HC Deb 20 June 1851 vol 117 cc1067-9

moved for leave to bring in a "Bill to amend the Acts relating to the Merchant Seamen's Fund, and to provide for winding up the said Fund, and for the better management thereof in the meantime." He must say there had been just cause of complaint among the sailors employed in the mercantile marine with regard to this fund. The truth was, that the fund was in a most miserable condition—in fact, in a state of the most hopeless insolvency. That insolvency had been increasing year by year, and additional difficulties were now presented to Parliament in dealing with the question. The fund was raised by a compulsory tax of 6d. a month upon seamen's wages; it was managed under the provisions of Acts of Parment; and the result was that the fund had been brought into the condition he had described. The fund was considered in the light of a benefit society, and Mr. Finlaison had calculated at the end of last year that if the fund were wound up, and all the liabilities discharged, there would be no less a deficiency than 800,000l. The subject was most appalling in a financial point of view, and no less lamentable with reference to the interests of the persons concerned. Last Session he (Mr. Labouchere) brought forward a measure founded on the principle of increasing the contributions of the sailors to the fund by the amount of another 6d. a month, which would have added to the income about 32,000l. a year, and he also proposed to add 30,000l. a year from the public Exchequer. He hoped that by that means the fund might have been relieved from a state of insolvency, and that the means would have been provided of affording, not a miserable and unequal pittance, but a regulated and equal pension, to the sailors who contributed, as a provision for their old age. He had, however, been obliged reluctantly to abandon that scheme. The experience of the last year had convinced him that it was impossible to reconcile the merchant seamen of this country to an immediate increase of a fund of this kind, the advantage of which was only prospective. He proposed, therefore, to wind up the fund in a manner which he hoped would be just to the parties who had hitherto contributed to it, and would put an end to what had been a fruitful source of discontent among the merchant seamen. This could not be done, however, without assistance from the State, and he believed the burden that would be entailed upon the public by the plan he proposed would not be less than 600,000l. or 700,000l. That payment from the public Exchequer would be spread over a period of some thirty years; and he calculated that about the year 1880, the whole of these payments would cease, and the fund would be finally wound up. He proposed to admit no new contributors, to guarantee the payment of all existing pensions, and to allow those who had hitherto contributed to continue their usual payments and to receive their pensions; but he would also provide that if they ceased to contribute for two years they should forfeit their claim. He also proposed to equalise these pensions on an average of years, and to provide that all the assets of the funds should be calculated, and the deficiency made up from the public funds. He believed the amount of charge which would thus he thrown upon the public purse could not be less than from 500,000l. to 700,000l. He proposed to make use of the existing local bodies as far as he could for the purpose of managing the fund in the interval, and of finally winding it up; but he would also give very summary and stringent powers to the Board of Trade with regard to the general control over the whole arrangements.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Labouchere, Sir Francis Baring, and Mr. Cornewall Lewis.

Bill read 1°.

The House adjourned at a quarter after One o'clock till Monday next.