HL Deb 01 July 1913 vol 14 cc708-12


Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


As your Lordships are doubtless aware, under the law as it at present stands all foreign-going and home-trade passenger steamers and foreign-going cargo steamers and ships generally are obliged to carry certificated officers, and by the Bill which I am now asking your Lordships to read a second time it is proposed to extend this provision to home-trade cargo vessels. At present no home-trade cargo vessel need carry any certificated officer at all. I venture to think there is very little reason why these large cargo ships should be allowed to go round our coasts very often without efficient officers, and there can be no doubt whatever that ships in this condition are a danger to other shipping. Casualties have been on frequent occasions attributed to this cause, and the Courts of Inquiry have nearly all recommended the provisions which I hope your Lordships will see your way to adopt to-day. These provisions apply only to cargo ships of 200 tons register in the case of a sailing ship and of 100 tons register in the case of a steamship—these, to all intents and purposes, are ships of virtually the same size. We have thought it not desirable to impose these restrictions on vessels of smaller tonnage. These small vessels frequently have a very hard fight for existence; and by reason of the fact that they do not go far out to sea they are not so dangerous to other shipping as are the larger vessels.

The interests of those who have served either as masters, mates, or engineers previous to January 1, 1913, are safeguarded in the Bill. So far as these men are concerned we propose to give them a certificate of service so that they will be able to continue their trade as heretofore. There is one other matter deserving of mention, and that is our proposal for transferring from the local marine boards to the Board of Trade the appointment of the examiners for masters' and mates' certificates. Your Lordships, I am sure, will agree that there is no reason whatever why the local marine boards should have the appointment of these examiners when the Board of Trade have the control of the examinations. It would seem only natural that the Board of Trade should also have the appointment of these examiners. I may say that as far as the examiners themselves are concerned they are very desirous of being placed under the Board of Trade. As far back as 1906, when we were introducing another Merchant Shipping Bill, they were anxious to be included at that time, but for reasons which it is not necessary to state it was found impossible to comply with their request. By the proposal contained in this Bill the examiners will be in a much better position than now. At present the examiner is appointed by the local marine board of a particular port, and he virtually remains there all his life and has very few chances of promotion except at the port in question. The Board of Trade, when they have the appointment of these examiners, will be able to move them to different ports, and there will, of course, be promotion for these men all through the ranks. Those, roughly, are the main provisions of the Bill, and I venture to ask your Lordships to give it a Second Reading.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of (Granard.)


My Lords, I have no observations to make upon this Bill except to ask the noble Earl whether its provisions are founded upon the Report of any public inquiry like a Committee or Commission to which he could direct our attention, so that if it were necessary we could ourselves examine the recommendation in question. I rather understood him to indicate that such was not the case, but that the Bill was the result of the findings and recommendations of numerous Courts of Inquiry into the loss of ships. I have nothing to say to that method of procedure, and as far as I am aware the arguments which the noble Earl addressed to the House are well founded.

But I should like to ask the noble Earl whether he is quite sure of the equity of the penal provision in the Bill. It is quite evident, of course, that any Bill of this kind must be protected by the sanction of a penal provision, and it is right that those who are responsible for sending a ship to sea improperly equipped in the matter of certificated officers should be punished. That follows as a matter of course. But I notice that an equally severe penalty is allotted to the employer and to the individual who is held to have wrongfully occupied the position of a certificated officer when he is not a certificated officer. The terms of the Bill are rather vague. The noble Earl will see, if he looks at Clause 1 (2) (a), that any person who is engaged as master, mate, or engineer for a ship which is a ship within the meaning of this Bill and goes to sea in the ship as such officer without being duly certificated shall be liable to a fine not exceeding £50. I am not quite sure what those words imply. I do not think they mean that the person fraudulently represents himself to be certificated when he is not, because if that was what the Board of Trade intended that is what they would have stated in the Bill. What they have said is that he shall be so liable if he is engaged as one of these officers without being a duly certificated officer.

I do not know whether it is suggested that there is any element of deception as far as the person in question is concerned. Is he open to this penalty because he deceives an employer, or merely because he simply ships as an officer when he is not a certificated officer? If the latter is the case I think the penalty is over severe when compared to the penalty allotted to the employer, because it is evident that the person who is really to blame, the person who ought to be signally punished, is the employer. Ex concessis the employer knows that the man is not certificated. Ex concessis he engages him as master, mate, or engineer being uncertificated when he ought to be certificated. The employer is the man held in all respects by Parliament responsible in this case, and he ought to be awarded a much heavier penalty than the individual, who may be an ignorant man and may, without deceiving anybody, ship in the capacity, say, of mate when he is not a certificated mate. These, of course, are points more for Committee than for Second Reading; and I should be quite satisfied if the noble Earl in charge of the Bill would be good enough to promise to consider them between this and the next stage so as to be able to satisfy himself that no more than justice will be done.


My Lords, I quite agree with what the noble Marquess has said as to the principle of fining the owner wherever possible instead of fining the seamen, who have much less opportunity of knowing the law, especially the not very highly educated class of uncertificated men who are at present running our home-cargo ships. In my opinion it would be an improvement of the Bill if the fine in the case of a man serving without a certificate were reduced from £50 to £25. I look upon this as a very useful Bill. If it becomes an Act it will not only add to the safety of the shipping directly affected, but will benefit all those who go down to the sea in ships. For it may be expected that as these ships become better officered they will be more likely to be able to avoid collisions, and thus it will be of indirect advantage to passenger ships as well as cargo vessels.

I regret, however, that the term "register tonnage" appears in the Bill. Register tonnage is a very vague term and has about as much to do with the actual size of a ship as Mr. Lloyd George's site values have to do with the real value of a piece of land. Register tonnage is obtained by deducting from the gross tonnage of the ship the cubic space occupied by the engine room, by the officers and crew, and some other spaces considered to be absolutely necessary to safe navigation. I will give your Lordships a few instances out of many thousands of the extraordinary effect which these deductions have on the tonnage of a ship. The Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway Company own the "Colleen Bawn" and the "Mellifont." The tonnage of these vessels, both sister ships, is 1,204 tons gross and only 239 register. The same company own the "Dundalk," which is 863 tons gross and 75 register. Steamers under 100 tons register are not affected by this Bill, so that the "Dundalk" would not come under the Bill although she is a vessel of 863 tons gross. The "Annie," of East London, is 367 tons gross, but only 4 tons register. They have managed in this case to deduct nearly the whole weight of the ship, but if she ran into you I think that you would discover she was a 367-ton ship. I will quote only six more instances. The "Alert." of Newhaven, gross 175, register 3; the "Fern," of Glasgow, gross 503, register 92; the "Nymph," of Lynn, gross 246, register 91; the "Seahorse" and "Sea-kin," of Hull, gross 228, register 92; the "Guenneth," of London, gross 119, register 3.

I hope that His Majesty's Government will really pass this Bill. Last year the Bill to which the noble Earl referred as being practically the same as this had its Second Reading repeatedly postponed in another place so that it never even came up for discussion. I hope that the people who are looking forward to this Bill will not again be disappointed, though I cannot help saying that the Bill would have stood a much better chance of passing into law had it been introduced earlier in the session.


My Lords, the noble Marquess is correct in assuming that no Committee has investigated this question and recommended this particular legislation; but the Merchant Shipping Advisory Committee have on several occasions suggested legislation on these lines. The noble Marquess raised a question as to the penal clause in the Bill. This follows the precedent of the Merchant Shipping Act of 1894, in which it is enacted that the same penalty shall apply in the case of the officers as in the case of the employer; and the noble Marquess will realise that it is a great advantage to keep these penalties as uniform as possible and to follow the precedent of existing legislation. When the matter comes to the Court it will be for the Court to decide whether the employer or the officer is most to blame. As to the question of tons register raised by Lord Ellenborough, the noble Lord will remember what trouble there has always been in legislation to translate what "tons burden" means, and it has been thought better in this Bill to use the words "tons register." The noble Lord is correct in saying that there are certain deductions made from the gross tonnage; but on the whole I venture to think that "tons register" is the best term to use.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Tuesday next.