HL Deb 19 February 1857 vol 144 cc805-7

I wish to put a question to my noble Friend the President of the Council which I understand he is willing to answer at once. It has reference to the debate which is to take place on Tuesday next. It is of the utmost importance to ascertain whether the Arrow was, or was not, legally entitled to carry British colours. I find that in the Merchant Shipping Act, passed in 1854, it is provided that no ship is to be deemed to be a British ship, in any part of the British dominions, unless she be entirely owned by British subjects, answering to the definitions given in the Act. Now, we know from the papers which have been laid before us that the Arrow was not owned by British subjects, complying with the definitions. The Act of 1854 further confers powers upon colonial legislatures to repeal or vary the provisions of that Act relating to ships registered in that colony, but subject to the condition that any Act or ordinance so passed by the colonial legislature for the purpose of altering the Act of Parliament must be approved by Her Majesty in Council; and such approval must be proclaimed in the colony before such ordinance can take effect. I want to know whether there have been any Orders given by Her Majesty in Council sanctioning the two colonial ordinances which are printed in the papers recently laid before the House; and, if so, what is the date of those orders, and also what is the date of the proclamation in the colony? I am induced to ask these questions, because it is the ordinary practice with regard to ordinances passed by what are commonly called "Crown Colonies"—that is to say, colonies possessing no representative legislature—that their ordinances are always confirmed, not by Orders in Council, but by a simple signification of Her Majesty's pleasure in a despatch from the Secretary of State. As far as I can gather from the papers before the House it does not appear that in this instance the usual form of proceeding in the case of Crown Colonies has been departed from, although the Act of Parliament is express in requiring that any ordinance altering the provisions of the Merchant Shipping Act shall be confirmed by Her Majesty in Council. This point is material, because it appears that the despatch approving the ordinance in question is dated December, 1855, while the register of the Arrow is dated in September, 1855.


I must inform my noble Friend that he is correct in inferring from the papers on the table that no Order in Council has been passed in reference to the two ordinances in question. They were confirmed by Her Majesty with the advice of the Secretary of State. The first of these ordinances—the more important so far as the Debate of Tuesday next is concerned—was passed in the colony before the Merchant Shipping Act came into force. It would be necessary now, to any amendment or repeal of any portion of that Act, that the colonial ordinances having that object should be confirmed by Her Majesty in Council, and proclaimed in the colony. But this particular ordinance, in the opinion of the law advisers of the Colonial Office, is not of that description. It is not considered to be a repeal or amendment of the Merchant Shipping Act. As to the vessel being required to be the property of British owners, it is quite true that in this case, under the ordinance a register was given to a ship in the possession of a Chinese, he holding a long lease of land in the colony. The noble Earl will remember that the Alien Act conferred upon aliens in the colonies the same privileges possessed by our own countrymen. The subject will, no doubt, be fully debated on Tuesday next, and, therefore, it is not necessary I should enter further into the matter at present.


I will just read the clauses of the Merchant Shipping Act, which seerns to me to be very important upon this point. The first clause of the second part of the Act applies the Act to the whole of the dominions of Her Majesty. The second clause of that part of the Act declares that no ship shall be deemed to be a British ship unless belonging to owners of the following description:—Natural born British subjects; Persons made denizens by Letters of denization, or naturalized by or pursuant to any Act of the Imperial Legislature, or by or pursuant to any Act or ordinance of the proper legislative authority in any British possession; or Bodies Corporate established under, subject to the laws of, and having their principal place of business in the United Kingdom, or some British possession.