LONDON, TUESDAY, MARCH 20, 1866.
In the House of Commons [yesterday],
[here follows some other Commons business]
Sir J. PAKINGTON brought under the notice of the House the mode in which the recent inquiry into the loss of the London was conducted, which he characterized as a mockery and delusion, as far as any future public benefit is concerned. He canvassed Mr. TRAILL’s report, contending that the magistrate was wrong in the interpretation of the Act of Parliament by which he justified his refusal to allow counsel to cross-examine the witnesses. He read letters and mentioned various circumstances to show that the inquiry was partial, and assumed the appearance of being intended simply to protect the owners, pointing out that nearly all the witnesses by their connexion with the owners or their previous acts were interested in obtaining an acquittal. After censuring the build of the ship, the manner in which she was loaded and manned, and expressing a strong doubt of the value of the present system of inspection, Sir JOHN concluded by asking the PRESIDENT of the BOARD of TRADE whether he would take the steps necessary to prevent the recurrence of the various shortcomings which he had pointed out.
Mr. MILNER GIBSON commenced his reply by drawing from this sad calamity the moral that the present system of inspection relieved the owners from much of the responsibility which would otherwise rest on them. He vindicated the impartiality and the independence of the inquiry, pointing out that it was not in the nature of a prosecution, or intended to determine the rights or liabilities of any parties. While maintaining that there had been no substantial failure of justice in this case, he admitted that the present system of inquiries – though it had done much good – was susceptible of improvement, and intimated that the matter was under consideration.
Mr. HENLEY protested against these inquiries being converted into anything in the nature of a trial of parties criminally and civilly liable, but remarked that in this case the inquiry had assumed very much the appearance of a whitewashing affair. He doubted the efficiency of the system of surveys, and contended that ever since the Executive Government had begun to take the mercantile marine under its guidance the number of casualties had increased.
Mr. SAMUDA argued against unnecessary Government interference, and censured the refusal to allow the witnesses to be cross-examined.
Mr. MAGUIRE condemned the inquiry as utterly inadequate, and recommended the institution of a more efficient tribunal.
Mr. O’BEIRNE pointed out defects in the system of inspection.
Mr. AYRTON made some observations in defence of the magistrate, and censured Sir J. PAKINGTON for having brought the subject forward without notice to Messrs. MONEY WIGRAM and Co.
The discussion was continued by Mr. WEGUELIN and Mr. GRANT.