HC Deb 31 July 1912 vol 41 cc2035-8
34. Mr. PETO

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether the Report of the Advisory Committee with regard to the "Titanic" disaster and the evidence given before this Committee and its Subcommittee will be circulated with the Votes for the information of hon. Members, and when he proposes to lay any new Regulations based upon the Report of the Advisory Committee and the findings of the Court of Inquiry into the "Titanic" disaster upon the Table; whether he can undertake that they shall not be put in force until the House has had an opportunity to debate the subject; and whether he can say when that opportunity will be given?

42 and 43. Major ARCHER-SHEE

asked the President of the Board of Trade (42) when he proposes to lay upon the Table of the House the draft of the new Regulations governing the provision of life-saving, appliances at sea; and (43) if he will lay upon the Table of the House any Report by the Advisory Committee of the Board of Trade with reference to the provision of life-saving appliances on board merchant ships made since the "Titanic" disaster; whether he has received any report on the same subject from his nautical advisers; and, if so, whether he can also lay their report?

50. Mr. MORTON

asked whether the Report of the Wreck Commissioner on the loss of the "Titanic" will be presented before the Recess; if so, will the House have an opportunity of considering it; and whether there will be any inquiry as to the neglect of the Board of Trade in not seeing that the "Titanic" was properly equipped with boats, etc., before being allowed to sail?


I propose to have the Report of the Advisory Committee and of its Sub-committee printed as a Parliamentary Paper. I also propose at once to lay on the Table of the House Lord Mersey's Report. As regards the latter part of the question, perhaps the House will allow me to make a general statement. The Report of the Court was only delivered yesterday, and that of the Advisory Committee was only received on Monday. They could not, therefore, be printed and circulated in time to give hon. Members, and those interested in the question, an adequate opportunity of considering them before the House rises. Further, until the House is also in possession of the Revised Rules and Instructions dealing with safety at sea to be issued by the Board of Trade, any discussion would necessarily be of a perfunctory character. I have, with my advisers, been engaged in a very careful review of the whole situation. But the decisions provisionally come to, must, as I informed the House in the discussion on my Vote, be necessarily and properly reviewed by the light of the Reports of the Court and of the Advisory Committee. These have only just been received. The course I suggest, therefore, for the convenience of the House is this: The Rules, before they become effective, must lie on the Table of the House for forty days. But they cannot be "laid" while the House is not sitting. Even if I were in a position to lay the Rules and Instructions before the House on one of the last days of this part of the Session, the House I am sure would not desire that I should do so, inasmuch as the forty days would then begin to run from that period, and the Rules would become statutory before the House had had an opportunity of considering them.

I would propose, therefore, to issue the proposed Rules and Regulations during the Recess in the form of a White Paper, which would be circulated to Members, and be available to the public. I am anxious that the Rules should, when promulgated, be, as far as possible, generally accepted; and this procedure will give the most unfettered opportunity to all those concerned of duly considering them before the House meets again. The Regulations, based on the White Paper, could be laid before the House on its reassembling. If the House then, with all the facts and documents before it, desired a general discussion on the whole question, a definite opportunity would be afforded on an early day after the Recess. I may point out that no real delay would be caused by the suggested procedure; for adequate notice of the alterations which may be required by the new Regulations, must in any case be given before they can be enforced. Further, as the House knows, as regards practically all ocean-going ships the public have, as regards boats, already provisional security from the voluntary action of the shipowners themselves, taken after the conferences with the Board of Trade some, time ago. I hope that the proposal I make may meet the views of the House.


May I ask the right hon. Gentleman if the Report of the Advisory Committee agrees more or less with the Report of the "Titanic" Court of Inquiry inasmuch as it recommends boats for all instead of boats for some?


I would much rather not discuss the proposals of the Committee's Report piecemeal. The hon. and gallant Gentleman will, as soon as possible, be in possession of the full facts.


Do we understand from the answer of the right hon. Gentleman that there is to be no temporary revision of the rules, the possibility of which the right hon. Gentleman fore-shadowed some weeks ago?


What I said was that possibly it would be inexpedient, and I did not think it proper on the part of the Board of Trade or myself to issue regulations until we had the advantage of considering the Report of the "Titanic" Court of Inquiry, and also the recommendations of the Advisory Committee. These Reports I have only just received. I can assure hon. Members I have lost no time in preparing additional rules and regulations, but I am very anxious to see how far the conclusions I have come to with my advisers are in accord with those of the Court of Inquiry and the Advisory Committee. There will be really no delay. I stated this would be the proper procedure. I am extremely anxious the House should have a full opportunity of considering the matter when they have the Reports before them, and I think hon. Members will agree that until then no discussion would be of any value.


Will the right hon. Gentleman publish Lord Mersey's findings as soon as possible?


Yes, certainly. I hope to publish Lord Mersey's findings in the course of a few days.


Are we to understand that the Prime Minister will give us a day to consider this matter when the House reassembles in October?


I thought I made that quite clear. I said that after the Recess, when the House has seen these Reports and the rules and regulations, if it desires an early discussion I have an undertaking from the Prime Minister that a day will be given for such discussion.


Will the Report of the American Committee be also circulated?


I do not really think that is germane. I think we have ample opportunity for discussion on the Reports.