HL Deb 04 March 1901 vol 90 cc298-317

[Second Reading.]

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this is the third time the question of the under-ballasting of ships has been before I your Lordships' House. On the two former occasions, in February, 1898,† I went very fully into the subject, and gave instances of vessels that were nearly lost, and one that was lost, for want of sufficient ballast. I also read to your Lordships a number of letters, or extracts from letters, from captains of ships, all setting forth the great danger of under-ballasting. I have received a great number of letters since from captains on the same subject and to the same effect. They point out the great danger that is run, and how very helpless an unballasted ship is in bad weather. They also give a number of cases where the vessels have been lost or severe damage done, and refer to the very-narrow escapes of others all due to the want of sufficient ballast. In short, the universal opinion amongst ship captains is that they are far safer in an over laden vessel than in one that is under-laden, as in the former ease the ship is at least under command, while in the latter case they are completely helpless and can do nothing.

While the Board of Trade is quite satisfied with the competency of these captains to command their ships and to take charge of lives and of an immense amount of very valuable property, yet they treat their opinions on this subject with contempt, and attach no importance to them. Therefore, my Lords, it would be useless for me to take up your time by reading—with the exception of two—any more extracts from their letters; but I would remind your Lord-ships that an underladen vessel is not only in danger herself, but is a great source of danger to others. Masters of cross-channel steamers, both in the English and Irish Channels, have told me how utterly helpless these under-ballasted vessels are in bad weather and how, when meeting such vessels, they have to take special care to give them a very wide berth. I will give your Lordships some opinions from other sources that may have more weight with the Board of Trade, though I think that the opinions of the captains who have handled these ships and seen their behaviour in all sorts and conditions of † See The Parliament Debated [Fourth Series], Vol. liii., pages 615 and 1506. weather are most valuable and deserving of the highest consideration.

I will commence by giving the opinion of a shipbuilder. At a meeting of the Institute of Naval Architects, held on 21st duly, 1899, under the presidency of Sir Edward J. Reed, K.C.B. M.P., Mr. G B. Hunter (an eminent shipbuilder), in the course of a paper on "Large Atlantic Cargo Steamers. "stated that— It is recorded in Lloyd's list that 173 steamships were disabled in 1898, mostly in the Atlantic, through failure of shafting. It is stated that fifty-three similar accidents occurred in April, May, and June of this year (1899). This can, I think, be regarded as highly unsatisfactory. The cause usually as signed for these accidents is the practice of steaming outwards from European to American ports in ballast, and generally with very insufficient ballast. In the discussion which followed there was a consensus of opinion in favour of Mr. Hunters remarks, Colonel Swan, another eminent shipbuilder, stating that he was quite in accord with the general conclusions of Mr. Hunter, particularly so in reference to the ballasting of large ships. It had he said, always been a surprise to him that shipowners and underwriters had been content for so long to allow vessels to be sent across the Atlantic so insufficiently ballasted. As a need generally produces a remedy, so in this case Mr. McGlashan's ballast tanks and Captain Chaddock s patent hatch have been brought out to enable vessels to take sufficient ballast at a comparatively small cost. I hear that some modern vessels have been fitted with these tanks, and give great satisfaction. I now come to the underwriters. The following is a letter I have received from the Secretary of Lloyd's— The Committee of Lloyd's have heard with pleasure that your Lordship is about to introduce the Light Load-line Bill into the House of Lords, and the Committee request me to assure you of their approval of the principle of the Bill, which is evidently called for by the number of vessels which the Committee have to declare as missing, involving sometimes a heavy loss of life. The Committee trust that the proposed Bill may meet with the support which it undoubtedly deserves. The Secretary of the Liverpool Underwriters' Association sends the following communication— This matter was considered by my committee to-day, and I am instructed to say that they consider that the losses arising from vessels sailing with insufficient and improperly secured ballast are so serious as to warrant legislation on the subject, and they cordially approve the principle embodied in Lord Muskerry's Light Load-line Bill. I will now quote the opinion given by Sir Edward Reed, who was at one time Constructor to the Royal Navy. He stated that the only vessel he ever owned was lost through the neglect of the managers in sending her round the coast with insufficient ballast. Another naval architect, Mr. H. B. Wortley, in the course of a very interesting paper read before the Shipping Masters' and Officers' Society on the subject of "Ballasting,"said— It is quite impossible to dwell too forcibly upon the evils of sending ships to sea insufficiently immersed, and the disasters of the past winter have been quite sufficient alone to emphasise this. The under-load-line record for 1898, as published by the Syren, represents a mass of human life and capital at stake which is appalling in its immensity. From a captain's letter just recently written, in making a passage across the Atlantic Ocean, I quote the following— I trust that the Light Load-line Bill will very shortly be an accomplished fact. Here I am with no ballast, except the ordinary water ballast and just sufficient coal to take me to my destination, rolling rails under, and with a beam wind, just going to leeward like a mere balloon on the water, our draft being lift, 6in. It is enough to give one softening of the brain. Perhaps you think I have it for coming, but the precious dollar has to be earned. I do not think that any one of your Lordships would like to have been in that vessel; and I may say that all Tinder-ballasted vessels behave in exactly the same way. Here is a letter I have received from another captain— When acting as chief officer of the S.S. 'Rutherglen' whilst in ballast, to save her from going on the Lizards we had to keep her going full speed astern for about six hours, the vessel being totally unmanageable. Also, when master of the S.S. 'Drummond' in ballast, bound from the Continent to Barry, the vessel could not be handled, and in endeavouring to round the Land's End we had to put back to Falmouth no less than three times. The Institute of Marine Engineers has lately devoted two or three meetings to the consideration of this question. It involves no disrespect to the Institute to say that among its members there is a diversity of opinion as to the relative importance of the several causes which tend to produce shaft failure. On one point, however, there appears to be pretty general agreement, and that is that an increase both in the size and durability of the shaft is not necessarily a guarantee of safety when vessels are persistently driven across the Atlantic with insufficient ballast.

Now, my Lords, I will take the opinion of two of His Majesty's judges. Mr. Justice Barnes, dealing with a case that came before him, said— Nearly every salvage case which we get now is owing to the breakage of the propeller. Mr. Justice Phillimore said— There is nothing more dangerous to life and property than this practice, of sending vessels on winter voyages in these northern seas without ballast, and if the owners bat to pay he was not at all sorry, and if the underwriters had to pay it was their own fault for incurring such risks. These are the views of two judges who have had a good deal of opportunity of entering into these matters. My noble friend the Earl of Dudley, when replying to me on a former occasion, stated that the Board of Trade surveyors had full power to detain any ship that was insufficiently ballasted. That may be so but how are they to judge unless they have some guide, such as this Bill proposes? You would surely not expect these surveyors to go on board a ship just before sailing and make an intricate calculation as to the depth the vessel should be immersed to be safe. Do you think they will take that responsibility? I venture to say they will not, and you cannot blame them for refusing. When I spoke on this subject in February, 1898, I asked if the Board of Trade was going to wait till some vessel was lost from want of sufficient ballast before they took action. I will now quote some of the casualties from the official reports of the Board of Trade. In the case of the "Nonpareil" the court of inquiry held at the Town Hall, Westminster, December last, stated that the vessel was not prematurely abandoned, and that the cause of her loss was that she was insufficiently ballasted to withstand the weather she encountered; no lives were lost by this casualty, the crew being picked up by the "Glengoil." Report No. 5882.—The ship 'Midas,' lost with all hands, numbering twenty-two, on a voyage from Nagasaki to Portland, Oregon, the Court being of opinion that she was insufficiently and improperly ballasted for the voyage. Report No. 104.—The ship 'Celtic Bard,' which disappeared with all hands, numbering twenty-six, on a passage from Hong Kong to Vancouver, British Columbia. Captain A. Cunninghame, the inspector appointed by the Board of Trade, stated that she was not sufficiently and properly ballasted. Report No. 5971.—SS. 'Albion,' stranded in Carnarvon Bay, on or about the 11th November, 1899. The Court of Inquiry, held at West Hartlepool, stated that the vessel was not sufficiently and properly ballasted when she left Holyhead on the 9th November last Report No. 106.—The ship 'Laurel Bank, 'disappeared with all hands, numbering 29, on a passage from Shanghai to Portland, Oregon. Captain A. Cunninghame, the inspector appointed by the Board of Trade, stated that he was of opinion that the ship had not sufficient ballast when she left Shanghai. Report No. 0007.— SS. 'Ardbanhan, 'stranded and a total loss, on the 7th February, 1900, half a mile south of Souter Point, County Durham. The Court stated that on her leaving Gravesend on the 5th February she was not at that time properly and sufficiently ballasted and in good seaworthy trim for a voyage. Report No. 107.—Ship 'Caradoc,' disappeared with all hands, numbering thirty, on a passage from Kobe, Japan, to Port Angeles, U.S.A. The inspector, Captain A. Cunninghame, stated that he was of opinion that there was not a sufficient quantity of ballast on board the vessel. Report No. 6023.—SS. 'Ethiopia, 'stranded on the 23rd February, 1900, at Oxwich, in the Bristol Channel, whereby she substained damage. The Court of Inquiry, held on the 22nd March, at Cardiff, states: 'For the weather actually experienced on the voyage, commencing at Hamburg on the 17th February and terminating by the stranding of the vessel on the 23rd February, her ballasting appears to have been sufficient; but if instead of fine weather and smooth sea the vessel had encountered such adverse conditions of weather as might reasonably be expected for such a voyage in February, the ballasting would have probably proved insufficient and a source of danger.' Report No. 112.—'Dominion,' sailed from Honolulu for Royal Roads, Vancouver, British Columbia, on the 19th January, 1899, with a crew of thirty bands and has not since been heard of. The inspector (Captain A. Cunninghame) appointed by the Board of Trade, in his report after the inquiry held by him, stated that: 'I am of opinion that she was not properly and sufficiently ballasted,' and further on states, 'having regard therefore to the quantity of ballast and the trim is which the "Dominion" was when she left Honolulu, as inferred from the evidence placed before me, I am of opinion that she was not in a safe condition for encountering bad weather.' Report No. 111.—'Perseverance, 'left Probolingo, Java, on the 20th February, 1900, for Newcastle, New South Wales, with a crew of twenty-eight hands, all told, and has not since been heard of. The inspector (Captain William Erskine) appointed by the Board of Trade, in his report to them after the inquiry, state that the ballast was not sufficient in quantity to immerse the vessel so as to ensure her safe handling in a seaway in violent squalls, or in heavy weather.' There are also at the present moment four ships—the "Andrada, "the "Bertha, "the "Cape Wrath," and the "Ratlidown"—who sailed in ballast, and are long overdue, and still missing. My noble friend will doubtless point out to me that most of these ships sailed from foreign ports. That is quite true, but had they been marked as this Bill proposes, it would have been a guide to the masters in the same way as the present deep-load mark is, and the ships would have gone to sea properly ballasted. One hundred and sixty-five lives have been lost, and how many perhaps in the four ships that are missing now! Who is responsible? I say the Board of Trade. I do not wish to impute any blame to my noble friend. He does not give his own views on these matters, but speaks for the body he so ably represents in your Lordships' House. In all the dealings I have had with him on this and kindred subjects he has always shown the greatest courtesy and kindness, and I am sure that personally he would be only too anxious and willing to do all in his power to further the interests of the mercantile marine. Other officers of the Board of Trade in private life I am sure are very estimable gentlemen, lint taking the Board of Trade as a concrete body. I say it is morally guilty of the manslaughter of these 165 people. Had the, Board of Trade accepted three years ago my proposal to place this light load-line mark on ships, in all human probability these lives would not have been lost. If a fair proportion of these unfortunate people had been passengers, the press of the country would have rung with the disasters, the Government would have been asked why ships were allowed to go to sea in so unseaworthy a condition, and the Board of Trade themselves would have been forced by pressure, of public opinion to introduce a similar measure— perhaps a much stronger one—to the one now before your Lordships. Can I, can anyone, bring forward stronger or more convincing arguments in favour of this Bill than those 165 poor creatures who have gone to what I may call a nameless grave for want of it? They were not passengers whose names would have been published and their loss commented upon; they were only sailors earning their living. Who knows their names? The Register of Shipping should, I think, have a list of the crews, the friends they left behind, the wives and children who were dependent on some of them for their daily bread. Would you, my Lords, or would the general public outside shipping circles, over have heard of these deaths if the matter had not been brought before your Lordships' House? It is terrible to think how much sorrow, how much misery has been brought about for the want of a simple precaution. I am sure the noble Lord who represents the shipowners will not now oppose this Bill. I "Cannot believe that they would ever dream of putting pecuniary interest in the balance against human life. At the best of times a sailor's life is a hard one; the unavoidable risks he has to run are many and great; but when we find a great danger that is avoidable by legislating for it. surely it is our duty to do so. I earnestly hope you will pass the Second Reading of this Bill. It is a much-needed and urgent measure, and by doing so you will earn the gratitude of the whole seafaring community. I beg to move the Second Beading of the Bill.

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


My Lords, I rise to move the motion standing in my name for the rejection of this Bill. The noble Lord has given the House various statistics, but I would warn your Lordships against accepting them without careful examination. I will take one list as an example—the list which is published in the Syren, and a copy of which was, I believe, sent to every one of your Lordships. In that list it is asserted that 185 ships were lost principally through want of ballast and injury to shaft; but of those 185 cases, 95 were foreign ships, to which neither the Act of 1894 nor the present Bill could possibly apply, so that they must be deducted. That reduces the number of ships to 90, or one-half per cent, of the 20,209 vessels on the British Register in the Registrar General's return for 1899. But that is not all, because the noble Lord's Bill is directed to casualties to the shaft. Out of the total of 185, 35 of the casualties or damages are described as due to broken propellers and not broken shafts, and I am informed that nearly every steamer afloat carries a spare propeller. I hope, therefore, that your Lordships will not allow these statistics to weigh with you in considering this Bill. I have thought it right to explain them after the inferences drawn by the noble Lord.


The statistics are from the official reports of the Board of Trade.


I submit that, the Bill is unnecessary; that the settlement of the load-line question in 1891, after most careful inquiry by a committee of experts presided over by Sir Edward Reed, is working satisfactorily, and that the proposal in the Bill is utterly impracticable. The noble Lord does not fix the place where the light load-line is to be, except in vague and general terms, but this is the very essence of his proposal. The noble Lord leaves the level to the Board of Trade. I doubt if my noble friend who represents that Department will show due gratitude for his confidence, but I will leave him to deal with that point. The load-line was fixed by the Merchant Shipping Act of 1894. The sections dealing with this question are from 436 to 445 inclusive, but Sections 437and 438 have alone any connection with this Bill. Section 437 relates to the marking of deck-lines, and enacts that every British merchant ship over eighty tons shall be permanently and conspicuously marked with lines—in this Act called deck-lines—of not less than twelve inches in length and one inch in breadth, painted longitudinally on each side amidships, or as near thereto as is practicable, and indicating the position of each deck which is above water. There are other directions as to colour and position of the deck-lines, which are to be white or yellow on a dark ground and black on a light ground. Section 438 deals with the marking of the load-line under the special direction of the Board of Trade as to the level and position of the disc. The owner of the vessel before proceeding to sea— Shall mark upon each of her sides amidships, within the meaning of Section 437, or as near thereto as practicable, in white or yellow on a dark ground, or in black on a light ground, a circular disc 12 inches in diameter, with an horizontal line 18 inches in length down through its centre. Your Lordships will therefore observe that the load-line is essentially different from the deck-lines in Section 437, which are for an entirely different object and must not be confused with the load-line. But what is the proposal of the Bill? The noble Lord by his Bill proposes to add a second load-line to be called the "light load-line" identical with the present load-line, but marked on every vessel within the meaning of the Act of 1894 below the deck-lines prescribed by the Act. This, we say, is absolutely unnecessary and it is not only an addition to but. a revolution of the law, and would create confusion and hardship to British shipowners without reasonable cause. The present law has worked, we contend, satisfactorily.

If the responsible Department of the Board of Trade consider legislation necessary, let them legislate. I think the noble Lord has failed to show any necessity for the introduction of the Bill, and I deny that vessels are sent to sea so light as to be in a dangerous condition. I am sure we all desire to give the noble Lord every credit for his good intentions, with the object of saving life and property at sea; but we ask your Lordships to pause before you disturb the well-considered settlement of the load-line laws in 1894 without any apparent necessity whatever. Even if the Bill passed it would only apply to British shipowners, and thus handicap them still further in competition with foreign vessels. We urge that it would be most unfair to harass the trade because less than one-half per cent, of the registered British vessels have met with accidents to their shafts, especially when Lloyd's Register in 1900 made amendments in their rules with a view of reducing the number of accidents to shafts in British vessels.

Where does the noble Lord propose to place his minimum or light load-line? According to him it is to be placed at the minimum depth to which a vessel may be navigated under any circumstances. Therefore it must lie placed in a position suitable for vessels being moved in ballast along the coast; the same line has to do for a voyage across the Atlantic and also when vessels are going in ballast round Cape' Horn. It does not require to be a seaman to know that under those varying circumstances the immersion would differ. I will leave the noble Earl who represents the Board of Trade to defend that Department from the attack that has been made upon it. That is not part of my duty. But I venture to say, on behalf of shipowners., that they believe the Bill to be absolutely unnecessary and impractical le and that it would prove a delusion and a snare if it became an Act of Parliament. For these reasons I move the rejection of the Bill.

Moved, to leave out "now" and insert at the end of the motion "this day six months."—(The Lord Heneage.)


My Lords. I beg to associate myself with the noble Lord who has just spoken, and to second the motion for the rejection of the Bill. The Bill was moved in a very able speech by the noble Lord, who spoke in a very sympathetic manner with regard to the difficulties and the dangers which seamen have to encounter. As a sailor myself. I agree with a great deal he said, but I think the noble Lord fell into the not uncommon error of rather overstating his case. When he spoke so forcibly and strongly upon the loss of life which occurs through vessels being under-ballasted, he did not tell you how very small is the number of ships that are lost under those circumstances. I am in formed that of all the vessels that went to sea in the year 1900, only one-half per cent, suffered any casualties through being under-ballasted.

There are other considerations which move me to oppose this Bill. It must be remembered that none of the great shipping companies send their vessels to sea under-ballasted. This condition of things obtains chiefly in connection with ships of the tramp class, that wander round the world trying to get a cargo and have great difficulty in making both ends meet. It is on the owners of these ships that the hardships would fall if this Bill passed. The result would be that the ships would have to be sold, and would probably fall into the hands of foreign nations. Under the new orders of the Board of Trade certificates are not given to vessels that are not equipped with much stronger propellers and shafts than used to be allowed, and, in addition to that regulation, there are new methods of providing water-ballast. This is being-adopted in all new vessels, and will render such accidents as have occurred hitherto less likely in the future. Therefore I think the evils to which the noble Lord has referred will gradually diminish as time goes on. We must remember that to shipowners, perhaps more so than to any other class, time is money, and that the time that would be lost by them in taking in ballast to go from port to port would be precious time. British shipowners would be handicapped in their competition with foreign shipowners if this Bill passed, and I therefore trust that your Lordships will refuse to give it a Second Reading.


My Lords, unless stronger arguments are put before the House than those we have already heard, it does appear to me that an exceedingly strong case has been made out in favour of the Bill. I cannot see any of the difficulties which have been described nor how the Bill can possibly be injurious to British shipmasters. I know it is urged against it that it will apply only to British-owned ships, and that foreign shipowners will be allowed with impunity to risk the safety of their ships and the lives of those on board by not complying with the conditions which this Bill seeks to impose. That appears to me no argument at all. The Bill gives a simple provision, and one which cannot be inconvenient or expensive, or cause the detention of any ship which ought not to be detained, but which will make British ships and the lives of those on board safer than they would be without such legislation. That is in my opinion, a very strong reason for passing it; unless we hear something satisfactory from the noble Lord who represents the Board of Trade in this House, in respect to official action, to secure the objects for which the Bill is intended.

We are told that there is a very strong wish that there should be no alteration in the present load-line law. It docs not seem to me that any good reason for wishing no change in the present law has been submitted to your Lordships' House. The deep load-line mark was carried after much opposition. We all remember how the Plimsoll load-line was opposed, but we are now assured that it has proved most beneficial. In my opinion, if this Bill is carried it also will prove beneficial. What possible confusion can there be between two marks, oven if they are of the same shape and colour—one for the deep load-line and the other for the light load-line? I intend to support the Bill unless I hear arguments which convince me that it ought not to be supported.


My Lords, I came down to the House with a perfectly unprejudiced mind on this question, but it occurs to me that the opposition to this Bill is illogical. In my opinion, the arguments which were adduced by the noble Lord who moved the Second Reading have not been at all answered by my noble friend who moved the rejection of the Bill. I can quite understand the arguments which were used against the Plimsoll line and which were directed against any interference with the liberty of shipmasters to do what they liked with their ships, or the arguments which were adduced against the danger of interfering with and adding difficulties to the competition of British shipowners with the owners of foreign vessels. But as the Legislature have thought it wise to protect seamen against the dangers of overloading, it seems perfectly logical and equally necessary to protect them against the dangers they incur by the ship being insufficiently ballasted. I do not pretend to say whether the Bill in its details is workable or not. The noble Lord opposite (Lord Heneage) said that confusion would arise on account of the two discs. That is a matter of detail; but I think it would be perfectly easy to place the marks in such a way as not to cause inconvenience. Unless I hear stronger arguments against it, I shall certainly support the Bill.


My Lords, I do not suppose that the House is desirous that this debate should be prolonged very much longer, as I know that some anxiety may be evinced to get on to the next item upon the Paper. But as this is a matter which comes under the purview of the Board of Trade, and as considerable reference has been made by noble Lords who have already spoken to the attitude previously adopted by the Board of Trade. I hope that I. may be excused if I take up the attention of the House for a few minutes in this connection.

I may say at once that those who have looked into this matter at the Board of Trade are of opinion that at the present time there is no necessity for legislation upon the lines of this Bill. I venture to say, as a general principle, that legislation of this kind, which seeks to impose an arbitrary restriction upon a great industry like the shipping industry, and which is at any rate opposed by a huge proportion of those who carry on that industry and who own ships, can only be justified if a very strong case is made out in its favour and if it is shown that considerable loss of life has occurred from the present state of things. My noble friend who introduced this Bill told the House that at the present time a great number of accidents occur to the machinery of vessels owing to those vessels being insufficiently immersed in the water. He quoted a few cases of accidents, which I shall refer to presently. I wish that he had told us how many vessels, in his opinion, suffer accident in the course of the year from reasons of this kind. I believe that the number, if you compare it with the total accidents to our shipping, is not large. A list has been circulated, to which reference has already been made, giving the number of accidents to the machinery of steam vessels during 1900 as 185. I am quite prepared, as a basis of argument, to take that figure as correct; but I would, in the first place, point out that, even if 185 vessels did suffer accident to their machinery last year through this cause—which I do not admit—it only constitutes about a half per cent, of the total of the world's shipping. Therefore the evil, looked at from the worst point of view, is not a great one, and it cannot be said that it is at any rate up to now of great pressing importance.

I would go further. I would say that, even if these accidents to machinery take place, what my noble friend has to prove is that considerable risk or even loss of life occurs from the present state of things. I would submit to the House that accidents to machinery do not in themselves constitute a ground for legislation. Of course, if it can be shown that those accidents result in loss of life, or even considerable risk to life, then no doubt Parliament would only be following many precedents in dealing with the matter, but until this can be shown the question is one which concerns owners underwriters, and engineers much more than your Lordships' House.

I would call attention for a moment to the list to which reference has been made. We hear that 185 steamers suffered accident last year through the failure of their propelling machinery but of those 185 cases thirty seven are recorded as having lost their propellers. I am informed that if a vessel loses its propeller it does not at all follow that it is due to any excessive strain upon the machinery. A vessel may lose her propeller from many causes, even a fully laden vessel. So common a type of accident is it that nearly all vessels now many an extra propeller in order to guard against that contingency. Therefore I do not think those who support this Bill can say that accidents of this character are due to the absence of legislation of this kind. If we eliminate these thirty-seven cases, there remain 148 steamers which suffered accident last year principally of the kind known as tail-shaft breakages. A large proportion, however, of these ships were foreigners, and as has already been pointed out. We cannot, of course, touch 'foreign vessels. Deducting the foreigners, we have only to consider the ease of seventy-six British vessels which suffered accident to their machinery last year from this cause.

Two questions, therefore, arise in connection with these seventy-six vessels— firstly, were the accidents due to under-ballasting; and, secondly, did those accidents involve risk to life? With regard; to the first point, what we are told is that at the present time ships in ballast, go to sea so light that when they encounter heavy weather the propeller comes out of the water, the engines race, and the consequent strain upon the machinery is so great that in many cases the tail-shaft breaks. My noble friend who introduced this Bill seems to think that the Board of Trade takes up a contemptuous attitude with regard to opinion upon this subject. I can assure him that since this subject was brought forward two or three years ago I have taken all the advice I could get about it. I have consulted not only the professional member of the Marine Department of the Board of Trade, who is himself a seaman of considerable experience, but also the surveying officers around the coast, and although it cannot be said that in no case is under-ballasting a contributing cause of tail-shaft breakage, yet it is quite inaccurate to say that it is a sole or even a principal cause of accidents. I am informed that there must always be some danger of excessive strain on the propelling machinery, especially in these days of large steamers, and a certain number of accidents from this cause must always be expected. It is worth noticing that only twenty vessels were recorded as having suffered accident from this cause last year, and those accidents arose in many cases from causes that the ballasting and immersion in the water had nothing to do with—causes, for instance, such as the faulty materials of which the shafts themselves were made. In this connection I should like, with the permission of the House, to read an extract from a letter which we received only a day or two ago from one of the most trusted surveyors of the Board of Trade, lie says— I am not at all satisfied that these break-ages and losses are the result of under-ballasting. Take last year's list of such casualties. A considerable number of them occurred to laden vessels—large liners and others. I think the material from which a number of tail-shafts are made has a lot to do with these breakages, and shipowners and others are becoming alive to the fact, and are insisting on nothing but the best iron being used in their construction. Your Lordships will see from this letter that the, question of shaft breakages is largely an engineering one, and that they arise from causes which may be uncertain, but which are undoubtedly manifold. I do not think, therefore, that the fact that a certain number of vessels have come to grief in this way during last year, or any year, is in itself an argument in favour of legislation which only aims at one particular aspect of the problem. As my noble friend Lord Heneage has already pointed out, there is no need to fear that this question will be overlooked, as the attention of shipowners and underwriters has been directed to it for some time; and Lloyd s Register have introduced rules which there is every reason to hope will be speedily effective.

So much for the question of tail-shaft breakages. I hope that I have said enough to show that at any rate it cannot be said that under-ballasting leads to more than a few cases of accident of that kind. But the question still remains whether in those few cases loss of life occurs. My noble friend who introduced this Bill told the House that 165 deaths had ensued from this cause. I do not know where the noble Lord gets his figures from.


From the official reports of the Board of Trade.


So far as I am aware, there is no Report of the Board of Trade which attributes a single death directly to this cause. The only way in which we can get a satisfactory answer to this question is by an examination of the casualty inquiries during a period of years. For this purpose a summary of the casualty inquiries for the last nine years—from 1892 to 1900—has been made out for me at the Board of Trade. I find that out of a total of 895 inquiries held, in only twenty cases has there been any question of under-ballasting raised. In ten of these cases, however, the Court was of opinion that the vessels were sufficiently ballasted. Of the other ton oases four were steamers and six were sailing vessels; and even in four of these cases, though it is true that the inspector was of opinion that when the vessel started on its voyage it was insufficiently ballasted, yet it is, of course, quite problematic whether or not the vessel was lost from that cause. I do not say that these four vessels were not lost through insufficient ballast, but I do say that to assume they were is assuming a great deal.

Therefore, if we take merely the cases of which we have full and complete evidence, we come down to this, that in nine years four steamers and two sailing vessels have been stranded owing, in the opinion of the Court, to insufficient ballast, and in not one of these six cases has a single life been lost. I therefore hope that the House will agree with me that the risk of life is at present so small from the particular reason we are now discussing that it is really needless to pass this Bill. Noble Lords who have already spoken have alluded to the practicability of the proposals. I do not think that there is any difficulty at all in fixing such a line as the noble Lord suggests but I would point out that the Board of Trade has no means of carrying out that step. The maximum load-line was fixed by a Committee which sat on the subject under the chairmanship of Sir Edward Reed, and a similar inquiry would be necessary to give effect to the noble Lord's proposal for a minimum load-line. It would be impossible for us at the Board of Trade to carry out legislation of this character without some previous inquiry by a Committee.

I should like to say this in conclusion. Reference has been made to the fact that there are certain powers at present in existence under the Merchant Shipping-Act for detaining ships. Both the noble Lord opposite who moved the rejection of the Bill and the noble Lord who moved its adoption were of opinion that the Board of Trade has power to detain vessels which have insufficient ballast. That is not so. We have power to detain vessels which are from any cause unsafe, and if a vessel was obviously unsafe from being too light it is natural to assume that she would be detained under the present law. The President of the Board of Trade is about to issue a circular to all surveying officers on this point, and I can assure the House that if a vessel attempted to go to sea in an obviously unsafe condition she would be detained by our officers. The Government sympathise entirely with my noble friend Lord Muskerry in the efforts that he has on more than one occasion made to improve the lot of the merchant seaman, and to decrease the dangers of his arduous avocation; but in this particular instance I do think there is not sufficient ground for the somewhat drastic proposals which he has made. Therefore, if the Bill is pressed to a division. I. for one, shall feel compelled, to vote against it.


I should like to say a word or two following upon the statement of the noble Earl. Perhaps I may plead a right to say something, having myself passed the existing load-line. I passed it many years ago and the experiment has proved most successful. I passed it against exactly the same arguments which are now being adduced against the proposal for a light load-line. I confess that I came down to the House to-day not having made up my mind which view to take with regard to this particular Bill. After hearing the arguments on both sides I confess that I agree with what was said by my noble friend Lord Dunraven. In my opinion, more futile arguments were never adduced against any legislation than those which have been put forward against this Bill. Everyone admits the danger of ships going to sea overloaded or under loaded. The noble Lord who introduced the Bill referred to the official reports of the Board of Trade. The noble Earl who represents that Department disputes them, and says that many of those casualties cannot be proved to have occurred through vessels being under-ballasted.

I do not suppose anyone who knows anything about shipping matters can doubt the danger arising from ships going to sea in such a condition. It is a palpable fact that a ship under-ballasted is quite unmanageable. It is clear that the remedy suggested in this Bill is suited to prove effective. The present load-line has by experience proved of great benefit, and it is probable that the establishment of a light load-line would alike contribute to save sailors from parallel danger. The noble Earl who represents the Board of Trade said there was no necessity for this Bill. What amount of loss of life does lie require to make it necessary? That argument would be good against any kind of assurance whatever. I say there is no difficulty in this proposal. The noble Lord who moved the rejection of the Bill asked how the proposal in the Bill was to be carried out. He asked if the surveyors of the Board of Trade were to measure every single ship, but at the same time he said it was perfectly easy for any surveyor to refuse to allow a