HL Deb 07 July 1904 vol 137 cc921-3


Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 3a."—(Lord Wolverton.)


My Lords, before this Bill is read a third time I wish to make a few comments upon it. It is a measure to amend the Merchant Shipping Act of 1894. That Act by no means brought shipping legislation up to date. It did not alter the law at all. A reference to Hansard shows that it was described by the then Lord Chancellor as a codification of the existing law, and similar language was used in regard to it by Mr. Mundella and Mr. Bryce. It is true that some minor Acts have been passed since, but the law remains substantially what it was in 1894. The greater part of the Act of 1894 is therefore simply a recapitulation of the law as it existed more than half a century ago, when steam and electricity were in their infancy and the whole of the legislation as regards merchant shipping is in consequence very much behindhand. This Bill only deals with the fringe of some of the questions that will before long require solution.

I look upon this Bill as an instalment only. If it is found that the worst class of merchant ships will spontaneously adopt a scale of provisions better than the "pound and pint" scale, no one will be more agreeably surprised than myself, except, perhaps, the happy seaman who will actually eat the better ration. This Bill does not attempt to deal with the housing of the seaman. I am fully prepared to admit that this is a very difficult problem, far more so than the provisioning. But it ought not to be beyond the wit of man to devise remedies. I should suggest that the Board of Trade should tell the better class of shipowners that it is intended to legislate on the subject, and that it wishes for their advice as to the wording of the clauses so that they may not be inconvenienced by such legislation more than is absolutely necessary. If shipowners continue to adopt a non possumus attitude towards all changes in the law connected with the merchant seamen, there will always be a danger of a new Plimsoll agitation, and of hurried legislation in a passing fit of enthusiasm.

The merchant seaman has a peculiar claim on this House, because, from the very nature of his circumstances, he is about the only class of working man who is unrepresented in the House of Commons. Even if he is a married man with a house and home of his own, he is probably away at the time of an election. I have always thought that this House should look upon itself as being in some measure a trustee for the unrepresented portions of the community. As this Bill is a small step in the right direction, I hope that it may pass into law this year, and that during the recess the Board of Trade will reconsider all questions in connection with the merchant seaman, and that it will be ready with a fresh Bill in February. I may be too sanguine, but I am encouraged in this hope by the fact that a Select Committee of the other House is taking evidence on the broader aspects of these questions, especially as to how some of our restrictive regulations can be applied to vessels frequenting our ports under foreign flags.


I am very glad to hear the welcome that my noble friend, who is so well qualified to speak on this subject, has given to, the Bill. I have, of course, no power to initiate legislation, but I will undertake that the remarks he has made on the Third Reading shall reach the President of the Board of Trade.

On Question, Bill read 3a, and passed, and sent to the Commons.