HC Deb 26 July 1849 vol 107 cc977-88

Order for Third Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now road the Third Time."


rose to call the attention of the House to the circumstances connected with the expenditure of public money in the improvement of harbours, which he thought to be of great importance, The House would recollect, that about eight years ago a discussion took place with regard to the harbours of this country, and that in 1845, by an address of that House, Her Majesty appointed a commission to inquire into the state of our tidal harbours and navigable rivers. That commission collected a vast deal of valuable information upon the subject generally, and the Members were unanimous in recommending the adoption of a course to the Government with the view of securing for the future a proper appropriation of any funds that might be required for the improvement of the harbours of this country. Amongst other evils which the commission pointed out, there was one of long standing. By an Act of Charles II., the harbours of the country had been placed under the superintendence of the authority of the Lord High Admiral, who had powers under that Act to prevent all encroachments on land under and within the high-water mark of ordinary tides. In short, instructions were laid down in that Act that no buildings, no works, or alterations of any description should take place, but under the sanction of the Admiralty. On inquiry it was found that the Admiralty, from the pressure of circumstances and the immense amount of business falling on that department, had altogether neglected that duty, and that in no cases had they ever interfered with any works proceeding in any river or harbour, unless the same had been referred to them by the complaint of parties interested. The consequence was, that many works had been undertaken without the knowledge of the Admiralty, which had tended, owing to their unskilful execution, materially to injure the harbours. The commissioners, finding that this was the case, and that the Board of Admiralty had not had leisure to attend to these numerous works, but had deputed a large portion of the business to the hydrographer, recommended that a separate department should be appointed to manage these matters, and they prepared a Bill which was intended to carry out all their recommendations, and to provide for the appointment of a permanent officer whose duty it should be to see that no injury was done to the harbours of the country. It appeared to the commission that the system hitherto carried on had not been attended with advantage; that the natural harbours of the country had been neglected, and in many eases had actually filled up. Numerous were the instances in which this had occurred, He could mention one. In the time of Charles II. the harbour of Rye was capable of admitting a line of battle ship—a large frigate; but now, up to within a quarter of a mile of the town, the harbour had silted up so that a small boat could not ride afloat. To prevent the recurrence of such a state of things, the commissioners recommended the appointment of the distinct department to which he had referred; and he must say, that when Lord Auckland succeeded to the Admiralty, he appeared to be fully aware of the evils arising from the former system; and it was but justice to his memory to say, that no man could have evinced a stronger disposition to remedy the evils that had arisen than Lord Auckland did. But his Lordship being unwilling at that time to raise any discussion in the House of Commons, proposed to carry out, as far as possible, the recommendations of the commission, by making a branch under the Admiralty, and placing this matter under their charge. Accordingly a Committee was appointed, consisting of Captain Bethune, Captain Washington, and Captain Veitch, who were to take cognisance of the state of our harbours and navigable rivers. The appointment of that Committee had resulted in the greatest advantage—millions of money had been saved to the country by their proceedings, and the whole expense had been the difference between the half-pay of Captain Washington and 800l. a year that gentleman having been appointed by the Government on account of his immense acquaintance with our rivers and harbours. It was intended that no money, either public or private, should be expended on tidal harbours or navigable rivers, except under the superintendence of that department; but he complained that that rule had not been carried out. In order also to the accumulation of information on the subject, it was thought desirable by the commission that the Government should be in possession of plans of all our harbours. It was a fact that, whilst England was the largest commercial country in the world, the British Admiralty did not possess any series of plans of her harbours, so that if a French frigate, or any other frigate, approached a certain place, the Government had no means of ascertaining instanter whether there was water enough for her to float, whether there were quays, or any means of landing her troops or stores, or anything about it. In France, the case was very different, for he had seen a book, given to him by the Minister of Marine, containing a description of every harbour on the French coast, both within and without the straits—whether a tide harbour or a bar harbour—its depth; whether there were any quays by which troops could land, the number of boats attached to it, and the quantity of tonnage in each harbour. In England there was no such document; but he contended that the Government should be possessed of such information, and he proposed, therefore, that plans should be made, showing everything requisite to afford the fullest information to the Government. With reference to the services rendered by the commission which was appointed with the concurrence of Lord Auckland, he must say, that he had never met with any man, whose zeal, attention, and industry, had exceeded that of Captain Washington. Open at all times to give information, ready at all times to go anywhere where the public service required his attention, he felt bound to express the highest opinion of the talent which Captain Washington had exhibited, and the unvarying exactitude of his details. The report of the Harbour Committee was now printed; and though it was not yet in the hands of Members, the result was, that it recommended the reduction of the harbour department, and dispensing with the services of Captain Washington. He believed this reduction had taken place in consequence of the report of a commission composed of Lord Granville, Sir Edward Ryan, and Captain Berkeley; but he did not believe these persona were able to estimate the importance of the Tidal Harbour Commission. He should like to see their report, and the evidence upon which it was founded. He (Mr. Hume) wished to ask then who was, henceforth, to take the duties of that department—a department which the Tidal Harbour Commission had pointed out to be necessary, which was approved by the late Government, and by Lord Auckland, and of which Mr. Ward the late Secretary of the Admiralty, when he saw the amount of information they had gained, recommended the continuance. Who, he asked, was henceforth to conduct that department—who was to superintend the expenditure of money in matters connected with our harbours and navigable rivers? He held in his hand a list of sixteen reports which had been laid on the table of the House, all connected, more or less, with the harbours of refuge and navigable rivers of this country—a pretty good evidence of the importance of the subject; but he wanted to know what had been done, and in what way had the public interests been protected in the expenditure of money for the improvement of harbours of refuge. He did not wish at this moment to express any opinion with regard to harbours of refuge, though he had great doubts upon the subject; but he found that the House had voted for harbours of refuge—

In 1845 £120,000
In 1846 30,000
In 1847 140,000
In 1848 131,000
In 1849 141,500
In all £562,500
But that was not all, for he found that there was voted for Holyhead—
In 1845 £33,836
In 1846 85,681
In 1847 4,429
In 1848 12,792
In 1849 45,771
In all £182,509
These two sums together made up no less than 745,009l. of public money that had been voted for harbours within the last five years. He asked who had superintended these works and that expenditure—were there any reports to show the progress that had been made—was there any information whatever upon the subject? Who had the superintendence? The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer stated that the Admiralty had; but he (Mr. Hume) found, from the opinion of the Lords themselves, that such was not the case. Admiral Dundas said— The progress of the different harbours of refuge is laid before Parliament every year, when money is voted for the advancement of the works. There is no occasion, I think, for the Harbour Commission to interfere, or go to any additional expense of public money by making inquiry. Captain Berkeley and Lord J. Hay said— The Admiralty have no power or jurisdiction over the construction of these harbours of refuge. They were determined by a Committee appointed for that Purpose. The plans have been determined upon, and are not carried out under the authority or supervision of the Admiralty. Then he asked, under whose authority or supervision were they? Captain Milne again said— No. 7 also appears to me unnecessary, as I believe the engineers send in a periodical report to the Admiralty, which should be filed in the hydrographic department or Record office. Matters having been brought to this state, he hoped the House would enforce the presentation of these reports. Lord Auckland said, in his evidence, that although the contract of the work rested with the Admiralty, the Treasury was responsible for the plan and outlay. It would thus appear that the mode of expenditure was left to chance. He knew Mr. Walker and Mr. Rendel, the engineers, sent in reports as to certain items of expenditure, such as their travelling expenses, the charge for horses, and similar things; but this was not the description of expenditure which was required with regard to the nature of the general outlay; and as to their description of the works, be complained that they might have exercised a considerable and efficient control over those works merely with the additional pay of an officer. Sir George Cockburn had manifested much anxiety to proceed with this work, and had expressed a strong desire that a proper control should be exercised over the expenditure. The present Chancellor of the Exchequer indirectly knew nothing about the expenditure; he (Mr. Hume) thought, therefore, they should have a Committee to examine as to whether the expenditure was proper, and whether they were going on in a fit and proper manner, and in how far the views of the commissioners were likely to be realised. He should at present make no Motion on the subject; but it was a great and crying grievance that they should have millions expended on public works without knowing what would be the result, such as bad been the case with the New Houses of Parliament. He wished to know if there were any reports or any other documents which could be laid before the House showing what progress had been made since the several votes of money had been made?


said, that the I Admiralty had no power or jurisdiction over these matters, which were decided upon by a Committee. He was bound, in justice to Sir Robert Peel's Government, to say that it was their intention to have placed this department under a permanent head, and carried out the recommendation of the commission to the fullest extent. He trusted that a twopenny-halfpenny economy would not be practised in the dismissal of Captain Washington. The question was one involving millions, and not a shabby addition to a gentleman's half-pay.


said, that having been chairman of the Tidal Harbour Commission, he happened to know the dangerous state in which several of them were, in consequence of the works which had been allowed to be carried on in them in connexion with railways and other undertakings. Nothing could be more important than the report made in 1846, and which he feared the House was not sufficiently acquainted with; for it was not very likely that many hon. Members had explored the gigantic folio before him. He hoped the attention of the Government had been drawn to the subject, and that they would sec during the recess what farther steps should be taken. If the Government did not propose something on the subject early next Session, be should press upon the House the propriety of adopting steps to carry out the recommendation of the Tidal Harbour Commission. It had been originally proposed to proceed in another way than that adopted; but Lord Auckland thought the Bill which had been drawn up on the subject was too stringent, and therefore recommended the suggestion that the commission should be carried out under a separate department of the Admiralty. He agreed with his hon. Friend the Member for Montrose in viewing with the greatest grief and dissatisfaction the course taken by the present Board of Admiralty in diminishing the number of officers employed. He objected to the title given to the department; it should rather have been called the Board of Conservancy for Harbours, instead of the Harbour and Railway Department. He had always thought a member of the Board of Admiralty should also have been a member of that board. A report existed abroad, which he trusted was unfounded, that some private influence had been exerted to continue the old system of abuse with respect to these harbours, and that powerful intrigue was at work to destroy the efficiency of the Board of Conservancy. A report which he had heard was, that Captain Washington had done his duty too conscientiously and too independently, therefore he was to be dismissed. He trusted there was no truth in this report, which, however, he felt bound to mention to Her Majesty's Government.


said, with regard to the report to which the gallant Officer alluded, it was not very easy to answer it. The only part of the statement true was, that the change had been made, and, if any one, he was the party who made it—it was entirely his own act—and he alone was responsible for it. He was sure the House would be surprised at the statement of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose, when he (Sir F. Baring) stated that he had made no alteration in the powers or business of the harbour department, and he had no intention of doing so. He held the opinion that the harbour department was of great public use and importance to the country, and had rendered a great deal of valuable service, and had operated as a very considerable check on the obstructions which had been gradually allowed to be made in our tidal harbours by local interests. It was not, therefore, intended to reduce the usefulness of that department. All that be had done, as the right hon. Baronet the Member for Ripon knew, was a subject of discussion before the Committee on the Navy Estimates last year, when it was considered whether the work could not be done with fewer hands. The question of the employing of these gentlemen in this service, was considered a matter for the revision of the Admiralty. For that and other reasons he had considered the state of what was called the harbour and railway department; and he, in connexion with his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, had appointed a commission to look into the whole subject of harbours, and, upon the report of that body, he came to the conclusion that the duties respecting tidal harbours could be performed, as before, by two instead of three officers. He had looked into the matter himself, and for what was done he was responsible. Seeing that the work could be effectually done by two gentlemen, he had made a communication to Captain Washington, to the effect, that as he was the junior officer, and had been last appointed, he was the party with respect to whom the reduction should be made. If he had reasons for thinking that the work could be done by two, he was not justified in retaining three gentlemen. He was satisfied that there would be as efficient a check on encroachments in the tidal harbours by a department of two, as by one composed of three officers. Then the hon. Member for Montrose alluded to another point, namely, the harbours of refuge. The harbours of refuge were not undertaken by the present Board of Admiralty, but had been commenced when he was out of office. It was a plan adopted by the Government, and Lord Auckland gave his assent as far as the Admiralty was concerned, to give proper assistance in carrying it out. The hon. Gentleman had asked for reports as to what had been done. The Admiralty had entered into contracts for the works; and Mr. Rendel and Mr. Walker sent in quarterly statements as to the state of the works and the progress of the contracts. Lord Auckland had taken a great deal of interest in the matter, and inspected the works last year which were in progress in the Channel Islands. As to the mode of transacting the business connected with these works, he had made no alteration since he had been in office. What existed before, existed now; and as soon as the House was up, he intended to go on a visit of inspection to the Channel Islands, to see how the works were going on there. The hon. Gentleman thought other reports were necessary; he did not share that opinion with him. He was perfectly satisfied with respect to the expenditure on them, as under the control of the Admiralty, by the engineers he had named. He was bound, however, to add, that he was not entirely satisfied that there should not be some reports from one of their own officers respecting them. Therefore the Engineer officer who enjoyed the confidence of the Board, would inspect the progress, and report on the nature of the works.


remarked that the right hon. Gentleman was the last person in the world whom he would think of charging with a job; but he must call the attention of the House to the circumstance that the private business of the House during the present Session had been seriously obstructed by the delay which had taken place in sending up the necessary reports from the Admiralty respecting Bills affecting harbours or navigable rivers, which must be submitted to that board in the month of December, if they were to be proceeded with in the next Session. He hoped that in future Sessions of Parliament arrangements would be made at the Admiralty to prevent a recurrence of that delay.


stated, that the delay alluded to by the hon. Gentleman arose from the circumstance that the officers of the harbour department wished to save expense to the parties interested, and therefore performed the duties themselves instead of sending down commisioners.


said, as it appeared the hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose had only read a part of the report, without the evidence, he thought that the hon. Gentleman's attack on the Committee was rather unfair. The hon. Member also took upon himself to say that the Admiralty did not know what these harbours along the coast of England would contain—a line of battle ship, frigate, or corvette. The hon. Gentleman could not have fallen into a greater error respecting the facts of the case, for every information which could be required on the subject was in the possession of the hydrographical department; the charge against it, therefore, was without foundation. The hon. Gentleman insinuated that he (Captain Berkeley) and other Gentlemen had not read the report of the commissioners on tidal harbours; but he could state that he had taken as much trouble on the subject as the hon. Gentleman himself, to read and make himself master of that document; and he should have felt that he Lad greatly neglected his duty if he had not done so.


felt bound, as a member of the Tidal Harbour Commission, to pay his humble tribute of respect to Captain Washington for the great attention, assiduity, and industry manifested by that gallant officer on all occasions. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose, however, had mixed up two distinct subjects, namely, the tidal harbours and the harbours of refuge, which had no necessary connection with each other. The hon. Gentleman stated that the Admiralty was totally ignorant as to what was going on respecting these harbours; he could state that the Lords of the Admiralty visited the works at Dover and Harwich within the last few weeks. Then as to the stability of the work, he believed nothing could be better or more satisfactory than the progress of the works under Mr. Walker and other eminent engineers.


thought it very hard that the Admiralty should be censured for reducing their staff of officers, when the First Lord declared that this was done from a feeling of economy, and could be effected without injury to the public service. The Government stated that they had done this on their own responsibility; and because the hon. Member wished to protect some pet child, he (Mr. Henley) did not think they should be blamed for their desire to effect a saving.


asked which department was originally responsible for the original plan of the harbours of refuge, and which department was responsible for the expenditure, and seeing that the works were duly executed?


replied, that the works had been undertaken in conformity with the recommendations of a commission appointed by the late Government. The Admiralty was charged with the responsibility for the works. The whole circumstances connected with them was fully explained by him before the Committee on the Miscellaneous Estimates, to which he would refer the hon. Gentleman.


did not think that the present conversation had been altogether useless. It appeared from the evidence before the Committee last year on the Navy Estimates, that the Admiralty was held responsible for the expenditure; but Lord Auckland stated that the scale of the outlay had not been laid before that board, and the plan and outlay did not rest with it. It appeared that the detail of the expenditure was under the direction of the Treasury and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and he did not think this joint control was one with which the Chancellor of the Exchequer should be satisfied. The statement of the First Lord of the Admiralty appeared to him to be perfectly satisfactory. It appeared that the Admiralty hereafter would be fully responsible for the expenditure, as that department would no longer be satisfied with the reports of the last engineers engaged on the works alone, who might have an interest to encourage a large outlay. It was therefore intended that the works should be inspected by the other Government officer. Colonel Irvine, who was the director of the engineering and architectural works connected with the Admiralty. He did not think that there could be a more satisfactory arrangement.


said, that at an early part of the Session he drew the attention of the First Lord of the Admiralty to the system of the distribution of medals to the officers and seamen of the Navy; and the House was given to understand that there would be a reconsideration of the several claims. There were many actions in which the approbation of the Admiralty was specially given, and the country never intended that these parties should be excluded from the advantage of a medal. For many of these actions the Order of the Bath had been given. That such a distinguished officer as Admiral Owen should not be in possession of a medal did appear something extraordinary. In another place he understood Earl Grey said, that such actions as he had mentioned, which had received the special approbation of the Admiralty, should be excluded from the receipt of the medals.


said, the question was one which created much interest in the country. Many officers who had distinguished themselves in the command of boats were wholly excluded from participating in the distinction which the medal conferred.


stated, that he could not only say that it was a matter of great difficulty to decide as to what claims should be admitted; but he knew that both the late Lord Auckland and the Duke of Wellington entirely agreed that they must he guided by certain rules. It was difficult to decide now as to the peculiar merits of actions between 1793 and 1815. It was held that they could not be influenced by any case of individual conduct. It was agreed by both the distinguished persons he had alluded to, when officers were promoted at the time of an action, or received other marks of approbation, they were not now entitled to medals. They were unwilling to pass by claims; but the Duke of Wellington had stated that if they did not draw a distinction, every man in the service of the Crown during the last war might put in a claim. There was every desire to do justice to all; but the House must see that there must be some rules, and he did not know how any rules could be drawn which would not appear harsh in some cases. He had had a great many communications with the Duke of Wellington on the subject, which had convinced him that no better rules could have been drawn than those acted upon.

Bill read a third time, and passed.

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