HC Deb 21 May 1834 vol 23 cc1146-57
Mr. Lyall

moved the Order of the Day for the second reading of the Merchant Seamen's Widows' Bill. He regretted, that a measure of such interest and magnitude should not have fallen into more able hands than his; and he would state, that the great object which he had in view was to transfer the 6d. per month now payable out of the wages of Merchant Seamen to the chest of Greenwich Hospital, to the Merchant Seamen's Institution. He proposed that, on the ground that it was most unjust to tax a small and helpless class of the community for an object that ought to be provided for by the nation. But if they were to be so taxed, they would have a right to the relief which that Hospital afforded, though that was now denied to them. When Greenwich Hospital was first established, the original intention, he believed, was, that every seaman, whether of the King's or of the merchant service, who paid his contribution to Greenwich Hospital, should be entitled to relief from that institution. This original intention, however, had been swerved from, and the result was, that whilst the seamen of the merchant service contributed each his 6d. per month to the chest of Greenwich Hospital, and whilst they were liable to be pressed into the King's service, they were excluded from any benefit from this institution. It was true, if a merchant seaman was impressed, and received a wound in the King's service, he had a pension or smart from the chest at Greenwich, but then he had that advantage as a seaman in the King's service, and not as a merchant seaman. As a proof that merchant seamen were most zealously excluded from benefit from the Greenwich chest, the hon. Member read a case in which a merchant seaman had lost his hand by the bursting of a gun; he being at the time acting under the direc- tion of a King's officer, the captain of a frigate, for the protection of British property in Jamaica, he had been disabled for life, and yet had been refused any benefit from the Greenwich chest. He had understood, indeed, from the right hon. Bayonet, the First Lord of the Admiralty, that a man having been in the merchant service, and being engaged in that of the King even for one day, became entitled to relief from Greenwich Hospital. Such, he had understood to be the case, but he could not find it stated in the regulations. The hon. Member read extracts from the Acts 7 and 8 William 3rd, and 1 and 2 Queen Anne, which stated the grounds upon which this fund was created, &c. In prosecuting this measure, he wished to declare distinctly, that his object was not to abstract one shilling from the objects of the Hospital. He did not wish to deduct 20,000l. from the Hospital without an equivalent; and he felt sure that, even the hon. member for Middlesex, rigid as he was in his ideas of economy, would sanction the measure, the second reading of which he had moved. This was the general feeling of those persons whom he had conversed with on this subject. Now, as he proposed to transfer the 6d. per month, at present paid out of the wages of merchant seamen to Greenwich Hospital, to the Merchant Seamen's Fund for the relief of widows of men who should die in the service, become disabled, &c., he thought he was bound to show, whether the institution in which he proposed to vest these sums was of a description to afford sufficient guarantee of its being a safe and proper channel through which to grant this relief. This institution was founded in the year 1742, when it was incorporated. For a long period it had been conducted under the management chiefly of the merchants, shipowners, and others of the city of London; and he much doubted whether there was a single charge incurred by this institution in conducting its business, beyond those for an office, the secretary's salary, and apartments. With regard to the offices of the Committeemen and Treasurer, their services were rendered gratuitously. He did not, however, wish to create any opinion founded upon his own feelings and impressions, and would, therefore, read the Act under which the institution was first founded. The hon. Gentleman having done this, declared that there could not exist an institution more unobjectionable than that of the Merchant Seamen's. It appeared from various statements referred to by the hon. Gentleman, we believe at Bristol, London, and other ports, that the relief which had been afforded, taking different periods, far exceeded the contributions received from the seamen. He begged to assure the right hon. Gentleman, that the sole object which he had in view was, to benefit the merchant seamen generally, and he hoped the House would entertain, with favour, a question in which 120,000 were deeply concerned. Another proposition contained in the Bill was, to enable the payment of all wages due to merchant seamen, and to receive which there were no parties authorised, to make such wages payable to the Merchant Seamen's Society. The hon. Member concluded by moving, that the Bill be read a second time.

Mr. Hult

seconded the Motion. He wished, particularly, to call the attention of the House, and more particularly that of the right hon. Gentleman (Sir J. Graham) at the head of the Admiralty, to the improvident manner in which the large estates belonging to Greenwich Hospital were disposed of. He was glad to find, that the right hon. Baronet had not attempted any of his former grounds of defence, and that the Motion was now resisted on the single ground of the deficiency consenting to the Bill, would create in the funds of Greenwich. The right hon. Gentleman had admitted, that an extravagant expenditure, to a large amount, had taken place in that establishment; and with economy, therefore, the 20,000l. might be spared. He gave his cordial assent to the second reading of the Bill.

Sir James Graham

begged to assure the House, that he had considered this question with the greatest anxiety, as he was most anxious to afford every assistance to the shipping interest, which, he was ready to admit, laboured under considerable depression at the present moment. But, after the most serious attention which he had been able to give to the subject, he was bound to say (and in doing so he expressed also the opinions of his colleagues) that it was his duty to resist the second reading of the Bill. The hon. Member, who seconded the Motion, had mentioned what he had said in a private conversation with the hon. Member. [Mr. Hutt said, it was not in a private conversation.] It did not, perhaps, much matter whether it was or was not in a private conversation, but he was led to imagine such conversations as that alluded to, to be of a private nature. But be that as it might, he denied having ever made the assertion, that no less than one hundred and twenty thousand pounds of the money belonging to Greenwich Hospital had been jobbed away. He might, perhaps, have stated, that an improvident purchase had been made of property at Greenwich, with money belonging to the Hospital. But he had never charged his predecessors with a prodigal expenditure of that money, or with any thing like jobbing. It had been said, that the whole of the matter under discussion might be set at rest, and the object of the Bill attained, by making up the deficiency which it would cause from the Consolidated Fund. But, until the House came to such a decision (which he did not expect they would), he never could consent to take from the Hospital one-seventh of its annual revenue. The sum proposed to he taken away would amount to 22,000l.; which sum, if the Motion were carried, must be thrown upon the Consolidated Fund. He was of opinion, that the burthen, if such it was, at present rested where it ought to rest, because the merchant seamen who contributed to make up that sum were all likely to benefit by it in the long run. The hon. Baronet adverted to the Acts of the 7th and 8th William 3rd, and went on to observe, that here he would make use of the arguments of the hon. Member not in support of, but in opposition to, the Motion. The great object at that time, was to hold out an inducement to seafaring men to enter the King's service. He did not pretend to deny, that those who did not enter his Majesty's service were made liable to the tax, but it was part of the policy of the time to induce them by that liability to enter the service. The hon. Member, in introducing the subject, had made use of specious arguments, instead of placing it before the House in a true light. He had told them, that this Bill would afford relief to the merchant seamen. He joined issue with the hon. Member on that point, but denied his conclusion. The bill would give relief, not to the merchant seamen, but to the shipowners; for if the sixpence were to be remitted to-morrow, a corresponding reduction would be made in the wages of the men. But, taking it as a direct measure for the relief of the seamen, it imposed a tax upon those seamen. At present, merchant seamen paid sixpence a-month to the Merchant Seamen's Hospital, and sixpence a-month to Greenwich Hospital By the operation of the hon. Member's Bill, they were made to pay a shilling a-month to the Merchant Seamen's Hospital. They would, therefore, not be benefited by the fraction of a farthing. Now, certainly, if the merchant seamen were relieved from the payment to Greenwich Hospital, it ought to be left to them to say whether they would pay the 6d. a month, which they had been accustomed to pay to that institution, to the Merchant Seamen's Hospital. The whole sum paid by the merchant seamen to Greenwich Hospital was 22,000l. a-year, and it must be remembered, that that sum was paid only when they were in full employment, and in active service. It was not true, that the merchant seamen did not receive any benefit from the sixpences which they paid to Greenwich Hospital. Of the 2,700 pensioners on Greenwich Hospital, 1,180 had served in the merchant service; 300 of them had served from thirty to fifty years each in the merchant service; and of the whole 1,180 who had served in the merchant service, the average rate of that service had been thirteen years. It was in the merchant service that they had been employed in the flower of their youth, and when they were most efficient; and it not unfrequently happened, that soon after entering the king's service, in consequence of rheumatism, or some other disease contracted in the merchant service, they were invalided, and obtained Greenwich Hospital. The measure which he (Sir James Graham) had introduced into the House for the registration of seamen, would, in his opinion, be attended with the most beneficial effects. It held out two inducements to merchant seamen to enter the King's service. In the first place, it provided that every seaman who produced certificates of good conduct, should be entitled to two tickets, admitting him, in the event of illness or accident, into any King's hospital in any part of the world. In the second place, it provided, that the merchant seaman should have a direct, not an indirect, interest in Greenwich Hospital; for it enacted, that if he should lose a limb, or suffer any equivalent injury in the merchant service, he should be admitted into Greenwich Hospital. This, he thought, would supersede the necessity of the hon. Member's Bill. It had been asked, why the 6d. per month had been continued to be taken from those who had only an indirect interest in the fund, while it was discontinued upon those who had a direct in- terest in it. His answer was, that it was held out as an inducement to enter the navy. It was said, that the revenues of Greenwich Hospital were sufficient to bear this reduction. The fact was, that 14,000l. had been remitted to the merchant service, which the Hospital used to receive from light-houses. The sum remitted on the North Foreland lights was no less than 9,000l. a-year. A reduction of 17,000l. a-year in the expenditure had taken place in Greenwich Hospital since he had taken office, notwithstanding which, the income of the Hospital was only 3,000l. beyond the ordinary expenditure. The income was 140,000l. a-year, and the expenditure upwards of 136,000l. a-year; and he believed that the House would not think a margin of between 3,000l. and 4,000l. on such an expenditure too much. If, however, the proposed Bill were carried, there would be no alternative but that of applying to his noble friend (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) to make up the deficiency of 22,000l. from the Consolidated Fund. Notwithstanding the able manner in which the hon. member for London had supported the Bill, he could not assent to it until he saw how an equivalent for the one-seventh of the fund of the Hospital was to be made up. He must, therefore, oppose the Bill.

Mr. Alderman Thompson

thought it a hardship to impose this tax upon the most helpless, and, he might almost say, the most improvident, set of men, the merchant-seamen of this country. The right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Graham) had admitted, that the shipping interest was in a distressed state, and, therefore, supposing that they were to derive advantage from this Bill, it would be pro tanto a relief. But it would afford relief not to the shipowners, but the seamen. Besides, if those men were relieved from the tax of 6d. per month to a fund from which they expected no benefit, they would willingly volunteer to make up 1s. per month to the Merchant Seamen's Hospital. The right hon. Baronet contended, that the merchant seamen at present derived an advantage from Greenwich Hospital, but it was only the few who went into the King's service. The right hon. Baronet had also referred to a Bill of his, giving them the right to relief in the King's hospitals, when abroad, but, in fact, they had already that right; at least, such was the practice, though it might be difficult to find the Act of Parliament warranting it. Upwards of 900l. a-year was taken from the port of Sunderland alone by the tax, and he hoped this Bill would pass without any injury to Greenwich Hospital.

Dr. Lushington

admitted, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was bound to reduce the general taxation of the country to the lowest possible amount; but he did not think that the existing mode of raising the sum of 22,000l. for Greenwich Hospital equitable. His right hon. friend had said, that the payment of 6d. out of the wages of the merchant seamen was not a tax on the seamen themselves, but on the shipowners. If this argument were pushed to its full extent, it would be found that the shipowner did not pay the tax; it was the merchant, in the shape of an increased charge for freight, and eventually the consumer, who was obliged, in consequence, to pay more for the goods he purchased than he otherwise need do. Why, then, was this circuitous mode adopted, of taking the money out of the people's pockets? Why was it not at once taken out of the Consolidated Fund? His right hon. friend had opposed the Bill, on the ground that it would interfere with his plan to put an end to the system—the diabolical system, he (Dr. Lushington) must beg leave to call it—of impressment. His answer to that statement was, that the nation had no right to compel any portion of the King's subjects to perform services which it might obtain willingly by offering a fair remuneration; and he knew no object for which the people of this country ought more readily to pay their money, on the principles of interest and justice, than that of preserving the navy in an efficient state. His right hon. friend had said, that the merchant seamen derived advantage from Greenwich Hospital, and thought that if they were relieved from the payment of money to that Hospital, they should not be called on to subscribe to any other institution. The benefit, however, which they received from Greenwich Hospital was very partial, and not at all commensurate with the sums paid on their behalf; and with respect to the proposition of transferring the sixpenny payment to the Merchant Seamen's Hospital, he saw nothing unjust in it, because those who subscribed to that institution would exclusively derive advantage from it. For these reasons, he should vote for the second reading of the Bill under discussion.

Mr. George Frederick Young

contended, that the right hon. Baronet had entirely failed in his argument against the proposition of his hon. friend, the member for the City of London. As to the Act of William 3rd, on which the right hon. Baronet had so strongly relied, he (Mr. Young) maintained, that the Act was an unjust one, and that it was the duty of this House to redress the wrong committed under its sanction. It had been frequently admitted by many members of his Majesty's Government, that the unpopularity of a tax was always a valid reason for repealing it; and he would assure them, that with the merchant service this tax was obnoxious in the extreme, and therefore, on their own admitted principles, ought to be revised. Had it been a proper opportunity he should have presented a petition, signed by 2,000 seamen of North Shields, in which they prayed the House to relieve them from a tax which they stated to be most obnoxious to their feelings and inimical to their interests. The right hon. Gentleman said, that the repeal asked for would not be a boon to the seamen, inasmuch as they would pay the same amount to their own hospital. So much the better if they did—in that they had a substantial interest, whilst in Greenwich Hospital they had no interest at all. The other night the right hon. Gentleman, in his Civil Pensions' Bill, brought forward clauses which compelled the individuals affected by it to make some provision for the necessities of old age; and yet he met a proposition, which might have the effect of inducing the most improvident class in the world to provide for the future, in a totally different spirit. In the Bill to which the right hon. Gentleman had made allusion, though he certainly had not closely examined its provisions, he believed the privilege proposed to be given to the merchant sailors, in reference to Greenwich Hospital, was of a very narrow character—that it did not confer a title, but merely allowed them to be admissible. [Sir James Graham: It puts them precisely on the same footing as the King's seamen]. What, however, according to the arguments of the right hon. Gentleman, would be the situation of the seafaring men of England, in case of a war? For, according to him, the funds were barely sufficient for present expenses, and the outlay must necessarily be tremendously increased by the casualties consequent on hostilities. In case of a war, the claimants for succour and relief would be much augmented; and how would their prayer be met? By the answer, that the funds of Greenwich Hospital were already sufficiently bur- thened—that they were not equal to any greater pressure. Why, these claimants would at once be provided for out of the common funds of the State; and any Government would form a very erroneous idea—he would not say of the sympathies of that House, but of its sense of justice—which supposed there would be a moment's hesitation in voting whatever was just and right for such a purpose. He believed this impost on the merchant seamen had its origin in injustice, and that the House would not do its duty if it did not at once repeal it.

Mr. Poulett Thomson

had come down to the House for the purpose of advocating the continuance of this payment, knowing that it was absolutely necessary for the support of the Hospital; but to his surprise he found, that there was no question as to subtracting the sum actually from the funds, but that the point urged was merely that this 22,000l. should not be taken from that identical interest which had hitherto been burthened with it. And glad was he to observe the tone of virtuous indignation with which the promoters of the Bill then before the House scouted the bare mention of a proposition for cutting off such an amount from one of the noblest of our institutions. Not one farthing did they wish to deduct from its means. So far, then, the question was satisfactory enough, but then it came to the point of arrangement between that House and his noble friend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He really thought, that hon. Gentlemen opposite were, to say the least, premature in their proceedings, in proposing the actual lopping-off of 22,000l. of income, without being prepared with a substitute. True, several of the advocates of abolition had expressed themselves willing to consent to a vote in a Committee of Supply equivalent to the amount of the sum which would be deducted, and for that he gave them credit; but still it would not induce him to consent to the Bill, which went much beyond the principle of reduction, inasmuch as it allocated this very amount of 22,000l. now paid to Greenwich Hospital to the Merchant Seamen's Hospital. But it was said, that the merchant seamen were not benefited by the payments they made—that they never had anything in return. [Mr. Lyall: Not as merchant seamen, certainly.] Why, what quibbling on words was that, after the statement of his right hon. friend, that even one day's service in his Majesty's navy gave a man a title to Greenwich Hospital! He really had very strong doubts in his own mind whether the merchant seamen would look on the abolition of the tax as any boon at all. If they liked to belong to the Merchant Seamen's Hospital, well and good; but he certainly was not in favour of forcing them. If the present plan were to be abandoned, in his opinion the most advisable course would be, to relieve the sailors at once from any payment whatever. Another objection he had to the Bill, was one in point of time, as he wished to see the Bill passed and in operation which had been introduced by his right hon. friend, and which gave the merchant seamen a title to the benefits of Greenwich Hospital before being called upon to assent to this measure. This, however, was thought by many to be of no great benefit to them. Was it no benefit, that by this Bill a merchant, seaman, if in sickness, might at any port abroad where his Majesty had an hospital, demand succour and relief as his right? By agreeing to the Bill, the House would not only not relieve the merchant seamen from the amount now paid by them, but, what was worse, it might defeat those efforts to mitigate that which they all so naturally and so strongly disliked—the compulsory impressment of British sailors. He hoped, therefore, that the House would pause before assenting to the present measure.

Mr. Ewart

could not see any reason for discussing the question longer when so little of argument was brought against the Bill. It would prove equally advantageous to the merchant and the seaman, and, being founded in right and justice, should have his heartiest support.

Sir Matthew White Ridley

said, a promise had been held out, that the sixpenny payment would not be insisted on, whenever the expenditure of Greenwich Hospital should be sufficiently diminished, and its revenue derived from estates sufficiently increased to enable the hospital to do without it. The time had at length arrived, he thought, for carrying that promise into effect, and, looking to the condition of the hospital funds, he saw no reason for opposing the Motion of his hon. friend, the member for the City of London. The seamen of the town (Newcastle) which he had the honour to represent paid 2,000l. a-year to the Greenwich fund, and they paid 1,800l. to their own fund. Now, would it not he an immense advantage to those men to have this 2,000l. a-year paid to increase the fund in which they had so direct an interest, rather than give it to an hospital in which they had no interest? Under these circumstances, he hoped the Bill would be allowed to go to the Committee, when any part of it which might be deemed objectionable could be modified.

Mr. Patrick Stewart

would support the second reading of the Bill, on the grounds that it would not create any material loss to Greenwich Hospital, and it would be an immense advantage to the merchant seamen. The funds of Greenwich were from 120,000l. to 130,000l. a-year, and that, he thought, was more than ample for 2,700 men. Why not do with Greenwich as with Chelsea—let the grant for it come annually before Parliament. We should then know the exact state of the funds provided for it.

Sir James Graham

said, that considerable sums had been given up by Greenwich Hospital, amounting to nearly 20,000l. which it used to receive as dues for certain beacon lights.

Lord Sandon

said, the question was, whether the merchant seamen should pay this tax for their own benefit, or for that of Greenwich Hospital. He considered it a hardship on the merchant seamen to be called upon to contribute to a fund in which they had no interest, or at best so remote an interest that they could not comprehend it. There was abundant evidence to show, that seamen would much rather pay this sum to an hospital fund from which they were sure to derive an immediate benefit.

Lord Althorp

said, that the proposition before the House was simply this—to take 20,000l. from Greenwich Hospital and give it to the Hospital for Merchant Seamen, and then to supply the deficiency thus created to Greenwich Hospital by a charge on the Consolidated Fund. Now, would it not be a more simple and easy way at once to propose a charge of that amount from the Consolidated Fund for the merchant seamen? If such a proposition should be made, he was not prepared to consent to it. He was required day after day by hon. Members to reduce taxation, some wanting the remission of one tax and some of another. But how could the House expect him to consent to the remission of taxation, while it burthened the Consolidated Fund by fresh charges such as this Bill would create? Let the House recollect, that this Bill did not propose to relieve the merchant seamen from any deduction now made from their pay; it only gave a different application to what they paid. The merchant seamen had an indirect interest in Greenwich Hospital. On the whole he saw no case made out for the Bill, and he would, therefore, oppose it, and he hoped that the House would not consent to make this deduction from the funds of Greenwich Hospital until some provision was made to replace it.

Mr. Lyall

, in reply, said, it could not be denied that the merchant seamen were called upon to contribute to a fund from which they obtained, as merchant seamen, no relief, while they were not allowed to contribute to a fund which they knew held out a prospect of relief to themselves or their families. As a proof of the benefits which might be derived from a merchant seaman's fund, he might mention a fact which he had heard since he came into that House—that, in the course of the last winter, 430 claims had been made on the Seamen's Widows' Fund, at Newcastle, in consequence of wrecks on our coast.

The House divided: Ayes 94; Noes 57—Majority 37.

The Bill was read a second time.

List of the AYES.
Aglionby, H. A. Guest, J. J.
Anson, Hon. G. Gully, J.
Attwood, T. Halcomb, J.
Attwood, M. Halford, H.
Baines, E. Hall, B.
Barnard, E. G. Hardy, J.
Beauclerk, Major Harland, W. C.
Bell, M. Hill, M. D.
Bentinck, Lord G. Hodgson, J.
Bernal, R. Hutt, W.
Bethell, R. Ingham, R.
Blackburn, J. James, W.
Blake, M. J. Jervis, J.
Brocklehurst, J. Johnstone, Sir J.
Brotherton, J. Lister, E. C.
Buckingham, J. S. Lushington, Dr.
Byng, Sir John Marjoribanks, S.
Callaghan, D. Marryatt, J.
Cayley, Sir G. O'Connell, D.
Cayley, E. S. O'Reilly, W.
Chapman, A. Parrott, J.
Chaytor, Sir W. Pease, J.
Copeland, Alderman Philpotts, J.
Curteis, H. B. Plumptre, J. P.
Duncombe, W. Poulter, J.
Ewart, W. Ridley, Sir W.
Ewing, J. Rippon, C.
Faithfull, G. Robinson, G. R.
Fenton, J. Roche, W.
Fielding, J. Roebuck, J. A.
Fleetwood, H. Rolfe, R. M.
Gaskell, D. Romilly, E.
Grote, G. Romilly, J.
Rotch, B. Vincent, Sir F.
Rumbold, C. E. Vivian, J. H.
Ruthven, E. Walker, C. A.
Sandon, Lord Wason, R.
Scholefield, J. Whalley, Sir S.
Stewart, P. M. Wilks, John
Strutt, E. Williams, Colonel
Thicknesse, R. Yelverton, Hon. W.
Thompson, Alderman Young, G. F.
Trelawney, W. L. S. TELLERS.
Trowbridge, Sir E. Lyall, G.
Tullamore, Lord Thompson, Alderman
Turner, W. PAIRED OFF.
Tyrell, C. Wigney, N.
Vigors, N. A.
Back to