HC Deb 05 August 1859 vol 155 cc1045-52

rose to call the attention of the House to the present state of the shipping interest and said, that in so doing he did not intend to occupy the attention of the House at any length, for the Motion, of which he had given notice some time ago, was of too much importance to be discussed at this advanced period of the Session. But the House would perhaps allow him to say a few words in explanation. In March last a Committee was appointed to inquire into the burdens and restrictions on merchant shipping. The Committee consisted of several of the leading Members of the House and the right hon. Gentleman who was now Home Secretary, consented to act as chairman. But the dissolution took place just as they were about to commence their labours, and the Committee, of course, fell to the ground. After the dissolution came the great party struggle, followed by the change of Ministry, so that he had never had an opportunity of renewing the question. He would, therefore, now postpone the question till next Session, when, at an early period, he would move for a Committee. But there were some burdens on the merchant shipping which did not need further inquiry. Three Committees had sat at various times on the question of the light dues—in 1822, in 1833, and in 1845. In the Committee of 1845 a Resolution was moved by the noble Lord now at the head of the Government, and was carried, which recommended that the shipowners should be relieved from the payment of all light dues. The Committee, in fact, acknowledged that it was the proper duty of the nation to light the shores. The Report of the Committee had, however, never been acted upon; but, on the contrary, the shipping interest had been called on to pay £1,250,000 for private lighthouses, saddled on them by the unjust grants of former Governments and former Sovereigns. He wished to ask his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade whether he meant to prepare any measure during the recess for the purpose of relieving the shipping interest of that burden? The next question to which he wished to refer was that of passing tolls. Select Committees of the House had over and over again decided that passing tolls ought to be abolished, because the shipowners by whom they were paid received no equivalent for the charge. Then there was also the question of local charges. It was true that the differences which had arisen out of the large sum paid to the corporation of Liverpool for their municipal purposes in the shape of local charges had in a great degree been settled by a private Bill, but there were other charges of a similar character which still continued to be levied. The town of Newcastle raised in that shape between £18,000 and £19,000 a year, and out of that sum not less than £12,000 were expended in the paving and lighting of the streets. The port of Sunderland, which was perhaps the largest ship-building port in the world, and which had four times more shipping than Newcastle, paid annually to the latter town, in the shape of local dues, a sum of £1,400; and charges of the same kind were levied in Hull, in Bristol, and in other ports. He wished to know whether his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade meant to prepare during the recess Bills for the settlement of these three questions in conformity with the recommendations of Select Committees of the House, and the recorded opinions of the noble Lord at the head of the Government, of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and of other members of Her Majesty's present Ministry. If the right hon. Gentleman would pursue that course it would not be necessary for him (Mr. Lindsay) to embrace in the inquiry which he meant to propose next year those three important questions, and he should be enabled to limit the scope of his investigation to other subjects, such as the duty on marine policies, the timber duties, and other points into which the House had not yet inquired.


begged to make a few observations on a subject of a cognate character to that to which the hon. Member had referred. The House was aware that the Merchant Shipping Act constituted the mercantile marine fund, but probably they were not aware that the accumulations of the fund amounted to £280,000, in Exchequer bills and £82,000 in cash, being a total of £362,000. He apprehended that it was never intended that there should be such a large accumulation, and he wished to ask the President of the Board of Trade what were the intentions of the Government as to disposing of it. The money was derived principally from light dues, ballast rates, fees on masters and mates, and ships' crews engaging and discharging, and fees on the renewal of masters and mates' certificates. The surplus of income over expenditure was in 1854, £180,000; in 1855, £106,000; in 1856. £165,000; in 1857, £85,000; and in 1858, £102,000. He could congratulate Irish and Scotch Members on justice having been done to their respective countries in one particular. The annual expenditure on English lighthouses during the five years was £25,000, on Scotch lighthouses £26,000, and on Irish lighthouses £11,000. The sum expended for life-boats was insignificant, being only £13,360 during the five years. He would suggest that a larger sum should he expended on life-boats and other means for preserving the lives of passengers from the perils of the seas. He wished to know whether that suggestion would be adopted, or whether the amounts received would be diminished. He also hoped that during the recess, the right hon. Gentleman would take into his consideration some mode of disbursing the £360,000 already accumulated, which would be acceptable to the shipping interest.


said, he agreed with the hon. Member for Sunderland in thinking that many of these charges were grievances from which the shipping interest were entitled to relief. He wished, however, to state to the House an important circumstance—namely, that since the repeal of the navigation laws had opened our shipping trade to the world, foreign shipping had increased in a quadruple ratio to British shipping. He thought that might be traced to a distinct and reasonable cause. On an average taken during the years 1844 to 1848, as compared with an average taken of the years 1834 to 1838, the proportion of British shipping had diminished from a per centage of 72 to a per centage of 40; whilst in the same period of time foreign shipping had increased from 88 per cent to 133 per cent. This was a startling fact; for the increase of British shipping had not kept pace with the increase of British commerce. When they spoke of free trade in corn, they meant of course free trade in the importation of corn. But free trade in ships was quite another matter, because ships were employed to trade, not only from, but at foreign ports. Thus British shipping had not yet reaped the full benefit of free trade. On the 15th of February last there were 233 trading vessels in the China seas; of these only 100 were British owned, and of these 100 only twenty-one bore the British flag. At Hong Kong there were eighty-four vessels, of which sixty-nine were lading there. Of these only six carried the British flag. But that was not the whole of the grievance of which the shipping interest had to com- plain. American, French, and Spanish ships could steer for their respective ports without being liable to those discriminating duties which weighed so heavily on British ships. He would take the case of a vessel sailing from New York, and bound for San Francisco. That vessel starting from 40 deg. N. lat. arrived at a point situated 51 deg. S. lat., a run in all of 91 deg., or about 5,000 miles, passing the coasts of Mexico and Brazil, sighting the Falkland Isles, and then rounding Cape Horn, ran a course of 5,000 more in a northern direction until it arrived at San Francisco. The Americans insisted upon calling that voyage a coasting one, and maintained that American ships should monopolize the trade. It was, he considered, high time that the British Government made some protest against that view of the case. It might be said that the trade was small, not exceeding 200,000 tons between New York and San Francisco. But it should not be overlooked that the American rule also applied to the trade between all the intermediate ports, and he had been informed that the rule also applied to goods to be transported across the Isthmus of Panama. The British shipowner, therefore, had not free trade. He would not go into the cases of the shipping interest with relation to that of Spain and France. The claims of the shipowners were not confined to the mere removal of the passing tolls and local dues. They thought Government ought to call upon foreign countries to reciprocate the advantages which they enjoyed in the ports of this country. If ever there was a time when they had a right to make such a demand of Government it was the present, and Government owed it as a duty to them to comply with it. It was only the other day they went into the market against the shipowners, offering a bounty to seamen, and so raising wages, and the shipowners helped them. Now that the shipowners asked for justice, he trusted it would not be refused them.


said, he would not detain the House by entering into a discussion of the question of free trade in its relation to the shipping interest. He would only say that as far as the Government had it in its power to obtain a reciprocity from Foreign States, it would lose no opportunity of doing so. Not that he would be understood as advocating anything approaching to a system of retaliation. All he meant was that the Government would lose no opportunity of promoting the relaxation of those restrictions that acted against England. With these observations he would confine himself to replying to the questions put by the hon. Members for Sunderland and the City of London. With regard to the Select Committee that was appointed at the beginning of this year, but which did not commence its sittings in consequence of the dissolution of Parliament, if the hon. Gentleman thought fit he might move its reappointment, and there would be no objection to it on the part of the Government. Of course, it would be for the House to say whether such an inquiry was requisite. There were three definite questions that had been asked, respecting which the hon. Member inquired whether the Government intended to introduce any Bills. The first of these questions referred to the light dues. These dues stood on quite a different footing to passing tolls and local charges on shipping. Whatever else might be said against light dues, it could not be urged that the money raised by them was not applied for the benefit of the merchant shipping. Formerly they were applied to the payment of the debts of the Trinity-house and charitable pensions granted by that corporation. So applied they were, no doubt, highly objectionable; but they were now applied exclusively to the maintenance of the lighthouses, which were mainly for the benefit of the mercantile shipping of the country. As to the proposal of defraying the expense of the lighthouses out of the public revenue, it was more a question for the Treasury than the Board of Trade; but he doubted if the Chancellor of the Exchequer was prepared to throw so large a sum-£200,000 or £300,000 a year—on the Consolidated Fund, or whether the House would consent to entertain the suggestion. He could not hold out any expectation that the Government would make such a proposal. He must call attention to this fact, that the light dues had been reduced 50 per cent within the last six years. The amount now paid by the shipping interest was very much less than formerly, and the erection of new lighthouses and the additional facilities for navigation provided out of these funds had conferred a very great benefit on the shipping interest. With regard to the two questions of passing tolls and local dues, he supposed that what his hon. Friend meant was, that no charges should be levied upon ships that were not applied to shipping purposes. His hon. Friend, of course, could not mean that the shipping interest was to have every kind of facilities at the public expense, and that no local charges whatever should be levied. Well, passing tolls were no doubt, to some extent, applied to shipping purposes, but he admitted that those tolls had been condemned by the House. The difficulty, however, was how to deal with the two questions of passing tolls and local dues. For his own part, he thought that they ought not to be approached or dealt with in an arbitrary and summary manner, and for this simple reason, that these local dues had arisen from such a variety of circumstances, and there were such a variety of details upon which they rested, and of debts that were contracted upon them, that nothing would be more difficult than to bring in a general Bill which should deal with them by any absolute and invariable rule applicable to all cases. He was quite sure that such a Bill would not be successful. He believed that if any Bill were brought in confined to the local duos of particular towns, or to any charitable dues, it would by the rules of the House have to be treated as a private Bill. But that would be a most objectionable course, because the matter would thus be completely beyond the control of the Government, and to a certain extent beyond the control of the House. The difficulties of a general Bill and of a private Bill being such as he had stated, he thought there was one other course open, and that was to bring in a measure of a flexible character, which should be capable of being applied with justice to the various cases as they arose, the guiding principle being that local dues levied upon shipping should be applied strictly to shipping purposes, but at the same time that the just claims of municipalities and the varions rights of creditors should be properly respected. Such a measure, he thought, would settle the question, and would receive the support of all the corporate bodies in the country interested in this subject. On the part of the Government he was quite willing to Bay that they would give their consideration to a Bill of that sort, and he would probably introduce such a Bill in the next Session. With regard to the surplus of the mercantile marine fund to which the hon. Member for London (Mr. Crawford) had called attention, the statement of the hon. Gentleman was not correct. The annual income of that fund, after certain recent reductions had taken effect, and which had probably escaped the attention of the hon. Member, was £330,000; out of that sum £230,000 was paid for the maintenance of lighthouses, and the payment of that and some other charges left an annual balance of only £10,000. That was not a very large surplus in reference to an income of that magnitude. It was of course perfectly understood that if by an increase of trade the fund should become much larger there would be further reductions, from which the shipping interest would derive benefit, as they had from the reductions which had been already made. The present balance would be applied to a great extent to the paying for seventeen or nineteen new lighthouses that were in process of erection, and there was not at the present moment that opportunity which the hon. Gentleman supposed of making a material reduction of the income of the mercantile marine fund. Should such an opportunity arise, the hon. Gentleman might be assured that he (Mr. M. Gibson) would instantly take advantage of it. In conclusion, the right hon. Gentleman said, he could not hold out much hope that any measure would be passed for the purpose of putting the whole charge and support of the light-houses of the United Kingdom upon the Consolidated Fund.


congratulated the House on the improved spirit in which the question of shipping dues was now approached by the Government. He trusted that the rock on which the Bill of 1856 was wrecked would be carefully avoided, and that no attempt would be made to deal with the matter in an arbitrary spirit. He was quite sure that such a measure as the right hon. Gentleman had indicated would, if founded upon the principles of justice, receive a most careful consideration from the representatives of the different harbours in this country. With reference to the local dues of the Tyne, they were expressly appropriated for Municipal purposes, so that most probably all local matters in that case would be settled by a private Bill.


was understood to express his thanks to his hon. Friend (Mr. Lindsay) for having brought this question before the House, and trusted his hon. Friend would pursue his intention of moving for a Select Committee to inquire into the subject next year.