HC Deb 25 July 1879 vol 248 cc1291-7

Order for Consideration of Lords' Amendments, read.

Clause 16a (Provision as to Dock Companies).


said, he would not detain the House for more than a few minutes by the remarks he wished to make in reference to this clause; but he should not like to see the clause inserted in the Bill, under the circumstances in which it had been placed in the Bill, without saying a few words on the subject. The Bill was one which was introduced by the Metropolitan Board of Works for the purpose of dealing with the prevention of floods, and the present clause was inserted by the Committee of the House of Lords after the Bill left the House of Commons. In the Committee of the House of Commons, of which he was a Member, the Bill was carefully considered, and the Metropolitan Board were successful in keeping the Bill intact, so far as all its main provisions were concerned, and especially in regard to the area of taxation, upon which the great fight took place. There were, however, secondary questions raised, and among them was the question of arbitration. The Bill was opposed by the Corporation of London, by the Conservators of the River Thames, and by various public Bodies—Vestries and wharfingers, and local individuals, who had frontages upon the River. A very large number of counsel made speeches to the Committee, in which they touched upon the question of arbitration raised by the present clause, and the line taken by the Metropolitan Board of Works as promoters of the Bill was that of opposition to all proposals of the kind. They said that they were perfectly competent to undertake all the duties themselves, and the Committee maintained them in that view. He thought that both the opponents of the Bill, as regarded the principle of taxation and the promoters of the measure, were unanimous in resisting the concession of arbitration from the outside, and the Metropolitan Board strongly contended that they, as a public Body, ought to be competent to discharge the duty. But he (Sir Charles W. Dilke) now discovered that, at that very time, the Metropolitan Board had agreed with one set of the opponents represented by counsel—namely, the Dock Companies—to introduce an arbitration clause for their benefit, and that clause was accordingly introduced in the House of Lords, the Committee of the House of Commons not having been informed that such an arrangement was in contemplation. He certainly thought, from what he knew of the opinion of the Committee upstairs, that many Members of that Committee, if not the majority of the Members of it, would have wished to raise the question of arbitration as regarded other public Bodies and individuals, if they had known that the Metropolitan Board of Works were going to give way at all. If the principle was to be introduced into the Bill at all, it ought, at all events, to be considered in the case of every person having a river frontage, and not in the case of the Dock Companies only, who were rich, and fully able to take care of themselves. The persons for whom provision ought to have been made, if it was to be made at all, were not the wealthy corporate Bodies, such as the Dock Companies, but Vestries, Local Boards, and other public Bodies, who had frontages the same as the Dock Companies, but no engineers, in the comfortable position of the engineers of the Dock Companies and the Metropolitan Board. Not only did the Metropolitan Board give way when the clause was before the House of Lords, but he was told that they had absolutely put forth a Whip in favour of it that morning, so that they had not only the Dock Companies who opposed the Bill, but the promoters of the measure itself supporting the clause which had been introduced into the Bill as a matter of arrangement in the House of Lords. He complained of the manner in which the Committee of the House of Commons had been treated in the matter. The Members of the Committee were asked to support the Metropolitan Board in resisting arbitration, when all the time the Metropolitan Board had decided that, so far as the Dock Companies were concerned, arbitration should be introduced. His own view was, that the Metropolitan Board were competent to perform all the necessary works for themselves, as a public representative Body, to the satisfaction of the general public; but if the principle of outside arbitration was to be observed it should be observed in every case. For that reason, he had placed a Notice on the Paper of his intention to move that the House should disagree with the Lords in regard to this particular clause which they had inserted. At the same time, he was informed that the Chairman of Committees (Mr. Raikes) had made up his mind to support the clause, and if that was the case, it would be perfectly useless, as everyone knew, to put the House to the trouble of a Division; and, having stated his objection to the clause, he should not move the Amendment of which he had given Notice.


said, the hon. Baronet opposite (Sir Charles W. Dilke) went somewhat further than he was entitled to go in assuming that he (Mr. Raikes) had made up his mind to accept this clause. One circumstance weighed with him very much before arriving at any positive conclusion on the subject, and lie had thought there was a possibility of that circumstance coming o\it in the course of the debate. If the right hon. Gentleman who was Chairman of the Select Committee to which the Bill was referred had been present in the House, and had risen to support the Motion of which the hon. Baronet had given Notice, he should think that, on the whole, he should have been disposed to advise the House, at all events, to leave open the question for further consideration, because he thought it was a matter in. which the House would be inclined to stand by its own Committee. That appeared to him to be a very valuable principle to adopt as a general rule, and if the right hon. Gentleman the Chairman of the Committee had recommended that course, he (Mr. Raikes) did not think he could, under the circumstances, have dissented from that view; but he was bound to say that, under any other circumstances, it appeared to him that they would not be warranted in acting in the spirit of the statement just made by the hon. Baronet, and in disagreeing to the Amend- ment introduced by the House of Lords. Perhaps he might be allowed to point out one matter which appeared to have escaped the hon. Baronet, whose statement, as any statement made by the hon. Baronet always was, was generally fair and candid in regard to the whole matter. But there was one point which the hon. Baronet omitted to notice. He stated that the Amendment which had been introduced by the House of Lords was not considered by the Committee of the House of Commons, and that, if it had been, it would probably have been also considered in regard to other opponents who equally desired to have the privilege of arbitration. Now, he (Mr. Raikes) must point out that if the opponents of a Private Bill opposed a Bill on its merits generally in the House of Commons before a Select Committee, they did not usually carry their opposition further, for if they did, they were excluded by the other House from opposing the Preamble of the Bill. This was an important matter in this case, because the Dock Companies could have gone into this clause in the House of Commons if they had not wished to reserve to themselves the right of opposing the Bill in the other House of Parliament. That, he thought, made a material difference in the question. Then, as regarded the Amendment itself, he was bound to say that it seemed to him to be a reasonable Amendment, and, as far as he could judge, it was approved of by both sides. He did not find that there was any objection to the Amendment introduced into the Bill by the House of Lords per se—it was merely argued that other parties ought to have the same advantage extended to them. They had now reached a period in the progress of the Bill when it became impossible for these parties to obtain that advantage; and if the clause was struck out of the Bill it would not help the other frontagers to an opportunity of obtaining the same advantage. If they were able to re-open the question altogether, possibly it might assume larger dimensions, and he was not prepared to say that it might not be well to give arbitration to the frontagers generally. But it was too late to take that course now; and, in the absence of any suggestion from the Select Committee, it would be taking an extreme course if they were now, because certain persons had been disap- pointed in obtaining from Parliament that principle of arbitration which they desired to obtain, to exclude others who, on their own merits, were certainly entitled to it. Before he concluded, he should like to say one word upon the question involved in the clause. These Dock Companies represented a capital of something like £17,000,000. They were incorporated public Bodies, and they employed the most competent engineering skill they could obtain. That being so, they would certainly be exceedingly well advised as to the works it was desirable to carry out on the river so far as their own interests were concerned, and much better advised than individual frontagers and others who had not such engineering talent at their command. It was quite possible that public Companies like these, with a large capital and able engineers to advise them, would have a plan of their own for the construction of works which might be of the greatest possible importance to them, and which they did not wish to have over-ridden by the mere ipse dixit of the Metropolitan Board of Works. That being so, it did not appear to him astonishing that the House of Lords should have attached importance to this clause. It must be borne in mind that a clause similar in effect was accepted by the Metropolitan Board of Works at the time they brought in their Bill in 1877, and was inserted in the measure. That course was not taken on the present occasion. He was not in a position to give an explanation of the reason; but it might be, as a matter of policy, that the Engineer of the Metropolitan Board was not inclined to accept the principle of arbitration if all the frontagers were to have it. But he thought the fact that the principle was not conceded generally ought not to prejudice the right of the Dock Companies. He hoped what he had said would guard him against the imputation of having formed a prejudiced view of the matter; but he did not think the House would be acting in the interests of the frontagers if, on the present occasion, they were to strike out this clause. Under all the circumstances, he hoped the hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea would not press the Amendment of which he had given Notice.


as Chairman of the Metropolitan Board of Works, was anxious to say a word or two before the House came to a decision upon, the matter. The hon. Baronet opposite (Sir Charles W. Dilke) had already been set right as to the view of the Chairman of Committees; but there was one other point on which he wished to correct the hon. Member. He was not in the least aware of any arrangement with the Dock Companies of any sort or kind to insert a clause when the Bill went to the House of Lords. So far as the feeling of the Metropolitan Board went, they would much rather have the entire responsibility cast upon them. Their engineer was fully competent in every shape and form to indicate what steps ought to be taken to prevent the flooding of the River, and the Board were very sorry to have any arbitration at all. But having accepted this clause in the House of Lords, they felt bound, as men of honour, to carry out the understanding embodied in the compromise between the Dock Companies and. themselves. At the same time, he must point out to the House that, in regard to this matter, the Dock Companies stood on a very different footing from other people. All they did was under an Act of Parliament—everything they were entitled to carry out must be done in accordance with the provisions of their Act of Parliament. They were, therefore, usually exempted from outside interference. Take, for instance, the Thames Conservancy Bill, brought in during the present year. In the 49th clause of that Bill, Sections 4 and 7, it would be found that the Dock Companies were specially, in consideration of their being under an Act of Parliament, exempted from the operation of the Act. It was the same in regard to other Acts relating to the conservancy of the River. He quite endorsed what his hon. Friend the Member for Chester (Mr. Raikes) had said in regard to the Bill brought in by the Metropolitan Board in 1877. The Board, no doubt, did agree to insert a clause of this nature in that Bill; but they had not done so in the present measure, because they did not approve of it. But they found it necessary, in. this instance, to come to a compromise with the Dock Companies. Upon that compromise, which was made when the Bill was in the House of Lords, the Dock Companies withdrew their opposition; and he certainly did not think that, considering the extent of their capital, and all the interests involved, the Dock Companies could be placed in the same position as the rest of the frontagers, who had a very small interest indeed in the matter. He was glad that his hon. Friend the Chairman of Committees had announced his intention of abiding by the Amendments of the House of Lords. As Chairman of the Metropolitan Board, he had considered it desirable to say a few words by way of vindicating the action of the Board in the matter.

Lords' Amendments agreed to.

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