HC Deb 21 May 1857 vol 145 cc636-44

said, the subject of his Motion, though apparently of merely local interest, was in reality of imperial concern, for the object of the measure, which he sought to introduce, was to relieve a particular class of traders from an impost which ought to be levied on the whole community. It was with respect to certain duties imposed for working the Harbour of Kingston that he chiefly referred. That Harbour had great capabilities as a refuge Harbour for all vessels on the eastern coast of Ireland that were in distress. It had been the means of saving a vast amount of life and property, in vessels belonging to other ports. It was, in fact, the only harbour of refuge on the east coast of Ireland. In the reign of George III. an Act of Parliament had been obtained to build a small pier at a place called Dunleary, chiefly for the accommodation of the Dublin merchants. For that purpose certain dues wore imposed upon the trade of Dublin. Several years after that, a Bill had been passed for making a great harbour of refuge, intended for the relief of vessels from all parts of the world. By some inadvertence, the duties intended to apply to this small pier were realized for the making of the great harbour. Forty years had now elapsed, but no steps had been taken to make that harbour. The consequence was that the trade of Dublin continued to be burdened with these imposts, which were of a most absurd, ridiculous, and unfair character. As an illustration of the unjust character of the tolls levied, he would state that a vessel passing the harbour of Kingstown to go to Dublin, paid 4d. per ton, while a vessel which took refuge, and was saved, hut did not go to Dublin, paid nothing. The dues, too, in many cases were enormous in amount. Thus, a cargo of tea imported to Dublin paid 2s. on every chest entered in the warehouse, while a cargo of tea in the same vessel, and under similar circumstances, but bound to another port, paid nothing. The consequence of the inequalities was, that the people of Dublin paid to provide a refuge for vessels from all parts of the world. The Committee upon local dues had recommended the abolition of those imposts, and the collector in Dublin had stated that the port of Drogheda derived more benefit from the harbour of Kingstown than Dublin did. Another of the duties imposed on the trade of Dublin was 2s. on every entry at the Board of Customs, for the purpose of building the Corn Exchange; also 6d. for the purpose of keeping up the Royal Exchange. The Exchange was no longer used for commercial purposes, but had been transferred to the municipal corporation. The dues received by the Government from the trade of Dublin, on account of Kingstown Harbour, amounted to some £3,000 a year, but in addition to that, they paid the Ballast Board of Dublin £2,500 a year, as compensation for differential dues which it might levy on foreign ships. When these duties were first imposed, Kingstown belonged to the port of Dublin, but it was now entirely distinct from it, and had a separate set of Commissioners. All that he asked the House to do, was simply that which the Government had attempted unsuccessfully to do in the last Session of Parliament. He thought he had been enabled to prove that the duties he had referred to were obsolete and levied unfairly. He believed the hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Board of Trade had stated some intention of bringing forward a general measure during the present Session, but thought it might be fairly inferred that there was considerable doubt of such a measure passing during the present Session. He had been requested by the Dublin Chamber of Commerce to bring forward a Bill for the purpose of repealing those dues at once; and he had given notice for the first day of the Session of the measure which he now proposed to the House. Redress had been promised for years, but all general measures had failed. He, therefore, felt himself entitled to claim the support of the House. Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House will now resolve itself into a Committee to consider of a Bill to repeal certain Duties on Ships entering the Port of Dublin, and other imposts affecting its trade and commerce.


said, under ordinary circumstances he should not have objected to the introduction of such a measure; but the circumstances of this case were so peculiar, that the Government felt it their duty not to allow the measure to move a single step in that House. He would briefly state to the House their reasons for that determination. The dues referred to amounted to about £3,000 a year, and they formed part of the Consolidated Fund. They were given to the Consolidated Fund as interest upon certain sums advanced by the Consolidated Fund for the purpose of making Kingstown Harbour. The Government of this country had spent £314,000 in those works, which undoubtedly were intended—whether they had succeeded in doing so or not was entirely beside the question—to improve the Harbour of Dublin. They had also, beside the other sum, paid off the debts upon the Corn Exchange, Dublin, out of the Consolidated Fund. For that, the Government had got those dues and some other small payments, which paid but a small rate of interest annually for those enormous advances. The proposition of the hon. Member for Dublin, who might be said to represent the debtors, was to cancel the debt altogether, and leave the Government without any equivalent or compensation whatever. That was a proposition so extraordinary, that he was bound to resist it in limine, and not allow it to go a single step. There was another thing still to be taken into account. The hon. Gentleman had stated that not only did the Government receive £3,000 from the tolls levied in Dublin, but that the Government paid £2,500 to the Dublin Ballast Board as compensation for differential dues which it might levy on foreign ships. The proposition of the hon. Gentleman, therefore, was, that although Dublin received £2,500, and paid £3,000 to Government, the House was to cancel the £3,000 which they paid, and leave untouched the £2,500 which they received. The hon. Gentleman had stated that he (Mr. Lowe) proposed to do the same thing in his Bill. He had done so, but it was as part of a system, and that which might be just if universally applied, would be the height of injustice in a particular case. The principle affirmed by that measure was that all dues on shipping, not applied to shipping purposes, should be abolished, and in following out that principle, the Government had been willing to forego those dues. By his Bill both payments would have been abolished. The hon. Member had opposed that Bill, but now he came forward to ask the House to confiscate the revenues of the Government in a particular case. He submitted to the House that, until they could deal with the matter as a whole on some definite principle, they ought not to deal with it at all; much less should they sanction the principle of defrauding the Imperial Government by giving hon. Gentlemen leave to introduce Bills in that House to cancel just debts.


said, he had listened to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman with considerable surprise. The right hon. Gentleman contended that, because the Government had advanced a certain sum of money for the construction of a harbour or refuge at Kingstown, they were justified in continuing to levy upon the city of Dublin a duty amounting to £3,000 per annum. The right hon. Gentleman, however, had expressed himself as having been perfectly willing to abandon that charge in his measure of last year, and it seemed to him (Mr. Grogan) that the right hon. Gentleman was scarcely warranted in refusing to remedy a manifest injustice, because the House had thought proper to pronounce that measure an act of confiscation. The duty was one which operated most injuriously upon the trade of Dublin, and in order to prove that such was the case, he should enter into a few details connected with the subject. Any foreign vessel might go into the harbour of refuge in Kingston and pay no toll, whereas if she proceeded to Dublin she was liable to a charge of 4d. per ton; and he should like to know how it could be said that it would be just to continue that charge, because a large sum of money had been spent upon the harbour. The next duty was one of 2s. upon entries inward in the Custom House, and with the permission of the House he would call their attention to a few instances, in order to show the practical working of the tax. Its aggregate amount was £21 13s. upon the cargo of a vessel which arrived in Dublin from Oporto on the 31st of May, 1848; while in the case of the ship Creole, which entered that port from Cadiz in 1838, it amounted to £31 1s. 6d. A charge of £31 10s. was levied upon the cargo of the ship Douglas, which had reached Dublin on the 17th of February, 1845; while upon that of the Old England, which was chartered by a Dublin merchant, and which arrived in that city in 1848, laden with tea from China, a duty of £131 12s. was imposed. How was it possible, he would ask, that, under these circumstances, the trade of the port could increase? The consequence of the imposition of the duty, indeed, had been that the trading community of Dublin found it to their interest to have their goods brought from foreign countries to Liverpool and thence to tranship them to Ireland. They took that course because, although when Kingstown Harbour had originally been constructed, the duty had been made payable on all goods imported into Dublin, yet, owing to the influence exercised by important commercial interests in England, the charge upon the cross-channel trade had been subsequently abolished. Great injury to the port of Dublin had been the result, and he should, therefore, appeal from the right hon. Gentleman, who appeared to have been actuated by spleen in consequence of the two Members for Dublin, having voted against his Bill of last year, to the noble Lord at the head of the Government, and beg of him to take the matter into his consideration, and to accede to the proposition of his hon. Friend near him, which, while it aimed at the abolition of certain duties, differed from the measure of last year in the circumstance that it left several other charges in the position in which they now stood.


said, the two Members for Dublin, with that fraternal unanimity for which they were so distinguished, had proposed to the House the remission of certain local dues in which their constituencies were interested. They had founded their application on a principle to which he hoped the House would not accede. Objecting to a general measure which was laid before the House last Session, the effect of which would have been to include those duties within a general arrangement—objecting to the principle of that general arrangement, they came forward and selected certain duties which pressed peculiarly on the port of Dublin, and asked the House for leave to bring in a Bill for the remission of those duties, although they had by a previous arrangement, to which that House had been a party, been appropriated as security for the advances of public money previously made for the benefit of the Port of Dublin. Those dues had been transferred to the Government in consequence of the large advances of public money made for the improvement of the Port of Dublin and for the construction of the Harbour of Kingstown. Taking those duties as they exist, they afforded but a small interest upon the advances of public money which were then made. The arrangement was to be considered one of the nature of an advance of public money, for which those dues were assigned as the only security. Now, the hon. Member for Dublin proposed what could only he considered a simple act of repudiation of a debt due by Dublin to the public. He would not deny that in particular cases those dues might fall with hardship upon certain vessels and a portion of the trade of Dublin; but the same objection applied to numerous other duties in which the hon. Gentleman did not propose to interfere. He must object to a measure of this sort coming singly, when not only that particular case, but the whole system would be dealt with by the Government. For those reasons he felt it his duty to resist the Motion for the Speaker leaving the chair. No benefit would arise from the House going into Committee to consider the measure. They knew what the measure was, and what was the object sought. It was simply the repeal of duties levied.


observed, that it was unusual to refuse a Member leave to introduce a measure, and it was unfair that the first instance of refusal this Session should be in the case of an Irish measure—a measure for the relief of Irish trade. Several measures had been already allowed to be brought in, though it was announced that they were not to be allowed to proceed; amongst others that of the Judgements Execution Bill, to which the great majority of the Irish Members were so strongly opposed. He trusted the noble Lord at the head of the Government would accord the permission for the introduction of the Bill, which had been refused by the hon. Gentleman the Vice-President of the Board of Trade. If this were not done, he would attribute it to the intention of the Government to deal with Ireland exceptionally. The Harbour of Kingstown was as much for the benefit of the trade of the empire at large as the breakwater at Plymouth, and the trade of Dublin should not be left to bear the whole burden of it.


I am afraid I cannot comply with the appeal made to me by the hon. Member. So far from the Government wishing to make Ireland an exception, it is the hon. Member for Dublin who wishes to deal with Ireland in an exceptional manner. I am willing, however, to make a compromise with the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Vance), and if he will engage to support the Government in a general measure on passing tolls, I will pledge myself to include these Irish tolls in a general measure. We do not wish to make Ireland an exception in legislating on this subject, but the object of the hon. Gentleman is to repeal a particular duty applicable to Dublin, leaving the same duties leviable upon other parts of the kingdom. I should be glad to assist the representatives for Ireland individually and personally in assisting the commerce of Dublin, but public duty is paramount to private considerations, and I cannot, therefore, give my consent to the Motion.


said, he wished to remind the Government that they would not be pledged to vote for this Bill if they consented to its introduction, and that it was very rare for the Government to refuse to an hon. Gentleman the courtesy of allowing him to bring in a Bill. Was it that the Government knew the case of Dublin to be so strong that they dreaded its disclosure, and feared that a sense of duty would induce hon. Members to pass the Bill? They were told the Government had an enormous majority in the present House; but he hoped the House would not allow itself to be dictated to in this manner by the Treasury bench. He wished the House to understand, that all his hon. Friend (Mr. Vance) asked was, simply an opportunity to do that which, by a technical rule of the House, he was prevented from doing. All he asked was, permission to state his case. He trusted hon. Members on both sides of the House would exercise their own plain sense, by expressing their opinion that the House should hear his hon. Friend state his case.


said, that the noble Lord had been kind enough to make him an offer; he would now make the noble Lord an offer in return. If he would allow him (Mr. Vance) to introduce his measure, and the hon. Gentleman the Vice-President of the Board of Trade, afterwards brought in a general measure, he (Mr. Vance) had no objection to postpone any further consideration of his Bill. It was for fear that no general measure would be brought in and carried, that the merchants of Dublin had entrusted him with that Bill. He thought the merits of the case so great, and the arguments by which it had been met so weak, that if permission was not given to introduce the Bill, he should feel it his duty to divide the House.


I think that the position of my hon. Friend has not been correctly appreciated by the noble Lord at the head of the Government. I give no opinion upon the merits of the case which my hon. Friend has brought under the notice of the House, but he wishes to bring in a Bill upon a subject on which the Government in the late Parliament introduced unsuccessfully a comprehensive measure. If my hon. Friend, in wishing to introduce a Bill to meet a particular grievance, were met by the assurance on the part of the Government that, while they opposed the proposition, they were prepared to legislate in the new Parliament upon the general question, then the resistance of the Government to the proposition would be a fair and plausible opposition; but, as we do not collect that the Government intend to bring in a measure relative to these dues in the present Session, and as we have not heard that even next Session they intend to deal with the subject, are we to come to the conclusion that, because the Government were defeated in a defunct Parliament in a comprehensive measure that, therefore, they will allow no hon. Gentleman, whose constituents are affected by these duties, to obtain redress for the grievance? I do not believe that either the Government or the House will maintain a proposition so unjust. If the Government will pledge itself that, either in this or the next Session it will deal with this subject by a general measure, then that will be a ground for dissuading my hon. Friend from attempting to obtain redress at the present moment. The House will observe that I give no opinion upon the merits of the case. I make these observations without considering myself bound to support my hon. Friend's Bill when it may be introduced; but I cannot sanction the course which the Government have taken, because I think it extremely harsh and unjust, contrary to the practice and injurious to the privileges of Parliament. I hope the noble Lord will reconsider the question, and that my hon. Friend will be allowed to submit his Bill for the consideration of the House.


wished to say a word in explanation. He had already stated this Session in answer to a question, that a Bill such as had been alluded to by the right hon. Gentleman had been prepared, and would be introduced as soon as the state of public business permitted.


wished to ask a question, upon the answer to which his vote would depend. It had been stated that these dues had been pledged by the city of Dublin to the Government in repayment of certain sums of money advanced by the Government. If so, he did think that the House would be guilty of an act of repudiation by consenting to remit these duties, and he should vote against the Motion.


said, that the hon, Member had correctly stated the facts.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 133; Noes 253: Majority 120.