HC Deb 08 July 1857 vol 146 cc1118-32

(Queen's Consent, and on behalf of the Duchies of Cornwall and Lancaster, signified).

Order for Third Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed,

"That the Bill be now read the third time."

GENERAL CODRINGTON rose to oppose the Bill. This he said was perhaps an unusual course to adopt, but he did so because he knew it was the opinion of his late father, Sir Edward Codrington expressed in strong terms to the First Lord of the Admiralty, to the effect that the navigation of the river Thames and of all tidal rivers was liable to be seriously damaged by embankments, wharfs, and piers thrown into them by irresponsible; persons. An examination of the details of this Bill had convinced him that, although it was introduced as a private measure, it was, nevertheless, one of the greatest possible public importance. It was a compromise of a long standing suit between the City and the Government as to which party had a legal claim to the foreshores of the river. By it the conservancy of the river was handed over to a body called the conservators of the river Thames, the majority of which consisted of members of the Corporation, and the minority of nominees of the Government. It proposed to give them power to embank it and to project wharfs, and to receive rents from them; the conditions being that two-thirds of the revenues should be retained by the Board ostensibly for the object of improving the navigation of the river; and that the other should be handed over to the Government, for what object the Bill did not state. Such a body, he thought, was scarcely responsible to that House, and he did not see how the House could have any control over their management of the navigation of the river. He was not aware of the opinion entertained by the Board of Admiralty with respect to the Bill, but he had seen a report issued by the Board of Trade which condemned in very strong terms the proposed appointment of conservators of the river. The Board of Trade in that report referred to an opinion expressed by a Committee which had eat upon the subject, to the effect that the management of the navigation of the river should not be intrusted to the city Corporation, because its members had not the requisite technical knowledge. The Board of Trade then referred to the scheme proposed by that Committee for the conservancy of the river, and added that this Bill failed on two important points to carry that scheme into effect. By the present Bill the civic element would consist of the Lord Mayor, two aldermen, and four members of the Common Council, forming a majority, while the minority would be composed of two Members of the Trinity House, two members nominated by the Board of Admiralty, and one by the Board of Trade. So that in any question affecting the rights and interests of the public in the navigation of the river the power of the Board would rest entirely with the Corporation. That was a main point, and he thought that the Government had given up to what was practically an irresponsible body, a very important trust. There were many other objectionable features in the Bill. It laid down no principle as to the future system of maintaining the banks of the river, and with the exception of a clause which required the consent of the Admiralty to anything which impeded the navigation of the river, nothing was said as to the system on which wharfs were to be established, and it would therefore be open to the city Corporation to authorize the construction of as many wharfs as they please upon the embankments. He thought a Bill of this kind should not have been introduced as a private Bill, of which hon. Members generally remained ignorant of the details;—it should have been brought in as a public Bill liable to public discussion and public objection. Having expressed a hope that the subject would be fully discussed, he moved that the Bill be read a third time Shat day six months.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."


said, he fully concurred in the opinion of the hon. and gallant general, and could not understand on what principle a measure which would deal with the whole of the commerce of the port of London had been introduced as a private Bill, and therefore hoped that before the discussion proceeded further the right hon. Gentleman in the chair would say whether it had been properly introduced as a private Bill.


wished to observe, before the hon. Gentleman's question was answered, that this, which professed to be a merely private Bill, would interfere with the rights of no less than four or five counties.


The hon. Member having done me the favour of mentioning to me last night the doubt which he had on this point, I have given to it the best attention that I could. The Bill was introduced in the last, and has been revived in the present Parliament. The notices have been given in due form, and the Standing Orders have been proved to have been complied with. The Conservators of the river are the promoters of the Bill, and although it is perfectly true that great public interests are involved in it, there have been many other cases in which Bills, dealing in a similar manner with public interests, have been allowed to be introduced as private Bills. I believe that, according to Parliamentary practice, this Bill, however largely it involves the public interests, has been properly brought into the House as a private Bill.


said, that the origin of the Bill was this—About fourteen years ago a great deal of objection was made to the unsightliness of the banks of the river Thames between Westminster and Greenwich, and several schemes were suggested for beautifying both sides of the river. One of the Admiralty engineers and two other eminent engineers devoted a great deal of attention to the subject, and finally they agreed upon a plan, which was submitted to the Corporation of the city of London. The Corporation, who were interested in the property of the bed and soil of the river, desired to have certain indentations along each side of the river filled up, and they proposed to empower the parties who owned property near those recesses to fill them up upon terms to be agreed upon. The Solicitor of the Woods and Forests thought that that course was an invasion of the rights of the Crown, and be instituted a suit against the Corporation, in which the Crown claimed the property of the bed and soil of the river. That suit was prosecuted for several years in the law courts as several ineffectual attempts had been made to settle the dispute; but at length a compromise was entered into, which this Bill would carry into effect. The City had conceded to the Crown the right to deal with the shores and bed of the river, and had entered into an engagement to hand over to the Crown one third of the revenue derived from land appropriated as wharfs; the Corporation had no selfish objects to serve—all they desired was to discharge efficiently one of their public duties. He had been connected with the city for several years, and he could conscientiously say that the Corporation had not the slightest pecuniary or selfish interest in the matter.


thought that the candid declaration of the worthy Alderman was entitled to considerable weight He understood that one or two clauses with reference to a new tax on steamers plying above bridge had been omitted. If that were so, a great deal of his objection to the Bill had been removed. Nevertheless, he must regard the Bill as a species of rather retrograde legislation. Every corporation in the kingdom but that of the city of London had been reformed. The moderate reform proposed by the Government a year or two ago was still opposed by the city Corporation. The House ought to recollect that that Corporation was instituted at a time when the commerce of London was insignificant in comparison with its present gigantic proportions. Liverpool, about 100 years ago, was little more than a village, but its port was now only second to that of London in respect of commercial importance; and as the Corporation of Liverpool had been reformed to meet the existing state of things, so ought that of London. The city of London was in ancient times the capital of the kingdom, but now London proper had a population of 160,000, while that of the metropolis was about 2,500,000. That was a further reason for reforming the Corporation. He concurred with the hon. and gallant General in thinking that one of the principal objections to this Bill was that it proposed to constitute a Board the greater part of whose members would not be qualified to deal with the matters intrusted to them. He entertained the highest respect for the members of the Common Council, but their pursuits and habits were wholly unconnected with navigation. And yet, if this Bill passed, they would always have the power of outvoting the Government on questions affecting the navigation of the Thames. In fact, they would be less responsible than heretofore for the proper navigation of the river, because if any complaint were hereafter made on that subject they would no doubt excuse themselves by saying that the Government was equally responsible with them. Under these circumstances, if the hon. and gallant General should insist on a division, he should be obliged to vote with him; but he recommended the hon. and gallant General to pursue a different course—namely, that of endeavouring to alter to the composition of the Conservancy Board.


assumed that the hon. and gallant General had not read the whole of the Report on which he had based his opposition to the Bill, because he had spoken of it as if it were the Report of a Committee of that House, whereas—General CODRINGTON: I meant to say that it was the Report of a Commission.]—the question had been investigated not by a Committee, but by Commissioners, and that made a material difference. The House would recollect that those Commissioners were appointed to make a thorough inquiry with respect to the Corporation of London, in order to ascertain to what extent that sort of reform which had been applied to other corporations might he applied to it. So far as he was informed, the Commissioners did not make any inquiry as to the property of the Corporation, and it was important to bear that in mind, because the Report of the Board of Trade on this Bill, oddly enough, began by merely saying that the object of the Bill was to put an end to a suit now, or lately, pending between the Crown and the Corporation as to property claimed by the Corporation. But the fact was that that suit had been at that very time ended by an actual agreement entered into with the Corporation, in pursuance of a Treasury Minute, by which that suit, which had been going on for twelve or thirteen years, was compromised. It would have been a more correct description to have said that the object of this Bill was to carry into effect that agreement. But what he complained of was that in all the reasoning of that Report, from beginning to end, the Board of Trade wholly ignored that the City had a right to make any claim in this matter, and dealt with the Bill as if the agreement were a white sheet of paper, And that was not all; for in page 3 of their Report they dragged in another quotation from the Report of the Commissioners, for the purpose of making it appear that the suit was still pending; so that any one who had not read the two Reports with "care—and especially any one who spoke of the Commissioners as if they were a Committee of that House—must suppose that the suit, instead of being settled, was still going on. For what other purpose but that of misleading could an extract from a Report of the Commissioners, bearing date 1854, have been put in so prominent a part of the Report made by the Board of Trade with respect to this Bill? Moreover, the Board of Trade dragged in coal duties, metage, and wine duties, and a great many other things, which might be all very well if this were a Bill for the reform of the city Corporation. It seemed to him that, as this Bill would settle a greatly litigated point between the Crown and the Corporation, it would facilitate rather than impede a general arrangement for the reform of the Corporation of the city. The Report of the Board of Trade was an attack upon the Treasury Minute by which the compromise was agreed to. Every line of that Report was directed, not so much against the Bill as against the Treasury Minute, because the Bill, even with respect to that which had been so much objected to—namely, the constitution of the Board of Conservancy, did no more than carry out to the letter the compromise contained in the Treasury Minute. Counting by noses, no doubt the Corporation had the majority in the Board of Conservancy proposed to be established; but he thought the weight of the minority, and the influence of public opinion, might be relied on to override any undue preponderance on the other side. He had another objection, however, to the new Board, for he must say that the proposed Board, composed as it was of nominees of the Corporation and of the Crown, with two members designated by the Trinity House, did seem to him to be independently constituted. It was said that the Bill would affect private rights, and no doubt it would do so; but full and ample notice was always given in the case of private Bills, and if any private rights were invaded this ought to have been pointed out at the proper time, when the Bill was in Committee. All he could say on this point was that he happened to be the owner of some waterside property on the Thames, and he did not feel himself aggrieved by this measure. It was rather unusual, after a Bill had gone through the ordeal of a Committee, to start such objections as had been taken now upon the present stage, and he should, under all the circumstances, certainly support the third reading.


said, the reason the Bill had not been opposed on the second reading was, that, being a private Bill, the attention of hon. Members had not been called to it in the way it would have been had it been a public Bill. He could not see that the Bill had been introduced for the purpose of carrying out the arrangement entered into between, the Corporation and the Crown. He had read the agreement as recited in the Bill, and there was not a single passage in it which in any way referred to the constitution of the Board of Conservancy; in fact, the Bill did not appear to have any connection with or sequence from the agreement entered into between the Corporation and the Crown, which would hold good whether this Bill passed or not. It stated that, in order to conclude the suit then pending, the rights of the Crown were to be surrendered to the Corporation of London as conservators of the Thames; and it then provided that certain accounts were to be rendered by the Corporation to the Crown; but he could not find a single word in it which had any bearing upon the Bill, or which related to the conservancy of the river, or anticipated that any change was to be made in the governing body, the Corporation of London. The question, then—the Bill having been now brought to their notice for the first time—if it was expedient that such a measure as this should be passed, seriously affecting, as it did, the great interests which were involved in the commerce of the City of London. If the Bill had been referred to a Committee, not of five—regarding it merely as a question relating to the interests of the Corporation—but of fifteen Members of that House, representing all interests concerned, and they had approved of it, he should have willingly bowed to their decision; but, as it was, until the principle involved in the measure had received the deliberate attention and decision of the House, he felt that he was fairly entitled to dissent from it. The position of the Corporation of London in reference to the commerce of the Thames, was far different now from what it was when the conservancy of the river was vested in their hands. As long as the trade and commerce of London were confined between the Tower on the one hand and Fleet Ditch on the other, it was right that the conservancy of the river should be vested in the hands of the Corporation; but that was now no longer the case, and he contended that they must proceed either upon the system suggested in the Report of the Commission, namely, that the management of the river should be vested in members of the Government, directly responsible to this House, or else in those who were most intimately connected with the commerce of London, and might be presumed to be the most competent to manage their own affairs, and look after their own interests. He admitted the principle that the Corporation should be adequately represented in the Conservancy Board, and he was quite willing that the chief of the Board should be the Lord Mayor; but he contended that there should also be some elements in the Board to represent the interests of the great docks and other establishments where the principal part of the commerce of the metropolis was carried on. He (Mr. Ayrton) had therefore no alternative but to support the Motion of the hon. and gallant General, the effect of which would be to refer the Bill to another Session. The wharf owners and the dock companies had the deepest interest in the conservancy of the river, and no Board, therefore, which they did not form part of could be satisfactory. He hoped; therefore, the House would refuse its consent to the third reading; and that, by deferring it to next Session, they would give opportunity to its promoters to make the measure more consistent with the commercial interests of the City of London.


observed, that two objections had been taken to the third reading of this Bill—one to the form of proceeding, and another to the contents of the measure itself. It was said, in the first place, that this ought to have been a public, and not a private Bill; and next that the Constitution of the Court of Conservancy was objectionable. Now, with reference to the first objection, he would observe that, according to precedent, Bills of Conservancy had been always treated as private Bills; and that there was now a private Bill for the Conservancy of the Mersey, which had been referred to a Select Committee, over which his right hon. Friend Sir James Graham had with great ability presided. The House should remember that many securities existed in the case of private which did not exist in that of public Bills. Looking to the vast number of most important Acts now under the consideration of the House, it was not very likely that if a Bill of 166 clauses relating to the conservancy of the Thames had been brought in as a public measure it would have been very carefully debated across the table of this House; whereas, being introduced as a private Bill, notices were required, it went before the Examiners, interested parties were served with notices, and had an opportunity of being heard by counsel before a Select Committee, witnesses could be examined, and Reports of public Departments were made for the information of the Committee. It seemed to him, therefore, that there were more effectual securities for the due consideration of a Bill of this sort as a private than as a public measure. He could not, therefore, concede that there was any force in the objection that opportunity had not been given to the opponents of the Bill. Ample opportunity had been afforded to its adversaries if they had chosen to avail themselves of it; but they had not done so, and it was very inconvenient now to bring forward objections and ask the House to reject this Bill. This was not a usual course to take with regard to private Bills, and he trusted the House would not pursue it, except upon much stronger grounds than had yet been stated. But then it was said—" Why has the Government thrown overboard the Report of the Board of Trade?" In reply to this he might ask why that Report took such little notice of the suit pending between the Corporation, and the Government, and the agreement come to between them. This Bill took its rise exclusively in the wish to settle a long pending suit between the City and the Crown with regard to the bed and shores of the Thames. As to the conservancy itself, no dispute bad existed. It was vested, as had been admitted on the part of the Crown, in the City of London; but the dispute was as to whether that conservancy involved the title to the bed and shores of the river. Now, if this Bill were rejected, the result would be that the whole power respecting the conservancy would revert to the City. The hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets had said that all the House would do by accepting the Motion of the hon. and gallant Member for Greenwich would be to postpone the Bill till nest Session. That was not the case; by adopting the Amendment, hon. Members would not postpone, but would absolutely reject the measure, which if introduced next year must be proceeded with de novo. In his opinion, the settlement—for he did not call it a compromise—proposed with regard to the suit pending between the Crown and the City was a perfectly fair one. The City had conceded the principle contended for by the Crown; and though under the settlement the Crown would be entitled to the whole revenue arising from the banks and shores of the river, yet knowing the difficulty of providing an, adequate fund for maintaining the conservancy of the river, the Government had reserved only one third of that revenue for themselves. The only remaining question was that respecting the constitution of the Conservancy Board. It might be said that it would be better if the majority of the members were nominated by the Crown, instead of by the City. Something, however, was due to existing rights. At present, the whole power connected with the conservancy of the Thames was vested in the City. The Corporation, practically, had found the funds to carry it out, and there was a large debt upon those funds, a great part of which they had already liquidated. Under these circumstances it seemed to him that the arrangement embodied in this Bill was a perfectly fair one. Of the members of the Board he thought he might say, ponderandi, non numerandi sunt; though the nominees of the Government and the Trinity House would be in a minority, yet, representing public opinion and possessing the power of appealing through the Government to this House, their influence at the Board could not be reckoned by a mere arithmetical calculation. He would say, however, that this constitution of the Board of Conservancy was adopted with a view to the public interest and that of the port of London generally, and not with a view to mere sectional and city interests. He would repeat, therefore, what he had stated on a former occasion—namely, that if upon experience it should be found that the City abused their powers for partial objects, it would then become the duty of the representatives of the Government to bring the matter under their consideration, and if he held office he should consider himself bound to revise the arrangement, and submit to this House a new constitution of the Board. He would remind hon. Gentlemen that if the Bill were rejected the effect would be to throw back the conservancy of the river upon the old system, than which nothing could be more unsatisfactory—for some years past the conservancy of the river had been practically neglected, owing to the disputes which (had sprung up, and it was a matter of urgent public importance that this long litigated question should be brought to an issue. He hoped, therefore, that the House would not take the unusual course of rejecting this Bill upon its third reading after a Select Committee had reported in its favour.


was told that there existed a Report which very materially affected the present question. The Bill embodied a compromise between the Crown and the Corporation, but third parties were concerned, whose rights had been entirely lost sight of. He referred to the landed gentry and corporations throughout England, and to their interest in the foreshore which was materially affected by this measure. He suggested that the Bill should be postponed until those interested were made aware of its real effect.


was not aware of the existence of the Report to which the hon. Baronet had alluded; but if he would refer to this Bill he would see that the agreement between the Land Revenue-office and the City was set out at length, and that it merely referred to this particular suit. What the Attorney-General held was that the bed and shores of the Thames were vested in the Crown, while the City claimed them as conservators of the river.


said, he was perfectly aware of the consequences of the Vote he was about to give, and should record it against the third reading of this Bill. He could very well understand that as between the Crown and the Corporation as litigants the arrangement made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer was advantageous to the former; but there were third parties of far more importance than either—namely, the public and the owners of property on both sides of the river, whose interests his right hon. Friend had unguardedly overlooked. He admitted that since the Bill was last before the House the measure had certainly been rendered less objectionable. At that time there was a clause giving to this body of Conservators a direct power of taxing all steamers plying above bridge, between Putney and Teddington. This power was now withdrawn, and the Bill, therefore, to that extent had been improved. Still, however, very largo taxing powers remained. There were the power of licensing landowners to make docks and wharfs; a power of taking tolls for and leasing new piers and landing-places; and also for making, altering, and removing piers and landing-places—all most import and powers, and all yielding to this conservancy fund a large and, probably, an increasing revenue. It was not for him to defend the Board of Trade from the adverse comments of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but he did think that that Board had faithfully discharged its duties in laying before the Committee on this Bill the information they had afforded. The question now was really narrowed to this issue:—On the whole, is the proposed Conservancy Board well constituted? On this point he should like to hear a distinct answer to the question whether it was part of the arrangement between the Government and the Corporation when they compounded the suit that this composition of the Conservancy Board should be a fixed principle. If this were a part of the bargain entered into, he objected to it so strongly that he should certainly incur the risk of voting against the third reading of this Bill. One of two things would happen upon the present rejection of the measure,—either it would be brought forward next Session, and this standing majority on the part of the Corporation in the Conservancy Board would not be proposed; or, if the measure were not then reintroduced, the whole matter would remain in abeyance until the general subject of the reform of the City Corporation was undertaken on the responsibility of the Government, and whenever that time came he was confident the conservancy of the Thames would not be placed in such a body as was now suggested. There was, he thought, great force in the argument that a body so nominated was practically irresponsible. For himself, he preferred an elected body; but if there was to be a nominated body he could conceive nothing more incongruous than a double system of adverse nomination by a close body like the Corporation on the one side and partial nomination by the Executive Government on the other. He was at a loss to conceive on what principle the House at this time of day should affirm that the best conservancy for the most important port of England, and for that river on which they prided themselves, should be vested in the Lord Mayor, two Aldermen, and four Common Councilmen of the City of London. What was the peculiar aptitude of that body to administer affairs of such immense magnitude? He spoke with all respect of the Lord Mayor and of the ponderosity and weight which his presence at the Board might be supposed to exercise. But the Corporation were to have both weight and numbers too. He supposed that in the composition of the Board it would be considered, that like turtle soup, the more fat that was put into it the better; while as regarded the tax-payers the principle would be adopted which was pursued in the manufacture of lime punch, in which squeezing was the great necessity. He feared under this Bill that the tax-payers would be squeezed unmercifully and excessively. On the whole he believed that the Board of Conservancy would be an irresponsible body. It would be even less responsible than the Corporation was at present; and being fully aware of the effect of the vote which he was about to give he should record it with great pleasure against the third reading of the Bill.


said, the agreement between the Commissioners of Woods and the Corporation was, that the settlement should be framed on the principle of the Bill of 1847, which had been adopted by the Government.


had hoped that the alterations which had been made in the Bill since the second reading would have conciliated the support of those hon. Members who had previously signified their intention of opposing it. He had been acquainted with the river Thames for forty years, and when he first knew it coasting vessels paid tonnage dues of 4d. and 2d. a ton, but now the only tonnage dues imposed were on first, second, and third class vessels ½d. a ton, and on the fourth and fifth class vessels ¾d. a ton. The Bill had been submitted clause by clause to the proper department of the Government, and every suggestion which had been made by the authorities of that department had been adopted. He contended that there were among the members of the Corporation several gentlemen as well qualified to perform the duties of conservators of the river as any men who could be nominated, and, although practically the Corporation would have a majority on the Board of Conservancy, it was not likely that they would unite to carry out corporate objects to the detriment of the public interests. The Corporation had set apart a large sum out of their revenues for the improvement of the metropolis, and he was satisfied that they would be prepared, in their character of conservators, to lend a helping hand to the improvement of the river Thames, with which they had been long connected, and from which he admitted they had received great advantages. He trusted that the House would sanction the third reading of the Bill, and he was satisfied if they did so that the Corporation of London would prove to the country and to Parliament that their only desire was to promote the interests of the public and to improve the navigation of the river. With respect to introducing the measure as a private Bill, he observed that the forms of the House had been complied with in that respect, and he reminded hon. Members that only on the previous day a precisely similar measure, affecting the navigation of the river Clyde, had passed as a private Bill without a word of opposition being made to it. He therefore did not think that any objection should be raised to this Bill because of the form in which it had been introduced.

Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

The House divided:—Ayes 172; Noes 78: Majority 94.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read 3°, and passed. [New Title.]