HC Deb 02 May 1839 vol 47 cc734-7
Mr. E. Rice rose,

pursuant to the notice he had given, to move an address for an inquiry into the state of the Harbours on the South-eastern coast. The question was one which had met the approbation of all the distinguished naval officers in and out of that House with whom he had conversed. It was the more necessary that our south-eastern harbours should be placed in a fit and safe state for the reception of vessels, as we were about to have a greatly increased intercourse with the continent. A line of rail-road from London to Dover had received the sanction of the Legislature, and was now in a state of considerable forwardness; and a line of railroad from Calais and Boulogne to Paris had received the sanction of the French Chambers. When these were completed, it was natural to expect a vast increase of intercourse between London and Paris, and other parts of the Continent. Under these circumstances, the condition of our south-eastern harbours was a matter of considerable importance. He did not wish by his motion to pledge the Government to any outlay of money; all he wanted at present was, an examination of the condition of those harbours by scientific men. He had brought forward this motion as the representative of a port where the necessity of such improvement was greatly felt.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

did not wish to throw any difficulty in the way of the hon. Member's proposition. It was highly important that both Government and Parliament should have the best information that skill and science could give on this subject; but he wished it to be distinctly understood to what extent he was willing to go, because, if undue expectations were excited respecting this inquiry, and if it were thought that Government would expend large sums of money in obtaining information respecting these harbours, the result would be to paralyse all private and local efforts for effecting the object in contemplation. In consenting, therefore, to this inquiry, he wished it to be clearly understood that it was only so far that he would go, and no further. The first point was to consider the present state of the harbours, and the next would be to consider the best mode of improving them; the latter, however, would depend upon local questions; and the greatest good that could be done was to give the persons locally connected with them the best information that could be obtained.

Mr. Alderman Thompson

thought, that this was a great national subject of inquiry, and wished to know why the proposed inquiry should not be extended further. The north-eastern coast was, as to navigation, much more dangerous than the south-eastern, and he should, therefore, move, that after the words "south-eastern coast" in the original motion, the words "and north-eastern coast" be added.

Sir E. Codrington

said, he had risen before to second the original motion, but had given way to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The difference between the original motion and the amendment in his opinion was this—that if war arose, it was in the narrow seas more especially, that harbours of refuge were required, because, in the present state of steam navigation, steamers could run over very rapidly. To call upon the Government, therefore, to go into an inquiry as to any other part of the coast than the south-eastern, was, as he thought, unnecessary at the present time.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that if the amendment were carried, every portion of the coast would be a proper subject for inquiry. It would be much better, and he would put it to the hon. Member opposite, to allow the inquiry first proposed to be completed, and, when the result of that was known, then to consider the necessity of extending it. He should, therefore, oppose the amendment, more especially as the hon. and gallant Member behind him had shown a difference between that and the original motion, from the circumstance of refuge harbours being more required in the narrow seas in case of war than in any other part.

Mr. Planta

considered it most important that inquiry should be made into the present state of our harbours. He happened to be living on the very coast respecting the state of which inquiry was now proposed, and during the last autumn not less than six ships had been wrecked because there was no refuge port for them to put into between Dungeness and Beachy Head. He might, if necessary, also quote the opinion of the illustrious Warden of the Cinque Ports in favour of inquiry into this subject, and thought that it was more satisfactory that Government should make this inquiry than to leave it to a committee. The present motion, if it were carried, would produce great practical good, and he was delighted to find, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had at once so fairly, and he might say so cordially, given to it his assent. With respect to the amendment, he would say, with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, "let this inquiry he gone into first, and when the result was known, then extend it further, if necessary."

Mr. A. White

considered this an important inquiry, and that it must be advantageous, but thought the north-eastern coast equally well deserving of consideration, and he therefore hoped the Chancellor of the Exchequer would agree to the amendment.

The Solicitor-General

said, that in case the amendment was adopted, he should certainly propose to extend it to the south western coast.

Mr. F. Hodgson,

if that were proposed, should be most happy to support it, as one part of the coast ought not to be favoured over others.

Mr. Darby

said, that upon the coast referred to in the original motion, this question bad been considered of vast importance, and he felt great obligation to the hon. Member opposite for bringing it forward, and to the Chancellor of the Exchequer for so readily acceding to it. He hoped, however, that his hon. Friend near him (Mr. Alderman Thompson), and also the Solicitor-General, would not press their amendment, as there was a great difference, on account of the narrow seas, between the south-eastern coast and any other part.

Sir T. Troubridge

was most anxious that the House should come to a decision, and he must thank the hon. Member for having brought it forward, and the Chan- cellor of the Exchequer for having seconded it. He thought there was a great necessity for inquiry as to the state of the harbours on the south-eastern coast, and he hoped the House would throw no impediment in the way; but if the amendment were carried, the inquiry might as well be extended to all the coasts of England, Scotland and Ireland.

Mr. Pease

thought the House was taking too light and superficial a view respecting the north-eastern coast; for there were twenty vessels passing along that coast for every one that went down the Channel. The south-eastern coast in a great measure relied upon the aid of Government, whilst the north-eastern coast had depended on its own private resources, and had expended thousands, he might say millions, in making the harbours efficient. He agreed, therefore, with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that Government interference should only be carried to a certain extent, and not so far as to do away with the exertions of individuals locally connected with the parts of the coast inquired into. At the same time, if the amendment were lost, he hoped the Government would consider the state of the harbours on the north-eastern coast as well as on the south-eastern.

Amendment withdrawn, original motion agreed to.