HC Deb 03 July 1857 vol 146 cc867-78

Order for the Consideration of this Bill read.


said, this Bill had for its object a purpose which he conceived was most legitimate—namely, the compromise of a suit long pending between the Crown and the Corporation of London with reference to the shores and bed of the river Thames within the limits of that Corporation. His attention had been drawn to this Bill by the Report of the Board of Trade. He had already stated to the House his strong opinion that the Board of Trade was the guardian of the public rights, and in the faithful discharge of its duties the Board frequently came into collision with powerful bodies, and had to make statements before the House and Committees of the House which sometimes were disagreeable to the private parties and corporate bodies whom those statements affected. In this case he believed the Bill was not opposed; but it went before a Select Committee, and there was also sent to that Committee a Report of the Board of Trade. There were two points in this Bill, winch, although the Bill was a private one, were of great public importance, and involved an important public principle. The first was in reference to the constitution of the body of conservators, and the second in reference to the application of the funds raised from shipping by that body. Now, with respect to the first point, he saw on the Treasury bench his right hon. Friends the Secretary for the Colonies and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who, in 1854, were Members of a Commission to which was referred the question respecting the rights and charters of the City of London, and in that investigation this question of the conservancy of the river was brought before them, and in their Report they expressed an opinion which was set forth in the Report of the Board of Trade, and was to this effect:—They recommended that the principal control of the navigation of the Thames should be vested in a Board composed of the Lord Mayor, the First Lord of the Admiralty, the President of the Board of Trade, the First Commissioner of Woods, and the Deputy Master of the Trinity House, and that they be empowered to employ persons having the requisite professional knowledge. Now, this Bill provided a body of conservators composed altogether of other people. It was proposed that the conservators should consist of the Lord Mayor of London, of two conservators chosen by the Court of Aldermen, and four by the Common Council, and that there should be four or five others, one being the Deputy Master of the Trinity House, two or three recommended by Government, one by the Board of Trade, and one by the Corporation of the Trinity House. It would be observed that in this composition the corporate element of the City of London would at all times have a majority. There would be seven corporators, and if all the other members were on all occasions to act together, yet the Go- vernment would be in a constant minority. This was in opposition to the general principle involved in the recommendation of the Report of the Commissioners on Charges on Shipping. The Board of Trade, adopting the views of the Commissioners who had sat on this subject, stated that they had thought it right to report upon other harbour Bills in the present Session, and from these Reports it would be seen they were of opinion that the body to whom any great harbour should be entrusted should possess all the legal powers requisite for the management of the harbour and all matters relative thereto, and also the knowledge and experience requisite to the due performance of its duties, but above all that it should be responsible for their due performance. The present Bill appeared to have none of the above conditions; the new body would not be the sole body having the conservancy of the Thames, and would not possess all the powers requisite for the due performance of its duties, the Government nominees Would be in a minority, and, as against the members chosen by the London Corporation, would possess no power. It would, therefore, be impossible to hold them responsible for the conservation of the river. The Corporation of London would continue to exercise the local power, whilst it would be no more responsible, but would be far less responsible in the exercise of it than at present. That was the opinion of the Board of Trade with regard to the new conservators. But he had said there was another principle hardly less important—namely, the application of the funds to be raised, and especially if those funds consisted in any degree of dues raised from shipping. The Bill imposed certain new tolls on steamers plying on the Thames. Now, the Report stated that these dues were undoubtedly taxes on the trade of the port, and according to the Report of the Commissioners on local dues on shipping they ought to be abolished or applied to harbour purposes. In the latter case they would naturally form part of the conservancy fund. Now, so far from this recommendation of the Board of Trade being adopted, he believed that by the provisions of this Bill the dues in question were to be carried to the general conservancy fund, and so far from the surplus fund being applied to the reduction of the dues, there was another application of that surplus fund which showed that it was not contemplated to apply them to that purpose. He attached the greatest importance to the principle that these bodies should, as far as possible, be elected and not nominated—elected by those who contributed to the fund, and not nominated by those close bodies which had heretofore maintained the control over it; and secondly, he held that another great principle was that the dues levied on shipping should not be exacted to any greater extent than shipping purposes required. These principles were upheld in a Bill introduced by the Government last year, which gave full effect to the Report of the Commissioners, not only as regarded the conservancy, but in all other particulars. He was, therefore, anxious to hear some explanation from Her Majesty's Government accounting for that departure from these principles which was manifested in the present measure. He believed there were peculiar circumstances in reference to the compromise with the Corporation of the City which might make this a special case; but as he attached great importance to the principles involved, he trusted Her Majesty's Government would state to the satisfaction of the House why that departure was in this instance necessary, and express their determination to give validity to the recommendations of the Commissioners of the Board of Trade on all suitable occasions.


said, he trusted that he should be able to satisfy the House that no departure from the principles laid down in the Report of the Corporation Commission had been assented to by the Government, and that the only variation which had been assented to was one of detail, and not of principle. The arrangement embodied in this Bill was intended to put an end to a long-pending difference between the Crown and the City of London with respect to the rights of the Crown over the bed and shores of the Thames. The Crown was advised that it was entitled to—that it had a property in the bed and shores of the Thames, and whatever revenue might accrue from leases of the land between high and low water mark. Practically, all the benefit of that land bad accrued to the City of London, and the receipts had been applied to the conservancy of the river. The City of London claimed the property in the soil of the river in right of the conservancy. The case of the Crown was, that the title to the bed and shores was independent of the conservancy, and though its advisers did not dispute the right of the city to the conservancy, they asserted that the Crown held the bed and shores by an independent right; and thus the question stood at issue between the Crown and the Corporation. Those rival claims led to a long litigation, which threatened to be most expensive, and an attempt was made in 1846 to settle the question. In that year a conference took place between the noble Lord the Member for the City of London, who was then First Minister, Lord Morpeth, Chief Commissioner of Woods and Forests, and Lord Auckland, First Lord of the Admiralty, the result of which was, that a Bill for the settlement of the debated question was agreed upon and a new constitution of the Conservancy Board was also agreed upon, to consist of fifteen conservators, ten to be nominated by the corporation and five by the Crown. In 1847, that Bill was introduced and committed, and recommitted, but owing to the lateness of the Session it did not pass into law. Subsequent negotiations took place with regard to the litigation, and attempts were made by successive Attorneys General to bring it to an end. It remained, however, pending till the end of last Session, and during the inquiry into the corporation by the Commission, of which his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Sir John Patteson, and himself were Members, it was agreed that the Commissioners should not go into the question respecting which the litigation was pending, and accordingly they only went into the question of conservancy. Well, as he had before observed, the litigation was pending up to the end of last Session; and it was thought very desirable that the litigation should be terminated, inasmuch as the conservancy of the river was to a great extent paralyzed from a want of those funds which were applied to the defence of the corporation against the claim of the Crown. A conference accordingly took place between himself on the part of the Government, and Mr. Stuart Wortley, the then Recorder of the City of London on the part of the Corporation, and the result was an agreement, by which the City recognized the right of the Crown, which it had previously contested, and the Crown consented to two-thirds of the revenues arising from the bed and soil of the Thames, being paid to the Conservancy Board, the other third to be paid to the Crown. It was also determined that, on these terms the litigation should cease, that a Board of Conservancy should be created, in which the Government, together with the Trinity House, should be more strongly represented than had been previously agreed to by the Corporation; that all the funds necessary for maintaining the conservancy should be furnished, as heretofore, from the dues levied upon the port and other sources of revenue accruing to the Corporation; that the whole of the debt which was due for the portion of the river above bridge should be paid by the Board; and that no liability should be accepted by the Government. It was also agreed that the portions above and below bridge should be consolidated, whereas previously they had been distinct. That agreement was embodied in a Treasury Minute, drawn up at the end of the late Session of Parliament. The first portion of that Minute declared that— The Department of Woods, Forests, and Land Revenues, and the Corporation of London, shall complete the agreement for putting an end to the suit as settled by the Attorney General in 1854, according to which the right of the Crown in the bed and shores of the river, with the exceptions specified in the agreement, were to be granted to the Corporation, as conservators of the river, upon trust to pay to the Crown one-third of all moneys arising from the bed and soil, and to apply the other two-thirds to the improvement of the navigation and banks of the river. There was a further stipulation respecting the constitution of the Board, and then the Minute went on to say— That the whole river should be under one management, and the funds of the two portions of the river brought into common stock, and placed at the disposal of the Conservancy Board, for the maintenance and improvement of the navigation, both above and below bridge. And it was further provided that— When all the said revenues of the river are transferred to the new Board, the Board should take upon itself the burden of the existing debt, which has been incurred in the maintenance and improvement of the upper portion of the river. That debt at one time amounted to £199,900, but by successive payments it had been reduced by £69,000, leaving a sum of £130,900 now due. It should also be stated, that the Corporation of London had expended £50,000 of their own money within the last few years in improving the navigation of the River Thames above London Bridge. Under these circumstances, he submitted that it was an advantageous arrangement for the Government that they should retain one-third of the revenue arising from the bed and shores of the river, that the remaining two-thirds should be devoted to the improvement of the navigation, that the debt should remain a charge upon the Conser- vancy revenue, and that those sums which the City had been in the habit of bestowing, from time to time, upon the improvement of the conservancy, should continue to be furnished from their resources. The only remaining question was, as to the construction of the Conservancy Board. Now, this Bill certainly did not comply with the principle laid down by his right hon. Friend—namely, that the Board ought to consist of elected members. It should be remembered, however, that the Board, as suggested by the Report of the Commissioners, also deviated from that principle; for they recommended that the Board should consist of high officers of the Crown, who were not to be supposed to superintend the details, but who were to be invested with authority to employ the services of subordinate officers who should perform that duty. It was thought better that there should be nominees, both of the Corporation and of the Government; that the Corporation should appoint seven conservators, the Lord Mayor being one, the Aldermen furnishing two, and the Common Council four; that the Admiralty should appoint two, the Board of Trade one, and the Trinity House two. Considering that the Government did not furnish any new funds for the improvement of the conservancy, it appeared to him that this arrangement gave them a fair share in the representation at the Board. The principle which he contended for was, that the Conservancy Board should not be exclusively a Corporation Board, but that the Government and the Trinity House should be adequately represented there. This would not be a question of mere preponderance of numbers, as between the seven and five members nominated by the Corporation and by the Government with the Trinity House respectively. Where a Government was represented at a Board, its members always obtained that weight and authority which naturally belonged to their position as representatives of the executive power, so that this was not a point of mere arithmetical proportion. If, however, it should be found on experience that the views of the Government were unduly overruled by the Corporation members, and that the interests of the public were sacrificed to any corporation interests, it would undoubtedly be the duty of the Government representatives to bring the matter under the consideration of the Executive, who, if they found that the constitution of the Board as now proposed was unsatisfactory, would then feel called upon to adopt other measures. He confessed, however, that he did not anticipate any such consequence, and believed that the Board, as constituted, would work satisfactorily. On the whole, then, he thought that the Bill was one to which the House might give its consent with the greatest propriety.


said, he wished to inquire whether the Corporation had agreed to pay any money to the Government for its concurrence in this measure?


repeated that Government was to receive one-third of the revenue of the soil of the river.


said, that whatever might be the merits of the case, the House had heard sufficient, he thought, to satisfy it that the question was one of great importance; and in order that it might receive the consideration it merited, he moved the postponement of the second reading until this day week.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."


said, that complaints had been made, and not without very strong reason, of the mismanagement of the Thames conservancy, by the Corporation. In 1836, he remembered, a Committee of this House was appointed to inquire into the subject, and the opinion of that Committee was very strongly expressed that an entire change ought to take place, and that the powers vested in the Corporation should be handed over to persons holding high office—for example, to the First Lord of the Admiralty, the President of the Board of Trade, the Deputy Master of the Trinity House, and the Lord Mayor. He believed the Government at that time intended to carry out the recommendation of the Committee, but there was some talk of a reform of the Corporation, and the whole thing was deferred. Now, he thought the same course should be adopted on the present occasion. They had been recently again promised a reform of the Corporation, which, for some reason or other, had been delayed, and this question of the Thames conservancy ought to be postponed, and to form part of the measure contemplated, if, indeed, the Government had not altogether abandoned their intention to bring in such a Bill.


said, that he should oppose the adjournment of the debate, on the ground that all the facts were before the House, and that hon. Members were as perfectly able to form an opinion on the merits of the Bill then, as they would be in a week's time. For his own part, he entirety concurred in the principle laid down by his right hon Friend (Sir J. Graham). As a general rule, he believed it was most important that all taxes levied upon commerce in this country should be devoted to strictly commercial purposes, and should be expended under the management of an independent and responsible Board. This general principle, he hoped, would not be lost sight of by the House, and any departure from it in the present instance could only be justified by the special circumstances of the case. Into these circumstances he should not enter; they had been fully stated by his right hon. Friend (the Chancellor of the Exchequer), who had proved beyond doubt, he thought, that in the present ease they had to deal with a very complicated state of things, and with circumstances of complete speciality, and that the Government were justified in the course they had taken. At the same time, he should he sorry if this course should lead the House to relax their adherence on future occasions to that which, as a general rule, ought always to be kept in view.


said, that he was in the position of four-fifths probably of the Members of the House, and knew nothing of the provisions of this private Bill. Before the House decided upon passing it, they should know what power of taxation it conferred upon the Corporation; and next, they should also take care that the Corporation levied not one farthing more upon shipping than was actually required for the conservancy of the river. There might be clauses in the Bill to meet these points; but the House should have time to investigate the matter, and he should therefore vote for the adjournment of the debate.


did not understand that the Bill conferred any new powers upon the Board of levying taxes. It merely transferred the existing dues, and according to the last return he found that the amount expended upon the conservancy of the river in one year exceeded by £2,844 the amount received from dues; while one of the advantages of the new arrangement was that the City had been induced to continue the practice, which it had followed for several years past, of supplying the deficiency from its other revenues.


said, he hoped the House would not assent to the Motion for adjourning the debate. He saw no good that could arise from the adjournment, and thought the House quite competent to decide upon the question at once. He could not forget that there had been twelve or thirteen years of useless litigation between the Crown and the City respecting certain rights; that that litigation had continued all the time without the courts of law being able to come to a final decision; and that it might still continue for another twelve or thirteen years but for the arrangement proposed by this Bill. So far as he understood the measure, the Board appeared to be fairly constituted. He did not see that there was any likelihood of jobbing either on the part of the Crown or the Corporation; for they were pretty well guarded on both sides. In fact, one party would be sure to show up the other, if any attempt were made to do what was wrong or unjust to the public. Under the circumstances, he confessed that he regarded the arrangement, on the whole, to be a favourable one to all parties; for it must be borne in mind that the rights were disputed in the first instance—that the actual right to the shore of the river was disputed. As far as the Corporation were concerned, the Bill fully guarded against their taking a farthing of the money for themselves, but every farthing would have to be laid out in the proper conservancy of the river.


said, that, as the adjournment of the debate would impede the progress of the Bill, he ventured to recommend that the opinion of the House should be taken upon the third reading; and in the meantime he hoped that hon. Members would read the Report of the Board of Trade on the measure as it stood. He thought that the constitution of the Board of Conservancy was objectionable, inasmuch as it gave an invariable standing majority to the Corporation. It was moreover at variance with the recommendation of two Cabinet Ministers—the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for the Colonies—and with the measure introduced last Session by the Government, which adopted the recommendation of the Commission, and named a chosen body, in which the Corporation had only one representative, in the person of the Lord Mayor. He had not studied the Bill, except through the Report of the Board of Trade, but, as he understood it, there was in it a new power of taxation upon shipping above bridge, and upon all steamers plying between Putney and Teddington. There was also an application of any surplus arising from dues, which he thought was objectionable. The Board of Trade recommended that if the surplus increased the dues should be lowered, but the Bill applied it in another way. Moreover, the measure appeared to him to have a most important bearing upon the coal dues, the corn metage, and all the great questions of taxation affecting the interests of the Corporation of London. It was called a private Bill, but a more important public measure, involving great public principles, had seldom been brought under the consideration of the House. He had discharged his duty in having called the attention of the House to it. It would not be reasonable, he thought, to arrest the progress of the Bill in its present stage, but he suggested that the sense of the House should be taken with respect to it upon the third reading.


asked the Government to give an assurance that the third reading should not be fixed for an earlier period than that day week.


said, that no doubt it was desirable to give sufficient time for the consideration of the Report of the Board of Trade to which his right hon. Friend had referred. The Bill was not a Government Bill, however, but was promoted by one of the hon. Members for the City of London, who would perhaps fix a day for the third reading.


said, he begged to assure the House that the Corporation intended this Bill to confer a benefit upon the mercantile classes and upon the public generally, and if he did not believe that that would be its object he should wash his hands of it and give it no support. The Corporation had expended no less than £50,000 beyond their receipts in the improvement of the river Thames, and they were willing to provide that sum out of their general income. They also had a further debt of £137,000 on bond arising from expenses incurred about the upper navigation of the river. They desired to work cordially with the Trinity House, with the Board of Trade, and with the Government; they had no corporate interests to serve in the matter, and their only work was to improve the navigation of the river, and to confer a benefit upon the commercial interests of the City. He also begged to remind the House that the Corporation was in a different position to what it was some years ago, for now every resident freeman of the City had an opportunity of voting, and that was a sufficient check to prevent jobbing. If the Bill were read a second time, he would have no objection to appoint the third reading for Tuesday next. If he delayed it to a later period the Bill could not be introduced into the House of Lords this Session.


said, that after next Wednesday no private Bill could go up to the House of Lords from this House; so that if the third reading were postponed until that day, it would be tantamount to defeating the measure.


said, he would withdraw his Amendment.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn; Amendments made; Bill to be read 3o.

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