HC Deb 15 March 1867 vol 185 cc1934-7

said, he rose to call attention to a Return of "the number and tonnage of Vessels entered inwards and cleared outwards at each of the twelve principal Ports of the United Kingdom, &c," during the year 1865; and to move for Returns showing the number of Vessels and tonnage entered inwards and cleared outwards at each of the twelve Ports of the United Kingdom at which the aggregate tonnage entered and cleared has been largest during the year 1866; of the official and declared value of Imports and Exports at each of the twelve ports of the United Kingdom at which the aggregate of such Exports and Imports has been largest during the year 1866; and of the number of Vessels and amount of tonnage registered at each of the twelve Ports of the United Kingdom at which the largest amount of tonnage was registered on the 31st day of December, 1866. The Return in question was in many respects inaccurate, and calculated to lead to erroneous conclusions. It referred to "the twelve principal Ports of the United Kingdom;" but the House would be surprised to learn that only seven of the Reports named in the Return came under that designation. The remaining five ports were inferior, as to tonnage and clearance, to the ports of Cardiff, Sunderland, Hartlepool, Swansea, and Grimsby. In several other respects, also, the Return was inaccurate. The entrances and clearances at the port he had the honour to represent (Sunderland) were larger than the entrances and clearances of five of the ports included in the Return. The same observation applied to other ports which were omitted, and the test of tonnage gave a similar result. If the Return were again moved for he hoped it would be so modified as to convey an accurate idea of the facts.


said, that the speech of the hon. Member for Sunderland proved, he thought, one thing—namely, the inexpediency of granting so easily many of the Returns for which Motions were annually made by Members of that House. The attention of the House ought to be directed to that question of unopposed Returns. In his humble opinion there should be some hesitation in asking for and in granting Returns which were only intended to serve a particular purpose of perhaps no general interest, as well as those which were contained in books in the Library or in annual Reports laid before Parliament and distributed among Members. The practice was a growing one, and one which had caused much anxiety to his hon. Friend the Secretary of the Treasury, as entailing a heavy expense upon the country. That Return, for instance, to which the hon. Member had not without reason taken exception, was moved for many years ago and had been continued every year since. He was sorry it was so continued. It always had been, and must still be, incomplete; and, whatever might have been the case originally, the title of it certainly was incorrect now. Those ports having been once selected, the Return seemed kept for comparison with former years. The expense of printing those Returns was, as he had said, very great; but that represented a very small part of the whole cost of the country. In the Customs and other Departments a special staff was obliged to be maintained for that exceptional work, in order that the regular work of the office might not be delayed. Now, the annual statement of trade and navigation distributed to every Member of Parliament and to every Chamber of Commerce throughout the country contained the following particulars:—1, Number and tonnage of vessels entered at each port in the United Kingdom; 2, number and tonnage of vessels under as well as above fifty tons registered at each port; 3, the value of exports at each port; and 4, the amount of Customs duty received at each port, besides much other information. The only Return for which the hon. Member moved which he had not enumerated as given in these statistical tables was that of the official value of imports and exports, which, as the hon. Gentleman would see from a note to the Return of which he complained, could not be given without enormous labour and expense, as the value had never been computed except for imports and exports of the kingdom at large. He found no fault with the hon. Member's objection to the title "principal ports." It was very difficult to define principal ports in such Returns. Some ports had more vessels entered and cleared and less registered tonnage, and to take one and omit the other would give rise to jealousy. For instance, at Cardiff there were, according to last Returns, only 121 ships of 18,481 tons registered, and 5,970 ships of 1,921,030 tons entered and cleared. At Bristol there were 388 ships of 62,155 tons registered, and only 1,291 ships of 333,589 tons entered and cleared. Many ships were registered at the place where the owner resided. Many, for instance, were registered in London which were not built there and never traded from it; and registers were transferred from port to port by a simple letter to the Customs. Again, Bristol imported a great deal and exported little. The great coal ports did exactly the contrary. Nor was Customs duty a criterion. A sugar port would figure far above its proper rank. Nor was value less delusive. Then there were disputes about the area which Returns ought to include. Newcastle thought the aggregate of the Tyne should be given; Shields that the ports should figure separately. If the Government listened to all appeals for alterations, the expense, trouble, and delay would "be immense. He was glad the hon. Member did not press his Motion, as it would be impossible to give all the Returns he wished; but he would undertake to confer with the hon. Member for Liverpool (who was unhappily absent on account of a domestic calamity), and either discontinue altogether the Returns of which the hon. Gentleman complained, which, he thought, would be the best plan, or alter the title, which, he quite agreed with the hon. Member, was inaccurate and calculated to mislead.