§ EARL RUSSELL
My Lords, I rise to move—That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying Her Majesty to give special directions that every precaution be taken from the Prorogation till the next meeting of Parliament to secure the safety of merchant seamen who may be employed in merchant ships, which may obtain clearance during that period, from dangers arising from the want of repair or decay of the ships in which they may be engaged as crews,For some years it has been asserted that very many lives have been lost owing to ships being sent to sea in an unsound and unseaworthy condition. Now, my Lords, I shall not go into the various statements that have been made on both sides of the question, and which have engaged so much of the attention of the other House of Parliament, because there can no longer be any doubt that, to say the least, there is a great deal of suspicion with respect to some of the vessels which are sent to sea. What I wish more particularly to call your Lordships' attention to is this—that many seamen have been sent to prison for a violation of their contract, because they refused to sail in vessels in which they had taken service. It appears also that in many instances it was believed that the ships in which those men had refused to sail were really in an unsafe state, and that seamen would have risked their lives by embarking in them. It may be that the owners of such ships may sometimes be not altogether in fault. They may be imposed upon occasionally, and ships that are registered as A 1 at Lloyd's 439 may not always be of that valuable character which, generally speaking, I believe they are. But whoever may be in fault it is hard, when the necessity of more vigorous action in the case of un-seaworthy ships is now so generally admitted, that those seamen should be kept in prison for a violation of their contract. By an alteration in the law which will soon become an Act of Parliament, the workman who violates his contract with his employer will not be sent to prison, unless he refuses to pay a money penalty and is able to pay it. Recently the Home Secretary interfered to discharge from prison a little girl who had been sent there for taking a plant. I hope, therefore, he will interfere to discharge seamen committed under the circumstances to which I have referred. No doubt the President of the Board of Trade, who has the power to stop unseaworthy vessels, will himself see the importance of this question, and so do away with an evil affecting a most valuable body of men who ought to be protected with the utmost care, not only for their own valuable services, but for that of the future Navy of England.
§ Moved that an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying Her Majesty to give special directions that every precaution he taken from the prorogation till the next meeting of Parliament to secure the safety of merchant seamen who may be employed in merchant ships, which may obtain clearance during that period, from dangers arising from the want of repair or decay of the ships in which they may be engaged as crews.—(The Earl Russell.)
§ THE DUKE OF RICHMOND
My Lords, I am sure every noble Lord in the House will concur in the sentiment embodied in the last sentence spoken by the noble Earl—that of the paramount importance of taking all the measures that are practicable for the preservation of the lives of the merchant seamen to whom this country is so much indebted, not only commercially, but also in connection with the Navy. No one can doubt the importance of this subject, and no one can be surprised that the noble Earl should have brought it under the consideration of your Lordships' House. But I trust the noble Earl will be satisfied with having called attention to the subject, and will not press his Motion, because it appears unnecessary to give any special instructions on the subject with respect to the want of repair 440 in ships in which seamen have engaged to sail, because, as the noble Earl has himself said, the President of the Board of Trade has power already to stop sailors going to sea in unseaworthy ships; and, in the next place, the subject is one of such paramount importance that the Government have introduced a Bill dealing with it, which measure is still under discussion in the other House of Parliament. I do not think it would be convenient at this moment to discuss the provisions of that measure. We hope that it will reach this House very shortly, when your Lordships will have an opportunity of discussing clauses intended to provide against the evils which all of us deprecate quite as strongly as the noble Earl who has brought forward this Motion.
§ EARL RUSSELL
If the noble Duke will give me the assurance that the matter will have the close attention of the Government during the Recess I shall be happy to withdraw the Motion.
§ THE DUKE OF RICHMOND
I can have no hesitation in giving the assurance required by the noble Earl. The subject is one of such importance that it now occupies the attention of the Government, and will not cease to occupy their attention during the whole of the Recess.
§ Motion (by leave of the House) withdrawn.