HL Deb 17 July 1883 vol 281 cc1655-9

Order of the Day for the Second Beading read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, its object was to carry out the recommendations of the Committee appointed last year by the Board of Trade to report upon the Sea Fishing Trade. The fishing trade of this Kingdom was very extensive, and gave employment to a sea population of about 95,000 men and boys. During the last few years there had been an enormous development of trawler fishing, of which the principal stations at present were Hull, Grimsby, and Yarmouth. The Bill related principally to this class of fishings, since, owing to the size of vessels and the length of time trawlers were usually at sea, an increased stringency in the regulations was necessary. The drift net fishing, although a most important industry, was chiefly confined to certain localities, and the boats were small and seldom absent from port for more than 24 hours altogether. The great facilities afforded by the railways for the rapid distribution of fish throughout the country had tended to enhance the demand for this important article of food. Indeed, everything pointed to the fishing trade becoming more and more extended, so that duo provision should be made for the good government of those engaged in it. Docks and accommodation for landing had been provided; but it was stated in the Report of the Committee that— The only drawback to the progress of this industry, so beneficial to the general public, appeared in the unsatisfactory relations existing betwixt the owners and crews of some of the vessels. It was proposed to remedy these grievances by the present Bill, of which the chief points were as follows—Apprenticeships and agreements with young boys, discipline of the seamen employed, certificates made compulsory on the skippers, easy method of settling disputes between skippers and seamen, and reports to be made of all casualties. Since the Payment of Wages Act of 1380 was passed there had been a great falling-off in the number and conduct of the apprentices. They had been able to cancel their indentures and evade their obligations to a very great extent by deserting or refusing to join their vessels; and there could be no doubt that this had been the cause of serious annoyance and loss to the owners. Under the Merchant Shipping Act of 1854 there was no limit of age under which a lad could be apprenticed; and instances constantly occurred of boys, at the early age of 10 and 11, binding themselves, and being sold or bound by others, for the long period of 10 years as apprentices, without the intervention of any person to see that they understood the conditions they subscribed to, or to see that the master's part of the agreement was fairly carried out. This had resulted in grave discontent among the apprentices, especially in cases where the indentures contained no stipulation as to any money payment being made by the master. Under the present Bill it was proposed that no lad should be indentured before he was 13 years old, or for a longer period than seven years. The master was to be hold responsible for the lodging and food of the lad, and the indenture must enumerate the whole of the conditions the parties thereto had to carry out. The Mercantile Marine Superintendent, or a Board of Trade officer, must in future be a party to the indenture, with power to act as guardian and protector of the lad, and the selling of boys to the Service for the sake of illegitimate profit was made penal. The next most important feature of the Bill was that portion which related to discipline. Unfortunately, owing to doubts concerning the effect of the Act of 1880 upon Section 243 of the Act of 1854, great differences had arisen among the magistrates at the several ports. By the Act of 1880 the power of arrest without warrant for desertion or failure to join the ship were repealed. It further abolished the power of imprisonment for the same offences, though it left in full force that portion of the previous legislation on the subject relating to forfeiture of clothes and effects. It also left in force the power of imprisoning seamen for wilful disobedience to lawful command; but, unfortunately, this had been entirely misinterpreted by many of the magistrates at these ports, and had not been carried out. The result of the misunderstanding had been that men had believed that they could safely break their engagements by simply deserting and refusing to join the ship, and they had actually done so in large numbers, trusting that the time necessarily occupied in procuring a warrant would give them full opportunity for avoiding arrest. The civil remedy had been inoperative, as very frequently the men had no effects and no wages due to them. Under the present Bill it was intended to prevent any further misunderstanding, and power was given to Superintendents of the Mercantile Marine and officers of the Board of Trade to issue warrants for the arrest of seamen for the offences of desertion, refusing to join, and disobedience to lawful commands. By Clause 42 of the Bill it was made compulsory upon all skippers of trawlers of 20 tons and upwards to hold a certificate of competency. Clauses 43 and 45 provided that there should be a report of all deaths, injuries, and casualties to the Mercantile Marine Superintendent, and powers of inquiry were given. This had not, unfortunately, been the case up to the present time, and instances had constantly arisen of lads having been lost overboard, and no report whatever having been made of the occurrence. There had also been cases of brutal treatment, and actual murder had occasionally taken place. It was hoped that this system of regular and compulsory reports, together with the new rules by which all captains would have to be certificated, would to a very great extent do away with cases of ill-usage, and much improve the general conduct of the crews. There were also various clauses providing for the regulation of seamen's lodgings, for which existing legislation had been found inadequate. Trusting he had said enough to enable their Lordships to understand the scope and objects of the Bill, he begged to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(The Lord Sudeley.)


said, he could hardly think the proposal serious, that a Bill so minute in its provisions, and affecting the interests and even the liberties of so many of Her Majesty's subjects, should be read a second time in so precipitate a manner at this late period of the Session. As far as he knew, there had been no inquiry into the subject by Parliament. It was true that there had been a Departmental Inquiry; but Parliament had no share in the selection of the persons who were to inquire; and no guarantee that the inquiry would be conducted in such a way as to command its approval. The Bill dealt largely with the charter of the fishing population, the Mercantile Marine Act of 1854, it established new regulations for trawlers, and would subject apprentices and seamen employed in fishing boats to the summary punishment of four weeks' imprisonment for desertion and other offences. Neither the Members of their Lordships' House nor of the other House of Parliament were able to say whether the provisions of the Bill were wise or the reverse. The proper course would have been to print the Bill, send it down to the places affected by its provisions, and by the light of their representations or remonstrances the Government might be directed as to what was best to be done. If their Lordships passed the Bill now, they would pass it absolutely in the dark. The Bill had been circulated only that morning, and could not be interpreted without reference to several other Acts of Parliament. Under these circumstances, he earnestly trusted the noble Lord in charge of the Bill would not press the second reading today. He should be better pleased, however, to hear that the noble Lord would not press it this Session.


said, that he understood from the Government Department which had framed the Bill that the fishing populations were extremely favourable to the Bill; and, seeing that their Lordships were anxious to have Bills introduced in that House, the course taken by the noble Marquess was not encouraging.


said, their Lordships were anxious to have Bills introduced in that House, but at a proper time, and not in the last days of July. His noble Friend (the Marquess of Salisbury) objected to the second reading only on the ground that the House had not sufficient information. Their Lordships had not any sufficient knowledge of the clauses, though they might have received the approval of the Board of Trade. He would suggest that, having printed the Bill, it should be circulated among the population of the places concerned, and should be re-introduced next Session, if it were found to be a good measure.


said, he had found that in the fishing town of Lowestoft the prevailing opinion was that there was not sufficient power to deal with apprentices and others who broke their contract.


said, that he proposed to postpone the second reading until that day week.

Further debate on the said Motion adjourned to Tuesday next.