TUESDAY, 24th JUNE, 1924.1627
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Mr. Gilbert (Chairman)
Ainsworth, Captain (Bury)
Alstead, Mr. (Altrincham)
Astor, Major (Dover)
Barclay, Mr. (Manchester, Exchange)
*Barrie, Sir Charles (Banff)
Beckett, Sir Gervase (Leeds, N.)
Blundell, Mr. (Ormskirk)
Bramsdon, Sir Thomas (Portsmouth, C.)
Brown, Mr. Ernest (Rugby)
Bullock, Captain (Waterloo)
Cayzer, Sir Charles (Chester)
*Cayzer, Major Sir Herbert (Portsmouth, S.)
*Chadwick, Sir Burton (Wallasey)
Clarry, Mr. (Newport)
Croft, Brig.-Gen. Sir Henry Page (Bournemouth)
Davies, Major George (Yeovil)
Edmondson, Major (Banbury)
Edwards, Mr. George (Norfolk, S.)
Foot, Mr. (Bodmin)
Grenfell, Mr. David (Gower)
Hamilton, Sir Robert (Orkney and Shetland)
Harbison, Mr. (Fermanagh and Tyrone)
Hartington, Marquess of (Derbyshire, W.)
Hastings, Mr. Somerville (Reading)
Herbert, Captain Sidney (Scarborough and Whitby)
Jones, Mr. Leif (Camborne)
*Jowitt, Mr. William (Hartlepool)
Kirkwood, Mr. (Dumbarton Burghs)
Lee, Mr. Frank (Derbyshire, N. E.)
Leigh, Sir John (Clapham)
*Macnaghten, Sir Malcolm (Londonderry)
Makins, Brig.-Gen. (Knutsford)
Mansel, Sir Courtenay (Penryn and Falmouth)
*March, Mr. (Poplar, S.)
Mills, Mr. (Dartford)
Montague, Mr. (Islington, W.)
Morrison-Bell, Sir Clive (Hamilton)
Morse, Mr. (Bridgewater)
Murrell, Mr. (Weston-super-Mare)
O'Neill, Mr. John (Lancaster)
Oliver, Mr. George (Ilkeston)
Philipson, Mrs. (Berwick-on-Tweed)
Purcell, Mr. (Coventry)
Raffan, Mr. (Edinburgh)
Rawson, Mr. Cooper (Brighton)
Robinson, Mr. William (Burslem)
Ropner, Major (Sedgefield)
Sandeman, Mr. (Middleton and Prestwich)
*Scott, Sir Leslie (Liverpool, Exchange)
Shepperson, Mr. (Leominster)
Sherwood, Mr. (Wakefield)
Stephen, Mr. (Camlachie)
Stuart, Lord Colum Crichton- (Northwich)
*Thomas, Sir Robert (Anglesey)
Tillett, Mr. (Salford, N.)
Viant, Mr. (Willesden, W.)
*Webb, Mr. (Seaham)
Welsh, Mr. (Coatbridge)
*Wignall, Mr. (Forest of Dean)
Williams, Lieut.-Col. T. S. B. (Kennington)
* Added in respect of the Carriage of Goods by Sea Bill [Lords].
Mr. THROCKMORTON. Committee Clerks.
Mr. DENT. Committee Clerks.1628 1629 STANDING COMMITTEE C Tuesday, 24th June, 1924.
[Mr. GILBERT in the Chair.]
"Subject to the provisions of this Act, the Rules shall have effect in relation to and in connection with the carriage of goods by sea in ships carrying goods from any port in Great Britain or Northern Ireland to any other port whether in or outside Great Britain or Northern Ireland."
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."
The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. Webb): I think I ought to give a few words of explanation of a Bill which, probably, is extremely well known to hon. Members. The controversy has been going on for 40 years, and it arose, as shipping people well know, out of the practice which grew up of shipowners limiting their liabilities by particular clauses in bills of lading. Of course, those were all very irregular and inconsistent one with another, and you never knew what a bill of lading was going to be. There have been repeated attempts made to get agreement among all the parties, and I think I may say that agreement has long since been reached. It was considered by the Imperial Shipping Committee, which recommended legislation, and then, in 1921, there was an international unofficial Conference at The Hague of shipowners and others who agreed to a set of rules, and they were brought into conformity with the recommendations of the Shipping Committee. In October, 1922, an International Maritime Conference at Brussels, consisting of representative shipowners of the world, and, I think, the commercial interests of the world and in which, I think, the Government also took part, recommended these 1630 Rules, and shipowners, shippers and other persons interested in this country pressed very strongly for legislation to give effect to the findings of that Conference. Last October a Committee, appointed by that Brussels Maritime Conference, revised a Draft Convention, put it into shape, and made amendments which had been suggested by various interests. Those amendments were accepted. At the Imperial Economic Conference last year it was very strongly urged, not at all at the instance of the British Government, but at the instance of the Dominion Governments, that this should be carried into law. A Bill, which was practically identical with this Bill, actually passed last year, after prolonged consideration, a Joint Select Committee of both Houses, in which all the possible objections were heard. This Bill has now passed through the House of Lords this Session, and is merely waiting to be carried into law. This is an international question, but, in substance, it is put very strongly to me that this is a British settlement of a predominantly British question, because we do by far the greatest part of the shipping of the world, and, by ratifying this Convention, we shall get the other principal maritime countries to come into line with what is, practically, the British practice, and will be the British practice, of course, in future. If we pass this Bill, which is merely to ratify the International agreement, we shall have got not only uniformity, but we shall practically have imposed on all the shipping interests of the other countries what is virtually a British settlement. This has been very strongly pressed for by all the Chambers of Commerce. I have received innumerable letters and all sorts of reproaches for not having got it carried into law three months ago. The shipowners also agreed, and I would like to tell the Committee, for what it is worth, that I am not aware of any Amendment that has been put forward, or of anything that needs to be corrected in the draft as it is put before the Committee.
Mr. WIGNALL: I would like to know from the President of the Board of Trade if at any of these Conferences, of which this Bill is the result, and of which we have known very little until the last few days, there were any representatives of the seamen, and whether they were in 1631 agreement with the provisions of this Bill? I think that is very important to know, because if it be merely a Bill founded upon the desire of the shipowners, without the consent of the seafarers, who are after all, an important factor in the whole business, it makes a material difference in the decision at which we may arrive.
Mr. WEBB: I do not think that any representatives of the seafarers' organisations were present at those Conferences. In fact I do not think the subjects discussed there can possibly affect the position of persons employed on ships. It is purely a matter of the contract, the bill of lading, which is made between the shipowners, and the merchants who use the ships, and I do not think it in any way affects the conditions of employment of the persons on the ships.
Mr. MARCH: That may appear to be quite sound so far as carrying the goods and putting the goods on board ship, but, surely, the seaman has some right of saying whether he is going to sea in a ship that is unseaworthy?
Mr. WEBB: Certainly.
Mr. MARCH: There are other matters in connection with the accommodation of the ships, and so forth, and when we come to Clause 2, we shall want to discuss that a little further.
Sir BURTON CHADWICK: I find the name of Mr. Shinwell on Lord Oranmore's Committee.
Mr. WEBB: On the Joint Committee of the two Houses.
Mr. WIGNALL: That was not my point. My point was whether the Seafarers' Union were represented at the Conference at Brussels which was responsible for the provisions of this Bill.
Mr. WEBB: I believe they were not represented.
Question put, and agreed to.
Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.
"There shall not be implied in any contract for the carriage of goods by sea to 1632 which the Rules apply any absolute undertaking by the carrier of the goods to provide a seaworthy ship."
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."
Mr. WIGNALL: I understand that, owing to the short notice we have received, no Amendments have been submitted to-day to this Committee. We have only had a very hurried and brief review of the provisions of the Bill, and, generally speaking, no very great exception is taken on any but one or two points. I know that the Merchant Shipping Act of 1894 made provision for the acts of shipowners, and I want to know to-day if the passing of this Clause repeals Clauses 502 and 503 of the Merchant Shipping Act. Of course, it must of necessity repeal Clauses of the Merchant Shipping Act; otherwise, there would be no necessity to bring forward the Bill. There are very strong provisions in the 1894 Act with regard to seaworthiness.. I do not understand this Clause, I have read it very carefully, as also Clause 6 of this Bill, and the Clauses of the Merchant Shipping Act; and I am still confounded, and at an entire loss to understand the meaning of this Clause. The probability is that light will be thrown on it, reasons will be given and explanations tendered which may remove my confusion; but I cannot understand the meaning of the Clause, in the light of all the other provisions, that a man should be exempt from providing a seaworthy ship. I should like to have some further explanation on that.
Mr. KIRKWOOD: I am astonished to hear the Labour Minister state that the seamen have not been consulted regarding this Bill, because the most important item on a ship is that of the human lives, and they evidently have not been taken into consideration. I have been supplied—and I am quite sure most Members of the Committee will have been supplied—with a circular letter from the Shipowners' Parliamentary Committee, and the shipowners, so far as I have found them, are not to be trusted with the lives of the seamen. I am now speaking as an engineer, and on behalf of engineers. That is why I state that I am astonished to find a Labour Minister—and particularly such a Labour Minister as the President of the Board of Trade—tell us that the seamen have not been consulted about this Bill. Along with others, I 1633 have waited on the Minister, put questions to him, and tried to draw his attention to the fact that hundreds of ships at sea to-day are not seaworthy, and have no right to be at sea. The position of the Plimsoll line is such that ships are going to sea to-day which are a danger to the seamen on board. Evidently, no attention is being paid to all our questions and appeals. I think it most unfair, and I desire, as a protest, to move that the whole Bill be sent back.
The CHAIRMAN: The hon. Member cannot do so; he can vote against Clause 2.
Mr. WEBB: I should like, at once, to explain that I have every sympathy with the point of view expressed by the hon. Members who have spoken, but I think I shall be able to show that they misunderstood the Clause. In the first place, Clause 6 makes it quite clear that nothing in this Bill affects the provisions, on that subject, of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894. Whatever is enacted about this matter in the Merchant Shipping Act remains in force, and the only reason Clause 2 is required in this particular form is that there is a common law obligation on the person who undertakes to carry goods by sea that he shall provide a seaworthy ship, and you can take away that common law obligation without affecting the provisions of the Merchant Shipping Act which is a statutory obligation, which is stronger, and which continues to exist. Clause 2 does not, in fact, even take away that common law obligation, but merely removes this general provision of our common law in order to insert it again more specifically. I refer hon. Members to Article III of the Schedule, headed "Responsibilities and Liabilities":
"The carrier shall be bound, before and at beginning of the voyage to exercise due diligence to:
Sir B. CHADWICK: I desire to refer for a moment to the remarks of the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. Kirkwood) and his denunciation of the President of the Board of Trade in connection with the absence of the seamen's representatives from the gatherings to which reference has been made. It is probably quite true, though I do not know, that no seamen's representative was present at the international conferences, but it must not be supposed that seamen's affairs were neglected by those conferences. I think Mr. Havelock Wilson and others were there with regard to affairs which specifically affected the interests of seamen, and, as the President of the Board of Trade has pointed out, the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr Shinwell) was on the Committee which considered this Bill, and was followed by the hon Member for North Salford (Mr. Tillett). It is contrary to the practice of shipowners to do anything which could possibly involve the seamen without calling in the seamen's representatives whose co-operation they are glad to receive.1635
Mr. GEORGE EDWARDS: I require a clearer explanation from the President of the Board of Trade than he has given. I do not understand shipping, but I understand phraseology and, if this Clause is not going to alter the Merchant Shipping Act, what is it for? It only makes the Bill ridiculous, but I fear if it be passed we shall find our legal friends embracing the opportunity, over and over again, of contending in the Courts that this Clause repeals the provisions of the Merchant Shipping Act. As I say, I do not understand seafaring matters, but I am anxious that sailors and seamen should be protected and that their interests should not be neglected by shipowners or by any others who are responsible. Unless this Clause be altered it makes the whole Bill ridiculous.
Mr. WIGNALL: I desire to move that Clause 2 be rejected.
The CHAIRMAN: That is a direct negative. I cannot take an Amendment to the Clause because we are discussing the Question "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," but the hon. Member can vote against the Clause when I put that Question to the Committee.
Mr. WIGNALL: If compelled to do it in that way, that is the course I shall adopt. I wish to take the opportunity, with your permission and the permission of the Committee, to say that I am not finding fault with the President of the Board of Trade, but with his explanation, which is quite a different thing. He says that all necessary provisions for the safeguarding of seamen and all the compulsory Clauses in regard to seaworthy ships are contained in the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894, which under Clause 6 of this Bill is not to be affected. I am not a lawyer and I do not understand points of law, but there is something in this Clause which relieves the shipowner from some liability. There is no question about that point, and, as these provisions relate to the carriage of goods, that means exemption from carrying passengers. The life of a seaman on an old tramp steamer or coaster or other purely cargo boat is as valuable to me as the life of a millionaire in the saloon of a passenger ship. If all that has been said be correct, then there is no necessity for the Clause. I think, however, it involves a point of law and that it may safeguard a shipowner from 1636 some liability which he would otherwise incur as the result of an old rotten tramp boat going to sea. If all provisions as to the examination of the ship remain and if this Clause does not take away anything provided for in the Merchant Shipping Act, then what on earth is its value? If I cannot move an Amendment, I shall certainly vote against the Clause.
Mr. WEBB: I assure my hon. Friend that I share with him to the utmost possible degree all his feelings about these points, and I would not be a party to bringing forward any Clause, in any Bill, which, in any way, removed any part of the obligation of the shipowner to make a ship safe and seaworthy and keep a ship safe and seaworthy. I assure my hon. Friend that this Clause does not do so. I have thoroughly convinced myself that it does not relieve the shipowner of any obligation, but I do not ask hon. Members to take it on my authority. Let me explain why I am sure of it. In the first place, this does not apply only to tramp steamers, but also to the "Aquitania." the "Mauretania" and all other ships, because all ships carry some cargo, and this Bill applies equally to all ships from the biggest passenger liner to the most miserable tramp steamer. There is no question of distinction. At the present time the shipowner is under a very big obligation to make a ship seaworthy and keep a ship seaworthy. That is not taken away at all. That obligation is in two parts. The most important part is imposed by the Merchant Shipping Act, and a breach of any of its conditions is an offence. It is not a matter of damages, but actually an offence and that is the biggest thing. Nothing in this Bill affects that part of the obligation at all, and that is made quite clear in Clause 6. Parallel with that statutory obligation, which is a penal clause, there is another obligation which is a common law obligation arising under a contract. That only relates to goods, and incidentally it provides that any carrier of goods, whether shipowner or railway company, is bound at common law, quite independent of the Merchant Shipping Act, to guarantee to the person whose goods he carries that they shall be carried safely.
Mr. LEE: What advantage is that?
Mr. WEBB: Let me proceed with my explanation. What I have described is 1637 our own common law obligation, and we have been trying to get an obligation on identical lines imposed by other nations. The nations have met together, have agreed to an obligation of that sort, and have expressed it in exact terms which will be found in Article III. of the Schedule, providing that the carrier, that is, the shipowner, is bound before and at the beginning of the voyage to exercise due diligence to make the ship seaworthy.
Mr. KIRKWOOD: To make the ship seaworthy—that is, from the point of view of those who have been in power, but not from the point of view of Labour. Ships that were regarded as seaworthy in former days are not seaworthy according to our ideas.
Mr. WEBB: I quite agree, but what we rely upon in order to keep the ships seaworthy are the Merchant Shipping Acts. Those are statutory provisions under the criminal law, and we rely upon them, and this Bill does not touch them in any way. I am explaining the reason for Clause 2, which is that there is another obligation on the shipowner, a civil obligation at common law implied in his contract, for which he is liable to pay damages.
Mr. STEPHEN: Are you going to take it away?
Mr. WEBB: No.
Mr. STEPHEN: Then what is the value of the Clause?
Mr. WEBB: I am not going to take it away, but as a matter of fact the object of these international conferences was to get a similar obligation placed on the shipowners of other countries, and this was provided for in the rules which have been agreed to. The ratification of those rules is the object of this Bill. The hon. Member will find that that is provided in Article 3, paragraph (1), which provides that the carrier has to exercise due diligence to make the ship seaworthy, and properly to man, equip and supply the ship. Those rules are by Clause 1, which has already been passed, absolutely adopted. That is a specific civil obligation, equally potent as the Common Law one, and more specific and definite. Having adopted that, we want to take away the old Common Law obligation, because we have replaced it by this much 1638 more specific obligation which does not diminish it in any way, but it would be inconsistent to maintain both. Neither of them has any effect on the statutory penal requirements under the Merchant Shipping Act which is what we rely on to keep the ship seaworthy.
Mr. STEPHEN: The right hon. Gentleman has explained that the old right is being replaced by a series of rules, etc. But I cannot see what objection there is to cutting this Clause out of the Bill. If the new provision adequately provides for all the safeguards that we had formerly, then this Clause will be all right. But suppose that in a court of law it is found that the Common Law rights are more extensive than the definite statutory obligations that are being laid down, then this means that we are going to take away some of those Common Law rights, and I cannot see that the right hon. Gentleman has made out any case for this Clause. But if this Clause does not do anything, if it does not confer any wider benefit than is being conferred otherwise, then there is no reason why it should not be taken out and the position with regard to those old obligations left as it is. I cannot see why the right hon. Gentleman is not willing to accept the view of the members of the Committee, who ask him to take it out. He says that this Clause is not taking away anything that is provided for elsewhere. Then we say, "Let us leave out the Clause." If there be any odd thing to be gained by those Common Law rights, let us retain them.
Mr. WEBB: There is not.
Mr. STEPHEN: There is no reason why we should not have both rights, the more definite rights that are being provided by the right hon. Gentleman and the other rights. The right hon. Gentleman may shake his head, but I have not heard anything in his remarks to shake my conviction that there is something in this Clause that should not be in, and that we should get it cut out and retain both rights.
Sir B. CHADWICK: I do not yield in any way to hon. Members opposite in my concern for the well-being of seamen, bat as the right hon. Gentleman has explained, this is a question of a common law liability as between the shipowner 1639 and the cargo owner. May I give hon. Members an answer as to why this Clause should be retained. Suppose in a ship you have, shall I say a broken lavatory pipe running down through a hole, and water runs into the cargo and damages a lot of cargo. Suppose you have a poor rivet, as sometimes I have known to happen on the Clyde, a wooden or a putty rivet put in—
Mr. KIRKWOOD: I will not allow anyone to say that here.
The CHAIRMAN: Order!
Mr. KIRKWOOD: The hon. Member ought to withdraw such a remark.
Sir B. CHADWICK: Not a bit. I bought the ship and paid for it with that rivet in it. The hon. Gentleman does not concern me by his interruption. All kinds of accidents of that kind may arise, and cargo may be damaged. That is the liability which is referred to. It has nothing to do with the seaworthiness of the ship from the point of view of those on board. As the right hon. Gentleman has said, this reform has been before the community for a long time. It has been urged and advocated by all classes, including the seamen, for years, and it would be a very serious matter to everybody concerned if it were not passed now.
Mr. STEPHEN: I would like to know if the present Common Law gives certain rights with regard to the seamen which will be taken away if we pass this Clause?
Mr. WEBB: No.
Mr. FOOT: As I understand from the explanation given by the right hon. Gentleman, the question of the protection of the seamen cannot really be effectively dealt with by this Bill, but is dealt with by another branch of our law altogether. This is a matter as between the shipowner and the owner of the goods, and Clause 2 deals with that point, and not generally with the liability for the seamen?
Mr. WEBB: Yes.
Mr. FOOT: I associate myself with what has been said by the hon. Member for the Forest of Dean (Mr. Wignall) and others as to the necessity of giving every possible protection to seamen. But that is a question which ought to be dealt with 1640 by another part of our law, and therefore is irrelevant to this matter. That is the difficulty which I have. If Clause 2 deals only with the rights as between the owner of the goods and the owner of the ship, I think that it would be extremely difficult to put into that Clause some further liability as regards the protection of the seamen.
Mr. MARCH: I am one of those laymen who do not know very much about the sea, but who know something about the carriage of goods on land. A man may be driving a vehicle carrying goods. Is the provision that the owner is not responsible for providing an efficient vehicle to carry those goods? The driver has to be on that vehicle while those goods are on it, and, if the vehicle breaks down, and the man is thrown off and injured, has he got any claim for damage against the owner of the vehicle because he did not provide an efficient vehicle? That is the point. The owner is not bound to provide an efficient ship to carry those goods.
Mr. FOOT: A remedy would immediately arise, under the Workmen's Compensation Act, or some other Measure.
Mr. MARCH: I draw that analogy in order to find out if I understand this Clause. It seems to me that if the owner is not bound to provide a seaworthy ship to carry the goods, there is a danger for all those on that ship, and I have reason to have that impressed on my mind, because at present we have two widows and eleven children being kept in our district owing to an unseaworthy ship going to sea and being lost with all hands. I want, if possible, to insure that that shall not occur again. I do not want to give a vote that owners shall be entitled to send to sea a ship which is unseaworthy. If I could move an Amendment I would like to have the Clause altered so as to read, "There shall be implied in any contract for the carriage of goods by sea to which the rules apply an absolute undertaking by the carrier of the goods to provide a seaworthy ship."
The CHAIRMAN: I have already explained that I cannot take an Amendment. I have put the Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill." All the hon. Member can do is to vote against the Clause.1641
Mr. MARCH: Having heard the explanation of the right hon. Gentleman, I shall feel compelled to vote against the Clause. I shall not be a party to enabling owners to send to sea ships that are not seaworthy.
Mr. WEBB: I certainly would not ask the Committee to pass any Clause which would relieve shipowners from any obligation to send their ships to sea in a seaworthy condition. If I follow my hon. Friend's suggestion, it is to the effect that there shall be implied in any contract for the carriage of goods by sea an absolute undertaking by the carrier of the goods to provide a seaworthy ship. We have just passed that in Clause 1, which says,
"the rules shall have effect in relation to and in connection with the carriage of goods by sea in ships carrying goods from any port in Great Britain or Northern Ireland, to any other port in the world."
These rules provide, that—
"The carrier shall be bound, before and at the beginning of the voyage, to exercise due diligence to
Mr. LEIF JONES: Do those words mean exactly the same? "To provide a seaworthy ship" and "to exercise due diligence to make the ship seaworthy"?
Mr. WEBB: Yes, I suggest that, taken in conjunction with the Merchant Shipping Act and the provisions which compel the owner to provide a seaworthy ship, they do mean the same thing. That is preserved in Clause 6. I will explain why there is an obligation to do this, because the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) did not understand, or I failed to make him realise, the object of the Bill. Our interests with regard to seaworthiness of ships are not limited to British ships. I am not now talking from the point of view of cargo, but from the point of view of seamen. We have British seamen serving on foreign ships, and we want, if possible, to get identical conditions for all the shipping of the world, at any rate as regards seaworthiness. In a small degree, taking it up from the point of view of the carriage of goods, this 1642 Convention, which is embodied in these rules, does give uniform conditions of seaworthiness, or the obligation in respect to seaworthiness, over all the maritime countries who are parties to the Convention. Therefore, it is a gain to have got this obligation in Article III, made applicable to the ships of the world as well as British ships. My hon. Friend the Member for Camlachie seemed to think that there is some loss as a set-off to this, but he must admit that this is a gain. I submit that there is no loss, because Clause 2 as it stands, first of all, merely says: "There shall not be implied in any contract …. an absolute undertaking by the carrier of the goods to provide a seaworthy ship." That is to say, it is merely substituting the precise words of Article III for the vague words of the Common Law. It does not abrogate all the Common Law. My hon. Friend suggested that there might be a lot of other things in the Common Law which it might de desirable to maintain whilst getting this new provision. There is only the one point as regards the seaworthy ship. I may be asked why have that re-enacted in a more specific form in the rules? Why take the trouble to re-enact it in a more specific form?
Mr. STEPHEN: I did not ask why we should re-enact it in this more definite form. I said, re-enact it in a more definite form, but leave the other and older form.
Mr. WEBB: The important thing was to get the other countries to adopt identical provisions. We have got the other countries to come up to the one level and to adopt this identical provision, so that the conditions are made uniform. We have asked the other countries to submit to this new condition, and we have got them to submit to it, which is a great gain, and particularly a great gain to British seamen who serve on foreign ships. We are as much interested in the safety of foreign ships in that respect as in the safety of British ships. We have got the foreign countries to agree to this on the plea that we want a uniform law in regard to bills of lading in all countries, and they have agreed to it under these rules. If I am asked why not preserve the implied common law liability to provide a sea 1643 worthy ship, I say, because we have agreed that we will adopt these rules which are adopted by all the other countries, and it would not be acting quite squarely with the other countries if we did not bring our law into conformity with the rules which we are asking them to adopt. We are giving away nothing, we are not giving away anything in the vague, unascertained liability under the common law, but only the one point about the seaworthy ship, and that has been re-enacted.
Mr. D. GRENFELL: The President of the Board of Trade has used the term "we" in connection with the Convention, but we are told that this is an agreement between the shipowners.
Mr. WEBB: And the Board of Trade.
Mr. GRENFELL: Mainly shipowners. It is not because we wish to harass the President of the Board of Trade that we are pressing this point, but because after all his explanations our minds are still somewhat confused as to the advisability of inserting this Clause in the Bill. I have a very great reluctance to acquiescing in a proposal to weaken or qualify the common law, because it gives a guarantee that no amount of diligence or supervision can remove from the shipowner any responsibility for the carriage of his goods. The shipowner will be expected under this Schedule to exercise due diligence, but when he has exercised due diligence his responsibility ceases. Under the common law there is a measure of absolute guarantee. Assume that we were all seamen and we were called upon to go to sea this morning. Under the common law the shipowner is absolutely responsible for the cargo that is on board, leaving out of account the lives of the seamen for the time being. Realising that, we would volunteer to go to sea, because we realise that a valuable cargo is an inducement to the shipowner to provide a seaworthy ship. If we remove that obligation, and say that he will only be called upon to exercise due diligence and to allow his ship to be inspected, we remove a valuable safeguard. We have heard something about inspection of ships lately. We have been told that the Board of Trade do not provide adequate inspection of ships, and that ships go to sea 1644 without inspection. If, in addition to that fact, we are asked to allow the common law to be weakened, I have very great reluctance in acquiescing in that proposal. If the President of the Board of Trade can give us some common-sense reason, apart from this Convention—the common law is based on common-sense—for this alteration, well and good, but, if we are to allow our native or national common-sense to be set aside for the convenience of a group of shipowners who are largely international and not concerned with British lives any more than anyone else, I am opposed to it. The shipowner, as a shipowner—I do not say this offensively—cannot be entrusted with the lives of people. The Shipping Acts are proof of that fact. I want this Committee and the House of Commons to see that every inducement is given to provide seaworthy ships and to maintain all the laws for that purpose. We should not prejudice the safety of people engaged on the seas by allowing the common law to be weakened by removing an additional inducement for the shipowner to provide a seaworthy ship
Mr. SANDEMAN: I think we are confusing the issue. I know little or nothing of shipping, but it seems to me that this is a Bill which has to deal with bills of lading, which are the most complicated documents that I have ever seen. I do not think you ever see two of them alike. The shipowners have kept the lawyers going for a good many years dealing with points like this. They have now put their heads together and have come to an agreement. We ought to pass this, and to let the seaworthiness of the ship be taken up under our maritime laws. I want every precaution taken for the safety of the lives of our sailors. I do not like the idea of our men going to sea in rotten ships, any more than anyone else does, but by voting for this Clause I do not see how we weaken our position. I think that we strengthen our hands by this provision, and we can certainly safeguard the seamen in other ways. Before hon. Members vote against this Clause, I would ask them to look at it from the point of view that this is an agreement which will make less legal friction and a good deal less trouble for the shippers. We can deal with the other point from another angle.1645
Mr. MILLS: Can the President of the Board of Trade tell us whether there is anything in the phraseology of the Bill that will defeat what is in the mind of every one of us? We have come here prepared and determined to improve the Plimsoll line as far as we can. At the back of our minds there is a fear that, somehow or other, we are going to put in some provision which will interfere with our determination in that direction. Those of us who have boys at sea, or boys who will be going to sea, feel this matter very keenly. I am willing to accept the word of the President of the Board of Trade that this is a Measure, international in its aspect and scope, which provides some protection for British seamen in foreign ships, but I want the specific point cleared up by an assurance that it will not in any way prejudice us in our attempt to bring about an improvement in the Merchant Shipping Act.
Mr. L. JONES: I sympathise to the full with the speech which we have just heard, and with what has been said by other speakers, but hon. Members have gone upon a false tack by discussing a point which does not arise in connection with this Bill, which merely deals with the warranty that is given in regard to goods carried by ships. The seaworthiness of the ship from the point of view of the goods is a different thing from the seaworthiness of the ship from the point of view of the seamen. The seaworthiness of the ship from the point of view of the seamen is properly dealt with by the Merchant Shipping Act, which determines what is to be the condition of the ships which are sent to sea. This Clause raises the question of the extent of the guarantee which is given by the person carrying the goods, namely, the man who owns the ship, to the person to whom the goods belong. If we do not put in Clause 2, I gather that there will remain the absolute guarantee that the goods will be carried in perfect safety without damage, and that, if they are damaged through causes which could not have been foreseen by the owner of the ship, and through some cause which he could not control, the penalty will fall upon him, and it is a heavy penalty. An instance has been given of some defect in the ship which was utterly unknown to him, and of which he could not possibly have known 1646 anything, even by exercising due diligence. The provision which has been agreed to by the Convention is that, if the shipowner can show that he has exercised due diligence to carry the goods safely, he ought not to be under the present heavy penalty, if for some cause unforeseen the goods are damaged. The Schedue in Article 3 says: "The carrier shall be bound to exercise due diligence to make the ship seaworthy."
Mr. WEBB: It also says: "properly man, equip, and supply the ship."
Mr. JONES: That is, from the point of the goods that are being carried, and not from the point of view of the seamen. He must exercise due diligence and see that when he carries the goods by sea the ship shall be suitable for the carrying of the goods and that there is no foreseeable cause of damage to the goods. If for some unforeseen cause, which no due diligence on his part could have foreseen, the goods are damaged, it does not seem fair that the mere fact that he has carried the goods should be an absolute guarantee that the goods will go safely. As I understand it, this Clause does not in the smallest degree infringe the safety of the ship from the point of view of the seamen. It is a question as to the amount of responsibility for the carriage of the goods which has been implied in accepting the commission to carry the goods. As the shipowners are agreed, and we are to get an international agreement in regard to it, it is a step forward in regard to the carriage of goods, and I shall vote for the Clause. I think the Committee might put out of their minds the question of seaworthiness from the point of view of the seamen, and consider the question solely from the point of view of the goods that are being carried.
Mr. WEBB: As far as I can make out, after studying the whole question, there is absolutely nothing in the fear that has been expressed that this Clause in any way weakens the obligation or the duty of the shipowner to maintain a ship in a seaworthy condition. That is secured by our Merchant Shipping Acts, and they ought to be tightened up no doubt, but this does not derogate from that at all, and I do not think it diminishes in any way the duty of the shipowner. The whole point here turns on the question of leakage of water and 1647 the damage of goods, which have nothing to do with the seaworthiness of the ship in the ordinary way. I, therefore, ask the Committee to come to a decision on this Clause. I can only say that my belief is that we are giving nothing away from the point of view of the sea-
|Division No. 1.]||AYES.|
|Astor, Major||Edmondson, Major||Macnaghten, Sir Malcolm|
|Barclay, Mr.||Foot, Mr.||Makins, Brigadier-General|
|Brown, Mr. Ernest||Grenfell, Mr. David||Sandeman, Mr.|
|Bullock, Captain||Hamilton, Sir Robert||Viant, Mr.|
|Chadwick, Sir Burton||Hartington, Marquess of||Webb, Mr.|
|Clarry, Mr.||Jones, Mr. Leif||Williams, Lieut.-Colonel T. S. B.|
|Davies, Major George||Lee, Mr. Frank|
|Edwards, Mr. George||Mills, Mr.||Welsh, Mr.|
|Kirkwood, Mr.||Purcell, Mr.||Wignall, Mr.|
|March, Mr.||Stephen, Mr.|
Clauses 3 (Statement as to application of Rules to be included in, bills of lading), 4 (Modification of Article VI of Rules in relation to coasting trade), 5 (Modification of Rules 4 and 5 of Article III in relation to bulk cargoes), and 6 (Short title, saving and operation), ordered to stand part of the Bill.
1. The carrier shall be bound, before and at the beginning of the voyage, to exercise due diligence to—
2. Subject to the provisions of Article IV, the carrier shall properly and carefully load, handle, stow, carry, keep, care for and discharge the goods carried.
1. Neither the carrier nor the ship shall be liable for loss or damage arising or resulting from unseaworthiness unless caused by want of due diligence on the part of the carrier to make the ship seaworthy, and to secure that the ship is properly manned, equipped and supplied, and to make the holds, refrigerating and cool chambers and all other parts of the ship in which goods1648
worthiness of the ship, and that there is an absolute necessity to bring our law into conformity with the new drafting.
Question put, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."
The Committee divided: Ayes, 20; Noes, 8.
are carried fit and safe for their reception, carriage and preservation in accordance with the provisions of paragraph 1 of Article III.
Whenever loss or damage has resulted from unseaworthiness, the burden of proving the exercise of due diligence shall be on the carrier or other person claiming exemption under this section.
2. Neither the carrier nor the ship shall be responsible for loss or damage arising or resulting from—
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this be the Schedule to the Bill."
Mr. STEPHEN: I would like inserted, in Article III, paragraph (1a), after the word "ship," the word "absolutely." It seems to me that it would be of some service in giving assurance with regard to Clause 2.
The CHAIRMAN: I have already put the Question, "That this be the Schedule to the Bill." I have had no notice of any Amendment, and, therefore, cannot take one.
Mr. STEPHEN: I submit, that before you put the Question, I rose in order to move.
The CHAIRMAN: But I had no notice of the Amendment; otherwise, I should have put it. The rule of the Committee is that, for the convenience of Members, Amendments should be printed. If not printed, they are put in in manuscript form before reaching the particular Clause or Schedule. I have had no notice of Amendments either on the Order Paper or in manuscript. I have put the Question, and, therefore, I cannot take an Amendment.
Mr. WEBB: May I point out, first of all, that the English language is such, that if you say the ship is to be seaworthy, you really do not add anything by putting in the word "absolutely," and if it came to be considered in a Court of Law, I think you would find that the word "absolutely" would not make any difference. However, I have a more substantial point to put before the Committee. After all, this is a Convention, which has been agreed to by all the maritime nations, and the one thing, I submit, we cannot amend in this Bill is the Schedule. You may reject the whole Bill, but, having decided in principle to ratify, you cannot begin to alter the Convention, because that has been made by 1650 agreement, and, I believe, by unanimous agreement ultimately, the Government being represented.
Mr. STEPHEN: Which Government?
Mr. WEBB: The British Government, and not only by the shipowners, but by the merchants of the world. You cannot at once ratify a Convention, and not ratify it.
Mr. KIRKWOOD: I would like to draw the attention of the Minister to the anxiety we feel about those who go down to the sea in ships, and we want him, because he has been put in the position by us who represent those who go down to the sea in ships, and who have a different point of view entirely from the shipowners, to look at it from our point of view, from the point of view of the people who sail the ships, and not from the point of view of the shipowners at all.
Sir B. CHADWICK: The hon. Gentleman continually points to me, and contrasts the view I hold as a shipowner and the view he holds as a representative of those who go down to the sea in ships. Our views do not differ; I am as anxious for the seamen as he is. I know a great deal more about the seamen than he does, because I have spent my life among ships.
Mr. KIRKWOOD: And so have I, and I guarantee I am as old as the hon. Member.
Sir B. CHADWICK: I merely protest against the hon. Gentleman's attitude, and the creation of an atmosphere in this Committee in respect of this Bill which might possibly influence votes against a reasonable Clause, because some might think there were people advocating this Bill who were enemies of the seamen, which is nonsense.
Mr. LEE: The first Article deals with certain definitions, and I would like to know what definition the President of the Board of Trade puts upon the words "exercise due diligence to make the ship seaworthy," because in Article IV there is this paragraph: "Whenever loss or damage has resulted from unseaworthiness, the burden of proving the exercise of due diligence shall be on the carrier or other person claiming exemption under this Section." I wonder how this is going to be defined. Perhaps some of our legal friends here might tell us what their opinion would be in a Court of Law.1651
Mr. WEBB: May I say that this Schedule, and the definitions, have no relation whatever to the word "seaworthy" in the Merchant Shipping Act? The obligation on the owner to send his ship to sea in a seaworthy condition, and maintain it in a seaworthy condition, is in the Merchant Shipping Act, and there is no question about due diligence there. His obligation there is absolute—if I may take up the phrase—and that is maintained here. All that is referred to in this Schedule is the civil contract between him and the shipper of goods, and the question of responsibility for damage to the goods he is carrying. It does not at all limit his obligation, his statutory duty, under the Merchant Shipping Act, and it is only a question of what is fair as between the merchant who sends the goods to sea and the shipowner who undertakes to carry them. I venture absolutely to relieve the minds of my hon. Friends. They need not be afraid that there is anything in this Bill which in any way weakens the obligation of the shipowner under the Merchant Shipping Act to maintain a ship in a seaworthy condition, or weakens any other obligations under that Act.
Mr. JONES: Paragraph 2 of Article IV sets out the kinds of damage for which the carrier is not to be responsible, such as "Act of public enemies", "Quarantine restrictions", "Insufficiency of packing". So that I think we may safely pass this Schedule, which, after all, is agreed amongst the carriers of goods and the merchants throughout the world.
Mr. WIGNALL: The President of the Board of Trade says he can absolutely assure us. Well, I can absolutely assure him that he has not satisfied me. The word "seaworthy" is an all-embracing, extensive word, covering everything that concerns the outgoing, the voyage, and incoming of the ship, and I fail to see that it can be subject to the limitations given here to-day, simply as between the shipowner and the shipper.
Mr. E. BROWN: Surely the Title of the Bill does that.
Mr. WIGNALL: All the things talked about here to-day are provided for in the Merchant Shipping Act, and these words are simply extracts from it. I have gone over the Merchant Shipping Act 1652 carefully to see that these things are provided for. It narrows itself down to one little point in law, and nothing else. It does not add or take away, but it does give relief to a shipowner in regard to the question of damage to goods. If this were all contained in the word "seaworthy," I would accept it with satisfaction, but the word "seaworthy" means drainage or leakage from a rotten plank or other thing. The word "seaworthy" is all embracing as regards the conditions of the voyage and the working of the ship, and it has not only that limitation.
Sir MALCOLM MACNAGHTEN: The use of the word "seaworthy" in this Bill is in relation to the carriage of goods only. Perhaps I may give an illustration, which, I hope, will relieve the minds of some hon. Members.
Mr. LEE: You cannot carry goods without men.
Sir M. MACNAGHTEN: No, but a ship may be absolutely seaworthy so far as men are concerned, and yet be unseaworthy with regard to goods. Take what was a leading case. A cargo had been damaged by water, and it turned out that this water was due to the fact that a rat had gnawed a hole in a pipe that supplied water to a water-closet. The result was that water leaked through the pipe, got into the cargo, and damaged the goods. The cargo owner successfully alleged that the ship was not seaworthy when she started on the voyage, because this little hole had been gnawed by a rat. It had not the smallest relation to the seaworthiness of the ship as regards the safety of the ship itself, but was a mere internal leak which did not affect the ship at all. Yet the ship owner was held liable, because this leak, which could not have been discovered, and which had no effect on the safety of the ship, resulted in damage to the goods.
Mr. WIGNALL: Article IV states that neither the carrier nor the ship shall be responsible for loss or damage arising from strikes or lock-outs or stoppage or retraint of labour from whatever cause whether partial or general. This is an absolutely new provision which does not appear in the Merchant Shipping Act and has no relation to the present law of the land. Every shipowner and every person 1653 concerned in the carriage of goods has a strike and lock-out Clause in his contract which exempts him from liability in the event of stoppage or delay due to disputes. It is not my intention or my thought to impose upon one man a burden which another ought to bear, but this proposal involves complete exemption from all liability and is a serious matter. Disputes arise from various causes. A shipowner might himself be entirely responsible for causing a dispute. In such a case is he to be exempt from all liability? This is an innovation, a new element in merchant shipping legislation, and, as shipowners are already safeguarded by strike and dispute Clauses in charters and contracts, it should not be introduced in this haphazard way in a small Bill of this kind.
Mr. WEBB: May I once more explain that there is no question of removing any obligation or liability in regard to strikes or lock-outs. The only question is one between the two parties, the merchant and the shipowner, as to which should bear the consequential loss. Merchants and shipowners for years and years have agreed to this provision which is an invaluable clause in bills of lading, and I cannot imagine that anybody else is concerned in the matter. They have agreed to it as between themselves, and this 1654 article of the Schedule simply recites the various matters provided for in the bills of lading which henceforth will be taken for granted and need not be set out in the bills of lading. Whether these are good exceptions or not, and whether it is desirable or not that the merchants and shipowners should be agreed, what is very desirable is that there should be uniformity, so that when you get a bill of lading you will know what it means. We could have made such an arrangement with regard to our own bills of lading by a simple alteration of the law, but in order to secure uniformity other countries have agreed to make this provision part of their law. If we want to ratify the Convention at all, we must make it part of our law. The hon. Member says it is a new thing, but it is not a new thing. It is not in the Merchant Shipping Act, because, like nearly all the provisions of this Bill, it has nothing to do with the Merchant Shipping Act, but this article is taken from the invariable wording of bills of lading, and if we are going to ratify the Convention, we cannot alter it.
Schedule agreed to.
Bill, without Amendment, ordered to be reported to the House.
Committee rose at Twenty Minutes after Twelve o'Clock.
THE FOLLOWING MEMBERS ATTENDED THE COMMITTEE:—
Mr. Gilbert (Chairman).
Brown, Mr. Ernest
Chadwick, Sir Burton
Davies, Major George
Edwards, Mr. George
Grenfell, Mr. David
Hamilton, Sir Robert
Hartington, Marquess of
Jones, Mr. Leif
Lee, Mr. Frank
Macnaghten, Sir Malcolm
Oliver, Mr. George
Williams, Lieut.-Colonel T. S. B.