HL Deb 06 May 1902 vol 107 cc769-91

[Second Reading.]

Order of the day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this Bill, which I ask your Lordships to read a second time today, is similar to the one which was brought before your Lordships last year, except that two clauses have been added which have been found to be absolutely necessary owing to the serious loss of life that has occurred through ballast not being efficiently secured. The noble Lord who moved the Amendment to the Bill last year seemed to have an idea that the fact of a steamer carrying a spare propeller was an element of safety, but he did not inform us how this mass of metal, weighing from five to eight tons, was to be got on deck, over the side, and shipped in its place when the crew would have all they could do to hold on to save themselves from being dashed about the decks. The noble Lord also said, on behalf of the shipowners, that there was no need for such a Bill; but, if that is the case why do they oppose it, for if it is not needed they will be put to no extra expense. But as to its not being needed, last year I gave your Lordships instances of ten ships that were lost. The Courts of Inquiry held by the Board of Trade found that those ships went to sea without sufficient ballast, and 165 lives were lost in those ships. My noble friend the Earl of Dudley said that as far as he knew there was not the loss of one single life to be attributed to want of sufficient ballast. Well, that may be the interpretation that the Board of Trade place on the findings of their own Courts of Inquiry, but I ask your Lordships to judge what those findings mean in plain English. The Courts stated that these ten ships went to sea in an unseaworthy condition for want of sufficient ballast, and I think that any one outside the Board of Trade or a lunatic asylum would say that in all human probability it was due to want of ballast that they and their crews were lost. I have received many further letters from shipmasters trusting that this Bill would still be persevered with. One who holds a very prominent position in the Mercantile Marine writes— We had one forcible example of the need of a light load line on our recent passage here. In the Bay of Biscay we had a strong northeasterly wind which, by the greatest of stretching could not be called a gal-of wind. It was too much for a ship in such light trim, with the boss of the propeller barely immersed in smooth water. Fortunately the whole of the Atlantic was to leeward of us, and we had to content ourselves watching the ship drive to leeward for two days. If it had been a rocky coast to leeward there would have been another vessel lost and in all probability many lives. Another master of long experience in the service writes that— Seeing that several good steamers have blown ashore lately through being too late, I hope that every effort will be made to aid and abet the Light Load Line Bill. For my part this is all I dread about the sea. I have just ended a voyage by bringing a too light tramp across from the Continent short of coals. I have many instances on record regarding my experiences with insufficient ballast. It is the opinion of practical men that a light load line is even more needed than a deep load line, for the very simple reason that if a ship is overloaded she is at least manageable, whereas an insufficiently ballasted ship is both a danger to herself and to other vessels in the vicinity. Replying to a question in another place, the President of the Board of Trade stated that during the year 1900, no less than seven British sailing vessels which left foreign ports in ballast had not since been heard of, the number of officers and men carried by them being 188. During the year 1901, there were six large sailing vessels in ballast posted at Lloyd's as missing. This means the loss of at least another 150 lives, or 338 in all. I think, my Lords, that this further loss of life is sufficient justification for bringing the Bill forward again. As proving my case, I will simply refer to four later inquiries which were officially held by the Board of Trade, each of them directly attributing the casualties to insufficient ballasting. The first is the case of the "Moel Tryvan," which capsized in the English Channel, eleven lives being lost. The Board of Trade inquiry was conducted by the Stipendiary Magistrate of Liverpool, with Captains R. C. Dyer, R.N., T. T. Edwards, and W. H. Sinclair as nautical assessors. The clear opinion of the Court, in their judgment, was "that the vessel was not sufficiently ballasted." Then, again, there is the case of the "Kaisari" which struck on the rocks of the Island of Reunion. A Court of Inquiry was held at Port Louis, Mauritius, and this Court deliberately stated in their judgment that— The ballast carried by this steamer was quite inadequate to enable a vessel to steam against tad weather, and that— It is almost certain that if the 'Kaisari' had been properly ballasted she would not have been lost. They found that for two whole days the ship drifted bodily to leeward until she struck on the rocks. Twenty-three lives, including those of the captain, chief and third officers, and chief engineer, were sacrificed to insufficient ballasting. Therefore, in these two cases there is no doubt on the subject, but it is absolutely certain that these thirty-four lives were lost owing to the vessels being under-ballasted. Then, again, there is the case of the "Trefusis," the Board of Trade Inquiry in connection with which was held at West Hartlepool. Although being in sight of a light which was ten miles off, the Court found that the vessel was then unmanageable, and that she drove on shore with her port anchor down, her engines all the time going full speed ahead. The Court definitely stated that— the serious damage to the vessel was not caused by wrongful act or default of the master or officers, but by an error of judgment on the part of the master by attempting to make the voyage with too little ballast. Then there was the wreck of the "Sylviana." The Board of Trade Inquiry, with expert nautical assessors, was held at Middlesbrough, and the Court found that— when fifteen miles oft' Whitby Light, this vessel became unmanageable, land although every effort was made to keep the vessel off the shore, she gradually but surely drifted there. The Court declared that the serious damage to the "Sylviana" was not caused by the wrongful act or default of the officers, the owners alone being I responsible for the ballasting of the vessel, and the master not being consulted about it. Another steamer has lately gone ashore for want of ballast, but for some reason the Board of Trade have held no Inquiry.


What ship was that?


The "Zannetta," which, in November last, drove ashore whilst steaming in ballast from London to the Tyne. The argument which is advanced by the shipowners is that this Bill would unduly harass them, owing to the fact that it would not apply to foreign ships, which would be enabled to trade at an advantage over British ships, in consequence of their not being required by law to have either a deep or a light load line. I would point out, however, that a very great number of foreign ships have a deep load line marked upon their sides owing to the fact that they are heavily insured in this country and the underwriters require that the load line should be placed upon them. We constantly pride ourselves on the advanced state of the Mercantile Marine, more especially in regard to the immunity from loss of life at sea compared with the Mercantile Marine of other nations. Within the past few years other nations have made gigantic strides in shipping, and, consequently, they themselves are now seriously considering the advisability of introducing measures similar to our own for the protection of life. I would just quote one or two opinions to prove this statement. The correspondents at Hamburg Lloyd's Shipping Gazette states that from his own observations the masters, officers, engineers, and crews generally would heartily welcome the introduction of Government control as is the case in England. He added— It is notorious that many German vessels have been brought to destruction, if not wholly, at least partially, by the absence of all regulations with regard to the amount of cargo permissible. The Paris correspondents of this leading shipping journal, reporting the discussion in the French Chamber on the Merchant Shipping Bill, stated that Count D'Agoult proposed an additional article with the object of requiring a load line on all ships. Count D'Agoult admitted that most French ships bore a load line, but said it was imposed by the English Board of Trade. He thought it inconsistent with the dignity of France that her merchant ships should be subject to foreign legislation, and that a national law should be passed on the subject. M. Brindeau replied that a Commission at the Ministry of Marine had the matter under consideration, and the Chamber referred the question to that body. A Bill has been introduced by the Norwegian Government and referred to a Committee, providing for a load line, for the limitation of deck loads all the year round, and other matters. Serious attention is also being given to this matter in Germany. As to the new clauses introduced into this Bill providing for the proper securing of loose ballast, there is a consensus of opinion that this is equally necessary with the light load line itself. In a letter to the Merchant Service Guild the secretary of the Liverpool Underwriters Association, which is one of the largest associations of its kind in the world, states that— The necessity for ballast being efficiently secured from shifting is of such importance that it would be desirable that this should also be provided for in the Bill. But to come to stronger arguments, I will quote again from the judgments of the Board of Trade's own Courts. The British ship "Cape Wrath," which sailed from Callao in ballast, has disappeared with all her crew, numbering thirty. The Board of Trade Court, with expert nautical assessors, stated that— The ballast shipped at Callao was shingle and very liable to shift. Accordingly, with such a dangerous description of ballast as this, special measures should have been taken to secure it. Central shifting boards should invariably be used, also wing shifting boards when practicable. All shifting boards should be thoroughly well secured in position; bulkheads should be fixed at the forward and after ends of the ballast and be brought up to the same height as the ballast in order to prevent the ballast shifting forward or aft. Finally, the ballast should be securely tommed down. To refer once more to the "Moel Tryvan" Court, the judgment in that case was that— Although it is stated in evidence that it is neither usual nor necessary to take any special precautions to secure the ballast from shifting, we cannot too strongly condemn such practices, and nothing can justify ships being sent to sea under such dangerous conditions. Also, in the cases of the "Limache" and "Mides" the Court expressed a strong opinion as to the danger arising from proper measures not being adopted for the prevention of the shifting of the ballast. In these cases both vessels also disappeared with all hands. I contend that measures could very easily be adopted by the Board of Trade for the proper securing of ballast, in the same way as they make regulations in the matter of the carriage of grain cargoes. Mr. E. C. Chaston read a paper recently before the North-east Coast Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders on the "Ballasting of Merchant Tramp Steamers," in which he referred to the short-sighted policy of sending ships to sea in an unseaworthy condition, due to want of sufficient ballast. Going back to January 1897, and taking the salvage cases due to broken shafts, loss of rudders, etc., up to the present time, he could, he said, only express surprise that such a state of things was allowed to exist. He had come to the conclusion that insufficient ballast was, and is, the cause of three-fourths of the whole trouble, and that it is imperative, if the shipowner will not, and the under-writer does not, insist upon a vessel being sent to sea in proper ballast trim, that there should be an under load line fixed by the Board of Trade or the authorised free-board assigning authorities. He quoted several cases in his own experience, one being where a 5,000 or 6,000-ton steamer left Trieste for Cardiff in ordinary water ballast trim, and lost eight days on the passage through not being able to make headway. Captain W. R. Lord, a representative of the Shipping Federation at Newcastle-on-Tyne, stated, from his own experience as a commander, that steamers of today went to sea seriously handicapped from want of sufficient ballast. Therefore all shipowners cannot be averse to this Bill when their own representative expresses such an opinion as this. At the last annual meeting of the Sunderland Shipowners Society, the Chairman, Captain T. Pinkney, a very large shipowner on the east coast of England, declared that— The light load line was sure to come, and they would have to adopt it. Which was tantamount to an admission that the arguments in favour of it were unanswerable and bound to carry the day sooner or later. It has been pointed out that in these cases the only person who is blamed by the Board of Trade is the unfortunate master. If he had the good fortune to be saved, his position was not a happy one, for the Court of Inquiry would, in all probability, suspend his certificate. On the other hand, if he had acted as his judgment dictated and had gone to the expense of providing ballast, he stood the best of chances of being superseded in his command. The leading official of the Marine Department of the Board of Trade, speaking at the centenary of the Liverpool Underwriters Association, referred to the way in which the underwriters had co-operated with the Board of Trade in the way of promoting the safety of life at sea. If, therefore, the Board of Trade is consistent, they will accept the advice of the Underwriters Association, who are strongly in favour of the principle of this Bill for the protection of life and property at sea. Now, my Lords, who are the people who are opposed to this Bill? They are the shipowners—but not all of them—who naturally do not wish to have any more trouble than they can possibly help, and who have never, I venture to say, been at sea in a light ship in bad weather, and the Board of Trade, whose members also have never had the experience of going to sea in a light ship, and who therefore know nothing about the risk, not only to the ship, but to the limbs and lives of those on board. That is one side of the question. I will now toll your Lordships who are in favour of the Bill. This Bill, I may say, was not prepared by me. It has been prepared and placed in my hands by the Merchant Service Guild. They, and the whole of the Mercantile Marine—captains, officers, engineers, seamen and firemen—are most strongly and unanimously in favour of this Measure. Of course, my Lords you must remember that these people are prejudiced, as they are liable at any time to find themselves risking their lives in one of these unseaworthy and unmanageable vessels. You have there, in all, 200,000 men. Then, as I had the honour of pointing out last year, the insurance companies are in favour of it. Of course, they are also prejudiced, as they have had to pay out considerable sums of money through the loss of ships which have been insufficiently ballasted.

I come now to the experts, and it is impossible to say that they are prejudiced. I read to your Lordships last year the opinion of Sir Edward Reid, late Chief Constructor to the Navy, and the opinions of other expert naval architects. They strongly condemn the practice of sending ships to sea insufficiently ballasted. Then, my Lords, we have the opinions of His Majesty's Judges, who cannot, in any way, be called prejudiced. The Judges have most strongly condemned the practice of sending ships to sea without sufficient ballast on board. These gentlemen have had every opportunity of judging the question, as they have received sworn testimony as to the behaviour of insufficiently ballasted vessels, and I think that their opinions should receive the greatest consideration at your Lordships' hands. You have, my Lords, against the Bill the ship owners—I do not count the Board of Trade, for if the shipowners did not oppose, they would not—and for the Bill you have all the captains, officers, engineers, seamen and firemen in the Mercantile Marine, the insurance companies, experts, both nautical and engineering, and also His Majesty's Judges. The facts that I have stated in favour of the Bill both this year and last year cannot be denied. Against the Bill no acts have been given or can be given. I think that the strongest arguments of all in favour of the Bill are the lives that have been sacrificed for the want of such a regulation. I have said nothing as to the terrible discomforts of the crew; men are dashed about the decks, and firemen are thrown against the furnaces through the terrible rolling of these under ballasted ships. The unavoidable dangers that a sailor must run are many and great, but this particular danger can be guarded against, and I think it is our duty to guard against it. It is a disgrace to the nation that more care and attention should be devoted to the comforts and the lives of our criminals than are given to the comfort and safety of those on whom the nation mainly depends for its prosperity. I beg to move the Second Reading of this Bill.

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


My Lords, it is with great reluctance that I venture to obtrude in this debate and to oppose the Motion of my noble friend. I am not a shipowner, and not even a yachtsman, but I love the sea—that is I love to look upon it from the land. But I have the strongest possible feeling that we ought not to touch so great an interest without full knowledge of all the facts. I have been asked by the Shipowners Parliamentary Committee to move the rejection of this Bill in the absence of Lord Heneage, who last year successfully opposed the Bill of my noble friend. The Shipowners' Parliamentary Committee, of which I am the mouthpiece, represents nine-tenths of the registered tonnage of the merchant shipping of the United Kingdom. They point out that the Board of Trade has already power to deal with improper loading, under the Merchant Shipping Act of 1894. As regards casualties, the Committee inform me that the casualties in 1900 were 185, of whom 95 were foreigners, and that last year the total casualties were reduced to 140, of whom 75 were foreigners. That is to say, the casualties last year only represented ½ per cent of the whole tonnage of the shipping of the United Kingdom, and it is unjust to compel 99½ per cent. to submit to further restrictions on account of casualties representing only ½ per cent. I am informed that there have been two cases in which ships have been lost in extremely bad weather through under ballasting, but those have been exceptional cases. Further, the Shipowners Parliamentary Committee say that builders and shipowners are paying great attention to the question of ballasting, and also to the construction of shafts with a view to preventing accidents. The tendency with regard to shafts is to increase their size, to improve the material of which they are made, and to have frequent examinations, and the shipowners ask that Parliament should wait to see the results of these changes before passing a Bill of this kind. They suggest, further, that before legislation takes place there should be a full inquiry by the Board of Trade, and that, if legislation should be found necessary, it should be introduced by the responsible Government Department and not by an individual member. That appears to me to be only right and reasonable. When my noble friend introduced his Bill last year Lord Heneage moved that it be read a second time that day six months, and the Bill was rejected by a large majority. I do not know what course my noble friend who represents the Board of Trade proposes to take on this occasion, but I would remind him of what he said last year. In the course of his speech last session the noble Earl said— I may say at once that those who have looked into this matter are of opinion that at the present time there is no necessity for legislation on the lines of the Bill. If there was no necessity last year there can be no necessity this year, for, as I have shown your Lordships, the casualties are fewer in number. The noble Earl went on to say— I venture to say, as a general principle, that legislation of this kind, which seeks to impose arbitrary restrictions upon a great industry like the shipping industry, can only be justified if a 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. There has not been any considerable loss of life, for the casualties are diminishing instead of increasing, and I heartily endorse the sound principle contained in the quotation which I have just read from the speech of the noble Earl who represents the Board of Trade. I think it is a sound argument that if legislation is required it should be undertaken by the Government and not by a private individual, and I move that the Bill be read a second time this day six months.


My Lords, I do not know that I should have risen to take part in the discussion on this Bill except for the observations that have just fallen from the noble Earl on the Cross Benches. I naturally take an interest in this subject, inasmuch as when I was at the Board of Trade I had to conduct the Merchant Shipping Act through the House of Commons—not the Act of 1894, but the principal Act which enacted the deep load line, commonly called the Plimsoll line from the extraordinary zeal with which Mr. Plimsoll defended the interests of the sailors. There cannot be the slightest doubt that the risks of too light ballasting are as great as those arising from too deep loading. The one is as dangerous as the other, and as many lives are lost by the one as were lost by the other. What objection can there be to the fixing of a light load line? We have just heard from the noble Earl the reasons given by the highest authority why this legislation should not be passed. The Shipowners Parliamentary Committee state that there is power to deal with this matter without an Act of Parliament, and that legislation is not necessary. There could hardly be, I think, a worse reason than that for opposing the Bill. The noble Lord told us that the Board of Trade could deal with this matter. Why don't they? The fact that they can do it and do not should not prevent us passing this Bill. The second reason given for opposing the Bill was that the casualties were not so great as was stated, and that they were as great among foreigners as among Englishmen. The circumstance that the number of casualties is not great is no argument for doing nothing. Is it necessary to satisfy the Board of Trade of the value of human life before they will take this step? I am perfectly satisfied that if we save the reckless and needless loss of one sailor's life, that alone would be enough to balance all the objections which have been brought against the Bill. It has further been stated that at the present time there is no necessity for legislation. I should like to know when will be the proper time to deal with this matter. The noble Earl said that the proposal contained in the Bill would be a great restriction on Merchant shipping. I cannot admit that the painting of this small white line on the sides of ships would constitute a great restriction on shipowners. It is not denied that the deep load line has saved thousands of lives. The placing of a light load line on ships would cause no trouble at all. It is well known where the line should be, and there is no difficulty in the matter. The shipowners have not found the fixing a deep load line any hardship whatever, and we are entitled to infer that the marking of a light load line would be as easy. The object of the Bill is to prevent ships going to sea so light ballasted as to be in a positively dangerous and unmanageable condition, and the reasons which the noble Earl has assigned against the Bill are absolutely valueless. The whole thing is very much of a gambling transaction—the calculation of insurance on the loss of the ship on one side, against the loss of a few lives on the other.


My Lords, I had not the slightest intention of interposing in this debate, but I should like to remind the House of a fact which may possibly have been overlooked. My recollection does not go back quite so far as that of my noble friend near me, but it goes back to the time of the Plimsoll Bill, and if my memory is not at fault, the shipowners in the time of Mr. Plimsoll put forward objections to the deep load line which were practically identical with those put forward this afternoon to the light load line. I wish to remind the House of that fact, because I think it discounts a good deal from the weight of the objections urged by my noble friend. Everyone now admits that the Plimsoll line has been an enormous benefit to the British merchant service; and anyone who has seen, as I have, the light-loaded English, American, and German ships which used to swarm in the Pacific Ocean, will give his hearty support to the Bill now before your Lordships.


My Lords, I rise to briefly supplement the remarks which have been made by the noble Earl on the Cross Benches against this Bill, and to emphasise the position which shipowners take with regard to the matter. I hope the House will not be carried away by the rather alarmist statements that have been made in connection with this matter. To a great extent those statements are largely exaggerated. The objections of the shipowners are not so much directed to the principles involved in this measure, as to a large question like this being dealt with in a Bill promoted by a private Member. There should first of all be a Committee of Inquiry instituted, and then any measure dealing with a matter of such importance should be brought in by the Board of Trade. Shipbuilders, shipowners, and experts have for many years past devoted much attention to the question of the breaking of propeller shafts, which is not due in many cases, as alleged, to underloading. From the statement made by the noble Lord who moved this Bill one would imagine that it was in the interest of shipowners to send their ships to sea under ballasted and in a dangerous condition, but nothing more unfortunate could happen to a shipowner than to have his ship drifting about at sea with a broken shaft. Again it might be thought that shipowners had no other object in view but to make money, and were regardless of the lives of the men in their ships. Nothing could be further from the truth. If it could be proved that by legislation a means could be devised whereby the breaking of shafts would be less frequent, shipowners would not be opposed to it. It has been stated that one of the objections which shipowners entertain to the measure is that it would interfere with their competition with foreign nations. Of course, that is a factor which must be taken into consideration. It must be remembered that our competition with foreign nations is becoming more severe every day, but, at the same time, if it can be shown that any great advantage will arise from the adoption of a Bill of this kind, I am confident that the shipowners of this country would not object to such a measure, but the shipowners feel that the matter is one requiring very careful consideration and one which is of such importance that it should be dealt with by the Board of Trade.


My Lords, I really have little, if anything, that is new to add to the observations which I have already made to your Lordships upon this subject on the previous occasions on which my noble friend behind me has introduced a Bill of a similar kind. It is quite true, as my noble friend has said, that this Bill differs to some extent in detail from his previous measure, but in principle it is exactly the same. Therefore the arguments that have been urged in opposition to it on previous occasions could, it seems to me, be applied with equal force now; and the considerations which have induced your Lordships on two or three occasions to reject a Bill of this kind may again weigh with the House this afternoon. But if this should not be so, and if your Lordships are of opinion that this measure is one that should not be rejected summarily on Second Reading, I venture to suggest that, at any rate, it is a question which should be most carefully considered by a Select Committee before it is allowed to proceed to a further stage. If this measure is to become a hardy annual, if it is to be produced session after session with the same arguments, it seems to me that in order to settle the question once for all it would be far better to refer the Bill to a Select Committee and to take the evidence of experts upon it. Let me just remind the House what this Bill proposes to do. It proposes to enact that under a regulation of the Board of Trade every British ship shall carry a mark upon her side to which she must under all conditions be immersed. No doubt in due time an arrangement of that sort could be carried out, but it would not be easy of achievement, nor would it be a thing that could be done speedily. It would be necessary that a Committee of Inquiry should be held in the same way as was done before the deep load line was decided upon, for if this thing is to be done by regulation of the Board of Trade, there must be an inquiry of that kind to enable them to decide where the line is to be placed. The decision as to the position of a line of that kind is far more difficult than appears to my noble friend Lord Norton. Lord Norton has been President of the Board of Trade, and I am a little surprised to hear him say that every shipbuilder knows perfectly well where a light load line should be placed. I totally differ from him. Before a line can be drawn, the whole circumstances and nature of the voyage, and the time of year at which it is undertaken, must be considered. Therefore I go so far as to say that, not only would the actual fixing of a light load line be a difficult matter, but it would be a far more difficult matter than the fixing of a heavy load line. As this is a technical matter I will, if the House will allow me, read the opinion of an experienced sailor whom I have consulted on that point. This is what he says— It would be much more difficult to fix a minimum load line, for the reason that every individual ship would have to he dealt with on a basis of its own, as the governing factors in sailing ships would be fineness of form, height of spars, and spread of sail, and the governing factors in steam ships would be fineness of form, extent of superstructure, position of shaft, whether twin or single screw, ml diameter of propeller. This renders the assignment of a minimum load line much more complicated than that of the maximum. There is no doubt that after a certain, amount of trouble, the position of a minimum load line could be fixed if Parliament desired it; but such an operation would be of a very drastic character, and would undoubtedly create a good deal of inconvenience and ill-feeling among the shipping community. I think the House must have been impressed by the very reasonable speech of Lord Inverclyde who, as representative of the shipowners, has expressed his willingness to co-operate in the wishes of Parliament; but I do hope that without sufficient grounds Parliament will not impose upon shipowners restrictions of this kind, which might be regarded as a meddlesome interference with a great industry, and which would produce a minimum amount of good. What is the evil which my noble friend thinks this Bill will cheek? The noble Lord tells us that a great many vessels go to sea insufficiently ballasted and are wrecked, in consequence, accompanied by the loss of a number of lives; but where does my noble friend get his figures from?


From the Reports of your own Courts of Inquiry.


That is the statement which my noble friend made last year. I have several times looked through the reports of those Courts, and I can find no record of such a loss of life as is alleged. I cannot help thinking that the noble Lord attributes to under ballasting the loss of those vessels which go to sea and are never heard of again. But in those cases it is impossible to say what is the cause of the loss. In many of these wreck inquiries it has been found that while under ballasting is a partial cause of wreck, it is not the whole cause. I do not think, therefore, that in cases of that kind my noble friend is justified in saying that these men have lost their lives owing to under ballasting The cases in which loss of life has been occasioned solely by under ballasting are extremely few. I think the noble Lord misapplies the arguments used by Mr. Plimsoll and others in regard to the maximum load line. Those arguments cannot be used in this case at all. It seems to me that this case is entirely different from the case of the necessity for a maximum load line, because in that case there was a great temptation to the worst class of shipowners to risk the lives of their seamen by overloading because the extra cargo carried more than compensated for the risk of loss. But in the case of underloading, there is no temptation at all. No shipowner, unless he were insane, would send his ship to sea in an unsafe condition if there was nothing to be gained by doing so. Therefore, it seems to be absolutely ridiculous to suggest that the same arguments that were used in regard to the maximum load line can be used in reference to the light load line. My noble friend Lord Norton stated that the risks and dangers of underloading or underballasting are quite as great as they used to be in the case of overloading. I again differ from him, and will quote the opinion of a naval expert, who says:— From the nature of the ease the danger to life was much greater in the case of overloading, for, apart from the undue risk to the structure, which might end in dangerous weakness or eventual foundering, there was also the imminent danger to life by the washing overboard of the crew while at their work on deck, or the injury to them through being swept off their feet by heavy seas and maimed for life. In the case of a large sailing vessel, the whole watch, consisting of seven or eight men, was swept overboard and drowned, although the hull of the vessel received comparatively little damage, and eventually arrived home safely. I think that is an obvious argument. What happens occasionally is that a vessel discharges her cargo in a foreign port and has to come to this country in ballast. The master of the vessel, tempted by a high glass and the prospect of fine weather, avoids the delay of shipping extra ballast and makes a "dash for it." The weather changes, a gale springs up, the ship is driven on the shore, and lives are lost. But how often does that occur? Very rarely indeed. I assure the House that occurrences of this kind, instead of being very frequent, are very rare indeed. I think that can be proved by a reference to the wreck inquiries. When the causes of a wreck are at all doubtful or suspicious, a very careful inquiry is held by qualified people; and I find that between 1892 and 1900, as it appears from the reports of those inquiries, there were only twenty cases in which the question of under ballasting was raised; and in only ten of those cases was it proved that the ballasting was insufficient. From 1900 to the present time there have been twelve cases in which a question of under ballasting has been raised, and in five—two steamers-and three sailing vessels—it has been proved that there was under ballasting.


Does that include inquiries held in Australia?


It includes inquiries held ail over the world. Therefore it comes to this, that in the last ten years there have been altogether thirty-two cases in which questions of under ballasting have been raised at all, and in only fifteen cases in ten years has it been proved by competent people that there has been insufficient ballasting. I am not able to tell the House how many lives have been lost in these fifteen cases, but I believe I was right when I told my noble friend on the last occasion that up to last year not a single case of a man losing his life had been proved to be due solely to insufficient ballasting. That is the evil with which we have got to deal. I cannot help thinking that it is too small an evil to justify legislation. At any rate, whether it is considered small or great there is certainly no cause for proceeding with the Bill without at least a very close and careful inquiry by some committee or another. When you take into-consideration the thousands of British vessels which sail to all parts of the world every year, in all kinds of weather, I do not think that fifteen accidents due to insufficient ballasting can be made any great basis upon which to found legislation of this kind. I agree with what one noble Lord said tonight, that the evil is one which is likely to diminish without legislation. The attention of the shipowners is really anxiously directed to this question. They do realise the importance of it, and there is a marked tendency to construct vessels with a greater ballasting capacity than has been the case heretofore. I will read to your Lordships an extract from the Shipping Gazette of February 27th last, withregard to a vessel of this character which had been put into the water from a Tyne dockyard during the week— As to the 'Monadnock,' her chief feature is that she has been specially provided with deep water ballast tanks of unusual size, in order to ensure proper trim when going across the Atlantic light. She thereby anticipates Lord Muskerry's Underloading Hill, and it is certainly to the credit of her American owners that they have of their own accord made a provision against underloading, the necessity of which is fully recognised, and the value of which has already been demonstrated in one or two of their previous steamers. The tanks, which are so constructed that their space can be conveniently utilised for cargo purposes—made, in fact, a continuous part of the hold—are so capacious that, together with the double bottom, they provide for 3500 tons of water-ballast, which, for a ship whose total carrying capacity is 7500 tons, ought to be amply sufficient to secure a proper draught and trim. That is merely one illustration of many ships of that character which have recently been constructed. Moreover, the House may be quite sure that if this evil is likely to be a great one the underwriters may be depended upon to take very quick steps to provide against it in their insurance regulations. It seems to me extremely bad policy to impose restrictions upon British vessels which cannot be effectively imposed on foreign vessels. In these days of fierce commercial competition our commercial community have quite sufficient to do to maintain their position without being additionally and unnecessarily handicapped by Parliament. I am perfectly aware that my noble friend makes an effort in this Bill to bring foreign vessels under the same regulations, but I cannot help thinking that these can only be very partially, if at all, operative. In the first place, we cannot touch a foreign vessel which comes into our ports unless she takes cargo on board. Therefore, a foreign vessel in ballast can come into our ports for water and provisions and can sail out as lightly as she pleases without anybody being able to detain her or impose upon her our unballasting regulations. Then, again, take the case of English vessels trading between ports abroad. Once you have placed upon English ships the light load line those ships abroad will be subject to your regulations, and, if they do not abide by them, the masters are sueable in this country, but no foreign ships trading between these ports would be subject to the same conditions. Therefore, no matter how much my noble friend endeavours to prevent it by clauses of this character, in cases such as those which I have mentioned the English ships will be at a considerable disadvantage as compared with their foreign competitors. I wish to say, in conclusion, that although speaking personally, I do not think that there is yet sufficient case for legislation, I can assure the House that the Board of Trade are anxiously watching the matter, and are losing no opportunity of bringing its importance before the shipping community. It is not the case, as Lord Norton seems to think, that since he left the Board of Trade the people there have become strangely callous of the lives of British sailors and the safety of British ships. We are as ready as my noble friend behind me to take what steps we can to check even this small evil; but we believe that if you hold your hands for the moment, and allow this evil to cure itself by voluntary methods, you will hear no more of this complaint. We have been in communication only recently with the superintendents around our coasts and also with the Chamber of Shipping, and I am glad to be able to inform your Lordships that only the other day the President of the Chamber of Shipping issued a circular to all the societies affiliated to that Chamber drawing their attention to these occurrences and pointing out the necessity for taking steps to prevent them. I assure your Lordships that we shall see that this is done. We have written to the shipping community urging them to take such steps as may be necessary, and pointing out that unless they do so we cannot resist what would then be a perfectly justifiable demand for legislation of this character.


I confess that I am lather puzzled to know what is the issue before us. The speech which we have just heard from the noble Earl, who represents the Board of Trade, has been one of unmitigated hostility to the provisions of the Bill; but, at the same time, in the earlier part of his remarks, he appeared to me to throw out a very broad hint that if a Select Committee was moved for, he would support it. I wish to ask the noble Earl—for I am sure the votes of many noble Lords will be influenced by a clear statement on this point—whether, if the Bill is withdrawn, the noble Earl proposes to move for a Select Committee, or does he intend to leave it to some Member of the House to do so?


My Lords, it is always extremely difficult for those who are not experts on a subject like this to make up their minds on hearing a case brought before your Lordships in the way this case has been presented. The noble Lord who introduced the subject made a very clear statement, and I confess that in listening to it I thought he had made a prima facie case for what he was proposing. At the same time, we must feel, with the noble Lords who have spoken on the other side, that this is a matter which ought to be dealt with by the Government rather than by a private Member. On the other hand, there is this fact which comes before my mind. The Board of Trade was a long while before it moved in the old days in the matter of the maximum load line, and it was only through the devotion and remarkable self-sacrifice of a Member of the other House that the matter was dealt with at all. I do not for a moment accuse the Board of Trade of being callous in the matter, but Government offices are sometimes surrounded with a good deal of official prejudice, and the same difficulty might happen with regard to a minimum load line. The noble Lord who spoke on behalf of the Government used a good many arguments to disprove the necessity for the action of Parliament in this matter, but, as the noble Duke behind him has truly said, in other parts of his speech he seemed to admit the case of the noble Lord who moved this Bill, though he said he preferred it should be met by voluntary action. No doubt, we are all anxious to see voluntary means adopted rather than compulsory means, but the question is whether the necessary improvements which the noble Earl admits is necessary on the part of shipowners can be obtained by leaving the matter to voluntary action on their part. I should like to ask the noble Earl if he has received an answer to the question which he was expecting last year as to whether the Board of Trade have power to deal with ships of this kind. I am quite sure that all your Lordships feel that, whether the loss of life from this cause is great or comparatively small, if the danger can by any possibility be overcome, steps should be taken to overcome it. The noble Earl seemed inclined to agree to the matter being made the subject of inquiry by the House, and I would like to ask whether a distinct pledge could be given that it will be inquired into. If the noble Earl will give such a pledge, I would strongly advise the noble Lord who moved the Second Reading of the Bill to be content with the appointment of a Committee to withdraw the Bill. The measure proposed has on previous occasions received the support of distinguished naval Lords. I therefore hope that the Government, through the noble Earl, will be ready to promise this Committee.


With regard to the question of the noble Earl who has just sat down, the Board of Trade undoubtedly have power under the Merchant Shipping Act to detain a vessel that is so improperly loaded as to be unsafe. There is no question about that, but, as my noble friend will readily understand, it is not always very easy for those who have to exercise the power of detention to decide, without any definite data, how far a vessel is unsafe through being insufficiently ballasted. It seems to me that there is a decided feeling in the House that this question should be further inquired into, and, that being so, I do not wish, on behalf of the Board of Trade, to take up a non possumus attitude. If, therefore, my noble friend is willing to withdraw his Motion for the Second Reading, and allow the Bill to be referred to a Select Committee, I shall be only too happy to accede to that.


I am simply acting on behalf of the Shipowners Parliamentary Committee, but I do not imagine that they would have any objection to the course proposed. There-fore, as far as I am concerned, I with-draw my Motion.


I am not sure that it would be wise that the reference to the Committee should be on this Bill. The best course would be that the Bill should not be proceeded with, and that on a subsequent day a reference to a Select Committee might be suggested which, while covering the scope of the Bill, would be of a more general nature. That was really the suggestion of the noble Duke, which was also advocated by the noble Earl opposite, and I support it now as, on the whole, the better course to follow.


I am prepared to withdraw my Bill on the understanding that the question is considered by a Select Committee.

Motion, by leave of the House, withdrawn.

Bill, by leave of the House, withdrawn.

House adjourned at ten minutes past Six o'clock, to Friday next, half-past Ten o'clock.