§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. CRAWFORD
, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, that the City of London possessed by prescription, and also by statutory authority, the right of measuring all grain brought into the port of London for sale, and by the present Bill, the Corporation proposed to commute the charge they now made for a charge of one farthing per cwt. By the proceeds of the funds arising from the charges thus enacted under the Bill, the City would have it in their power to put an end to a vexatious controversy which had subsisted between some portion of the grain trade and the City, and, at the same time, to afford ample compensation to the fellowship porters and others having vested interests under the existing state of things. The measure would also provide the Corporation with the power of doing an act of great practical utility to the grain trade, and would enable the City to devote a large sum of money to an object of great public advantage. The Corporation, moreover, were ready to accept the suggestion made to them by the Government that the proposed commuted charge should be limited in point of years. A public meeting had been held in the Corn Exchange of persons 1255 connected with the corn trade, when the subject was fully discussed; and, with the exception of some opposition shown by the millers, not the slightest unwillingness was shown by the trade to accept this Bill, for of late a feeling had been shown that it was of great importance that there should be some public authority in London which should be able to testify to the weight of the different kinds of grain imported. The City proposed to borrow money on the strength of the commutation, and to purchase up the manorial and other rights connected with Epping Forest, and make it a free and open space in all time coming for the inhabitants of the metropolis. The only parties objecting to the proposal were the Metropolitan Board of Works; but, as their authority was necessarily confined within the limits of their own jurisdiction, which did not extend to Epping Forest, he did not think their intervention would be sanctioned by Parliament. There was no new charge proposed on trade; the City came forward and said—"If you will secure to us, on the terms we propose, this commuted charge for a limited term of years, we will apply the money to the purchase of the manorial and other rights of Epping Forest, and preserve it as an open space in all time coming;" and he could not help thinking such an offer on the part of the City was one of great generosity to the public.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the second time."—(Mr. Crawford.)
§ MR. CHICHESTER FORTESCUE
did not wish to enter into the question of the acquisition of Epping Forest, beyond saying that it appeared to him to be an object that would commend itself favourably to the House, however it was to be accomplished. He could not but regard this ancient right of compulsory metage as, in itself, highly objectionable, being, in fact, a tax on shipping for municipal purposes, the principle of which had often been condemned. He had, however, lately received an important deputation from the grain trade of London, and he was bound to say the wish expressed was that he should not oppose the second reading of the Bill, but leave them to deal with the Corporation of the City of London in Committee. For his own part, he would rather see the Bill 1256 sent upstairs, subject to the Instruction of which he had given Notice, than that it should be defeated. He had accordingly stated to that deputation that it would be his duty not to resist the second reading, provided only he saw a prospect of putting an end at some reasonably limited period to the tax. That question he would leave to the Committee to decide.
MR. WINGFIELD BAKER
said, that he practice of metage was sanctioned by no principle, as substituting weighing for metage was no improvement If the Corporation of London wished to be benevolent they should do it at heir own expense, not at that of others, or at the expense of the poor. Besides, he thought the Corporation had sufficient funds at their disposal from other sources to enable them to effect what they wished. It had been stated that the Bill would only be in operation for a short time, and that the tax would eventually be smaller in amount; but that was the way in which all important privileges were infringed upon, and he therefore objected to the Bill, and regretted that the Motion to read the Bill that day six months was withdrawn. Moreover, if the power sought were conceded to the Corporation of London, it would be impossible to refuse similar applications when they were made by the authorities of other ports, and so they would get back to the 1s. duty on corn on proposals equally generous, which when in force—though it only gave £400,000 to Revenue—gave £4,000,000 to the growers and dealers. Sound and good and consistent legislation was a more generous and benevolent act than all the benevolent acts of all the port cities of England could be.
MR. ALDERMAN W. LAWRENCE
said, there might be some weight in the argument of the hon. Member for South Essex (Mr. Wingfield Baker) if the Bill proposed a new tax; but the fact was the Corporation was in receipt of money for rendering a certain service, and there was a margin of profit, which went into its exchequer. If this Bill did not pass there would be no abolition of the tax, and it would require another Bill to attain that object. This Bill, moreover, was promoted by the Corporation, with the sanction of the Board of Trade, in order to terminate a long-standing series of disagreements, and he therefore 1257 trusted the Amendment would be withdrawn.
§ COLONEL BERESFORD
said, he understood that the directors of a dock company had refused to admit the officers of the Corporation to the docks because it was an anomaly that they should measure corn which had to be sold by weight. Otherwise the certificates of the officers were highly satisfactory to buyers as well as sellers, and he should, therefore, support the Bill.
§ MR. COWPER-TEMPLE
also supported the Bill, which, he said, proposed to commute an existing tax, and apply the proceeds no longer to the benefit of the Corporation, but to the purpose of preserving open spaces wherever they might be required in London. In that respect the City was following the precedents of the coal and wine duties, to the appropriation of which during more than 200 years the metropolis owed many of its great improvements; and for the preservation of the Forest, he had more confidence in the City of London than in the Chief Commissioner of Works, who had done nothing to prevent encroachments pending the inquiries of the Epping Forest Commission, which had made little progress. During that time the lords of the manor might have encroached, if the Chancery suit of the Corporation had not been interposed to protect the rights of the commoners. Therefore, those who felt interested in the preservation of Epping Forest owed great thanks to the Corporation of London, who were now seeking for powers—first, to buy up manorial rights, and, second, to apply to this public object the surplus of the receipts obtained from measuring corn. The Corporation, therefore, deserved the assistance and support of all who attached importance to the preservation of open spaces.
§ MR. AYRTON
said, he must object to the statement that the Government had neglected to protect the interests of the public and that the Corporation had benevolently stepped in. The facts were that last Session the Government invited the House to pass the Bill, which it did, to enable the Government to protect the public rights in Epping Forest and open spaces; and the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Cowper-Temple) wished to extend that Bill into the area of Private Bill Legislation. Had he succeeded, he would 1258 have defeated the Bill; but, on the matter being explained, he was satisfied and withdrew his opposition, an engagement being given that this Session a Bill should be introduced which would embrace the area of Private Bill Legislation. In fulfilment of that pledge a Bill had been introduced, and it stood for a second reading this evening; but the right hon. Gentleman, to show his consistency, had given Notice of his intention to move that it be read a second time that day six months; so that he was doing his best to defeat the Government in that which he said they had failed to do. During the last six years, which embraced a time when the right hon. Gentleman was First Commissioner himself, the Corporation, possessing all the powers they now had, did not take a single step for the purpose of protecting the rights of the public; they moved only after the passing of the Act of last Session, when all the requisite steps had been taken by the Government, and they only moved to embark in litigation, which he would not speak about, because it involved private rights. Moreover, the Bill proposed to levy a new corn tax on the Port of London. ["No, no!"] At present, the Corporation claimed the power to measure all corn that was brought into the Port of London, whether brought from Surrey, or Essex, or from abroad, and nobody could get any corn unless it had been measured by the Corporation, for which they charged a considerable sum. That claim was, however, once resisted by a wealthy dealer, and they abandoned it. Now they had brought in a Bill in which they proposed to abolish the practice of measuring corn and charging for it, and they proposed to levy an absolute tax on corn, whether they did anything or nothing. That, in his judgment, was a new tax, and it was also a corn tax. It was also proposed to set up little custom houses all along the Port of London in order to levy that little tax. What was really now to be considered, however, was the proposal of his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade; and whatever course was taken, it was impossible in common justice to ignore the fact that a number of men who thought that they had a kind of freehold office in measuring the grain would be entitled to compensation. Consequently, his right hon. Friend proposed an Instruction to 1259 the Committee, so that the Committee should introduce appropriate clauses to provide compensation for the people who believed they had vested rights, the principle of which had, indeed, been recognized by the House some Sessions ago. He trusted the House would read the Bill a second time, and then refer it to a Select Committee, in order that the matter might be properly investigated, in accordance with the Instruction proposed by his right hon. Friend.
§ LORD JOHN MANNERS
said, he trusted there would be no division on the Motion for the second reading. With reference to the Instruction, he did not know how the promoters of the Bill regarded it; but he thought the House ought not to accede to it unless it were accepted by the promoters, The Bill had excellent objects in view; the machinery proposed was well adapted to its purpose; and he thought, therefore, it would be unwise to pass an Instruction limiting its application in the way suggested by the right hon. Gentleman. In his opinion, it had better be sent to the Committee in the usual way perfectly unfettered.
§ MR. A. JOHNSTON
said, he believed that eight-tenths of the House did not care how the Forest was preserved, provided it was preserved; and that seven-tenths of the House did not understand the merits of such an intricate question. He therefore hoped that the Bill would be read a second time, and that his right hon. Friend would withdraw his opposition to the Government Bill, and allow both the measures to go before a Select Committee, so that they might have the benefit of an impartial tribunal upon the merits of the rival schemes. He gave in his adhesion to the Commission and the Government Bill, which he considered was the best calculated to preserve the Forest for the use of the public.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
said, he thought the noble Lord (Lord John Manners) must have been looking rather to the Instruction of the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Hardcastle) than to that proposed by the President of the Board of Trade, which dealt with the question of compensation, and wanted the proceeds of the tax after a certain time to be devoted to other objects. The promoters of the Bill would have to make it plain to the Committee that they were thus dealing with the proceeds of the tax; 1260 and they had accepted the Amendment of the President of the Board of Trade, because it would leave the Committee not only to deal with the time, but to sanction the application of the tax to other purposes than that of compensation.
said, that since 1864 the Metropolitan Board of Works had, on various occasions, addressed the Chief Commissioner of Works, and done their best to get Epping Forest preserved as an open space for the people of the metropolis, and they were still prepared to do their duty in that respect, if necessary.
§ MR. LOCKE
, as one of the Commissioners for the preservation of the Forest, said, all they had done was to meet and discuss what they should do. His right hon. Friend the Chief Commissioner of Works had promised to introduce into his Bill a clause, to the effect that no further encroachments should be made in Epping Forest if the Commissioners chose to prevent them. He doubted very much, however, whether that measure would pass, for it contained no provision for arriving at a decision as to what the particular rights of persons connected with the Forest amounted to. On the other hand, the Bill now under consideration would, if the City succeeded, decide, among other important questions, what were the rights of the commoners and of the people who had made encroachments in Epping Forest.
said, the statement that the Commissioners had done nothing did not accurately represent the facts. They had ordered and obtained a survey of the Forest and of all the encroachments, and till this had been accomplished it was impossible to take any useful action.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed.
§ MR. CHICHESTER FORTESCUE
moved—That it be an Instruction to the Committee to provide for the abolition of compulsory Metage, whether by weight or measure; and also to provide for the abolition at a time to be fixed by the Committee of any tax or charge imposed or to be imposed on corn or grain imported into London other than charges made for services duly rendered and voluntarily accepted.
§ MR. BOUVERIE
said, he must altogether object to an Instruction in such a shape, for he thought it both irregular and unusual to impose, with regard to a Private Bill Committee, an absolute condition as to what its decision should be. In the case of a Committee of the Whole House, or of a Select Committee, the House, if it thought fit, might confer power to do a particular thing, if that power did not already exist; but here the power clearly existed already. It was not the practice, and it would not be reasonable, in committing an inquiry to a particular Committee, to tell them to decide in a particular way.
§ MR. NORWOOD
hoped there was nothing in the Rules of the House to prevent the Instruction from being acted upon. If he had not understood that the Instruction was accepted by those having charge of the Bill, he should have opposed the second reading.
§ MR. CHICHESTER FORTESCUE
said, he concurred in the view of the last speaker, and if the Instruction had not been accepted by the promoters of the Bill he should probably have voted against the second reading. He should be very sorry if the Rules of the House did not allow him to carry his Instruction. Moreover, he understood from the highest authorities that it was quite within the Rules of the House to impose a condition of this kind upon the Committee, especially as it restricted, rather than enlarged, their functions.
§ MR. CRAWFORD
, as one of the Members for the City of London, entirely concurred in the course proposed to be taken by the Government.
§ MR. COWPER-TEMPLE
thought the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade was establishing a dangerous precedent in setting aside at this stage the discretion of the Committee. As, however, his right hon. Friend relied upon authority, he thought the best course would be to adjourn the debate to afford time for precedents to be looked into, and therefore he should move the adjournment of the debate.
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
never remembered any instance in which a similar Instruction had been given to a Committee. He, however, thought the Instruction would be put in proper form by inserting the words "that the Committee have power to provide."
§ LORD JOHN MANNERS
said, it appeared from May's Parliamentary Practice, that according to the Rules of the House an Instruction did not order a Committee to do a certain thing; it merely informed them that they had power to do it. Before the second reading of the Bill was agreed to, he had distinctly objected to the Instruction now proposed.
§ MR. AYRTON
pointed out to the noble Lord that there was a great distinction between the Rules with reference to Public Bills and those with reference to Private Bills. In the case of a Public Bill, an Instruction could only be given to enlarge the powers of the Committee; but in the case of a Private Bill, an Instruction could be given to the Committee, which was in the nature of a condition imposed on the promoters of the Bill by the objectors to it to limit their powers. The Instruction now proposed to be given to this Committee was quite correct in point of form.
§ MR. BOUVERIE
wished to have the opinion of Mr. Speaker as to whether it was in accordance with the Rules of the House to instruct a Committee positively that they should do a particular thing?
§ MR. SPEAKER
It is certainly unusual to give Instructions of this nature to Committees on Private Bills; but if the House thinks fit to give a specific direction in this matter it is quite within its competence, and there is nothing in the proceeding opposed to the Orders of the House. I am bound, however, to say that the proposal to make the Amendment suggested by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Morpeth seems to be out of Order, for this reason—that the Committee would clearly have the power of making such provisions without any such Instruction; and it is irregular to give an Instruction to a Committee to do that which they already have power to do.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Instruction to the Committee to provide for the abolition of Compulsory Metage, whether by weight or measure; and also to provide for the abolition at a time to be fixed by the Committee of any tax or charge imposed or to be imposed on 1263 corn or grain imported into London other than charges made for services duly rendered and voluntarily accepted.