HC Deb 16 April 1875 vol 223 cc1152-60

, in rising to call the attention of the House to the want of a Harbour of Refuge in the Bristol Channel, and to move— That, in the opinion of this House, the construction of a Harbour of Refugeat Lundy Island, which was suggested by the Royal Commission of 1859, demands the serious and early attention of the Government as a work of national importance, and after having presented various Petitions in favour of the Motion, said, there was no part of the coast where a harbour of refuge could be more useful, or where it could be less expensively constructed than at the place designated in the Resolution. The great question, however, had been one of cost, and with reference to that, he thought money could not be better laid out than in the protection of valuable lives at sea. The statistics furnished periodically by the Board of Trade showed that the number of wrecks and casualities which occurred periodically in British waters, within 10 miles of the coast, was absolutely appalling. Between 1852 and 1857 the average number of wrecks and casualties on the coasts of the United Kingdom annually amounted to 1,051; between 1858 and 1862 they had risen to 1,389; from 1863 to 1867 they averaged 1,732 annually, and between 1868 and 1872, 1,779; while in the first six months of 1873, beyond which the Returns did not extend, the number was 967. During the six years ending 1872, the annual average loss of life was 2,008, whereas during the six years from 1852 to 1857 it was only 780. In 1859 the loss of property was estimated at £1,500,000 sterling, while it now exceeded annually £2,500,000 sterling. These figures alone showed that the subject was one which well deserved the consideration of the House. A Committee of the House sat in 1857 and 1858 to investigate it, and they reported in favour of grants of sums of money for the construction of harbours of refuge. A Royal Commission was subsequently appointed, which visited the various ports and made a valuable Report containing a similar recommendation and pointing especially to the advantage of Lundy Island, as a site both for a harbour of refuge, and a naval station for the defence of the coast. In the year 1860 Mr. Lindsay moved that the recommendation of the Royal Commission should be adopted, and although the Motion was opposed by the Government of the day it was carried, and amongst those who voted in the majority were seven Members of Her Majesty's present Government, including the First Lord of the Admiralty, the noble Lord the Minister for Foreign Affairs, and the Judge Advocate General. In the year 1861, probably in consequence of the carrying of that Motion, the Government brought in a Pier and Harbour Bill and it became the law of the land; but the construction of harbours of refuge had received no support from successive Governments. The Royal Commissioners recommended that where there was an entire or a virtual absence of local interest at the place selected for the site of a harbour of refuge, and where the benefit would be confined exclusively to the passing trade it should be considered a national undertaking and be constructed at the public expense. A harbour of refuge at Lundy Island, as had been shown, would be most valuable as a point of departure for oceangoing ships, as a refuge for convoys, and as a naval station. The proposed works might be properly executed by convict labour, and the island was admirably adapted for a convict station, being 2½ mirably adapted for a convict station, nine miles distant from the nearest land, with good water, and exceedingly healthy. The cost of the proposed harbour works, if carried out by free labour, would be about £500,000; but if executed by convict labour, for which the island was very well suited, it would be only one-half of that sum. Lundy Island possessed a lighthouse and a good anchorage; but during the westerly gales the pilot boats were driven away from the island, to the detriment of the service, and inconvenience and danger to life and property. If ever a harbour were to be constructed there, now was the time to think about it. The island belonged to one proprietor, it had good water, and he thought convict labour might be transferred thither from Portland. The number of vessels that navigated the Bristol Channel was somewhere about 80,000 per annum, representing some 11,000,000 tons of shipping. The loss of life on our coast was perfectly appalling, and he regretted to say a considerable number of the wrecks occurred in the Bristol Channel; for instance, in the year 1872, 250 vessels were lost in only a portion of it. At present there was no harbour except the small and dangerous one of Padstow along 60 miles of iron-bound coast from the Lands End to Lundy. He was sure the Government would give the matter their consideration, and he should leave it in their hands. The hon. Member concluded by moving the Resolution.


, in seconding the Motion, said, he could bear testimony to the interest excited by the subject throughout the district. The question involved, however, was not a mere local one. The extent and value of the shipping which passed during the year through the Bristol Channel might be realized from the fact that it amounted to one-sixth of the shipping of the whole Kingdom. There could be no doubt whatever in the mind of any one who studied the subject that Lundy Island was well calculated for a harbour of refuge. One of the witnesses examined before the Royal Commission said the island was fixed there on purpose to supply a harbour of refuge. The Commissioners themselves were without doubt about such a harbour being necessary, and though they did not advise that it should be at once constructed, they recommended that the matter should be kept in view. That could not be said to have been done, for since then 16 years had elapsed, and now the question of a harbour of refuge at Lundy was hardly visible. They wished again to bring it into prominence, so that at no distant day a harbour into which vessels could run with safety might be made in the Bristol Channel. If he proposed that they should ask for £500,000, no doubt the Chancellor of the Exchequer would probably point to his cash-box, the empty condition of which he had on the preceding evening pointed out as the acme of financial art; but what he did propose was that a small amount should be expended annually until the harbour was completed.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "in the opinion of this House, the construction of a Harbour of Refuge at Lundy Island, which was suggested by the Royal Commission of 1859, demands the serious and early attention of the Government as a work of national importance,"—(Mr. Monk,)

—instead thereof.

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


said, that no part of the country had shown greater enterprize than the ports of the Bristol Channel, and he should be sorry to do anything that would be injurious to the interests of their shipping trade; but when the House was asked to favour a Motion for the construction of a harbour of refuge it became it to look closely into the grounds upon which that proposal was based. Although he had nothing but praise to offer for the spirit in which the Motion had been made, he must say that the case presented was a weak and unsatisfactory one, since the particular harbour now advocated was not one which had really received the recommendation of the Royal Commissioners. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Cordes) said he did not apply for any large or immediate expenditure, he only asked for a small sum to begin with; but when once begun, the work could not be abandoned. The Royal Commission spoke of this harbour only in connection with the trade of the Bristol Channel, and to that extent it partook of all the incidents of a local trade, and although they did not recommend its adoption, they did one at the Mumbles. [Mr. MONK said, they recommended it as a naval station.] They recommended it as a harbour for the convenience of the Bristol Channel; as a harbour of refuge in its full meaning, it would be worth nothing. It was said that the formation of a harbour of refuge by means of convict labour would save much of the expense of the construction of the harbour in question. But it was proved that such labour was of very questionable nature; but the great objection that he had to the proposal of the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Monk) was, that if the Government contemplated yielding to this demand they would decidedly fly in the face of the Report of the Commissioners, by taking up a harbour which they did not recommend in preference to those which they did recommend. He hoped the Government would not give any assent to this project, without giving the opportunity of re-considering the whole question of harbours of refuge. If the question were taken up under the auspices of the right hon. Gentleman opposite they might succeed in getting a number of harbours of refuge constructed with propriety, and in due order, worthy of the House, the country, and the period, and a great service would thus be rendered to the maritime interests of the world.


said, he should have great pleasure in supporting the Motion, for it was impossible for anyone though not a sailor, to reside in the locality, and not see, as he had at Weston-super-Mare, the many disasters which occurred to shipping, and which testified to the necessity for the provision of a harbour of refuge, not merely for the benefit of the trade of the port of Bristol, but also for the shipping trade of the Bristol Channel generally. From Gloucester to the Land's End there was not a harbour which was not a tidal harbour, and, owing to the sudden changes in the wind, and violent storms in that locality, there were sometimes 500 vessels windbound in the Channel, the ports of which owned a very large proportion of the shipping of the country. As regarded Lundy Island, no doubt the great objection made to it was the amount of expense attaching to it, from the great depth of water in which the works would have to be constructed. If it was too considerable, he would suggest that it might be desirable to construct a harbour and port of refuge at Brean Down, a promontory of the Bristol Channel, which, he contended, might be done for £100,000, and respecting which the testimony of eminent civil engineers, and especially of Sir John Coode, had been already adduced as to the practicability of constructing it. Anyhow, the Bristol Channel had a fair claim to be considered, and if the Government would give the subject its impartial consideration, he had no doubt the wishes of the hon. Member for Gloucester would, sooner or later, be carried into effect.


said, that as one of the few Members left in the House, who had served on the Committee on Harbours of Refuge, he felt greatly tempted to sing the praises of Milford Haven, and certainly if it were proposed to expend £500,000 on this coast, a fifth part of that sum might be advantageously spent upon the docks at that port. He doubted whether the representations of individual Members in favour of expenditure on their own locality had much weight with the House. The Executive was the proper Department to take such matters up, and if the Government declined to be guided by the Report of the Royal Commission of 1859 on account of the lapse of time, let them appoint another Royal Commission.


said, that the establishment of telegraphic communication between Lundy and the mainland would be an object of great importance to the mercantile community and to the public, and one much more easy of attainment than that proposed by the hon. Member for Gloucester. Lundy presented already many of the features of a natural harbour of refuge; but for want of communication with the mainland, ships ran in there in stress of weather, and lay there for many days together without any knowledge of their safety reaching those who were interested in them.


said, that the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Monk) had rested his whole case on the Report of the Royal Commission of 1859. On turning to their Report, however, he found that they were of opinion, with regard to a breakwater at Lundy Island, that the depth of water was so great that the cost of construction was not to be thought of until the other harbours on the coast, which they regarded as more important, had been completed. The hon. Member, therefore, at once disposed of his own Motion. Lundy Island was itself a natural breakwater against the waves of the Atlantic, and he agreed as to its natural advantages as a harbour of refuge. It had also excellent material for building, and was well circumstanced for using convict labour; it was also better situated than other places named further up the Channel. But allowing for all the advantages attaching to Lundy Island, the Commission to which the hon. Member for Gloucester referred recommended that public money should not be expended in making a harbour of refuge there until all the other places they mentioned had received prior attention. The constitution of harbours of refuge, in a national sense, moreover, was a very disputable point. It was a preferable course to facilitate the efforts of those engaged to deal with the necessities of commerce by the improvement of existing trading harbours. Since it had been found that the country was not prepared to expend money on artificial harbours of refuge, the local communities had set to work improving their own trading harbours. In the Wear, and the Tees, and the Tyne especially, gigantic works had been taken up by the localities interested in them, aided only by advances from the Exchequer Loans Commissioners. In that way the trading harbours had been so greatly improved as to be useful, not only for their original purpose, but likewise as harbours of refuge. Provision for maintenance was as important as that for first construction. These works were carried out with the support both of the communities where they were situated and also of the shipping interest; and they were afterwards kept in repair by the same means. The financial advantages of such a course were obvious, for the mercantile community, who were a rich interest, were ready to spend their money on works of that kind, and in a better way perhaps than the Government could expend it. On the other hand, the shipowners distinctly told them that they were not willing to pay passing tolls for the support of national harbours of refuge, and the Underwriters equally rejected them. Perhaps it was thought that these interests considered themselves safe by their own insurances. But it should be remembered that they were perfectly ready to pay passing tolls for lighthouses, which they deemed useful to them, but not for harbours of refuge. In this case there would be no local dues to support the harbour, for the population might be said to consist of rabbits, and if it was meant to charge the shipping interest generally, one such harbour as this would make the Mercantile Marine Fund bankrupt. He could not think that the proposal contemplated that such a work should be carried out simply at the expense of the Consolidated Fund, especially as Lundy had no prior claim in the matter. With regard to the case of Dover, he had made no claim to the expenditure of public money there on account of its being a fit place for a harbour of refuge. He had laid his chief stress on the advantages of Dover for a naval and military station at a most important point on our coast. The changed circumstances of the coasting trade also further weakened the claim for harbours of refuge, because steam was now so much used that many vessels stood out to sea rather than seek such harbours. Altogether, then, he must tell the hon. Member that having appealed to Cæsar, to Cæsar he must go; and in the words of the Royal Commission, he said the cost of the construction of a harbour of refuge where the hon. Member suggested ought not to be thought of, at all events, until harbours of more urgent necessity had been made.


thought the policy now so distinctly announced by the President of the Board of Trade of encouraging the improvement of mercantile harbours which would be valuable both for trading purposes and as harbours of refuge, was a sound and wise one, and he hoped it would be adhered to and enforced by the permanent officers of the Board of Trade, as well as by the Government. The fact of localities improving their harbours by means of loans from the Exchequer Loan Commissioners was most important, only it must be borne in mind that the aid rendered had only amounted to a loan of a little more than £1,000,000 against upwards of £25,000,000 borrowed from other sources, and in face of this short aid they now found the Board of Trade using every effort to draw the country into an expenditure on Dover Harbour to the extent of the aid granted as loans to all the other harbours in the kingdom. It was a project pushed forward with great force by the Liberal Party, which committed the country to this large expenditure, by obtaining a Vote of £10,000 at the end of the Session by a majority of 61 to 59 votes. The reasons now given by the President of the Board of Trade for the proposed large expenditure at Dover were quite new, and certainly they had never been put forward by the late Duke of Wellington. So far from that great man advocating Dover as the place to be improved on that coast, he, on the contrary, in 1843, before the Shipwreck Committee, pointed to Dungeness as the proper site; and in a conversation with Mr. Walker, the engineer, to Seaford, as shown in the Proceedings of the Committee on Harbours of Refuge of 1858.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."

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