§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ SIR FREDERIC THESIGER
said, he rose to move, as an Amendment, that the Bill should be read a second time that day six months. He felt justified in the course he had adopted by the absolute refusal of the Government to listen to the fair and just claims of those whose interests were affected, and their determination to persevere in a measure which was fraught with the greatest injustice, and which was founded upon principles that would tend to shake the security of all corporate property throughout the kingdom. When he 1315 heard the speech with which the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Board of Trade introduced the Bill, he was startled at the novelty of some of the doctrines which he laid down. Having availed himself of the opportunity which had been afforded for more carefully considering the arguments which the right hon. Gentleman had adduced in favour of the most obnoxious part of the measure, he (Sir F. Thesiger) had been struck with astonishment and alarm. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lowe) had based his measure upon the principle that the corporate towns of the kingdom had no property exclusively their own; that they held all they possessed at the will of the public, and that they might be stripped of their possessions at pleasure; and upon those principles, and without assigning any other reason, he proceeded to the work of confiscation. Now, he must confess that when he heard such doctrines propounded, and saw them illustrated as they were by the measure before the House, he was forcibly reminded of those disgraceful periods of our history in which assaults were made upon the charters of corporations, and forfeitures of them were obtained. The only difference between the present case and those violent proceedings was, that in the latter there was some pretence made of a misuse or abuse of the powers and privileges of the corporations, and there was some semblance of a judicial proceeding. In the present instance, however, in the latter half of the nineteenth century, we found a Liberal Government, without reason assigned, and without a single allegation of misapplication, proposing, by the mere exercise of the power of Parliament, to confiscate the funds of corporations to the use of the State. In the cases to which he had referred the violent proceedings found their support in the shameful subserviency of the tribunals of the day. The corporations of the present time had at least this protection, that the Government could not carry out the confiscation which they proposed unless they could induce Parliament to be the instrument of the injustice. He was perfectly astonished at the infatuation which seemed to possess the Government in their dealing with some of the most important interests of the country. We had seen them reviving an obsolete and questionable prerogative for the purpose of assailing the hereditary character and privileges of the House of Peers; and now we found them arming the Vice 1316 President of the Board of Trade with maxims and principles of which the most arbitrary periods of our history afforded no example, and sending him forth as their champion to spoil the corporations of the country of all their property which it was found convenient to assail. He (Sir F. Thesiger) was astonished that at the present day a Government should be found to covet the not very enviable reputation of another corporation spoiler, who was described by an uncompromising and unprincipled supporter of the acts of arbitrary power as "making the charters of corporations fall down before him like the walls of Jericho, and returning with surrenders like the spoils of Towns." He was satisfied that there were many hon. Members who, though prepared to give their support to the Government on the second reading of the Bill, were not aware of its actual nature and character, and who would shrink from maintaining the principles on which it was founded. It was to such Members that he desired most earnestly and anxiously to address himself. He desired to lay fully and fairly before them the real question at issue, and, having done so, he should be perfectly satisfied to commit the whole consideration of it to their impartial judgment.
The Bill was conveniently arranged under four different heads. The first portion related to the passing tolls which were connected with the ports of Dovor, Ramsgate, Whitby and Budlington. On that particular portion of the Bill he should hereafter offer a few brief observations. For the present, he would merely remark that, if the measure had aimed at nothing more than the abolition of the tolls in question, he for one should not have been found among the opponents of the measure. The fourth portion of the measure related to miscellaneous matters, which, in the actual state of the question, did not require special allusion. It was, however, to the second and third divisions of the Bill that he particularly desired to direct the attention of the House. The second part proposed to transfer all rates, dues, duties, and imposts leviable upon ships, or upon goods carried in ships within the United Kingdom—which, he might observe, with the exceptions introduced, would confine the question to property of this description possessed by corporate towns—to the Commissioners of Customs, to be dealt with by them according to the directions of the Board of Trade. There was power to abolish, raise, and reduce 1317 these tolls; and it was rather remarkable, with respect to the petitions from Sheffield in support of the measure, which complained that they were groaning under the burden of these local dues at Liverpool, that there was nothing whatever in the Bill which abolished them, and there was nothing to prevent the Government continuing them, and exacting payment till the end of time. The third part of the Bill related to differential dues, and on these he would beg to offer a few remarks. The House was aware that the former policy of this country was, to impose a higher duty on foreign vesssels than upon vessels belonging to this country; but in 1810, and again in 1815, reciprocity treaties were entered into with Portugal and America, by which the ships of those nations were to be placed upon the same footing as our own. Those differential dues, that is, the higher dues, were frequently received by corporations and by individuals as part of their private property; and, in 1819, when the Legislature abolished those differential dues in favour of those two nations, it being considered unjust that the corporations and the private persons who were entitled to those tolls should be deprived of the advantage which they had previously enjoyed, the Legislature provided that the deficiency which would arise from their abolition should be made up to the corporations and others out of the Consolidated Fund. The same principle of compensation was continued by other reciprocity treaties, and by subsequent Acts of Parliament passed in 1838 and 1852; and in the latter year a power was given by Statute to the Queen in Council to grant to any nations that might receive the ships of England on the same footing as their own the like privileges in our ports. But in every case the claim of compensation was assumed to be a right guaranteed by Parliament, and in no instance had it been called in question. Now, it was proposed to abolish the differential dues; but with respect to the proprietors of docks, harbours, and ports, and with regard to persons who received dividends from such works, there was an extraordinary clause which would enable such individuals to indemnify themselves in a manner the most inconsistent with the professed object of the Bill that could be possibly imagined. In addition to all this, the thirty-first section proposed to deprive certain freemen of their exemption from tolls and dues—an exemption, by the bye, which had been 1318 granted to them by the Municipal Reform Act. With respect to the local dues, the House would observe that it was the intention of Government to take them away from the corporations which at present possessed them and to convert them to their own purposes. [Mr. LOWE: No, no!] The right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Board of Trade, perhaps, would contend, that what the Government contemplated was, to abolish those dues altogether; but, if so, why was not that intention apparent on the face of the Bill? So far was that from being the case, that a power was given to raise the rates and tolls anew, which seemed to indicate some idea that the Government meant to continue them. It might well be asked, on what principle the Government proposed to proceed in adopting this unprecedented and arbitrary course of seizing and appropriating the property of corporations. The only ground on which the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lowe) seemed prepared to defend it was, that corporate property was public property—that, in fact, there was a clear distinction between individual rights and possessions, and those which were vested in corporations, the former being private property and the latter public, and with which the public had a right to do as they pleased. But the House would do well to examine into the accuracy of this definition.
There were various kinds of corporations. Those established for the purpose of carrying out some particular object by means of funds subscribed by persons who joined in the adventure he would discard from view; for the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lowe) would himself admit that the property of such associations was manifestly "private." But there were some corporations that had been instituted for purposes and objects altogether public. Individual members of such corporations had no private right or interest in any of the properties of the corporation. Theirs was a public trust without beneficial interest, and such corporations, being agents of the public, might be dealt with as the public pleased. There were, however, other kinds of corporations which were created to be the media of conferring rights and privileges on individuals by a general description, so as to avoid the necessity of an individual grant to each member of the corporation. In corporations such as these each member possessed a right and share in the privileges and property of the body corporate. 1319 Of that there was a striking proof in a case where, there being a question as to the tolls of a corporation, it was ruled that a corporator, being an interested party, was not a competent witness. That showed that there was a marked distinction between public corporations and those intended for the benefit of individuals, and which were, in fact, nothing more than an aggregate of individuals under one common name. The latter class of corporations might be regarded as public bodies with reference to the individuals of which they were composed; although with respect to the public at large they were separate communities, having separate rights, interests, and property which they were entitled to maintain as inviolate as the property of any individual owner. And so far from its being true, in the unqualified manner in which the Vice President of the Board of Trade asserted it, that there was a distinction between the property of corporations and that of individuals, on the contrary, where individual corporators possessed rights which belonged to the whole body, and to each individual as a part of that body, no distinction whatever could be made between their property and the property of individuals. The right hon. Gentleman had indiscriminately classed together all kinds of corporations, and, applying one uniform rule to them all, he said:—Of course we shall hear of vested interests; but over and over again this House has decided, and I think it will not go back from that decision, that in this matter there is the widest possible distinction between the corporations or public bodies and private individuals.The right hon. Gentleman, quoting Mr. Hallam as an authority on constitutional law, then continued:—Mr. Hallam, a high authority on such points, says, in the first volume of his Constitutional History of England, 'that Parliament, although bound to respect the legal interest of private persons, is not withheld by any such rule with regard to corporations when it can be shown that the abolition of such interests is for the public benefit, or that their retention would be unjust or impolitic.'"—[3 Hansard, clx. 165.]Now, although generally disposed to defer to so eminent an authority as Mr. Hallam, he (Sir F. Thesiger) could not have acquiesced in the opinion expressed in the passage the right hon. Gentleman had referred to. The right hon. Gentleman did not afford the House much facility for reference, merely sending them to the first volume of the Constitutional History; but he (Sir F. Thesiger) could not help thinking 1320 at the time, either that the right hon. Gentleman, in the hurry of business, must have put an incorrect construction upon the opinion of Mr. Hallam, or that he must have read some Board of Trade edition of that distinguished writer's works, to which less favoured students had not access. On examining his copy of Mr. Hallam's book, however, he found the entire passage to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, ran thus:—In estates held, as we call it, in mortmain, there is no intercommunity, no natural privity of interest between the present possessor and those who may succeed him; and, as the former cannot have any pretext for complaint if, his own rights being preserved, the Legislature should alter the course of transmission after his decease, so neither is any hardship sustained by others unless their succession has been already designated or rendered probable. Corporate property, therefore, appears to stand on a very different footing from that of private individuals; and while all infringements of the established privileges of the latter are to be sedulously avoided, and held justifiable only by the strongest motives of public expediency, we cannot but admit the full right of the Legislature to new-mould and regulate the former in all that does not involve existing interests, upon far slighter reasons of convenience.Certainly, no two things more unlike than this passage and that cited by the right hon. Gentleman it was impossible to conceive.
§ SIR FREDERIC THESIGER
Of course we are bound to believe the explanations of the right hon. Gentleman, but if the right hon. Gentleman did not assert this as his principle, would he be good enough to declare what his principle really was? On the authority of the passage from Mr. Hallam, which he had read in its correct form, he was content to rest the right of the corporations assailed by this measure to have their existing interests protected and preserved. Leaving, however, that part of the subject for the present, he would illustrate the observations he had just made by describing the cases of a few of the corporations affected by the Bill; and then he should be willing to submit the question to the impartial and unprejudiced consideration of any mind acquainted with the circumstances. He would take the case of Liverpool first, because the right hon. Gentleman had dealt prominently with it in his speech. The right hon. Gentleman said that Liverpool received a large sum—£125,000 a year—from taxes on 1321 shipping; and that out of that amount they expended little more than £4,000 for maritime purposes. It was a mistake, however, to say that the sum above named was derived from taxes on shipping; the greater part of it was received from goods exported and imported, and therefore it was a burden not falling on the shipping interest, but on the consumer. The right hon. Gentleman was also wholly misinformed regarding the trifling amount which he stated was expended for maritime purposes by the corporation of Liverpool; but on that point he (Sir F. Thesiger) would leave him to be set right by hon. Gentlemen having more local knowledge than himself. The local dues of Liverpool were probably, in their original character, the petty customs which it was the undoubted right of the Sovereign to raise in the different ports of the kingdom. These were often transferred either to individuals or to corporations, and, not unfrequently, they were purchased by corporations for a considerable sum. The latter was the case with the corporation of Liverpool. Their local dues, which principally consisted of a duty on goods imported and exported, originally belonged to the Crown, and probably were the result of the petty customs above referred to. For many years the corporation of Liverpool held these local dues as the lessees of the Crown, or of its grantees. In the year 1628, the Corporation of London purchased these dues and other rights and privileges, as well as some manors and other property of the Crown, for the very large sum of £374,989. In 1635, they sold all that they purchased from the Crown to Lord Molyneux, the ancestor of the Earls of Sefton; and Lord Molyneux afterwards redeemed a fee-farm rent that had been previously reserved at the time of the sale by the corporation. In 1674, Lord Molyneux made a lease of these dues for 1,000 years to the corporation of Liverpool, and, in 1777, the corporation of that town purchased from the then owner the reversionary interest and the fee-farm rents, and thus became absolute owners of all the property. In the year 1833, their title to the dues having been questioned, an action was brought and tried, the whole of their evidence was produced, and a verdict was given in their favour. Their right was then established, and since that period it had never been questioned. Under these circumstances, if a corporation could possess private property at all (which the right 1322 hon. Gentleman seemed indeed almost to deny), what stronger title—what better proof of their right to the property they now possessed than that supplied by the transactions of the Corporation of Liverpool, above described, was it possible for anybody to produce? Let the matter be brought to the following test. Supposing the question had arisen with the Government shortly after the purchase of these dues by the corporation of London for the large sum already mentioned—namely, £374,989, would the right hon. Gentleman have maintained that the Government would have had a right to strip that corporation of their possessions without any compensation whatever? Supposing the property had remained in the individual possession of Lord Molyneux, or in that of the Earls of Sefton who succeeded him, would the right hon. Gentleman have ventured to assert, whatever public advantages there might have been in wresting from the owner the possession of these dues, that his right would not have been held sacred and inviolate? And, if that was so, would any one, whether he were a lawyer or merely a man of the commonest reasoning powers, pretend to say that there was any distinction between the case of an individual possessing property under those circumstances and that of a corporation which had purchased it from that individual for a valuable consideration? What right had the public to say that the corporation should not continue in possession of this property? Was it bought with public money, or were the public at large entitled to any portion of it? No: it was bought with the funds of the corporation, and for the benefit of the members of the corporation. But the right hon. Gentleman had probably an argument which he might bring forward in answer to that mode of reasoning. The right hon. Gentleman, after stating the mode in which those customs were transferred from the Crown to corporations, or individual possessors, said they were most probably saddled with a sort of trust for the maintenance of the harbours in respect of which they were levied. [Mr. M. GIBSON: Hear, hear!] The right hon. Member for Manchester cheered that passage, in the right hon. Gentleman's speech. He (Sir F. Thesiger) ventured to say there was not the slightest ground for asserting that any of the charters were granted upon any such conditions. He had seen a very great number of them—probably as many as the 1323 right hon. Gentleman—and he remembered no one instance in which any such condition was imposed. Now, let the House observe the mode in which the right hon. Gentleman dealt with this question. After introducing what the logicians would call a modal proposition, he very quietly slid into a categorical one—he asserted positively that the dues were transferred to the possessors upon certain conditions—and he then declared that the conditions had been violated, and that their right to the property therefore ceased. He commended the subject to the attention of the right hon. Gentleman, who would, perhaps, be able to support his probability much better than he would the certainty he had thought proper to assume.
He (Sir F. Thesiger) would now pass from the case of Liverpool, and would, as another specimen of the justice of the proposed measure, call attention to the case of the Hull Dock Company. That company in 1774 obtained an Act for making docks, which conferred upon them the power, usually given to such companies at that time, of taxing foreigners double the amount of the dues imposed upon British vessels. In 1842 the Hull Dock Company were about to enlarge their docks, but they were afraid of incurring the necessary expense unless they could make a permanent arrangement with the Government upon the subject of the double dues; and, accordingly, they placed themselves in communication with his excellent and deeply-lamented Friend Mr. Goulburn, who was then Chancellor of the Exchequer, and he believed also with the right hon. Member for the University of Oxford (Mr. Gladstone), at that time President of the Board of Trade. An arrangement was ultimately come to by which it was agreed that the Government should redeem the payment out of the Consolidated Fund by an annual sum, which was to be calculated upon the amount of the differential dues received during the last five years, and that amount was ascertained to be £6,333. He was, unhappily, unable to appeal to one of his right hon. Friends (Mr. Goulburn) with regard to the binding character of that engagement, but he thought he might appeal with confidence to the right hon. Member for the University of Oxford whether the engagement was not deliberately entered into by the Government, and whether it was not one which might have been expected to be observed? 1324 The Government, he might remark, were very considerable gainers by the bargain, for in the fourteen years which had elapsed since it was entered into the Hull Dock Company had lost no less a sum than £54,000. He would read to the House an extract from the letter which was addressed by the Treasury to the Dock Company on the subject. The letter was dated December 6, 1842, and said:—The Lords Commissioners of Her Majesty's Treasury, having considered your further memorial, representing, as chairman of the Dock Company at Hull, that the company are willing to treat for the sale of a moiety of the whole of the double dues payable to them for foreign ships and vessels frequenting that port, I am directed to acquaint you, for the information of the directors, that, after a full consideration of the subject, my Lords do not see any objection to a compliance with that proposal of the company which has for its object to secure to them the continuance of the double dues now payable for foreign vessels entering the port; provided that the future payments to be made by Government in respect of the moiety of double dues payable for vessels belonging to countries now in reciprocity shall not in any one year exceed the average amount of such dues for the last five years; and provided also that, in the event of any country now in reciprocity ceasing to have the right which it now enjoys by treaty, a reduction shall be made from the payment made by the Government equal to the amount of additional duty to which the ships or produce of that country may become liable.The right hon. Gentleman the Vice President to the Board of Trade would probably say, "Oh! the case of the Hull Dock Company is one that I have provided for; for you will find that when the Consolidated Fund is relieved from the payment of the compensation for differential dues in respect of the proprietors of a dock or harbour receiving a dividend, such proprietors are empowered to indemnify themselves by placing an additional toll or duty upon ships or goods carried in ships, upon the average of the last ten years, as an equivalent for the deficiency occasioned by the withdrawal of compensation from the Consolidated Fund." Such a suggestion with regard to the Hull Dock Company was not very likely to be profitably available, for they were at present great sufferers by competition, and if they were to endeavour to raise their tolls they would drive away altogether the trade of the port. The net amount payable in dividends last year was upwards of £11,000, and the Government proposed to take from the company by the Bill £6,333, or more than half the amount of their income. He would now direct the attention of the House to that extraordinary 1325 clause under which a power of indemnifying themselves was given to parties who were deprived of aid from the Consolidated Fund. Could anything be imagined more inconsistent with the avowed object of the Bill—the relief of the shipping interest—than to enable a great number of persons and of corporations to lay an additional duty upon British and foreign ships, for the purpose of diminishing the incumbrances on the Consolidated Fund? It could hardly be supposed that this provision was introduced from any disregard to the important interests which had been taken under the protection of the Government, but probably the Chancellor of the Exchequer might have interposed and said, "Not that I love the shipping interest less, but that I love the Consolidated Fund more."
He would now give the House another illustration of the propriety and justice of this Bill: the Corporation of Bristol possessed certain town dues which they received by charter of Edward IV., dated 1461, such dues being a tax upon goods exported from and imported into that city. There were two fee-farm rents, amounting to £142 10s., which had been reserved by the Crown, but which were afterwards purchased and redeemed out of the funds of the corporation. In 1825 the corporation, at their own expense, obtained an Act of Parliament which enabled them to alter and reduce the tolls; they reduced these tolls from £5,000 to £2,000, a year, and they continued in possession of the local dues until the passing of the Municipal Reform Act. The harbour of Bristol was formed by a company in 1805, and in order to enable the promoters of the undertaking to provide funds, the inhabitants of Bristol voluntarily agreed to assess themselves by a permanent rate upon their houses and land to the amount of £2,400 a year. In 1848 the shipping and trading interests of the town, being dissatisfied with the management of the harbour and docks, requested the corporation to purchase the rights and interests of the company; one strong motive which influenced them being the desire of obtaining power to alter and reduce the tolls. Accordingly, the corporation agreed to purchase the interest of the company, and the arrangement was carried out by the Dock Transfer Act, which became law in 1848. Under that Act the corporation were bound to pay to the shareholders and noteholders of the 1326 company their interest and dividends out of the corporation funds, and it was provided that the borough funds should be liable to the full extent of all their charges upon the old company if the dock receipts proved insufficient to meet them. The inhabitants of Bristol again agreed to an assessment not exceeding 4d. in the pound in aid of the dock funds, and the amount of that rate in 1855 was £6,400. A power was taken to raise £70,000 for the harbour and docks. This was charged in the first place on the corporation, and was guaranteed out of the borough funds. He should here mention that the corporation and the inhabitants at large having taken upon them these burdens, the sums which they received for local dues only amounted to £3,625, the amount to be recovered being £9,600—so that not less than £6,000 was, he would not say, wrung from the inhabitants, but taken from them, and applied to dock and harbour purposes. Yet this was one of the cases in which the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman would strip a corporation of all its local dues, and he could not help thinking that it was a case which called for the serious consideration of the House. [Mr. LOWE: Hear, hear!] The right hon. Gentleman cheered that statement, and he knew the meaning of the cheer. The right hon. Gentleman, doubtless, meant to say this was an exceptional case, and that he was prepared to make a distinction in this instance. But if his principle was good for anything, it was good for this case also, for those local dues were precisely in the same situation as the local dues of Liverpool, the only difference being that the corporation of Bristol derived them from the Crown, while the corporation of Liverpool obtained them immediately by purchase. Let the House recollect that he was now dealing with the principle put forward by the Vice President of the Board of Trade, that the public had a right to seize on those particular possessions of corporations, because they could have no private property.
He would now refer to one great precedent of the right hon. Gentleman, to which he had rather disdainfully challenged their attention, as one which he considered to be perfectly unanswerable—he meant the case of the Corporation of the Trinity House. The Trinity House was a corporation having only public objects and purposes to fulfil. It was incorporated in the reign of Henry VIII., and received 1327 its present charter in the reign of James II. It was composed of thirty-one elder brethren, and an indefinite number of younger brethren, who were or had been commanders of merchant ships. In 1853 an application was made by the Board of Trade to the Trinity House, the object of which was to induce them to discontinue the collection of dues for charitable purposes. The Trinity House had been in the habit of applying a portion of their funds to the relief of decayed mariners, their wives and children. These parties were not necessarily members of the corporation, and they had no right or interest in its funds, but were dependent entirely on its bounty. Therefore, when the Trinity House, on being required to relinquish the collection, or rather application of those dues to charitable purposes, pleaded an objection on the ground of a public right, they were answered by the Board of Trade that there could be "no violation of the principle of property in the reduction of dues levied for public purposes, and where no vested interest existed in the tax; and that they could not recognise any vested right in the expenditure of a bounty dealt out to mariners or their families from the surplus revenues of the corporation, since it was the very essence of a vested interest that the thing to be secured should be ascertained and known to the law." He confessed that it was with the most perfect astonishment he found the right hon. Gentleman challenging this as a decisive authority in his favour, and declaring it was utterly impossible that it could receive a satisfactory answer. The right hon. Gentleman said it was very probable the course now proposed to be taken might be assailed as an attack on vested rights, but that here was a precedent which satisfactorily disposed of all such pretences, and to that precedent he confidently directed the attention of the House. He (Sir F. Thesiger) would join with the right hon. Gentleman in earnestly recommending to the attention of the House this precedent, which was an authority for all he had maintained, for he was defending vested rights in "known" objects. But the right hon. Gentleman had another argument, upon which, as usual, be entirely differed from him. He said, all this pretence of private property in corporations was disposed of by the Municipal Reform Act of 1835, by which property was taken away from corporations and given over to other 1328 persons. Now, the right hon. Gentleman was very unhappy in the selection of his arguments, for he (Sir F. Thesiger) maintained that this transaction of the Municipal Reform Act presented one of the strongest grounds for the principle he was now asserting. It was well known that originally all privileges and franchises were given to particular places for the benefit of the inhabitants of those places; and they knew, also, that by degrees those privileges and franchises were engrossed by a small body out of the inhabitants at large, and appropriated by them; that there was in almost every town a close corporation, which, instead of applying the property for the benefit generally of the town and its inhabitants, appropriated it principally to their own purposes. Now, it was with the object of restoring to those who had been thus defrauded of the privileges and franchises originally intended for them, that the Municipal Reform Act was passed, and it was on that ground that it was supported both by the noble Lord who introduced the measure to the House, and by all the leading men of the day. Lord Brougham, who was then Lord Chancellor, stated that the Act was one of restitution, and not of spoliation, and the noble Lord the Member for the City of London (Lord J. Russell), in introducing the Bill, made similar statements, as he would show by one or two extracts from the speech which the noble Lord then delivered. The noble Lord the Member for London said—I think Parliament has a right to require by laws to be now passed that the revenues of these corporations, except where they are applied under particular bequests to special purposes, shall be henceforth devoted to public purposes connected with public municipal interests.And again—He did not wish to say anything disrespectful towards the class of persons, the freemen; but he must say they were not selected on account of any peculiar merit which they possessed. They were chosen from out the rest of the inhabitants, and were vested with monopolies and privileges which were originally intended for all the inhabitants of the towns.Yet the right hon. Gentleman, in proposing to give over property belonging to the corporations for application to public purposes, quoted as a precedent an Act which merely restored certain privileges and franchises to those to whom they by law belonged. What had occurred with regard to the 92nd section of the Act? As the Bill was originally printed, the 79th section, which corresponded with the 92nd 1329 section of the Act, described generally the property of corporations. The clause received great attention, and, upon the recommitment of the Bill, in July, 1835, the words "tolls and dues" were introduced. This 92nd section provides that all corporate property, including dues, shall be carried to the borough fund; that the corporation shall have no power, where there is a charge upon tolls, to alter or reduce the amount—And in case the borough fund shall be more than sufficient for the purposes assigned, the surplus thereof shall be applied, under the direction of the council, for the public benefit of the inhabitants and improvement of the borough.So that, after the most careful consideration, these tolls were treated in the Amendment to the Bill as part of the property of the boroughs, and this solemn settlement made by the Legislature was concurred in by the inhabitants of the boroughs. Even if there were nothing in the transactions to which he had already referred giving the character of private property to the tolls, he might almost rest his claim upon this Parliamentary title. But the right hon. Gentleman said the tolls transferred to the borough fund had been saddled with a trust for the benefit of the inhabitants instead of the shipping, in consequence of "an oversight." He hoped the right hon. Gentleman, now that he had been informed of what had taken place, would correct himself by substituting the word "over-caution."
How was it possible for the right hon. Gentleman, in the face of the facts he had stated, to maintain that principle of confiscation for which he had contended—that corporations of this description could possess no right whatever to private property, and that when it was convenient for the Government of the day to appropriate their property, they were at liberty to do so? He (Sir F. Thesiger) contended that it was impossible for any persons, after these circumstances were fully in their minds, to say there could be any sound and rational distinction between the case of the property of an individual, which every one there at present considered to be sacred—and that of property which was derived from individuals, and became the private and exclusive possession of a corporation. But the right hon. Gentleman had adopted a very ingenious mode of introducing this important question; he had prefaced it by two short clauses, upon which he might have anticipated there would be very little 1330 difference of opinion, and had availed himself of that cover for rushing upon the prey which it was the object and principle of the Bill to secure, because he and those who supported him would probably say, "You have admitted you do not object to the abolition of these passing tolls, and, yet, when a Bill is introduced for that purpose, you say it shall not go into Committee, but must be rejected upon the second reading." If the right hon. Gentleman had confined his Bill to the case of passing tolls it would have met with little or no opposition; it would have had his (Sir F. Thesiger's) support. Passing tolls did not affect the private individual interests of any one; they were, in a certain sense, applicable to public purposes, namely, the improvement of different harbours; but in dealing with them the right hon. Gentleman only provided a decent covering for his principal object of spoliation. Could any one permit himself to be deceived by a contrivance which had been so dextrously conceived for the purpose of the argument to which he had referred? It was impossible for them to give their consent to the second reading without admitting that principle of confiscation and spoliation on which the right hon. Gentleman had based the provisions of his Bill. A great number of hon. Gentlemen, interested for their constituents in Liverpool and other boroughs, had opposed these local dues, which they considered were a burden upon them; their opposition was perfectly legitimate, for they had a right to defend the interests which were confided to them. But he would call their attention to this fact—that no provision was made in the Bill for abolishing these local dues; they were to be transferred merely from the corporations to the Board of Trade; they would continue to be received as heretofore, and they would press as heavily on the persons whom those hon. Members represented when taken by the Government, as when taken by the corporations. Therefore, if their object was relief, and relief through the means of confiscation, they would fail entirely—they would yield to a principle of most dangerous tendency, and derive not the slightest benefit from it. With respect to corporations in inland towns, and other corporations having no immediate interest in the question, let him call their attention to the conduct it behoved them to pursue under the circumstances in which they were placed. It was true they were not assailed at 1331 present—it was true that danger might still be far from them; but, if they consented to a Bill of this kind, it was hardly possible for them to anticipate how soon that danger might reach them. If they stood with folded arms, looking on upon the spoil and confiscation of other corporations, they would find, probably to their cost, that they would only obtain for themselves that melancholy privilege which the Grecian chief, whose wanderings they all remembered, obtained—that of being devoured the last. Therefore, he most earnestly entreated them to watch and guard against the dangerous beginning of a course which might finally he fatal to themselves. He had endeavoured, as fully and fairly as he could, to explain the circumstances, under which he thought it impossible to maintain the principles on which the right hon. Gentleman had based his Bill; and he confessed he could not say whether he was more astonished at the measure itself than at the arguments put forward in support of it. The measure was one intended to take away from the corporations property established by charters, Acts of Parliament, public agreements, and immemorial possession; and it was based on arguments which seemed to him to strike at private property itself. At all events, he was entitled to say this—that the principles on which the measure was based threatened to undermine the security of all corporate property throughout the kingdom. With the conviction that this was a measure of most dangerous tendency, he begged leave to move, by way of Amendment, that the Bill be read a second time that day six months.
SIR FRANCIS BARING
said, he had been requested to second the Amendment of the hon. and learned Gentleman, and he did so with the hope that, at any rate, it would show to Her Majesty's Government that the objections which existed to the principle of the Bill were not confined to only one side of the House, and that those who, like himself, were disposed to regard the Government with favour, and prepared to give them a general support, were nevertheless determined to look carefully into the provisions of the Bill; and his settled conviction was, that if hon. Gentlemen would so treat the measure, they would not give their support to the second reading of it. He objected to the second reading of the Bill upon two grounds; in the first place, because he recognised in it a determination to interfere 1332 with that self-management of affairs which he believed ought to be maintained for local purposes; and next—which was still more important—because he recognised throughout the Bill a carelessness with regard to private rights, as well as a sacrifice of public and Parliamentary faith, which he believed would be most mischievous if once it were sanctioned by that House. With respect to the first point; he would not go through the clauses of the Bill, but if hon. Gentlemen had read it they must have seen that it went upon the principle of interference on the part of the Government with the management of local affairs; that it handed over a certain amount of revenue to the Commissioners of Customs, who were to transfer it to the Paymaster General, who in his turn was to obey the order of the Board of Trade with regard to the disposal of that revenue. It was admitted, he understood, that the expenses properly falling upon the shipping interest were still to be paid—that was, the expenses with regard to harbours; but who was to judge what the expenses were which properly fell upon the shipping interest? As he read the Bill, for it was not prominently brought forward, an estimate of the expense was to be delivered in to the Board of Trade, and if they were satisfied with that Estimate, then, and then only, the Paymaster General would be justified in making the payments. That, however, was as he understood the measure; now he would ask what would be the practical effect of that proposition? Why, that the whole of the detailed arrangements must be submitted to the Board of Trade, whose approval would have to be obtained in respect to all the arrangements in the different harbours. Now that, he thought, would be a most unfortunate mode of transacting business. But he would not stop there. The Bill also enacted that any tax, within certain limits, might be abolished by Order in Council, in other words, by the Board of Trade itself, and that without any reference to the local authorities. There was another clause also, which he looked upon with a degree of jealousy, because he happened to have presided at the Admiralty, and knew what was the opinion which existed amongst some intelligent and conscientious persons with respect to the management of our mercantile harbours. An impression prevailed, he could not say whether at the Board of Trade or not, that the Government, 1333 by means of some sort of harbour department, ought to have the management of the whole of the mercantile harbours of the country; and knowing that this impression, mischievous as it seemed to him, did prevail, he confessed he looked with doubt and discomfort upon the 19th Clause, which provided that any tolls might, by Order in Council, be transferred to some other harbour authority. He did not see what was the exact meaning of that clause; but it seemed to him that, under that clause, it would be competent to the Board of Trade to advise the issue of an Order in Council, by which, from time to time, the tolls collected at the different ports might be transferred—say to the Board of Trade itself as the harbour authority at Ramsgate, and to the Board of Admiralty as the harbour authority at Dovor; and that that might be done with a view to what was termed concentrating the management of the different harbours. He perfectly understood that there were two modes of conducting business—the one by local authority, and that was the principle, generally speaking, and the constitutional mode in England; the other by a central power, abolishing all such little impediments as local authorities. True, there were advantages in both systems; but to his mind the advantages of management by local authority were by far the greater. On the other hand, he was not prepared to deny that the having one central authority, uncontrolled and unchecked by any local power, might also, to a certain degree, possess its advantages, though he thought it was entirely unfitted for this country. But there was a third system, the most mischievous in his opinion that the human imagination could devise; and that was, the establishment of an authority which was neither local nor central, but a mixture of the two; in short, two authorities trying to manage the same thing, always contending with one another, and neither knowing which was responsible, nor which was the real master. He knew what the operation of the Bill with such a clause would be if ever it became law. Take a harbour authority. The management would to a certain extent, be in the local authorities, but the collection of the dues would be in the Customs, and the control in the Board of Trade. Constant squabbling would therefore ensue. The local authorities would feel, and bitterly, that their rights had been infringed on; they would not forgive 1334 the Legislature easily for a measure which they would consider a robbery and an injustice; and they would be expected to act in conjunction with a central authority, the very central authority which they regarded as the author of the injustice. Why, there would be constant squabbles, and constant remonstrances from the local authorities to the Board of Trade. The result would be, and he was not sure that that was not foreseen, that ultimately the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lowe) would have to come down to tell the House that it was impossible to go on in this state of divided authority; that Parliament must make its choice between local and central authority, and pass a Bill for vesting the whole power in the Board of Trade. The second point was still more important, viz. the manner in which the Bill proposed to deal with property, and with what he ventured to call the "faith of Parliament." There was no doubt that by Act of Parliament they might take away any man's property, and he was not prepared to say that corporate property was an exception; at the same time, however, he would urge upon the House that nothing could be more unwise, or more discreditable to the Legislature of a country, unless upon the gravest exigencies, than to deal thus with corporate property, and above all to treat lightly the faith and pledges of Parliament. He quite admitted that the case of the passing toll was different from that of other tolls. In the cases of Dovor and two other harbours he thought the tax had been unfairly laid upon the shipping interest, and ought to be paid from some other quarter. But what was the case of Ramsgate? Why, the Government Commissioners themselves stated that that harbour was still, to a certain extent, a harbour of refuge for ships in the Downs, but that it would be so difficult to levy the tax on ships in the Downs that they ought not to impose it, and he (Sir F. Baring) concurred with them. But, in doing this, how would they deal with the people of Ramsgate under the Bill? Was it for their advantage that the port had been converted into a harbour of refuge? Let the hon. Gentlemen read the Report of the Government Commissioners. There they would find that, in consequence of a heavy storm, the shipping interest of London presented a petition to the House of Commons, praying for a harbour of refuge at Ramsgate. Well, the House of Commons appointed a Committee, who 1335 looked into the question, and thought it advisable—they might, in this particular case, have been right or wrong—to accede to the prayer of the shipping interest, and a harbour of refuge was made. It now appeared, however, that they could not conveniently levy the toll upon the ships which were benefited. Well, take off the toll under those circumstances, but do not make the unfortunate people of Ramsgate pay for it. Did they ask that their port should be made a harbour of refuge? They had a pier before, which served the purposes of their trade perfectly. And they gave up their tolls at the demand of Parliament. If it was a job, then it was a job of the Government, not theirs. If it was a blunder, it was a blunder of the House of Commons. If it was done under the pressure of any interest, it was under the pressure of the shipping interest. And if for the public interest, you have mistakenly made, which is quite possible, an expensive harbour; and if it turns out a mistake, it certainly is not fair to charge that upon the inhabitants of Ramsgate, and you are fairly bound to take upon your own shoulders the consequences of your own blunder, and provide for that passing toll yourselves if you now abolish it. He came next to the question of the reciprocity dues. It might be supposed that those dues were payments made at the prayer of the corporation; but the change that was made in the payments was a change made for the commerce and shipping of the country, and we were compelled to do it, first by the policy of Prussia, and afterwards of the United States. All those reciprocity payments were made not by the shipping interest but by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the question was, if that right hon. Gentleman should put the money into his own pocket, or hand it over to the local authorities. Upon what did their reciprocity payments rest? In the first place, the right to them rested upon old charters, upon constant payments, upon decisions of a court of law, upon repeated Acts of Parliament acknowledging the payments; and it was now proposed to take away those payments, so given by the Crown, acquiesced in for ages, sanctioned by a court of law, and which the right hon. Gentlemen upon the Treasury bench have acknowledged by measures they have brought in. The right rested on Acts of Parliament passed respectively in the years 1818, 1838, 1336 1842, and even so late as 1852. The first he believed was passed by Mr. Huskisson, the last by Sir Robert Peel, both of whom were men who, after all, were not careless of the public interest, and would not have admitted the claim unless they considered it to be a just one. And now the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lowe), treating those Acts as mere waste paper, with no more forcible argument to offer than something about "a river not being able to flow higher than its source," and "corporations not being able to possess private property," would have the House sweep these payments utterly away. He must appeal to the noble Lord at the head of the Government to defend the policy of Mr. Huskisson, with whom the noble Lord had acted. That great man effected conspicuous reforms, but in doing that which he thought to be beneficial to the interests of the country he never invaded particular rights and privileges; he never came down to that House to maintain that corporations could possess no private property, and that therefore they ought to be deprived of that which they had enjoyed for years, and which had been confirmed to them by the decisions of the courts of law and legislative enactments. The proposal now made would shake the confidence of all corporations in the good faith of the Government of the country. At one time it might have been possible to settle the question by a compromise, but this Bill threw difficulties in the way of any arrangement. What faith could the corporations have in any compromise, when that which in 1852 was a solemn act of the Legislature, was in 1856 declared to be mere waste paper? Every corporation, of course, had its own particular case of injustice to urge against the Bill now under consideration. That of the town which he represented was rather a strong one. In 1829 the corporation of Portsmouth came to Parlialiament for a Bill to enable them to raise money and to levy rates for the purpose of improving their harbour. Under the authority of that Bill they spent about £32,000, of which £16,000 was money which they had saved previously, and £16,000 was borrowed money. Of course they spent their money with a view of receiving some return for it, but if the proposed Bill passed they would lose their savings which they had invested in those improvements, and the inhabitants of the town would be saddled with that proportion 1337 of the interest of the borrowed money which was now borne by the shipping interest. The right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Board of Trade said his measure would benefit the shipping interest to the amount, at present, of £40,000, and by and bye of £200,000. He (Sir F. Baring) should like to know what new principles of political economy were held by the President and Vice President of the Board of Trade, that they should conceive that a tax upon goods was paid by the shipping interest. At the time of the agitation against the corn laws it was said that such taxes were paid by the consumer. Take the case of Rochester. Upon the importation there of a quantity of spirits not exceeding two gallons 2d. was levied. That was, according to the hon. Gentleman, paid by the shipping interest; but if this Bill passed this would be collected by the customhouse officer, and the duty on spirits being 15s. a gallon, he would have to take 30s. 2d. He should like to know, then, it the Government would enlighten him on the point, how it was that 30s. was paid by the consumer and the odd 2d. only was paid by the shipping interest. That was not the political economy of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Manchester (Mr. M. Gibson). His argument, and that of those whom he represented, was that those dues were a burden upon the consumer of Manchester. Would the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lowe) settle for whose benefit he really intended this measure? He (Sir F. Baring) admitted that any duty imposed upon a trade would to some extent affect that trade; but it did not appear that the shipping interest was in such a state of distress as to need relief from any indirect burden of that kind. On the contrary, it appeared from the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer on Friday evening, that for several years that interest had not enjoyed so much prosperity as it did at present. Perhaps that was the reason for their being consistent, for the newspaper interest, although prosperous, was last year relieved from a tax. The success of the reduction on newspapers probably had induced the Manchester school to try another reduction of taxation. Under other circumstances he should have been glad to have allowed the Bill to be read a second time; but it was so fraught with unfairness and bad faith, and was so mischievous, as striking at the root of 1338 self-management in local matters, that he should give his cordial support to the Amendment of the hon. and learned Gentleman (Sir F. Thesiger).
Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ MR. LOWE
Sir, I did not very precisely follow the account which the right hon. Baronet the Member for Portsmouth (Sir F. Baring) gave of the somewhat involved state of the finances of that borough; but it appeared to me that in that statement he did not mention that to which I suspect we are indebted for the excellent speech which we have heard from him this evening—namely, that the borough of Portsmouth received last year £3,800 from dues levied on shipping at that port. That, I suspect, may account for the fact, which he seemed to think so strange, that a Gentleman on this side the House should oppose the Bill of the Government. I have at the outset to complain of having, by both Gentlemen who have addressed the House this evening, been treated with a considerable want of candour. They have had at least the usual opportunities of judging of the nature of this measure. They have had the speech which I made on introducing the Bill, and also the Bill itself, which has for some days been before them in its present form. Although I am far from saying that all my expressions were as accurate as they might have been, and although there are many things in the Bill which require, and must receive, amendment, I do maintain that they might, if they had been so minded, have arrived at conclusions very different from those which they have been pleased to submit to the House as those of their deliberate judgment. The right hon. Baronet taunted me with my ignorance of political economy (in which he may, for aught I know, be right) with regard to the incidence of this species of taxation. He catches a particular expression in a long speech full of figures and details, on a subject extremely difficult to deal with, and because I used the expression, that the shipping interest would be relieved to the amount of £200,000 if this Bill passed, he says how ridiculous is my political economy, and how ignorant I must be. The right hon. Baronet has done me the honour to read the speech, because he has quoted it. Now 1339 let us see what I really did say on that occasion—There is always a question about the incidence of these dues. Part of them, undoubtedly, fall on the shipping interest (which immediately pays them) and part upon the consumer; but in the various fluctuations of the market it cannot be denied that a great portion of them must be paid by the shipping interest. I look upon it that the parties concerned are the public at large and the shipping interest."—[3 Hansard, clx. 164.]Is the case of the right hon. Baronet so weak that it is necessary that an isolated expression should be caught up, while this passage, which, as I still believe, clearly explains the incidence of these dues, should be overlooked?
The speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman (Sir F. Thesiger) was founded entirely on the assumption that the measure of the Government is one of confiscation. He put into my mouth statements which he will seek for in vain in the speech printed with my name to it, to the effect that I maintained the right of the Government at any time to take corporate property and apply it to its own use. He will not find anything in the least resembling that in my speech. Not content with that, the hon. and learned Gentleman, amid the cheers of those around him (who certainly have a great faculty of cheering), said that the object of the Bill clearly was to take these dues out of the hands of the corporations and transfer them to those of the Government, and he insinuated that the object of that transfer was not to abolish the dues, but to retain them for the use of the Government. Had the hon. and learned Gentleman looked at my speech, he would have seen that this matter was there explained, perhaps not so clearly as might have been desired, but still with sufficient perspicuity to have informed a candid opponent—one who was speaking for truth and not for victory, one who wished to inform the House on a great question, not to inflame its passions and work upon its prejudices—what was the real meaning of this Bill. I stated on bringing in the Bill that—As regards such of these dues as may not be required for the purposes of the sinking fund, or for the payment of interest, it is proposed that there shall be reserved to the Queen a power of abolishing or retaining them, as She may think fit, by an Order in Council.So far it is open to the hon. and learned Gentleman to put upon the Bill the construction which he has adopted, only after this there follows this passage— 1340The object being that the harbours may be in no danger of 'starving,' so to speak, through the sudden withdrawal of the funds on which they have been accustomed to depend for support, or by other deficiencies of revenue. In the interest of the creditor, also, who might otherwise be left without his remedy, it is desirable that a power should be reserved of raising the dues anew in case it should be found necessary to do so."—[3 Hansard, clx. 167.]Now, Sir, of all that we did not hear one word from the hon. and learned Member for Stamford. I may as well explain the matter at once. In printing this Bill some words have fallen out of one of the clauses, the absence of which, undoubtedly, to persons anxious to find technical and quibbling objections, countenances the opinion put forward by the hon. and learned Gentleman.
But, Sir, the Bill was founded on the recommendation of a Commission, of which the hon. and learned Gentleman has not said one word. The recommendation of that Commission was that the dues should be abolished. The object of the Bill is to carry out that recommendation. The question was, how these dues could be abolished. The measure is one, I am willing to confess, of a very peculiar nature. It has to deal with difficulties almost unexampled, because it has to deal with the affairs of a vast number of separate corporations, and to lay down general principles for the regulation of their interests. Although this Bill was founded upon the able and impartial Report of a Commission, it was quite impossible that we should be able to foresee all that might be brought under the notice of the Executive Department, and therefore in working it out our only resource was to arm the Board of Trade with some discretionary power, so that, while we were doing a great good, we might not commit great evil and injustice. For instance, we were bound to see that the harbours were not starved; that in taking away funds we did not deprive the shipping interest of the support they had a right to expect from the dues levied upon them; and we were, also, bound to take the utmost care that the creditors of these funds, of whose number and amount we could not be secure, and who might start up in any amount—we were bound, I say, to take the most sacred care that their interests were guarded and protected. Power was therefore reserved to the Board of Trade to abolish these dues by degrees, instead of abolishing them at 1341 once. But if any hon. Gentleman thinks that to abolish these dues at once would be better, taking care at the same time of the creditor, and the purposes which the shipping interest have in view, I for one will joyfully agree to abolish them immediately. Our only intention was to do complete justice, and we never contemplated anything but the total abolition of these dues after payment of the fund for shipping purposes, and the payment of the interest of the fund. And this is what the hon. and learned Gentleman calls an appropriation of property, and a pouncing on its prey by the Government, in a speech distinguished for its practised legal dexterity more than for candid interpretation. So much for the spirit of the hon. and learned Gentleman, and now for the measure itself.
I must candidly say that I could hardly recognise our own measure as it was described by the hon. and learned Gentleman. After stating what the measure really is, I will then state the reasons which appear to me to overthrow the considerations which the hon. and learned Gentleman has urged against the Bill. The object of this Bill is, in the first place, to abolish passing tolls. These passing tolls seem, as far as I can see, to have no friends; even the hon. and learned Member himself has given them up. I certainly consider that they ought to be abolished, for they are imposed on ships, and applied to purposes from which ship-owners receive no benefit. In some cases the harbours are too shallow except at particular periods of the tide, and in other cases they are too shallow to allow ships to enter them at all, and it is therefore agreed that it is right to take away these tolls. But it is ridiculous and trifling to pretend that they are not just as much funds in which there is a vested interest as the funds dealt with by any other part of the Bill. The principle for which the hon. and learned Gentleman contends is just as much violated in the case of these four harbours as in the case of the town of Liverpool, only that the town of Liverpool is wealthy and influential enough to secure learned, able, and candid advocacy in its behalf, and they are not. The next part of the Bill deals with town dues—that which the hon. and learned Gentleman spoke of as "property." I wonder after what has been asserted, if it ever occurred to the hon. and learned Gentleman, to consider what property 1342 really is. We heard a good deal from him of the sacredness of property, but he gave no vestige of an idea of it; for where the hon. and learned Gentleman was talking of property the Bill talks of taxes. The property he spoke of might be land or it might be funds, for anything that he said to the contrary. But the hon. and learned Gentleman is a skilful gladiator, and he knows the weak part of his case. I suspect that the hon. and learned Gentleman's idea of property is anything that a man may get money for. Now, I demur to that interpretation. A man may get money by telling where stolen goods are hid. He may refuse to execute a deed which he ought to execute, and may force one to pay him money before he will execute it. But that is not property. I could put hundreds of cases where a man has the power of gaining money, but which do not amount to the legal idea of property. I can understand property in land, because it must be appropriated by some one to subserve purposes of utility; I can understand property in capital, which is the accumulated labour of man, and which would perish without an owner. But property of the kind contemplated by the hon. and learned Gentleman—property in another man's property—a claim by another to take that which is a man's own, and to transfer it to the use of the taker—that is a denomination of property which I never can concur in considering really and legally to be property. And that is the "property" which this Bill deals with. Let me state the case which the hon. and learned Gentleman has been so careful not to state. The hon. and learned Gentleman, as I have previously stated, gives up passing tolls, and has not a word to say for charities; but he says:—"I claim on behalf of the ratepayers of Liverpool now, and for all time to come, for them and their unborn children, the right to tax all the rest of England, and all the ships that come to the port." He claims on the part of the people of Liverpool to treat as serfs, for all time to come, the unborn children of those who are not residents of Liverpool, and to levy forced contributions upon them, for which they are to receive no equivalent. He claims for the people of Liverpool a right to tax, for the benefit of the town of Liverpool, the dress of every woman in England, from the Queen upon the Throne to the maid of all work who scrubs the steps, to tax them for the present and all 1343 future time, not only to its present amount, but if it should rise to double and treble its present amount with the rising commerce of the country. He claims on the part of the people of Liverpool, not only the power to levy this tax, but to be exempt from the tax which they levy on others, and while Manchester has to raise £80,000, by means of a borough fund, Liverpool will be exempt, unless this Bill should pass, from any borough fund at all, End the ratepayers will be exonerated from those local burdens which it is the business of self-government to levy for local purposes. This is a claim of taxation without representation, and without giving a voice in the imposition and distribution of the burden. These are the claims which are preferred, and which the hon. and learned Gentleman has not blushed to use all along as convertible with property. Property! This may be property, but it is M. Proudhon's property—le vol.
Well, Sir, that is the claim. And now let us see the evidence by which it is substantiated. The hon. and learned Gentleman says, that about 200 years ago, this property and the right of taxing their fellow-subjects were purchased by the corporation of Liverpool from Lord Molyneux's family. Now what was the nature of this purchase? The hon. and learned Gentleman was too dexterous an advocate to tell the House that. The purchase-money was about £700, and the taxes so bought were then about £14 a year. That was the nature of this right upon which this enormous superstructure has been raised, and upon which the corporation of Liverpool claim to levy this princely revenue. That is the right which the hon. and learned Gentleman tells us, if we meddle with, or deal with, in the public interest, we shall not only endanger the tenure of all corporate property, but the very tenure of private property itself. Sir, I cannot express the dislike I feel to such an argument, because the effect of it will be not to raise in public estimation such property as this to the height at which private property stands; but if the hon. and learned Gentleman succeeds in establishing an equality between the two, and in persuading the public that private property has no better tenure than this, he is likely to bring down the tenure of private property to a low standard, not more respectable than that of a tax. Sir, the hon. and learned Gentleman sneers at the notion of a distinction between the property of 1344 a corporation and the property of an individual. That distinction is not one of my drawing, but it is one deeply engrained in the laws of the country and in the reason of things. That doctrine is one laid down by the Commissioners and recognised by the constitution. Corporations exist neither by themselves nor for themselves. They are the creatures of public utility, and when they cease to subserve the public utility, they may and ought to be abolished. If the Legislature has the right to abolish these corporations, it has also the power to abolish rights which are inconsistent with the end and aim of their being—public utility. These corporations and the powers which they exercise are the means and aims for accomplishing certain ends, and not the ends themselves. So long as they answer those ends, the Legislature ought to support them—when they cease to accomplish those aims, you will only set up anarchy and confusion if you continue them, and it becomes the wisdom and the duty of the Sovereign Legislature to take away their power if they cease to fulfil their objects. There is no necessity whatever to interfere with these corporate bodies to that extent. That is not the principle on which I am arguing this Bill, but it is the principle on which I base the distinction between a corporation and an individual. A breath has made, and can make, a corporation; an individual is not a creation but an element of society. It is out of individuals that a corporation is formed, but you cannot form individuals. They carry into society rights which are sacred and indefeasible; they are the very foundations of society, and not figments and creations; they are the foundation stones of the whole edifice, and cannot be shaken without bringing all to ruin. Whereas corporations are things created by society; they may be to-day, and they may cease to exist to-morrow; their privileges may be taken away, as they have been taken away, by repeated Acts of the Legislature, and, whatever may be the fate of this Bill, will be so again. The corporations of England were generally believed (for the hon. and learned Member for Stamford rested his argument on no authority) to have been elective bodies anciently, which usurped gradually into their own hands the power of nominating their own members. That is said to have been their origin. At any rate, at the time of the Municipal Corporations Act, in almost every borough, they 1345 were either self-elected or appointed by the mayor, or by the aldermen, or common council, or freemen, who generally formed a very small part of the borough. They possessed—how they came by it is not explained—very considerable real and personal property, which they claimed to hold, and over and over again it was decided by the courts of law, by Lord Ellenborough, and by Lord Eldon, they did hold, entirely independent of any trust whatever. They claimed to use, and did use it in a most scandalous manner—the hon. and learned Gentleman, to be consistent, would say in a most proper manner—they ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they feasted, they jobbed, until a day of reckoning was at hand. Such were the corporations till the year 1835, and such was the body which purchased the town dues, value £14 a year, from the Lord Molyneux of that day.
In 1835, however, came the Municipal Corporations Act, and there was the same fight on behalf of those who had unjustly monopolised the power and property of the borough as is now made on behalf of those who have unjustly got the dues raised on the shipping interest. But that fight was unsuccessful. The House of Commons heard plenty about vested interests and confiscation and loss of property. But they were fresh from the reform of Parliament, and they said to the corporations—"Whatever may be your charters, and whatever may be your legal rights, your charters are iniquity and your rights injustice; you cumber the earth; you are no longer to be tolerated; you are usurping places which ought to be held by better men, and we will sweep you away, your self-elected system, and your property, and we will replace you with really elected bodies." By a stretch of power, the greatest, perhaps, ever known in a free country, and which the hon. and learned Gentleman does not object to—I suppose on the principle of opposing always-coming reforms, and acquiescing in those that are past—by a stretch of power Parliament demolished these bodies, took away their property, and left not a vestige of the previous state of things. By the Municipal Reform Act their powers were conferred on new bodies elected by the ratepayers of the borough. In them was vested all property, and among the property these tolls and dues, and they were declared trustees of their borough fund—that, in the first place they should pay the expenses of the police 1346 and the administration of justice in the borough, and then apply the remainder to the benefit of the inhabitants. There is an instance of a bold and vigorous act of justice on the part of the Legislature in redressing a crying iniquity. It is a great and glorious instance of what Parliament can and will do, when the necessity arises, without having regard to merely legal claims and musty precedents, and the hon. and learned Member for Stamford has failed to distinguish between that Act of Parliament and what we are doing to-day. That Act, however, involved this great error. It handed over these tolls and dues, not as in justice it ought to have done, as their property, to the shipping interest, but it handed them over to the new corporations, and saddled them with a trust the most monstrous that ever was heard of, namely, that the funds may be applied to the benefit of the inhabitants, provided not one farthing is ever expended for the benefit of the shipping interest. That is the operation of the Act, and it is by that Act, and that Act alone, that the municipal bodies derive the right to property held by the self-elected persons they replaced. The Legislature, by an Act of force, of violence, of revolution, if you will, destroyed their predecessors, confiscated their property, and vested it in new bodies which they created; and, therefore, all the purchases from Lord Molyneux are so much waste paper. There is no connection between this body and the body they succeeded. They are gone, like a race of Titans, and these are the deities which reign in their place. The only connection is that these, by the will of Parliament, take the property of their predecessors. This is a Parliamentary grant, without any consideration whatever, of these tolls and duties, and it is a grant of the greatest injustice, because Parliament has done to the shipping interest precisely the same injustice as the old nominative corporations did. They took to themselves funds which ought to have been devoted to the benefit of the whole of the borough; they took money which was really other people's; their title was supported in law, but justice would not support it; and the Legislature having to choose between law and justice, greatly, no doubt, to the disfavour of the lawyers, selected justice. But when Parliament came to legislate with regard to the shipping interest, they did what they had disapproved; they took from the shipping interest these dues; 1347 they gave the property to the boroughs, and they gave no equivalent. That is the whole title on which Liverpool claims these dues. All I can say in answer is, to repeat the words of Junius—"What may be gained by one revolution may be lost by another." Though this property was vested in the corporation twenty years ago by one Act of Parliament, it may be taken away by another. The Act gave, and the Act can take away. It is for us to consider whether we will do it.
As to our utter freedom from the fetters in which the hon. and learned Gentleman has bound us I cannot entertain a doubt. Is it just that Liverpool should be collecting at this moment £125,000 a year, and spending for shipping purposes, as appears by the Report of the Commission, only £3,000 a year, and spending that miserable pittance in breach and violation of the law by which they collect the revenue? I ask the House is that a state of things which ought to continue? Can it be justified? The old corporation acknowledged no trust binding on them, and they could do justice and apply the whole or any part to the benefit of the shipping interest; but the new corporation, under the Municipal Corporations Reform Act, has no such option. They are bound by the command of the Legislature to deprive the shipping interest of every farthing of benefit. The law is strict and inexorable. If they do give the shipping interest a benefit they break the law. Is it right, then? Can it be justified that, under pretence of local self-government, under pretence of administering their own municipal and local affairs, that any body of Her Majesty's subjects should have the right to levy such an impost on the rest? It deprives us of all social equality. If the produce of my labour be not my own, if my neighbour can take it away without compensation, where is your boasted security for property? When the Liverpool corporation can take from a merchant at Manchester taxes without any equivalent, when such things are done and sanctioned by Parliament and by Conservative lawyers, where, I ask, is the boasted security of which you talk? Where is it, I ask? In what does it consist? In what does it reside? What is the security of property? These are momentous questions—questions which affect all classes of the people—and when challenged to look into them we, the guardians of the people's interests, have no option but to do so. The protection of private property 1348 resides in that feeling deeply implanted in the English mind, and which is a leading characteristic of English history—a reverence for the rights of individuals. In England alone, of all countries of Europe, has the individual had rights which, however adverse to the State, the State has been bound to respect. In England, more than in all other countries of Europe, it is the pervading principle of our legislation that right shall be paramount to might. It is the theory of our laws that the strong shall not be allowed to oppress the weak, and from this doctrine there is no evasion, except, perhaps, through the clauses of some blundering Act of Parliament. That, Sir, is the theory of our Constitution. Let the practice of our laws be what it may in isolated cases, it is the theory of our legislation that the ratepayers of Liverpool—however numerous, however affluent—have no right to inflict the slightest injury on the poorest and weakest of Her Majesty's subjects. Reverence of individual rights is, I repeat, the source and fountain of protection for private property; but where is the reverence of individual rights if the persons who happen to reside near some creek or arm of the sea, are to be permitted to set up little custom houses of their own—for to that it amounts—and under the preposterous pretext of protecting their local interests, to levy tribute on persons to whom they render no manner of service? Hon. Gentlemen opposite, in their zeal for the preservation of property, would destroy all property. They are so zealous in the cause of property, that when a man claims to have a property in another man's property, they will admit the claim, yet—strange inconsistency—they seem to have but little sympathy for the man who is modestly content to claim an interest in his own property. Besides the corporations which exact these unrighteous dues there are the individuals who pay them, and these are excluded from the sympathy of hon. Gentlemen opposite. For the shipowner they have no consideration—he is beyond the range of their humanity. Those who would favour the continuance of the system of compulsory taxation, which this Bill is designed to abolish, may flatter themselves with the idea that they are the champions of property; but, in truth, they are the advocates of spoliation.
Passing from this topic I come to that of the charities; but here I will not linger long. As no one has as yet thought fit to say one word in their behalf, I shall leave 1349 it to those who shall come after me in debate to offer what observations they please on this particular branch of the question. Vested interests we desire to respect, but interests which are not vested have no claim on our regard. A "charity" which, however attractive its title, is, in point of fact, nothing more or less than an ingenious contrivance to get up a rate in aid of the poor-rate in particular districts, is not worthy of support, and assuredly has MO possible right to compensation. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Stamford (Sir F. Thesiger) has taken as instances of the iniquity of this measure three places, Liverpool, Hull, and Bristol. With respect to the first, it is unnecessary to add anything to what I have already said on the subject. With regard to Hull, I admit that the case of the Hull Dock Company is an extreme one, and I cannot but think that it would have been more fair in the hon. and learned Gentleman—had fairness been his object—to have tested the Bill rather by ordinary instances than by such as present features of isolated and exceptional difficulty. No doubt there are difficulties in this case of the Hull Dock Company; but the hon. and learned Gentleman might have known, and probably did know, that those difficulties have already presented themselves to the Government and engaged their anxious consideration. The Hull Dock Company, as the hon. and learned Gentleman must be fully aware, was not under the operation of the general law, but under that of a special Act of Parliament. The Government had entered into arrangements with them to pay them a certain sum less than they would otherwise have received by way of compensation for the loss of differential dues, and on the strength of these arrangements the company had engaged in large transactions, and incurred heavy obligations. Several days ago—and long before the hon. and learned Gentleman had an opportunity of delivering the speech with which he has this evening favoured the House—my noble Friend the President of the Board of Trade and myself took these facts into consideration, and we arrived at the conclusion that in the particular instance of the Hull Dock Company there was a special contract, which makes the case, as I have previously stated, an exceptional one, and fairly carries it beyond the general operation of the present measure. As much may be said of Bristol, for there also are exceptional incidents 1350 which would make the Bill difficult of application to that city. Bristol receives some £3,000 or £4,000 from shipping dues, and pays some £8,000 or £9,000 a year out of local rates for shipping purposes, likewise under the provisions of an Act of Parliament; and, under these circumstances, it would be manifestly unfair to make the Bill apply to Bristol. We propose, therefore, to deal with these cases by special clauses; and if it can be shown that there are any other places so circumstanced as to require exceptional legislation, we shall be most desirous to make in their regard such arrangements as will completely satisfy the justice of each case. For this disposition the hon. and learned Gentleman might in candour and frankness have given us credit before coming forward to bring such weighty accusations as he has done against Her Majesty's Government.
The question of differential duties is another topic which the hon. and learned Gentleman has, most unjustly, as it appears to me, made the subject of severe comment. Notwithstanding the adoption of the free-trade system, the policy of this country with regard to differential duties has not, up to the present moment, undergone any alteration. It is still the general policy of English legislation to impose higher duties on foreign than on native ships. That, I repeat, has been our policy up to the present moment, to conclude reciprocity treaties with different nations, and then to compensate with payments out of the Consolidated Fund those persons or associations whose rights may have been injuriously affected by such treaties. The Bill now under consideration makes it for the first time the policy of the nation to abolish differential duties altogether. As long as it was the policy of England to levy those duties, and as long as the exception was only a matter of special treaty with other countries for the interchange of similar advantages, these payments out of the Consolidated Fund were just in principle and ought to have been continued; but as soon as it becomes (and to that object the present measure is directed) the general policy of the nation to abandon these differential duties, the right of individuals or of corporations to receive compensatory payments ceases and determines. The general policy of the country will be changed by this Bill, and those who had heretofore had an interest in 1351 the levying of differential duties would no longer be acting in accordance with the general policy if they were to retain that interest. And this, I think, sufficiently disposes of the claim to compensation. As long as there was in special and particular cases an infringement of a general policy, so long there was in such cases an equitable claim to compensation; but when there is no longer a general policy to infringe, there is no longer any occasion for compensation. Hon. Gentlemen opposite argue as if the public purse were inexhaustible, and in their anxiety to preserve inviolate the privileges of particular corporations, they totally disregard the interest of the greatest corporation of all—the community at large. You have no right to take the money of the whole State and give it to a part; or, if you do make the attempt, surely you should seek to justify it on some higher ground than the fact that such things have been done before now. There are not many who, like the hon. and learned Member for Stamford, would have the hardihood to claim for these corporations the permanent right to levy an unrighteous tribute for all time. The most zealous opponents of the Bill are content that the right should be abolished for the future, and all they claim is compensation. But what I want to know is, how can you compensate? The case does not, in its nature, admit of compensation. The shipowners are at present subject to an unjust tax at the hands of certain corporations. You withdraw from these corporations the right of continuing the iniquity, and then you talk of giving them compensation. What is that but to enlarge the area of the injustice, and to inflict on the community at large a wrong heretofore limited to a particular class? It is clear that you have no middle course. The case does not admit of compensation; and you have but one alternative—either to adopt this Bill, or to continue the present state of things with all its evils and absurdities.
It has been said that this Bill has been framed with great craft, and I, like many others in a similar position, have got credit for much that I never contemplated. I can only say that the Bill is founded on the recommendations of the Commissioners who investigated this subject under the presidency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Cardwell) with infinite care and diligence three years ago, and that it embodies their conclusions. 1352 The Commissioners having found a clear case of grievance at Liverpool, proposed a just remedy, which, though it may be received in a storm of opposition now, must be conceded sooner or later, as the increasing trade of the country is daily augmenting the importance of relieving it from these iniquitous demands. The Government elected, and I think wisely, to bring the question before the House of Commons and the country, to ask this House and the people of this country, whether a system of local self-government should be perverted into a system of Imperial taxation—whether a power given to tax burgesses and ratepayers should be perverted into a power to tax those who were not ratepayers or burgesses, and who derived no benefit from the taxes they were called upon to pay. Let no one tell me it is legal. I know it is legal, and therefore it is I am here to ask the House to repeal the law. No wrong here is complete until it is legalised, but when moral and legal principles are at variance, and where compensation is, as I think I have shown, out of the question, then it is the duty of the Legislature to redress what may be a grievance, and to found a law upon what is just and right rather than what has the technical sanction of an Act of Parliament. I think, Sir, that no one will stand up in this House and say, that the 92nd section of the Municipal Corporations Act is a just law. I do not think there is a man so perverted by prejudice or interest as to say that it is right that £125,000 a year should be levied on shipping, and that such money so levied should not only not be spent, but actually be prohibited by law from being expended, for the benefit of those from whom it is exacted. It has been said that these dues are very light, and the injury they inflict is but small; that to the increase of trade, and not to the high rates levied, is attributable the large amount to which the aggregate dues have now reached. I, however, agree with Bentham, who says there is no injury so slight or small that its multiplication may not become intolerable. Give me the power of taking a farthing from a man with impunity, farthing by farthing, I will find the bottom of his purse; let me let fall a drop of water on his head—gutta cavat lapidem—the power of striking off his head would be subject to less abuse. But it is evident that those who now draw these large revenues from this source are aware that their days are numbered, and are setting 1353 their houses in order to meet the inevitable moment when these unjust dues shall be abolished. I find in an Act introduced in the last Session for the amalgamation of the Birkenhead and Liverpool Docks that the corporation of Liverpool got a clause introduced to give them power to borrow £2,000,000 upon the security of these dues. It is well known that the corporation of Liverpool are the same persons as the dock trustees, and it is equally well known that it would have been easy for the corporation to borrow £2,000,000 upon the security of the docks, if they had pleased, for in the very same Session they made application for leave to borrow £4,500,000 upon that security. But, though their object was to charge these dues, they wished to charge the estate as much as possible, in order that the equity of redemption might be of as little value as possible. If this question be not dealt with at once, we shall find that by-and-by, when we come—as inevitably we must—to deal with these dues, they will be entangled and embarrassed by charges created expressly to embarrass their repeal. [Sir F. THESIGER, Hear, hear!] The hon. and learned Gentleman cheers that, and no doubt it meets his view of dexterous management on the part of the corporation of Liverpool, but it does not, in my opinion, correspond with the principles of fair dealing; however, I mention it to show to the House the danger of delay in these matters. We have a duty to perform to the country at large, and to the shipping interest in particular—to relieve them from this burden; but unless we do so at once the practice so successfully initiated at Liverpool will be repeated in every other port, and then when, in spite of the indignant remonstrances of hon. Members, the country shall have arrived at a determination to endure no longer this crying evil, we shall find the question entangled in every possible way, and its settlement must be postponed for an indefinite period. I maintain that the Commission has done its duty in reporting boldly, and recommending what was for the good of the public. I say the Government has done its duty in bringing in this measure—incurring a storm of obloquy and selfish opposition by so doing. We have placed the matter before the country for it to judge between us and those who assert the peculiar interests of great corporations, and I can only express a hope and trust that the House of Commons will now do its 1354 duty, and send this intolerable abuse to the same limbo of departed acts of iniquity which has already received, within the last thirty years, rotten boroughs, rotten municipal corporations, and a rotten commercial system.
§ MR. HORSFALL
said, he thought it was necessary for him, as one of the representatives of Liverpool, to make a few observations which might be considered as supplementary to those of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Stamford, in reply to the right hon. Vice President of the Board of Trade. When the right hon. Gentleman first introduced the Bill, he expressed a regret that he was not more familiar with the subject upon which he was about to treat, and that he had not had more time to consider it; and in that expression of regret he (Mr. Horsfall) entirely concurred. In the speech which he made upon that occasion the right hon. Gentleman stated—The port of London was excluded from the Bill because the affairs of the corporation of London had come under another Commission, which had since made a Report, and the recommendations in which, arrived at after independent inquiry and consideration, were in accordance with those of the Commission on local dues and shipping.If the recommendations of the Commissioners of the Port of London had not been in accordance with the Report of other Commissioners, then he (Mr. Horsfall) could have understood how it was the port of London was exempted from the Bill, but as the recommendations of the city Commission were similar to those of the other commission, some other reason for the omission must be looked for, and he thought that reason was to be found in the expectation of the right hon. Gentleman that he would have opposition enough to encounter without inviting the additional resistance of the City of London. The right hon. Gentleman must, however, by this time have found out his mistake, for he had seen that very evening a petition presented from the corporation of London against the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman had found fault with the right Baronet (Sir P. Baring) who seconded the Amendment because he had told the House that these dues were not dues on shipping only, but were dues charged partly on shipping and partly on goods. The right hon. Baronet had spoken correctly, and he (Mr. Horsfall) would show the House in what proportions the dues fell respectively on shipping and on goods. 1355 Taking the case of Liverpool, the House would be surprised to find that out of £105,000 annually raised by these dues, according to the statement of the right hon. Gentleman, only £1,000 was levied upon shipping. The remaining £104,000 was levied upon goods which the consumer paid. The whole amount levied at Liverpool upon any single ship coming coastwise was 1s. not per ton but per vessel. Could that small sum be considered a grievance. A British ship from a foreign port paid 1s. 3d., and a foreign ship was charged 1s. 6d., of which 3d. was paid from the Consolidated Fund. If such payments were hardships upon shipping he certainly could not perceive them. He would also show presently that the Bill, instead of relieving the shipping interest even from a payment of £1,000 per annum would, so far as Liverpool was concerned, inflict upon it an additional tax of £6,000 or £7,000 a year. The right hon. Gentleman, in his somewhat equivocal observations, had stated that the amounts which he quoted as the produce of these dues were those for the year 1852, and that since then they had greatly augmented. But that augmentation was the result of increased trade, not of enhanced rates. He would next approach the main point as regarded Liverpool, but before doing so he would request the attention of the right hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. M. Gibson) to what he was about to state, because all must be aware that the movement which led to the introduction of the present Bill had arisen at Manchester. If, therefore, he should succeed in showing that the same principle of town dues which prevailed at Liverpool also existed at Manchester, he thought the House would agree that there was a little want of consistency in the course now proposed to be adopted. Very hard words had been used on this subject at Manchester, but he would not now allude to them, as those who had used them would, he had no doubt, after the heat of controversy had passed away, regret having done so. But a curious work entitled the Manchester Historical Recorder, afforded some authentic information, which he would briefly quote, to show that the corporation of that city, in 1845, adopted the very same principle which the corporation of Liverpool adopted in 1777. The latter body, seeing the increase of the dues which were paid to the Earl of Sefton, very naturally decided on purchasing them for the benefit of the town; 1356 and the corporation of Manchester very properly took the same course in 1845 with regard to the dues levied in their city by the Lord of the Manor, Sir Oswald Moseley. The book to which he referred stated that the town council of Manchester bought up Sir Oswald Moseley's manorial rights for the sum of £200,000, of which £5,000 was to be paid down as a deposit, the rest of the money to be liquidated by instalments of £4,000 a year, with an option to increase them to £6,000; that the income derived from the tolls by the Lord of the Manor was about £9,000; that several previous negotiations for the purchase of his rights had taken place, but they had invariably failed, "either through the cupidity of the inhabitants, or from some disagreement as to terms between the buyer and the seller." The corporation of Manchester now levied these tolls, and applied the surplus to the reduction of their borough rate, thus acting in precisely the same manner as the Liverpool corporation did with their town dues. The published accounts of the Manchester corporation showed their receipts from these market tolls to be £10,372, independent of about £6,000 more from rent of slaughterhouses, and making a total of about £16,000, the surplus of which was carried to the benefit of the inhabitants. Thus, then, it was seen that the men of Manchester, who stoutly denounced this principle in the case of Liverpool, unhesitatingly acted upon it in their own city, levying tolls there upon articles of consumption, notwithstanding that they were such well-known advocates of free trade, especially in food. But that was not all. In another instance, when the directors of the Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire Railway, the carriers of a large amount of produce into Manchester, sought some time ago to establish a depot there, the able town clerk of that city was down upon the company in a moment, and prevented the formation of the proposed depôt, because it would have interfered with the tolls of the corporation. But turning to the question of the title of the corporation of Liverpool, from local knowledge, he might add a few facts to the able statement of the hon. and learned Gentleman (Sir F. Thesiger). The right of the corporation to its dues was contested before the then Lord Chief Baron (Lord Denman), in the suit entered against them by "Bolton and others." It was an 1357 entire mis-statement to say that that case was compromised; the decision was clearly given in favour of the corporation. And here he wished to quote the words of two of the very parties who then contested the right of the corporation, and who nevertheless stood forward at a great public meeting held in St. George's Hall, Liverpool, on Friday last, as stanch opponents of this Bill. They were both ardent supporters of the Government, or, at least, they very recently were such. Mr. James Aiken, on the occasion in question, said—The trial took place before the Lord Chief Baron; the most eminent counsel of that day were employed; the case went to a jury; a verdict passed for the corporation; and although, in the first instance, a bill of exceptions was tendered to the ruling of the Judge, the parties resisting the dues found, upon consulting counsel, that they had not a leg to stand upon, and they therefore said to the corporation, 'We see you have a title, but we think there are some few particulars in which the rates ought to be modified.' They were requested to point out the modifications which they would suggest. They did point them out, and those modifications were made to the entire satisfaction of the trading community of the town of Liverpool.Mr. W. Rathbone, the other speaker at the meeting, whom he desired to quote, observed that—He was rather surprised at the modesty—not usual with members of his profession—and still more with the morality of the Vice President of the Board of Trade. He should have thought that no lawyer would have said that property belonging to corporations might be spoliated any more than the property of individuals. That was not his morality; and he should be glad to know how the shareholders in those great corporations, the London and North-Western, the Great Western, and the Great Northern railway companies, would like to have their property in these concerns taken hold of by the Government; or what their friends in Manchester would say if a hungry Government should seize upon their corporate interest in their gas-works? He was called a Radical Reformer, but he was not an unprincipled revolutionist. Let them look at all their Boards in London—at the blunders made at the Admiralty and at the Horse Guards, and then let their answer to the proposal be 'Balaklava!' He thought Mr. Lowe might have had more modesty than to undertake their business, when that which he had in hand already was so ill conducted. Why had the local Marine Board resigned? Entirely because they were so bothered by Government interference. He (Mr. Rathbone) did not like centralisation. He should not object to inspectors coming down from time to time to see that the local authorities did their duty, but to anything beyond that he objected. He was quite sure, if the people of England understood the question, that Government would lose the Bill, and he hoped, if they persevered with it, they would lose their places too.1358 The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lowe) spoke somewhat boastingly of having "overthrown the arguments of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Stamford;" but had he really achieved such a triumph? The right hon. Gentleman in introducing his Bill stated—By the operation of the Municipal Corporations Act, in consequence, as I apprehend, of an oversight on the part of those who prepared it, the tolls levied upon shipping became part of the borough fund, and were saddled with a trust for the benefit, not of the shipping, but of the inhabitants of the town.He (Mr. Lowe) had been told by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Stamford, that this was not an "oversight." Instead, however, of retracting his assertion about this alleged "oversight," the right hon. Gentleman had that night persisted in it. What was this but to insult the memory of Sir Robert Peel and the other eminent statesmen who took part in the discussion of the great question of municipal reform? How could the right hon. Gentleman maintain that there had been any "oversight" in the matter when Sir Robert Peel manifestly foresaw this case, as was evident from the following passage in his speech on the Municipal Corporation Act—It had been said, too, that this would bear unequally on different towns. In Manchester, for instance, where there were no corporate funds, there would have to be a borough rate; therefore, the inhabitants of Manchester would have a heavier burden imposed upon them than the inhabitants of Liverpool, where there were corporate funds. But it was impossible to go upon such a proposition as that. In one town the poor rates were much heavier than they were in others—in one they were 5s. in the pound, while in others they were not 8d., yet no alteration could be adopted on account of such variation."—[3 Hansard, xxviii. 1058.]With reference to the expenditure of funds by the Corporation of Liverpool, the Vice President of the Board of Trade had said that, out of £105,000 a year levied by dues upon shipping by that corporation, they were obliged by law to apply to maritime purposes the munificent sum of £400 a year. "They are, however," said the right hon. Gentleman, "better than the law obliges them to be, for in that year (1852) they applied to those purposes no less than £3,044, the remainder being expended for the benefit of the ratepayers of the borough." It was certainly remarkable that the right hon. Gentleman should not have been aware of the very largo amount which was expended by the corporation of Liverpool for the benefit of British 1359 commerce. They had expended on the new Custom House, which was intended to benefit not merely the commerce of Liverpool, but that of the country generally, £110,000; they had granted a site worth £8,500 for a Sailors' Home; on the Northern Hospital, which was built expressly for the reception of accident cases occurring in the docks, they had expended £8,500; they had constructed a river craft dock at an expense of £94,000; the observatory cost £8,600; the removal of the powder magazines, which were considered dangerous to the commerce of the port, had involved an expenditure of £12,000; a landing stage was now being built which would cost £135,000; a testing machine for testing chain cables cost above £5,000; the Rock Lighthouse had been built at a cost of £30,000; upon the Wallasey embankment for the protection of the port, they had expended above £30,000; they had paid £28,000 for other works for the benefit of the port; and they had expended £1,040,000 upon opening and widening the streets, in order to afford accommodation for the increased traffic of the port. He hoped, then, the right hon. Gentleman would be satisfied that he had made a slight mistake. The right hon. Gentleman, by some strange misconception, had confused the income of the dock estate with the corporation funds, and had said that "besides the enormous tax I have mentioned, the docks of Liverpool levy on the shipping £273,284, the whole of which is by no means paid for services conferred;" and he (Mr. Lowe) then proceeded to illustrate his case against the corporation by stating that the steamer Sarah Sands, although unable to enter the docks, had to pay £64. Now, the corporation had nothing to do with that. The Sarah Sands came into Liverpool as any other vessel would do, and all that she paid to the corporation was 1s. 3d. If the right hon. Gentleman intended to assail the dock estate, which might, perhaps, be the next object of his attack, he (Mr. Horsfall) would be quite prepared to meet him. The right hon. Gentleman proposed likewise to abolish the rights and privileges of the freemen. Not content with reforming the corporation of Liverpool, he would reform the Municipal Reform Act itself; for, by that Act all the rights and privileges of freemen were reserved, not for succeeding generations, but for the lifetime of the freemen then living. During the last twenty-one years, 1360 however, the number of freemen had been gradually decreasing, and the exemptions had, of course, also decreased. The right hon. Gentleman, alluding to the effect of the town dues, had said, "In consequence of those dues, a great deal of trade is driven out of its natural course and finds its way to Chester, where the dues are light." He (Mr. Horsfall) would now show the House whether these dues had operated prejudicially to the trade and commerce of Liverpool or not. He found from Returns that in the year 1800 the number of vessels entering that port was 4,746, amounting to 450,060 tons; in the year 1810 the number of vessels was 6,729, amounting to 734,391 tons; in the year 1820 the number of vessels was 7,276, amounting to 805,033 tons; in the year 1830 the number of vessels was 11,214, amounting to 1,411,964 tons; in the year 1840 the number of vessels was 15,598, amounting to 2,445,708 tons; in the year 1850 the number of vessels was 20,457, amounting to 3,586,337 tons; and in the year 1855 the number of vessels was 20,024, amounting to 4,090,160 tons. The increase within the last five years had been 500,000 tons, and that was, he thought, an extraordinary proof of the depressing effects of these dues upon the commerce of Liverpool. Then with regard to Chester, the Returns showed that the trade of that port had been gradually decreasing instead of increasing as the Vice President of the Board of Trade would have led the House to believe. The right hon. Gentleman had observed, "It is curiously remarked, too, that these three towns" Liverpool, Newcastle, and Hull—"which have the advantage of receiving this enormous tribute levied from other men's property, are as little favourably spoken of for the efficiency of their municipal regulations or sanitary improvements as any in the kingdom." He (Mr. Horsfall) quoted now from the corrected speech of the right hon. Gentleman: on a former evening he had noticed his somewhat strange observations on this point. He (Mr. Horsfall) would now only appeal from the Vice President of the Board of Trade to the right hon. Baronet the Home Secretary, who, in introducing his Police Bill the other day, singled out Liverpool as a pattern for its municipal regulations respecting the police. He (Mr. Horsfall) would further say that there was not a town in the kingdom which was in a more satisfactory sanitary state than Liverpool. Indeed, he 1361 believed he was correct in stating that the best local Bill of Health ever obtained from that House was a measure for the town of Liverpool. He could not imagine upon what grounds, therefore, the right hon. Gentleman thought himself justified in bringing such a charge against Liverpool, and he (Mr. Horsfall) could only say that he believed it was utterly unfounded. Before resuming his seat, he wished to say one word with regard to differential dues, and he would not have noticed the subject if the right hon. Gentleman had not—as he thought not very fairly—charged the hon. and learned Gentleman who moved the Amendment, and the right hon. Baronet who seconded it, with want of candour. He (Mr. Horsfall) would appeal to the House to decide to whom that charge would most justly apply. The right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Board of Trade, after referring to the reciprocity treaties concluded in 1810 and 1815 with Portugal and the United States, said, "A Bill was accordingly passed which, treating these dues in accordance with the political economy of the time"—which was honesty—"as the property of the corporations by which they were enjoyed, took away all power of levying them in every case where these reciprocity treaties came into operation, but at the same time enabled the Treasury to give compensation." It did not, however, answer the purpose of the right hon. Gentleman to tell the House that subsequent treaties were concluded in 1852, and he had not the candour to mention the fact. The right hon. Gentleman said—I grant that there is a legal right to these dues, because it has been given by Act of Parliament; but I cannot conceive upon what principle, ex œquo et bono, a corporation can be justified in raising, by taxing the shipping which comes into its harbour, sums applied for the benefit, not of shipping, but of the ratepayers of the town. I have shown how injurious such a practice is to the places where it obtains.The right hon. Gentleman, however, had not given them any instances of the injurious effects of the practice, the only cases he had mentioned being those of Chester and Liverpool, and he (Mr. Horsfall) thought the House would not be of opinion that they justified the right hon. Gentleman's assertion. The right hon. Gentleman had said that the funds raised by these dues were charged with debts, and the question arose what was to be done with such debts. He confessed that 1362 he (Mr. Horsfall) did not quite understand how the right hon. Gentleman proposed to apportion those debts under his "rule of three sum," as between the towns and the commercial interests. At all events, the town of Liverpool was not open to reproach on that point, for although the debt was £1,100,000, he had shown that upwards of £1,500,000 had been expended for the promotion of commerce. He would just call the attention of the House to the effect which the measure of the right hon. Gentleman would have on the port of Liverpool. The relief which the right hon. Gentleman proposed to give to the shipping of Liverpool would amount to £1,000; but he proposed to raise the rates on pilots to compensate for the amount which would be thus deducted; the consequence would be that the shipping interest would be charged £6,000 to £7,000 per annum more for pilotage than they were at present. The right hon. Gentleman further remarked, that in order to facilitate the readjustment of the charges in the harbours, it would be necessary to introduce another measure with an object similar to that of the Burgh Harbours (Scotland) Bill. The object of that Bill was the protection and storage of goods, and the making roads to harbours, and other works of a similar nature. Now, he could inform the House that the corporation of Liverpool had already anticipated the wishes of the right hon. Gentleman in all the objects he desired to accomplish—such as the protection of the storage, of the harbour, of the works, &c. For these purposes the corporation had expended £1,500,000 of money. Without trespassing any further upon the attention of the House, he thought he had shown that the statement of the right hon. Gentleman—especially in reference to Liverpool—was not founded on facts. He had presented petitions from the pilots, the mayor and corporation, and inhabitants of the town of Liverpool, against the Bill, and notwithstanding it professed to be for the relief of shipping, he had also presented a petition against it, which was unanimously adopted at a meeting of the shipowners' association. The right hon. Gentleman had made some complimentary observations with reference to the Board of Trade. In those observations he (Mr. Horsfall) partly agreed. He readily acknowledged the services of the present Colonial Secretary (Mr. Labouchere) when President of the Board of Trade, particularly 1363 in having introduced the Mercantile Marine Bill, which was a very valuable measure, and by which local self-government was fully recognised. It gave to all important ports a local Board. But the present Board of Trade proposed to interfere with the operations of the Board at Liverpool. The right hon. Gentleman assumed, also, that the dock estates and the corporation estates were the same, whereas the corporation were only nominally the trustees of the dock estates, but had not the direct management of that property. The two bodies were, in fact, totally distinct. Whatever course the Government might take with regard to the Bill, he hoped the House would reject it, and thereby secure to themselves, what he believed they now possessed, the respect and confidence of the country.
said, he must beg to ask for the indulgence of the House, in addressing it for the first time. He must say that he was much emboldened by the circumstance that he felt he was maintaining the cause of property, and the enjoyment of a right secured by every title which the law of England could give, in opposing the Bill. He did not think that the present was a question involving freedom of trade—the question, to his mind, was one of legislating on property on a right or a wrong principle. Nothing that he could say would add weight to the lucid arguments of the hon. and learned Gentleman (Sir F. Thesiger) as to corporate and individual property. It was said the Bill was founded on the Report of Commissioners appointed to inquire into the subject. If those Commissioners, in giving in their report, had added to their documentary evidence the oral testimony they had obtained, they would have afforded a useful amount of additional information to guide the House. He did not consider the question as at all affecting free trade, nor could the discussion of that principle properly form a part of the debate on the Bill, but he thought what they ought to reflect upon was, if they were not asked to begin a course of legislation, upon property, in which they ought to be especially careful to keep up the distinctions between what was just or unjust—what was right and what was wrong. The right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Board of Trade said, it was true, that the word "confiscation" was not to be found in his speech introducing the measure, but he could tell the right hon. Gentleman where 1364 it was to be found—in the character of the Bill presented after making that speech. He had risen for the purpose of stating the claim of Newcastle-upon-Tyne to the fund which they distributed. They were dues collected on the Tyne, and were not in any way whatever shipping dues. The only dues collected by the corporation of Newcastle-upon-Tyne which are paid to the borough fund are the coal dues paid by the coalowners. They would be the only parties who would have any right to complain, and they were opposed to the Bill being passed into law, and had petitioned that House against it. The corporation had the right to levy the dues, first on prescription, afterwards confirmed by charter, and since by Act of Parliament. The enactment which gives that right was passed in 1850; its clauses are very short and explicit. One of the clauses in that Act conveys an exemption of the estates, properties, and all incomes whatever of the corporation of Newcastle-upon-Tyne from all dues in respect of the conservancy of the river. That is the title by which they hold their property; and, if there was any force in language, it gave them that property in a manner with which no one could interfere. They held their coal dues, in the first instance, founded on prescription, then confirmed by charter, and at last continued by Act of Parliament. There was another class of men at Newcastle-upon-Tyne which was especially interested in the Bill. That was the Trinity House at Newcastle. The principle under which the duties were first levied by the Trinity House were upon a proved and received prescription, which was confirmed by a charter in 1687. That charter was confirmed by decisions of the tribunals of the country. When the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Board of Trade quoted Treasury Minutes, he would ask him whether he was prepared to put Treasury Minutes against the judicial decisions of the country, as to whether such or such a thing was property or not? It was a new thing to be told that, because a Treasury Minute was issued, it was to override the decisions of the judicial tribunals. It was now proposed to take away all dues from the Trinity House at Newcastle and transfer them to the Trinity House at Deptford Strond. He could not approve of the principle of centralisation, and removing the management of affairs from country Boards to the hands of Boards sitting in London, The 1365 right hon. Gentleman had spoken likewise of the question of compensation, and said that he did not know where to look for it. Now he (Mr. Ridley) could show him where to look for it—in an Act of Parliament itself the 6 and 7 William IV. cap. 79, which was one that related to the very Trinity House of Deptford Strond, when private interest to no small amount was transferred to that corporation with compensation. The Act expressly says, that "it is just to find a remedy" for the damage to that interest, and when justice was found, money was also found. That principle runs through the Act—that it is just to compensate those whose interests or personal privileges were abolished by it. There was the Municipal Bill, where the freemen of the boroughs had rights, some by purchase, some by prescription, and in the passing of that Bill the noble Lord the Member for the City of London said that it was not intended by it to injure any one, or to take away any pecuniary interests or vested rights. That was the right thing to do, and if the principle was good then it was good now. If neither charter, nor Act of Parliament, nor money paid, could confer a title, he should like to know what would give security. He had not had the advantage or disadvantage of having been in Australia, and did not pretend to know what might be the law of property in that colony, but of this he was certain, that the law of property, as viewed by the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Board of Trade, was not the law of property in Great Britain, and he was satisfied that the principle on which he proposed to deal with property in the Bill was not one which the public opinion of the country would sanction. The noble Lord at the head of Her Majesty's Government stated a few nights ago that the House ought not to show itself on questions of religion less careful than the public out of doors. He concurred in that sentiment, and would now add that on questions of property it would not do for that House to be less careful than the public out of doors. They had heard much lately of Parliamentary titles, but he would say that to speak to the Parliamentary enactments relating to the property affected by the proposed Bill as being of no value whatever was to lay the foundation of a very dangerous principle. He could only say, for one, that he should take every opportunity of opposing the 1366 measure, because he believed it would not only disappoint the shipping interest, which it was intended to benefit, but would at the same time raise a groundwork of injustice with regard to property which he was sure, if once acted upon, would be most injurious to the interests of this great country.
§ MR. TOLLEMACHE
said, that, for the last eight or ten years he had been most anxious to have the question of the Liverpool town dues (he knew nothing of other town dues) dealt with, so that, for the protection of the public, a stop might be put to the rapid increase of the already large sum raised in that manner, and that justice should be done to trade by those who received those dues; therefore, he very much regretted that Her Majesty's Government should have brought forward a measure which he, for one, certainly could not support. As far as he understood it, it did not carry out some of the most important recommendations of the Harbour Commissioners—such, for instance, as the appointment of an efficient body of conservators for the different public harbours; and it struck him that to hand over the town dues to the Board of Trade would inflict an injury rather than confer a benefit on trade, and, at the same time, would invade the rights of property belonging to public bodies to a very dangerous, unnecessary, and unjustifiable extent. Although, however, he made those remarks, he did consider that, for the protection of the trade of this country, it was absolutely necessary that a measure bearing on this subject, and also on some points referred to in the Harbour Commissioners' Report, should be introduced. The estuary of the Mersey, the most important commercial port, perhaps, in the world, was at present virtually without a conservancy. The Board consisted of three great officers of State, whose other duties rendered it utterly impossible for them to attend to the conservancy of the Mersey; therefore they had appointed, as an acting conservator, a gallant and excellent naval officer, who would no doubt much rather, and was, much more competent to command a line-of-battle ship in the Baltic than fulfil the duties attached to the conservancy of such a river as the Mersey. As a proof of the unsatisfactory state of the conservancy of the Mersey, he would mention that, owing to the construction of a sea wall to the north of Liverpool, without a corresponding wall being erected on the opposite side of the river, 1367 hundreds of thousands of tons of the clay and sand of the Cheshire shore were washed annually into the estuary, and that not far from the entrance, which entrance was already too shoal to admit large vessels, excepting at particular times of tide. He (Mr. Tollemache) could not give the corporation of Liverpool credit for the liberal conduct, which, according to some persons, they had displayed; on the contrary, he asserted that the corporation of Liverpool, by the purchase of the margin of the river, and the reckless expenditure of large sums of money in opposing Birkenhead Dock Bills, endeavoured for years to deprive the very trade on which they levied their dues, of very superior dock accommodation on the Cheshire side of the Mersey. He certainly thought a measure of some kind was required, but it was not such a one as that proposed by Her Majesty's Government. He would rather see some measure which would commute the town dues for a fixed annual sum, calculated according to the average of annual receipts for, say, the last ten or twenty years. He did not conceive that the people of Liverpool would object to such a proposition as that, for property had its duties as well as its rights, and he really believed that certain obligations formerly attached to those dues which were not now properly fulfilled. Tithes had been commuted for the benefit of the land, and he did not see why town dues should not be commuted for the benefit of trade. Then the measure brought in by the Government ought to establish an active board of conservancy for the various harbours. Thirdly, the corporation of Liverpool ought to be compelled to supply those conservators out of the dues thus commuted with funds for purposes connected with conservancy; and he should give the surplus, whatever that might be, to the corporation of Liverpool; for such a surplus, as far as he understood it, would really of right belong to them. A measure like that would, he believed, afford satisfaction to the trade, would be attended with great advantages to the port of the Mersey, would almost satisfy Liverpool on the one side and Manchester on the other, would be a practical measure, and one which, he felt certain, would obtain the approval of Parliament if introduced by the Government. He was confident, however, that the present Bill would not pass the House of Lords; he doubted, even, whether it would obtain the sanction of the House of Commons; and, 1368 for the reasons he had given, he should certainly oppose its further progress.
§ MR. COLLIER
said, that on the behalf of his constituents he begged to tender his thanks to Her Majesty's Government for the introduction of this measure. It was founded on what he conceived to be the only sound theory of taxation; it was supported by considerations of public policy and expediency, and was consonant to the whole course and tenor of modern legislation. The principle of the Bill he understood to be that neither the shipping interest, nor any other interest, should be taxed by the inhabitants of certain towns, for purposes in which that interest was in no way concerned. Such taxation was unjust and iniquitous. The case against these dues was very much the same as that against protective dues—for example, the corn laws. It was said of those laws that the landlords had no right to tax other people for their own benefit, and for that reason the corn laws were abolished. Could it make any difference that the landlords were scattered over the country, while the persons levying these taxes were concentrated in towns? The principle appeared to him to be only a fair corollary to the principle of free trade, which was, that no portion of the community had a right to tax the rest of the community for its own peculiar benefit, and in point of fact the case against the corn laws was not so strong as that against the shipping dues; for in the one case, the agriculturists, for their own benefit, taxed themselves as well as the rest of the community, while in the other, inhabitants of certain towns taxed other persons and not themselves for the same purpose. On what principle of right could it be contended that the shipping interest should pay for building a town hall at Liverpool, or for lighting and paving the streets of Hull? As to the argument based upon vested interests, it appeared to him to be founded upon a misconception of the real nature of vested interests. Now, with what kind of vested interests did the measure deal? Had the House to compare the rights in question with the right of property in land or in offices? Unquestionably an individual was always compensated for the loss of any vested right, even in property to which his title was questionable, or in an office which he ought never to have held. He would observe, in passing, that, with regard to compensation, it was one thing to compensate a mortal 1369 man, and another thing to compensate a never-dying corporation. But the vested interests here set up were not the interest of any ascertained individual or individuals in private property, but the interest of all persons born, or to be born, who happened to reside, or might at any time hereafter reside, in certain localities—for whom the corporations in question were trustees—in the taxation of a portion of their fellow-subjects. The argument for such vested interest would prove that the agriculturists had a vested interest in the corn law, and that the West India proprietors had a vested interest in the differential duties on sugar. He was astonished to find the hon. and learned Member for Stamford (Sir F. Thesiger) arguing that no distinction could be drawn between the vested rights of private individuals and those of corporations. That assertion must have been made without a sufficient knowledge of the nature, rights, and duties of municipal corporations. Such corporations are not only distinguished from private persons as being collective bodies, but as being public institutions, existing not only for their own benefit, or that of the localities in which they exist, but of the whole country, forming a part of the machinery of the constitution by which the country is governed and justice administered. As such, the legislature had a right to deal with them on principles of public policy and expediency. The same arguments were used at the time of the passing of the Municipal Corporations Reform Act. The same arguments used to-day were used then, and it was asserted that the privileges of the corporations were guaranteed to them by the same securities as the right of the Queen to the Crown, or of the nobles to their dignities. It was asserted that if the rights of the corporations were once invaded, no property would be safe, and, in a petition presented to the other House of Parliament, the inhabitants of Coventry asserted that the Municipal Corporation Bill went to confiscate every species of property held by the corporation of Coventry and to despoil them of the estates which they held in fee simple and without condition. But what was the reply made by Lord Brougham? Lord Brougham said the petitioners call this the confiscation of their property; we call it in equity, the restoration of the property to its right owners. Now, for what purpose were these dues first established? Take the case of the corporation of Hull. The dues were expressly 1370 given them for the purpose of providing docks, and other conveniences for shipping. [Cries of "No, no !"] No, no; why it was the words of the corporation of Hull themselves, who declared in the statement of their case which they had circulated among members, that the dues were originally granted them for the maintenance of the port. The foundation of the right was a corresponding obligation, and when the obligation ceased the right ceased, and nothing but wrong remained. He should vote for the measure as preventing those dues from being applied hereafter by certain towns for lighting and paving their streets and building their town halls. It was maintained, because the corporation of Liverpool had, upwards of a century ago, bought of the Sefton family the power to raise dues to the extent of £14 a year, that they had now a right to levy them to the amount of £125,000 a year, or £200,000 a year, or any conceivable amount to which they might increase, and that they never could be deprived of that right by Act of Parliament except on full compensation; and what was the compensation sought? Payment of an equivalent from the consolidated fund; in other words, shifting the taxation from the shipping interest to the whole community. It was only requisite to look at the nature and class of dues levied, to see what a gross abuse they were, and how utterly inconsistent with the object for which the power to levy them had been originally granted. One firm in Manchester stated that they paid £150 a year for Liverpool dues, which was seven times as much as they paid for local rates in Manchester where their premises were situated. Another firm at Runcorn stated that they paid £200 a year in Liverpool dues, which was twenty times as much as their local rates; and Mr. Blackwell, on behalf of the South Wales coalmasters, stated that the Liverpool dues of 2d. a ton on coal were equal to the sum paid to the landlord for the fee simple of the mineral. It was wholly immaterial to his argument upon whom this tax fell, because he contended for the broad principle that, having been levied for one class of the community, with no consideration of benefit to that class, it was altogether indefensible, and could not have been contemplated by any original grant from the Crown. By the proposed Bill the shipping interest were at once relieved of passing tolls, and for that they 1371 ought to be grateful to his right hon. Friend the Vice President of the Board of Trade; but they were not relieved at once of town dues, because, in that case, vested interests wore involved, and the Government, therefore, collected and held those dues, as he understood, first for the benefit of the creditors, and then for the benefit of the shipping interest generally, with a view to the entire abolition of those dues as soon as possible. In Committee many alterations might require to be made; but he should support the second reading of the Bill, because he believed it to be sound in principle, and to be calculated to confer material benefits upon the shipping interest, which deserved as much as any other interest the favourable consideration of that House.
§ MR. HILDYARD
said, that the town which he represented (Whitehaven) had no local dues which would be affected by the Bill, while the shipowners of that port would be relieved by that portion of it which abolished passing tolls. If, therefore, he were to act upon those selfish principles which the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Board of Trade was too ready to impute to those who differed from him, he should be found among the supporters of the right hon. Gentleman that evening; but having listened most carefully to everything that had been adduced in favour of the measure, he could come to no other conclusion than that the statement of the right hon. Gentleman was a bold avowal of a total disregard of the rights of private property. The right hon. Gentleman had scarcely condescended to notice the way in which the corporations had acquired their property. What were the rights of that vast mass of property with which they had to deal? Why, those rights were based upon four distinct tenures,—on prescription, on grants and charters, on purchases for money consideration, and on the good faith of Parliament itself. He should like to know what the hon. and learned Member for Plymouth (Mr. Collier) meant by saying that these town dues were analogous to the corn laws. There was no analogy whatever between the present case and that of the corn laws, because Parliament had never guaranteed that the price of corn should be kept up to a certain amount. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lowe) said that Parliament, which passed laws, had the right to repeal laws; but he (Mr. Hildyard) contended that that 1372 was a doctrine which must be received with limitation, and that whenever an Act of Parliament amounted to a contract, Parliament could not without flagrant dishonesty repeal that Act. What was the £800,000,000 debt of this country, but property held by taxation alone? And if the doctrine were maintained that Parliament was at liberty to withdraw its guarantee to the fundholder, what would be the consequences to this mighty empire? He thought that it behoved the noble Lord the Prime Minister to consider whether it was becoming that such a speech as the Vice President of the Board of Trade had given utterance to that evening should be confirmed by the Treasury bench, because he ventured to say that there was no precedent of a speech containing the doctrines which the right hon. Gentleman had promulgated ever having been delivered by a person occupying the same position in the Government as the right hon. Gentleman. Although his constituents might be personally benefited by the passing of the proposed Bill, he was sure they would approve his conduct in not purchasing relief for them by committing an act of injustice to others; and, therefore, he should vote against the second rending.
§ MR. RICE
said, that the dues of the town he had the honour to represent (Dovor) had been granted in 1778 for the purpose of lighting and paving the town. He, therefore, should like to be informed by his right hon. Friend the Vice President of the Board of Trade whether he was to vote upon the Bill as it had been printed, ar as it had been described by his right hon. Friend; because upon that would very much depend the vote which he should give. By the 9th and 10th clauses of the printed Bill the officers of Customs were to collect the dues and were to pay them over to the Board of Trade, who were to do what they pleased with them. To that he objected; but as he understood the Bill as described by his right hon. Friend, it abolished those dues altogether. Now, which was the case?—were those dues to be collected by the officers of Customs and handed over to the Board of Trade, or were they to be abolished? The provisions of the Bill were inconsistent with each other. It was proposed to abolish the shipping tolls, and supply their place by a payment out of the Consolidated Fund; but the local dues, he knew not for what reason, were 1373 to be dealt with in a totally different manner. If the Vice President of the Board of Trade would put the local dues upon the same footing as the shipping tolls he would support the Bill; if not, he would give it his most determined opposition.
§ MR. DEEDES
said, he doubted very much whether the Government would derive any assistance from the speech with which the Vice President of the Board of Trade had favoured the House that evening, and he more than doubted whether the Bill had been recommended to independent Members on either side by the doctrines propounded by the right hon. Gentleman. He was aware of the difficult and awkward position in which any one stood who came forward, as he did on the present occasion, to speak in behalf of a small interest compared with those who had hitherto enjoyed the attention of the House; but, nevertheless, he would venture to submit the case of Ramsgate to their special consideration. In 1749 the harbour of Ramsgate was private property, but, at the request of the merchants of London, it was then given up to the public. Upwards of £200,000 had since been expended on it, and its management had entirely passed out of the hands of the people of Ramsgate. In 1838 the inhabitants obtained a local Act which continued to them the power of raising 2s. per ton upon coals for the purposes of police and street improvement. That was a tax upon the consumers alone, and amounted, in fact, to a rate upon the inhabitants of Ramsgate for local purposes. If the coals were reshipped the duty was returned. Under the powers of the Act of 1838 the inhabitants had borrowed £10,000. The coal duty yielded about £2,000, which stood as security for half of the debt. Now, the Bill under consideration proposed that the coal tax should be continued, first, till payment had been made of the debt which he had mentioned, and to that part of the arrangement he made no objection; and afterwards for the maintenance of the harbour till it became public property. Now, was that proposition justifiable on principle? The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lowe) had condemned taxation without representation, and here was an instance to which his censure was applicable. By continuing to tax the inhabitants merely for public purposes, the right hon. Gentleman was in fact violating his own professed principles. If Ramsgate 1374 were dealt with in a manner similar to that in which it had been intimated that Hull and Bristol were to be treated, his case, so far as Ramsgate was concerned, would be at an end; but, as an independent Member, he should still reserve to himself the right of taking whatever course he might deem best with respect to the measure as a whole.
§ MR. J. C. EWART
said, he wished to make one or two observations upon an important point which had been omitted by previous speakers. The town and corporation of Liverpool, relying upon the continuance of the town dues, had incurred a very heavy debt. An hon. Member in the course of the discussion had endeavoured to draw a distinction between private and corporate property, contending that, while one should be considered inviolable, the other might fairly be dealt with by Parliament. He found the following passage in a speech delivered by Lord Lyndhurst in the other House on the Municipal Reform Bill—Would their Lordships strip an individual of his property without a charge being preferred against him, and without that charge being supported by evidence? If they would not, then, under similar circumstances, would they not require the same course of proceeding to be adopted with respect to a corporation that was absolutely essential in reference to an individual? Their Lordships had heard much said about public expediency in reference to grants of charters by the Crown. Suppose the inhabitants of Westminster were to say it was inexpedient that they should continue to pay the tolls to Covent-garden. Those tolls were held by a noble Duke, a Member of that House, under charter granted by Charles II., and if the inhabitants of Westminster were to say, rescind that doctrine, and let them get rid of that charter without any proof of abuse, or any evidence to establish a charge of abuse, but merely because it was not convenient to them to be subject to such a charge, would not that be considered a monstrous doctrine? And if their Lordships were to act on such a doctrine, where could it be supposed they would stop? If they adopted that in one case of property, what argument could be raised to resist it in another?'—[3 Hansard, xxix. 1386.]He hoped the House would reject the Bill, as it was fraught with the grossest injustice, and he should certainly do everything in his power to defeat it.
§ MR. LIDDELL
said, the arguments of the opponents of the Bill were founded upon truth and justice, and he should act upon the opinion expressed the other night by the noble Lord at the head of the Government—that when arguments were good and few the oftener they were repeated the better. The Bill contained 1375 much that was good and much that was bad, and it was difficult to accept one portion and reject the other; but he could not support it, because he thought it was unjust to sacrifice the rights of the whole of the community to the interests of a part. If those rights had been exercised in a partial manner, if they had frequently been the subject of litigation, if they had given rise to contradictory judicial decisions, he could have understood the necessity for a measure of this kind; but no one disputed their legality, and even the Commissioners quoted instances in which efforts to destroy them had been defeated. Was the Bill, then, to be supported on the ground of public convenience? If so, how was that doctrine to be limited? The abolition of the rights in question might, to a certain extent, promote the public convenience; but that was a statement which might be applied to every species of property, and the adoption of the principle on which the Bill proceeded would lead to the most extensive and the most perilous consequences. An attempt was made in that case to draw a distinction between public property and private property, but that was a distinction which it would in many cases be very difficult, if not impossible, to make. He would illustrate that latter statement by an example. The Earl of Durham leased at the present moment from the Bishop of Durham the right to levy certain anchorage dues in a river; and that right would be respected as long as it should remain in the hands of the noble Earl as a lessee; but if the right should revert to the Bishop, it could no longer be maintained, because the holder of a see formed a corporation. That was one of the anomalous conclusions to which the Bill would lead. He denied that the Municipal Reform Act was a precedent in the right hon. Gentleman's favour. The object of that Act was to transfer property from irresponsible hands to a constitutional and elected body, whereas, in depriving boroughs of corporate funds, when certain charges had been undertaken by the boroughs, on the understanding that those funds were to remain in their hands, the Legislature committed a distinct breach of faith. The Bill did not even protect vested rights to the same extent as the Municipal Reform Act. It was said to be unjust to tax one part of the community for the benefit of the rest, but it was difficult to decide how far well-lighted quays and matters of that kind were for the exclusive 1376 benefit of a seaport town. He could find no clauses, except those relating to passing tolls, which conferred any benefit upon the shipping interest; on the contrary, one portion of the Bill empowered the harbour authorities to indemnify themselves for losses by increasing the amount of the dues. In whatever light the Bill was regarded, it appeared to him to be a measure of injustice and spoliation and a breach of Parliamentary faith. He therefore appealed with confidence to those Gentlemen who represented important interests to oppose this first attack upon them, and he hoped that they would be supported by the Conservative party, whose principle had always been respect for the rights of property.
§ MR. INGHAM
said, he should vote for the second reading of the Bill; and, in doing so, he was not conscious that he should be committing any violation of the laws of property. There was some provisions in the Bill which he certainly should like to see altered, but in voting for the second reading he did not adopt all the machinery of the Bill, and still less all the arguments which had been raised in the course of the debate in support of the measure. He should give his vote in favour of the two great principles of the Bill, the abolition of passing tolls, and the regulation of local dues on shipping. With regard to the abolition of passing tolls, he believed that no one seriously resisted that part of the measure, but an objection was raised to the Bill on the ground that it proposed to extinguish all town dues. The principle, however, was to regulate those dues and to apply taxes raised on shipping to the benefit of shipping; and that was the ground on which he should vote for reading the Bill a second time and allowing it be to considered in Committee. The hon. and learned Member for Stamford (Sir F. Thesiger) had argued that none of the documents granting the town dues referred to the particular objects for which those dues were granted. That might be the case, for at the time, when they were granted, the Monarch, in the exercise of what he considered his Sovereign rights, did not choose to restrict the exercise of that right by stating in the grant the precise reasons why it was made, but merely stated that he acted from his own will and pleasure. Nevertheless a reference to the time and circumstances when the grant was made sufficiently interpreted its purpose. Now it was manifest from the terms of the 1377 grant of King John in reference to Newcastle, that that corporation, being at the time conservators of the river, it was their duty to provide for the maintenance and improvement of the port, and therefore it was quite consistent with a regard for corporate property for that House to interfere to see that duty enforced. An individual had absolute dominion over his own private property, unless he made use of it so as to do mischief to others; but, with respect to corporate property, Parliament had a right to interfere, to see that the purposes for which it was granted were carried out. If it were discovered that there were any part of the Bill inconsistent with that provision, that would be matter for consideration in the Committee, and for his part he should like to see the whole of the tolls so regulated in Committee that they would ultimately go to the Harbour Commissioners. The improvement of the navigation of the rivers and the harbours would tend to the advantage of the towns and ports situated on them; and consequently, in voting for the second reading of the Bill, he considered certainly that he was not voting to divert property to purposes foreign to those for which it was originally granted.
§ MR. CAIRNS
said, he had been so long hearing of the grievance of "passing tolls," and so long anxious for the time to arrive when that grievance should be remitted, that he came down to the House with every desire to support the second reading of the Bill. And, indeed, when he looked at the title of the Bill and what it purported to be, like the hon. and learned Gentleman who had just sat down, he owned to being perfectly captivated; for what could be more innocent, what object more desirable? When, however, he came to look into the inside of the Bill, he found it contained certain details which appeared to him to be most objectionable. He had hoped to hear from the Government that night some intention of modifying the objectionable details of the Bill, but the propositions contended for in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Board of Trade and the interpretation put by him upon the measure entirely dissipated that hope, and had sent him over a convert to the ranks of those who opposed the measure. Now the reasons which prevented his supporting the Bill could be so shortly stated that even at that late hour he could not be precluded from laying 1378 them before the House. With regard to the first part of the Bill, which related to the passing tolls, all were agreed, and if, when the Bill was rejected, as he trusted it would be, the right hon. Gentleman would embody those provisions in a fresh measure, it would meet, he firmly believed, with general support. To the second part of the Bill, however, which dealt with local dues, he objected altogether, as he believed it to be wholly unjust. There was no doubt that these dues were originally granted by those who had a right to grant them, and that those grants had been confirmed by charters, by Acts of Parliament, and in every way in which it was possible to give them a solemn sanction. "But," said the right hon. Gentleman, "what matter your musty charters?" The right hon. Gentleman was accustomed to the habits of a country not quite so old as ours, but he begged to tell him that the tenure of the property of every Gentleman in that House depended upon "musty charters?" If the right hon. Gentleman railed at "musty charters," he railed at the tenure of all the property in the kingdom. Now, what were the arguments of the right hon. Gentleman? Why, he said that these dues were not "property," but "taxes." But if that were to be the doctrine, it must be acted on consistently; if these dues were to be treated as taxes, they must be so treated throughout, and not at one time as taxes and another as property, as convenience suited. Why, then, was it that in the 8th clause taxes leviable by any company out of the profits of which a dividend might be paid to the shareholders, and taxes levied by any private individual in exercise of a private proprietary right, were excepted from the Bill? If a tax were not a property, on what principle did the right hon. Gentlemen except from his Bill taxes which went into the coffers of a company paying a dividend, and taxes which went into the pockets of private individuals? If the right hon. Gentleman's doctrine was good in one case, it ought to be good in the other, but in truth he was afraid of his own principle, and did not venture to apply it to any case but to that of municipal corporations. The right hon. Gentleman argued, further, that to take a tax where no equivalent service was rendered was downright robbery. Would the right hon. Gentleman then explain to the House why a tax taken without equivalent service was less a robbery when taken by 1379 a private individual in the exercise of a private proprietary right than when taken by a corporation? Was it worse for a corporation to rob than for an individual to rob? The right hon. Gentleman's mode of carrying out his principle was certainly a strange one, for while he fixed the corporation he let the individual loose. Another argument of the right hon. Gentleman was, that the corporations of the present day were not the same corporations which existed before the Municipal Corporations Act; and that the right which they had to this property was not the right originally conferred, as that had been forfeited in 1835. In that view, certainly, the right hon. Gentleman differed from all the statesmen who had been concerned on either side of that House in passing that measure, and from all that he had ever read and heard upon the subject. He had always understood the principle of that measure to be, that as, through process of time, the property which had been intended for the benefit of the whole municipality had, by a breach of trust, got into a smaller and more limited number of hands, it was the duty of Parliament to redress that breach of trust, and to restore to the whole municipality that which had been originally intended for them, and which was substantially their property. The present corporate bodies were really and truly the old corporate bodies remodelled by Parliament, and at the same time put into possession of all the property and rights enjoyed by the old corporations. But if the taking of these tolls by corporations, without rendering an equivalent service, was a robbery, then nothing of what they had taken hitherto under those circumstances could be said to belong to them. In the case of Liverpool, the corporation had applied part of the money which they had taken wrongfully, according to the right hon. Gentleman, to building St. George's Hall; but was the right hon. Gentleman on that account ready to take possession of St. George's Hall? If the corporation had no right to the money, they certainly could have no right to the edifice they had built with it. According to the hon. and learned Member for Plymouth (Mr. Collier), that was only following the precedent of the repeal of the Corn Laws, but that was the case of the abolition of a tax imposed on the importation of foreign corn which passed into the Treasury of the country; and, moreover, he would ask, 1380 did the Government then propose to take upon themselves the mortgages of the landowners as the Board of Trade now proposed to take upon itself the mortgages on those dues? At one time it had occurred to him that this was a question of compensation to be settled in Committee, but the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Board of Trade had boldly avowed not only that there was no intention of giving compensation, but that the Government were of opinion that the principle of compensation could not be fairly applied to this case. After these statements of the right hon. Gentleman, there could be no hope of obtaining compensation in Committee, for the right hon. Gentleman might fairly say when in Committee, "I told you I would not accede to any compensation, and to that you assented when you agreed to the second reading of the Bill, so that you cannot with any justice raise the question of compensation." He would, however, ask the right hon. Gentleman once more to reflect upon the number of inconsistencies his measure involved. He said it would be unjust to the public to allow compensation, because it must be paid out of the Consolidated Fund, which would be admitting the impropriety of local dues and yet making the public pay for them. In the cases of Bristol and Hull, however, it was said that there had been an arrangement with the Board of Trade. Was compensation, then, unjust in all other cases, and just only in these? The right hon. Gentleman had also said that he had preserved intact the rights of creditors. Leith having been at one time the port of Edinburgh, the latter place was an incumbrancer on the dues levied at the former to the extent of between £7,000 and £8,000 a year. Under the proposed Bill, therefore, the rights of Edinburgh, which could do nothing for shipping, would be preserved, while those of Leith would be destroyed. Now that was a specimen of the consistency of the right hon. Gentleman. It had been said that the port he had the honour to represent (Belfast) would profit by the proposed arrangement, but, supposing for argument that this was a measure which would result in the relief of shipping, he believed that Belfast never would consent to take that relief if the ground upon which it was taken was one of injustice, for that which was unjust could never be politic. But was this a measure which would give any relief to 1381 shipping? He had not seen a word in the Bill which would have the effect of putting an end to local dues, but, on the contrary, it only transferred them to the Collector of Customs, then to the Paymaster General, and then to the Board of Trade; and then, having been distilled through those three channels, the Board of Trade could abolish or raise them as it pleased. For his part, he would rather that they should be collected by the local authorities. Then came the question of differential dues, the amount of which was about £50,000 a year. Do the shipping pay those dues at present? No, the differential dues were already paid by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the relief as to them, instead of being to the shipping interest, would be to him. Nay, more; the shipping interest would, by the Bill, be placed in a worse position than it was at present, because the 27th Clause empowered trading companies, and dock, pier, or harbour Commissioners, to reimburse themselves for the sums withdrawn by the Chancellor of the Exchequer by an increase of the maximum rates which they charged upon shipping. The real state of the case therefore was, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer now paid and the shipping did not. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was going to withdraw the money, and the shipping interest was to pay instead. That was, indeed a ludicrous provision to be introduced into a measure brought forward with so much pomp and ceremony as for the relief of the shipping interest. Because he thought the Bill was unjust in its principle and in its details, and, instead of relieving, would prejudice the shipping interest, and because he believed that in its effects it would be as injurious as in its principle it was dishonest and unjust, he should vote against the second reading.
§ MR. BAINES
said, he should not have addressed the House on the subject before them had he not been requested by his constituents to support the views which they had expressed in a petition he had had the honour of presenting. He had listened with the greatest respect and attention to the arguments of his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Stamford (Sir F. Thesiger), and to the speech of the right hon. Baronet who followed him (Sir F. Baring), and he could not help thinking that the objections which had been urged by the opponents of the Bill applied not so much to its principle, as 1382 to some of the clauses. His hon. and learned Friend had said, that to the first part of the Bill, which applied to the abolition of passing tolls, he had no objection; and in that view he had been followed by almost every hon. Member who had spoken in the course of the debate. No one could deny but that that was an important principle which it was desirable to establish and carry out. The hon. and learned Member for Belfast (Mr. Cairns) said, that if he could be satisfied that it was the intention of the Government to abolish those dues, he would give his support to the second reading of the Bill. He (Mr. Baines) could assure the hon. and learned Gentleman that the object of the Government was, after provision had been made for the charges now existing, to get rid of those dues altogether. [Mr. CAIRNS: The arrangement as to compensation?] It was said that the principle of the second part of the Bill was open to objection. That principle, as he understood it, was, that no part of the community should be at liberty to tax other parts for purposes peculiar to itself, and in the advantages of which the parts taxed had no share. He would not say that there might not be exceptional cases, and he understood his right hon. Friend (Mr. Lowe) to say that the Government were aware of that, and were ready to give consideration to every such case. Two or three had been named—Hull and Bristol. It was suggested that there were others, but those were not cases that touched upon the principle of the Bill, but cases that might be brought forward in Committee upon their special merits, since no two of them stood upon the same ground. He had for a long time enjoyed the honour of representing the town of Hull in Parliament, and he had met on that day some of the most intelligent of his former constituents, who told him that the Bill would work great benefit to the shipowners. They acknowledged that Parliament had done right in abolishing the Navigation Laws, but they said that they were now exposed to a great competition, and could not meet their rivals in the great race of competition if they had to bear unjust burdens of this kind, which gave no consideration in return. His present constituents, who were interested beyond any other class in the great woollen manufacture of England, represented to him that not a bale of goods came to Leeds or the West Riding by navigation which did not come up the Humber on one side of the 1383 island, or the Mersey on the other. They said they were willing to meet their rivals in the great race of competition, but they had a right to come to Parliament and say that they ought not to pay taxes levied for the benefit of another community, and in the levying and disbursement of which they had no voice whatever. Those taxes swelled to a certain extent the cost of every bale of goods, and he thought his constituents had a most reasonable ground of complaint against these dues. It was said that the present Bill attacked the rights of property, but between such property of corporations and the property of individuals a distinction existed which had been recognised again and again by the Legislature. His hon. and learned Friend (Sir F. Thesiger) virtually admitted that when he admitted that the Legislature ought to do away with passing tolls. What was that but dealing with the property of corporations? and was it not conceding the whole question? He wished, before resuming his seat, to call the attention of the House to a passage of the Report of the Commission appointed to inquire into the local charges on shipping. The Commission had among its members an able and accomplished lawyer, Mr. Colin Blackburn, and the Report of the Commission stated—Before the enactment of the Municipal Corporation Act in 1835, the charges now carried to borough funds, which form the greater part of the charges under consideration, belonged to the old municipal corporations, and were applicable, without much control, to whatever purpose the governing body of these corporations pleased. But this Act changed the system entirely. The whole of the property of the old municipal corporations and their officers, including the charges levied by them on ships, or on goods carried in ships, is now carried to the borough fund, and applied exclusively to the purposes enumerated in the 92nd section of the Act. It is true that these charges are in many instances of great antiquity, but it is only since 1835 that they have been appropriated to the present purposes; they were in that year, by the authority of the Legislature, taken from those who formerly possessed them, and for the first time appropriated to the benefit of the ratepayers. It appears to us, therefore, that the corporations have no just claim to oppose the change, should the Legislature see fit to abolish these charges, or to apply them to harbour purposes, and thus to the benefit of those on whom they are levied.He would not trouble the House at greater length, but would only commend that view of the Commissioners to its serious attention.
§ SIR FITZROY KELLY
said, he could not allow the Bill to pass to its second 1384 reading without calling the attention of the House to what he considered its real principles, for he believed the Government were not aware of what that principle was, or of the consequences that must follow if it passed into a law. The principle of the Bill was nothing more nor less than to take away from corporations having property that which they had in trust for the inhabitants, whom they represented, without any misdeeds on their part, and without any compensation. He believed that the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Board of Trade had, however unintentionally, misled the House as to the real character of the Bill. It was said to be "A Bill for the Abolition of Passing Tolls and the Regulation of Local dues on Shipping." Upon the subject of passing tolls they apparently were all agreed. The right hon. Gentleman, however, had left the House in perfect ignorance as to what portion of the sums collected at seaports affected the shipping. No return of the town-dues collected had been laid upon the table, but the House was left to gather, from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, that £163,000 a-year was collected in the shape of town-dues at the various seaports. From that sum some £20,000 would have to be deducted for the town-dues collected at Bristol and Hull; and of the remaining £143,000, the House had been informed that £125,000 was collected in the port of Liverpool alone. It had been said that this was not, strictly speaking, property, but merely a tax which might be dealt with by Parliament. He thought that argument had already been dealt with. But it was then said that those dues were formerly levied by the corporation of Liverpool, and that by some oversight of the framers of the Municipal Reform Act, they were transferred to the borough council. He certainly heard with some surprise that reference made to the Municipal Reform Act, and he ventured to say that a more direct calumny on that Act, and the framers of it, had never been uttered within the walls of Parliament, He apprehended the principle of the Municipal Reform Act was, in the first place, to transfer the control of the affairs of the boroughs, and the management of their property, from corporations, select and limited in their theory and character, to bodies newly created—new corporations elected so as to be true representatives of the inhabitants of the boroughs at large. It was, therefore, the direct and avowed 1385 purpose of the Municipal Reform Act, in relation to the property of the corporations, that that which was formerly the property of select and self-elected bodies, should become the property of the inhabitants of the boroughs, and accordingly they found in the ninety-second section of that enactment that that property became beneficially and absolutely the property of the inhabitants of the borough. Now, that, he asserted, was the principle which the present Bill directly violated. The Corporation of Liverpool possessed that property—vast in amount—for the benefit of the inhabitants of the borough of Liverpool, and they gave a valuable consideration for it. He would venture to ask whether, if the Earl of Sefton had still been the possessor of that property—if it had remained in the hands of that nobleman's family—they would have confiscated his property—taken it away from him without compensation? Supposing the different market gardeners in the neighbourhood of the metropolis, or the parish of St. Paul's, were to unite, and were to purchase the tolls of Covent Garden Market from the present Duke of Bedford, would the case be different? They might take away that property on precisely the same principles as they now proposed to take away these dues. The two cases were precisely similar. He might remind the House that the corporation of Liverpool had purchased this property at a remote period, and had enjoyed it, without interruption, down to the year 1832, when, for the first time, their claim to the levying of those dues was resisted. In that year a trial came on before Lord Denman upon the subject, when he (Sir F. Kelly) himself was engaged as counsel with the late Lord Truro, then Sir Thomas Wilde, who scarcely would have allowed the point to escape him if he could have found the slightest ground to urge that the dues might be impugned. That case was absolutely undefended, and the title of the corporation was fully established; and, even in those days, although corporations at that time did not hold property of this description, perhaps, under the same circumstances which existed in the present time, yet he must say, in defence of the corporation of former times, that the great dues were all invariably applied to the general benefit of the port and town of Liverpool, and never in a manner to which the most jealous reformer could make objection. The right to those dues had, since the year 1832, remained with the 1386 corporation of Liverpool, and had risen to a large amount. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lowe) admitted—fairly, but necessarily admitted—that the rights of private property were sacred, but that the rights of creditors on that property must also be held sacred. If the Bill were to pass into a law, the effect upon the corporation of Liverpool would be, that whereas they had borrowed upwards of £2,000,000 upon the security of those dues among other property, their creditors would not be entitled to indemnity, compensation, or security to the extent of a single farthing. He regretted that neither of his hon. and learned Friends the Attorney General or the Solicitor General were present, for he had intended to have appealed to them whether he had not truly stated what would be the effect of the Bill in that respect. The thirteenth clause professed to respect the rights of creditors—that was to say of the mortgagees of corporate properties—but it would afford no protection whatever to the creditors of the Liverpool corporation, because all the security which they had for the repayment of their loans and interest was the personal bonds which had been given to them by the corporation. No mortgages whatever had been executed in the case of the Liverpool corporation. And that corporation had contracted those loans with the direct sanction of the Lords of the Treasury, in conformity with an Act of Parliament, which permitted them with that sanction to borrow to the extent of £3,000,000. The £2,000,000 which they had borrowed was a charge upon the borough fund, which would have to discharge that debt, in the event of the Bill passing into a law. The principle of the Bill was neither more nor less than the taking away, without compensation, from bodies of individuals—the inhabitants of Liverpool for instance—property which they had bought and paid for under the sanction of the law.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
said, he hoped that the House would at once agree to an adjournment of the debate—a course which the importance of the question appeared fully to justify. If the debate were now adjourned, he should propose that it be resumed on Friday, and that the Army Estimates be taken on the Monday following.
§ MR. DISRAELI
said, he regretted that so early in the Session, and when their 1387 labours had as yet been so light, the House should have unnecessarily fallen into the evil habit of adjourning its debates. But since that course had been sanctioned in the present instance by the leader of the House, it would be vain to resist it. He could see no reason, however, why the debate should not be resumed to-morrow, for he saw no necessity for carrying it over to Friday. True, there were some interesting notices on the Votes for to-morrow, but they were not of so urgent a character that they should be allowed to impede the decision of the House on a question of such importance as the present. He did not apprehend that there would be an objection from any quarter of the House to the suggestion he would now take the liberty of offering—that Members having notices on the paper for to-morrow should withdraw them, so that the debate might be resumed with as little delay as possible. After the discussion that had already taken place, it was by no means desirable that the country should for any length of time be left in suspense as to what he felt confident would be the unequivocal decision of the House on a subject of the deepest interest. He hoped, therefore, that they would hesitate before sanctioning the proposition for an adjournment till Friday. For that day the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield (Mr. Roebuck) had given notice of a Motion with regard to the strange act of the Government in proposing the appointment of a board to inquire into the conduct and report of their own Commissioners. He would not now enter into the discussion of that subject, nor express an opinion on the notice of the hon. and learned Gentleman, but he was bound to say that the conduct of the Government in proposing that Court of Inquiry was of so singular a character that he felt that it demanded the immediate attention of the House, and if the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield had not moved in the matter it was the intention of a right hon. Friend by his (Mr. Disraeli's) side to have brought forward a motion on the subject, and to have solicited the opinion of the House upon it. If the present debate was to be adjourned till Friday—a day already set aside for the discussion of another subject of scarcely inferior importance, it would be a most unsatisfactory arrangement. As the House and its leader seemed desirous of an adjournment, he would not be so arrogant as to oppose it, but he hoped that the noble Lord would reconsider his plan of public business and 1388 agree to the resumption of the debate on to-morrow evening, so that Friday might be available for the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield. He would also observe that, as the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield had given notice of his intention to move an amendment on Friday on the Motion for going into Committee of Supply, he (Mr. Disraeli) would put it to the hon. and learned Gentleman and to the noble Lord whether, upon a subject of such peculiar importance, it would not be more fair to the House that the hon. and learned Gentleman should have an opportunity of bringing forward a substantive proposition? They, on that (the Opposition) side of the House, might not entirely agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman, but they did desire an opportunity to express their opinions on so important a subject, and there would be, as the Motion of the hon. and learned Gentleman now stood, no means of moving an amendment to his proposition. It was a subject of paramount importance upon which there ought to be a public discussion, and he thought the opinion of the House should be taken upon the subject of the Court of Inquiry by a substantive motion. He, therefore, would ask the noble Lord to reconsider the question of adjournment, and to also accede to the other suggestion he had made.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
said, that not being in the secret of the hon. Gentlemen opposite, he could not be supposed to know whether they were willing to waive their rights for to-morrow, but if the right hon. Gentleman was authorised by them, or they being present acceded to his proposition, the Government could have no objection to proceeding with the debate tomorrow.
§ SIR FITZROY KELLY and MR. MALINS
severally withdrew the Motions which stood in their name for tomorrow.
§ MR. ROEBUCK
said, in answer to the observations of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire, that he had taken the only course that was open to him, but was quite prepared to bring forward a substantive Motion if the Government would give him a day.
§ Motion for the adjournment of the debate until to-morrow agreed to.