§ MR. GOURLEY (Sunderland)
asked the Secretary to the Board of Trade, If he is aware that, in consequence of the re-imposition of the charge for coasting light dues on vessels putting into the English Channel and other ports for a supply of coal, several shipowners instructed their captains to call at Cherbourg, where coal can be had as cheap as in British Channel ports, and free of all port dues; and, whether, seeing that the French Government are acting thus liberally, Her Majesty's Government will instruct the Trinity House authorities to remit the existing tax for light dues on all vessels calling at British ports for bunker coal?
§ MR. DONKIN (Tynemouth)
asked the Secretary to the Board of Trade, Whether the Government will reconsider the decision to impose Light Dues on ships calling at Home Ports for the purpose of taking in bunker coals, in view of the fact that such regulation imposes a very severe tax on British shipping?
THE SECRETARY (Baron HENRY DE WOBMS) (Liverpool, East Toxteth)
The Board of Trade have no knowledge of any instructions issued by shipowners such as are alluded to by the hon. Member (Mr. Gourley); but any instructions which may have been issued cannot be rightly described as being in consequence of the "re-imposition" of the charge for light dues on vessels putting into British ports for the purpose of coaling, because, as a matter of fact, there has been no such "re-imposition." Under the existing law, vessels which enter a port of the United Kingdom in distress, or which, owing to stress of weather, require, as a condition of their safe arrival at their destination, any necessary outfit, including coal, are not liable to pay light dues. No attempt has been made, or is proposed, to interfere with this privilege, nor has any liability for light dues been imposed upon any vessels hitherto exempt. It has, however, come to the knowledge of the Board of Trade that vessels leaving one foreign port bound to another foreign port have started with a short supply of coal, knowing that they would 596 pass a port of the United Kingdom, where they could obtain coal more economically, by which proceeding they would, in many cases, avoid payment of light dues. Others, again, have come some distance out of their direct course for the pupose of filling up their bunkers with coal at a British port, and there is, therefore, good reason to fear that the exemption meant to apply only to vessels in distress, is being claimed for vessels not so situated. As an instance of the latter, I may mention a vessel which, on her way from Bilbao to the United States, actually put into Cardiff—being about 400 miles out of her course—for the purpose of coaling. It is obvious that such vessels obtain a benefit from the lights equal to that obtained by vessels bound to or from British ports, and are not, under the existing law, entitled to exemption from light dues, and the payment of these dues must, therefore, necessarily be enforced. The Board of Trade have no power to exempt vessels calling at British ports for bunker coal from the payment of any light dues for which they are legally liable. Any such exemption, if made at all, must be made by an Order of Her Majesty in Council. No such exemption seems to have been contemplated by "The Merchant Shipping Act, 1854," under the powers of which light dues are collected, nor does there appear to be any sufficient reason for granting to shipping bound to or from foreign ports, and calling for their own convenience or economical reasons, the gratuitous use and benefit of the British lights, which would, in that case, have to be maintained for them by the rest of the British trade by means of increased light dues. The Board of Trade do not, under these circumstances, see their way to advise the exemption from the light dues of all vessels calling for bunker coal not being in distress; but in the case of vessels putting into a British port bonâ fide in distress, the mere taking in of bunker coal sufficient to enable them to complete their original voyage would not in itself render them liable for dues.
§ In reply to a further Question,
BARON HENRY DE WOEMS
said, that the President of the Board of Trade had consented to receive a deputation with whom he would confer on the 597 subject to which the Questions of the hon. Members had reference.