HC Deb 12 July 1836 vol 35 cc139-49

The House went into Committee on the Lighthouses' Bill.

Clauses 1 to 40 were agreed to.

Upon Clause 41 being proposed,

Mr. Warburton

objected to it. He thought that the Ballast Board of Dublin, the Commissioners of Northern Lights, and the Trinity House, ought all to be placed under the control of a Central Board, that Board being under the superintendence of the Admiralty. His second objection was, that the Trinity Board was to have a control over the other Boards as to the mode in which the lights were to be used. He remarked that the members of the Trinity-board received 6,000l. a-year in salaries, while the members of the Ballast Board in Dublin and the Commissioners of the Northern Lights acted gratuitously. He did not know why the members of one Board were to be paid 300l. a-year each, while the others did not receive or seek for any payment for their services. He did not know why the members of the Trinity Board should not be under the superintendence of the Commissioners of Northern Lights, as the latter be under the control of the former. It was his opinion that the past conduct of the Trinity House Board was not such as to entitle it to the exercise of the increased powers proposed to be conferred on it by this Bill. He objected also to the constitution of the Board, in which there were no scientific men, no naval captains—that it was a Board self-elected, and consisting exclusively of the captains of merchant vessels. In proof of the soundness of his objections, he read a letter from one of the Commissioners of the Northern Lights, showing the inattention of the Board to the establishment of lighthouses, subsequently erected by other Boards, and the difficulty of inducing them to adopt improvements in the mode of lighting. He proposed as an amendment, that all the words after the word "that" be struck out of the clause, for the purpose of introducing an amendment.

Mr. Poulett Thomson

said, that the object of the amendment was to put an end to the powers now possessed by the Trinity House. The Trinity House, however, enjoyed certain powers over the whole lighthouses of the kingdom nearly. Those rights they held under various Charters and Acts of Parliament; and his hon. Friend would deprive that body of the powers which they had exercised, he must be permitted to say, so properly and advantageously for the country; and he sought not merely to alter the Bill, the object of which was to give the Trinity House Corporation additional powers, but he, at the same time, suggested various grievances, as against the constitution of the Trinity Board. Now he would ask whether the plan which had been suggested, would afford a remedy for those grievances. His hon. Friend complained of the constitution of the Board, of the salaries of its officers, and of the whole conduct of the Trinity House; and he had said that from their past conduct he was not inclined to vest further powers in that body. The redress which his hon. Friend proposed, would not remedy the defects in its constitution; but he would have another Board for the supervision of that of the Trinity House. Now the supervision of the Admiralty would not change the constitution of the Board. If his hon. Friend had referred to the Report of the Committee, which sat on this subject in the year 1822, he would have found that they recommended that the Trinity House should be continued in possession of the powers which were confided to it. That Select Committee recommended, that the general public lights should be placed under the Trinity House. This was more than the present Bill meant to do. The question of substituting the authority of the Admiralty, was one which was discussed before that Committee, who came to the decision, without a division, that the Trinity Board was the best Board to which those interests should be deputed. Surely, then, it would be absurd, after the two solemn inquiries into the subject, to make the alteration proposed by his hon. Friend; because (he supposed) some party who had invented some supposed improvement in lighting lighthouses had not exactly succeeded. But let it be remarked that the Trinity House was a Corporation, incorporated by ancient charters, and if they took from them their property, they must make them compensation, so that no saving of expense would accrue to the country. He was not in favour of self-elected bodies, but he believed there was less inclination to jobbing in the nomination of their officers, than there would be if the powers of the Trinity House were vested in other hands. He had besides a very strong opinion upon another point. He approved most entirely of the rules of the Corporation of the Trinity House, that the masters of merchant vessels should be chosen for the officers of that body. He thought it a good and wise principle, to hold out to those men that sort of station in order that hereafter, we should have a better description of persons of that class; for he had in many instances found that, on commercial matters, these masters were lower in the scale, as to information, than they ought to be in this country, or than the same men were in America. He should be sorry, he repeated, to see the composition of the Trinity Board altered, it being the only office of trust open to, or, he should rather say, exclusively open for the captains of merchant vessels. If they were to admit officers of the navy, for instance, great interest might be made by the Admiralty or some other power, for Captain A. or Captain B., and he thought it better they should have as Members of their Board, hard-working, practical men. Since the Report of 1822, the Corporation had considerably reduced the dues in several instances, and they had always evinced the greatest readiness to carry out any practical suggestions of improvements; and, when his hon. Friend complained of certain pensions granted by the Corporation not having been abolished, he must say that they ought not to be discontinued. When the hon. Gentleman spoke of the two lighthouses which had been erected on the Isle of Man by the Commissioners of Northern Lights, he must observe that the question was, not how many lighthouses might have been put up by particular bodies, but it was, whether the coast in which they were placed was sufficiently lighted.

Mr. Cutlar Fergusson

was understood to say, that as to the Board of Northern Lights, there never was a more irresponsible body; it was composed chiefly of lawyers of Edinburgh, men who, from the very nature of their profession, were, and must be, incompetent to carry on the important trust committed to their charge, though he believed they had generally acted with great zeal, and with the most perfect disinterestedness. They had, however, never once called to their Councils, any of the Sheriffs of the maritime counties. The petition which he had presented on a former occasion prayed, that every Sheriff of the maritime counties should be a member of this Board. The hon. and learned Member stated the fact that, along the coast of Kirkcudbright, there had been lost, in the course of the last thirty years, no less than sixty-six ships, many of them with the crews, he believed almost in every case for want of a lighthouse on the island of Little Ross. On the whole coast, there was one harbour of refuge to the mouth of the Dec. There was a roadstead, (and he vouched for the truth of his statement,) sufficient for fifty or sixty vessels to ride at anchor at low water, and wait for the tide, and sail up to the bay of Kirkcudbright. All these petitioners asked was, that a lighthouse should be erected, which would not cost more than 1,200l. He approved of the general principle of this Bill, but thought that the Scotch Board required revision.

Mr. George F. Young

confirmed the statement made by the right hon. the President of the Board of Trade with reference to the good management of the Trinity House. He (Mr. Young) did not defend the self-elected constitution of that Board; but the Committee had decided, that no better constitution could upon the whole be devised by them, and the hon. Member for Brid-port had not favoured the House with any plan on this subject. He cordially concurred with the right hon. Gentleman, the President of the Board of Trade, in the importance of confining the Board to merchant seamen officers. He was, moreover, perfectly certain that the constitution of that Board was every day improving. He objected to any proposal for interference on the part of the Crown, recollecting under what circumstances four lights had been renewed some years ago, to which he would not trust himself to refer further. The Trinity Board had not the power to erect a light except upon application from those connected with maritime commerce. He thought it would be impossible to have the business of lighthouses in better hands than in those of the corporation of the Trinity House. He thought commerce would derive great benefit from the passing of this Bill.

Sir Edward Codrington

did not think it fair that naval officers should not be allowed to take their seats on this lighthouse Board. It was true they were excluded by the resolution of the Committee; but there was a compromise which included that resolution. He (Sir E. Codrington) agreed that the constitution of the Trinity Board might be so far right, that a majority of its members should be merchant seamen. But he must say, that in his opinion masters, lieutenants, captains, &c, in the navy were as able to decide where buoys and lights might be most properly placed, as any merchant officers. Indeed, more so; for it was much more their profession than it was that of gentlemen in the merchant service. He considered the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, the President of the Board of Trade, as a very mercantile speech altogether, [laughter,] and as advocating exclusive sentiments not worthy of his station and character.

Mr. Robinson

thought the only question for the House to decide was, whether under the Bill proposed by the Government, the object proposed to be attained —a good system of lighting, would be better attained than under the amendment of the hon. Member for Bridport. And with all the respect which he (Mr. Robinson) entertained for that hon. Member's scientific knowledge, he felt himself compelled to say, that he must support, not his proposal, but the Bill as framed by the Government. The hon. Member for Bridport had argued this question as though all the lights in the country were to be placed under the absolute control of the Trinity Board. That was not the fact. The Ballast Board of Ireland, and the Commissioners of Northern Lights in Scotland, were to suggest where they consider new lights may be advantageously placed, or in what manner alterations may be effected in the old ones, and it was only provided that they should not have the power of either erecting or altering until the Trinity Board's concurrence had been given. That was in his opinion a very wise provision; but then let it be remembered, that it was combined with an appeal to the Privy Council; and thus you would have first, the local experience of the two Boards he bad mentioned; then the practical know- ledge and scientific assistance of the Trinity Board, and lastly an appeal to the King in Council. This was not the proper time to discuss the merits of the constitution of the Trinity Board, but he agreed with the right hon. President of the Board of Trade, that it was of great advantage to the public, that the members of the Board were composed of mercantile marine officers; and considering the great importance to the commerce of the country that that marine should be stimulated to improvement by the hopes of advancement, he (Mr. Robinson) would not consent to take away from them the only prize to which they could now aspire.

Sir Robert Peel

said, the Committee, consisting of forty-seven Members, only seven of whom were what were called Conservative, had reported unanimously in favour of the present constitution of the Trinity Board. The question had been asked why the lighthouses were not given over to the charge of the Admiralty? he would reply by referring to the case of France, where the first act of the Convention was to put the lighthouses under the department of the marine, an arrangement, however, which had very soon been practically abandoned. He begged to refer to the Report of the Committee, to show that the Trinity Board had proceeded with regularity in the improvement of the system under their superintendence; and he must express his conviction, that if any new schemes could be devised for its further improvement, and for the further introduction of economy into it, there was no public department which would be found more inclined to adopt them, if practicable, than that Board. He could not conceive a greater encouragement to the mercantile marine of the country than to give to its members, on their retirement from that service, these distinctions. But he did not rest his defence of the constitution of the Trinity Board on that narrow ground, but on this higher ground, that it was on the whole the best authority to which the management of lighthouses could be committed. Lieutenant Drummond, in his evidence before the Select Committee, declared, that in every case of experiment the business was conducted in the fairest and most agreeable manner, and with every facility to the parties engaged. He did not think that there would be a higher testimony in favour of the Trinity Board than that afforded by this gentleman. This gentleman, however, suggested for the im- provement of the Board, that it should consist of four persons, namely, an optician, the hydographer to the Admiralty, a chemist, and the President of the Board of Trade. Now he (Sir R. Peel) did not think that a Board so constituted would either be as efficient or as agreeable as that which at present existed. He did not wish to underrate the value of the services of scientific men in matters of this kind, but he was of opinion that it would be found a much more efficient plan to offer rewards to them for the discovery of such improvements as might from time to time be wanted, than to place them permanently upon a Board of this kind. He was certainly an honorary member of the Trinity Board, and he might, perhaps, on that account, be suspected of being prejudiced upon the subject; but he must say, that, apart from every consideration of the kind, he thought he had found, in the evidence before the Committee on this subject, the strongest grounds for confirming their report.

Mr. Hawes

said, the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Tamworth, had not touched the proposition of the hon. Member for Bridport; but had confined himself to the constitution of the Trinity Board. It was no part of the proposition of the hon. Member to alter that constitution. The hon. Member for Tamworth indeed said, he did not approve of the Board being self-elected. But the hon. Member for Bridport only said, "I do not wish to alter the constitution of the Board at all: I leave it as it is—I leave it in possession of all the "collateral advantages" of which the right hon. Baronet opposite spoke." All the objections, then, to that proposition, which had been urged on the ground of any alteration in the constitution of the Board, fell to the ground. The real question was, how would the public service be best conducted? And certainly, looking back to the past, he (Mr. Hawes) did not think the Trinity Board entitled to unmixed praise. All that the hon. Member for Bridport proposed was, to place this and the two other Boards under the super intendance of the Admiralty. No arguments had been urged against that proposal, and he (Mr. Hawes) should support it to a division.

Mr. Aaron Chapman

said, the amendment of the hon. Member for Bridport went to take away from the Trinity Board its duties; and as a Member of the Legislature, he (Mr. Chapman) objected to such a proposition: he contended, that the acts of no public body should be brought upon the table of that House. He supported this Bill, as being calculated to promote the benefit of the mercantile interest. In his opinion, it was utterly impossible for the Admiralty Board to transact the business intended to be committed to the Trinity Board, unless the Admiralty were to neglect the business which properly belonged to it.

Mr. Wallace

supported the proposition of the hon. Member for Bridport, on the ground that it was not expedient to place such a degree of control as that which was proposed in the hands of a self-elected Board like that of the Trinity Board.

Mr. Ewart

supported the proposition of the hon. Member for Bridport, on the ground that it would bring the lighthouses of the country under the control of a body which would be subject to greater responsibility than at present existed. It was idle to suppose, that a body such as the Trinity Board constituted out of the House, having no representatives in the House, could be so responsible as the Admiralty. He did not see that there was any force whatever in the argument of the hon. Member for Whitby, that the Board of Admiralty could not attend to the business of the Trinity Board without neglecting its own. Surely, the Board of Admiralty might superintend and supervise the business in the same way as the Home Department exercised a control over departments the particular business of which was not conducted by it.

Sir J. Graham

bore his testimony to the perfect satisfaction given by the mode in which business was conducted between the Admiralty Board, and the Trinity Board. He gave his cordial assent to the measure.

Mr. Hume

said, that it was perfectly true that he concurred in the Report which had been made by the Committee which sat upon this subject; because, when he found it impossible to carry his proposition for placing the three Boards under one body, which should be under the control of the Admiralty Board, and through the latter responsible to that House, he consented to the power given to the Trinity Board, after the Deputy master had come forward in an open and unconstrained manner, and declared the intention of the body to have some alterations in its constitution, which he, for one, considered essentially necessary. Whilst, therefore, he agreed in the principles on which his hon. Friend's proposition was founded, and expressed his conviction of its being ulti- mately successful, he trusted that his hon. Friend would not divide the Committee upon it, particularly when he bore in mind that the present Bill went some way in correcting the abuses which arose from the existence of private lighthouses.

Sir Charles Adam

was clearly of opinion, that the principle of centralization which this Bill was framed to enforce was necessary; but he could not see the propriety of placing under the control of the Admiralty establishments which were supported by a tax on the maritime community.

Sir L. Parry

bore his testimony to the satisfaction given at present in his country (Wales we suppose), at the manner in which the lighting at least was conducted under the Trinity Board.

Mr. Warburton

felt bound to press his proposal to a division.

The Committee divided on the original Clause: Ayes 68; Noes 7;—Majority 6l.

List of the AYES—Not Official.
Thomson, C. P. Estcourt
Sibthorpe, Col. Neeld, J.
Philips, Mark Baines
Parker, M. Knox
Wood, C. Graham, Sir J.
Adam, Admiral Sandon, Lord
Lushington, Dr. Peel, Sir R.
Hobhouse, Sir John Inglis, Sir R.
Hastie Chapman, A.
Chichester Young, G. F.
Russell, Lord Charles Pechell, Captain
Kearsley Rushbrooke, Colonel
Baldwin, Dr. Price, Grove
D'Eyncourt Barry, Colonel
Potter Dick, Quintin
Pringle Fielden, W.
Thornely Reid, Sir John R.
Fergusson, C. Forster
Sharpe, General Maule, F.
Pryme Wodehouse
Jervis Fitzgerald
Brocklehurst Hamilton
Blamire, W. Alsager, Captain
Poulter Plunket
Lambton Fremantle, Sir T.
Russell, Lord John Praed, W.
Grey, Sir G. French
Tancred O'Ferrall, M.
Smith, Vernon Humphery, J.
Donkin, Sir R.
Barnard TELLER.
Pusey, P. Labouchere
Hawes Hume
Wallace Thompson, Colonel
Bowring, Dr. TELLER.
Ewart Warburton.

The remaining clauses of the Bill were agreed to.

Mr. Hume moved the addition of a clause to put an end to the granting of further pensions by the Trinity Board. This clause he proposed in pursuance of the recommendation of the Select Committee, the Members of which very properly thought, that the moneys collected as light dues should not be applied in supporting the pension-list of the Trinity House.

On the question that the clause be read a second time,

Mr. Poulett Thomson

said, that all the information which he had been able to obtain upon the subject induced and justified him in opposing the clause proposed by the hon. Member for Middlesex. There had been no complaint whatever made by the shipping interest against the payment of the pensions in question, nor was there the slightest suspicion of any favoritism or misapplication of the money. The number of persons who benefitted by these pensions was 8,557, and the aggregate amount of the pensions was only 23,000l. It would be extremely harsh and ungenerous to deprive the individuals in question, many of them widows and orphans, of the small relief thus afforded them.

Mr. Wallace

objected, not to the charity, but to the manner in which the money was raised. If the hon. Member for Middlesex divided, he would, as a matter of principle, divide with him.

Mr. Aaron Chapman

concurred in the opinions which had been expressed by the President of the Board of Trade.

Mr. George F. Young

called the attention of Members to the charter of the Trinity House, by which it appeared that they were authorised and directed to distribute their surplus in the charitable manner they did at present. He referred to the late manifestation of opinion at Greenock, on a question that arose in favour of those pensions, and also to the unanimous approbation declared at the town which he represented (North Shields), which, in commercial importance, was entitled to great consideration, as equal to Liverpool, and only inferior to London.

Mr. Hume

objected to these pensions being paid out of the shipping rates. He knew a parish in Yorkshire from which a single ship had never sailed, and where, notwithstanding, there were ninety-five pensioners, he had no objection that private individuals should subscribe to this purpose if they chose to do so. All he asked was, that they should act on the recommendation of the Committee of 1824.

The Committee divided: Ayes 10; Noes 85;—Majority 75.

List of the AYES.—(Not Official)
Buckingham, J. S. Wakley, T.
Chichester, J. P. B. Wallace, R.
Ewart, W. Warburton, H.
Lambton, H. Williams, W.
Potter, R. TELLER.
Scholefield, J. Hume, J.

The House resumed. The Report to be received.