§ MR. JAMES O'CONNOR (Wicklow, W.),
in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, said it was not of a political or Party character; it would be correctly described as a purely commercial Bill. The people who desired a change in the constitution of the Irish Lights Board were the commercial classes of Ireland, the traders, merchants, shipping community, and the Chambers of Commerce. They felt that, in the interests of trade, the constitution of the Board ought to be altered. For many years there had been a general demand that a new Board ought to be constructed, which was more in harmony with the advanced condition of commercial affairs at the present time. The present Board consisted of 22 members. Five of them were nominated by the Dublin Corporation; the other 17 were a permanent body, their numbers being maintained from year to year by co-option when a member died or resigned. This majority of the Board was not considered to be a popular or representative body. They were practically an irresponsible body, beyond the reach of public opinion, and impervious to public criticism. The nominees of the Dublin Corporation were powerless to effect any change in their proceedings; the 17 solid "irremovables" were always there, and, having the great majority on the Board, they ruled and maintained affairs according to their wishes. This Board had the dispensation of a considerable amount of money. There had been no change whatever in its constitution, except in the name, since it was created by the Irish Parliament in 1786. The only body represented on the Board was the Dublin Corporation. Belfast, with its great and increasing trade, had no 269 representative; neither had Cork, Waterford, Limerick, Galway, Drogheda, Wexford, nor Londonderry. The time had, therefore, come when some serious attempt ought to be made to make a fundamental change in the constitution of the Board. Even the Dublin Corporation, which had five representatives on the Board, was limited to the selection from members of its own body. It was not allowed by Act of Parliament to go to the Chamber of Commerce in Dublin, and to select a suitable person to be a representative, nor to go to the great shipowners of Dublin and select from among them a representative. The Dublin Corporation was obliged to send as representatives the Lord Mayor and the High Sheriff for the time being, and three Alderman; and, although there might be among the Common Councillors men more suited to act as Commissioners, the Corporation had no power to select them. The Bill, therefore, proposed to alter the Board with the view of making it more representative, and to bring it into accord with the modern requirements of commercial life. The Bill was a very simple one. It proposed to constitute a new Board of 19 Members, the Board of Trade to have power to nominate eight of the number. The other 11 members would be allotted thus—two for Dublin, two for Belfast, one each for Cork, Limerick, Waterford, Sligo, Derry, Wexford, and Drogheda. It might not be a perfect Bill. He did not know that a perfect Bill was ever brought into the House, and he was not sure that a perfect Bill had ever left the House. The proposals of the measure might be inadequate and defective, but whatever objections there might be to them, they could surely be met by Amendments in Committee. He claimed the sympathetic consideration of the President of the Board of Trade, who admitted yesterday, in answer to a question put to him, that the present constitution of the Irish Lights Board was a subject that demanded inquiry. From that admission they surely might infer that the right hon. Gentleman would give his assent to the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ *SIR A. K. ROLLIT (Islington, S.)
said, that as this subject had been discussed at meetings of the Chambers of Commerce of the United Kingdom, he 270 had been asked to second the Bill. He did so because he believed that the principle of the Bill was at any rate to some extent correct, and because he thought the measure made a proper protest against some of the chief features of the existing system. Yesterday the President of the Board of Trade spoke of the zeal and capacity of the members of the Irish Lights Board. He had no personal knowledge of the subject, but he was bound to say they had not been beyond criticism in respect of some matters. The expressions of the right hon. Gentleman had been both denied and doubted. For instance, Mr. Turner, of Londonderry, speaking at the meeting of the Associated Chambers of Commerce at Plymouth, in September, 1893, spoke of the unsuccessful attempts to secure better lighting on the route followed by the trans-Atlantic steamers, and appealed to the Associated Chambers to help in obtaining better lighting, and bringing about legislation which would amend the constitution of the Irish Lights Board. A defence set up by the Board was, that they had been greatly hampered by the action, or rather inaction of the Board of Trade, and that they had not been able to do as much as they would have done because of difficulties placed in their way by the Board of Trade and the Treasury. There was a singular unanimity of Irish opinion in favour of this Bill. Representations had been made both from the north, south, east, and west, from Belfast, Londonderry, Cork, Limerick, and even from Dublin, which already had some representation on the Board, though he was told that the representation was not satisfactory, and that, on some points, in addition to those mentioned by the mover of the Second Reading, the Dublin Corporation representatives had not received quite the treatment they thought themselves entitled to. In pursuance of these representations, Memorials had been presented to the Board of Trade, and to the Treasury, and so long ago as March, 1894, a Memorial was forwarded from the Associated Chambers of Commerce to the Chief Secretary, which set out the strong expressions of opinion to which he had referred, and which also showed that some of the members of the Board were not quite so regular in their attendance as they might be. A reply was 271 received to the effect that the matter was under consideration. The question was raised again in the House of Commons on June 19th, and the President of the Board of Trade then gave a somewhat similar answer. The subject was, therefore, under consideration for some time, and he hoped that in what appeared to be everybody's business, and consequently nobody's business—at one time it was the business of the Chief Secretary, at another time of the President of the Board of Trade, and at another time of the Treasury—something would at last be done. This was undoubtedly a real Irish grievance. Until 1854 Ireland had its own Lights Board, and managed its own lighting affairs. At that time jurisdiction was transferred to the Board of Trade, and with it £100,000 of accumulated funds, which were available for making the service efficient. He was obliged to confess that, looking at the figures, Ireland had not been treated as liberally as those who had life and property at stake in her seas might reasonably expect her to be. He thought it might fairly be said that the constitution of the Board was one cause of the complaints which were made. He was told that practically the approval of the Lord Lieutenant to appointments to the Board was a mere matter of form, and that existing members of the Board co-opted almost entirely of their own accord. Co-optation was not a principle which in these days completely recommended itself, its adoption was apt to produce a good deal of stagnation and lethargy. The case of Dublin might be quoted for the purpose of showing that the principle of representation in some form was already conceded. The Dublin Members were ex officio, but still they did represent the Municipality. Why should Dublin have representation on the Board and other ports, such as Belfast and Cork, be under a comparative disability? Fifty-five per cent. of the Irish shipping was located in Belfast. Belfast had of its own 125,000 tons of shipping; Dublin, 50,000; and Cork, 24,000. If, as the Mover said, they took into account the shipping which frequented the ports, it was possible Cork would be placed very high in the list, showing that they had a differential system of dealing with Municipalities which was wholly at variance with the 272 statistics on which the representation ought to be based. Yesterday, the hon. Member for King's Lynn (Mr. T. Gibson Bowles) asked whether there was any precedent for elective boards in reference to lighting. There were two distinct precedents—the case of Hull, which had local jurisdiction, and the case of Newcastle.
§ *MR. T. GIBSON BOWLES
remarked that his question related to general lighthouse authorities, such as the Trinity Board or the Northern Lights Commissioners.
§ *SIR A. K. ROLLIT
pointed out that this was a local demand for representation of various localities, and, therefore, the cases of Hull and Newcastle might be taken as precedents. But there were precedents by analogy in the case of Rivers Conservancy Boards and District Fishery Committees. The whole tendency of legislation in modern times had been in the direction of representation. He doubted whether the Bill should be limited entirely to representation of Corporations. He thought there should be some representation of marine interests and of shipowners. He also thought that the owners of cargoes should have some representation on the Board. He was struck by the remarkable fact that on this Board which dealt with the practical matters of seafaring life, on which the safety of life and property at sea depended, there were apparently only two persons of nautical experience, one being a retired Naval Officer, and the other the Harbour Master of Kingstown, unless an ærated water manufacturer could be included in the same category. The other members of the Board consisted of a timber merchant, two bank and railway directors, two land agents, a wine merchant, a distiller, a draper, a telescope maker, a retired grocer, a pair of Peers, a manure manufacturer and the representatives of the Corporation of Dublin. He thought that a Board which had grown by co-option into a body of that character required some little reformation; and he therefore hoped the Bill, which proposed to give a representative character to the Board and to add to it men of local knowledge and experience in nautical matters, would be allowed to go to a Grand Committee or a Select Committee for consideration.
§ SIR D. MACFARLANE (Argyll)
said, he would prefer to see a Lights Board for the whole of the United Kingdom to distribute the money derived from light dues in an equitable manner, in the interest of the shipping community without regard to nationality. It seemed to him that there should either be more money spent on lighting the coasts of the Kingdom, or much smaller light dues levied on shipping; because there was a considerable surplus, over and above what was spent on lights throughout the Kingdom, which went to the Treasury, and it was a hardship on the shipping community to be taxed beyond what was needed to supply their requirements in the way of lights. But his experience in sailing around the coasts was that there were many places where lights were required; and that undesirable state of things should not be when there was money to remedy it. He had frequently applied to the Board of Trade to have dangerous rocks and currents amongst the Orkney and Shetland islands marked by buoys; and had always been told that there was no money available. But that did not appear to be the case. There was money available; and the shipping community had a right to have all their reasonable requirements met first, before any surplus from the light dues was put into the Treasury. This was not a local question, but a national question. It was not desirable to have separate arrangements for separate nationalities; and what he was in favour of was the establishment of a central body to look after the lighting of the coasts of the Kingdom for the benefit of the whole maritime community.
§ MR. G. W. WOLFF (Belfast, E.)
said, that as one of the representatives of by far the largest shipping port of Ireland, he was glad to put his name on the back of the Bill, though he did not agree with all its details. The constitution of the Irish Lights Board dated from long ago, when the circumstances of shipping were totally different from what they were now; and hostile though he was to the Board, he should say that they had endeavoured to carry out their duties to the best of their ability, but from the nature of their constitution they had not the advantage of that general and local knowledge of maritime 274 affairs which would have enabled them to discharge their functions more effectively and with more benefit to the shipping community of Ireland. Belfast felt very strongly that it had no voice whatever in the management of the lights, or in the placing of the lights on the Irish coast. It felt that all the more because out of the 270,000 tons of shipping registered in Ireland, 155,000 tons were registered from that port, and yet all the endeavours the port had made to get representation on the Irish Lights Board had failed, because the Board was co-opted and not elected. A few years ago there was a vacancy on the Board, and it was suggested to the Board that it should be filled by the Chairman of the Belfast Harbour Commissioners; but the Duke of Abercorn was elected instead. He had the greatest respect for the Duke of Abercorn, but even supposing his Grace had the necessary knowledge of nautical matters, or matters connected with shipping, ho very much doubted that his Grace had the time to attend the meetings of the Board. He thought the Board would have done infinitely better if it had filled up vacancies by the co-option of representatives of the various maritime towns of Ireland, instead of merely electing persons whose social position threw a sort of lustre on the Board. The co-opted members of the Board had the whole management of the affairs of the Board in their hands. There were representatives of the Corporation of Dublin on the Board, but they really had nothing to say to the management of the affairs of the Board, and when those little trips and expeditions were taken, they were carefully excluded. In Belfast they had certain local grievances against the Board which he was sure would have been remedied long ago if the Board were a representative body. They had agitated in Belfast to get a light placed at Blackhead, the northern entrance to Belfast Lough. A steamer, called The Lord Lansdowne, was wrecked there, simply for want of the light, and other vessels were very much endangered. The only answer they got to their application to the Lights Board was that it was a local matter, and that if there was a light wanted there the Harbour Commissioners should put it up, and when it was 275 pointed out that the Blackhead was outside the jurisdiction of the Harbour Commissioners, the Board then replied that they had no money for the purpose. That showed that Belfast had reason to be dissatisfied with the Board. He was sure that if the port had a representative on the Board, its interests would have been attended to. He did not think the proposal of the Bill that the Board should be elected partly by the Board of Trade, and partly by the Corporations of the maritime towns, was a proposal that would work well. He thought the electors of the Board should be persons connected with shipping, or if the election ought to be entrusted to public bodies, the Harbour Commissioners would be more appropriate bodies for the purpose than the Corporations. But questions of that kind could be considered by the Select Committee, to which the matter would probably be referred, and if the result was the passing of a Bill to give a representative character to the Board of Irish Lights, there was no doubt that the interest of the shipping community would be attended to far better than they had been in the past.
§ MR. DUNBAR BARTON (Armagh, Mid)
said, he agreed that if the Irish Lights Board had introduced into their body representatives of ports like Belfast and Cork, they would have saved themselves from much of the opposition that was now brought against them. He should not have risen if it had not been for the reflection made on the existing Board by one or two of the speakers, because it was admitted by the President of the Board of Trade the previous day; it had been admitted with great fairness by the Mover of the Bill, and also by the hon. Member, who had just sat down, that this Board discharged its duties efficiently. The hon. Member for Islington was a little bit inconsistent in his criticism. He told them, for instance, that this was a co-optative Board. He believed the hon. Member himself was a member of the Trinity Board, which was also a co-optative Board, and he would therefore say to him: "Physician, heal thyself." He agreed with the hon. Member for Argyllshire (Sir. D. Macfarlane), and he believed it was the true principle that should guide them in this Bill—that there should be uniformity of 276 treatment on this particular matter in the three parts of the United Kingdom. He had very good authority for that, because in the Home Rule Bill it was specially provided that light houses should be excepted from the local legislature, and should be kept under imperial control. The hon. Member for Islington, dealing with the Irish Light Boards, said in effect—Look at the members of this co-optative Board: here are a retired grocer and an ærated water manufacturer.But the retired grocer and the ærated water manufacturer were the two members appointed by the Dublin Corporation. The ærated water manufacturer was a very eminent citizen, a very capable business man, and a suitable man to be on the Board. Yet the hon. Member for Islington, in this sweeping manner, condemned the Board which put on these good business men. The particular men the hon. Member selected for criticism were the very men it was desired to bring in by this Bill, and they were appointed by the Corporation and not co-opted by the Board. There seemed to be a misunderstanding as to the powers of the Board. It was supposed that the members of the Board could, of their own accord, provide the lights and make the changes that were suggested in the different localities. That was a mistake. The Board in Dublin, before it could undertake any new work, must first get the approval of the Elder Brethren of Trinity House, and before it could embark in any new expenditure, it must first get the approval of the Board of Trade. The hon. Member for Belfast had referred to a complaint from that port on a point which was obviously worthy of consideration. But in that particular case Trinity House coincided with the Board in considering that, as the Board was confined to dealing with ocean-travelling ships in the Channel, the matter was one for the Harbour Authorities, and not for the Board. Again, as to the case from Londonderry, the Board had not got the necessary funds to provide a light, it being requisite first to deal with a more urgent claim from the South of Ireland, which was of more importance, because of the trade to America by the South, than was the case of the Northern 277 port. It was only fair that these matters should be explained, because, whatever might be the constitution of the Board, he believed it had discharged its duty with signal success and satisfaction to those who were concerned. He had mentioned the necessity for uniformity of treatment, but if they were to make any change in the constitution of this Board, there was another principle it would be necessary to observe, and that was that taxation and representation should go together. But the two did not go together in the Bill. It was not the ratepayers of the towns who paid the dues, but the shipping community, and if they were to have taxation and representation going together, the shipping community must be represented on these Boards. In a Memorandum issued by the Chamber of Commerce, objection was taken to the constitution of the Board of Commissioners of Northern Lights, and althought that body had upon it representatives of certain large towns and maritime counties, the Memorandum stated that there was absolutely no representation of the shipping interest, which was preferable to corporate representation. He agreed that such places as Cork and Belfast ought to have representation. But on the Irish Lights Board was Mr. Watson, a director of the Cork Steam Packet Company, who was also an engineer. Surely he was a fit person to be on a nautical board of this kind. Then, again, for dealing with the lenses of these lighthouses, surely a telescope-maker was a most useful member. Sir Howard Grubb was a most distinguished man; and, on all these questions of lenses, there was no one of greater authority. Then among the other members there were Sir Robert Ball, also a great authority on scientific matters, and successful men of business like Mr. Pimm and Mr. Jamieson. They had thus got on the Board gentlemen acquainted with nautical matters, business men, and scientific men, such as Sir Howard Grubb, and he believed that the Board had exercised their co-optative power with great discretion. He did not deny that there were anomalies on the Board, and he agreed that places like Belfast and Cork should be represented, but when they came to deal with this matter they ought to deal with it on two principles, namely—firstly, that 278 there should be uniformity in the treatment of this question in the three parts of the United Kingdom; and, secondly, that taxation and representation should go together, and that the shipping interests who paid the dues should be entitled to adequate representation.
§ MR. T. R. BUCHANAN (Aberdeenshire, E.)
remarked, that, as regarded the constitution of the Irish Board, he should not presume to say anything. But his hon. Friend who had just spoken had alluded to the constitution of the Scotch Board. The Scotch Board consisted of the Lord Advocate, the Solicitor General, the Provosts of the four large towns of Scotland, and representatives of the maritime counties. But these latter were the Sheriffs, who had nothing directly to do with navigation, and had no authority whatever on the subject. It was, if anything, far too official a board in that respect, and could not be cited as a board having considerable professional or other authority. With regard to what had been said on the subject of uniformity, he did not think the hon. Member for Argyllshire was to be understood as desirous of having one Lighthouse Board for the United Kingdom. They in Scotland, at any rate, had derived great advantage from the fact that they had a board of their own, acquainted with the necessities of lighting on the coast of Scotland. Trinity House did the same in Scotland as it did in Ireland. It gave a preference to the southern over the northern route. What they in Scotland had urged through the Commissioners of Northern Lights for many years was, that there should be better lighting of the N.E., N., and N.W. coasts of Scotland, not with special reference to any port, but with the view of lighting the coasts better, to assist in the development of the northern route from America to the north of Scotland and England, and to German and other northern European countries. They continually found, when they made those recommendations, the declaration that the Trinity House could not sanction the expenditure. He instanced the case of Rattray Head, a lighthouse which the Commissioners had constantly urged on the consideration of the Trinity House. For many years, also, they had been urging the claims of 279 Flamneel Island and the East Skerries on the East Coast, and only within the last few days, in answer to the hon. Member for Ross, the President of the Board of Trade said that Trinity House had declined to sanction the request.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE (Mr. J. BRYCE,) Aberdeen, S.
said, that his answer was that it was a long time since the correspondence as to this particular lighthouse.
§ MR. T. R. BUCHANAN
trusted that if there was to be an inquiry thin power vested in the Trinity House would be investigated, which, considering the enormous value of their shipping, what they wanted was not less but more money spent on lighthouses. As to the contrast between Ireland and Scotland, he did not understand the argument of the hon. Member for Islington. Scotland contributed more than Ireland, and received less from the fund, but he confessed this was not a question of rivalry. They wanted the interests of navigation considered; they wanted more money to be spent on lighting, and with respect to that he thought they might build their lighthouses cheaper than at present. Their lighthouses cost more than lighthouses cost in America or in any part of the world. He did hope that this subject, having been ventilated in that House, they should have a full inquiry into it. He could assure the President of the Board of Trade there was a strong feeling in Scotland on the subject. They felt that they did not get their interests fairly attended to by the Board of Trade and that that northern portion especially did not receive justice.
§ *MR. T. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
joined in pressing that this subject should be submitted to a Select Committee of the House. The last Committee which sat on it was in 1844— 50 years ago, and since then the Board of Trade had, he might say, come into existence, and had been invested with large and remarkable powers. Undoubtedly the time had come for submitting the whole matter to a Select Committee. The inquiry in 1844 was undoubtedly complete and exhaustive—there were about 1,000 pages of it—but there was now a different state of things from what existed at that time. Neither 280 that Bill or any other Bill could be satisfactory until that inquiry was made. The hon. Member opposite said there was not enough money. That was not the case. The ships and seamen contributed over £500,000 every year. That was put into a general fund. What happened was this. About £100,000 was embezzled for other purposes. Of course he did not use that word offensively, for the right hon. Gentleman was allowed by Act of Parliament to exercise his own discretion. He should have a few remarks to make on the exercise of that discretion at the proper time. There was ample money, but of this large sum £100,000 was taken by the Board of Trade, which applied it to official purposes, superannuations, pensions, and such like. He said that the whole of it should be applied to lighthouses and lightships, or if there was a surplus it should go towards the diminution of light dues, but he believed that this £500,000 was not too much. He knew personally how straitened the Trinity Board were for money, because the Board of Trade would not allocate sufficient funds. He had applied for a light on the eastern side of the Wash, and the only argument was, that the Trinity Board had not money enough. The Member for Argyllshire had said that one Board should manage the whole of the Kingdom, and it was to be presumed he would establish a Government Department. He did not agree with that. He thought three separate Boards better. He thought local knowledge came in here. He did not mean merely with regard to lights—for these bodies were not supposed to be seamen—they managed the men who manage the lights—he meant the power of dealing with local persons, conducting local business in local ways. An English Board might not manage the business to the satisfaction of Scotchmen or Irishmen, and vice versa. The real defect which lay at the root of it was that although there were three Boards, they were all bound hand and foot and placed in the hands of one "Board," whose name was the President of the Board of Trade, for, of course, there was no other Board of Trade than the President himself. They had too much of one Board already, and what he wanted was less of it. He was loth to interfere in an Irish 281 Debate, unless when he could go into the Lobby with his Irish Friends. But it was most important, in the interests of commerce generally, that the Irish lights should be properly maintained. They were told, as an argument for this Bill, that the constitution of this Board was an anomaly. What the wickedness of being an anomaly was he did not know, but there were many anomalies in this world, and there were not a few that worked extremely well. This Board had worked well, and the only question he recognised as having a practical bearing was—Were their lights properly maintained, and did the Board do the business for which they existed? No hon. Member who had supported this Bill had ventured to reply to that question in the negative, and no one who had any knowledge of the lights on the Irish coast could answer it in the negative. On the whole, their service was extremely well done, and what answer was it to that to say that the Board was an anomaly? He did not care how the Commissioners were composed so long as they did their work well. If the Board did not do all it should, it was the fault of the Board of Trade. The fault lay in the fact that it was deprived of sufficient power and money by the Board of Trade, and he did not think any reconstitution of this Board of Lights, even if they got an absolutely ideal Board in Dublin composed entirely of Irish archangels, would work well so long as it was kept financially, and, as to all its actions, under the control of the Board of Trade. The Bill proposed to give the Board of Trade the power to nominate eight members to this Board. The Board of Trade ought not to be encouraged in this way. It had got far too much restraint on Lighthouse authorities already. The present Board had done their duty admirably, and if they had in any degree fallen short of the full performance of their whole duty it was entirely due to their being placed too much under the English Board of Trade and being deprived of the proper quota of money contributed by shipping for lights. He thought the better way of getting the whole system of lights in proper order was not that this Bill should be passed, but that the President of the Board of Trade 282 should agree to refer the whole subject to a Select Committee of this House.
§ *MR. W. FIELD (Dublin, St. Patrick)
said, that in a discussion of this kind the fact ought not to be overlooked that this was an Irish question, and, therefore, ought not to be overloaded with English and Scotch issues. The number of questions asked recently in the House in regard to the action, or inaction, of the Irish Lights Board had exceeded the number which had been asked of any Governmental Department in the three Kingdoms. That was a fair proof that complaints had arisen respecting the administration of this Board. As a member of the Dublin Chamber of Commerce, moreover, he was aware that many complaints had been made to that body in regard to the want of efficiency on the Board. Lights had been asked for at various places on the coast, and no doubt one reason why they had been refused was the want of capital, expenditure that ought to be provided by the united action of the Trinity Board and the Board of Works. Still, the Lights Board might have done many things for the benefit of Irish commerce which it had omitted to do. The administration of the Irish Lights Board was very different in many details from that of the Trinity Board, especially in regard to the nautical department and the system of apprenticeship, and, if he was correctly informed, the Irish Lights Board actually had not, at the present moment, in their possession an official chart of buoys around the Irish coast. It appeared to him that that was one of the most important requirements of the Board. But the more important question at issue was not the administration, but the constitution of the Lights Board. Members were mainly non-elected and were co-opted, and they exercised authority without responsibility. The members of the Dublin Corporation were the only elected portion of the Board, and they were cleverly shut out by manœuvres common on Irish Boards from any share in the administration, and the consequence was that the Board was managed by three or four irresponsible individuals who could not be brought under the influence of public opinion. The commercial community were not adequately represented on the Board, and he agreed with the hon. Member 283 for Mid Armagh that those who paid the dues should have a larger representation upon it. The question of the reconstitution of the Irish Lights Board had been before the House for the last 20 years, but, like many other Irish matters, it had been shunted aside from time to time for other matters which were supposed to demand more consideration. The matter had now arrived at a stage, however, when it had become absolutely necessary, in deference to public opinion, that the Board should be reconstituted, and, as the President of the Board of Trade had himself admitted that the existing constitution of the Board was anomalous, he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would assent to the Second Reading of the Bill, and then refer it to a Select Committee. If the right hon. Gentleman did not support the Bill, he should strongly urge the Mover of it to press the matter to a Division. Why English and Scotch Members should intervene in the discussion of a purely Irish matter concerning the administration of the Irish Lights Board, and endeavour to tack on larger Imperial questions upon it, thus making a settlement of the question more difficult, he could not understand.
THE MARQUESS OF CARMARTHEN (Brixton)
said, that notwithstanding the concluding remark of the hon. Member who had just spoken, he desired, as an English Member, to make a few remarks on the Bill. His justification for doing so was that the question involved went a good deal beyond the scope of this Bill. The whole question of lights at sea had become one of such wide-reaching importance that it was impossible to deal with it partially. He granted that there was need for great improvement in regard to the lights on our coasts, and foreign countries could set them an example in this respect. The coast of France was infinitely better lighted than many parts of the coast of England and Ireland. But, above all things, a system of uniformity was necessary in the lights along the coasts. For that reason he wished to say a few words in opposition to the Bill. In the first place, he thought the Bill was unnecessary. There was no absolute urgency for it, especially as the President of the Board of Trade had admitted that the 284 Irish Lights Board, as at present constituted, had carried out their duties with zeal and capacity. He disagreed with the Mover of the Bill in regard to the way in which the Members of the Board were to be appointed; for in his opinion the selection of members by Corporations of cities was not a good way of forming a Lights Board. As to the reference of the Bill to a Select Committee, the President of the Board of Trade stated on the previous day that he did not think the Measure would form a good basis for inquiry by such a Committee. Moreover, at the present time, a Committee of the House was dealing with the whole question, and surely the present Bill should be deferred until that Committee had reported. He hoped, therefore, the right hon. Gentleman would not support its Second Reading, and he moved that the Bill be read a second time that day six months.
§ MR. T. SEXTON (Kerry, N.)
said, the House could not fail to observe that the rejection of the Bill had been moved by a noble Lord who had no connection with Ireland, and also that the only Irish Member who had opposed the Measure was the hon. and learned Member for Mid Armagh, who represented an inland town, and who appeared to be the standing counsel in the House for all anomalies and lost causes in Ireland. The Bill was one of those minor reforms for which Irish Members had struggled unavailingly for more than 20 years, and looking to the policy of both Parties in the House in regard to Ireland, he should have thought the Bill would be accepted as a matter of course. Hon. Members of the Unionist Party, while they denied the claim of Ireland to Home Rule, had vehemently proclaimed on public platforms their readiness to concede to her reforms of a minor character, and to allow the public opinion of Ireland to be efficaciously applied to all departments of administration, and, therefore, they might have been expected to support the Bill. Then, as to the Liberal Party, as their main policy and the reason of the continued existence of the Government were that they were willing to give to the people of Ireland control over those 285 affairs in which Irishmen were principally concerned, it might be supposed that they would have welcomed the Bill, and that the President of the Board of Trade would have regarded it in the light of a boon. There was no department of administration which had been subject to such repeated, continual, and angry interrogations as the Irish Lights Board, and he should have thought the right hon. Gentleman would have welcomed any Bill which afforded an opportunity of placing this Board on a representative basis. The Debate had travelled somewhat wide of the mark. The object of the Bill was limited and specific. As to whether an inquiry ought not to take place, not only into the constitution of the Irish Lights Board, but also into the whole question connected with lighthouses and lights, he could only say he was not willing that any such inquiry should be planted on this Bill. The Bill being for a limited purpose, its promoters had a right to the judgment of the House upon that limited purpose. If there was a grievance in England or in Scotland, let hon. Members ballot and bring in a Bill for their own grievance. It was quite true there was a reservation in the Home Rule Bill that legislation upon trade and lighthouses should be an Imperial function, and it was in the spirit and letter of that reservation that they applied to the Imperial Legislature to correct the existing anomalies. The hon. and learned Gentleman spoke of uniformity of treatment, but there was this vital difference between the three Boards charged with the management of lighthouses, that while the British Boards, the Trinity House, and the Commissioners of Northern Lights, were responsible to British opinion and sensitive to its working, the Irish Board was not responsible to Irish opinion, and disregarded and felt contempt for Irish opinion; and if, after 20 years of labour in this House on the part of Irish representatives, the House refused to read this Bill a second time, the Irish Board would be properly confirmed in their view that Irish opinion was to be despised. When he looked to the personnel of the Board, and, having been for two years an ex officio member, he knew nearly all the gentlemen, he failed to see in what sense they could be regarded 286 as more representative of the payers of light dues than any other class of citizens would be. But he took issue upon the principle. The light dues increased the freights, freights increased the price. The merchant or retailer who bought the goods when delivered from the ship added the freight and the light dues to the price. The consumer paid the increased price, and therefore it was not the persons who nominally paid the light dues, the shipper or consigner, who provided the funds, but the community; and therefore, in committing the election of this Board into the hands of bodies elected by the community, they would in a very real sense give the control to those who supplied the funds. On the present Board there were five gentlemen elected by the Corporation of Dublin, but they were a helpless minority in a Board of 22. He asked the President of the Board of Trade was it tolerable at this time of day that the administration of funds raised by a levy on the public and expended for public purposes so important as the facility of commerce and shipping, and even safety of life, should be confided to a body constituted and perpetuated in the manner of a social club, for perpetual co-optation was nothing more. The weak defence was made that the Board worked very well. To that he replied, in the first place, that the staff of experts under the Board did the work, and, in the next, that it would be impossible in a country like Ireland, where the level of intelligence was tolerably high, to secure, even in the exercise of vicious principle, a thoroughly stupid Board. The Board was a political Corporation. The members co-opted Unionists. They would not co-opt a Roman Catholic unless he was a Unionist: and if one looked through the list of names he would find that every gentleman on the Board, except a couple returned by the Corporation of Dublin, was a member of the Unionist Party. That objection, no doubt, did not affect the question of their efficiency, but it affected administration and patronage. The Board had contracts to make and appointments to give. So far as his experience went, no one who was either a Catholic or a Nationalist need ever hope for an appointment. Such a condition of things was a stigma and an offence and ought to be removed. He 287 submitted that the proposal of the hon. Member for Wicklow was one very suited to the necessities of the case. The President of the Board of Trade might be willing to consider whether the Board of Trade should nominate a large or smaller portion of the Board, and if the Municipal Corporations in the maritime counties were not the most suitable bodies, then in the Schedule attached to the Bill other bodies might be named by way of substitution or addition. Considering that a general inquiry was in progress, which might bear on the subject dealt with by the Bill—though he supposed it would rather be directed to the system of lights and the question of funds rather than the constitution of the authorities—it was very unlikely that the Report of the Commission would concern itself with the constitution of the Irish Lights Board. But even admitting theoretically the possibility that the Report of the Commission might touch on the subject of the constitution of the Board, he should advise his hon. Friend, in case the Second Reading was granted, to agree to postpone the nomination of the Select Committee for a reasonable time, to allow for the receipt of the Report on the Mercantile Marine Fund. Considering the length of time that the grievance had existed, and that they had been agitating against it, and that they had in power a Government friendly to Irish claims, and the irritation that the irresponsible character of the Board as at present constituted caused throughout the country, he did not think his hon. Friend would be justified in casting discredit on his own principle by assenting to the withdrawal of the Bill. While he thought the judicious offer to consider the propriety of waiting for the Report before appointing the Select Committee would be accepted, it should be on the understanding that the Select Committee should be appointed in time to afford some assurance that it would report before the termination of the Session.
§ MR. BRYCE
candidly admitted that there had been ample justification for the Introduction of the Bill. There could be no doubt that the constitution of the Irish Lights Board was not satisfactory. It had been admitted for many years past, and had not 288 been seriously disputed by any hon. Member who had taken part in the Debate. While saying that, he admitted that many Members of the Board were competent men, and that their administration of the lighthouses was conducted with zeal and ability. He also conceded that, at first sight, it was absurd that great mercantile and shipping communities like Belfast and Cork should be entirely unrepresented. But when they asked what was to be substituted for the present system of co-optation the matter was difficult. Although a defence could be offered for the other Lighthouse Boards of the country which could not be made for Irish Lights Board they afforded no precedent. Trinity House demanded respect, because of the eminent professional capacity and experience of those who composed it, which shielded it from criticism which might otherwise be passed on its non-co-optative character. The Scotch Board, although no doubt open to criticism, yet was composed of ex-officio persons who were directly connected with particular ports of Scotland, and who brought to it local knowledge which was entirely wanting in the Irish Board. Although these English and Scotch Boards did not create a precedent for the representative system in Ireland, they did not support the present Opposition to the Irish Lights Board. But, while no one had defended the Irish Lights Board, no one had defended the provisions of this Bill except the hon. Member for Kerry. All that could be said for the Bill was, that some change in the law was necessary. If a Resolution to that effect were before the House he would vote for it, but he found in this Bill a proposal that the majority of the Board should be elected by the corporations of certain towns in Ireland—Dublin, Belfast, Cork, Limerick, Waterford, and Drogheda. He could not see the slightest ground for giving all this representation. If permitted at all it should not go beyond Dublin, Belfast, and Cork. But there was nothing to show that these Corporations in any way represented the mercantile and shipping community. The hon. Member for Kerry ingeniously suggested that the consumers were the persons to be considered, and they were represented by the Corporation. But consumers, as consumers, had not the knowledge required. Local 289 knowledge was not necessary in the sense in which local corporations obtained it. The lighting arrangements of a particular harbour were in the jurisdiction of particular harbour authorities. But these lighthouses were not necessarily connected with any particular harbour, but were intended for the shipping of the whole world. The Fastnet and Tuskar Lighthouses, for example, were for the vast mass of shipping which came to the ports of the United Kingdom from America. Nineteen-twentieths of this shipping came to British, and not to Irish, ports. Localities, if represented at all, should be represented in a minor way, to give the appointment of the majority of the Board to corporations representing localities would encourage the latter to make competition to do things for a particular community instead of having regard to the general interests of shipping off the Irish coast. What the composition of the Lights Board ought to be, he was not prepared to say; that was much too large a question to enter upon then. Whatever were the considerations involved, they went to show that Town Councils were not the bodies to be entrusted with their appointment. With the exception of the hon. Member for North Kerry, no one had defended the proposal to give the appointment to municipal corporations. The hon. Member for Belfast said he objected to the nominees of corporations; the hon. Member for Dublin suggested shipowners rather than corporations. These things being so, he could not find the lead basis in the Bill for a satisfactory scheme or arrangement. The unanimity was limited to dissatisfaction with what existed; but there was not the least unanimity as to the remedies proposed. Although the Bill related to Ireland only, it was not possible to separate Ireland altogether from other lighthouse authorities of the United Kingdom. For the sake of expressing dissatisfaction it was not necessary to give a Second Reading to the Bill; and it was not desirable, because it would be committing the House in a way in which it ought not to be committed with regard to a substitute, whether for Ireland or any other part of the United Kingdom. The Bill was only distributed the day before yesterday, and it was a little hard on Irish light-payers, and on Ireland alto- 290 gether, that the House should be asked to read it a second time before there had been time for it to be considered in Ireland. Bills of this kind ought to be distributed a little longer before the Second Reading, in order that there might be time to elicit opinion in Ireland.
§ *MR. T. SEXTON
said, that on two recent Wednesdays the House had given a Second Reading to two Bills which had been distributed only a day or two before—one relating to the Municipal Franchise and the other to the constitution of Boards of Guardians.
§ MR. BRYCE
said, he was not prepared to assent to the proposition that because the House sometimes did a thing, therefore it was always to do it. So far as he knew, this was the first Bill on the subject, whereas the other topics named had often been before the House previously. It had been argued that there ought to be but one Lighthouse authority for the United Kingdom, and there was a good deal to be said for that view. The position of the Board of the Trade did not seem to be accurately known. The Board had to administer a limited fund upon which there were other charges besides those for lighthouses; it was not in its power to get rid of the other charges; and it did its best, with the advice of the Scotch and Irish Boards and of Trinity House, to make the available money go as far as possible. The Board had given the best proof of its wishes by appointing a Committee, presided over by the right hon. Member for Bodmin, to deal with the whole question of the Mercantile Marine Fund, to see whether anything could be done to supply the painful lack of pence under which the Board suffered, and to report whether there could be a re-arrangement by which greater satisfaction could be given to shipowners and more money set apart for the provision of lights. It was possible that the Report of the Committee might have material bearing upon the constitution of Lighthouse authorities. He did not desire that the House should have to reject the Bill, seeing that it was brought forward with the best intention to remedy a long-standing grievance; and he hoped the House would be relieved from the necessity of voting by the Second Reading being postponed or by the Bill being 291 withdrawn. Further, agreeing to the fullest extent with the indefensibility of the present system, and that the matter deserved and ought to receive immediate inquiry, he was prepared to assent to the appointment of a Select Committee to consider the whole subject of the constitution of Lighthouse authorities to report as soon as it could, though not without waiting for the Report of the Committee on the Mercantile Marine Fund. He hoped hon. Members from Ireland would regard this offer as a substantial advance. The matter would not be relegated to the limbo of good intentions. The House would commit itself to the declaration that this was an important matter deserving the attention of Parliament; inquiry would accelerate legislation; and he, therefore, trusted that the House would not be put to the trouble of a Division.
§ *SIR M. HICKS-BEACH (Bristol, W.)
said, there was one observation of the right hon. Gentleman with which he wished to associate himself, and that was his protest against the common practice, by no means confined to Irish Members, of introducing Bills on the first days of the Session, obtaining places for them, and not printing them until a day or two before they came on. There was a Bill on the Paper that day, relating to English land tenure, and proposing to introduce the Irish system into England; it was not circulated until yesterday; and there were other Bills as to which similar complaint might be made. Such a Bill as this, which simply proposed to substitute the elective for the co-optative principle in the formation of the Board of Irish Lights, was less open to objection on the score of late publication than more complicated Measures. As to the rejection of the Bill being moved by an Englishman, it was a matter of Imperial concern; and it would not be practicable to include Irish lights in a Home Rule scheme. Having personally, when President of the Board of Trade, taken great interest in the administration of the three Lighthouse Boards of the United Kingdom, and having visited a large number of lights himself, he could not accept the view of the right hon. Gentleman, that the constitution of the Irish Lights Board was indefensible, that it was not compatible with modern ideas, 292 and that it did not come before them with anything in its favour. He entirely demurred to the favourite view of hon. Members opposite that nothing could be well administered which was not administered by a representative body. Surely the most important test to be applied to any body was whether it had done its work well or not.
§ MR. BRYCE
said he did not intend to commit himself to so large a proposition. All he said was, that the Irish Lights Board had not the advantage of special technical knowledge any more than it had a locally representative character. The Trinity House, although not representative, had the advantage of great professional knowledge and experience, and justified itself on that ground.
§ *SIR M. HICKS-BEACH
contended that men like Mr. Watson, Sir Robert Ball, and other members of the Board were as well qualified to administer matters of this kind as any men in the United Kingdom. If the objection taken to the constitution of the Board was worth anything, surely it would apply with much greater force to the constitution of the Scotch Board, which was purely a legal Board, composed of the law officers of the Crown, the sheriffs of certain counties, and a few provosts, who, he believed, never attended. No greater anomaly could be conceived, yet he ventured to say that no lights in the world were so well looked after as those round the Scotch coast. The most important consideration in this question was, that the service should be well conducted, and he was perfectly certain that the right hon. Gentleman would find it a most difficult task to constitute a Board which would carry on this service better than the present Board, whatever might be the anomalies of its constitution. He did not want to enter into the financial part of the subject. That was in the hands of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bodmin and his colleagues. If the Board had not had sufficient funds, it was not their fault nor the fault of the Board of Trade. It was the fault of Parliament. Owing to the requirements of existing Statutes, a considerable portion of the sum levied annually as light dues was expended for other purposes not connected with lights, and if any proposal were made to relieve the light 293 dues of that expenditure he did not think much objection would be raised. He thought his hon. Friend the Member for Belfast was right in blaming the Board for declining to co-opt some gentleman representing the commercial and shipping interests of Belfast. He regretted that they should have so exercised their power of Co-optation as to exclude a representative of that City; but that was a very different thing from the proposal in this Bill, which started with the assumption that the Corporations of certain towns in Ireland were the best authorities to choose representatives of the commercial and shipping interests of the country. If there was to be a system of representation at all—and he did not deny that some representation might be advisable—it ought to be something more analogous to the manner in which local Marine Boards were appointed. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, had objected, and, he thought, rightly objected, to the adoption by the House of the principle of representation proposed by this Bill, and proposed that the whole subject should be considered by a Select Committee. He did not quite understand whether the right hon. Gentleman intended that such a Committee should consider the Constitution of Trinity House, and of the Scotch Lights Board as well.
§ *SIR M. HICKS-BEACH
said, he would not press the right hon. Gentleman any further, but he would like to say, as regarded Trinity House, that he believed it would be absolutely impossible for any Committee to constitute a Board more thoroughly qualified to administer the Light Service in England than the Trinity House Board. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman, in framing the Reference to the Committee, would be very careful so to frame it as not to interfere with the work of the Departmental Committee which was presided over by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bodmin. The right hon. Gentleman admitted, in the course of his 294 observations, that this subject of the constitution of Lights Boards must necessarily be, to a great extent, mixed up with those financial questions which were the principal subject of inquiry by the Committee of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bodmin. He thought it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to dissociate the two subjects, and he very much regretted that the House had not had the advantage of some observations from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bodmin upon the proposals in the Bill, and he hoped they might hear his views now on the suggestion of the President of the Board of Trade. He would be very sorry to raise any objection to the appointment of a Committee, but two inquiries on the same subject, conducted by different people, and going on at the same time, were not likely to lead to any practical or useful results, and he trusted that whatever might be done in this matter, it would be something that would bring things to a practical issue, and make such changes as might be fair and right in the constitution of the Irish Lights Board without unfitting it for the task entrusted to it, or casting the smallest reflection on those individuals who had so admirably performed their duties.
§ MR. LEONARD COURTNEY (Cornwall, Bodmin)
said, his observations would be very few, because he had no authority from the Committee over which he presided to speak on the special question before the House. The reference to that Committee was to inquire into the financial conditions of the Boards of the three countries, and the question whether any change in the composition of the Local Board in Ireland was desirable did not directly come within that reference. Of course they had to consider not only the sources from which the Mercantile Marine Fund was taken, but also the way in which the Fund was spent, and the question whether there might not be some scope for economy in the substitution of one Board for three. The Committee had strictly confined their attention to the question whether any change in the composition of the Boards or a union of the Boards would lead to any more economical arrangement of the Mercantile Marine Fund. He thought it was highly probable that the Committee would be led by 295 their inquiry to suggest that it might be of advantage to substitute an inquiry such as that suggested by the President of the Board of Trade. He was bound to say that the proposal of the Board had not been received with general approbation; nor did he think it at all a practical suggestion, for, if it were adopted, it would still be necessary to have subsidiary boards in different parts of the kingdom, and the conditions under which they would work in relation to the Board of Trade would also have to be considered. He respectfully suggested that this question should be investigated by a Committee, and he should strongly support the suggestion of his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade. Therefore he hoped the hon. Member in charge of the Bill would withdraw it. No doubt the Irish Board itself might be dealt with, but they would also be driven to the consideration of the still more anomalous condition of the Scotch Board, and they might have to consider the constitution of Trinity House. These things being necessarily bound up together, was there any advantage in pressing forward the Second Reading of the Bill, even if it were not open to the criticisms to which it was exposed. The hon. Member for Islington had only committed himself in the vaguest way to any approval of the proposals for the election of 11 Commissioners to represent maritime cities, and even the hon. Member for North Kerry had admitted that these proposals were open to criticism. That was not a conclusive recommendation of the Measure to the House.
§ MR. SEXTON
explained that what he had said was, that it was evident that the details of the proposals in the Bill must in a measure depend upon the conclusions of the Committee.
§ MR. COURTNEY
remarked that there were only two substantial proposals in the Bill, one being that a portion of the new Irish Lights Board should be nominated by the Board of Trade, and the other, that the Maritime Corporations should nominate the remaining portion. The hon. Member for Kerry was apparently prepared to abandon the proposal for the nomination of Commissioners by the Corporations. Surely, in the circumstances, it would be better not to proceed with the Bill, but to remit the whole subject to a Select 296 Committee for inquiry. He trusted that the Bill would be withdrawn, the opposition to it being, of course, withdrawn first.
§ SIR JAMES FERGUSSON (Manchester, N.E.)
pointed out that the first clause of the Bill provided that the first election of Commissioners to represent maritime cities should take place in January 1896, that the second clause provided that the Commissioners appointed by the Board of Trade should hold office from January 1, 1896, and should act with the persons elected under Clause 1, and that the third clause provided that on December 31 1895, the present Commissioners should cease to hold office. The results of these provisions would not improbably be that for a time, at the beginning of next year, there would be no Board at all. It struck him that there was much truth in the remark which had been made that this was a very Irish Bill.
§ MR. H. O. ARNOLD-FORSTER (Belfast, W.)
wished to explain why he could not vote with his hon. colleague on this occasion. The hon. Member opposite, he thought, admitted that it was not reasonable or advisable to refer great questions relating to the navigation at sea to a body of gentlemen who might have no knowledge of the subject. [Mr. SEXTON: "I never said so."] But there was obviously need for a reform of the present Board. The proposal in the Bill was, that the majority of the new Board should be elected by persons who were themselves elected, and had no necessary connection with the sea. It was possible, therefore, that the 11 persons elected by the Corporations would not be elected on account of any special maritime knowledge, and so, on a Board of 21 members there might be a perpetual majority unacquainted with what, after all, was the real business of the Board. His hon. colleague had correctly expressed the views of the Harbour Board and Corporation of Belfast, that there was need for a reconstruction of the Irish Lights Board, but after the offers that had been made by the President of the Board of Trade to refer the whole subject to a Committee, he could not give his vote for the Second Reading of this Bill. He believed that he should be representing the views of all those 297 who were really concerned in the navigation of ships in Irish waters, as well as of the Harbour Board of Belfast, if he asked that a material portion of this measure—namely, the portion relating to the election of members of the Lights Board by Maritime Corporations, might be reconsidered.
§ MR. J. ROSS (Londonderry City)
explained that he had come down to the House with the intention of supporting this Bill, for, without doubt, his constituents were anxious that some change should be effected in the constitution of the Irish Lights Board, which was at present unsatisfactory. But he could not shut his eyes to the fact that a most reasonable offer had been made by the Government, and he thought it would be exceedingly unwise to reject that offer. The proposal that the whole subject should be referred to a Select Committee was a thoroughly sensible and practical offer, and, in the circumstances, he should not vote for the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 76; Noes, 193.—(Division List No. 35.)