HC Deb 17 July 1890 vol 347 cc184-8
(12.20.) MR. MACARTNEY (Antrim, S.)

I regret to have to trouble the House with a Motion at this hour, but the time within which I can call attention to this subject before these Rules become law is limited.


I object.


Objection does not lie against the Motion, which is in pursuance of the Standing Order, the Rules remaining before the House a certain time for approval.


As at present arranged, these Rules will very seriously affect the shipping interest and will have a specially injurious effect on the passenger traffic between England and Ireland. Last year Rules identical with these were made, but were not carried into effect, in consequence of the representations made. The objections are two, and the first relates to the regulations as to boats, the second to life belts and other appliances. In the first place, I contend that the provision for new boats is unnecessary, and, in the second place, if a vessel is equipped with boats according to the scale laid down the result will be illusory. I may illustrate this by reference to particular steamers running between this country and Ireland. Owing to the number of boats being made dependent upon the cubic measurement, a magnificent ship like the Ireland, which runs between Holyhead and Dublin and generally carries about 200 passengers, will have to carry six more boats than it now does, although it is a new vessel and fully equipped with six boats; whereas the Mayo, a smaller vessel, but one which sometimes carries 1,000 passengers, will only be required to have three boats altogether. The objection to many boats is that they occupy deck space, and further, the crew will be insufficient to man so many boats. Objection is also taken to the rule that requires each ship to carry as many lifebelts as passengers. The City of Dublin Steam Packet Company at harvest time carries about 8,000 men across to England in three nights. It would be most unreasonable to expect the company to have 8,000 life-belts for all these men. And, even if they were supplied they could not be used, as there is no place in which to stow them so that they might be at hand on an emergency. The circumstances of this passenger traffic are altogether different to those of the Transatlantic traffic, when each passenger has his berth, and these rules, as applied to the passenger traffic between England and Ireland, will be impracticable and will press very hardly an those engaged in it. The Board of Trade Rules now in existence give the Board a discretionary power as to life-saving belts, and no lives have been lost, so far as I am aware, which would have been saved by these new rules. Those who are engaged in this trade ask either that the Board of Trade should continue to exercise the discretionary power they now have with regard to certifying vessels, or that, before these rules are put into force, they should be referred to a Select Committee, so that the evidence of the traders may be taken on the subject. The Committee by whom these rules were drawn up contained no representative of that class of the mercantile shipping community which is engaged in the coasting trade. They had no opportunity of pointing out how difficult—how absolutely impossible it would be to utilise these rules as the Board of Trade and the public would like to see them utilised, and they are confident that if they had an opportunity of demonstrating to a Committee the reasonable requirements of the case their views would be at once acceded to. The Amendments I have placed on the Paper suggest that the number of life-belts in each vessel should be in proportion to the tonnage, and I have placed the proportion at 10 to every 100 tons. That is not a number I should be disposed to adhere o to if any larger number were desired, but the shipping community consider that the number I suggest would meet all the requirements of the case. They do not for a moment desire to stand in the way of any reasonable protection of life on board these ships, but they contend that these rules, if they were rigidly carried out, would do more to endanger life than to protect it. Further, they say that the rules could not be carried out on board coasting vessels. If the Board of Trade insist on working the Rules as they now stand the result will be that the City of Dublin Steam Packet Company and other companies engaged in carrying harvestmen to England will have to alter their present arrangements, and the men will have to cross the Irish Channel in the old slow way, instead of being brought over rapidly in large bodies. For these reasons, I hope the President of the Board of Trade will consider favourably the suggestions which have been made in the Amendments on the Paper. They have, I can assure him, been put down not with any desire to deprive the public of reasonable and proper safeguards while crossing the Channel, but because, in the opinion of those who have drawn them up, they are really the only practical suggestions that can be made.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That it is expedient that the Rules be amended, by adding at the end of Class 3(a), of Division A, the words, 'Provided that where in existing ships the boats are in good order and of sufficient capacity they shall not be required to be altered under this section.'"—(Mr. Macartney.)


I will endeavour to consult the convenience of the House by making my remarks as brief as possible. This is really not a matter for the decision of the Board of Trade. Let me remind the House of the history of this subject. In 1887 a Committee of the House sat, which recommended that such precautions should be taken for saving life at sea as might be deemed necessary by a Committee representing the various interests involved. Accordingly, in pursuance of the provisions of the Act of 1888, a Committee of 14 members, presided over by Mr. Ismay, of Liverpool, and including five representatives of the shipowners, was appointed in 1888. In fact, all shipping interests were represented. [Mr. MACARTNEY: Not the coasting trade.] The committee drew up certain rules with a view to the saving of life at sea, to be observed on the different classes of ships. Objection was taken to these rules last year, when they were laid on the Table, by the coasting trade, upon whose behalf the hon. Member now speaks. I therefore thought it right to suspend their operation so that the representatives of that trade might have an opportunity of being heard. The representatives of this trade placed their case fully before the Committee in the early part of last spring, and the rules were, to some extent, modified. They are now laid on the Table, and I do not feel disposed to take the responsibility of altering the recommendations of a Committee constituted in that way. The matter was one of great technical difficulty and of the gravest importance to the saving of life at sea, and I should be sorry if the House rejected the recommendation of the Committee. There is a clause which provides that no ship shall be called on to carry more boats and rafts than are sufficient for the accommodation of all the persons on board. The sole objection to these rules is on the part of a few interested traders, who object to some extra expense which will be thrown on them. As to the Irish harvest men, to whom reference has been made, their lives are as valuable as the lives of anyone else, and in their interest, as well as in the interest of all who go to sea, I hope that these rules will not be altered.

(12.36.) MR. MARJORIBANKS (Berwick)

I think the words which have fallen from the President of the Board of Trade show that this Debate may take the form of a general discussion on these rules. I will, therefore, take this opportunity of pointing out a grave omission in the rules, namely, that there is no provision in them with regard to life-saving appliances on board fishing boats.


They were excluded from the Act.


The right hon. Gentleman will admit that on no class of vessels is there so great a loss of life or so many accidents as on fishing boats, which, as a rule, are undecked and have no protecting side rails. I do take this opportunity of impressing on the right hon. Gentleman the desirability of doing something in the interests of fishermen.

(12.38.) COLONEL NOLAN (Galway, N.)

I should like to point out that, as a rule, the people who go out in fishing boats are the owners and their sons, and they ought to be consulted before any fresh regulations are made affecting them. Passengers, however, stand on an entirely different footing. Thence the justification for these rules.

(12.39.) DR. TANNER

I only wish to say that really the hon. Member who proposed this Amendment should seriously consider before he adduces such absurd arguments.


I shall not, of course, put the House to the trouble of a Division, but I wish to say that the representations I have made did not proceed from one Irish company, but from a number of companies. I am, moreover, bound to say that I think the reflections the right hon. Gentleman has made on one of the leading commercial firms in Dublin, who have done much to improve the steam service between Ireland and England, were somewhat uncalled for. I regret the Board of Trade cannot see their way to making these rules more practicable, because if they are put in operation much of this passenger traffic will be diverted, and the harvestmen will have to find their way to England as best they can, for the companies cannot afford to carry them at a loss.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.