HC Deb 27 October 1884 vol 293 cc256-8

asked the First Lord of the Treasury, If he is aware that thousands of workmen connected with the Shipping industry have for several months been without employment on the Wear, Tyne, Clyde, and other shipbuilding ports, and that large numbers with their families are now in a condition of semi-starvation; whether, as in the case of Irish distress and Indian famines, he will endeavour to devise some system of Imperial relief; if he is aware that in this year's Navy Estimates authority was taken to build additional ships of the Mersey class which has not yet been began; and, whether he will endeavour to arrange with the Treasury and Admiralty that ships of the Mersey and other designs may be built on the Wear and other rivers, allowing the builders a reasonable commission as remuneration over and above the actual cost?


inquired whether the Prime Minister was aware that distress in the same trade existed at Hartlepool and on the Tees?


asked if the right hon. Gentleman was also aware that there were a great many people out of employment at Liverpool and Birkenhead, through no fault of their own, and that no less than 5,000 summonses for non-payment of rates had been taken out at Liverpool alone; whether the right hon. Gentleman would suggest some measure for the relief of the distress, and give precedence to the consideration of that subject over further debate on the Franchise Bill?


Sir, I am aware, as the public are aware, of the great distress which exists to a very considerable extent in the shipping trades at the various points to which reference has been made, and in regard to Birkenhead particularly, because, having been on the spot where it prevails at a very recent date, I have had an opportunity of knowing, from personal investigation, that it is severe. But as to the Question— Whether, as in the case of Irish distress and Indian famines, he will endeavour to devise some system of Imperial relief? and as to the corresponding Question put by the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Mac Iver), I have to say that I do not consider that the precedents of Irish distress and Indian famines are applicable to periods of depression in the trades of the United Kingdom. And I must say that I cannot help regretting that Members of Parliament should feel themselves compelled by their sense of duty to suggest in regard to their different neighbourhoods that when they are in distress from any want of employment, it is the duty of the Government to provide a means of supplying that employment. Every Question put in this House comes with a certain authority, and consequently we have to regard the expectations which are raised, and to consider whether the addressing of such Questions to Ministers is beneficial to the community or not. I think they are not; and I am bound to say, as to the case of Sunderland, I have had communications suggesting that to raise any questions of this kind in regard to Sunderland would, at the present time, be particularly inexpedient. With respect to the other part of the Question of my hon. Friend, as to building ships on the Wear, the Tyne, the Clyde, and other ports, that is a matter on which it would be quite contrary to the principle on which the duties of the different Departments are distributed were the Treasury to interfere. If it is thought that ships can be built there advantageously, I have no doubt that my hon. Friend is well qualified to carry on communications with the Admiralty on the subject. But for the Treasury to undertake to direct the Admiralty to build its ships in this place or in that place would be practically mischievous; it would be inverting the relative positions of the Departments, and would introduce great confusion into the conduct of Public Business.