§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ LORD STANLEY OF ALDERLEY
moved the Second Reading of the Bill; and said, that all the measures which the Government had brought forward in the 1666 course of the present Session relating to the shipping interest, were intended to carry out that system of commercial policy which owed its first successes to the late Sir Robert Peel. Their Lordships might remember that when the navigation laws were about to be repealed, anticipations were indulged in in many quarters that the measure would have a disastrous effect upon the shipping interest of the country. These anticipations, however, were not realised, for so far from the shipping interest declining since the repeal of the navigation laws, it had increased to a large amount, and he thought that the increasing prosperity of the shipping interest would induce their Lordships to pause before they resolved to oppose the Bills before them, on the ground of danger to our mercantile marine. He held in his hand a return, by which it appeared that in the year 1849, the year before the navigation laws were repealed, the total tonnage of British and foreign ships which entered inwards and cleared outwards was 8,152,000, while in 1852 the tonnage was 8,727,000 tons. In 1849 the number of new vessels built was 121,000 tons, while in 1852, the number had risen to 170,000 tons. The total number of men employed in 1849 was 237,000, while in 1852 it was 243,000. The total number of British and foreign ships which entered inwards and cleared outwards in the first six months of 1852 was 27,000, of 5,593,000 tons; while in the first six months of the present year the number was 30,000, and the tonnage 6,627,000 tons. The total amount of tonnage which entered inwards and cleared outwards in the month ended the 5th of July in the present year was 859,847 tons, against 764,971 tons in the corresponding period of last year. This showed that there were no real grounds for the apprehensions entertained as to the effect of repealing the navigation laws. At the same time it could not be denied that if the shipowners of this country were to be placed in a position of unrestricted competition with the whole world, they ought to be relieved of the burdens which now so heavily pressed upon them. That was the object both of the Pilotage Bill and the Merchant Shipping Bill—measures which had been devised solely for the purpose of benefiting the shipowners, and which he hoped would receive the unanimous assent of their Lordships. It was not intended by the present Bill to interfere with the constitution of the Trinity Board; but it 1667 was proposed to have all the light-dues paid into a fund, to be called "the Mercantile Marine Fund," the particulars of which should be laid before Parliament, and which should be under the direction of an executive department of the Government; so that Parliament would know the exact amount which was received and expended. One of the main features of the Pilotage Bill was to enable the owners of vessels to employ whom they pleased—a right which they did not at present enjoy, though it was granted to almost every other class of the community. Another matter treated of in the Bill was salvage, which had been condemned as unjust; but he thought it would be impolitic to deprive the officers, and sailors, and men, of all compensation for the risk of their lives out of the routine of duty. The only changes proposed were, that no charge should be made for stores expended in assisting a distressed vessel; and, next, that instead of the present lien upon the ship for such charges, a bond should be taken from the master, payable upon his return to this country. There were other slight alterations, but none which could, he hoped, be considered otherwise than as improvements.
§ Moved—"That the Bill be now read 2a."
§ The EARL of HARDWICKE
wished a greater number of Members were present during the discussion of two such important Bills. He protested strongly against two such Bills having been brought before their Lordships at so late a period of the Session, that it would be hopeless to discuss them separately, or with that degree of attention which their importance demanded. As the principles of free trade had been sanctioned by the country, it was reasonable that every means should be given to the people to carry out those principles; and on that ground it was proper for the Government to give the mercantile classes the means of relieving themselves from restrictions which affected them injuriously. It was in that spirit that the late Government were prepared to deal with the complaints of the shipping interest; but it had not been their intention to go to the lengths the present Government had done. With respect to the Pilotage Bill, he considered, in carrying out free-trade principles, that nothing could be more desirable than to have first-rate pilots. It was essential to the security and prosperity of our marine, that first class able pilots should be always attainable. The general practice of taking 1668 pilots tended to the security of shipping, and to keeping up a set of well-qualified men. Everything that trenched upon the efficiency of this important body naturally created alarm among the mercantile classes. In Liverpool and other ports a good deal of alarm existed as to the probable operation of the Bill. In the port of Liverpool, the Mersey, in consequence of the shifting sands, could only be navigated by persons resident on the spot, and constantly performing the duty of pilots; but if vessels might be navigated by their own masters, even though those masters had undergone a full examination, it would be mischievous, and would probably lead to the stranding of the vessels, as the shifting character of the channel required pilots to be constantly employed, and constantly watching their changes. The Liverpool Pilotage Committee at present would not entrust the navigation of vessels to any but old and experienced pilots. If the clause in the Bill was passed, this navigation would be very much endangered. He had several petitions on the subject, and one and all agreed in the same opinion. The masters of vessels themselves were so well aware of the difficulties of the case, that they were anxious to retain the power of taking pilots. If Government would not modify the Bill in this particular generally, he hoped at least they would consent to exempt Liverpool from its operation.
§ The EARL of HARROWBY
objected to giving the power of licensing pilots to the Board of Trade, to the exclusion of the local authorities. The shipowners and underwriters of Liverpool had petitioned against the Bill, and he urged the Government to consider whether, at that period of the Session, they would incur the responsibility of changing a perfect system, notwithstanding the representations which had been made.
§ On Question, agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the whole House on Monday next.