HC Deb 21 February 1833 vol 15 cc1067-77
Mr. Hume

said, that he had now a Motion to submit to the House, which was of considerable importance to the whole of the shipping interest of this country—he meant the charges to which they were subjected for the maintenance and expense of Lighthouses on the coast. He (Mr. Hume) had first brought this question under the consideration of the House in the year 1821, when a Committee was appointed, who gave in a Report, in which hon. Members would find the amount of charge stated, to which the shipping interest was subjected on this account. He was bound to say, that since the Report of that Committee was made, much had been done to relieve the shipping interest from this charge; but, as ample details of the improvements recommended would be found in the Report alluded to, he would not trouble the House by repeating them. The complaint which he had now to make, was, that the King's prerogative was grossly abused in renewing leases of lighthouses to private individuals, and for their private benefit. In the Report laid before the House in 1823, relative to the shipping interest, it was recommended that ail lighthouses should be placed under the direction of the Trinity-house, and that no charge should be made for them beyond the exact amount expended for their maintenance; but, notwithstanding that recommendation, the leases of the lighthouse of Dungeness (which was let to Mr. Coke), and those of Harwich and Orfordness, had been renewed since that period on terms which entailed an annual expense of 30,000l. on the shipping interest. That such a scandalous abuse should exist was astonishing, and he thought that the shipping interest should use every endeavour to rid themselves of it. In order to show the extent of the injury, he would read what the Report said on the subject of three of the private lighthouses only. It appeared, that from the Winterton lighthouse—the proceeds of which are divided equally between Lord Braybrooke and the Commissioners of Woods and Forests, and from which Returns had only been given for twenty-one months from the expiration of the old lease—that in these twenty-one months Lord Braybrooke received, after all the expenses of maintaining the lighthouse and keeping up the lights had been paid, 11,000l., and the Commissioners of Woods and Forests a like sum; so that by this light-house alone a tax of 22,000l. was laid on the shipping interest. He had brought the subject before the House in 1823, when several Members had stated their opinions on it; and at that time two Ministers of the Crown pledged themselves, that as the leases of private light-houses fell in they should not be renewed, yet they had been renewed. He considered that this was exercising the King's prerogative to an extent which was contrary to the Constitution, for the King had no right to tax any class of his subjects; and if his Majesty's prerogative could be exercised in this instance to lay a tax on the shipping interest, he (Mr. Hume) saw no reason why it should not be so far stretched as to lay taxes on other classes. The lighthouses of Winterton and Orfordness had yielded to the family of Lord Bray-broke 17,000l. a year for the last twenty-one years; and it was absurd to say, that because that family had enjoyed this revenue for so many years, it should continue to enjoy it. Dungeness yielded a revenue to Mr. Coke of 8,000l. a year, and Harwich 4,000l. There were many other private lighthouses, but he only alluded to those of which the leases had lately expired, and of which the Government promised that the leases should not be renewed. Since the Report of the Committee was made, the recommendation made by them had been acceded to, and the charge levied for those lights had been reduced by one-half; but he (Mr. Hume) was prepared to show that a still greater reduction ought to be made. In the year 1828, the amount levied for light-houses in England by the Trinity-house, was 69,000l., in Scotland 34,000l., and in Ireland 36,000l.; which, with the amount levied for the three private lighthouses which he had already mentioned, came to 169,000l. This was exclusive of other private lighthouses, of which he could not ascertain the revenue, as they did not choose to make any return; but he thought that he was not far wrong in saying, that the whole sum raised on the shipping interest for the support of light-houses, amounted to from 180,000l. to 190,000l. The whole system required revision, and to be placed under different management from what it was at present. The members of the Trinity-house were naval men—he had opportunities of observing them for ten years, and had satisfaction in saying, that he thought they did their duty. The brethren of that institution were composed of West-India and East-India captains, with a mixture of persons connected with trade and shipping, all of whom understood the business to which they were appointed; but what was the case with those who had charge of the lighthouses in Scotland? He held in his hand a list of the Board of Commissioners for the Northern Lighthouses, and he would put it to the House whether they were fitted for the duties connected with that office. The first name on the list was the late Lord Advocate for Scotland, and next came the Solicitor General. The Lord Provost of Edinburgh came next, and then followed the Lord Provost of Glasgow (whom he had the pleasure of seeing opposite to him); the Provosts of Aberdeen and Inverness; and the Sheriffs of Lanark, Argyle, Orkney, &c., all of them lawyers, and without a single naval man among them. He would leave it to the House to say whether these were the most proper persons to manage light-houses. The fact was, that they had a clever engineer to whom the whole management was confided. The idea of trusting such a matter to persons like the Provost of Glasgow, or the Provost of Inverness—or, indeed, any other Provost, was quite preposterous. But if matters were bad in Scotland, they were worse in Ireland. In Dublin there was what was called a Ballast Board, which managed the light-houses, and raised 36,000l. for that purpose. The Board consisted of bankers, magistrates, and persons of all classes, excepting naval men—there was not one naval man in the Ballast Board; yet, to that Board was confided the care of those lighthouses, in which the whole shipping interest was so much concerned. He thought, that on a subject of so much importance, it was the duty of the First Lord of the Admiralty to carry some measure through, which would put it on a proper footing. It was more especially that officer's duty, now when so many complaints were daily made of the distress felt by the shipping interest; but whether that class was distressed or not, he considered that where an annual expense of nearly 200,000l. was incurred on lighthouses alone, it behoved Government not to pass it over without inquiry, and without giving every possible relief to the shipping interest. He (Mr. Hume) was aware, that the subject was fenced with charters, which might be rather difficult to overcome, but he did not think that these would offer an insurmountable obstacle. He had no objection that the Trinity House should have the management of the lighthouses in England, but while Scotch Provosts and lawyers, and Irish bankers and Magistrates had the management of them in their respective countries, he could not expect that they would be properly managed. He hoped, that the House would take the lights from these two bodies, that they would not allow the northern lights to shine under their present auspices, nor the Ballast Board to exercise its jurisdiction in Ireland another year. He admitted, that great improvements had been made since 1823, but still there was room for greater improvement. He repeated, that he thought the King had no prerogative to lay a tax upon the people by means of these lights, or if he had, that he might as well tax any class of his subjects in any other way. There was another point connected with this subject to which he wished to allude. Since the reciprocity system was introduced, by which foreign vessels were exempted from paying lighthouse dues, the Government paid to the private lighthouses all the extra dues which should have been paid by foreign ships but for that arrangement; so that the Government actually paid money out of the public purse to those private lighthouses, over and above the large sums which were paid by the owners of ships in this country, which they ought never to pay. The question was one of greater importance than was supposed, and he hoped that Government would take some measures to have it placed on a proper footing. The hon. Member concluded, by moving for Returns—

"Of the gross and nett revenue collected for lighthouse duties from shipping, and from the consolidated customs for foreign vessels, for each of the lighthouses at Harwich, Dungeness, the Smalls, the Long-ships, and Burnham, in each of the four years, 1828, 1829, 1830, and 1831; stating the appropriation of the nett revenue in each year, to whom paid, the amount to each, and by what authority paid.

"Of the gross and nett revenue collected for lighthouse duties from shipping, and from the consolidated customs for foreign vessels, for each of the lighthouses at Wintertonness, Orfordness, Hunstanston Cliff, county of Norfolk, and at the Northern-South Forelands, and for all other lighthouses in the hands of private individuals, in each year, from 1823 to 1831, both years inclusive; stating the appropriation of the nett revenue in each, to whom paid, the amount to each, and by what authority paid.—Also Returns

"Of the several reductions and alterations of duties of lights, of buoys, of beaconage, and of pilotage, which have been effected subsequently to the year 1822, by the Corporation of Trinity House of Deptford Strond, in relation to these duties payable to that body; showing what purchases of lighthouses on lease have been made by them, the dates when made, and the terms and conditions of the same. Also copies or extracts of correspondence respecting purchases which have not been effected.

"Of the several reductions and alterations of duties of lights which have been effected subsequently to 1822 on lighthouses in the hands of private individuals and public bodies, other than the Trinity House of Deptford Strond, in England. Similar Returns of reductions and alterations of the duties of lights in Scotland since 1832. Similar Returns of reductions and alterations of the duties of lights in Ireland since 1822. Also an Account

"Of all sums of money received by the Corporation of Trinity House of Deptford Strond, as light-money from vessels, between 1st January 1828, and 1st January 1832, in each year, showing the rate of charge under each light; with a separate account of the receipt and expenditure for each particular light; and specifying the particular patent or grant, or Act of Parliament, under which the same has been levied; also, the gross amount in each year of the whole of these light-duties.

"Return of the whole receipt and revenue of the Corporation of Trinity House of Deptford Strond; distinguishing the particular sources from which the same are derived, together with a particular and detailed account of the appropriation, for the year 1831.

"Return, with an abstract account of the gross sum collected for light-duty by the Corporation of Trinity House of Deptford Strond; the gross amount paid by the Corporation as commission for collecting the same; stating the amount of such commission paid to each collector, and the rate per cent paid to him for the collection in the year 1831. Also an account

"Of the gross sum collected for light-dues by the Commissioners of northern lighthouses, the gross amount paid as commission for collecting the same; stating the amount of such commission paid to each collector, and the rate per cent paid to him for the collection in the year 1831."

Mr. Robinson

seconded the Motion. It would be right, he thought, to frame the return so as to ascertain the unexpired terms of existing leases to private individuals. He thought the granting of leases of lighthouses was a most objectionable mode of remunerating those who had, or were thought to have, claims upon the Crown. Foreign nations were induced by our practice to impose a duty upon English shipping; for, as England, for instance, made French vessels pay for the lights upon the English coasts, France naturally retaliated by making English ships pay a lighthouse duty on entering a French port. He believed that, under all governments, the lighthouse system had been made one of gross jobbing, and that great corruption existed with respect to the charges. He trusted that Ministers would now take all these abuses into consideration, and that they would afford the public all the relief possible. He hoped that no more leases of lighthouses would ever be renewed.

Mr. P. Thomson

said, that he did not rise to offer any opposition whatever to the Motion of the hon. member for Middlesex; on the contrary, he was extremely glad that the hon. Member had brought the subject forward. It would be for the House to determine, after the papers were laid on the Table, in what manner it would deal with the question. He could not, however, see that the House could deal with it in the manner suggested by the hon. Member, for he could not think that it was feasible to deal with rights which had been granted to individuals by the Crown in the manner proposed. At the same time he was convinced that similar rights ought never to be conceded in future; and it was most desirable, he admitted, that whatever pressed upon the shipping interests for the benefit of individuals ought to be removed as soon as possible by that House. He should be very happy if it could be shown that any agreement could be entered into, or an equitable system adopted, by which the burthens so justly complained of could be taken off With respect to what the hon. Member had said on the subject of renewing the leases of two lighthouses in favour of two individuals after a strong representation had been made upon the subject, he could only say, that the renewals had not been granted by the administration of which he had the honour to form a part; and he had always maintained that these advantages ought not to have been conceded, but that the lighthouses ought to have been placed under the direction and management of the Trinity House. He could not by any means agree, however, with the hon. member for Worcester, that all governments were inclined to job with those lighthouses, for on the only occasion which had occurred of a lighthouse coming within the control of the present Administration, the First Lord of the Admiralty abandoned not only what he might have claimed, but he conceded to the shipping interest even the benefit of which he was in actual possession. The North and South Foreland lights fell into Greenwich Hospital last year. The right hon. Baronet at the head of the Admiralty had made no claim for a renewal of these leases upon the advantageous terms upon which they had been previously held, and he had abandoned a sum of between five and six thousand a year for the benefit of the shipping interest. He had placed the lights under the control of the Trinity House, and directed that no charges should be made on ships, except what might be found necessary in order to defray the expenses of the lights. He acknowledged that the existing system obliged the Government to pay money to foreigners which it could but ill afford: he meant money beyond the tax imposed on the shipping interests. The Government, however, were now making all the arrangements in its power in order to secure a perfect system of lights for the benefit of the shipping of the country. During the present Session of Parliament, he hoped to be able to submit to the House some plan for the generalization of the subject, by means of bargains to be made with individuals now in possession of these lighthouses.

Sir Robert Peel

did not rise to contest the general principle that had been laid down upon the subject, for his own opinion was, that whatever might be the vested interests of individuals in these lighthouses, it would be better to make a compensation to such persons, and to put the whole of the lights under some public department. He rose, however, for the purpose of replying to the mis-statement that had been made by the hon. member for Worcester, and he most positively denied that there was the slightest ground for the imputation which the hon. Member had cast upon the Administration of which he (Sir R. Peel) had the honour of forming a part. He most positively contradicted the assertion that there had been any desire on the part of the late Administration to convert these lighthouses into a means of jobbing, or to draw from them any advantages whatever. The Duke of Wellington's Administration certainly did renew the leases of two lighthouses in 1828 which had fallen in during that year, and a right to a renewal of which was claimed by two individuals who possessed in them a vested interest To be sure, if the lease had been renewed to persons who sup-ported the Administration in Parliament, or to persons whose support might be calculated upon in consequence of such renewals, then he acknowledged that there might appear a prima facie suspicion of jobbing. But both of the leases had been renewed to a nobleman and to a Member of Parliament, both of whom had always been in habits of the most active opposition to Ministers, and whose characters placed them above all suspicion that any such favours could influence their public conduct. What, then, would become of the suspicion that the renewals had been granted from motives of political jobbing? The two individuals to whom he had alluded were Lord Braybrooke and Mr. Coke, of Norfolk. What object, what motive, but a sense of justice could have influenced Ministers to grant the renewals to two such individuals? Mr. Coke's memorial had stated that the Dungeness lighthouse, the lease of which he wished to be renewed, had originally been built by his relative, the Earl of Thanet, at his own expense and upon his own ground. If, then, the property was his, and it was built upon his own estate, on what principle could the Government take the lighthouse without making an adequate com- pensation to the individual? The leases in this case had been renewed for 150 years, and, whether it was politic or not to renew them, he hoped he had said enough to show that no party interest whatever had in the least influenced the transaction.

Mr. Pease

was extremely glad that the hon. member for Middlesex had brought the subject before the House. He considered it a subject which not only deeply involved the interests of the country, but which still more deeply involved the interests of humanity, and the claims of that highly useful and meritorious class of men in whose welfare all persons must feel the most lively concern. From his local knowledge he was able to say, that in the harbours and coasts of the part of the country with which he was connected, the seamen were exposed to many risks by wanting lights, owing to the expense necessary to be incurred if lighthouses were constructed. The whole system, in his opinion, ought to be put under the control and management of a board of judicious, practical, and experienced persons. It had always appeared to him to be a most extraordinary anomaly that, whilst the highest persons in the State, and humane persons in general, were subscribing fifty or a hundred pounds to different societies, such for instance as the Marine Society, the Society for the Relief of Shipwrecked Seamen, to lifeboats, to Captain Manby's contrivance, and to similar objects, there should be a tax levied by individuals, and under the sanction of the Crown, which was nothing more nor less than a direct hindrance to the preservation of lives in the gross. He hoped that, after the Returns now moved for should be laid on the Table of the House, hon. Members would be able to see their way clearer, and would proceed still further than what had been suggested. Whilst mariners were a class of their fellow-subjects, to whose welfare all possible attention was due, and upon whose safety and interests no care could be ill-bestowed, as their lives and property were exposed for the benefit of others, was it not a strange anomaly that their lives should be placed even in greater jeopardy than was necessary, merely because the lighthouses were to be taxed, in order to raise sums to create a fund for paying seamen's pensions? If these pensions were necessary, let them be raised from other sources. Let there not be one single lighthouse the fewer by raising such funds, although the funds might be really well applied. He did not dispute the propriety of the application, but still he must maintain that to tax lighthouses and to keep down the necessary number for the purpose of raising a pension-fund was at best very bad policy. Upon the ground of humanity, and upon all other grounds, the whole subject was well worthy the attention of the House. He congratulated the House that, notwithstanding the number of new Members, its debates had not been more desultory; he had even been amused, nay, edified, by the debates; and yet he could not help expressing his regret and disappointment at finding that the House had got so far into the Session without coming to any practical result upon any point.

Lord Ebrington

rose to correct a statement made by an hon. Member (Mr. Hume). That hon. Gentleman had stated the annual receipts of Lord Braybrooke, from Winterton and Orfordness, to be 22,000l., besides a large sum received independent of this. He was not aware whence the hon. Member derived this information, but he could state that it was greatly exaggerated. In fact, he could tell the House decidedly that these properties did not produce half that amount. He was far from pretending to advocate the propriety of the grant, though he was confident that the Government who made it had no sinister or improper motives for so doing.

Mr. Hume

said, he would authenticate his statement by reading the return sent in by Lord Braybrooke of the receipts, whence he had derived his information. On the expiration of the former lease, it had been arranged between the Commissioners of Woods and Forests and his Lordship, that after the expenses had been paid, the subsequent profits should be divided between the parties so agreeing. By this return, it appeared that Lord Braybrooke had received 11,877l. for his share of the profits, so that, of course, 23,754l. had been levied in twenty-one months. This sum was a nett amount over and above the expenses.

Lord Ebrington

observed that the hon. Member had stated the receipts at above 22,000l. per annum.

Mr. Hume

said, if so he had made a mistake. When he had before brought this subject under the notice of the House, he had been solemnly assured both by Mr. Harries and Mr. Huskisson, that the leases should not be renewed; nevertheless in spite of an urgent objection made by a Committee from the Trinity house, the leases had been renewed, and the country thereby saddled with a burthen to the amount of 30,000l. a-year.

Mr. G. F. Young

strongly objected to any unnecessary charge upon the British shipping interest, which felt the present tax to be an intolerable grievance. While all the expense of these lighthouses fell upon the merchant service, the Royal Navy experienced all the benefits of them, without, in the least contributing to their maintenance. The Royal Navy should pay their share of the expense. He had been induced more particularly to make these observations, from information he had received that it was in contemplation to erect a new light house at the expense of the merchant service, the sole benefit of which would result to the Royal Navy.

Captain Dundas

said, the hon. Member was much mistaken in his opinion, for he held a letter from an owner of vessels in the merchant service, which highly approved of the project, as being of great importance to the merchant service, and the security of property navigating those parts of the Channel. Indeed, he would leave the question to the hon. Member's father, who was a nautical man of great experience; and who, he was certain, would decide against his son, and say that that light, if erected, must be of great service to mercantile shipping in the Channel.

Sir Edward Codrington

observed, that the lights in proper situations were of great benefit in the service, yet there was a danger of their being multiplied injuriously. It was a great point, and often not attainable, to distinguish one light from another, and in thinking they were off one, when they were off another, they were sure to run into danger.

Returns ordered.