HC Deb 11 June 1850 vol 111 cc1080-8

Sir, I rise to move for a Select Committee to investigate the revenue and expenditure and present condition of the Harbours of Ramsgate and Margate. The trustees of the harbour receive annually a sum of about 21,100l. as dues from vessels, besides 5,400l. from other sources, making a total of 26,500l.; and the object of my Motion is, to ascertain how these revenues are expended. No advantage arises from levying this enormous toll, but it gives enormous patronage to the trustees of the harbour, who are enabled to expend 25,000l. a year on I know not what. Far be it from me to say that the money is misappropriated—the money no doubt is expended honestly; but it is wasted and expended in an improper manner. In 1822, there was a Select Committee appointed, who reported that the enormous dues collected by the Ramsgate Harbour Commissioners ought to be discontinued, and that the expense of keeping up the harbour—paying officers, and keeping it in repair, ought only to be 7,000l. a year; but since that time the trustees, in addition to 145,000l., since the harbour was first formed, have expended 1,500,000l. in repairs and alterations. Vessels of 350 tons and under can only enter the harbour, and yet they are levying tolls to the extent of several thousands per annum upon vessels which cannot enter the harbour. The trustees have now in their hands a sum of 66,420l., and what I propose is, that they shall lessen their expenses to 7,000l. or 8,000l. a year, and keep in their hands a surplus fund of 50,000l., in cases of need, to meet any unexpected accident that might occur in the harbour. I am not inclined to press my Motion, but I am anxious to obtain some information from the hon. Member for the city of London, who is one of the trustees. It is for that purpose that I shall submit my Motion, the object of which I shall state in a few words; but previous to my doing so, I beg to ask the hon. Member for London if he will consent to reduce the tolls 50 per cent? [Mr. MASTERMAN: No.] Then 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 inquiries 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 in Beachey Head, were eligible 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 in 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 funds 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 ease the shipping interest of the burden, 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 19,065l.; and with some other dues the trustees obtain an average income of 20,651l., besides a balance in hand of 5,694l.; in 1849 the tolls were upwards of 20,000l., and other income 5,000l. 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 vessels 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 ever any thing 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 seaports, 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 place in 1822:— Foreign Trade Committee, April 26, 1822. Sir William 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 5,000l. 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. 147,538l., 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 appears 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 banquetting-house for the trustees to dine in only once in each year, was erected, and it has cost 3,500l; 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 l,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. Let us have a Committee. 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 of Ramsgate and Margate 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 will be made to a Committee. Sir, I beg leave to move— That a Select Committee be appointed, to investigate the revenue, condition, and expenditure of Ramsgae and Margate Harbours.


seconded the Motion.


, as one of the trustees of the harbour, denied that the money had been expended in an improvident manner. No funds could be more justly administered, and no persons could more honestly discharge the trust reposed in them. Under those circumstances the trustees of Ramsgate Harbour had no wish to shrink from any inquiry the House imposed upon them; they acted according to their duty; and the more their conduct was inquired into, the clearer it would appear. With regard to the statement that they had in their hands an excess beyond 50,000l., he begged to remark that since that excess had arisen, it had been under consideration to make some reductions which he thought would be satisfactory to the shipping interest, and at the same time keep the harbour in a good condition. He could not as an individual trustee make any specific promise with respect to what might be done, but the subject was under consideration, and alterations would be made that would be acceptable to the shipping interest, and with a due regard to the state of the harbour.


was anxious to hear what line of defence would be made to the charge of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Lymington, for he believed there never was a grosser case for inquiry than that of this harbour, where toll was received for larger vessels than ever entered into it. He must call the attention of the House to an omission in the Motion of the hon. Gentleman with regard to the harbour of Dovor. Every word which the hon. Gentleman used with respect to Ramsgate was equally applicable to the port of Dovor. There was, however, this difference—the port of Dovor was no port at all. It was a port, as regarded the custom-house, for levying dues; but as a harbour or place to put into, it was utterly absurd to call it so. To show how the taxation in that harbour bore upon vessels, he called attention to a return laid upon the table for the years 1839 and 1840, from which it appeared that 842 vessels entered the port of Shore-ham, passing by the ports of Dovor and Ramsgate, and paid 391l. 8s. for the privilege of passing the port of Dovor. And he gave an individual case: there was a single vessel which paid 14l. 15s. as tonnage duty for passing that harbour. The hon. Member for Lymington had referred to the extravagance of the port of Rams-gate; but did he look to the information that had been obtained respecting the port of Dovor? The expenditure was 17,419l. and the sum the parties had to deal with was 23,000l. There was a sum of 800l. for law expenses to Mr. G. W. Ledger, registrar, and a sum of 1,036l. to Mr. Walker, engineer, for one year, though in all previous years the payment was 300l. or 400l. That would certainly show there was something that required inquiry. In 1839 and 1840 there was 10,000l. a year, and now there is 12,000l. a year, exacted from vessels passing the harbour; and he asked, would the House any longer tolerate such exactions? He proposed, therefore, to include Dovor in the Motion of the hon. Member.

Amendment proposed, after the word "Ramsgate," to insert the word "Dovor."


complained that great wrong had been inflicted on a steamboat company in the city which he had the honour to represent, by the tolls which were exacted on their steam vessels between Liverpool and Rotterdam. He had represented their case to the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, whom he regretted not to see in his place, and that right hon. Gentleman admitted the injustice, and said that he would lay the case before the Government.


thought it not quite fair to add the name of "Dovor" to the Motion. The hon. and gallant Member for Brighton should bring forward the matter by a substantive Motion, instead of by an Amendment of which no notice to the parties interested had been given. As he was convinced that the hon. and gallant Gentleman would act in the fairest manner, he would confine his reply to the Motion of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Lymington. He would not enter into the question as to the advantages derivable from the harbour, as he could not suppose that the House contemplated its removal. The question as to the relief of the shipping was, however, important, and to this he would address himself. As he understood the matter, the trustees of Ramsgate Harbour, according to the terms of their Act, were unable to reduce the dues until they had in hand a reserve fund of 50,000l.; and as they now had that sum, they were prepared to reduce the dues. He thought, under these circumstances, it would be more expedient to wait to see what the trustees intended to do; and after they knew what they would do, then the hon. Gentleman, should be think further inquiry necessary, could attain that object by again bringing forward his Motion. He thought that the trustees, having had the trouble of collecting this reserve fund, should be allowed an opportunity of reducing the dues spontaneously; and, therefore, he would recommend that the hon. Gentleman should withdraw his Motion.


thought the case made out by the right hon. Gentleman warranted the appointment of a Committee, for it appeared that the moment the trustees had acquired the sum of 50,000l. they were bound to reduce the dues, and they had not done so. He considered that the dues charged by harbours was a great tax on the commerce of the country; and their remission had been recommended by every Committee on which he had served during the last twenty years. He thought that, looking to the changes they had made in their navigation laws, it was the duty of the Government; it would be far more creditable to them, instead of waiting to be thus urged on every item, to see what could be done to remove all these taxes which pressed so heavily on the shipping interest. They might as well be without a Government if they would not seek to remit taxation. He would give his support to the Motion.


trusted that the hon. and gallant Member for Brighton would persevere with his Amendment when the proper time arrived. It was the general impression that these rates were unfairly exceeded; but he thought, after the intimation given, by which he understood that a reduction of 50 per cent was to be made by the trustees of Ramsgate Harbour, the hon. Gentleman might for the present Session withdraw his Motion.


offered to withdraw his Motion, provided the hon. Gentleman the Member for the city of London would pledge himself to endeavour to reduce the dues at least one-half.


thought it very unreasonable that he, as an individual trustee, should be called on to say he would reduce one item or another. He had stated that the subject had been long under the consideration of the trustees, that there was an earnest desire on their part to do justice to all parties, and he had no hesitation in saying a reduction was in contemplation, but what it was to be it would be very indiscreet for him to say.


thought that a case had been made out for inquiry, and that the hon. Member for Lymington was entitled to the thanks of the House for having brought the subject under their notice.

Question put, "That the word 'Dover' be there inserted."

The House divided:—Ayes 60; Noes 71: Majority 11.

Main Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 78; Noes 47: Majority 31.

Select Committee appointed, "to investigate the revenue, condition, and expenditure of Ramsgate and Margate Harbours."