§ Order for Committee read.
§ MR. JAMES MACGREGOR
said, it would be convenient if the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade would state to the House what course he intended to take with reference to the Bill, and particularly with reference to the third clause, which affected existing officers. The sergeants of the Cinque Ports had important duties to perform in connection with wreck and salvage; in order to discharge these duties more effectually, they had expended large sums of money in the erection of warehouses and for other purposes; and he believed it would be generally admitted that the way in which they had discharged their functions had given much satisfaction. He hoped that no alteration would be made which would affect the interests of those officers, or interfere with the appointments which they held, except on the occurrence of an ordinary vacancy. It was also com- 386 plained that the schedule of fees proposed to be appended to the Bill was wholly inadequate with reference to the duties to be performed.
§ MR. CARDWELL
said, the general object of the Bill was to secure a uniform administration of the law in matters of wreck and salvage throughout the kingdom. In the year 1846 a general consolidation of the law upon this subject had taken place, and the general administration had been very naturally placed in the Board of Admiralty, because the Mercantile Marine Board was not at that time in existence. Now, however, such a Board had been created by Act of Parliament, to which all these matters would be more naturally referred, and it had, therefore, appeared to the First Lord of the Admiralty and to himself that it was right to transfer the general administration of these laws from the Board of Admiralty to the Board of Trade. It was one object of the present Bill to carry out this design by dispensing altogether with the office of Receiver General of the Droits of the Admiralty, which was an unnecessary expense, because the officers of the Mercantile Marine Board were the proper parties to discharge the duties which attached to it. The office, therefore, of Receiver General of the Bruits of the Admiralty would he prospectively abolished; and with respect to the receivers throughout the kingdom, who now held their offices at the pleasure of the Receiver General and of the Board of Admiralty, this Bill simply transferred them to the Board of Mercantile Marine. With respect to the sergeants of the Cinque Ports, they would continue to hold their offices upon the same tenure as heretofore. With respect to receivers generally throughout the country, it was not proposed to make any new appointments, the intention being that, as vacancies occurred, the officers of Customs should undertake the duties which the receivers now discharged. From communications which he had had with the principal officers of the Customs, of the Coast Guard, and of the Board of Admiralty, he believed that those duties would be better and more economically performed by the revenue officers than by special receivers appointed for the purpose. That being the general object of the Bill, he had stated how the position of the receivers would be affected—that they would hold their offices upon the same terms as hitherto, with the single exception that, 387 instead of holding them at the pleasure of the Admiralty, they would hold them at the pleasure of the Board of Trade. With respect to the schedule, it had been represented to him by the receivers that, although the more moderate scale which he had thought it right to propose was just and reasonable in reference to large transactions, there might be many small transactions in which it would not be so. He had pointed out to these parties that, under the fifth clause of the Bill, there would be power given to the Board of Trade to regulate the charges with a clue regard to the just claims of the shipping interest and of all parties concerned. He had no objection, however, to make the schedule more elastic, and to adopt an arrangement which had been found to work very satisfactorily in the case of the Cinque Ports, by increasing the rate of percentage, but providing that the total amount of fees should not exceed a certain sum. He would not go over the ground which had traversed at the commencement of the Session, by again going into an explanation of the general objects of the Bill; but he might state that it was introduced as part of a general system, by which it was hoped to take more effectual security fur the preservation of life and property, and the prevention of shipwrecks and disasters on our coasts. The Bill made no alteration whatever in the rights of anybody, and he hoped the House would now consent to go into Committee.
§ MR. MACARTNEY
gave a general approval to the Bill, and bore testimony to tile abuses which had arisen under the present system. He disapproved, however, of the proposal to put the duties now discharged by the receivers in the hands of the Custom-house officers; and he also objected to giving the Coast Guard the Powers contemplated by this Bill,
§ SIR GEORGIA PECHELL
differed from the views of the hon. Member who Lad last spoken, in reference to the Coast Guard, and thought they would discharge the duties imposed upon them faithfully, without being swayed by considerations of pecuniary interest. He believed the Bill would be received with general approbation.
§ MR. M'CANN
also dissented from the provision for making Custom-house officers receivers. He thought the duties would be best discharged by persons independent of the Customs altogether.
hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would endeavour to make 388 some provision for putting an end to the disgraceful practices which too frequently occurred in cases of wreck on various parts of our coast. He was not prepared to augur well of the arrangement for ultimately doing away with the office of receivers of Admiralty droits; but whatever determination might be come to upon that point, he hoped that the suppression of the outrages to which he had referred would be made the object of some special enactment.
§ MR. V. SCULLY
agreed in the necessity of introducing uniformity in the administration of the law; and although he thought good reasons might be given for the objection taken to the third clause by his hon. Friend opposite, the Member for Drogheda (Mr. Macartney), he had no doubt that all these matters had been very fully considered, and he did not, therefore, propose to raise any discussion upon it. He wished, however, to say that that clause appeared to him to contemplate a power in the Board of Trade to get rid immediately of the existing receivers of droits, and to transfer their functions to the Customs. He was quite sure that the right hon. Gentleman had no intention whatever to exercise that power, and that as long as he remained in office the present receivers would be safe. By and by, however, some other person might succeed him who might take a different view of the matter, and who, not being bound by anything that passed in the House which was not made part and parcel of the Bill itself, might exercise the power of immediate dismissal which this clause gave. He thought, therefore, that some words ought to be introduced into the clause which would make this matter perfectly clear. He wished also to call attention to the fact that the fifth section, while it gave the Board of Trade power to diminish the fees of the receivers, gave them no power to increase them.
was quite satisfied of the necessity of some alteration of the law, and he thought that the change which would hand this business over to the officers of Customs was a most desirable one. He believed it would be much better managed than it had been hitherto. At the same time, he agreed with much that had been said upon this subject; and although he believed the right hon. Gentleman had no intention whatever of immediately sweeping away the present receivers, he concurred in the propriety of introducing 389 some provisions which would make it quite clear that they should not be summarily discharged.
§ MR. HILDYARD
suggested that his right hon. Friend should endeavour so to shape the law that outrages on the coast might be dealt with, without having recourse to those very extreme measures which, as the law now stood, were the only means which could be resorted to. At present, if a body of people attacked a wreck, the only mode of repressing the outrage was to cause the Coast Guard to fire upon the wreckers; but that was an extremity which few magistrates would have recourse to.
§ SIR JOHN TYRELL
said, that, as the owner of a manor on the Essex coast, and entitled in that character to any wreck which might be cast upon the shore, and not claimed within a certain time, he could bear testimony to the delay and expense which were occasioned by the existing machinery, and to the necessity of further legislation on the subject. The Bill known as Mr. Milner Gibson's Bill operated so expensively, that in cases of dispute substantial justice could not be obtained. The great practical want was a tribunal to interfere and settle questions that might arise.
§ MR. HORSFALL
gave his entire approval to the Bill, and said, there was a great advantage in transferring the duties hitherto discharged by the receivers to the officers of the Board of Customs. The mercantile community had the greatest interest in supporting the Bill, inasmuch as it reduced the charges from one to five per cent.
§ MR. CAYLEY
pressed the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, to state what he intended to do with the existing occupiers of the office of receiver; did he mean to absorb them summarily, or only as vacancies occurred?
§ House in Committee; Mr. BOUVERIE in the Chair.
§ Mr. CARDWELL
wished, in the first place, to state to his hon. Friend the Member for Whitehaven (Mr. Hildyard), that in the course of the preparation 390 of these mercantile measures last winter, nothing had more seriously occupied his attention than those deplorable cases of loss of life and property upon the coasts of this kingdom, which were a scandal to a mercantile country. He had had communications, however, with the Comptroller of the Coast Guard, and with Captain Washington, and with other persons who were eminently qualified to give a practical opinion on the subject, and he trusted that the result of the measures of this year would be to provide much more effectual safeguards against such disasters than those which now existed. With respect to the question put by the hon. Member for North Yorkshire (Mr. Cayley), he had only to repeat what he had already said to the receivers themselves, that by the existing law the receivers held their offices by no fixity of tenure whatever. They held them entirely at the pleasure of two persons—at the pleasure of the Receiver General of Droits, and at the pleasure of the First Lord of the Admiralty, either of whom could absolutely, at any moment, displace them. So far as any alteration was made by this Bill, it was not against the receivers; for, instead of leaving them subject, as at present, to be absolutely removed at the pleasure of either of two persons, it would give that power to one person only. With respect to the declaration of his intention, he must say that he had no intention whatever of summarily displacing the present receivers; and he had said so much to the deputation which he had received; but he felt he should have gone very much beyond his duty, if he had conveyed to them the idea that they held their offices by any more certain tenure than that tenure which the Act of Parliament prescribed, or that the Government was under any moral obligation to retain them. What it Was proposed to do was to make a general code of discipline, so that persons in different districts, and particularly foreigners, might know that there was a public officer representing the kingdom of England, to whom, in cases of distress upon our coasts, appeal might be made. They wished, also, to reduce the number of officers, and to lessen the expense, and they thought they might more effectually attain these objects by giving the duties now discharged by the receivers to the officers of Customs than by creating new offices, and giving a large amount of patronage to the Board of Trade. If they had desired to carry the 391 measure without a due regard for those who had not a vested but a temporary interest, nothing would have been easier than for his right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty to have exercised his undoubted power in the first instance, and to have dismissed the receivers all at once.
§ Clauses 1 and 2 were agreed to with verbal amendments.
§ On Clause 3 being proposed,
moved the addition of words securing the receivers of the droits from summary dismissal, so long as their duties were properly discharged.
§ MR. CARDWELL
considered the insertion of the words altogether unnecessary, and believed they were calculated to convey a false impression. His object was that the title of these parties should rest on the Statute of 1846, and he did not intend to create a scintilla of vested interest. He would, however, further consider the clause with reference to that point.
§ Amendment negatived; Clause agreed to.
§ Remaining Clauses were also agreed to, and the House resumed.