HC Deb 11 February 1857 vol 144 cc496-503

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made and Question proposed,

"That the Bill be now read a second time.


said, he rose to oppose the Motion, considering the measure as one of a most monstrous character, and which he trusted the House would not lend its sanction to its passing into a law. The Bill contained what professed to be a history of the Constitution of the Dock Trust, the Dock Committee, the Corporation, the Conservancy and Pilot Commissions of Liverpool, and others, and upon the suggestion of two self-constituted bodies in Manchester,—and he said it with no feeling of disrespect, but still self-constituted bodies—the House was now asked to abrogate the powers held by those different authorities under various Acts of Parliament, and to substitute for them a body of twenty-one persons, to be elected by the dock ratepayers. No charge of injustice or neglect of duty had been made against any one of those bodies which it was now sought to destroy, and no case had been made out for terminating a system which had hitherto been so well administered. The composition of the Dock Trust of Liverpool was not exactly understood either in that House or out of it. The trustees were twelve chosen from the town council, and twelve elected by the dock ratepayers; and the body thus composed had acted usefully and for the benefit of the commerce of Liverpool and of the whole country. It was, however, not at all surprising that there should be some misapprehension abroad as to the constitution of the Dock Trust, seeing that the august Board of Trade itself had been deceived, and had stated to the world, in a Report dated April, 1856, that the Dock Committee was composed as follows:— Twelve members are elected by the council of the borough and twelve by the dock ratepayers; but no person can be elected a member who has not both resided in or within eight miles of Liver- pool for live years, and paid rates to the amount of £10 a year, either on his own account or as an agent for persons residing in or near Liverpool. Now, the latter statement was the very reverse of the fact, for any agent of a Manchester house, more than eight miles from Liverpool, duly qualified, was entitled to vote. No doubt objections would be raised to the veto which the town council could exercise upon the proceedings of the Dock Committee, but that veto appeared to him to be an advantageous and constitutional power, although it was one not very frequently exercised. He found that since 1851 there had been only one instance in which the power of veto had been exercised, and during the last thirty-two years there had been only thirteen such instances. It might also perhaps be urged upon the House that purchases of land were made from the corporation by the dock trustees. The fact was true, but what were the conditions? In 1790 the corporation gave the land and a large sum of money towards the formation of the first dock, and since then whenever any purchase of land had been made from the corporation for the purposes of the Dock Trust the sales had been based upon one of the four following conditions:—Either the land was sold for the same price which the corporation had paid for it, or it was sold for the price which had been paid by other purchasers of land immediately adjoining, or the sum to be paid was fixed by the verdict of a jury, or it was arrived at by mutual agreement, subject to the consent of the Lords of the Treasury. All those modes of dealing were, he contended, fair and equitable. Another argument would be no doubt raised, that the Corporation of Liverpool had purchased the Birkenhead docks, but had not carried out their engagement to transfer those docks to the Liverpool Dock Trust. The fact was, the Birkenhead docks, being in a state of insolvency, were purchased by the Corporation of Liverpool upon the distinct understanding that, whenever the Dock Trust was in a position to make the purchase, the docks should be transferred to them; but from that time to the present the Dock Committee had never been in a position to purchase them, although the corporation had always been and still were willing to transfer the Birkenhead docks, and place them formally, as they already were practically, under one management with the Liverpool docks; and the object of one of the Bills which had just been read a second time was to assimilate the rates and charges in both docks. The corporation had paid £1,443,000 for the Birkenhead docks, and would have to expend £1,500,000 more to complete them. A petition had been presented in favour of the Bill, to which was attached the seal of the Great Western Railway Company; and on another occasion he would have an opportunity of showing how that seal had been procured. He was quite sure the noble chairman (Viscount Barrington) of the company would not have permitted the seal of that body to have been affixed to a petition in favour of a Bill which was at variance with all the noble Lord's expressed opinions in and out of that House; and he (Mr. Horsfall) had received a letter signed by a number of proprietors of that line, protesting against what they conceived to be a gross misappropriation of their corporation seal. It was unworthy of the promoters of the Bill to have recourse to such means. It would have been far more creditable to have imitated the straightforward, honourable course which had been taken by Mr. Pender, he believed, of Manchester, who had sent out a vessel yesterday without payment of dues, and therefore was pre- pared to test in a Court of Law the right of the Corporation of Liverpool to levy them. Such a course, he repeated, would have reflected more credit upon the promoters of the Bill than the insidious measures by which they sought to obtain their object. He should therefore move that the Bill be read a second time that day six months.


seconded the Amendment.

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."


said, he must express his regret that the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Horsfall) had not followed the course which he (Mr. Gibson) had adopted in regard to the two Bills promoted by the Liverpool Corporation, and had not allowed this Bill to be sent at once to a Select Committee where there would be every opportunity of examination into its merits. The hon. Member for Liverpool had endeavoured to show that something unusual was attempted to be done by the Bill now before the House, but, in fact, the mea- sure was nothing more than an attempt to carry out the recommendations of the Board of Admiralty, of the Tidal Commission, of a Committee of the House of Commons, and, above all, the requirements of an Act of the Legislature. The question of the local dues on shipping was only incidental, and did not constitute the principle of the Bill, which was that the docks of Liverpool and Birkenhead should be consolidated into one estate, and that the management and control of them should be vested in one public body of trustees, and it was obviously desirable that such body should be independent of the corporation. To vest the management in the present Dock Trust of Liverpool would be to place the whole trade of the country with that port under the control of the corporation, which would consult mainly the municipal interests, and thus render the trade of the country tributary to the local interests of the town of Liverpool. Surely that was a subject well worthy of inquiry by a Committee of that House, and yet the hon. Member for Liverpool wished them, not to allow that inquiry, but to reject the Bill at once. Let the House consider who constituted at present the managing body of the Liverpool docks. It was called the Dock Committee, one half of the members of which were chosen by the town council of Liverpool. The chairman of that committee was selected from those members chosen by the town council, and all the resolutions of the Dock Committee were liable to be vetoed by the corporation, so that, in fact, the corporation did possess an entire control over the proceedings of that committee. In 1855 a Committee of that House had expressed its opinion that it would be for the public advantage, after the amalgamation of the Liverpool and Birkenhead Docks, that the whole dock system on both sides of the Mersey should be placed under one public trust. That Committee also made a special Report recommending "That the earliest opportunity should he taken of carefully considering the constitution of the Dock Trust with reference to the altered circumstances in which it will be placed in consequence of this amalgamation." Mr. Bramley-Moore, a Member of that House, and formerly chairman of the Dock Committee, had said that most of the persons lately sent to the town-council of Liverpool were not merchants or dock ratepayers; that merchants and dock ratepayers ought to have greater influence in the management of the docks than they now possessed; that they were the most proper parties to have control, as they were directly interested in the good management of the docks; that the power of veto over the proceedings of the Dock Committee, possessed by the town-council, was not desirable, as that body was at present constituted, but that if its members were ratepayers and interested in the docks no harm could arise therefrom; that a sum of nearly £1,000,000 had been laid out in the purchase of lands for the construction of docks; that the money had passed between the dock estate and the corporation, and that the corporation were the principal parties who had derived advantage from the dock estate. Mr. Bramley-Moore also pointed out how the corporation, by buying land, as it were, of itself and paying for it out of the dock dues, levied on the trade of the country, made the trade of the country unfairly contributory to the estate of the Liverpool Corporation. Mr. Chapman, a Liverpool merchant, also stated before the same Committee, that the town-council were most properly the conservators of the interests of the town, but that the interests of the dock estates were very different from those of the town—the one being of a public and national, the other of a peculiarly local character; that the dock estate had been made entirely subservient to promoting the interests of the corporation estate; that the two had been in a state of antagonism for years; that the dock estate had been plundered to an enormous extent; and that, in fact, the dock estate had been made a sort of milch cow to aggrandise the great corporation estate. It was against the Liverpool Corporation making use of a great public estate for its own peculiar benefit that the promoters of the Bill now under consideration protested. The principle of the Bill was nothing more than placing the management of those important interests in a responsible public board. Although it was called a Private Bill, it dealt with very important national objects—namely, the completion of the Birkenhead docks and the placing at the disposal of commerce all the natural advantages of the Cheshire shore. When those objects were attained the estuary of the Mersey would do for England all that it could accomplish in the way of affording facilities to trade and navigation. But if the management of those important interests were allowed to remain exclusively in the hands of the Liverpool Corporation, their policy would be to prevent the development of the Birkenhead dock system, to withhold from the public the full benefit to be derived from the natural advantages of the Cheshire shore, to make the Birkenhead docks secondary and subsidiary to the Liverpool docks, and to take care that no rival port sprang up at Birkenhead to compete with the port of Liverpool. The interests of the public were necessarily and consequently opposed to such views. When the Birkenhead docks were completed, the large sum of £13,000,000 would have been expended out of dock rates, which was about £1,000,000 a year, levied on the trade of the country. Now he asserted that the Corporation of Liverpool, as a corporation, had no more to do with that vast property and that large revenue than any private individual. The money to make the docks was supplied by the public, the rates were levied on the public, and the public, no doubt, with a due regard to any just claims which the Corporation of Liverpool might be able to establish, had a right to see their interests vested in a responsible board. With regard to the town dues, it was said that the proposed measure was a Bill for carrying out the local dues on the Shipping Bill, which was abandoned in the last Session. It was nothing of the kind. It was impossible to introduce a Bill to carry out the recommendations of the Committee of 1855 without incidentally raising the question of the town dues. In that year improvement Bills were introduced by the Corporation of Liverpool, asking for power to pledge the town dues, in order to raise the necessary funds. Those Bills were rejected, so far as they pledged the town dues, upon the ground that it was a disputed question whether dues levied on ships and goods carried in ships, though called town dues, could be properly applied to defray the municipal expenditure of Liverpool. But when it was proposed to raise money for the purchase of the Birkenhead dock estate by pledging the town dues the objection of misappropriation did not arise. Mr. Serjeant Wrangham, who was counsel for the Liverpool Corporation, said he could hardly conceive a more legitimate purpose to which those dues could be devoted, contributed as they were by vessels frequenting the harbour, than to what were strictly harbour purposes, and under the Birkenhead Dock Act of 1855 authority was given to pledge the town dues, as part of the corporate estate, in order to raise money to purchase the Birkenhead dock property. When, therefore, it was proposed to transfer the Birkenhead docks and the Liverpool ducks to a public board, elected by the dock ratepayers, it became necessary incidentally to deal with the town dues; but the mode in which they should be dealt with would be in the discretion of the Committee. The House, in agreeing to the second reading of the Bill, would pronounce no opinion on the principle of the measure introduced by the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Board of Trade, but merely enable the Manchester Chamber of Commerce and the Commercial Association, who legitimately represented the dock ratepayers of Lancashire and Yorkshire, to have their plan considered as well as the plan of the Corporation of Liverpool. He considered that he had shown that the Corporation of Liverpool had other interests than those of the public, and in simple justice he asked that the public interests should be considered in Committee.


said, he could see no reason why the Bill now before the House should not be referred to a Committee, as well as the two preceding measures. A Committee of the House was the best and fairest tribunal to which the whole question could be submitted.


said, he was strongly in favour of inquiry into the subject, and would therefore recommend the withdrawal of the Amendment.


said, he had been all his life a merchant in Liverpool, and yet he had never heard any charge of an abuse brought against the dock trustees of that town. Those trustees had no personal interest in the property, for the whole of the revenue was appropriated to the payment of the interest on the debt and the management of the dock estate. The Bill embodied a very extraordinary scheme, under which any person might be elected a dock trustee, even though he should have no qualification of any kind, and might reside in the most distant part of the kingdom.


said, that he could not agree with his hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool (Mr. Horsfall) upon the question under consideration. His hon. Friend had told them that the Bill was the same Bill which had been introduced last year by the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Board of Trade. Now, if that were the case, he (Mr. Spooner) should certainly vote against it. But the present measure, unlike that of last year, was carefully limited in its operation. The Chamber of Commerce of Manchester was not the only body that sought to obtain a change in the existing system. That system was also opposed by the representatives of other commercial towns, who felt that there were some restrictions of a very harsh character imposed on their trade. They wished to have an inquiry for the purpose of ascertaining whether or not the charter of the Dock Trustees had been exceeded. He should object to any infringement of the charter right of Liverpool; but it was alleged, and he thought not without some reason, that the rights given by the charter in the present instance had been unfairly extended. There being two parties at issue as to the facts of the case; the House could not inquire into those facts, and the subject was, therefore, in his opinion, a fitting one for inquiry by a Committee.


opposed the Bill on the ground that the question of law involved in the matter had not yet been decided by the proper legal tribunals. Besides, he objected to the clause of the Bill transferring the town dues from the corporation to a new body, and he thought it would be just as reasonable to ask the House to transfer the property of the Great Western Railway Company to the Liverpool town-council. If the hon. Member divided, he would vote for the Amendment.


said, he was not disposed to press his Amendment.

Amendment by leave withdrawn.

Main Question put and agreed to.

Bill read 2° and committed.