HC Deb 18 March 1841 vol 57 cc337-48
Mr. E. R. Rice

said, that it might be in the recollection of hon. Members that two years ago a commission had been appointed to examine the harbours on the south-eastern coast, in consequence of an address which he bad had the honour to move in that House. After a survey of the coast the commissioners made their report in May, 1840, since which no steps had been taken in the matter. He assured hon. Gentlemen that in now moving for the appointment of a committee to consider that report, he wished, as far as possible, to divest himself of every consideration of a local nature, and to view the question, as he hoped the House, and ultimately the Government, would do, as one of great national importance materially affecting the honour and the security of this empire. When he first urged an inquiry, he was told that his proposal was too limited, and that it ought to be extended to other ports on the coast of this country; but he recollected very well that, in answer to this objection, it was stated by a gallant Officer, then Member for Devonport, that it was desirable to limit the inquiry, not because there was no necessity for the survey of other ports, but because in the narrow sea of the British channel, in consequence of the application of steam navigation, this country was most assailable. He would not, in support of his own views, quote any opinions, because a consideration of all the opinions was the object for which he sought the appointment of a committee. Every friend of humanity and of civilization must hope that peace would be long preserved, but he could not forget that the present French government, to which we were greatly indebted for the preservation of peace, had declared that a defensive policy, for the purpose of preventing foreign aggression, was the best means of preserving peace. Such was the distinct avowal pf M. Guizot, who said that "what we do, and what Germany is doing, is with the view of preserving peace; when it becomes a duty to tranquillize both France and Europe, we must perform it by showing that we are opposed alike to the spirit of conquest and to the violation of our own territory;" and he (Mr. Rice) thought that those principles might be fairly adopted by this country. Yet whilst thus we were totally neglecting our own harbours, the French were actively engaged in improving theirs. A sum had been voted of no less than 5,600,000l., the expenditure of which was to be extended over a period of ten years; for the improvement of the French harbours in the years 1837, 1838, and 1839, the sum of 2,600,000l. was Toted, and in the year 1839, the Cherburg breakwater was nearly completed, 500 men being constantly employed upon it, and there were also 300 men employed in the improvement of the harbour at Dieppe. It was, too, a subject of great regret, and of just complaint, that our own harbours of refuge answered very imperfectly the object for which they were intended; the loss of life and of property was very considerable, and the subject required the most attentive consideration. Indeed, it was not too much to say that the present state of our harbours was a matter of national reproach, for when foreigners visited this country they naturally expected to find our harbours in some measure proportionate to our naval and commercial greatness; yet they found that our harbours were fit for little more than coasting vessels. On the south-eastern coast especially large sums of money were expended during the last war for other modes of defence, but very little was spent upon the harbours. Mr. Pitt, indeed, did entertain some extensive design, and if he had lived it might have been carried into effect, but nothing had really been done. The fault was, perhaps, to be ascribed to the fact that there was no permanent board in this country whose business it was to consider and recommend to the attention of her Majesty's Government such objects as they might really think of national importance. There was only one other objection that could be urged by the Government against his proposition, and that was on the ground of expense. That was a legitimate object for Government to consider, and it was a point on which it was no part of his duty to offer a suggestion; but he might observe that of all the branches of public expenditure, that for which the House granted the money most readily, and that for which the nation contributed most freely, was a grant for the maintenance of our naval superiority. He might affirm that better harbours on the south-eastern coast were not only necessary for our public navy but for our commercial marine. He would only allude further to the conclusion to the French report on the grant of the 5,600,000l. in which it was admitted that—. This sum is certainly a considerable one, but when we reflect that the object is to ensure the facilities of our commercial intercourse, to assist the progressive increase of our mercantile and naval services, and consequently place the power and the prosperity of the country on a wide and Arm basis, undoubtedly it will be foreseen that these sacrifices will create sources of ample compensation. With regard to the object of the committee, he would only say, that his desire was to place the subject fairly before her Majesty s Government, for it was a question on which he thought no individual Member of that House ought to call upon the House to take any steps; but it was still one of so much importance that be had felt it his duty to call the attention of hon. Members to it; and after a report had been presented by the commissioners to the House, it was not asking too much to request the House to agree to the motion of which he had given notice, and appoint— A select committee on the state of the harbours on the south-eastern coast, to whom the report of the commission of 1840 shall be referred.

Mr. Planta

begged leave to second the motion, which he did with the greatest cordiality, because he considered that the general interests of the country were materially involved in this question. It was no party question, and he trusted that it would be considered by both sides of the House in a spirit of fairness, and that it would receive that attention which its importance demanded. It was very seldom that he trespassed upon the House, and he WQUM endeavour to do so now for as short a time as it was possible for him to state the substance of the case. In.seconding this motion it was not necessary that he should go through the details which had been stated by his hon. Friend that night, and which he had also stated two years ago on the motion for the appointment by the Crown of the commissioners. Still he must say that the same reasons which existed two years ago for the appointment of that commission existed now for the examination of the report, much increased in. deed in force by subsequent events; and he therefore hoped that her Majesty's Government would not refuse to appoint a committee now, after they had appointed the commission. He was sorry to add, that the feeling of those who were most interested in this question was, that the inquiries of the commissioners had not very materially promoted the wishes and intentions of those who had sought the investigation. He was the last man who would presume to say anything, or to make the slightest observations against the respectable commissioners who had signed the report, and who were every way fitted for the office the duties of which they had discharged. Still he must be allowed to say, that, as far as any practical results were concerned, none had flowed from the report of the commissioners. He was perfectly aware that it was wrong upon a question of this sort to press particular interests, or to lay stress on the wishes of a particular locality; yet he must observe, that he conceived it to be the duty of the representatives of the people in that place to make known, as far as they could, the wishes and interests of their constituents, because he thought that, if hon. Members would follow this course, they would obtain the aggregate of opinions, from which Parliament would be able afterwards to adopt the proper measures. Those who had sent him to that House had a particular anxiety for the establishment of proper harbours on the south-eastern coast. There had been constant meetings during the last two or three years of the inhabitants of the town he had the honour to represent; the unremitting endeavours of the people of Hastings had been to find fit havens on this coast; their attention was still directed to the subject, and their wishes were as strong as ever. Only a few days ago, on the 1st of March, a public meeting in contemplation of his hon. Friend's motion was held at Hastings, over which the mayor presided. They unanimously resolved— That this meeting is decidedly of opinion that the appointment of a committee in the House of Commons to investigate into the condition of the present harbours on the southeastern coast, and to report to the House whether any, and which of them, can be made available as places of shelter for merchant vessels in case of distress from weather, or from enemies cruising in time of war: and also to inquire and report whether it may be expedient to construct harbours of moderate capa- city for such purposes at any other places between the mouth of the Thames and Selsey Bill, is essentially and urgently necessary. And then having resolved to address their Members, requesting them to attend and support the present motion, they said, that they trusted there would be a full inquiry before the committee into the fair claims of Hastings. These were the principal reasons which had induced him to trouble the House upon that occasion. He did most sincerely believe that the question was not only of great importance to the place which he had the honour to represent, but also to the country at large. He thought that the report which had been received had not materially assisted the object which had been in view, and he was of opinion that the subject should undergo the fullest consideration of a committee of that House, to which the report of the commissioners could be referred, and before which other information could be collected, so as to show what would most promote the common object, to satisfy the wishes and desires of his constituents, and to see what the Government and the House would be able to do to provide places of safety for our public and mercantile marine,

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

could assure the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, that no apology was necessary from him for calling the attention of the House to a subject of so great importance as the present, whether as regarded local interests, or the commercial interests and prosperity of the country. He felt, however, that the right hon. Gentleman, as well as the hon. Member who had preceded him, had left one part of the subject to which they referred very unsatisfactory before the House, because, although they had dwelt upon the general question, they had advanced very few arguments why a committee should be appointed to take the matter into consideration. If the hon. Member for Dover had come forward with a resolution which embodied the propositions which he desired should be adopted by the House, his motion might have been entitled to some consideration; but he had placed no statement before the House from which his exact ultimate views might be collected. With regard to the proposition which he had made, that a committee should be appointed, he confessed that he thought that that was a motion which ought not to be complied with. A commission had last year been appointed to inquire into the same subject which was now before the House; and upon arguments which were then employed, but to which he need not now more particularly allude, it was then resolved, and indeed it was admitted, that it was better to refer the matter to a commission than to a committee of this House. The commission had reported on the very same objects, so far as he could understand the meaning of the proposition which was now made, and their report was entitled to the fullest and best consideration of the House, as it was made by individuals who, from their station, were the most competent t6 form a correct judgment. No committee of the House, at all events, he thought, could have a better opportunity of forming a correct opinion than that commission; and it would certainly require a very strong case to be made out to show that any further investigation by a commerce would be expedient. Independently of other considerations, he thought that it would not be a very wise thing, nor of any advantage to the country, that a committee should be appointed who should enter into a detailed inquiry as to the defences of the commissioner. They would, of course, call before them men of experience and knowledge, and would examine them upon all those points which were the weak points of the country, and that the testimony derived from them should then be published, so that all that was the least desirable to be known should be made notorious to foreign countries who it was not desirable should be acquainted with the facts which were disclosed. But he must also beg to point out, that if such a committee were to be nominated, many hon. Gentlemen possessing local interests and local influences must "be put upon it; and knowing, as they did, what excitement matters of this description created in the vicinity immediately interested, that one hon. Member would advocate the selection of Dover as the favoured port, while another would select Hastings, and another would never be satisfied until Sandwich was fixed upon, they could hardly be induced, he thought, to adopt a course which was likely to be productive of so much inconvenience. The appointment of a committee, therefore, he thought, would be one of the worst things that could be done. He admitted, and he might refer to some conversations which he pad had with certain individuals upon the subject, that there was one point in the report to which he bad alluded which might be supposed to be involved in some degree of doubt. He meant the expense which would be necessarily incurred in carrying out the proposed plans of improvement. It had been suggested to him that the expenses would not be a quarter so much as it had been stated they would be. The commissioners had reported that the probable expense of forming or improving each harbour would be about two millions; and certainly if any fair reason were given to the Government to lead them to suppose that it could be shown that the expense would be so much less than had been suggested, he should be most agreeably surprised. If that were the object with which the committee was to be appointed, he thought that it could be effected at a much smaller expense by the officers of the Government than by an inquiry before a set of gentlemen whose local interests would undoubtedly clash in the matter. Under these circumstances, upon the assurance which he gave, that if he were furnished with information to the effect which he had pointed out, it should be inquired into by the Ordnance, or some other proper department. He trusted that the hon. Member would not press his motion, as he was unwilling that the House should come to a division.

Mr. Mackinnon

said, in answer to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that having been requested by several engineers to present the petition on the subject, and not having an opportunity of so doing, he must say a few words in answer to the right hon. Gentleman in alluding to these petitions. The right hon. Gentleman said, he was against a committee because the mover and seconder had only given general statements, and made no particular case, and if a committee was granted the weak parts of the coast might be mentioned, which might be injurious to the country. Now, in answer, he (Mr. Mackinnon) would observe, that no necessity existed for giving instructions to the committee to inquire into the defenceless parts of our coasts that might be left to the commission, but if some particular case was required, he would state as follows. On the coast of Sussex, and he believed also on the coast of Kent, there was a constant flow of shingle on the beach from west to east. Every one who had attended to the subject knew, that there were two sorts of harbours artificially made for vessels; one was the back water harbour, made by the water flowing in, which water was enclosed in an interior basin, and at the ebb was let out, and by running through the outer harbour cleared it of mud and sand, but what was the result? Why this substance was met by the shingle outside, and a deposit took place at the mouth of the said harbour, forming a bar, such for instance as might be seen in the harbours of Dover and Ramsgate, which would render those harbours nearly useless in a few years, and all the immense expense—all the thousands and nearly millions expended on them, particularly Ramsgate—would be thrown away. The other description of Harbour was that formed like those at Dunleary and Kingstown, in Ireland, which were made not only useful at high but at low water, in fact useful at all times, being made in deep water. These harbours might be more expensive in their formation, but being more durable were cheaper in the end than the others. Now he would ask the right hon. Gentleman—he would ask the House—why not have a committee, if only to ascertain the above mooted question, which might save millions to the country, whilst the expense of a committee was in fact nothing whatever. If a number of Gentlemen in this House fond of science wished to ascertain a particular point on a question deemed doubtful, yet most important, why should it not be allowed. No harm could arise, and some benefit, perhaps a great advantage, might be the result. He would therefore support the motion.

Captain Pechell

said, he could only approve of that part of the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer which acknowledged the importance of the subject as regarded the maritime interests of the country, and that the objections raised by the right hon. Gentleman were by means sufficient to deter the hon. Member for Dover from persevering in the course he had commenced. Much information would be brought before a committee which had been kept back from the report. The civil engineer, who had been attached to the commission, would be called on to give additional evidence on points which required further investigation as to the expense and construction of the deep water harbours on the southern coast. Since the report of the commission had been laid on the table, the coasts of Sussex and Kent had been visited by the most furious storms, attended by the most disastrous loss of life and property; and it could be shown before a committee, that all three shipwrecks took place on the coast to the westward of Beechy Head, owing to the difficulty of weathering the promontory in southerly gales. The financial objections raised by the right hon. Gentleman were common to all Chancellors of the Exchequer; but when proposals were made by the hon. Baronet, the Member for the University of Oxford, for granting no less an amount than eight millions for the purposes of Church extension, it could not be deemed unreasonable to ask for one-fourth of that sum for so desirable an object as that of preserving the lives of so many of her Majesty's subjects, which were so much endangered on the southern coast for the want of sufficient harbours.

Mr. Darby

thought the report of the commissioners, which he held in his hand, fully justified the motion of his hon. Friend, the Member for Dover. The commissioners reported, that Ramsgate harbour was the best on the south-eastern coast, although they said it had no natural advantages. It had no backwater, nor was it protected from any wind but a land-wind. It offered no protection from winds from the sea. Yet that was the only harbour for the protection of the shipping on that coast. It was acknowledged to be wholly inadequate, yet the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer refused a committee. He refused a committee—was he prepared to say, that the Government would act upon the report of the commissioners? He acknowledged that harbours were necessary—would he say, that the Government would construct them? If he was not prepared to say so, why refuse inquiry? Could the hon. Member put his hand upon the report, and show anything in it so practical, that that it could be carried into execution within half a century? And if not, the commissioners were at a loss to known on what grounds they should report. He thought there could be no stronger reason for assenting to the motion.

Sir George Strickland

regretted that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had not expressed himself more distinctly on this most important subject. The question was whether our harbours were to be repaired by public expense or by local exertions. If an idea got abroad that every case of shipwreck was to be a ground for a grant of public money for repairing our harbours, from that moment all individual exertion would cease. A few years ago there had been a great contest, in a Committee of the House, whether certain harbours required the assistance of the public purse, but it was at last decided that they had no sufficient claim, though a similar claim on the part of two other harbours was allowed. The country ought to know at once whether any aid would be afforded by the Government, or the Government ought to take all harbours of refuge under their especial care.

Mr. Plumptre

thought his hon. Friend the Member for Dover was perfectly justified in the course he had adopted. He would have been perfectly willing to have left the matter in the hands of the Government, if it had been stated that they intended doing anything; but having heard no such statement, he must support the motion.

Mr. C. Wood

thought the House must see that the question which had been stated by the two hon. Gentlemen who raised the discussion was very different from that which had been discussed. The question argued was that the country ought in some way or other to provide harbours of refuge on different parts of the coast. The committee moved for was to inquire into that which had already been inquired into. The Commissioners had distinctly expressed an opinion upon the subject, and the best answer to local interests was that they had given a decided opinion against any existing harbour. In their report they stated, It is evident there is no harbour at the present moment between Sheerness and Selsey Bill which can he considered an available harbour of refuge at all times of tide, or which possesses the capability of being rendered efficient for that purpose by any improvement or alteration that can be made. The Commissioners then proceeded to consider how an efficient harbour might be made, and they stated that the most important situations which called for the attention of the Government and the country were these—the first was at Dover, the second at Beachy Head, and the third at the mouth of the Thames. The question, therefore, was, whether the Government were prepared to take up one of these places; but he did not see in what respect further or more detailed information could be obtained. In the same way, if any private company was induced to construct the harbour, they could employ their own engineer; but, so far as any general views of the subject were concerned, he thought the fullest information was contained in the report.

Sir Robert Peel

did not see the advantage to be derived from the appointment of committee to review the decision of the commissioners, who had already reported to. the House. Those commissioners were intimately acquainted with the subject upon which they had to determine, and were beside able and impartial, If a committee were appointed, one of two evils must arise—either the House must admit the representatives of local interests or they must exclude them. If they excluded them, why should the committee be better able to form an opinion than the commissioners who had sat last year? If they admitted them, he feared that it would be any thing but an harmonious committee. It would be a battle for the views of the constituencies, and he certainly should be very much surprised if the right hon. Gentleman should be convinced of the superior advantages of Dover for the purposes pointed out. It would be a conflict of local interests; and it would be better to let the decision of the commission remain unreviewed by a committee of the House. For his own part, he did not see the advantage of the Government declining, under any circumstances, to build a harbour; but he was equally opposed to the principle of the employment of local exertions; unless they were properly directed the effect would be, a great expenditure of money, without any real good. The question, he thought, must in the end rest with the Government; and his belief was, that in order to do anything effectual, they must make a large expenditure. Supposing they determined to make a harbour of refuge in the Channel, the Government should declare their readiness to expend 2,000,000l. or l,500,000l., and calling the commissioners of the Board of Ordnance, should say, "Tell us what is the locality where a harbour of refuge may be best formed," and then he should advise that it should be constitututed on a really effectual scale, and in a manner which should render success certain. But he was bound to say, looking at the present state of the expenditure of the country, he could not press upon the Government the too hasty adoption of ft measure, which, however advantageous it might be, would involve a vast expense.

Mr. Rice

would be prepared to show, if they went into committee, that the expense would not be one-fourth the amount estimated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

The House divided on the question that a select committee be appointed to take into consideration the state of the harbours on the South Eastern coasts—Ayes 38, Noes 102: Majority 64.

List of the AYES.
Bailey, J. Miles, P. W. S.
Bailey, J. jun. Neeld, W.
Boldero, H. G. O'Brien, S.
Broadwood, H. Pease, J.
Burr, H. Pechell, Captain
Cochrane, Sir T. J. Plumptre, J. P.
Darby, G. Rumbold, C. E.
Duncombe, T. Sheppard, T.
Fitzroy, H. H. Smythe, hon, G.
Fremantle, Sir T. Vere, Sir C. B.
Grimsditch, T. Wakley, T.
Hodges, T. L. White, A.
Hodgson, F. Wilmot, Sir J. E.
Hodgson, R. Wilshere, W.
Hollond, R. Wodehouse, E.
Hope, G. W. Yates, J. A.
Howard, F. J. Young, Sir W.
Jones, J.
Lemon, Sir C. TELLERS.
Mackenzie, W. F. Rice, E. R.
Mackinnon, W. A. Planta, rt. hon. J.
List of the NOES.
Adam, Admiral Hutt, W.
Alston, R. Inglis, Sir R. H.
Baldwin, C. B. Johnson, General
Baring, rt. hn. F. T. Labouchere, rt. hn. H.
Barnard, E. G. Lascelles, hon. W. S.
Bewes, T. Lowther, J. H.
Blake, W. J. Lushington, C.
Bolling, W. Lushington, rt. hn. S.
Botfield, B. Marsland, H.
Broadley, H. Martin, J.
Brocklehurst, J. Maunsell, T. P.
Brodie, W. B. Miles, W.
Brotherton, J. Morgan, O.
Bruges, W. H. L. Morpeth, Viscount
Busfeild.W. Morris, D.
Campbell, Sir J. Muskett, G. A.
Canning, rt. hn. Sir S. Nicholl, J.
Davies, Colonel O'Connell, J.
Divett, E. O'Connell, M.J
Douglas, Sir C. E. Packe, C. W.
Drummond, H. H. Peel, rt. hon. Sir R.
Duke, Sir J. Philips, M.
Dundas, C. W. D. Pusey, P.
Elliot, hon. J. E. Rae, rt. hon. Sir W.
Ellis, W. Rawdon, Col. J. D.
Ewart, W. Rolleston, L.
Gladstone, J. N. Rundle, J.
Goulburn, rt. hon. H. Russell, Lord J.
Graham, rt. hn. Sir J. Salwey, Colonel
Grey, rt. hon. Sir G. Scholefield, J.
Grimston, Viscount Seymour, Lord
Halford, H. Smith, R. V.
Hastie, A. Somerset, Lord, G.
Hector, C. J. Stanley, hon. E. J.
Herbert, hon. S. Stanley, Lord
Herries, rt. hon. J. C. Stansfield, W. R. C.
Hope, hon. C. Stewart, J.
Howard, P. H. Stuart, Lord J.
Howard, hn. C. W. G. Stuart, W. V.
Howick, Viscount Strickland, Sir G.
Hume, J. Strutt, E.
Humphery, J. Style, Sit C.
Tancred, H. W. Warburton, H.
Teignmouth, Lord Wilbraham, W.
Thornley, T. Williams, W.
Trotter, J. Wood, C.
Tufnell, H. Wood, G. W.
Turner, E. Wood, B.
Verney, Sir H. Worsley, Lend
Vivian, J.H. Wyse, T.
Vivian, J. E. TELLERS.
Vivian, rt. hon. Sir R. H. O'Ferrall, M.
Parker, J.
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