HC Deb 28 May 1852 vol 121 cc1329-37

said, he wished to direct the attention of the House to the Light Dues levied on the commercial shipping, and especially to the correspondence between the United States Minister and Viscount Palmerston, laid before Parliament on the 13th day of February, 1851. It was a duty they owed to those concerned in the navigation of this country to find from them what they were really going to carry out for this interest. He, for one, had always advocated the abolition of the Navigation Laws, as he considered them injurious; but he must state that he had urged their repeal on the distinct understanding that we were bound to relieve the shipowners of this country from all the charges and everything that prevented their free competition; and he regarded the Light Dues levied along the coast upon British shipping as one of the greatest impediments to the development of our trade. Some of these lighthouses were the property of private individuals, and it was proved before a Select Committee upon the subject that the owner of the Winter-ton lighthouse had pocketed 20,000l. a year by an impost of 1d. per ton upon every vessel that passed. He assured the House that this was a heavy burden upon the shipowners of the country, now that they had to compete with railways for the coasting trade, and mentioned that from 1834 to 1845 no less than five per cent had been levied in Light Dues upon the whole freight of their ships. The example set us by the United States in this respect was worthy of attention, for whilst our vessels entered the American ports free of charge, an American vessel had here to pay 60l. before she could enter the port of Liverpool. The charge altogether here for lighthouses was near 300,000l. If the lighthouses of Scotland, England, and Ireland, instead of being under three separate Boards, managed at great expense, were placed on a proper footing, and properly administered, the whole expense might be so lessened as not to amount to above 80,000l. Such was the state of things here. In the United States, where there were triple the number of lighthouses, it did not cost the shipping either of England or of the United States one farthing. Surely it was of vast political importance to remove all ground of dispute between this country and that. If the Light Dues were continued, the Navy of England ought to pay them as well as the mercantile ma- rine. Nationally, politically, and socially viewed, this question yielded in importance to none other. He begged to say that he had not been prompted to bring this matter under the consideration of the House by any personal interest; he had not now, nor ever had in his life, a farthing of his money invested in the shipping interest. He had brought this subject forward with the view of relieving the burdens of our commercial navy, which we should regard as the nursery of the Royal Navy. He had no intention of concluding with any Motion, his object being to make an appeal to the Members of the present Government, who had so long professed to be friends of the shipping interest. They would really show themselves to be so should they accord with his views, and they might rest assured that they would receive the cordial support of that (the Opposition) side of the House in any efforts they might make for the removal of the grievance complained of.


hoped the fact of his having been a Member of the Committee that sat upon this subject in 1845 would be his apology for venturing to express his opinions in regard to it. From what fell from the right hon. President of the Board of Trade at the last deputation to him on this subject, he (Mr. Duncan) had no hesitation in saying that there was great anxiety on the part of the Government to take off, where practicable, the unjust burdens under which the shipping interest laboured. It appeared from the evidence which had been laid before the Committee of 1845, that the expense of keeping up only 105 lights, amounted to 74,832l. per annum. In the year 1842, the mercantile navy paid 225,875l. for the maintenance of lights. With the view of showing the excessive burden which the lighting system entailed upon our commercial navy, he might mention some facts touching the experience of two Scottish companies. The manager of the Dundee Trading Company stated before the Committee of 1845, that the percentage of the Light Dues attachable to the net profits divided among the proprietors of stock, amounted to no less than 63–3–10ths. The amount paid for Light Dues by that company alone, in respect of voyages between Dundee and London, amounted in one year to 2,056l. Again, the manager of a similar body (the Aberdeen Company) stated that the percentage for Light Dues amounted to 51 per cent on the profits. His hon. Friend the Member for Montrose (Mr. Hume) had pointed out the severe competition to which the coasting trade had been subjected by railways, which had not to bear the burden of Light Dues. He (Mr. Duncan) believed it was a notorious fact that many of the coasting companies, at this moment, were losing, instead of driving a profitable trade, in consequence of the Light Dues. Only a very short time ago, the shipowners of the borough he had the honour to represent met on this subject, and it was stated at that meeting that there was not a single individual among them that had received a farthing from the coasting trade for several years back. He believed a tonnage duty ranging from 6d. to 1s. 6d. would more than meet the expense of the lights. He thought, then, it was evident that the mercantile navy was subjected to a burden from which it ought to be relieved. He voted for the abrogation of the Navigation Laws, in the hope that every restriction would be removed from the shipping interest. If our shippers were permitted to have a "fair field, and no favour," he had no fear that they would be able to compete with any country in the world.


said, if the Government were not prepared to take off all the burdens of which the shipping interest complained, they might at least distribute them in a more equitable manner. Now that the shipowners' friends were in power, the shipping interest might surely expect relief in the matter of Lights at all events, because Light Dues were a burden which everybody admitted to be unreasonable and unjust. His hon. Friend the Member for Dundee (Mr. Duncan) had mentioned two cases of peculiar hardship; and he (Mr. Forster) would take the liberty of calling the attention of the House to a similar case. The Dublin Steam Navigation Company stated to the Committee of 1845, that they paid as much in lights as would keep the whole of the lights between Dublin and Liverpool. [Mr. HUME: There are eighteen lights.] The Company paid in respect of these lights from 5,000l. to 6,000l. a year; in fact, they assured the Committee that they would undertake to maintain the whole of the lights for that sum. Now, he contended that it was the duty of every country to light up its own shore. Humanity and public policy required that that should be done. The public might object, on the score of taxation, to pay for lighting directly, but they, nevertheless, did, in the end, in a round- about way, pay for it. There was a large amount of the Light Dues which it would be as just to call upon tailors or shoemakers as shipowners to pay. A large amount paid for jobs in buying up private Lights had been improperly charged on the shipowners. Not only had the shipowners reason to complain that burdens were imposed upon them, great part of which ought to be borne by the rest of the public; but they justly complained that the money that was levied from them in respect of lighting, was expended in a most extravagant manner. The shipping interest had long complained of this unjust burden, and the time had surely arrived when some step should be taken towards doing them justice. There were other burdens from which they ought to be relieved, but this, above all others, ought to be immediately removed.


said, the subject which the hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Hume) had brought under the notice of the House, was certainly one of very grave importance. He supposed after what had just been stated, that the House would not now hear so frequently as they had heretofore from hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House that the shipping interest was not in a depressed state. Two hon. Gentlemen, who were intimately connected with the shipping interest had each informed the House, that it was at present undergoing a hard struggle. But the House had hitherto been accustomed to hear statements made for the purpose of proving that that interest was in a very flourishing condition. Such statements, he thought, would not be made in that House hereafter with quite so much confidence—at all events, in the presence of those hon. Gentlemen who had done their best to remove this burden from the shipping interest. But he must say that he was somewhat surprised at the tone and manner in which this appeal had been made to the present Government, whom hon. Gentlemen opposite had styled the friends of the shipping interest. He thought the present Government might, with some justice, ask whence it came that an appeal of this sort was not made to the late Government—[Mr. HUME said, the late Government had been appealed to]—when it was known that there was a surplus in the Exchequer, and the dues could have been removed without laying a fresh tax on the community? The hon. Member for Berwick (Mr. Forster) had said that if this burden was not altogether removed by the Government, they ought at least to modify it, so as to make the shipowners bear no more than an equitable share of it. Now that was a proposition very general and very difficult to he dealt with; for who would say what was equity? It had been debated whether turnpike roads ought to be sustained out of the general funds of the State, or be paid for by those who used them—whether payments for their maintenance every time they were traversed, or only once a day. And similar was this question of Lights. It might be very well debated whether a steam vessel that might pass by the Lights more frequently than a sailing vessel, ought not to he charged more than the latter vessel. These considerations would show that the question was not so easy of settlement as hon. Gentlemen had represented. Hon. Gentlemen who had spoken seemed to be rather chary of taking off all the taxes; but he confessed that, so far as he had an opportunity of communicating with the shipowners, they appeared to him to he desirous of getting rid of them altogether. He did not think that they would feel very grateful for a mere shifting of the burden from one shoulder to the other. The hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Hume) had stated that the sum annually paid by the shipping interest for lighting was about 300,000l. He did not know whether that included the expenses of buoys and all the other incidental expenses. Be the sum what it might, there was no doubt that a large sum was annually paid, and would be for some time longer, for the purchase of private lights. The hon. Gentleman had alluded a great deal to the expenditure of America in this respect; but the hon. Member forgot to state that America laid very heavy import duties upon every thing that entered her ports. [Mr. HUME: On the goods, but not on the ships.] Well, it does not matter very much whether the burden is laid upon goods or ships; she recoups herself very handsomely out of the English pocket for any advantage derived by our ships from the lights along her shores. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Berwick (Mr. Forster), made a rather odd admission, for he said, "why, it is not the shipowner that pays for these lights, but the public, although in a roundabout way." All hon. Gentlemen who had spoken joined in thinking that very great economy would result from the adoption of the present American system of managing lights. The hon. Member for Montrose had stated that a centralised system of management, such as that, would be of great service to this country. Now, with the permission of the House, he (Mr. Henley) should like to read one or two passages from a Report which had lately been issued by the American Secretary to the Treasury, who had been appointed to inquire into the state of the Lights of the United States. The document bore date the 21st of May, 1851, and had been republished on the 4th of February this year. The Report said— The lighting of vessels, the beacons, buoys, and other accessories in the United States, are not so efficient as the interests of commerce, navigation, and humanity demand. They do not compare favourably with similar aids to navigation in Europe, generally, but especially those of France and Great Britain. But was that all? The Report went on to state that the Light establishments of the United States did not compare favourably, as far as economy was concerned, with those of Great Britain and France. So that here we had a plain avowal from the American Government that their Light system was not so efficient or economical as that of this country or of France. But let the House hear what the American Government stated with regard to other matters connected with this subject. Again, the Report said— There is no good reason why the Light vessels on the coast of the United States should not remain at their moorings under as favourable circumstances as those of England and Ireland do. And with regard to buoys, the report stated that— They are defective in size, shape, and distinction, and as a general rule sufficient care is not taken by competent persons to moor and replace them. Now, he presumed that it was a matter of interest to the shipping interest that the Light vessels should remain on their stations in bad weather. Now, when this advantage was added to our more economical and efficient management, he thought there was little reason for asking us to imitate America in the matter of lighting. They went on to say that, in their opinion, the question might be very well managed by boards, similar to such a one as that over which the Duke of Wellington presided. In Scotland lighting had been very well managed by boards, and they believed it would be well to introduce that system into America. Now, he thought it right to bring these facts before the House, without pretending to any very great knowledge of the subject. As this was a subject of very great importance, he had paid considerable attention to it from the first moment that he had entered upon the duties of the office which he had the honour to fill. He was not one of those who thought that the shipping interest of this country was in a state of prosperity. He was not one of those who had contributed to bring that interest to its present unhappy condition. He believed that that interest had yet to go through a very severe struggle; and it would be the duty of that House to relieve them from any unjust burdens under which they might be labouring. There was one most important point, to which the hon. Member for Montrose had given the go-by—he meant the manning of our commercial navy. That was a matter which pressed with great severity upon the shipping interest, and, therefore, when all these burdens were talked about, it was necessary that it should not be thrown aside. Had he not been acquainted with these matters before entering office, it was impossible, in the short period that he had been connected with the Government, to have known much about them; and all he could say was, that it would be his anxious desire to pay every attention to the subject. If he could, by what was called a more equal arrangement of these duties, succeed in placing them in a different category to that in which they were now placed; if any relief could be given without doing greater injustice than in another, no efforts of his should be wanting to bring about such a result; but the prayer of the shipping interest was to be relieved from the burden altogether, by placing the tax upon the whole community, on account of the alteration of the law which had taken place within the last two or three years.


said, he had to express his regret that he had not been present at the commencement of the discussion. With respect to the representations which had been made to him on the part of the shipowners when he held office as President of the Board of Trade, he begged to explain that what he had said was, that if they were satisfied with a commutation of the present amount levied on shipping into a similar amount raised by a tonnage duty, he should he prepared to give a favourable consideration to any such proposition, on this understanding, that the question of the reduction of these dues should not form part of that scheme, that it should be a plan confined to a commutation, postponing the question of re- duction to another opportunity. The question of the reduction and arrangement of these dues was one of the greatest importance to the shipping interest; but it was a question beset with difficulties, and at that period of the Session when the application was made, he did not feel warranted in holding out any hope in dealing with it. At first he thought it was the desire of the parties that some such scheme should be carried into effect; but it turned out that the real object of the parties was the reduction rather than the commutation of the burden, and under these circumstances he felt himself relieved from the pledge he had given. Hon. Gentlemen were apt to forget how much practical reduction in Light Dues had taken place since the repeal of the Navigation Laws. On that part of British shipping which had to compete with the railways, and which was not affected by the Navigation Laws—he meant the coasting trade—the reductions in Light Dues within the last few years had amounted to three-fourths, so that they paid only one-fourth of what they formerly paid. The reduction on the foreign trade was not so considerable, but yet it was not altogether unimportant. He was unwilling to be drawn into a discussion with the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade as to the effects which had attended the repeal of the Navigation Laws; but, after what the right hon. Gentleman had said, he could not help stating that if there were any serious doubts in regard to that measure, those doubts ought to be removed, for he believed it could be demonstrated that, if that alteration of the Navigation Laws had not taken place when it did, the shipping interest would have been in a state to occasion great alarm. The great carrying trade of the world would have been transferred to America; because the United States were offering terms of reciprocity and equality with all the nations of the world. Gentlemen argued as if this were a question of free choice, as if we could have preserved that system of monopoly which previously existed. We had no such option. If we had shut out other nations from our carrying trade, they would have shut us out from them, and he would venture to say that at this moment, but for that change, the Board of Trade would have been crowded by merchants engaged in the carrying trade with Prussia, Russia, and other countries, imploring Government to adopt that course of liberal policy which would alone save them from annihilation. With regard to the effect of the alteration in the Navigation Laws, he appealed to a fact never contradicted, namely, the busy state of the building yards. In the great building yards on the Clyde and the Thames, at Liverpool and other ports, wherever they went, they would find not only more ships building, but better ships. Ships from the Thames contended with American clippers. An extraordinary stimulus had been given to shipbuilding, and given to it in respect of the quality of the ships now launched. Those were the effects of competition; and, when he looked to the ships launched and on the stocks, he could not believe that the shipbuilders and shipowners of this country so little understood their own business as to embark their capital and energies in a business of this kind unless they believed it was likely to yield a profit. He lamented the partial suffering incident to a state of transition; but the progress of the country would not be stopped on that account. It was impossible to look at the condition of the merchant shipping and not see that it was not in a state to occasion alarm for that great interest; but it was his firm belief that the House in altering the Navigation Laws, had pursued a wise policy—not merely for the interests of this country, but for the special interest of the shipping.


said, he had come to the conclusion that the Light Dues should be paid out of the Consolidated Fund. The country owed much to the right hon. Gentleman who had just spoken for what he had done for the coasting trade. As regarded the modification of the Navigation Laws, he (Mr. Macgregor) wished they had been repealed altogether. Never were good ships so much in demand as at present. As a member of a deputation he had met the right hon. Secretary for the Colonies, who received them with the greatest courtesy. It appeared that there was a great demand for the Colonies. He hoped the remaining restrictions of the Navigation Laws would be removed, and shipowners left to man their vessels as they best could.