HC Deb 06 November 1884 vol 293 cc1091-3

asked Mr. Solicitor General, Whether the appointment, on the 23rd February, by the Board of Trade to the Greenock Local Marine Board of Mr. George T. Swanston and Mr. H. A. Dobson, employés of the Board of Trade, and resident in London, was legal under Section 110 of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1854; whether the appointment on the 4th of March last, by the Board of Trade of Mr. Abram Lyle and Mr. Edward Wilson (Provost of Greenock and, as such, already a member ex officio) to the Local Board was competent, having regard to the question of the lapse of the power of appointment prior to their nomination; whether the nomination by the Board of Trade of a gentleman to the Local Board, already an ex officio member, was within the provisions of the Act; and, if, in the case of the misconduct of an officer of a vessel belonging to Greenock, it is competent for the Board of Trade to direct the trial of such case (as recently took place) before the Local Marine Board of Glasgow instead of that of Greenock?


With regard to the first part of the Question, I have to say that under the Merchant Shipping Act, in addition to the elected members of Local Marine Boards, four members are to be nominated within a month of the election by the Board of Trade. In some cases it has been found difficult within a month to find suitable persons to take the office; and the practice has prevailed now for a great number of years of appointing certain officials of the Board of Trade temporarily, and then, afterwards, on their resignation, of appointing other persons, whose fitness has been, in the meantime, ascertained. This is no new practice. I confess, however, that, having looked into the matter, I question whether it is within the letter of the law. I think it is not; and although it was no doubt done with the best intentions, I think it will probably not be repeated. With regard, to the second part of the Question, I think the appointment of those two gentlemen, apart from the matter referred to in the third part of the Question, was a legal appointment. I think that, whatever question there might have been as to the fitness of the persons originally appointed, their resignation caused a vacancy which was properly filled up with suitable persons. With regard to the third part of the Question, I think it is certainly open to question whether the appointment was an effectual one at all; because if effectual it could only take effect at the termination of his year of office. I would rather not pass a positive opinion on that point, because it is not so clear as the others. As regards the fourth part of the Question, I think there is a misapprehension on the part of those who have suggested it. It is not obligatory on the part of the President of the Board of Trade to direct that the trial should take place at the port to which the officer belongs; but it is in the Act that it is to be held at the nearest and most convenient place for the attendance of witnesses. In this particular case I am not aware that there was any inconvenience to the witnesses in selecting Glasgow instead of Greenock; but the reason was that owing to the questions which had arisen, such as the noble Lord has called attention to, some members of the Marine Board stated that they would not attend; and, consequently, it was found that if the trial were directed to be held at Greenock the great inconvenience might be felt of there not being a quorum when the witnesses were summoned to attend.