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colleagues from the start that a particular proposition was advisable would find it difficult to retire from that position unless the evidence were absolutely overwhelming against him, and therefore, we took the course of requiring that when any Government or any body brought a case before us, that case should come before us officially from the Government in writing, and should be supported by witnesses sent by the Government Office or other body. The representative then of a particular Government-it might be New Zealand, Australia or Canada-would watch the case and see that it was properly developed, but he would be perfectly free at the end to associate himself with his colleagues from the other parts of the Empire, and he has always done so, with the result that we have always obtained unanimous reports.
Goodwill of the Shipowners Secured.
Well then, Sir, the other matter on which we had to steer with great care was in regard to outside authorities and interests. It is quite obvious that, dealing with such matters as we have to deal with, the Departments of various Governments might feel that we were infringing on their spheres. The shipowners, also, were very suspicious of us-naturally they felt that they had had their fill of Government interference during the war and immediately afterwards—and, therefore, we had to steer very carefully so as to acquire goodwill, and I am happy to say-I think I am justified in saying it, I am speaking in the presence of at least three of my colleagues on the Committee that we have succeeded in obtaining the goodwill of the shipowners. I mention that because it was essential, and I believe that everything that we have been able to do with our limited powers has been due to the fact that we have acted in a friendly way and all the time have tried to get agreement and not to override.
Post-War Shipping Conditions.
Well now, Gentlemen, we started by taking up that portion of our reference which directed us to survey the facilities for shipping within the Empire. We took a certain amount of evidence. We sent out questionnaires, and in the course of about six months we compiled a considerable amount of information which has undoubtedly been useful since, but then two things happened. On the one hand we began to find that the whole of the shipping world was in such a state of flux, was so busy recovering from the disorder into which it had been thrown by the war, that it was hopeless to think that we should be able to make any general report for a considerable time to come, which would not be out of date before it had actually been presented; and then on the other hand we found that at about the end of six months we were overwhelmed with complaints, and it was necessary to turn to the second part of our reference.
Irritation in the Shipping World.
Let me just say a word or two with regard to that fact; that the complaints poured upon us. Undoubtedly in the shipping
world there was a considerable amount of irritation-I think that perhaps is the right word to use-as the result of the conditions during the war. That irritation was not only on the part of the shipowners who had been greatly interfered with, but it was also on the part of the shipper associations, the producers in various parts of the Empire, who found that they had not the facilities that they would have liked for sending their produce over the seas; or that they had to pay too highly, as they thought, for the services of shipping; and in addition, of course, there were also Government complaints against shipowners. But at any rate there was a state of irritation, and my colleagues and I felt that under all the circumstances we could not do better than to turn our attention to the allaying of that irritation which we felt to have certain elements of danger in it. The chief shipowning community of the Empire is the United Kingdom-there are other owners of ships obviously-but a very large proportion of the shipowning interest is resident here. On the other hand, the Dominions and India, and in equal degree proportionately to their size, also the Colonies and Protectorates have this in common, that they are all dependent on exports; we here are dependent on the export of our coal and manufactures, and obviously producers of primary products over the seas are equally dependent in their different ways.
Therefore as between the producers in large portions of the Empire and the shipowning interests in this country such irritation as there was took on a geographical aspect. It tended also to become, if I may venture to say so, political, that is to say, the producer in New Zealand or in Australia or in any other part of the Empire, feeling he had a grievance against the shipowners, sought to influence the politics of his own region, and the shipowners were thrown on to the defensive and sought help at this end. That in itself was obviously a most undesirable condition of affairs. It did not make for friendship within the Empire and might in conceivable circumstances ripen into a condition of things which one would not like to contemplate. We laid ourselves out then to try and smooth down these differences.
Bills of Lading.
The first great complaint that came before us we reported on to the last Imperial Conference, but inasmuch as there have been. further developments since that time, and since developments are in progress at this moment in regard to it, I must mention it very shortly; and that is the question of shipowners' liability under bills of lading. That, of course, was a very old question, but it became acute after the war on account of the prevalence of pilferage. No one quite knew who was to blame; everyone said the other man. If you went to a shipowner he said the pilferage is at the docks, if you went to the docks they said it is on the railway. Wherever you went it was elusive and therefore the question of the shipowners' liability under bills of lading became urgent.
The Practice at Common Law.
May I just remind the Conference very shortly of the points at issue? Under the British Common Law the shipowner, as a common carrier, is liable for the goods entrusted to him for conveyance, but under the same Common Law he is free to contract himself out of his liability, and the practice had arisen of so contracting himself out by endorsing in various ways the bill of lading. The result had been that there was a dispute involving at least four different sets of people. The shipowner naturally wished to eliminate liability as much as possible. The banker who had to deal with bills of exchange supported by bills of lading naturally wished to be able to handle the bill of lading, knowing without examining it too closely what its contents must be. He did not wish to have to examine every bill of lading to find out what had been written into it-I won't say capriciously-but with great variety. The merchant, of course, and the producer wished to have the maximum protection and wished to have recourse against all the people they could, including the shipowner. Finally the underwriter, in view of the amount of pilferage that was going on, wished to make the servants of the shipowner more careful and to impose upon them a responsibility. The whole position, of course, was complicated by the fact that the practice of endorsement, being customary in the United Kingdom, was at variance with the law in the United States and within the Empire in both Canada and Australia.
We went to work, and we determined in the end unanimously to recommend that the shipowner should not be free to contract himself out of his liability, and we recommended that throughout the Empire the Canadian Act should be accepted as the model and that we should try to have a similar condition of affairs right through the Empire. I may say incidentally that we sounded shipping interests outside. We appealed to their patriotism. Naturally they did not much like the change that we proposed, but those interests that we consulted agreed that they would not oppose, provided there were certain safeguards inserted, and we arrived at a unanimous compromise on that subject. Our Report was published, having been sent to the various Prime Ministers, and was accepted by the last Imperial Conference. The whole Empire therefore, by the Resolution at that Conference, undertook to legislate in the same direction, but immediately after that Conference a movement took place to internationalise the practice which was to be established within the Empire.
The Hague Rules.
Meetings were held and a series of rules known as the Hague Rules were passed, and maritime countries were asked to legislate to make the Hague Rules the law in their several jurisdictions. Then, Sir, there arose an agitation on the part of shippers, of a certain number of shippers in this country, who asked to have the Imperial Shipping Committee's Report translated into law rather than the Hague Rules, their point being that our compromise had
given greater security to the shipper as against the shipowner than the Hague Rules.
The Amended Rules.
Further discussions took place, and the Hague Rules were modified, and on behalf of my colleagues on the Imperial Shipping Committee I have to say that we considered the modified Rules, and, if our opinion is desired, we think that they carry out the intention of the Report which was presented by us unanimously and endorsed by the last Imperial Conference. There is this further fact, that the shipowners and shippers as represented by their different Associations are agreed internationally on this matter, with very few exceptions. Only within the last ten days a meeting has been held, I think it was in Brussels, and I understand that the differences arenow so small that it is almost certain that on the basis of the amended Hague Rules you will be able to get a world-wide common practice in this matter of vital importance to the commercial world.
A Bill has been introduced into the House of Lords here; was referred to a Joint Committee of the two Houses; has been unanimously endorsed by that Joint Committee; and if this Conference is willing to accept as equivalent to what was adopted at the last Conference, the Hague Rules as now modified and as scheduled in the Bill before the British Parliament, then I imagine that Bill will be pressed forward; and the hope of those of us who have been busy with it for the last three years is that it may now be accepted as a model Bill, and that we may see legislation with a view to uniformity in the Empire, we hope by way of an example to other nations, and in the end throughout the world. That, Sir, is all I have to say on that subject.
The Form of the Bill of Lading.
There were other questions in regard to bills of lading and one especially that has attracted considerable attention. It is in connection with what is known as the "received for shipment" bill of lading. The normal bill of lading states that goods have been shipped. It accompanies the bill of exchange and the banker negotiates the bill of exchange on the basis of the bill of lading and the producer is able to obtain his money while the goods are on the high seas.
There are certain inconveniences occasionally attaching to giving a "shipped bill of lading." You may have goods lodged in the warehouse of the shipowning company for shipment at the earliest practicable date, and the producer in some cases wants to get his money before the goods have actually been put on board ship. A practice arose of giving a "received for shipment" bill of lading. The bankers were very insistent that every bill of lading should state facts-should state no more than the truth. If the goods had been shipped, it must say so, but if they had only been received for shipment, it must not say they have been shipped; otherwise, faith in the value of the document will be lost.
Two questions came before us in regard to "received for shipment bills of lading. The first came from the Far East, from the shippers and merchants interested in the trade of Singapore and Hong Kong, and there I presided as chairman of the Imperial Shipping Committee over a conference, and we were able to arrive at a modus vivendi, the essence of which was that there should be two forms of bill of lading: the one should say "shipped" and should be printed wholly in black, and the other might say "received for shipment "-those words being printed in red. The bankers would then know at a glance what type of document they were dealing with.
The other difficulty arose in regard to New Zealand. James Allen brought before the Imperial Shipping Committee certain difficulties, and it was arranged that, again acting as chairman of the Committee, I should preside at a conference at which were present bankers, shipowners and the representatives of the New Zealand producers of wool. We were again able to arrange a compromise, the details of which I need not go into, on conditions which were accepted by the bankers, and the result was that the producers were able to touch their money without undue delay.
The question of Deferred Rebates.
Now, Sir, the next great question that came before us had regard to deferred rebates-again an old stager. A Royal Commission had sat upon this question as a result of difficulties which had arisen early in the century with regard to South Africa. It sat, if I remember rightly, for some two or three years. It produced a majority Report, a minority Report, and a Report of a single member, which last was a very weighty document. The recommendations have practically not been acted upon. Royal Commission was very useful to us, as its records shortened our proceedings, but to all intents and purposes nothing came from the Report of the Royal Commission. As in the case of the bill of lading question, so in the case of deferred rebates, there was a certain acuteness in the dispute immediately after the war. That was due to the fact of Government ownership of merchant shipping.. The question came before us in the first instance, and mainly, on a representation from the Australian Commonwealth Government. There was a quarrel-I think we may to-day, now that peace has been arrived at, use that expression-there was a quarrel between the Commonwealth Government Line and the Australian Conference of Steamship Lines. That quarrel, of course, involved a great many points, but the matter as brought before us turned. on the question of deferred rebates. The Australian Government Line could not give rebates-it was forbidden to do so by Commonwealth legislation. The Australian Conference of Shipping Lines stuck tenaciously to its practice of giving rebates, on the outward voyage, of course, but inasmuch as the round voyage is the unit of shipping, that had its repercussion on the homeward trade.