§ LORD RAVENSWORTH
, in rising to call the attention of Her Majesty's Government to the Report of the Royal Commission appointed to consider the Question of Harbours of Refuge, and to ask if any steps are in progress to carry out the recommendations of the Commissioners which are contained in that Report, said, he believed that the present stagna- 249 tion of public affairs, find the very mild tone of party feeling which happily prevailed, afforded a favourable opportunity for mooting a question of great national importance, and one which was regarded with much interest by the mercantile community. It was now ten years since this subject had engaged the attention of Parliament. It was first considered by a Select Committee of the House of Commons, and in 1858 was referred to a Royal Commission composed of most able and distinguished men, who after a long and careful inquiry presented their Report in 1859. In the first page of that Report it was stated that the annual loss of property caused by wrecks upon our coast, which was as much a loss to the nation as the burning of so many stacks of corn, was upon an average of six years, £1,500,000, and on the average 800 lives were lost every year from the same cause. In one year, indeed, there had been as many as 1,500 lives lost. The Commission in their Report pointed out certain exposed parts of the coast where harbours of refuge might properly be formed. He would not, however, refer to those places, because the question involved in the choice of sites was independent of the general question of the expediency of harbours of refuge. But considering how long this subject had been mooted, and how great was the annually increasing loss of life and property, he might fairly ask why no attempt had been made to carry out the recommendations of the Commissioners? The objections to such a course, independently of the difficulty and expense, were various. There were, it was true, some persons who declared that these harbours of refuge, if constructed, would be useless and unserviceable, that they would speedily silt up, and that they would afford no substantial protection to our shipping. To that opinion he could only oppose the opinions and recommendations of the Royal Commissioners. It was upon this point that he desired at this moment to bring the question to an issue. He should be glad to know from the noble Duke opposite (the Duke of Somerset) whether he entertained any such belief, and what proposal the country might expect from the Government upon this subject. Another strong primâ facie objection to the construction of these harbours arose from a cause which he feared could not be denied, and that was the apathy of the shipowners themselves. It was said that if these harbours were constructed small maritime towns would 250 rise up around them, and they feared that the crews of vessels would be induced, under pretext of taking refuge, to run into these harbours, and there idling away time that might be profitably spent. There might or might not be some force in this statement, but there were two sides to every question, and when a vessel was tossed by the winds and waves upon an iron-bound coast, and certain death and destruction awaited the seaman and his ship provided he could not make a harbour, we should consider what now were the feelings of a crew so doomed, and what their feelings would be if they could obtain protection in a safe harbour. That was the true point of view from which to regard this question. Again, it was very generally stated that shipowners were in the habit of sending to sea unseaworthy vessels, imperfectly equipped and manned; that they were indifferent as to what became of the ship and cargo, the value of which was covered by the insurance; and that this accounted for a large proportion of the losses which every year took place upon the coast. He trusted that this accusation was not quite so well founded as many appeared to think it was. Certainly, during the late gales which had visited our coasts, many fine and well-equipped vessels had been unable to stand the fury of the storm, and had foundered; among them he might name the Lifeguard, a fine iron steamship plying between London and Newcastle, which went down during the last gale, with all her crew and passengers, amounting to sixty persons. It was more than probable, that if a harbour of refuge had existed on that part of the coast, as recommended by the Commissioners, a ship of this class would have been saved. With regard, however, to the charge against the shipowners, it must be remembered that every rag of protection had been stripped from them; they had been exposed upon their own shores to the unlimited competition of foreign ships, which were navigated, equipped, and built at much less expense than their own; and therefore it ought not to excite surprise if in some instances they had been compelled, in carrying on this competition, to send to sea ships badly found and not fully manned. That was a point, however, which he would not now argue. He had recently referred to the report of the National Lifeboat Institution, whose great services were well known; and he found it stated that within the last twelve years 7,640 lives had been lost 251 upon our coasts, while in the last six years | 16,119 lives had been saved by the boats and other appliances of the Institution. It was also stated that the wrecks had increased from 1,141 in 1855 to 1,494 in 1861. Those facts proved that, notwithstanding all the efforts of private benevolence, other means were required to meet the increasing risks which our enlarged commerce entailed, and the best means that could be suggested, he thought, was that the Government should take steps to provide harbours of refuge upon the most exposed portions of our coasts. England was now the depôt for the commerce of the world, and our policy of late had been to attract hither the largest portion of the carrying trade, and consequently the number of lives and amount of property at stake were continually increasing. The more, then, they made our coasts secure, the more they would succeed in their design. The attention of Parliament had been drawn to this subject in former Sessions. In 1858 a Resolution was moved in the House of Commons urging the Government to carry out the recommendations of the Select Committee respecting harbours of refuge. That Resolution was carried, notwithstanding the opposition of the Government; but nothing was done. In 1860 another Resolution was moved, but was lost, the Government objecting not to the merits, but that there were no funds then available for the requisite outlay. The main reason for his bringing forward this subject at the present time might be stated under three heads. In the first place, it had been recently stated that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be able to show a surplus upon the revenue and expenditure of the year, and he thought that before any available means were disposed of it was right that the attention of the Government should be called to this most important subject. He was afraid, however, that that surplus was rapidly approaching its vanishing point. Another reason for his troubling the House upon that occasion was that he thought that convict labour, to a large extent, might usefully be employed upon such works as he referred to; and he further thought that the necessary demand for free labour which would also be required would afford the means of mitigating the distress now existing in Lancashire and Cheshire. Whatever course the Government might feel called upon to take, he had felt it to be his duty to call their attention to a subject so vitally important to a large 252 portion of the population of these islands. He wished to ask, Whether any steps were in progress to carry out the recommendation of the Harbour of Refuge Commissioners?
§ THE DUKE OF SOMERSET
said, that any one who looked at the list of casualties at sea annually presented to Parliament must entertain the same feelings as the noble Lord who had just sat down, and mist anxiously desire that the Government should do all within its power to reduce the number of wrecks that take place upon our coasts. But the question opened a vast subject, which required to be dealt with upon other considerations than those which at first sight presented themselves. It was true that in 1858 a Committee of the House of Commons proposed that harbours of refuge should be constructed on our coasts, and recommended that the cost should be defrayed to the extent of one-fourth by the Government, and as to the remainder by passing tolls to be levied upon shipping. They also recommended that trading harbours should be made in some of the smaller ports, by improvements to be effected by means of loans. The Committee did not specify the precise points where the harbours of refuge should be made, but they recommended the appointment of Commissioners to survey the coast, and accordingly a Royal Commission was appointed in 1859. The Commission took evidence on the subject, and advised that passing tolls should be given up; therefore three-fourths of the funds designated by the Committee for making the harbours had been at once withdrawn. The Committee had recommended that £2,000,000 should be expended on the works—the Commission recommended an expenditure of £4,000,000, and that the greater part of it should be charged on the Consolidated Fund, and the remainder raised from local resources. No sooner was that recommendation made than all the persons connected with the localities in which harbours of refuge were to be constructed represented that it was quite idle to call on them to raise £1,500,000 in order to make harbours of refuge; they could do nothing of the kind; they might as well be called on to pay the national debt. It appeared, then, that such harbours, if made at all, must be made entirely by the country. Then the shipowners strongly objected to the passing-tolls; they said they would sooner have no harbours of refuge at all than be liable to passing tolls, It was said in reply that 253 harbours of refuge were a great advantage to shipowners, because the premiums of insurance would be diminished by the security of the coasts; but it was found by reference to the harbours already made, Holyhead, Kingston and Portland, that although they were much resorted to by vessels in stress of weather, their construction had not had the least effect in diminishing the premiums of insurance. Another objection to passing tolls was, that ships well found and properly loaded would keep the sea, and that only inferior ships, ill found and overloaded, would use these harbours, and that therefore the owners of the best ships would be taxed for those who sent the worst vessels to sea. In looking at this question, then, it should be considered that these harbours, if made, must be made by public money. It would be uneconomical to construct such works gradually; the best economy was to proceed with them rapidly. There was always a good deal of difficulty in fixing on the best site for such works. Then, he supposed, the harbours, when made, must not be left unoccupied or undefended. They must have some fortifications. From his experience of works constructed under water, he should say the expenditure on these harbours would be largely in excess of £4,000,000. The noble Lord had limited himself, in his observations, chiefly to the north-east coast of England, as being the district whore most of the wrecks took place, and a harbour of refuge was most required; but the returns did not show this to be the case. He had before him a return of the wrecks which had taken place on the coast during the last twelve years, divided into districts, and he found that from the Fern Islands to Flamborough Head the total loss of life was 620; from Flamborough Head to the North Foreland, 1,068; but taking the other side, from the Skerries to the Mull of Kintyre, the loss of life was 1,597—a much larger loss than that which had occurred on the north-east coast. We had now been for many years engaged, and at great expense, in making certain harbours — Portland, Holyhead, the pier at Dover, and the harbour at Alderney. He was happy to say those great works, constructed at the public charge, were now drawing to a close. Portland would be finished by December, 1865. Alderney would be completed in 1864, unless some new scheme were added to the works. Holyhead was also in a fairway to be completed. He was very unwilling that Parliament should involve itself in 254 fresh expenditure on account of works of that character until these great works were completed. There was another consideration, to which, indeed, the noble Lord had alluded. Portland had been a very convenient place for the employment of convict labour. Quarrying and moving stones was a species of employment very fit for large numbers of convicts. It was healthy work, and required little skilled labour; while those who were engaged in it for a lengthed period had learned sufficient of stonework to enable them on their discharge to earn by similar employment the means of livelihood. He believed that great economy had resulted from the employment of convict labour at Portland, although he was quite aware that many persons took a different view, and thought the work might have been done quite as cheaply, and perhaps more rapidly, without any convict labour whatever. The only mode in which he felt it would be desirable for the country to undertake the construction of a large harbour of refuge would be by having recourse to such a species of labour. The noble Lord had referred to the Vote of the House of Commons and the recommendations of the Royal Commission, and had intimated that nothing had been done in pursuance of them. But something had been really accomplished which was not unimportant. One of those recommendations was that trading harbours should be made by means of loans, to be obtained from the Public Loan Commissioners. Well, a Bill had been brought in on the footing of that arrangement, and under it about half a million of money had been raised. Therefore, it was incorrect to say that nothing had been done. On the contrary, he had a list of the places which had already borrowed considerable sums under that measure. Among them were Falmonth, the Tyne, the Wear, and others; and at present a large number more had applied to the Public Loan Commissioners, and their applications were still under consideration with a view to determine the conditions on which they should be acceded to. Therefore, not only were harbours in course of construction at the places he had enumerated, but a great many others would in a short time be in process of formation under that recommendation; and he thought it was of great advantage to the country that these works should be executed rather by local exertions than by the public. If the national funds were to be devoted to such a purpose, there would be a scramble on the part of different 255 places to get the largest share. It would, he believed, be a great mistake so to follow out the recommendations of the Royal Commissioners as to make a great many harbours along the coast at the public expense. He did not think that such a saving of life and property as some persons anticipated would be effected by these harbours. All the evidence taken on the subject showed, that on the contrary, they would lead to persons continuing to employ very unseaworthy and badly-found ships. In the coal trade old tubs were sent to sea that were fit for nothing. Their owners insured them, and when the insurance covered the risk, they cared little what befell them. Such a thing as a worn-out ship being broken up was hardly known, the vessels being used until they some day went to the bottom; and in that way the lives of crews were sacrificed. He had now stated generally the views entertained by the Government on this question, and shown, he thought, that the subject had not been entirely neglected. Although they had not gone the length which the Commissioners had recommended, they had yet endeavoured, as far as possible, to assist private enterprise in the construction of trading harbours without increasing the taxation borne by the public. He was not prepared to say that it might not be desirable to try the experiment of convict labour further in the making of a large harbour. His own opinion, he confessed, had always inclined that way. But the matter involved many important considerations. A Commission was now engaged in investigating the treatment of convicts. He did not know whether this particular point would be included in their inquiries; but, at all events, he thought it was one well deserving of attention.
§ LORD RAVENSWORTH
had heard with surprise that the loss of life was greatest on the west coast of Scotland; for there was on that coast no trade at all. The sufferers must, therefore, be almost exclusively fishermen. A glance at the wreck chart would show that the greatest number of disasters to ships occurred between the Humber and the Tyne; and he trusted that the Government would not be disinclined to consider favourably the claims of those parts of the coast which were so much exposed.
§ THE DUKE OF SOMERSET
said, the figures he had quoted came from official returns, and he believed that they were true. It was melancholy to think of these 256 spirited fishermen being thus lost; but he was glad to say that the harbour at Wick was in course of improvement.