HC Deb 02 April 1894 vol 22 cc1104-6
MR. PROVAND (Glasgow, Blackfriars)

I beg to ask the President o the Board of Trade if he has considered the decision given at the Board of Trade inquiry, held at Glasgow on the 27th March, in regard to the wreck of the port Yarrock, by which the whole crew of 21 persons were drowned; whether he is aware the Court held that the vessel was neither properly nor efficiently manned, and that the disaster was contributed to by the vessel being short-handed; and if it is his intention to obtain authority to compel British vessels leaving the United Kingdom to carry competent and sufficient crews?


My attention has been called to the case to which my hon. Friend refers, and the circumstances under which so regrettable a loss of life occurred are receiving careful consideration with a view, if possible, to further proceedings in the matter. The fact is, that at the present moment the case is before the Law Officers of Scotland to ascertain whether, under Clause 4 of the Act, we can take proceedings. I fully recognise the importance of British merchant ships being manned with competent and sufficient crews, and I am taking advice as to the best means of securing the seaworthiness of merchant vessels in so material a particular. As the hon. Member behind me (Mr. H. J. Wilson) has been informed by you, Mr. Speaker, that he cannot bring on the case of the vessel named, I will add that this question of undermanning has already received the attention of the Board of Trade, and we intend to pursue it still further. Up to the present time the Merchant Shipping Act does not allow of a ship being stopped in port on account of its deficient equipment in men; there is not a single precedent for a ship being so stopped. We intend that a thorough and explanative inquiry shall be made by a Committee, including shipowners, representatives of seamen, and experts of the Board of Trade.


Will the Committee include Members of this House?


It is premature to say how the Committee will be constituted, but I suppose there will be Members from both sides upon it.

SIR J. GORST (Cambridge University)

Was not the subject of the loss of life at sea inquired into by a Royal Commission 10 years aero; did not that Commission report on the subject of undermanning, and has the Board of Trade ever taken action on that Report?


There were Commissions in 1888 and in 1876. One Commission reported that undermanning was a, source of danger, and a second did not touch the question at all. In 1884, in answer to a question in the House, the right hon. Member for West Birmingham said that more harm would be done by fixing a minimum scale than by leaving the question open, because the general effect might be that the average equipment would be reduced. Everything that is possible will now be done to prevent the recurrence of such a disaster as that mentioned in the question.

MR. H. J. WILSON (Middlesbrough)

Would it not be possible to have an inquiry into the abilities of the seamen shipped as well as the number of them?

SIR A. ROLLIT (Islington, S.)

Is it to be understood that the port officer of the Board of Trade has no power to prevent a vessel that is undermanned proceeding to sea?


There is no such power unless it is a passenger vessel. There is no standard scale laid down for the manning of a ship unless it is a passenger ship. With regard to the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, I cannot give a promise until the time comes for the constitution of the Committee; but, so far as I am able, I will see that all desires as to the scope of the inquiry are satisfied.


How many wrecks and casualties were reported last year from undermanning?


There wore five such losses reported, but all losses from undermanning would not be reported as a rule. In the case named the loss was obvious because it occurred in the bay off Brandon, but if it had happened in the open sea the Board of Trade would have heard nothing about it.


I had intended to move the adjournment of the House on the question of the undermanning of ships, but, owing to the satisfactory answer that has been given me by the President of the Board of Trade, I do not intend to proceed with it.