HL Deb 02 April 1886 vol 304 cc584-7

, in rising to move for— Returns of monies advanced on loan within the last five years towards the construction and improvement of large and small harbours of refuge in Great Britain and Ireland; and to ask Her Majesty's Government, Whether they had decided to what amount they were now prepared to advance money on loans with that object; and in the event of their being so prepared, in what localities they would recommend that the monies should be first applied? said, he must complain that, although this object of great national importance had received the sanction of different Committees of Parliament, from the Report of the Committee which sat in 1859 down to that of the Marjoribanks Committee of a few years ago, and their Reports had been accepted with approbation by Ministers of successive Governments, scarcely anything, if anything, had been done. Mr. Chamberlain, indeed, was reported to have told a deputation which waited upon him that harbours of refuge would be of very little good although constructed; but had Mr. Chamberlain made such a statement as a candidate before a seafaring constituency he probably would have lost his election, and the remark was not received with anything like approbation by those present. The best of sailors were at all times glad to know that they had harbours to which they could conveniently run if necessity arose. The infrequency of them, he believed, had a prejudicial effect upon a most important industry. At one part of the Coast, he observed, the amount of fish landed annually represented something like £3,000,000 sterling. That was an important matter of national interest; and it demonstrated to him that if these harbours were established the fishing trade would be increased, as would also be the number of those who volunteered for a seafaring life, which were matters of such enormous importance to this country. Now, what he wanted to know was whether the Government, having given their approbation to this measure, would really carry it out, and whether they had formed any plan for the construction of harbours? It had been recently stated, on behalf of the Government, that no money could be expended on this object except in the way of loans. He would like to know what security the Government would accept for advancing such loans, and to ask whether they would send duly qualified persons around the Coasts to inspect suitable localities? It was vain, he submitted, to expect adequate security from local rates in poor and thinly-populated localities; and it would not be fair that these rates should be extended to localities not immediately connected with the sea. He denied, however, that this was a question of local interest only; the great loss of life around our Coasts, and care of the men engaged in the coasting trade, in boating, and in mercantile ships, who in number might be put down at 300,000 men, were matters of vast Imperial consequence. When it was stated that other Governments had done less than the English Government in providing harbours of refuge, he could only say that that was not a strong argument, because a large amount of what had been expended had been for strategic purposes; and, moreover, the interests of this country in this regard were tenfold greater than those of any other. France had expended for mercantile purposes no less than £5,000,000 within nine or 10 years, while, as regards Spain, whose Government was not usually very forward in public enterprizes, he had been perfectly amazed to see the enormous improvements effected in the harbours of that country.

Address for— Returns of monies advanced on loan within the last five years towards the construction and improvement of large and small harbours of refuge in Great Britain and Ireland."—(The Viscount Sidmouth.)


said, the important subject which the noble Viscount had brought forward was one which had for a considerable time been receiving the attention of Her Majesty's Government. He was glad to be able to state on behalf of the Treasury that there was no objection whatever to the production of the Return moved for, and it would be prepared with all due despatch. As regards the general question, it might be, perhaps, convenient that he should explain very shortly how the matter stood. The question of the construction of harbours of refuge had to be considered jointly with the Board of Trade and the Treasury. In the first instance, the recommendations as regards certain localities were made by the Board of Trade, and forwarded by that Department to the Treasury. By the latter they were considered and sent for examination and report to the Public Works Loan Commissioners, and it was their duty to go into each case in considerable detail, and to judge each case according to its merits. When that Report had been received the recommendations were embodied in an Estimate, and that Estimate was entered in the Public Works Loan Bill for that year. The ultimate decision in that way rested with the other House of Parliament, as having charge of financial legislation. There never had been, so far as he understood, any curtailment, or any desire to curtail any expense on this account that had been so recommended. The recommendations had been inserted in each case in full, and as such had gone to the other House of Parliament and been decided by it. There were various points referred to by the noble Lord. There was, first, locality, then the cost of construction, then it had to be considered whether the expense to be incurred would in each case be unmitigated loss, or would in the course of years bring in a revenue, so that the works would be reproductive. In the latter case, the whole or part of the cost of such harbour works ought to be borne by the locality, and especially by those whose property had been increased in value. Much consideration, therefore, ought to be given to each proposal on its own merits, and no general rule could be laid down. Then, as regarded the employment of labour, it should be remembered that, in the first instance, skilled workmen only would be required, and they ought to be careful how far they made a call upon such labour, as it would be unwise to undertake a very large quantity of such harbour work at any given time. But he could assure the noble Viscount that the matter should receive the attention of the Treasury and of the Board of Trade. There was no objection to the Return, which should be prepared with all despatch.


said, he thought it desirable to remove a common misapprehension. It was commonly supposed that nothing had been done; but the Local Taxation Returns would show that immense sums of money had already been expended in harbour works. On the Mersey, by the last Return, for 1883–4 the outstanding loans were about £16,000,000, and on the Tyne £3,800,000. At Swansea the loan amounted to about £240,000. Thirty years ago he had been appointed to inquire into the subject, and he found that nothing was so popular or plausible as to recommend extensive harbour construction. Everywhere there was anxiety to get public money. But he was perfectly convinced that if it was desired effectively to save human life, it could not be done better than by deepening existing harbours. He would suggest to his noble Friend that there should be added to his Motion, after the word "amount," the words "at what rate of interest and for what term of years," as that would give important information to the public.


said, he would inquire whether the Return could be made out in the form, suggested by the noble Earl; but it would be more convenient to agree with the Motion in its original form. He would take care to acquaint the Treasury with the noble Earl's suggestion. He did not think there would be any difficulty in acceding to the noble Earl's request; and if it could be done it should be done.

Address agreed to.

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