HC Deb 10 July 1851 vol 118 cc430-5

Order for Committee read.

House in Committee; Mr. Bernal in the Chair.

Clause 1 to 14 agreed to.

Clause 15.


inquired if it was the intention of this Bill to throw into one the funds of all the different ports in the kingdom, and to deal with them all alike?


said, it was believed by persons competent to judge that there was not a port in the country in which this fund was not in a state of insolvency. Many were in such a state that, if left to themselves, they must either gradually reduce the rate of pensions to such a sum that they would not be worth having, or else they must sell out from their reserved fund to keep up the rate of pensions, in which case the reserved fund must, sooner or later, be exhausted. The present was a radically vicious system, and he proposed to take the assets as a whole throughout the country, and to apply them to the liquidation of the claims against the fund, in the manner proposed by the Bill. He did not propose to deal alike with all the ports of the country. He proposed to guarantee the existing pensions at all the ports, and, as these pensions varied in amount, the richer ports would still derive an advantage from their past good management. But it would be unjust to throw the entire burden of winding up the fund upon the public, and not to make the assets available for these purposes.


regarded the statement just made by the right hon. Gentleman as one of the most painful which it was ever his fortune to hear from a Minister. The conclusion, he feared, was, that the situation of the merchant seamen had so much deteriorated, that a greater number had come upon the fund; or else how had it happened that it had become exhausted?


said, that he did not think that the condition of this class of persons had become deteriorated. The cause of the present state of the fund was, that it was originally founded upon vicious principles, and could not be self-supporting, and any intelligent actuary would have told the hon. Member (Mr. Henley) that the fund would blow up some day or other. What had ruined the fund was a provision introduced into an Act of Parliament by Mr. Pease, under which the widows and orphans of sailors were thrown on this fund to an unlimited extent. The fund was originally founded for broken-up sailors and the widows of those who had been maimed or killed. But the fund was now very much engrossed by widows and children, to the exclusion of the sailors. He had not found on the part of the economists in that House any indisposition to come to the relief of the seamen. It was not the fault of the sailor that the fund was insolvent, and it would be unjust and unfair to allow this meritorious class to bear the loss. He had therefore framed this Bill in a liberal spirit towards the sailor, and he lamented that it would be necessary to throw a burden of from 500.000l. to 800,000l. upon the general expenditure of the country. He could not consent to any proposal not to allow the assets at all the ports to make up the deficiency of the fund. By the arrangement he proposed, he should secure to all the receivers of a pension every farthing that they now received. All those who at present contributed to this fund might continue to do so, and they would derive the benefit of their pensions when they became entitled to them. At the same time, it would be left optional with the contributors whether they would go on contributing to it or not. He proposed to get rid of the fund, to sweep away the present system, and to do away with the complicated management, and the little trusts, with the separate expense of management.


said, the right hon. Gentleman had undertaken a very ungrateful and troublesome task in attempting to settle that difficult matter, which should have been settled years ago; and he considered the right hon. Gentleman was entitled to great credit for the zeal and ability he had shown in the business.


said, that the plan proposed by this Bill had great advantages over that brought forward by the right hon. Gentleman last year, which would have had the effect of carrying on the present state of things ad infinitum. They were now about to make a large payment out of the public treasury; and he hoped they would derive an important lesson from the sacrifice they were obliged to submit to. The whole of the evils connected with the present state of the Merchant Seamen's Fund arose from the mistaken interference of that House in affairs which they had nothing to do with. By a system of interfering legislation they had created reasonable expectations, which they could not now disappoint, and which compelled them to impose a considerable sum upon the funds of the country. There could be no doubt that in some of the large towns the fund had been better managed than it had been in the smaller ports.


said, the reason that some of these funds were better than others was, that in the early period of their lives sailors were generally employed in long voyages, and they embarked from such ports as London or Liverpool. When they became old, they were turned over to the coasting trade, and then belonged to some small port, and became a pensioner in it, and the Liverpool or London fund got rid of him. This was a case of going through the Gazette, an investigation into the affairs of a concern called the Merchant Seamen's Fund, and the unpleasant discovery that the parties who had the management of the funds could not pay 20s. in the pound, and were obliged to come to the State for the deficiency. But he hoped it would not be listened to for a moment that any of the funds should be withheld from the general fund.

Clause agreed to; as were the remaining Clauses.


said, he thought it extremely unfair that the funds which were well administered in certain ports should be taken away, and added to the general fund. He would therefore propose the insertion of the following Clause:— Provided always, and it is hereby declared, notwithstanding anything herein contained to the contrary, that all moneys now invested or standing in the name or names of a trustee or trustees for any outport, pursuant to and under the provisions of the Act 4 and 5 William IV. c. 52, shall from and after the passing of this Act be laid out or disposed of in such way and manner for the benefit of the masters and seamen of and belonging to the port, for and in respect of which the fund and moneys were collected or contributed, as the trustees, masters, and seamen of such outport shall, at a meeting to be called by a notice in writing under the hands of the treasurer of the fund, or the receiver for the port, direct, such notice to be affixed on the outer door of the Custom-house of such port for at least ten days prior to the holding of the said meeting, and such meeting to be held withing three months from the passing of this Act.


supported the Motion. He believed there was a desire on the part of the seamen to preserve those local funds as the nucleus of benefit funds, to be enrolled according to Act of Parliament, and subject to the usual regulations. He thought the contributors to the fund ought to have the option of handing over their funds to the Government.


said, that all the calculations which had been made showed that every delay occasioned a further loss of money. The proposition of the hon. Member was so monstrous a one that he was sure the Committee would reject it, because it went to apply the funds to some local purpose, and to throw the whole responsibility of winding up the fund on the Exchequer. The funds of all the outports would, he believed, realise 180,000l.; but if the public took the responsibility upon themselves, they would have to make up a sum equal to 500,000l. or 800,000l. This they were ready to do; but the proposition of the hon. Gentleman was to allow the seamen to take the 180,000l., and to escape all future responsibility.


said, he must deny that the sailors proposed to take the fund without the liabilities; they proposed to take a portion of the liabilities; striking off undeserving persons.


said, that the sailors did not propose to guarantee the existing pensions, but they wanted the funds to establish new benefit societies.


said, he should support the Clause. The local boards he was acquainted with had worked well, and they ought not to be deprived of the sums they had saved by good management.


said that, under all the circumstances, he believed that the Bill now before the Committee was the best solution of the difficulties of this perplexing question. All cases of the kind could only be arranged by some sort of compromise, and accordingly he had consented to take upon the public charge a sum of at least 520,000l. for the purposes of this Act. He must say that that was a very considerable sum to be borne by the public; but if the Clause now proposed should be adopted, a still larger charge would have to be made upon the Consolidated Fund. He could not agree to that proposition, because he thought it an unfair and an unreasonable one.


would support the Clause. If the Bill were passed in its present shape, a damper would be thrown upon all provident societies, whose encouragement and promotion by the Legislature was an object of the utmost national importance.


thought it a monstrous proposition for Colchester, with its twenty four pensioners, to insist upon keeping its fund, while Newcastle-upon-Tyne, with 6,000, was willing to give it up.


did not think this a monstrous proposition at all. He thought the local boards ought to have the management of their own funds. He had been connected with the local hoard at Shoreham, and he found them quite competent to manage their own affairs.


was surprised at the intrepidity with which hon. Gentlemen continued to press this proposition on the Committee. He would only remind the Committee before they divided that the proposal was, that the Exchequer should have all the liabilities, and that where there were any assets in hand in any port, they should be retained by the port.


, as representing the second port in Scotland, must say he thought it very hard that they should be deprived of their accumulations.


said, he thought the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman a very liberal one, and that it was only right that the Government should take the assets towards the liabilities.


thought the introduction of the Clause would damage the Bill, and he trusted the hon. Gentleman would not press it to a division.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

House resumed; Committee report progress.

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