HC Deb 19 December 1912 vol 45 cc1668-71

asked the President of the Board of Trade (1) whether he is aware that, under Section 633 of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894, an owner of a ship is not liable for any loss or damage due to the fault or incapacity of a qualified pilot in any district where pilotage is compulsory; that by Section 620 of the same Act a pilot is not liable for neglect or want of skill beyond the pilotage fee and the penalty of the bond for £100 given by him to Trinity House; that the effect of the existing law is that, in case of collision between a ship under compulsory pilotage and a barge, the owner of the ship is free from liability to the owner of the barge, even if the ship was to blame, and that the owner of the barge is under liability to the owner of the ship if the barge was to blame; and will he take steps to introduce Amendments to the Pilotage Bill now in Committee to remove this inequality; (2) whether the Select Committee on the Pilotage Bill, 1870, and the Thames Traffic Committee, 1878–79, proposed to remove the inequality in regard to liability for loss or damage between ships under compulsory pilotage and vessels not subject to compulsory pilotage by the abolition of the system of compulsory pilotage; that the Select Committee on Pilotage, 1888, and the Departmental Committee on Pilotage which reported in March, 1911, proposed to remove the same inequality by abolishing the immunity of the shipowner, whilst maintaining compulsory pilotage; that by Clause 45 of the Pilotage Bill, introduced by the Government on 15th August, 1911, the immunity of a ship carrying a compulsory pilot was proposed to be abolished; and will he say why the recommendations above referred to have not been followed, and why the proposal contained in Clause 45 of the Pilotage Bill, 1911, finds no place in the Pilotage Bill now in Committee; (2) whether, by letter dated the 14th March, 1912, by the Board of Trade (Harbour Department) and addressed to the secretary of the Association of Master Lightermen and Barge Owners, the Board of Trade assured that association that the Pilotage Bill, 1912, would contain a provision similar to that in Clause 45 of the Pilotage Bill, 1911, to the effect that the owner or master of a vessel navigating under circumstances in which pilotage is compulsory shall be answerable for any loss or damage caused by the vessel, or by any fault in the navigation of the vessel, in the same manner as he would if pilotage were not compulsory; and will he say why the Board of Trade have not given effect to this assurance; and (4) whether, in order to obtain the immunity from liability attaching to compulsory pilotage, ships actually belonging to London owners and trading to the port of London, and which if registered in the port of London would not be subject to compulsory pilotage, are actually registered at some other port and so become subject to compulsory pilotage; that in order to obtain the like immunity masters of ships engaged in the roasting trade deliberately abstain from obtaining pilotage certificates for the River Thames; that the present state of the law occasions hardship and injury to many innocent persons; and will he take steps to amend it?

The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. Buxton)

I am aware of the effect of Sections 620 and 633 of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894, and of the recommendations made by the Committees mentioned in the question. As the hon. Member is aware, the Pilotage Bill of last year contained a Clause giving effect to these recommendations, and it was proposed to insert a similar Clause in the Bill of the present Session, and the Association of Master Lightermen and Barge Owners were so informed in a letter dated 14th March last. The reason why this course has not been adopted was explained to the Association in a letter, dated 3rd July last, to the effect that this question, with others connected with the liability of shipowners, is the subject of international negotiations, which are still incomplete, and that as a further international conference will take place shortly, it has been thought advisable to postpone dealing with it by legislation in this country until the result of that conference is known. I am aware that the Pilotage Committee reported that some of the effects of the existing law were as stated by the hon. Member, and I hope it may be practicable to deal with the subject in the near future, although, as I have stated, there are reasons for not doing so by the Pilotage Bill now before the House.


May I ask whether, if international agreement is sought to be arrived at on this question, would it not be better to postpone this Bill until some basis of international agreement is arrived at?


The Bill deals with a large number of questions. It is a consolidating Bill as regards the whole pilotage system, and it has an International Clause with regard to our relations with France. I see no reason why it should be postponed.