HC Deb 15 March 1861 vol 161 cc2117-30

Order for Committee read.

House in Committee.

(In the Committee.)


said, there were two Motions standing on the paper in his name; but with one of the Bills, that for amending the Merchant Shipping Act, he did not intend to proceed at present, as it was thought better to await the production of the Report of the Commissioners who were appointed by the late Government to inquire into the subject of lights, buoys, and beacons, and which Report was expected to be made in the course of a few days. The other Bill which he would ask leave to introduce was one to facilitate the construction and improvement of harbours by authorizing loans to harbour authorities. It had appeared to the Government that in past times the State had been very generous—not to say lavish—in making grants of money for the construction of harbours, whether for defence or for refuge; but while so much had been given little had been done towards seconding local efforts for the improvement of existing harbours by loans of money upon easy terms and upon conditions likely to be acceptable to harbour authorities. He found that from 1851 to the present time no less than £3,144,190 had been voted for the purposes of harbours, while all that had been lent to assist local energy and enter prize in England was only £38,000. He did not exactly know how much had been lent to Ireland, but the amount was not considerable. The Government proposed by the Bill which he asked leave to introduce to assist in the improvement of existing harbours and in the construction of new harbours, by making loans upon easy terms as compared with the conditions upon which money was advanced by the Public Works Loan Commissioners. Now, there had been a Committee on harbours of refuge; and there had been a Royal Commission to inquire into the sites for harbours, and generally to provide shelter for merchant shipping. They had had recommended that, whatever might be done in respect of the construction of new harbours, a system of loans upon relaxed terms should be adopted for the improvement of existing harbours. It was obvious that any plan of making existing harbours more accessible at all times of tide, especially upon the eastern coast, must lead to a saving of life and property that rendered its adoption of the highest importance. The Commissioners in their Report stated— There are many tidal and other harbours susceptible of great improvement situated on various parts of the coast, exclusive of those to which we have recommended that grants be made, where a sum of money expended in deepening or in improving them would contribute in a very great degree to save life and property. In fact, the improvements of existing harbours would, in many instances, do more to promote these objects than. the expenditure of an equal sum applied to only one harbour. In order to effect that object it was proposed by the Bill that a sum of £360,000 should be annually placed at the disposal of the Public Works Loan Commissioners for the purpose of being advanced to harbour authorities for the construction of new and improvement of existing harbours. That money would be advanced at 3¼per cent interest, and the repayments to be made within fifty years. It was also proposed that the practice which had prevailed with the Public Works Loan Commissioners of insisting that repayment of loans made by them should have priority over all other advances made upon the same security should cease, and it was intended by this Bill that priority should not, as a matter of course, be insisted on. Thus, loans would be made to the authorities managing existing harbours in all cases where there remained a sufficient margin of income to secure payment of the interest. Without that provision it would be impossible for many-existing harbour authorities to obtain loans. It had in former times been the custom for the State to derive a profit from transactions of that nature by lending money at a higher rate of interest than it was worth. In the present instance it was not desired that the State should reap any profit from these loans; but that it should lend money at a rate which only would not cause a loss, otherwise the advance would be a grant and not a loan. In that way, however, the credit of the country would be used for the purpose of enabling the authorities of local harbours to bring to bear their own resources. He did not know that it would be necessary for him to go further into that particular branch of the subject. He hoped and believed the loans would be the means of improving many harbours, especially on the eastern coast, where such large losses of life and property had taken place. The loans he had described would not be considered as substitutes for the greater measures the Committee had recommended for constructing harbours of refuge by grants; that was a matter for the Treasury and Parliament to consider; but loans on these terms would be productive of great advantage. They were sound in principle, and no portion of the country would object to such advances. All the evidence, as well before the Commission as before the Committee, proved that considerable importance was attached to a system of this kind by those best qualified to judge of its possible effect.

The next proposal was the abolition of what were called passing tolls. The Bill provided that all the tolls paid by ships passing certain harbours, but not entering them, should cease to be levied from the end of the year 1861. He felt great confidence in making that proposal to the House. A succession of authorities had declared that passing tolls ought to be abolished. The Ramsgate Harbour Committee of 1850 distinctly recommended that these tolls should no longer be levied on passing ships. The Report of the Commission on Local Dues contained a recommendation to the same effect. There had been a remarkable agreement of opinion on both sides of the House on this question. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire, when he held the office of Chancellor of Exchequer in the Government of the Earl of Derby, said— We think that all that is levied on the shipping interest under the name of passing tolls is a vexation, a grievance, and a burden, to which that interest ought not to be exposed. And he further stated that it was the intention of the then Government to relieve the shipping interest of that burden. When his right hon. Friend the Vice-President of the Council of Education (Mr. B. Lowe) brought in a Bill on the subject of local dues on shipping he also proposed to abolish passing tolls. On that occasion the late Lord Chancellor and the hon. and learned Member for Belfast (Sir Hugh Cairns) stated that if the Bill had been confined to that object, and had not interfered with corporation property, they should not have opposed it. Therefore, as far as the abolition of passing tolls was concerned, both sides of the House had assented to the principle; and in support of that principle they had an unvaried succession of Parliamentary authorities. Indeed, it was very difficult to justify a tax upon shipping for the support of harbours into which they never entered, and into which a great proportion of the ships that passed them could not enter. It was clear that Dover could not be considered a harbour of refuge for which ships passing down the Channel should be called on to pay a tax. Ramsgate, perhaps, might afford advantages as a harbour of refuge to a greater extent than Dover, but a large proportion of ships which were called upon to pay for the support of Ramsgate derived no benefit from the harbour whatever. Therefore, however Ramsgate might have to be supported, it was in the highest degree unjust to levy a tax on an unlimited class of vessels merely because they passed down the Channel. The four harbours mainly affected by the Bill were Dover, Ramsgate, Whitby, and Bridlington. Of neither of these could it be said that they had any right to tax passing vessels. He would next consider what amount of benefit would be conferred upon the shipping interest by relieving them of this tax. The amounts levied by the various harbours were, in 1858, by Ramsgate, £15,000; by Dover, £12,000; by Whitby, £5,000; by Bridlington, £3,000: a total of £35,000 a year; or, allowing for the increase of trade, perhaps £38,000 for the year 1861. From that amount the shipping interest would be relieved at the close of the present year. This might appear a small amount, but it was equal to the interest of a capital of a million sterling. In abolishing these tolls the Government had taken care to guard and studiously to respect the rights of creditors. Where money had been advanced on the security of the tolls the Government gave even a better security, the Consolidated Fund; the creditors, therefore, would not be at all injured by the abolition. For the support of these harbours, after the cessation of the tolls, provision was made by the Bill, without any charge upon shipping, except on the vessels that might enter the ports. At Dover there was property that would be adequate to support the harbour; at Ramsgate, if there should be a small deficiency of income after the tolls ceased, the Government would supply that amount. "When Bridlington was free from debt, the harbour could be maintained from its own resources, and the Government proposed to take the debt upon itself. So also with Whitby. With regard to the harbour authorities at Dover no change would be made in the trust if the present trustees were prepared to undertake the management of the harbour. If they would not, of course other authorities would be found. At Ramsgate it was proposed to transfer the present trust to the Trinity Corporation. But that plan was not proposed as indispensable; another arrangement was under consideration, though it was not yet matured. But the House might feel assured that the harbour of Ramsgate would be maintained, and that the rights of creditors on all these passing tolls would be properly secured.

The next proposition made in the Bill was to abolish certain dues which were now levied on ships by charitable corporations for charitable objects. That abolition was made on the principle that those corporations ought not to levy dues on ships entering particular ports for the purpose of keeping up a system of almsgiving, in which those ships which had the dues to pay had no interest, and from which they derived no benefit. Those charitable corporations were the Trinity House of Kingston-on-Hull, the Trinity House of Newcastle-on-Tyne, the Fraternity of Postmen of Newcastle-on-Tyne, the Trinity Corporation of Leith, the Guild and Corporation of Perth and Dundee. The dues levied by the latter corporations were of small amount, the corporations that levied the principal dues being the Trinity House of Kingston-upon-Hull and that of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. It was not proposed to interfere with vested interests or with the property of any individual, or of any member of a corporation by the abolition of these dues; but it was proposed that these dues should cease with the existing pensioners, and that when they died no new pensions should be created. He thought it might be said that a Parliamentary sanction was given to the principle, that possible future recipients of these benefits should not be considered, when his right hon. Friend (Mr. Card well) dealt with the question of the Trinity Corporation. By the adoption of that proposition of the Bill an ultimate relief would be afforded to the shipping interest of £18,000 a year. He believed that at the period to which he had just referred the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire gave it as his opinion that those dues levied for charities ought not to be continued. That was when the question as to whether charities should be paid under the name of light dues was under consideration.

Another relief, small in amount, but removing dues of a vexatious character, would be given by the Bill. Dues were levied on the trade of Dublin which were taken by the Treasury in payment of interest of money advanced years ago for the improvement of Dunleary harbour. By a provision in the Bill those dues, which amounted to £3,000 or £4,000 a-year, would be abandoned, and that special tax on the trade of Dublin abolished. He might here observe that it was also proposed by the Bill that the Trinity House of Newcastle-on-Tyne should not levy duties on Sunderland and other towns for the purposes of Newcastle-on-Tyne. The concluding portion of the Bill related to a subject of a totally different character. Every one knew that there were what were called "differential dues," which were dues levied on foreign ships somewhat greater in amount than those levied on British shipping. The Government proposed, in accordance with the policy of this country, to abolish those differential dues. Their amount was inconsiderable, because, in consequence of reciprocity treaties which existed between this and a great many foreign countries, to a considerable extent—indeed, almost entirely—foreign ships had no higher dues than those paid by British ships. For instance, the reciprocity treaty made with France in 1826 bound England to levy no higher dues on French than those levied on English ships when the former were engaged in direct trade between England and France; but before the treaty of 1860 differential dues would have been levied on any French ship engaged in indirect trade, and at present differential dues were levied in some cases on foreign vessels. There was compensation money paid by the Treasury to different ports for the loss of diffferential dues which these ports were obliged to abandon under reciprocity treaties. The first of these treaties was made with Portugal in 1810; the next with the United States in 1815; and afterwards similar treaties were entered into with Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and the Hanse Towns. Then, the reciprocity treaty with France came in 1826. In that year England had made reciprocity treaties with the principal maritime countries in the world. Previously to 1810, under Acts of Parliament and under charters, various ports were entitled to levy higher rates on foreign than on British ships—in some cases dues to double the amount. The object of these differential duties was not, in fact, to give an income to the local authorities who levied them, but to keep the foreign ships away in order that all the trade should be carried on in English bottoms. He believed that the abolition of these double dues had been a great advantage to the ports that used to levy them, for the increased number of foreign ships at the reduced dues gave them a much greater income than they had ever received under the old system. It was, however, thought necessary to compensate these ports, and to pay them an annual sum for the double dues they relinquished. That compensation was, perhaps, a gift to get rid of their resistance to a free trade policy. A paragraph in the charter of one of these bodies showed the object with which these differential dues were originally granted. The Trinity House of Hull had received a large amount of compensation for the loss of these dues. Well, the charter gave power to the guild when any merchant should hire any stranger-bottomed ship, when the like ship might be had of English bottom, to exact and levy as a fine for every such offence the sum of 20 nobles current money for the use of the guild. In its origin it was, then, a fine to prevent the merchants from using foreign ships. This body had received from £12,000 to £13,000 per annum as compensation, and had altogether received about £200,000 for the loss of differential dues formerly levied under their charter. The House would observe that that was a formidable question, as it involved a growing charge on the Consolidated Fund. Fortunately it happened that a great number of ports that used to receive this money from the Consolidated Fund as compensation for the loss of differential dues, had given up the receipt of the money, the Trinity Corporation among others. In some cases the payment had been got rid of when the bodies in question had occasion to come to Parliament for a Bill, which was refused to them unless they abandoned this unjust claim on the Treasury. This was, however, an inconvenient system, because it deterred these bodies from coming to Parliament to promote private Bills demanded by the wants of their respective localities. It was therefore desirable that such compensation money should cease to be paid. Year after year the payment was increasing. If when the new policy was inaugurated the Legislature had given the ports 20, 50, or even 100 years' purchase, it would have been a great gainer. In 1826, after reciprocity treaties with all the maritime Powers had been agreed to, the present recipients received £10,000 a year. In the present year they received about £60,000. How long was that to go on increasing with the increase of commerce, and was the House prepared to pay in a few years £100,000 as compensation for those dues, which were actually £10,000 a year when they ceased to be levied on foreign ships, and which had since entailed such an increasing charge on the Consolidated Fund, because, by the increase of trade, by lowering the tariff, and repealing the navigation laws, they had encouraged the entrance of foreign shipping into the ports? The rapid rate of increase was the effect of a free trade policy; but what justice was there in calling on the taxpayers of the country to pay the stipend for nothing? The parties who received it had given up nothing, and they did nothing in return for the large sum paid to them. If it could be imagined possible to restore the former system, to reverse their policy of free trade and reciprocity, and say to those parties, "You shall exact, as formerly, the double dues on foreign shipping, and we will not pay you this compensation," they would not be able to complain, but they would not gain for fewer foreign ships would come to their ports. Therefore, it did not seem to him that there was any foundation in justice for that annual payment. The Government proposed to discontinue this payment; but they wished to touch the matters with rather a tender hand, as the claim had existed so long. He, therefore, proposed that at the end of five years the compensation for differential dues should cease, and that during the next five years the sum to be paid should be taken on the average of the payments during the last five years. If in 1826 the House of Commons had given twenty years' purchase for these dues the ports would have been bought off for £200,000, but since 1826 they had actually received £900,000. He thought the Government now proposed to deal most liberally with them, and he did hope that Parliament would help the Government in relieving the Consolidated Fund from a charge that in justice it ought not to pay. A portion of the compensation money, however, had been granted in pensions, and should any of the present recipients be living at the expiration of the five years, the amounts would be continued to them during their lives. He hoped the House would understand the statement which he had made. The Government proposed to give facilities to harbours, and to relieve shipping from a variety of unjust and obnoxious charges, without interfering in the slightest degree with what might be called legitimate corporate property, or with the vested interests of individuals; and they likewise proposed to discontinue the unjust payments in the shape of compensation for differential dues. One case stood on peculiar grounds, and would form an exception to the general rule; the Hull Dock Company, in consequence of a certain arrangement made with the Treasury, had engaged to perform certain works, and to receive a fixed payment in lieu of differ- ential dues. With that arrangement, therefore, it was not intended to interfere. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving for leave to introduce a Bill to facilitate the construction and improvement of harbours, to abolish passing tolls, and for other purposes.


said, he wished to take the earliest opportunity of thanking the Government for the announcement of so refreshing a measure as one involving, though to a very limited extent, relief to the shipping interest. The Government, by their proposal to assist the construction of harbours of refuge, even to the moderate extent stated by the right hon. Gentleman, had made a good beginning and that at the right end. There was such a thing as beginning at the wrong end, but the step now taken was in the right direction. But he need not remind the House that the loan of £360,000 to be annually provided for the improvement of existing harbours would go only a very short way. Considering that the Government had been instrumental in the appointment of the Royal Commission, to which the investigation of questions of difficulty and intricacy had been delegated, he regretted that they had laid aside some of the chief recommendations of that Commission. He regretted that they had only adopted that portion of the recommendations which referred to existing harbours; but the step taken was in the right direction, and would tend to a great saving of life and property on the coast. When, however, the right hon. Gentleman said that this proposal was not to be considered as a substitute for a larger measure, it seemed that there was a lurking impression in the mind of the Government that they had not done all that might have been done. Much testimony concurred in the fact that enormous sums were spent in the lump without that House receiving any details by which they could judge whether they were expended properly and profitably or not. He referred more especially to Alderney and Jersey harbours, on which £1,100,000 had been expended already—(MR. HENLEY: Hear, hear!)—whereas the whole of the money stated by the Committee of 1858 as requisite for the construction of two great national life harbours on the north-east coast and in the British Channel, was less than that expenditure by £4,000 or £5,000. No check had as yet been placed on that particular expenditure. He hoped that the Govern- ment would see that the existing works were brought to a close, and that a proper system of audit would be provided. He hoped, moreover, that the Government would take into consideration the recommendation of the Commission that one or more national harbours should be constructed by means of a loan, and that they should be set on foot in the most speedy and economical mode. It was estimated that the loss of property on the coasts of England every year was a million and a half. That was so much national capital wasted which might have been expended in industrial works or in the payment of labour. It was so much national wealth sunk annually in the sea. Such a sum would more than pay the interest of a large loan, and leave a handsome surplus to the nation, and he implored the Chancellor of the Exchequer to consider whether he would not make a temporary sacrifice to secure a permanent national benefit. He hoped that in carrying the proposed measure precautions would be taken against the larger communities obtaining assistance in preference to the smaller ones in inverse proportion to their deserts. They ought not to lose sight of the fact that the fishermen had not the same means of giving security for national loans which were possessed by other communities. The right hon. Gentleman was in error in saying that the particular corporation in the part of the country he (Mr. Liddell) represented, namely, the "Houstmen Company" charged dues on ships for charitable purposes. [Mr. MILNER GIRSON: On the goods carried in ships?] It was only on a particular description of goods, namely, the article grindstones, and the company was a trading and not a charitable corporation. The right hon. Gentleman had said that he wished to touch the differential dues with a delicate hand. It was, indeed, a delicate subject, and trenched very much on the rights and property of corporations. He regretted that those dues were not bought up some years ago when their value was comparatively small; but he hoped that the example of the right hon. Gentleman would be followed by the Foreign Secretary who, he trusted, would before long be able to inform the House that all differential dues levied in other countries on English ships had ceased. In conclusion, he again thanked the Government for the measure, which was a movement in the right direction, though portions of the scheme were liable to great objections, and ought in his opinion to form the subject of separate Bills. He believed the proposition would be felt as a boon by the shipping interest, inasmuch as the Government expressed their desire to make no profit by the system of loans.


said, he had heard with great satisfaction the speech of the President of the Board of Trade, and was only sorry that it had not been delivered ten years ago. He, however, regretted that the recommendations of the Royal Commission were not to be carried out in all their integrity. The money expended in that way would be much more advantageously spent than upon many of the sums now expended upon the navy, or the army, or upon those coast defences, for which they voted £10,000,000 last Session. However, this loan of £360,000 would be of some value, and would tend to the saving of life and property; but he trusted that in making loans the Government would in the first place consider the safety of life. "With respect to the great harbours of refuge, he did not think in the present state of the finances he could press the Government to act on the Resolution formerly carried in that House, because a large sum of money would be required for their construction; but there were some points where a small sum would be of much service indeed; as, for instance, Waterford and Carling-ford might at little cost be converted into magnificent harbours. In regard to the main question, it deserved serious consideration as speedily as possible, for the average loss of property every year along the British coasts amounted in value to £1,500,000, and the average loss of lives to 1,000. And in the present year he feared that the loss had been much greater. He deemed the notion of making a harbour of refuge at Alderney truly absurd, for in bad weather no sane man would run for Alderney. It would be certain destruction to do so; yet he apprehended that £1,100,000 had already been spent upon it, and before it was completed £2,000,000 would be spent. Besides, the harbour comprised an area of but eighty acres, and that was filled with rocks and shoals. The notion of completing it should at once be abandoned, and a saving of the £900,000 required to complete it would thus be effected. Then, with regard to Dover, it was fit for nothing else than a packet station. He agreed with the propriety of abolishing passing tolls. As an instance of the absurdity of the claims of parties who now levied those taxes for the maintenance of what were termed harbours of refuge for the use of vessels thus taxed, he referred to the harbour of Bridlington. When he (Mr. Lindsay), with others appointed as Commissioners, went to that harbour for the purposes of inquiry, after trying every means they could think of to enter the harbour even in a small boat, they, Her Majesty's Commissioners, were obliged to be carried into the harbour on the backs of sailors. And yet £3,000 or thereabouts a year for passing tolls was paid in respect of that so-called harbour of refuge. Then there was Sunderland, to which double the amount of tonnage and trade to that which went to Newcastle resorted. And yet Sunderland was called a creek of Newcastle, and paid £3,000 a year as dues to Newcastle, for which it receives no equivalent whatever. He then contended that the compulsory payments for pilotage were unjustifiable, and he hoped the Government would introduce a Bill to relieve shipowners from the liabilities to which they were at present subject.


said, he could not give his consent to the principles which had been enunciated, and which interfered unjustly with vested rights. There was no more right to take possession of the property which was vested in the corporation of the Trinity House, of Hull, for instance, than the corporation had to take possession of the right hon. Gentleman's yacht. Having entered his protest he should postpone what further he might have to say until another occasion.


asked what charge the measure would impose upon the Consolidated Fund?


said, he also must protest against the manner in which the right hon. Gentleman proposed to deal with the dues payable to the Trinity House of Hull.


said, on behalf of his constituents, that they never wished to stand in the way of the public interest; but no measure hitherto brought forward had fairly dealt with the interests of individuals. However, until he saw the details of the scheme he would not express any opinion upon it. When he saw the details of the Bill he should more fully express an opinion on its merits.


congratulated the right hon. Gentleman on the clear statement which had been made in introducing this measure. He hoped the general provisions of the Bill would be extended to Ireland.


said, he wished to express his thanks to the right hon. Gentleman for the great benefit which the measure would confer on the port of Dublin by abolishing the double duties. The right hon. Gentleman would confer a further benefit if he would abolish the Is. 6d. duty payable upon entrance into the port of Dublin at once, by a Resolution of the House, instead of waiting for the passing of this Bill.


in replying, said that the Bill would apply to Ireland. The charge imposed upon the Consolidated Fund under its provisions would amount to £45,000. The Bill contained a provision that no port should receive an advance of more than £100,000, which would prevent a few wealthy communities from swallowing up the whole of the benefit. He could not interfere with the special taxes of Dublin in the manner suggested by the hon, Member for that city.


thanked the right hon. Gentleman for putting an end to dues which were a serious injury to his (Mr. Vansittart's) constituents. He hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would abolish the dues by Resolution.

Resolved, That the Chairman be directed to move the House, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to facilitate the construction and improvement of Harbours by authorizing Loans to Harbour authorities, to abolish Passing Tolls, and for other purposes.

House resumed.

Resolution reported.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Massey, Mr. Milner Gibson, and Mr. HUTT.