§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ SIR ROBERT ROPNER (Stockton)
said he rose to move the Second Reading of the Light Dues (Abolition) Bill. Had it not been for the fact that this was a new House he should have moved the Second Reading of this Bill without saying anything of its provisions, but under the circumstances he felt constrained to say a few words. There had been several similar Bills before the House on former occasions, and last year a Resolution was carried in favour of the principles of the measure. The last Bill was rather encumbered with other clauses. It provided, or at any rate pointed out a way in which the light dues in future could be reduced and economy effected in both expenditure and collection. It also pointed out that larger amounts were being collected than were actually required, and that consequently the shipping industry was more handicapped than it ought to have been. In this Bill they asked for the abolition of the light dues and that the cost of lighting our coasts should hereafter be borne by the nation. Under these circumstances the Board of Trade would no doubt see that no more money was collected than was required and that it was economically expended. The object of the Bill was to put the cost on the nation instead of on a particular class. The present position arose in this way. Many years ago when there were no lights on our shores some religious com- 852 munity lit up a portion of the coast to show how dangerous it was. There was no charge then. The lighting of the coast was then taken up as a speculation by some private individuals who, to recoup themselves, levied dues on those ships that frequented the different harbours on that part of the coast. In that way it came about that the shipowners were mulcted in a charge which should have been a national one. This system having been initiated it continued after the private individuals had ceased to light the coast. The matter was then taken up by the Admiralty, who continued the custom. Under the Act of 1854 the supervision of the lights was put into the hands of the Board of Trade. They did not look after the lighting of the coast, however, but entrusted that duty to three different bodies, the Trinity House of London, a lighting board in Scotland, and another in Ireland called the Irish Lights Board. There was a strong feeling among shipowners that the composition of those bodies was not what it ought to be, though he would not now enter into that question. But seeing that the dues were charged upon the ships frequenting our ports one would have supposed that all ships coming to the ports would have contributed to the charge. The Royal Navy, however, did not contribute at all in any way towards the lighting of the coasts It was an unquestionable fact that the Navy did derive benefit from the lights, and that they were as much protected by them as the mercantile navy; and the shipowners thought that if light dues were to be charged on vessels frequenting our ports they should be charged on all, including those of the Royal Navy. He was aware that previous Chancellors of Exchequer had said that the shipowners derived special benefits from the Navy, but he could never understand that argument, because the ships did not exist for pleasure but to carry on the commerce of the nation, and it was the commerce that the Navy protected, and the fact that it was the commerce of the country and not of a particular class should make the lighting of the coast the business of the nation and not of that particular class. Lighthouses were to protect not only the vessels frequenting our shores but all vessels passing our coasts, and that was another reason why this should be a national charge. Supposing these islands 853 were self contained and we had no mercantile navy, then for the sake of the ships of other nations passing our coasts the coasts would have to be lit. The charge was paid by every large nation of Europe except Turkey, to whom we certainly should not look for an example in matters of this kind. They were frequently told that it did not matter to the shipowner, because he could take these dues out of his customers by making a special charge, but that was not so. There was no special shipping of any particular freight to this country. The freights were made generally on charters which applied not only to England but to all continental countries. The owner of the cargo had the right to send a vessel to any port, and if a vessel was ordered by the owner of the cargo to France or Germany or Holland or Sweden it escaped the light dues, but when it came to England the shipowner was mulcted in light dues. That showed that the shipowner could not recover the amount by a special charge on the cargo. He had to take his chance. All the Committees which had sat on this question had agreed in the matter. Everybody to whom the subject was mentioned for the first time supposed that the cost should be borne by the nation, and most of the persons who had sat upon Committees before which this matter had come had recommended that the charge should be a national one. The fact that such a charge was made upon vessels coming to this country interfered with shipping in this way. It acted as a disadvantage abroad. Abroad no charges were made, and in America no light dues were charged; but owing to our charging light dues on American vessels coming to this country we were made to pay what was called a tonnage rate in America, with the result that while this country derived in the shape of light dues from America £5,000, the shipowners of this country paid America something like £70,000 a year in tonnage dues. There was another danger, which was that the people of the United States, in order to add to the income of the country, were advocating the imposition of light dues on all vessels calling at their ports. So that by making this charge we were inducing other countries to make a similar one, and it was to the interest of this country that no such charge should be made against us. It was said that the proposal would entail a loss on the Ex- 854 chequer. The cost was about £500,000 a year; out of that foreign vessels paid about £70,000; but because we were deriving a profit in that way should we make that an excuse for making the charge on our own vessels if it was not an equitable charge? Under the new Shipping Bill we were going to make foreign vessels subject to the same treatment in the matter of the load line and other matters as was meted out to English vessels in our ports. And if we treated the foreigner fairly with regard to the light dues he would be more likely to accept the tax and rest satisfied with it than he was now. There was no doubt we did treat the foreigner unfairly in this matter. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had not lost anything by the mercantile navy. A few years ago a purchase was made of Suez Canal shares. £4,000,000 was spent in that way. Those shares were now worth £33,000,000. At the time those shares were bought it was arranged that the dues of the canal should be not more than 25 per cent, of the outlay, but even now they were 3 per cent, above that, which was a great deal more than the shipowners were led to expect they would be, and the shipowners in that way had contributed to the Exchequer. He did not wish to press that point, but to urge that the shipowners did suffer in many ways, and that some attempt should be made to take off their shoulders this charge which they claimed they ought not to pay. On former occasions the Second Reading of similar Bills had been carried by the House, and a Resolution affirming the principle, which was also carried, was supported by the present Attorney-General. The hon. and learned Gentleman then said that the lighting of our coasts should be a national obligation. It was also supported by the Solicitor-General, who considered it was putting John Bull in a rather ignominious light to suggest that he should collect pence from those who came to see him for the purpose of lighting them into his own house. In addition to those Gentlemen many others supported the Resolution, and he trusted that those Gentlemen, apart from any who might be in office, would support the present Bill. He appealed to those who had Motions down for the rejection of the Bill fully to consider what they were doing. He should have thought that hon 855 Members would have been glad to relieve of this burden a class who were always anxious to do as much as they could for those they employed, when by its removal they would be able to pay more wages than they could at present. He hoped, therefore, that opposition would be removed and that there would be no one from the Opposition side of the House who would not vote for the Second Reading. If the Bill was read a second time it could not have any effect this year, because it was a financial matter and therefore must be introduced by a responsible Secretary of State. He hoped, however, that that would not prevent hon. Members voting for the Bill. No doubt the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be influenced by today's proceedings and would, he hoped, make provision in his Budget next year to provide for the loss which the Exchequer would sustain if the charge for lighting in future had to be borne by the nation and not by the shipowners. He begged to move.
§ MR. W. R. REA (Scarborough)
said that in rising to second the Motion of his hon. friend, he had to ask the House not only for indulgence to a new Member, but to bear for a very short time a recital of what perhaps was not a very popular cause, particularly among Members who had not altogether understood it. He should like at once to meet the principal opposition that had been brought against the Bill. The statement was made last session that this was an attempt on the part of a wealthy and powerful class to shift upon the Exchequer a burden which they could very well afford to sustain. If that were so, he did not believe the House would have listened for a moment to any such proposal as this Bill contained. As the hon. mover had said, the principle involved in the measure had been approved by Royal Commission, by Committees of the House, and by the House itself. He believed the shipping industry were willing to bear whatever charges might be shown to be fair, and they had given proof of their desire to do so, particularly in this session, by the way in which they had accepted a number of clauses in the Merchant Shipping Bill. The objection of shipowners to this impost of light dues was on the ground that it was an unjust charge, and that it led to extravagant administration. He believed that these dues gave 856 a distinct preference to foreign ports. It was an unfair charge because the lights were for the benefit of vessels passing along our coasts irrespective of whether they used our ports or not; and yet the dues were payable, not by those who used the lights, but only by those vessels which berthed in a British port, and upon which it was possible to collect the dues. He believed that the proportion of ships on which this country collected dues amounted only to about 50 per cent, of the vessels using the lights. Incidentally it placed the British ports at a great disadvantage as compared with foreign ports. He would give an example. Supposing a British shipowner was offered, as was frequently the case, the choice of about the same freight to either London or Antwerp. If he sent his ship to London he had to pay light dues, but if he sent it to Antwerp he saved the light dues which might amount to anything up to £100 on the voyage. The shipowner would be more than human if he did not give a preference to the foreign port where he would not incur these dues. Therefore, to that extent the British ports lost a lot of trade, British commerce was taxed, and British labour suffered. He could quite believe that this burden was not entirely one on the shipowners, but bore also on the consumers, because if the shipowner did send his ship to London he naturally would want an extra freight, which would have to be put upon the consumer. But the burden went further than this. These dues hit the British shipping heavily, particularly in the North Atlantic trade, for the United States had, he believed, a law that their own dues should be remitted to the extent by which American dues exceeded the dues levied upon American ships. There were perhaps half-a-dozen American ships which traded with this country from which we collected £4,000 a year in light dues, while English vessels were charged to the extent of £80,000 a year by the United States. We were precluded from asking for the remission of even a part of that charge because of the paltry £4,000 we collected from American ships. He thought that would be sufficient condemnation of these dues, but the strongest objection to them was that the money was unfairly raised and was subject to no efficient supervision, and that it was therefore to a very large extent 857 extravagantly spent. There were three authorities who revised these dues. He was unable to find out how one of the authorities, the Commissioners of Northern Lights, were appointed, though he understood that they consisted principally of lawyers. With all due respect to his right hon. friend he submitted that lawyers were perhaps not the gentlemen who were most expert in the administration of the duties appertaining to lighthouses. The fact was that nearly the whole of these bodies were composed of co-opted members, which was to say, that they were practically self-appointed. It was interesting to compare what had occurred during the last six years under the Light Dues Act, by which the money raised had to be devoted entirely to lighting purposes, with the practice of many years previously, when the Board of Trade had some supervision over these Boards. For sixteen years during which the Board of Trade had some control, the expenditure on new works under these Boards averaged £63,000 a year. Now that the Board of Trade had what practically amounted to no control over this expenditure on new works, the expenditure had increased to very nearly £96,000 per annum. It would take a considerable amount of eloquence to persuade shipowners at any rate that that increase in expenditure was represented by an equivalent in increased efficiency. That was not the whole story. The Commissioners each year collected a sum not only sufficient to pay the dues, but to leave a profit which had averaged for the past six years £22,000, and he believed the accumulated surplus now lying to the credit of these funds amounted to £400,000.
§ MR. W. R. REA
said he accepted the figures of the right hon. Gentleman. The sum was quite sufficient for his purpose. Although this Bill could not perhaps become law this session, because it would involve a charge upon the Exchequer, yet it would be possible to remit these dues, and the charge need not fall upon the Exchequer until the £300,000 in reserve had been expended, and expended under the criticism and watchfulness of the Board of Trade. He was aware that 858 the crux of the whole matter was the expense, and it was very difficult to ask the Exchequer to find £500,000 and more at the present moment. But something could be done out of the Suez Canal shares which were held by the Government, and on which they had received their capital with interest twice over, and still received a return of 28 per cent, per annum, or over £1,000,000 sterling, £600,000 of which came out of British ships. He believed this case had been presented to the Treasury, and they had expressed their willingness to meet the shipowners to the extent of reducing these dues somewhat, but the difficulty arose when the proposition was put before foreign nations, who refused to bear their fair share in the reduction, and therefore it was impossible to carry it out. He ventured to submit that the Treasury would be carrying out the desire that they had expressed, if, instead of remitting these dues on the Suez Canal, they were to ear-mark a certain part of the dues for payment of the expense of lighting our coasts. It was of considerable importance not only to the shipping industry of this country, but to the nation as a whole. He believed that these dues placed British ships, British ports, and also British labour at an unfair disadvantage in competition with other countries, and he asked the House to reaffirm the view it had so often expressed before. He therefore begged to second the Motion.
Motion made and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—;(Sir Robert Ropner.)
§ MR. T. L. CORBETT (Down, N.)
said he was in favour of this as of any other proposal for removing restrictions on British trade which were not imposed on the foreigner, and he was very glad indeed to find that those of them who took that view found recruits on the Ministerial side of the House upon whom the light was gradually dawning, and he believed that in time they would come to see entirely eye to eye with them. He believed that England claimed the proud distinction of being the only absolutely free-trade country, except Turkey, and yet England put this tax upon her trade, upon her shipowners, which no other country was prepared to impose. He for one was only too glad to join 859 with hon. Members, on whatever side of the House they might sit, in removing these restrictions upon our own trade, and putting British shipowners in fair competition with the foreigner. But he wished that the mover of this Bill had enlarged the scope of the measure or had introduced the same Bill that was brought in in the last House of Commons, because he did not think the present went far enough in dealing, as the last Bill did, with the lighting authorities in England, Ireland, and Scotland. In Ireland, unfortunately, the Lights Commissioners, as he had said on a previous occasion, were simply a lot of fossilised old fogeys with the single brilliant exception who had since joined the Board—;the right hon. Baronet the Member for North Belfast. With that exception the Lights Commissioners, he was afraid, were absolutely dead to all appeals, whatever those appeals might be, for dealing more efficiently with the duties which they ought to perform. He would give one illustration. He recently obtained from the President of the Board of Trade a Return of the wrecks upon the coast of his own constituency, and it showed that no fewer than 179 wrecks had occurred in ten years. He had appealed again and again for a lighthouse upon a very dangerous part of the coast, for the lighthouse which was built many years ago there had never been lighted. The Press of the North of Ireland had been unanimous in appealing upon this matter, and the county council had passed Resolutions, but the Lights Commissioners were dead to all appeals. He had hoped that something would have been introduced into the Bill making the Lights Commissioners more responsible to a Department represented in Parliament, and he still hoped the Bill might be extended to deal with the subject. The late Lord Ritchie, when at the Board of Trade, gave a promise that he would deal on an early occasion with the whole subject of the Lights Commissioners of the three countries, and he could not help appealing to the new President of the Board of Trade, who had brought fresh energy and enthusiasm to his work, to consider whether these gentlemen could not be placed directly under the control of some Department responsible to Parliament.
§ MR. J. WARD (Stoke-on-Trent)
I rise for the purpose of withdrawing the 860 Motion standing in my name, and to say that we do not intend to oppose the present stage of this Bill.
§ SIR. D. DIXON (Belfast, N.)
said there certainly were no old fossils on the Irish Lights Commissioners Board. The hon. Member who seconded this Bill had said that the Lights Commissioners were mostly lawyers. His impression was that there were no lawyers on the Board at all. He should certainly support the Second Reading.
§ MR. T. L. CORBETT
reminded the hon. Baronet that he stated that he was the bright exception that proved the rule.
§ MR. HAROLD COX (Preston)
in moving that the Bill be read a second time this day six months said that here they had a body of men belonging to the most flourishing industry in the country, asking the nation to give them £500,000 of money. ["No, no."] They were asking taxpayers for the maintenance of lights which their ships used. They might just as well ask them to pay for the coal which was burned in their ships. Surely a light house was as necessary to shipping as coal or stokers. Nobody used lighthouses except ships, just as railway signals were useful to railways. If this Bill passed they might find railway companies coming to this House, asking them to pay the cost of railway signals. [Cries of "Oh, oh."] The argument used was that the lighting of the coast ought to be a national charge, and he was afraid many hon. Members had been led away by that seductive delusion. A national charge would have to be met out of the taxes. He would like to know which tax the shipowners desired them to raise in order to pay for the light dues. Was it the duty on tea, or tobacco?
§ MR. HAROLD COX
said that was a very good suggestion, but he did not see why poor widows and orphans should pay an increased tax, in order to relieve shipowners. He wished to point out that the shipowners did not provide the whole of the £500,000. They collected the money from their customers 861 and he thought that was the best way of raising it, and under that system everybody concerned paid a fair quota. Certain detailed arguments had been used in favour of this proposal. The hon. Member for Scarborough had said that the British shipowners had to pay for the lights used by foreign ships passing up and down the Channel. Did British ships not have the benefit of the lights in the Mediterranean? It should also be remembered that there were more British than foreign ships. The hon. Member for Scarborough had said there were no light dues going to Antwerp, but there were coming from Antwerp to London, and therefore the British shipowner was tempted to send his ship to Antwerp. What was the answer to that? The light dues were not the only charges, because there were harbour dues to be paid. Was it suggested that the State should pay the cost of maintaining the harbours? He could not see the difference between the use of harbours and the use of lights. In France the harbours were built out of the national exchequer, and instead of building a few big harbours in the most convenient places where they were wanted they had built a number of small harbours. Why? Because they were built for political purposes, and each constituency wanted its own little harbour. The result was that an enormous amount of French money had been spent in building little harbours most of which were practically useless. He agreed that the shipowners had a grievance in the fact that these lights were built and managed for them and they had no voice in the control; but that grievance could easily be met. The proper course to adopt was to allow the shipowners to have full representation on those boards and let them do exactly what they liked—;blow them all out if they liked. [Cries of "Oh, oh."] They knew they would not blow them out. The whole system of lighting should be put into the hands of a board mainly controlled by shipowners. He was aware that the Admiralty used the lights without paying for them and perhaps there was a small point in that, but that would be met if the Admiralty paid the same tonnage rate as private ships. It should not, however, be forgotten that the Navy was maintained very largely for the protection of our shipping. The only way in which they could secure economy was by insisting that the people who 862 used a particular thing should pay for it themselves, and he challenged the shipowners to say what particular tax it was by means of which they proposed to raise this money.
To leave out the word 'now,' and at the end of the Question to add the words 'upon this day six months.'"—;(Mr. Harold Cox.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ MR. DAVID MACIVER (Liverpool, Kirkdale)
said that for perverse wrongheadedness commend him to that comparatively small part of our fiscal system which was involved in the collection of light dues from shipping. Every other country in the world provided lighthouses and beacons, and undertook the duty of warning shipping from coast dangers at the national expense; but the British plan was to put the cost of doing this upon the trade of the particular district where the lighthouse happened to be required. We were in the position of protecting foreign ports in their competition with British ports; and we handicapped our own ports to the extent of the light dues. The vessel trading with the Continental ports of Northern Europe used our Channel lights, passed on, and paid nothing; but if she came to England she was made to pay. The result of this was that the Continent was sometimes preferred. The British system had a further and a graver disadvantage. Every now and again we had some terrible shipping disaster, accompanied it might be by loss of life, of which a contributing cause—;or, perhaps, the sole cause—;was the absence of a lighthouse where, in the interests of safe navigation, there ought to be one. The probabilities were that there was no lighthouse because there was nobody to pay for it. Whose business, for instance, should it be to put a lighthouse on the Brayes rocks, off the coast of Guernsey? Those were, and had been, responsible for disasters to some ten or a dozen steamers within his recollection, and were un-lighted; but who was to pay for the light? Was it fair to expect Guernsey 863 to do so? Our Guernsey friends had no special interest in making the channel between the islands safe for passers-by to France, where no light dues could be collected. The Guernsey case was a typical instance which came under his notice in consequence of a disaster to a steamer in which he was interested. But there was another instance nearer home. The estuary of the Dee was much used as a harbour of refuge, and ought to be properly lighted. As a matter of fact, vessels were afraid to run for it in the dark; and when the Dee Conservancy Board, of which he was a member, approached the Trinity Corporation, they were met with the reply that the trade of the district did not warrant the expense. There were no means of collecting the light dues, as vessels merely running for shelter were not reported at any Custom House. But the collection of light dues was not altogether indefensible. The one redeeming feature, in his eyes was that the foreigner now paid a large and rapidly increasing part of them. The reason was not very gratifying to our national vanity; but, as one might see from the advertisement columns of our London papers, we had so completely lost our shipping supremacy on the great trade route that the costly lights of the English Channel were now mainly supported by the magnificent German steamers of large tonnage, created not under a system of free trade, but under a system of Protection, which called at our southern ports almost daily, and took away business which ought to be ours.
§ * MR. J. M. ROBERTSON
said his hon. friend the Member for Preston had opposed the Bill by introducing arguments which were not in accordance with the views of Cobden or his followers. He wished to point out some of the fallacies in his hon friend's line of argument. He had compared the lighting of our coasts to the lighting of their own lines by railway companies. That was obviously a false analogy. A railway company owned its own line and allowed no one else to participate in the control, and therefore to use that argument was surely to obscure the issue. That line of argument would involve the reimposition of tolls upon all our roads. The hon. Member said that was the only economic way of dealing with coast lights.
§ * MR. J. M. ROBERTSON
said he did not think his hon. friend could run away from his own argument by using a phrase about convenience. He said the only economic way was to force the people who used institutions to pay directly for those institutions.
§ * MR. J. M. ROBERTSON
said tolls were practicable, and even today this medieval institution still existed in full force in some places in the country. On the hon. Member's principle any citizen would be entitled to object to pay for the ordinary lighting of streets by stating that he never went out at night, and that the lighting should be paid for solely by those who used the streets after dark. The line of argument of his hon. friend would lead him to those practical absurdities at every turn. But worse than that, he had emphatically contradicted himself. He had used the argument that the nation actually did pay these light dues, that they did not fall upon the shipowners, and that every person who bought goods which were sea carried paid a share of the cost of lighting the coasts. From the point of view of Cobdenism that was an extremely vicious position to take up, for his hon. friend laid the burden of the cost at the source, and, therefore, the consumer would have to pay more than the amount imposed for the light dues. It was thus an uneconomical tax from the point of view of his hon friend as a free trader. But after laying down that every user of goods paid the dues, his hon. friend, when met with the innocent suggestion that the extra burden required for the maintenance of lights might be met by a tax on land values, said that that would be taxing poor widows and orphans for the benefit of shipowners. On his own showing it would not be to benefit shipowners but to benefit every section of the community, including widows and orphans. He thought that widows and orphans figured to a larger extent among the consumers of tea than in the class who were interested in land values. His hon. friend's position in this matter was untenable. Another 865 matter of extreme importance was that in virtue of the present system, which was an extraordinary combination of anomalies, lights were lacking on the coasts where they were wanted. If the hon. Member for Preston had been perfectly consistent he would have said that the shipowners who paid the dues ought to have control of the lights.
§ MR. J. M. ROBERTSON
said he was sure the House would regard that as an impracticable suggestion. He did not know whether shipowners would manage the lights as well as Trinity House, or any of the other boards of control in other parts of the United Kingdom, but the fact remained that through lack of lights where they were needed we were face to face with a system which was a real scandal to our civilisation. This matter was discussed as if only shipowners' profits were concerned, but hon. Members surely did not forget that these lights meant lives, and the lack of them an enormous annual death roll. There was no species of national expenditure they ought to make with less hesitation than this. If it was true that by reason of the lack of lighthouses disasters to ships occurred, it was deplorable that anyone should haggle over the question whether the service should form a national charge. It should be a national charge, and a national charge, he was sure, it would become. He would say to hon. Members who might be disposed to regard this measure as a relief to capital that in his opinion it was a relief to commerce, trade, and industry. Most Members of the House were in favour of the clause in the Workmen's Compensation Bill by which shipowners were to be made responsible for the lives of their seamen. That responsibility would, he believed, add something to the charges on the shipping trade. He thought Liberalism would be in a singular position if it were to proceed to lay fresh burdens on the shipping trade, and at the same time to refuse to take off a burden for the maintenance of which there was not a single argument in equity or consistency.
§ MR. SEDDON (Lancashire, Newton)
said he had a Motion on the Paper for 866 the rejection of the Bill, but he would withdraw it for two reasons; first because of the sweet reasonableness of the shipowners on another question, and, secondly, because of the speech made by the hon. Member for Preston, who had been very well answered by the hon. Member for the Tyneside division. When the hon. Member for Preston said that shipowners ought to have the control of the lights he was forcibly reminded of some lines which were popular in Liverpool some years ago in reference to shipowners, although he did not say they deserved the description:—;I go to church on Sunday,But see me on Monday,Plotting and planning to take men's lives,What care I for the men or their wives?The inference of the hon. Member for Preston was that the shipowners, in protecting their property, could use the lights with a total disregard for the lives of the men who were on the ships.
§ MR. HAROLD COX
I must protest against that. I do not think the hon. Member can be serious in making the statement, for I never inferred anything of the kind.
§ MR SEDDON
thought the hon. Member ought to be more careful in what he said. He took it that the hon. Member was not here as a jester or joker, but to deal with serious matters. The present proposal was to take a charge off shipowners. He hoped shipowners would recognise that he himself was chiefly concerned with the interests of labour, and not with those of shipowners in particular. He agreed that this ought to be a national charge for two reasons. One was the risk of life being lost through lack of lights. The hon. Member for the Kirk-dale division of Liverpool had referred to a place near Guernsey where life was lost through the lack of a light. In this House they recognised more and more the sacredness of human life. They recognised that property should have all the safeguards which could be given, but they recognised also that anything that could be done to protect human life should be done irrespective of cost. They did not want to single out and make victims of shipowners. This was a national question, and the nation ought to bear the cost of lighting the coasts. There ought also to be uniformity and 867 efficiency, and on behalf of the Labour Party he heartily supported the principle of the Bill.
§ * MR. J. D. WHITE (Dumbartonshire)
said he agreed with what had been urged in regard to the lack of lights meaning the loss of men's lives. The proper lighting of the coasts was a matter which affected not only commerce, butalsosafe navigation. The whole charge for the lighting of the coasts should fall upon the public revenue. It was a service provided for the general benefit. It was for the benefit not only of the British people but of foreigners as well. This question ought to be dealt with in the same way as the lighting of the streets, especially as the cost of putting it upon the Exchequer would be a small one. The hon. Member for Preston who opposed the Bill said that this was a case in which the shipowners were coming to the Exchequer for £500,000 of money, but it seemed to him that that was a serious misdescription of what was taking place. Indeed, that hon. Member himself admitted that the light dues ultimately increased the cost of carriage. As one who had no financial interest in shipping he was glad to support this proposal. The hon. Member for Preston had said that if they charged vessels harbour dues they should also charge them light dues. That was a false analogy. Harbour dues were paid only by ships that frequented the harbours, and the harbours benefited these ships alone; but light dues had to be paid by ships frequenting our harbours, while they were not paid by ships which did not frequent our harbours, though they still utilised our lights. Ships from North German ports and from the Baltic for the Atlantic used the lights on the British coasts just as much as our own ships did, but for practical purposes we said to them, "So long as you keep clear of British ports, so long you will not have to pay the light dues." That was an unfair differentiation against British shipping. In consequence of the continuance of these light dues the United States, by way of retaliation, imposed certain charges upon British shipping which they did not impose upon the shipping of any other nation, and these charges amounted to something over £50,000 a year. All these considerations seemed to suggest that we 868 should do away with these exceptional charges. With the possible exception of Turkey, we were the only nation in the world to impose duties of this sort. In one other respect we were like Turkey, for we imposed an export duty upon one article, but he was glad to say that was to be abandoned, and he hoped we should soon part company with Turkey in this as well. It was the more important to consider this matter in view of the fact that prospective legislation with which he was in general sympathy would increase the charges in various ways upon British shipping. If proper steps were taken in this matter it would be of considerable importance to our shipping industry and would help us to maintain that enormous lead in shipping which we had at present and which he hoped we might long continue to possess.
§ * MR. BYLES (Salford, N.)
said the answer to the argument used about the railways was that it was based upon a false idea. It was said that the railway had only to light its own line and nobody had a light to come upon it, but a railway company was bound to carry anybody who wished to go upon their line, and therefore a railway was quite as public as the high seas. For that reason the argument of his hon. friend the Member for Preston remained untouched, because it was just as beneficial to everybody that a railway should be lighted as that our coasts should be lighted. He regretted to find himself differing from his colleagues with whom he was usually associated because of his opposition to this Bill, but what had impressed him, not only in this but in previous debates, was that the demand for relief came from wealthy and prosperous companies. One after another shipowners rose to ask relief from this tax, but it could not be argued that they represented a ruined industry. He had just been looking at some figures which showed that Liverpool shipping had grown five times over in thirty years. Shipping was an extremely profitable industry, and perfectly well able to bear this charge of £500,000. The whole contention appeared to be, however, that the State should relieve it of a charge which it was well able to bear, and the money to pay for which it got from the public. It was probable that the moment this concession was agreed to the shipowners would come 869 to the House and ask for fresh lights here and there, and further cost would be incurred. The ground upon which he opposed the Bill was that the cost was now borne by those who were well able to bear it, and it was proposed now to put it upon a fund which was not able to do so. They had been taunted time after time from the Treasury and front Opposition Bench with being too ready to spend money. They were twitted with the fact that while the House complained of high taxation and expenditure it was always ready to vote money to add to that taxation and expenditure. He on this occasion wished to defend the Chancellor of the Exchequer from the assaults which were being made upon him by this wealthy industry. He said that if the Exchequer could afford it, it ought to give them money for many other objects which were very much more pressing than this. He was sorry that the Labour Party had withdrawn their Amendments, and that the arguments they had been listening to in the Lobby had had some influence upon them [Cries of "Oh."] He said arguments, and there was no taunt in that. He did not know what arguments they might have been listening to. He did not know why they had withdrawn their suggestion, but perhaps it was because this proposal was in accordance with their Socialist idea, that all services which were national services should fall upon the national Exchequer. He had some sympathy with that, and in that respect he was a Socialist himself. He would like to see the nation undertake those services, but he said that if they were going to undertake this service, they should not devote to it the first £500,000 they had to spare, as there were many other subjects which ought to be dealt with before it.
§ MR. WILLIAM REDMOND (Clare, E.)
said it was not often that he found himself in agreement with the great shipowners of this country. Many years ago he was a Member of the Ships' Subsidies Committee, and he found himself on that occasion in opposition to many shipowners, On that Committee a great deal of evidence was taken on this matter of light dues, and he thought an unanswerable case was made out in support of the object which the promoters of this Bill had in view. This was not a 870 matter which concerned merely the shipowners, about whom he would not bother himself, because they were rich enough and influential enough to look after their own interests, but as an hon. Member representing the Labour Party had well said a few minutes ago it was a matter which touched the safety of a large portion of the community which very badly needed protection. He did not know any class in the United Kingdom, or indeed in the whole Empire who stood more in need of having their interests guarded in this House than the great seafaring populations of the country. They had no direct representation in Parliament; shipowners galore there were but the seaman had nobody to speak on their behalf ["Oh."] What he meant was that they had really no one except his hon. friend the Member for Middlesbrough, who for many years had represented the interests of the seafaring population as a seafaring man. But even if the hon. Member represented them directly the proportion was altogether out of keeping with the magnitude of the interests at stake and the representation on the other side. He intended to support the Bill because he thought it was really in the interest of the seafaring class. In regard to the protection of the coasts of the country no question of economy should be considered in view of the wrecks and loss of life which occurred daily. This was not a question of benefiting shipowners whose pockets he hoped would be touched by the Merchant Shipping Bill, but he believed that this Bill was in the interest of the seagoing population and it was their interest that he was considering. He ventured to say, as one who had been apprenticed to the sea, that he knew something about the feelings of these people. He thought they ought to be better represented in Parliament and he appealed to hon. Members not to be led away into opposing the Bill by any appeals to the wealth and greediness of the shipowners, but simply to bear in mind that this was a matter which affected some of the poorest and least represented of the people. He hoped the Bill would be carried by an enormous majority.
§ * MR. R. BALFOUR (Lanarkshire, Partick)
said that, as one engaged in the export of commodities and the importation of produce, he would like to add a few 871 words to those that had been said on this Bill. He altogether dissented from the views expressed by the hon. Member for Preston, whose analogy was not a good one. In comparing the lighting of the coasts with the lighting of a railroad the hon. Gentleman had forgotten the important facts that the lighting of the railroad was controlled by the railroad and used for the purposes of the railroad; that if the railroad did not pay its managers had the opportunity of advancing their rates; that they had no competition in the sense that competition was understood amongst shipowners, and that therefore they could obtain better results. Shipowners had to compete internationally; they had to compete with the shipping of other countries and accept rates which the shipowners of those countries, who had not this additional burden to bear, would accept. So far as loss of life was concerned, there was no man who felt more sympathy than the owner of the ship in regard to which the loss of life occurred. He had seen shipowners absolutely broken down when any loss of life had occurred, and to the shipowner there was no more unhappy or distressing task than having to write letters, breaking the news, to the relatives of those who had been lost. In his opinion the lighting of our coasts was a national duty and ought to be carried out at the national charge. He did not suggest that there was anything to find fault with in the present system of management, but surely if the shipowners had to pay for the lighting they ought to have some control and representation on the question of management. He did not think the management should be in the hands of such bodies as those who now controlled the lighting of the coast. It ought to be controlled by a Government Department as in the United States. In the United States of America there was a lighthouse board which controlled the lighting of the coasts of the country, and the control of that department was in the hands of the United States engineers, a branch of the military service of that country. It would be well, he thought, if we adopted the same practice and placed the lighting of our coasts in the hands of a Government Department. He admitted that there were certain charges for lighting which were of a 872 local character. As he understood, shipowners had no objection to paying those local charges, as they came within a different category from the charges for lighting the coasts at large. It had to be borne in mind that other countries used our lighthouses when, for instance, passing down the Channel, and that we from our geographical position did not use the lights of other countries to anything like a corresponding extent. As he understood also, if we waived in our own ports this charge, which was partially paid by ships sailing under foreign flags, they in their turn would waive certain charges now made by them against ships flying the British flag. The charge directly and indirectly burdened the trade and commerce of this country, and from that point of view also the shipowners in his opinion ought to be relieved of it. His broad ground for supporting the Bill was that the lighting of our coasts was a national function, and that therefore it should be maintained out of national funds. That was the main principle he wished to put forward, and he hoped the Bill would get a Second Reading and that the Chancellor of the Exchequer might ere long be able to make such arrangements as would enable this charge, so far as shipowners were concerned, to be finally removed.
§ * MR. WILKIE (Dundee)
said that this was no Party question nor was it a fiscal question. Had it been so he would have been against any artificial barrier being placed against the trade and commerce of the country. He looked upon the question from the point of view of those who had had the experience of a seagoing life. If some hon. Members had had the experience which others had had, and knew what it was on a wild winter night to stand on board ship watching for the shore lights in uncertainty whether or not they would be able to locate the right one, they would certainly vote for a Bill which would provide that the lights along our coast should be brighter and more efficient. That was not a mere capitalist question, it was a question of the safety of lives. He considered that the shipowners had made out a fair case that the payment 873 of our coast lights was a national charge. The argument of lighting a railroad had no analogy to the lighting of the coast, for the simple reason that the railway and the property surrounding the railway was private property whilst the high seas belonged to all. Other nations made this a national charge, and he pleaded that we should not lag behind in the matter. It had been asked, "Where was the money to come from?" During the life of the present Parliament many Resolutions had been placed upon the records of the House, involving the expenditure of large sums, and he failed to see, if it were an equitable one, why the Motion now before the House should not also be placed on record and have the same opportunity in turn with the rest of becoming law.
§ * MR. RIDSDALE (Brighton)
said that the subject before the House was one upon which he had no special knowledge, although it was true that he represented a constituency which was probably the best lighted part of all our sea coast. He was afraid, however, if this Bill were passed it would not provide funds for the lighting of that part of the coast which he had the honour to represent. If it did he should not now be speaking against it. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was the guardian of the public purse, and if any sum of money had to be extracted from the public purse he ought first to consider whether the cause for which it was to be extracted had the best claim. He did not think the hon. Gentlemen opposite who pressed for old age pensions, the payment of election expenses, and the payment of Members of Parliament, could claim that the shipping industry was withering away from the effect of these light dues. It was one of the most flourishing of all our industries, and was also the industry upon which the basis of our Empire rested. He would be loth to do anything which might injure that industry, but its great prosperity had been built up in spite of having to pay these shipping dues. There was another matter he wished to bring before the attention of the House. They were told that this taxation, which fell to a certain extent upon the shipping 874 industry of this country, also fell slightly upon the foreign shipping industry. It was hard enough, amid all the ramifications of the fiscal arguments, to find anything which would enable us to extract taxation from the foreigner. This, however, was one of those cases in which we got money out of the foreigner. He did not deny, on general broad principles, that the lighting of our coasts was a national interest to be taken over by the State. Possibly, in the dim future, when we had reduced the great burden of taxation under which the country lay, this question might be taken up, but with the pressing claims which were being made by hon. Gentlemen opposite upon the purse of Chancellor of the Exchequer, he did not think it could be urged that this money should be taken out of the funds of the nation and given to those who really did not need it, viz., the shipowners of this country.
§ MR. JOYCE (Limerick)
said he supported this measure, not because he had any interest in the shipowners of the country, but upon the broad lines that it was to the interests of the seafaring population, of whom he was one, and of which he had some knowledge. He knew what it was to come on a coast badly lit and what a difference it was to come on a coast well lit. One of his principal reasons for supporting the Bill was that by it the lighting of the coast would be thrown upon the Government of the day, and they would thus get rid of the governing boards which now controlled the lighting. A great deal had been said by hon. Members who were opposed to this Bill with regard to the £500,000 that it would cost the Chancellor of the Exchequer to light the coasts, and as to where the money was to come from. But if the Chancellor of the Exchequer would care to consult him at any time, he would show the right hon. Gentleman how to provide for this charge without interfering in the least with any other matters that had been put forward. The right hon. Gentleman had only to cut off a second class cruiser every year from our programme of construction and he would gain more than sufficient to light our coasts. The Government were building 875 at enormous cost every year fleets of ships which in ten or twelve years became obsolete, with the result that new fleets had to be built. It would be much better for the community at large if this money was devoted to schemes devised for the purposes of saving, rather than upon means for destroying, life. It was true the shipowners might gain a certain sum of money per annum if these charges were taken off. He had not great sympathy with the shipowners, not being a shipowner himself, but he did think that, if they could get the burden of these dues taken off, they should do so and then try to get something in return from the shipowners. The main reason why he supported the Bill was that he considered it most important that the Board of Trade, or some Government board, should have the control of coast lights, instead of the private boards which now controlled them.
§ * MR. CAIRNS (Newcastle-on-Tyne)
said that though the opinion of the House appeared to be unanimous upon this Bill they could not deprive themselves of the luxury of a debate upon it. As a shipowner he had the greatest possible hesitation in taking part in a debate upon a matter affecting an industry in which he had a pecuniary interest, and he should not have risen but for the very unfair remark of the hon. Member for North Salford in characterising the Bill as an appeal by wealthy shipowners for some advantage from the State. Those who had shares in shipping knew that during the last five years the average profits earned had not been enough to cover actual depreciation; still, they hoped for better times. It was not a question of wealthy or impoverished shipowners: it was a question of equity; and viewed from that point of view the principles of the Bill were reasonable. Instead of the lighting of our coasts falling upon a particular trade, they should be an Imperial charge. He would not follow the analogies and parallels which had been drawn during this debate. Argument by analogy was sometimes misleading, and resulted in false conclusions. He just wanted to point out that the shipping industry was not only one of the most important trades in this country, but one which affected nearly every other 876 trade. It carried all our commodities at the lowest possible cost, which was a matter of the greatest importance to us. He wished to bring before the House the astonishing fact that the average rates of freight in the Atlantic and other trades of similar length of voyage, which have ruled for the past five years, were such that, as far as ocean navigation charges were concerned, a ton of merchandise was transported 100 miles for one penny and a sixth. They would thus see that the shipping industry had practically annihilated distance, and realise what a wonderful and important service it rendered. Further, the prosperity and increase of our mercantile marine intimately affected and stimulated other important industries, such as shipbuilding, and its allied trades. The increase in British coal-mining during the past few years has to a large degree been caused by the increase in our Mercantile Fleet. The increase in British tonnage for the past five years, it has been estimated, makes a present annual demand for British coal of about 6,000,000 tons. We should not put a tax on the mercantile marine which would hinder its proper development. He did not wish to labour the matter at length, but he felt that the trade was of such great importance that the House must look at this from the national point of view, and, further, inasmuch as the light dues which the shipowner paid provided for the safety and protection of the Imperial Navy, they ought to be an Imperial charge.
§ * MR. MADDISON (Burnley)
said he could not remember a Bill that had been more fortunate than that before the House. All Motions for rejections had disappeared, and for this he was not sorry, as he thought the Bill on its merits deserved a Second Reading. But it was singular to find the hon. Member for the Newton Division of Lancashire, after putting down a Motion to reject it, giving the hill his enthu iastic support. He confessed that when he was in the House seven years ago he voted against a similar measure, but from the very moment that he had voted he felt that he had given a wrong vote. There were two grounds upon which he supported this Bill. He did not regard it as a mere shipowners' Bill; if it had been 877 he would have recorded his vote against it. He did not take the hon. Member for Stockton quite seriously in this matter. The hon. Member in season and out of season told them of the miserable condition of shipowners, but he did not believe that the hon. Member even took himself seriously. The hon. Member for the Tyneside Division gave the reason which had induced him (Mr. Maddison) to vote for this Bill, namely, that it was economically sound to free an industry from taxation at the source whenever possible, because otherwise the consumers were penalised. When a great country like ours depended as much upon its shipping as we did, it was desirable that everything should be made as cheap as possible. The hon. Member for Brighton expressed some regret that we could not differentiate between the foreign and British shipowner. He knew that there was no difference made now, and they wanted every possible ship, whether British or foreign, to come into our ports. No ship could come here without doing some good to the country, and therefore it must be clearly understood that he should support this Bill on the distinct understanding that the abolition of these light dues applied to foreign as well as to British ships. There was also the other point that there was really no chance of the coast being efficiently lighted until it was made a national matter. At present it was inequitable; the capital value of the Navy was tremendous, but it paid nothing towards the lighting of the coast; the shipowners paid that. Yet one of the primary functions of these lights was to protect the Navy. Up to the present the shipowners had tried to get proper representation on the Board of Trinity House and the other boards regulating the lighting of the ocean highways. The analogy of the lighting of the railroad was a false one because a railway was a private monopoly. In his opinion a real case had been made out for putting the cost of the lighting of the coast upon, the nation and making the Government responsible. He did not expect the President of the Board of Trade, who had supported a similar Bill last year, to have that freedom which he had as a private Member of the House, and he did not therefore consider that his 878 voting against this Bill would show any inconsistency. There was £500,000) involved in this question which must be taken from somewhere. A great deal of money was required for social reforms of various kinds, but against that there were the two arguments—;first, that the safety of life was the greatest social reform that could be imagined, and, secondly, that it was economically sound to free the consumer from imposts wherever possible. The question of taxation, however, was a very wide one, and some of them believed that all or at any rate most of the taxes should be paid by the land. If giving a Second Reading to this Bill meant its passing this year, and that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would have to find half a million more money, he candidly admitted he would not have been able to support it, because in that case they would have had to take into account the various demands that had already been made, and see whether money could be allocated for this purpose. In this particular case, however, he saw no difficulty in voting for the Second Reading, because by so doing they could affirm its principle, and it could then take its place in that long procession of demands which were seeking relief from the Treasury. On these grounds he should vote for the Second Reading.
§ * THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE (Mr. LLOYD-GEORGE, Carnarvon)
said he need hardly say that he was in great sympathy with the shipowners of this country, representing, as he did, a constituency in which every other man was interested in shipping. He had been reminded that he supported a Bill of this kind before, and that no doubt was the case, but he had to look not only to the principle of the Bill, but to its practical effect. There was no use giving a Bill a Second Reading unless they were prepared to carry it out. This was not an abstract Resolution affirming a principle upon which to found a Bill in future. If hon. Gentlemen would look at this Bill they would see that it proposed to abolish light dues as from the first day of January, l907. He would like hon. Members who supported the Bill, and with whose views he fully sympathised, to consider 879 what the position would be if it was carried into law. If it were carried there would be no light dues after January 1st, 1907. But where was the money for the maintenance of the lights to come from? It was said that the Bill was promoted in the interest of humanity. Surely it was not in the interest of humanity that they should abolish light dues and leave the lighthouses without any light at all. The previous Bill provided where the money was to come from, but this was a Bill simply to abolish light dues.
§ SIR ROBERT ROPNER
said the promoters were perfectly well aware that if the Bill were read a second time no effect could be given to it by January 1st next. The object of having the Bill read the second time was to show that feeling in the House was in favour of abolishing the dues, and it would remain to the Chancellor of the Exchequer next year to make arrangements for carrying out the proposal.
§ * MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
said there was a great difference between an expression of opinion and a definite Bill. After all, the House was a business assembly, or it ought to be, and it should not give the Second Reading to a Bill unless it meant it. Did any one really mean this Bill? The hon. Baronet who introduced it said he did not mean it; that all he meant was that it should be taken as a pious expression of opinion as to what ought to be done. The Board of Trade would be delighted to help the shipping industry, but the question they had to face was that of finding the money. If the Bill were carried they would have to go to the Treasury and convince them. And would any one tell him where the money was to be found? Was the coal tax to be re-imposed? Was the penny still to be left on the tea duty? Was the half a million for the reduction of the National Debt to be diverted to the purpose of the Bill? [An HON. MEMBER: Take it off the Army or the Navy.] That was a question to be dealt with when they were considering the Army or the Navy. He would turn to some of the arguments used in support of this Bill. It was said that there was no great nation in the world that imposed 880 these light dues, but there was not much in that, because those other countries could raise a considerable taxation upon their over-sea trade. That was a burden upon trade, and had the effect of restricting the shipping trade, and, indeed, was probably much more disastrous to shipping than any light dues imposed by us. He was certain that those who supported the Bill did not wish this country to follow the example of other countries in that respect. With regard to the Suez Canal shares argument, he held a strong feeling that the Canal dues were extravagantly high, but that was rather a reason for appealing for a reduction in those dues. He should like to know whether those who represented shipping which passed through the Suez Canal were prepared to say they would not put forward any further claims for reduction of the dues if the light dues on the British coast were abolished. Would any representative of Suez Canal shipping be prepared to say that now? If he would he should be rather surprised. Another argument that had been advanced was that these light dues protected the ships that did not use our ports. That was equally true of France. The French lights protected German ships passing by, but Germany did not contribute anything to the upkeep of those lights. As a matter of fact the argument was absurd, because what happened in our own case? Foreign shipping contributed something like £150,000 or £160,000 to the upkeep of the lights around the Coast, whereas in the case of France the whole burden fell on the French taxpayer. The proposal, therefore, was to impose upon the British taxpayer a burden a considerable proportion of which came in the first instance from the pockets of the foreigner. That was a proposition which came from hon. Members who wanted to tax the foreigner for British industries. He agreed with his hon. friend the Member for Scarborough, whom he congratulated on his maiden speech, that the burden did not really come out of the pockets of the shipowners, nor even of the shipping industry, but really fell upon the consumer in this country. He further agreed that if they took it off, the relief in the long run would go into the pockets, not 881 of the shipowner, but of the consumer. That was his belief. That was the way competition must inevitably work. The whole question was, Was the House prepared at the present moment to give a kind of mandate to the Chancellor of the Exchequer that on January 1st, 1907, he was to find £500,000 for the purpose of abolishing light dues? He did not think it was fair to pass the Bill unless they were prepared to face that question. The Government were not prepared at the present moment to find £500,000 for the purpose asked for. In another direction, however, the Government might be able to do something. There had been a good deal of criticism in the course of the debate of the administration of the lighthouses, and particularly of the system under which £500,000 was expended by a body which was not responsible either to the shipowners or to this House. He listened to the criticism passed by the hon. Member for North Down as to the neglect of the Commissioners of Irish Lights to light up a part of the coast, which he agreed was extremely dangerous, but he was powerless in the matter. Most of the criticisms had been passed upon the Irish lights. He was glad to hear for the sake of his profession that the responsible body was one on which there was no lawyer. He thought there was a great case for consideration as to shipowners having somebody more directly responsible either to public opinion or to the shipowners, and the Government were prepared to set up an inquiry into that matter. It had been said during the debate that one of his predecessors offered to do something, but that was the first time he had heard it. At any rate, he thought something ought to be done, and the Government were prepared to appoint a Commission for the purpose of looking into the whole management of the lighthouses of our coasts. That would cover a good many of the complaints which had been made as to the inadequacy of the lighting of our coasts. That was a matter which ought to be looked into, and that the Government proposed doing at the earliest possible moment, but until they got the Report of the proposed Commission he hoped the House would not pass the present Bill. In connection with a 882 previous Light Dues Act something was done in the way of subsidising a system of apprenticeship for the supply to the Mercantile Marine of a larger number of British sailors. Nothing much came of that scheme, one reason being that the money was insufficient. He hoped something might be done in the next few weeks in regard to that, but he was not prepared to make any express promise. In the meantime he appealed to the shipowners and the House to be satisfied for the present with the investigation he had promised. His hon. friend the Member for the Abercromby Division of Liverpool was a great champion of economy, and he would ask him for his assistance in this matter. They were all economists until it came to the interest of their own constituents. He would, however, ask for his hon. friend's support that they should wait at any rate until these questions had been thoroughly sifted out. There ought to be a Commission appointed who would have regard to all the interests involved, and not merely those of the shipowners. He trusted the supporters of this Bill would be satisfied with the appointment of a Commission to go into the whole question of the lighting of our coasts, and more especially the management and the constitution of the bodies that performed the work at the present time. More could not really be expected from the Government. Of course, as was pointed out by the Chancellor of the Exchequer the other day, his right hon. friend was not even responsible for the estimates of this year, and therefore he could not control expenditure. It would be unfair to his right hon. friend, therefore, in his first year of office, and in the special circumstances of this year, to call upon him to find another £500,000 for the abolition of light dues. He sincerely trusted the House would accede to his reasonable request in this matter.
§ * MR. BARRIE (Londonderry, N.)
, said he was sure that the House had listened with satisfaction to the promise of the President of the Board of Trade to appoint a Royal Commission. He had for long felt that the lighting of our coasts was a national matter. The hon. Member for North Down had given a concrete illustration of how slowly Lighthouse 883 Boards proceeded, and he hoped that there would be no further delay in granting a lighthouse at the important part of the coast referred to by his hon. friend. As regarded the Northern Lighthouse Commissioners, while he believed they discharged their duties fairly well, the time had come when a more popularly elected body should be substituted, with more rapid and responsive methods of lighthouse work. It was time that the important duty of lighting the coasts was undertaken by the nation, and was discharged by a department directly responsible to this House.
§ SIR CHRISTOPHER FURNESS (Hartlepool)
said he had been long enough in this House to remember the time when, if any matter affecting shipowners and shipping was introduced, it was as a rule most unfavourably considered. He readily recognised the great change that had taken place in regard to the shipping industry in this country since then. It was almost too late in the day to emphasise the fact that the great shipping industry was practically the only one this country had got of which they were really proud. He was speaking more particularly of the export trade of the country, in which the shipping trade played so important a part. The other day a Bill was introduced in this House affecting shipowners, and they gave evidence of their readiness to support the President of the Board of Trade and the Government in every possible way. They had heard the view expressed by the President of the Board of Trade, and they fully recognised the position in which he was placed in regard to the question. The right hon. Gentleman had said that if the Bill passed, on the 1st of January, 1907 all the lighthouses on our coast would practically be in darkness. He wished to remind the President of the Board of Trade that, although that was a possibility, it was a very remote one. Even if the Bill passed without any alteration of the date, Trinity House had already extracted sufficient money from shipowners not only to cover the cost of lighting the coast for the present year, but also, by utilising the reserve fund, to carry on the work for another year at 884 the present rate of expenditure, reckless, extravagant, and unbusinesslike as it was. This could be done without receiving one penny more from the shipowners. Therefore they could easily alter the date from 1907 to 1908. The Government had promised, if this Bill were withdrawn, a Commission to inquire into the whole question. His opinion was that they had had too many Commissions already upon the matter. There had been four Committees and Commissions already, and all the Commissions they could form could not get away from the fact that it was an injustice upon the shipowning industry that they should pay not only for the lighting of the coast for their own vessels, but also the proportionate cost which ought to be collected from the Navy. Not only was this an injustice, but it had most injurious effects in other ways. They were told that they were going to be granted some relief or encouragement in regard to the question of apprentices, but he was one of those who contended that they were face to face with an injustice strong enough in itself to encourage them to proceed with this Bill, because they felt that the British shipowner should no longer be placed under the injustice which at present existed. With regard to the Suez Canal dues, which had been alluded to by the right hon. Gentleman, he failed to see any connection between the two.
§ * MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
said he never raised the question at all; he simply answered a Question raised by an hon. Member opposite.
§ SIR CHRISTOPHER FURNESS
said that having regard to the fact that we were the largest investors in the Canal, the Government ought to set a good example and encourage their co-owners to reduce the charges to a reasonable and legitimate rate. He thought it would be admitted that there had been no real argument used against the Bill. All the speeches they had heard up to the present admitted the reasonableness of the contention of the shipowners, and although he fully recognised the difficulties of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in finding the money necessary for all the demands made upon him, he thought they had 885 a right to demand from the Government the payment of a fair share of the cost of lighting the coast on account of the Navy. If the Bill were sent to a Grand Committee the shipowners would be ready to agree in a friendly spirit to a date when it should come into operation.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN (Birmingham, W.)
said he would like to say a few words upon this subject, with which he had been connected during a part of his public career. The Bill had one advantage from a purely Party point of view. As a Unionist, he looked forward with some anxiety to the use that might be made of any surplus that might accrue to the Treasury of a Radical Chancellor of the Exchequer. One effect of this Bill would be to reduce that surplus by about £500,000, and so far he felt tempted to vote for the Bill. But he was afraid that course might involve a certain amount of inconsistency, because he had on previous occasions opposed any proposal of this kind. This question was first brought before his notice when he was serving his apprenticeship as President of the Board of Trade. He served that apprenticeship under the late Lord Farrer, who although he was nominally his subordinate, yet was, as the permanent head of the office, one of the ablest men he had ever come into contact with in public life, and no doubt he had a great influence upon his views at that time. Mr. Farrar, as he then was, was a Radical and free-trader—;a very logical and consistent free-frader, of a different school from that with which they were now acquainted. He was not at all afraid of making necessary reforms. He was of opinion that the management of the lighthouse system of this country by the Trinity House was a most admirable example of that kind of service, and might properly be imitated by other Departments of the State. The hon. Gentleman who had just sat down had said something which implied that the Trinity House was a non-representative institution, and was unfitted for work of this kind, and that the work was done expensively and inefficiently. Thirty years ago Lord Farrer held a totally different opinion, and nothing had happened since, in his judgment, which 886 would justify them in taking a different view from Lord Farrer's. The Trinity House management of the lighthouses combined the advantages of the advice and knowledge of experts in these matters and the efficient control of the Government Department, because the finance of the Lighthouse Board was certainly governed by the President of the Board of Trade, and therefore he could influence their policy most effectively. One objection to this Bill was that it would inevitably be followed by a change of that system, and the transfer of this great business to a Government Department. He had spent the greater part of his public life in Government Departments, but he retained sufficient suspicion of them to entertain a certain fear of casting on them duties which they were not well qualified to undertake. At least they would be losing more and more that assistance and advice which could only be given by private individuals, and which was stimulated by private interests. He should think it would be a real misfortune if this change were made, and if the lighting of the coasts, which by the common consent of every impartial person had been admirably performed by the Trinity House, were handed over to a Government Department which, in the first instance, at any rate must be insufficiently equipped with, the necessary information and, he was certain, would not be economical. He did not think it would be found in the long run an advantage to the country that the cost of the lighthouse service should be very considerably raised, as he was certain it would be if the private assistance and advice now given were lost. They had been told that they ought to carry this Bill as a matter of justice. The hon. Member for Hartlepool did not press this claim upon that ground alone, but also upon the universally recognised virtues of the shipping interest. With these extraordinary qualifications it was thought that a small subsidy—;a dole it used to be called in the last Parliament—;of £500,000 a year should be presented to these gentlemen. He had the highest respect for the shipping interest, but he could not admit that they were entitled to any special advantages.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
said he thought, on the contrary, that the great majority of the shipowners were heartily with him. At all events, the great shipping port of Liverpool had returned to this House a majority of its Members, in spite of Chinese labour, entirely favourable to his view., The hon. Member should not insinuate improper motives. He gave the hon. Member credit for absolute sincerity and disinterestedness, and he was sure the hon. Gentleman would give him credit for equal honesty.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN (continuing)
said that with regard to the suggestion that it was unjust to put this tax upon the shipowners, would it be more just to put it on the inland taxpayers and ratepayers? Surely it was desirable as a principle in all taxation that as far as possible the first incidence of any tax should be borne by the people who benefited most from it. As the shipping industry was the chief beneficiary in this particular case, he should have thought it had been better that, in the first instance at any rate, the shipping industry should pay these dues. The shipowners were able to distribute the cost, and sometimes an additional profit, upon the freighters of the ships. There was an analagous case in the removal of the turnpike dues and the imposition of all dues upon local authorities in connection with highways. He believed that that change was adopted with general assent, but he had always had considerable doubt as to whether the change was wise or whether it had operated satisfactorily. [MINISTERIAL cries of "No, no."] At any rate he held that old-fashioned opinion. Time had shown that the heavy charge now laid upon the local rates for the repair of the roads was unfair in its incidence. When he saw the change which was coming over them in reference to the improvements of locomotion and more especially the increase of motor cars and motor traffic of all kinds, he did think it was extremely unfair 888 that some country village should be heavily taxed for the pleasure traffic of visitors who might run through the village and who had no interest in local circumstances. He thought no serious injury had been shown to have resulted from the placing of this tax in the first place upon those who chiefly benefited by the service rendered, and it would be a disadvantage to deprive ourselves of the valuable services of the Trinity House authorities. Therefore he he should vote against the Bill. The Government had given them the usual advice—;they were to go as they pleased. The appointment of a Commission was merely an excuse, to which they had become accustomed within the last two months, for indecision on the part of the Government. The Government had a larger majority than any other Government had ever had in our history, a greater majority and consequently greater indecision.
§ MAJOR SEELY (Liverpool, Abercromby)
said he was not surprised that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham had opposed the Bill, for he believed in taxing the foreigner. The President of the Board of Trade agreed with the right hon. Gentleman on this occasion, and opposed the Bill in order that we might continue to tax the foreigner. He and his friends did net believe in taxing the foreigner in this or in any other matter. The position of the economists who opposed the Bill was hardly reasonable. What he wanted to do when he asked for economy was to stop unproductive expenditure. In the case of this Bill it was not contended that anything of that kind could be done. It was a question whether the burden should be shifted from one shoulder to another. There could be no saving; the money was paid in any case. The question was—;who should pay? If the shipowner paid it was most unfair that the Navy of this country should contribute nothing. The President of the Board of Trade had made no reply on that point. That made out a case for the Bill at the start. If the shipowners paid they also paid for the ships and navies of all other countries which passed along our coasts. That was a most unreasonable state of affairs. His right 889 hon. friend had abandoned that position. He seemed to say that the consumers paid, and that they were in the long run the tax-payers. If that were so this Bill would not make any difference from the economic point of view. The present plan was admitted to be a very bad one from the point of view of international difficulties. Therefore, while we should save no money by continuing the present system, we should continue to have those international difficulties which hampered trade and therefore diminished the prosperity of the country. If the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham opposed the Bill, that was to him rather an argument for supporting it, for the right hon. Gentleman had undoubtedly used arguments in opposing the Bill with which they were altogether too familiar. The constituency which returned him contained, he supposed, more shipowners than any other, and they were almost unanimous, so far as he had been able to ascertain, in opposing the other proposals of the right hon. Gentleman to which reference had been made, and they were quite unanimous in supporting this Bill for the reasons which he had briefly stated. He thought the Bill would add nothing to the burden of the whole community, but it would undoubtedly free our international trade from obstacles to which it was exposed by our present vicious system.
§ MR. O'GRADY (Leeds, E.)
said he was going on this occasion to support the Government, because it had been proved through the whole debate that there was absolute need for inquiry. Subsequently the Government might intervene. He protested against this burden being taken off the shipowners and placed on the State. The Labour representatives had from time to time made representations that measures for social and industrial reforms should be introduced, and they had been met with the argument that the Government were not able to find the money. On both sides of the House there were hon. Gentlemen who wished to relieve
§ those who could pay from a burden of £500,000 per annum. A little while ago, when he was pleading that aged people who had been working for the greater part of their lives should get pensions, he was met with the answer that the Government had no money. The common people formed the bulk of the nation, and they deserved first consideration in matters of this kind. If this burden was removed from the shipowning community and put on the State, had they any guarantee that there would be any reduction in freights? He was of opinion that when a particular section of the community were relieved of their burdens the consumer never did benefit. Case after case could be quoted in proof of that statement. The burden, after all, was not so great as the shipowners would lead the House to believe. The President of the Board of Trade had stated that no less than £160,000 of the £500,000 was paid by foreign shipowners. He believed the interests that bore the burden at present were well able to pay. The Government ought to consider what they were going to do as to the pledges regarding social reform made during the General Election. He hoped hon. Members on the Ministerial Benches would accept the position outlined by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, and that they would vote for an inquiry, but not for this Bill.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR (Liverpool, Scotland)
said he regarded the proposal of the President of the Board of Trade to appoint a Commission as a polite method of hanging up the question. He would be glad if he and his hon. friends who represented shipping communities could accept the proposal as satisfactory, but he hoped they would press the Motion for the Second Reading to a division.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided: Ayes, 142; Noes. 169. (Division List No. 68.)893
|Acland-Hood, Rt. Hn. Sir Alex F.||Ashley, W. W.||Balfour, Robert (Lanark)|
|Agar-Robartes, Hon. T. C.||Baker, Joseph A. (Finsbury, E.)||Banner, John S. Harmood-|
|Agnew, George William||Balfour, Capt. C. B. (Hornsey)||Barker, John|
|Barlow, Percy (Bedford)||Higham, John Sharp||Robertson, J. M. (Tyneside)|
|Barnes, G. N.||Hill, Sir Clement (Shrewsbury)||Scott, A. H. (Ashton-under-Lyne|
|Barran, Rowland Hirst||Holland, Sir William Henry||Seddon, J.|
|Barrie, H. T. (Londonderry, N.)||Houston, Robert Paterson||Seely, Major J. B.|
|Beale, W. P.||Hunt, Rowland||Shackleton, David James|
|Beauchamp, E.||Jackson, R. S.||Shaw, Charles Edw. (Stafford)|
|Beckett, Hon. Gervase||Jones, David Brynmor (Swansea||Shipman, Dr. John G.|
|Belloc, Hilaire Joseph Peter R.||Joyce, Michael||Sloan, Thomas Henry|
|Bertram, Julius||Laidlaw, Robert||Soares, Ernest J.|
|Bignold, Sir Arthur||Lamb, Ernest H. (Rochester)||Spicer, Albert|
|Bowles, G. Stewart||Lambton, Hon. Frederick Wm.||Stanger, H. Y.|
|Brace, William||Lever, A.Levy (Essex, Harwich)||Starkey, John R.|
|Branch, James||Lever, W. H. (Cheshire, Wirral)||Stewart, Halley (Greenock)|
|Brunner, J. F. L. (Lancs., Leigh)||Liddell, Henry||Stuart, James (Sunderland)|
|Brunner, Sir John T.(Cheshire)||Lupton, Arnold||Sullivan, Donal|
|Burt, Rt. Hon. Thomas||Lynch, H. B.||Summerbell, T.|
|Cairns, Thomas||MacdonaId, J. M. (Falkirk B'ghs||Sutherland, J. E.|
|Cameron, Robert||MacIver, David (Liverpool)||Thompson, J. W. H. (Somerset, E|
|Carlile, E. Hildred||Maclean, Donald||Thomson, W. Mitchell-(Lanark|
|Carr-Gomm, H. W.||MacVeagh, Jeremiah (Down, S.)||Torrance, A. M.|
|Castlereagh, Viscount||M'Callum, John M.||Verney, F. W.|
|Cecil, Lord John P. Joicey-||M'Calmont, Colonel James||Vivian, Henry|
|Clancy, John Joseph||Maddison, Frederick||Walrond, Hon. Lionel|
|Cleland, J. W.||Manfield, Harry (Northants)||Walton, Joseph (Barnsley)|
|Clynes, J. R.||Molteno, Percy Alfred||Ward, John (Stoke-upon-Trent)|
|Collins, Stephen (Lambeth)||Mond, A.||Waterlow, D. S.|
|Corbett, C. H. (Sussex, E. Grinst'd||Muntz, Sir Philip A.||Watt, H. Anderson|
|Corbett, T. L. (Down, North)||Nicholson, Charles N. (Doncast'r||Wedgwood, Josiah C.|
|Cory, Clifford John||Nicholson, Wm. G. (Petersfield)||White, J. D. (Dumbartonshire)|
|Craig, Captain James (Down, E.)||Nolan, Joseph||White, Luke (York, E. R.)|
|Davies, W. Howell (Bristol, S.)||O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny)||Whittaker, Thomas Palmer|
|Dixon, Sir Daniel||O'Connor, John (Kildare, N.)||Wilkie, Alexander|
|Dobson, Thomas W.||O'Connor, T. P. (Liverpool)||Williams, Col. R. (Dorset, W.)|
|Duncan, Robert (Lanark, Govan||O'Doherty, Philip||Williamson, A. (Elgin and Nairn|
|Ferens, T. R.||O'Malley, William||Wilson, A. Stanley (York, E. R.)|
|Findlay, Alexander||O'Neill, Hon. Robert Torrens||Wilson, Hon. C. H. W. (Hull, W.)|
|Flavin, Michael Joseph||O'Shaughnessy, P. J.||Wolff. Gustav Wilhelm|
|Fletcher, J. S.||Philipps, Col. Ivor (S'thampton)||Woodhouse, Sir J T. (Huddersf'd|
|Furness, Sir Christopher||Philipps, J. Wynford (Pembroke||Young, Samuel|
|Greenwood, G. (Peterborough)||Powell, Sir Francis Sharp||Younger, George|
|Guest, Hon. Ivor Churchill||Price, Robert John (Norfolk, E.)|
|Gulland, John W.||Radford, G. H.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES—;Sir|
|Haddock, George R.||Rainy, A. Rolland||Robert Ropner and Mr.|
|Haslam, Lewis (Monmouth)||Rasch, Sir Frederic Carne||Walter Rea.|
|Hayden, John Patrick||Rea, Russell (Gloucester)|
|Hervey, F. W. F. (Bury S. Edm'ds||Redmond, William (Clare)|
|Abraham, William (Rhondda)||Bryce, Rt. Hn. James (Aberdeen||Donelan, Captain A.|
|Alden, Percy||Burke, E. Haviland-||Doughty, Sir George|
|Anson, Sir William Reynell||Byles, William Pollard||Duckworth, James|
|Ashton, Thomas Gair||Cavendish, Rt. Hon. Victor C. W.||Duffy, William J.|
|Asquith, Rt. Non. Herbert Henry||Cawley, Frederick||Dunn, A. Edward (Camborne)|
|Baker, Sir John (Portsmouth)||Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. J. (Birm.||Edwards, Enoch (Hanley)|
|Balcarres, Lord||Channing, Francis Allston||Edwards, Frank (Radnor)|
|Baring, Godfrey (Isle of Wight)||Clarke, C. Goddard (Peckham)||Elibank, Master of|
|Barlow, John E. (Somerset)||Clough, W.||Everett, R. Lacey|
|Barnard, E. B.||Cogan, Denis J.||Fenwick, Charles|
|Barry, E. (Cork, S.)||Collins, Sir Wm J. (S. Pancras, W.||Fiennes, Hon. Eustace|
|Beaumont, W. C. B. (Hexham)||Corbett, A. Cameron (Glasgow)||Finch, Rt. Hon. George H.|
|Bellairs, Carlyon||Crean, Eugene||Forster, Henry William|
|Bethell, T. R. (Essex, Maldon)||Cremer, William Randal||Fowler, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry|
|Billson, Alfred||Crossley, William J.||Gardner, Ernest (Berks, East)|
|Birrell, Rt. Hon. Augustine||Davies, David (Montgomery Co.||Gibb, James (Harrow)|
|Boland, John||Davies, Timothy (Fulham)||Gill, A. H.|
|Bridgeman, W. Clive||Delany, William||Ginnell, L.|
|Brigg, John||Devlin, Charles Ramsay (Galway||Gladstone, Rt. Hn. Herbert John|
|Bright, J. A.||Dewar, Arthur (Edinburgh, S.)||Glover, Thomas|
|Brocklehurst, W. D.||Dewar, John A. (Inverness-sh.)||Grant, Corrie|
|Brooke, Stopford||Dillon, John||Greenwood, Hamar (York)|
|Gurdon, Sir W. Brampton||Lyell, Charles Henry||Richards, T. F. (Wolverh'mpt'n|
|Hall, Frederick||Macdonald, J. R. (Leicester)||Rickett, J. Compton|
|Halpin, J.||Mackarness, Frederic C.||Ridsdale, E. A.|
|Hammond, John||MacVeigh, Charles (Donegal, E.)||Roberts, Charles H. (Lincoln)|
|Hardy, George A. (Suffolk)||M'Kenna, Reginald||Robertson, Sir G. Scott (Bradf'rd|
|Hart-Davies, T.||M'Laren, H. D. (Stafford, W.)||Rogers, F. E. Newman|
|Harwood, George||Marnham, F. J.||Rowlands, J.|
|Haslam, James (Derbyshire)||Meagher, Michael||Rutherford, John (Lancashire)|
|Haworth, Arthur A.||Menzies, Walter||Samuel, Herbert L. (Cleveland)|
|Hazleton, Richard||Mooney, J. J.||Scarisbrick, T. T. L.|
|Hedges, A. Paget||Morgan, J. Lloyd (Carmarthen)||Schwann, Chas. E. (Manchester)|
|Helme, Norval Watson||Morpeth, Viscount||Sears, J. E.|
|Henderson, J. M. (Aberdeen, W.)||Morrell, Philip||Sheehan, Daniel Daniel|
|Herbert, T. Arnold (Wycombe)||Morse, L. L.||Steadman, W. C.|
|Holden, E. Hopkinson||Murnaghan, George||Straus, B. S. (Mile End)|
|Hooper, A. G.||Murphy, John||Strauss, E. A. (Abingdon)|
|Horniman, Emslie John||Murray, James||Taylor, John W. (Durham)|
|Hudson, Walter||Myer, Horatio||Tennant, E. P. (Salisbury)|
|Illingworth, Percy H.||Nicholls, George||Thomasson, Franklin|
|Johnson, John (Gateshead)||Norman, Henry||Thornton, Percy M.|
|Johnson, W. (Nuneaton)||O'Brien, Kendal (Tipperary Mid||Toulmin, George|
|Jones, Leif (Appleby)||O'Brien, William (Cork)||Walsh, Stephen|
|Jones, William (Carnarvonshire||O'Connor, James (Wicklow, W.)||Weir, James Galloway|
|Jordan, Jeremiah||O'Donnell, T. (Kerry, W.)||Whitehead, Rowland|
|Kearley, Hudson E.||O'Grady, J.||Whiteley, George (York, W. R.)|
|Kekewich, Sir George||O'Hare, Patrick||Williams, J. (Glamorgan)|
|Kelley, George D.||Parker, James (Halifax)||Wilson, Henry J. (York, W.R.)|
|Kennaway, Rt. Hon. Sir John H.||Paul, Herbert||Wilson, J. W. (Worcestersh. N.)|
|Kennedy, Vincent Paul||Paulton, James Mellor||Wilson, P. W. (St. Pancras, S.)|
|King, Alfred John (Knutsford)||Pease, J. A. (Saffron Walden)||Wilson, W. T. (Westhoughton)|
|Lawson, Sir Wilfrid||Pirie, Duncan V.||Yoxall, James Henry|
|Lea, Hugh Cecil (St. Pancras, E.||Priestley, W. E. B. (Bradford, E.)|
|Lewis, John Herbert||Raphael, Herbert H.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES—;Mr. Harold Cox and Mr. Wardle.|
|Lloyd-George, Rt. Hon. David||Reddy, M.|
|Lough, Thomas||Redmond, John E. (Waterford)|
|Lundon, W.||Renton, Major Leslie|
Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
§ Words added.
§ Second Reading put off for six months.