HC Deb 21 April 1853 vol 126 cc218-30

Order for Committee read.


, in moving that the House resolve itself into Committee on this Bill, presented a petition from merchants and shipowners of Liverpool approving of certain provisions in the Bill, and also a petition from masters of Liverpool vessels engaged in the coasting trade in favour of the Bill.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."


said, he considered that this was a measure which demanded a very strict examination in consequence of the important interests which it affected. The interests at stake, both as regarded the persons immediately connected, in one way and another, with pilotage, and as regarded the lives and property of the public, were so vast, and the question itself was so complicated, that a Select Committee could alone properly investigate the subject. The Pilot Boards of this country were numerous, many of them of ancient date, and performed their duties in a manner highly creditable to themselves and beneficial to the country. But the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Cardwell) proposed by this Bill to take power to cashier them all whenever he thought proper. By the tenth clause of the Bill, power was given to the Board of Trade to license masters and mates of vessels as Pilots—a provision which would place the local boards completely at the mercy of the Board of Trade. He (Mr. Turner) had presented petitions from the merchants, shipowners, and underwriters of Liverpool, against the Bill, and he undertook to say that a large majority of the mercantile men in that port were opposed to granting the powers which the President of the Board of Trade now sought to acquire. The Shipowners' Association of Liverpool had by memorial pointed out how dangerous it would be to permit licences to pilot vessels to issue from any other authority but that of a local board, acquainted with the perils of the port, and with the requirements of its commerce, and whose sole interest would be that the Pilot service should be eon-ducted in the most efficient manner, and with the greatest economy consistent with its efficiency. He would admit that some difference of opinion existed on this point, as must inevitably be the case in a mass of 400,000 persons, but a very considerable majority were strongly in favour of a local board. He would not attempt to deny that the masters and mates of coasting steam vessels were very skilful, and in most weathers were good pilots; but the House would perhaps learn with surprise that though they wished to be freed from pilotage in fine weather, they were unwilling to forego the privilege conferred upon them by the Act, of using the services of pilots in bad weather—in fact, they wished to have a pilotage of their own in good weather, and yet in bad weather to command the service which was kept up by sea-going vessels in fine weather. It was said that the charge on steam vessels was too heavy. He thought it was; but the Pilot Board at Liverpool had agreed to reduce their charge on coasting steam vessels to an amount so small that he might call it merely a retaining fee; and at the instance of the Shipowners' Association had also agreed to adopt a lower scale of pilotage on all steam vessels, and on all vessels towed by steam. Now, this was a subject which, in his opinion, was a fit one for investigation, and the House would observe that he merely asked them, in a case where important interests were involved, before it was legislated upon, to refer the subject to a Select Committee. He might, at the same time, remind the House, with the view of demonstrating the magnitude of the matter on which they were called upon to legislate, that last year the exports at Liverpool were 32,000,000l., while at London, fur the same year, they were only 16,000,000l. The House must not suppose that the Pilot Board of Liverpool was a board composed of pilots; it was constituted of the leading merchants and gentlemen of the port. The commissioners were 120 in number, forty-one being elected by the town council, and seventy-nine the successors of those who were originally appointed to the board. This part of the constitution of the board was objected to; and the question whether or not it should be remodelled was surely one for inquiry by a Select Committee of that House. The commissioners out of their body appoint a committee of 13, who have the power to grant licences, and to make such regulations as would render the service efficient. Those regulations were very stringent. For instance, no pilot could plead bad weather as an excuse for not going out, nor could he demand salvage. Under the regulations, twelve boats, which cost 2,000l. each, were maintained, and there were 279 pilots, who the House would scarcely say were overpaid when they heard that the emoluments only averaged 175l. a year. He might also inform the House that 117 pensioners, being superannuated pilots, and the widows and orphans of pilots, were maintained; and to this he would add that they were not allowed to act as full pilots until they had served an apprenticeship of seven years. This was a precaution to ensure the efficiency of the service. He thought that of all classes of men underwriters were best qualified to give an opinion on this subject. He held in his hand a petition from that body, in which they stated that they viewed with fear the Bill which had been introduced, as they regarded the measure as one most injurious to the shipping interest of the port of Liverpool. They considered it would be most dangerous to grant the certificates contemplated by the Bill, as the shifting sandbanks at the mouth of the Mersey rendered navigation most difficult, except to those not only well acquainted with the channels, but constantly occupied in navigating them, as the most skilful pilot, after a very short absence, would become wholly unfit to exercise his calling; and as a testimony to the efficiency of the existing service, they adduced the fact that, out of 38,873 vessels which had passed in and out of Liverpool, during the year 1852, only three had been lost, and these had no pilots on board. He was not aware whether the right hon. Gentleman proposed to exercise himself the powers granted by the Bill, or to transfer them to the Trinity Board; but he contended that a better board than the existing one, composed of 120 leading merchants and gentlemen of Liverpool, could not possibly exist; and certainly the centralisation of power sought by the Board of Trade appeared to him a most extraordinary proceeding, unless very good grounds could be shown for it. It was always the policy of that House and of the country not to withdraw without good reason the powers exercised by local bodies, to place them in the hands of the Government. He confessed he had heard no reasons to justify such a course. The only complaint was on the subject of the charges; but they were willing that this point should be decided by the Board of Trade. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would agree to his Motion for a Select Committee; and if not, on behalf of the port of Liverpool, and as a matter of simple justice, he must ask the House not to allow local boards to be arbitrarily deprived of powers which they had exercised for so many years with the greatest advantage to the community, not only without inquiry, but against the opinion of nearly every merchant and nautical man acquainted with the subject; and he trusted that the House would grant a hearing to the merchants, shipowners, underwriters, and commanders of vessels at Liverpool and other places interested in this most important subject before they allowed this despotic measure to pass into a law.


said, he seconded the Amendment with much pleasure, and he could not but hope that the right hon. President of the Board of Trade would feel it to be his duty to accede to the reasonable request of referring this Bill to a Select Committee, for if ever there was a Bill which demanded a strict investigation as affecting the great maritime interests of the country, as well as the vested interests of individuals, it was this. The hon. Mover of the Amendment had detailed the probable effects of the Bill on the Liverpool pilots. He (Sir E. Dering) would follow the hon. Gentleman's example by alluding to the interests of those with whom he was more particularly connected—he meant the pilots of the Cinque Ports. The Report of the Commissioners on Pilotage in 1846 ought to have the greatest possible weight with the House. That was the last Commission which had eat on the question; its authority was the best to which they could refer; and if the Bill were sent to a Select Committee, he had no doubt that the same reasons which influenced the Commissioners in 1846 would have an equal influence on the Committee, and that they would declare the alterations proposed by the Bill to be most prejudicial to the interests of all parties concerned. He believed there would be little difficulty in showing the very undue advantages that were given by it to the Trinity House pilots over the Cinque Ports pilots. It was perfectly true that permission was accorded to both bodies of pilots to pilot inward and outward—a privilege which they did not now possess; and if the pilots were to be placed in all respects on a footing of perfect equality, so that every pilot might have his fair share of the pilotage—though even then he thought that, practically, the change of system would be productive of great inconvenience, no objection could arise on the score of partiality. It was proposed by the Bill to continue the same system as in London—namely, to allow every shipowner to choose his own pilot, and thus to perpetuate a system fraught with bribery and jobbing, while the provision as regarded the rotatory system was to remain in full force in the Cinque Ports. Hon. Gentlemen were aware that, by the rotatory system, it was necessary for a party to undergo a seven years' apprenticeship, at the expiration of which he was declared qualified to take in ships of any draught, so that the youngest pilot, when placed on the rota, might take in a man-of-war, or other large vessel, as well as the oldest. The system was different from that pursued in London, and if it were not, a pilot must either adopt a discreditable mode of obtaining employment, or must forfeit all fair share of the outward pilotage. The undue advantage obtained by the Trinity-house pilot would be acquired thus. He would take his ship down the river to the Downs, and would then have a claim to be put on the rota of service, to share the inward pilotage with the Cinque Port pilots, who by the rules of the Trinity House were not allowed to compete with him for the pilotage of outward-bound ships. The next point to which he would refer was the cruising system, and the mode by which homeward-bound ships were supplied with pilots. The Cinque Port pilots had to cruise night and day in order to meet with the homeward-bound ships. They subscribed for the purchase of boats suited to this arduous service, and they were enti- tled, by the Act, to a certain sum for every pilot put on board a vessel. He found in the Bill now under discussion no provision for this cruising service; and there would be great practical difficulty on this point, as the boats were private property. The efficiency of the service could be demonstrated by the fact, that during the last twenty years, out of the 60,000 vessels navigated by the Cinque Port pilots up the river, only one had been lost by misconduct. He hoped, therefore, the House would pause before they consented to break up a system which had worked well, and interfered with vested interests, sanctioned by the guarantee of an Act of Parliament. And now as regarded the manner of raising funds. Each pilot paid 5 s. on each voyage to a fund from which on his death his widow became entitled to a pension of twelve guineas. Moreover, on the death of every pilot 1l. was paid, thus making a kind of insurance. The payments were compulsory, and in the aggregate those men had paid nearly 10,000. Again, there was an extra rate which pilots were entitled to levy on ships which had not the British register, and which formed a sort of superannuation fund. Now, he would ask, were all these funds without distinction to be placed under the control of the Trinity Board? He thought it unwise to give such powers to any body; and, although he made no charge against the Trinity Board, it was difficult to reconcile many of their present regulations with the principles of common justice, or, he would almost say, of common sense. As an illustration of that, he would mention these facts:—If he took a vessel from the port of London to Plymouth, he might navigate it with his own sailing master and crew, without a pilot; but, if he went to the coast of France, then his sailing master was declared incompetent, although he had to navigate his ship over precisely the same waters, and he must take on board a pilot. Nothing could be more ludicrous than such an arrangement; it would appear that the destination of the ship was the test by which the capacity of the master to navigate it was judged. Another regulation would not allow a vessel to go out from this country, even in ballast, to Hamburg, without a pilot; but on the other hand, if the vessel were bound to a Baltic port, with a valuable cargo on board, he was perfectly at liberty to navigate the river, take the North Channel, discharge the cargo at St. Petersburgh, and come home full of hemp and tallow, without the aid of any pilot at all. It was a question whether these regulations showed that amount of wisdom and sagacity which would induce the House to confer great powers upon the Board. If it should be thought desirable by the House to place all these various bodies of pilots under the control of one uniform body, it was only just that every precaution should be taken that the governing body should exercise its powers with the greatest impartiality. For this reason he was anxious that the Bill should be referred to a Select Committee.

Amendment proposed— To leave out from the word 'That' to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "the Bill be committed to a Select Committee,' instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


said, he cordially concurred in the Amendment. The pilots of the Isle of Wight, who stood in an altogether different position from the Cinque Port or the Thames pilots, considered that they were labouring under serious grievances in consequence of the regulations of the Trinity Board, and he thought that for the redress of the grievances complained of, the appointment of a Select Committee of this House was the most advisable step that could be taken. In 1844 the Southampton authorities claimed the exclusive privilege of piloting the course of their river; but they not only did that, but having some influence, he supposed, with the Trinity Board, they also requested to have the power of piloting vessels out to sea. Now, he should have had no objection to that, if in return they had granted to the Isle of Wight pilots the power of carrying the ships they were put in charge of at sea up to Southampton; but they did no such thing; and the result of the arrangement then made was, that, supposing a vessel which had come to Southampton from a foreign port to return to that foreign port, the Cowes pilot would receive only 3l., where the Southampton pilot would get as much as 6l. 12s. No danger was incurred by the Southampton pilots. They fell in with the ship in smooth water; they navigated her in smooth water; and sometimes they were able to perform the service in a mere wherry. The Cowes pilots, on the other hand, were obliged, by the regu- lations of the Trinity Board, to maintain a vessel of much larger dimensions, requiring more men to manage it (of course, entailing greater expenses on the pilots), and to brave the roughest weather at all times in the open sea; regulations which might have been good in 1844 might be very bad in 1853. The next grievance of which his constituents complained was, that, by a recent regulation, they could not get what was called "distance money," unless they entered into an arrangement with the captain at the time. Now, the pilots had no means of making an arrangement of this kind with the captain at the time, because they only required their services for long distances in foul and bad weather when the pilot boat could not remain alongside the vessel for any time without incurring the danger of being dashed to pieces. Another grievance they had to complain of was, that the great shipping owners, like Mr. Green, Mr. Wigram, and others, selected their own pilots, instead of taking the first who hailed them. Again, if two pilots made between them in the year 160l. or 170l. they were charged with income tax on the aggregate sum. This was an injustice which he hoped the Chancellor of the Exchequer would remedy. He could have stated several other complaints of the same kind, if he had not been unwilling to occupy the attention of the House longer at that late hour; but he hoped he had said enough to induce the House to grant a Select Committee.


said, that in case of grievance the pilots of the Isle of Wight could have redress from the Board of Trade if the present Bill passed. The hon. Member for Berwick (Mr. Forster) had expressed an opinion that the Pilotage Bill would not be of any benefit to the shipowners. He begged to state that an important document had been forwarded to him from a large body of shipowners in the port of London, representing 350,000 tons of shipping. The document had appended to it the names, among others, of Mr. Green, Mr. Phillips, Mr. Ingram, and Mr. Lindsay, and set forth that the undersigned British shipowners were of opinion that the proposed Pilotage Bill would be of great benefit to the shipping interest, especially as related to the system of the Cinque Ports pilotage, as it would open a competition among the pilots, and, by their having cruising licences, would encourage them to seek ships off Dungeness before the danger commenced, in lieu of awaiting their arrival within that point, which had hitherto been almost invariably the case, thereby jeopardising the safety of many of the valuably freighted inward-bound ships, their supineness having originated from the monopoly they had up to the present period enjoyed. He certainly thought that the Bill would be considered a great boon by the shipping interest.


said, he cordially approved of the Bill, which he believed would be of great advantage to the steam vessels plying between Liverpool and the ports of Ireland. He thought a most beneficial power would be given by this Bill to the Board of Trade, and also to the local authorities, to limit every act in relation to pilots, and to fix their fees. The local boards of Liverpool had full authority to grant pilotage licences to the mates and captains of vessels; but they had never done so, although the local boards of Glasgow and other ports had done this. He therefore rejoiced that by this Bill a power was given to the Board of Trade to compel them to give licences, if they continued to refuse. In case of any injustice, also, a valuable power of appeal was provided by the Bill. He would take the liberty of pointing out to the House, that at the time the 5th of Geo. IV. was passed, there was not probably one steamer plying between Dublin and Liverpool; in the interval that had elapsed since then, whole fleets of steamers from the various ports of Ireland—from Dublin, Drogheda, Dundalk, Cork, Belfast, Newry, and Derry, were continually plying to Liverpool, and repeated applications had been made in vain to the Liverpool authorities for some modification of their pilot regulations. He would just mention a few facts, which would, perhaps, rather surprise the House. He alluded to the case of the City of Dublin Steam Packet Company. In three years the vessels of that company made 2,736 voyages between Dublin and Liverpool. In the whole of that period pilots were furnished 245 times by the local board of Liverpool, the fees paid on those occasions amounting to 4,500l. or 1,500l. a year. He would remind the House also of the utter worthlessness of pilots to steamers under such circumstances. Those steamers were out at all periods of the year, by night as well as by day, and in all weathers; and their captains, who had been in the service for years, knew every cranny and crevice of the port of Liverpool far better than any pilots, who entered the port but seldom; and the local authorities of Liverpool would have acted with a better grace if they had conceded the just demands made upon them. He hoped the Government would not grant the Select Committee.


said, his constituents felt strongly the necessity of legislation on the pilot laws. They had over and over again applied to be licensed, and to be excused from calling upon the Liverpool pilots. They were perfectly ready to pilot their own vessels in all weathers, and very frequently they had to pilot their own vessels in bad weather.


said, he considered that the details of the Bill would be much better discussed in Committee; but believing the Bill to be a most important one, he could not help asking to address a very few words to the House. The complication of the pilot laws, involved as the system was under local jurisdiction, and defended as they were in that House by Members who represented shipping localities, was one of the most difficult questions which any Government had to grapple with for many years. He was old enough to remember the time when his friend the late Lord Sydenham endeavoured to grapple with it; but his attempt was defeated by the opposition of the local representatives of the ports, while, if Lord Sydenham had succeeded, many hundreds of thousands of pounds would have been saved. He hoped a better spirit would animate the House now, and that they would not allow those local interests to defeat a measure which was due to the great shipping interest and to the country at large, and that they would not allow any obstruction to be the means of frustrating a measure which deserved the highest consideration. He had heard from both sides of the House expressions of an earnest desire to benefit the shipping interest; nothing could effect that better than to substitute a simple, uniform, economical, fair, and impartial system, instead of the present complicated system. He thought the House could not confer a more important boon than that on the shipping interest. He believed this measure would place the pilotage of vessels on a vastly improved footing; but he thought if all the minute details of the measure were to be sent before a Select Committee, instead of the question being settled in the present Session, it would be put off till the Greek Kalends. He had heard, with great pleasure, the speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for the county of Wexford (Mr. George). He thought the steam packets which plied between England and Ireland had the greatest right to complain of the present pilotage system; and he hoped the House would not support any Motion which would have the effect of obstructing the fair consideration of the measure then before them.


said, he would support the Motion for a Select Committee, as he thought that much consideration was required as to the provisions in the Bill affecting the power of the Trinity House and the Cinque Ports. The provisions of the 9th Clause were of such a nature, that it would be necessary to refer the Bill to a Select Committee to consider them. It was proposed by that clause to deal with the funds of the Cinque Ports, and to hand them over to the Trinity House; but this was a subject which ought rather to be referred to an actuary than disposed of in a Committee of that House. The proposition of the Government appeared to him to substitute a much worse system than the one which now prevailed. He saw no reason why the Bill should be pressed on the House at this early period of the Session, and should therefore support the Amendment.


said, after the discussion which the Bill had undergone from Members on both sides, he should not, at that hour, occupy more than a few minutes of their time. He should defer the observations he wished to make until they had a Committee of the whole House; but he wished to make one observation, with the view of bringing the sincerity of those who supported the Motion for a Select Committee to the test on this subject. They had passed the second reading of the Bill without a division; and he would ask them, did they or did they not intend that the shipowners should have the benefit of the reforms which it contemplated? The House might remember that a similar Motion was made, to refer to a Select Committee the Bill for the promotion of the public health. That Bill accordingly went before a Select Committee, and there was an end of it. If they were to have a Select Committee on this Bill upstairs, for the purpose of calling witnesses on all the subjects which had been mooted by hon. Members who had supported the Motion for a Select Committee, he should like to know when the Bill would be likely again to make its appearance in that House? The noble Lord opposite (Viscount Chelsea) had spoken on behalf of the Cinque Ports pilots. All he (Mr. Cardwell) would say was, that that was a subject which had engaged, and should continue to engage, the careful attention of the Government, and he should be ready when, in a Committee of the whole House, they got to the clause in the Bill which affected the interests of those men, either to vindicate that clause or to modify it if it should be the wish of the Committee, for it was his desire that the tenderest measure of justice should be dealt out to all parties concerned. But he would not submit to have the great principles of this measure sacrificed. At present there were certain bodies in the country who levied compulsory taxes on a great number of the subjects of the realm, under various Acts of Parliament, but who were not subject to the jurisdiction and control of Parliament; and it was one of the objects of this Bill to provide that the accounts, bylaws, and regulations of those corporations should now, for the first time, he laid annually on the table of that House. The Bill also made a person in the Queen's service responsible to Parliament for all measures connected with the compulsory taxation of the subject. In the event of the measure passing into a law, in future years full information on all these subjects would be brought under the notice of the House of Commons; hon. Members would have a right to call on the person who held the office in which he (Mr. Cardwell) was now placed, for all necessary explanations; and if at any time the shipping interest had not a full measure of justice done them, they would have a right to appeal to Parliament; and Parliament, having then all the requisite information before them, would be in a position to take such a complaint into consideration. He repeated, that the principle of this Bill was, that there should no longer be bodies who, levying compulsory taxes on any part of the subjects of this realm, rendered no account to Parliament and the country; and he asked the House now to give effect to their decision on the second reading by rejecting the Amendment of the hon. Member for Liverpool.


said, with respect to the remark of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Cardwell) that no means were taken to oppose the second reading of the Bill, no objection that he (Mr. Henley) was aware of was taken by any party in the House to the principle of the measure. What he contended was, that the first nine clauses of the Bill had nothing on earth to do with the remainder, which the right hon. Gentleman rightly called the principle of the Bill. Those first nine clauses related to an entirely separate and distinct subject; they swept away a large and ancient corporation and joined it to others, and that without affording any due protection to the interests of the body which was swept away. He should like to know whether they were more likely to delay this Bill by discussing those financial questions over the table of the House for days perhaps, than by considering them quietly in a Select Committee upstairs? The right hon. Gentleman said the Public Health Bill was buried by being sent to a Select Committee. He (Mr. Henley) hoped that would not be the fate of this Bill; yet he could not conceive any course more likely to thwart its progress than by discussing it in a Committee of the whole House. He would not throw overboard the interests of persons who were very unjustly treated by this Bill, without any means to protect themselves. These parties had been contributing years and years to a particular fund, and no sufficient provision was made to secure the advantages which they had a right to expect. He was unable to find in the Bill the least provision to secure that pilotage of the Channel upon which the hon. Member for Lichfield (Lord A. Paget) insisted. So far from wishing to throw any impediment, he was as desirous to see a good Bill on the subject as any Member of that House, and, whether in the House or in Committee, he would do his best to pass it. He believed there was great difficulty in discussing the clauses of the Bill over the table, and greater difficulty in satisfying parties interested by charter that they were justly dealt with. They were all disposed to give the shipping interest the advantage of the best pilotage at the cheapest rate; but the shipping interest would not wish that to be done at the expense of anybody without having their claims fairly represented and discussed. That was impossible to be effected over the table of the House. There was no provision in the Bill whatever for it, and he should be very sorry to see the Bill go out in the unjust shape in which it now stood.

Question put. The House divided:—Ayes 219; Noes 83: Majority 136.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill considered in Committee.

House resumed.

Committee report progress.