HC Deb 23 May 1895 vol 34 cc66-76

On the Order for the Second Reading of the Pilotage Provisional Order Bill,

*MR. T. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis) moved, "That the Bill be read a second time this day six months." The sting of the Bill, he said, lay in the tail, and the tail was ten times as long as the Bill itself. The Bill affected the constitution of the pilotage authority which regulated the charges and conduct of the Thames and Channel pilots. That authority at present was the Committee of Trinity House, than which a better authority for the purpose could not be found. The Bill proposed to give power to the pilots, on one hand, to send an elected representative to the Committee and the shipowners; on the other, also to send a representative. But no proof had been adduced of any laches or misconduct on the part of the present authority, and even if there were a necessity for any alteration it certainly should not be the kind of alteration proposed by this Provisional Order. The Board of Trade apparently contained within its bosom some amateur constitution-monger, some Abbé Siéyes, who occupied his time in inventing an entirely new system of registration and election for the pilotage committee including a system of voting by proxy. If hon. Members would read the schedule to the Bill—the schedule was 10 times as long as the Bill itself—they could not fail to be struck by the extraordinary provisions made therein with respect to the voting. He now came to the merits of the question. Why should a shipowner be added to the Pilotage Committee? It certainly would not be done at the demand of the pilots. They were quite contented with the Pilotage Authority as it existed now, and most of the shipowners were also contented with the authority. Pilots were an excellent body of men; more competent men for the performance of the work entrusted to them would not be found in any part of the world. Of the manner in which they performed their duties there were no complaints as far as he could ascertain. But, supposing that any shipowners had complained of the charges made by the pilots, yet, when they considered the expert knowledge that a pilot must have, the constant practice which he needed, the calls that were made upon his energy and endurance, hardly any charges that might be made could be too high. If shipowners complained of these charges he would remind the House that under the system of compulsory pilotage they obtained a most valuable insurance for their ships against damages, because, as long as a ship was compulsorily in charge of a pilot the shipowner was not liable for accidents. Therefore, the pilot's charge covered, not only pilotage, but insurance also. If the charge should be held to be too high, it might become the duty of that House to inquire whether, under the present system, shipowners were not relieved of liability to too great an extent by the presence of a pilot on board ship, and also by the statutory limitation of their liability to £8 a ton for property and £15 a ton for life. Of the possibility of an inquiry of that kind, let shipowners who made complaints beware. He was of opinion that the Trinity House was extremely well fitted to be the pilotage authority. This proposal to introduce into the Trinity Committee a shipowner and a pilot was extremely inept, because it was the duty of the Trinity Committee to hold the balance evenly between the shipowner on the one side, and the pilot on the other, and it followed that no interested person, whether pilot or shipowner, ought to be on the Committee. But let it be assumed for the moment that that objection was overruled, and that it was reasonable to put upon this Pilotage Committee a shipowner and a pilot. The plan would work very unequally. In the first place, it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to find a pilot who would represent all the different pilotage interests. There were seven different classes of pilots included in the London and English Channel Districts, namely, Channel Pilots, Nore Pilots, Watermen, Exempt Pilots, Cinque Ports Pilots, North Channel Pilots, and Rochester Pilots. The interests of the pilots who had their headquarters on the river were not the same as the interests of those whose headquarters were elsewhere. Therefore, if only one pilot were added to the Pilotage Committee, a fair representation of the pilots' interests would not be secured. Another objection to the plan was, that pilots were generally at sea or on the river, doing their work. They had no time to spare for elections, and the pilot who was elected would have no time for attending and sitting on the Pilotage Committee. The shipowner, however, was in a very different position. He lived in London, as a rule, and could always find time to attend the Committee. Therefore, the shipowner who was elected would be able to attend, and the pilot would not, and so the apparent equality produced by electing one shipowner and one pilot would really be non-existent. It might be said that this was a small question affecting only the London and Channel pilots and the London and Channel shipowners. But that was not so. The question affected every vessel that came to these shores in this particular portion of Her Majesty's Dominions, because if they did anything to injure the pilot service or to diminish the fair reward which pilots now got for their arduous and most exacting labour, they would inevitably reduce the number of pilots now available. He still hoped that the President of the Board of Trade would re-consider this matter. No grievance had been alleged, still less made out. The pilots were quite satisfied with the existing pilotage authority, which exercised a most watchful control over them. The majority of shipowners were also satisfied, and no ground whatever had been made out for introducing any change. Therefore he begged to move that the Bill be read a second time that day six months.


seconded the Amendment. He said that as the Representative of a constituency that contained the chief pilotage centre in Great Britain, he should not be justified in giving a silent vote on this subject. There was no doubt that the consideration of this question had been pressed upon the Board of Trade by a body called the General Shipowners' Society of London, which represented, he believed, something under 10 per cent, of the net tonnage coming into the Port of London. It would be interesting to the House to know how matters had arrived at their present stage when the Board of Trade presented their Provisional Order for confirmation. In 1888 there were certain domestic differences between the pilots on the one side and the Pilotage Committee of the Trinity House on the other, and a Committee of that House was appointed for the purpose of making certain inquiries. The result of those inquiries was that the Committee recommended that upon the Pilotage Committee of the Trinity House the pilots themselves should be represented. In order to carry out the recommendations of that Committee, a Bill was introduced in that House in 1889 by the right hon. Member for Bristol and the right hon. Member for Cambridge University. In Committee an Amendment was inserted enabling the Board of Trade to provide for the representation, not only of pilots but also of shipowners if it should seem expedient. Their contention that day was that it was not expedient that representatives of the shipowners should be added to the Pilotage Committee. That Committee exercised not only administrative, but also judicial functions, and it would be highly inadvisable in the public interest that the judicial functions which they exercised should be tainted by the introduction of personal interests, which could not fail to be introduced if representatives of the shipowners and the pilots were added to the Committee. In the public interest it was absolutely essential that that body should remain in its present impartial and unprejudiced position. He knew that it had been suggested that the Trinity House Committee viewed leniently the laches of pilots, but his own experience did not bear out that view. It had been his business occasionally to ask for a reconsideration of the cases of certain pilots, and he had invariably been met by this reply from headquarters— We occupy a great public position; it is our duty to insist that the pilots shall do their work thoroughly and well, and we are unable to review the decision which we have arrived at. He looked upon the proposal contained in this Bill as a sordid attack made indirectly against men who were pursuing an arduous and responsible calling, who in foul weather and fair carried the lives of those who crossed the Channel in their hands, and who in time of war were liable to be called out to serve in Her Majesty's ships in the defence of our shores.

*MR. MELLOR (Yorkshire, Sowerby)

said, that in his opinion this was not the right stage at which to take objection to the Bill—whether the criticisms of the hon. Member for King's Lynn and of the hon. Member who seconded the Amendment, were right or wrong. He thought it would be an unfortunate step for the House to take to refuse to allow the Bill to be considered by a Committee. It certainly would be unfortunate if it came to be the practice to reject Bills so full of details as this one on the Second Reading. He thought all Members of the House would agree that the Private Bill Committees did their work in an extremely satisfactory way, and he was not at all convinced by the speeches that had been made that any other course could be taken with regard to this Bill than to allow it to follow the usual course.


said, that up to a late hour last night he had been inclined to agree with the President of the Board of Trade on this matter; but that day they had not heard a single word, either from any Member of the Government or from any one of the promoters of the Bill, as to its necessity or advisability. What was the case with regard to this Bill? In 1888 a large committee sat upstairs, and that committee, after hearing witnesses from Gravesend, from Ireland, and from Scotland—witnesses in favour of and against; the choice pilotage system, witnesses for and against allowing masters and mates to hold pilot certificates—came to a deliberate decision as follows:— Looking to the dissatisfaction which exists under this head, as well as under that relating to the management and disposal of the various funds maintained for the benefit of the pilots and their families, your Committee are of opinion that the best way to meet these difficulties would be by the direct representation of pilots on all pilotage boards. They recommend that such representation should consist of not more than four in each case, the men eligible for election to be acting pilots of not less than eight years' service, or retired pilots of good character. There was not one word of recommendation for placing on the Pilotage Committee of Trinity House any representative of the shipowners. He was very much struck on the Committee with the straightforwardness and fairness with which they were always met by large shipowners when they advocated the interests of the pilots, and he did not complain of their conduct; but it was another matter to alter the constitution of the body which managed pilotage matters in this country. It was proposed to give the pilots voting power, but they could not vote when they were hove to in the Channel; whereas the shipowners would have no difficulty in electing their representative. There were nine or ten various conflicting interests connected with the pilotage system in the English Channel. Probably the point of all others which would be most acutely contested between shipowners and pilots would be the question of choice pilots, and that was not mentioned in the Schedule. In Trinity House there was a body able to carry on their business from year to year no matter what Party was in office; and though he spoke of the Board of Trade and all connected with it with great respect, he would much rather see this matter of pilotage kept in the hands of a non-political body like Trinity House than in those of a body like the Board of Trade, which must be swayed from this side to that. His belief was that the wheel system would be better maintained if it was kept as clear as possible from anything like the shadow of Party politics. Unless he heard from the Secretary to the Board of Trade some good reason to the contrary, he should vote for the Motion to postpone the Second Reading of the Bill.


said, his hon. Friend who had just addressed the House, and the speakers who had preceded him, appeared to be somewhat anxious to make out that the object of this Bill was in some way or other to damage the position of pilots. The object of the Bill was nothing of the kind. No man in the House had greater reason for trying to do justice to the pilot than he had, and he would be the last person to support a Bill which would damage the service. He believed the result of the Bill would be to increase the efficiency of the service, and it would do so by admitting a certain amount of daylight in connection with its working. He was very much surprised that the Bill should be opposed by the Elder Brethren of Trinity House. There could be no doubt whatever that there was great room for reform in the pilotage service in the channel and in the river, and that the Bill now before the House was a step in the right direction. Those who were the taxpayers, if he might use the expression in this matter, ought to have a voice in the arrangement of the service. The company with which he was connected paid something like £8,000 or £10,000 a year in connection with pilotage in the Channel and the river Thames, and he claimed a right to have a voice in the management of the service. At the present moment there were pilots engaged in the service of Trinity House who were earning more than the captains of ships which had travelled 70,000 or 80,000 miles in the course of the year. He contended that some daylight ought to be let in on the pilotage system as it at present existed, and the best way to do that would be by admitting shipowners to representation on pilotage boards. He did not think himself for a moment that the pilots would refuse to send a representative. He believed that the opposition to the Second Reading of the Bill did not proceed from the pilots, but from the Elder Brethren of Trinity House, whose action he could not account for.

MR. W. CROSFIELD (Lincoln)

said, he would not follow the hon. Member into the many points suggested by the valuable information in the Blue Book, but he desired to say, from his experience of a body whose duties were somewhat similar to those of the Trinity Board, that a representation of pilots and shipowners analogous to that proposed by this Provisional Order, had been in operation for many years in connection with the pilotage authority of the River Mersey. Shipowners had been for many years represented on the Committee which had special charge of pilotage in the area of the Mersey; and since the issue of the Report of the Committee the pilots too had had full representation—some people thought rather too much. There was no difficulty in the selection of suitable men to represent their brethren who were concerned in pilotage operations in the Mersey. He believed that the clause contained in this Order was one which would be easy in operation, and would be of great value.

SIR G. BADEN-POWELL (Liverpool, Kirkdale)

said, that no one had told them why the Bill was introduced, and on whose behalf; and an hon. Member had said he was not aware that the pilots had spoken. In his hand he held a closely argued protest against the Bill signed by 244 pilots, who would not have objected so strenuously to the Bill if they had not felt that it would do them some damage. Therefore, there was a question of principle involved which it was for the House to determine on the Second Reading. He hoped the President of the Board of Trade would tell them who wanted the Bill and who had asked for it, seeing that the pilots were against it and are content with the existing authority who managed the pilotage of the Thames. The Committee of this House who examined into the whole question reported in favour of pilots being represented in two respects; but that conclusion did not apply to the present case. The area of the Thames, with which the Bill dealt, was not an area which came under the representation of the Committee. The recommendation applied to certain other ports, and no doubt rightly to the case of the Mersey. No one had shown that the representation of pilots was desirable or necessary in the Thames area. Then the Committee recommended that there should be a representation of shipowners because they contributed to the funds; but that did not apply in the Thames area to shipowners and pilots who did not contribute. It was therefore for the Government to show why there should be any interference with a pilotage authority for a large area with whose management no fault had been found. In no part of the world was pilotage conducted on better or more economical principles than it was in the Thames district, and it would be interesting to hear what were the motives of those who were promoting the Bill.


said, the House would have gathered that the matter was very much one of detail, and evidently fitted for the consideration of a Committee, and he hoped the House would not depart from its uniform practice by allowing the question to be decided on ex-parte statements made in a Second Reading Debate. The Bill in no sense derogated from the importance of Trinity House, and he desired to pay emphatic tribute to the ability, zeal, and wisdom, with which the authorities of Trinity House discharged their functions. In that case they had to deal with a statute which appeared to contemplate the representation upon pilotage authorities of pilots as well as shipowners. Under the statute, orders had been made in a number of cases for putting on the authorities, in some cases shipowners, on some pilots, and in some cases both; and no difficulties whatever had arisen in conducting the election of representatives. The demand for the measure came from the shipowners of the port of London, who were a large and influential body. After careful consideration he came to the conclusion that the shipowners made out a primâ facie case for examination, and in these circumstances he considered it was the duty of the Board of Trade, in accordance with the statute, to facilitate the passing of a Provisional Order. [Mr. T. GIBSON BOWLES: "What was the case generally?"] It had been stated by the hon. Member for Greenock, who, speaking on behalf of the shipowners, said that they paid pilotage dues, and desired that their interest in pilotage should be represented. The shipowners asked for two representatives, and if they got them, it would be necessary to give the pilots two; but it was proposed to give one to the shipowners, one to the pilots, and four to Trinity House. Therefore it was clear that neither the shipowners would have an opportunity of altering the policy pursued, and all that they would be able to do would be to state directly to the Pilotage Authority what their interests were. It was not an unreasonable demand that they should be able to do that; and it seemed to him to be a matter in which the House ought to trust the judgment of a Committee. There was no political element whatever in the matter.


said, he had only remarked that he much preferred that pilotage laws and regulations should be in the hands of the Trinity House, rather than in those of the Board whose President changed with the Government.


said, the Committee had nothing to do with the business; it did not act in it at all, and it was not represented on the Pilotage Authority. The Bill ought to go to a Committee, so that the claim might be patiently investigated; and if anyone desired to nominate Members of special qualification, he saw no objection to their doing so. If any questions of principle were not dealt with satisfactorily by the Committee they could be raised on the Third Reading of the Bill.


submitted that the question involved was not a question of detail at all. So far as the pilots were concerned, no one who knew anything about them pretended that they wanted any representation; that they were practically unanimous was shown by the fact that out of 270 pilots over 240 had signed that protest against the Bill, and the remaining 30 were not in the port at the time the document was signed. This was not a Bill introduced by the shipowners on their own account; but it was a procedure by which the Board of Trade took up the case of the shipowners by embodying a Provisional Order in a public Bill. He distrusted this claim very much.


It is under the statute that shipowners claim representation; we put in the pilots also.


The right hon. Gentleman said the shipowners demanded it.


Some of the pilots, too. [Cries of "Name!"]


said, that those of them who had been consulted by the pilots had not the slightest reason to suppose that there was a single pilot who desired it. This was a matter of principle, and it was their duty to challenge an alteration which they believed to be uncalled for. There was not the least analogy between Liverpool and London. In the case of Liverpool, the pilotage boats were taken over by the Dock Board, and it was obvious that the transference involved some representation of the pilots. With all deference to the President of the Board of Trade, the opinion of the House must be taken upon this Provisional Order, which was put forward for the shipowners and not for the pilots.

MR. J. H. MOORSOM (Great Yarmouth)

remarked that he was reluctant to say a word against a Bill promoted by the Board of Trade, but he had been asked on behalf of the pilots to oppose this Bill. Where a primâ facie case for reform had been made out he agreed that reform should be considered, but not a single particular had been mentioned in which reform was necessary.


said, he had explained fully that, the shipowners being largely interested in these Rules, should have an opportunity of stating their views to the Pilotage Authority.


, resuming, said, that under the existing system, the shipowners could suggest their grievances, but they had not done so. He hoped the House would reject this proposal, and not give a Committee.

The House divided:—Ayes, 208; Noes, 153.—(Division List No. 99.)


asked the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade whether he would consent to the Bill, after it had been read a Second time, being referred to a hybrid Committee.


said, that he was perfectly willing that that course should be adopted.

Bill read 2°.