HC Deb 05 March 1891 vol 351 cc224-5
MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN (Birmingham, W.)

I beg to ask the President of the Board of Trade if his attention has been called to the illegal shipment of incompetent seamen as A.B.'s at the port of Cardiff, as appears from the statement of R. Phillips and others, reported in the South Wales Daily News of 25th February, and also by the statement taken from the said R. Phillips and others by the Superintendent of Mercantile Marine at Cardiff; if he is aware of the fact that the men referred to, although incompetent and inexperienced, were signed on as A.B.'s in the presence of an official of the Board of Trade; whether, to prevent incompetent men from being signed on in future, the Board of Trade will cause instructions to be given that no man shall be signed on a ship's articles as an able-bodied seaman unless he is able to comply with "The Merchant Seamen (Payment of Wages and Rating) Act, 1880," sec. 7; if he is aware that the men so signed on as A.B.'s were brought to the ship by a person who is not licensed to ship seamen in accordance with sec. 147, sub-sec. (1), of "The Merchant Shipping Act, 1854;" and, if these statements are true, what steps he proposes to take with regard to the official who has, in two separate instances, allowed the Acts which he is appointed to administer to be infringed?


Yes, Sir; my attention has been directed to the cases to which the right hon. Gentleman refers, but I am not in a position to give a categorical reply until I have received the Report of the Cardiff Local Marine Board, who have made an inquiry with regard to all the circumstances. I may, however, add that it has always been held at the Board of Trade that there is nothing in Section 7 of the Merchant Shipping (Payment of Wages and Rating) Act, 1880, which confers power upon a Superintendent to refuse to allow a man to sign on as an A.B. without production of a certificate or certificates mentioned in that section. This view of the section is borne out by the following paragraph in the Final Report of the Loss of Life at Sea Commission, 1884:— With respect to the rating of 'Able Seamen,' it is now the law that no man is entitled to he go rated unless he can prove four years' service at sea before the mast. There is, however, great laxity in this respect. Men are constantly rated as 'A.B.' without any inquiry as to their past services and with insufficient qualification: practically it rests with the masters of vessels whether to rate them as such or not. Nor does it appear to us that there is any certain method by which this can be prevented.


When will the right hon. Gentleman be ready to give an answer to the other part of the question, which refers to the action of the Department?


I cannot say at present. If the right hon. Gentleman will defer the question for a week I think I shall be able to answer it.