HC Deb 02 April 1824 vol 11 cc95-101
Mr. Grenfell

rose to move the second reading of this bill, and stated, that he should have confined himself according to the usual practice, to moving the second reading, in order, when that motion was carried, to refer it to a committee up stairs where alone it was practicable properly to examine it, if he had not known that an opposition was to be made to the present motion. The bill was calculated to secure to the public a very great public advantage; namely, additional dock and warehouse accommodation for the increasing trade and navigation of the port of London. Of the fact of this increase he needed no better evidence than the account of the exports and imports from 1798, when the present dock establishments were formed, to the present time. The increase of imports was from thirty millions to fifty-six millions; and this increase had been accompanied by a corresponding increase of the ships moored in the river Thames. The increase had been gradual and progressive. In 1798 it was thirty-millions, in 1806 thirty-six-millions in 1819 forty-six millions, in 1823 fifty-six millions. But besides this increase, the recent measure introduced by the late president of the board of trade, now master of the Mint, rendered more extended accommodation necessary. That measure, the Warehousing act, allowed above two hundred new articles to be lodged in warehouses in this country, and could not fail greatly to extend the deposit trade of the country, and to create a demand for additional accommodation. The company who were to be incorporated by the present bill, asked for no exclusive privileges.—They had no wish to interfere with the existing companies. They only wished to increase that accommodation in the port of London. It was natural that those companies which had had the monopoly of warehousing for the last twenty years, should wish to oppose the measure; but their hostility was the very reason which should induce the House to support it.

Mr. C. Calvert

said, he could not be influenced to oppose the bill by any interest in the existing Dock companies, as he was not a proprietor in any one of them; but he opposed it on this ground, that there was at present accommodation for hundreds of thousands of tons of goods more than were brought to this country. He alluded particularly to the warehouses in the parishes of St. Olave and St. John's, Southwark, where gentlemen had invested their fortunes in warehouses, and whose rights ought not to be interfered with without necessity. He moved, "that the bill be read a second time this day six months."

Sir Joseph Yorke

said, he should fire off his squib against this little blue-eyed nun of St. Catherine's. He understood this piece of business was supported by eighteen gentlemen and a half; that was to say, by eighteen gentlemen who put down 50,000l. a piece, and one who put down 30,000l. Where this money came from he could not tell; he hoped not from members of that House. He did not oppose the bill because there was already a sufficiency of Dock accommodation, for if the gentlemen chose to lose their money, they had a clear right to do so, but because the twenty-five acres of ground on which the docks were to be built, and which now contained 1100 houses and 10,000 souls, had been wanted twenty years ago by the London Dock company, and had been refused for sound and wholesome reasons. There were no reasons that prevailed twenty years ago that ought not to prevail now, unless it were said, that the late excellent queen Charlotte, who was now removed from this world to one infinitely better, had some property in that quarter, which there was a delicacy about touching, but which delicacy was now removed. He had a great affection for docks, as he thought the river itself should be kept free, as the high road of nations; but, as this new company wished to thrust itself into the place which should have belonged to the London Dock company, resting on those docks on the right, and on the Tower on the left, he should try to keep the contending parties separate.

Mr. J. Smith

could not discover in the copy of the bill which he had seen, any sufficient necessity for the measure. This perhaps might be shown in the committee; but, unless that was done, he should object to interfere, to the extent that was proposde, with private property.

Mr. Hume

said, that sufficient notice had not been given. There were 10,000 people who were entitled to six or eight months notice under the standing orders. These orders, which were rules for the protection of private property, should not be slightly superseded. On this ground, he should oppose the second reading.

Mr. Manning

said, he had presented a petition from the London Dock company against the bill, in which it was stated, that they had foundations laid for ware-houses capable of containing 2 or 300,000 tons of goods, which had not been pro- ceeded with for want of sufficient encouragement. This went to prove that there was not that clear case of necessity which would justify the departure from their standing orders.

Mr. T. Wilson

supported the bill. It was not enough to say, that there was room in the present docks, to render the establishment of new ones inexpedient. If the new Dock company could carry on the business at a cheaper rate; if they could afford better accommodation; or if the probability of a new and growing trade was made out, there was a good reason for passing the bill. The bonded trade could not be carried on in the warehouses that were not within docks.

Mr. Bright

contended, that the standing orders ought to be enforced. Here was a whole town thrown into confusion' by a sudden project, of which the parties who were to be expelled from their homes had no notice until the 6th of March. If a new dock was required, why not give due notice? What necessity was there for pressing the bill until next year? The fact was, that the parties would, by the delay, be compelled to pay a larger price for the ground than its present value. They ought to uphold their standing orders, which enjoined due notice, or else abandon them altogether.

Mr. Alderman Heygate

said, that having presented two petitions against this bill, it should have his most determined opposition. He was surprised that his majesty's ministers should have given the measure any countenance by suspending the standing orders, when they found that its execution would be an act of tyranny and cruelty towards a large body of individuals. It was a cruel attack upon individual rights, without any paramount necessity. Let the supporters of the bill be called upon to show that the growing trade of the port of London indispensably required the new dock; but they knew that to attempt such proof was impossible, since it was notorious, that many of the existing dock companies had plenty of room unoccupied. There were in London at present six dock companies: two of them paid no interest; one paid 3½ per cent; the London Dock paid 4½ per cent; and two others, paid more than 5 per cent; because one of them had enjoyed a particular monopoly, which had just ceased, and the other had a monopoly which would expire in two years. What sort of prospect did this hold out? But, he might he told that this was the affair of the subscribers. If it was only their Own money which they fooled away, this answer might be valid; but they were to turn hundreds of people out of their habitations. To pass the bill was not to encourage fair competition; for what chance had a wharfinger against a body of subscribers, invested with parliamentary immunities, and whose fortunes were not answerable for their misconduct, except to the amount of their shares? This bill was one of those projects which had grown out of the high price of stocks, and which, if stocks fell again, would disappear like the South Sea bubble.

Mr. Haldimand

said, it was perfectly true, that if consols had not been at 95, this undertaking might not have been thought of; but, if the interest of capital was so low that it forced itself into new channels and reduced the rate of profit in old ones, was it not natural that docks also should feel the influence; and how could that happen but through the competition of new companies? He corrected the statement of the gallant admiral, that this ground had been refused to the London Dock company. The fact was, that company had been authorized to purchase it, but had preferred a spot lower down, where they would have to pay less compensation money. The warehousing system could not be carried on, except in docks in the situation of the proposed one. He was not ashamed to avow himself one of the "18½ gentlemen" mentioned by the gallant admiral; but he should not have subscribed to it had he not conceived it would be a public benefit.

Mr. Butterworth

opposed the bill, as a measure which would entail ruin on thousands.

Mr. Littleton

opposed the bill, on the same grounds as the hon. member for Bristol. Every bill of this kind was an invasion of private property, for an alleged public purpose; and the thousands of persons whose property and means of living were affected by the bill, were—at least—intifled to notice. There could be no better occasion than the present, for setting their faces against the session-ally increasing disregard of their standing orders.

Mr. W. Smith

said, that an extremely strong case had been made out against the violation of the standing orders, es- pecially as there was no immediate necessity for the Docks, which were only supposed to be necessary in consequence of the increase of trade, which it was supposed might arise from the bonding-system. The warehouses of the existing docks were not full, and never had been, except during a temporary influx of wine, when the French invaded Portugal; besides, the present warehouses were so constructed, that, by adding story on story, their capacity might be indefinitely increased.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, he was so far cognisant of this bill, that the parties interested in it had, in the early part of the year, come before his majesty's government, to know whether they would have any objection to the measure. The answer given by the government was, that, in point of principle, they saw no objection to the establishment of a new dock, if it could be shewn that benefit to the public would result from it. So far they had expressed acquiescence; but they certainly were not aware of all the circumstances of the case. When so many interests were affected, the question as to the standing orders became one of considerable importance; and undoubtedly, if the standing orders had been strictly enforced, the bill would not have arrived at its present stage. Under all the circumstances, he thought it would be better to allow the bill to be read a second time, and to investigate its merits in the committee. If it should then appear, that the bill could not pass without occasioning great hardship to a number of individuals, this would certainly constitute a ground for its rejection at the present time. On the other hand, it might turn out, that the case, as it affected those individuals, had been greatly over-stated. Most of them, for instance, might be tenants at will; and in that case, the degree of hardship would be much less, because they would be compelled to quit, if the proprietors of the soil were disposed to acquiesce in the propositions of the subscribers to the dock. He repeated, that in principle he had no objection to the measure of erecting a new dock, with a view to extended competition and increased commercial advantages; and he could not object, therefore, to the second reading of the bill.

Mr. Wallace

said, that with respect to the question as to the standing orders, those orders had been repeatedly dispens- ed with, and the expediency of dispensing with them in the present case had been decided by a majority of the House. There had appeared a paragraph in one of the newspapers, which would let the House into the secret of the opposition to this bill; it stated, that the parties whose interests were most strongly opposed to the measure, were the proprietors of the, East-India, West-India, and London Docks. If these three parties succeeded in obtaining the rejection of the bill, they would have a complete monoply of the trade; which would probably end in driving from the port of London its fair proportion of the trade of the country.

Mr. Grenfell,

in reply, said, that so far from 10,000 persons being exposed to inconvenience from this measure, the whole number of inhabitants within the precincts of the parish of St. Catherine did not amount to 5,000. He might add, too, that out of 11 or 1,200 householders, 300 had expressed their assent to the bill. Upwards of 1,100 of the principal mercantile gentlemen in the country had concurred in the expediency of the measure.

The House then divided: For the second reading 74. Against it 55. Majority 19.