HC Deb 14 December 1911 vol 32 cc2664-7

(1) This Act shall extend throughout His Majesty's dominions and to any territories under his protection, and to Cyprus:

Provided that it shall not extend to the Dominion of Canada, the Commonwealth of Australia, the Dominion of New Zealand, the Union of South Africa, and Newfoundland.

(2) This Act shall not apply in any case in which proceedings have been taken before the passing thereof, and all such cases shall be determined as though this Act had not been passed.

(3) The provisions of this Act shall be applied in all cases heard and determined in any court having jurisdiction to deal with the case, and in whatever waters the damage or loss in question was caused, or the salvage services in question were rendered, and Sub-section (9) of Section twenty-five of the Supreme Court of Judicature Act, 1873, shall cease to have effect.

(4) This Act shall apply to any persons other than the owners responsible for the fault of the vessel as though the expression "owners" included such persons, and in any case where, by virtue of any charter or demise, or for any other reason, the owners are not responsible for the navigation and management of the vessel, this Act shall be read as though for references to the owners there were substituted references to the charterers or other persons for the time being so responsible.


I beg to move to omit the words "Provided that it shall not extend to the Dominion of Canada, the Commonwealth of Australia, the Dominion of New Zealand, the Union of South Africa, and Newfoundland."

12.0 M.

This raises the very important question of the extent to which the self-governing Dominions ought to be allowed to act independently of this country in matters of international agreement. That is a matter of the utmost gravity, and I very much regret that it should not be possible to discuss a subject of that sort on its own merits at a suitable time of day. I do not think the Bill ought to be allowed to go through without having some plain speaking on the subject. The whole object of the measure is to secure international agreement on matters concerned with the high seas, and really it is quite absurd that in a matter as to which the whole object is to secure a reversal of things we should allow these self-governing Colonies to contract themselves out if they think fit to do so. How can we be said to be a united Empire when our negotiators are not entitled to speak for the Empire as a whole in a matter as to which a general agreement is the object that is being sought? In the Naval Prize Bill, which dealt with a similar class of subject there was no suggestion for a moment that the Colonies were not to be bound by the same laws which bound this country. Those who are interested in the mercantile marine object very strongly indeed to having different laws in the Colonies with regard to matters that occur on the sea from those which prevail in this country. I cannot see how it can be thought to be any part of the reasonable demand for autonomy that the Colonies should be allowed to make their laws separate from ours with regard to maritime affairs. I understand very little practical inconvenience is likely to arise in this case, and I hope I shall be assured that the majority of our Colonies are going to introduce similar legislation. I should also like my hon. Friend to explain what the effect of this Clause is going to be, assuming that we pass the Bill and that the Colonies do not pass similar measures. As regards vessels registered in the Colonies, will the effect be that the law will be different from that applicable to vessels registered in this country? Am I right in understanding—and I think this is the true interpretation—that it depends on the court before which you bring your action what the apportionment of the damages will be? If there was a collision between my ship and that of another owner, and the case was tried in Sydney, would we be told that the law was different there from the law in London for precisely the same thing? If that is so, I think everybody will agree that it is highly objectionable. Nothing can be more objectionable as regards the different parts of the Empire than that the selection of the place where you try a case should make a difference in the deciding of the question which of the two parties has to pay for the loss occasioned. That cannot be right. I hope my hon. Friend will be able to give some assurance which will put it beyond doubt that in practice the law in the whole Empire as to collisions at sea will be one and the same, no matter in what part of the Empire the case is tried.


I think I can give my hon. Friend the assurance he wants. The Amendment raises two questions—one the general theoretical question whether the Colonies ought to be bound by the international laws of this country which have passed through our Legislature, and the other the particular question as to the position in which the Colonies will stand in regard to this measure. My hon. Friend has put to me the question: What will happen if we pass this Bill and the Colonies do not pass similar measures? In regard to the second question, I grant that in a case arising out of a collision at sea it would be wholly a matter for the court in which the case was tried. The Colonies, assuming that they do not pass this measure, would continue to act on their existing laws in whatever points they may differ from the law now being set up. But there is practical certainty that will not take place. The Colonies were parties to the Conference, and they considered the whole matter, and in fact two have given formal ratification of the convention, namely, South Africa and New Zealand. All the others, with one exception, have accepted the draft convention which has been very slightly altered in the process of drafting since. The only one that made any objection was Australia, and it objected on two points only. One was in regard to the abolition of the old defence of compulsory pilotage. That was discussed at the Conference, and it was decided that it should be dropped from the measure. Considering that the question of compulsory pilotage is not raised—and that was the only serious point put for Australia—the Australian objection falls to the ground. The other matter was quite a minor one. It seems to me that any objection by Australia has been met by the withdrawal of the proviso to compel pilotage and that the assent of Australia will be obtained in due course. This promise that the law in the Colonies will in due course be absolutely the same as ours in all the matters dealt with in this very important connection will meet my hon. Friend's contention that in such matters the law passed in the mother country should bind the Colonies. I would point out that the Naval Prize Bill to which he alluded is hardly an exact analogy. That deals with a matter of law arising in connection with war. On that point the Colonies are properly at one with the mother country. But as regards measures of commercial legislation such as the present the Colonies very naturally claim that as in all other matters, however they may give their assent, it must lie with them to give their assent in legislative form in their own legislature. I may also point out the terms of Clause 10, that this Act is to be construed as one with the Merchant Shipping Acts of 1894 to 1907. Those Acts leave it to the Colonies to pass the requisite measures, putting themselves on a level with us in regard to that particular legislation. As this Act is to be construed with these I think it is obvious that this Act could not pretend to exact from them a kind of submission which the original and main Act did not exact. That is to say you must in this as in the Merchant Shipping Act leave the Colonies individually to give effect to their assent by passing measures of their own. But my hon. Friend will see that their assent is practically quite certain.


After the assurance of my hon. Friend I ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Original question put, and agreed to.

Bill reported without Amendment; read the third time, and passed.