HL Deb 19 July 1921 vol 45 cc1165-8

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this Bill can be described in a very few words. The purport of it is that lighters, barges, and like vessels navigating in Great Britain are under certain circumstances and in certain ways to be ranked as ships; that is to say, that under the Merchant Shipping Act they should be registered, and the limitations On the owner be the same as for ships. The reason is that in many cases these vessels are now really as large as ships, and have been increasing from year to year. The Bill applies to vessels of this character in tidal waters and in harbours, and it goes on to describe what an owner is, and to adopt the system of registration in ports and other districts where there is measurement or registration, in substantial agreement with the provisions of the Merchant Shipping Acts. By Clause 2 the owner is made responsible in cases where the hull or equipment is defective, or, by reason of overloading, improper loading or under-manning, the vessel is rendered unsafe for human life; and it preserves to workmen the right to sue in respect of loss of life or personal injury caused to any person carried in the lighter, barge, or like vessel.

The Bill is promoted by the Master Lightermen and Barge Owners and by the Union of Lightermen, who have jointly asked me to look after their interests in this matter, and also by the Port of London, the London Chamber of Com- merce, the harbour authorities, the insurance companies, and the underwriters, and it has passed through the House of Commons without any objections being raised to it. I therefore move that it be read a second time in your Lordships' House.

Moved, that the Bill be now read 2ª.—(Lord Askwith.)


My Lords, I hope the noble Lord who is in charge of this Bill will be kind enough to enable us to avail ourselves of the opportunity which arises from the amendment of the Merchant Shipping Act of 1906 to introduce a few words dealing with venereal disease. Otherwise the matter would have to be dealt with by a separate Bill, which would take Parliamentary time. I have no wish to do anything to jeopardise Lord Askwith's Bill with which I entirely agree. But it is of the highest importance that in the necessarily restricted area of a ship every opportunity should be given to isolate and cure those members of the crew who may have contracted venereal disease, Human nature being what it is, seamen and those who go down to the sea in ships away from home—lusty young men very often—nad visit foreign countries are peculiarly table to contract disease. There is an old sea saying: "Any port in a storm," and I am afraid it holds good to-day.

Under the law as it stands, men who find they have contracted venereal disease are not disposed to disclose the fact, or to place themselves under treatment and to lie up, as they will at once come off pay and may be put ashore at the first port of call. This may have been considered to have been right from the moral point of view many years ago, but it is recognised now that it has obvious drawbacks. It leads to concealment and makes a diseased man on board a ship extremely dangerous, not only to the rest of the ship's company, but to the passengers. Shipowners, therefore, would prefer to abrogate the right they possess under the law of putting a man off pay who is found to be suffering from venereal disease. It may be argued that the alteration in time law which I propose to suggest in Committee would encourage vice. From my long experience as a ship-owner, and from what I am told, I think that is most unlikely. I doubt very much whether the law as it stands has ever prevented a seaman from subjecting himself to risk. On the other hand, in rimy cases it has led to conceal- ment of disease, with grave consequences to the men themselves, as well as to others.

In proposing the Amendment which I intend to bring forward in Committee, on behalf of the shipowners and of the men themselves, the shipowners are actuated by humanitarian and not by sordid motives, and the proposal is entirely in the interests of the crews and the passengers. I believe that the proposed alteration has the approval of the Ministry of Health, and also of the Board of Trade, and perhaps the noble Lord will be able to say whether we may expect to have his support or not.


Before the noble Lord addresses the House on behalf of the Government, I should like to say that Lord Inchcape has raised what is quite a new point in regard to this Bill, and perhaps I might explain the position which it occupies in the matter. Venereal disease has very little to do with barges and lighters, and although it may be cognate in so far as it comes under the Merchant Shipping Acts it has not very much to do with the principle of this Bill. Personally, I shall be only too glad to support my noble friend almost enthusiastically in the very important clause which he proposes to bring forward in Committee. But if the Bill goes down to the House of Commons with this additional clause in it, without having. been made a Government Bill, I am told that it will be lost, in all probability, and that both his proposal and mine will be likewise wrecked. If the Bill is turned into a Government Bill the whole position is altered, and supposing the Ministry of Health and the Board of Trade, the two Departments which my noble friend cited as supporting his proposal, desire it, they may be able to get it through the House of Commons, through which my Bill has already passed, without allowing it to participate in the massacre of the innocents. As I have said, I think Lord Inchcape's proposal is most important for the shipping industry of this country, and it may be that the Government will take it up.


On behalf of my noble friend, Lord Somerleyton, I should like to say that the Government have no objection to the passage of the Bill into law. In its present form they look upon it as equitable and not controversial. The Board of Trade fully sympathises with the Amendment proposed by Lord Inchcape, but I am inclined to agree with Lord Askwith in thinking that to press it would endanger the passage of the Bill.

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