HC Deb 02 April 1869 vol 195 cc47-9

said, he wished, in the first place, to express his satisfaction at the course of the debate with reference to the West African slave squadron. He, however, thought that even now the number of ships remaining on the coast of Africa was too large, and that the African squadron ought to be attached to the Channel fleet, so that they might be brought home at stated intervals, and form part of a squadron of evolution—the most valuable class of vessels for the instruction of officers and men. In his opinion twelve months was a sufficient period of service for any ship upon the African station. A matter, however, of even greater importance than the health of the West Coast squadron to the constituency which he had the honour to represent was the great and grievous destitution at present existing in consequence of the large discharges of men which had been made from the dockyards and other departments of the public service. There were large works going on at Portsmouth at present, but the distress which he complained of was not caused by men discharged from those works, or from the public works going on connected with the municipality of Portsmouth. His complaint referred entirely to the destitution created by the discharge of men from the dockyards and other public establishments. The reason these people had not come upon the parish before was that they had been living upon the proceeds of the sale of their clothes and furniture. Those resources were now nearly exhausted, and the unfortunate people were, consequently, in a state bordering upon famine. The inhabitants of the borough of Portsmouth had raised something like £2,000 for their relief. The Government had. always shirked their duty as employers of labour to contribute to a proper extent to the rates and taxes of the places where their works were established. Some years ago, in consequence of the Report of a Committee upon the subject, a local subscription was given by the Government, which, however, merely applied to the poor rates, and to no other rates which other employers were liable to pay. An employer of labour, when he discharged large bodies of men and threw them upon the parishes to which they belonged, had generally himself to pay the rates there, and he often found it better to maintain his people in work then to discharge them, and bear his share of the increased burdens upon the rates. What he wished to do was to bring before Her Majesty's Government a mode by which, without going to an expense themselves, they might relieve the destitution in the dockyard towns, and he would press it most strongly upon his right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. Childers), that he should concede the point. Large movements of troops were about to take place, consequent on the withdrawal of regiments from Canada, and two magnificent transports were now under orders to proceed to North America for the purpose of bringing those troops home. These ships were going out empty, and what the people of Portsmouth proposed was that the Government should grant ship-room in those vessels to the discharged dockyard labourers and their families. They were prepared at Portsmouth to pay the price of their rations and landing at Halifax. He did not think this an unreasonable proposal. A deputation would wait upon his right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty in a few days, and he trusted that in the name of charity he would look into the matter, and upon the part of the Government, meet them in a conciliatory manner. There was a precedent for doing what he now proposed. In 1852 there was very extensive distress in the Hebrides, and in the Western Highlands of Scotland. A society was formed in Edinburgh at that time, of which he was a humble member, and Sir John M'Neill chairman, and funds were collected for sending these unfortunate people out to Australia. The Hercules, a 74-gun ship, was at that time fitting out to take her place as an hospital ship at Hong-Kong, and the Government of the day, on the application of the society, granted the ship for the purpose of carrying those people out, on the condition that the society paid all charges for fittings, furniture, and stores of every description required. There was no occasion, in the present instance, to pay for any fittings, because the ships were fitted and stored already, and would otherwise go out empty. Suf- ficient money had been collected in Portsmouth to provide the emigrants with rations. He therefore entreated Her Majesty's Government to take the matter up, and to give these people the means of going from a land of starvation to a land of plenty, remembering that it was owing very much to abrupt dismissal by the Government that these men had been brought into their present unfortunate position.


Having spoken before, it is only by the leave of the House that I can again address it; but if the House will kindly give me leave, I shall be able to give the hon. Member a satisfactory answer. After the debate on this subject some weeks ago, the Admiralty were put into communication with the Treasury with the view of ascertaining whether the Treasury would consent to these vessels being employed in conveying a certain number of discharged dockyard men from Portsmouth and elsewhere to the colonies. That inquiry is still going on, but has so far proceeded that I am now in a position to state that we do propose, upon the terms which my hon. Friend has just stated, to send out to the North American colonies a limited number of discharged dockyard men. There are a good many details still remaining to be settled; it is not perfectly clear yet at what time, having regard to the arrangements of the troops, these vessels can be sent out, but, taking the proposition upon the footing stated by my hon. Friend that the Government shall be put to no expense in the matter, beyond the actual use of the transport ships, I do hope that it will prove feasible to carry out some such plan as he has suggested.


expressed his satisfaction with the right hon. Gentleman's statement.