HL Deb 11 March 1913 vol 14 cc57-60

LORD INVERCLYDE rose to ask whether the Rules for Life-Saving Appliances made under Section 427 of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894, were duly made in pursuance of the provisions of that section, having regard to the fact that they were expressed to come into operation on March 1, 1913, and purport to have been brought into operation on that day, and that they were only laid before the House of Lords on January 21, 1913, a date less than forty days before the date of coming into operation; and whether, in view of the uncertainty as to the validity of the Rules under these circumstances and of the difficulty experienced by shipowners and others, specially in the Home Trade, in complying with the requirements owing to insufficiency of time between the publication of the Rules in final form and their purported enforcement, His Majesty's Government will have the Rules withdrawn and further Rules laid before both Houses of Parliament in compliance with the above-mentioned section; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I wish to say at once that in raising this matter I do not desire for a moment to criticise or comment upon the Rules which have been made by the Board of Trade for life-saving at sea and which have been accepted by shipowners for good or for worse, because the shipowners, as soon as they are able to do so, are quite prepared to carry them out. The reason I raise the question is that it has been found impossible, especially in the Home Trade, to comply with the Regulations by the 1st of this month, as it was a practical impossibility to get these life-saving appliances delivered in time. It was not possible for shipowners to order them earlier, because, although the Board of Trade were good enough to consult all those interested, until the Rules were finally published it was not possible for us to know what appliances would be required. On representations being made to them the Board of Trade recognised this, and temporarily modified the Rules by allowing shipowners, instead of fitting their vessels with life-saving appliances, to supply them with life-belts and life-buoys. But even there it has been a most difficult matter to get delivery of these articles and also to find a place on board ship where they could be put.

My attention, therefore, was drawn to the matter, and I found that under the Merchant Shipping Act of 1894 it was necessary that such Rules as these should lie on the Table of both Houses of Parliament for forty days before coming into force. On the face of the Rules, above the signature of the President of the Board of Trade, is a statement that they are to come into force on March 1, 1913. The Rules were laid on the Table of the House of Commons on January l7, but were not laid on the Table of this House until January 21. Therefore by no manner of means could they be held as approved by this House before March 2; but by that date they had been removed from this House and were no longer on the Table because the Board of Trade enforced them on March 1. If I am to be told that it is admitted that the forty days had not expired on March 1 but that the Rules came into force on March 2, that will not answer me, nor is it the point.

The point is that the Rules had only lain on the Table here for thirty-nine days, and were then removed and put in force by the Board of Trade. It cannot be argued that the Rules were both lying on the Table here and in force at the same time. I therefore venture to say that the Rules are invalid, and must be laid afresh before the Houses of Parliament. I believe that their postponement would be a great advantage to their being satisfactorily carried out, because neither the shipowners nor the Board of Trade officials yet thoroughly understand what the Rules mean, and the greatest difficulty has been experienced in carrying them out. I do not profess to any special knowledge of the procedure of this House and I have no legal knowledge whatever; but whatever answer the Government may give, at all events it must be agreed that it is not treating this House with proper respect to put forward Rules to come into force on a day before they had lain for the prescribed period on the Table of the House, and I consider that this is a dangerous precedent if it is adopted. I beg to ask the Question standing in my name, and to move for Papers.


My Lords, as regards the first part of what the noble Lord has said, the provisions in these Rules are, of course, provisions which the Board of Trade desire to have carried out conformably with the wishes of the shipowners and in accordance with the good feeling that exists between the shipowners and the Board of Trade. The shipowners have co-operated very loyally in this matter, and no serious differences of opinion have arisen. Considerable discretion is vested in the Board of Trade, and I have to say to the noble Lord that this discretion will be exercised in such a fashion as to make things easy.

I now come to the legal question which the noble Lord has raised. I do not think it is so formidable as it looks. Under Section 427 of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894, the Rules have to be laid on the Table of both Houses of Parliament and do not come into operation until they have so lain for forty days. On the face of the Rules was a direction by the President of the Board of Trade that they were to come into operation on March 1, and as the Rules were dated January 17 that would have been all right assuming that they had been laid on the Table of your Lordships' House on that date. Unfortunately, they were not laid on the Table of this House until January 21, the reason being, not that there was any negligence on the part of the officials of the Board of Trade, but that your Lordships had adjourned. The result was that the direction on the outside docket which was printed upon the Rules that they should come into operation on March 1 could not become operative until March 2. All that the section requires is that the Rules should lie on the Table for forty days before becoming operative. The only effect of the House not sitting was that the Rules did not become operative until March 2, notwithstanding the direction on the docket that they should become operative on March 1.

The noble Lord stated that the rules were removed from the Table of your Lordships' House on the thirty-ninth day. That is not so. Not only have the Rules lain on the Table for forty days, but they are lying there now, and the noble Lord can see them if he desires. It is a most uninviting document to any but experts. These Rules were printed in the other House and are available, but in your Lordships' House they have remained on the Table in the packet which was deposited here on January 21, the first day on which your Lordships were sitting. I think I have now disposed of the two technical questions, and I simply again say, in conclusion, that as regards the real substance of the noble Lord's point the Board of Trade are anxious to meet the shipowners in the same spirit in which the shipowners have met them.


I beg to withdraw my Motion for Papers.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.