HC Deb 28 October 1919 vol 120 cc536-9

  1. (1) This Act shall apply to a vessel as if the vessel were land, and the master of the vessel shall be deemed to be the occupier thereof.
  2. (2) A local authority having power to enforce this Act, may by notice served on the master of a vessel in its district require him to adopt such measures as are prescribed by the notice for preventing the escape of rats and mice from the ship, and if a master fails to comply with the requirements of any such notice served on him, he shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding twenty pounds.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

I should like to see this Clause omitted. It applies the same legislation to vessels as to land. We have had I do not know how many Bills in the short time that I have been a Member of this honourable House dealing with ships, and the unfortunate master of a merchant ship is being saddled with more and more Regulations, with pains and penalties if he does not observe them. The Aliens Bill, which we have not yet seen the last of, has the same pains and penalties for the unfortunate master of a merchant ship, and we have had the Wireless Telegraphy Bill and the Mercantile Marine Uniform Bill—very necessary Bills, but all containing the usual sort of Clause which the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London referred to just now as penal clauses. There have for years existed very efficient Regulations in the ports of the United Kingdom for dealing with rats leaving ships or going on board ships. We all know that the brown rat, which is the main cause of the trouble now, came over by ship to this country, and since those days and since the plague days there have been these Regulations to deal with ships, and I fail to understand why this Bill should now be made to apply to ships also. I have had complaints from masters of ships of great experience recently about the numbers of Rules and Regulations under the Defence of the Realm Act, and the Admiralty, and the Board of Trade, and the Ministry of Shipping, and all these other Government Departments which are harassing and persecuting these unfortunate men. A master of a ship is away at sea on a voyage for months, and when at last he comes into harbour he does not know what has passed during his absence. I think this is a most unnecessary Clause, because the necessary powers already exist in the harbour authorities and, I believe, the Board of Trade as well.


I really hope the Committee will not agree to omit this Clause. There is no more potent means for introducing rats into this country than ships, and I should say, although I do not know what exact proportion, but a very large proportion of the rats which are introduced into the country are brought by ships, and we should really be taking away a great part of the utility of this Bill if we left this Clause out. I quite agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Hull in his natural desire not unduly to harass the masters of ships, and, therefore, I took some trouble this morning to ascertain what the position is. Ho has told the Committee that there are already Regulations whereby rats can be dealt with on the ships. It is true there are certain powers. The Ministry of Health can make certain Regulations in regard to rats on board ships where there, is a danger of disease being introduced by the rats, but only in that case and only where it is supposed that the rats are suffering, say, from bubonic disease, or something of that sort, which makes them a danger. On the general question of the destruction of food, with which we are here concerned, there are, however, no Regulations, and I have taken such opportunity as I have had this morning of informing myself, and I find that the Department concerned think their present powers are quite insufficient. The hon. and gallant Member is afraid that the masters of ships will be troubled by a whole bevy of officers of different Departments boarding the ships to see what steps are being taken) to deal with the rat trouble. That is not so. If he will look at the Bill he will see that the authority to deal with this Clause. is the Port Sanitary Authority, and it wilt be an officer of the Port Sanitary Authority and nobody else who will board the ships, and I must ask the Committee to allow us to have this Clause, for otherwise I can assure them the rest of the Bill will be rendered useless to a great extent. I have received information from the Liverpool Port Sanitary Authority, who have by voluntary measures, undertaken a campaign of rat destruction, and last year, aided "by volunteer rat catchers, they destroyed 50,667 rats on quays and vessels, 2,603 in warehouses, and nearly 8,000 in sewers and other places. I can assure the Committee that a vast number of rats are introduced from ships, and, therefore, it is very necessary that we should have this Clause.


I would like the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill to see that some strengthening is put in in Clause 1—

The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Sir E. Cornwall)

That is not in order now.


It is a great hardship to masters that there is nothing here to protect them. Might I appeal to the hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill to insert after the word "such" ["such measures"], the words "necessary, reasonable, and practicable "?


If my hon. Friend had moved an Amendment before the Clause was put, I would have accepted the insertion of words limiting it to reasonable and practicable steps, and I am willing to accept such an Amendment on Report. With regard to the other point raised, this Clause of course deals with the responsibility of masters of ships, and not with the responsibility of occupiers of quays, wharves, or warehouses in the neighbourhood of docks, from which rats might go on to ships. That would be dealt with under other Clauses. You must strengthen Clause 1. However, we can discuss that on Report. For the time being, I only ask the Committee to allow this Clause to stand.

Lieut.-Colonel RAW

I sincerely hope this Clause will be passed as it stands in the Bill. As one of the Members for the City of Liverpool, I am quite aware of the enormous amount of destruction caused by rats in ships; and also I can say, for the information of the Committee, that a more important question with regard to ships is the amount of disease which rats convey from foreign countries to this country, particularly that most dreadful disease called bubonic plague. We know practically that almost all the bubonic plague is brought from Eastern countries to Europe by means of rats, and for that reason alone I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will insist on maintaining this very important Clause—to my mind, the most important Clause in the Bill as it stands.

Rear-Admiral Sir R. HALL

I hope that this Clause will be enforced on foreign ships. I should like to be assured that the hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill has looked into this matter, and is quite certain that the laws of this land are sufficient to enforce this in foreign ships in our own harbours.


I have taken advice, and I am told that, for the purpose of this Bill, all ships are included, whether foreign or British.

Question put, and agreed to.