HC Deb 02 May 1873 vol 215 cc1406-26

in rising to move for a Select Committee to inquire into the loss of life on the North East Coast, and report on the best means of averting the same, said, that two years ago he had called attention to the great annual loss of life and property on that coast in consequence of its unprotected state. The Motion was opposed by Her Majesty's Government, and he was defeated by a majority of 35. Last year, owing to the pressure of Public Business, he was unable to find an opportunity for renewing his Motion; but this year he had been more fortunate. He feared that he should have to travel over some ground which was not unfamiliar to the House, but he was fortified by the knowledge of the very great evils arising from the unprotected state of the coast, and the saving of life which would have resulted if, two years ago, his Motion had been carried. It was not until the commencement of the present century that public attention began to be seriously directed to the annual loss of life and property on the north east coast of England, and it was not until recent years that any practical mode of dealing with these great calamities was suggested by any hon. Member of that House. In 1857 Mr. Wilson, then Secretary to the Treasury, moved for a Select Committee to inquire into the loss of life upon our coasts, and to devise the best remedy. That Committee sat for two years, and reported in favour of a grant of money for constructing harbours of refuge at certain points of the coast, and recommending loans to improve the navigation of particular ports. A Royal Commission was next appointed by Sir John Pakington during the Administration of Lord Derby, and, after duo investigation, they made a Report. The Government of Lord Palmerston, however, which had by this time returned to office, took no notice of the Report. Two years afterwards the then hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Lindsay) moved an Address to the Crown to carry into effect the recommendations of the Royal Commissioners. The Motion was opposed by the Government, but it was, nevertheless, carried by a majority of 17. He had reason to believe that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone), who was then Chancellor of the Exchequer, persuaded Lord Palmerston to ignore the vote of the House of Commons; and the recommendations of the Royal Commissioners, which contemplated the construction of a harbour of refuge in Filey Bay, had remained a dead letter. That Government, however, gave effect to one of the recommendations of the Select Committee of 1857, for they passed the Piers and Harbours Act, which enabled local bodies to borrow money from the Government for the improvement of the rivers, and which had conferred enormous benefits upon the shipping interest and the public; but he denied that a safe and available harbour of refuge on the north east coast had thereby been established, for the fact was, no safe and commodious harbour could be found between Fern Islands and the Humber. The want had been felt from time immemorial, and unless Parliament interfered that want would continue to exist. Upon the present occasion he had somewhat varied the terms of his Motion from that of the preceding one and he now asked the House to appoint a Select Committee to inquire into the state of that coast, and the annual average loss of life and property, and to empower the Committee to report on the best means of averting those great scandals. At the same time, he would intimate that although he only asked for a Select Committee, he did not conceal his agreement with the Royal Commissioners in their recommendation of a harbour of refuge at Filey. The River Tyne had been greatly improved, but, from its position to the northward, it could not fulfil the conditions demanded by the shipping interest. There remained 200 miles of seaboard of a very wild and inhospitable character, and destitute of a harbour of refuge. Having quoted statistics to show the large proportion of ships and tonnage from the north-east seaports, which might be said to represent one-quarter of the whole shipping trade of the United Kingdom, the noble Lord said, that along those 200 miles of coast there was not a single harbour that was not a bar-harbour except the Tyne, and that was in a condition far from safe. The loss of life and property on the coast occurred in a manner that had now become familiar. The sailing colliers usually left the north-eastern ports in large fleets, and invariably made for Flamborough Head northwest of which lay Filey Bay, where they awaited a favourable opportunity for continuing their voyage. But the neighbourhood of Flamborough Head was very liable to sudden changes of wind, and while the colliers were working round Flamborough Head for shelter, a change of wind often drove them back to the ports from which they came, all of which had bar harbours. Now, those bars were impassable to the great majority of the vessels except at high water, and the result was that deplorable calamities occurred as the vessels were trying to re-enter their harbours. Nearly four-fifths of the vessels lost on the north eastern coast were laden vessels, and that fact conclusively proved that in addition to the loss which occurred to life there was an immense loss to the trade of the country, owing to laden vessels being obliged in bad weather to put back to the ports which they had loft, because there was no harbour of refuge between their ports of departure and destination. When he last brought forward this Motion two years ago, it was said and no doubt it would to-day be repeated, that sailing colliers were being fast superseded by steam colliers. Such, however, was not the case. In the great storm of February, 1871, no less than 1,000 sailing colliers were scattered and driven back, and of these 53 foundered, with a loss of from 80 to 100 lives. The fact really was that sailing vessels had increased, for while the number in 1855 was only 8,333, in 1861 it had risen to 11,060, and in 1870 to 11,598. But the accommodation for which he contended was also necessary for steam vessels, for from a Return which he held in his hand, and which had been carefully compiled by The Shipping and Mercantile Gazette, it appeared that between Fern Islands and the Humber there had been in 1871–2, exclusive of 13 collisions, with which a harbour of refuge had, of course, nothing to do, 34 minor casualties to steamers; 6 had foundered, 5 had been totally wrecked, and 13 had been stranded. As the value of one of these steamers was about equal to the value of 15 ordinary sailing colliers, the loss of these steamers which had foundered and were totally wrecked was equal to the loss of 125 sailing vessels. In 1870 the total casualties to the shipping trade generally on the 200 miles of seaboard referred to in his Motion were 67 collisions, 191 minor casualties, 23 vessels foundered, 34 totally wrecked, and 47 stranded, 75 lives being lost. In 1871, a year distinguished for its storms, the list was heavier—110 collisions, 86 vessels stranded, 143vessels foundered, stranded, and wrecked, these casualties being accompanied by a loss of 120 lives. With such lists he thought that no hon. Member would rise in his place and deny that it was our duty to do what we could to mitigate if we could not avert such calamities, and this he believed could be done if his Motion were adopted. The peculiar position of Filey, lying as it did to the north of Flamborough Head, induced the Commissioners to select it for the purpose of a harbour of refuge, while the fact that it was merely a small fishing village was sufficient to show that it had been selected from no improper motive. The Prime Minister on a former occasion had characterized his then Motion as "isolated and local." Isolated it no doubt was, but in making it he felt that after so long a time from the date when the Commissioners reported, it would have been ridiculous to propose the adoption of all their recommendations, or to suggest so large an advance of public money after the expenses incurred under the Piers and Harbours Act. Again, all the places recommended by the Commissioners, except Filey, had local influence and local resources at their command, and the only inducement which could have led to the selection of Filey was its qualifications as a natural harbour. It would form an admirable harbour of refuge, not only for merchantmen, but for iron-clads and men-of-war, and the execution of the work would only cost, according to the Commissioners, £860,000; but the Prime Minister, in the former debate, had stated that this was only the first expenditure, and that practical experience had shown that in such cases the original estimate was generally doubled before the completion of the work. Fortunately, however, these debates were read, and sometimes by persons whose knowledge and memory had during the past four years been called into requisition to correct the flights of fancy of Her Majesty's Ministers. On authority which could be relied upon it appeared that Mr. Milner Gibson, when President of the Board of Trade, commissioned the assistant secretary of the marine department to write a Report, throwing as much discredit upon the recommendations of the Commissioners as possible, in order to influence Parliament adversely, and those instructions were car- ried out. He (Lord Claud Hamilton) had received a letter from Admiral Sir Bartholomew Sullivan, mentioning that one of the most eminent of the harbour contractors had gone into the estimates, and had expressed his willingness to take the construction of the harbour for the sum named by the Commissioners, and to give guarantees for the completion of the work. But what course had Mr. Milner Gibson adopted? He had thrown discredit on the Report of the Commission, and up to the present time his view had been accepted as the authoritative opinion of the Board of Trade on the subject. With regard to that, Admiral Sir Bartholomew Sullivan asked if it was fair or just to throw discredit on the fitness of the Commissioners for their work, and whether it was just to compare the estimates of the Commissioners with the cost of harbours which had greatly exceeded the estimates? That showed how the work of our public Departments was conducted with a view to suit political exigencies, or to confirm Ministerial crotchets. He hoped, therefore, he should not be considered as bringing forward a Motion which would tend to entail enlarged and indefinite expenditure upon the House of Commons. As he was now on the subject of expenditure, he would allude briefly to the large outlay of money by the Tyne Commissioners—a body appointed in 1852, mainly for the purpose of improving the approaches of the River Tyne, and to secure a harbour of refuge there available for all classes of vessels in stress of weather. Plans for two great piers were drawn and were submitted to Mr. Walker, an eminent civil engineer, since deceased, and accepted. Twenty years had since elapsed, and still the piers were far from being completed. Indeed, it was reported that the Commissioners now proposed to relinquish them altogether, or, at all events, to curtail them considerably. The public had heard of the enormous expenditure of these Commissioners and, of the glorious approach which they were making to Newcastle and Gateshead up their river. But that money was being spent on objects very different from those which were contemplated by Parliament when they obtained their powers. Parliament, when it granted them powers, contemplated that they should so improve the entrance to the river as to make it available for all vessels in stress of weather from whatever point the wind might be blowing. They had, however, instead of carrying out that great work rendered the approaches to the river far more dangerous, owing to those half-completed piers, than before. In fact, to enter the river now in bad weather was a matter of the greatest difficulty. In the year 1864 the screw steamer Stanley was wrecked inside the piers, with the loss of all hands. On the 17th of December last a barque was wrecked also inside the piers, and seven of her crew were drowned. A Danish ship very narrowly escaped, and on the same day a smaller vessel was totally wrecked. On the same occasion, the lifeboat from South Shields ran great risk; seven of her crew were washed overboard and two of them drowned, not with standing that two other lifeboats were at hand. A nice harbour of refuge this, that required three lifeboats to be rowing about inside it! But where had the money been really spent? The Commissioners numbered 18 persons, 10 of whom represented Newcastle and Gateshead—that was to say, the inland interest, as against seven representing Shields and Tyne-mouth, and one the Admiralty—that was to say, the harbour of refuge interest. The inland interest had, therefore, an absolute majority of two over the representation of Tynemouth, Shields, and the Admiralty taken together. The result of that state of things was abundantly shown by the proceedings of the Commissioners. The contract for the piers was, through the influence of the present town clerk of Newcastle, then a member of the Commission, given to a gentleman to whom he was solicitor, although eminent contractors elsewhere proposed to complete the works for the same cost and in much less time. Some suspicion was aroused, but though ship-owners in South Shields and elsewhere required the contract in question to be made public, the Commissioners refused to comply with the request. The real fact, however, was that the money which ought to have been expended in the formation of piers which should have proved a complete protection to both life and property, was being expended in useless inland works above Newcastle, by which it was hoped that masted vessels would be able to reach certain villages situated on the banks of the river some 15 miles above the sea; and at a cost that it was thought would reach £250,000 they were reconstructing the bridge at Newcastle, the estimate for which work, submitted to Parliament amounted to £50,000 only. They were too, he was informed, doing those works themselves, instead of submitting them to open competition, and thereby losing money. To secure the necessary funds, they put into force powers which the Act gave them of levying 2d. per ton on ships in the foreign trade, and 1d. per ton register on coasting vessels, so that, in fact, foreign vessels contributed the funds for the completion of a work from which they could not possibly derive any benefit, while the works by which they might be benefited were neglected. On the other hand, Newcastle and Gateshead, which would have all the advantage of the works in question, did not, he was informed, contribute a farthing towards their construction. The Commissioners had also power to collect coal dues, and to place many other imposts on the shipping interest. Public feeling had been at length aroused, and the Chambers of Commerce of Newcastle, Gateshead, and South Shields had petitioned Parliament to appoint auditors to investigate the accounts of the Commissioners, so that the amounts expended and the purposes to which the money was devoted might be ascertained. He must, in this place, state that it was the existence of that public feeling, which he could assure the House was very strong, that had led him to adopt the course he had taken, for he thought the Committee might inquire into the con-stitution of the Commission, and the expenditure of its funds, and might offer suggestions for the improvement of that body. It contained only one representative of the Government, though the Mersey Commission had four such representatives, and the whole power was vested in the town council of Newcastle, a body which, being many miles up the river, did not care about harbours of refuge. It might be asked why the question should not be referred to the recently-appointed Royal Commission on loss of life at sea, but that Commission had enough on its hands, and it was sitting with closed doors—a mode of inquiry which would not be satisfactory in this case. Moreover, it was not likely that the Prime Minister, who, when Chancellor of the Exchequer, persuaded his Colleagues to disregard the recommendations of Royal Commissions for the construction of harbours of refuge at the public expense, would now pay greater attention to the Report of such a body, and that more especially, when as in the case of the Commission on Officers' Grievances, the Government instructed them to make no Report involving any Vote of public money, though that was the only step which could meet the necessities of the case, and involved the fact, that the whole inquiry was evidently a sham. From a Select Committee he augured a different result, and its appointment would not bind the House to the selection of Filey or to any outlay. It would show that Parliament was impressed by the calamities which happened on the coast; and surely in times of prosperity, a deserving class of men, whose lives were spent in peril, and to whom the country in the hour of danger always looked for aid, should not be neglected. The noble Lord concluded by moving for the Select Committee of which he had given Notice.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the loss of life and property on the North East coast, and report on the best means of averting the samc,"—(Lord Claud John Hamilton,) —instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


said, that on first seeing the Notice of his noble Friend the Member for Lynn Regis (Lord Claud John Hamilton), at the beginning of the Session, he thought it an interesting and reasonable one, calling for the consideration of the House and the Government. There had, however, been little connection between the noble Lord's Motion and his speech, and though the noble Lord had described the former as one which he brought forward two years ago, his proposal then was the construction of a harbour of refuge at Filey. Even had no other mode of inquiry been provided since the Notice was given, the House, if convinced that an investigation was necessary, could not have limited it to the north east coast; but there had been such discussions on the loss of life and property at sea, resulting in the appointment of a competent and distinguished Commission, that there could be no reason for nominating a Committee to traverse the same ground. He had been unable to find any reason for singling out the north-east coast. No doubt that part of the coast represented a number of casualties, and he believed an amount of loss of property out of proportion to the number of miles to which it extended; but that could easily be accounted for by the nature and. the amount of the trade, the natural dangers of the coast, and so forth. The mere loss of property, however, was not the ground on which the noble Lord could proceed. He could hardly call upon Parliament to lay out he (Mr. Chichester Fortescue) knew not how many millions of public money for the sole purpose of saving a certain amount of property on that part of the coast. Those interested in that property were bound to find the means of doing that; but they had never shown that they thought it worth while, for the protection of their property, to contribute, by a system of passing tolls, or out of the Mercantile Marine Fund, or in any other way, to the expense of constructing a harbour of refuge between the Fern Islands and Flamborough Head. They did not appear to think that a single harbour of refuge on that coast would save anything like an amount of property commensurate with the outlay upon its construction. The national interest in that matter was not so much the preservation of property as the saving of life, and on that point he would give the House a few facts taken from the last official Wreck Register. It appeared that, during the 10 years ending in 1871, the number of lives lost on the part of the coast referred to by the noble Lord, from all causes, was 285. Going northwards, from the Fern Islands to Buchan Ness, the lives lost in the same period were 258; and from Buchan Ness to Cape Wrath 253. Coming southwards, between Flamborough Head and the North Foreland, 930 lives were lost in the same 10 years. That was not a portion of the coast destitute of harbours of refuge if they could be used to save a ship in distress, but possessing the refuges of the Humber, Yarmouth Roads, and the Thames. Going round the coast, between the North Foreland and Land's End—of course, including the harbour of Portland, and others—734 lives were lost in the same period. From Land's End to St. David's Head—between which there was the Bristol Channel, a natural place of refuge—the lives lost were 981. Then proceeding to that part of the coast which was really proved to be the most dangerous to life—namely, the kind of quadrilateral formed by the coast of England and Ireland, between St. David's Head and Carnsore Point, and between the Mull of Cantire and Fair Head, the number of lives lost was 1,148. Why, with these facts before them, were they to single out the 200 miles of coast between the Fern Islands and Flam borough Head, as requiring special care and special expenditure at the hands of Parliament? The question of how far harbours of refuge had contributed to save life had been carefully considered some years ago under the auspices of the right hon. Gentleman the then Member for Ashton (Mr. Milner Gibson), and he himself had had it looked into since; and here he must protest against the language used by the noble Lord in reference to the Memorandum of the Board of Trade on that subject, presented in 1864. That Memorandum—a very able and careful one, founded on great knowledge and research—was no doubt drawn up by the Permanent Secretary of that Department, an eminent man, and very competent to consider and analyze those facts, with the advice and assistance of a post-captain of the Navy and a captain of the Mercantile Marine, who were the professional officers of the Board of Trade, and also under the orders and constant supervision of Mr. Milner Gibson, than whom no Minister who had filled the same office for many years past was better qualified to deal with the details of such a matter, or felt a greater interest in and sympathy with the cause of the sailor. No doubt the Memorandum severely criticized the Report of the Royal Commission on Harbours of Refuge, and it conclusively showed that the Select Committee on that subject, and the Royal Commission which followed it, having unfortunately had their attention directed exclusively, and with peculiar enthusiasm, to the question of harbours of refuge, and not looking into any of the other causes of loss of life at sea, or the means of preventing it, as was now being done, had been led to inadequate and one-sided conclusions. The analysis made in that Paper of the facts given by the Royal Commission, and also contained in the Annual Wreck Registers of the Board of Trade, went to show that the saving of life that could have been effected under any conceivable circumstances by a harbour of refuge at Filey, or anywhere on that coast, would have been so insignificant as not to make it worth while, with a view to prevent it, to incur the great and uncertain expenditure of public money which was proposed. Assuming not that one harbour of refuge, but that three had been in existence on that coast, it was found at that time, after a minute and careful examination of every case of wreck and casualty other than collision, that something like an annual average of 15 lives and £28,000 worth of property might have been saved. Lately, the professional adviser of the Board of Trade had carefully examined into the casualties which had occurred on the coast in question from 1862 to 1872, and he gave, as his opinion, that out of the total number of lives lost during that period, between Flam borough Head and Fern Islands, in only three cases, so far as an opinion could be formed, could the loss have been prevented by the construction of a harbour of refuge at Filey. The fact was that harbours of refuge could be made available only for vessels in a certain position, and under certain conditions of wind, and that the greater proportion of ships were unable to avail themselves of the protection which the very best harbours afforded. Among the measures, therefore, which the Government might deem it necessary to adopt for the protection of life at sea, harbours of refuge were not likely to form a very important feature. The hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Plimsoll) even with all his zeal in dealing with the subject, had not said a single word with reference to the establishment of harbours of refuge, and had shown them that the loss of life at sea was attributable to a very different cause—the condition of the ships themselves. Since the question had been inquired into by a Royal Commission, and a Select Committee, the House of Commons had over and over again declined to bind the Government to lay out large sums of money on mere harbours of refuge. Indeed, the original Committee never intended that the Government should lay out a large sum in the construction of harbours of refuge; but what was intended was that the shipping interest should contribute two-thirds of the cost. The shipping interest, however, repudiated the proposal, and they had consistently declined from that time to this to lay out money for the purpose. If, therefore, a great national harbour were to be established on the north-east coast of England, it would be necessary to start from a totally different point of view—that of national safety. Personally, he thought there was much to be said in favour of the erection of a great naval station on that coast, but if we were ever to have a Portland there, it must originate from the point of view of national defence mainly, though it might be made to serve incidentally for the advantage of the Mercantile Marine. He could not, he might add, understand why the noble Lord should have made so animated an attack on the Commissioners of the Tyne, who, he was bound to say, had done wonders in the improvement of that important river. The Commissioners themselves stated that during the year 1871–72 over 1,000 vessels had found refuge within it, and there could be no doubt that it presented the most noteworthy example of river improvement within the bounds of the United Kingdom. It was said that there were nothing but bar-harbours on the north east coast, and this was the main foundation on which the demand for an east coast harbour had been rested, but he was assured that now almost at all times large vessels could get into the Tyne and the Tees. It had been truly said, that if harbours of refuge were wanted at all, they were wanted for bad ships; whilst now they were doing their best to diminish the number of bad ships, for through the exertions of the hon. Member for Derby, the mind of the country was now strongly directed to the question whether they could by legislation diminish the number of bad ships at sea, and consequently diminish the loss of life. No doubt, the hon. Member had occasionally done great injustice in his remarks to people who had his cause much at heart, and he seemed determined to make a sort of enemy of the Board of Trade, though they desired to contribute all that they could towards the end which he had in view. The noble Lord said that because he had given Notice of his intention to move for a Select Committee, he must persist in doing so, not with standing the appointment of the Commission; and he treated Commissions as shams. [Lord CLAUD JOHN HAMILTON: Only under the present Government.] That probably meant, that if the Commission recommended large expenditure for problematical objects, the Government would resist such expenditure as it had done before; but he had not the slightest conception that they would do anything of the kind. If the noble Lord had not confidence in them, there were few who would share his distrust. But the Royal Commission was actually at work at the present time, inquiring not merely into the state of the north east coast of England, but into the whole coast. If the noble Lord obtained the Committee he asked for he would have to examine the same witnesses and analyze the same Returns as the Duke of Somerset and his Colleagues of the Royal Commission had done, and were now doing. It appeared to him (Mr. Chichester Fortescue) that that would be worse than loss of time and labour, because it would have the effect of introducing great confusion into the inquiries that were being pursued. He confessed that he had made a great strategical mistake in not nominating the noble Lord a Member of the Royal Commission. If he had been so fortunate as to have secured his assistance, the noble Lord would have found it impossible to bring forward that Motion. He hoped, however, the House would think that the Government had done everything they could for the purpose of inquiring into the loss of life at sea and around our coasts, and would be content with the inquiry by the Royal Commission. If the noble Lord should be dissatisfied with the Report of that Commission, it would be in his power to take further action, and he would then have the additional advantage of the information which they had obtained.


said, he had heard the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade with no feeling of surprise, because he had been accustomed to hear a similar speech for some years past on the same subject, but he confessed to having heard it with great regret. He (Sir John Pakington) had always taken a great interest in the subject, and he had just heard with great pleasure the effective speech of his noble Friend behind him. He thought his noble Friend had acted judiciously by altering his Motion of last year for the establishment of harbours of refuge to that of a Select Committee of Inquiry regarding the north east coast of England. It appeared to him (Sir John Pakington) that the result of the dealing with this question by the Government from year to year, was not so much the necessity of saving human life as it was a question of finance. It was true that a harbour on the north east coast of England, or at any other part, could not be constructed without great expense; but surely any expenditure of money that would result in the saving of human life and property would be freely and unanimously assented to. The late Mr. James Wilson was not the man to recommend any extravagant or unnecessary expenditure; nevertheless he had brought forward a Motion similar to that of his noble Friend. When the right hon. Gentleman opposite asked his noble Friend why he confined his Motion to the north east coast of England, he might be told that it was because it was the most unprotected part of the whole coast. [MR. CHICHESTER FORTESCUE: The figures are against you.] At all events, in 10 years 8,000 lives had been lost, which was at the rate of 800 a-year, and it was idle to say one harbour of refuge would not save them. The north east coast stood most in need of protection, for the south had Portland, and the west Holy head, in which hundreds of vessels took refuge in stormy weather. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade had said that very few lives were lost on the east coast, but he could not attach the slightest importance to that portion of the right hon. Gentleman's argument. Then, with regard to the argument that a Royal Commission to inquire into the loss of life at sea had been appointed on the Motion of the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Plimsoll), it should not be forgotten that the subject of harbours of refuge was not referred to that Commission. His belief was, that this was mainly a money question, and in that view, no doubt, it would be very costly to erect a harbour of refuge on the east coast of England, but no one, he thought, could seriously contend that such a harbour if erected would not be the means of saving numerous vessels and lives on that coast, as Portland and Holy head did on the south and west coasts. It was because the question had not been referred to the Royal Commission, that the Motion was brought forward, and he felt it his duty to give it his support.


in supporting the Motion, disclaimed being actuated by any motive of a local nature, and did not wish specially to indicate Filey as the proper place for a harbour of refuge. He had studied the Blue Books on the subject from 1836 to the present time, and he had an hereditary prepossession in favour of a harbour of refuge on the east coast. Indeed, he thought it would not have been unworthy of the Government to have dedicated a portion of their surplus revenue to the construction of them on those parts of the Coast where they were most needed. The right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Board of Trade had taken good security for the safety of passengers by railway, for which the public were much indebted to him. He would ask him whether he did not think our Merchant Service and the lives of our seamen of as great importance as the safety of railways, and of the lives of those who travelled by those railways? It was notorious that when our mercantile ships were nearly worn out and had passed their proper work, they were put into the coaling trade in a condition but ill calculated to weather the winter's storms. The necessity of doing something in the way of harbours of refuge being generally admitted, he was at a loss to know why the Government took so much pains year after year to throw difficulties in the way of every attempt to effect that object. The Royal Commissioners of 1844 reported that no pecuniary considerations ought to be allowed to impede the accomplishment of a scheme of such vast importance, but nevertheless the recommendation then made had not yet been acted upon. He was on board the vessel which was ordered at that period to survey the coast, and he, of course, thought something would come of it, but he had since arrived at the conclusion that inquiries and surveys were often employed by Governments in order to shunt difficult questions. The general opinion of naval officers was, that there was no safe harbour of refuge between the Thames and the Tees, and that one ought to be established somewhere between those two great rivers, for the purpose of protecting the merchant shipping of this country, which had certainly quadrupled since the Commission made its Report in 1844, and now surpassed the commercial shipping of the United States, France, and Russia combined. He wished to say, in conclusion that he had taken up this question as one of general interest and national importance, and not as one of selfish or local advantage. He feared, however, after what occurred last night, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be invulnerable to any appeal of the kind.


as one of the members of the Tyne Commission from its origin, traced the history and defended the action of the Commission. Their works for the improvement of the river had been of the greatest benefit. They represented the whole commercial interest of the Tyne, and although last year an attempt had been made to overturn the Commission, yet it had failed. There was as great a length of tidal river above Newcastle as between that town and the sea, and one of the duties of the Commissioners had been to open the Upper Tyne to the passage of masted ships. Besides that they had spent on the Pier Works £630,000, of which £250,000 had been borrowed on ample security from the Public Works Loan Commissioners. In that and other purposes they had expended altogether about £1,350,000, only a small portion of which, and that amply secured, had been raised by way of loan from the Government. With regard to the statement made by the noble Lord the Member for Lynn Regis (Lord Claud John Hamilton) respecting the unfinished state of the piers, it was very important and also extremely difficult to ascertain what ought to be the width of the entrance, and consequently the Commissioners had resolved to wait instead of completing at once the operations which had been commenced. With regard to the present Motion, he wished to point out that since the Com- missioners on Harbours of Refuge made their Report, the circumstances of the coasting trade had entirely changed. At that time ships accumulated in fleets while waiting for a favourable wind, and after they had all left port together a gale would often spring up suddenly, so that the whole coast was strewn with wrecks. At present, however, vessels did not accumulate in fleets. Again, a great change had been effected by the substitution of screw steamers for sailing vessels. Since 1859 the number of vessels engaged in the coasting trade had actually diminished, while the tonnage had largely increased. The proportion of sailing ships as compared with steamers was 85 per cent to 14 per cent in 1859; 49 per cent to 51 per cent in 1869; and only 39 per cent to 61 per cent at the present time. In addition to that the number of ships which did the work was smaller than it was formerly. The noble Lord had brought forward the number of wrecks on a much larger extent of coast than could possibly be benefited by a harbour at Filey, and the inhabitants of Bridlington thought Bridlington Bay would be a better place for constructing a harbour of refuge. Filey Harbour could never be made a successful one, as the water was km the most part shallow, and there would be a danger of the harbour silting up, especially as it would not be subjected to a scouring tide. He believed that Filey Harbour, if made, would never realize all that was expected from it, or do for the shipping of the north-eastern ports what had been done by the Tyne. In conclusion, the hon. Member expressed his opinion that the Government ought to give aid to local efforts for the improvement of commercial harbours, and to abstain from such speculative enterprises as had been advocated in the course of that evening's discussion.


expressed his regret that the management of the Tyne should have been mixed up with this Motion, because it was a pity that a great national question should be mixed up in any way with the conduct of any particular public body, and knowing who drew up the Report issued by the Board of Trade upon the Report of the Commissioners, he felt certain nothing had been done which was not in accordance with usage in that respect. He was also sorry that the Government had thought proper to refuse the inquiry now asked for. The question was one of considerable importance. When, a few years since, he supported a Motion brought forward by the noble Lord referring to Filey Bay, he felt the difficulty of the subject from the many arguments that might be used against that particular place. All that had been stated in the course of the debate pointed to the advantage of a fresh inquiry into the subject. The President of the Board of Trade seemed to prove too much when he tried to induce the House to believe that harbours of refuge were bad things, because the greatest loss of life occurred in their neighbourhood, and that the north-east coast could not be so dangerous as had been described because so small a loss of life took place there. The same argument was used by Mr. Milner Gibson, but it was shown at the time that there was then, as now, a fallacy lurking in the argument. It did not follow because there was a small loss of life on a dangerous coast that it was not dangerous or that it was not the cause of the loss of life. Hundreds of colliers and other vessels had been driven out to sea and lost even as far off as the coast of Scotland and the Shetlands, and yet from the want of a harbour of refuge on this coast. The question before the House was not so much whether there should be a harbour of refuge at Filey as whether there should be a further inquiry by a Committee of this House. It was a pity that the Government had refused the appointment of a Committee, which might well supplement the labours of the Commission, for the President of the Board of Trade admitted that this subject was not within their order of reference, and, which, at all events, if it had done nothing more, would have shown the maritime class that their interests were not overlooked in that House.


said, although the noble Lord the Member for Lynn Regis (Lord Claud John Hamilton) was more moderate then than on a former occasion, yet he must oppose the Motion, on the ground that the appointment of a Committee could serve no practical purpose. He denied that those who opposed the inquiry were weighing the difference between pounds, shillings, and pence, and the loss of life which annually occurred on our coasts. He thought the policy which had been adopted by the Government was a very wise one, and one from which they could not recede, having regard to public economy. Instead of spending upwards of £3,000,000 as recommended by the Commissioners of 1868, in the construction of harbours of refuge, under the Act of 1861 they had lent upwards of £2,000,000 for the improvement of existing harbours, and that money was being repaid without any expense being imposed upon the general taxpayer. Not only that, but the money had been expended with the best results in improving the entrances to the rivers on the coast in question, the funds having been obtained at a low rate of interest under the Act of 1871 from the Exchequer Loan Commissioners. Not only had the interest on those loans been regularly paid, but a fund was provided whereby the principal sums due were being annually reduced, and these harbours had been wonderfully improved. In 1860, the time of the Report of the Harbours of Refuge Commission, there were 3 to 6 feet of water at low water on the Tyne Bar; in 1872 there were 20 to 24 feet of water; and in Shields Harbour 34 to 35 feet, with 15 feet rise of tide. In 1861 there were 246 ships between 500 and 1,000 tons, and upwards, entering the Tyne—of these 8 only were above 1,000 tons. In 1871 there were 2,542 ships of this class, and of these 232 were above 1,000 tons. In 2 years 1,000 vessels had used the Tyne as a harbour of refuge. In 1866, 194 ships took refuge; in 1867, 255; in 1868, 322; in 1869, 402; in 1870, 558. At Sunderland Dock there were 11 feet of water at low water spring tides, and 15 feet rise of tide, and further improvements were in hand. Hartlepool had recently received an Exchequer Loan of £50,000, which was being spent with most favourable results. On the Tees, between 1858 and 1871, about £250,000 had been spent. The revenue in 1858 was £5,900; in 1871, £21,765. In 1859 there were 3 to 4 feet of water on the Bar; in 1872 10 to 11 feet, and constant improvement going forward. Some of the rivers and harbours, however, were burdened with prior loans at high rates of interest, borrowed from the public prior to the Act of 1861. Owing to this circumstance, the loans of these harbours were divided into two classes—those contracted before 1861, and those contracted since that date. On the first of these classes interest at 4 to 5 per cent was paid, but there was no sinking fund. The purpose to which they were applied being equally important, nationally, as that to which the Exchequer Loans were applied. The loans borrowed from the State were repaid at a rate which did not exceed that on the private loans, and which would, however, extinguish the loans in the course of a few years. If the same principle could be applied to the loans before 1861, and Parliament would allow that Act to have a retrospective action, great good would be done, and these great harbours, already national, would be free harbours. He hoped the Government would take this into their serious consideration.


supported the Motion. It had been said that the tidal rivers on the north-east coast formed natural harbours of refuge, and no doubt it was true that at certain times such rivers as the Tyne, the Wear, or the Tees, did serve as harbours of refuge, but in a strong ebb tide, and a northeast wind, no ship could get through the tremendous sea that was to be found at the mouth of such a river as the Tyne. The loans of money which had been made for the improvement of harbours since 1861, were not at all commensurate with the requirements of the coasts, and could by no means be said to obviate the necessity of forming a harbour of refuge on the coast such as was desired. He deeply regretted that the Government had seemed to throw cold water upon the construction of harbours of refuge, on the ground that rivers supplied the place of such harbours. Never could any rivers supply the place of a harbour of refuge.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 109; Noes 95: Majority 14.