rose to call attention to the number of cases where, during the past four months, at the port of Liverpool, life-saving appliances on board merchant ships were found defective by Board of Trade surveyors, and ordered to be destroyed; and to ask the number of examinations and reports at Liverpool of similar cases of defective life-saving apparatus in the previous four months, namely, September, October, November, and December, 1904. The noble Lord said: My Lords, it is not so very long ago that I called your Lordships' attention to this subject of life-saving—or alleged life-saving—apparatus on board merchant ships. I must confess that, with the exception of one particular point which he advanced, the reply of the noble Duke who answered on behalf of the Board of Trade was to me of a most unsatisfactory nature. This is not the second or the third time on which I have pointed out the inefficiency of the supervision of the Board of Trade in carrying out the duties imposed upon it by the life-saving regulations. Therefore the noble Duke, in raising the point to which I have referred, quite unconsciously gave away the whole case for the Board of Trade. As illustrating how vigilant the Board of Trade's officials were in this matter, he informed us that in the past four months at Liverpool there were 674 vessels examined, and in seventy-eight cases the life-saving 1457 appliances were found to be defective and ordered to be destroyed.
We have here an official admission that over 11 per cent. of merchant vessels visiting one port in the short space of four months possessed life-saving apparatus dangerous to their passengers and crews. I would ask your Lordships whether such a startling admission does not amply warrant me in drawing public attention, when possible, to what amounts to a grave scandal? It is quite a novelty to me when I find the Board of Trade justifying their position by quoting the large number of cases they have detected through the vigilance of their surveyors. But their new-found vigilance at Liverpool only serves to show that there has been something radically wrong in the past to admit of such an alarming state of affairs. As I like to see any credit for improvement allotted to the proper quarter. I am curious to know whether there has not been a considerable increase in the number of ascertained cases of defective life-saving apparatus at Liverpool since the Merchant Service Guild—which has its headquarters at that port—made strong representations to the Board of Trade at the latter end of last year, at which time, through the medium of two of their representatives, they proved to the Board's principal officer at Liverpool cases where life-saving apparatus was nothing but a delusion and a snare.
That the Board of Trade have now turned to the Liverpool figures of detection as a sample of their efficiency is, to me, very significant. It looks very much as if those like the Merchant Service Guild and myself who have had official cold water poured over them so often in this matter, are really responsible for the disclosures which have been brought about by more efficient official inspection at Liverpool. At that port there is a principal officer who is fairly new to his position. From what I hear he is an able, painstaking, and conscientious officer, and what is more he is of a type of surveyor with practical seafaring experience, which requires, as I have often said, to figure to a much greater extent on the Board of Trade list of surveyors. But Liverpool, after all, is only one shipping port amongst many in this 1458 country. The class of ship visiting that port is undoubtedly higher than at most other ports. Therefore, given the same inspection, there is no possible doubt that cases of defective life-saving apparatus at other ports would be still more numerous.
The Liverpool figures are, I consider, quite sufficient to justify my bringing the subject once more to your notice; and I will only add, in conclusion, that they illustrate to the full how inefficiently our life-saving regulations have been carried out by the Marine Department of the Board of Trade, and how necessary it is that they should be compelled to carry out the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Un sea worthy Ships by appointing more nautical surveyors. I would remind your Lordships that there is only one nautical surveyor in the whole of Scotland, and only fourteen in the rest of the United Kingdom.
§ THE UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES (The Duke of MARLBOROUGH)
My Lords, I do not know why the noble Lord who has put this Question should consider that the statement which I made on the last occasion when we debated this matter gave away the whole case for the Board of Trade. A more inaccurate conception I do not think could have been possible, for, after all, what was the gravamen of the charge brought by the noble Lord? He said that he did not think the supervision OD the part of the officials of the Board of Trade at our big ports was either efficient or sufficient, and in reply I stated, in order to refute that charge, that at Liverpool alone during the first four months of this year 674 vessels had been visited, and that in seventy-eight cases the life-saving appliances had been discovered defective. The noble Lord seems to think that those figures show an alarming state of affairs. He assures your Lordships that that is a very high percentage of cases in which defective life-saving appliances exist. I am surprised that the noble Lord did not, before he made that statement, inquire as to the kind of defects that do exist. If he had, he would have found out that they are really of a very small and trivial character. The surveyors report that 1459 the defects are by no means of a serious nature, being connected chiefly with the fastenings of the life belts. The noble Lord really regards this matter from a totally wrong standpoint. He thinks the number of cases in which defects have been found shows an alarming state of affairs, but the Board of Trade hold the view that what has occurred demonstrates that the supervision on the part of their representatives is real and genuine. If a high standard is insisted on, and an efficient system of supervision is carried out, clearly the number of cases required to be dealt with is likely to be higher than it would otherwise be.
The noble Lord asks that the number of examinations and reports at Liverpool of similar cases of defective life-saving apparatus in the previous four months—namely, September, October, November, and December, 1904, should be given. I am informed that there is no exact or complete record of the vessels which have been visited, but I am able to assure the noble Lord that over 500 vessels received a visit from the officials, and that out of that number it was discovered that seventeen life-buoys were in a bad condition owing to the fact that there was not sufficient buoyancy in them, and they were condemned. Moreover, two or three per cent, of the lifebelts were found defective, but in no case was it shown that the boats employed were in any wav defective.
§ THE DUKE OF MARLBOROUGH
Yes, for the last four months of the year 1904. The noble Lord again stated that in his opinion the staff engaged for supervision should be considerably increased. I have nothing to add beyond repeating what I have already said, that this question has been thoroughly considered by the Board of Trade, and in their opinion no case has been made out for increasing the number of officials who are now employed.
§ VISCOUNT KNUTSFORD
The particulars stated seem to have been entirely confined to the port of Liverpool. Will the noble Duke tell as whether examina- 1460 tions of a similar kind are going on at Hull, Bristol, and other ports?
§ THE DUKE OF MARLBOROUGH
I gather that the principle applies generally to all the ports in the United Kingdom.
§ VISCOUNT KNUTSFORD
I should like to know whether, as matter of fact, inspections are being made at the other ports.
§ THE DUKE OF MARLBOROUGH
I shall be most happy to procure the information for the noble Viscount, but I cannot give it to him offhand, as the Department for which I am replying is not the one with which I am specially connected.