§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ [SECOND READING.]
§ SIR HARRY SAMUEL (Tower Hamlets, Limehouse),
in moving the Second Reading of the Bill, said that for some years past the two great Parties of the State through their respective Governments had laid down the policy, and carried it out by their legislation, of guarding workmen engaged in various employments as far as possible from injury, and of enabling those workers, if injured through the negligence of their employers, to obtain compensation. The present Bill strictly followed these non-Party lines, and therefore he hoped to receive the support of both sides of the House. Respective Governments, by the Factories Act of 1895, by the Employers Liability Act of 1880, and by the Workmen's Compensation Act of 1897, had, he thought, fully borne out his opening statement. The negligence that this Bill desired to guard workmen against, however, was not quite that of the Employers' Liability Act, because instead of trying to guard the workman against the negligence of his employer, it endeavoured to guard him against the negligence of a third person, 324 who was, in truth, the employer of his employer. The liability of any Shipowner in this country, or of any employer, was not increased by this Bill. The Bill simply sought to make effective the existing law, and to enable a workman to secure reasonable compensation when personally injured by the negligence of persons who were theoretically liable, but who in practice escaped with impunity. Hitherto all attempts to deal with this matter had been hindered by difficulties with regard to international law, and he would say at once that the last thing he desired to do was to embitter the relations which now existed between other countries and ourselves. Therefore the promoters of this measure had been obliged to bring in a Bill which should cover shipowners of all nationalities, but they had no desire whatever to harass in any vexatious manner British owners of ships. They would be most happy to accept any form of words that could be suggested which would place it beyond the bounds of possibility that British shipowners should be vexatiously harassed. On that point he would only ask that whatever those words might be they should not conflict with international law or international policy. Further than that, they would be willing to accept any drafting Amendments which the Law Officers of the Crown or any other Gentlemen learned in the law might suggest as improvements in the drafting of the Bill. He thought with that promise, as far as he was personally concerned, he might appeal to all sections of the House to agree to the main principle of the measure.
He asked the House to consider how the law at present stood. The Factory Act of 1895 placed for the first time every dock, wharf, quay, and warehouse under factory inspectors as far as related to loading and unloading and all machinery and plant used. The Workmen's Compensation Act of 1897 gave rights of obtaining compensation to all men injured while working in what the law considered to be a factory, and the House of Lords by its decision had now made it perfectly plain that a vessel in dock was a factory for the purposes of both the Factory Act of 1895 and the Workmen's Compensation Act of 1897. The result was that men engaged in the 325 work he had described were protected under the Workmen's Compensation Act, but the difficulty was that when foreign ships were being loaded or unloaded or repaired, though the workman was protected in theory, in practice he had no protection at all, because there was no way of enforcing claims against the shipowner if he was not resident in this country. This statement was fully confirmed by the evidence given before the "Foreign Ships (Application of Statutory Requirements) Committee" by Mr. Arthur Norman Hill, the secretary of the Liverpool Steam Shipowners' Association.
Two cases which had been heard in our Law Courts showed perfectly plainly the position of the law at the present time. The first case, that of "Whitewood v. Andorsen Becker it & Co.," was argued before the Lord Chief Justice on November 13th, 1894. The plaintiff, a stevedore, was engaged in the discharge of a German vessel, and, through the admitted neglect of a member of the crew in removing a guy rope to an unsafe position, received injuries which would prevent him from ever resuming his occupation; but he was non-suited on the ground that the defendants, who were the agents of the shipowners, were not responsible, and the shipowners could not be sued as they were not domiciled or ordinarily resident within the jurisdiction. The second case was that of "Shea v. Drolenvaux," in which a stevedore's labourer was engaged to work at loading a ship in the Port of London. Whilst so working on board the ship he was injured through accident. He accordingly claimed compensation under the Act against the agents. The County Court Judge dismissed his claim on the grounds that although the ship might be a, factory for the purposes of the Act, and although the persons in possession of the ship might be undertakers within the meaning of the Act, still the agents were not liable to pay compensation, for they never had possession of the ship or any control of it, the foreign crew retaining possession during all the time of loading. On appeal the Court of Appeal upheld the decision of the County Court Judge, holding that it was clear that the agents were not 326 undertakers within the meaning of the Act.
But what was the treatment which our British ships received when unloaded by foreign work? That was made perfectly plain by the case of the steamship "Lochness" of Dundee. The steamship "Lochness" was delivering a cargo of coal at Flensburg in January, 1896, and during the operation the hatches were removed and replaced by the labourers employed. Through some defect in the fitting of a hatch a workman was precipitated into the hold, sustaining injuries from which death resulted. Both the ship and the master were duly arrested and only liberated on satisfactory bail being given. Civil proceedings were instituted against the shipowner, the claim being ultimately compromised, but notwithstanding the fact that the relatives of the deceased were pecuniarily recompensed, the authorities took proceedings under the Criminal Code against the master of the vessel for negligence. Thus there was a very grave and gross inequality between the law relating to foreign workmen in loading British ships and that relating to British workmen unloading foreign ships, and if for no other reason than that it was surely time for the House to deal in a drastic manner with that gross inequality. This constituted what were known as cases in personam, and in such cases there was no redress for a workman injured by negligence. It was a curious thing that where a foreign ship collided with an English ship in entering a port, the owner of the British vessel could seize the foreign vessel and by means of having seized it obtain redress for the damage done. Surely if redress of damage or injury to a ship could be secured, how much more necessary was it that they should enable compensation to be secured for damages which unfitted the person injured for pursuing his occupation and often resulted in his death?
What the promoters of this Bill ventured to suggest to the House was the passage of what was practically a one clause Bill, proposing to alter the machinery of the law in such a way that actions in personam should be carried out in precisely the same manner as actions in rem—that was to say, that action 327 could be taken in a Court of summary jurisdiction, after which the ship could be seized by bailiffs, or bailiffs' officers sent on board, a notice nailed to the mast, and the bailiffs' officer placed by the mast, with the result that in a very short space of time bail or security would be forthcoming for the damage sustained, and the ship would be immediately released on satisfactory security being obtained. He might point out that where a barge unloading a foreign ship in port was sunk by the negligence of the foreign captain or his crew, the barge-owner could obtain damages and compensation for the loss of his barge, but for the unfortunate man on the barge, if he were drowned or seriously injured, no damages or compensation whatever could be obtained. That also was a serious defect in the law which he hoped before many sessions were past this House would have remedied. The promoters did not think that the delay caused, if their proposal were adopted, would in any case be severe or vexatious. It had not been found in practice to be so in actions in rem. Nor did they think that British shipowners would be in any way unduly harassed by the changes they proposed in the law. This was not a new idea. It was simply an attempt to make operative a law which really existed and should be put into practice. He did not think it necessary to say anything further with regard to Clauses 2, 3, or 4. He had endeavoured to state as plainly as a layman could what he thought were the great defects in the law; the only thing he desired was that the House should approve the principle of the Bill he was laying before them. He had to the best of his ability placed before the House a measure conceived in a non-Party spirit, with the object of extending further protection to some of the humblest of their fellow-subjects, and, relying upon the spirit which always animated the House, he confidently asked for their help and support in passing the Bill. He begged to move.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ *SIR ALBERT ROLLIT (Islington, S.),
as having been a member of the Committee 328 on the Application of Statutory Requirements to Foreign Ships, and also as having introduced a similar Bill on a previous occasion, desired to support the proposal embodied in the present measure. He thought it remedied a great existing mischief and introduced an important amendment of the law. He would make one qualification, however, namely, that there should be no vexatious provisions which would affect the proper interests of British shipowners, and this was common ground. The mischief aimed at arose from the non-residence of the foreign shipowner and the impossibility in that case of asserting rights which existed, which had been infringed, but which infringement could not possibly be pecuniarily redressed. Though there might have been actual negligence on the part of the agents and servants of the foreign shipowner, though there might have been loss of life or injury to limb, and though a verdict might even have been obtained, yet owing to the possible removal of the ship, in consequence of the absence of the owner, and the impossibility of detention of his ship, the judgment became illusory, the unfortunate litigant was saddled with costs in addition to the pecuniary injury which he had sustained, and a great reproach was brought upon the state of the law. That reproach was intensified by another consideration, and that was the apparent privilege given to property when injured as compared with injury to life or person. If an injury was done to any property on board a ship, or to the ship itself, or to cargo, there was redress, but where injury occurred to life or to person, there was practically and eventually no remedy. He knew of no foreign country where a similar state of the law existed, and in Scotland the law was different and just to the employee. Shipowners should remember that in this case they themselves were the victims of some injustice, because British shipowners had to pay for those injuries, while foreign ships were practically exempt from them. Foreign shipowners thus practically gained a differential benefit as bonus, for they were enabled to trade under a distinct advantage in competition with English shipowners. Consequently this provision applied for the 329 redress of an evil to British shipowners just as in other cases. This Bill removed an injustice, a differential injustice, to the British shipowner by submitting his competitors to the same just liabilities as he himself was subjected to.
He might say that as one who had an interest in shipping he believed this was an Act for the redress of a distinct injustice to shipowners themselves. Under Admiralty law, a ship being movable, the first step to take was to arrest the ship. This was the very foundation of the law because security was obtained by possession of the ship, or by the bail upon which the ship was released. But the precedent which he would cite in favour of this Bill was that of the County Courts Admiralty Jurisdiction Acts of 1868 and 1869. This was rather an instance of the statutory power of arrest where the vessel was likely to be moved. Under these Acts there was a distinct repetition of the very mischief they were speaking of. Those Acts distinctly recognised in the case of the British shipowner the principle in this Bill as being one which ought to be applied to foreign shipowners as well. The provision in the County Courts Acts of 1868 and 1869 was that where either the Judge or the registrar of a County Court with jurisdiction in Admiralty was satisfied that the ship was likely to be removed out of the jurisdiction of the Court before satisfaction of the injury which had been sustained, he might order—and it was a simple everyday occurrence—that arrest should take place. The arrest took place immediately the claim was put in, and thus security was given for compensation to the injured.
He should like to inform the House of the extent of the mischief against which this Bill was directed. Before the Committee which heard evidence upon this subject, it was stated that during the last eight years in the Port of London alone there had been eight cases of loss of life in respect of which no compensation could be obtained. There were fifty serious cases of injury in the Port of London during that period, and if they applied that average to Hull and Liverpool and the rest of the ports they would at once see what an immense amount of unredressed injustice, suffering, and 330 loss existed, which certainly ought to be removed. They were dealing with a distinct evil of very great magnitude, and it was a very great injustice. He was aware that one objection that might be entertained was in regard to treaties. He was aware that upon this question they were under treaty obligations, and that those treaties must be observed. It was perhaps not quite so important that they should have this power of arrest where the owner was accessible and liable, and where the injury could be readily inquired into. The County Courts having jurisdiction in Admiralty were numerous, and that jurisdiction could be given to any County Court in a particular district by an Order in Council. There were probably some eight or ten Courts possessing Admiralty jurisdiction. Under the County Courts Acts if the vessel was likely to be removed not from England but from any particular County Court district the arrest might take place, and it would be a vexatious course to take to declare that a shipowner in the port of London or Hull, who desired his ship to proceed to Cardiff or Liverpool, should be subject to arrest when the owner, who was responsible, was resident within the jurisdiction of the Court. This was a question of freeing ships from arrest in Great Britain, because under the County Courts Acts if they removed from one Court to another they would be liable to arrest, which would undoubtedly be a great hardship. He thought it was admitted that upon this question there was a real mischief touching a poor class of people, which ought, without delay, to be redressed.
§ MR. AUSTIN TAYLOR (Liverpool, East Toxteth)
said a very few words would suffice from him after what had been already said on this Bill to elucidate the position of shipowners in this matter. They all sympathised with the objects and the principle of this measure; from the point of view of placing foreign ships upon the same basis and subject to the same regulations in our ports as British ships this Bill had their hearty sympathy. The only reservation that a British shipowner made or could make in regard to this Bill had already been indicated in the admirable speeches which had been made by the promoters of this 331 measure. The British shipowner was already subjected to far too many harassing regulations. They did not want any more of those regulations, and this Bill, excellent as was its intention in the drafting, evidently placed the British shipowner in a worse position than he was to-day; it rendered his vessel liable to summary arrest in cases of personal injury, notwithstanding the fact that, being domiciled within the United Kingdom, redress was open to the person injured by the ordinary process of law. Of course this might not happen, but, to take an extreme case, it might possibly be that a vessel of very great value, on the point of sailing, and just finishing her loading, might be summarily arrested for a personal injury of a comparatively trifling character, notwithstanding the fact that the owner was perfectly willing to give redress by the ordinary process of law. That would mean delay, and delay to business men meant expense; and in the case of a vessel of very great value it might mean the loss of one tide or two tides, and very vexatious and needless consequent damage. They wanted to see a provision inserted in the Bill that would remove the risk of such vexatious proceedings. He understood that some question arose in regard to the treatment of foreign shipowners, but he should have thought that they need not be so extremely careful in regard to their susceptibilities when placing foreign shipowners in a position of equality in our ports with British shipowners. Whatever might be our opinions upon a general policy, there was no reason why the foreigner should be placed in a favoured position in British ports as against the British shipowner. He wished that the Law Officers of the Crown would carefully consider this matter and, speaking from a British shipowner's points of view, he hoped they would have some assurance from the Government that words would inserted in the Bill which would protect the British shipowner from the risk of needless and vexatious interference. With that reservation from the point of view of British shipping, they heartily approved of the objects of the Bill, and he congratulated the introducer of the measure upon the admirable speech in which he upheld its provisions. From his point of view he had every sympathy 332 with those who were injured in their employment, and he desired to obtain for them that equal justice which the laws of this country intended that they should have.
He would say, in conclusion, that he hoped this matter would receive the careful consideration which it deserved in Committee, and that care would be taken, in passing a measure of this kind, that all indirect effects of a prejudicial character that might arise would be carefully safeguarded, so that in doing what was a common act of justice they might not produce indirect effects which might mean inequality. While in this Bill they were proceeding to redress one inequality, they should take care to bring before the attention of the Government any other inequality which might arise indirectly in cons quence of the passing of the measure. The Select Committee which considered the question last year had not been reappointed, and he hoped the President of the Board of Trade would not delay its reappointment, so that the shipping interest might have the satisfaction of knowing that, in giving the Bill a sympathetic reception, it would also receive from the Government and from the House further assistance in placing foreign shipping in our ports, in regard to the general statutory regulations, upon fair and equal terms in competing with British shipping.
MR. BRYNMOR JONES (Swansea District)
said that after the sympathetic speech by the hon. Member who had just sat down, and the clear speech of the mover, it must be apparent that, so far as a question of principle was involved, the subject need not be discussed much longer. The hon. Member who had just sat down frankly stated, on behalf of British shipowners, that they did not desire treatment more favourable than that which was accorded to foreign shipowners.
§ MR. AUSTIN TAYLOR
I rather put it the other way. What we desire is that foreigners should not receive more favourable treatment than British shipowners.
MR. BRYNMOR JONES
said he was going to say that the existing law was 333 more favourable to foreigners than to British shipowners. He had had the advantage of a conversation with officials of the Government in regard to the matter, and he found that it was practically impossible, without doing damage to our own commerce, to make any difference as regards our laws between foreign shipowners and British shipowners. He felt that the House would be unanimous on that point, and that with regard to the class of cases contemplated by this Bill, and other cases, the law should be equal, and the procedure should be equal in regard to British shipowners and foreign shipowners. This Bill dealt undoubtedly with one of the most difficult topics that could be touched upon by legislation if they adopted the principle to which he had just referred. He wished to point out that the liability of shipowners was not increased in any regard by this Bill. No new duty was imposed upon the shipowner, foreign or British, by the Bill now before the House. The only thing that the Bill was designed to accomplish was to give to a workman coming within the first clause of the measure that opportunity as against a foreign shipowner which he had against a British shipowner to recover damages if a, case could be made out in a Court of law. He had received numerous communications from his own constituency, or, he should say more correctly, from ports in his constitutency—Port Talbot, Swansea, and Neath—that in many cases men who had been injured under circumstances which gave them actions at common law against shipowners had found that in the case of foreign shipowners that remedy was quite inoperative, because there was nobody at Port Talbot, Swansea, and Neath who could be sued, who had any authority from the foreign shipowner to accept service either of a summons issued by the High Court of Justice or by the local Court that had jurisdiction in the matter.
Perhaps the House would permit him to give the kind of case that was in his mind. Supposing that a foreign ship was in the South Dock at Swansea, and that some slight damage had occurred during the voyage which did not necessitate going into dry dock, but necessitated painting and 334 repairs that could be done by proper apparatus in the dock while the ship was loading or unloading, what happened in practice was this. The shipbroker or agent of the foreign ship went to some person engaged in that kind of employment in the port of Swansea and made a contract with him. The contractor had then to employ, all the men, and supposing that proper apparatus had been fitted up, and that owing to the negligence of the master, or the crew, or someone on board the vessel, a servant of the contractor received injury in some way, at common law an action would lie against the shipowner. They were generally agreed upon that. But there was a case where there was no recourse to the Workmen's Compensation Act of 1897, or the Employers' Liability Act of 1880. That was a case of a man having the right to bring an ordinary action in the ordinary Courts for compensation. But supposing the ship were a foreign ship and the injured workman or his friends, or solicitor, or agent, went to the County Court and obtained a summons the question arose against whom and upon whom could that summons be served. It could not be served on the shipbroker because the shipbroker had no authority from the owner of the foreign vessel to accpte service. It was no good serving on the master, because he was not the agent for the foreign shipowner to accept process, and the result was that, though according to the theory of the law the injured man in that case had a right to damages if he could prove negligence, his right to damages against the shipowners in practice was a right which was worth nothing at all, and the only thing he could do, and this he could only do theoretically, was to go to the foreign port and bring an action in a foreign Court against the shipowner in that port, or wherever he could find him. That seemed to him to be clearly a grievance and something that clearly ought to be remedied. If this Bill were passed he thought the Attorney-General would agree with him that that case would be remedied, because, if passed, the case of the workman injured under the circumstances he had mentioned would be precisely similar to that which was created in a collision case.
335 Supposing a foreign ship entered the port of Swansea and collided negligently with another ship, however small—it might be simply a pleasure rowing boat—but if the foreign ship negligently ran it down and damaged it, the owner could go in a few minutes to the County Court office in Swansea, and however great the ship might be that did the damage, and however small his ship might be, he could ask for a summons under the Admiralty jurisdiction of the Court and avail himself of it within an hour. When the bailiff was on that ship he could serve the summons on the master if he found him, and if he could not find the master he nailed the summons to the mast, and there was not only an actual summons calling upon the defendant to appear on a certain day, but there was an order arresting that ship which put it under such circumstances that it could not get its papers from the Custom House. If it be the case that where there was simply damage to a ship they could arrest a foreign ship, why on earth when a man lost his life or was injured should they not have an equal remedy—the remedy that would be effected by this Bill when passed.
He was quite ready to admit that this was one of the most difficult class of cases to deal with. There might be need for great consideration in the drafting of the clauses, and whether they looked at the matter from the point of view of the shipowner, the point of view of their Government, or the point of view of the workman, there might be need to amend the Bill in the Standing Committee on Law, or whichever Committee it might be sent to. That, he thought, they were all agreed about. His hon. friend referred to the Workmen's Compensation Act of 1897, and he thought, according to his recollection, he laid it down with regard to the law that the House of Lords' decisions had been much broader in this respect than the decisions of the Court of Appeal. As he understood the matter the latest decision laid it down that a ship in a dock was a factory within the meaning of the Act. Well, that was of course very satisfactory from the docker's point of view, but the question how far the claim a docker might have against a foreign shipowner came 336 within the purview of that decision might be a very nice one indeed, and he thought, of course, that before the Bill passed that ought to be made perfectly clear. However, this was not the occasion for dealing with minute and difficult points of law. He thought his hon. friend opposite and himself had made the point of principle clear, and he trusted that the Bill might be allowed to proceed to a Second Reading without a division. He was sure he could say on behalf of those with whom he was acting—the labour leaders in his own constituency—that they would be perfectly ready to accept any reasonable alterations which the great learning and great ability of the Attorney-General and his friends might suggest.
§ THE ATTORNEY-GENERAL (Sir ROBERT FINLAY, Inverness Burghs)
I think, if I may be allowed to do so, I ought to congratulate my hon. and learned friend on the very clear and temperate statement he has made. I may say on behalf of the Government that we understand there is a real grievance that requires to be dealt with, and for that reason the Government will accept the Second Reading. At the same time I think it right to say that we desire to reserve absolute freedom of action in regard to the details of the measure. I think there are some points in the Bill as drafted which must be dealt with when the Bill goes into Committee. At this stage I shall not go into the details, but there are one or two points which I think it is only right that I should call the attention of the House to by way of showing the terms on which the Government are able to accept the Second Reading of the Bill. I infer from what has been said that it never was intended that this Bill should apply to the case of some injury occurring to a foreigner on a foreign ship, either in a port of his own country or on the high seas. That never could have been intended, and yet as the Bill is drafted there would be a danger of its being contended that it would apply to such case, and that it would extend beyond British ports even to the case of passengers upon foreign ships. Of course what the framers of the Bill had in view is the kind of case which my 337 hon. friend has just alluded to. It would hardly do to let the Bill apply to anything happening even in British territorial waters, because of course territorial waters are the highway of nations, and it would not do to apply the Bill to a ship merely passing through British territorial waters, and not at all in a British port. Then what has been said shows that the framers of the Bill had in view the case of owners of vessels who are not resident or carrying on business in this country. If an owner of a vessel has a business established here then he can, be sued in our Courts and I infer from what was said in the course of the debate which has taken place that it is the intention of those interested in the Bill to introduce words for the purpose of meeting this point. What I desire to say about that is that the selection of words for that purpose would require the most careful consideration. It would be necessary to see what the Foreign Office have to say, and to see that no ground is given by the Bill which would enable foreign countries to say that we were interfering with the freedom of trade, or that their rights were in any way infringed. The only other observation I have to make is this. To my mind the one great danger in framing any measure of this sort is the possibility of abuse. There may be a claim which is of a vexatious or frivolous character brought against a foreign ship while in a British port, we will say, and just at the time when she is ready to sail a process of arrestment is put into effect. Members of the House cannot fail to realise that, however unfounded the claim might be, it might be that, rather than lose a tide while the process was pending, the claim would be paid. I mention that point because I think those interested in the Bill will recognise that it is absolutely essential that precautions be taken to prevent a measure which is intended to remedy an admitted grievance from being perverted to what might afford legitimate complaint on the part of owners of foreign ships.
§ MR. CHARLES WILSON (Hull, W.)
said that his experience as a shipowner was pretty considerable both as to home and foreign ships, and especially as regarded the Scandanavian shipping 338 industry. He was really afraid that any legislation which might appear invidious to foreign shipowners might react unsatisfactorily against British shipowners. He had to make a suggestion, namely, that at line 17 of the first clause the following addition should be made: "Unless the representatives of such injured persons shall receive a satisfactory guarantee from the agents of such shipowners to pay all reasonable claims." That, it appeared to him, would meet the case of all the vessels coaling into our ports, foreign or otherwise. These had agents, more or less responsible. He sympathised with the object of the Bill, and he was sure that if any injured workman in almost any port in this country were to make out a claim, and receive a guarantee from the agent of the ship for the payment of any damages for injuries caused on board that ship, that would be all that could be required by those who wished to defend the interests of workmen on board foreign ships, but who had not hitherto been able to enforce their claims for injury. He hoped the hon. Gentleman who had introduced this Bill would consider the suggestion which he had made, and, if so, he believed it would do everything which the workmen of this country desired.
§ MAJOR EVANS GORDON (Tower Hamlets, Stepney)
said he would like to say one or two words in support of the Bill, and to congratulate his hon. friend on the very clear manner in which he had put it before the House. There was one point, however, not alluded to by the hon. Gentleman and his seconder, which it might interest the House to know. He believed that the provisions of this Bill were very similar to the provisions of the law already in force in Scotland at the present time, and that the power sought to be granted by the Bill to the English Courts was actually in existence in the Scotch Courts. By Scotch law a ship could be detained where injury had been caused to workmen on board a ship in port. He would like to ask the right hon. Attorney-General whether that was so, for, if so, it was very interesting and important as showing that there could be no danger in passing the Bill now under discussion. The whole object of the measure 339 was to preserve to English working men in our ports the power to enforce the right that was theirs already. Something might be said as to the danger to foreign shipowners of having their ships detained on frivolous charges by British parties, but surely the mere right to a claim for damages against a responsible agent would not prevent a ship pursuing its voyage. It would be against the interests of the foreign owner, if he had a representative in this country; and, as a matter of fact, the latter would not allow the ship to be detained. Then, the risk which English shipowners might be supposed to run from the terms of this Bill of their ships being detained was not really substantial. For if they had got offices or a partner or representative in any port in this country proceedings could be taken against them; and it would not be necessary to detain the vessel. There seemed to be unanimity in regard to the necessity and justice of the Bill; and as his friend who spoke a short time ago said, the intention was merely to reduce the differences which existed between English and foreign shipowners, and to remove these and other inequalities. It was surely putting a premium on English ships being transferred to foreign flags when penalties were put on British ships in foreign ports which were not exacted on foreign ships in English ports. He gave his hearty support to the Bill.
§ MR. SYDNEY BUXTON (Tower Hamlets, Poplar)
said he took considerable interest in this Bill, because he believed that there was a larger amount of loading and unloading of ships in his constituency than in the constituency of any other Member. He thought the hon. Member who introduced the Bill was to be congratulated on the able speech with which he presented it. There appeared, from the expressions that had fallen from all quarters of the House and from every interest entitled to speak in behalf of shipping, to be unanimity in favour of the object which the supporters of the measure had in view. As his hon. friend recognised, every Bill introduced by a private Member, especially in connection with a very difficult question such as this was, was open to amendment in Committee; and so far as regarded 340 the points raised by the right hon. Attorney-General, those who had to do with the fortunes of the Bill desired that the security asked for by the right hon. Gentleman should be provided for. The Attorney-General said that the Bill was so framed as to cover the case of passengers. He did not take it so. The scope of the Bill was only meant to cover the case of those directly engaged in loading or unloading ships, or in subsidiary trades connected therewith, and not to extend to passengers or foreign sailors.
There was another point over which there had, he believed, been much discussion and difficulty. It was the question of the position of the British shipowner. Hs was sure that his hon. friend who introduced the Bill, and his supporters, had no intention to worry or carry out vexatious legislation against British shipowners. In his opinion the British shipowners ought to be the first to welcome this Bill, because at the present moment they were in an invidious position as regarded compensation for injuries to workmen on board ship in port compared with that of foreign shipowners. If their ships were in a foreign port they might be proceeded against for injuries to workmen; but if foreign ships were in British ports, the foreign ship-owners could not be proceeded against—at least, the judgment could not be enforced. He did not think there was any difference of opinion between staunch free-traders and extreme tariff-reformers that where there was inequality in our own Courts as between British and foreign shipowners we ought to get rid of the inequalities and grievances which bore upon the former. This was a case in which the British shipowner was prejudiced by the position which he held. The hon. Member for Hull seemed to be afraid that something was not provided for in the Bill to meet the objections made by him that I ships might be attached under vexatious circumstances, leading to loss of cargo and loss of a voyage. That was not the intention of the Bill, and it would not have that effect; although he believed that the suggestion made by his hon. friend behind him was valuable—namely, that where there was in this country an agent, or someone peculiarly responsible 341 for the pecuniary position of the shipowner, there they could have a legal attachment applied to him or to his office rather than to the ship itself. The whole object of the Bill was that where compensation was due for injury that compensation should be paid. They knew that under present circumstances, while a working man practically had a right to compensation, and had even got a verdict for compensation for injury against a shipowner, if he was unable to attach the money directly or indirectly against the shipowner his verdict was of practically no use to him. So long as there was someone who would be absolutely responsible in regard to compensation to the man who had obtained the verdict, there was no reason why the ship itself should be attached. In regard to the foreign shipowner who had no agent in this country, it was a scandalous thing, that in the case of an accident, compensation for which was actually got by a verdict of the English Courts, the shipowner escaped when the ship sailed, and the injured workman had no legal remedy against that ship-owner or his ship except by going to a foreign port and suing there. Of course that was absolutely ludicrous.
He was sure that every point raised in the discussion, including those brought forward by the right hon. Attorney-General, would be willingly considered by his hon. friend who introduced the Bill, and that there would be no difficulty in coining to an agreement thereupon. There was one other point raised by the right hon. Attorney-General to which he wished to refer for a moment—namely, in regard to another class of workman equally directly employed in loading and unloading ships; he referred to lighter-men. He hoped that that was a point which would be considered when the Bill came into Committee, for he should say that the wording of the Bill as it at present stood did not entirely cover their case. In conclusion, he thought his hon. friend was to be congratulated that in regard to this question they were all at one; and that the only desire of Members on both sides of the House was that this legislation should be carried out with equal justice to the men and to the ship-owners.
§ MR. CHARLES McARTHUR (Liverpool, Exchange)
said he desired to make a few observations on the Bill, and before doing so wished to associate himself with the mover and the other Members who had supported the principle of the Bill. Although he might make one or two criticisms on the Bill they would in no way detract from his desire to see it passed. He fully agreed that the present position as regarded foreign owners was most unsaisfactory. A person who might have suffered personal damage had no claim against the foreign owner because he was not within jurisdiction and could not be sued personally, and also because according to the existing state of the law a foreign ship could not be attached as security for a claim. Consequently, while the British shipowner had to pay the foreign shipowner could sail away without any responsibility. This was a double injustice. It was an injustice as regarded the sufferer, and also an injustice as regarded the British owner. The matter derived additional importance from the fact that the House of Lords had declared a vessel in dock to be a factory; so that all the workmen on board and also the crew came under the Factory Acts. The regulations laid down by those Acts applied to them, and a person damaged could recover under the Workmen's Compensation Act for any injury he might sustain.
There was, however, one point which as a representative of a shipping constituency he had to dwell on. That was, that the Bill did not entirely carry out the intention of the promoters when they sad that they had no desire to inflict any additional penalty or disadvantage on British shipowners. As his hon. friend the Member for East Toxteth pointed out, an additional penalty would be inflicted on British shipowners because under the existing law the shipowner was liable for loss of life or personal injury, but his ship could not be attached. There was no necessity, because he was on the spot and could be proceeded against. The reason for attaching a foreign ship was that the foreign shipowner could not be got at; and, therefore, if they had to enforce their claim they must get at the ship. In addition to the personal responsibility of the British owner they were inflicting an additional 343 burden on him by attaching his ship. That might be very disadvantageous in this way. They might have a ship just on the point of sailing, and some person might be injured and the ship might be arrested to secure that claim. A very short detention was quite sufficient to inflict substantial disadvantage on the shipowner. Take an ordinary cargo carrying steamer earning £100 a day. It was only sufficient to detain her one tide in order to inflict a penalty of £50 on the owner. They might be doing that for a very small claim, and it might be resorted to for the purpose of extorting an unjust settlement of the claim from the owner. That being the case, he hoped some words would be inserted to limit the Bill to foreign ships. He suggested some such words as these: "These provisions shall not apply where the owner is domiciled in the United Kingdom." That might cover to a certain extent the case of a foreign shipowner who had an establishment in the United Kingdom and could be personally sued. In that case there was no reason for attaching the ship. He quite agreed with the hon. Gentleman opposite that as long as the owner, whether British or foreign, had a substantial representative in the United Kingdom there was no occasion to attach the ship. They ought not to inflict the disadvantage of attaching a ship, whether British or foreign, unless there was no other means of obtaining justice.
He would venture to refer to the remarks of the Attorney-General and to say that, as far as his judgment went, this Bill was very loosely drawn and left many important points entirely open. He did not wish to refer to matters which were the proper subjects for Committee, but the Bill was so drawn that it was not limited to British ports, although the intention undoubtedly was that it should apply to British ports only. There was, however, no limitation. An action might be brought for an injury sustained on the high seas. Another important point, it appeared to him, was that under the Bill no recovery could be made in respect of damage under the Workmen's Compensation Act. He supposed it was intended that there should be a remedy under that Act. The Bill was, however, entirely confined to negligence, but they all knew that under the Act it was not necessary 344 to show negligence on the part of the employer. It was only necessary to show that the injury was sustained without negligence on the part of the workman. Then, again, was not the Bill rather unduly restricted in respect to the persons it was sought to protect? It seemed to be confined to persons in or upon or about the vessel that did the damage. But suppose damage was caused by those in charge of a foreign ship to persons on the quay—there might be an explosion, a rope might give way or a chain break, and something might fall on persons on the quay—no remedy would be obtainable in those cases. Supposing one vessel collided with another within the limits of the port, or collided with a launch receiving cargo and that men were drowned, why should there not be a remedy? Therefore, it appeared to him that the Bill would require very full and complete consideration in Committee. He thought it should be restricted to foreign shipowners, and it seemed to him that the provision which it was most essential should be extended was that which provided a more complete remedy against foreign shipowners for claims for damage, loss of life, or personal injury, however they might occur, within the limits of the port. Subject to those considerations, and particularly to the exclusion of British shipowners from any additional disability or burden, he should be prepared to give this Bill his hearty support.
§ MR. JOHN BURNS (Battersea)
said that one noted with sincere pleasure the practical unity there was in the House on this particular measure. He regarded this Bill as being a simple, necessary, and just amendment of the existing law. It would place the British lighterman, stevedore, and dock labourer engaged on a foreign ship in an English port in the same position as a foreign workman engaged on a British ship in a foreign port. It also established a co-equality of treatment as between the British shipowner and the foreign shipowner, and in that way it made for righteousness. The last speech and preceding speeches indicated that this Bill might be extended in various directions so as to include other classes of workmen. He welcomed that from one of the representatives of a great shipping 345 centre. He only wished to add a word of approval of this particular measure. He thanked the Attorney-General for his sympathetic reception of it, he hoped it would be passed, and that it would remove any suggestion of vexatious arrest which was not wanted in the interests of the workmen. He hoped, while safeguarding all necessary interests, they should be able to agree on this small measure, and that reparation which was not now possible would be possible for the some three or four fatal cases, and forty or fifty cases of personal injuries which occurred annually. They were all agreed on this Bill. He only hoped that there would be other Bills also on which there would be practical unanimity.
§ SIR ROBERT ROPNER (Stockton)
said that if a clause were introduced into the Bill to protect shipowners against frivolous actions, shipowners would look upon the measure as the first instalment—the very first—that they had received from the House of Commons to place foreign shipowners under the same disadvantages as British shipowners were under at present in British ports. After the speech of the Attorney-General he had no doubt that the Bill could be so licked into shape in Committee as to be welcomed by every one in that House and in the country. Of course they were all desirous to do justice to their workmen. He did not think that any difficulty could arise in regard to international arrangements. When accidents occurred on British ships in foreign ports the authorities there not only proceeded against the British shipowners and made them pay for such accidents, but they made them criminally liable. He recollected a case in which a man was injured on a British ship at Hamburg and the captain of that ship was actually imprisoned. It was only fair and just that when we were treated in that way in foreign ports the foreigner should be similarly treated in our ports. Of course he agreed that foreign owners should be protected from frivolous arrest, and where the foreign shipowners had agents in this country such agents could be made liable and the vessels allowed to proceed. It might be a great penalty to a shipowner to have his ship arrested at the last moment, especially in the case of 346 large vessels which could only proceed to sea at certain tides, and whose arrest might therefore cause the loss of a fortnight or ten days. All these matters would be inquired into in Committee, and he had not the slightest doubt that this Bill, when returned by the Committee to that House, would be in a form to do much good, and would be accepted unanimously.
§ MR. ATHERLEY-JONES (Durham, N. W.)
thought that as the Bill was drawn, a ship on which an accident had occurred might very well escape before an action could be commenced. He suggested to the Attorney-General that the precedent afforded by the Merchant Shipping Act of 1894, Section 688, might be followed, and that any person aggrieved, that was to say, the injured workman or his representatives, might apply to the port authorities to arrest the ship even though an action had not been commenced. It was possible, though he thought not probable, that the ship might sail before process was issued. He thought also that provision should be made that if adequate security were given the ship should not be arrested at all. There was no such provision in the Bill.
§ SIR FREDERICK BANBURY (Camberwell, Peckham)
congratulated the hon. Member on having brought in this Bill. It was necessary if any person had a claim against any other person for damage that he should have facilities of enforcing it. At present it appeared that while the law gave him a right, it did not give him the power of enforcing it. This Bill, however, did not, as he thought, carry out the intentions of either the hon. mover or those who supported him. So far as he could see the object was to give facilities in port, but the Bill did not say anything about ports, and it might apply not only to vessels in foreign ports but also on the high seas. He quite agreed that it might be difficult to draw such a Bill as would be compatible with international law He hoped that nothing in this Bill would interfere with the free exchange of goods in the port of London, which was the great exchange of the world.
§ MR. BRYCE (Aberdeen. S.)
said he had intended to offer some remarks in support of the Bill, but after the way it 347 had been received it was not necessary. All the objects, which had been raised were capable of being dealt with in Committee now that the Bill was accepted by both sides of the House.
§ MR. HAROLD RECKITT (Lincolnshire, Brigg)
said he was very glad that the Government had seen their way to accept this Bill. He had been connected with the shipping interest for the last twelve years; and when he was first returned as a Member to that House he had in 1895 the honour to introduce a Bill with the same object as that sought by the present measure. At the request of the Government he withdrew his Bill on the ground that as then drafted it, by only throwing liability on the foreign shipowner, might place a difficulty in the way of the Foreign office in connection with negotiation, with foreign countries. That was a matter which should still be borne in mind. He had heard suggestions made that this should be made to apply only to the foreign shipowner, and he desired to warn the House that if that was done it might endanger the prospects of the Bill. He was glad, however, to think the Government had been able to accept the principle of the Bill.
§ COLONEL PILKINGTON (Lancashire, Newton)
said he agreed with the principles of the Bill, but in listening to the debate he felt there were two things he should like to say. In the first place he was glad to find that steps were being taken to put foreign ships on the same footing as British ships; but he should like to say that in all arrangements with foreigners we generally came off second best. They had it from the speech of the Attorney-General that he foresaw a great difficulty in this matter, and he should like to tell the President of the Board of Trade that there were laws applying to foreign and British affairs, absolutely equal so far as the law itself went, but when it came to be applied the Briton was amenable to the law and the foreigner escaped. His right hon. friend knew perfectly well that in the matter of the hall-marking of gold and silver, foreign watches ought to be marked as well as British watches, but they were not The foreign watch was not gold or silver, but the British watch was bound to be, 348 and the foreigner came in with impunity and undersold the British article. He only recalled that as an instance. He was rather alarmed when he heard the words of the Attorney-General. When the hon. and learned Gentleman got up he said it would require the most careful treatment, and he also mentioned that the Board of Trade and the Foreign Office would have to look into this matter very carefully. It was always the case that we could deal with the inhabitants of this country, but we were very much afraid of giving the same treatment to those of other countries. There was this danger in connection with this Bill, and he thought it was only right that on the Second Reading someone should call attention to these things. The British shipowner, he understood, was liable now under the Workmen's Compensation Act and the foreigner was not. This Bill was to bring the foreign owner as much as possible under the same law as the British shipowner, but when the Bill was passed we should only be able to make him liable if we could prove negligence, and he would probably escape in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred. Therefore, the Bill wanted very careful treatment. He would suggest one thing more, and that was that we should not hamper the British shipowner. If the British shipowner could be proceeded against under the Workmen's Compensation Act, there was no need to hamper him in another way. He cordially supported the Bill.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed to the Standing Committee on Law, etc.