HL Deb 27 July 1875 vol 226 cc88-90

, in rising to ask the Government whether they would be willing to re-consider the question of the withdrawal of the Merchant Shipping Bill, said, that great interest was felt in both Houses of Parliament on the subject to which it referred; nevertheless, they had been informed that it was one of those Bills which would have to be abandoned in consequence of there being no time to pass it in the present Session. The measure was one in which the general public had taken the greatest and deepest interest; and, though he was aware that the Government had introduced and carried through many measures of great importance this Session, there was no one of greater importance or interest to the country than the Merchant Shipping Bill. He trusted, therefore, that the Government would either be induced to re-consider their determination to withdraw the Bill, or to give an assurance to their Lordships that some temporary measure would be introduced this Session for the purpose of securing that safety to human life which the urgency of the case demanded; and would assure the country that the larger measure should be introduced and, if possible, passed next Session.


, in reply, said, that the Question which had been asked by the noble Earl had reference to an important subject. Her Majesty's Government had been obliged to withdraw the Merchant Shipping Bill simply because it was found that at this advanced period of the Session it would be impossible to pass it. The Bill consisted of many clauses, and there were no fewer than 180 Amendments proposed upon it by Members on both sides of the other House of Parliament. It was with the deepest regret that Her Majesty's Government found themselves compelled to withdraw it. The course they had determined to take was to introduce a short Bill for the purpose of conferring on the Board of Trade stronger powers than it now possessed for stopping unseaworthy ships from proceeding to sea. Next Session a Bill would be introduced at an early period to deal with the whole question, and, if possible, to place it on a permanent and satisfactory foundation.


thought that, under the circumstances, the Government had taken the best possible course. The question was of pressing interest, and he hoped it would be dealt with in a satisfactory manner. England was not the only country from which ships were sent to sea in an unfit state; the practice extended to the Colonies, and he trusted that if a strong measure passed here for the prevention of the evil the example would be followed elsewhere. He hoped the Government would not be content with introducing measures to provide for the safety of life at sea, but would also endeavour to codify the whole of the existing laws relating to merchant shipping.

After a few words from the Earl of LEITRIM,


said, that the statement of the noble Earl the Lord Privy Seal was to some extent satisfactory; but it was impossible to deny that the whole question remained in a most unsatisfactory position owing to the course which Her Majesty's Government had seen fit to take. It was a misconception to suppose that the abandoned Merchant Shipping Bill was so important a measure as had been represented—it would not, in fact, have done more than a very little in the direction of rendering the lives of seamen more safe at sea than at present. It was also a misconception to suppose that nothing had already been done in this matter. The Act passed by the late Government in 1873 conferred upon the Board of Trade stringent powers to prevent ships from proceeding to sea which, either from defective condition of hull, equipment, or loading, were deemed to be unseaworthy, and it was upon the policy of that Act and on the same lines that the Bill of Her Majesty's Government had proceeded. The course which the Government had taken would, he feared, have a most unfortunate influence upon the course of legislation in reference to the question of merchant shipping—especially having regard to the interest felt by the working classes in this question. If it was not possible to pass the whole Bill, the Government would have acted wisely by making an effort to pass those clauses only which dealt with the safety of life at sea. Not having taken this course, the Government might, he feared, be driven, owing to the lateness of the Session, into hasty, wild, and bad legislation upon a subject of the first importance, or else they would create a feeling among the constituencies that the safety of the sailors had been neglected, which would only operate mischievously upon the course of all future legislation in reference to the subject.


said, he did not propose to follow the noble Lord in discussing a Bill which was not before their Lordships' House. As had been stated by his noble Friend the Lord Privy Seal, it was intended to introduce a short measure which would, he thought, command approbation for its general principles, and would, he hoped, prove efficacious in preventing the sailing of unseaworthy ships from British ports. The Bill which had been dropped was one of great magnitude, and raised questions about which much difference of opinion prevailed. When its progress was suspended there was a very large number of Amendments on the Paper—he had heard them stated at 180—so that a great deal of time would have been occupied in pushing the Bill through. No doubt its provisions were of very different degrees of importance, but they all required careful consideration, and it was in order to avoid hasty legislation that the Government had postponed the complete measure until next Session. In the meantime, he hoped that the necessities of the case would be provided for by the Bill which was about to be introduced.

House adjourned at a quarter past Seven o'clock, to Thursday next, Eleven o'clock.