§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ LORD SOMERLEYTON
My Lords, the events of the last few days have drawn the attention of every member of your Lordships' House to the importance of this question, and the moment appears opportune for the Second Reading of this Bill, to which I trust your Lordships will assent, the general principles being, I believe, approved by all. The main 900 object of the Bill is to extend the statutory requirements as to wireless telegraphy installations on merchant ships. It is proposed to require every passenger steamer or every cargo vessel of 1,600 tons gross to have a wireless telegraphy installation, and operators and watchers as may be necessary. The Bill is wanted because the only requirements on the Statute Book as to wireless on merchant ships are those contained in the Merchant Shipping Convention Act, 1914, which Act is not in operation. The Act was passed on the result of an International Conference which prepared an International Convention for Safety of Life at Sea, but the war intervened before the Convention could be put into operation.
This Bill is necessary because, even if the Merchant Shipping Convention Act, 1914, were in operation, the wireless requirements for merchant ships would still be inadequate. Under the Convention Act only ships carrying fifty or more persons are required to be fitted with wireless. During the war cargo ships with a smaller number of persons on hoard have been required to be fitted with wireless if of 1,600 tons or over, and experience has shown that wireless is very useful for large cargo ships as well as for passenger steamers. The Bill is wanted because the present requirements have been imposed wider the Defence of the Real in Act, and may not be in force very much longer. The main grounds for putting forward the Bill are: (1), the safety of merchant ships will be increased, wireless being useful not only in the interest of the safety of the ship fitted with it but in order that other ships sending out wireless calls may have a better chance of the wireless call being picked up and help given; (2) the Admiralty want as many ships as possible fitted with wireless so that any measures they wish to take for the safety of shipping, either in peace or in war, may be taken immediately, and this involves all large merchant ships being fitted with wireless; (3) wireless operators have been required on merchant ships in large numbers during the war, and it would be very inconvenient if the present requirements under the Defence of the Realm Act lapsed with no statutory obligation of owners to fit their vessels with wireless. Wireless operators would largely be thrown out of employment, and, should the demand come for wireless operators for merchant ships, they would then be unavailable. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a. (Lord Somerleyton.)
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the. Whole House.