HL Deb 17 July 1854 vol 135 cc299-301

House in Committee (according to Order).

On Clause 181, which provides that wages shall not be dependent on the earning of freight,


objected to the clause, and observed that there was an old maxim that "freight was the mother of wages," or, in other words, that in case a ship went to the bottom, no wages were paid. If any part of a ship were saved from a wreck and sold, then the seamen were entitled to their wages from the sum received; but if the ship, cargo, and stores were all lost, then no wages were paid. This regulation was a matter of public policy, and incited the seamen to exert themselves to the utmost in the case of a wreck, and to stick to the last plank, in the hope that something might be saved. The regulation was also for their own advantage, for it increased their exertion, and enabled owners to give, upon the whole, better wages than they would otherwise. He thought those nations had acted wisely and humanely who had adhered to the rule that, unless a sailor brought his ship safe to port, having earned freight, he should have no right to his wages. The proposed enactment was contrary to the principle of the Bill, which was intended to consolidate, not to alter, the fundamental principles of the existing law relating to merchant shipping. He, therefore, felt it his duty to move the omission of the clause.


said, that, though the maxim quoted by the noble and learned Lord, that "freight is the mother of wages," certainly prevailed in all countries, nevertheless, their practice differed so much from the principle involved in the maxim, that it could no longer be considered applicable. Neither was it any argument that the clause was at variance with the laws of other nations, for many of our best laws differed from the law of other nations. The decisions given by Lord Stowell were to the effect, that if a ship came back to port without having earned any freight, and even in case of a wreck, the sailors would have a right to their wages, and the 7 & 8 Vict., so far from proceeding on the maxim "freight is the mother of wages," enacted that a sailor should be entitled to recover his wages, even if no freight had been earned; and if the vessel were wrecked immediately after leaving port, in case the master or mate should certify that the sailor had exerted himself properly to save the vessel. This clause only extended that provision a little further, by enacting that a sailor should have a right to recover in either of the cases mentioned, unless it should be proved that he had misconducted himself. If the maxim were rigidly applied, the effect would be to make the seamen demand higher wages, in order to compensate them for the chances of no wages where no freight was earned. A little reflection must, he thought, convince every one that this provision was only based on justice and fair dealing, and, indeed, he was bound to say, that in almost every case liberal and fair-minded ship-owners made no difficulty in paying the sailors their wages under such circumstances. There were some, however, who insisted on abiding by the strict letter of the law, and it was to prevent the injustice which might occur in such cases that the present alteration was made.


said, the policy of the law was, that the safety of the ship was the only kind of security which the sailor had for his wages. By the 7 & 8 Vict. a sailor could only recover his wages, in the event of the ship being lost, in case the master or owner gave him a certificate that he had done all he could to save the ship. He thought that the law ought to go further, and compel the party to give such certificate. He thought, however, that the present clause went too far. It involved a most serious change in the law, and in his opinion required much consideration.


hoped that their Lordships would not interfere with the clause. If it were allowed to be an improvement, he could not understand why they should be deterred from altering the law on the ground that they would be acting differently to other countries. Surely it was not desirable to permit the law to say to the sailor that he should not have his wages, because the owner had lost his freight. He knew that the policy of the existing law was to make the sailor stick to the last plank of the vessel. But that was a question between the owner and the sailor. If the sailor be bound to enter into a contract by which he would only receive his wages under peculiar circumstances, of course he must necessarily demand higher terms than if his wages were to be paid him under every contingency. It should be recollected that the owners could insure their freight, but the sailor could not insure his wages. He admitted that this clause would subvert the existing law, and it was meant to do so, with a view of benefiting a large and meritorious class of persons.


was understood to say that he preferred leaving the payment of wages as it stood under the 7 & 8 Vict.


thought it would be most mischievous if the law of England differed on this subject from that of other nations. Commercial nations formed one community and one society, and it was most desirable that uniformity should prevail in their commercial law. He contended that there was a presumption in favour of a practice which existed everywhere and among all other maritime nations, and existed, too, as far as he knew, without exciting any ground of complaint.


could conceive nothing more unjust than that sailors, who might have rendered very important service in the working of a ship, should be denied their wages. Many cases had happened where a master insured his ship, and then took an opportunity of losing her on purpose, and afterwards received compensation for the vessel, while he saved the wages of the seamen. It would be a great wrong if the seamen in such a case were to be defrauded of their wages.

On Question, their Lordships divided:—Content 56; Not Content 5: Majority 51.

Clause agreed to.

The Schedule was then agreed to.

Other Amendments made. The Report thereof to be received on Thursday next.

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