§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
* LORD BALFOUR
My Lords, I need detain you but a few minutes in moving the Second Reading of this Bill. It is really of the nature of an omnibus Bill for certain very small and simple but very necessary Amendments of the Merchant Shipping Act of 1854. The chief Amendment which it makes is to restore the law in regard to one particular point to what it has been thought to be for 20 years until a case was brought by an appeal to this House in the month of May last, when by the unanimous decision of the Lords present it appeared that the state of the law was not what for that long period it had been supposed to be. The point was this: For more than 20 years it has been the custom for the captain of a ship when in a foreign port to give a bill of exchange upon the owners of the vessel whereby he thought he could give a good security 162 for the purchase of any necessaries which might be required for the use of the ship or the crew while in a foreign port. Your Lordships will see that if the captain can pledge the value of the vessel in security by means of a bill of exchange that bill would, of course, very easily be discounted upon reasonable terms, and the security would be undoubted. For 20 years, as I have told your Lordships, it was considered that it was really the law that the master could pledge his owner's credit in this way. All the Judges sitting in the Court of Admiralty, one after the other, have given effect to the law as thus stated—Dr. Lushington, Sir Robert Phillimore, MR. Justice Butt, and Sir James Hannen. Upon appeal to this House that was declared not to be the effect of certain clauses in the Merchant Shipping Act of 1854. It is, I think, obviously a reasonable Amendment. It is asked for with the unanimous voice of the whole shipping community. The other clauses of the Bill are few in number and are simple. The second clause makes it clear that when seamen are paid off in foreign parts they are to receive their wages according to the actual rate of exchange. A practice has grown up in recent years of making a contract that when seamen are so paid off they are to be paid according to a fixed rate of exchange. Circular after circular has been issued by the Board of Trade warning the men that this provision in their contract is likely to operate very greatly to their disadvantage, but they do not appreciate the importance of it, and it is found necessary to make the practice contrary to law. Another clause in this Bill applies to all passenger ships, however propelled, the right of the Board of Trade to survey them. Up to the present time that right is only ex- 163 tended to ships propelled by steam, and as the propelling of ships by electricity is a new invention, the terms of the Merchant Shipping Act of 1854 do not cover the case of ships propelled by electricity. This is an Amendment that is obviously necessary in the public safety, and can, I think, give rise to no dispute. I have been, I may mention to your Lordships, delaying the progress of another Bill amending the Merchant Shipping Act of 1854—that which bears the title of "The Advance Notes to Seamen Bill," which has already been through a Grand Committee—for the purpose of putting the clauses which are now contained in that Bill into this Bill, and thereby avoiding having two Bills amending the same Act passing through at the same time. I propose, if your Lordships give this Bill a Second Reading, to refer it to the Committee which deals with Bills relating to law. I now beg to move that this Bill be read a second time.
Bill read 2a (according to order), and committed to the Standing Committee for Bills relating to Law, &c.