My Lords, I rise to call attention to the present very unsatisfactory constitution of the Marine Department of the Board of Trade, and, having regard to the great importance, from a national point of view, of the Merchant Navy, to move to resolve that a Royal Commission be appointed, or a Committee of both Houses, to inquire into and advise what steps should be taken to make this Department thoroughly efficient. In bringing this Resolution before your Lordships, I propose to deal first with the Return of the nautical advisers, consultative staff, and marine surveying staff, furnished to the order of your Lordships' House last year. In looking at this Return, I find that of nautical advisers there is only one. There are five principal consultative officers, only one of whom has had any experience in the command of ships, viz., the Principal Examiner of Masters and Mates. There are two engineers who have been to sea, but the Return does not give the qualifications of the remaining two — the Principal Shipwright Surveyor and the Principal Survey or of Tonnage—so it is to be assumed they have had no practical experience at sea. I would very much like to know if these principal consultative officers are consulted by the Board of Trade at frequent and regular intervals, and especially whether the one nautical principal consultative officer is called in for advice and assistance. I have good reason to believe that this is not the case. There are nine principal district officers. These are the officers in charge at the different leading ports. Four of these have had experience as masters in the Merchant Service. I would again like to know whether it is a fact that formerly these principal district officers were summoned to London once a year to consult with the professional member of the Board of Trade, and whether, since the present adviser has been appointed, this excellent practice has been abolished. There are seventy-four engineer and shipwright surveyors. Such a title is utterly incorrect, and the Board have no right to use 920 it. The engineer and the shipwright have entirely different occupations. These Board of Trade styled "engineer and shipwright surveyors" are simply and solely engineers, and have no defensible claim to the term "shipwright," neither do they make it; it is conferred by the Board of Trade. All these gentlemen have had experience in a ship's engine-room, and are thoroughly well qualified to perform the engineering survey. Their efficiency in their own particular sphere is undoubted. There are thirty - one' shipwright surveyors, but the Return only shows the capacities that four of them served in, and the capacity of one of these is put down as a fourth and third engineer. I cannot understand the reason why the column was left blank in the case of the remaining twenty-seven.
From a statement received from the Secretary of the Associated Shipwright society, the terms "shipwrights" and "ship carpenters are synonymous. This official statement of the Society in question says—No student of history would require to go very far back to find the time when the shipwrights (sometimes otherwise called ship carpenters) were practically the only artisans employed in the construction of vessels, or other floating structures, and erectors of structures, temporary or otherwise, required) during the process of their construction.… The shipwrights prepare the berth for the vessel, lay and secure the keel blocks, and erect the uprights at the required breadth for the necessary staging. While in wood vessels they manipulate the wood composing the component parts of the keels, stems, and stern-posts, in iron, steel, or other material, they lay, erect, fix, level and shore keels, stems and sternposts in their places. In wood vessels they build and erect the frames, beams, etc., plank, caulk, and make the vessel watertight. In iron or steel vessels they erect the frames, fixing and placing beams, etc., plumb, home and shore them in position, put on all ribbands, do all shoring to keep the vessel in required form and position, and do all lining off. So that shipwrights continue to do the constructive and erective work in the building of iron or steel vessels, upon which, therefore, they still have work, even if there was no wood used in the composition of the vessel, in, the several yards of the shipwrights employed, there is, according to the class of vessels building, from 25 to 50 per cent, of their number constantly occupied at other than purely woodwork. Shipwrights, to erect and keep a vessel in proper form and shape, must have a general understanding of the component parts of a vessel, and how its form is obtained and maintained, also a practical training in ship construction and some knowledge of the science of naval architecture.It remains for the Board of Trade to prove that this is incorrect. Also by 921 calling "nautical" and "engineer" surveyors "shipwrights" they are deliberately making a mis-statement in order to comply with the obsolete clauses in the Merchant Shipping Act. Is it not about time that they had the courage to take up the Amendment of clauses which lead an important Government Department to stultify itself and to officially countenance its servants being appointed under misnomers? The hull of the ship obtaining a passenger's certificate must, according to the Act, be surveyed by a shipwright surveyor. Will my noble friend, on behalf of the Board, explain why this important duty is carried out by an engineer, who is defined as "one who constructs engines," the "manager of an engine," "one versed in and who practises engineering?" The hull of a ship is not an engine, neither are very many other parts connected with a ship. The duties of the engineer surveyor are rightly interpreted by the Official Regulations, which say they are to survey the "machinery" of the ship. Why, then, do the Board go behind these regulations? I have been informed that engineers are given a text-book on shipwrights' duties to read up, and having passed an examination on that book they are then called "engineer shipwrights," but I would ask your Lordships to say what possible practical experience the study of this book could give in shipwrights' duties. The question of efficient surveying of the hulls of ships and their fittings apart from the machinery urgently requires attention. According to the regulations, one of the duties of the shipwright is to see that the compass of a ship is properly placed, and also that it is adjusted to his satisfaction. It must require an easy conscience on the part of a shipwright to deal with a matter of this sort, when he has not had that practical training which fits him for the duty. The knowledge of the compass and its working is a matter of long and close study. No shipwright can be held competent to certify that this instrument upon which the ship depends is in proper working order; therefore, the Board of Trade have no right to relegate such work to him.
Then we come to the shipwright nautical surveyors, of whom there are fifteen. These, again, are not shipwright surveyors; they are, in the strictest sense of the term, "master mariner surveyors." 922 All of these gentlemen have had service at the sea of from fourteen to twenty-eight and a half years. Nine of them possessed extra masters' certificates of competency. As master mariners they must have a most comprehensive knowledge of everything pertaining to a ship. Their duties extend from keelson to truck; they have a scientific practical knowledge of the navigational appliances of a ship; are conversant with the loading and unloading of all manner of cargoes; know exactly what effect each particular cargo has upon the working of the ship; can form a proper opinion upon the manning of a ship; whilst they are the only men who can have that thorough practical knowledge of the management of life-saving appliances, which, for the safety of life at sea, it is imperative should be brought to bear in the survey of every ship proceeding to sea. And yet, out of 119 of the General Survey Staff, they only have a representation of fifteen. When the present system of surveys, which now covers all matters connected with ships, came into force, the responsibility was at once removed from the shipowner and master on to the Board of Trade, and, this being so, it is imperative that the Board should make these surveys efficient, which, as at present conducted, they certainly are not.
There is no doubt but that the costly and inefficient system now in vogue is a disastrous failure. In the matter of the "Oceanic"- "Kincora" collision, James Fitzgerald, one of the survivors of the "Kincora," said—We could not get a boat out, as they were all stiff and jammed.A leading London shipping journal, commenting upon this, remarks—It is pretty certain that the Life-Saving Appliances Act has become relegated to the ornamental portion of shipping legislation. To prove this, it is altogether unnecessary to wait until a collision shows that the boats are 'stiff and jammed'; a cursory examination in the vicinity of the various docks will convince the most sceptical.I am informed that the marine staff of the Board of Trade is at present in a state of hopeless disorganisation, and that discontent and dissatisfaction prevail all through. The minimum of efficiency is therefore obtained, and the Board is more responsible than others for the degeneration of the service, owing to its own lethargy and its disinclination to make 923 any effort to shake it off. The responsibility resting on the Board for safety of life at sea seems to be very lightly on their shoulders. I do not desire to cast any aspersions on the surveyors themselves. They appear to be an extremely able set of men, but they are the victims of the Board of Trade in being placed in false positions. I will, therefore, not quote any cases which might reflect on particular persons. It is one thing to build a ship, and quite another to manage and handle her. It is one thing to build a lifeboat, and quite another to see that she is properly stowed on board ship. Special provisions are made in the Life-Saving Appliances Act for dealing with boats, their tackles, their masts, and their life-lines—but what do we see? Such vitally important duties are undertaken, at the direction of the Board of Trade, by engineers and so-called shipwrights, who have had absolutely no practical experience in such work. Apart from their stowage on board ship, and the mechanical appliances for lowering, etc., the boats must be fitted with a mast or masts, with at least one good sail and proper gear, and also with an efficient compass. How can engineers and shipwrights be expected to know of the proper gear for masts arid sails and efficient compasses? Lifeboats and life-rafts must also be fitted with a sea-anchor. How are engineers or shipwrights able to judge of the efficiency or otherwise of sea-anchors?
The Board of Trade have power to detain a ship which is improperly loaded. Do they take such a serious step on the theoretical opinion of an engineer or a shipwright, or upon the practical statements of a nautical surveyor whose ideas are based on years of ripened experience in this work? There are twenty detaining officers, and seventeen of them are engineers and shipwrights. This supplies its own answer. The Board are liable for compensation for improper detention; therefore detentions amount to nil, because the surveyor dare not take the responsibility on his shoulders owing to lack of practical knowledge and experience. Is an engineer or a shipwright competent to advise the Board of Trade upon manning, ballasting, the carriage of deck cargoes, the navigational instruments of a ship, including the compass and chronometer? Decidedly not, and every honest and can did engineer and shipwright would admit it. The master 924 mariner is the only man competent to act for the Board of Trade and in the public interest in such matters, inasmuch is he is the only man having practical knowledge of them. There is not a single nautical surveyor on the Eastern Coast of Scotland, and therefore all the ships sailing out of such ports as Aberdeen, Dundee or Leith are surveyed solely by engineers and so-called shipwrights. On the Western Coast of Scotland, where we find ports such as Greenock and Glasgow, there is one nautical surveyor, who is therefore the solitary nautical surveyor in the whole of North Britain. In the whole of Ireland there is only one nautical surveyor, and he is carefully put out of the way at Queenstown. All ships sailing from Dublin, Belfast, Londonderry, and Cork are surveyed by engineers and so-called shipwrights. At ports such as Sunderland, West Hartlepool, Hull, Grimsby, Plymouth and Bristol, with their outlying districts, the entire surveys are undertaken by engineers and shipwrights. At other ports the nautical expert element is deplorably inadequate. This discloses a grave condition of things, and some alteration must be made. The absurdity and impossibility of the position is perfect, when it is known that engineers are required by the Board of Trade to conduct the survey of sailing vessels preparatory to their leaving for sea.
An argument which has been used by the Board of Trade in defence is that the newly-appointed surveyors are instructed in duties such as the survey of boats, etc., by others of their more experienced surveyors. Such an argument will not bear examination for a moment. In the first place, it is equivalent to an admission that men are appointed who do not know how to survey a boat, and such like; and, in the second place, the instructor is usually an engineer or a shipwright who himself is merely a theorist in these matters. I trust that the remarks I have made will not be taken as reflecting in any way on engineers or on shipwright surveyors. This, country is proud of its engineers, and, there is no more capable body of men existing. As surveyors to the Board of Trade they are valued public servants, and rather than countenance any decrease in their number, I would advocate an increase equally as the increase in British 925 tonnage demands it. Again, the remuneration of the Board of Trade surveyors should be more compatible with the responsible duties they exercise. A salary of £200 a year, with an annual increment of £10, is utterly unworthy of the Board. Returning to the surveying question, no ship can be considered as properly surveyed unless she has had a thoroughly efficient inspection of her engines and machinery, her hull, and her life-saving appliances, navigational instruments, and matters connected with nautical work generally. These are entirely different branches and must necessarily be looked after by three different people, viz, the nautical surveyor, the engineer surveyor, and the shipwright surveyor, who has a real practical knowledge of the building and construction of the hull of a ship. It would then follow that three surveyors would survey each ship, and the number of surveyors should be increased to allow of this. Nautical matters must be dealt with by up-to-date nautical men, and the Board of Trade, who are ready enough to punish offenders amongst them, must also recognise that it is their duty to offer them every encouragement in the way of recognising their importance to the country, and the importance of their practical and exclusive knowledge of maritime affairs. The Royal Commission on Unseaworthy Ships stated in their Report that—Some additional nautical assistance is requisite for the due performance of the duties now entrusted to the Board.This powerful and cogent advice has been quite ignored by the Board, and despite the gigantic difference in the British Merchant Navy between 1874, when the Commission sat, and the present time, they have preferred to go on without acting, as was their duty, upon this recommendation.
The government of the vast shipping interests of the counter is in the hands of one or two autocrats who do, not appear to perceive, that as the trade advances so also must they offer facilities and inducements for further progress. The Marine Department of the Board of Trade is practically in the same position as it stood years and years ago; it is clogging the wheels of progress obsolete laws, regulations, and restrictions which should have been wiped out are still 926 working in full force as against the shipowner and shipmaster. Now, my Lords, the reason is not far to seek. There is no proper Marine Department of the Board as there should be. Its controlling authorities are not modern men of modern methods. The whole system requires a thorough reorganising, so that the confidence of a public shall be restored, and the pessimistic views, which have been so frequently expressed of late regarding our mercantile marine, allayed. The Board of Trade must march with the times, and must have that technical advice and assistance which will enable it to do so. Since first drawing attention to the matter I have been inundated with communications from various well-informed quarters—all pointing out the bad systems and defective constitution of the Board of Trade, which, as a matter of fact, is not a Board at all, but under the autocratic domination of one man, who could not possibly have the specialised knowledge which is requisite for the efficient performance of his duties. The necessity for reform or reconstruction of the Board of Trade Marine Department is not simply the opinion of any one section of shipping interests, but—what is a very rare thing—they are all emphatic and unanimous in their condemnation of the Board. In his evidence before the Steamship Subsidies Committee, Mr. George Renwick, M. P., a very large shipowner, declared that we ought to have a Minister of Commerce and Shipping, and, in regard to this proposal, he said that—Practical men who understood business were wanted for this Department.The leading organ of the shipowners pungently states that—The greatest enemy of British shipping is the Board of Trade, though it is fair to say that that Department is only what Parliament makes it, and what Parliament requires or allows it to be.From this it is evident that the remedy rests in Parliament's own hands. One of our most prominent shipowners, Mr. T. V. S. Angler, of London, has written his views in the public Press. After, as he says, a life spent in shipping and careful study of the subject, he declares that—A farther provision has become necessary by the vast development of our mercantile marine, and the want has long been felt by the trade, and pointed out to successive Governments by individual Members and the 927 general community of shipowners, who equally have their country's safety and weal at heart. What is wanted is a separate Department of State for the Mercantile Marine with a responsible Minister. The Marine Department of the Board of Trade is in no way adequately constituted to deal with and control this very technical and vast interest any more than it is to deal with and control the Navy, it seems to me far more reasonable to form a Mercantile Marine Department of the Admiralty to watch over our merchant shipping. A separate Department is really necessary, with shipowners, navigators, engineers, shipbuilders, and engine-builders having adequate control and responsibility on the Board.To show the curious and extraordinary way in which appointments to important positions are made, I would mention a recent case where a third-class surveyor of customs, late a laboratory chemist, has been appointed to act as Superintendent of Mercantile Marine, Receiver of Wrecks, Registrar of Shipping, Registrar to the Royal Naval Reserve and Collector of Customs at Middlesbro'. I will leave it to your Lordships as to whether such a man —able as he might be—is competent for such duties, which require regulating by a man of pratical experience and with a full knowledge of the technicalities of ships and shipping. A further illustration of "round pegs in square holes" is furnished by a letter received from a captain who occupies a foremost position in the Mercantile Marine, and whose word is worthy of absolute credence. The captain says—Just a word with reference to the survey which is now being clone by engineers, as our cloth appear to have sunk so low that their services at this work are very little required. The engineer who surveyed this vessel passed a deep sea lead line fifty fathoms short, and also a hand foghorn which would not blow. These are very small details compared to the fact that most of the gear required for boats, etc., is kept in store and brought out for the engineer surveyor to inspect; it is then promptly returned into store. This, I believe, is taking place daily. You, I am sure, will admit that something ought to be done to remedy a state of affairs which is a gross scandal and ought to be done away with.On the 8th of February, 1875, the House of Commons ordered a Return to be printed "showing the steps taken by the Board of Trade with respect to the appointment of Inspectors under the Merchant Shipping Act, 1875." In reference to this Return the remarkable feature is that it has been seriously ignored in many respects by the Board of Trade, and that they have totally disregarded most important recommendations 928 therein. In a letter directed by the then President of the Board of Trade, now a Member of this House (Lord Norton), to the Secretary of the Treasury on the 2nd of November, 1875, appear the following very pertinent remarks, which do not seem to hive been acted upon by his successors as should have been the case—It appears most advisable that the officers entrusted with special authority under the Act of 1875 should be some of the most experienced men on the present staff of the Board of Trade, together with others selected from men experienced in Mercantile Marine command, and acquainted with the general construction and repairing of all kinds of merchant ships, their loading and equipments. No others could be safely entrusted with authority to stop ships going to sea in cases in which time failed for previous reference to the Board of Trade.Captain Sir Digby Murray, the then nautical adviser to the Board of Trade, in dealing with the necessity of surveys being carried out without putting shipowners to unnecessary expense, reported as follows—Unfortunately mistakes have occurred, and the shipowners complain that they have been put to great expense through the want of practical knowledge of some of the Board's surveyors. I regret to say that there is some foundation for these complaints, but it is only fair to the officers concerned that I should add that the want of practical knowledge complained of ought properly to be charged to the system in force rather than to the officials themselves.These words are equally true today. Captain Sir Digby Murray suggested an "assistant professional officer of the Marine Department." This suggestion was made in 1876, but no such official appears to have been appointed even yet. Under the Return of 1876 there were to be fifty-one engineer surveyors and twenty-two nautical surveyors. Now there are seventy-five engineer surveyors and fifteen nautical surveyors—a reduction of seven in the latter. There were also to be ten principal officers at the different ports, seven of whom were to be nauticals and three engineers. The position now is that there are five nauticals and four engineers—a reduction of two nauticals. The strength of the surveying staff is about equal to what was proposed in 1876, and this despite the fact that the tonnage of British vessels entered and cleared with cargoes at ports in the United Kingdom has increased by over 25,000,000 tons. This is ample evidence that the 929 Board has not kept pace with the times, and, consequently, is quite inefficient for it purposes.
And now, my Lords, I have done with the question of the Surveying Department of the Board of Trade, and I think your Lordships will see from the evidence I have brought before you that there is considerable need for reform. I will now deal with the larger and broader question of the constitution of the Marine Department as a whole. I would ask your Lordships, is it not an extraordinary thing that a Department which has the management and control of the very varied interests that are comprised in what I am safe in describing, at present at all events, as the very largest Mercantile Marine in the whole world, and the one that is so vital to the interests of the country—equally as vital in its way as the Royal Navy—is it not a most extraordinary thing that this Department should be relegated to the position of a sub-Department of another of the great Departments whose duties are multifarious and varied. Is it not extraordinary that this Department should be presided over by one who has, or may have, absolutely no knowledge whatever, not only of maritime affairs, but also of commercial affairs, and that the sole maritime advice should be given by one man who, however capable and able he may be to advise on purely maritime matters, possibly has no knowledge of the various commercial interests that are so inseparably connected therewith, and an intelligent appreciation of which is necessary to encourage and foster our maritime commerce. I would, therefore, my Lords, strongly urge that a Royal Commission be appointed to consider the advisability of separating the supervision of our shipping industry from the Board of Trade. The Board of Trade have many other duties. Leave the Board of Trade to those duties; let them have their own trade unionists methods and advisers, but so far as the Mercantile Marine of England goes, which is so vital to the safety of the Kingdom, I hope, my Lords, you will agree that it requires, and is worthy of, a separate Department, the constitution of which would be with the Commission to advise. But certainly I think that the shipowners, shipmasters, and the whole of the commercial community should have some representation 930 in the framing of those restrictive measures which so vitally affect not only their own interests but those of the nation at large.
Moved to resolve, "That a Royal Commission be appointed, or a Committee of both Houses, to inquire into and advise what steps should be taken to make the Marine Department of the Board of Trade thoroughly efficient." — (Lord Maskerry.)
§ THE SECRETARY TO THE BOARD or TRADE (The Earl of DUDLEY)
My Lords, it is really very difficult to reply to a Motion of this kind. My noble friend has put down on the Paper a vague notice expressing dissatisfaction with a large Department which is charged with all kinds of manifold duties, and has a mass of administrative functions to perform, and, having done that, he proceeds to make a number of suggestions which are perfectly and absolutely unindicated within the four corners of his notice. I will do my best to answer, as far as I can, the points which have been raised by my noble friend; but I would really point out to him that if he wishes anybody in my position to come to anything like close quarters in arguing this kind of question, he ought to be a little more explicit in his notice, both as to the matters to which he wishes to draw attention and also the reforms he desires to support. I hope the House does not think me unreasonable in pointing this out to my noble friend. For the last three-quarters of an hour, he has had what I believe at sea is called "a good old growl," and it is, perhaps my turn now to make a little complaint. The first point raised by my noble friend was with regard to the surveyors who act under the Board of Trade in the survey of passenger ships, and he asked whether the principal surveyor was consulted in these matters. The consultative staff are a body of principal surveyors who reside in London, and whose function it is to advise the Secretary to the Marine Department of the Board of Trade upon technical subjects which have to be decided. I can assure my noble friend that there is constant communication between the Marine Department and the consultative staff, and that 931 he is perfectly wrong in thinking, either that the consultative staff is in any way neglected, or that any friction exists between them and their head. My noble friend then commented upon the fact that certain surveyors are termed "engineer and shipwright surveyors," and said he did not think it possible that any one man could combine those two offices. The fact is that engineer surveyors are trained and examined in shipwright's work, and are certified as being qualified to perform shipwright's surveys by the principal shipwright surveyors under the Board of Trade. Once these men have passed the examination to the satisfaction of those officers, they can call themselves engineer and shipwright surveyors.
I would point out to the House that the kind of work which surveyors have to perform now is very different from the work which they had to perform twenty or thirty years ago. As your Lordships well know, steam vessels have replaced sailing ships, and iron has to a great extent taken the place of wood. Therefore, the engineer surveyor now plays, and necessarily plays, a far more important part in the survey of ships than he did before this change took place. It arises from that that the number of purely nautical surveyors, in whom my noble friend evidences such a keen interest, has decreased rather than increased during the last twenty years. Twenty years ago the emigration work in this country used to be spasmodic, and to be undertaken to a great extent by sailing vessels which had not previously been surveyed until they were to become emigrant ships. That spasmodic trade has now given place to a regular trade, in which the work is carried on by steamers instead of sailing vessels. Therefore, it has become possible to decrease the number of nautical surveyors to whom this class of work was principally relegated. There must, I suppose, always be a certain amount of jealousy between the various classes of surveyors, and each class wish their numbers to be; increased. The reason why my noble friend evinces such an interest in the nautical, surveyors is that behind him in this, matter are a body of people called the Merchant Service Guild, which is composed of ships' captain and officers who are naturally desirous that their particular branch of the service 932 should be fortunate enough to receive more appointments among nautical surveyors. I do not blame my noble friend for championing their particular view of the question, but there are other considerations to be taken into account besides finding employment for members of the Merchant Service Guild. The apportionment of surveyors around the coast is a question which is very carefully watched indeed by a number of responsible, and, I think, perfectly satisfactory officers, who, up to the present, have discharged their duties without any dissatisfaction to the great shipping interests concerned.
I would ask the House to remember that there exists what is called a Survey Court. When any shipowner is dissatisfied with the manner in which his vessel has been surveyed, or with the decision arrived at by the Board of Trade or its officer, he can, on his own application, have a Court of Survey summoned, to whom an appeal will be and who have the power of reversing the decision of the Board of Trade. Is it not presumable that, if there was anything like complete dissatisfaction amongst the shipping community with the manner in which the Board of Trade regulated their surveys, a Survey Court would be a thing of constant occurrence? But for the last seven or eight years there has not been one instance of a Survey Court being called; and, so far as I know, there have only been two or three summoned since the Act establishing them came into force. My noble friend alleges that nobody but nautical officers can satisfactorily survey life saving appliances. I believe that to be a perfectly erroneous assumption. The survey of boats, life-belts, life-buoys, and things of that kind surely do not require any great technical knowledge. A young, officer who has been trained carefully by an old and experienced officer in these matters can obtain sufficient information and knowledge with regard to them-whether he be an engineers or a ship, wright, or a "nautical." I believe it to be the fact that we have never had any complaints, nor do we know of any case in which loss of life has occurred through the negligence of the Board of Trade surveyors in, surveying life saving appliances. My noble friend quoted the case of the-collision pf the "Oceanic." I do not remember at this, moment the facts of that collision. The noble Lord said that 933 in that case the davits were so rusty that the boats could not be swung out. That is a thing which has happened on more than one occasion, and it does not prove that the Board of Trade surveyors have been either careless or incompetent in surveying the vessel. After all, it is perfectly impossible, even if you survey a vessel for six, eight, or twelve months, to ensure that things like that will not become rusty, unless the officers on board take care to see that they do not become so; and there is absolutely nothing in my noble friend's illustration to prove that, in this particular case of the "Oceanic," the captain and other officers were not to blame in allowing the davits to become in the state in which my noble friend says they were. I should like to know whether, at the inquiry that was held after the accident, any blame at all was attached by the court to the surveyors of the Board of Trade. I think, if he looks into the matter, my noble friend will see that the court found that the ship was fitted, according to the Act, with life-saving appliances; that those appliances were in a fit and proper condition to be used, but that, owing to the carelessness of the officers in allowing the davits to become rusty, the boats that were there, and which it was the business of the Board of Trade to see were there, could not be used.
My noble friend says that responsibility for loss of life rests Very lightly on the shoulders of the Board of Trade. I think that is a perfectly outrageous suggestion. I do not know on what ground he makes it, or what right he has to put forward an allegation of that kind. So far as my experience goes—and I have been seven years at the Board of Trade—there is no Department in that office which is better administered than the Marine Department, and I believe that the officers of that Department are most conscientious and hard working, and that, taking it as a whole, the rather difficult duties which have been devolved by Parliament upon the Marine Department are harmoniously and satisfactorily administered. I think that is all I need say with regard to the surveyors of the Board of Trade. There was one other point raised by my noble friend. He suggests that a separate Department of State, under what he calls a responsible Minister of the Crown, should be set up to supervise merchant shipping questions and commercial questions in 934 general. I confess that, though I listened to my noble friend with great attention, I fail to understand what public advantages would accrue from the establishment of any such office. My noble friend seems to contemplate a Government Department presided over in the ordinary way by a Minister, but a Minister who would be confined in all his actions by a consultative body composed of ships' captains, officers of the Mercantile Marine;, and shipowners. I cannot contemplate as more awful situation for an unfortunate statesman than to be surrounded in that way by a representative body of the shipping interest, who should permanently take up their quarters in his office in London. Anything more impracticable, I think, could hardly be contemplated.
My noble friend says that the Marine; Department is an antiquated body, with antiquated methods, and that it very much needs the addition of modern men with modern ideas to give it practical advice. I am, in that connection, surprised to see that, although my noble friend takes the Marine Department to task for being antiquated and out of date he, in the next breath, finds fault with it for not having put into force the recommendations in a Return presented to the House of Commons in 1876. It is a little difficult, I think, to be up to date if you are to carry out recommendations made in 1876. However, I would point out that the chief Act which the Marine Department has to administer is the Merchant Shipping Act, which was passed in the year 1894, and, although we know that matters in this connection move rapidly, I do not think that it can be legitimately argued or urged that Clauses which Parliament inserted into a Bill in 1894 have already become antiquated and out of date. I do not mean to say, for one instant, that if time were at our disposal there are not many ways in which we, at the Board of Trade, should like to amplify and extend the Act of 1894; but my noble friend realizes, I am, quite certain, that all we have to do is to administer the Act as Parliament has passed it, and that we have no more power than he has to pass Acts of our own, or to alter the legislation which already exists. There are points, no doubt, in regard to which we share the wish that time for amendment could be found. But that time has not yet arrived, and I do think it is a little hard for my noble friend to 935 say that the greatest hampering influence on the shipping interest is the Board of Trade, when he knows perfectly well that all that the Board of Trade has to do is to administer the Acts of Parliament as they exist. I hope, in these circumstances, that I have said enough to show that there is absolutely no need for any inquiry, either by a Royal Commission or a Committee, and on behalf of the Government I must ask the House to resist the Motion if my noble friend persists in it.
§ On Question, resolved in the negative.