§ Sir EDWARD SASSOON
I beg to ask for leave to introduce a Bill to render installation of wireless telegraphy on passenger ships compulsory.
I feel that there is little necessity to explain the provisions of the Bill, which, I submit, is desirable both on the grounds of humanity and economy.
This invention is marvellous and subtle almost beyond anything that human ingenuity has yet devised. It has thoroughly established its claims to serious consideration by the phenomenal manifestations of its use in so many recent instances where, but for its powerful aid, the world would have had to mourn the loss of many valuable lives. Many of these instances the House will readily recall. I need hardly mention more than three—the "City of Paris," the "St. Louis," and the "Republic." No one, not even the most hide-bound person interested in staving off competition from the cable companies, now seriously denies the effectiveness of this invention. Perhaps I may be allowed to recall the name of that gifted inventor and pioneer, Mr. Marconi. He does credit to the land of his birth, Italy, and to the land of his extraction, Ireland. All ships which are fitted with wireless apparatus have to do is to indicate their latitude and longitude; the message is radiated for hundreds of miles, and if the ship happens to be in a state of danger there is a chance of its being relieved.
But I do not rest my contention mainly upon humanitarian grounds. I feel convinced that the House, the country, and for the matter of that, those shipowners who have hitherto been remiss for some reason or other—probably because they were waiting for the further perfection of the invention—in providing their ships with these necessary instruments, will not grudge the necessary expense or the necessary sacrifice, and I hope to show the House presently that this sacrifice will be very small. The House may say all this is very well, but what about the element of 382 cost. I will refer to that presently, but I beg incidentally and very respectfully to ask the House to observe that Parliament did not weigh in the balances the financial equation when it imposed a far more onerous and exacting liability upon railway companies in the matter of the provision of continuous brakes. With regard to the automatic couplings, if they can be shown to have been effective in protecting the life and limb of those who are engaged in shunting operations, I daresay that the House will not be backward in imposing a further obligation upon railway companies. As for the cost of my proposal, from certain inquiries which I have instituted, I can confidently assure the House that the question of expense will be a neglible quantity. The main item of expense will be the provision of the expert. In the case of ships of limited dimensions that cost may be dispensed with, and these ships need only carry apparatus of a very simple character. The junior engineer will be able easily to learn all that is necessary to manipulate the apparatus. In regard to another point, it will not be necessary to have a special cabin for the apparatus and the operator, because the apparatus cart be placed either in the steering-room or in the engine-room, where it will be under constant and vigilant supervision. With respect to the cost of the apparatus, in view of the huge demand that would arise, assuming that this Bill has the privilege to obtain the consent of Parliament, the provision of the installation will become very cheap. The apparatus will not cost more than £200. Members may therefore dismiss from their minds any hesitation they may have in acceding to this Bill on the score of expense. Besides, I am bound to point out that the cost would be largely compensated by the rates of premium which underwriters are only too ready to offer ships so fitted. The House will probably remember the case of the steamer "Trieste," which for eighteen whole days languished helpless in the trough of the sea. A British steamer stood by, but it was unable to render any effective help for two or three 383 days. Both of these ships, simply because they had not the wireless instruments, remained for practically eighteen days in an immobile condition, and because they had neglected what I call this most elementary precaution. The House will observe that both of these ships were practically on the highway of the Indian Ocean and in the course of ships sailing from Aden to Bombay.
In New Zealand, a model Colony, which has furnished so many valuable arguments to speakers during the last two days, absolute power has been taken to require by Order in Council that every vessel leaving this port shall be fitted with this wireless telegraphic communication. France has power already to require this installation upon all subsidised ships, and is ready now to ask the Chamber of Deputies to invest it with further powers. In the United States, on 4th May last, a Bill passed the Senate very similar to one which I have now the honour to introduce. It is now before the House of Representatives.
I shall very briefly recapitulate my Bill. It contains four clauses. The first Clause requires that after twelve months from the passage of the Bill it shall be unlawful for any ship, British or foreign-owned, carrying pasengers, or fifty persons, including passengers and crew, to leave any British port unless it is fitted with an efficient wireless installation in good working order which shall be capable of receiving and transmitting messages for a distance of a hundred miles by night or by day—provided, of course, that this provision shall not apply to coastwise steamers. The second Clause indicates that the company installing the apparatus shall engage to receive and transmit messages so far as may be physically practicable—this to be determined by the master—messages conveying information in relation to the safety and condition of the ship, and those on board, and any other useful aids to navigation; to convey these messages from the ship to shore stations using other systems of wireless telegraphy. The third Clause imposes a penalty of £1,000 on any vessel infringing this stipulation, and it makes the vessel liable to payment of a fine if it leaves or attempts to leave the port after notice.
The fourth Clause merely asks that the Board of Trade shall frame the necessary Regulations for the due enforcement of the provisions of this Bill. I think I may be 384 excused if I express surprise at the absence of any representative of the Board of Trade from the benches opposite on a matter so seriously vital to the interests of commerce and industry. I had intended to make a humble appeal to the president of the Board of Trade to take this little bantling under his wing, and to extend to it all that protection which a private enterprise requires for its growth and development. At any rate, I may express the hope that there will be no formidable opposition from any quarter of the House to the First Reading. In a matter so capable of insuring the safety and mental tranquillity of His Majesty's subjects I feel sure the House would like to do what is right. I think the House of Commons cannot do better than associate humanity with practical utility, and thus add another bright page to the annals of our history.
§ Mr. GIBSON BOWLES
I rise to oppose this Bill. It is a well-meant Bill, no doubt, but I think I shall show the House that there is great danger of its doing far more harm than good to those whom it is intended to benefit. The House will observe that it is limited to passenger boats. I do not quite know why. I would point out—
§ Mr. GIBSON BOWLES
I think the Order reads "a passenger vessel." I am not sure the hon. Baronet can extend it.
§ Sir EDWARD SASSOON
I distinctly said a passenger vessel, or fifty persons including passengers and crew.
§ Mr. GIBSON BOWLES
I do not think the hon. Baronet will be allowed to put that into his Bill. Let me first point out that large passenger vessels have already largely provided themselves with wireless telegraphy, and that the others do not need it. Hence the Bill is unnecessary. Then if the hon. Baronet proposes to extend, as I understand he proposes, to the further passenger vessels, it will be a large question for the House as to how far it is prepared to impose upon the shipping of this country the obligation to carry out so expensive an installation as wireless telegraphy. The hon. Baronet thinks nothing of a few hundred pounds. I can assure him that to the ordinary tramp steamer a few hundred pounds is a very important matter. But my real objection 385 to this is other than that. If this Bill were passed, if there were imposed upon every passenger, or other ship, or any ship, the obligation to instal a system of wireless telegraphy, first of all there is the question of the expense of the system, and secondly there is the expense of carrying a man. I think indeed you can hardly do with less than two extra men, for one man could not be on duty day and night.
§ Mr. GIBSON BOWLES
He has his engines to attend to. Certainly you would want almost two extra men to keep touch with the wireless telegraphy. You cannot take away your engineers from their engine-room duties. I know a case where wireless telegraphy has been fitted, and they have had to have two extra men. That is a great expense. My objection goes further. To apply these requirements to our shipping would place it at a very great disadvantage with foreign shipping, and would mean putting our shipping under further harassing regulations of the Board of Trade, which has never done anything but mischief to the shipping trade. It has ruined many of the ship-owners, and it has in no way improved the shipping of this country. In the interests of shipping all the officials of the Board of Trade should be strangled or marooned on a desert island, so that they might leave shipping alone. They have been a great curse to the shipping trade, and now the hon. Baronet proposes to institute a further set of regulations to be carried out by the same Board of Trade which has already oppressed the shipping of this country as much as it possibly can. He proposes this new set of regulations in connection with wireless telegraphy. I am dead against it. I believe that it will be very bad for the shipping. It would mean more inspectors. Every sort of inspector visits an English ship to measure the crew space and all kinds of things, yet the hon. Baronet wants more.
It is no use to instal wireless telegraphy on board a ship unless you have stations on land to take in the messages. In Europe and between here and New York there are many stations, and they are under the control of the Post Office; but, like everything under the control of a public Department, they are hundreds of years behind the times. They are so bad as to be almost 386 useless, and there is no possible hope of expectation of improvement. If you go to the other hemisphere—to Australia—there is scarcely a station to be found, and your passenger ships would have to go many thousands of miles without being able to use their wireless installation. Therefore, I do not think the hon. Baronet has made out a case. I think his Bill would increase the tyrannical powers of the Board of Trade, and it would largely add to the expenses of owners of passenger ships. It would impose upon them the need for carrying this wireless telegraphy, which itself is only in its early stage. We have put ourselves in regard to it into the hands of one expert, Senor Marconi, while there is another expert, named Balsillie, whom they have not tried. The time is not ripe for this Bill; the Board of Trade is not to be trusted; and I hope this Bill, if leave is given to introduce it, will be allowed to proceed no further than its First Reading.
Bill ordered to be brought in by Sir Edward Sassoon, Lord Charles Beresford, Mr. Walter Guinness, Sir Seymour King, Mr. Stewart, and Mr. Gwynne. Presented accordingly, and read the first time.