HC Deb 12 March 1838 vol 41 cc758-65
Mr. Poulett Thomson

moved the second reading of the Fishguard Harbour Bill. As it was quite a new proceeding for a person in his situation to bring in a private Bill at the expense of the Government, he would state the grounds on which he, acting on behalf of the trade of the country, and on behalf of the Government, had introduced this measure. With the circumstances relating to Fishguard Harbour the House was already acquainted. A Bill for the improvement of the harbour of Fishguard had passed the Legislature last Session. Late in the autumn his attention had been called to its provisions by the shipowners of the country, and certainly a more extraordinary Bill he had never read. There was a clause in the Bill by which the limits of the harbour were pointed out, and those limits were described to be certain points on the coast of Wales on the one hand, and the Irish coast, extending to the port of Wexford on the other. By one of the schedules annexed to the Act it was provided that every foreign vessel passing within those limits should pay a toll of 3d. per ton, and every British vessel 2d.; so that it was clear, that every vessel passing up the Irish Channel would be subject to this tax. There was another schedule to the Act, which subjected all goods, of whatever description, landed within the limits of the harbour, to the payment of a certain harbour duty; and he was informed that under the operation of this part of the Act all goods which were landed on any part of the Welsh coast, or on any part of the Irish coast within the limits assigned to the harbour by the Act, even within the port of Wexford itself, would have to pay a duty. He must remark, that no blame could attach to the Government for permitting such a Bill as this to pass, as Government had no opportunity of examining all the details of private Bills. In justice, however, to the promoters of that measure, he must repeat their statement, that early in the Session a copy of the Bill was forwarded to the Admiralty, another to the Custom-house, and another to the Trinity-house. They stated also that the Admiralty had made an amendment in one of the clauses, and the Trinity-house two amendments in the Bill. But he would observe that the Admiralty made amendments in bills solely with a reference to their own jurisdiction, the Trinity-house solely with reference to lights, and the Custom-house to the question of duties. No copy of the Bill had, however, been sent to the department over which he presided, although that department was most affected by its operation, and although, if the attention of that department had been particularly called to the Bill, it would at once have taken it into consideration. But even if a copy of the Bill had been sent to his department, it would not alter the case, and he was surprised that the parties, knowing as they must have known the objections entertained by the House against a passing-toll—knowing also that he had declared that the Government would never sanction such a charge—he was surprised, he repeated, that the Gentlemen who had the conduct of the Bill had not thought it right to call his attention or the attention of the Government to it. He considered their conduct the more strange, as two of the directors of the company were Members of Parliament. He owned, therefore, that he did not think that the case was one in which the House was called upon to exercise any peculiar forbearance, and he had, in consequence, brought in the present Bill to repeal the clause relating to these tolls simply and entirely. If the parties chose to prosecute their Bill, and make it appear to a Committee that they ought to have a right to levy some toll, let them do so, but he thought that in the meanwhile it was only right to save the trade of the country from the heaven burden to which it would be subjected if the clause to which he objected were allowed to remain law. One word as to the allegation that the company having incurred a great expenditure, ought to be protected. The Bill received the Royal assent on the 15th of July last, and on the 7th of September following an advertisement appeared, stating that the arrangements of the company under the Act of Parliament were now completed, and calling on the shareholders for the first instalment of 1l. per share. This warranted him in saying that the company could not have incurred any great expense. Upon the grounds he had stated, therefore, he now moved the second reading of the Fishguard Harbour Bill.

Sir R. Philipps

considered that it would not be fair to the parties who had embarked their capital in this undertaking to repeal this clause, and he therefore moved that the Bill be read that day six months.

Sir J. Owen

, in seconding the amendment, observed, that it would be a most extraordinary course to pass an Act one Session and repeal it the next. A considerable sum of money, notwithstanding what the right hon. Gentleman had said, had been invested by the Company on the faith of this Act of Parliament, and it would be most unjust to take away their property by means of the Bill which the right hon. Gentleman had now introduced. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to think, that parties interested in private bills were bound to submit a copy to the consideration of his department. He, on the contrary, would say, that right hon. Gentlemen who held office, and as he presumed received compensation for their labours in the public service ought to look into those Bills themselves. In former times and under former Governments, a law officer of the Crown, who was called the Attorney-General's devil, inspected all Bills that passed through the House. [Mr. P. Thomson: All public Bills—not private Bills.] Well, but surely this had the effect of a public Bill, and therefore ought to have been examined by the Government. He would ask the House, admitting that a toll was levied, whether there were no advantages gained in return? Was not this a great harbour of refuge, and ought not the shipping of the country to pay for protection afforded to them at a great outlay? He need not press this point further, and he should only say, that he cordially supported the amendment.

Sir J. Graham

said, that if the Bill which passed last Session were now under discussion, he should be as much opposed to a passing-toll as any Member in the House. He thought, however, that the course which had been taken was somewhat unprecedented. For the first time in his life he found himself opposed to a Cabinet Minister, backed by the whole weight and influence of the Government, fighting on a private Bill. The Bill which received the sanction of the Legislature last Session was one which passed through all the ordinary forms by which their proceedings were guarded, and yet, after creating a corporate body, and endowing them with all the rights and privileges of a corporation, the House was now called upon to rescind the contract to which they had set their seal, and to revoke the authority which had been delegated to them by Parliament. Every proper notice had been given by the parties to the public departments, and, independent of the alterations made by the Admiralty and the Trinity House, it was evident that the Treasury had made an admendment in the Bill, as there was a clause by which a power was given to the Commissioners of the Treasury to reduce the passing-toll with reference to foreign ships, and an agent of the Commissioners was authorised to see that the work was properly executed. He was informed also that the Bill was sent also to the Board of Trade, and that a copy of the Bill was now in that House, with annotations marked upon it which had been made by the Board of Trade. The Bill was sent up to the other House in the month of May; and having been carefully examined there, it received several amendments, which rendered it necessary that it should be brought down to the House of Commons again. It was accordingly brought down in July. The Bill, he would observe, had, during the course of last Session, received the sanction and support of the Irish Members of that House, Fishguard being only at a distance of forty-five miles from the Irish coast, and in the preamble of the Bill it was declared to be a "harbour of great importance, and well adapted for a harbour of refuge." The importance of the undertaking being thus established, he called on the House to consider the gross injustice of this procedure. The directors had a local interest in the progress of the work—an interest much greater than the amount of their instalments; and a majority of these directors were empowered by law to compel all the remaining subscribers to pay up the amount of their subscriptions, the generality of those subscribers being, he would observe, the great capitalists of London. And, although this compulsory power on the part of the directors remain untouched, the House was proceeding, by Act of Parliament, to withdraw from the subscribers all possible chance of remuneration. A more gross act of injustice he had never heard of. He was authorised to state, on the part of a number of subscribers, that if the Bill were withdrawn for the present, they were quite ready to enter into an amicable consideration of this question—to modify, if so required, to the utmost extent that was reasonable, the Bill of last Session, to retrench from it all that was extravagant in its provisions, and subject the whole matter to a sufficient control on the part of Government. The only thing which the subscribers desired was, that they might be secured a fair and moderate amount of remuneration for the amount of capital employed by them in this undertaking. For his part, he would say, that he had never heard of anything more unjust than the absolute and unconditional repeal of the passing-toll clause, by which the subscribers would be deprived of all chance of remuneration.

Mr. Alderman Thompson

hoped the House would not adopt the recommendation of the right hon. Baronet. He had said that great injustice would be done to those capitalists who had embarked their money in this undertaking. In looking into the Bill he found that a second call could not be made in less than six months after the preceding one; consequently, had all the company obeyed the call, but 1l. per share could have been subscribed, and the probability was, after the notice given by the President of the Board of Trade, that the powers given to this corporation by the Act of last Session were inexpedient and unjust, that these parties would not have proceeded to expend the money already paid. The Bill had passed the House through inadvertence; because, after two Bills of a similar nature relating to Scarborough and Bridlington had been rejected, could it be supposed that if the attention of the House had been directed to this Bill it would have been passed? It had been stated by the hon. Member for Carnarvon that Fishguard was a harbour. That he denied, for it was only a roadstead; and if the House permitted this Bill to remain on the statute-book it would form a precedent for every insignificant fishing town in the principality of Wales establishing a harbour, and on this principle, that the parties should not be accountable as to the mode in which the monies collected should be expended. There was no provision for the reduction of tolls. The question for the consideration of the House was whether the parties had made out a case to justify the House in allowing them to tax every ship passing up St. George's Channel, and to declare that the port of Wexford formed part and parcel of Fishguard harbour He admitted that the precedent might be inconvenient, but it was quite impossible for them to allow such an Act to remain on the statute book. As an individual representing a large shipping community he felt himself much indebted to the right hon. Gentleman for coming forward with the present measure.

Sir G. Strickland

observed, that the principle was against passing-tolls, and therefore, he would support the Bill. He contended that the right hon. Gentleman was fully justified in bringing it forward, as the Bill was not a private one, but one of a public nature, which materially affected the interests of a large class of her Majesty's subjects.

Mr. H. Hinde

observed, that the only argument of the right hon. Baronet (the Member for Pembroke) against the Bill was, that it was unprecedented. Now he (Mr. Hinde) would instance the case of the Glasgow Lottery Bill, by which extravagant powers were conferred upon a company, and which was subsequently repealed. That would show, that the present course was not without precedent.

Mr. A. Chapman

considered the Act that had passed during the last session so atrocious that the House ought not to hesitate a moment to pass the right hon. Gentleman's Bill for the repeal of the passing-toll clause.

Mr. O'Connell

could assure the right hon. Baronet opposite that he had been misled with respect to the statement made at a meeting of Irish Members relative to the Bill. There had been a meeting with respect to a railroad to join the harbour, at which there had been mention made of the harbour, but if they had known that tolls were to be inflicted upon ships they would have risen in a moment, and thrown overboard railroad, harbour, and all.

Viscount Sandon

would give the Bill his warmest support. It was impossible that Parliament knowingly could give its sanction to a Bill imposing such a heavy tax upon the shipping interests without there being the slightest prospect of any benefit to be derived by that interest from the harbour in question. He thought, however, that a Committee should be appointed to inquire into the amount of money which had been expended upon the faith of the clause in question, in order to that being repaid out of the public funds.

Sir F. Trench

cordially supported the Bill. He considered the former Bill, which this was intended to repeal, as one of the most unjust and extravagant jobs which had ever come before the House, and he took blame to himself for not being aware of the unjust provisions of the Bill when it was before the House, and called hon. Members' attention to it.

Lord G. Somerset

wished to know from the right hon. Gentleman something more of the real merits of the case. He should like to know whether the Government would give its sanction to a case of compensation to those parties being brought before the House, because they had advanced sums of money on the faith of that Act of Parliament being passed? Upon the answer which he might receive would depend his vote, because he thought justice ought to be done to those parties.

Mr. P. Thomson

did not think, that the parties to the Bill had done their duty when they neglected to send a copy of the Bill to the Board of Trade. He was willing, however, to admit, that there appeared to be some degree of hardship in the case, and if there was any question of compensation, that might be discussed in the Committee, but he thought it would be very difficult to make out a case which would warrant the House to grant money.

The House divided on the original Motion—Ayes 181: Noes 20; Majority 161.

List of the AYES.
Aglionby, Major Campbell, Sir J.
Alsager, Captain Canning, rt. hn. Sir S.
Anson, hon. Colonel Castlereagh, Visct.
Archbold, R. Cayley, E. S.
Bagge, W. Chapman, A.
Baines, E. Clay, W.
Ball, N. Collins, W.
Bannerman, A. Colquhoun, J. C.
Baring, hon. F. Courtenay, P.
Barnard, E. G. Crawford, W.
Barry, G. S. Dalmeny, Lord
Bateson, Sir R. Denistoun, W. J.
Bell, M. Divett, E.
Bentinck, Lord G. Douglas, Sir C. E.
Bethell, R. Duff, J.
Bewes, T. Duke, Sir J.
Blackburne, I. Dunbar, G.
Blennerhassett, A. Duncombe, T.
Blunt, Sir C. Duncombe, hon. A.
Bradshaw, J. Dundas, C. W. D.
Broadley, H. Ebrington, Viscount
Brocklehurst, J. Ellice, E.
Brodie, W. B. Euston, Earl of
Brotherton, J. Evans, G.
Browne, R. D. Evans, W.
Brownrigg, S. Fazakerley, J. N.
Burr, H. Fielden, J.
Burroughes, H. N. Fellowes, E.
Busfield, W. Fergusson, Sir R.
Butler, hon. Colonel Ferguson, Sir R. A.
Byng, G. Ferguson, R.
Byng, rt. hon. G. S. Filmer, Sir E.
Callaghan, D. Finch, F.
Fitzalan, Lord Parrott, J.
Fleetwood, P. H. Patten, J. W.
Fort, J. Pease, J.
French, F. Philpotts, I.
Freshfield, J. W. Pigot, R.
Gordon, R. Planta, right hon. J.
Gore, O. W. Price, Sir R.
Greene, T. Price, R.
Grey, Sir C. E. Redington, T. N.
Grimsditch, T. Rice, rt. hon. T. S.
Halford, H. Rich, H.
Hastie, A. Roche, E. B.
Hayes, Sir E. Rolleston, L.
Hilsborough, Earl of Salwey, Colonel
Hinde, J. H. Sandon, Viscount
Hobhouse, rt. hn. Sir J. Sanford, E. A.
Hodges, T. L. Scholefield, J.
Hodgson, F. Seale, Colonel
Holmes, hon. W. A. C. Seymour, Lord
Horsman, E. Sharpe, General
Houldsworth, T. Slaney, R. A.
Howick, Viscount Smith, hon. R.
Hughes, W. B. Smyth, Sir. G. H.
Hume, J. Somerset, Lord G.
Irton, S. Somerville, Sir W. M.
Irving, J. Speirs, A.
James, W. Spencer, hon. F.
James, Sir W. C. Standish, C.
Jones, T. Stanley, E. J.
Kinnaird, hon. A. F. Stanley, E.
Lambton, H. Stanley, Lord
Langdale, hon. C. Stanley, W. O.
Langton, W. G. Stuart, R.
Leader, J. T. Stewart, J.
Lefevre, C. S. Strickland, Sir G.
Lennox, Lord G. Sturt, H. C.
Lennox, Lord A. Style, Sir C.
Lister, E. C. Tancred, H. W.
Lushington, C. Thomson, rt. hn. C. P.
Lynch, A. H. Thornley, T.
Mackenzie, W. F. Trench, Sir F.
Mackinnon, W. A. Wakley, T.
Marsland, T. Wallace, R.
Marton, G. Wemyss, J. E.
Master, T. W. C. White, A.
Maunsell, T. P. White, S.
Mildmay, P. St. J. Whitmore, T. C.
Miles, W. Wilberforce, W.
Miles, P. W. S. Wilbraham, G.
Murray, rt. hon. J. A. Wilshere, W.
Nicholl, J. Winnington, T. E.
O'Brien, C. Winnington, H. J.
O'Connell, D. Wood, G. W.
O'Connell, M. J. Wrightson, W, B.
O'Ferrall, R. M. Yates, J. A.
Ord, W.
Palmer, G. TELLERS.
Parker, J. Thompson, Alderman
Parker, R. T. Troubridge, Sir E. T.
List of the NOES.
Calcraft, J. H. Graham, rt. hn. Sir J.
Chandos, Marquess Holmes, W.
Darby, G. Knatchbull, hn. Sir E.
Dowdeswell, W. Litton, E.
Fitzroy, hon. H. Mackenzie, T.
Forbes, W. Mahon, Vicount
Maxwell, H. Trevor, hon. G. R.
Pakington, J. S. Williams, W.
Powell, Colonel
Round, C. G. TELLERS.
Round, J. Jones, J.
Rushbrooke, Colonel Philips, Sir R.
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