§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the ADMIRALTY (Dr. Macnamara)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
The purpose which this simple measure proposes to achieve will at once be gathered by examining its one executive Clause—Where salvage services are rendered by any ship belonging to His Majesty and that ship is a ship specially equipped with salvage plant, or is a tug, the Admiralty shall, notwithstanding anything contained in Section five hundred and fifty-seven of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894, be entitled to claim salvage on behalf of His Majesty for such services, and shall have the same rights and remedies as if the ship rendering such services did not belong to His Majesty.I am afraid I must ask the House to follow me a moment or two while I seek to explain the necessity for this modification of the existing law. The first Statute which provided a reasonable reward for salvage was passed in 1713. It imposed a duty on men-of-war and merchant ships belonging to Her Majesty Queen Anne, and private ships to give salvage assistance to vessels in distress. It made no distinction between Queen's ships and private ships as regards either the duty 1356 to render assistance or the right to salvage reward. In the days of sailing ships salvage claims used to be made by or on behalf of the master and crew of the rescuing ship and were recognised by the Courts. The owners of the rescuing ships were not considered to have any interest in the matter. They did not incur any material expense—
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
They did not incur-any material expense by the delay and by the action taken by the masters and the crew in giving assistance. It was not-until 1825 that owners of rescuing ships, by a judgment of Lord Stowell, were admitted as having any title to consideration in the matter. Since that date, of course, the value of ships has risen out of all knowledge, and the interest of the owner in any salvage work done by his ship has become very real and has rapidly grown, in importance. The time taken in the work, the coal and other stores expended have become considerations of great value. So much is this the case that it has gradually become the practice of the Courts in making salvage awards to allow something like 80 per cent, to the owner and something like 20 per cent, to the master and crew. It was still in the early days of steam that the Merchant Shipping. Act of 1854 was passed, and in this, without any discussion, the Crown renounced-any claim for expenses incurred by one of Her Majesty's ships rendering salvage service. My hon. Friends will be pleased to observe that was long before there were any vessels in existence like the powerful, tugs of the present day or like the highly special salvage vessels which are now employed to rescue ships in distress. It certainly could not have been contemplated that the term "ships belonging to-Her Majesty," used in 1854, could apply to the vessels for which provision is made in this Bill—powerful tugs and specially-equipped salvage vessels. That brings me to the reason for introducing this Bill. The need for the Bill has arisen because-the Admiralty has established, apart altogether from the fighting snips, a salvage service comprised of vessels fitted with-specially designed salvage plant, pumps, and gear for the purpose principally of salving vessels in Government employment that are in distress through marine or war risk during the War. We have also taken upon requisition a large number of tugs and vessels and plant of the Liverpool Salvage 1357 Association, the great institution supported by the Marine Insurance Societies and underwriters of this country for the salvage of ships in distress. The Admiralty, therefore, has become during the War the greatest salving organisation in the United Kingdom. Of course, although our efforts in that direction are primarily designed to salve ships in Admiralty employment, it is clear that cases of salvage services being rendered to private ships as time goes on may often arise. At present not one penny of the expense incurred by the salvage vessels employed by the Admiralty can be refunded by the underwriters or the other parties responsible for the ship that is assisted, because of the wording of Section 557 of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894, which states:Where salvage services are rendered by any ship belonging to His Majesty or by the commander or crew thereof, no claim shall be allowed for any loss, damage, or risk caused to the ship or her stores, tackle, or furniture, or for the use of any stores or any articles belonging to His Majesty supplied iii order to effect those services or for any other expense or loss sustained by His Majesty by reason of that service.We have no wish whatever to abate the practice thus enshrined in the Statute Book by which His Majesty's ships of war when going about their proper duties are expected to render gratuitous service to vessels in distress, but the creation of an Admiralty Salvage Service has brought about a new situation. It is evident that the words of the Statute go further than was intended. It was not intended that no expenses could be claimed in respect of services rendered by specially equipped salvage vessels. We have discussed the matter with representatives of the underwriters, who are in complete agreement with the, proposal to amend this Section of the Merchant Shipping Act, with a view to removing the anomaly that, while the private salvage vessel can make a claim for salvage, one in Government employment cannot. This short Bill has been drafted with the sole object of removing that anomaly, and enabling claims to be made on behalf of the Crown for services rendered by these special vessels, which are really commercial vessels, and not ships of war at all. I should add that the rights and privileges of the officers and men of the Royal Navy are in no way interfered with by this measure.
§ Mr. HOUSTON
What does the right hon. Gentleman mean by not interfered with? Are not the officers in command and the crew of these special salvage steamers belonging to the Crown to be entitled to a proportion of the salvage, just as the crews of merchant ships would be?
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
I was not dealing with that point at the moment. I was dealing with officers and crews of His Majesty's ships. If the hon. Member will read the full Section 557 of the Merchant Shipping Act, he will see that we are not amending that part of it which gives captains and crews, subject to the consent of the Admiralty, the right to pay in respect of services rendered, but only that part dealing with the rights of ships. I also warn the House that this Bill is not limited to the duration of the War, and is not, in that sense, the kind that we call emergency measures, although it became necessary owing to circumstances which have arisen during the War. It is, nevertheless, quite possible that the Admiralty Salvage Service will be continued in the future as a permanent institution.
§ Mr. HOUSTON
I have not risen, as my right hon. Friend is aware, to oppose this Bill, for I am heartily in accord with the principle that it contains. I think it is only right that where specially constructed or equipped vessels are provided for salvage services they should be entitled to claim for those services. My right hon. Friend has made it quite clear in respect of His Majesty's ships that no claim for salvage will be made by those ships for any services rendered to merchant ships, and that it is only in connection with specially equipped ships that these services will be charged for.
§ Mr. HOUSTON
So far as the rest of His Majesty's ships are concerned, I should like to take this opportunity of saying that I know how very anxious and willing naval officers are to render assistance in every possible case, without any thought of recompense or remuneration. They are only too anxious to do that. But in these cases, where special ships are-specially equipped for this service, I should desire that the officers and crew of these ships should be treated as though they were in the merchant service. But there is one point I should like to have made clear, and I should like the right hon. Gentleman to amend his Clause 1359 slightly. Although the Bill says that these ships are to be treated as though they did not belong to His Majesty, still they are King's ships, and therefore belong to the Crown, and in the event of the owners of a salved or assisted steamer, considering that the charge made by the Admiralty is exorbitant, the owner has no means of resisting that or seeking protection because a subject cannot take action against the Crown, except by means of one roundabout process of applying to the Attorney-General for the King's fiat for leave to present a Petition of Right, and that is a very cumbrous and costly thing to do. I therefore suggest to the consideration of the right hon. Gentleman that this Clause might be easily and effectively amended by giving protection to the owners of assisted ships by the insertion of two words in the Clause. I will read the Clause and indicate where I desire my Amendment to be made:Notwithstanding anything contained in Clause 557 of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894, be entitled to claim salvage on behalf of His Majesty for such services, and shall have the same rights and remedies.and I should like to insert the words "and conditions,"as if the ship rendering such services did not belong to His Majesty.I should like the owners or underwriters of salved steamers to have the protection of the Admiralty, Probate, and Divorce Court in the case of disputed salvage cases. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be prepared to accept this Amendment, either the words I suggest, or words with the same effect. If he will not agree to their inclusion, although I will certainly not resist the Second Reading of the Bill, I shall have to move Amendments later on.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
I can only speak again by the consent of the House. I am much obliged to my hon. Friend for his speech, and for the assistance he has rendered in this matter, but his apprehensions are entirely unfounded. His case is this: "How do we know that the Crown will not make an exorbitant claim and be in a position to enforce it; are we shipowners to have no remedy?" And he says, quite rightly, "We cannot adopt the cumbrous and costly remedy of a Petition of Rights." And therefore he suggests amending the Clause by inserting 1360 the words "and conditions." I have gone into the point he makes very closely indeed. My hon. Friend will notice at the end of Clause 1 of the Bill the words—and shall have the same rights and remedies as if the ship rendering such services did not belong to His Majesty.That places it in the same position as a private-owned ship. We only amend Section 557 of the Merchant Shipping Act, and he will remember that all parts of that Act dealing with the right of private owners to take matters in dispute to the Court stand untouched in this Bill. Procedure with regard to salvage will stand in respect of the Crown just as in respect of any private owner. I am quite sure about that, and my hon. Friend need have no fear. But I am so much obliged to him for the assistance he has given that I will go into the matter again, and if it is necessary to add any words I will do so.
§ Mr. HOUSTON
May I thank my right hon. Friend? This Bill clearly gives His Majesty the same rights and remedies as the private owner, but it does not bind His Majesty to the same limitations as a private owner; I hope the matter will be made quite plain in the Bill.
§ Mr. KING
Very well, I do not mind. It is worth while calling attention to the fact, which I have mentioned before, that the Government is developing on large lines of State Socialism. I think they are right in doing so. Salvage concerns are highly profitable and pay large dividends. [An HON. MEMBER: "Sometimes!"] They do when they are well managed. As this is going to be managed by right hon. Gentlemen like the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty, it will be very profitable, and it will help us to pay for the War. In that sense I am quite in accord with this Bill, which is another step towards the 1361 State Socialism that is coming after the War. I observe in line 5 of the Bill that we are referred toAny ship belonging to His Majesty.Is a ship which is requisitioned a ship belonging to His Majesty—I presume it is?
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
For the purposes of this Bill it is not; unless the ship is demised or unless there is a stipulation giving the Crown the right of salvage.
§ Mr. KING
I am not quite sure whether the right hon. Gentleman sees my point. It is that we want to have made quite clear in this Bill what is "a ship belonging to His Majesty." Is a ship belonging to a railway company, or to a salvage company, which has been taken over for the purposes of the War and that only, a ship belonging to His Majesty's Navy?
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read a second time," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a second time; and committed to a Committee of the Whole House for Monday next.—[Mr. James Hope.]