HC Deb 19 April 1887 vol 313 cc1250-89
MR. YEO (Glamorgan, Gower)

I rise, Sir, for the purpose of moving the Resolution which stands in my name on the Paper— That, having regard to the recent fearful sacrifice of life in the Bristol Channel, and to the constantly recurring losses of life and property around the coasts of the United Kingdom, it is, in the opinion of this House, urgent that Her Majesty's Government should immediately take action to diminish these losses by the construction of suitable Harbours of Refuge. I think, Sir, that no apology is needed for occupying the valuable time of this House by calling attention to this question. There is no subject which could more properly occupy the atten- tion of the House than one which affects the seamen of this country, and I may say, without fear of contradiction, that there is no class of our fellow-countrymen which has greater claims upon our consideration than our seamen. In the first place, we are mainly dependent on them for our national prosperity and existence. Our seamen are exposed to greater peril than any other class of the community; and from the very nature of their calling, they are, politically speaking, more defenceless than any other of our industrial classes. Happily, Sir, this question has never been made a shuttlecock of by political Parties. Whatever there may have been of past neglect, or past supineness, no one Government can be specially blamed—all are alike responsible; but I am gratified to observe that more than one Member of Her Majesty's Government is named among the supporters of a society entitled "The National Refuge Harbours Society." I augur, from that fact, that they are not opposed to the Motion which I am now proposing. Among the names included in the long and distinguished list of supporters of the National Refuge Harbours Society I find those of the First Lord of the Treasury, the Secretary to the Board of Trade, and many others. I trust that the Division which may take place to-night will have such a result as will strengthen and encourage Her Majesty's Government to take action in this important matter, with which I am justified in entertaining the belief that they sympathize. I should like, in the first place, to state that the subject with which I propose to deal in this Motion does not relate to commercial ports and fishing harbours, although they, no doubt, constitute a very important branch of the subject. The extension and improvement of these ports and harbours is an extremely important matter; but the object to which I desire to direct the attention of the House, and which forms the subject of my Motion, is more immediately concerned in the construction of National Harbours of Refuge, which, in order to be effectual, must, in many cases, be placed at points around the coast where no local trade exists, or, indeed, can be created. I would not for a moment disparage the importance of commercial ports, or the importance of fishing harbours—I know how very much depends upon them. I am aware that local enterprise has done, and is doing, a good deal in that direction; and I am glad also to know that successive Governments have offered some help in the way of loans and otherwise in order to help forward the development of those ports, and the improvement of such harbours. As I have said, the object which I advocate is more particularly the construction of National Harbours of Refuge, and those harbours would have to be made at points of danger where probably there is not, and never will be, a sufficient amount of trade to justify any Local Authority in taking the matter in hand. They have no resources within themselves. The question has been repeatedly brought before Parliament in past years. As long ago as 1836, a Select Committee was appointed to consider the question of the safety of our seamen. Again, in 1843, and in 1857 and 1858, other Select Committees were appointed for the same purpose. In 1859 a Royal Commission was appointed, and that Royal Commission, as many hon. Members know, went round the different parts of the United Kingdom, held public meetings, obtained information from experts and others, and made an exhaustive inquiry into the subject of Harbours of Refuge. We have their Report, which is a very valuable contribution upon the subject. The most recent Committee which has sat in reference to the question is the one which was presided over by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Berwickshire (Mr. Marjoribanks). That Committee sat in the years 1883 and 1884, and the Report of the Committee is, on the whole, confirmatory of the Report of the Royal Commission. In looking at all these Reports—I do not propose to weary the House by reading more than a very short extract from them—I can safely make two assertions. They all agree in stating that there is a great loss of life going on all round our coasts which might be prevented. They also agree that want of Harbours of Refuge has had a good deal to do in bringing about that result. I only propose to make one quotation from the Report of the last Committee. That Committee stated as follows:— Your Committee wish to express, in the strongest terms, their conviction of the absolute necessity that no further delay should take place in the construction of the National Harbours of Refuge, to which they have alluded. This Report also deprecates any delay in seeking to utilize the employment of convict labour, and the Committee use these words— Your Committee desire to point out the inexpediency of further delay in the execution and completion of the harbours originally planned in order to provide the convicts with employment for an extended time. From this Report I gather that in the years which ensued between 183G to 1843 the loss of life averaged 830. When the Royal Commission presented their Report they placed the loss of life at 780 between the years 1852 and 1856, and the more recent Report of the Select Committee of 1883 and 1884 places the loss of life at 728. The latest Return for 1884 gives the loss of life at 661. So that we have a decrease from 830 in the earlier years to 661 in the most recent year for which a Report has been issued. As regards the loss of property, it is extremely difficult to obtain anything of a reliable character, because there are no official documents in existence in regard to it; but I observe that in the Report of the Committee of 1859 an estimate is given of the loss of property on and around the coasts of Great Britain and Ireland, and I find that it was there fixed at £1,500,000 a-year. The Royal Commission which sat in a subsequent year confirmed that estimate. The decrease in the loss of life is an exceedingly satisfactory feature, and it is probably attributable, to a large extent, to the fact that lifeboat institutions have become more efficient than they were formerly. Lifeboats in a far greater number have been placed at different points around the coast, and there have also been considerable improvements in the Shipping Law consequent on the Plimsoll agitation. The result of that agitation has been to render the owners of vessels much more careful as to the loading of their ships, and how they are manned and equipped. These are gratifying circumstances; but these Reports give no definite indication of the sites at which these Harbours of Refuge should be placed. The Royal Commission was specially appointed in 1883 to determine and recommend what sites should be chosen; but they did not fulfil that part of their duty, and all we have at present is a general in- dication as to what neighbourhoods would be most suitable for the construction of Harbours of Refuge. We have, in the Report, a general recommendation in regard to the West Coast of Ireland; and we have, also, the recommendation of a site for the East Coast of England—I think, Filey. There is also a recommendation that a National Harbour of Refuge should be constructed in the Bristol Channel; and it is more particularly in reference to the Bristol Channel that I desire to call the attention of the House at this moment. The trade of the Bristol Channel has enormously increased in recent years. The development of the steam coal trade in Cardiff, Newport, and Swansea has given an enormous impetus to the trade of the Bristol Channel, and its volume is much greater than it was a few years ago. More than that, it is increasing, and is likely to increase very greatly within a few years of the present time. That Channel is, undoubtedly, an extremely dangerous one for navigation. The losses which occur there are frequent. The coast, both on the Northern and the Southern sides, is iron-bound, and affords very little protection in case of storm. I have no wish to dogmatize on this point; but I believe that if there is one place where a Harbour of Refuge is needed more than another, every independent authority will tell you that it is the Bristol Channel. At the same time, a great necessity exists all around our coasts for such harbours. Perhaps I may be allowed to call attention to the disasters which occurred in the Bristol Channel last winter. They were exceptionally severe. The loss of life was doubtless above the average; but yet, what was the actual extent of the loss of life? I have ascertained that more than 50 vessels were lost during three months, and that, at least, from 350 to 400 lives were sacrificed in that time. It must not be supposed that the vessels that were lost were vessels of a bad description, or of a low class. I have been at some pains to ascertain the character of the vessels, and I find that the bulk of them were of the highest class, well-equipped, well-found, and well-manned. Nevertheless, a few days after they left port they were caught in a storm, were unable to weather it, and foundered with all hands for want of a Harbour of Refuge. In the neighbourhood of the Bristol Channel there is only one opinion on this point, and that is that if a single Harbour of Refuge had been in existence many of these vessels and lives would have been saved. Upon that matter I think there can be no doubt. I have no intention of indicating any particular site in the Bristol Channel. That is no part of my province; but I could quote letters which refer to different sites from gentlemen in the neighbourhood who are fully competent to form an opinion, and who say that if there had been a Harbour of Refuge at some point or other, a large number of those lives and vessels would have been saved. I do not intend to imply that the loss every year is as high as it was during the past winter; but every year there is a large number of lives lost there and elsewhere upon our coasts. It is a matter of gratification to find that the loss of life is not increasing, but decreasing; but, at the same time, it is still appalling in its character and extent. I do not think that we have a right to fold our arms and stand idly by when we know that this loss of life might be prevented. If the loss were inevitable, we might wash our hands of the responsibility, and simply regret that be great a loss of valuable lives should occur from year to year which we were powerless to prevent. But what are the facts of the case? We have it upon the highest authority—namely, the Royal Commission, and these Select Committees on Harbours of Refuge, that if a proper course were adopted, and Harbours of Refuge were constructed, this loss of life would be largely diminished. I would venture to say, further, that not only have we this official judgment and these Reports of Parliamentary Committees dealing with the matter, but the whole consensus of nautical opinion is confirmatory of the Reports. We may naturally ask, therefore, what is it that stops the way? There is urgent necessity for something being done. All are agreed that a large portion of the loss might be prevented. Last year a right hon. Gentleman high in office delivered a speech, in which he talked of the difficulties which existed in regard to the selection of particular sites. I looked upon that as a frivolous excuse, applied, as it was, to so momentous a question. He talked of the great conflict of opinion among local persons in the neighbourhood of the suggested sites. He said that they could not agree among themselves; and therefore, forsooth, the Government were justified in delaying to take action in the matter. My opinion is, that the last persons to be consulted in a matter of this kind are the persons who live in the towns or ports in the neighbourhood of the suggested sites of Harbours of Refuge. I think that local jealousies, local differences, or preferences, or prejudices, should be utterly ignored. What we want is that an impartial tribunal should be appointed with power to decide the question as to the best practicable points for the construction of Harbour so Refuge. Although it may not be an easy matter to find that tribunal, yet I do not believe that there is such a lack of honourable men that the Trinity Board or the Board of Trade could nominate one that might be relied upon to deal justly and fairly with the matter. Of course, such a tribunal would hear all the evidence which local people could supply, and would hear all the testimony in favour of particular sites; and, having heard the whole of the evidence, and thoroughly sifted it, it would be for such tribunal to determine, on national grounds, where the greatest amount of good would be effected, and the greatest loss of life and property prevented. It is almost wholly upon that ground, without reference to the question of trade, that the sites should be selected for the construction of such Harbours of Refuge. There is another question in connection with the sites which appears to be one of some difficulty—namely, the suggestion that the locality where the site is selected should make a large contribution towards the cost. If that principle is adopted, it will undoubtedly, in my opinion, tend to create a great deal of difficulty. If you expect that the locality shall contribute towards the expense, you may find yourselves in this position. I presume that the tribunal which would have the decision of the question would be an impartial tribunal, and that any given point which it might determine upon for the construction of a Harbour of Refuge would, in its opinion, be most effectual for the purpose, from a national point of view; but suppose that the locality was unable, or declined to make a contribution, are you, in that case, to put the Harbour of Refuge in a worse position? My contention is, that you should put it in the place which would best serve the national interests, and should not grudge the locality any of the advantages it might possibly obtain, but which, in reality, Nature has conferred upon it. I grant that, if there were two sites absolutely equal in regard to the advantages they present for the construction of a Harbour of Refuge, the Government would be justified in allowing one to outbid the other. Another reason for the long delay which has occurred is that there is still a lingering doubt in the minds of some Gentlemen, even high in authority, that these Harbours of Refuge, after all, are not going to do the good expected from them. But if you consult nautical authorities, you will not get that opinion; if you go to our sailors you. will not find them back up that view, and they are certainly the persons most interested; if you consult the pilots—and I do not know an authority more competent to give an intelligent and sound opinion—they will not support that view; but they will tell you that Harbours of Refuge are of supreme importance for securing the safety of lives and property, and it is only inexperienced landsmen and theorists with no practical knowledge who will express the opinion that Harbours of Refuge are of no use except for purposes of trade. No scheme was ever yet suggested that it was impossible to find some person to oppose. The noblest project is sure to have some detractors. For instance, when the erection of lighthouses was first proposed, they were objected to as useless for any valuable purpose, and even some of the authorities were induced to take that view. Petitions, however, were got up by the seamen in favour of the erection of lighthouses on the North and South Foreland, on the ground that they would be a protection for them from the dangers of the Goodwin Sands; but the reply of the Trinity House was th at there was no necessity for any legislation of the kind, and that the erection of the suggested lighthouses would be of no use in enabling the ships to avoid the dangers that were pointed out. What conclusion are we to draw from that fact, if it is not that those who are most concerned are better able to judge than mere theorists? Who but a madman would suggest that these lighthouses are of no use at the present moment and who but a madman would suggest that these lights should be put out? In the case of Harbours of Refuge we have the judgment of the House as it has been given by responsible and reliable Committees, and we have their emphatic recommendation to do a certain thing. Until that judgment is reversed we are honourably bound by the recommendation we have before us from so high an authority. Another difficulty, no doubt, is the natural unwillingness of any Government to enter into any expenditure of the public money, unless they feel themselves thoroughly backed up by public opinion, and they can only be compelled to take action by the pressure of public opinion. But I will venture to say that there is a growing feeling throughout the country upon this question at the present time. There is a strong conviction that we are not doing justice to our seamen. They are men to whom we owe a great deal. Their avocation is a highly perilous one, and we do not do all that lies in our power to reduce the perils they have to encounter to a minimum. I think there is an awakening of the public conscience in reference to our sailors and to our duty towards them. I find that large public meetings have been held in different inland as well as seaport towns, at which resolutions have been passed in favour of prompt action in this matter of the construction of Harbours of Refuge. I find that in the Trades Union Congress—a representative Body—resolutions were passed of a similar character. The United Chambers of Commerce, also a representative Body, representing to a large extent the commercial intelligence of the country, at three of their annual meetings have successively passed resolutions not only unanimously, but enthusiastically, in favour of prompt action in the matter. They have also sent deputations to the Board of Trade in support of the prayer of their Petitions. And I am satisfied there is but one feeling, that if the Government would take heart and act in accordance with the sympathies of some of their own Colleagues, who have strongly, avowedly, and openly declared in favour of the movement—if they would only do this, they would be thoroughly backed up by public opinion. I am sure that such a decision on their part would be hailed with the greatest satisfaction throughout the whole of the country. One other reason I may refer to as the cause of delay is one which, I am sorry to say, is the strongest of all. It is this—that our sailors have no political organization, and no mouthpieces in this House. It will be found that our miners have an organization, and its influence is very great. They have even their own Representatives in this House—men who watch carefully all legislation affecting their interests, and who influence and mould that legislation. But what about our poor sailors? The shipowners are here, but there are very few who openly take a deep interest in the welfare of the sailor. We know that he is not able to bring pressure to bear upon this House as others can. He is deprived of the opportunities which other men enjoy of entering into a powerful organization, and bringing great influence to bear upon the House. Will anyone tell me that if the sailors had the same power of organization and of bringing pressure to bear upon the House of Commons, they would have been so long deprived of the benefits and privileges of the Employers' Liability Act, which is enjoyed by all other classes of the community? In my opinion, it is due entirely to the fact that they are unable to exorcise such influence; that they do not possess the advantages of the Employers' Liability Act; and that the recommendations of the Royal Commission and of successive Select Committees of this House have not had effect given to them during all this long series of years. The question of the cost of these Harbours of Refuge is, no doubt, an interesting one. We heard the late President of the Board of Trade say last Session—and I think he ought to be an authority on the subject—that the highest sum he had heard mentioned as necessary for the construction of Harbours of Refuge was £6,000,000 sterling. That is, of course, a higher sum than is mentioned in any of the Reports to which I have referred; but the estimate includes the commercial ports and fishing harbours. But, taking it at that sum, the Select Committee which sat in 1883–4, and reported in the latter year, suggested that the money required for the purpose of constructing those Harbours of Refuge should be raised on Terminable Annuities, spread over 99 years. If that suggestion were adopted, what would be the yearly payment to cover the interest and pay back the principal upon £6,000,000 sterling? £250,000 a-year would do it, and leave a very fair margin for maintenance. What is the case on the other side? Apart from the saving of life, what is the estimated saving of property? The loss amounts to £1,500,000 a-year; and, according to the Report of the Committee which sat in 1858, the probable saving may be put down at 30 per cent. But taking it at no higher a figure than 20 per cent, and assuming that 20 per cent of the vessels which are now lost were saved, that 20 per cent would represent a sum of £300,000 a year. In other words, looking at the question from a national point of view, the expenditure of £250,000 a-year would be met on the other side by a saving of £300,000. I hope I have made myself clear upon that matter. The point which I wish to present to the House is that at present the loss is £1,500,000 a-year, and that, if only 20 per cent of that loss is preventible, there would be a saving of £300,000 a-year—a sum more than sufficient to cover the entire interest on the cost of constructing the Harbours of Refuge that are asked for. It may be asked, why not place the cost upon the Consolidated Fund? I think there is a very reasonable objection to any proposal of the kind. My own conviction is that the entire cost should not come out of the Consolidated Fund, and for this reason—that the incidence of taxation would not be the same. The fact is, that these Harbours of Refuge, by saving property and life, will have a tendency to cheapen the price of imported goods; but it is not the whole of the community who have an interest in the cheapening of goods. I need only remind hon. Members of the case of the farmers. I do not think the farmers have any interest in cheapening the importation of produce, and, therefore, it would be unfair to tax them for the erection of Harbours of Refuge. There are other cases which might be mentioned, such as those of Railway Companies, and others of a similar character. Although it would be perfectly legitimate, from the national point of view, to spend some £250,000 in saving ships to the extent of £300,000, and to save in addition a large number of lives, yet it would not be altogether proper to place the whole of the expenditure upon the Consolidated Fund. It is a popular notion that the underwriters would be greatly benefited by the construction of Harbours of Refuge, and that they have some personal interest in the matter. That is altogether a mistaken notion. Of all men in this country they are the very persons who are least interested in the saving of property at sea. There can be no doubt that, being humane men, they deplore the destruction of life; but it is quite clear, on a closer view of the matter, that they are not interested personally in the saving of property, for this reason—that if we were to annihilate maritime risks we should destroy their profession. When the risks are high, the payments are high also. What they are interested in is, that there should be no fraudulent insurances; but they have no personal interest in diminishing risks and losses at sea. Then, again, as to the shipowners, it may be asked why should they not be treated like other employers of labour—the owners of factories and of collieries, and Railway Companies, who have to submit to the most stringent legislation, which compels them to take the utmost care and to go to all the necessary expense in order to prevent the loss of life? "Why," it is said, "should not the same thing be done in the case of shipping? "I should like to point out that the lighthouses around the coast are paid for out of the light dues, and, therefore, the duty of the shipowner in providing for the safety of life and property is really recognized by the State. But the light dues are only a cheap form of insurance. The light dues are imposed in return for the advantage of having lights around our coast. If the lights were put out, the shipowners would have to pay an enormous premium in the shape of insurance. Applying the analogy of the lighthouses to the case of Harbours of Refuge, I maintain that the shipowner would recoup himself by saving in insurance premiums, a very large portion, if not the whole, of what he would have to expend in Refuge Harbour dues. If £1,500,000 worth of property is lost in each year, we may be perfectly sure that that is the exact sum which is paid in insurance premiums, plus the profit of the underwriters. If £300,000 of that could be saved, there would be £300,000 less insurance premiums to be paid; be- cause the competition among the under writers would soon bring it down to its proper level. Therefore, it may be argued that the shipowners would be almost entirely recouped the outlay they would be required to make in the shape of Refuge Harbour dues. Let us look, on the other hand, at the obligations of the Government. One of the greatest objects to be secured by these Harbours of Refuge, we are told, consists in the making provision for naval defence, and in all probability such Harbours of Refuge would have to be made all the more strong, and the construction would be proportionately costly on that account. If that strategical consideration is to be entertained, it is a strong reason why the Government should contribute a substantial sum towards the expense. There is also another reason. I have said that the shipowners pay the light dues; but they have a grievance in regard to those dues, and that is, that the Admiralty never contribute one farthing towards the maintenance of the lighthouses. Although Her Majesty's Navy have the full advantage in navigating around these shores of the lights and lighthouses, they have never, so far, contributed one farthing towards the expense which is incurred in order to keep these lighthouses in existence. That appears to me to be most unfair, and, in my opinion, it justifies the expectation that the Consolidated Fund should make a large contribution to Harbours of Refuge as some compensation for not having paid light dues in past years. There is one other point in connection with the question of finance. I have stated that, primarily, it is the duty of the shipowner to look after the lives of his sailors; but I believe that, from a humanitarian point of view, this country will look with favour on a contribution from the National Exchequer of a considerable sum, in order to meet the expense incurred in saving the lives of our fellow-countrymen, and preventing the destruction of life and property which has been going on for so many years While I think there is no ground why the Consolidated Fund should bear all the expense, I think, on the other hand, there are strong reasoons why this large expenditure of £250,000 a-year should be apportioned between the shipping interest and the National Exchequer. In the Bristol Channel several sites for Harbours of Refuge have been suggested. I will not refer to them further than to mention the fact that the estimated sum for one of those sites is £400,000. The highest and most expensive estimate puts the cost at £1,500,000; but taking the least expensive of these sites, and assuming that £400,000 would be all that is necessary, £20,000 a-year would cover interest and repayment for 99 years as well as the cost of maintenance. If the National Exchequer were to pay one-half of that, the charge upon the shipping interest in connection with the navigation of the Bristol Channel would only amount to £10,000 a-year. The total trade entries and clearances in the Bristol Channel show that the registered tonnage amounts to more than £22,000,000, and one-eighth of a penny per registered ton would cover the whole cost which would devolve upon the shipping interest. One-half would be paid by the National Exchequer, and the other half would amount to about one-eighth of a penny in the pound on all vessels entered in and cleared from the Bristol Channel. Assuming that the more costly harbour were constructed which is estimated to cost £1,500,000, the cost per registered ton would be about a halfpenny on all vessels entering and clearing from the Bristol Channel. I know that the shipowners are, like other traders, passing through a time of depression, and that they are ill able to bear any additional burden; but I desire to point out that for this one-eighth of a penny per ton they would recoup themselves by the saving they would effect in insurance, and at the same time they would do their duty to their seamen; in addition to which they would have the satisfaction of knowing that their own interests were consulted at the same time. Although I have entered into these suggestions with a view of endeavouring to bring the matter to a practical issue, I do not think the Government would be induced to pay the whole sum. It would be a matter of satisfaction if they would consent to pay one-half of the cost. My Motion, however, does not even involve that. The Resolution which I submit to the House simply points out that there is a large amount of preventable loss of life, and that it is the duty of the House and of the Government to take immediate action in order to stop that loss. Surely, that is a proposition which no one can object to. If it be admitted that within the borders of the United Kingdom and immediately around there is a preventible loss going on from year to year, I think it is the bounden duty of the State to find out who is responsible for that loss—whether it is the Government or anybody else; and I maintain that it is the duty of the Government to stop the loss. We claim to be a practical and business-like nation, and we get credit for it among the Continental nations; but, I would ask, is it a business-like thing to palter with a question like this for more than a generation, and not take any practical action in the matter? I think it is almost incredible that this important question should have been delayed so long, I suppose that we should, as a nation, resent the imputation of being grossly inhumane But, Sir, we are scarcely innocent of such a charge. I remember a case of a little child being drowned in one of the parks, when not one of the bystanders would wet his clothes in order to save that child. The Press commented in strong terms upon the gross inhumanity of the act. But we are doing something very like it now. Are we not lookers-on at that life and death struggle which is going on round our coasts? We have the power of doing something towards stopping it; but we will not take the trouble to do so. I, therefore, maintain that we are largely responsible for the lives which are needlessly sacrificed. I beg to move the Resolution which I have already read.

COLONEL HILL (Bristol, S.)

I rise with much pleasure to second the Motion which has been so ably and forcibly brought forward by my hon. Friend the Member for West Glamorganshire (Mr. Yeo). Alter his very full exposition of the subject, I think I should be best consulting the convenience of the House if I make my remarks as brief as possible It is not inappropriate that I should second the Motion, representing, as I do, the largest port in the West of England, which gives its name to the channel to which my hon. Friend has drawn attention, over whose busy waters passes and re-passes so large a proportion of the shipping of the United Kingdom. No persons feel more keenly the want of a Harbour of Refuge than those who are interested in the shipping of the Bristol Channel. I do not propose to advocate the claims of any particular locality for the construction of a Harbour of Refuge. I prefer to take the more general terms of the Resolution, and to urge upon the House that it is desirable a provision should be made for Harbours of Refuge on all parts of the coast where they may be found desirable. Of course, it has to be shown that a need exists for this Harbour of Refuge, otherwise we cannot apply to any Chancellor of the Exchequer with any hope that he will provide the money. And here I venture to differ from my hon. Friend as to the reasons why this matter has been delayed. I do not think it has been from any want of consideration for the welfare or lives of our sailors, either from past or present Governments, or from any past or present Members of the House; but it has arisen solely from the circumstance that the construction of a Harbour of Refuge is a very costly matter, and it requires a large amount of pressure by public opinion upon the Government of the day to show them that this particular object is one which ought to have their first attention. It has been said that the question has been frequently under consideration, and the hon. Member for West Glamorganshire has referred to the Report of a Royal Commission which sat some 28 years ago, and fully investigated the whole matter. The Royal Commission, as the result of their investigation, unanimously reported that there was a need of Harbours of Refuge, and they recommended a certain expenditure of money upon their construction. Since that time, little, if anything, has been done towards carrying out the recommendations of the Royal Commission. What have been the losses that have occurred since then? It is computed that something like £52,000,000 worth of property has been lost, and that some 25,000 sailors have been drowned, leaving 18,000 widows and some 50,000 orphans, many of whom have had to be provided for by the ratepayers. During two heavy gales which occurred last autumn, there was a loss of some 2,000 lives around the coasts of this country, and the House has already been informed how severely those gales were felt in the Bristol Channel. I do not say that if Harbours of Refuge had been erected everywhere in accordance with the recommendations of the Royal Commission all these lives would have been saved; but there can be no doubt that a large number of lives and a great deal of property might have been saved. One of the first duties of a civilized State is to do all in its power to protect the lives of its people; and, if that be so, then I say there can be no class which has greater claims upon the people of these islands than our sailors. We owe to them much, not only of the luxuries and of the necessities of life, but that naval and commercial maritime supremacy which is necessary to our very existence. I would venture to think that a sufficient case has been made out, and there is a general consensus of opinion that the time has come when something should be done in the direction of constructing Harbours of Refuge. I do not think that the provision by way of loans, which has been suggested by my hon. Friend the Secretary to the Board of Trade, will suffice to provide what is required, because a National Harbour of Refuge is a harbour which cannot be placed, as has already been pointed out, in any particular locality, in connection with any particular trade, It is quite-true that there may be some places where the local trade of a district requires a harbour, and where an existing harbour, by enlargement and otherwise, may be made to serve the purpose of a Harbour of Refuge. In such a case the locality might be assisted by means of loans. But loans would not answer in the case of what I may call the great national harbours, simply because, in many instances, there would be no one to pay the dues, and no local authority to borrow. It is patent to everyone, I think, that the position of a Harbour of Refuge cannot be determined by economic considerations. Two considerations have to be brought in; one is the saving of life, and the other is the provision of harbours for Her Majesty's Navy in the event of war. That is a subject which I hope will be touched upon hereafter by some of the hon. and gallant Admirals who are Members of this House, and who understand the matter better than myself. But there is one fact we cannot help knowing, and that is, that our Fleet is dependent upon coal for its motive power, and our ships cannot now be kept for an indefinite time watching ports as vessels under canvas could in former years. Our vessels are constantly in want of coal, and we must have harbours in such positions that our ships may be able to defend the entrances to our channels. This is particularly the case with regard to the Bristol Channel, which is the centre of an important coal district and a great steam coal depôt, where a hostile fleet, sailing up the Channel, could destroy our coal ports and do an amount of damage that can hardly be calculated. I wish to say, therefore, that, in my opinion, these national harbours can only be made by means of money grants from the Consolidated Fund. That principle has already been acknowledged by the Government in the construction of harbours at Portland, Dover, and now at Peterhead; and what we press for is an extension of that principle, and that other ports should be constructed around the coast. During the 28 or 30 years which have elapsed since the Royal Commission made their Report, pointing out the need of Harbours of Refuge, our Mercantile Marine has quadrupled and the wealth of the country has largely increased. There ought, therefore, to be no difficulty in finding the requisite funds for this very necessary work. I am quite satisfied that the taxpayers of the country would willingly pay for the work, if the sums granted from the Consolidated Fund were judiciously expended, and it was shown to them that the money was required for the purpose of saving life and to preserve the commercial and naval supremacy of the country. I am quite sure that the working classes of this country—in my own constituency, at all events—take a deep and lively interest in the matter. They feel that the sailor ought to have his dangerous employment made as little hazardous as possible. With these observations I would venture to express a hope that the House will be pleased to accept the Resolution of my hon. Friend the Member for West Glamorganshire (Mr. Yeo).

Motion made, and Question proposed, That, having regard to the recent fearful sacrifice of life in the Bristol Channel, and to the constantly recurring losses of life and property around the coasts of the United Kingdom, it is, in the opinion of this House, urgent that Her Majesty's Government should immediately take action to diminish these losses by the construction of suitable Harbours of Refuge."—(Mr. Yeo.)

MR. J. A. BLAKE (Carlow)

said, that he entirely agreed with the Motion, but was unable to agree with the speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Gower Division of Glamorganshire (Mr. Yeo) who moved it. The speech of the hon. Member dealt entirely with the construction of the larger description of Harbours of Refuge. These were, no doubt, very valuable; but if their efforts were to be confined to them and large sums expended upon them, it would very likely tend to the exclusion of a class of harbours which would be just as valuable. Nearly 40 years ago—when he entered the House—a Committee recommended very strongly the construction of Harbours of Refuge. In 1883–4 there was a Select Committee of that House appointed on the subject of Harbours of Refuge. That Committee was very ably presided over by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Berwickshire (Mr. Marjoribanks), who, he hoped, would state his views to the House upon this subject. Out of that very numerous Committee there were only half-a-dozen Members now in Parliament, and he trusted that they would make such statements as would impress the House with the desirability of carrying out the recommendations of the Select Committee. He was glad to find that the noble Lord the President of the Board of Trade (Lord Stanley of Preston) had already shown a very great interest in all subjects relating to the preservation of life and property at sea, and he hoped that this debate would lead him to give further attention in the direction of constructing Harbours of Refuge. It had been truly said that the Mercantile Marine had the protection of insurance; but it must be admitted that although those ships were protected by insurance their destruction led to a certain amount of loss to the nation. It was, however, impossible to prevent the loss of life by insurance, and this matter should be very seriously considered. he urged the hon. Member to go to a Division with his Motion in order to test the very strong opinion which prevailed upon the subject.


said, that the Motion now before the House was different from the Motion under which the Committee of 1883–4 was appointed. That was a more general Motion, and had reference to harbours of accommodation all round the United Kingdom, and was not limited or confined to Harbours of Refuge. He was desirous of pointing out that a very valuable shipping trade passed round the North and North-West Coasts of Antrim, and that the county was destitute of any harbour for many miles round its coasts. Amid the many claims which were urged for consideration, he could not refrain from putting forward that of Antrim.

SIR JOSEPH PEASE (Durham, Barnard Castle)

said, that few Members had taken part so frequently as himself in debates upon Harbours of Refuge, and it was quite refreshing to find this old subject taken up by a new Member, and treated with so much ability. The Motion before the House, however, was of a rather peculiar character, as it advanced a local claim first, and, in order that it might be swallowed, advocated Harbours of Refuge around the coasts of the United Kingdom. The question of Harbours of Refuge had been practically settled years ago. The Commission of 1859 recommended that various sums of money be spent on stated places for the purpose of constructing such harbours. But when the House came to consider the practical question of how the harbours were to be made, who they were to advantage, and how to be paid for, they passed the Act of 1861—which was discussed at so much length the other day. Government after Government had held to the doctrine that the money should be granted from Imperial funds to aid existing local harbours in order to meet local wants, and to be repaid by the localities which received the grants. The Public Works Loan Commissioners must deal with these matters on a very different scale if they desired to encourage local effort in that direction. If they would take 3¼ per cent.—he believed that his right hon. Friend the Member for Berwickshire (Mr. Marjoribanks) had named 3 per cent instead of 4—it would go far in that direction. If Her Majesty's Government were now about to consent to make a Harbour of Refuge in the Bristol Channel, they must in all fairness refund to the people on the Tees and the Tyne, and many other rivers, the money which they had spent on such work themselves, so that all might start again on an equal footing. But it had been over and over again clearly demonstrated that Harbours of Refuge would have the effect of saving comparatively only a very few lives indeed. Years ago Mr. Milner Gibson pointed out that even if £1,000,000 had been spent on a harbour at Filey it would not have saved 15 lives in six years. Whilst that was the case, however, there might be a national duty with regard to harbours, not Harbours of Refuge, but national harbours, of a very different description from trade harbours, for the protection of English commerce in time of war—for sheltering our Navy and Merchant Services. The hon. Gentleman the Mover of the Resolution had answered his own question, for he said that if the ships in the Bristol Channel were charged one farthing per ton they could pay for the works themselves. £3,000,000 had been spent on the Tyne by the people there out of their own pockets, and on the Tees they had taxed their iron to the extent of 3d. a-ton for that purpose. Great sums had also been expended on the Tees, where there was now no bar, and where he lately saw a large steamer during a gale come in at low water and drop her anchor securely inside the breakwater. Surely the rich districts along the Bristol Channel could in the same way pay for their own works. If, however, national harbours were to be made, they could well be constructed on the North-East Coast, where an enormous amount of slag from the ironworks could be utilized by the Government. They had there proved by experience that breakwaters of slag, with concrete, could be made in the deep waters of the German Ocean, and they were turning to waste out now into the ocean from 30,000 to 40,000 tons of iron slag every week. It was placed there, in the first instance, at the expense of the ironmasters; but it might be brought into shape and moulded into breakwaters, in which the Government, consequently, could form a superstructure at very little cost indeed. As had been suggested by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Berwickshire (Mr. Marjoribanks), the extension of the fishing harbours would, in his (Sir Joseph Pease's) opinion, do far more to save life than the construction I of Harbours of Refuge. He must repeat that if the Government were going to change their policy in this matter, they would have to refund the large sums of money which had been paid by the localities to which he had alluded.

ADMIRAL MAYNE (Pembroke and Haverfordwest)

said, he thought that there were two matters which in that discussion ought to be kept distinct. There was, on the one hand, the question of large harbours for the Meet, which must cost an enormous sum, and the localities for which should evidently be decided by the Admiralty; and, on the other hand, there was the question of life-saving harbours, with which the Board of Trade ought to have to do. After various Commissions and Committees had sat and made various recommendations, they had arrived at the point which the right hon. Member for Berwickshire (Mr. Marjoribanks) had so well put the other night when he said that the Board of Trade should have more power in regard to the lending of money for harbour works. The right hon. Gentleman wished that the Board of Trade had undertaken the duty of discriminating somewhat more clearly what harbours should receive public assistance at all, because the principle acted upon up to the present time was that whenever aid was asked for, provided the necessary security was given, a loan was granted irrespective of how far the works were necessary or cheap; and he might have added that at present there was no guarantee that the money advanced by the Board of Trade would effect the objects for which it was obtained. With regard to the Bristol Channel it had been well said that it was perfectly well able to look after itself. As to Lundy Island, it was now an excellent Refuge, and as such could not be improved without an enormous outlay; and it should not be made a national harbour unless they were prepared to fortify it and to have a sufficient garrison there in time of war. During the Crimean Warthey had no ship of war and not a single sailor that could possibly have gone to Lundy Island to protect it. His opinion was that having Milford Haven—the best port in the Kingdom—on the North side of the Bristol Channel, if a harbour was wanted, as he thought it was, it should be made on the South side of the Bristol Channel at some point like St. Ives. It had been remarked that where there were most wrecks shown by the Wreck Chart, there were no harbours or loans for harbours asked for. There were many places, both in Ireland and England, where it was desirable to have harbours, but whore it was impossible to give security for loans to construct them. For instance, in his own district there was the port of Fishguard, where he thought it most important to have a harbour, but where it was impossible to give any security. If he were to suggest a loan for Fish-guard, the Public Works Loan Commissioners would look upon him as a sort of lunatic, because he could not offer adequate security. As he was discussing the general question, however, he should prefer going out of his own district, and would ask what security the people at the Butt of Lewis, where a Refuge was most required, could give? He should like to know how it would be possible to give security for loans for the construction of a harbour or harbours on the coast of Cornwall? The people had nothing on which they could give security to the Public Works Loan Commissioners, and, therefore, it was necessary that some assistance should be given to them. He maintained that Harbours of Refuge would certainly mitigate the loss of life at sea, and contended that the inferences to the contrary drawn from the Wreck Chart were not sound or well-founded. If Harbours of Refuge had not been constructed or loans had not been asked for their construction in places where they were wanted, the reason was not far to seek. It was simply because the people knew that it was useless to ask for loans when they had no security to give. That was the case in Pembrokeshire, and he should like to know whether it was not possible to extend some consideration to places which were in the position he had described? It was solely for the purpose of advocating their claims that he had joined in this debate.

MR. MARJORIBANKS (Berwickshire)

said, he did not think that the Resolution, if carried, was at all likely to advance the cause which the hon. Member for the Gower Division of Glamorganshire (Mr. Yeo) had at heart—that of helping to improve the harbour accommodation of the United Kingdom. In the first place, his hon. Friend, at the outset of his speech, said he excluded commercial and fishery harbours. Now, he maintained that the harbours which were important to this country were the commercial and fishery harbours; and if they were excluded from the harbours of Great Britain what would you have left? He was afraid very few in deed. He was willing to adroit that it was a matter of concern for the Military and Naval Departments of the State to have great fortified ports; but he did not believe that a few harbours capable of taking in a fleet, and of being a means of defence to the country, would at all meet the everyday wants of our ordinary seamen and fishermen around the coasts. It had also been pointed out that, after all, if they had put down a Harbour of Refuge at a particular place, it would not save a great deal of life. That was hardly a fair statement of the case. The case was this—that a big Harbour of Refuge, put down at a given place, would not save one iota more life than a much smaller one. What was wanted for saving life was, not a harbour into which a great fleet could run, but harbours at reasonably close intervals all the way round the coasts, with a certain amount of water at all states of the tide, into which a vessel could run when in distress in their immediate vicinity. It was to provide such harbours that he believed the whole efforts of those who were anxious to improve the harbour accommodation of this country should aim. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Pembroke and Haverfordwest (Admiral Mayne) had instanced the case of Fish-guard to show the difficulty of harbours giving reasonable security for the loans. he did not quite agree with the hon. and gallant Gentleman on that point, because what he (Mr. Marjoribanks) hoped the Government would do was very much to extend the powers of localities to give security. It seemed to him that if that course were followed it would be very beneficial. It was a course which prevailed in Ireland, where baronies might pledge their rates in security for such loans. At Wicklow, for instance, an excellent harbour had been constructed at a cost of £40,000, for which 11 adjacent baronies had given their rates as collateral security. He would apply that principle to this country also, and allow whole counties to come for- ward and pledge their rates for harbours at such places as might be really suitable for the purpose. If they took the ease of some recent harbour works on the North-East Coast of Scotland, they would see how advantageous they had proved, and how vastly local trade and fisheries had increased in consequence of the improved harbour accommodation. He believed no better test could be given of the desirability of a harbour in any locality than the way in which the people of the locality would come forward and support it. He did not think counties would find a very serious burden imposed upon them by giving their rates in security for such works, for he believed they would produce an ample revenue to meet all liabilities incurred in their construction. What he would like to see was that some Government Department—the Board of Trade or some other Department—should see that all works executed by Government loans were properly executed, and in the places best calculated to yield the greatest amount of benefit from them to the localities. If that were done, then he thought they would find that the revenue which would accrue from such works would in all cases, or nearly all, be sufficient to pay the interest on the money by which the works were constructed, and that no burden would be thrown on the nation at all. But he was also of opinion that when necessary, and when good local effort was forthcoming, the Government might go further, and supplement local effort by a small grant. It was only two or throe years ago that that House voted £250,000 out of Irish Church funds for such purposes in Ireland. Again, every year the Scottish Fishery Board had placed at its disposal only a small sum—£6,000—of which it applied some £4,500 to the improvement of harbours. He thought it might be advantageous, in certain eases carefully restricted, to help out individual cases where the works were really going to be of great use by supplementing local efforts with such grants, and he believed that in that way they would often prevent work being carried out that, when completed, was found insufficient for the purposes for which it was intended. He hoped, therefore, that his hon. Friend would not press his Resolution to a Division.

SIR HUSSEY VIVIAN (Swansea, District)

said, that he had taken a great deal of interest in this question for a long period. The hon. Baronet (Sir Joseph Pease) had complained of his hon. Friend (Mr. Yeo) for arguing this question solely with reference to the wants of the Bristol Channel. But his hon. Friend had done nothing of the kind. He had dwelt on the necessity of constructing National Harbours of Refuge generally. The hon. Baronet to whom he had alluded and those who were his Colleagues from the North were fond of boasting of the grand harbours they had made, as it was paid, out of their own breeches' pocket. But, surely, those harbours on the Tyne and Tees had not been made out of the breeches' pockets of the residents in those districts. They had been made out of shipping tolls and dues. Now, were the people of the North the only people who had constructed harbours in the same way? Take the case of Cardiff, in the much-abused Bristol Channel, which had, he believed, a larger harbour than Newcastle-on-Tyne. The Marquess of Bute might, perhaps, say that he had made it out of his own pocket, but if it had not been for the magnificent coalfields behind Cardiff, and the shipping which went into that port in consequence, the port could never have been constructed. It was a prosperous port, because it was one which a great number of ships frequented. They had the Port of Swansea, the income of which, in his time as a trustee, had increased from £6,000 to £100,000 a-year. They had done much the same as the people on the Tyne. Because they had done this, and now had a prosperous harbour, was no reason why great national harbours should not be made, if and when they were required. There was an undoubted want of Harbours of Refuge around our coast, for he maintained that harbours would save lives, in spite of all that had been said to the contrary. They had been told that the late Mr. Milner Gibson had said that if a Harbour of Refuge had been made at Filey it would not have saved more than 15 lives a-year. In that case he should say this proved that Filey was not a proper place for a harbour, although it had been recommended by the Government. The hon. Gentleman (Sir Joseph Pease) seemed to think that the ironmasters of the North were doing a great national service in throwing their iron slag into the sea to form harbours, but he (Sir Hussey Vivian) made a great deal of iron slag, and he certainly should not think of requiring any compensation for throwing it into the sea. The hon. Gentleman said that the people in the North had been recouped by the additional trade for the money they had spent on the Tyne, but he did not see how that bore on the question. Because the people on the North and on the North-East Coasts might not want Harbours of Refuge now it did not follow that they were not wanted in the Bristol Channel or at other points unconnected with any great commercial port, and from which no port would derive any commercial advantage. We wanted Harbours of Refuge to save the lives of our seamen and the property of those who brought commerce to our coasts. This was a broad, national question, and the Government ought to consider it in that light. He did not say where there should be a Harbour of Refuge, but there ought to be a dispassionate consideration by the Government where such harbours should be made around the coasts of the United Kingdom. They were told that the Public Works Loan Commissioners, of whom he was one, should be a little more liberal; but, then, it would be necessary to alter the Act under which the Public Works Loan Commissioners acted, and which bound them in a very stringent manner. The Commissioners could not advance money without proper security. They were bound to consider what the security offered to them was, and he had no hesitation in saying that, by observing the restrictions placed on them, they had saved the country from a great many bad debts. Those restrictions might, no doubt, be relaxed, but he did not think this would be prudent. It would be much safer and better to make direct grants where it was thought desirable that harbours should be constructed. It had been said the Motion before the House would not advance the cause the hon. Member had in view, because it did not deal with the general question of Harbours of Refuge. But he thought that it would be better to discuss one branch of the question at a time. They were all as anxious to have fishery harbours as well as national harbours. He had no doubt that his hon. Friend the Mover of the Resolution was as anxious for the former as the latter, but he (Sir Hussey Vivian) thought he had done well not to mix up the two branches of the question in the same Motion. He trusted that the Government would take the whole of this matter into their best consideration. He thought the time had gone by when we should allow the loss of life and property which had gone on for so many years in consequence of Government after Government failing to deal with the subject. He trusted that the Government would at last make up their minds to deal with the subject in a large and generous spirit.


said, that if the House wanted any evidence of the extreme difficulty of the subject they would find it in the speech of the hon. Baronet who had just spoken (Sir Hussey Vivian), and who exemplified in himself the great conflict of opinion which existed among those who claimed to speak as experts on that question. The hon. Baronet was somewhat inconsistent, inasmuch as, in his capacity of a Public Works Loan Commissioner, he had urged upon the House the extreme danger of relaxing the hold of the Commissioners upon the expenditure, and in the same breath he recommended the Government to adopt a vast scheme of Harbours of Refuge, without explaining how the expense of such a scheme was to be met. Of course, the question of expenditure was most important; but that question did not so much concern the Department which he had the honour to represent as it did the Treasury. It would, however, be his duty to point out some of the financial difficulties with which this great scheme was beset. The hon. Baronet the Member for the Barnard Castle Division of Durham (Sir Joseph Pease) had put the matter in a very clear and practical shape when he explained how from 1859 downwards this question had been repeatedly considered, and how, in the opinion of those best able to form a judgment, it was beset with great and overwhelming difficulties. The hon. Baronet also touched upon the practical question whether Harbours of Refuge would have the desired result of saving life. In 1861, when Mr. Milner Gibson was President of the Board of Trade, he entertained a very strong opinion upon that point, and certainly the action of successive Governments seemed to have confirmed his view. At that time it was suggested that about £360,000 a-year should be advanced for making various harbours, and the suggestion was considered by a subsequent Commission, but as far as he knew was never carried out. With regard to the speech of the hon. Member for the Gower Division of Glamorganshire (Mr. Yeo) who introduced the subject, the statistics quoted by him did not appear strictly accurate. That was not to be wondered at, if he drew them from the source to which the hon. Member alluded—namely, the society which he termed the National Refuge Harbours Society. That was a bogus society, and if the hon. Gentleman wanted any information as to the person who called himself the secretary he would obtain it by applying to the Charity Organization Society. It was a common mode of obtaining notoriety, or something better, to appeal to sympathy; but when so serious a matter as that under discusssion was brought forward in the House serious information was required.


said, he had not drawn his figures from the society in question.


said, he was glad to hear that the hon. Member had not done so, and wished to say that, if that society had used his name as Secretary to the Board of Trade in connection with itself, such a use was wholly unauthorized, and he had directed his secretary to call upon them to withdraw it. The hon. Member had admitted the immense difficulty of the task which he had undertaken, and he had told the House that from 1831 down to the present time this question had been considered by successive Governments. The natural conclusion that must be drawn from that fact was that those successive Governments, while having every wish to provide for the safety of our sailors, had found this subject of Harbours of Refuge one of almost insuperable difficulty; first, with regard to the localities where they were to be constructed; and, secondly, with regard to the financial means by which these large works were to be car- ried out. The hon. Member had said that the late President of the Board of Trade had anticipated that it would require some £6,000,000 to construct those harbours; but it was to be feared that that sum would be totally inadequate to pay for the immense works that would have to be executed if this scheme were to be fully carried out, seeing that the 17 harbours that had been already constructed had cost about £23,000,000, the greater portion of which had been provided by private enterprize. The hon. Member had anticipated that some £300,000, being 20 per cent of the annual value of British ships now lost, which amounted to £1,500,000, would be saved to the country, and that, therefore, that amount would balance the interest of the capital of £6,000,000 proposed to be expended, and that if there was any deficiency it might be made up by a tax upon our shipowners. It seemed to him, however, that it would be rather hard to impose the whole taxation necessary for carrying out a national system of Harbours of Refuge upon one trade, which was certainly not in a prosperous condition just now. In the view of the Government, it was not desirable to impose additional burdens upon our commerce and upon our shipping interest at the present time. The hon. Member had suggested that the proposed harbours might be constructed by convict labour, but convict labour could not be obtained free of expense, while its employment interfered materially with other forms of labour. It must be remembered, in dealing with this important subject, that there were three classes of harbours—first, those which had been constructed at the national expense, which were chiefly used by Her Majesty's ships, and which were under the control of the War Office and the Admiralty; secondly, the small fishing harbours, for the construction and improvement of which loans were advanced by the Public Works Loan Commissioners; and, thirdly, the National Harbours of Refuge. The use of the latter could not be restricted absolutely to that of Harbours of Refuge, and they must necessarily partake of the character of commercial harbours. To construct such harbours would, therefore, be to promote commercial rivalry between different ports, and to promote one class, of trade at the expense of the others. With regard to the number of lives which the proposed Harbours of Refuge would save, he held in his hand statistics which would show that these harbours would not operate very largely in the saving of life. He had had a Return prepared which he should be happy to lay on the Table of the House, and which threw a great deal of light on the question as to how far harbours affected the amount of loss of life at sea. This Return was a statement showing the number of sea casualties attended with loss of life during the five years ending June 30, 1885. It showed the whole of the life lost from British ships in that period, both exclusive and inclusive of collisions. Exclusive of collisions, 14,188 lives were lost, of which only 3,751 were lost on the coast of the United Kingdom, on or near; and deducting from this 1,158 lives lost in 210 vessels missing near the coast of the United Kingdom, there were, it would appear, 1,993 lives lost on or near the coast from stranding, foundering, and all other causes, except collisions, during five years. Examining the facts as they bore on that portion of the coast referred to in the hon. Member's Motion, it appeared that, taking a wide margin—namely, a line from St. David's Head to the Land's End, and half-way across St. George's Channel, including, as it did, part of the highway to Liverpool, without including collisions or missing vessels which might or might not have been in the district at the time of the loss, 289 lives were known to have been lost in that district in five years, or about 58 yearly. For the purposes of comparison he would take a contiguous district—namely, the quadrilateral bounded on the south by a line from St. David's Head to Carnsore Point, County Wexford, and on the north by a line from Fair Head, County Antrim, to the Mull of Cantire. This would include all the traffic from Holyhead to Dublin, all the traffic in and out of Liverpool, Fleetwood, Barrow, &c, and all the traffic in and out of Belfast, Stanraer, and the ports along the West Coast of Scotland, including the Clyde. Excluding lives lost by collisions and missing vessels in this vast area, with its capacious ports on both sides of the Channel, with their great facilities for refuge, 390 lives were lost in five years. This afforded some evidence that loss of life was not greatly diminished by the proximity of harbours. This was not a Party question, and the Board of Trade had, for some years past, directed its attention to finding out some remedy for the loss of life at sea. There was a great conflict of opinion as to where the Harbours of Refuge ought to be constructed, and there would also be immense difficulty in finding the necessary funds. Governments were trustees of the public purse, and he did not think that any Government would propose to spend a great many millions on what might, no doubt, be ultimately useful, but what was, in the first instance, an experimental expense. The Estimate of £6,000,000 was manifestly below the mark, for 17 harbours had cost £23,000,000.


said, this amount included the cost of docks attached to the harbours.


aid, that, at any rate, the expense would be a very large one. One Gentleman suggested that the charge should be placed on the Consolidated Fund, and another that the charge should be covered by a system of insurance levied on the shipowner. The latter suggestion would not be fair to the shipowners, and was not likely to meet with acceptance in that House. Another suggestion, which was a very plausible one, was that facilities should be given to Local Authorities to raise money through the Public Works Loan Commissioners to facilitate the construction of small fishing harbours. That seemed to be the most practical suggestion that had been made. The proposal to raise the money by making Her Majesty's ships pay dues was futile, for it would only be making one Department pay money to another. He hoped that the hon. Member would be satisfied with the assurance that the Government, in regard to the construction of small harbours by means of loans obtained from the Public Works Loan Commissioners, wished to do all in their power to secure the safety of British merchant seamen, and to prevent loss of life at sea.

MR. R. W. DUFF (Banffshire)

said, he did not think the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Board of Trade (Baron Henry De Worms) had left the question in an altogether satisfactory position. One Department was playing itself off against the other—the Treasury and the Board of Trade—and, in the meantime, the interests of the harbours went to the wall. He pointed out that successive Governments had not kept faith with them as to the terms and conditions on which loans were to be issued. The Treasury ought to revert to the original bargain, and give them money at 3¼per cent. They ought to give up fighting amongst themselves, and unite in making a demand on the Treasury to give them money at a low rate of interest. That, he thought, would be better than squabbling amongst themselves as to which particular locality was to get a grant. His right hon. Friend (Mr. Marjoribanks) had rather over-stated the case in saying that Scotland got £6,000 a-year for harbours. They really got only £3,000 a-year from the Government. The rest came out of the fishermen's own pockets, being the surplus of the herring brand money. He should like to ask the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Board of Trade a question. He understood the Loan Commissioners were in direct communication with the Board of Trade; and he wanted to know, with regard to the Scottish harbours, whether the hon. Gentleman had taken steps to ascertain the opinion of the Fishery Board of Scotland, or to bring that body into working communication with the Board of Trade? If he did so, he had no doubt the Board of Trade would get very good advice. He hoped, before this debate was closed, they would hear from the Government on what terms they would give this money. If they would consent to give it at the rate originally promised, it would have the effect of stopping these demands that were constantly being made.

MR. LLEWELLYN (Somerset, N.)

regretted that the statement of the Representative of the Board of Trade had not been more encouraging. The Secretary to the Board of Trade had spoken of certain fishery harbours as natural Harbours of Refuge; but, as a matter of fact, masters of ships would never think of making for those ports in bad or thick weather. On the West Coast, from Holyhead to the Land's End, there was no harbour for which a ship could run. At Lundy Island a National Harbour of Refuge might be established with great advantage to seamen. When satisfactory security could not be given by a locality to the Public Works Loan Commissioners, the money ought to be provided, in the first instance, by the Government, and a toll might then be imposed on the shipping making use of the new harbour. In the Bristol Channel 1 d. per ton imposed on every cargo entering the Channel and leaving it for Ireland or foreign parts would produce £40,000 a-year. If the same toll were imposed on the coast trade, £10,000 more could be raised. That Harbours of Refuge were sadly needed on the West Coast was proved by the experience of the Bristol Channel pilots. About once in six months a pilot vessel was lost whilst beating about at sea, simply because there was no harbour near the mouth of the Bristol Channel into which she could run. The Motion before the House would have his support, because it raised a distinct question which he thought the public now fully realized—the saving of the lives of merchant seamen.

MR. J. C. STEVENSON (South Shields)

said, that he was sorry he could not give his vote for the Motion of the hon. Member for the Gower Division of Glamorgan (Mr. Yeo), though the idea of National Harbours of Refuge was one that was very tempting. He (Mr. J. C. Stevenson) had been interested in the question for a long time, and had followed the controversy for years before he had a seat in the House. In 1859 the Royal Commission was issued on account of the disastrous wrecks of sailing colliers on the North-East Coast. These colliers accumulated in fleets in the then unimproved coal-ports of the Tyne, Tees, and Wear, and being caught by sudden gales and having only bar harbours to run back to, the coast was strewed with wrecks. Parliament met the necessity, and saved the nation large sums of money by promising loans at a low rate of interest to improve these trading harbours. They had thus, out of their own resources, solved the problem themselves on the North-East Coast; and the Bristol Channel ports, which they had just been told possessed one-fifth of the trade of the country, could well afford to provide a Harbour of Refuge for themselves if it was really wanted. These vague ideas as to National Harbours of Refuge had often been heard before, but had never stood the test of a debate in that House. The Motion carefully avoided going into details, and laid down a general principle; but the principle could only be understood by going into details, and here the various Bristol Channel ports could not agree on a site for the Harbour of Refuge which they wanted, and therefore the Mover of the Resolution proposed that the Government should choose the site and pay for the harbour, which was to be national, in the sense that the nation was to pay for it. He should vote against the Motion; for it was the wrong way to deal with an important matter. The right way was to assist with loans at a low rate of interest the trading harbours; and he believed that if the fishery harbours were so improved as to admit fishing boats to enter at any time of tide, many more lives would be saved, and at a very much smaller cost than by the expenditure of large sums of money in so-called National Harbours of Refuge of doubtful utility, the only thing certain about which would be their enormous cost.

MR. GILES (Southampton)

said, he should be glad to vote for the Resolution, in order to affirm the principle that Harbours of Refuge were required in order to save the lives of our seamen and to protect our merchant shipping. But they were in the position of being between two stools, because it did not seem, after the remarks of the Secretary to the Board of Trade, that they were likely to get either large harbours or small harbours. The Government had, however, established precedents by constructing harbours at Plymouth, Portland, Dover, Holyhead, and Peter-head, and they had even gone as far as Colombo for the purpose, so that he thought they should go on applying the principle already acted upon. When they could afford to spend many millions a-year on our national defences, it seemed hard that we could not spare £200,000 or £300,000 a-year for Harbours of Refuge which were admitted to be necessary for the saving of life and property. In most parts of our coasts a fair Harbour of Refuge might be constructed for £1,000,000 or £1,500,000; but if we could not have large harbours, might we not have smaller harbours of refuge for the protection of our Fishing Fleets?

MR. C. T. D. ACLAND (Cornwall, Launceston)

said, that whatever Government was in Office the country was bound to recognize the importance of the primary object of this Motion, being the saving of the lives of our sailors; but the question was how they could most cheaply and most quickly arrive at the object they had before them. Certainly, it was not to be expected that through the employment of convicts they could save either time or economy in this matter. He was almost as certain that the object could not be attained by waiting for the creation of great national harbours. He spoke on behalf of the County of Cornwall, which had 200 miles of coast. Now, nothing could better test the reality of the need of these harbours than to offer to Cornwall the facilities which were already agreed upon between the Board of Trade and the Treasury. He pressed upon the Government that they wanted an early settlement, and as large a circulation of those easy terms as was possible. Then he believed this question of Harbours of Refuge would solve itself in the most practical and the cheapest manner.


said, he thought the hon. Gentleman who last spoke (Mr. C. T. D. Acland) had stated very clearly and very fairly what seemed to be the requirements in the present case. The hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Duff) had asked him whether he would state specifically the terms on which these loans were to be made to localities. Before doing so, he desired to point out that the hon. Member who brought forward this Motion (Mr. Yeo), in an admirable manner, with great clearness and fairness, seemed to be under the impression that funds might be raised for the repayment of these sums of money by taxing shipping. The hon. Member, perhaps, had overlooked the fact that a few years ago the light dues were reduced, and that, consequently, the fund out of which the monies were proposed to be repaid was fast galloping on to bankruptcy, and the idea of raising those dues would not be very popular. The fact appeared, also, to be rather overlooked that we had at present on our hands two Harbours of Refuge which answered to the description which the hon. Member appeared to have on his mind—namely, Peterhead Harbour and Dover Harbour. Peterhead Harbour was being constructed by means of convict labour. The original estimate of the cost of this harbour was about £250,000. Subsequently the estimate was enlarged to £500,000, and afterwards again it was enlarged to more than £750,000. Unless the information which came to him was very unreliable, he thought there were very few men of practical experience who attached any very great importance to the value of that harbour, even when it was constructed at the enormous cost. We also had Dover Harbour on our hands—a question which was still unsettled. A sort of resolution was arrived at that it was desirable to provide a Harbour of Refuge and Defence at Dover. It was to be built by means of convict labour, and about £50,000 or £60,000 had been already expended in providing quarters for convicts. No plan had been settled upon; no estimates had been made; and he did not believe that any hon. Member had the smallest idea what the ultimate cost of that harbour would be if it were carried out. He was assured by those who knew something of the question of the employment of convicts at Dover that not only would it not lead to any economy, but possibly there would be an increase of the cost of the works if it were carried out. Therefore, the difficulty of dealing with those large Harbours of Refuge was a very serious one, and it was one which the Chancellor of the Exchequer was bound to take very seriously into consideration before entering upon it. They had heard a great deal lately about the efforts that were being made to effect some economy in the Public Expenditure. Not only every Member of the Government, but every Member of the House, ought to support the Government in trying to keep down that Expenditure. The Government could not, at that time, look with favour on a proposal which would involve advances of large sums of money by the Treasury even for such valuable purposes as those in question. The Government desired to help, as far as possible, those who helped themselves—to aid local effort—and it would hardly be just to districts which had made those efforts and expended large sums of money that other districts—possibly competing with them—should have advantages given to them by large grants of public money. In the debate which took place a few days ago in that House, lie admitted that he thought a strong case had been made out by the right hon. Member for Berwickshire (Mr. Marjoribanks) and the hon. Member for Banff for the careful consideration—if not reconsideration—of the question of the period of repayment which was to follow the rate of 3¼J per cent. In the last debate he (Mr. Jackson) stated that the rates which were then in force were 3¼ per cent and a period of 30 years; 3½ per cent and a period of 40 years; and 3¾ per cent and a period of 50 years. At that time he promised, when the negotiations were completed and the Minute had assumed its final form, he would place it upon the Table of the House; and that would be done. When that was accomplished he thought the hon. Member's point would be attained. He could assure the House that the question had occupied the attention of the Government. He did not admit that there had been any breach of faith; but he was authorized to say that the Government considered the last proposal of the hon. Member for Banff a reasonable proposal, and when collateral security to the satisfaction of the Public Works Loan Commissioners was given, the Government would be prepared to extend the period of repayment at the 3¼ per cent rate to the full period of 50 years. He hoped the House would accept that as a satisfactory solution of a very difficult question which had long been pending. He had ordered a clause to be drawn up, which would be inserted in the annual Bill of the Public Works Loan Commission, to enable localities to give security and to extend the opportunities which they had of pledging their security to the Commission. He hoped the hon. Member would therefore see that the debate had not been without good effect, and that his Motion had accomplished his purpose, and that he would not press it further.


said, that while he thought the concession in regard to the 3¼ per cent was a matter of the very greatest importance, he at the same time doubted whether the rural districts in England would be able to provide the necessary collateral security. In Ireland, where that system had been tried, those districts had, with few ex- ceptions, been unable to provide that security. Fishermen were helpless because they did not know how to combine, and how to get their case properly presented to the House; that was why their case broke down as had been stated. He was convinced the future of Ireland depended on the development of its fisheries; therefore he was profoundly interested in the question. He thought that sufficient weight had not been given to the recommendations of the Committee of the House which had reported on that subject. From his experience as a member of the Piers and Harbours Board in Ireland he had come to the conclusion that sufficient assistance was not given by the Exchequer to develop the maritime resources of the country. He complained that the Government had not redeemed their promise which they made when they came into Office that they would take into consideration the question of providing harbours in Ireland for fishery purposes. He thought Harbours of Refuge were of more importance than large ports. He complained that the whole of the Irish administration were absent from their places when a question of such importance to Ireland was being discussed.


said, that he must take very strong exception to the statement that 17 Harbours of Refuge had cost £23,000,000 sterling. A very large portion of that amount was not devoted to refuge purposes at all; but to other purposes peculiar to great commercial harbours. This question should not be considered from the same point of view from which they were bound to consider it a few years ago. Harbours could now be constructed at very much less cost than a short time ago. The hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Board of Trade (Baron Henry De Worms), who spoke on behalf of the Government, said that he could not conceive of a Harbour of Refuge being such that it could not be applied to commercial purposes. But Lundy Island was a case in point. With regard to Lundy Island, there was no idea in the mind of anyone of converting it into a port of any other kind than a port of refuge. There were other places round the coast which, like Lundy Island, could be made Harbours of Refuge at a comparatively small outlay. At Lundy Island, for a comparatively small outlay, they could produce a very large amount of refuge. He was not prepared to maintain as a general principle that they ought to expend very large sums for harbours peculiar to refuge purposes only. They ought rather to work in both directions—downwards from the great military and naval harbours which were required for naval purposes, such as that contemplated at Dover and other places, and upwards from the fishing and commercial harbours. He imagined that if that were done there would not be any great necessity for the creation of special Harbours of Refuge involving a large outlay. He was glad that the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Jackson) had been able to announce that the Government had agreed to accept with regard to loans what appeared to be the general view of the House. He (Sir Edward Reed) should vote for the Motion, not to embarrass the Government, but in order to avoid giving his sanction to what appeared to be the general drift of the speech of the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Board of Trade—namely, that this great Imperial State, which boasted of its worldwide commerce, had no course open to it save that of sitting down with their hands by their side and saying people must drown around our coasts, because we could not afford to give funds for Harbours of Refuge.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 81; Noes 80: Majority 5.—(Div. List, No. 93.)

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