HC Deb 27 April 1843 vol 68 cc1002-10
Mr. Mackinnon

In rising to move for a committee for the purpose of investigating the Revenue, Expenditure, and present condition, of the Harbours from the Thames to Portsmouth, I will as concisely as the subject will admit, state the object of my motion. It is a subject of very great importance to the trade of the empire, and to the security of navigation. I am aware that a committee on shipwrecks is now sitting, but that committee will confine its enquiries to the question how far it is expedient to educate mates and masters of ships for the merchant service, or to find some place of refuge in bad weather, the committee that I require is to supply funds for a harbour of refuge, or to give back to the Treasury large sums now raised by tolls to no purpose, or, if these sums, it appears, are not required, to ease the shipping interest of a heavy and useless payment of dues, which dues at present are wasted in a manner unprofitable to the country or to navigation. The House is aware, that in 1840 a commission was named by the Queen, to ascertain the best site for a harbour of refuge on the coast. The report of that commission stated, that amongst other places, that between Margate and the North Foreland, the other in Dover Bay, and a third near Beachey Head, were elegible for the purpose; and that the cost of a harbour of refuge might be about two millions. Mr. Cubitt the engineer, however, thought a harbour might be formed at a much less cost, to answer the purpose equally well. The House must understand, that by a perfect harbour of refuge, is meant a harbour accessible at all times of the tide by vessels of any tonnage, the mouth of which is so placed as to be entered easily with the most prevalent wind. Every person of the slightest knowledge in maritime affairs, must be aware of the vast importance to our trade of such a harbour, both in times of war and of peace, particularly as every year steam navigation, and the intercourse between nations considerably increase. I am one of those, who do not anticipate the probability of war, but think there is no doubt that the communication between England and other nations will considerably increase. Now such a harbour of refuge in one of the spots just enumerated, is most desirable. I am fully aware, that the Treasury of the country ought not, if possible, to be called on to supply the means, and I think I can point out to the House some method of obtaining a fund for that purpose, without increasing the burthens of the country. If the funds received from tolls on passing ships are now wasted or misapplied, why should these funds not be made applicable to the formation of a harbour of refuge? If the House do not sanction such an application, then case the shipping interest of the burthen, and levy no more on the commerce of the country than the amount absolutely required to keep the present harbours in repair. That such tolls so levied are misapplied, I will now prove to the satisfaction of the House. I will begin with Ramsgate Harbour, and "ex uno disce omnes." The House must learn, that by an old Act of Parliament, the trustees of Ramsgate Harbour levy 4d. a ton on all foreign ships, and 2d. a ton on all British ships that pass the Foreland which are above 300 tons burthen: those under that tonnage pay rather less. This tax is levied to keep up Ramsgate Harbour, and to be continued as long as this harbour wants repair! By this paper in my hand, printed by order of the House on my motion last month, it appears this rate in 1841 gave to Ramsgate Harbour 19,066l; and with some other dues the trustees obtain an average income of 20,651l., besides a balance in hand of 5,694l. Now I will show by evidence that 7,000l. a-year is more than sufficient for the repairs of Ramsgate Harbour, which harbour, it is notorious, cannot receive vegsels above 450 tons burthen—so you tax British and foreign vessels 4d. a ton, for a harbour which can by no possibility be of any use to them. Was there anything so monstrous, so absurd, or so unjust? You commit an act of injustice by such a toll; and you injure all the other harbours on the coast, because it is notorious that foreign vessels will not, for fear of paying this unjust toll, stop at any English harbour if they can possibly help so doing; but they run over to the French, or Belgian, or Dutch coast, where such exactions are not made; the result is an injury to our sea-ports, by preventing the expenditure of foreign ships in them. Now to show the House the waste of money that takes place at Ramsgate, I will refer to the evidence of Sir William Curtis, the head of the trustees of that lace in 1822:— Foreign Trade Committee, April 26, 1822. Sir W. Curtis examined. Q. What ought to be the annual charge of keeping the Harbour of Ramsgate in repair?—A. It will require some little calculations from the books to answer that. Q. Do you think that from 5 to 7,000l. a-year would be sufficient?—A. Yes, it might do. W. Domett, Esq. examined (p. 276). Q. Do you consider the benefit to the shipping to be in proportion to the money laid out at Ramsgate?— A. Far from it; many thousand pounds have been laid out, of no use whatever. Men are constantly hammering stones. Q. Do you consider the benefit to the harbour adequate to the expenditure of 20,000l. a-year?—A. No, certainly not; far from that, (p. 271.) George Good, Esq. examined. Q. What has in the last six years been laid out on Ramsgate Harbour?—A. 147,338l. with little or no advantage, Q. Do you think the advantage derived from Ramsgate a sufficient compensation for the expense drawn on the shipping?—A. No, certainly not. Q. Do you know the manner in which the duties are levied on foreign shipping?— A. I do not; but I know it is that of which they very much complain. Not to fatigue the House by reading all the evidence, I will only add, it ap- pears that in 1822 the committee said that 8,000l. a-year was quite sufficient for Ramsgate Harbour; since which period the trustees have received upwards of 400,000l. Some years ago, a banqueting house for the trustees to dine in, only once in each year, was erected, and it has cost 8,500l.: it is of no use whatever; and that from its first formation to the present time, that harbour has cost the commerce of the country an enormous expenditure, not less than 1,500,000l. To sum up the evidence of Sir W. Curtis, an unwilling witness, Captain Domett, and Mr. Good, it appears this harbour is of no use but to small vessels about 350 tons and under, can only be entered at particular times of the tide, and that in a gale of wind, when shelter is required, the danger of entering the harbour is very great; and that the sum of 7,000l. a-year is quite sufficient for every possible purpose required. Now what is the case—the sum of 20,000l. a-year is collected by dues on large vessels, British and foreign, to which the harbour can be of no possible use, and this money is wasted in the most wanton manner. Let one of these two measures be adopted— either relieve the shipping interest from these most vexatious, useless, and unjust tolls, or, if they are continued, apply them to some useful purpose. Why not in the latter case commence a harbour of refuge in some eligible spot on the coast? the surplus fund from Ramsgate Harbour alone would be, say 12,000l. a-year; from Dover Harbour, probably, 8,000l., besides many others; here you have at once a fund of, say 20,000l. a-year, which will establish a sinking fund, or, pay the interest of 400,000l. for a harbour of refuge, and not put the country to one shilling more of expense. At the same time, I am fully aware of the talent and ingenuity, and of the powerful interest both in this House and out of it of the trustees of harbours, and of other parties connected with these tolls; but let us have fair play—let the House give me a committee; I defy them to disprove one single assertion that I have made. The right hon. Gentleman, the Member for Kent, shakes his head; well, I call him to the proof—let us have a committee; if he can disprove any material assertion I have made, I will admit he is right. But why shrink from the severe test of an examination and of a committee if all is right. I repeat, these abuses ought to be corrected— gross jobs cannot be tolerated in the nineteenth century—either prove as you ought to do before a committee, that the harbours on the coast from the Thames to Portsmouth require all the money they raise on tolls, or let that money be applied for the security of navigation, and the safety of seamen; or give up these at present vexatious and unjust tolls, and relieve the shipping interest from these burthens. Either investigate and prove the case, or let the trustees voluntarily relinquish those immense sums now extracted from vessels passing the Foreland. Let the House consider also, that these revenues will increase as commerce increases; and that the time is come when an investigation ought to be made of the manner in which these large sums are expended. I am aware of what I have to expect from the parties opposed to any inquiry—I well know their talent and ingenuity—but I trust the paramount duty of the Members of the House will supersede all other considerations, and that no further opposition ill be made to a committee. Sir, I beg leave to move,— That a Select Committee be appointed, to ascertain the revenue, expenditure, and condition of the harbours and lighthouses on the coast, from the mouth of the thames to Portsmouth.

Mr. H. Curteis

said, that in seconding the motion, he begged to deny, as a commissioner for the harbour of Rye, the statements made by the hon. Member for Lymington as to the state of the harbours of Kent and Sussex. With regard to the job, and the costs of the Banqueting-house at Ramsgate, it did not apply to the borough with which he was connected. As to the state of the harbour at Ramsgate, he said nothing; but he thought the motion of the hon. Member opposite would be likely to be useful. He (Mr. H. Curteis) must repeat his denial of the charges urged as applying to Rye, the commissioners of which port courted the fullest inquiry.

Sir C. Burrell

said, that Shoreham having been so pointedly alluded to, he could only repeat that which his hon. Friend, the Member for Rye had stated, namely, that the commissioners of Shoreham had no objection to the fullest inquiry into the mode in which they conducted the trust confided to them.

Sir E. Knatchbull

said, he had no doubt, if all the other harbours attacked had representatives in that House, those Members would hare risen to make si- milar declarations to those which had been uttered by the hon. Members for Rye and Shoreham. He, in common with those hon. Members, must defend Ramsgate from the charge of mismanagement alleged against the commissioners of the harbour. The subject had, however, been inquired into so lately as the year 1840, and why, therefore, should there be a new inquiry now instituted? The question was one which was rather for the Government of the country than for any select committee of the House, and on these grounds he must oppose the motion.

Mr. E. Rice

said, he had long endeavoured to press upon the Government the importance of establishing harbours of refuge, and yet for two or three Sessions the report of the Select Committee of 1840 remained unattended to. Between Dover and Portsmouth there was not a single harbour which was not dry at low water, or which was capable of receiving war-steamers, &c. In time of war, it would be too late to remedy this evil.

Captain Pechell

Would call on the Member for Lymington to prosecute this inquiry. There was great necessity for it. He hoped, that the hon. Member would press his motion to a division. The debate appeared to him to have much the appearance of a sham fight.

Sir C. Napier

thought, that the Government ought to take this question into consideration. Government, however, was very tardy about it. He had been forty-three years in the service, and had never known the Government take a single step towards the improvement of the harbours. His only objection to the motion was, that it did not go far enough; it ought to extend to an inquiry into all the harbours of the country, for from what he had seen of the accounts of shipwrecks during the past year, it was high time for the Government of the country to do something towards saving life and property now lost by shipwrecks. There was no part of England where a harbour was more required than at Ramsgate. There were continually 300 or 400 vessels riding in the Downs, and if it should blow a gale, it was impossible at low water for the vessels to run into any harbour, and they must run the almost inevitable risk of being lost.

Major Beresford

rose to move an amendment, which would include the harbour of Harwich in the inquiry. There was no harbour from Languard Fort to Portsmouth, where vessels coming from the north coast could take refuge. During the south-east gales, 446 vessels had taken refuge in Harwich harbour, and from the shore having receded, and shingles accumulated, vessels were very often stranded there. He moved, to substitute Languard Fort for the mouth of the Thames.

Mr. Lambton

did not see the necessity of this committee, if it were necessary to inquire into the propriety of doing away with the Passing Toll, the subject might well be referred to the shipwreck committee, which would have ample time for that inquiry if one might judge from the fact that that committee had only sat once before Easter, though it had then been appointed five weeks before that time; but the hon. Member had stated, that the object he had in view was to apply the surplus to making a harbour of refuge. The subject of harbours of refuge was one of immense importance, and ought to be taken up by the Government on their own responsibility. If they asked for a great national grant for that purpose, he was sure they would get the support of both sides of the House. It was important, first, because great national harbours of refuge, placed on the most exposed parts of our coast, would diminish the loss of life and of British property that took place every year from shipwreck. The committee of 1836 reported there was an average loss of British property to the amount of three millions, and of one thousand lives every year. It specified also, especially on the east coast, particular shipwrecks—with loss of many lives that never would have occurred if there had been a harbour of refuge there. In the second place, these national harbours of refuge would be important as great national defences in time of war. The French were not idle on this subject, and he had been informed that a large sum was voted every year for the improvement and enlargement of Calais harbour, and that in the course of a short time, Calais would cease, to be only a tidal harbour, and vessels of a large size would be able to find safe anchorage at all times of tide. He most sincerely hoped the peace with France would be lasting; but when he saw the violence and the virulence that had been displayed in that country of late against England, a violence and a virulence which he trusted would not be imitated on this side of the water—when he saw all this, he was the more inclined to think, we ought to be prepared, and that the Government ought to take this very important subject into their consideration.

Sir R. Peel

said, that his opinion was very much in consonance with that expressed by the hon. Gentleman who had just addressed the House upon this subject, namely, that it ought to be left to the Government. The construction of harbours of refuge was undoubtedly a work of great importance; but, there was another equally important point to be kept in view, namely, the site to be selected for those harbours. The subject was a very fit one for inquiry, but that inquiry should not be conducted in the way proposed by the hon. Gentleman. Suppose that 1,000,000l. or 2,000,000l. were to be expended upon the construction of harbours in the Channel on account of their great advantage to the commercial marine of this country; in determining the site of those harbours respect should also be had to purposes of defence in time of war, as well as of refuge for trading-vessels in bad weather. But that was a matter which it was much better to leave to the consideration of the Admiralty. In 1840, a commission consisting of Sir J. Gordon, Colonel Thompson, Messrs. Walker and Cubitt, the engineers, and other competent persons, was appointed, and the appointment of that commission was an important step in the business, as by that means the Government were put in possession of information upon which to act. With reference to the peculiar claims of Ramsgate or Harwich to become harbours of refuge, a committee of that House was not a proper tribunal to decide such a question. He hoped the motion would not be persisted in.

Mr. Hume

complained of the expences of the commission, and said, that the charges made upon commerce were greater than the advantages obtained. Reports respecting the various harbours were annually made, but never printed, unless some hon. Member moved for them; they ought always to be printed and laid before the House, that hon. Members might know what was going on. For four or five years past he had been complaining of the neglect of the Government in not acting upon the information which had been furnished by the commission. He trusted that the right hon. Baronet would cause inquiry to be made into the amount of the charges upon commerce, with a view to see whether they could not be reduced, or, if not, whether the money could not be applied in a better manner than at present. He thought his hon. Friend ought to have his committee.

Mr. A. Chapman

was understood to say, that the hon. Mover was wrong in stating that 4d. a ton, was demanded for ships of 350 tons at Ramsgate harbour; if under 300 tons, the charge was but one halfpenny per ton, and if above 300 tons only 2d.

Mr. Mackinnon

in reply said, he feared he should appear to be placed in that position spoken of by the hon. and gallant Member for Brighton—of making only a sham fight; but after what had fallen from the right hon. Baronet he had, no alternative but to withdraw his motion. [Cries of " Divide!"]

Amendment withdrawn. The House divided on the original motion:—Ayes 34; Noes 79; Majority 45.

List of the AYES.
Aldam, W. Lennox, Lord A.
Barnard, E. G. Marjoribanks, S.
Beresford, Major Napier, Sir C.
Brotherton, J. O'Brien, W. S.
Burrell, Sir C. M. Paget, Lord A.
Byng, rt. hon. G. S. Pechell, Capt.
Collett, J. Plumridge, Capt.
Darby, G. Rice, E. R.
Duncan, G. Russell, Lord E.
Ewart, W. Stanfield, W. R.
Fitzroy, Lord C. Thornely, T.
Fox, S. L. Trelawny, J. S.
French, F. Turner, E.
Gladstone, Capt. Williams, W.
Hatton, Capt. V. Wood, B.
Henley, J. W.
Hodgson, R. TELLERS.
Hume, J. Mackinnon, W. A.
Jervis, J. Curteis, H. B.
List of the NOES.
Ackers, J. Duncombe, hon. A.
Allix, J. P. Eliot, Lord
Antrobus, E. Escott, B.
Baskerville, T. B. M. Farnham, E. B.
Blackburne, J. I. Filmer, Sir E.
Boldero, H. G. Flower, Sir J.
Bramston, T. W. Forester, hn. G. C. W.
Broadley, H. Forster, M.
Broadwood, H. Gaskell, J. Milnes
Bruce, Lord E. Gladstone, rt. hn. W. E.
Chapman, A. Gordon, hon. Capt.
Charteris, hon. F, Gore, W. R. O.
Chute, W. L. W. Goulbourn, rt. hn. H.
Clive, Visct. Graham, rt. hn. Sir J.
Colborne, hn. W. N. R. Greene, T.
Corry, rt. hon. H. Hamilton, Lord C.
Cripps, W. Hardinge, rt. hn. Sir H.
Damer, hon. Col. Hayes, Sir E.
Dickinson, F. H. Herbert, hon. S.
Douglas, Sir C. E. Hinde, J. H.
Hope, hon. C. Newdigate, C. N.
Hope, G. W. Nicholl, rt. hon. J.
Jermyn, Earl Paget, Col.
Johnstone, Sir J. Peel, rt. hon. Sir It.
Jolliffe, Sir W. G. H. Peel, J.
Kelburne, Visct. Pringle, A.
Kemble, H. Sibthorp, Col.
Knatchbull. rt. hn. Sir E Smith, rt. hn. T. B. C.
Lambton, H. Somerset, Lord G.
Langston, J. H. Stanley, Lord
Lincoln, Earl of Stuart, H.
Lockhart, W. Sutton, hon. H. M.
Lowther, hon. Col. Trotter, J.
Mc Geachy, F. A, Waddington, H. S.
Mahon, Visct. Wellesly, Lord C.
Martin, C. W. Wood, Col.
Maxwell, hon. J. P. Worsley, Lord
Miles, P. W. S. Young, J.
Miles, W. TELLERS.
Murray, C. R. S. Fremantle, Sir T.
Neeld, J. Baring, H.