HC Deb 09 May 1860 vol 158 cc971-8

Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate Question [6th March], "That the Bill be now read a second time."

Question again proposed.

Debate resumed.


said, that he had, at the request of the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Paull), consented to put his name on the back of the Bill, under a misapprehension as to its effect. He had imagined that it would carry out the recommendations of the Commission on Harbours of Refuge, of which he had been a Member. But when he saw the clauses, he found them altogether different from what he had expected; and he therefore not only required the withdrawal of his name, but he likewise felt himself compelled to oppose the measure. The Bill proposed that parties who desired to improve their harbours or erect new works should, without coming to Parliament, apply to the Admiralty, who should have power to grant either an extension of existing or the erection of new works. But there had been on both sides of the House complaints that the Admiralty was already saddled with too much work, even in times of peace: and we knew to our cost that they were utterly unable to get through their work in time of war. The Admiralty had already to manage £13,000,000 of money annually—work enough, surely, for one body, without extra labour being thrust on them. The Bill proposed that the Admiralty should appoint an inspector to go down and examine the works of any harbour requiring extension or formation; and who was he to be? A gentleman receiving not more than three guineas a day when employed, and nothing at all when unoccupied. He would scarcely, at the most, make more than £300 a year by his employment, and it would be most improper to entrust the great powers contained in the Bill to a man so inadequately compensated. There was power to take private property, to levy rates, and furthermore, to touch upon those vital questions of the foreshores and the closing up of existing harbours, which were of the utmost commercial importance, and all those powers were to be entrusted to a gentleman receiving only £300 a year. It had been said that the Enclosure Commissioners had similar powers, but those Commissioners were quite a different body. They had no power to take private land. Their business was to deal with waste lands when called upon by not less than two-thirds of the parties having rights in those lands. He considered the Bill interfered with the privilege every man was entitled to—namely, that of having questions of this kind publicly and openly discussed where private property was affected. He hoped his hon. Friend would consent to withdraw the Bill, and postpone the further consideration of the subject until it had been seen what steps the Government would take in pursuance of the recommendations contained in the Report of the Harbours of Refuge Commissioners. Should his hon. Friend not consent to do so, he (MR. Lindsay) should feel bound to press the Amendment. He would, then, move that the Bill be read that day six months.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."


said, he wished to second the Amendment. The interpretation clause at the end of the Bill was so comprehensive that it could be made to include almost everything. The rights proposed to be adjudicated upon by the Admiralty had hitherto been regarded as of a most delicate kind, and it would be a great innovation upon established law and custom to confer such authority upon that Board. It was quite clear that the pro- posed powers could never be exercised by the Admiralty with satisfaction to the public, especially as such great interests were to be handed over to a gentleman with a salary of only £300 a year or thereabouts. He objected especially to Clause 6, which went to over-ride local Acts of Parliament. Another most objectionable clause was that which enabled the Admiralty Commission to go about the country and inquire into private works, to demand the inspection and delivery of documents, and to exercise a number of other powers which would be very improperly placed in the hands of any individual.


said, that he could not but express his surprise at the course that had been taken by the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Lindsay), who had not quite correctly stated what had passed between them on a former occasion. The hon. Gentleman had stated that after the report of the Harbour of Refuge Commissioners had been presented, he (Mr. Paull) asked his permission to put the hon. Member's name on the hack of a Bill to carry out the recommendation of that report; but that was an error, for he had introduced an almost identical Bill in 1858. Upon that occasion the Bill was read a second time by a majority of no less than 103, thus affirming the principle, and in point of fact the report of the harbour of refuge Commissioners had been in a great measure based upon the Bill. There was therefore no reason why the details should not be considered by a Committee of that House or by a Select Committee. The hon. Member objected to the machinery proposed by the Bill, but to render such a measure of any public advantage, it must provide a tribunal which could give speedy decisions at little expense. The hon. Member had advised him to refrain from introducing the Bill until the intentions of the Government were known, but he thought that this Bill would rather clear the way for the Government if it really meant to deal with the subject. Upon a previous occasion he had been told that he was proposing an unconstitutional novelty, and that he was acting solely with a view to the interests of his constituents, but he denied both those statements. It was true that the people of St. Ives, like other persons, desired a better and cheaper mode of effecting harbour improvements than existed at present. Some years ago it was desired to pull down an old pier and to erect a new one at a cost of £20,000. The Bill introduced into Parliament for that purpose was practically unopposed. Everybody agreed that the works were necessary and would benefit the neighbourhood; and yet the Bill cost £1,300, simply because it was necessary to go through the ceremony of obtaining a private Act. Such a system inflicted a positive hardship upon those who wished to effect public improvements. In other instances the expenses had been even greater, for he found that the total expenditure in seven cases of applications to Parliament in 1845 for the construction of piers and harbours was no less than £30,000. And between 1801 and 1852 no less than 600 Bills had passed through Parliament. It was an understood thing that no Bill, however short it might be and however unopposed, could pass through Parliament for a less expense than between £500 and £600. In the somewhat analogous case of a person wishing to enclose land the expenses had been reduced to a minimum, under the operation of the Enclosure Commissioners' Act, the cost of each case not exceeding £16 or £17. There was no doubt that inquiries respecting piers and harbours must be upon a scale of greater magnitude, but certainly there was not such a difference as to warrant the enormous disproportion of cost. With respect to charges that the Bill was unconstitutional and a novelty, he replied that the tendency of modern legislation had been to enable promoters of useful undertakings to carry out their projects without the necessity of obtaining private Acts of Parliament. Then again he was told that he proposed to invest the inspectors with powers which were now possessed alone by that House. That was a misapprehension. At present the Admiralty had power to send down inspectors to make inquiries, but that was only done after a Bill had been introduced into Parliament and a great deal of expense had been incurred. Another objection was raised that the remuneration proposed to be given to the inspectors was insufficient, but if that were so, there could be no difficulty in increasing the amount, and competent men could always be obtained to perform the duties. The Bill would not interfere with the rights of any persons to be heard in matters of this nature, for the inspector, upon proceeding to any place for purposes connected with the construction of piers or harbours, would make public announcement of his intention to hold a public court, where all persons could appear and state any objections they entertained without the assistance of learned gentlemen or the expense of their fees. If the Admiralty decided against the scheme there would still be an appeal to that House. He was convinced that this Bill would, if it were passed, be of great advantage to many small ports which at present were unable to provide the requisite accommodation for their trade and their vessels. But he was threatened with the jealousy of great corporations, the trustees of certain harbours and navigations; but he did not seek to interfere with their rights, and if the Bill, as it stood, did not satisfy them that their rights would be untouched by it, he would willingly assent to any Amendment that might be proposed for the purpose. He, however, heard that the management of these corporations had not always given satisfaction. It was true, no doubt, that the Clyde Commissioners had done much for the port of Glasgow, but it had been a great misfortune for the ratepayers of Glasgow that the management of the navigation had been placed in the hands of a close corporation. Still, the Bill did not seek to interfere with existing rights, similar measures having been introduced on two former occasions, the principles of which he believed the House had adopted. On the first occasion the right hon. Baronet then at the head of the Admiralty (Sir John Pakington) had expressed himself in favour of such a measure, and he (Mr. Paull) had this year thought it right to submit his plans to the heads of the Admiralty. The noble Lord who represented the Admiralty in that House said he would not oppose it; the noble Duke (the Duke of Somerset), however, said there were many difficulties that might arise in the working of such a measure, and he should like to see the Bill referred to a Select Committee. That suggestion he took to be not only kind, but wise, and it would probably be the means of affording much information. It was said that the Admiralty was overworked, and he thought the inquiry before the Select Committee on the Bill would show in what way the Admiralty was overworked, and might perhaps suggest a remedy. The hon. Member for Sunderland was disposed to rely on the Report of the Harbour of Refuge Commission being adopted, but in the present state of the finances of the country he thought there was no hope of the re- commendations of that Commission being carried info effect. That Report had already been before them for eighteen months without any step being taken in accordance with it. He believed that nothing ever would be done upon it, and that it would soon be consigned to that waste-paper basket in which so many similar documents were buried. He thought, then, he might safely ask that the present Bill might be read a second time. If it should be then thought desirable to send the Bill to a Select Committee, he should offer no objections to that course being taken.


said, his objection to the Bill was, that it proposed to give to the Admiralty powers which, up to that time, had been considered to be only in the jurisdiction of that House. By the incorporation of the Lands Clauses Consolidation a man's freehold might be taken away from him against his will by another going secretly and making out his case before the Board of Admiralty. The next point regarded the levying of tolls, which the House had always hitherto kept in its own hands, but which was thenceforward practically to be transferred to the Board of Admiralty. The expense of private Bills was the pretext assigned for these innovations, but it was only when a Bill was opposed that expense was incurred, and even if it were not, he protested against expense being considered an object when freehold rights were concerned. The Inclosure Commission was not an analogous case, for they had no power to take away individual rights in the manner contemplated by the Bill. He hoped the House would reject the Bill.


said, that the principle of the Bill had been sanctioned by a very considerable majority in a former Parliament, and he was disposed to view with favour the object which the Bill proposed to effect. He attached very great importance and the country also, to the improvement of the harbours round the coast, with a view to the safety of life and property; and he looked with great anxiety to the decision of the Government on the subject. He held it to be the duty of the Government to give effect to the Report of the Royal Commission, but after the manner in which they had been throwing away the resources of the country by their financial arrangements for the current year, he was apprehensive that, on financial grounds, they would hesitate in carrying out the improvements recommended by that Commission. He hoped he might be mistaken; he was looking with anxiety to their decision, and pending that decision he would support the second reading of a Bill, the main principle of which was to enable the authorities, in any locality where harbour improvement was necessary, to carry out that improvement without being involved in the cost of a preliminary examination before a Parliamentary Committee. He agreed with his hon. Friend (Mr. Fenwick), however, that the adoption of a measure of this kind ought not to be made the instrument of any invasion of the rights of private parties; but he (Sir J. Pakington) saw no reason why that question could not be satisfactorily dealt with in Committee. Without binding himself to the details of the Bill, he trusted the House would recognize the principle of giving facilities for improving our harbours, and give to the Bill a second reading.


said, he wished to remind the House that municipalities could make any improvement in their town, so far as the land was concerned; they could light, or drain, or ornament the town without coming to that House, but they could not touch the piers or harbours without a private Bill. He hoped the House would pass this Bill, which would complete the class of Bills that enabled towns to take such steps necessary for their own improvement without coming to that House for permission.


said, that his hon. Friend (Mr. Paull) in persevering with this Bill, had shown a consistency of purpose which certainly was creditable to him. When the hon. Member moved the second reading the other day, he (the noble Lord) stated on the part of the Government that he should offer no opposition to the second reading, but should then move that it be referred to a Select Committee. Doubtless, a sound measure which would tend to lessen the great preliminary expenses in the construction and improvement of piers and harbours would be most desirable. But he was afraid, when the Admiralty officials came to be examined before the Select Committee, that they would object altogether to the vast jurisdiction which the Bill sought to impose on them. Already that department, besides the enormous amount of business devolving upon it connected with the building and manning of ships, had to discharge a great number of extra- neous duties having nothing whatever to do with naval affairs; and it would not be matter of surprise that the Admiralty should offer strong objection to a measure which would increase that extraneous labour. Supposing this Bill became law, the result would be that whereas now every project for harbour improvement went before a Select Committee of the House of Commons in each case, the ultimate decision in all those cases would thenceforward rest practically with the Admiralty alone. Besides, the Bill would tend greatly to enlarge the present harbour department of the Admiralty, which would be attended with considerable expense; and he did not think the Board of Admiralty, already overburdened with work, would devote sufficient time to a careful inquiry into all the matters contemplated by the measure. He advised the hon. Gentleman to postpone this Bill, inasmuch as a measure was now under careful consideration by the Government with respect to harbours of refuge, in which, he had no doubt, facilities for the erection of piers and for harbour improvement in other respects would find due place.

Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

The House divided:—Ayes 99; Noes 80: Majority 19.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read 2°, and committed for Wednesday next.