HL Deb 30 July 1923 vol 54 cc1482-4

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this is the shortest possible Bill, and I will trouble your Lordships with the shortest possible speech upon it. I will read Clause 1 of the Bill because it contains the whole matter:— 1. Subsection (1) of section thirty-four of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1906 (which relates to the expenses of medical attendance of masters and seamen suffering from injuries and illnesses), shall apply to any case where the illness from which the master or seaman is suffering is venereal disease, and accordingly that subsection shall have effect as if the words "venereal disease or" were omitted therefrom. The section referred to is the one by which provision is made for merchant seamen being attended where they have suffered from injury or ill-health, the expenses of attending upon them and of their return home being defrayed by the shipowners.

The Act of Parliament, while being perfectly general in its terms as to its application to all diseases, does make that one exception, and says: "except venereal disease." That has been on the face of Statutes, which have been consolidated at least once, for a great many years. No doubt it originated at a time when the treatment of venereal disease was not put upon anything like the same footing as the treatment of other diseases. It requires, I think, no disquisition on my part to show that that obsolete exclusion of venereal disease should come to an end, and that seamen should have their expenses paid in foreign ports when they are suffering from that disease. I accordingly move that this Bill be now read a second time. Before the Question is put I should like to say that this proposal received support from every quarter in the House of Commons, and that the shipowners there—I have no doubt if there were any here they would say the same—were quite prepared to meet any expenses that might fall upon them in consequence of the passing of this Bill.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Muir Mackenzie.)


My Lords, I should like to say a word in support of this measure, partly because of its history. At the very end of the Session of 1921 I was moving the Merchant Shipping (Amendment) Bill dealing with the responsibilities and liabilities of barges and lighters upon the river Thames, and my noble friend Lord Inchcape, on the Report Stage, moved an Amendment bringing in this very remedy. Unfortunately I had to ask him to withdraw it, because otherwise the Bill which I was promoting, and also his Amendment, would both have come to grief owing to the Bill having to go to the Commons with an Amendment which could not be got through. Therefore, this is really the recommendation of a principle which I think your Lordships might have accepted more than two years ago.

Opinion with regard to this disease, and also with regard to the remedy, has greatly altered since the year 1906 when this one disease was excepted from those diseases in regard to which shipowners had a liability in a foreign port. I think opinion is now general that a very grave danger arises from the attempts of sailors to get upon passenger or other ships in order to return home when they have found that they are suffering from this disease. In that way a risk is run of infecting other people. There is this further consideration, that if they are unable to get home the horrible punishment which they suffer is. out of any proportion to what they have done. Not only do they lose all pay and their passage home, but they are exiled in a foreign land without any means of being helped, either medically or by being sent home. I think that it is most desirable that the liability to pay for medical attendance for them in a foreign port and for their transit home should be upon shipowners. In the long run it will be an advantage to the shipowners themselves.


My Lords, as my noble and learned friend has explained, this Bill seeks to amend Section 34 of the Merchant Shipping Act of 1906. Under that Act no seaman who contracted venereal disease was able in any way to get treatment nor was provision made for his return to any proper return port. The amendment of this section of the 1906 Act places the liability upon the shipowners of seeing that the seaman receives treatment, and is returned to a return port. In view of the fact that this is looked upon by the Government as a health measure, I should like to state that I support the Bill.

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