certainly, is a great and sweeping change, and I must say I think some of the objections are reasonable. The shipowners object to be made liable for unseaworthiness, when it arises from latent defect. Take, for instance, the case of the breaking of a shaft. In many cases it would be impossible to say, with absolute certainty, that a shaft was quite sound, so that it would be unfair that a shipowner should be made liable because a latent defect in a shaft might be discovered which made the ship absolutely unseaworthy. Then, again, the shipowner objects to be made 741 liable for not using reasonable means, through his agent or his servants, to keep his vessel seaworthy; he says that is too high a liability to impose upon him. I will not argue the point; but merely acquaint the House with the result of the conference we have had. I have agreed, providing the Bill proceeds further, to propose, as an Amendment, that the shipowner be exonerated from all liability for unseaworthiness caused by latent defects, such as the breaking of a shaft from a flaw which could not have been detected by the exercise of reasonable care; and I also propose to omit the words which would have made the owner directly liable for unseaworthiness arising from the acts of his servants or agents after the commencement of the voyage.
Now we come to the contracts for the carriage of goods and persons. The present law is, that the shipowner is absolutely liable if the loss is due to unseaworthiness at the commencement of the voyage, or to the negligence of himself or servants, and that is very good so far as it goes. But it is alleged that, in almost every case, the shipowner contracts himself out of liability—out of the Common Law—by means of bills of lading, and in some cases out of all liability. Clauses27 to 29 of the Bill which is presented to the House void all contracts in relief of liability for unseaworthiness, however arising. Therefore, the Bill, as it stands, establishes an unimpeachable warranty of seaworthiness. That is a provision which interests a great number of people besides shipowners and underwriters, and I am sorry they have not been represented in this conference. It interests the mercantile classes generally, and there have been occasions in which the mercantile classes in the City of London have made the strongest protests against the present condition of the law, and in favour of sweeping changes, going at least as far as any proposed in my Bill. The matter is still under consideration by commercial authorities. For instance, I have received from the Foreign Office a communication from the Chamber of Commerce of New York. They are considering this matter, and a Report is forwarded in which they protest against the present forms of bills of lading, by which—Owners seem to seek to avoid every liability and responsibility, and even the performance of 742 the plainest, most obvious, and natural duties devolving on them as carriers.They propose legislation, in the American States, to make void all conditions exempting owners from liability for their own neglect, or for any improper condition of the vessel. Well, then, I have received a communication from the London Corn Trade Association, who strongly desire that the clauses should be maintained in the original Bill. TheyConsider it most important that the arbitrary and, in the opinion of some, unfair clauses which have been introduced into bills of lading, and which limit the liability of shipowners, shall be rendered void, so that the said owners shall not be able to contract themselves out of such liability as arises from unseaworthiness or negligence.The Committee of this Association are convinced that the irresponsibility which shipowners have claimed has resulted oftentimes in carelessness and consequent disaster; and they think that if the carriage of goods be made safer the loss of life will be lessened. There is another great Association which has brought a "fantastic and horrible charge" against shipowners. The Australian and New Zealand Underwriters' Association have written, urging that the clauses should be extended to negligence of servants and agents. The Committee of Lloyd'sThink it expedient to provide that the shipowner should not be enabled to contract out of liabilities imposed on him through the Common Law by any special clauses in his bill of lading.Well, now, in view of all these opinions, I have given the best consideration I can to the matter, and I have endeavoured to steer a middle course, which I hope will not be open to very great objection on the part of the mercantile classes, inasmuch as, at all events, it will put the law on a better footing than it stands at present, while it will remove some objections taken by shipowners. I propose, in effect, to put the warranty of seaworthiness, in all cases, on the same footing as it is in contracts of insurance. It will be the same in the contract of goods, of passengers, and of seamen; and, accordingly, I shall begin by excluding from the warranty reference to latent defects, and by confining it to the warranty of seaworthiness when leaving the port, the shipowner being understood to use all reason- 743 able means to keep the vessel seaworthy during the voyage, and to be liable for his own personal negligence and default; and I shall void contracts of any kind which are in contradiction of these provisions. I do not think that, with the changes made, there will really be found to be anything which could possibly give rise to difference of opinion between either me and my hon. Friend the Member for Hull or the right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Maritime Contracts Bill. I now come to what I consider an extremely important part of the present proposal, and that is the proposed application of the Employers' Liability Act to seamen. Let us remember, Sir, what the Employers' Liability Act did for persons on land. In the first place, it gave employés compensation, under certain limitations, for all damage, or injury, or loss of life arising from the negligence of the employer, or defective equipment of his works, or the defective condition of his machinery. In the second place, it prevents the employer from pleading the doctrine of common employment, under limitations, where the accident arises from the negligence of some person in authority, who might be called a servant. By my clauses, 22 to 26, we apply to the sea service precisely the law, with one exception, which I will mention shortly, as it is applied on the land; or, at all events, with such modifications as are absolutely necessary to meet the difference in the circumstances. I say, with one exception, because, in looking closely into the matter, I have to acknowledge a mistake in the proposal as it stands in the Bill. I have applied the Employers' Liability Act to officers as well as seamen—that is to say, I have given officers, as well as seamen, the benefit of the Act. But when I came to look into the law as applied to cases on land, I found that persons in authority are expressly excluded. I confess I see no reason for the exclusion. It seems illogical, and not to be defended; but, at the same time, there it is. We thought it right not to go any further when we were dealing with accidents as they affect employers on land; and, under the circumstances, it is impossible to apply the law with greater stringency to the sea service. Therefore, in the amended Bill, I shall pro- 744 pose to strike out "officers" as entitled to the benefits of the Bill. My intention in this respect has been misunderstood by a portion of the Press; and, therefore, I want to caution the House against any misapprehension on the subject. It has been said I intend to relieve shipowners from liability for the acts of their officers. Not at all. I relieve them from liability to their officers, which is a very different thing. There is another qualification to which I think shipowners are entitled. They point out the difficulties under which they conduct their business as compared with employers on land. They point out that their supervision is less direct, and they urge that in particular classes of cases, as, for instance, stranding, or collision which arise from errors of navigation on the part of officers or seamen, that they ought not to be held liable; and I have undertaken, therefore, to add a Proviso to the clause which will exempt the cases of error of navigation from the causes of accidents which are to involve liability. Well, that will leave absolutely intact what I believe has been found to be the most useful provision of the Employers' Liability Act on land, and that is that the employer is answerable for any defects in his machinery or equipment. It was supposed that the Act might result in very heavy damages being given against mine owners and others; but that has proved quite fallacious. I believe that, under the Act, not more than a few thousand pounds have been awarded. The Act has had a most material effect in causing owners on land to take precautions which previously they did not take. The other day I received a deputation of railway servants upon quite a different matter. I must say I never received a deputation of men who struck me more by their intelligence and knowledge of the subject about which they were speaking. Before they left me, I asked if they would give me their opinion with reference to the working of the Employers' Liability Act; and as it has a distinct bearing on this matter, I should like to quote a letter I have received from Mr. Harford, General Secretary of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants. He says—As your Merchant Shipping Bill provides for the extension of the Employers' Liability Act, 1880, to shipowners, I trust you will excuse my presuming to give some idea of the 745 value attached to that Act by the members of this society, seeing that railway servants are given special advantages under it by sub-section 5, section 1, while all other portions of the Act apply to them equally with other workmen. As a means of litigation we attach very little value to the Act; indeed, we endeavour as much as possible to avoid having recourse to it. It is, then, as a preventive of accidents that it has proved to be the greater service to us, for it has stimulated to action the Companies to surround many of the commonest acts of the workmen with precautions for their safety that a few years ago would never have been thought of. For instance, in the simple matter of coaling engines iron guards ha vein numerous instances been so placed as to prevent the possibility of the tubs being overrun into the tenders, and so pulling the men with them. Foot-bridges over the lines of railway have been erected to obviate the necessity of engine-drivers, firemen, and others crossing the rail way on the way to or from the engine-shed. Parapets of bridges that were so low as to afford no protection to persons employed on the line from walking or falling over on to highways passing underneath have had rail fences erected on them, and in many other ways have more protection from accident been afforded, and a more genuine regard for the safety of workmen in these respects been engendered.There are two other points to which I would call attention, and then I think I shall be in sight of the end of my task. The one is this—that with regard to this question of the Employers' Liability Act, it was not clear in the Bill, as it has been drawn, that owners would be able to insure against liability. Employers on land have power to insure against liability, and I will make it clear that employers on sea can also have the same power, and that their liability under the Act will be an insurable risk. Then there is another point which, perhaps, is not quite clear. It has been said that as the Bill is drawn it will apply to cargoes as well as to ships. Well, I think that is true; but it certainly was not intended. It was a matter of serious importance, and it was under the consideration of those who assisted me at the Board of Trade, and of the draftsman of the Bill. Now, I admit there is a great deal to be said about the inclusion of cargo; but my principle has been not to cause inconvenience, not to cause disturbance to trade, unless it is absolutely necessary. My hon. Friend the Member for Hull (Mr. Norwood) goes much beyond me, because he puts in his Bill cargoes in a most definite form. In principle he is right; but, still, it would involve such a tremendous disturbance of trade that really I have 746 not the courage of my hon. Friend, I have not the heroism to propose it. Before the Bill was brought info the House I came to this decision, and it is entirely an oversight in drafting if the reference to cargo remains in the Bill. It is perfectly clear to the House that the case of a cargo and the case of a ship stand on a different footing. The shipowner may own the cargo, in which case I admit a difficulty arises; but if he is not the owner of the cargo, then the owner of the cargo has really no direct control over the safety of the vessel. Under these circumstances, it is not necessary to interfere with him, or put pressure upon him.
Another matter which has caused a good deal of discussion outside is, that I propose that trial by jury be abolished, so far as the trial of marine insurance cases is concerned. The shipowners contend that I have imposed upon them a most unmerited stigma, and that I am depriving them of the palladium of British liberty, and I know not what, and that I am making a perfectly unjustifiable proposal. They are much too sensitive; because, if they reflect for a moment, they will see that this clause does not apply to them particularly, but to underwriters, merchants, anybody who has occasion to go into Court upon marine insurance cases. It applies to a particular class of cases, not to persons; and it applies to this class of cases, because the cases are of a technical and complicated character. I have thought such cases would be much better decided without a jury, by a Judge sitting with Assessors—much more economically decided, much more promptly decided than they would be by a jury. Then, Sir, I would point out there are precedents for this. Cases of collision are now tried in the Admiralty Court, without a jury; and last year we passed the Patents Act, and we took cases coming under the Patents Law out of the hands of a jury, and put them into the hands of a Judge and Assessors. I hope that when shipowners see there is no offence to them intended, but that this is a real effort to secure the best possible tribunal for a particular class of cases, they will withdraw their objection to the proposal. I find also they object to the proposal that these cases should go to the Court of Admiralty, and they say they would rather 747 have recourse to one of the Common Law Courts of the country. That is a matter on which I have no strong opinion, and I am quite prepared to meet their views. I believe that they think it would be more convenient that these cases should go to the ordinary Law Courts; and, therefore, this is another Amendment to which I wish to call the attention of the House. I shall propose to strike out that portion of Clause 20, leaving only that part which refers to trial by jury.
I am not going to weary the House with any remarks about the third part of the Bill. That part deals with local Courts and procedure for detention. It does not contain proposals which, in my opinion, would have any material influence upon the safety of life at sea. It was proposed, as a concession to shipowners, and with the intention of relieving the Board of Trade of some part of its work. Well, now I find that the principle of this part of the Bill is generally approved by shipowners, but that when we come to detail there is so much difference of opinion, that it is perfectly evident that it would be impossible to get through the discussion of this part of the measure, either in the House, or in the Grand Committee, within any reasonable time to admit of its passing this Session. Therefore, I propose to drop the third part of the Bill for the present. At the same time, I desire to assure shipowners that I am quite ready, because I think they would not like it to be understood that the matter was entirely given up, to reconsider the subject in the light of further experience, and after such an inquiry as I am now going to suggest to the House. There still remain a large number of other questions of great importance that we have to settle before we can say that the Merchant Shipping Law is on a fair and proper footing. I saw only to-day in The Times a letter, I think to the Prime Minister, from the shipowners of the Clyde, conveying a suggestion for the establishment of a seaman's fund, and referring to a number of things which deserve the attention of the Government. I propose that these matters should be submitted to further inquiry by a Royal Commission; and I am quite prepared to refer to that Royal Commission any point on which the shipowners have expressed a very 748 strong opinion. They object to the administration of the Board of Trade; they criticize it; they denounce it. Well, I must say I have followed very attentively their criticisms, and I have come to the conclusion that there is nothing on earth which would satisfy them, except that there should be a tribunal formed wholly of shipowners, and that they should be the sole arbiters on all questions in which they are concerned. That seems to be the tendency of the observations they have made; but, at all events, they are perfectly right in this—that if they have a grievance, let it be investigated. If they think we are doing them a wrong, we shall be the first to desire that our own defence shall be heard, as well as their attack; and I am quite ready to open the whole question of Merchant Shipping before a Royal Commission. That will enable hon. Members representing shipowners, or anybody else concerned, to attack the Board of Trade to their heart's content; and if, after the statement I have made tonight, there remains in the mind of any shipowner the idea that he has been wrongfully charged, that I have brought against his class anything which he can justly resent, let that also be brought before the Royal Commission, by whom, as I have already said, I am perfectly prepared that the whole matter shall be fully and carefully considered.
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
Certainly; I will direct inquiries to be made by a Royal Commission. My hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General reminds me that there are two other points in the Bill to which I have not referred. They are pilotage and tonnage. They are questions of considerable intricacy and difficulty; but they are questions which are not directly concerned with the safety of life, at sea. If my proposals, as they stand, are accepted to-morrow, it would not follow that a single life would be saved by a change made as to either pilotage or tonnage. Therefore, I propose that these points should also stand over, although I believe, from a commercial point of view, and in the interest of shipowners themselves, it will be as well that these questions should be settled. I shall be content that they should be dealt with by a 749 separate Bill, and referred, if desired, to a Select Committee—that they should be dealt with, perhaps, next Session, and dealt with oil commercial principles, and with reference to commercial interests entirely, because I have no concern with them as far as relates to the matter with which I am now interested — namely, the safety of life at sea.
Now, I should like, for one moment, to anticipate an argument, that these proposals, as they have been put forward in the original Bill, or the Bill as amended, will have the effect of sending trade out of the country. I do not believe that they will send trade out of the country. It has always been contended, when proposals of this nature have been made, that they will destroy the trade of the country. You have never attempted to interfere with any trade without having it thrown in your teeth that you are driving trade out of the country. But what is the trade that is going out of the country? Is it insurance? The underwriters, who ought to know, do not think so. I have read the reports of several of the recent meetings of Marine Insurance Companies, and it does not appear to be their opinion. It is not the opinion of those whom I have consulted that they will be injured by these proposals. They do not think that changes similar to those which I have proposed will have any effect at all in sending insurance business out of the country. Why should it? Why should foreign nations be such fools as to take our bad business? Under this Bill the only thing prohibited is over-insurance. Full insurance is allowed; and it is only persons who desire to over-insure their ships who will desire to go abroad. I am quite convinced that no foreign country in the world will allow its subjects to deal with business of this kind, which, from the necessities of the case, must be unprofitable business. But I said at the commencement of my remarks that I should have to call attention to the law abroad. In every case the law is more stringent than it is in this country. Thus, as regards valued policies on ships, I find that, in Germany, France, and Sweden, any material excess over true value renders the policy liable to be opened, and the valuation is thus reduced to the true value. In Holland all policies can be 750 opened. In Spain only four-fifths of the value can be insured. As to freight, in Germany, under a policy on freight, only the freight actually lost is recoverable; and insurance of expenses twice over, by including them once in freight and again in a separate policy, is prohibited. In France, Spain, Austria, Italy, and Belgium, freight cannot be legally insured, though it is done, to some extent, by honour policies. In Holland the net freight is recoverable after deducting expenses in earning it. As to seaworthiness, I find that, both in Germany and France, unseaworthiness may discharge underwriters in all cases. Thus, generally, the foreign law is undoubtedly more stringent than the law in our country. But it is said that British ships will be transferred to a foreign flag. I do not believe that either. The other day I heard a statement made that already this anticipation had been fulfilled, and that there had been a large transfer of English ships to foreign flags. But what are the facts? In the first three months of 1884 it appears that there were 38,417 tons sold to foreigners, and 13,756 bought from them, showing a balance of about 24,000 tons against this country. But I had the curiosity to look 12 months back, and to see what was the case then; and I find that during the first three months of 1883 48,627 tons were sold to foreigners, and 7,803 bought from them, showing a balance against this country of 40,824 as against the 24,661, after this Bill had been introduced. My hon. Friend behind me the Member for North Durham (Mr. C. M. Palmer) is much exercised in his mind about Germany. He was kind enough to show me a letter he had received, which declared that German competition was becoming very serious. Well, it is very difficult for me to meet these cases, when they are only individual cases. It may be that this gentleman who writes to my hon. Friend has found competition serious and inconvenient; but I have to meet the case as a whole. I have, however, taken the trouble to see what are the facts as to German trade; and I find that, as compared with English trade, it is actually diminishing. The tonnage with, cargoes entered and cleared at the ports of the United Kingdom in 1881 were 751 36,000,000 tons British and 2,500,000 tons German. But, in the first quarter of 1884, there were 9,000,000 tons British, and it might be expected that Germany would show about the same proportion as in 1881. But there is a slight falling off, for the German tonnage was only 539,000. The total tonnage of the United Kingdom increased between 1878 and 1882 by 416,529 tons; whereas, during the same period, the German tonnage only increased by 97,521 tons. Under these circumstances, I think we may give up this somewhat ignoble fear of competition with terrible Germany. We may be able to hope that, in spite of everything—even in spite of the President of the Board of Trade—British trade may continue to hold up its head.
Now, Sir, let me once more state the question raised by this Bill. The question really is, whether a man ought to be able to contract himself out of all liability, and, at the same time, make a profit by the loss of his ship and the loss of lives? I say he ought not. I say that that is a thing which no honourable man would claim to do, and which no other man ought to be allowed to do. I think the importance of this matter cannot be over-estimated. Three thousand men every year are hurried to a premature death. That is, in itself, a tremendous fact; and, inseparably connected with this loss of life, there is also an enormous loss of property—a loss which has been estimated at from £10,000,000 to £20,000,000 sterling a-year. When we were discussing Bankruptcy legislation last year, it was said that there were £20,000,000 of bad debts made in the country, and that was thought a thing worthy of the most serious consideration of the House; but I would point out that that was not a loss to the country. It is only a transfer from one pocket to another—what the creditor lost the debtor gained. But in the case of losses connected with shipping such is not the case. Every penny goes to the bottom of the sea, and is taken from the available wealth and the productive capital of the country. I have shown that these losses are due to causes which may be prevented—which in their nature are preventable. I have shown that every impartial authority agrees that many of these losses could 752 be prevented. I have shown that the law is a direct incentive to negligence; and I have shown, lastly, that these facts have been recognized by successive Governments, and that even so early as 1875, Lord Norton, then Sir Charles Adderley, President of the Board of Trade, declared that the time had come when the matter should be fully dealt with. I do implore the House to do something to remove what I believe to be a great scandal on our legislation and a great slur upon an honourable industry, of which, in all other respects, we have every reason to be proud. I am entirely in the hands of the House. I am powerless to do anything—and I admit it—without the hearty goodwill of all sections of the House. Unless I can secure the support of the shipowners and the different Parties in the House, having regard to the time of the Session, to the pressure on the time of the House—and especially on the time of the Government—it will not be possible for me to carry this matter forward with any hope of success. Unless there is a common consent, this matter must be postponed, which would be much to my regret. But the responsibility would not rest with me. I ask the House who is to be benefited by delay? Not the great Party opposite, who would be false to their professions, and to their traditions, if they allowed us to assume any monopoly of interest in this question, for which they have done so much already. Not the shipowner, who has been represented to me as only desirous of settling the matter on a fair and reasonable basis—such as that which, with common consent, we have arrived at. He does not desire that this matter should be hanging over his head, unsettling his trade. Not the underwriter, nor the merchant, who agree that the present state of the law ought not to continue; and, least of all, the sailor — the sailor, who is now forced to carry on his calling, disagreeable at all times and dangerous at most times, but made unnecessarily perilous by circumstances which it is now in the power of the House to modify. I say, for my own part, that I have done all I can. I have made great concessions. I do not say that I have liked these concessions. I do not say that they are in all respects 753 improvements of the Bill. They are in some respects undoubtedly; but, in other respects, they weaken the Bill. I admit it with regret; but, under the pressure under which I am put, I cannot do what I would do, or all that I think it would be right to do. But I am anxious to do what I can; and I think, if I am met in anything like the spirit which I hope I have shown in introducing the subject, that it may still be possible, even having regard to the advanced period of the Session, to do something which will discourage these practices, and prevent the sanction of the law being given to an evil system; and which will provide, in some measure, at all events, for the greater security of life and property at sea. I beg now to move the second reading of the Bill.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Chamberlain.)
MR. MAC IVER
, in moving that the Bill be read a second time that day six mouths, remarked that he would rather not press his Amendment to a Division provided that there were any indication of an intention on the part of the right hon. Gentleman to yield to the just demands of the shipowners, and allow them to reply by evidence to the accusations made against them. It was always easy to make grave charges, which it might be impossible to refute at a moment's notice. He found himself, therefore, in a position of some difficulty, and wished to say that he was not authorized to speak oil behalf of the great shipping interests of this country, or to defend the shipowners from the attacks which had been, made upon them by the right hon. Gentleman; but he thought it only fair that they should be heard in answer to his statement. The right hon. Gentleman had moved the second reading of the Bill in a speech of unusual eloquence and of unusual length. In fact, he did not think it had been equalled since the famous four hours' speech of the hon. Member for Cavan (Mr. Biggar). He did not propose at that moment to answer a speech of three hours and 47 minutes, and to criticize a Bill of 101 clauses and three Schedules; but he would touch on a few points, which he thought he had the right to do, as representing an important shipping constituency. He was 754 bound to say that his objections to the Bill were in no way removed by the concessions the right hon. Gentleman had made—if concessions they could be called—nor by the speech in which he had made his proposals to the House. The House would be hardly prepared to believe the extent of legislation already in existence relating to merchant shipping. There were no less than 103 Statutes in existence which related either wholly or in part to this branch of commerce. Therefore, there was no lack of legislation as far as quantity was concerned. But, notwithstanding this enormous mass of legislation, he agreed with the right hon. Gentleman that the law with regard to shipping was in a most unsatisfactory state as regarded seamen, shipowners, and the public. That was, in fact, admitted on all hands; but what appeared to him necessary was a reasonable administration of the law, and a real appreciation on the part of those in authority of the nature of the problem which they had to solve. Had the charges against shipowners made in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman been well founded, the right hon. Gentleman would have had no warmer supporter than himself; but he did not believe that those charges were well founded. If those charges were true, he (Mr. Mac Iver), during 27 years of practical experience in connection with every kind of trading steamer, had learned nothing either of shipowners or underwriters. The real question was, was the case that had been set up true, or was it without any substantial foundation? That could only be tested by inquiry by a Select Committee, with power to call witnesses and to hear evidence, which he hoped, before the debate was concluded, the right hon. Gentleman would say he was willing to agree to. If all that they had heard was true, the decisions of the Wreck Commissioners' Court were a travesty of justice, and were absurd. If reform were needed, it was not the law affecting the shipping interests that needed reform so much as the Board of Trade itself. He had opposed the Bill of 1875, which was introduced by Sir Charles Adderley, and also that which had been introduced subsequently by the right hon. Gentleman oil the Front Opposition Bench, because he believed them to have been both bad Bills which were originated by the permanent officials of the Board 755 of Trade; and he opposed the present measure upon the same ground. That there were preventable disasters at sea lie had admitted over and over again; but the remedy for these and other evils was not to be found in Bills emanating from these permanent officials who, in the present Bill, had given to the House such a monument of their incapacity. What was really required was that the greater part of the legislation on this subject of the last 14 years should be repealed as being both useless and mischievous, and that the remainder should be consolidated. He had himself proposed a measure in that direction, and. now stated, without any kind of qualification, that the safety of life and property at sea depended upon three considerations alone—namely, a competent and sufficient crow, a good ship, and reasonable loading. Were the present Bill to become law actual harm would be done, because not merely were these considerations ignored, but the intention, or, at all events, the original intention, was to abolish compulsory pilotage without providing anything in its stead, and so to alter the law of tonnage measurement as would discourage the most seaworthy type of ship. These were extraordinary things to find in a measure whose declared purpose was to save life, because their direct tendency was in the contrary direction; but there was nothing else in the Bill that had any relation to the subject. There were all kinds of queer things in the Bill. The explanatory Memorandum and the contents were not in accord, and the speech of the right hon. Gentleman corresponded with neither. It was idle to talk about the principle of the Bill unless that principle were in some form or other expressed in the actual proposals of the right hon. Gentleman. That it should be made "the interest as well as the duty of every shipowner to bring his venture to a safe termination" was a proposition which no one would dispute; but that was scarcely a reason for suggesting the abolition of trial by jury or the repeal of the Limited Liability Acts. The House, perhaps, would scarcely believe that there was anything of this kind in the Bill; but if they would refer to Clause 20 they would see that the very first sentence was—"Every action on a marine insurance shall be tried without a jury." And if they 756 would refer to Clause 33 they would there find the replacement of the burden of unlimited liability upon everyone who was unfortunate enough to hold shares in ships. Purely it was unreasonable thus, by a side wind as it were, to seek to repeal the Companies Acts. But this was not more unreasonable than Clause 47, which, taken in connection with the elaborate proposals which surrounded it, would give the Board of Trade a general power to make rules with the force of law which would alter the practical operation of the law as often as the Department might elect. He would not weary them by going through all the clauses in detail. As he had said, there were 101 of them, and three Schedules, and they dealt with every conceivable subject except that which was the declared purpose of the Bill. The Bill contained absolutely nothing that was likely to promote the security of life and property at sea. Doing away with competent pilotage and the discouragement of proper protection to engine-rooms and stokeholds would scarcely have that effect. The Bill was altogether on false pretences, and should be rejected. There were many other objections besides those which he had stated, and he had no desire to trespass unduly upon the time of the House, or to anticipate other speakers; but he felt that the clauses relating to bill of lading contracts were most dangerous, and also that they were wholly unconnected with the object which the President of the Board of Trade said he had in view. With regard to insurance, there was not a syllable of justification for the case which the President of the Board of Trade had endeavoured to set up, nor would indemnity provide a remedy if there were. Limitation of insurance was not even suggested by the Bill, although, as regarded cargo, limitation of insurance was perfectly practicable, and would supply a motive of self-interest which would operate as an encouragement to vessels that were likely to go safe, and be a deterrent as regarded overloading. The Insurance Clauses of the Bill were, like the rest of it, altogether incapable of amendment. The leading principle was in reality "uncertainty of insurance;" and, no doubt, such clauses were perfectly acceptable to that class of underwriter who were always willing to receive premiums, and 757 not equally ready to make payments when, losses occurred. Anything and everything might be disputed under the Bill as it stood; and it did not appear to him that the proposed alterations were anything better than a stratagem to divide opponents. For himself, he had no right to speak on behalf of shipowners generally, and he did not presume to do so; but he entirely repudiated the right of the gentlemen who had been in private negotiation with the President of the Board of Trade to put themselves forward as representing the shipowning community. The shipowners of this country had been grossly libelled; and he entirely sympathized with the demand for a Select Committee, which would enable them to show that the charges laid against them were without foundation. Occasional crime there might be. Fraudulent over-insurance was already punishable under the Common Law, and required no special legislation; but it was no more the practice of shipowners to over-insure their vessels, and to send them to sea for the purpose of being lost, than it was the practice of the inhabitants of Liverpool to poison their relations—as Mrs. Flannigan and Mrs. Higgins did, who were hanged the other day—for the purpose of recovering insurance, or than it was the practice of householders to over-insure their premises and then set fire to them. It could not be said that there were no alternative proposals. The Bill which he (Mr. Mac Iver) had introduced met with very general approval. He wished to put British and foreign vessels, as far as practicable, upon equal terms; but the measure now before the House, like other Board of Trade legislation, handicapped British shipowners. Its only supporters other than those interested in foreign shipping were those who knew nothing of the subject, or those who saw in this measure the means of crushing their less wealthy competitors, or those who were interested in precisely that class of inferior shipping property which could only be reached by a proper system of inspection carried out by a reasonable Board of Trade, and which, in advocating this Bill, they hoped to prevent. He begged to move that the Bill be read a second time that day six months.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six mouths."—(Mr. Mac Iver.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ MR. CHARLES PALMER
said, he thought it was to be regretted that the House was actually debating a Bill which was not before it. The speech of the President of the Board of Trade was most telling and powerful; but it was in itself a proof that this very intricate and technical question should be submitted to the consideration of a Select Committee. For his part, he wished the right hon. Gentleman had withdrawn the present Bill and introduced another in a modified form. He thought the right hon. Gentleman had proved too much, for if the allegations which he had made were true, then there was no ground for a measure so mild as the one as amended, and now introduced. The right hon. Gentleman had attacked the shipping interest that evening in a manner quite in keeping with all the attacks he had previously made. He had begun by saying that many harsh and unjust things had been said about him; but he had certainly returned the compliment with interest. In justice, however, to the shipping interest, he was bound to say that it was composed of men of the highest integrity, honour, and intelligence. They were not afraid of legislation, and they wished to do their best to assist the Government in preventing the loss of life at sea. At the same time they regarded the Bill, in the form in which it had been introduced, as tending to destroy the best interests of a great and honourable industry. In his transactions as a shipbuilder, he had always found that shipowners wanted their ships built in the strongest manner. The question of insurance was a question of bargain between two parties; and he could not understand why the State should relieve the underwriter from being compelled to make inquiries as to the risk taken by him and the premium which he ought to ask for taking that risk. If the laws of insurance were to be tampered with, and if an underwriter was to be given the opportunity of delaying a settlement in order to secure an advantage over the shipowner, the practice of making advances upon policies would be struck at, 759 and thus the capital which ought to be invested in shipping would be diminished. The subject of insurance, of such a fundamental importance, ought to be investigated by a Royal Commission. He could not understand why the question of the insurance of cargo should be left untouched by the Bill. Moreover, the present moment seemed to be ill-chosen for the introduction of this Bill. A Committee was now considering that which was the essence of the whole question—namely, the load-line; and until they could have the Report of the Load Line Committee he thought that any proposal for legislation on the question of unseaworthiness was premature. Referring to that part of the Bill which affected the question of limited liability, he observed that millions of capital had been invested on the faith of the Limited Liability Act, and that the existence of our present Mercantile Marine was, in a great measure, due to our system of limited liability. It was said that limited liability encouraged the formation of Companies to build ships that were afterwards mismanaged; but the management of such ships was often in the hands of those who were small shareholders, and who were interested in keeping their ships seaworthy and afloat. As the right hon. Gentleman had said, the Wreck Commissioner's Court did not enjoy the confidence of the shipping interest, and when the cases that had been brought before it had been further investigated many of the most sweeping charges that had been made had been explained away. Mr. Rothery's Returns of the cases in which shipowners were distinctly blameable were capable of being very much reduced. He could not understand the new-born zeal of the President of the Board of Trade, for it was in 1880 they sat together on a Select Committee appointed on the right hon. Gentleman's Motion on Merchant Shipping and Maritime Insurance; and it was strange that he should have allowed the preventable loss of life to go on in the interval without making any effort to prevent it. A pamphlet had been issued by Mr. Thomas Gray, of the Board of Trade, in which it was said that the loss of life at sea had been greatly exaggerated, and the author supported this contention by comparing the loss of life among miners and others in dangerous occupations with the loss of 760 life among seamen, the latter being 13.18 per 1,000 against 14.28 per 1,000 among other classes. If such a comparison could be made there could be no ground for the sweeping charges that had been made. It was an undoubted fact that the introduction of this Bill had greatly interfered with the shipbuilding trade, for its appearance was followed by the withdrawal of capital for the construction of ships. Some that had been begun were left on the builders' hands, and in the North of England thousands of workmen were thrown out of employment. The question of trial by jury was one of deep interest, both to captains and officers; they did not like their case to rest on the decision of one Judge only. In reference to insurance he would suggest also that the question of the loss of the ship was one for a jury, to whom the facts should be submitted. As far as the sailors were concerned, they were not anxious for this legislation, their chief complaint being the introduction of so many foreigners. As the right hon. Gentleman had been pleased to say that his letter was rather an ignoble mode of approaching the subject of competition with Germany, he would remind the right hon. Gentleman of some portions of that letter. In it he had stated that he knew it to be the practice of German bankers to lend a considerable sum of money, sometimes half the capital, towards building a ship, and this assistance was of the greatest benefit to the shipbuilding trade of that country. Germany had many steamers of her own now, and the comparatively unfettered state of the shipbuilding industry tended to increase that number very rapidly. In fact, the German yards had experienced very little of the depression in trade which had been so severely felt in their own; on the contrary, when work was difficult to obtain in our yards, the German shipbuilders were well employed. He held a letter in his hand from a firm of shipowners, who, though they did not desire to come prominently before the country in this matter, were deeply interested in the Bill as clearing in and out of the Port of London 1,572,000 tons of goods. These gentlemen declared that they regarded it with apprehension, and experienced much inconvenience from foreign competition, assisted by the unrestricted character of the trade abroad, also from the deterio- 761 ration in the seamen of this country. He would only add, in conclusion, that while every one deplored the loss of life at sea when they came to legislate on the lines of this Bill they found that the proposals of the right hon. Gentleman were ill-judged. The fact was the loss of life at sea was due, in the main, to errors of judgment and bad navigation; insurance had very little to do with it, because many ships which were not insured at all were lost at sea, and on due consideration, he believed, the House would come to the conclusion that a searching investigation before a Select Committee or a Royal Commission would be the best way of dealing with this subject.
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
said, that he approached the consideration of this subject with some little personal reluctance at the present stage of the Bill, because, after the speech they had listened to at the earlier period of the evening, which lasted, he thought, for nearly four hours, there were a great many hon. Members in the House who, specially affected by the statements in that speech, had a just and a right claim to an opportunity to answer them if they could. But he was tempted to speak now, because he had been himself connected with the Board of Trade at the time of the shipping legislation during the occupation of Office by the late Government, and because, in the second place, the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Chamberlain) had made a somewhat special appeal to the Front Opposition Bench for support and assistance in the great and very difficult task he had undertaken. He would like to say at the outset of his remarks that, so far as regarded any proposal made by the late Government in 1876 with regard to merchant shipping' legislation, he did not wish to go back from one of them. Every statement they then made, every proposal, and every principle they entirely adhered to; and they did not, now that they were in Opposition, desire to retreat from one single observation that they then made. The right hon. Gentleman had quoted from a speech of his right hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Sir Stafford Northcote). All he (Mr. E. Stanhope) could say was that if the right hon. Gentleman had based his Bill solely on that speech and confined his remarks to what his right 762 hon. Friend had said, he believed the trouble he would experience in passing this Bill, or any Bill of this sort, would have been enormously diminished; the fact was the difficulty of the right hon. Gentleman in this respect had been caused mainly, if not entirely, by his own conduct. The conduct of the right hon. Gentleman with regard to this question had been, he thought, almost unprecedented, and it had been a very evil augury to watch the departure of the right hon. Gentleman from the proper manner of dealing with this question—namely, by securing the concert of the two Parties in making it effective. The right hon. Gentleman talked of the pressure that had been brought to bear on him, and to which he had yielded; but what was that pressure due to? It had been entirely caused by the reckless speeches of the right hon. Gentleman himself. They had been told, and he must say that he believed the statement, that the right hon. Gentleman was a man of business—that was the special characteristic they were told he possessed, and on which they were asked to look upon him as a Member of the Cabinet; but how had he justified it? All he (Mr. E. Stanhope) could say was that if ever a speech had been made, calculated to have the worst effect in passing a Bill, that speech had been made to-night by the right hon. Gentleman; in fact, it made one almost inclined to doubt whether the right hon. Gentleman wished to pass the Bill at all, because a nyone who had the smallest knowledge of the way in which business should be conducted in the House, knew that a speech less calculated to secure unity of action, and to enable all Parties to pass a good Bill for saving life at sea, was never heard in the House. The right hon. Gentleman began his campaign by denouncing the shipowners. To-night he had brought forward charges against them to which he (Mr. E. Stanhope) had no doubt, when the time came, they would endeavour to give an answer. But he did not think the shipowners would complain of the speech the right hon. Gentleman had delivered to-night to at all the same extent as they would complain of the speeches he had delivered out-of-doors. The right hon. Gentleman's speeches in the country went much further than that he had delivered 763 to-night; and he (Mr. E. Stanhope) must say he was not surprised at the irritation that had been caused among the shipowners by the manner in which he had pit forward his case. The right hon. Gentleman said that he found it was the case with shipowners that if they differed from you they were inclined to censure you and anyone connected with you. Well, he (Mr. E. Stanhope) must say from his own experience, connected as he had been with the Board of Trade, and concerned as he had been with merchant shipping legislation, that that was not the experience of the late Government. No doubt part of their legislation had been attacked, and the things they proposed to do were criticized; but he was bound to say that they had been criticized with perfect fairness, and the late Government had no reason to complain that their efforts in that direction, though they were also met with difficulties, had been received with uncompromising hostility on the part of the shipowners. It was, of course, natural that shipowners, who were affected in this matter, should desire to defend their lights. They were naturally anxious that this legislation should not interfere with what they believed to be the legitimate manner of carrying on their trade, and no one would blame them for it. Unless they carried their criticism beyond that point—and he had no reason to believe that they intended to do it—everybody would think they were entitled, to the fullest extent, to state their casein the House in opposition, or, at any rate, in modification and alteration of this Bill. The right hon. Gentleman entered upon the second part of his crusade by issuing from the Board of Trade what was nothing more nor less than a Party Memorandum. That Memorandum, as the House would remember, had been published in The Times. He would quote from the document only one or two expressions; but he thought it was rather cool on the part of the right hon. Gentleman, after having made as distinct a Party statement as anyone could do in that Memorandum, then to appeal to the Opposition, and to be so anxious for them to give him support. The right hon. Gentleman spoke in that Memorandum of the timid manner in which this question had been approached in 1876, and went on to say that legislation would be undertaken in the future 764 by stronger and more thorough-going hands. Well, it had been undertaken by strong and thorough-going hands, and with what result he would venture presently to point out to the House. The right hon. Gentleman brought in his Bill, and then, finding it was not received in the House with that approval that might probably have been expected, all the Party machinery was set in motion in the country, and resolutions were sent up from all the Radical Clubs in the country in support of the Bill, although he would undertake to say that not one in 500 of the people who took part in the meetings understood anything about the measure. Then they came to the next stage. The right hon. Gentleman, finding that his Bill was not well received in the House, got up certain hole-and-corner meetings of certain selected shipowners. They met, hon. Gentlemen did not know how, or where, or what they discussed; but the result of the meetings had been that, when they were called down to-day to discuss the Bill put forward by the Government, they found they were really called on to debate something totally different from the measure originally introduced—that the Bill which had been put into their hands had totally disappeared, Well, he thought that method of dealing with such a measure could not be satisfactory even to the shipowners, and he knew it would not be satisfactory to the House. It raised again, in his mind, that which he had ventured to state before to the House—namely, a doubt as to the reality of the intention of the right hon. Gentleman to deal with the question this year. He was not going to be put aside, by the speech, of the right hon. Gentleman, from discussing the Bill the House had before it. The Bill before them was, in fact, the only thing they had in black and white that they could discuss. It was a deliberate proposal on the part of Her Majesty's Government, after mature consideration, for dealing with this very important question, and he wished to ask the leave of the House to discuss the Bill for a short time. It was true that the Bill had now altogether disappeared. One part of it had gone to a Royal Commission; another part of it would go to a Select Committee, possibly next year; and the third part of the Bill bad been so altered that its original authors could not possibly 765 recognize it. The House was now told that if they would accept the Bill as so amended, they might pass it by common agreement, otherwise they must wait for legislation on this subject for another year. Having made these remarks as to the mode in which the Bill had been introduced, he (Mr. E. Stanhope) would now ask the House to allow him to look at the Bill fairly and dispassionately—not in the spirit in which the right hon. Gentleman proposed it, but in the real interests of the mercantile community, and with an earnest desire—which he had no doubt the right hon. Gentleman shared with him—if possible, to introduce such provisions into our law as would tend to increase the security of life at sea. The first question that occurred to him to ask was, had the loss of life at sea increased of recent years? Well, they had had some very important statistics from the right hon. Gentleman. He (Mr. E. Stanhope) did not know what effect they had produced on the House, but to his mind they entirely failed to establish the conclusion that preventable loss of life at sea had increased in proportion to the increase of tonnage, and to the amount of employment given to seamen in the course of the year. Even the right hon. Gentleman himself admitted that seamen were now so much more employed in the course of the year that naturally every individual of them was exposed to more risk than he had been before; and he (Mr. E. Stanhope) did not think he could gather from the right hon. Gentleman's statistics that anything like a conclusive proof had been put forward that loss of life at sea had been continually increasing during the last few years. He admitted that he did see in the figures a rise since 1880; but it would be just as reasonable and as fair for him to ascribe that partly to the lax method of the administration of the right hon. Gentleman and the Board of Trade, as for him to attribute the blame entirely to the shipowners. The fact was, they ought not to base a case at sill on these contradictory statistics. He (Mr. E. Stanhope) did not want for a moment to contradict the main facts that were put forward by the right hon. Gentleman. The fact — the very unhappy fact—remained that there was at this moment a grievous loss of life at sea, which loss of life was undoubtedly, to a 766 considerable extent, duo to preventable causes. The best authorities told them, as the right hon. Gentleman said, that there were means by which these causes might he mitigated to a very considerable extent; and it was their duty at the present day, when proposals were brought before them, to endeavour so to amend them as really to make them valuable and efficient for the end in view. The right hon. Gentleman had made out an ample case for legislation; he had proved what he (Mr. E. Stanhope) had never doubted, that there was some over-insurance, and that in some cases that over-insurance was of a gross character. The right hon. Gentleman had argued from that that the state of our Mercantile Marine was not altogether healthy, and that it was necessary to adopt such legislation as would induce shipowners to take those precautions which, in the present state of the law, they were sometimes tempted not to take for preventing loss of life at sea. No one could say that he (Mr. E. Stanhope) did not admit, in the fullest possible way, the case the right hon. Gentleman had made out for further legislation, and for passing a Bill on this subject; but the question before them was, what that Bill was to be. To his mind, it ought to be framed with the greatest deliberation. The mere statement of the ease by the right hon. Gentleman—the mere fact that since he first introduced his proposal on this subject they had undergone changes of a most radical character, proved that they ought not to legislate on this matter without the utmost care and circumspection, and he did not think a better proof could be afforded than was to be found in the one single clause relating to the Fishing Boats Act, The House would recollect that last year it was persuaded to pass a measure called the Fishing Boats Act; and although in "another place" the haste of that legislation was pointed out, and grave doubts were expressed whether they were right in pressing it forward without further inquiry, the Government succeeded in passing it, and the result was that they had a proposal this year to enable the Board of Trade to exempt a certain class of vessels from the operation of the Act of last year. He might be allowed to dwell for a moment on that part of the Bill which was altogether 767 abandoned—namely, the proposal as to the powers of detention now vested in the Board of Trade, and as to the investigation of shipping casualties. If the proposals of the Government in these respects had been persevered with, it would have been his duty to have pointed out graves objections to the proposals now made by Her Majesty's Government, So far as he had been able to judge, the inquiries into slapping casualties, though they had been occasionally accompanied with some friction, and although in some cases the shipowners had objected to the penalties that were imposed, they had been substantially of the greatest possible advantage to the public service; and he, for one, should have been very sorry to have seen legislation carried through the House that would have abolished the present system of inquiry into these casualties, by substituting for it one that would have taken away the legal element of the Court, and have made it much less effective for its purposes. But he would not go into these points at any length now, because he understood the matter was to be referred to a Royal Commission, which to his mind was by far the wisest course for dealing with the question—far wiser than attempting to press forward proposals of which the least that could be said was that there was the greatest possible doubt about them. As to the part of the Bill which endeavoured to bring Home responsibility to the shipowners, hon. Members on that (the Opposition) side of the House were ready to co-operate in this matter with the right hon. Gentleman. There was a proposal to extend the Employers' Liability Act to seamen, and of the desirability of that he must say he entertained very grave doubts. It seemed to him especially doubtful whether it was reasonable to apply that Act, which was passed for regulating the conditions of employment on land, to shipowners and seamen. There was, no doubt, a great deal to be said theoretically in favour of equality in this matter. He thought if they came to look at it from a commonsense point of view, however, they would find that there were a great many reasons why they should hesitate before they applied it to its fullest extent to shipowners and seamen. It seemed to him to be almost impossible to hold a perfectly honest shipowner who had sent 768 out his ship in the best possible condition, thoroughly seaworthy and well found, with excellent officers, and a perfectly sufficient and good crew in every respect, responsible for injuries sustained by seamen through negligence of servants over whom he practically had no control. The shipowner might fairly be held responsible in every respect for the seaworthiness of his vessel; he might be required to make it seaworthy and keep it seaworthy: but to go beyond that and to insist that the negligence of any man in his employ, under any circumstances, should make him responsible when he could not possibly have control over that servant, seemed to him (Mr. E. Stanhope) to be going a very great deal too far. Hon. Members might have criticized the drafting of the measure a good deal in that respect, for it seemed to him to be about as absurd as it possibly could be. There was a long clause dealing with the question of the circumstances under which damages were to be recoverable, and another long one dealing with exceptions. So far as he could understand the Bill, a seaman's representative would have a right of action against a shipowner when he was injured, if that injury resulted from, a defect in one of the bye-laws framed by the shipowners; but the shipowner would not be liable if that bye-law had been approved by the Board of Trade. [Mr. CHAMBERLAIN: That is in the Employers' Liability Act.] It might be; but that was no reason why it should he adopted here. He objected in the strongest possible manner to handing over to the Board of Trade the regulation of discipline on board ship, and even as the Bill stood the regulation of minute matters of navigation, and then to say—"You cannot recover them, because the Board of Trade sitting at Whitehall in its wisdom has thought this bye-law sufficient." He did not think seamen would be satisfied with that; but, passing from that question, he came to the question of insurance. Here, again, it was not necessary for him to say that the Opposition agreed in the desire of the light hon. Gentleman to amend the law so as to secure safety of life at sea; indeed, they had given special proof of that by having introduced the Bill of 1876, which, unfortunately, they were not able to pass, for amending the law in that respect. As to two of the proposals of the right hon. 769 Gentleman, he had only to express complete approval of them. In the first place, the proposal that only the net freight should be insured—which was a proposal the Conservatives had made in 1876, and which he thought would commend itself to the majority of the House—and, in the second place, the proposal with regard to the warranty of seaworthiness. Both these points seemed to him to be exactly what they should be, and he was sure the House would not be surprised to hear that, because the Bill as it now stood had been amended, and the right hon. Gentleman had announced his intention of substantially accepting what the Opposition, when they were in power, had proposed in 1876. Then he came to the provision as to valued policies. The Bill proposed that a valued policy upon a ship, or upon goods, might be opened by anybody, and would be void if it could be proved that the valuation was one penny in excess of the real value. What would be the effect of any such proposal? The question had been examined into by the Royal Commission in 1875. The Government had considered it very carefully when framing their legislation in 1876, and his right hon. Friend the then President of the Board of Trade, and those associated with him, had come to the conclusion—which he believed nil parties connected with shipping had also arrived at—that any such proposal, if carried into law, would utterly destroy valuation for the future. Valuation was an exceedingly convenient thing; it was in accordance with the practical usages of the trade; it avoided the necessity of a very strict inquiry into the value; and, therefore, any proposal which would destroy valued policies would, in his opinion, be injurious to all interests concerned in this matter, and presented no compensating advantage. That was the conclusion to which the Royal Commission had come—a conclusion which he had never heard anything since at all to controvert; and he would be very much surprised if the feeling of the country was not at the present time exactly to the same effect as that expressed by the Royal Commission. But when the late Government had to deal with the matter in 1876 they approached it in a very different spirit. In the first place, they did not approach it with any general attack upon the 770 shipowners. They believed, and they expressed the belief, that the really criminal cases where a ship was sent to sea with the intention of her being lost and the insurance being recovered were very rare. But they did believe, and he still believed, that over-insurance did exist, and that to a considerable extent, and that it most undoubtedly led to very considerable carelessness on the part of the shipowners. But then the House would recollect that all marine insurance necessarily to a greater or less extent had that effect; and they only thought, and they thought still, that such checks should be imposed upon marine insurance as would tend to promote caution without destroying the principle of valuation. They believed that the evils that existed could in that way be dealt with. The precaution which they laid down was that, in the first place, the policy should not be opened unless the valuation were very much in excess of the real value, and then that it should only be opened by the Judge trying the case. The one proposal would have the advantage of bringing our law into harmony with the law of most foreign countries on the subject; and the other was based on the belief that the Judge, as guardian of the public interest, was the best person qualified to say whether the policy ought to be opened, or that it was not right to disturb it. The late Government had thought that the effect of the proposal they made would be that the shipowners would be deterred from over-insurance because of the probability of exposure. The right hon. Gentleman had announced to-day the changes in his proposal, and he (Mr. E. Stanhope) had only one observation to make in regard to it. The right hon. Gentleman had told them it was necessary this question of marine insurance should be grasped with a strong hand. Well, a strong hand had grasped it, and the strong hand had been stung by the nettle; and the result was that the thorough-going and resolute proposals that the "strong hand" was going to introduce turned out to be loss stringent than the timid proposals that were put forward by the late Government. He (Mr. E. Stanhope) did not think the proposals put forward by the late Government deserved the description of half-hearted or timid; he thought they would have been sufficient to deal with the evil; and he 771 was certainly of opinion that they ought to be tried before the House was asked to go further, and put an end to the practices that were adopted now in the shipping trade, and which would inflict great injury to the trade. He was anxious to vote for the second rending of the Bill. When the right hon. Gentleman said he would cast on his opponents the responsibility of its not proceeding, he must say he did not think that was fair. Out of the six and a-half hours that they had this subject before them, the right hon. Gentleman had spoken nearly four hours; therefore he could not say, unless he was prepared to find more time for the discussion, that the Opposition were responsible if the Bill was not carried any further this Session. He (Mr. E. Stanhope) must say how strongly he objected to the proposal to refer the Bill to a Standing Committee. Could anyone doubt, having heard the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, or anyone who know anything at all about the subject, that large principles were involved in this Bill which were absolutely new to the House. They had always understood, on both sides of the House, that the object of Grand Committees was not to take into consideration Bills involving new principles of great importance, but rather to thresh out questions of detail when the House had had an opportunity of settling the questions of principle. The case, he must say, was made much worse by the sort of bargain the right hon. Gentleman had entered into outside the House. The case now was that they had no Bill before them. They had a Bill that had been brought in by the Government, but which had been practically withdrawn. They had a new Bill, but that was not yet printed, and therefore they could not adequately appreciate it, and if the present Bill was to be read a second time, and then they were going to have it committed pro formâ, in order to insert the changes the right hon. Gentleman proposed, the effect, as he understood it, would be that they would be entirely precluded from discussing the amended Bill at all, or expressing in this House their view of what the nature of the change was. Therefore he ventured lo say there were only two courses that the Government could adopt with regard to this Bill—either that they should withdraw it and introduce their new Bill at 772 once; or else they should agree to-night to an adjournment of the debate, in order that they might have an opportunity of fairly considering the statement the right hon. Gentleman had made. He was quite sure the House would act very wrongly if, at this stage, it parted with complete control over the Bill, and that if it sent it to a Grand Committed and received it back again, probably some time in August, it would be depriving itself of a discussion on the measure which it was necessary it should have. To his mind, if the House allowed the Bill to go to a Grand Committee, they would be acting unjustly to the great interests affected, and detrimentally to the great object they all had in view—namely, the saving of life at sea.
§ MR. WILLIAMSON
said, the impression made on his mind by the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade was very different from that which appeared to have been made on the mind of the hon. Member who had just sat down. It had carried the conviction to his mind—and he spoke as a shipowner—that there were a large number of bad shipowners, that there was a large amount of over-insurance, and that the evils of over-insurance and the malpractices of the bad shipowners could only be get rid of by the clauses of this Bill, modified, as he was glad to see they had been, because he believed that in their original shape they would not have been acceptable either to that or the other side of the House. Modified as the clauses had been, modified as the whole Bill had been, he believed it would be acceptable to the country, and he trusted it would be well received in the House, and that it would be referred to a Committee. Whether it should be referred to a Select Committee or a Grand Committee was not now the time to say, although, for his own part, he could see no reason in the world why the details of the measure should not be considered by 60 or 80 impartial men. He had chanced to be in the Liverpool Chamber of Commerce when Captain Hadfield made his memorable speech upon the Bill, throwing it on the floor of the Chamber. That gentleman had gone to advocate that the Bill should be referred to a Select Committee, and he (Mr. Williamson) had, at the time, tinned round to his friends, 773 and said—"This is the kind of evidence we shall get if the House refuses to send the Bill to the Grand Committee, and sends it to a Select Committee instead." They did not want evidence. They knew the facts perfectly well, and he should be contented that the Bill, as modified, should be referred to the Grand Committee to be dealt with. He did not know what the reason might be, but he rather regretted the attitude taken up by the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Mac Iver). It might, perhaps, be some explanation that the Captain Had-field referred to was one of the hon. Member's most stalwart supporters. He hoped that did not form part of the hon. Member's motive; but he narrated it as a fact. The hon. Gentleman who had last spoken had referred to the Indemnity Clause of the Bill, and he (Mr. Williamson) agreed with him that Clauses 5 and 6 were capable of further improvement. It would have to be determined whether the insurance value was to be taken as the insurance value at the time of the issue of the policy or at the time of the loss. He might mention to the House—it was only fair that this matter should be discussed in a free and open way—the case of young men, friends of his in Liverpool, respectable young men at the head of a ship-owning concern, who contracted for two fine ships in 1882, and which cost £12 13s. 9d. per ton. They had not yet returned from their first voyage. Now, suppose they were lost coming into the Channel, would it be fair if the underwriters said—"We can replace these vessels for £10 13s. 9d. per ton, and we claim, therefore, only to give you a mere indemnity?" It would entail a very heavy loss upon the shipowners. There would have been a loss not only in respect of the skill and time spent on the vessel and her navigation, but also in respect of the use of the money invested in her, and in respect of the natural gains shipowners expected. Time would have been lost in getting ships built to replace those which had gone, money would have been lying idle, and a mere indemnity, he was sure, would not satisfy the demands of justice in adjusting this case. No doubt, Amendments and alterations would be proposed in Committee, whether it were a Select or a Grand Committee to which the Bill was referred. 774 He did not say that the Bill, even as explained and modified by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, was in every particular a perfect Bill, but he was sure it would very largely meet the evils from which the mercantile men of the country were suffering owing to the misconduct of certain members of the shipowning class. He sincerely hoped it would be accepted to-night by being read a second time, and that in Committee it would be dealt with so as to make it a perfect measure. He was very glad indeed that the right hon. Gentleman had excluded Part III., and by so doing the labours of the Committee would now be very much simplified. He should like to point out that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade had indicated that not only would he submit Part III. to adjustment by a Royal Commission, but that the whole of the management of shipping affairs by the Board of Trade would be brought under the notice of that Body. A few years ago they passed a Rating of Seamen Bill, by which they agreed to give a rating to duly qualified seamen who had been not less than four years at sea. Now, he (Mr. Williamson), as a shipowner, had imagined that the Board of Trade would establish the necessary Registration Office for the purpose of making the measure effective; but nothing had been done, and the consequence was that the Bill had been a dead letter. The condition and qualifications of our seamen were known no better now than they were before, and that, to his mind, was very much the fault of the Board of Trade. Probably the Government would say that the House should have remedied the defect in the law, and seen that the necessary clauses were introduced at the time; but he, for one, believed it fell within the functions of the Board of Trade to do it. However, as matters stood, nothing had been done, and the shipowners had gained nothing by the Rating of Seamen Act. All he had now to say was that he hoped the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade would be read a second time to-night.
said, that all the Members of the House who were present in the early part of the evening must have been very much distressed by the facts which the right hon. Gentleman the Pre- 775 sident of the Board of Trade had brought before them as a justification for his Bill. He could understand that there were some persons who were extremely anxious to turn this important public question into a personal quarrel between the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade and the shipowners. Perhaps he ought to apologize for not having been a very diligent reader of the speeches the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade bad made in the country. He could not say anything with regard to those speeches; but, certainly, the speech the right hon. Gentleman had made to-night did not appear to him at all to deserve the character of a personal attack on the shipowners. Certainly, he should never have thought, at all, of regarding it as a "monstrous and fantastic" charge. Nor could he agree with hon. Members who declared that the difficulties in the way of passing the Bill were created by the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman. The facts the right hon. Gentleman had put before them to-night having come to his knowledge in his official capacity, it was clearly his duty to lay them before the House and the public. He (Mr. Gorst) did not understand that the right hon. Gentleman brought these facts before the public on his own responsibility. He had brought them up in his official capacity as relating to his Departmant, and he (Mr. Gorst) was sure that any Minister who had had brought to his mind the state of things which the right hon. Gentleman had described to-night and had abstained, from delicacy to the shipowners or from any other feeling, from laying those facts before the House of Commons and the country, would have been guilty of a very gross dereliction of duty. But, whilst listening to the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, and whilst feeling deeply impressed with the important facts he had disclosed, he (Mr. Gorst) could not help thinking—and no doubt that feeling was shared by many hon. Members—that if these things really were true the Government had shown a very culpable remissness in not pressing this measure on the attention of the House of Commons at a much earlier period. As hon. Members were aware, the right hon. Gentleman told them there was a 776 very great and grievous loss of life at sea, which was, at least, due to preventible causes, and that one of these causes was an improper state of the law. Well, that improper state of the law existed last November, and when Parliament met in February last he should have thought that of all the measures which the Government had to bring before the House of Commons there was none more urgently needed than that which was to save this lamentable loss of life; and he did not know whether the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade acquitted himself, but, fit any rate, the country would hardly acqui him, of being somewhat supine in pressing on the House of Commons the necessity of taking immediate steps to remedy the existing unhappy state of things. They were, many of them, on both sides of the House, zealously in favour of the passing of the present Bill. It seemed to him that the Franchise Bill, or any other Bill, was less urgently required at the present-moment than this Merchant Shipping-Bill. The people they proposed to bring under the franchise, at any rate, might live to enjoy the boon next year; whereas these unhappy sailors who were endangered by the present state of the law might not live to see another year unless that law were amended. Instead of the facts, which had been solemnly and publicly stated, being laid before the House at the beginning' of the Session as a reason for the second reading, the measure was laid on one side; and one of the most extraordinary negotiations which had over been witnessed in our Parliamentary history took place between the authorities and the Board of Trade, assisted by the Solicitor General and the shipowners who had seats in the House, and many who had not. Lately, no one could go into the Tea Room or the Conference Room without coming across the shipowners and the Solicitor General, or the President of the Board of Trade. And all these consultations were taking place whilst valuable lives were been sacrificed. Hon. Members had had the extraordinary spectacle before them of one interminable negotiation going on for the past three months. This method of legislating was hardly one to be recommended, but yet it was being adopted in regard to Railway Bills, Formerly, a responsible 777 Minister, on his responsibility and that of the Government, publicly adduced his reasons in the House of Commons for introducing a Bill, and invited discussion in which all interests were heard, and then took the sense of the House on his proposal. Governments should stand or fall by the success of these grave measures. It seemed to him a novel and very unsatisfactory mode of conducting the legislation of the country that things had to be—to use a vulgar word—"squared" between the Department and the people who were interested, or were supposed to be interested, in special legislation, and that hon. Members were to come down to the House to play a sort of comedy in which everything had been settled beforehand, and they had only to go through the solemn farce of ratifying the agreements come to. He wished to give every possible support to the legislation of the country on this subject; but he hoped they would forgive him for saying frankly that he would have done it with much greater satisfaction if the Government had come to them boldly with the measure they themselves thought to be sufficiently satisfactory, and had not allowed themselves to be diverted from their purpose by any factious opposition got up on either side of the House. There was in this matter no fear of the shipowners' view not being properly heard. The shipowners were represented in the House. They had advocates of the greatest ability and position, and they had, besides, through the great number of Shipping Companies in existence, the means of putting a great deal of pressure on the Members of the House. So that there was not the slightest risk of any injustice or wrong being done to the shipowning interest without the matter having been fully discussed and considered in the House, or by a Select Committee, or Grand Committee, or any other tribunal of the House to which the subject might be referred. But there was great risk of injustice being done to another class of people who were not well represented in the House—namely, the seamen. When Mr. Plimsoll was in the House, the seamen had in him a very ardent and enthusiastic advocate. But Mr. Plimsoll was here no longer, and the seamen had not much electoral influence. There were not very many boroughs in the country where they had 778 any influence at all; and even where they had influence, from the very nature of their calling they were not often able to be present at elections. They were not a class of persons able to put much pressure on their Representatives. Therefore, the only chance they really had of their interests being attended to was through the force and power of public opinion. There were, he was thankful to say, a great many Members of the House of sufficient independence to stand up for the rights of any people who were not otherwise defended or protected; and if the case of the merchant seamen were stated in the House by any Member, he felt sure that there were a sufficient number sitting in the House who would insist oil that case being properly heard. But when negotiations were carried on in the Tea Room between the Solicitor General and the shipowners, who knew whether the case of the seamen was ever considered at all? There might be an official of the Board of Trade there as well, but the officials of the Board of Trade had never been particularly distinguished as protectors of the seamen; and he thought that when legislation was carried on in that fashion, and no one was present at the conferences who was either qualified to represent the interests of the seamen, or who had the advantage of public opinion to back him, there was very great risk that the Department and the shipowners would settle the matter between them without that due regard for the interests of the seamen which the nature of the case demanded. Well, having said so much, he could not help thinking that the Bill had suffered in these negotiations, and that the measure they were really asked to give a second reading to to-night was not in as good a position for examination by a Standing Committee as the measure which the Government originally introduced. And that was proved by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade himself, because he (Mr. Gorst) had been very much struck, when the right hon. Gentleman came to describe the legislation by which he proposed to deal with the evils which he had in the course of his excellent speech shown to exist, by the insufficiency and inadequacy of the measures which he proposed to take. The right hon. Gentleman had described the provisions of the Bill as by no means 779 sinning on the side of strength, and then he had proceeded to explain to the House that the provisions had been grievously watered down in order to get rid of the opposition with which the proposal was threatened. For example, take the case of liability. Originally it was proposed that the shipowner should be liable for unseaworthiness caused either by his own act or by the act of his servants and agents. Well, the liability for the acts of servants and agents had been, in deference to the opposition that was threatened, withdrawn. By this they were creating a different law for the shipowner from that which prevailed in reference to every other employer in the country. There was, he thought, a great deal to be said in favour of making it a general law that employers should be made liable for the acts of their servants and agents. He did not know that anyone had ever shown that an employer should be made responsible for acts of his servants or agents which he had not authorized. In many countries, as civilized as our own, there was no law to make an employer so responsible. A man was liable for his own acts and for exercising care in the choice of his servants and agents; but, if he had not failed in those points, he was not liable at all—except in the case of railways and businesses of a dangerous character. In England, roughly speaking, the law was that every man was liable for the acts of his agents, except the shipowner. Why were they to create in this way a special exemption—a single exemption in the jurisprudence of the country in favour of one particular class? He would tell thorn why. It was because this particularly favoured class had settled the law with the Solicitor General in the private rooms of the House of Commons. If the Government had proposed a particular privilege of that kind on the floor of the House of Commons, they would have heard what would have been said of it by Members of the House of Commons, and they would have had to defend this singular and particular privilege by such arguments as they could have produced. Then, he had been glad to hear that the Employers' Liability Act was to be extended to seamen. He had carried his memory back two or three years when that Employers' Liability Act was passed. The noble Lord the Member for Wood- 780 stock (Lord Randolph Churchill) and he (Mr. Gorst), in their humble way, had endeavoured to persuade the Government to extend the Act to seamen. He recollected very well that they were told by the President of the Board of Trade and the Attorney General that such a demand was preposterous—that the nature of the sea service was such that it was quite impossible to extend the measure to it.
said, he could not at this distance of time remember whether it was the right hon. Gentleman or the Attorney General; but they were certainly told so by the Government, and being extremely modest in those days, and quite unconscious of any power to influence Her Majesty's Government or the House of Commons, the mouths of himself and his noble Friend were closed, and they were induced to yield to the superior wisdom of Ministers. Now, three years had passed, and the Government had found it quite possible to extend the measure to seamen. He (Mr. Gorst) was very glad of it. But while they were extending it to seamen why did they not improve it? It did not extend to foremen and to officers of the Mercantile Marine. Why did it not? If necessary, why not amend the original Act by-extending it to foremen? Why not? There, again, because the whole question was settled in secret conclave. In the original Bill it was proposed that the Act should extend to officers of the Mercantile Marine. Why did they withdraw that privilege? Why, because it had been settled secretly between the Government and the shipowners not to include these officers. He should like to ask the President of the Board of Trade even at the eleventh hour to pluck up heart and ask the House of Commons to pass the Bill in the generous form in which it was introduced by the Government, or, at all events, that he would consent to introduce into it such Amendments as he himself thought would improve the measure. If the right hon. Gentleman would, as he suggested, appeal to public opinion and to the opinion of the House, he believed he would find many more supporters than he at present supposed he would have. He had never found the shipowners in the House of Commons to be 781 an illiberal body, nor did he for a moment believe that the interests of seamen and shipowners were really antagonistic. In the last Parliament, when discussions took place in consequence of the agitation initiated by Mr. Plimsoll, he remembered that some of the foremost advocates of the interests of seamen were amongst the shipowners in that House; and he believed, if the case were put in the eloquent language of the President of the Board of Trade to the shipowners in the House of Commons, that the opposition which seemed so much to have frightened the right hon. Gentleman and the Solicitor General would disappear. The Bill, he supposed, would be read a second time, and he did not know why there should be any long delay in bringing it under the consideration of the Standing Committee; but if it was to be passed that Session they must set to work upon it in a business-like fashion. He was, therefore, sorry to hear and to read in the public Press that the Standing Committee was to begin its labours on Friday next, and that there was no intention to proceed further with the Bill until after the Whitsuntide Recess. He trusted, however, that an immediate beginning would then be made, and that the Standing Committee would earnestly address itself to the Bill with the intention of passing it. He did not agree with the opinion which many persons entertained with reference to the Bill going to the Standing Committee. There would be men on the Committee possessing technical knowledge and representing the various interests supposed to be affected by the Bill, and there would be, no doubt, a considerable number of gentlemen of the Long Robe to answer all legal questions that might arise, and there would be probably a few ordinary Members of Parliament to represent public opinion. A body of that kind would, in his opinion, be eminently qualified to deal with the measure. He would, therefore, confidently appeal to any sensible and reasonable shipowner in the House of Commons to assist in passing the Bill. A measure of this kind ought not to be a matter for contention; and he said that everyone who sat upon the Standing Committee ought to be guided by the one object of making it efficient and workable, and then there would be no difficulty whatever about 782 the matter. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would be encouraged by the response with which his speech had been met, and that immediately after Whitsuntide he would address himself to the Bill with the earnest and serious intention of passing it into law this Session; and he was confident, that if the right hon. Gentleman took that course, he would find an amount of support both within the House and out-of-doors which would, perhaps, astonish him.
MR. E. SMITH
said, he should occupy the time of the House very briefly. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade had, to a certain extent, expressed disappointment at not having met with that assistance and support from the shipowners of the United Kingdom to which his good intentions, in his opinion, entitled him. But he ventured to tell the House and the right hon. Gentleman that there was no unwillingness whatever on the part of the shipowners of the country to assist him to attain the two objects he had in view. One object, as he (Mr. E. Smith) understood, was to secure that no man should recover, by means of insurance, more than the actual value of his vessel. The other object was to extend the Employers' Liability Act to shipowners. He knew a great many shipowners throughout the country, and he could only say with respect to the Bill that he had never heard a word spoken against it by them. They found no fault with the objects which the right hon. Gentleman had in view, but with the manner in which he attempted to attain them, and the way in which he had indirectly mixed up with the subject a number of charges against the shipowners of the country — a course that had led to a considerable amount of strong feeling on their part; and the consequence was that they thought they had the right to demand that the whole subject should be investigated before a Select Committee of that House, before which evidence might be taken and the whole subject thoroughly sifted out. He believed that it was unexampled that charges such as had been made by the right hon. Gentleman against shipowners in the United Kingdom should be put forward in Parliament without their having an opportunity of meeting them. Intending, as he did, to vote for the Bill going to a 783 Select Committee, whatever alterations might be proposed, he should only vote for the second reading with the object of getting one step nearer the object which, in his opinion, the shipowners of the country had a right to demand. The right hon. Gentleman had alluded, in the first place, to the increased loss of life which had occurred at sea. Now, he was going to make a statement on that subject which he believed many Members of the House might think rather strange. But his contention was, that the increase was due very much to the legislation of a former Parliament, into which they had been hurried through the enthusiasm of a Gentleman who was unfortunately not very well acquainted with the subject. The House would be aware that a very considerable amount of popular feeling had been raised by the eloquence and enthusiasm of Mr. Plimsoll. That Gentleman, however, had become possessed of one idea, a very good one in itself, but which was only one amongst many others; he ran away with the idea that the remedy for the prevention of loss of life at sea was to be procured by vessels having a good freeboard—a very important thing, of course, but, as he had said before, not the only element in the case that had to be considered. He had some experienee as a shipowner and shipbuilder, and he hoped he might express an opinion upon this matter. The result of that legislation was, that ships were not built upon exactly the same proportions and dimensions as formerly; at the same time, in order to make them marketable, it was absolutely necessary that they should carry the same amount of coal that was carried by other vessels, and that they should not be liable to the interference of the Board of Trade. Ships were made flatter in the bottom, and, although they had more freeboard, they were not such good sea-boats—they behaved worse in heavy weather—and to that, in his opinion, a considerable amount of the increased loss of life was due. The right hon. Gentleman had told the House a good deal about insurance, and had brought forward various instances in which ships had been over-insured. It was extremely possible that there might be cases in which the amount of insurance effected on ships was rather higher than what was called their market value; and the statistics, as far as he 784 could follow them, appeared to show that there was something like an average of 20 per cent insured above what dispassionate valuers considered the market value of the ships. Well, it was a very natural thing for a man to value his own property at more than it was valued at by other people, and, therefore, a slight excess in the amount assured was not to be wondered at. But there was one point which the right hon. Gentleman appeared not to be aware of — namely, that members of Mutual Assurance Associations in the North of England and elsewhere had, in the event of their ships being lost, to pay for a considerable time what was called back average. That charge, which in any case amounted to about 10 per cent, had to be settled by the shipowner; that was to say, if a man had insured his ship for £20,000, and the ship was lost, he would have to pay, in the shape of calls made upon him during the next 12 or 18 months, no less than 10 per cent on the amount insured, or, in other words, £2,000. That, at least, accounted for one-half of the over-insurance of which the right hon. Gentleman complained. Then, again, the right hon. Gentleman spoke as if this apparently excessive insurance was due entirely to the inordinate greed of the shipowners. But there were two other parties concerned in that matter, one of whom was the underwriter. As everyone knew who was acquainted with the matter, it was a very common thing for shipowners who did not want to over-insure their vessels to consider, not only the actual value of their ships, but at what valuation the underwriters would take them. For instance, a man might wish to place the value of his ship at £10,000; but the underwriter might say—"I will not accept that valuation, if you will value her at £15,000 I will take her." The reason for this was, that in the case of a particular average the under writer would have to contribute much less upon a ship valued at £15,000 than he would upon a ship valued at £10,000. Then there was another class of people concerned in this matter, not the shipowners, but the shareholders in the ship. By shipowner, he meant the man who had a practical interest in, and a practical share in the working of the ship; but, unfortunately, there were a number of other persons interested in ships who 785 were not shipowners. Those persons found it convenient to invest their money in ships, and one condition they made with the managing owner was that he should take care that, whatever happened, they got their money back again, the consequence being, that the managing owner had great difficulty in reducing the valuation. Managing owners constantly said that the valuation of ships ought from time to time to be reduced, and asked whether individual owners would consent to the reduction, because it was not to the interest of the managing owner to keep up the high valuation. In the first place, the higher the valuation the greater the amount of premium and the smaller the amount of dividend, and it was upon the amount of dividend that the managing owners were paid. Again, it was no interest to the managing owner that the ship should be lost, because, as everyone acquainted with the subject would know, that for the next 12 months after the ship was lost, at least, the managing owner would lose his commission. Moreover, when the co-owners had received their money in case of loss, it was very difficult to get them to invest it again in ships. He was certain that at the present time no owner who had got his money out of a ship would want to put it into a new one. He mentioned these circumstances to show that it was not to the interest of the managing owner that ships should be highly insured. The hon. and learned Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst) had made an appeal on behalf of the seamen. In that appeal he strongly concurred, because he believed that the claims of seamen in this matter were such as the House could not overlook. The hon. and learned Gentleman said they were not represented in that House, and, to a certain extent, he agreed with him. He (Mr. E. Smith) eat for a constituency containing as large a percentage of seamen as any in the Kingdom, and he knew that many seamen were abroad at election time, and did not make their opinions fully known, and he, therefore, agreed that the case of the seamen ought to be thoroughly investigated. But this could only be done by the Bill going before a Select Committee. They were told that the seaman was not represented; but he would be no more represented on a 786 Grand Committee which was composed of Members of that House. There were in every part of the country Seamen and Masters' Associations, and if the Bill were referred to a Select Committee they would be able to get an amount of evidence from them which would be extremely valuable in enabling them to deal with this branch of the subject. He would not detain the House further than to say that he should endeavour to assist the right hon. Gentleman in forwarding the Bill until they arrived at the time for it to be referred to a Committee; but when that point was reached, his efforts would be directed towards its being referred to a Select Committee rather than to the Standing Committee, because he believed that upon the former the shipowners and seamen would be more fairly represented.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned." —(Mr. E. Clarke.)
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
said, he had hoped it would be possible to obtain a decision on the Motion for the second reading at that Sitting; but, at the same time, he was equally desirous that hon. Gentlemen who wished it should have the fullest opportunity of addressing the House upon the subject, and he could not, therefore, oppose the Motion for the adjournment of the debate. In view of the various difficulties involved in the question, he had been considering whether, during the time that would elapse before the resumption of the debate, he could assist hon. Members in the matter, and he would endeavour to prepare something in the form of a Memorandum which, he hoped, would be useful for the purpose.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
said, he thought the course which was suggested by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade would be a very convenient one. It was very desirable that ample opportunity should be given to hon. Gentlemen to take part in the debate which had been begun to-night. The right hon. Gentleman made an exceedingly able speech, one of very considerable length, and one raising not only a good many points in itself, but suggesting a good deal more to be considered on account of the Amendments and alterations which he proposed in the Bill. As far as he understood 787 the matter, if they passed the second reading of the Bill now, they would not have an opportunity of discussing the Bill, with the Amendments of the right hon. Gentleman, upon its principle. If the question of the second reading were adjourned for some little time, and a Memoranda of the proposed Amendments were submitted to the House, they would resume the debate with greater facility.
§ Question put, and agreed, to.
§ Debate adjourned till Thursday.