§ ORDER of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ LORD STANLEY OF ALDERLEY
, in moving the second reading of the Bill, explained the heads of the several Amendments which it was the object of the measure to introduce into the laws which regulate our merchant shipping. It proposed to subject engineers serving in steam vessels to the same system of examination that was established in the case of the masters and mates, and provided similar certificates of competency, to be forfeited in case of misconduct, and would subject to the discipline clauses of the Merchant Shipping Act classes of vessels 2 which were now exempted from their operation. It also established a fixed code in respect to what might be called the rule of the road and the showing of lights at sea. As that code had been adopted by the Government of this country in conjunction with the Government of France, he hoped that it would receive the concurrence of other nations, and that it would thus, in an important respect, facilitate the commercial intercourse of the world, by assimilating the law in this respect. The measure effected some alterations in the law of pilotage; but it was not thought advisable that it should at once abolish the system of compulsory pilotage. It limited the compensation which could be recovered for accidents occurring at sea through the mismanagement of the crew to the sum of £15 for every ton in the case of personal injuries, and to £8 for every ton in the case of loss of property, so that the proprietors of the larger class of steamers should not be liable to ruinous damages. And it introduced some important Amendments in the law relating to lien upon freight. The Bill involved a vast number of details which could be much better considered in Committee; and he should therefore move that it be now read the 3 second time, merely expressing his belief that the Bill had met with the general approbation of the shipping interest.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.
THE EARL OF DONOUGHMORE
said, that the objects of the Bill appeared to him to be for the most part very excellent, but there were some points which would require further consideration. For instance, if he understood right, the Bill limited the liability of steam shipowners for damage to the person or loss of life upon the gross registered tonnage. He trusted, however, that the noble Lord would consent to alter the Bill, so as to make them liable only on the net tonnage. The owners of vessels were afraid that they might be subjected to dock, port, and light charges on the same principle. His great complaint against the Bill was that it was quite unintelligible in itself, and could only be understood by references to other Acts. He hoped, therefore, that next Session Her Majesty's Government would introduce a Bill for consolidating all the Merchant Shipping Acts.
§ LORD KINGSDOWN
said, that great difficulty often arose, in cases of collision, from the fact that English vessels were under one state of law and foreign vessels under another. He was glad to hear that negotiations were now pending, or had just been completed, between this country and France, by which that difficulty would be removed. The sacrifice of life which occurred through accidents at sea was perfectly frightful. When a collision took place at night, it almost invariably happened that the vessel which had run down the other, instead of remaining to assist the unfortunate sufferers, hastened away, in order to save the owners from the penalties to which the negligence of the officers and crew had made them liable. He suggested that the stringency of the law against owners might perhaps be relaxed, and that the officers of the offending ship should be rendered responsible in their own persons where loss of life occurred through their own neglect or misconduct.
§ LORD STANLEY OF ALDERLEY
said, this matter had been considered, but it had been found impossible to frame a clause to meet the case. He believed, however, that the Bill would tend to diminish the evil of which the noble and learned Lord complained, by reducing the excessive demands to which the owners of vessels were now liable in cases of collision. As the amount of liability would be 4 limited to £15 per ton, there would not be so great a temptation to escape the penalty as at present, and therefore the masters might be induced to remain to rescue the crews of sinking vessels. He supposed that the noble and learned Lord referred to a criminal prosecution against the officers of a ship who fled from the scene of a disaster, instead of stopping to help the shipwrecked crew. If such a provision were practicable, he would have no objection to it. He agreed with the noble Earl that it was not desirable to legislate by a Bill referring to clauses in other Acts which were not recited. At the same time, it should be remembered that the Merchant Shipping Acts had been lately consolidated, and that the operation could scarcely be performed every time a Bill on the subject was passed. With regard to the question of limiting the liability for damage to goods or to life to the net instead of the gross tonnage, the vessels most likely to occasion loss of life or of property were the steamboats navigating our narrow seas, who were chiefly engaged in carrying passengers, and therefore required a high rate of speed. A large proportion of these vessels was taken up by engine-room; and if the proposal of the noble Earl were adopted, these vessels would be liable to a very inadequate amount of compensation. He was not, therefore, prepared to agree to the suggestion.
§ LORD CHELMSFORD
wished to know if, in the case of a collision with loss of life, the maximum of £15 should be exhausted in the demand for compensation and damages, it was intended that the owner should not be further liable with regard to the loss of life.
§ LORD STANLEY OF ALDERLEY
said, he imagined that, under the Bill, the owners of vessels would not be liable beyond the £15 in case of loss of life from collision. At present the representative of a person who lost his life through collision had a cause of action if the compensation was considered inadequate.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Monday next.