HC Deb 20 July 1849 vol 107 cc726-37

Order for Second Reading read.

MR. LABOUCHERE moved the Second Reading of this Bill.


observed that when the right hon. Gentleman brought in this Bill, he admitted that it might be considered objectionable to bring in a Bill of such importance at so late a period of the Session. He himself saw no reason why it should not have been brought in three months ago, which would have given ample time for its consideration by those who were affected by it. This Bill, as he understood it, was a selection of one clause out of a Bill which was introduced ten years ago, but was without any of those provisions, safeguards, or qualifications which accompanied that Bill. The only defence which he had heard put forward was, that, being really a permissive measure, it would have very little effect in many quarters. That might be so, but if the Attorney General were present, he would ask him whether such a permissive Bill as this was not of an obligatory nature. This Bill would dispense with the compulsory part of the law, which required all masters to take pilots within certain limits, in favour of masters and mates who should pass an examination. He apprehended that it would be impossible for any public body, under the discretionary power here given, to refuse an examination. The Bill would therefore be imperative, and not permissive. There were peculiar objections to the Bill, arising out of the siuation of the Cinque Ports. The Trinity-house were allowed to license pilots between London-bridge and the Isle of Wight, thus going beyond the jurisdiction of the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports. Now, supposing the corporation of the Trinity-house to grant any person a certificate of fitness to pilot from London-bridge to the Isle of Wight, would the master of any vessel with such a pilot on board be subject to a penalty for declining to take a Cinque Ports pilot if he came within the jurisdiction of the Cinque Ports? He should have stated that the jurisdiction of the Lord Warden of the Cique Ports extended from Dungeness to the port of Loudon. He did not know whether that was the intention of the right hon. Gentleman in introducing the Bill, and he had understood him to say that he did not mean to interfere with any jurisdiction, but merely to grant this permissive power to public bodies if they should think fit to exercise it. Another difficulty which presented itself was the complication which would arise with the ships of those nations with whom we have reciprocity treaties. He doubted whether the masters of those vessels would submit to an examination; and if the owners were satisfied that they were competent to navigate the ships which they commanded, he saw no reason why they should do so. What would be the feeling in this country if the case were reversed? At present pilotage dues were charged on every vessel entering the port of Dantzic; but if Prussia took oft" those duties on Dantzic vessels, he ventured to say that twenty-four hours would not elapse before complaints would be made of this gross evasion of the reciprocity treaties between Prussia and this country. He considered it was of great importance to the merchants of this country that a supply of skilful pilots should be kept up to conduct the shipping which came to our ports safely through the shoals which rendered the south-eastern coast so dangerous. If, therefore, the interests of so valuable a body of men as the Cinque Ports pilots were likely to be affected by this Bill, he thought it but justice to them that time should be given to consider what would be its effect. He hoped that, as the right hon. Gentleman did not mean to proceed with the other Bill relating to the commercial marine, this Bill also might be postponed till next Session. He admitted that some portion of our shipping had a grievance to complain of with respect to pilotage—he alluded particularly to steam vessels. Complaints were made at Liverpool that steam vessels were almost daily coming up the Mersey, who were obliged to pay a very heavy charge for pilotage. As a remedy for that grievance, he thought that the owners of steam vessels making such voyages ought to be allowed to compound for a certain sum for pilotage charges, leaving it optional with them to take a pilot or not. If this Bill remained in its present shape, he should move that the second reading be postponed for three months, rather with the view of giving time for consideration, than as passing an opinion upon the merits of the measure.


said, that the right hon. Gentleman opposite opposed the Bill with an ardour worthy the Member for Dover, on the ground that in its operation it would interfere with the jurisdiction of the Cinque Ports. It had been his (Mr. Gibson's) fortune to be in communication with gentlemen connected with the Cinque Ports, and although he disapproved of the separate jurisdiction, yet he must say that he had not found them taking so strong a view of the question as the right hon. Gentleman who had just addressed the House. Every one must see that the pilotage system, which was established when navigation was differently carried on, when surveys of the coast were imperfect, and when steam power had not been invented, and when, consequently, steam tugs were not in use, required alteration, and that the time was come when there must be made considerable alterations in the pilotage laws of this country. With regard to the compulsory system of pilotage, it seemed to him strange that you should force persons on shipmasters to take charge of their vessels, und if those persons should lose the property there was no claim for compensation. Suppose that on a ship entering the Channel, a pilot was sent on hoard to take charge who was wholly unfit for the duty, as had lately very frequently occurred, and that the merchant was ruined, was it right that he should then be told that it all arose from the anxious desire of the Legislature to take care of people's property? There had recently been several complaints of old and superannuated pilots being sent on board vessels, and all that this Bill did was to permit the authorities to dispense with sending a pilot in cases where shipmasters showed themselves competent to the duty. In his opinion the right hon. the President of the Board of Trade did not go far enough; many would go much further, and attack the exclusive privilege of the Cinque Ports. He would, therefore, as a matter of policy, recommend the Members for Dover not to oppose this Bill, as they might only bring upon their constituents a more searching and comprehensive measure, fie hoped the measure would not be taken in the light of final legislation, or as an indication that the Government did not mean further to persevere in the improvement of the pilotage laws. He believed that great relief would be given to the commercial and shipping interests by the adoption of a more liberal system. Before he sat down, he must remind the Members for the Cinque Ports that there were complaints from the shipping interest that their rates of pilotage had not been reduced since the adoption of steam-tugs. The Trinity-house had made a reduction of one-third, and it had been a most seasonable relief to the shipowners. It was certainly very hard now that vessels were towed up from the Downs that they should pay as much pilotage as formerly, when the trouble and delay were so much greater. The Trinity-house had felt the justice of this, and had reduced these charges, and it was only reasonable to expect that the Cinque Ports would follow so good an example.


said, that the right hon. Gentleman who had just addressed the House was mistaken in supposing that he (Mr. Rice) differed from the views which had been expressed by his right hon. Colleague upon that subject. He believed the Cinque Ports had rendered great services to the mercantile marine of this country. He found that, during the last ten years, the officers of the Cinque Ports had piloted in perfect security up the Channel. 3,800 vessels; that during that time there had been only fourteen complaints against those officers; that of those fourteen complaints, six only had been established; and that only three pilots had been dismissed. If the Bill were allowed to remain unaltered, he felt, like his right hon. Colleague, that it would be his duty to oppose its further progress. He should proceed to state, as shortly as he could, what were the principal objections which he entertained to the measure, and which he hoped the right hon. Gentlemen at the head of the Board of Trade would consent to remove. In the first place, he thought that the right hon. Gentleman ought to introduce some words for the purpose of showing more clearly that the Bill was to be one merely of a permissive character. In the next place, he wished that, as it was proposed to give licenses to the masters of vessels to act as pilots, those licenses should be confined to the particular vessels of which they had charge. Again, be wished to see an alteration effected in that provision which directed that the master of a vessel, piloted by himself, should not avail himself of the services of any person except the ordinary crew. Now, the result of adopting that provision would be, that a master with a ship in a state of distress could not avail himself of the services of that valuable class of men along our coasts, who were known as boatmen and lightermen. He hoped that a provision of so manifestly objectionable a character would be modified by the right hon. Gentleman. But the most important point with which they had to deal was that arising out of the concurrent jurisdiction of the Trinity-house and the Cinque Ports in the Channel. The arrangement adopted under the existing system was, that the officers of the Cinque Ports piloted all vessels up the Channel, and the officers of the Trinity-house piloted all vessels down the Channel. Now, as the Bill was to be one merely of a permissive character, it appeared to him that it would not be fair to allow a master who had received a license from the Trinity-house only, to pilot his vessel either up or down the river, and he hoped that no such power would be given by the Bill. If the right hon. Gentleman were to alter the measure so as to meet the views he (Mr. Rice) had just put forward, he should not think it necessary to oppose its further progress; and he hoped his right hon. Colleague also would then consent to its passing without any delay.


was very glad it was in his power to support this Bill, it being a step in the right direction. He did not think that, with the precautions that were taken, it would affect the Cinque Port pilots at all. He hoped that the Government would persevere, and that this Bill would be the precursor of a very great reform in our pilotage laws.


said, the case stood thus—there was a monstrous monopoly in existence, which imposed a heavy burden on shipowners. One corporation, who were the instrument by which this burden was imposed, were desirous of making some relaxation; but in the way of this relaxation there stood a vested interest, in the shape of pilots, who were protected by the law. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade now brought forward a Bill to enable the Trinity-house to make a relaxation in the burdens on shipping, and the right hon. Baronet the Member for Dover opposed it because he feared that the good which it would effect was so great that the Cinque Ports would be obliged to make a similar alteration. That was the real question before the House. He thought the right hon. Baronet would have done better for his constituents if he had not raised the question of the Cinque Ports. The Government had not precluded themselves, by bringing forward this Bill, from going into the whole question of this monstrous abuse and monopoly; and if it should be gone into, the less the Cinque Ports thrust themselves forward the better. Compelling a master of a merchantman who knew the Channel to take a pilot, was just like obliging the driver of an omnibus between Hyde-park and the Bank to take a man on the box to show him the way. The shipping interest of this country only asked to be permitted to steer their vessels in their own way, and every other question was between the underwriters and themselves. He should be very glad to hear what permanent course the Government intended to pursue respecting pilotage, this being merely a temporary Bill.


said, that, as a steam shipowner, he wished to say a few words on this subject. Pilotage fell on steam vessels more frequently and unjustly than on any other class of vessels, because from the frequency of their voyages the masters and mates of those vessels acquired a very intimate knowledge of the navigation connected with the ports to which they sailed. There was a steam company which ran between Liverpool and Dublin, which paid 5,000l. a year for pilotage dues, though they never employed a pilot at all. With regard to the Cinque Ports pilots, he knew a certain steam company who managed their pilotage in this way: they took one of their officers, in whom they placed confidence, and hired a small house for him at Dover or Sandgate. He then obtained a pilot's license from the Cinque Ports, and thus the company saved money. Although this was a very inadequate measure, he was satisfied with it at present, because he was aware that the Bill did all that could be done at the present time.


supported the Bill, but said that he was enabled to state, with regard to a large portion of the shipping interest, that they viewed the Bill with satisfaction only as the prelude to a larger and more comprehensive measure, both with respect to pilotage and light-dues. It would otherwise be regarded with great dissatisfaction. He trusted that when the right hon. Gentleman addressed the House, he would allay the fears which now existed in the minds of the shipowners on this subject.


said, the House would recollect that when he first brought this subject under their notice, he had stated that it was not his intention to introduce what he could call a comprehensive and satisfactory measure with regard to the pilotage system of this country. Indeed, he should have quite despaired of being able to do so with any prospect of bringing such a measure to a conclusion in the present Session. But as he believed that an opportunity had presented itself of affording a just and immediate practical relief to the shipping interest of this country on the subject of pilotage, he had thought that he ought not to forego that opportunity, because he could not at the time enter into all those difficult questions which must be solved by any one who undertook to revise or remodel so ancient and complicated a system as that on which our pilotage was conducted. He had always admitted that any such com- prehensive measures would be a great advantage to the trade and shipping of this country. The subject had been investigated by more than one Government; but the difficulties by which it was surrounded were such, that no satisfactory mode had yet been found of meeting them. He would not say, however, that he entirely despaired of being able to pass such a measure. He believed that public attention had of late years been more than usually directed to the subject; and he was sure that it would, after the passing of that measure, receive more of the notice of shipowners than it had ever before received. But if he were at that moment to give a pledge of any kind upon the subject, he could only promise that during the recess he should devote to it his best attention, and that he should most sincerely rejoice to see a prospect of bringing it to a satisfactory settlement. The measure before the House, however, was one of a more limited and narrow description. It was a Bill of a merely permissive character, for the purpose of allowing those bodies which had jurisdiction over the pilotage of this country to relax the monopoly which they at present possessed, by granting to masters and mates of vessels licenses to pilot their own vessels, if it should be found on examination that those officers were capable of discharging the duty. That was the principle of the Bill, and it was his desire to carry out that principle with perfect good faith. He certainly should not have ventured to have proposed a measure like that of a merely permissive character, if he had not had reason to believe that one of those bodies proposed to act on the permission; for he should think it an affront to our shipping interest to create an opportunity of extending to them a boon, if he believed they were not in reality likely to receive it. He had already stated, when introducing the Bill, that one of the most important of those corporations, the Trinity-house of London, whose jurisdiction was 80 extensive in the ports of this country, had authorised him to inform the House that they meant to act on that permission, and that it was their intention to give that relief to the trade of the country which would be given by their allowing masters and mates to pilot their own vessels, after the competency of these officers to discharge that duty should have been properly ascertained. That was the simple object with which he had proposed the measure. His hon. Friend the Member for Dover wished to know whether he was going to introduce into the Bill certain alterations which his hon. Friend had recommended. Now, he had already stated that his wish was, that the Bill should be bonâ fide one of a merely permissive character; and he should certainly think that he was forfeiting the pledge he had given upon the subject if he were to ask the House to introduce into the measure any compulsory provision. He had revised the Bill with his hon. Friend, with a view of considering the objections which he, on the part of his constituents, had to make to it; and as he (Mr. Labouchere) had been led to think that there were some parts of the measure which would not fairly carry out the object for which he had proposed it, inasmuch as they would be of a compulsory character, he believed he should be wanting in good faith if he did not alter those provisions. With regard to the most important suggestion of his hon. Friend—he meant the suggestion with respect to those cases in which there was a combined jurisdiction in the Cinque Ports and the Trinity-house—he should state that he thought it right that a master or mate should have certificates from both these corporations before he could be allowed to pilot his vessel in those waters in which they had a concurrent jurisdiction. He did not think that the certificate of one of those bodies ought to suffice, or that it ought to be allowed in that way to trench on the jurisdiction of the other. He should not therefore object to the introduction of the Amendment suggested by his hon. Friend upon that point. The right hon. Gentleman the other Member for Dover had started an objection, which if there were any validity in it would be altogether fatal to the principle of the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman had said, that although the measure might seem in its terms to be merely permissive, it would in reality be compulsory in its operation. Now he (Mr. Labouchere) had consulted his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General upon that point, and his hon. and learnrd Friend had assured him that he had no doubt but that the Bill would be merely permissive, and could in no way be compulsory. But in order completely to satisfy the right hon. Gentleman, he (Mr. Labouchere) would have no objection to introduce after the words "if they should think fit to do so," the words "and not otherwise." That addition would, he believed, completely remove the objection stated by the right hon. Gentleman. He should further say that he was prepared to introduce the other alterations suggested by his hon. Friend. He believed those alterations would only tend to confine its operation to the object for which he had brought it forward; so that the measure would be entirely permissive, and would contain no obligatory provisions. He had every reason to believe—indeed he was entitled to state to the House—that the permission which it would give would be made use of by the Trinity-house corporation; and by that means he thought that a considerable relief would be given to the shipping interest of this country with regard to the pilotage system, as far as it was under their jurisdiction. With respect to the other corporation, he was not empowered to make any such statement. But he should be extremely glad to find that they would be prepared to follow the example of the Trinity-house; and he believed that if they should do so, they would conciliate public opinion in a way which would show true wisdom on their parts in appreciating their own interests, while it would also be most beneficial to the commerce of the country; and he hoped that under those circumstances the House would agree to its immediate adoption.


concurred in the propriety of making this a permissive rather than a compulsory measure. The House should recollect that at the present moment we were bound by the reciprocity-treaties that no additional charge should be placed on the foreign ships beyond that imposed on the British ships. Now, if a foreign ship took a pilot on board, the owner of that vessel would have to meet a charge from which the British vessel navigated by a competent master would be exonerated; and the probability was, that that charge on the foreign ship would cause applications to be made to the Government to be released from the impost. He presumed the master of a foreign ship would not be subjected to an examination before the Trinity Board; and therefore it was most desirable to hear from the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, whether this measure would impose a charge upon the Treasury of the nation under the terms of the reciprocity treaties?


did not believe that the difficulty suggested by the right hon. Gentleman would arise. If a foreign ship coming from ports in the vicinity of our shores had a master or mate on board competent to pilot her into an English harbour, she would have as good a right to employ that master or mate as any British ship would have. It was not likely that any foreigner would have sufficient knowledge to enable him to pilot into a British port; but if the foreigner employed an English master or mate on board, and that master or mate could pilot the vessel in, it would be wrong to deprive the foreigner of that privilege. The Act, therefore, would place the foreign and British ship on a footing of equality in this respect.


was afraid he had been misunderstood. It was probable enough that if the foreigner employed an English master or mate, no claim could he against the Treasury; but if the foreigner was put to a charge for pilotage, from which the English vessel was freed, he thought the demand would in all probability be made.


said, that he, for one, could not denominate this a measure for the relief of the shipping interest. He approved of it so far as it went, but it did not go far enough. It left restrictions upon the British shipowner which coulod not be imposed upon the foreigner; and he had to express his regret that when the Bill for the repeal of the navigation laws was before the House, the hon. Members for Dover did not advocate the necessity of placing the British upon an equality with the foreign shipowner.


asked whether there would be any objection to limit the permission to be examined before the Trinity and other competent boards in this country to natural-born subjects?


said, he should be sorry to introduce any clause of the kind. He could hardly conceive it possible that the foreigner could obtain such a knowledge of our harbours as would enable him to pass an examination in this country; but if he had sufficient knowledge on that score, the mischief was already done, and he could not be a more dangerous man than he was. He should not exclude him from the privilege, the object of the Bill being to place the question of the pilotage upon an equal footing.


said, that however beneficial the Bill might be in many respects, it would be certain to throw a great many of that hardworking and industrious class of men, the pilots, out of bread. He should like, therefore, to sec some compensation granted to these unfortunate men; and if no other hon. Member did so, he should introduce a clause to that effect. The House should recollect that when coachmen and postboys were thrown out of employment, they had the option of acting as servants on the railways, but that pilots had no other means of support than that obtained by the dangerous calling to which they belonged.


observed, that ships which took a pilot on board were exempted from liability to other vessels whom they might run down while they were under his charge, upon the ground that the pilot was not the servant of the owner of the vessel, but was cast upon him by a superior authority. He did not think that, as the Bill was worded, any difficulty would arise on the subject; but he would suggest for the consideration of the right hon. Gentleman whether in Committee it would not be expedient to introduce some clause carefully guarding against such a construction under the proposed law. If the master piloted the vessel, then, being the servant of the owner, the shipowner ought to be responsible.


said, that a suggestion like that proceeding from his right hon. Friend was worthy of every attention, and he would give it his best attention. With regard to the question of compensation, which had been raised by the hon. Member for Bristol, he thought that it might be safely left to the constituted authorities to do what they thought just towards their servants. He did not himself believe that any class of persons would be thrown out of bread by this measure.

Bill read 2°, and committed; considered in Committee, and reported; to be printed, as amended; re-committed for Monday next at twelve o'clock.

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