HC Deb 19 July 1858 vol 151 cc1745-8

On the Order of the Day for receiving the Report of Ways and Means,


said, he had given notice that he would call the attention of the House to the Report of the Committee on Harbours of Refuge, as he had intended to press upon the Government the propriety of appointing a Royal Commission for the purpose of concluding those inquiries which the Committee did not feel itself competent to enter into. He understood, however, that the right hon. Gentleman (Sir J. Pakington) did not object to grant this Commission, and he would not, therefore, waste the time of the House at that late period of the Session by making any lengthened remarks on the subject at present.


said, he had read the interesting and important report presented by the Committee over which the hon. Gentleman had presided, and thought the reasons adduced in it were quite sufficient to justify the appointment of a Royal Commission. The hints contained in the report were of extreme value, and could not be fully or satisfactorily acted upon without the assistance of a Royal Commission to inquire into the exact locality of the harbours, and fix upon their sites. It was, therefore, the intention of the Government to appoint such a Commission.


said, there were the circumstances of trade at various ports, and the capabilities of different places, which must all be accurately weighed and considered before the Commissioners could come to any decision. The limits within which the Committee had confined its inquiries were too narrow, and the principles it had laid down not sufficiently clear and comprehensive to serve as a useful guide to the proposed Commission. He therefore hoped the Order of reference would be large and full, and that the Commissioners would not be restricted from taking that evidence which was necessary to enable them to arrive at a fair and just decision with regard to the different localities where Harbours of Refuge were thought to be required. The subject in itself was of immense importance. A thousand lives a year, and a million and a half of property were lost on our coasts through causes which were in the main preventible. One grave question for the Commissioners to settle was, whether the saving of life and property would be better accomplished by the construction, at a large expense, of one or two new harbours, or by making advances for the improvement of a larger number of existing harbours.


said, he was glad, as a member of the Committee in question, to hear that the Government would agree to the appointment of a Royal Commission. He trusted the Commissioners would be most carefully selected, and that no person who had been examined before the Committee would be appointed a member.


said, he wished to ex- press his gratification at the readiness of the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty to appoint a Royal Commission to inquire into this important subject. At the same time, he would beg to remind the Government and the House of the necessity of considering the state of our southern and eastern coasts, which, being opposite to the northern coast of France—the latter being well supplied with forts and arsenals—required the most careful attention. The harbours recommended by the Committee differed from those, the construction of which had been previously suggested by Commissions, in this, that they had almost exclusively in view the protection of our commercial marine from the dangers of shipwreck. The Committee, therefore, recommended that a portion of the expense should be borne by the shipping interest itself; but he hoped their views would not be allowed to interfere with or postpone the works at Harbours of Refuge which were intended for the protection of our coast in case of war, and which were already in progress.


said, he participated in the satisfaction felt by the House at the consent of the Government to grant a Commission. He feared, however, that there was some ambiguity in the recommendation of the Committee. They recommended the appointment of a Commission to inquire into the best situations for Harbours of Refuge within the limits indicated, but those limits were not clearly pointed out, and for that reason he thought it incumbent on him to impress on the Government the necessity of issuing their instructions to the Commission in the clearest and most comprehensive terms.


said, he had abstained from making a statement to the House upon the subject under discussion that evening, simply in order to facilitate the despatch of the business upon the paper. He hoped, therefore, hon. Members would refrain from expressing any opinion with respect to the question until he was enabled to bring it more fully before the House.


said, he entertained a similar view in favour of the postponement of the discussion.


said, he thought it very likely the members of the Committee up-stairs present that evening were as numerous as they would be on any future occasion when the subject might come on for discussion, and that there was, therefore, no good reason why they should refrain from at once expressing their opinions with respect to it. For his own part, he must express a hope that the Commission about to be appointed should consist of the most competent persons, and that the order of reference should be of a more extended scope than would seem to be warranted by the evidence which was taken before the Committee, and which was of a most imperfect and desultory character. There were three branches of the question of Harbours of Refuge, all of which required full consideration. There were military harbours, being those which were erected solely for strategic objects; harbours for the shelter of commerce, and harbours for the protection of our fisheries, and unless funds were granted sufficient to construct Harbours of Refuge in these three branches, it was of little use issuing a Commission. It was quite appalling to think that there were lost annually on our coasts more than 800 lives and two millions of property, the greatest portion of which might be saved by the expenditure of a sum which was really a trifle as compared with the result expected. The great increase, too, in the shipping of this country—an increase of about 130 per cent within the last few years—added much to the urgency of the question.


said, that this most important question was always trifled with in that House. He did not mean anything disrespectful to the members of the Harbours of Refuge Committee when he said that although they had been sitting for the last two years, yet, from the fact of the majority of them not being conversant with nautical affairs, they were not in a position to come to a sound conclusion on the matter referred to them. There was an enormous amount of life and property sacrificed every year for want of proper Harbours of Refuge, and yet year after year the House was going on appointing Committee after Committee. This was nothing short of a broad farce and a trifling with the lives of thousands. He hoped that the Commission now about to be appointed would be one competent to deal with the subject, so that something satisfactory and definite might result from its labours.


said, he would strongly support the recommendation that no person who had given evidence before the Committee should be appointed on the Commission.