§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. CRAWFORD
said, he rose to move the second reading of the Bill, and with a view of correcting some misapprehensions which prevailed on the subject, both in and out of the House, he would take the opportunity of briefly stating the objects of the measure. From time im- 164 memorial the corporation of the City of London possessed the right of measuring all corn that came into the port, and was entitled to all the profits and emoluments arising from the discharge of that duty. It was, in fact, an office of profit. It was not an office to which a simple duty was attached, but an office of profit in the strict sense of the term. The City claimed its right to the office from prescription, from a time to which legal memory did not go back. As far back as the time of King John the right was possessed by the City, and the right was then in dispute. It was disputed again in the reign of James I., and the dispute was finally settled by the grant of a charter confirming the City in the prescriptive right which they had enjoyed for so many centuries. That right was further recognized by the Royal Commission of 1853. By an Act of the current Session, introduced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Customs and Inland Revenue Act, it was provided that henceforth the duties on grain should be ascertained by weight and not by measurement. That Act was to come into force on the 1st of September, and if no further provision were made, the consequence would be that the Government would require the grain to be weighed, while the corporation would claim their right of having it measured. He (Mr. Crawford) had, therefore, moved the insertion of a proviso saving the right of the City; but he was advised to provide for the case by special legislation. Hence the present Bill. The gentlemen representing the corn trade had placed themselves in communication with the corporation. They were met by the City in a liberal spirit, and the terms come to were fair both to the public and to the trade. Those terms were embodied in the Bill. It commenced by reciting the rights of the City, in terms identical with those used in the Coal Act of 1861, the change which had taken place in the law during the Session in regard to levying duties on grain, and that it was necessary that various small duties now levied should be commuted. It then provided for the levying of a duty of three-eighths of a penny on every cwt. of grain brought into the port of London, the payment of a certain amount of compensation to the Lord Mayor and other officers, who had been in the habit of receiving emoluments out of the existing charges, and the payment of compensation to the small 165 meters and other persons who might be affected by the Bill. Since it had been printed he had had the opportunity of further considering the matter, and the result had been a modification of the Bill, defining what articles should be considered grain, and providing that grain brought into the City by vessels which did not break bulk, should not be subjected to the duty. The Bill, which had been reprinted in its amended form, accordingly provided for a drawback on grain brought into the port of London and exported without being unloaded or broken in bulk. As the Bill stood, the duty was charged on all corn, pulse, and seeds. The corporation proposed to except seeds brought into the port in sacks or casks. These charges the City were willing to forego. But that was not all. When a cargo arrived a report had to be made at the Mansion House, and the charges arising from that process amounted to about £2,000. The City proposed to dispense with the Mansion House formalities, and to remit the charges connected with them. The City would give up £3,000 a year, which was the difference between the new rate per cwt, and the old rate per quarter, and would hear all the compensations to corn-meters and other persons affected by the Bill. By accepting this arrangement the public would be guaranteed against any excess in the charge for weighing above the rate fixed, on account of any rise in the cost of labour or other cause. On the whole, very little would be left to the City in the shape of revenue. In favour of the Bill there were, first, the corporation of the City of London, and next they had the great body of the corn trade. The Chairman of the Committee of the Corn Trade had written a letter to The Times pointing out the advantages which the corn trade would derive from the City performing the office of weighing as it had hitherto done that of measuring. There would be a saving in the charges, and the proper execution of the duty would be guaranteed. The writer added that the arrangement proposed was deemed satisfactory by the trade. Another correspondent of The Times, under the signature of "Civis," also bore testimony to the benefit which the corn trade would derive from the Bill. It had been stated in another letter in the same journal, that a Committee of the House of Commons had recommended the abolition of metage. In the year 1858 a Bill was brought in by the Home Secretary, the 53rd clause of which pro- 166 vided that metage should be abolished, and the 56th clause rendered the City liable for all the compensation to be given to those who might suffer under the operation of the measure. The corporation were heard against these provisions, which were, however, passed with this modification, that the metage should continue for ten years. Subsequently a Motion was made for the recommittal of the Bill, but the debate was cut short, and the Session came to a close without any further steps being taken, and since then nothing had been done. Besides the parties to whom he had referred as being favourable to the Bill, petitions in support of it had been presented from the small meters and the Fellowship Porters. The hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets had given notice of a Motion the effect of which was to treat the Bill as a Private Bill. Now the Bill was not promoted as a Private Bill. It was a supplement to the Customs and Inland Revenue Bill of the present Session, and had been rendered necessary not by any Act of the City, but by the force of legislation. In the next place, it concerned the trade of the metropolis, and the whole district between Staines and Erith, and therefore claimed to be treated as a Public Bill. It also concerned the collection of the public revenue and the rights of the City, which bad been dealt with over and over again by Acts of Parliament, such as the corn and wine duties, and other Acts of a similar nature. Without offering any opinion as to the construction of the Standing Orders, he trusted the House would treat the Bill as a Public Bill and give it a second reading.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Crawford.)
§ MR. AYRTON,
in rising to move the Amendment of which he had given notice, said, the Bill ought to be treated as a private measure because its object was to gain a private advantage for the corporation of London. In principle there was really no difference between the Bill before the House and a Bill promoted by the London and North Western Railway Company, or any other trading association. Let the House look at the manner in which it was introduced. Bills levying duties ought to be founded upon a Resolution previously passed in Committee of the whole House. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had brought 167 in a Bill relative to the payment of certain duties by weight instead of by measure. It was preceded by a Resolution in Committee, stating the amount of duty to be proposed, and it could not be carried beyond the amount agreed to in Committee. Now, that method of proceeding had not been followed in the present instance, though when the Bill came to be examined in detail it would be seen that a private Member should, under no circumstances, be permitted to exercise a power of legislation which was not enjoyed by any responsible Minister of the Crown. But the hon. Member must not be let off from the other horn of the dilemma. The hon. Member had described the Bill as a Private Bill. Now, what were the rules of the House on that subject? They provided that all Bills of a private nature should be classified, and class No. 1 specified, amongst others, "Charters of Corporations, enlarging or altering powers of," one branch of which were Bills levying or altering tolls, rates, or duties. The Bill recited the right of the corporation to measure certain commodities, including grain, and to receive for their own use the wages, rewards, fees, and profits arising therefrom; and it then went on to enact that for every hundredweight of grain brought into the port of London there should be paid to the Mayor and commonalty a sum of three-eighths of a penny. That was the whole taxing power of the Bill, and that tax was to be paid whether any service was performed or not. It was true that other clauses provided that the grain should be weighed if people desired it, and that the work should be done by the fraternity called the Fellowship Porters, who were to be paid for what they did at the rate of ¾d. per cwt. for cargoes under 50 cwt., and ½d. per cwt. above. So that when they came to the working men the corporation knew well enough how to draw the Bill. The men were to be paid only when they did work, but the corporation were to receive the dues without doing anything for them. After that statement of the object and nature of the Bill, he thought there could be no doubt that it fell within the Standing Orders as to Private Bills. The hon. Member, in speaking of the corporate rights, had done well to say that they went back to a period to which the memory of man did not run, especially as the corporation had destroyed their records; at least, being the keepers of them, when it was inconvenient to pro- 168 duce them the corporation said that they could not be found. It unfortunately happened, however, that in the last century they came to Parliament for assistance; and, being required to show what was their actual pecuniary position, they made a statement which was upon the Journals of the House, and in which there was no mention of a single shilling of profit or revenue derived from those sources which the hon. Gentleman said that they had enjoyed from time immemorial. It was true that they claimed the right to appoint meters, but that was all.
§ MR. ALDERMAN SIDNEY
asked the hon. Gentleman when he alleged that the corporation destroyed their records?
§ MR. AYRTON
said, that it was at the time that the corporation appointed a Committee of Secrecy to raise money to pay their debts, which Committee forthwith embarked in transactions which led to the painful scene that occurred in that House when, some hon. Member having asked Mr. Speaker a question with respect to the corporation funds, he left the chair and never appeared again. From that time till 1834 the corporation did very much as they liked, for there were then no Members for the Tower Hamlets. The Royal Commission of 1854 mentioned this claim, as the hon. Member for the City had stated, but they expressed their opinion that the duty ought to cease; and in 1856 a Bill was introduced by the noble Lord (Lord Palmerston), the right hon. Baronet(Sir George Grey) and the then Attorney General, to abolish it. As the present Home Secretary said on one occasion, the obstructive dining power of the corporation was such that it was almost impossible to proceed with a Bill against them, and that measure was withdrawn. In 1858 another Bill was brought in, which also proposed to abolish this tax. That Bill was referred to a Select Committee. The corporation were heard by counsel before the Committee. [Mr. CRAWFORD: Upon one clause only.] The corporation had an opportunity of putting anything before the Committee, which in the end declared that these duties should end in ten years or sooner. It was too late, however, to carry a Bill in that Session of Parliament. In the following year the subject was again brought before a Committee, of which the then Lord Mayor was a Member, and they reported that they saw no reason to doubt the correctness of the conclusions arrived at by the former Committee. He thought he 169 had shown a large amount of authority against the continuance of the duty. It had been attempted to show that it was a legal duty, but although as a rule individuals could not afford to enter into litigation with a wealthy corporation, yet it did happen on one occasion that the magnitude of his interest induced a trader to resist the demand of the corporation, and he filed a Bill calling upon them to show their title to claim this duty. The corporation fought him at every stage, but when the matter got into the House of Lords they withdrew their own appeal, and thus practically admitted that they could not sub stantiate their claim. The hon. Gentleman, feeling the weakness of his case, asked the House to assent to the Bill because, as he said, it had the sanction of every one except the taxpayers. That, however, was not quite correct. The hon. Gentleman said the corn trade, as represented by the corn market, was in its favour. The truth was, the corporation had been receiving £13,000 a year from the duty without doing anything in return, and although they claimed for themselves the exclusive right of setting up markets in the City and within seven miles thereof, yet they had allowed a close monopoly to grow up which kept the corn market in the hands of a few people, who, for every £200 they had invested, had created by monopoly property worth £1,400. This Corn Exchange was a close body, which had grown upon the corporation like a fungus upon another corrupt body. Of course those people were in favour of the Bill. They were hand and glove with the corporation, and the hand and glove were worthy of each other, for both were unclean. But with all the monopoly they had not yet built themselves a corn market. The hon. Gentleman had also said that the meters had petitioned in favour of the Bill. The sworn meters, who claimed a right to measure grain, had petitioned against the Bill, and it was only the casual meters, who claimed no such right, who had petitioned in its favour. It was also said that the Fellowship Porters approved the Bill. He could only say that the Fellowship Porters had made many complaints to him of the cruel treatment they received from the corporation. In 1835, when Reform was rife, and when there was a probability that the duty upon grain would not endure much longer, the corporation introduced a clause into the document of admission given to Fellowship Porters whereby all vested rights were abandoned. Hav- 170 ing thus got rid of all claims for compensation, they then persuaded the fellowship porters to intrust their interests to the care of the corporation, lest they should be ruined. The corporation next made a bargain with the Corn Exchange to reduce the duties, and undertook that the wages of the Fellowship Porters should also be reduced. The corporation, in return for an income of £5,000, or, as he believed, £10,000 a year, allowed the Corn Exchange to oppress these poor men by taking off one-third of their wages. They must never forget that in dealing with the corporation they were not dealing with a public body for public objects only. The claim of the corporation was, that they were entitled to appropriate these funds for their own purposes. They had seen the corporation already become shareholders in a railway, so completely did they consider the corporate funds as property with which they might do as they pleased. The corporation of London, who said they were protecting the Fellowship Porters, had for a long period compelled them to surrender 1d. on every 1s. of their earnings, and had kept up for them a Benefit Society, as compared with which the worst benefit society mentioned in the Chancellor of the Exchequer's late exposition of malversation and fraud was really a pattern of excellency and virtue; for the Benefit Society of the Fellowship Porters was conducted in this wise, that it actually spent £500 a year in dispensing £250 for the benefit of the poor men whoso wages were mulcted of 1d. in every 1s. He thought the House should pause before allowing its Standing Orders to be subverted in favour of a measure like that. He had presented petitions from the Dock Companies against the Bill, stating that by their Acts they were authorized to weigh everything in their docks, and they did not understand why they were to be deprived of that power. He had also presented petitions from the great dealers in corn, merchants, and others, who said they did not object to an arrangement for having grain weighed when it was needed, but did object to being compelled to pay a tax for weighing whether they required their grain weighed or not. An enactment of on clause would have been sufficient for the corporation, if their Bill were simply consequent upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer's legislation, but they had taken advantage of that opportunity to bring in a Bill to serve their own private ends alone. Let the City give a pledge that they wanted 171 that Bill for public objects only, and let them limit it to all grain which it was necessary to weigh for revenue purposes and for delivery, and he would assist them to pass it. But if they would not give such a distinct and intelligible pledge, then the House would know that the measure was designed for sinister objects and private aims, for banquets to gratify themselves and their families, and for largess to be distributed among their friends and kindred. Trusting that the House would not permit any corporation, however influential, to subvert its rules and orders, he begged to move his Amendment.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "inasmuch as the Bill seeks to enlarge and alter the powers of the Corporation of the City of London to levy a Rate or Duty, and to alter existing Rates and Duties, on Grain and Seeds imported into the Port of London for the use and benefit of the Corporation, this House is of opinion that the Bill ought not to be proceeded with until the Standing Orders relating to Private Bills be duly complied with,"—(Mr. Ayrton,)—instead thereof.
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ COLONEL WILSON PATTEN
said, that as the Amendment of the hon. Member related entirely to the Standing Orders of the House, it was desirable that the discussion of the merits should be disentangled from the difficulty suggested, and that the House should decide whether the Bill was a public or private one. In the first instance, he (Colonel Patten) had been under the impression that the measure was a private one; but after looking at several other Bills which had passed the House, he confessed he entertained doubts upon the subject. He, therefore, would respectfully suggest that it would much simplify the discussion if the Speaker would favour them with his opinion on it.
§ SIR JOHN SHELLEY
said, he would suggest, that before the right hon. Gentleman gave his opinion, that it was desirable they should be told what the difference was in respect to the Standing Orders between the Bill before the House and the City Police Bill, which was stopped by the corporation.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The Question raised by the hon. and learned Member for the Tower Hamlets is one well worthy the consideration of the House, and has quite properly been brought under its notice by 172 the hon. and learned Gentleman. This Bill has certainly many features which are characteristic of a Private Bill. But it has been the policy of late years to introduce Bills relating to the Metropolis as Public Bills, on account of the great extent and the general interests involved. In 1843, and again in 1846, and in 1851, Bills for the regulation of Coal Whippers were treated as Public Bills. In 1845 the Vend and Delivery of Coals in London and Westminster Bill was introduced as a Public Bill. In 1852 the Ballast Heavers (Port of London) Bill, and in 1861 the Annoyance Jurors (Westminster) Bill, were brought in as Public Bills; though if they had related to other towns, they would certainly have been regarded as Private Bills. The Coal and Wine Duties Continuance Bills of 1861 and 1863, which affected the rights of the City to its local dues and taxes, were brought in as Public Bills. The Bill now before the House relates to the port of London, which covers an extensive area, ranging, I believe, over a considerable part of four counties, and containing a population of nearly 3,000,000. It is introduced, not from any desire of the Corporation to disturb the existing state of things, but in consequence of an Act of the present Session, which enacts that the duty on foreign grain shall be levied by weight, instead of by measure. The Corporation propose to accommodate their system to the new law, and to change the system of measuring corn for that of weighing, which has now for the first time been adopted for the purposes of revenue. It appears that under the existing law the measurement of foreign grain by officers of the City, is accepted at the Custom House for charging the import duties; and by this Bill it is proposed that certificates of weight instead of measure shall be furnished to the Custom House for the collection of the public revenue. The Bill concerns the home and foreign trade of the port of London, and also the public revenue; and on these grounds it seems to me that it has been introduced not improperly as a Public Bill. At the same time, as there are allegations of fact in the preamble which are open to dispute, and which require to be established by evidence, I apprehend it will be the pleasure of the House to commit the Bill to a Select Committee, by whom these facts will be inquired into, and any local or private rights may be duly protected.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, that the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman would be of material assistance to the House, not only for its direct purpose in throwing light on the Motion of the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets, but also in respect to the vote which they would, he supposed, ultimately have to give on the question, whether the Bill should or should not be read the second time. He assumed that the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets would no longer press his Motion on the point of form, but acquiesce in the opinion just delivered from the Chair; and he assumed also that he would not insist on the objection he had raised as to the want of a preliminary Resolution on the introduction of the Bill. Apart from the question, whether or not the Bill required a preliminary Resolution, as being a Bill affecting trade, it was pretty clear that as a Bill affecting taxation it would not require such a Resolution, if, at least, the revenue of the corporation of the City stood on the same footing as the public revenue of the country. Although it was the practice, for the convenience of the House, in moving the reduction of a duty, to do it in the form of a Resolution in Committee of Ways and Means, yet that practice was founded simply on the advantage of giving full information to the House of what the plans of the Government as to the finance of the year might be, and it was quite competent for any Member of the Government, or any independent Member of the House, to introduce any Bill for the reduction of a tax without a preliminary Resolution. The case had been ably stated on both sides. So far as his Parliamentary experience went, and it now extended over a very long period of time, he had never known the duties of a representative of the City of London more ably or satisfactorily discharged than they were by his hon. Friend (Mr. Crawford), who had brought forward the subject in a very clear and practical manner. Then, the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the Tower Hamlets set out a great deal of matter, he admitted, of much importance, one portion of it being connected with the subject of the reform of the corporation of the City of London. He took it that there were few who sat on those Benches that could look back with entire satisfaction to the part which Parliament had played, or rather had not played, in the reform of the corporation of the City; 174 but it would not be fair or just to the corporation to allow any opinion they entertained on that subject, or any desire they might entertain for a general rearrangement of the local authorities of the metropolis, to influence them in their conduct upon that occasion. Another part of the speech of his hon. and learned Friend consisted of allegations, some of them relating to the title of the corporation to their dues, and to the arrangement proposed to be made for the Fellowship Porters, and to other parts of the Bill which appeared to him fair matter for a Select Committee. His hon. Friend who brought forward the measure had been the first to anticipate the suggestion of the Chair, that the Bill should undergo investigation before a Select Committee: the question before them therefore practically was, whether the Bill should be referred to a Select Committee; or, according to the Amendment of his hon. Friend the Member for the Tower Hamlets, be summarily rejected. They should remember that the Bill had not grown out of the suit or petition of the corporation. The State had determined that for the public convenience the mode of levying the corn, duty should be altered, and the corporation was placed under the necessity of doing one of two things—unless, indeed, it was prepared altogether to abandon what it presumed to be its rights, and that, he thought, no one could expect—either the corporation must come to the House for a Bill like the present, or insist on the intolerable injustice of the double process of weighing for the purpose of the corn duty and measuring for the municipal tax. The corporation, he thought, had taken the right course. So far as the Government were concerned, they had taken a strictly impartial course. They declined to pledge themselves to support the Bill until they heard the whole case; but they did undertake that the corporation should not be defeated in consequence of the period of the Session. It appeared to him on the equity of the case that the Bill ought not to be rejected on the second reading, but should be referred to a Select Committee. The fair presumption might be against that source of civic revenue; that presumption arose from the Report of the Committee: but if it was to be abolished, it should be done not accidentally by availing themselves of any difficulty in which the corporation was placed in consequence of measures adopted by Par- 175 liament for the public good, but in a straightforward manner, by a measure directed ad hoc, explicitly and expressly dealing with the question by legislation. He thought it would be a harsh and severe measure under the circumstances if they withheld their sanction from the second reading of the Bill. It would not be a worthy mode of dealing with the subject. He thought the arrangement proposed by the Bill was an equitable one. The corporation relieved the trade of a portion of the tax; it also gave considerable relief in point of time and trouble. He should certainly support the second reading, with the view of referring the Bill to a Select Committee.
§ MR. ALDERMAN ROSE
said, he thought the right hon. Gentleman had very fairly stated the manner in which the Bill came before the House, and as the judgment from the Chair had disposed of the Amendment, he need not refer at any length to the manner in which the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets had unburdened himself of his peculiar notions with regard to the City of London. The hon. Member said that he represented the Docks and the Fellowship Porters. He ought to be aware that the Docks charged the public 3½ per cent more than the City of London charged. As to the Fellowship Porters, they came before the House last Session under the auspices of the hon. Member; but from the petition of an immense majority it appeared that the control of the funds of that body was in the hands of a few who wished to distribute them among themselves. The fact was that, the moment the question was raised, the corporation had called a meeting of the trade, those who were most competent to give an opinion as to the work to be done, the prices that should be charged for it, and what the trade were prepared to pay. The corporation deliberated upon it, and it was found the charge made in the Bill was fair and reasonable to have the work satisfactorily done. It was very easy to throw any quantity of dirt upon a public body, but he declared emphatically that the random assertions made by the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets on a former evening were totally unfounded.
§ SIR JOHN SHELLEY
said, there was no one who had more zealously devoted himself to the interests of the metropolis at large, as distinguished from that small portion of it compromised within the City, than the hon. Member for the Tower Ham- 176 lets. The views of that Gentleman might be peculiar in the eyes of a former Lord Mayor, but they were shared by a large body of inhabitants of the metropolis. The Corporation, paying its servants liberally, and always taking pains to secure the best available talent, was sure of having its work well done; and he believed its officers had wisely advised the Corporation to make that concession on which he congratulated the public, and which he believed was traceable directly to the opposition thrown in their way. The Government having cast their protecting influence over this Bill, he hoped would take pains to secure the appointment of an impartial Committee.
§ MR. HUBBARD
said, he doubted the propriety of introducing into a Commutation Bill a preamble reciting the existence of a prerogative which had been much doubted, often disputed, and in many cases could not be enforced. He thought it a dangerous thing that the corporation should be enabled to claim as a debt due by the owners of a cargo so much per cwt., especially as a debt preceding the execution of the work which formed the consideration. As the measure stood, it would establish a monopoly and ignore the changes which mechanical facilities might hereafter provide for the execution of the work. He thought it highly undesirable to stereotype a rate of charge without reserving some power of competition.
§ MR. AYRTON
said, that after the decision from the Chair, he had no option but to submit to the proposal of the Government, but he would suggest that the Bill should be committed pro formâ on the following day, so that the House might know the alterations intended to be made.
§ MR. CRAWFORD
said, he would accede to the suggestion, but on Monday he should move that the Bill be referred to a Committee of ten Members, to be named by the Committee of Selection.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read 2o, and committed for To-morrow.