§ [SECOND READING.]
§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ * MR. PLUMMER (Newcastle-on-Tyne),
in moving the Second Reading of the Merchant Shipping (Lighthouses) Bill, said that this was a measure of great importance, not only to shipowners but to all shipping centres and to the country generally. In a country so dependent as we were upon our mercantile marine, anything that benefited it directly or indirectly in the long run benefited the community generally. He moved the Second Reading of the Bill which last year was in the able hands of the hon. Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool, and which was only defeated then by eleven votes. This year they hoped it would obtain a larger measure of success. A few words as to the history of our coast lights and light dues might not be deemed out of place. Originally, the lighting of our coasts, so far as it was done at all, was carried out by various religious communities, who performed a duty which would otherwise have been left undone. On the dissolution of these religious bodies, persons engaged in the work as a matter of business under licence from the Crown, and were entitled to charge tolls on passing ships. About three centuries ago the Admiralty lights which then existed were transferred by Royal Charter to Trinity House, and it was stated to be for the benefit of the merchant navy. Coming down to modern times, they found that by a series of Acts between 1850 and 1854 the Board of Trade was charged with the general superintendence of matters relating to the mercantile marine, 1300 including the lighthouse service, which was an important factor both as regarded the income and expenditure of the Board of Trade, for taking 1894, the year when the Commission of Inquiry so ably presided over by the Right Hon. Leonard Courtney was appointed out of a gross expenditure of £578,000 the lighthouse service was responsible for £387,000, while out of total receipts of £630,000 the light dues accounted for £542,000.
Whilst the Board of Trade exercised supervision over the whole of the United Kingdom, each part of the United Kingdom had its own Light house Board. In England they had Trinity House, in Scotland a body described as the Commissioners of Northern Lighthouses, and in Ireland they had the Irish Lights Commission. It would be well to note the constitution of these three different authorities. Trinity House, of course, was an ancient and honourable corporation, and he was sure anything that was said in the course of the debate would not reflect in any way either upon the antiquity or respectability of that body. They all respected Trinity House as Trinity House, and if it were criticised it would only be as a modern lighting authority. There were a certain number of Elder and Junior Brethren. Of the Elder Brethren many of them might be described, without any reflection upon them or the slightest intention to give offence, as honorary and ornamental. They were gentlemen of high social position who had done great service to the State, and he believed the position was considered a compliment to anyone receiving the appointment. Of the other brethren, the hon. Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool last year pointed out that nearly half of them had already passed the allotted span of three score years and ten, and could not, therefore, be considered to be up to date in mercantile experience. They belonged to the sailing age rather than the steam age; and certainly did not belong to what was now known as the turbiae age. The Commissioners of Northern Lighthouses made no pretence to expert knowledge and experience; none of them were specially qualified for the position they held, and he hoped he would not be considered at all irreverent if he described the Board as a sort of 1301 Scotch broth of law officers, provosts, bailies, and sheriffs. Although they were, excellent and worthy men in their civic and legal capacity, none of them were specially qualified for the position which they held on the Northern Lights Commission. Not being an Irishman, he could not describe the Irish Board as a species of Scotch broth, but it might be described as an Irish stew of lord mayors, aldermen, and sheriffs, and certain co-opted members, all of them without special mercantile or nautical experience.
The object of the Bill was to amend the law with regard to lighthouses, to abolish light dues, to provide for the efficient management of the lighthouse service, and to transfer from the present boards to the Board of Trade itself, the powers of the three lighting authorities. The existing boards were not only not representative but inexperienced in modern mercantile, marine, and their history revealed not a little extravagance and great deal of inefficiency—extravagance in raising more money than was required, and inefficiency in spending that money in the wrong direction. Prior to the year 1855, when the Trinity House had sole control of the large sums collected from the mercantile marine, large funds were contributed to charitable purposes at the expense of the mercantile marine. In 1855, by the Merchant Shipping Act the financial control, as distinct from the administrative control, was transferred to the Board of Trade. This was undoubtedly a step in the right direction; but still between 1881 and 1899 no less than £1,250,000 were raised more than was required, whilst they estimated that the excess collected over requirements up to date amounted to £1,800,000. This could not now be allocated to charity, because this was prevented by the Act of 1855, but it was allocated to other purposes more or less useful, but not akin to the lighthouse service. In 1894 a Royal Commission was appointed and in 1896 it presented a valuable Report, recommending that in future light dues should be devoted to lighting and lighthouse purposes—a proposition so reasonable and so in accord with one's idea of common sense and 1302 justice that he wondered it had not been arrived at earlier. One result of this, however, was that the Board of Trade found itself with a far larger income than was required for legitimate purposes, and, consequently, expenditure on lighthouses had gone on at an extravagant rate. Still, the process of collecting more than was required had gone steadily on, and at the present time he estimated that there were surplus funds of something over £400.000.
There was only one other matter which he ought to mention to complete the history of the lighting authorities. In 1900 the Board of Trade appointed what was known as an Advisory Committee. That body consisted of merchants, shipowners, and underwriters, who met in annual conference, presided over by the President of the Board of Trade, accompanied by the permanent heads of the Department. That Committee made an annual Report, which was forwarded to the Board of Trade. That Report seemed to him to be a valuable résumé of the past work of the lighting authorities, and nothing more than a fair criticism of the proposed expenditure in the future, and their view of the past expenditure.
Having dealt with the past history of the lighting authorities, might he venture to advance some arguments for a change in the administration of the lighthouse service? First of all, the promoters of this Bill asserted that day, as they did last year, that the question of the lighting of our coasts was a national and even international duty. It was regarded as a national duty by every other nation, with one or two insignificant exceptions, the chief of which was Turkey, and he did not suppose that that was an example which ought to be followed by Great Britain. They asserted in the second place, that the lighthouse service was essential for the safety of His Majesty's Navy, which itself was exempt from the payment of light dues. It was for the benefit and security not only of our own ships but of all the shipping which passed along our coasts. It was not a question of saving property alone, but a life-saving question; and even if our mercantile marine did not exist tomorrow, it would still be our duty to light our coasts in the sacred cause 1303 of charity, and for life-saving purposes. It was scarcely necessary for him to enlarge on the national obligation aspect of this question, because the subject had been inquired into by Committees appointed by Parliament, and by Royal Commissions, in 1822. 1834. 1845, 1860, and 1902. All these had with unanimity condemned the existing system, and had practically asked that this should be made a national obligation. The last Royal Commission was not asked to report on this particular point, but it was fair to assume from that that the Government were well satisfied with the previous Reports on that aspect of the question, and did not require further investigation.
He did not hesitate to assert that the change he and his friends wanted was desirable in the national interest. Our mercantile marine had been rightly described as a great national asset, and that point had never been brought more prominently before the nation and the Empire, than during the recent South African War. And, as a great national asset, he maintained that the British mercantile marine ought to be encouraged wherever it was possible, and that everything which hampered it should be removed. The Board of Trade had latterly shown a disposition to encourage and not to hamper the mercantile marine. He was speaking on this question, Lot from a shipowner's point of view, for he was not a shipowner, but he ventured to say that the relations between the President and officials of the Board of Trade and the shipping community had never been happier than those now existing. They appreciated the spirit which had emanated little acts of encouragement to the shipping community, and that had been shown, in not a small way, by the fully appreciated concession of 12½ per. cent, reduction in the light dues. The difficulty he believed did not rest with the Board of Trade except in so far as it was governed by financial considerations and a healthy fear of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He would rather describe its attitude as one of benevolent neutrality. The financial consideration was, however, the primary consideration, and was bound to be taken into account. It might be said that the shipowners wanted to make 1304 the country pay their light dues; but he would rather put it the other way. The shipowners had for generations been paying for what ought to be a national expenditure and what was unanimously admitted to be a national obligation. They had relieved successive Chancellors of the Exchequer from providing for an expenditure which properly belonged to them. In conclusion, he would point out that this Bill could not in any way affect the present financial year. It could not operate before 1st January next year, and as the existing surplus would provide for next year, there would practically be no charge on the National Exchequer until 1906, when they had a right to assume that the financial position would be better than it was at present. Let the House imagine for a moment that there was no mercantile marine. In that case lights would still have to be provided, if only for the safety of His Majesty's Navy. But if there was no mercantile marine, there would be no British nation. Four-fifths of the amount now expended was expended free from Government control, except that control which occurred after the expenditure by way of Government audit.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE (Mr. GERALD BALFOUR,) Leeds, Central
said that no expenditure was possible without the sanction of the Board of Trade.
§ * MR. PLUMMER
said he accepted the correction of his right hon. friend and would conclude in the words of the Royal Commission, "that the lighting of the coasts was a high Imperial duty which this country owed not merely to itself, but to other countries which traded with it." Although written sixty years ago, these words had lost none of their force but had rather gained in strength by the lapse of time.
§ * MR. REA (Gloucester)
said that the arguments in favour of the Bill were familiar to the House, and after the excellent speech of his hon. friend need not be recapitulated. The opposition to the Bill was founded on no principle 1305 whatever. The position of the position to the measure was, candidly and cynically stated last year by the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, who said, -'Here is £500,000, and I mean to stick to it." The argument was that they had here a small and wealthy class which had always borne this burden— the maintenance of what was really a branch of the Civil Service—and why should they disturb an arrangement so profitable and comfortable? This de-fence appeared to be both cynical and immoral, and not economically sound. He maintained that the shipowners, who were really the chief supporters of the Bill, were acting far more in the public interest than in their own, because he believed that the shipowners did not ultimately pay the tax. It was not a tax on ships, but was a tax on British ports. The ultimate incidence of a tax was a very interesting and oftentimes a difficult question. At any rate, the incidence of this tax appeared to be too much for the power of economic analysis of the late Chancellor of the Exchequer. At the beginning of his speech last year the right hon. Gentleman stated that the Bill was an attempt to transfer the cost of lighting the coasts of this country from the shoulders of the shipowners to the shoulders of the taxpayers. Later on he said that the shipowners did not pay light dues any more than they paid dock dues; and at the end of his speech he said that this was an impost which produced £800,000 a year, of which £120,000 was paid by the foreigner. In his own opinion the second dictum of the late Chancellor of the Exchequer was right. He did not believe that it was the shipowner who ultimately paid. This was not a tax on ships but on British ports. The British shipowner was as free as the foreign shipowner to avail of the lights in the Channel without any payment if he sent his ships to Hamburg or Antwerp. It was an irritating impost on foreign trade of the country, import and export, and not on British ships which were year by year becoming more and more employed in foreign ports. There was, however, one portion of light dues which British shipowners had to pay, and they were those of the United States, America charging light dues only to 1306 the ships of nations which charged light perfectly dues on her ships. American ships coming to Southampton had thus to pay £3,000 or £4,000 light dues, but British ships had to pay £70,000 or £80,000 to the American Exchequer, and this enormous sum did come out of the pockets of the British shipowner. He maintained that this was a mischievous tax upon British ports; and he submitted that even if the nation refrained from expenditure in the improvement of British ports, it should not impose a tax upon them for the purposes of what was really a branch of the Civil Service.
Moreover, they protested against the administration of the lighting authorities, it was wasteful and irresponsible. The, no doubt, excellent men comprising those authorities had no relation to their duties; they had only one obligation, and that was to get rid of the money lest if they had a surplus they should be deprived of a portion of their dues. Last year they had imprudently accumulated a surplus, with the result that they were deprived of 12½per cent, of their dues. Up to 1897 there was some check on the expenditure of the lighting authorities, because the Treasury kept their eye on them, and were lying in wait for any surplus there might be; but under the Act of 1897. which was introduced as a result of an agitation chiefly in Liverpool, all the dues were applied to the purpose of the lighting of the coasts, with the result that the expenditure was increased. He maintained that the whole system of lighting was bad in practice and indefensible in theory; and that the impost had every economic vice that a tax could have. In the first place, it was imposed by the wrong people. It was a national duty, and ought to be imposed impartially on the whole community. Secondly, it was said it was partially levied, only the mercantile steamers paid, ships of the Royal Navy contributed nothing. Thirdly, it was said that it was administered by the wrong persons absolutely inexperienced and unprofessional; and fourthly that it took more out of the pockets of the payers than was necessary for the service, extravagant though it was. It took £70,000 or £80,000 more than was 1307 required for this wasteful administration, and put it into the coffers of a foreign State.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ * SIK ALBERT ROLLIT (Islington, S.)
remarked that what had been said as to the position of the shipowners was confirmed by the fact that the Chambers of Commerce of this country almost universally sympathised with the proposals of the Bill. This was a tax which was entirely against the principles of taxation, in so far that it taxed trade and industry, and operated as a tax on both imports and exports, thus materially affecting the trade of this country. Lighting the coasts was a national duty, and in the van of foreign countries who recognised the fact was Japan, from whom we might take example. These dues affected the mercantile community and the trade of this country through the carriage of goods, as well as the shipowners, and also the consumers, who in the end paid at any rate a portion of them. Passengers were also interested, and in this respect and in relation to the saving of life the lighting of our coasts was largely a humanitarian consideration. The commercial interests of the country required this reform. We should make our ports accessible and attractive. When we saw Antwerp taking up the position of the third port in the world, and the way in which Hamburg and Genoa were competing as centres for the distribution of produce in Europe, it should teach us a lesson, not only with regard to the Port of London Bill, but on all occasions to make our ports deep and cheap and safe to the commerce of the world. After all, the question was largely one of the incidence of this tax, and although the Chancellor of the Exchequer might have to make some sacrifice, he was not, after all, asked to transfer the whole burden, for part of it was already borne by the nation as consumers. The hon. Member bailee1 attention to the way in which the shipping of this country and of Canada was penalised as a result of the mode in which the light dues were collected from foreign ships, and asked the Chancel- 1308 lor of the Exchequer to think Imperially on this subject, and where possible economically to make reciprocal arrangements with our Colonies. He asserted it was the strong feeling in Canada, to his own knowledge derived there, that the Dominion was suffering this burden because we would not perform our national duty in lighting the coasts. As a parallel he pointed to the fact that on land the antiquated method of the turnpike had been found inconvenient for raising the funds necessary to keep the roads in repair to the market towns, and said that on the sea—the highway of the world—this was a most inconvenient, deterrent way of collecting the dues to light our coasts.
He did not thank the Government for the Bill of 1898. It was not only a failure in some respects but an injustice, and although Liverpool was glad to accept it, at Hull and the north-eastern ports the lighting dues had been, in the case of the Baltic and Mediterranean trades, increased threefold thereby. With regard to the Navy, the ships of the Navy were the ships of the State—of the whole community—and as the whole community got the benefit they should bear some of the taxation, but the shipowners had been greatly penalised by the extravagance displayed in the works at the Admiralty pier and harbour works at Dover. He did not know whether a Government Department had always proved the most effective in dealing with trade and industrial matters, but it was quite clear that in the case of many of these ports the Irish lights, the Scotch lights, and the northern lights, their representative character must be largely increased. With regard to the Trinity House, he would remind the House that it had always shown itself to be up to date and competent to deal with the matters submitted for its consideration. They were most nautical, practical seaman, and as Trinity Masters in the Admiralty Court administered the finest points of seamanship, and we were indebted to them for the great school of Trinity House which had turned out so many who had in the past become captains and admirals of the Fleet. We should not abolish, but if necessary, which he doubted, try and adapt this establishment, with all its experience 1309 and knowledge and corporate character, to the wants of to-day. He could only say that, if they gave the Board of Trade more powers, he could see no reason why they should divorce the present long and able partnership, and a great charity in the form of the Trinity House. He heartily supported the Second Reading of the Bill, and he hoped that in the commercial interest generally it would eventually become the law of the land: but from this he expressly excepted the clause relating to the Trinity House.
§ * MR. JOYCE (Limerick)
said he did not believe from the point of view of the shipowner—he held no brief for that class, but he did think it would be conducive to the best interests of shipping in this country if the lighting of their coasts were made an Imperial charge. He would not go over the stereotyped ground in regard to this matter. Undoubtedly in all civilised countries the lighting of the coasts was an Imperial charge, and he did not see why this country should be behind the times in this respect. He did not propose either to deal with constitution or the working of Trinity House, or with that of the Northern Lights Commissioners, but he did wish to say a few words in regard to the constitution and working of the Irish Lights Commissioners, with whom he was much more intimately acquainted. He believed that if this charge became an Imperial charge, the coasts of this country would be much better lighted, and in these days of huge vessels and increased trade it was certainly desirable that the coasts should be better lighted even in the interests of life and property. The Irish Lights Com missioners were a body of men who, with the exception of the Lord Mayor and High Sheriff and three members of the Dublin Corporation, co-opted their own members, and there was no authority over them except in regard to expenditure. Time and time again during the past few years Questions had been addressed by hon. Members from Ireland to the President of the Board of Trade in regard to lights and buoys along the Irish coast, and the answer of the right hon. Gentleman in every case had been that he was perfectly helpless, and that he had no authority over the Irish Lights Commissioners. That certainly was a state of things which 1310 should not prevail. Mercantile bodies in Ireland, harbour authorities, and chambers of commerce had asked to be allowed some representation on the board, but they had been steadily refused. The result was that the board was an obsolete authority, it was very far behind the time, and he could quote scores of cases within his own knowledge during recent years where the shipping community had suffered in consequence.
Some three years ago Limerick, which is an important seaport, and the harbour commissioners of this port, who were a body of merchants second to none in the country, applied for a lighthouse in a particular portion of the River Shannon with which the Irish Lights Commissioners had to deal. Now, the portion of that river controlled by the harbour commissioners was remarkably well lighted, but the sixteen miles of it over which the Irish Lights Commissioners had control, and which was a most dangerous portion, especially in hazy weather, had only one light. The Limrick Harbour Commissioners had memorialised the Irish Lights Commissioners on the subject, and had sent a deputation to Dublin to explain how by the erection at a small cost of a lighthouse all difficulty could be avoided. But, although the cost was small, their application had been ignored. At the same time, while the Irish Lights Commissioners refused to defray the small expenditure which this necessary improvement would have involved, they sent yachts cruising round the coast at the expense of the shipping community which had to pay the light dues. There was another case in Kenmare Bay in the county of Kerry. There was a rock known as the Maiden, and he himself had a somewhat narrow escape some four years ago of coming to grief upon it. Had there been, however, a gas buoy on the spot there would have been no danger whatever, but there was only an obsolete bell-buoy which was inaudible in rough weather. He thought it would be wise on the part of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and of the President of the Board of Trade to accept this Bill. Cases of the kind he had mentioned could be multiplied all round the coasts of these countries, and he certainly would impress upon the Irish Lights Commissioners the desirability of 1311 having inspectors to make frequent visits with a view to ascertaining whether the moorings of the different buoys were in their proper places. In regard to yachts he could not, for the life of him, see why pleasure yachts, which employed a large number of people, should be charged light dues at all. If the Royal Navy were exempted from these dues why should not pleasure yachts be also exempted? He hoped that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would promise favourable consideration to this Bill.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
said he rose to support the Second Reading of the Bill although he was not a shipowner, neither was he in any way connected with shipping except that he was the owner of one small sailing yacht. He did not quite agree with the hon. Member who had just sat down in his view that yachts ought to be exempted from payment of these dues. He thought they should pay them. They were well able to do so, and were also willing to do so. He, at any rate, had never yet been sued for light dues, he had always paid them most readily. He was glad to see the Bill introduced this year, because in the year 1898 he had introduced a Resolution in the House of Commons embodying the central principle of this measure, namely, that the expenses of lighthouses, buoys, and beacons should be borne by the State. He was sorry to say that on that occasion he was abandoned by the great body of shipowners, who voted against him, and he found himself in a small minority of thirty-five. To-day the very same principle was embodied in this Bill. He, however, proposed to return good for evil. He would heap coals of fire on the heads of those who were bringing forward this Bill, but who opposed the very same thing in 1898. Why should the Navy be entirely exempted from payment of light dues? All other forms of Government property had to contribute to local taxation. That principle was generally recognised, it was felt that any charge which fell upon private citizens in respect of household property should also be paid by the Government in respect of its property. He never could understand, too, why foreign warships were exempted. Why, in the 1312 name of heaven, did they give them that exemption in respect of light dues? They did not supply them with provisions or coal on lower terms than they did other vessels, and therefore there was no defence for such an exemption. He recommended the Chancellor of the Exchequer to go to the Imperial centre— Birmingham—and there he would learn that foreign warships would rather pay double rates than pay none at all. Again, it should be remembered that many vessels had the advantage of our lights when they were passing up and down the Channel, and that unless they came into our ports they paid nothing in the form of light dues. Further than that British shipowners not only had to pay light duos on British coasts, but they had also to pay light dues to other countries.
The President of the Board of Trade had said that the Board had control over the expenditure of the lighthouse authorities. He did not think that was quite right. Was it not a fact that the establishment of Trinity House was fixed by Order in Council, and that beyond the numbers of the establishment the Board had no control whatever over the expenditure. He would like to refer the right hon. Gentleman to Section 659 of the Merchant Shipping Act, which laid it down——
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
said that the Board of Trade had practically complete control over the expenditure.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
said that was no doubt true, but there was one permanent Order in Council giving the establishment; and it was only in regard to expenses beyond that establishment that the right hon. Gentleman had any control. The admirable and up-to-date system of lighting on the French coast from Dunkirk to Bayonne was in every respect infinitely superior to the British system. The English lights were not very bad but they were not very good, 1313 and it was impossible to get the lighting authority to keep them up to date. He respected Trinity House for its antiquity, but not for much else. The Brethren were gentlemen who had seen excellent service, and they, doubtless, did their best, but it was not good enough. They constantly resisted the establishment of new lights and buoys and the modernisation of the electric light on the ground of insufficiency of funds. An especial ground of contention was whether a proposed light was a local or a general light, and the point was usually wrangled over for two or three years before the light was fixed. There was neither sufficient authority nor sufficient money to supply the lights, beacons, and buoys that were needed, and the result was serious danger and damage to shipping. The lighting of the coast was undoubtedly a national duty. Not only was it recognised as such by every other civilised country, but it had been recognised from the beginning in this country as a part of the Royal prerogative and duty. The only reason it had been so inadequately performed was that, as the Crown could do no wrong, Ministers had advised successive Sovereigns that this part of the Royal prerogative might be laid aside, and that nothing more need be done than could be covered by the sums extorted from the merchant shipping. One would have thought that this country would have been the first instead of the last to recognise this work as a public duty. This country, more than all others, was the creature of the sea; it subsisted largely, and had achieved its present position mainly, through the efforts of its sons in going up and down the seas, carrying for the whole world.
He had been somewhat shocked by a whip which had been issued, calling upon agriculturists to oppose this Bill. Such an appeal was not only unpatriotic, but shabby. Since 1896 agriculturists had received £1,300,000 per annum in relief of their rates; corresponding sums had been granted to Scotland and Ireland, so that probably £2,000,000 a year had been provided out of public taxes to alleviate the lot of the agriculturist. He did not complain of that now, but he thought agriculturists showed a very poor front indeed in objecting to the payment of £400,000 for what was far more 1314 a national duty than the relief of agricultural rates. The Chancellor of the Exchequer ought not to raise the banner of economy on the present occasion. The right hon. Gentleman had just assented to a bargain whereby we were to finance the Canard Company at a cost of about £7,000.000 of public money, and if he could afford to do that, he could afford this £400,000. Shipowners asked merely for justice. Having been endowed by the Almighty with an island possessing a dangerous coast line, the British public ought to perform their manifest duty of placing beacons and buoys where they were required. Again and again the question of the lighting of the coast and the incidence of the charges therefore had been considered by Committees of this House, and the conclusion always arrived at was that the duty should be placed on the public funds. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to find a charge which more properly belonged to the public funds. With regard to the Bill itself, the draftsman, if he was acquainted with the Standing Orders of this House, must have been aware that even if it passed its Second Reading absolutely nothing would have been done. The central feature of the Bill was contained in Clause 4, which proposed to charge lighthouse expenses on funds to be provided by Parliament. But that clause could not be passed, or even considered, unless a Minister was ready to recommend it, a contingency which past experience caused him to doubt. But although the Standing Orders prohibited, except on the recommendation of a Minister of the Crown, the imposition of any charges upon the subject, there was no order prohibiting a private Member to charge on existing taxes a sum by way of interception. The charge for the relief of agricultural rates was levied in that way. It was not a new charge laid upon the subject; it was a charge laid upon an existing charge.
§ * MR. SPEAKER
I think the hon. Member is now discussing the Standing Orders of the House rather than the Bill.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
admitted he was going a little outside the Bill. But that at any rate was how it could have 1315 been done, and when the proper time came he would probably propose a new clause in that sense in substitution for Clause 4. Clause 6 proposed to hand the whole control of lighthouses, buoys, and beacons to the Board of Trade. That Department was not the proper authority to manage these things. This was a seafaring question, and other seafaring questions, such as the surveying of the coast, the making of charts, the issuing of sailing directions, and the revising of the lights list, were dealt with only by the Admiralty, which was a seafaring body, whereas the Board of Trade was not. In fact, he doubted whether the right hon. Gentleman at the head of that Department knew the difference between a hawse pipe and a logarithm. But if Clause 4, as he had said, showed a lack of resource on the part of the draftsman, Clauses 7 and 8 showed almost too much resource. It was proposed that the Trinity Board, the Northern Lights Commissioners, and the Irish Lights Commissioners should be replaced by committees having upon them a majority of shipping insurance and mercantile representatives. That was altogether unreasonable. It would have been reasonable enough under the present system where those interests provided the funds; but by this Bill the expenses would be placed on the Estimates and become a public charge, and to hand over the whole control of a public fund to such committees would be extremely improper. These clauses, together with Clause 9, would certainly require amendment, but inasmuch as the Bill affirmed a right principle he should support the Second Reading.
§ * SIR JOHN LENG (Dundee)
said that if objection were taken to the transference of this charge to the public funds, it should be borne in mind that £400,000 in these days was a very small sum. Millions were now spoken of in this House as though they were £5 notes, and Members were entitled to tell the Government that if they were a little less ready to embark on great and small wars they would find no difficulty in meeting claims which on their merits were irresistible. The greatest shipping country in the world ought surely to be put in the same position with regard to 1316 the lighting of its coasts as not only every other civilised, but as many so called uncivilised countries already occupied. It was an extraordinary anomaly that a country whose subjects were more concerned than those of any other country in having the coasts properly lighted should allow that duty to be discharged at the cost of the interests involved. It was time the Government thought Imperially on the question, and put an end to the present anomalous position. With regard to the transfer of the administration to the Board of Trader the record of that Department in relation to railway matters was not such as to recommend the extension of its powers of control to any other great interest. Unfortunately the Board was already suspect in the matter of lighting. Some years ago the Associated Chambers of Commerce repeatedly urged the Board of Trade to appoint a Committee with real powers of control over existing lighting administration. An Advisory Committee was appointed, but it was denied any real powers of control. The temperately written statement of the chairman of that Advisory Committee was not only an indictment but a strong condemnation of the present administration of the lighthouses under the supervision of the Board of Trade. He would far rather build on the foundation of the London Trinity House, or see the administration of lighthouses placed under the Admiralty.
He doubted whether the personnel of Trinity House could be improved upon. The Elder and the Younger Brethren were men who had spent their lives at sea, had the command of ships, and obtained such a reputation in the service as entitled them to be placed in the honourable positions they now occupied. He agreed that the lighting was not perfect, but so far as Trinity House was concerned it was by far the best administration we had in this country. The constitution of the Northern Lights Commission was much more objectionable. Most of the Commissioners were lawyers—sheriffs of counties; they were appointed because, they lived mainly in Edinburgh, they had to visit the counties periodically, and so could make inquiries as to the lights, and were able to attend the meetings in Edinburgh. 1317 He submitted, however, that with the improved facilities for travelling there was no reason why they in Scotland should not now have a board largely representative of the shipping and commercial interests. The administration at present was really in the hands of the officials and the consulting engineer, as the lawyers knew little or nothing about the lights, and had to rely on the permanent and expert officials. In all the ports there were men with practical knowledge of the rivers, estuaries, and harbours, whose opinions and advice would be of value if they were called into consultation. He thought the time had arrived when this matter should be dealt with, and if they were to have an Advisory Committee it should be a body of practical men empowered to advise in all the details of the administration. If this discussion should not lead to any immediate effect he hoped it would clear away any doubts the Government might have on the subject, and that, if not this year, at least at an early period it would be dealt with in a really practical, effective, and statesmanlike manner.
§ * MR. HAIN (Cornwall, St. Ives)
said he entirely failed to understand the non possumus attitude taken up by the Board of Trade on this subject, but he was Somewhat disposed to hope for a better state of things He quite agreed with the remarks of his hon. friend the Member for Newcastle with respect to the relations which of recent years had grown up between the shipowners and the Board of Trade, and he hoped that, in view of that better understanding, the Board would admit the justice of the shipowners' contention that these lighthouse dues should be a national charge, and not one specially placed on the British mercantile marine. They had heard that this country enjoyed the doubtful honour of being associated with Turkey in respect to the charging of light dues upon shipping and in making a considerable profit upon the transaction. He thought the case of the tonnage dues levied in the United States of America upon British and Canadian shipping, merely because of the infinitesimal sum which was levied in respect of light dues for their shipping visiting our posts and harbours, was a very strong one. From the figures 1318 available it appeared that we had to pay a sovereign for every shilling we received in that respect, and yet we called our selves a business people. The system of placing a charge for lights upon the mercantile marine had been condemned by no less than four Select Committees and a Royal Commission. British ship owners were as patriotic as any other section of the community, but surely there was no reason why the charge for lighting our coasts for the benefit of the Royal Navy should be especially placed upon their shoulders. One argument used againt the abolition of light dues on the mercantile marine was that by doing so we should lose a considerable sum of money now levied upon foreign ships visiting our harbours. He was prepared as a shipowner to admit foreign ships into our ports on precisely the same conditions as we claimed for ourselves, and in the abolition of light dues he would give them the same advantages as British shipowners claimed. He could show that the Board of Trade by one stroke of the pen could make up this loss. If the President of the Board of Trade would remove the unfair competition of foreign ships in our own ports, if lie would remove the preference we now gave to foreign ships coming into our ports in the matter of tonnage, measurement——
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
We have made such Orders. It is true that in the case of French ships the Order has been suspended because the French Government have intimated that they desire to put the law in the same position as ours.
§ * MR. HAIN
said he was very glad indeed to hear that the matter was so far advanced, but there were other matters to be considered such as the regulation about the load-line. At all events foreign ship-owners would have no reason to complain if we insisted on their having 1319 the same tonnage measurement and load-line for their ships as for British ships. If we yielded to them the charge in respect of light dues, he did not think there could be any question of retaliation on the part of any foreign Government. It had been said that the light dues paid by the British shipowner eventually fell on the consumer. That was altogether a mistaken idea. He would suppose the case of two ships precisely the same size loading side by side at a Black Sea port and chartered for an identically similar freight. One of the ships was ordered to discharge in the port of London, and the other at Rotterdam, or one of the other great Continental ports. The ship that came to London had to pay in respect of 4,500 tons of cargo after allowing for the 12½ per cent, rebate, £20 for light dues, whereas the sister ship that went to a Continental port was entirely exempted. If the ship came to London three, four, or five times a year the amount charged for lights made a considerable preference in favour of the Continental port. Could it be wondered at that ship owners using British ports should ask to be placed on equal terms with those using the ports of foreign nations. He held in his hand the whip which had been sent out against this Bill in the agricultural interest. It referred to the shipping industry of this country as being one of the most prosperous. He could only say that the framers of the whip had a very curious idea of prosperity. He was certain that they could have no acquaintance whatever with the present condition of British shipping. He asserted with a full knowledge of the facts that there was not a single direction in which the British shipowner to-day could send a ship with the certainty, he would not say of making a profit, but of avoiding very considerable loss. There might be a few ships under most favourable conditions here and there earning a profit, but on the whole the British shipping industry at the present time was, and for a considerable period had been, under a wave of deep depression, and it could not be regarded as in any sense a profitable industry. He thought, therefore, that the imposition of the light dues should be removed from the shoulders of this great national industry. He based this appeal 1320 on the view that the maintenance of lighthouses should be a national charge and not one upon shipowners.
§ * MR. CATHCART WASON (Orkney and Shetland)
said the Bill under consideration divided itself into two distinct parts. The principal object of the measure was to meet a demand made by the shipowners, or rather, two demands, because they asked on the one hand to be relieved of the light dues, and, on the other hand, that they should have complete control over money which they had no share whatever in raising. He could not conceive any system that would be more wasteful and extravagant. The board of Trade was to be absolutely powerless in the hands of gentlemen representing the shipping and mercantile interest, though they did not contribute practically a penny. A complaint had been made in regard to the Scotch Board, which was composed of lawyers, provosts, and gentlemen of the highest standing. He would infinitely prefer such a Board to one consisting exclusively of representatives of the shipping interest who would be more likely to work for their own particular advantage. It was a very much better board than they were likely to get under this Bill. He did not think the shipping interest was in so bad a state as the hon. Member for the St. Ives Division had represented. The mercantile marine had been referred to as a great national asset, second only to the British Navy. How had the mercantile marine treated the British seamen. In 1901 there were 134,862 British seamen, and 74,168 foreign seamen in our mercantile marine. The falling off in British seamen was because they were not sufficiently housed and fed. Between the years 880 and 1891 there had been a large increase in the personnel of the mercantile marine, while I the number of British seamen had decreased.
§ * MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member seems to be entering on a different question from that embraced in the Bill.
§ * MR. CATHCART WASON
said he would not pursue that argument further and had only alluded to it as the hon. 1321 Member introducing the Bill had spread himself a bit on the great national asset of our mercantile marine. It was said that this great national asset was in a decaying state, and that it would be put in a better position if the shipowners got rid of the payment of ship dues. That he doubted. It seemed to be an untenable position, to which the House would never assent, for the shipowners to ask for relief from this taxation on the one hand, and control over the lighthouse administration on the other.
SIR ROBERT ROFNER (Stockton)
said that the hon. Members who had addressed the House, with the exception of the hon. Member who had just sat down, had spoken very forcibly in favour of the Bill. There was some force in what that hon. Gentleman had said that if the lighting of our coasts were made a national charge there would be no necessity for having an Advisory Committee. As to the hon. Member's statement that the shipping trade was not in so bad a way as the House might suppose, he would like to compliment the hon. Member that he was not a shipowner, for if he had been he would not have made a statement of that kind. He could assure the House that the shipping industry of this country to-day was in a most precarious state and had been so for two years, and he could not see any favourable outlook. There was probably not a single steam or sailing vessel which started on a voyage with the view of making a profit, the only hope was to make both ends meet. There were, however, some steamship companies which carried passengers and were in the exceptional position of being able to pay their way, but that did not affect the general mercantile marine of the country. There was, he believed, a general feeling on both sides of the House that it was unfair to call upon shipowners to pay for the lighting of our coasts. Our Navy did not pay one single farthing towards the lighting of our coasts, and he could not understand why one class of the community should be called upon to pay for what benefited the nation at large. It must be admitted that shipowners were unfairly and unjustly treated. It was only ships which frequented our ports which had to pay, though ships sailing along our coasts 1322 used the lights just as much. This tax was levied upon the shipowners—what about the cargoes which were carried, and the passengers? Those benefited equally. Were they to go scot free? It had been argued that shipowners were able to take care of themselves by insisting upon raising freights to make up for the payment of light dues. But shipowners found it impossible to protect themselves in this way. When our ships started from our ports they had to pay light dues, but though foreign ships come through the Channel bound for ports in the Baltic, etc., and used our lights, they did not have to pay at all, even though they got as much use out of our lights as our own ships. The tax upon our ships could not, therefore, be justified. It had already been pointed, out —and he would like to repeat it—that all civilised nations, with the exception of Turkey—if Turkey could be called a civilised nation—made the lighting of the coasts a national charge. Why should it be different in this country? The tonnage tax was the only one charged at the foreign ports, and this charge was made only for harbour and dock dues, but on the continent the harbours were built and kept up by the Government. Our Government did not interfere with the building of harbours and docks, and ships at our ports had not only to pay light dues but also harbour and dock dues.
There had been many Select Committees and Royal Commissions to inquire into this subject, and they had unanimously reported in favour of the lighting of the coasts being made a national charge. He had been a member of the Select Committee on Steamship Subsidies, and all the witnesses—and there were a great number—recommended that light dues should be borne by the nation and that lights should not be made a special tax upon the shipping of this country. The shipping of this country had already to compete with the subsidised and bounty-fed mercantile marines of other countries. British shipowners did not make any claim for subsidies; all they asked was that they should be given fair play. Let there be no special charge upon our ships which was not borne by other nations. That surely was a very small demand. Large amounts were 1323 collected from shipowners for lights which were not applied for that purpose. He believed that some £1,800,000 was diverted entirely for matters other than paying for the lighthouse service. The light dues collected from the shipowning community was something like £500,000 a year. He admitted that something like £180,000 or £190,000 of that was collected in respect of foreign vessels frequenting our ports, and that if the charge for lights were made a national one that money would unquestionably be lost. In America tonnage dues were charged upon British ships because American ships coming to our country had to pay light dues; but, whereas American vessels coming to our ports, being few in number, paid only about £5,000, our ships going to American ports paid tonnage dues of £60,000 or £70,000. There had, no doubt, been a reduction of 12½ per cent, in light dues last year, but that reduction should have been made years ago, because for many years there had been a surplus in respect of light dues of something like £60,000 per annum. It was only fair to say that Trinity House had done excellent work, but that had nothing to do with the un air levying of these dues. If there were an Advisory Committee it should have control over the whole of the light dues collected, and not be confined to criticising the expenditure of the fifth part of this sum on new works. The actual estimated expenditure on new works for the five years from 1900 to 1904 was £580,875 and this was £330,875 in excess of the amount which the Committee of 1896 considered was necessary.
The Congress of the Chambers of Commerce for the whole of the Empire, to which delegates from our different possessions came, passed a resolution to the effect that it was detrimental to the interests of the commercial shipping of the United Kingdom, and the Colonies, that light dues should be levied upon shipowners, and that the Government should be requested to give effect to the recommendation of the Select Committee of the House of Commons upon Subsidies with a view to giving fairer conditions for British shipowners in competing with their foreign rivals. This was a question which affected the commerce of the whole country and the Colonies. He hoped the President of 1324 the Board of Trade and the Chancellor of the Exchequer would think Imperially on this matter, and would recommend to the House that this tax should be levied upon the whole of the community instead of upon one class. If the Government could not agree to this Bill at present he hoped that next year, at any rate, they would bring in a Bill to make the upkeep of lights on our coast a national charge.
§ MR. AUSTIN TAYLOR (Liverpool, East Toxteth)
said he thought it was quite clear from the course of the debate, both last year and this, that the Government had no case whatever. The whole weight of the argument, as far as the merits of the Bill were concerned, was clearly against the Government—and they were driven to fall back upon financial reasons for delaying the removal of what was admittedly an unfair burden on British shipping. He joined with other Members in reprobating very severely the whip which had been issued on behalf of the agricultural interest against this Bill. The agricultural interest had issued a whip against this Bill, in which they said—No case has been made out for the relief of one of our most prosperous industries from a charge that has always fallen upon it, at the cost of persons engaged in agriculture and other failing industries.He did not wish to enter into a controversy as to whether shipping was one of our most prosperous industries, but it was certain that it was not in a state of prosperity at the present time. Like all other businesses in this country it was passing through a period of extreme depression, and the statements already made in the debate as to the extreme difficulty of finding profitable employment for shipping were absolutely justified. But if shipping was a profitable industry, generally speaking, why was it prosperous? It had achieved its prosperity entirely owing to the initiative of the traders themselves, in the face of obstructive and vexatious legislation passed by that House against their particular trade. Therefore, if there was any argument to be drawn from the fact that it was more or less a prosperous industry, surely it was that, instead of 1325 rewarding it for its enterprise by continuing an unjust burden, that House ought to relieve it from a burden which it ought never to have borne, and which in no other country, except Turkey, was imposed on that particular industry. He quite understood the point of view of agriculture. If there were no ships it would, of course, be immensely to the gain of agriculture, it was due to the shipping facilities of this country that agriculture had been exposed to very severe competition, ft might be a lamentable result of increased facilities of communication between one part of the world and another that agriculture had suffered in this country, but he submitted that what they had to look at was not the particular results to agriculture, but the general results to the Empire at large of those increased facilities of communication.
Every argument seemed to him to point, for those who thought Imperially, not to hamper an industry which was in the last resort the basis on which the whole Empire rested, but to point rather in the direction of relieving it from those burdens which were peculiarly attached to it, and for which he honestly thought no justification existed. Ho appealed to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, not so much in his financial position as on the ground of his economic sympathies. This was a tax which specially discriminated in favour of foreigners. Last year the then Chancellor of the Exchequer—the right hon. Member for Croydon—took up the extraordinary position that it was a tax on the consumer. He thought that if the matter was examined impartially it would be admitted that this was a tax which discriminated in favour of the foreigner. He did not desire to go into the question of the practice of other countries, because that might be dangerous ground. He did not think that foreign countries were the model on which this country should always base its policy. But he was surprised at the terms of the whip to which he had referred, and the reasons it brought forward why this particular tax should continue on shipping. One of the reasons was that not only was shipping a most prosperous industry, but that this 1326 was a charge which had always fallen on it. He had never heard a more extraordinary argument from the mouth of a fiscal reformer than that. If there was any validity in the new economic ideas which were fermenting in the public mind, he should have thought that the very last argument which would have been brought forward by some of those who signed that circular was that this was a tax which had always fallen on shipping. Surely if there was no case on its merits for shipping bearing this tax it was no argument in favour of it, even from the Conservative point of view, that it had always borne it.
He desired to address one or two inquiries to the President of the Board of Trade in regard to the existing nature of the control which was exercised by the Board of Trade over the lighthouse boards. Had the Board power to control the lighthouse boards so as to erect new lighthouses where required, to compel the establishment of telegraphic communication between a lighthouse and the shore, or to compel the boards to adopt a particular system, as for instance, electricity or gas as a means of illumination? He expected that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be able to make out a case for not doing this act of scanty justice to a great Imperial asset on the score that the National Exchequer was in a depleted condition. It was perfectly true that this country was passing through a wave of extreme depression, but, if this Bill was passed, no effect would be felt on the finances until two years hail elapsed. Surely those who were engaged in the business of this country, whatever their ideas on fiscal matters might be, had sufficient knowledge of the recuperative power of business enterprise to feel some confidence that after four years on the down grade since the war there was a very fair prospect that in the next two years they would see a reasonable rally in the business done by this country. That would inevitably be reflected in the revenue of the country which the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, whoever he might be, might have to deal with, and he hoped the present Chancellor of the Exchequer would be sufficiently optimistic to look forward with hope over the next two 1327 years and give this small measure of relief to what, after all, in an Imperial sense was the essential connecting link between the most remote parts of our great Empire.
§ MR. J F. HOPE (Sheffield. Brightside)
said that in rising to oppose this Bill he was not acting at the instigation of anyone. He quite admitted that there was a great deal to be said for the objects that this Bill sought to obtain, and much that had been put forward by previous speakers had undoubtedly shown that their object was a very excellent one, but there were many other excellent objects that hon. Members brought forward from time to time. They often had proposals brought forward when the Estimates were under discussion for increasing the salaries of Government employees, and a very good case could be, and had been, made on those occasions. Anyone who had heard the hon. Member for Woolwich, some time back, would feel that in regard to the question of unskilled labourers in Government employment, a great deal was to be said for fixing a minimum wage. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Somerset had come forward with a proposal, not long ago, that the whole cost of training colleges for teachers should be borne by the National Exchequer, and, looking to the need there was for training teachers, that again was a proposal for which one must feel very considerable sympathy. Another hon. Member brought before the House, the other night, the question of feeding the children of very poor parents who were compelled by the Education Act to go to school, and he pointed out that when the State enforced the education of these children it should make some contribution in order that they might be in a proper condition to make use of the teaching imparted to them. He did not think that the proposal on the present occasion came forward on any stronger footing than these proposals he had mentioned. There was the question of the incidence of local taxation, and he thought that agricultural Members might fairly say that the relief granted some years ago had been swallowed up by additional rates. Undoubtedly other industries besides that of agriculture were very seriously 1328 hampered by what amounted to an Excise in the shape of constantly growing local rates. This was especially felt by industries such as those in the city he represented.
§ * MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! The hon. Member is not entitled to review the whole system of taxation in the country on this question.
§ MR. J. F. HOPE
I was merely pointing out that there were other industries that were as much in need of relief as the shipping industry. During the present year it had been found necessary to put off a great addition to the national armament in regard to the Army to another year on account of the state of the National Exchequer. They knew that one of the most serious questions in regard to the Army was the rearmament of the artillery. There were a number of other subjects of equal or greater importance and urgency which had been postponed, and this particular proposal was by no means the most important or the most urgent of the various subjects which engaged the attention of Parliament and the country during the present year. This proposal involved a charge of some £500,000 on the National Exchequer That was equivalent in taxation to another halfpenny duty on tea, and if that item could not be subjected to further Taxation, he would ask the friends of this proposal where the money was to come from, and on what taxable article would they recommend that it should be imposed? Of this £500,000 no less than £130,000 was derived from dues paid by foreigners, and he thought it would be a very difficult thing to argue before the taxpayers of the country that new taxation to the extent of £500,000 should be thrown on the general taxation, and that no less than £130,000 should be taken off the foreigners in this case. He was surprised at the absence of the advocates of economy from this debate, such as the hon. Member for Exeter, the hon. Member for Whitby, and the junior Member for Oldham, and he was more than astonished by the attitude of the hon. Member for King's Lynn, whom he had always 1329 regarded as a "justum et tenacem propositi rirum." He quite recognised that there was a strong case for this proposal, if there were more money, and he thought that there were ways in which that money could be obtained, although he could not refer to them now. Some day, perhaps, his hon. friend would bring in a Bill to restore the Navigation Acts, and then he would have great pleasure in supporting it, but in the meantime, as representative of the city of Sheffield, he must enter his humble protest against this burden being put on the community at large for the sake of a purely sectional interest.
§ MR. T. HARRINGTON (Dublin Harbour)
could not quite agree with the proposals in the Bill by which it was sought to provide for the administration of the lights. There seemed to be a great deal of apprehension with reference to the powers exercised by the different lighting authorities, and the responsibility which had been cast upon them. But much of the adverse criticism upon their administration was really attributable to the very limited powers they possessed. The public were quite unaware how limited those powers were. The local authorities had been blamed by different speakers for not carrying out the numerous suggestions made from time to time for the improvement of the lighting of our coasts. For instance, the hon. Member had complained of a neglect to provide better lights in the Shannon, but was he aware that compliance with that demand would merely have thrown an additional burden upon an industry which was already complaining of having to bear it? No doubt it would be useful for the coast, but there would be an outcry by the general shipping community against the cost. The difficulty of the local authorities was in deciding whether demands of that nature should be carried out at the cost of the general shipping community. With regard to the Irish Lights Board he could speak from personal experience of the limited nature of their powers. He had officially attended many of the meetings of that body, and could tell the House that the invariable practice was to ask the sanction of the Board of Trade for 1330 expenditure, however small—even if it were only 7s. 6d.
§ MR. AUSTIN TAYLOR
Do the Board of Trade dictate the policy of the Lighthouse Board, or is it merely a question of controlling expenditure?
§ MR. T. HARRINGTON
said it was a question of controlling expenditure. Nothing could be expended by the authority without the sanction of the Board of Trade outside the fixed charges, such as salaries. He could not see, however, how this Bill would better the state of affairs. If the burden were made a national one the system of administration would continue as at present. One of the defects n the Bill was that while it provided that the Board of Trade should have the whole administration, it at the same time destroyed the authority by which the local lights were administered. He had a good deal of fault to find with the system on which the Irish Board was constituted. Seventeen of the twenty-two Commissioners were co-opted and that was certainly not satisfactory. Still, as a whole, they were a body of gentlemen with a familiar knowledge of the officials whom they had to supervise, even down to the lighthouse keepers, and they paid a great deal of attention to their duties and certainly did their work conscientiously.
§ * MR. RITCHIE (Croydon)
said the hon. Member who last spoke had put the supporters of the Bill in a dilemma. He had pointed out that while the main object of the Bill was to take the burden of the maintenance of the lights off the shoulders of the shipping community, the oilier provision was to secure to that community a large share of the management to the cost of which they were no longer to contribute. The hon. Gentleman had defended the action of the lighthouse authorities in Ireland and had spoken generally of the necessity for some local authority to deal with these questions. Every one with experience in the administration of the fund must agree that whatever the powers possessed by the Board of Trade, there must—if the money was to be properly administered—be some local authority to administer it. 1331 He knew from his experience at the Board of Trade that there were frequent complaints from shipowners both in England and Scotland that certain lights which would be of advantage were not provided, but in a great many cases the lights proposed were such as should fall on local funds and not on the lighthouse funds. He was bound to say that he was not satisfied with the present constitution of the Irish Lights Board. He thought that they had acted imprudently in not co-opting to assist in their administration men who were capable of giving good sound advice and who had a full knowledge of the wants of the shipping community. He had had a good deal to do with the Northern Lights Board and he was perfectly certain that although it was largely composed of gentlemen who were members of local authorities and the legal profession, no board could more efficiently execute the work than they did. They were men of great capacity, and devoted themselves to their work in a manner which could not be excelled. As for Trinity House, it was well known that it had the regulation of the expenditure and it was only right and proper that the expenditure of the various boards should be controlled by a central board. He did not think that control was exercised in a manner disadvantageous to local administration. On the contrary, the supervision exercised by Trinity House was advantageous, and it would be difficult to have a body more fitted for its work. Perhaps the Advisory Committee recently constituted might be allowed larger powers. He certainly did not see why something should not be done in that direction.
With regard to the main question, he confessed he was entirely opposed to the suggestion that the cost of these lights should be put on the back of the already heavily burdened taxpayer. The amount contributed by the shipping community was infinitesimal compared with the annual value and size of the shipping interest of this country. It was a burden that the shipping interest had always borne; and, although at the present time shipping was not so prosperous as it had been, yet a year or two ago it was reaping enormous profits. Indeed, what had led to the present 1332 condition of trade, and to its not being so remunerative, was that a few years ago its prosperity was so great that ships were built on all hands. Prosperity was always followed by a period of slackness. But bearing in mind the large amount of taxation now imposed on the public, he was bound to say that this was certainly not the time to ask the taxpayer to find the money; and as to the suggestion that the imposition of light dues drove ships to foreign ports everyone knew that that was nonsense. The desirability of the Royal Navy's making a contribution to the cost of lighting the coasts was submitted to a Committee on which were several shipowners, and that Committee negatived the idea, feeling as they no doubt did that the Navy performed great and valuable service to the mercantile marine—a service which constituted a fair set-off to the exemption from these dues. That a great and usually prosperous industry should, year after year, ask for relief from this very small impost was not what one would expect. He hoped that the answer which had always been given to this demand would be given again—namely, that no grounds had been shown for shifting this burden from shoulders well able to bear it on to others much less able to bear it.
§ * MR. RENWICK (Newcastle-on-Tyne)
was impressed by the fact that although the House had been debating this Bill ever since twelve o'clock they had just heard the first note of the opposition to its proposals. But he was glad that at last they had some inkling of what the objections to the Bill were. Let him at once say that the shipowners did not ask the House to assent to this Bill because their industry was not in a prosperous condition or because they wished for any dole, bounty or other form of charity whatever. They advocated the principle of the Bill because they believed it was the duty of the country to light its own coasts. We lived on an island surrounded by rocks and dangerous shoals. We had a channel which was navigated not only by ships bound to this country but also by vessels bound to the Continent, and it was our duty to see that our coasts were properly lighted. Then again, they held that if the shipowners paid the dues they 1333 ought to say how the money should be spent. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland had ridiculed the idea that the shipowners should have any voice in the administration of funds collected by the Treasury, but he would like to remind him of the formula that taxation and representation should go together. Yet for years and years the shipowners had paid the dues, and until a year or two ago they were not even allowed to appoint an Advisory Committee, which, however, had no power to insist on its advice being carried out—they therefore practically had no representation on the administrative authority. They had been told by an eminent member of the Advisory Committee—Sir Alfred Jones—that while the Board of Trade could and did control all expenditure for new works it could not and did not control works of maintenance and repairs. Yet the President of the Board of Trade in the earlier part of the debate claimed that the Board of Trade controlled all expenditure. He held in his hand a statement issued by the Liverpool Steamship Owners Association, which, on the 9th May, wrote to Trinity House asking for definite information with a view to the present debate, and expressing a desire to know precisely what control the Board of Trade had exercised over the following items of expenditure in the year 1903— viz.:—Amount expended in maintenance of lighthouses, £106,680; amount expended in maintenance of lightships, £97,870, and amount expended on maintenance of buoys and beacons, £13,179. What was the answer they got? A few lines dealing with Sir Alfred Jones's statement asserting that the Board of Trade could only veto expenditure on new work, and declining to enter into any controversy on the general question of lighthouse administration. Were they not entitled to ask the President of the Board of Trade if that body controlled expenditure on maintenance and repairs as well as on new works?
§ MR.GERALD BALFOUR
The Board of Trade has no power of initiating expenditure, but it has complete power of controlling it.
§ * MR. RENWICK
very much regretted that that answer was not returned to the very courteous communication sent by the Liverpool Steamship Owners Association to Trinity House. What was the practice of other countries in regard to the lighting of their coasts? Recently many hon. Members paid a visit to France, and while crossing the Channel he drew the attention of several Members to the difference between the lighting of the English and French coasts, pointing out how the French Government undertook the duty with such excellent results. If the French Government considered it its duty to undertake that work, was it not equally the duty of the British Government to light their coast. The Channel was used by an enormous number of ships, many of which were not bound to our own ports, and in common humanity we should take care that our coasts were properly lighted. The shipowners were not appealing to that House in, formâ pauperis for a dole of £300,000 or £400,000 a year. They had made a like appeal in periods of prosperity and of adversity, and they based it on the ground that it was only just the State should bear this burden. Much had been said about the Bill providing that shipowners should have some representation on the Board of Trade Committee administering the light dues. Those who had any knowledge of that Department would admit that that was necessary, inasmuch as there was no Board of Trade in reality. There was a President and there were heads of the different departments, but there was no Board of Trade. Therefore, they were really conferring a benefit on the Board of Trade by suggesting that the gentlemen should be appointed to assist the Department. The really vital part of the Bill, however, was the affirmation of the principle that it was the duty of the State to pay for the lighting of the coasts. There were many matters of detail to which he might have referred, but, as his colleague had gone very exhaustively into the matter, he would merely state, with reference to the Navy not paying its share of taxation, that while the Navy did something to protect the coasts the lights did something also, and, inasmuch as the whole country contributed to the cost of the Navy, he 1335 thought the whole country ought also to contribute to the cost of the lights.
§ SIR JAMES JOICEY (Durham Chester-le-Street)
said that after a very careful study of the question he had come to the conclusion that the claim of the shipping interest in this matter was a very just and proper one. He quite admitted the force of the argument of the right hon. Member for Croydon that this was not the time to ask for any reduction of taxation in the interests of a particular industry, but, though he would like to see public expenditure reduced, and to his mind there was great extravagance in the public expenditure, that was no reason why justice should not be done to the shipowning industry. It was true that this burden had been borne by the shipping industry for a very long time, but that again was no reason why the unjust burden should be continued. Again and again a good case had been made out on behalf of the shipowners, and he could not see why the Government did not remedy the grievance. Other nations paid the cost of lighting their coasts, and we, the largest shipping nation in the world, ought to follow their example in that respect. If other nations adopted our policy and taxed our ships for their lights it would be considered a great hardship. America, for instance, charged no light dues upon any but British ships, and thus German and other vessels had that advantage in competing with us. It had been said that the shipping industry made a great deal of money. It was unfortunately one of the most speculative of industries, and, taking the last twerty years, the profits upon the capital employed had been small. The mere fact that because during the last two or three years, in consequence of the war and other causes, shipowners had made up a little lost ground, was no argument against their receiving this small measure of justice. The cost of lighting the streets was placed, not upon a particular industry in those streets, but upon all who benefited by the lighting. In the same way, not only the shipowners, but the importers and consumers of goods, benefited by the lighting of the coast, and consequently should help to bear the cost. If ever there was a charge 1336 which ought to be a national burden, this surely was one. If, however, the cost was to be charged upon shipping, he could not understand why the Navy should not bear its share. Some years ago it was the practice to exempt Government buildings from rates, but it had been recognised that that was unjust to the general ratepayers, and a contribution was now made. He thought a similar course ought to be followed with regard to the Navy and the lights. He submitted that the demand of the Bill was a very reasonable one, and he hoped that if the Chancellor of the Exchequer could not accede to the demand at present, he would, at any rate, hold out hopes of doing so as soon as the finances of the country were in a more satisfactory condition.
§ * SIR M. HICKS BEACH (Bristol, W.)
said that, with regard to one of two objects of this Bill, he desired to express an opinion based upon his four years' experience at the Board of Trade. Every one must admit that the constitution of these lighthouse boards was full of anomalies, and when he went to the Board of Trade he certainly held the view that it would be desirable to revise that constitution. But his experience convinced him that whatever authority was appointed to administer the lighting of the coasts it would not be likely to be better administered than by the existing bodies. For four years of his life he took a very active interest in the question, and spoke with some knowledge of the efficiency of the work that was done. The Trinity Brethren were skilled men of great naval experience, and he could not imagine any men better qualified for dealing with the work they had in hand. Of course there might be cases in which the shipowners were not quite satisfied with the places in which lights were put; or they might hold that the number was not sufficient; but it did not follow from that that the House should do what they were asked to do in this Bill, which was practically to allow the shipowners, at the public expense, to put up as many lights round the coast as they might think necessary for their purpose.
He had great sympathy in this matter with the Chancellor of the 1337 Exchequer. His right hon. friend was going to be attacked on Monday next by the other side of the House for gross extravagance in the administration of finance, and to the Motion of the Leader of the Opposition he had no doubt the hon. Baronet opposite, who had spoken in favour of this Bill, would give his support. What was the history of the last three days? On Wednesday they had a Motion coming from the advocates of economy on the other side of the House asking for the imposition of a very considerable burden on the tax-payers of the country for the benefit of Members. Yesterday he heard one Member denouncing the acquisition of revenue of any kind from the Post Office, and advocating the employment of any surplus for the better payment of those employed in the service, or for the provision of greater facilities to the public. And to-day they had what to his mind was at this time the most audacious proposition ever put before the House of Commons from a powerful and, on the whole, a prosperous interest—that they should relieve it of the payment of £350,000 a year and put the burden on the shoulders of the general taxpayer. Although he represented one of the principal shipping ports of the country, he had resisted this demand for the last twelve or fifteen years, and he resisted it because it would be by no means such an act of substantial justice as his hon. friend the Member for Liverpool had described it to be. He was aware that for the moment the shipping industry was not so prosperous as it had been. He recognised to the full the ability with which the hon. Baronet the Member for Chester-le-Street advocated the claims of distressed industries. But shipping was one of the greatest industries in the country, and in spin; of the vicissitudes through which it had passed it had undoubtedly prospered on the whole.
His hon. friend below him said they claimed only justice, and urged that it was the duty of the general taxpayers to light the coasts of the United Kingdom. But the people of this country had other duties to perform besides that. They had to keep up the roads and maintain the poor. How much did the shipping industry contribute to 1338 those objects? He did not ask it to contribute, but if they were to treat these things as part of the general duty of the taxpayers, he thought the shipping industry ought to pay rates on the value of its property if it wished to be relieved from the maintenance of the lights on the coasts. He could only say that he did not regard this as a matter of justice. He thought the shipping industry could and ought to bear the cost of lighting the coasts as they had always borne it; but if they wished to get rid of the burden the whole question must be considered, and then he hoped some proposal would come from them to aid the ratepayer in bearing the heavy burdens of local taxation.
§ MR. CHARLES McARTHUR (Liverpool, Exchange)
said that only two speeches strongly adverse to the Bill had been made, and they were by ex-Chancellors of the Exchequer. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bristol had expressed his satisfaction with the existing lighthouse authorities. No one would question the judgment of the right hon. Gentleman in matters which came within his own sphere, but, in regard to this question, shipowners and everybody immediately concerned were extremely dissatisfied with the present condition of things, and if ho had to choose between the opinion of those who understood the question and the opinion of his right hon. friend, who, after all, had no practical knowledge of the question, he was bound to accept the view of those who understood the matter. He protested against the observation of his right hon. friend that this was an audacious proposal. If a large number of Members of the House were convinced that this was an unjust burden and had come forward for the last twenty years with a proposal to remedy it, could it be regarded as audacious for them to continue to do so? The present system involved taxation without representation, the people who paid for the lights having no voice in their management. It was unfair that the shipping industry should have to pay a charge which benefited not only shipowners, but the owners of goods, passengers, passing vessels, and the 1339 Royal Navy. The present practice threw upon a particular trade a charge which ought to be borne by the nation at large, and it was at variance with the practice of almost every other civilised nation.
The essential might be separated from the non-essential provisions of the Bill. The essential provisions were the transference of the administration of the lights from the present authorities to the Government, and payment of the cost by the Exchequer. It had been suggested that the Admiralty was the proper authority, but inasmuch as the Admiralty had to do with the Navy, while the Board of Trade had to do with the trade and shipping of the country, the Board of Trade appeared to be the proper authority for dealing with this matter. Nobody who had really examined the Bill could contend that the shipowners desired to relieve themselves of the cost of the lights, and at the same time to obtain control over them. They desired to do nothing of the sort. They wished to transfer the cost of the lights to the public funds, but they proposed that the absolute control should be vested in the Board of Trade. Certain committees were suggested, but they were merely advisory, and had no power to do anything of themselves. It was assumed that, as the Board of Trade had asked the assistance of the shipping interest in regard to new works, they would, if they had entire control of the matter, wish to have the assistance of advisory committees on a larger scale, and that was all that was intended by the Bill. The Board of Trade had no power over the lighthouse service, and they had no power to build new lighthouses or make any change whatever. It was quite true that the Board of Trade had a veto over new works, and in that way possessed a 1340 certain amount of control, but they had no power whatever to initiate expenditure, and that was just the power they wished the Board of Trade to have. They considered the lighthouse authorities had shown incompetence. He did not wish to say anything disrespectful of the members of the lighthouse boards, but they had had no practical experience of the work, and they had to depend absolutely upon their officers.
The opinion of the commercial community was unanimous that these charges ought to be removed. This was not only the opinion of shipowners, but also of the members of the harbour boards and the various Chambers of Commerce, and opinion in the country was solid that this change ought to be made. Therefore he hoped that the Government would seriously consider the proposal which was now made. The promoters did not adhere to the Bill in all its particulars, but they left the details to the Committee stage. It might be that the authorities proposed to be constituted under the Bill could be improved, and more representative members placed upon them, but they did ask that the shipping trade should be relieved of this charge, and that the Government should assume the entire control of the lighthouse service. If a large number of Members of the House were convinced that this was an unjust burden and had come forward for the last twenty years with a proposal to remedy it, could it be regarded as audacious for them to continue to do so?
§ * MAJOR JAMESON (Clare, W.)
said they had just listened to the speeches of two former Chancellors of the Exchequer, both of whom had been also 1341 President of the Board of Trade. When he listened to the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bristol he could not help thinking that although he was speaking as an ex-President of the Board of Trade the views he expressed were those of a Chancellor of the Exchequer. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Croydon said he thought it was a terrible thing for the great shipping industry to endeavour to shift these charges on to the already overburdened shoulders of the British taxpayer. He thought those two right hon. Gentlemen might have fought this question out over the shilling duty on corn. That was a way in which this money might have been raised without any detriment to the British taxpayer. But there was a more important question to consider. Although the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bristol called this an audacious proposal, he wished to point out that no proposal which was not audacious ever succeeded in this House. It was only by the tenacity of the British and the Irish race that they were able to pass any reforms which they believed to be right and just.
There was one point to which he desired to call the attention of the President of the Board of Trade. He had told the House that the Board of Trade had complete control over the whole of the money that was the subject of this discussion. The right hon. Gentleman was an excellent President of the Board of Trade, but he denied that he had any such power of control. He would proceed to show what a humiliating position the right hon. Gentleman was placed in. The other day he asked the right hon. Gentleman a question in 1342 this House about certain instructions which had been given to lighthouse keepers, and he replied by stating that—By the courtesy of the three lighthouse boards I am able to furnish the hon. Member with the following information.Here they were dilly-dallying with the great commercial interests of this country which were absolutely necessary to keep the wolf from the doors of the people, and when a Member of the British Parliament asked the President of the Board of Trade an important question in regard to the lightships, the right hon. Gentleman was only enabled to reply by the courtesy of these three boards. That, in his opinion, was an insult to the House, and it was humiliating to any of His Majesty's Ministers to have to come down to the House of Commons and make such a statement as that in reply to a question. The order giving the instructions he had referred to in regard to these lightships in Ireland was issued in the year 1852, or about the time of Noah's Ark. Here was an order issued all those years ago, and it was still being imposed upon them. What steps was Parliament going to take in this matter? The President of the Board of Trade had told them that he was going to follow in the footsteps of former Presidents of the Board of Trade. Some time ago when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bristol was President of the Board of Trade he, the hon. Member, brought forward, in Committee, a Motion on the very subject that was now before the House. At that time he was informed that the Board of Trade had really no control over the matter, and was told to apply to the Commissioners of Irish Lights. He was bandied about from pillar to post in 1343 that way, and he did not know which authority to appeal to. All he knew was that the money had gone somewhere, and as far as the administration of Irish piers and lighthouses were concerned, it was very difficult to run any Minister into a corner in regard to their responsibility. He was now told that the President of the Board of Trade had control, but he had no hesitation in telling him that he had nothing of the kind. The only way for the Board of Trade to get proper control was to accept this Bill, which would place the control directly under Parliament and then Parliament would have to raise the money. They had no right to take money from the shipowners without giving them control in the spending of it.
He wished to say a few words upon the subject of telegraphic communication between the lighthouses, and he would show the House how backward the Board of Trade were in coming forward. There had been a long controversy on the subject of gas, and there had been a great deal of "gas" in this House which was always directed against the adoption of any new invention. The Colonies were adopting the Marconi system of telegraphy and he would like the President of the Board of Trade to tell the House, how long it would be before he adopted that system in connection with the lighthouses, and if he did adopt it who was going to pay for it. The Government of this country were always the last people in the world to take up any new invention. Under the present system British shipping had to pay nearly all the cost of lighthouses, and foreign shippers got off almost scot-free. As regarded the Bill itself, its object was not to get money out of the 1344 pockets of the British taxpayer but to transfer the management of the light houses and the responsibility for the same to the Board of Trade, in order that Members of Parliament might go for the President of the Board of Trade when the work was not properly done. A proposal of that kind ought to be readily supported by three-quarters of the Members of the House of Commons. The sum of £500,000 was raised annually by the light dues, and the mercantile marine paid the whole of it, while the Navy, which was absolutely dependent for its safety upon those lights paid nothing whatsoever towards the cost of the upkeep of the lighthouses. The sum of £60,000 or £70,000 a year could be saved by coming to terms with America. It would be a great thing for this country to have a closer union with the United States in that way. If the object of this Bill had been a protective one, as had been hinted by the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, he could quite understand them objecting to it, but it was not. Under this Bill the transfer of the administration would certainly bring down the cost of the lights in Ireland. For these reasons he thought it was the duty of hon. Members to vote for the Second Reading of this measure.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Mr. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN,) Worcestershire, E
I do not intend to detain the House very long upon this question. I am sometimes twitted with holding peculiar views in regard to the functions of my office which are not shared by any of my predecessors, but it may be a consolation to the hon. Member for Liverpool to know that on this subject I am in perfect agreement with my predecessors. The Bill deals with two 1345 distinct subjects; the first is the question of what is to be the nature of the administrative authority which is responsible for the lighting of our coasts, and the second is as to who is to provide the funds which are required to maintain that lighting. No one can help being struck by the testimony from almost every speaker as to the zeal, and, on the whole, the success, with which the present administrative authority has discharged its duty. Of course hon. Members in their anxiety to make out a case for a change have emphasised whatever grounds of complaint there might be, and they have criticised as freely as possible the acts of omission or of commission in regard to the existing lighthouse authorities. Nobody who has read the literature issued in support of this, and who compares it with the speeches delivered in this House by the promoters of this measure can help being struck by the very different tone adopted by speakers here, and by the tribute of praise which they have extended to those who are now responsible for the administration of our lighthouses. So far as the criticism relates to the composition, it is perfectly plain that if we were for the first time creating a lighthouse authority in this country we should not construct boards exactly like Trinity House or the Commissioners of Northern Lights or the Irish Lighthouse Board. It would be easy to find theoretical fault with the method by which they are constituted; but it has been admitted on all hands that, so far as their practical work is concerned, they have devoted care and attention to it, and that on the whole the results shown on our coasts are very creditable.
Then there was some criticism of the way in which they discharge their 1346 functions, but that criticism is of a contradictory kind. It is said they are extravagant and spend too much, and some hon. Members have said that what they are doing is inadequate, and that there cannot be proper or enough lights so long as the present authorities are allowed to retain their control. I have listened to nearly the whole of the speeches made upon this Bill, and I think I may safely say that in the whole course of this debate, although there has been general charges of extravagance, not a single specific instance of money wasted has been brought to the notice of the House. The Member for Islington alluded to one bargain which Trinity House had made, and which my hon. friend thought was a very improvident bargain—namely, that relating to the provision of a lightship for the new Admiralty works at Dover. I made that bargain when I was at the Board of Admiralty and I confess to the House that I do not think I ever made a worse bargain during the five years I was at the office. If the Trinity House never made a worse bargain for themselves than they made on that occasion with the Admiralty, they must do a very prosperous business. They obtained for the upkeep of the light a sum which I thought at the time, and which I now know, was in excess of what it cost. They safeguarded themselves by providing that this sum was not to include the cost of repairing any damage or loss occasioned by any extraordinary casualty or collision, the cost of repairing which cannot be recovered by any claim for salvage service, such expenses being an additional charge upon the Admiralty; and in the case of total loss the Admiralty were to pay Trinity House a sum in replacement of the vessel based on valuation as might be 1347 agreed upon. This light vessel has been twice run down and lost, and they have recovered full value from the ships responsible for the destruction. They have equipped themselves with two perfectly new vessels in place of the old ones at a net cost, I think, of some £5,000, of which ££2,000 or ££3,000 has been paid by the charge they made to the Admiralty for up-keep over and above the cost. I made the bargain on behalf of the Admiralty, and it was the best I could make, although I have to admit the Trinity House overpowered me in that case. It is the worst and only specific charge of extravagance or improvidence which has been brought, and I do not think there is much fault to be found on that score. Suppose there was, what is the remedy proposed by the Bill? It is to transfer power to the Board of Trade; but in the matter of extravagance the Board of Trade has now full and absolute responsibility, and has absolute power to prevent extravagance.
There seems to be a good deal of misapprehension as to the authority of the Board of Trade over the expenditure of the lighthouse authorities. All the estimates of expenditure have to be submitted annually for approval by the Board of Trade. These estimates, with all the details of the number of officers and men employed, their rates of pay and allowances, the expenditure for coal, fuel, and repairs, office expenses, law charges, expenditure proposed on experiments, the removal of wrecks, superannuation contracts for works, and other supplies have all to be submitted for the approval of the Board of Trade. Over all the expenditure that takes places the control of the Board of Trade is absolute, its power only ceasing when it is a question of initiating a new lighthouse. The Board 1348 of Trade has no power to direct that new lighthouses shall be built, or as to their position, but they have absolute control over all expenditure proposed to be incurred by the various lighthouse authorities, and they have power to suggest any improvements they may think desirable, or which the advisory committee think is desirable. They can bring the advisory committee and the authorities together to discuss the programme of works. It is not too much to say that representations made by the Board of Trade to any of these lighthouse boards always receive the attention which they obviously demand. I do not really think that in the course of this debate, and I have listened to it carefully, any case has been made out for the transfer of the powers now exercised by the various lighthouse authorities to the Board of Trade on the ground of mismanagement or inefficiency.
I think that is the state of the case as to the administrative proposals of the Bill. As to the other part of the Bill—which, of course, is out of order—which would transfer the charge for the maintenance of these lights to the Exchequer, I should like to ask any hon. Gentleman representing the shipping interest—where do you believe this charge falls at the present time? Various suggestions have been made, and some of them are somewhat contradictory. Some hon. Members contradicted themselves in the course of their own speeches. The hon. Member who seconded the Motion for the Second Reading of this Bill said that the ship owner did not bear this charge. He went on to say that it was an impost on our foreign trade, import and export. If that is so, how much better would 1349 you be off by passing the charge through the Exchequer? If that description of the charge be true, by transferring it to the Exchequer you do not alter the incidence. If the incidence be as the hon. Member said, what does this tax amount to? Is it really such a sum as to deserve the strictures hon. Members have passed upon it as a great impediment to trade? It is something less than 1s. 6d. in the £100 of trade on which it is said to fall. Does anyone suggest that the prosperity of this trade is going to be affected by a charge of that kind? And if it be true that the country ought to bear the charge, how could the whole community bear it better than evenly distributed in this way? [An HON. MEMBER: Does it fall on the consumer?] The hon. Member for Gloucester said it did, but some of my friends do not agree to that, and I only mention it by way of illustration to make my task somewhat easy. I have dealt with the theory of the hon. Member for Gloucester; I will deal with the theory of hon. Members who suggest that the charge falls on the shipowner. I do not think that it is an unfair charge for the shipowner to bear. Hon. Gentlemen have drawn an analogy between this charge and the contribution the State makes in lieu of rates for Government property. I do not think that the analogy can hold good for a moment. That contribution is made because the State there steps in and occupies property which would be otherwise rateable. The local community is deprived of the rating which but for the State it would obtain. That is not the case with these shipping dues at all, nor do I think our practice in regard to rating affords any analogy to these dues.
1350 Hon. Members say that if the contributions are to be levied in the form of light dues, as at present, it is very unfair that the Navy should not be treated as a contributor. The Navy is, of course, of great importance to every individual and interest in this country, but no interest is so much and so directly interested in it as our mercantile marine. Anyone who studies the returns made as to the relative cost of the navies of the world by the Admiralty will see how much additional cost for our Navy is imposed upon us by the necessity of protecting our trade all the world over, and how much we would save if we had only to consider the protection of our coasts. To say that the State which provides this protection should also pay these light dues every time a ship of the Navy passes into a British port seems to me a most unjust and unreasonable claim to make, and one which, if I may say so, I think the ship owners and those interested would be unwise to press.
A good deal has been said as to the practice of other nations. I think some of the statements made have not been quite accurate, and many of the inferences drawn from them have been misleading. It is not true that Turkey is the only country besides ourselves which raises the money for lighting the coasts in this way. Sweden and Norway both raise the charge from the same quarter. But do hon. Gentlemen who quote foreign example desire us to follow foreign practice, and are they prepared to institute tonnage dues such as are imposed by foreign countries and out of which the expenses of lighting are borne? If they are in favour of that it might a good deal modify any opposition which 1351 comes from the Chancellor of the Exchequer because, after all, the effect on the Treasury would not then be serious. It would only be a case of raising the money from the same people in a slightly different way, but if they are not in favour of the adoption of that course, then I say that their frequent reference to Continental practice is misleading, and that they cannot base their case on what goes on in foreign countries. I say frankly that on the merits of the case I do not share the views of hon. Gentlemen who think that light dues ought to be abolished, but even if I did would anyone suggest that the present is the moment for the transfer of this charge to the Exchequer? My right hon. friend the Member for West Bristol a few moments ago called the attention of the House to the way in which we were to be occupied on Monday. I suppose that I shall sit here to be pointed at as a horrible example of extravagance and as the oppressor of the taxpayer. Here am I struggling, I know not whether successfully or not, to protect the taxpayer on this occasion. How many of the Gentlemen who are going to vote against us on Monday or Tuesday are going to give me assistance now, not to reduce expenditure, but to prevent its being raised?
§ MR. DAVID MACIVER (Liverpool Kirkdale)
said the opposition to this Bill was largely based on a misconception. The effect of our present system was to protect foreign ports in their competition with British ports, the latter being handicapped to the extent of the light dues. He also contended that the practice of placing the cost of lights on the locality was detrimental to safe navigation; and that places where lighthouses were 1352 urgently needed remained without any such provision. He called attention to the particular case of the rocks on the coast of Guernsey, where there had been sixteen disasters in the last twenty-two years. That was only one of many instances he could name if time permitted. But the collection of light dues was not altogether indefensible. The one redeeming feature about them was that the foreigner was now paying a large and rapidly increasing part of them. The reason, however, was not very gratifying to our national vanity. At our southern ports German steamers of large tonnage, created under protection, took away the business which ought to be ours.
§ MR. MALCOLM (Suffolk, Stowmarket),
who spoke amid cries of "Divide," said that as he was not identified with the Board of Trade, the Treasury, or the shipping interest he thought he had a right to say a word against this Bill. There were many who could not agree with the hon. Member for King's Lynn in finding fault with the agricultural Members for sending out a communication asking hon. Members to oppose the Bill in order that additional taxation should not fall on the agricultural industry. The hon. Member for King's Lynn pointed out that certain reductions of rates had been granted to the agricultural interest, and complained of their ungraciousness in opposing the measure now before the House. But the hon. Member forgot how much harm the agricultural interest had suffered from the carrying trade of this country, which brought corn from abroad to compete with that which was produced here. In the last five or six weeks private Members, either by Bills or Resolutions, 1353 had tried to increase the annual expenditure of the country by £10,000,000. The present Bill, which would put £400,000 on the British taxpayers, was one of the examples he had before him in making that calculation. He objected on the Bill also on the ground that it would lead to an increase in the staff of permanent officials, with whom he was bound to say he was not very much enamoured, and against whom hon. Members on both sides of the House were constantly inveighing. He testified to the excellent work done by the Nerthorn Lights Commissioners, whom
§ he described as well-known gentlemen honesty and probity. The lighting of the Scotch coast was certainly not everything that could be desired, but the deficiencies were being met very rapidly. If hon. Gentlemen wanted those deficiencies to be absolutely overcome, they would do better to apply to that purpose the money which would be required for the payment of a new staff of officials if this Bill were passed.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 155; Noes, 129. (Division List No. 124.)1355
|Abraham, William (Cork. N.E.)||Fitzmaurice, Lord Edmond||M'Crae, George|
|Agnew, Sir Andrew Noel||Flannery, Sir Fortescue||M'Killop, W. (Sligo, North)|
|Arrol, Sir William||Flavin, Michael Joseph||M'Laren, Sir Charles Benjamin|
|Atherley-Jones, L.||Freeman-Thomas, Captain F.||Markham, Arthur Basil|
|Austin, Sir John||Garfit, William||Mildmay, Francis Bingham|
|Bain, Colonel James Robert||Hain, Edward||Milvain, Thomas|
|Bayley, Thomas (Derbyshire)||Hamilton, Marq. of (L'nd'nderry||Mitchell, Edw. (Fermanagh, N.|
|Beaumont, Wentworth, C. B.||Harrington, Timothy||Moon, Edward Robert Pacy|
|Bignold, Arthur||Harris,F. Leverton (Tynem'th)||Moore, William|
|Blundell, Clonel Henry||Haslam, Sir Alfred S.||Morgan, J. Lloyd (Carmarthen)|
|Bolton, Thomas Dolling||Hay, Hon. Claude George||Muntz, Sir Philip A.|
|Bond, Edward||Hayter, Rt. Hon. Sir Arthur D.||Nannetti. Joseph P.|
|Bowles, T. Gibson (King's Lynn||Helder, Agustus||O'Donnell, T. (Kerry, W.)|
|Brigg, John||Hemphill, Rt. Hon. Charles H.||O'Malley, William|
|Brown, George M. (Edinburgh)||Henderson. Sir A. (Stafford, W.||O'Neill, Hon. Robert Torrens|
|Burt, Thomas||Hornby, Sir William Henry||O'Shaughnessy, P. J.|
|Caldwell, James||Horniman, Frederick John||Palmer, Sir Charles M.(Durham)|
|Campbell, Rt. Hn. T. A.(Glasgow||Houldsworth, Sir Wm. Henry||Palmer, Walter (Salisbury)|
|Causton, Richard Knight||Hoult, Joseph||Philipps, John Wyuford|
|Cayzer, Sir Charles William||Houston, Robert Paterson||Pierpoint, Robert|
|Cecil, Evelyn (Aston Manor)||Jameson, Major J. Eustace||Platt-Higgins, Frederick|
|Charrington, Spencer||Johnson, John (Gateshead)||Pym. C. Guy|
|Colomb, Rt, Hon. Sir John C.R.||Joicey, Sir James||Randles, John S.|
|Corbett, T. L. (Down, North)||Jones, David Brynmor (Swansea||Rankin, Sir James|
|Craig, Charles Curtis (Antrim, S.||Joyce, Michael||Reid, James (Greenock)|
|Craig, Robert Hunter (Lanark)||Lambton, Hon. Frederick Wm.||Remnant, James Farquharson|
|Cremer, William Randal||Laurie, Lieut.-General||Renwick, George|
|Crombie, John William||Lawrence, Sir Joseph (Monm'th)||Roberts, John H. (Denbighs.)|
|Crooks, William||Lawrence, Wm. F. (Liverpool)||Robson, William Snowdon|
|Cross, Alexander (Glasgow)||Layland-Barratt, Francis||Roe, Sir Thomas|
|Cust, Henry John C.||Lees, Sir Elliott (Birkenhead)||Ropner, Colonel Sir Robert|
|Davies, Alfred (Carmarthen)||Leng, Sir John||Rose, Charles Day|
|Denny, Colonel||Lewis, John Herbert||Royds, Clement Molyneux|
|Dixon-Hartlaud, Sir FredDixon||Lloyd-George, David||Sadler, Col. Samuel Alexander|
|Doughty, George||Lonsdale, John Brownlee||Sandys, Lieut.-Col. Thos.Myles|
|Doxford, Sir William Theodore||Lough, Thomas||Saunderson, Rt. Hn. Col. Edw. J.|
|Duke, Henry Edward||Lucas, Reginald J(Portsmouth)||Seely, Maj. J. E. B (Isle of Wight|
|Duncan, J. Hastings||Lundon, W.||Seton-Karr, Sir Henry|
|Elibank, Master of||Macdona, John Gumming||Shaw, Thomas (Hawick B.)|
|Emmott, Alfred||MacIver, David (Liverpool)||Sheehy, David|
|Evans, Sir Francis H. (Maidstone||M'Arthur, Charles (Liverpool)||Simeon, Sir Barrington|
|Evans, Samuel T. (Glamorgan)||M'Arthur, William (Cornwall)||Slack, John Bamford|
|Ferguson, R. C. Munro (Leith)||M'Calmont, Colonel John||Sloan, Thomas Henry|
|Smith, James Parker (Lanarks.||Trevelyan, Charles Philips||Wilson, John (Durham, Mid.)|
|Smith, Samuel (Flint)||Ure, Alexander||Wilson, John (Glasgow)|
|Soames, Arthur Wellesley||Vincent, Col. Sir C. E. H (SheffieId||Wolff, Gustav Wilhelm|
|Spencer, Rt. Hn. C. R (Northants||Waldron, Laurence Ambrose||Woodhouse, Sir J. T (Huddersf'd|
|Stirling-Maxwell, Sir John M.||Wallace, Robert||Wrightson, Sir Thomas|
|Taylor, Austin (East Toxteth)||Wason, Eugene (Clackmannan)||Wyndham-Quin, Col. W. H.|
|Taylor, Theodore C. (Radcliffe)||White, Luke (York, E. R.)|
|Tennant, Harold John||Whitley, J. H. (Halifax)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES—Mr. Plummer and Mr. Russell Rea|
|Thomas, Abel (Carmarthen, E.||Williams, Osmond (Merioneth)|
|Thomas, David Alfred (Merthyr)||Wilson, A. Stanley (York, E. R.)|
|Acland-Hood,Capt. Sir Alex. F.||Flynn, James Christopher||O'Brien, Kendai (TipperaryMid.|
|Allsopp, Hon. George||Forster, Henry William||O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny)|
|Ambrose, Robert||Foster, Sir Walter (Derby Co.)||O'Brien, P. J. (Tipperary, N.)|
|Arkwright, John Stanhope||Gardner, Ernest||O'Dowd, John|
|Ashton, Thomas Gair||Gretton, John||O'Kelly, James(Roscommon, N.|
|Atkinson, Rt. Hon. John||Greville, Hon. Ronald||Partington, Oswald|
|Aubrey-Fletcher, Rt. Hon. Sir H.||Gunter, Sir Robert||Paulton, James Mellor|
|Balcarres, Lord||Hammond, John||Power, Patrick Joseph|
|Balfour, Rt. Hon. A. J. (Manch'r||Hayden, John Patrick||Pretyman, Ernest George|
|Balfour, Rt Hn. Gerald W. (Leeds||Heath, James (Staffords, N.W.||Redmond, John E. (Waterford)|
|Banbury, Sir Frederick George||Henderson, Arthur (Durham)||Renshaw, Sir Charles Bine|
|Bartley, Sir George C. T.||Hoare, Sir Samuel||Ridley, S. Forde (Bethnal Green|
|Beach, Rt. Hn. Sir Michael Hicks||Hobhouse, Rt. Hn H (Somers't,E||Ritchie, Rt. Hon. Chas.Thomson|
|Boland, John||Hope, J. F.(Sheffield, Brightside||Roberts, Samuel (Sheffield)|
|Bull, William James||Howard, John(Kent, Faversham||Roche, John|
|Campbell, John (Armagh, S.)||Howard, J. (Midd.,Tottenham)||Round, Rt. Hon. James|
|Cautley, Henry Strother||Hunt, Rowland||Scott, Sir S (Marylebone, W.)|
|Cavendish, V. C. W. (Derbyshire||Jacoby, James Alfred||Sharpe, William Edward T.|
|Chamberlain, Rt Hn. J. A. (Worc.||Jessel, Captain Herbert Merton||Sheehan, Daniel Daniel|
|Chaplin, Rt. Hon. Henry||Johnstone, Heywood (Sussex)||Spencer, Sir E. (W. Bromwich)|
|Clive, Captain Percy A.||Jones, William(Carnarvonshire||Stanley, Edward Jas.(Somerset)|
|Cochrane, Hon. Thos. H. A. E.||Jordan, Jeremiah||Stanley, Rt. Hon. Lord (Lanes.)|
|Coddington, Sir William||Kearley, Hudson, E.||Stevenson, Francis S.|
|Cogan, Denis J.||Kenyon, Hon. Geo. T. (Denbigh)||Stewart, Sir Mark J. M'Taggart|
|Coghill, Douglas Harry||Kilbride, Denis||Sullivan, Donal|
|Colston, Chas. Edw. H. Athole||Lambert, George||Talbot, Rt. Hn. J. G. (Oxf'dUniv.|
|Condon, Thomas Joseph||Law, Andrew Bonar (Glasgow)||Thorburn, Sir Walter|
|Cullman, J.||Lawson, John Grant (Yorks. N. R||Thornton, Percy M.|
|Dalrymple, Sir Charles||Leamy, Edmund||Tollemache, Henry James|
|Davenport, William Bromley||Lee, Arthur H.(Hants., Fareham||Valentia, Viscount|
|Delany, William||Legge, Col. Hon. Heneage||Walrond, Rt. Hn. Sir William H.|
|Devlin, Charles Ramsay (Galway||Loyd, Archie Kirkman||Wanklyn, James Leslie|
|Devlin, Joseph (Kilkenny, N.)||MacVeagh, Jeremiah||Warde, Colonel C. E.|
|Dewar, John A. (Inverness-sh.||M'Hugh, Patrick A.||Wason, John Cathcart (Orkney)|
|Dickson, Chanes Scott||Maxwell, Rt Hn. Sir H. E. (Wigt'n||Welby, Lt.,-Col. A. C. E.(Taunton|
|Donelan, Captain A.||Meysey-Thompson, Sir H. M.||Whiteley, H.(Ashton und. Lyne|
|Doogan, P. C.||Milner, Rt. Hon. Sir Frederick G.||Whitmore, Charles Algernon|
|Douglas, Rt. Hon. A. Akers||Montagu, Hon. J. Scott(Hants.)||Wilson, Henry J. (York, W.R.)|
|Dunn, Sir William||Morton, Arthur H. Aylmer||Wilson, J. W. (Worcestersh.N.)|
|Edwards, Frank||Mowbray, Sir Robert Gray C.||Wodehouse, Rt. Hn. E. R. (Bath)|
|Elliot, Hon. A. Ralph Douglas||Murphy, John||Wortley, Rt. Hon. C. B. Stuart|
|Farquharson, Dr. Robert||Murray, Rt Hn. A. Graham (Bute|
|Fergusson, Rt. Hn. Sir J. (Manc'r||Nolan, Joseph (Louth, South)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES—Mr. Wharton and Mr. Malcolm.|
|Flower, Sir Ernest||O'Brien, James F. X. (Cork)|
§ Bill accordingly read a second time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed,
§ "That the Bill be committed to the Standing Committee on Trade, &c." —(Mr. Plummer.)
§ Debate to be resumed upon Friday, 3rd June.
§ Adjourned at twenty-four minutes before Six o'clock till Monday next.