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Sailors' Homes—Resolution

Volume 170: debated on Friday 24 April 1863

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said, that in bringing forward the Motion of which he had given notice on the subject of the establishment of sailors' homes, he felt it was unnecessary for him to go at length into the subject. He had done so on previous occasions, and the House was, he felt assured, already in complete possession of the case. At the commencement of the Session, he had put a question to the noble Lord the Secretary to the Admiralty—a rumour having reached him that the general question was to be considered by the Admiralty; but he was sorry to say the Admiralty had shown so much indifference to the matter that sailors had been much discouraged, and the Admiralty had become more unpopular than any Board he could recollect. He was then about to appeal to a different Department, the Board of Trade, which, as he understood, had the management of the monies belonging to the Mercantile Marine Fund and the Merchant Seamen's Fund. In the one case there was a sum of £57,000, and in the other a sum of £67,000, balances in hand over and above all the claims and charges that could be made upon the funds. Now, the merchant seamen naturally inquired what was done with that money. They thought they were entitled to receive the benefit of that large surplus, and that it might most beneficially be applied to such objects as the establishment of sailors' homes. He also wished to suggest to the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, that if shipping offices were attached to sailors' homes, great benefit would accrue to sailors. When paid off, they were sent to the shipping-office, and it was in going there that they were often waylaid by crimps, whose victims they very soon became, being robbed of their money and often turned almost naked into the streets. A short time ago a vessel arrived at a certain port from Callao, in South America. She had on board a number of seamen in ill health who had been sent homo by the Consul, These men were landed, and fourteen were found sitting upon the beach, the shipping master of the port not being able to do anything for them; but afterwards, from motives of humanity, he furnished them with means to reach a sailors' home some eight miles distant. If a sailors' home had been attached to the shipping office, much suffering would have been saved. He had visited the Sailors' Home at Yarmouth one blowing day, and saw there twenty-one men who had just been rescued from shipwreck, and who were profuse in their expressions of gratitude. During the last month no less than a hundred shipwrecked mariners had experienced the benefits of the institution. It was obvious that the extension of sailors' homes to all ports would be a great advantage to the sailor, and he therefore asked the Board of Trade to apply surplus funds at their disposal for the benefit of sailors' homes, which were shown to be deserving of assistance. The object was good, the means were in their hands, and his proposal seemed to him so reasonable that he did not see how it could be the subject of any opposition.

Amendment proposed,

To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "in the opinion of this House, the Board of Trade or Department of the Government having the control of and management of the monies belonging to the Mercantile Marine and Seaman's Fund, should be empowered by Parliament to give to those Sailors' Homes (not in the neighbourhood of the dockyards) such pecuniary assistance as in its judgment and at its discretion may be advisable,"

—instead thereof.

said, no class of men were more entitled to the consideration of Parliament and of the Government than the sailors of our mercantile marine, and therefore he hoped that in differing from the conclusions of the hon. and gallant Member he should not be suspected of indifference towards so deserving a body of men. He feared, however, that the hon. and gallant Member had formed too sanguine an estimate of the funds upon which he proposed to draw for the support of these sailors' homes. He had talked of a surplus which might be employed in the way suggested in his Resolution. He had said he did not know what became of the surplus of income over expenditure arising on the Mercantile Marine account, and also upon other accounts. He (Mr. Milner Gibson) could explain those matters clearly to him. Instead of there being a surplus upon any one of those accounts, there was a deficiency on all. In point of fact, therefore, the Motion meant nothing less than a Vote from the Consolidated Fund for the support of sailors' homes. The Mercantile Marine Fund was raised by fees paid by sailors, and by tolls paid by shipowners for the support of lights. The income in 1862 was £331,698, but the ordinary expenditure was £335,660; and if to that amount were added the expenditure for lifeboats and the rewards for saving life, the deficiency upon the account would be £10,000. That deficiency arose from the reduction recently made in the light dues from which the fund was created—a reduction which had been very beneficial to shipowners, so much so that where they formerly paid £100 they then paid £40. The Government hoped the deficiency would be overtaken by the yearly increase of trade. As soon as a surplus was obtained, it was applied in a reduction of the tolls paid by shipowners, and of the fees paid by sailors. He must decline to put any charge upon the Mercantile Marine Fund, which would have a tendency to deprive the mercantile marine of the benefit of those reductions; and especially should be object to put any charge for charities upon that fund; for when the whole of those funds were trans- ferred from the Trinity Corporation to the Board of Trade, Parliament expressly provided that the charitable payments which used to form a part of the outgoings of the Trinity Corporation should cease, and that the fees and tolls raised from sailors and shipowners should be applied exclusively to light-houses, and to those other purposes for the support of which those fees were originally intended. With regard to any surplus, in former years it had been applied in the construction of new works. At present some new light-houses were in course of construction, and others were about to be commenced, and those new works would more than exhaust any surplus which had grown up from excess of income over expenditure in past years. He would next proceed to show the position of the Merchant Seamen's Fund. During the last ten years the sum of £206,401 had been received on that account, but the Government had expended £683,726; so that the Consolidated Fund during that period had been charged with no less than £477,325 on that account. He had no doubt that before the whole of the business was wound up and concluded it would entail an additional public outlay of £500,000; and instead, therefore, of there being any money available from that quarter for the support of sailors' homes, there would be a charge upon the public to the amount of £1,000,000. The unclaimed wages of seamen formed another fund which the hon. and gallant Baronet would apply to the purpose set forth in his Resolution. The wages of deceased seamen were recovered by the Government for sailors at the expense of the Government. It was a great benefit to the sailor class that that trouble was undertaken by the Government. When the wages were recovered, they were held for a certain number of years, in order that any claims arising against them might be met, and that the parties entitled might receive the property. After seven years, if there were no claims, they were passed over to the State. But the amount was very small. During the last ten years about £27,000 had been received on that account. This is but a small compensation for the charge on the Consolidated Fund for the Merchant Seaman's Fund. No doubt there was a sum of £65,000 in the hands of the Paymaster General, but that fund was held to meet the claims of the representatives. There was nothing, therefore, to be obtained from those three sources for the purpose of carrying out the object of the hon. Baronet, and if any aid were to be afforded to sailors' homes, it would have to be supplied out of the Consolidated Fund by a special vote of the House. He questioned, however, whether it would be advisable for Parliament to vote a sum of money for the support of sailors' homes. It would be very difficult to show upon what principle the House ought to support lodging-houses for sailors any more than for any other class. They might be asked to vote money for model lodging-houses and other excellent institutions upon equally good grounds as those on which they were asked to vote money for sailors' homes. He hoped the hon. Baronet would do nothing to check that flow of liberality which now aided these institutions, by any grant of public money. The support of these homes must depend, first upon the contributions of those who received their benefit, and next upon the voluntary contributions of the charitable.

Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question," put, and agreed to.