HC Deb 26 April 1892 vol 3 cc1392-419
* SIR E. BIRKBECK (Norfolk, E.)

In bringing forward the Motion which stands in my name in reference to coast communication, I do not think the House will expect from me any apology for taking up a short time with the explanation of such a subject, nor do I think the House will turn a deaf ear to the appeal I make on behalf of the seafaring interests for the better protection of life and property around the coasts of the United Kingdom. It may be thought that in consequence of the answer given by the First Lord of the Treasury to a question I put to him a short time since, there is no necessity for me to bring forward this matter; but I think it will be more satisfactory if it is formally dealt with by the House after a short debate, on which both sides may have an opportunity of expressing an opinion on the proposals I have to make. It will, I think, be a matter of astonishment to everybody, both in the House and outside, when we consider the fact that England is so far behindhand in regard to this question of the protection of life and property at sea by means which have been adopted in many other maritime countries. We occupy the proud position of being the first maritime Power in the world; more shipping comes to the ports around our coasts than to any other part of the world, and it is matter of wonder that we have so long delayed this matter, and have taken no steps to bring it to a final conclusion. I do not desire for a moment to condemn any Government that they have not taken up this question before this, but inasmuch as every disaster that has taken place around our coasts, where there has been loss of life, must be the subject of official inquiry, a melancholy long list of disasters pigeon-holed at the Board of Trade, must be in existence, and it would be a matter of public interest if it were known, which it probably never will be, to what extent the Board of Trade officials have brought pressure to bear upon various Presidents of the Board, Urging that steps should be taken to bring this matter before Parliament. We boast over and over again of the extent of our Mercantile Marine, and we are justly proud of being the ocean carriers for the world. Each year we show the growth of our shipping tonnage; but as regards protection from loss of life in the seas around our coasts we show no progress. Whether it is due to one Department or another—the Board of Trade, the Admiralty, or the Post Office—this question has been shunted from one Department to the other, and no action has been taken. One Department under the Board of Trade has, I think, acted as a convenient buffer for that Department—Trinity House. They have been handicapped to a very great extent by not being supported by Parliament in a liberal way, and what might have been done in the past in regard to communication with light vessels and out-lying lighthouses has been checked by the action of the Treasury. In the result, we occupy a humiliating and unfortunate position, having to admit to the world that while little Denmark, with an import and export trade of 30 millions, has long since successfully dealt with this question of coast communication, and other maritime nations have done much in the same direction, Great Britain, with its annual import and export trade of £743,000,000 sterling, has done but little. The House will see that in the Motion to which I invite attention I have divided the subject into two parts: I have dealt with coast communication proper, and also with the question of cable communication between light vessels and outlying rock lighthouses and the shore. Inasmuch as the latter question has already been partially dealt with, or at all events experiments have been carried out from time to time, I prefer to deal with this part of my subject first. What I ask for in regard to floating light vessels and outlying lighthouses involves engineering and financial questions, and these should in the first instance be dealt with by a Royal Commission. But as regards the practicability of carrying out a system of cable communication with floating light vessels that has been absolutely proved, has been shown to be absolutely feasible by the experiments off the coast of Essex by cable communication with the Sunk lightship. Communication with this vessel was established in 1884, and in 1887 the then President of the Board of Trade appointed a Departmental Committee to inquire into the question whether or not it was desirable to continue this cable communication with the sunk light vessel, whether it was likely to lead to the preservation of life, and into various other matters connected therewith. I served on that Committee, together with the late Colonel King-Harman, who, as Member for the Isle of Thanet, naturally took a deep interest in questions concerning the preservation of life at sea in connection with the dangers of the Goodwin Sands. We unfortunately found ourselves in a hopeless minority on that Departmental Committee; the Board of Trade opinion was all-powerful, and we were swamped. I regret that I felt obliged, when we came to consider the final Report in 1889, to draw up, and, after Colonel King-Harman's death, to sign, a Minority Report, because the conclusion arrived at by the majority of the Committee was that, inasmuch as there had been a considerable amount of money expended, and there had been little result in the saving of life, it was not desirable that the expenditure should be continued. I have never for a moment regretted that I signed a Minority Report in which I strongly declared my opinion that the experiment ought to be continued over another five years, and that Parliament ought to vote a further and adequate sum for such experimeuts. As a matter of fact, during the trial there had been no severe gales of wind at all, it was proved beyond doubt that there had been exceptionally few disasters on the sands adjacent to the Sunk light. The Trinity Corporation were adverse to the continuation, because they felt that the money devoted to this cable communication would be better expended in lighting dangerous sands around our coasts, and one fact which came out in evidence might possibly have influenced the Trinity Corporation. On one occasion, soon after cable communication was established between the Sunk light and the shore, the official in charge of the Sunk light was hailed by a passing vessel the master of which desired to send a communication to land. He came very near the light vessel, and the Brethren felt that the lightship was in some danger; but the Elder Brethren were slightly shocked by the communication the master of the homeward bound vessel desired to send. The captain was a newly married man, and he asked the officer in charge of the light vessel to communicate to the shore a message for his wife that he was safe and sound and would be in port in a few hours. Well, the Trinity Corporation were, as I have just stated, shocked, and this incident, I believe, had some influence in bringing about the unfortunate Report of 1889, which led to the stoppage of the communication between the Sunk lightship and the land. The feasibility of keeping up such communication has been proved beyond doubt. It was proved that the men in charge of the light vessel were perfectly capable of working the cable communication while they could undertake the splicing of the cable and other repairs, and I know, having been on board the Sunk lightship, that it is as easy to communicate through the telephone to the shore as it is to speak through the telephone any where on land. As regards whether or not it is better for the preservation of life that there should be cable communication, I have only to point out that in the case of snow-storms or fogs, when rockets are not able to be seen from the mainland, the officer in charge of the light-vessel can telephone the exact position of any vessel in distress, and thus put a stop to that which has almost always been the case when a lifeboat goes out in response to a signal of distress, so that they will be able to go direct to the vessel in distress, instead of going to the lightvessel and asking where the vessel is, and probably to be informed that they heard the guns firing from a certain direction, or that they saw rockets in such a direction; and that delay is of the most serious consequence as regards the lifeboat service. I might, in passing, just quote some extracts from telephonic messages which were received on the mainland through the Sunk cable as reported to the Committee of the Board of Trade, the Departmental Committee to which I have referred. On 7th September, 1886, a message was received at Walton, in Essex, from Sunk lightship, by telephone that a Vessel was ashore on the South-West part of Long Sand, or on Kentish Knock. On 17th April, 1887— Signals of distress seen on the North-East part Long Sand or Sunk. On 24th September, 1887— A schooner in distress on Long Sand bearing S. by W., a little westerly. On 24th June, 1888— Can hear guns firing in direction of 'Knock.' On 22nd March, 1889— Barque ashore on lower part of 'Sunk,' bearing South-South-West. On 16th May, 1889— Guns firing at five minutes interval in direction of 'Shipwash.' Now I quote the case of a vessel that was lost only last week, on Easter Monday morning. It was off my own coast of Norfolk, eight miles from the shore on the north-west part of the coast, on some sands known as Burnham Flats. The vessel came from the Baltic. It was seen by the lifeboat crew at six o'clock in the morning; the lifeboat was launched, but it had eight miles to go against a gale of wind and a heavy sea. If there had been telegraphic or telephonic communication with the Coastguard it could have been communicated to the Lincolnshire coast at a place called Skegness; and the lifeboat might have been able to go off to the exact spot with a fair wind, and would have saved at least three hours, and in all probability might have saved seven lives that were unfortunately lost out of a crew of eight. Bearing upon this question of communication with lightships, I have only to remind the House of the unfortunate case of the German emigrant ship Deutschland, that was wrecked on the Kentish Knock, 24 miles from the Essex coast, in thick weather. The total crew and passengers numbered 230 men, and of these 173 were saved by the Harwich tug boat, and 57 were lost. The vessel stranded on the northeast of the Kentish Knock at six o'clock in the morning of the 6th December. Guns and signals of distress were at once fired, but they were not seen from the Kentish Knock for three and a-half hours. These signals were not observed on the Sunk lightvessel, 13 miles distant, till 5.30 in the evening; and the Cork lightvessel had the intelligence conveyed to Harwich, five miles distant, which it reached at 7.30 in the evening, 13 hours after the vessel had been wrecked. The lifeboat from Broadstairs arrived too late to save any of these 57 lives. Had there been cable communication in that case, undoubtedly they might have been saved. Then we have the case of the Indian Chief, which was wrecked on the 5th January, 1881, on another well-known sand, the Long Sands, 18 miles from the coast of Essex. The crew numbered 29; there were twelve saved by the Ramsgate lifeboat, but 17 were drowned. That is another case where there was a very long delay indeed. I think it was something like 28 hours before the Ramsgate lifeboat arrived at the scene of the wreck. And now we come to a case of a far later date. On the 11th of December of last year the steamship Enterkin of Glasgow was wrecked on the Galloper Sands, 25 miles from the Essex coast and 30 miles from Ramsgate. Out of a crew of 30 there were 27 lost; one was saved by a Ramsgate smack, and two by a passing vessel. Here again the vessel was wrecked at 5 o'clock in the evening. The poor unfortunate crew were lashed to the rigging; and it was not till 3 o'clock the next morning that a fishing boat, Britons' Pride, passed the wreck and saved one hand; at 7.30 o'clock the other two were saved by a passing vessel. There are numbers of such cases; but there is no necessity for me to refer to more than these three. As regards what lightvessels ought to be placed in telegraphic communication with the mainland, that is a matter for a Royal Commission to inquire into and consider; and also the rock lighthouses. Undoubtedly the Fastnet, the Tuscar, the Eddystone, the Bishop, and the Bull Rock are all points of very great importance as regards the saving of life. Of course I might be told that in the case of the Fastnet, where communication was made and was in existence for a short time, but ultimately broke down, that it would be very difficult and very expensive to carry it out; still, the Engineers' Reports and the evidence given before the Departmental Committee of the Board of Trade show that it would be perfectly possible to carry out the work there and to carry a cable down below where the wash of the waves would be liable to break the cable, and that there is no difficulty whatever, in an engineering point of view, in carrying out this work. Now, coming to the question of coast communication proper, I take up that on behalf of two great life-saving services—the Lifeboat Service and the Rocket Apparatus Service. Everyone who is engaged in the lifeboat service, whatever the crews may be, are only too ready to risk their own lives, if there is the remotest chance of saving the lives of those who are in danger; and nobody regrets more than the lifeboat crews when they come ashore after a fruitless errand, and have been told that had they received earlier communication they could have undoubtedly saved lives. And it too often occurs that when a lifeboat or a rocket apparatus has got to the spot where a wreck has taken place they only find pieces of the wreck left, and possibly the dead bodies of the poor crew, who might have been saved, and are being washed on shore. All that the lifeboat crews and the men in charge of rocket apparatus ask for is that there should be as rapid and instantaneous communication as possible with the mainland. There are so many cases where these two services have been sent for either by messengers on foot or on horseback; but in the case of inquiries where loss of life has taken place it has been proved that a foot messenger, or even a messenger on horseback, would not have been able to give the information in time. One well-known case bearing upon this subject is that of the steamship Lymington, which was lost in February, 1889, at Lee, not 30 miles from the Hartland quay on the North Coast of Devon, simply from the want of wire between the Morthoe and Ilfracombe Coastguard stations and the Bull Point lighthouse. At the Coroner's inquest, which took place, the following evidence was given:— Williams, a boatman, was on the cliffs shouting to the crew. He was there from 12 to about 3.20 a.m. Words of encouragement were shouted, and the crew seemed hopeful and quiet until they found the tide was overtaking them, then their shouts became more frequent; as the tide advanced they increased their calls for help and entreaties for assistance. Each time they were told to keep up hope, as help was coming. When the tide was probably up to their feet, and they knew their vessel must soon break up, their cries became agonising, and as many as four distinct voices, some more powerful and pleading than others, were heard. At last the sea had reached its height, and about 3.15 a.m. a crash and screams were heard, and all was silent. Hours of agony and their lives might have been saved but for the delay of the rocket apparatus, which for want of wire communication only arrived on the spot after the ship had broken up without a single soul upon her reaching the shore alive. Then there is the well-known case of the s.s. Schiller, that was wrecked so far back as the 7th May, 1875, on the Retarrier Rocks, three quarters of a mile E.S.E. of the Bishop Light, five miles West of St. Agnes Island. In that case out of 364 passengers only 44 were saved, by shore boats from St. Agnes, and 320 were drowned. It was proved at the Coroner's inquest that had there been cable communication in all probability all the lives lost in that disaster might have been rescued by the lifeboats and other means. I need hardly say, as regards the Lifeboat Institution, there have been cases where as many as six lifeboats have gone out to one signal of distress. Had there been cable communication from the adjoining lightvessels probably only one lifeboat need have gone out, and the other five lifeboats and their crews need not have run the risk which they naturally run whenever they do go out. I do not mean to say, in stating that, that the Lifeboat Institution desires for one moment to stop men from going out whenever there is a case of a vessel in distress; but, nevertheless, if there were means of communication between the lightvessels there would be over and over again cases of telegrams to adjoining lifeboat stations giving the information that there was no necessity for the adjoining lifeboats to launch, because one had already gone out to the vessel in distress. But then we have another aspect of this matter to consider, and that is the case of where a steamer or vessel is passing some well-known headland and she is sighted by the lighthouse authorities. She is seen to be in distress; she drives before a gale of wind and is approaching nearer and nearer to the shore, and it is too late to get the adjacent lifeboat out, because the vessel will be driven far beyond their reach by the time the lifeboat is launched. But I am quite certain that if there was a wire to inform a lifeboat station or rocket apparatus ten miles off, the lifeboat there would be prepared to launch and would meet this vessel so driving before the gale of wind; or there might be a telegraphic or telephonic message sent ordering one or more tugs from some adjacent port to proceed to sea and save the vessel. There are numbers of cases off the coast of South Wales where vessels have been lost, and where the crews might have been saved had there been an opportunity of communicating by wire with the tugs to go out and tow them in. In a commercial point of view undoubtedly it has been proved over and over again that there might have been a vast amount of property saved if this coast communication was in existence around our shores. I can quote one case which I saw myself. One of the North German Lloyd's steamers, the Werra, was passing down the Channel one Sunday morning. It ran aground at Dungeness, about a quarter of a mile inside the point. It had over 600 passengers and crew on board. It was perfectly smooth, I admit; and as I was going down the Channel in a yacht we lowered a boat and asked the captain if we could render any assistance. He stated that he ran aground about 10.30 in the morning. He sent a boat ashore at once in order to telegraph for assistance. He was told by the authorities that the office had been closed at 10 o'clock, and would not be open again till Monday morning. He asked us then to proceed down Channel to Hastings where we sent off a telegram to the post office asking for tug boats to come to his rescue. The vessel was ultimately got off as the weather was smooth, or else undoubtedly she would have been lost. In the case of the Eida, which ran aground this last winter on the South of the Isle of Wight, there was no means of sending information except on horseback some distance inland to the telegraph office, and when the captain signalled at seven o'clock in the morning for the lifeboat to proceed to his assistance the crew of the lifeboat at once launched; but a messenger had to go off on foot—I think in one case on horseback—to ask the two adjacent lifeboats to come to their assistance. That is another case where, in a commercial point of view, it is absolutely important that there should be instantaneous communication. Then at Lundy Island there was cable communication, but, unfortunately, it was laid across the tide, and was broken, and has never been repaired, but it was proved that there is no difficulty whatever in the way of its being properly laid. A French steamship, Tunisie, ran aground this winter on the 19th February, 1892, at Lundy Island in a snowstorm on a Friday morning, and it was not known on the mainland till the Sunday; though I am bound to admit that all the lives were saved bylines thrown from the cliff in that case. But, in a commercial point of view, there was no power to communicate with the mainland as regards that disaster till the Sunday. I hope there are some hon. Members representing the Naval Service here who will admit the great importance of this question from a Naval point of view. When his Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh terminated his duty at the Naval Reserve Office he wrote a very important Despatch, calling attention to the absolute necessity of having coast communication between all Coastguard stations around the coast of the United Kingdom; and I am glad to think that the present First Lord of the Admiralty during the last few years has added, I think, upwards of 100 stations to the 50 that were in existence prior to his term of office. But though the Admiralty can boast of 150 stations at the present time that are in telegraphic communication, I think they must admit that it is only during the naval manœuvres that there is communication open day and night and on Sunday; and that during the rest of the year this communication is only open from eight in the morning till eight in the evening, and two hours on Sundays. The House will remember the case of Her Majesty's ship Banterer when coming from Ireland to Plymouth in a gale of wind took refuge under Lundy Island. There was consternation that no intelligence was received of her whereabouts, and two or three vessels were immediately ordered to proceed from Plymouth to her assistance. Had there been communication between Lundy Island and the mainland the Naval Authorities would have known at once where she was. I contend very strongly indeed that coast communication is of the utmost value, whether it is for the saving of life or property, whether it is for the shipping interest or the commercial interest, for naval warfare, for salvage purposes, or for the fishing industry. It also seems surprising that the warnings from the Meteorological Society's Office in London at the present time are only sent out to 166 lifeboat stations, and that there are 105 stations that never receive any warning at all. The House will ask, what do other countries do? I have referred to Denmark. Denmark has certainly set a bright example to England, and I should like to quote a letter that came before the Board of Trade Departmental Committee from Denmark, giving an exact account of what Denmark has done. Briefly speaking, it is stated that this system was commenced in 1889:— There are four stations for communicating with passing vessels—Hawtholm, Hortshols, Skagen (the Scaw), Hammoren (Bornholm). But besides this, there is a great part of our lighthouses and of the saving stations (lifeboat and rocket) connected with our common telegraph system, partly with the view of calling help to ships in peril, partly for communication between fishers and their markets, and partly used in the interest of our service, giving notice of ice, so that we can wait to the last moment, sending tugboats to tug in our lightships, to tell if lightships and buoys are not at their due place, and if gas buoys do not burn well, &c., &c. … We have no cable connection with any lightship. On the other hand, our most isolated island lighthouses are connected with the telegraph system… Where there is no telegraph station near the lifeboat or rocket stations these are generally connected with the nearest telegraph station, or with each other by telephone wires. By this means we are nearly able to follow a ship in danger of being set on shore by a storm, and the lifeboats and the rockets can be in place nearly at the moment of the running on shore. Steamers can be called to a ship that has been run on shore, and this ship can then often be taken off shore again before the sea rises and breaks it down. Then, as regards America, America has done a great deal more than probably the House has any idea of in a certain quarter. I am now quoting from a letter addressed to the Chief Inspector of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution by the General Superintendent of the United States Life Saving Service, dated 26th May, 1890. There are 56 lighthouses connected in the Gulf of the Lower St. Lawrence. He states— Many notable instances of the saving of life have occurred on the coast of the United States, one of the most remarkable being at the Lewes Station, at the entrance to Delaware Bay, on 10th and 11th of September, 1889, when the keeper by summoning to his aid the crews of the two nearest stations was able to rescue, without the loss of a single life, the crews of 22 vessels, an aggregate of 194 souls. Had not the telephone been used it is likely that for the want of the early presence of the neighbouring crews many lives would have been lost. The resources of the three stations were employed to the utmost, and nearly all the hawsers, lines, and other movable gear were used up. Another advantage of the telephone is that it enables a station to warn others along the line of the approach of vessels that seem likely to go ashore in their neighbourhood. It often occurs that a vessel may be seen driving past a station and beyond the reach of its crew in a manner indicating that she is likely to strand some ten or 15 miles away. By timely warning the crews in the chain can be on the ground ready to begin operations as soon as she comes within reach, thus saving valuable time and increasing the chances of successful work. Then Holland has had since 1885 the whole of her lighthouses connected with the mainland by wire. At the Cape we have five lighthouses in telegraphic communication, and the Indian Government have carried out the same system. I could go, if necessary, through a number of cases of the most disastrous loss of life around the coast of the United Kingdom, in which telegraphic or telephonic communication would undoubtedly have been the means of saving a great many lives. I think it is only right to say that when the London and North-Western Railway Company were applied to by the Lifeboat Institution to allow their telegraph wires to be used on the North Coast of Wales, in the case of any vessel being seen in distress, they at once assented, stating that their stationmasters had been given orders to immediately communicate in such cases with the Lifeboat Institution, and the Board of Trade. In 1887 the Superintendent of Lloyd's gave evidence before the Board of Trade Committee to the effect that a number of their signalling stations had been the means of saving lives. The Deputy Master of the Trinity Corporation, Captain Sir Sydney Webb, gave important evidence before the subcommittee of the Lifeboat Institution. He was asked— Supposing a large steam vessel were in distress in a fog in the vicinity of one of your lighthouses, and the lighthouse keeper knew the lifeboat station was about a mile off, and that probably lives would be lost unless the authorities were warned, and the boat sent out in time, would your man run down one mile to the lifeboat station to warn them? His answer was— Certainly; a messenger would be sent. He was then asked— If the vessel was seen to be in a sinking condition, and passing the point, and there were telegraphic or telephonic communication, there would not be any great difficulty in warning the lifeboat by this means? His reply was— No; certainly not. The third question put to the witness was— And if the man were paid by the lifeboat authorities a certain amount as a reward for giving this notice, the objection would be in great measure removed? His reply was— Certainly. We therefore have it on the high authority of the Deputy Master of the Trinity Corporation that where a lighthouse is situated at a point likely to give intelligence with regard to a vessel in distress there is no reason why one of the hands belonging to the lighthouse should not immediately telephone to the nearest coastguard station to that effect. The House, of course, realises that at the present time the telegraphic offices around our coast are open only from eight in the morning till eight at night, and on Sunday mornings from eight till ten o'clock; and it is obvious that in order to make postal communication effective it is absolutely necessary that they should be open the entire 24 hours, every day and night of the week, as well as on Sundays. Surely it would be no hardship to have an alarm bell placed in the bedroom of the local postmaster, for it would be perhaps only once or twice in a year that he would be called upon to leave his bed and to proceed to the lifeboat or the coastguard station to see that they had notice that a vessel was in danger. The system of communication round the coast ought to be made as effective as it is in London with regard to the fire-escapes. There is no necessity for going into further details in regard to this matter, because the need for such communication is perfectly clear. Whether it would cost £50,000 or £100,000, or £200,000, should not be considered when it is a question of the preservation of life and property. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer has a deficit next year he could lay the whole blame on the cost of such a scheme, and I do not think the country would mind it. The unfortunate British sailor looks to the House of Commons to provide further means for the saving of life round our coast. He very seldom has the opportunity of recording his vote at elections, but he thinks a great deal about what is being done in Parliament for his safety when in a gale of wind he has some dangerous sand bank under his lee, or some rock-bound coast on which he may be wrecked. I have not referred to the large number of lives that have been lost on our coast, because anyone can see the statistics for himself; but the number is very large, and I consider it is the duty of the House to do what it can to prevent such loss. I know that the fishing industry are looking forward with very great interest to what the House will do in regard to this matter. From a commercial point of view, the question is one of very great importance. Sixty-six Chambers of Commerce have passed resolutions in favour of providing such communication, and I have not heard one voice raised against it. Therefore, I trust that the House will come to a unanimous conclusion in favour of this proposal, and that we shall let the maritime population of this country, as well as that of other Powers, know that the House of Commons has come to the determination to put an end as far as possible to the awful tragedies and harrowing scenes which are too often witnessed around the coast of England. I am sure that our gallant seamen, of whom we are so proud, will be thankful to the House if it passes this Resolution. It is only fair to say that a great amount of credit is due to those gentlemen who have assisted to bring this matter before the country. I hope that hon. Members have read the stirring articles which have appeared in the Times newspaper from the pen of a special commissioner who went round certain parts of the coast for the purpose of obtaining information on the subject. The House will not expect me to say anything further in support of the Resolution. I will only say that I hope the House will put an end to what I must call a grave scandal, and that it will adopt the course I have proposed. I beg to move the Resolution that stands in my name.

* MR. MARJORIBANKS (Berwickshire)

The speech of the hon. Member in moving his Resolution has made my task in seconding it both an easy and a difficult one. He has made it easy, because he has so ably stated his case and so admirably marshalled the facts upon which he relies, and no one is more capable of dealing with the question than he is, because of his practical knowledge with all maritime matters, and because of his connection with that unique institution—the National Lifeboat Institution—of which I mayalmost say he is the leading spirit. He has made my task a difficult one, because of the thoroughness of the manner in which he has urged the claimant's necessity for the reform he advocates, and it seems to me that I should be only injuring a good cause if I were to tell a twice told tale in seconding the Resolution. The arguments in favour of the reform advocated by my hon. Friend, indisputable though I believe them to be, self-evident as they must be even to the most careless consideration, nevertheless lie within a narrow compass. I need not go into details with regard to disasters which might have been prevented or mitigated if the scheme which is now recommended had been adopted. Prompt and instant action is just as necessary to cope with the necessities for rescue of life and property from the winds and waves as it is to provide protection against fire. What would be thought of a fire brigade which was not connected with its various stations by the very latest appliances of electrical science? The Parliamentary Representatives of this great maritime nation have the right to claim from the Imperial Government a care for the life and property borne on the seas around our coasts not inferior to that required by any great city from its Municipal Governors for protection against fire. We are the greatest maritime nation in the world. We assert our Navy is, or should be, the match for any combination of foreign Navies likely to be brought against us. Our export and import trade amount to the enormous sum of £750,000,000. We lie in the track of the great seaborne carrying trade of the North of Europe. We are also in the midst of the very best and most profitable fishing ground in the world. Day and night crowds of fishing boats go out to reap the harvest of the sea. How is it, then, that our Navy, Mercantile Marine, and fishing fleets are required to incur risks which might be materially modified by taking advantage of the appliances of modern science? Is the explanation to be found in a sublime confidence in the Sweet little cherub that sits up aloft To keep watch o'er the life of poor Jack"? Or is the fact that nothing is done due to a jealous rivalry between the Admiralty, the War Department, Trinity House, and the Post Office? Or is it the Treasury which is responsible for this sordid economy? Which risks the ship for want of a "ha'porth of tar"? It is worthy of consideration that this country is behind almost every other country in the world in respect of telegraphic and telephonic communication. What is the reason for this backwardness? Is it because the telegraph and telephone systems are a great monopoly? Is it the dead hand of this great Government monopoly that has stifled our system of telephonic communication and has prevented the extension of the system all along the coasts? Nothing could be more useful for the commerce of this country and for defensive purposes than to have around our coasts a series of closely connected stations from which information could be sent from our ships inland or from the land to the sea. We possess many great advantages for carrying into effect the recommendation of the Resolution. We have a splendid system of lights; the coasts are studded with lighthouses, and we have coastguard stations girdling the land, the average distance between them being only about ten miles. We have a splendid lifeboat service, and our lifeboat men, lighthouse and coastguard men, are only too anxious to undertake any duty that may be imposed upon them; and yet for the want of a little organisation, of a little energy in availing ourselves of the discoveries of modern science, which would render all these forces highly serviceable in respect of coast communication, our position is not so good as that of many foreign countries. It is the old story of the bundle of sticks, which, separate, were weak and useless, but, bound together, were strong and unbreakable. It may be urged that our lighthouses and coastguard stations are already connected by a system of signalling. That is true. They have semaphores, rockets, guns and flags. But this system of signalling is often ineffective even under favourable circumstances, and when there are storms or fogs it breaks down entirely. It is, in my opinion, a disgrace to this country that it should still rely on a system of signalling that was no doubt known to Hengist and Horsa when they landed on these shores. I have heard it said that, owing to the strength of currents and other causes, it would be very difficult to connect rock lighthouses with the shore by means of cables, but competent engineers are willing to undertake to surmount the difficulty, and to establish an effectual connection. Another objection which has been raised is that the expense would be very great, but the expenditure of £100,000 per annum for a few years would be sufficient for the complete achievement of the work, and the money would be well spent. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has stated that there is still remaining a surplus of 3d. in the £1 in connection with the telegraph service of the country. The money required might well be supplied from that source, and no opposition would probably be raised to it. It seems to me that the proposals in this Resolution are the very minimum of what is necessary. I hope that the Government, if they do assent to the Resolution, will put no obstacle in the way of its being carried out, so that there may be complete telephonic communication between all the coastguard stations along our coast. I also hope that the matter of electrical connection between lightships and rock lighthouses and the shore will be referred to a Commission of good engineering experts; and I have little doubt the Report of such a Commission would be in terms consonant with our wishes.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That, with a view to the better prevention of loss of life and property in cases of vessels in distress or shipwrecked on the Coast of the United Kingdom, and to give the earliest possible information to lifeboat authorities and rocket apparatus stations, in the opinion of this House, it is desirable that all coastguard stations on the sea coast and signal stations should be telephonically and telegraphically connected by Government, and that on those parts of the coast where such stations do not exist the post offices nearest to the lifeboat stations be telephonically or telegraphically connected; and that a Royal Commission be appointed to inquire into the desirability of connecting certain light vessels and rock lighthouses by cable with the mainland in order to give information of vessels in distress."—(Sir E. Birkbeck.)

*(4.58.) THE POSTMASTER GENERAL (Sir J. FERGUSSON, Manchester, N.E.)

My hon. Friend the Member for East Norfolk has in his speech once more stated the case, which he has several times before in various ways put before the public, for greater and more speedy means of giving notice to life-saving stations of vessels which may be in dangerous positions on our coasts. No doubt there has been, in some cases, a lamentable want of communication, and disasters have occurred which might otherwise have been prevented or lessened. Although much may be done by the connection of the coastguard stations, it is evident that accidents may occur out of sight of any possible telegraphic station, and that it will be impossible by any legislative or administrative action to do away with the dangers of the sea. But, nevertheless, a desire must be felt by all to give what assistance is possible in order to render more rare the occurrence of accidents which have filled the country with feelings of horror. It is scarcely necessary on this occasion to enter into the ancient history of this question, for the First Lord of the Treasury stated on 29th March, in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for East Norfolk, that the Government sympathised with I him in his desire, and hoped that some thing material would be done towards carrying out the object which he had at heart. The right hon. Member for Berwickshire has stigmatised in somewhat strong language what he considers the backward position of this country in the matter, but if that be so the blame must be shared by all previous Administrations. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman had any desire to reflect on the present Government; but, at the same time, I must tell the House that more has perhaps been done during the last five years to remedy the want than during any previous Administration. A great number of coastguard stations have been connected with the telegraph; and as regards the national defences, from which point of view this question has been noticed, I may say the Admiralty are now satisfied with the amount of communication they possess through these coastguard stations. I take up this question where the First Lord of the Treasury left it, and I think it is desirable that I should inform the House what steps have been taken since the 29th March to give effect to the Resolution of the Government which my right hon. Friend then described. Recognising the necessity of communication on the exposed part of the coast, we have, with some considerable labour, framed an estimate of the cost in respect of connecting telephonically the coastguard stations on the exposed part of the coast from the Isle of Wight to Lynmouth in North Devon. That covers a considerable part of the coast to which attention has been called in late years, and where lamentable wrecks have occurred, and includes the connection of the five outlying islands, the Scilly Islands. Approximate calculations have been made as to the expense of carrying out the work, and the amount is something over £16,000. That estimate of work will be continued all round the coast, and I do not think that the House will be surprised that the engineers of the Post Office have not been able to accomplish more during the present month. But the fact of my addressing the House on the part of the Government will show the House that the matter has got beyond the stage of contemplation, and that we are taking actual steps to carry it into execution. Of course there are coastguard stations that are less important than others. Some occupy very exposed positions where ships are liable to be stranded, and from these it is extremely necessary that speedy communication should be made to the lifesaving stations. Hence Her Majesty's Government propose to proceed at once with the erection of wires in such cases. We have already put in hand the surveys of several of these works of the more pressing kind, and some of them will be immediately commenced. I may say that one point—Morthoe—which has been referred to just now on account of a lamentable wreck which occurred there not very long ago, will receive early attention; and that an extension of the telegraph to the neighbouring post office is already being carried out. As I have said, surveys of these works are in progress, and our officers have been in personal communication with the Lifeboat Institution, with a view to select cases, which are of pressing importance. Amongst those which it has already been decided to carry out may be mentioned the following:—From Morthoe to Ilfracombe on one side, and Croyde on the other; from Hartland Quay to Clovelly on the one side, and Bude on the other; from the Lizard to Cadgwick on the one side, and to Mullion and Porthleven on the other; from Swanage to Studland Bay on the one side, and to St. Alban's Head, Bottom and Kimmeridge on the other, combined with an extension of the existing wire between St. Alban's Head and Corfe Castle to Poole, in order that the lifeboat there may be brought within call of the coastguard stations as well as the lifeboats at Swanage and Kimmeridge. The apparatus used in these four cases will be telephones. Then again, a point very much pressed is that of Beachy Head to Eastbourne and Seaford. Extension of an existing A B C circuit between Kingsbridge and Prawle, to Salcombe on the one side and to Rickham and Hall Sands on the other, is also to be mentioned. In harmony with the plan which has been discussed with the National Lifeboat Association, but independently of their views on the subject, it has also been decided to give telegraphic communication to Pennan, a village on an exposed part of the Scotch coast, midway between the lifeboat stations at Fraserburgh and Banff. A number of extensions to outlying parts of the coast are also now being carried out by the Post Office for the Admiralty, and they will doubtless prove useful for the purpose of saving life. These are only the beginnings. Of course we cannot take everything in hand. We have not only to meet the wants much felt, but I hope shortly to extend the system to other points in England and Wales. In addition, arrangements have been made with the London and North-Western Railway Company and the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company in order that expeditious communication may be made to stations on those lines of ships in distress. A rough estimate has also been made of the cost of establishing telegraphic communication with all lighthouses and lightships, which will be a proper subject for inquiry. The cost of this part of the scheme will approach the sum of £300,000. My hon. Friend speaks of our being far behind other nations as regards electric communication with lighthouses and life-saving stations, but I do not believe that we are so far behind as is sometimes supposed. In the first place, a great many of our coastguard stations are in telegraphic communication already, and many more are situated so near the telegraph that they may be considered in connection. Of 290 lifeboat stations, 170 are now within one mile of the telegraph, and of 273 coastguard stations, 207 are similarly situated, so that it is very evident a person can in a very short time reach the telegraph station. My hon. Friend the Member for East Norfolk is, I think, in error in stating that the terrible results at a recent wreck might have been modified by coast communication, because the evidence showed that the result was not due to want of telegraphic communication. It is certainly not more than three miles from the bay in which the ship was stranded to Ilfracombe, and in fact the officer of the coastguard ran the distance between the two places in 25 minutes. While I am anxious to say nothing in depreciation of that admirable class of men who man the lifeboats, I think it is only right to say that blame was attached to the men in charge of the lifeboat on that occasion for not launching it in time to rescue the crew, instead of waiting until the tide had got into such a condition that it was impossible to do so. It is true that in the United States there are twelve places, outlying lights, in direct or indirect communication by telegraph, and 27 shore lights, but neither America nor any other nation has connected its lightships with the shore. Denmark has 14 outlying lights in connection with the shore and all its shore lights, but France has none at all—neither outlying lights nor shore lights, nor life-saving stations, though it has signal stations, which are probably for naval or commercial purposes. I think my hon. Friend was in error, for I do not understand him, in saying that the outlying lights of Holland were connected with the telegraph, because my information is to the contrary.


I said they had absolute coast communication throughout the whole coast.


My information is that neither lightships nor outlying lights are in telegraphic communication. We should not think what other nations have done. We are the greatest maritime nation, and, therefore, there is every intention on the part of the Government to meet this claim that has been made. I say that we do see the necessity of connecting all the important points which may be useful in connection with our life-saving apparatus; and I need not add anything further beyond saying that it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to appoint a Commission to inquire into the means and feasibility of connecting outlying lights with the shore, but it is not so easy as the right hon. Gentleman supposes. Her Majesty's Government are happy to assent to the Motion, and I earnestly hope we shall be able to accomplish the object in view—namely, to prevent, as far as our power extends, the recurrence of lamentable cases in which life might have been saved had timely relief been procured.


Telephonic communication following the line of coast round the United Kingdom is, in the first place, what the Society of which the hon. Member for East Norfolk is the head—the National Lifeboat Society—thinks to be of most gigantic importance. But it is an entirely different subject from the question of connecting lighthouses on rocks or lightships; and as far as I read the proposal of the hon. Member, he desires to leave the second part entirely to the Commission which I understand Her Majesty's Government are about to grant. He does not tell us whether he intends to allow the first part of his Resolution to pass or not. If he does, it will not be necessary for me to say much about it.


I do.


It is not alone the question of lifeboats—which, of course, the hon. Member for East Norfolk is most interested in—but it is also a question of which of the two means of saving life shall be used. That is a matter of great importance. From time to time the lifeboat goes afloat, when had there been telephonic communication between the nearest lighthouse or coastguard station it would have been unnecessary for the lifeboat to be launched, because it was known that the wreck, or probable wreck, was one which could only be approached by the rocket apparatus. Another reason is that in having a line of telegraphic or telephonic communication you will be able from your signal station to communicate with your rocket apparatus, which, as the House knows, is on wheels, and worked, not by the lifeboat authorities, but by the coastguard authorities. Owing to the absence of coast road it is often extremely difficult to get the apparatus to the required place, and unless the exact position of the wreck is known it is frequently necessary to make a considerable detour before the scene of the wreck is reached. The Postmaster General has alluded to the commencement which is being made by the Government to temporarily connect some of these stations; but, as a matter of fact, neither the mouth of the Thames nor that of the Mersey are included. Now, I think these are two particular places of which we should like to have information.


It was only possible in the present month to accomplish the survey and estimate for the part of the coast I have mentioned; but we have resolved also to connect Beachy Head with other places immediately, and also certain places on the coast of Aberdeen.


The establishment of this communication in such places as the mouths of the Thames and Mersey would be of enormous importance, because there you have already got one class of experiment going on—the whistling buoy and the gas buoy. If the master of a vessel calculates on making one of those buoys and misses it on a foggy day the chances are the vessel goes ashore. At the Nore and other places where there are light vessels they are in sight of many of the standing beacons and buoys of the kind mentioned, and were one of these beacons or buoys out of order the master could telegraph or telephone to the immediate port whence warning could be issued. I am extremely glad that the Government have consented to give us what we have asked for.

* COLONEL HILL (Bristol, S.)

I am sure it is with great satisfaction that the House learns the Government accedes to the Resolution proposed by the hon. Member for East Norfolk. We know that from time to time accidents to vessels do happen, and we have the further distressing knowledge that had communication existed valuable lives would have been saved. It is, therefore, gratifying to find that the Government are endeavouring to end loss of life in that particular. I am not myself careful to discuss the question of cost. I believe that the necessity be proved the House of Commons, and the country generally, will be ready to meet that cost. Resolutions have been passed by the Chamber of Shipping of the United Kingdom, and the Association of Chambers of Commerce representing 76 centres of commerce have strenuously affirmed this want, and asked the Government to provide for it. I am pleased with the figures the Postmaster General has given, because it is evident that this most important work will not cost any enormous sum of money. As regards the question of connecting the lighthouses, I am perfectly at one with the Postmaster General that it is not necessary to connect them all, nor the whole of the lightships, but there are certain of them which should be so treated. While bowing to his superior knowledge, I am under the impression that the French lighthouse at Ushant is already in telegraphic connection with the shore. In reference to the question of connecting with the outlying lighthouses, I think it is raising a bogey to say that if we connect them with the shore the enemy in time of war will knock them down. I want to know where our Fleet is to be at that time? Even supposing the enemy could do such a thing, I think the chief injury would be to themselves, and I venture to say that we ought not to sacrifice an actual advantage in time of peace for a problematic disadvantage in time of war. I believe the difficulties will all vanish, and rejoice to think that before long there will be perfect communication. This maritime nation has a right to demand, not only for the sailors who navigate our vessels but also for the passengers who travel by them, such conditions of safety as would be afforded by the carrying out of the proposed Resolution.

* MR. J. LOWTHER (Kent, Thanet)

I should like also to add my satisfaction at the announcement which has been made by the Government. I conclude that the inquiry to which the Government has assented will embrace the entire subject. The Motion appears to propose different treatment of the two branches of the subject. In the first part it is proposed to request the immediate carrying out of certain work, and that the subsequently appointed Royal Commission shall go further into the matter. I believe the hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. Loder)—who unfortunately, through circumstances he cannot control, is not able to be present—had an Amendment on the Paper which is to a considerable extent embodied in the amended Motion of my hon. Friend the Member for East Norfolk. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol has referred to what he calls the bogey of a possible danger to this country in time of war if we connect our lightstations and lightships with the shore, and I must own that I was surprised to notice some remarks recently made by the President of the Board of Trade which gave encouragement to a theory which his colleague in the representation of Bristol very aptly describes as a bogey; for it is obvious that if an enemy arrived at the conclusion that it was to its interest and was within its power to injure this country by destroying lighthouses or lightships, it would carry out that policy without regard to the incident of telegraphic or telephonic communication being in existence or otherwise. In a matter of this sort we are bound to have some regard for the public purse, but the figures mentioned show that the amount required even at an extravagant estimate is relatively of so paltry a character that I do not think my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer—who, I hope, will shortly be back amongst us in restored health—would give even a passing thought to such a trumpery item in the preparation of his Budget next year. My right hon. Friend the Postmaster General stated that the entire cost at the highest estimate would be £300,000, and that the annual sum required to keep the system in working order would be extremely small.


I do not think that was stated from this Bench. I believe it came from the right hon. Gentleman opposite.


Well, I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say £300,000, and in fact he first said £300,000 per annum, but corrected himself to stating that it would be a capital sum of that amount, and I trust the Chancellor of the Exchequer will next year make his Budget in accordance with the suggestion. As to the practical effect of an arrangement of this kind, it must be well known to the House that while in certain instances loss of life would occur under any conditions, still there are cases in which life and property would in all human probability be saved if a better system of communication were established. I feel sure there will be a feeling of great satisfaction at the Government having willingly consented to take so strong a step in this direction, not only by, as I understand, proceeding with the inquiry with all possible dispatch, but also by taking the important step referred to by the right hon. Gentleman without waiting for the inquiry.

(5.35.) LORD H. BRUCE (Wilts, Chippenham)

Although I have never minimised the value of our lighthouses, I think there are other provisions that should be made for the safety of sailors of perhaps equal importance. For want of harbours of refuge, for instance, many poor fellows have been drowned. More than 700 men and boys die yearly within sight of our shores, and yet the Royal Commission on Harbours of Refuge of 1858 and 1859 has been ignored. As to the lighthouses on our coast, I would point out to the House that there is no lighthouse from Beachey Head to the Isle of Wight, a distance of 57 miles. There is a lightship, but that light is only visible ten miles, and, therefore, if you pass the Isle of Wight ten miles off you do not see it. On the French coast there is a lighthouse nearly every 20 miles, and I want to know if they can do that why we can not do the same in England? Now, Sir, I will just refer to the harbour of refuge called Dover Harbour, and which, I maintain, is no good to our sailors in a gale of wind. The entrance will be only 300 feet wide, although 600 odd acres are to be enclosed. How on earth can a sailing ship get in there during a gale of wind, with a tremendous current running at the rate of three miles an hour? If the harbour had been constructed at Dungeness some good might have been done, and at less cost. But, Sir, with regard to these harbours of refuge generally, there was a Royal Commission appointed——


Order, order! I do not want to interrupt the noble Lord, but harbours of refuge are outside the scope of the present Motion.


Well, Sir, all I can say is this, that although we have some powerful lighthouses, our coast is very deficient in that respect, and I hope the Resolution before the House will be passed, and that everything possible will be done to save life at sea. So far that has not been done, inasmuch as the proposals of the Royal Commission of 1858 and 1859 have not been carried out.

Motion agreed to.

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