rose to ask His Majesty's Government whether they have been made aware of the decision of the Board of Trade Inquiry which investigated the circumstances of the loss of the trawler "Banffshire;" whether, previous to her leaving Aberdeen she was inspected by a Board of Trade surveyor competent to survey her compasses and life-saving apparatus, and, if not, why not; also to call attention to the general question of the surveying of life-saving apparatus on British merchant ships. He said: My Lords, my Question, also, has reference to the Board of Trade, Up to the present I had thought that, with the exception of the Marine Department, the departments of that Board were nearly immaculate; but I find I was mistaken.
I think that you will agree with me that any matter which concerns the efficiency or otherwise of life-saving apparatus on board our merchant ships is worthy of our careful attention. We have to feel thankful for the institution of the Acts relating to life-saving appliances, as it is now the duty, not of private individuals, but of the State, to ensure that both our mariners and passengers sailing on the high seas should be provided with adequate and efficient means of escape in time of disaster. I have on previous occasions drawn attention to serious defects which exist in the manner in which the Board of Trade carries out the law in this respect, and, 46 consequently, it is not surprising that through want of proper official supervision the life-saving apparatus, consisting of boats, life-buoys, life-belts, and other things, in many merchant ships is often a source of danger to human life instead of being a source of safety.
To refer to the case mentioned in my Question I find that the Board of Trade Inquiry into the loss of the "Banffshire" attached blame to the manager for the owners of the vessel in not seeing that, before she left Aberdeen, she was provided with good and properly-adjusted compasses and sufficient life-saving appliances. There was only one life-buoy, which was useless, and there were no life-belts on board. I see that the master of the, trawler was fined £10. Now, my Lords, it is all very well to fine an individual or individuals for being privy to or taking a vessel to sea and jeopardising the lives on board in such a scandalous way, but what I want to know is, what have the Marine Department of the Board of Trade to say in their own defence in themselves permitting such a vessel to go to sea? They are supposed to have proper staff of expert surveyors who, under the Merchant Shipping Act, have certain duties and certain powers vested in them to prevent this sort of thing. From what I understand from statements of officials of he Board of Trade, it is not possible, nor, they say, is it found necessary for their surveyors to inspect the life-saving appliances of every vessel which is about to proceed to sea. One can hardly have much confidence in statements of this character when we see this case of the "Banffshire" which was possessed of one useless life-buoy, and no life-belts. Furthermore, I have contended that it is imperative to increase the number of the surveyors at our different sea-ports so that proper inspection of life-saving apparatus can be carried on.
The Royal Commission on Unseaworthy Ships stated in their Report in 1874 that some additional nautical assistance was requisite for the due performance of the duties now entrusted to the Board. The Marine Department of the Board, however, has, as it usually does with recommendations of Committees or 47 Commissions of the kind, ignored it, and the nautical assistance nowadays is even less than it was then. I would point out to your Lordship's that the nautical surveyors to the Board of Trade are less in number than they were in the year 1876, although the tonnage of British foreign-going vessels entered and cleared with cargoes and in ballast at ports in the United Kingdom has increased by over 20,000,000 tons. Throughout the whole of the United Kingdom there are fifteen nautical surveyors only. Your Lordships will, therefore, see that at many ports there is no nautical assistance at all.
In addition to these few nautical surveyors I should inform your Lordships that there are also what are termed engineer and shipwright surveyors, and these number 104. In advocating an increase in the staff of nautical surveyors, I do not wish to minimise in the slightest degree the importance of the services carried on by engineers and shipwrights— that is, in their own particular department. What I contend is that the Board of Trade have no right to relegate to these gentlemen duties which do not come within their sphere, and in which they have no practical experience. For instance, it would be ridiculous to ask a British merchant captain to undertake duties relating to the survey of a ship's hull or her engines, and so it is equally ridiculous for the Board of Trade to expect their engineer and shipwright surveyors to supervise in an expert way such technical matters as ship's boats, their tackle, and their masts.
Under the rules relating to the Life-Saving Appliances Acts these boats must be fitted with a mast or masts, with at least one good sail, and proper gear, and also with an efficient compass. Sea anchors must also be provided. The lowering apparatus of the boats should be carefully overhauled, and the compasses and other navigational appliances of the ship herself should be inspected. All these matters can only be thoroughly and practically attended to by men possessing long nautical experience. I would ask your Lordships, is it not reprehensible, in the interests of the safety of life at sea, that such duties 48 should be handed over to engineers and shipwrights? To furnish an illustratration. The Board of Trade inquiry into the loss of the "Banffshire" attached blame to the manager for the owners in not seeing, amongst other things, that, the vessel was provided with good and properly-adjusted compasses. As I have said before, the primary responsibility for this rests with the officials of the Board of Trade, but, in all probability, even had the ship been inspected by a Board of Trade surveyor, it is almost certain that these very compasses would have been inspected, or have been alleged, to have been inspected, by an engineer or shipwright. I understand that there is only one nautical surveyor in the whole of Scotland, and he, I believe, is in Glasgow.
The Board of Trade, in defence of what is an indefensible system, say that their newly-appointed surveyors are instructed in duties such as the surveying of boats, compasses, etc., by the more experienced surveyors in their service. This is tantamount to saying that the men they appoint do not know how to survey boats and such like. The still more curious part of it is that those who instruct these young surveyors are most probably engineers and shipwrights themselves, and consequently theorists at the work. I hope no word I have said will be taken as against engineers or shipwrights, for I have a sincere admiration for them both as men and as officials. In this matter it is not their fault, but their misfortune, that the Board of Trade should cause them to perform duties in which they have had no practical experience. In these matters, which affect what I may call the safety conditions of our merchant cargo and passenger ships, I always like to obtain, if I can, the views of those serving on board of them. It is ofttimes very difficult to obtain such views, as our mariners are afraid to express themselves individually, and Parliament does not give them the means to have a direct representative voice in the Legislature. I can, however, give your Lordships the collective views of over 12,000 captains and officers of the merchant service who are embodied in the Merchant Service Guild. It is, they say with regret, a fact that the life-saving apparatus on board far 49 too many ships is in a woefully bad condition, and they comment very strongly on the deplorable condition of the boats buoys, and belts, and other life-saving and navigational appliances which are provided.
I understand that since the "Genera Slocum" disaster happened in New York the American marine authorities have issued very strict regulations on this subject of life-saving apparatus, and British ships are required to conform to them equally with their own. I have heard, for instance, on the best authority, that one of our newest and largest liners has been made to carry two additional boats, her fire-hose was required to stand an additional 100 pounds pressure, and her life-belts had to be made more durable and satisfactory. What I am endeavouring to prevent is a "General Slocum" disaster' to one of our own ships, when we would see what public opinion would be and would do. I do not wish to strike a note of alarm, but I have no hesitation in saying that the Life-saving Appliance Acts are not efficiently carried out for the reasons I have adduced. I hope that your Lordships will approve of my action in endeavouring to press this matter and to urge that the Marine Department of the Board of Trade should have due and proper regard to the duties and responsibilities imposed upon them by the sections of the Merchant Shipping Act which deal with life-saving appliances on board ship. Were any of your Lordships in need of medical or surgical assistance, would you trust yourselves to a gentleman whose knowledge of medicine and surgery was derived from reading books and from what he was told by other gentlemen, and who had had practically no experience? I do not think you would. I beg to put the Question standing in my name.
§ THE UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES (The Duke of MARLBOROUGH
I will not follow the noble Lord into the various matters which he has raised during the course of his speech. I am sure he would rather that I confined myself to one or two of the main points upon which he is anxious for information. 50 The noble Lord has asked the Board of Trade whether the "Banffshire" was, inspected before she left port, and whether the compasses and life-saving apparatus were examined as well. The reply to that is in the negative. The ship was not examined, for the simple reason that there is no obligation on the part of the authorities to examine a ship of that class.
§ THE DUKE OF MARLBOROUGH
I am coming to that in a moment. If the noble Lord had refreshed his memory on the Merchant Shipping Act he would have discovered that the "Banffshire," to which he rightly attaches importance, could not be described as a vessel—it was only a registered fishing-boat. She was a very small boat indeed, and never carried any passengers on board; consequently there was no need at all that I all this life-saving apparatus to which the noble Lord alluded should be carried. If he will turn to the Merchant Shipping Act he will see that all that was necessary for this particular ship to carry in the way of life-saving apparatus was a single boat. There is no need for craft under a certain size to carry life-belts or any other kind of life-saving apparatus except a boat. It is true that the "Banffshire" only had one life-belt, but she had a boat in accordance with the Merchant Shipping Act, and as this fishing-smack had conformed to the law, there was no need to examine her before she left port. If the noble Lord will look into the matter a little more closely he will see that all the rules and regulations with regard to these small fishing-smacks were complied with.
§ THE DUKE OF MARLBOROUGH
I understand that her proper description is not that of a steam trawler but a registered fishing-boat. Then the noble Lord suggested that the compasses of this particular boat ought to have been examined and their correctness certified.
I do not suggest that. I said that the Board of Trade's own inquiry said it should have been done.
§ THE DUKE OF MARLBOROUGH
The result of the Board of Trade Inquiry was that the manager was blamed for not having adjusted his compasses. It is the duty of the manager to do that. The Board of Trade has not a sufficient number of officials to see that every compass in every little fishing-boat is properly adjusted. That would require an amount of supervision which no Department of the State could possibly be prepared to undertake. The noble Lord may think that this vessel ought to have had some life-saving apparatus upon it; he may say that it ought to have had more life-belts and other machinery for saving life; and if he thinks that advisable I should not quarrel with his suggestion in the least. If he would like the Board of Trade, the next time the regulations are framed, to examine into this matter I dare say they will take a suggestion of that sort seriously into consideration. I hope the noble Lord will see that several of the points he put forward should not be given quite the same amount of importance which he desires your Lordships to attach to them.
Let me deal for one brief moment with the larger question of surveying all life-saving apparatus on British merchant ships. The noble Lord is aware that provision for life-saving apparatus on British merchant ships is carefully laid down in various sections in the Merchant Shipping Act. It is specifically laid down that the onus of maintaining in proper order all the appliance for life-saving shall rest on the master and owners of the ship. That is a principle which is definitely laid down, and I do not think it is one which the noble Lord will quarrel with. Furthermore, a penalty can be inflicted for non-compliance with these regulations. I rather gathered from the remarks of the noble Lord that he thinks the regulations require revision.
§ THE DUKE OF MARLBOROUGH
If the noble Lord is under that impression—and, of course, it is a view which he is perfectly entitled to hold—I would point out to him that under the Merchant Shipping Act all such rules made under the Act have to be laid before Parliament as soon as may be after they are made, and cannot come into operation until they have been laid for forty days on the Table of both Houses of Parliament during the sittings of Parliament. The noble Lord has been a Member of your Lordships' House for a considerable number of years, and surely if the regulations were in his opinion inadequate, or not good ones, he has had an opportunity in previous years of commenting upon them.
§ THE DUKE OF MARLBOROUGH
So much for the rules and regulations and the penalties under them. The noble Lord is equally dissatisfied with the inspection employed to secure that the rules and regulations are carried into effect. I understand that it is quite impracticable for inspectors to make a systematic inspection before the voyage of every ship leaving dock. The system adopted is that the officials of the Board of Trade visit vessels wherever opportunity arises and call attention to any defects they find and to anything not in accordance with the rules and regulations laid down in the Merchant Shipping Act. Moreover, if these defects are not at once rectified and the protests of the Board of Trade paid attention to, they have it in their power to detain the ships until the rules and regulations have been complied with by the owners. I think the noble Lord must admit that there is a considerable amount of supervision employed by those who are responsible for carrying out the rules and regulations made under the Merchant Shipping Act. I will give an instance in support of my contention. During the last four months 674 vessels have been visited and examined by the officers of the Department at the port of Liverpool, and in seventy-eight cases the life-saving appliances were found defective and ordered to be put straight. That is a concrete instance to show that great care is taken to protect 53 people who are passengers on board these ships from carelessness or insufficient control on the part of those responsible for seeing that there is an adequate amount of life-saving apparatus on board. With regard to passenger steamships, the noble Lord is aware that the surveyors are bound to inspect the appliances at each annual survey for the renewal of passenger certificates; they will not pass any ship for a renewal of her passenger certificate unless that ship has complied with all regulations laid down in the Merchant Shipping Act. I do not think I can give the noble Lord any further information, but I do think he ought to admit that the Board of Trade has taken every precaution to safeguard the lives of those who travel on British ships.