§ Order of the Day read.
§ EARL GREY,
in moving the Second Reading of the Bill, said, that the object of it was to amend, in two or three points of some importance, the Act that had been passed two years ago. The Commissioners of Emigration, under the present law, had the power of fixing the amount of provisions, upon a calculation as to the probable time the vessel would take in making her voyage. The voyage to America was calculated upon a period of ten weeks, and provisions for ten weeks were required by the Commissioners. But there were now building vessels with improved machinery—some with steam power as well as auxiliary power. Of course, these would not require to have provisions for so long a period as sailing vessels. As the law now stood, the Commissioners had not the power of apportioning the period to the different classes of vessels. The object of the present Bill was, to enable the Commissioners to name a shorter period for vessels propelled by steam power. There was another defect in the existing law. The scale of diet was established by Act of Parliament. That Act gave the Commissioners power of substituting one article for another; but they had not the power of ordering a general improved diet. Now, it happened that emigrants occasionally went out who wished to have a better class of diet, and this Bill would give the Commissioners the power to direct accordingly. The third alteration proposed to be made in the Act was this—as the law at present stood, if an emigrant ship put back in distress, the emigration officers of the particular port had the power of preventing the vessel sailing on her voyage until the damage was made good; but this power was confined to the port from which she had originally sailed. Now, in the case of a vessel sailing from Liverpool on a long voyage being obliged to put into the ports of Belfast or Cork, on account of damage, the emigration agents in these places could not prevent her sailing back to Liverpool 1164 for repair, although they had the power of preventing her proceeding on her voyage until she was perfectly repaired. It might, however, happen that the damage done was so great as to render her voyage across the Irish Sea most dangerous to life. The present Bill would give these authorities the power of preventing a vessel putting to sea at all, until it was ascertained that she should do so with the most perfect safety. These were the only changes proposed to be made in the existing law. The Act which had passed two years ago had worked exceedingly well. No complaints of it had been made by the shipowners. The reports received from the Colonies were all favourable to the working of that Act. The passengers generally arrived at their place of destination in good health. The mortality amongst them was very trifling, and altogether the system was found to work most satisfactorily.
§ LORD REDESDALE
reminded the noble Earl of the dreadful cases that had recently occurred of the overcrowding of the steamboats from Ireland. In one of those cases a woman, on being put on shore from one of these vessels, carried in her arms a dead child, who had been killed by its exposure to the cold on the deck, where there was a large number of unfortunate persons huddled together, who, it appeared, had been conveyed at the low charge of one shilling per head. He thought that something ought to be done to check that great abuse. He believed that in some instances money was given to the Irish poor by persons connected with the unions in Ireland, for the purpose of getting rid of them in this way.
thought it would be desirable to make some other alterations in the Act of 1849. By that Act the protection of the law was only given to steerage passengers, but the cabin passengers were allowed to shift for themselves. Now, there were many cases in which cabin passengers required protection as much as those in the steerage. It was impossible that they could see that a sufficient quantity of water, or provisions generally, were put on hoard. They might not even know whether there was a competent surgeon on board. The remedy at law in such cases was utterly fruitless; for under the circumstances attending their landing in a strange country, it was impossible that they could obtain any redress. They were often then obliged to submit to much in- 1165 convenience and hardship, consoling themselves with the reflection that they were not likely to occur again. Several cases came under his own notice of respectable persons undergoing much hardship, risk, and danger from the want of these precautions. As the law at present stood, a 400 ton ship might have fifteen cabin and fifteen steerage passengers, and as many as eighteen of a crew, without coming under the provisions of the Passengers Act, which did not compel the attendance of a qualified surgeon on hoard if there were not fifty persons in all. He would also suggest that some alteration should be made in the registration of vessels, as persons not acquainted with the details of shipping could not see now whether they were properly registered. Such provisions as those to which he had referred were of the greatest interest, not only to cabin passengers, but to emigrants generally.
§ LORD COLCHESTER
suggested the introduction of a clause in the present Bill to secure proper accommation to passengers on board steamers, and referred to a case in which a ship which sailed from one of the northern ports of Ireland with emigrants for America, and, encountering bad weather, was forced to have her hatches fastened down, in consequence of which forty or fifty persons were suffocated.
§ EARL GREY
was perfectly ready to admit that many of the suggestions which had been made were well deserving of consideration; but he did not at present feel disposed to risk the Bill by attempting more than what it already embraced. Upon the whole, he thought it better to leave the Bill as it now stood. It was his opinion that if persons who were about to emigrate would make proper inquiry of respectable shipowners, they would have no reason to complain of the accommodation afforded to them, or of the provisions with which they were supplied.
§ The EARL of HARROWBY,
who spoke in a very low tone of voice, was understood to give notice of his intention to move some clauses in Committee relative to emigrants, and to complain of the treatment, they had received on the voyage to America.
§ EARL GREY
Emigration to New York was principally regulated by American 1166 law, and the parties referred to by the noble Earl might have obtained redress by applying to the British Consul at New York. The report of the emigration officer for New Brunswick stated, that during the last year there were only three deaths out of 1,507 persons who had emigrated there, and that the Act had worked most satisfactorily. A similar report had been made by the emigration officer at Quebec, who also said that not a single complaint had been made by any of the emigrants. He had no doubt that frauds were frequently practised upon emigrants both in Liverpool and New York. The Liverpool Dock Company had now a Bill before the other House of Parliament, the object of which was to give them further powers to check this evil; and he understood that societies existed in New York having the same object.
§ LORD MONTEAGLE
bore testimony to the great care and indefatigable attention to their duties exhibited by the emigration agents in the British North American colonies. He thought the same legislative protection ought to be afforded to cabin, as was extended to steerage, passengers.
§ On Question, resolved in the Affirmative: Bill read 2a.
§ House adjourned till To-morrow.