HC Deb 14 August 1833 vol 20 cc595-7

Lord George Bentinck presented a Petition from King's Lynn, against the payment of the Merchant Seamen's Sixpences to Greenwich Hospital.

Lord William Lennox

, in supporting the prayer of the petition, said, that nothing could be more unjust than that a tax should be imposed upon the Merchant Seamen to support a public national institution; he was far from wishing to advocate any measure which would have the effect of injuring the establishment of Greenwich Hospital in any way whatever, or of depriving any seaman suffering from the infirmities incident to old age, or from wounds gained in his Majesty's service, of a home in his old age, and a comfortable establishment in his infirmity; but he thought the country ought to support its own national institutions, and not throw a burthen of twenty thousand pounds a-year upon the shipping interest of the country; for such it really was. The tax was a partial one, and being raised from a few individuals for a national object, became an unjust one. He trusted that his Majesty's Government would early next Session remove this iniquitous tax.

Mr. Hume

expressed his conviction that there was no class more deserving of commiseration than that to which the petitioners belonged. The Merchant Seamen came home frequently destitute, and actually wanting the sixpences which were taken from these poor wretched men to support Greenwich Hospital. The hon. Baronet opposite (Sir James Graham) had hitherto opposed any alteration of the system, but he hoped that the hon. Baronet would see a new light on the subject next Session.

Sir James Graham

took a different view of the subject, because he should think himself criminal if he were to consent to Greenwich Hospital being deprived of that fund for its support; nor could he consider that the tax was so onerous as it had been described; because, when first put on, in the reign of William 3rd, it was at the same amount per month as at present, although the value of money was so much greater then than it was now. He also feared that, if the tax were removed, the seamen themselves would not be benefited by it, but that the advantage would go into the pockets of their employers. He should not be justified in giving up that income for Greenwich Hospital, either now or next Session, unless he were satisfied that the House would be inclined to make good the funds by other means; and under any circumstances, he would assert to the House, that every effort should be continued to reduce as much as possible the cost of the establishment.

Mr. Lyall

had a petition to present on the same subject, and would take the opportunity of stating to the House his opinions upon it. When Greenwich Hospital was originally founded, it was intended for the reception of Merchant Seamen as well as others; but, in the reign of Queen Anne, it was found barely competent to the accommodation of the naval seamen, and it was then confined to them. In consequence of this, in the year 1747, the shipowners and merchants applied to Parliament, for an Act to establish separate Merchant Seamen's Hospitals, and, as a proof that the implied charge against the merchants and shipowners of taking advantage of the seamen was unjust, he would state, that the amounts from time to time levied under that Act, up to December, 1831, was 231,000l., and that the expenditure bad exceeded that income by 13,158l., the deficiency being made up by the merchants and shipowners. He had made inquiry at all the out-ports, as well as at the port of London, and (excepting Swansea, Bristol, and Whitehaven, from whence no returns had been received) he found that the receipts last year, from the 6d. per month levied exclusively for the Merchant Seamen's Hospital, amounted to 8,504l., and the disbursements to 10,350l. From this deficiency, pensions, in particular cases, which used to be 8l. per annum, were reduced to 4l., and the widows, orphans, and other claimants were not assisted as they would be if aU the money raised from Merchant Seamen were appropriated to the distressed and disabled of their class, and to their unprovided widows and orphans.

Lord George Bentinck

read extracts from the original Act, in support of the statement of the hon. member for London. He saw no reason why 24,000l. a-year should not come out of the general revenue of the country on the same principle that his Majesty's Government applied to this House to pay one-fourth the expense of the metropolitan police out of the revenue of the country. It was clear the Merchant Seamen of England would derive the whole benefit of the remission of sixpence per month. They all felt the great advantage of the sixpence per month being contributed to the other fund, which was an excellent society, and they all prayed that that sixpence per month might be transferred from Greenwich Hospital to the Merchant Seamen's fund. He, for one—and he believed there were a great many other hon. Members in the House who would do the same—would stand by his Majesty's Ministers, and support them in the next Session of Parliament, if they would come down and charge that 24,000l. a-year which was now contributed towards Greenwich Hospital by the merchant seamen, on the general resources of the country.

Petition to lie on the Table.

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