§ Question again proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ MR. RITCHIE
said, he had already stated that his Amendment to this Bill was not directed against the merits of the Bill. He wished the House clearly to understand that. He did not propose to go into the merits of the Bill. In fact, he acknowledged at once that there was a necessity for legislation. The pro- 98 position might be or might not be of a most reasonable kind. That was not what he asked the House to consider. What he asked the House to consider was, whether this legislation was to be carried out by a private measure or by a public one; and if his Amendment were assented to, it would do nothing to hinder the Government from introducing the Bill to-morrow as a public measure. He hoped he should be able to convince the House that this was a Bill which ought to be dealt with as a public measure. He hoped he should be able to show the House that almost every one of the provisions of the Bill, taken by itself, would constitute the measure a public one; but, taken together, his case was absolutely overwhelming. Now, the first difficulty he had to contend against, in consequence of the mode in which the Bill had been introduced, was that they had not been favoured with a speech from the Member of Her Majesty's Government who was in charge of the Bill. That placed him in a somewhat difficult position, because he hardly knew on what arguments the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Evelyn Ashley) relied, and what he (Mr. Ritchie) had to answer. That was one of the difficulties consequent upon the mode in which Her Majesty's Government had chosen to introduce the Bill. If the Government had introduced the measure as they ought to have done—as a Public Bill—hon. Members would have had the reasons for introducing it, and the arguments in its favour, placed before the House by the Minister responsible for the Bill. But as it was, here was a Bill, dealing with a large and important matter, which was simply moved by the hon. Member in charge of it (Mr. Evelyn Ashley) lifting his hat. He was afraid that the course which had been taken by the Government would lead to his remarks being longer than they would otherwise have been, because it was necessary that he should endeavour to meet every single point Her Majesty's Government could raise; whereas, if the hon. Member had moved the second reading in the ordinary way, it would, perhaps, have been sufficient for him to have confined himself to answering the arguments used by the hon. Member. There had, however, been distributed to the Members of the House a Paper of "Reasons" in favour of the second 99 reading of the Bill. Now, he did not think that that course was one which, as a rule, was a convenient one. He knew it was frequently taken in the case of a Private Bill; but he ventured to say that it never before had been taken in reference to a Bill in charge of a Minister of the Crown. The hon. Gentleman might say, and say truly, that these "reasons" had been distributed by the Thames Conservancy Board, who, he said, were the promoters of the Bill. No doubt, if the hon. Gentleman said so it would be true; but it was a curious coincidence that the names of the Parliamentary agents at the end of these "reasons," who, he presumed, were the agents for the Thames Conservancy, were also those of the agents to the Board of Trade. It might be a mere coincidence; but it led one to suppose that the Government themselves had something to do with the issue of these "reasons." He thought it necessary to ask the House, in the first place, to consider for one moment the difference in the mode of proceeding in reference to a Public and a Private Bill. A Public Bill, in the first place, was distributed to every Member of the House some days before the second reading was taken, so that hon. Members might make themselves acquainted with all the objects proposed by the measure. In the case of a Private Bill, no distribution took place to the Members of that House. In the case of a Public Bill, either upon its introduction or upon the second reading, the nature of its provisions was explained by the Minister of the Crown in charge of it, and a debate took place before assent was given to the principle contained in it. It was altogether different in regard to a Private Bill. It was read at a quarter to 4 o'clock, when there were very few Members in the House. It was read as a matter of course, and the House was committed to whatever principle there might be in it. As a rule, Private Bills did not initiate any new principle at all, but were simply for carrying out in some particular locality the principles already assented to by the House in previous measures of public legislation. He remembered perfectly well last Session that a Private Railway Bill was brought into this House, in which it was proposed to deal with the Lands Clauses Consolidation Act—a Public Act 100 —and the House rejected it on the third reading, because it interfered with that Public Act, and because it was held that hon. Members ought not to be asked to reverse important principles of general legislation in a Private Bill. In this case there was another inconvenience which hon. Members, who had been so long deprived of their rights in regard to private Members' days, would readily appreciate and understand. If this Bill had been introduced as a Public Bill by the Government, as it ought to have been, the Government would have been compelled to place it on the Paper for a Government night; but here the Government came down with a Bill of great importance affecting the whole trade and commerce of London, and they proposed to bring it forward on a private Members' night. They carefully abstained from placing it on the Paper on a Government night; but they brought it forward on a private Members' night; and, in so doing, they staved off the Motions of hon. Members which already stood on the Paper until some indefinite period in the evening. The Government had interfered very largely with private Members' days this Session. It might have been necessary; but this was altogether an unnecessary interference with private Members' days and with the rights of private Members. He had pointed out what the difference was between the second reading of a Private Bill and a Public Bill. He now came to the Committee stage. A Public Bill passed through a Committee of the Whole House; and all the clauses were carefully considered. A Private Bill went upstairs; and even if referred to the large Committee, which the hon. Gentleman expressed his willingness to nominate in this case, it would never come back again so that its details might be discussed. A Private Bill did not appear again in that House until it was considered. There was another inconvenience in treating a Bill containing any very great principles of legislation as a Private Bill. A Private Bill Committee did not, as was the custom in a Committee of the Whole House, postpone, in the first place, the Preamble of the Bill. The House then considered the clauses, and if alterations were made in the clauses, the Preamble was afterwards amended in accordance with these altered clauses; but the first 101 thing a Committee upon a Private Bill considered was the Preamble; and no alteration was allowed to be made in the clauses which was not in strict accord with the Preamble. He might mention that the Committee on the East India Railway Bill in 1879 felt it to be so inconvenient to deal with matters involving great principles in a Private Bill that a special Report was made by them pointing out the inconvenience of such a proceeding. He had now to refer to the reasons which had been distributed against his Amendment in opposition to the Bill. The first, which he would put shortly, was that this was properly a Private Bill; and why? Because, forsooth, the Thames was a locality. Private Bills dealt with localities; and as the Thames was a locality this ought to be a Private Bill. Now, he did not deny that, technically, the Bill could be introduced as a Private Bill. His Amendment did not say that, technically, it could not be introduced as a Private Bill. What the Amendment said was that it ought not to be introduced as a Private Bill; and that was the whole ground of the argument. The House knew that, on more than one occasion, Bills had been introduced into that House as Private Bills, and Resolutions passed to the effect that they ought not to be dealt with as Private Bills. Those Bills were all, technically, Private Bills; but the House had said that they ought not to have been so dealt with. The hon. Member for Swansea (Mr. Dillwyn), whom he regretted to see was not in his place, some years ago moved the rejection of a Private Bill, not because it could not technically be called a Private Bill, but because it contained provisions such as constituted it a Public Bill. So with the Manchester Education Bill, which was introduced as a Private Bill. It complied with the Standing Orders, and passed through all the forms which usually applied to Private Bills, thus showing that it was technically a Private Bill; but the House said—"This is a Bill involving large principles, which ought not to be dealt with by any Private Bill." The House assented to a Resolution to that effect almost identical with the Resolution he asked the House to assent to now. Therefore, he did not assert that there was anything informal in the introduction of this Bill; but while say- 102 ing that, he altogether denied the validity of the grounds contained in the so-called "Reasons" to which he had referred. The idea of calling the Thames through 200 miles of its course, touching, as it did, many large and important towns, and conveying the trade and commerce of London upon it—the idea of calling it a "locality" was simply ludicrous. One might as well call the Mississippi a locality. There would be just as much reason for such a designation as to call the Thames a locality. Another of the "reasons" given was that Public Bills must relate to the whole community. Of course they must; and that was exactly what he said. He contended that this Bill related to the whole community. Another statement put forward in the "reasons" against his Amendment was that Bills brought in at the suit of the promoters were necessarily Private Bills, and that this Bill was brought in at the suit of the Thames Conservancy. No doubt that was so; but that was the fundamental point of his objection. He objected to this Bill being brought in at the suit of the Thames Conservancy Board. He contended that it ought not to be so brought in; but that it ought to be introduced as a Public Bill upon the Motion of a Minister of the Crown. That was the whole of his case. Some confusion was attempted to be created by saying that it could not be a Hybrid Bill, because Hybrid Bills were for carrying out national works, or works in relation to Crown property, or for public objects in which the Government were concerned. Now, he utterly denied that statement in reference to Hybrid Bills; and he held that this Bill ought to be a Hybrid Public Bill. A Hybrid Bill was as much a Public Bill as any other Public Bill; but as it interfered with private rights it had to comply with the Standing Orders, like a Private Bill. It was then brought into the House, read a second time, and referred to a Hybrid Committee. Sir Erskine May's book explained to them what the difference was between a Public and a Private Bill—Every Bill for the particular interest or benefit of any person or persons is treated, in Parliament, as a Private Bill. Whether it be for the interest of an individual, a public company, or corporation, a parish, a city, a county, or other locality, it is equally distinguished from 103 a measure of public policy in which the whole community are interested,Further—Though a Bill relating to a city is generally held to be a Private Bill, Bills concerning the Metropolis have been dealt with as Public Bills—the large area, the number of parishes, and the variety of interests concerned, constituting them measures of public policy, rather than of local interest.Then Sir Erskine May proceeds to give instances in which Bills affecting the Metropolis had been dealt with as Public Bills. There were the Metropolitan Police Bills of 1828 and 1839, the Metropolis Local Management Bill of 1858, and the Main Drainage Bill of 1865, which were all passed as Public Bills. In 1851, 1852, 1878, and 1880, the Metropolitan Water Supply Bills were introduced as Public Hybrid Bills. Those Bills affected the locality of the Metropolis; and the fact that they affected the Metropolis, it was held, constituted them matters of public interest. The Thames Embankment Bills of 1862 and 1863 were introduced as Public Bills; but as private property and interests were affected the Standing Orders were complied with, and other proceedings taken as in Private Bills; and the same course was taken in 1867 and 1876 with the Metropolis Gas Bills, in 1874 with the Metropolis Water Supply and Fire Prevention Bill, and in 1877 with the Metropolitan Toll Bridge Bill. Bills affecting the City of London only have, as a rule, when dealing with the property, interests, and jurisdiction of the City, been dealt with as Private Bills; but the moment such Bills interfered in any way with the area outside the City so as to affect the public interests of the Metropolis they ceased to be Private Bills, and became Public Bills. Sir Erskine May said that Bills concerning the City of London, but, at the same time, affecting public interests and involving considerations of public policy, had been introduced and passed as Public Bills. In 1864 the Weighing of Grain (Port of London) Bill was held to be properly a Public Bill, as affecting an extensive area and a population of 3,000,000, and its object being to substitute weighing for measurement of grain. In 1870, on the second reading of the Brokers (City of London) Bill, objection being taken that it ought to have been brought in as a Private Bill, the Deputy Speaker 104 stated that the Bill had been referred to the Examiner, who had decided otherwise. In 1871 the Court of Hustings (City of London) Bill, which established a Court having jurisdiction over the Metropolis, was brought in as a Private Bill; but on notice being taken of the extent and public importance of the measure it was withdrawn. It would thus be seen that, although Bills which affected only the property, interests, and jurisdiction of the City were introduced as Private Bills, the moment they affected the Metropolis at large, or involved considerations of public policy, or affected public interests, they ceased to be Private, and became Public Bills. It would also be seen that the extensive area and large population themselves were sufficient to constitute a Bill a public one. So far, Bills affecting the Metropolis and the City had been dealt with. The same principles hold good in other localities. The case he was now about to refer to more nearly approached the question now before the House. In 1856 the Passing Tolls on Shipping Bill was held to be a Public Bill. It concerned the harbours of Dover, Ramsgate, Whitby, and Bridlington—abolished passing tolls, transferred these harbours to the Board of Trade, imposed rates, and repealed local Acts; but being a measure of public policy its character was not changed by the fact that these harbours only came under its operation. And, again, the Harbours Bill in 1861 affected the same four harbours and the local Acts under which they were administered, but otherwise dealt with so many matters of general legislation as to be, unquestionably, a measure of public policy. In 1875 the Dover Pier and Harbour Bill, backed by the Government for public objects, was introduced as a Public Bill, but proceeded with as a Hybrid Bill. What the House would have to consider was whether this was a Bill affecting public interests. Did it involve questions of public policy? Did it affect a large area and an extensive population, and did it deal with matters of general legislation? If so, it would be no answer to say that it only affected the locality of the Thames, for it was held that, although a Bill of this character might only affect one or two harbours, that did not take away from it the character of a Public Bill, because it dealt with matters of public importance. 105 He would ask the House whether a Bill to abolish pilotage on the River Thames was not obviously a question of a public character? This was a Bill affecting the counties of Essex, Kent, Middlesex, Surrey, Berks, Bucks, Oxford, and Wilts; and he contended that that itself would constitute it a Public Bill. Then Bills dealing with any important principle have been hitherto Public Bills. In the case of the Manchester Education Bill of 1854, which was introduced as a Private Bill, the House said it was a measure which ought not to have been so introduced, but that it ought to have been dealt with as a public measure. It had been contended that Bills dealing with the conservancy of the Thames had been hitherto, in most cases, dealt with as Private Bills. This contention he would refer to presently. He hoped ho had shown the House, not on his own authority, but on that of one whose au-authority they all recognized, what was the broad line of distinction between Public and Private Bills; and he would now ask the House to consider the provisions of the present Bill, in order to ascertain whether it came within the category of Public or Private Bills, whether it affected largo masses of the population, and whether it dealt with great questions of public policy. The propositions of this Bill were, roughly speaking, five in number. It abolished compulsory pilotage above Gravesend; it gave everyone a right to navigate the Thames without any qualification; it repealed all the powers, rights, duties, obligations, and privileges of the Water-man's Company; it increased the tonnage dues payable in the Port of London; and it constituted the Thames Conservancy Board a smoke nuisance authority in the counties of Essex, Kent, Middlesex, Surrey, Berks, Bucks, Oxford, and Wilts. Now, with reference to that part which constituted the Thames Conservancy Board the smoke nuisance authority, that was altogether a new power conferred on them. They were authorized by this Bill to enter lands belonging to anyone without saying why or wherefore, to demand the production of all the plans that the owners had, and it also gave the Board power to inspect factories. There were large numbers of towns upon the banks of the Thames which were seats of very great industries, and those who were engaged 106 in those industries looked with some apprehension upon the creation of a new nuisance authority, it having been supposed that they were already under regulations of proper local authorities. They altogether objected to the creation of another new authority to overlook their factories and works. Even this point itself would constitute the Bill one of a public character. But the next power which it proposed to give the Conservancy was to raise the tonnage dues in the Port of London, and in order to do this it was necessary to amend a public statute—namely, the 4 & 5 Will. IV., c. 32. This statute enacted that no vessels in the River Thames should be subjected to tonnage dues unless they were over 45 tons register; and by the present proposition of the Government vessels of over 20 tons register would be liable to tonnage dues. This would be a very heavy burden of taxation upon a large number of vessels, and putting aside altogether for the moment the point that it interfered seriously with a Public Act of Parliament, he thought the question, affecting, as it did, taxation, was not a proper matter for a Private Bill, but a matter of public policy that should be dealt with in a Public Bill. With reference to the navigation of the Thames, it stood at present in this way—no one could take charge of a barge or wherry of any kind, or ply for hire, without having gone through an examination, and without being properly qualified by apprenticeship, and without having become a member of the Waterman's Company, whose rights and privileges had been conferred by Act of Parliament; and, therefore, this Bill affected rights and privileges conferred by an Act of Parliament. He believed there were something like 1,200 of the watermen who would be affected by these provisions in the Bill. It might be right and proper that these men should be deprived of their privileges by Act of Parliament; but the propriety of doing so by a Private Bill, in which there was no attempt to provide any compensation for the men who were to be so deprived of their privileges, was open to grave objection; at any rate, it was a question which demanded full discussion, and that discussion could only be obtained if the measure were introduced as a Public Bill. He would not say anything with reference to the principle of abolishing 107 public Companies by means of a Private Bill. That might be very convenient or not; but he thought it was an objectionable course. It might be desirable to abolish certain Companies now enjoying special privileges; but it ought to be done publicly by a public legislative measure, and not by a Private Bill. He now came to another provision of the Bill—namely, the one which dealt with compulsory pilotage. It was now proposed, by a Private Bill, to repeal an important provision of the Merchant Shipping Act of 1854. That Act distinctly declared, in Section 353—Subject to any alteration to be made by any pilotage authority in pursuance of the power hereinbefore in that behalf given, the employment of pilots shall continue to be compulsory in all districts in which the same was by law compulsory immediately before the time when this Act comes into operation.The River Thames was one of the districts referred to in that section. There was also given power to the pilotage authorities to make certain exemptions. The Bill now before the House proposed to abolish compulsory pilotage on the Thames. That might be very right and very proper; but his contention was simply and solely that it ought not to be done by means of a Private Bill. The question was certainly one of importance to London, and not only to London and to this country, but it was positively an international question, because every ship that came to the Thames, whether it was a foreign or a British ship, was at present subject to the law—under the Merchant Shipping Act—of compulsory pilotage, unless coming under certain exemptions. The present Bill took away the powers of the Trinity House and abolished compulsory pilotage. The House would understand the great importance of this question when he told them that the tonnage of sea-going vessels which went up the Thames in one year was something like 10,000,000 of tons; and yet this Bill proposed to deal with a matter of such enormous importance by means of a Private Local Act instead of by a public measure. It would be said, and said truly, that this question had already been investigated by a Select Committee of the House of Commons. He only wished to refer to this in order to show the great difference of opinion which existed on this subject, and to show that it was a matter on which opinion 108 was pretty evenly divided. The Select Committee, it was true, in their Report, recommended the abolition of pilotage generally; but the recommendation was only carried by the casting vote of the Chairman, and a counter Report was proposed, which was only rejected in a similar way by the casting vote of the Chairman. This was what the counter Report said—The Committee are of opinion that the evidence proves conclusively that the system of compulsory pilotage now in force, though capable of improvement in details, fulfils in a very high degree that which is admittedly its principal object, namely, the preservation of life and property from the dangers attendant on the navigation of the entrances to the various ports of the United Kingdom.That passage had reference to pilotage generally. Of the Thames it said that "the state of the pilotage of the Thames is not satisfactory;" but it did not recommend its abolition—on the contrary, it recommended the constitution of a pilotage authority for London, in the appointment of which the merchants and shipowners of London should have direct representation. Now, he only instanced this in order to show the necessity of having this question fully discussed before the House assented to the second reading. He wished to show that there was a divided opinion upon it. There were masses of Blue Books pro and con on the matter; he asked the House whether a question of such great national importance, and upon which there was so much difference of opinion, should be smuggled through the House at a quarter to 4 in the afternoon. It was a question that required debate, and it should be considered at the ordinary time of Public Business. He wished next to ask for the attention of the House to what he considered to be a very important point in his case. He did not rely upon it exclusively; but he thought it was a most important point. It was this—that although Thames Conservancy Bills, in regard to which he should have something to say in a moment, had been brought in and passed through the House as Private Bills, yet Bills dealing with pilotage had never been introduced as Private Bills; but they had been invariably dealt with by Public Acts of Parliament, and not by private measures. In 1853 an Act was passed vesting the right of pilotage of ships outward from 109 the Port of London, and the right of pilotage of ships inward to the same port, in one body of pilots subjecting them to uniform authority and control; but there was no attempt to bring that in as a Private Bill, although it only affected the Port of London, and, therefore, partook of the nature of a Private Bill. On the contrary, it was passed as a public measure. The Act of 1854—the Merchant Shipping Act—was a public measure. He had already alluded to that Act; but it was necessary to call the attention of the House to another important point in reference to it. In 1862 the Merchant Shipping Act Amendment Bill was brought in as a Public Bill. It dealt, amongst other things, with the question of pilotage. The "reasons" which had been circulated by the promoters of the Bill said—Alterations of local pilotage laws have in recent times always been made by Private Bills or Provisional Orders.But the promoters forgot to say that those Provisional Orders were of no validity whatever until they were assented to by Parliament, not in a Private Bill, but in a Public Bill. The Merchant Shipping Amendment Act of 1862 actually—after stating that the Board of Trade could abolish pilotage, in any particular pilotage district, by means of a Provisional Order—said in sub-section 6 of Section 40—No such Provisional Order shall take effect, unless and until the same is confirmed by Parliament, and for the purpose of procuring such confirmation the Board of Trade shall introduce into Parliament a Public General Bill or Public General Bills.Therefore, the Public Act of 1862 expressly guarded against such a proceeding as that which was now being attempted by the Government. Pilotage could not be abolished in any particular district by means of a Private Bill; but it distinctly provided that it should be done only by a Provisional Order, and that such Provisional Order, before it had any validity, must be confirmed by a Public Act. Notwithstanding this, the Government now came forward with the so-called Private Bill, and were endeavouring to set the provisions aside which the Merchant Shipping Amendment Act of 1862 specially enacted. In 1863, 1864, and 1865, Public Bills were introduced, confirming Provisional Orders, in conformity with the Act he had 110 cited, for the harbours of Hartlepool the Clyde, the Tyne, and Sunderland. They only dealt with localities; but, by virtue of the Act of 1862, it was impossible to do away with pilotage without obtaining the consent of Parliament by means of a Public Act. In 1870 and 1871, the Government of the day introduced a Bill to abolish compulsory pilotage; but they were not Private Bills, but Public Bills. He had, he hoped, thus shown to the House that, with reference to the question of pilotage, the Bills that had been introduced to abolish pilotage, without one single exception, had been Public Bills; and, in point of fact, the proceeding now adopted by the Government had been specially guarded against by the Act of 1862. There was one other point in the matter to which he desired to call the attention of the House. He had shown that the pilots of the Port of London existed under a special Act of Parliament. The Bills of 1870 and 1871 proposed to abolish compulsory pilotage; but they also contained clauses for compensating the pilots for their disestablishment, in precisely the same way as the proctors were compensated when the Divorce Act was passed. But here they had a Bill, introduced without any compensation clauses whatever, which proposed to take away privileges which had been conferred by Act of Parliament, and under which men had served their apprenticeship, and qualified themselves for the fulfilment of duties which were now to be rendered non-compulsory. And if this Bill went upstairs to a Private Bill Committee, even the Committee proposed by the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Evelyn Ashley), and a most conclusive case was made out by the pilots and others for compensation, the Committee would have no power to insert clauses giving compensation; and, therefore, unless the House was prepared to assent to the comfiscation of rights conferred by Act of Parliament, it ought not to give this Bill a second reading. There was another and a fatal objection, to his mind, and it was that this Private Bill repealed an important part of Section 353 of the Merchant Shipping Act of 1854—a public measure—and set aside the provisions of another Public Act, the 4 & 5 Will. IV. c. 32. He maintained that this was altogether unprecedented. A Private Bill had, on more than one occa- 111 sion, varied and extended Public Acts, but had never repealed and reversed the policy and principle of Public Acts. Sir Erskine May, in his book, said—It has been questioned whether a Public Act may properly be repealed or amended by a Private Bill; and, undoubtedly, such provisions demand peculiar vigilance, lest public laws be lightly set aside for the benefit of particular persons or places. But no rule has been established which precludes the promoters of Private Bills from seeking the repeal or amendment of Public Acts, and there are precedents in which this course has been sanctioned by Parliament.He would ask the House to consider the precedents which Sir Erskine May gave in his book, where Public Acts had been varied or repealed by Private Acts of Parliament, and the House would see that there was not a single one which was analogous to the propositions contained in the present Bill. He was exceedingly sorry to weary the House with this matter; but it was really one which was so much of precedent that he was compelled to exhaust the subject as far as possible. The only instances of an interference with Public Acts by private ones were these. In 1832 the Bristol Riots Amendment Act of 7 & 8 Geo. IV. c. 31, was passed. Now, the Bristol Riots Act was simply an extension of a Public Act, in order to enable compensation to be given in Bristol for riots which had taken place there. That could by no means be a reversal of the principle of any Public Act; it was simply an extension of it. In 1864 the City of London Tithes Act repealed an Act of Henry VIII. It repealed the Act, but it re-enacted it; the only difference being that whereas the original Act made the tithes vary with the rents, this Private Bill, which amended the Public Act, placed the tithes at a fixed sum. It was assented to by the clergy, the vestry, the incumbent, the bishops, and the patrons of the livings; and the Bill was in no sense a reversal of the principles of any Public Act. And so in 1864 the Metropolitan District Railway Bill amended the Thames Embankment Act, which was a Public Act. But there was no question of principle there. The Public Act gave the City Gas Company access to the river; and the Private Bill, for the formation of a railway, provided for compensation to the City Gas Companies in case their access and privileges were in any way interfered with. These were 112 the whole of the Public Acts which had been amended, so far as he could ascertain, by Private Bills, and there was not one of them which reversed the principle of any Public Act, whereas this Bill absolutely reversed the principle of compulsory pilotage, which was enacted by the Act of 1854, and it increased the tonnage dues of vessels, from vessels of 45 tons to vessels of 20 tons. Now, it had been said, and it would be said again tonight, that the Thames Conservancy Bills had been introduced into that House as Private Bills. Now, if everything was to be said by the friends of this Bill that could be said upon that subject, he should contend that the Thames Conservancy Bill was by no means on all fours with the present measure. This was not a Conservancy Bill at all; it was a Pilotage Bill. The Thames Conservancy Bills were simply with reference to arrangements of traffic and keeping open the channel of the river, and dealing with piers, and other such matters; but this was altogether a different Bill, dealing with the pilotage of vessels, a matter in which they had no right to interfere, and in which they had never interfered. As a rule, the Thames Conservancy Bills had been Private Bills, and in 1857, 1867, 1870, and 1878, they had dealt, as he had said, only with matters regulating the traffic of the Thames, and piers, and the keeping open the navigation of the Thames. But there was one very remarkable provision in the Act of 1870. The Act of 1870, to which he should like to direct the attention of the House, was to this effect—it enabled the Conservancy to levy tolls; but it expressly confined this power to the levying of tolls upon vessels already subject to tolls. It said that they could collect tolls and charge the dues in respect to certain vessels now liable thereto, whereas by this Bill it gave the Thames Conservancy power to tax people who had never hitherto been taxed. One other very remarkable fact about these Bills was this. So long as they confined themselves to questions merely affecting the proper conservancy of the Thames, they had been Private Bills; but in 1864 he found a Public Bill—the Thames Conservancy Act of 1869, and on trying to ascertain how it happened to be a Public Bill, while all the other Bills were private ones, he discovered that it proposed to do, to a certain extent, exactly what this 113 Bill proposed to do. The Act of 1864 was not confined simply to the ordinary conservancy of the Thames. Section 49 said—"The powers given to the Trinity House to erect sea-marks, &c., is repealed," and that necessitated the repeal of a Public Act of Parliament, as this Bill did. Section 50 amended the Merchant Shipping Act of 1864, as this Bill did. Section 63 amended the Water-man's Company Act again, as this Bill did; and it was in consequence of these, amongst other things, that it was a Public Bill. The House would see that these were some of the very things the present Bill proposed; and therefore it ought, like the Act of 1864, to be a public measure. He hoped he had, though at some length, shown the House that it had hitherto been the practice to deal with matters of public interest by Public Bills; and he had further shown that this Bill, in every one of the provisions he had called attention to, dealt with a question of public interest. Matters affecting large areas, many counties, and large populations, were matters hitherto dealt with by Public Bills; and, seeing that this Bill affected eight counties, many towns, and large populations; that no Bill which dealt with pilotage in the manner it was proposed to be dealt with in this Bill had ever been brought forward as a Private Bill; but that the Act of 1862 specially provided that legislation of this nature must be by means of a Public Bill; and seeing, further, that such questions had always been so dealt with, he saw no reason why, on this occasion, they should take an exceptional course. He had shown that the Conservancy Bills did not deal with pilotage; that there was no precedent whatever for reversing a principle contained in a Public Act by means of a Private Bill; and that this Bill did reverse the principle of Public Acts. He had also shown that although the Thames Conservancy Bills had been Private Bills, the moment they proposed to repeal Public Acts they ceased to be Private Bills, and were brought in as Public Bills. But, before concluding his remarks, there was another point he might mention, and that was the extraordinary mode in which the Bill had been introduced. It was very well known that a Private Bill must be introduced into that House with the names of two Members upon the back of it; and, as a rule, the Members who were interested 114 in the locality affected by the measure were readily induced to place their names upon the back of the Bill; but, on turning to the back of this Bill, he was unable to find the names of either of the Members for the City of London, or of the Members for any of the counties or towns over which this Bill proposed to give authority to the Conservancy; but they would find the names of the right hon. Gentlemen the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Chamberlain) and of the Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mr. Evelyn Ashley). The circumstance was totally unprecedented in the history of that House. It was no answer to say, as he had no doubt would be said, that in one particular case the name of his right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition (Sir Stafford Northcote) was upon the back of a Private Bill. That was no case in point. The Bill which the right hon. Gentleman's name was attached to was a Bill upon which the names of two Members for the locality were also placed as the introducers of the Bill. The name of the right hon. Gentleman was added simply to show that the assent of the Board of Trade had been obtained to the provisions contained in the measure. And what was that Bill? Was it a Bill dealing with a question of great principle such as the Bill now before the House? It was a Bill for the purpose of placing part of the river under a Public Act which had been passed in the previous Session, and in the Public Act itself there was a clause, stating that it was desirable, upon the first opportunity, that the provisions of the Act should be extended to that particular part of the river. The House would see at once the great difference between the present case and that of the Bill to which the right hon. Member for North Devon had attached his name. He had seen it stated in the papers, he thought in the speech made by the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Board of Trade, in receiving a deputation on this subject, that the reason why the Board of Trade had placed the names of their Representatives upon the back of the Bill was that the Thames Conservancy had no direct representation in that House. That was merely throwing dust in the eyes of people. Did the hon. Gentleman maintain that there was direct representation in that 115 House for the 100th part of the persons or public bodies who presented Petitions for Private Bills in that House? The Bills wore taken charge of, as a rule, by Members who were interested in the locality. If, however, there had ever been a body which had representation in that House, it was the Thames Conservancy. They were, until a few days ago, represented by two Members in that House—two Members of the Thames Conservancy—one of them being the Lord Mayor and the other a Gentleman whose loss, he was sure, every Member of that House, to what ever Party he belonged, must, not only for the sake of the House, but for the sake of the public generally, greatly deplore—he meant the loss of his lamented Friend Sir Charles Reed. The House would thus feel that there was not the slightest pretence for saying that there was no one to take charge of tile Bill, and that, therefore, the Board of Trade had kindly taken charge of it. He had no doubt that if the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Board of Trade took charge of every Bill which had no father for it, he would soon be overwhelmed with children of that sort. But the real fact was that it was not a Conservancy Bill at all; it was a Board of Trade Bill; it was conceived and created in the Board of Trade; it was the outcome of a Board of Trade inquiry, and it had nothing whatever to do with the Thames Conservancy. He would like to put a question to the Secretary to the Board of Trade. He hoped the hon. Member was listening, because he expected him to answer the question. He would ask the hon. Gentleman distinctly, whether it was or was not a fact that the Bill was originally intended by the Board of Trade to be a Public Bill in the ordinary way; and was it or was it not a suggestion on the part of the Board of Trade to the Thames Conservancy that they should petition to have it passed through the House of Commons as a Private Bill? He asked this because there was rumour that it was originally intended to introduce the Bill as a Public Bill, and that it was at the suggestion of the Board of Trade that the Thames Conservancy Board came forward to father the Bill. He was afraid that he had trespassed on the attention of the House at considerable length; but he hoped not at undue length, con- 116 sidering the great importance of the issue. He desired to impress upon the House again that he was not asking them to pass any opinion upon the merits of the Bill. It might be a good Bill or it might be a bad Bill; with that he had nothing to do, but he had to ask hon. Members on both sides of the House to consider whether it was right and proper that the Government, presuming on the large majority behind them, should so tamper with the Rules and Regulations for the transaction of Business in that House, as to attempt, by means of a Private Bill, to pass through a measure dealing with questions of great national importance, and of general legislation, in the way they were attempting to do by the present measure. He repeated, that if the House assented to the Amendment he intended to move, it would be simply assenting to a Resolution which declared that the Bill ought to be a Public Bill and not a private one; and if that Resolution were agreed to there was nothing to hinder the Government from bringing forward the Bill to-morrow in the ordinary course by means of a public measure, and passing it into law in the course of the ensuing Session. He begged to move the Resolution which appeared in his name.
To leave out from the word. "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "the character and objects of this Bill are such as to constitute it a measure of public policy, which ought not to be dealt with by any-Private Bill,"—(Mr. Ritchie,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ SIR SYDNEY WATERLOW
said, the question now before the House was one upon which he did not desire to say much after the very long and able speech which had been made by the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets in submitting the Resolution. He should not refer to the clauses of the Bill any further than might be necessary for the purpose of indicating that he thought the Bill ought to be a Public Bill and not a private one. But upon one point he wished to be distinctly understood. He was not objecting to the measure because he objected to the principle of the Bill as described in the Preamble. 117 He felt as strongly as the right hon. Gentleman who had charge of the Bill that the question of compulsory pilotage ought to be dealt with at once, for it had been a disgrace for years past to everyone concerned—a disgrace to the Board of Trade, a disgrace to the Trinity Board, and a disgrace to many rich owners of large vessels who, for years, had been sheltering themselves by registering their vessels in the Port of Glasgow or elsewhere, although they belonged to the Port of London. They did this in order to screen themselves from the costs and charges of damage incurred when they ran into craft on the river, because they were enabled to plead that their vessels were in charge of a compulsory pilot. He desired, as a matter of principle, to protest against the Bill which had been introduced by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade being dealt with as a Private Bill. It had not been his lot to have any very large experience of the Rules and Orders which controlled and directed Private Bills in that House; but from what little he did know, and from what he had heard from the greatest authority in the matter—namely, the Chairman of Committees, he considered that there might be much mischief in introducing a Bill of this kind in this way, as it was placing a measure of such great importance, endorsed and brought in by two Members of the Ministry, in the hands of private promoters and of Parliamentary agents. He was told that practically a Private Bill was in charge of a Parliamentary agent, who acted for the promoters, and that it was a rule never to refuse to allow a Private Bill to be withdrawn if the promoters felt their interests were being affected by any Amendments to the Bill. He should, perhaps, be told that though this was practically right, technically it was wrong, and that a Private Bill could not be removed from the House except with the consent of the House. But he had made inquiries upon that point, and he found that there was not a single precedent for refusing consent to the Parliamentary agent to withdraw the Bill if anything happened to be suggested which was prejudicial to the interests of the promoters. If the present Bill went to a second reading, and a Committee were appointed, it would be impossible to prevent the Committee 118 from considering the constitution of the Conservancy Board. They had upon the Paper now a Notice of Motion affecting the Thames Conservancy; but supposing an Amendment were introduced to alter the constitution of the Board, the Members of the Conservancy Board would feel that they might lose their position if they kept the Bill before the House, and they would, therefore, withdraw it. Now, he thought the House must see that large and important interests of a public character were contained in the Bill; and he ventured to say that the measure was not a Conservancy Bill at all; but it was, to all intents and purposes, a Pilotage Bill. The Preamble said that it was desirable to abolish compulsory pilotage. Now, this question of compulsory pilotage had been a scandal for a great many years. He would only go back as far as 1870, when a Pilotage Bill was brought in; and it was felt to be a subject that ought not to be dealt with by a Private Bill. It was said that it only proposed to deal with pilotage. Nevertheless, it was made a Public Bill, and it was referred to a large Committee. That Committee sat for several months in 1870 and made a Report, and the materials in that Report were most important, and ought to be considered in discussing the Bill now before the House. In 1871, another Pilotage Bill was brought in—a Public Bill—based upon the Report of the Committee of 1870, and he desired especially to call attention to the two principles of that Bill. Clause 1 proposed to abolish compulsory pilotage just as the present Bill did, with a little difference in form. Clause 2 gave compensation for diminution of earnings to the persons injured by the abolition of compulsory pilotage. He wished Members of the House to bear in mind the second part of the Bill. Well, the next thing they had was a Report from a Committee appointed by the Board of Trade for the purpose of making a Departmental inquiry. That Committee sat in 1879, and the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade stated to some members of a deputation who waited upon him a short time ago in reference to the questions contained in this Bill that the present measure was based upon the recommendations of that Report. What was the last recommendation of that Report—the Report 119 of a Committee appointed by the Department? These were the words—Lastly, as regards any question of vested interests or compensation, your Committee believe that they must be dealt with by the Executive Government in carrying out what is proposed in the Report.What did the Government do? They brought in a Bill as a Private Bill without a single clause with regard to vested interests and compensation, and by making it a Private Bill they precluded the possibility of introducing any clause making a charge upon the Consolidated Fund for the purpose of compensating anyone who might be entitled to it. He was not there to say that this class of persons or that class of persons ought to be compensated. He had simply read the recommendations of the Committee, and they said that the question ought to be considered. He appealed to the right hon. Gentleman and to hon. Members on both sides of the House whether it was fair to bring in a Bill to preclude the possibility of anyone getting compensation. If they were not going to give compensation, at any rate, let them allow discussion upon it. If any man possessed rights, he should have an opportunity of stating his case in order to see whether his claim was one that Parliament ought to consent to, and they ought not to shut him out by refusing to allow his claim to be discussed at all. Then there was another strong objection to this Bill being a Private Bill. The promoters of the Bill were not satisfied with simply dealing with matters affecting the Conservancy of the River Thames. They desired, in Clauses 29 and 30, to interfere with one of the most important manufactures on the banks of the Thames. They were seeking to obtain powers which would enable them to determine whether or not furnaces used by cement manufacturers were properly constructed or not. It might be very proper that there should be an inquiry; but he wanted to point out that there was a Public Bill for discussion on Thursday which proposed to raise that question, and which proposed to give by a Public Bill powers to Inspectors to determine whether it was or was not carried on in a proper way. He asked the House to say that such legislation ought to be proposed in a Public Bill, and not in a Private Bill. He thought that it was unfair in a Pri- 120 vate Bill to seek to create a new smoke authority giving powers beyond the powers granted by Parliament in legislation upon this subject. He thought it was unfair in a Private Bill to seek to extend the limits of the Smoke Nuisances Act, which, he believed, was a public measure; and when that Act was passed there was a sort of compromise made that the Act should extend to certain limited manufactures, and not to all manufactures, and within those limits alone they would subject themselves to penalties. Now, he ventured to say that many millions had been spent on the banks of the Thames in cement, and if this trade was to be dealt with, let it be dealt with by a public measure. His hon. Friend the Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ritchie) had touched upon almost everything that it was necessary to mention. Therefore, he would simply ask the Heuse not to assent to the proposal; he did not ask the House to reject it. The Bill ought to be considered; it was of great public importance, and he trusted that the Government would consent to bring it in as a Public Bill, and that they would all have an opportunity of discussing it, and that every hon. Member might have an opportunity of expressing the feelings and views of those of his constituents who were affected by it.
§ MR. EVELYN ASHLEY
said, it must be a great satisfaction to his hon. Friend, after having so long a time been straining on the leash, to have at last a spring at the Board of Trade by bringing forward his Motion against this abominable Bill. But he must say that the eloquence which the hon. Member had shown might have been employed in a better cause, because he (Mr. Evelyn Ashley) hoped, before he sat down, to be able to convince the House that the provisions of the measure were such as ought to be brought forward in a Private Bill. He would begin first of all by answering what had been said as to the Government withdrawing this Bill, and not bringing it in again as a Public Bill. He believed that it was impossible to do so. He was informed by authorities in whom they had confidence that the Standing Orders could not be complied with, that the Notices given were exhausted, and that, therefore, the Bill could not go on, but would disappear altogether, as it would be unable to pass in the present 121 Session at all. That, he believed, from what he was informed, was a correct view, and he was speaking on the authority of one conversant with these matters. But he would like to make one remark. The hon. Gentleman opposite spoke about "squaring" Members. He had no objection to the use of these words; but it struck him that there had been a great deal more "squaring" and Lobbying by the opponents of the Bill than by the promoters. He gathered that what the hon. Gentleman referred to was simply this—There were certain Members interested in the upper navigation who came to the promoters of the Bill and said that they did not disapprove of the Bill as a whole, but that they objected to certain clauses which would give undue power to the Conservancy Board in the matter of entering on lands. Well, the matter had been inquired into, and the answer given was that they would communicate with the Conservancy. Ultimately, they did inform the Conservancy that the powers asked for on their behalf were much too great and too vast, and they undertook that when the Bill came into Committee the clause should be qualified so as only to give the Conservancy the ordinary powers of a sanitary authority.
§ MR. RITCHIE
remarked, that it was made a condition of the undertaking being given that the Members referred to withdrew their opposition.
§ MR. EVELYN ASHLEY
said, that was so. The hon. Gentleman opposite put him in a very difficult position. He would tell the House why. The hon. Member began by stating that he had nothing to say against the merits of the Bill, and that, as far as he knew, he believed the merits were all right. Further, the hon. Member was ready to admit that technically it might be a Private Bill. The question, therefore, reduced itself to this—that although the Parliamentary technicalities sanctioned this as a Private Bill, and although the merits of the Bill ought to be supported, still the hon. Gentleman opposite preferred that it should not be brought in as a Private Bill. He would like to consult the preferences of the hon. Member; but, nevertheless, if it were brought in as a Public Bill, he did not think the hon. Member would be satisfied.
§ MR. RITCHIE
said, the hon. Member would remember that he had said if the Government introduced the Bill as a Public Bill he would undertake not to put down a Notice of opposition.
§ MR. EVELYN ASHLEY
said, that was because it happened to be introduced as a Private Bill; but he would show the House that the measure was compatible with the law of Parliament in connection with Private Bills. First of all, Sir Erskine May told them that every Bill for the particular interest or benefit of any person, or persons, was treated as a Private Bill, whether it was for the interest of the individual, a public company, a county, or other locality. He supposed the hon. Member would not deny that this was a locality. The Thames was, no doubt, often called by our minor poets an imperial stream; but, like any other stream, it had its "metes and bounds; "and the measure was for the benefit of those interested in the navigation of this special river. A Private Bill dealt with an exception to the general law, as in this case, all which, therefore, would be covered by the definition given by Sir Erskine May. The hon. Member seemed to think that the test of a Private Bill was whether the matters dealt with by it were of great importance. Now, what could be more important than the constitution of the City of London Police Court? Yet that was established by a Private Bill. Wherever there was a Corporation, or Commissioners, or a body, having jurisdiction over an entire area, they could come forward as petitioners for a Private Bill. The Standing Orders enabled them to present a Petition to that House, and upon that Petition leave was granted them to bring forward a Private Bill, and it was not necessary for them to proceed by Motion, as it would be in the case of a Public Bill. That was the answer he had to make to the long list of cases which the hon. Member quoted, in which the measures referred to were not brought in as Private Bills. The hon. Member had laid great stress on the fact that the Metropolitan Water and Gas Bills had been introduced as Public Bills. The real fact of the matter was that in those cases there was no person or body who represented the area concerned. Almost all the Bills introduced in connection with the Corporation of London had been Private Bills, because 123 the Corporation covered the whole area; and in the same way the Thames Conservancy Bills, with two exceptions, had been brought in as Private Bills, because the Thames Conservators had jurisdiction over the whole area. The two exceptions were Bills introduced in 1864 and 1867. The reason why they were not brought in as Private Bills was because they were brought in, in a certain sense, adversely to the Thames Conservancy Board. Their object, in point of fact, was to reform the Thames Conservancy, and they were opposed to the views of the Thames Conservators in certain respects. Therefore, the Thames Conservators did not appear as petitioners, and those Bills were brought in on Motion and not on Petition. But the Thames Conservancy Acts of 1867, 1870, and 1878, were passed as Private Bills, and were brought in on the petition of the Conservators as Private Bills. The London Corporation Bill, which dealt with the important matter of the municipal franchise of the City of London, and with the relief of the inhabitants from taxation, was also brought in as a Private Bill. Objection was taken to the introduction of that Bill as a private measure; but Mr. Speaker said—It cannot be questioned that the Bill is, according to Standing Orders, a Private Bill, inasmuch as it is brought forward on the petition of a corporate body.He had already said that the Thames Conservancy Acts, every one of them, with the exception of the two he had mentioned, were brought in and introduced as Private Bills on Petition, and not as Public Bills upon Motion. The hon. Member said—"Oh! but this is a thoroughly wrong principle. You are introducing a Bill as a private measure which modifies existing Acts of Parliament;" but the hon. Member anticipated him by quoting from Sir Erskine May's work on Parliamentary practice which argued against the view he took. But the hon. Member proceeded to disparage this statement—in fact, he only relied on Sir Erskine May when Sir Erskine's view was favourable to him. The hon. Member came down to the House with a text-book, and he ought to say whether it was a good authority or whether it was not. In the early part of his speech he quoted Sir Erskine May as an authority; but when he found 124 that Sir Erskine May went against him on the question that a Private Act never modified a Public Act, then he said that he disagreed with Sir Erskine May. Now, he (Mr. Evelyn Ashley) ventured to say that Sir Erskine May laid down what was quite right when he said that a Private Act might modify a Public Act, because it was done almost every day in the year—for instance, in Improvement Acts, which modified the General Sanitary Acts. He wished, however, to call the attention of the House to those points urged by the hon. Member as constituting points of so much importance that the measure ought not to be dealt with as a Private Bill, and to show that there was no real modification of Public Acts. First of all, the hon. Member took the question of compulsory pilotage. Now, that question of compulsory pilotage was in no way the creation or the creature of Public Acts. If hon. Members would look at the Report of the Committee of 1870 on Pilotage, they would see what the Committee said at the beginning of that Report. They said—In fact, the existence or non-existence of the obligation, and the nature and extent of the exemptions from it, differ in such an arbitrary and capricious manner as to show that they must have arisen fron local and special legislation without reference to general principles of any kind.Hon. Members would find that the custom of compulsory pilotage varied in almost every port of the Kingdom, and that it was not the creation of public enactments, but almost always the result of custom or a Private Bill. The hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets seemed to suppose that compulsory pilotage was the rule of every English port; but one-half of the ports of England had no compulsory pilotage at all, and, indeed, in this very Port of London there were many ships which went up every day, and which were exempt from compulsory pilotage. He believed, in point of fact, that two-thirds were already exempted by law from compulsory pilotage. What could be stronger than the fact, which the hon. Member slurred over, that the Merchant Shipping Act of 1854, in the three following sections, provided:—Sec. 332. Every pilotage authority shall have power, by bye-law made with the consent of Her Majesty in Council, to exempt the masters of any ships, or of any class of ships; 125 from being compelled to employ qualified pilots, and to annex any terms or conditions to such exemptions, and to revise and extend any exemptions now existing by virtue of this Act or any other Act of Parliament, Law, or Charter, or by usage, upon such terms and conditions, and in such manner, as may appear desirable to such authority.Sec. 353. Subject to any alteration to be made by any pilotage authority in pursuance of the powers hereinbefore in that behalf given, the employment of pilots shall continue to be compulsory in all districts in which the same was (by law) compulsory immediately before the time when this Act comes into operation.Sec. 376. Subject to any alteration to be made by the Trinity House (and to the) the pilotage districts of the Trinity House within which the employment of pilots if compulsory in the London District, &c., &c.So that the Trinity House might actually do that on their own motion, which was now proposed to be attempted by a Private Act. The hon. Member quoted the Act of 1862, which empowered the abolition of compulsory pilotage by a Provisional Order; but he said that the Provisional Order must be ratified by a Public General Act. But how ran the law upon the question? The Merchant Shipping Act, 1862, Section 39, provided—Whereas it is enacted by the principal Act that every pilotage authority shall have power to exempt the masters of any ships, or of any classes of ships, from being compelled to employ qualified pilots, &c., &c. Be it enacted that it shall be lawful for the Board of Trade by Provisional Order to4. Exempt the masters and owners of all ships, or of any classes of ships, from being obliged to employ pilots in any pilotage district, or in any part of any pilotage district.Did the hon. Member know that every Provisional Order, however insignificant its subject-matter, whatever the subject it dealt with, had to be ratified by a corresponding General Act at the end of the Session; therefore, what the hon. Member stated only amounted to this—that any Pilotage Provisional Order must be dealt with in the usual way; but it was rather strong to say in regard to a subject which, as he (Mr. Evelyn Ashley) had shown, might be dealt with by the Board of Trade by a Provisional Order, and by the pilotage authorities, without coming to Parliament at all, that it was of so sacred a character that it could not be dealt with by a Private Act. The hon. Member next referred to the case of the Waterman's Company; but the case of the Waterman's Com- 126 pany must fail absolutely. Was the hon. Member aware that the Water-man's Company, at the present moment, was the creature and creation of a Private Act? [Mr. Alderman LAWRENCE: No, no!] Well, the powers granted to it, and which it now enjoyed, were conferred upon it by the Waterman's and Lighterman's Act of 1859, which was passed as a Private Act, and repealed from Acts, and if they could not deal with a body and corporation which were the creation of a Private Act by another Private Act he did not see how they could bring in any Private Act at all. The third point the hon. Member referred to was the Tonnage Act, the Act of William IV., which he said was repealed and modified by this Act. Again, he called the hon. Member's attention to the fact that the Tonnage Act, 4 & 5 Will. IV., c. 32, which this Bill modified merely by reducing the minimum of tonnage liable to pay those dues, was virtually a local Act, because it was an Act which empowered the King to levy dues upon ships for the benefit of the Corporation of London. The whole of these dues went to the Corporation of London, who were then the harbour authorities. Was the hon. Member aware that the powers of that Act, and the dues leviable under it, were all transferred to the Thames Conservancy Board by a Private Act of Parliament? It was a fact that one of the Thames Conservancy Acts transferred all these questions; and why, then, did the hon. Gentleman object now, in 1881, to the identical thing which was done by a Private Act in 1867? The other point alluded to by the hon. Gentleman was that the Bill constituted the Thames Conservancy a smoke nuisance authority; and he (Mr. Evelyn Ashley) could only say that there was a very strong recommendation on the part of the Committee that something should be done by Parliament in this respect. It was alleged that the navigation of the river was seriously impeded and damaged by the smoke which at present arose from the cement works, and it was suggested that something should be done to check the nuisance. Clauses had been introduced into the Bill to deal with the matter; but it was proposed to deal with it in a guarded manner. If it was found that the navigation was impeded by the smoke coming across the river, then 127 the Thames Conservancy would be empowered to go to the owners of the cement works and call upon them to abate the nuisance. He ventured to think that this was a matter which a Committee upstairs would be quite able to deal with, and if the Bill was a little too sweeping in its character it might be modified. These particular provisions were certainly in no way inconsistent with the provisions usually inserted in Private Bills. The hon. Member said that the measure should be a public measure, because it subjected ships to tolls they were never before subjected to.
§ MR. RITCHIE
What I alluded to was the power this Bill gives to the Thames Conservancy to extend the power of levying tolls upon ships of 45 tons to ships of 20 tons.
§ MR. EVELYN ASHLEY
said, he had already dealt with that question, and he had shown that it had already been dealt with by a Private Bill. As to the grave charge which the hon. Member brought against the Board of Trade of having put their names upon the back of the Bill, the hon. Member talked as if it were one of the greatest outrages ever known. Now, he (Mr. Evelyn Ashley) said, in the first place, that if they were sinning at all they were sinning in good company. As the hon. Gentleman had already pointed out, the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir Stafford Northcote) had placed his name on the back of a Private Conservancy Bill when he was President of the Board of Trade, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Westminster (Mr. W. H. Smith) had also placed his upon the back of a Private Railway (Plymouth and Totnes) Bill when he was First Lord of the Admiralty—a railway in a district with which he was not in any way connected as a Member of Parliament. Now, he (Mr. Evelyn Ashley) did think it would be an objectionable thing for a Minister of the Crown to put his name upon the back of a Bill that was brought in by private persons for their own private emolument; but he saw nothing wrong in placing their names on the back of a Bill promoted, as this was, by a Corporation charged with serious duties, who wished to obtain powers to enable them the better to carry out those duties. There had been no secret about it. The Thames Conservancy brought in this Bill on petition at their own expense; 128 and he and his right hon. Friend put their names on the back because they thought the object of the measure was good and they wished to give it their assistance. No doubt they could easily enough have obtained the names of other hon. Members to have followed theirs. It was perfectly certain that if they had imagined that that would have pleased the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets they could have done so without the slightest difficulty; but they had no object in throwing dust in the eyes of the public. They had come forward as the guardians of the public for the purpose of keeping control of the Bill and pressing the matter upon the House of Commons, and they had made no secret of their intention. It seemed to him that it dealt with nothing unusual, and that there was nothing unprecedented in the course they had taken; and he confessed that he himself could not see upon what grounds the Motion of his hon. Friend was brought forward. Then, as to the question of compensation which had been alluded to by various speakers, he hoped if the Bill went before a Committee of that House that the Committee would require strong evidence in order to satisfy themselves that compensation should be granted to the pilots, and for this reason—that, so far as he was aware, all the evidence went to show that there would be just as much work for the pilots when pilotage was not compulsory as there was now. Let it be distinctly understood, because there was great misapprehension about it, that the Bill did not interfere in any way with the private or peculiar privileges of the licensed pilots. It left them as they were, subject to the control and licence of the Trinity House. All they said was that no ships should be required to take pilots compulsorily above Gravesend; and even then, as he had already said, the whole evidence went to show that there would be as many pilots employed as before. It only stood to reason that captains coming from a sea voyage, and knowing the crowded and confined state of traffic on the river, and the difficulties of the navigation, must always require the assistance of a pilot; but if it was considered desirable that the pilots should receive compensation there would be no difficulty on that point. So far as the question of pilotage was 129 concerned, they might even strike out the pilotage clause altogether without interfering with the rest of the Bill; but if they thought it was desirable that the pilots should have compensation, they would only have to come down to this House and get a Resolution passed that compensation should be given, and he had no doubt that proper steps would be taken to obtain compensation for them. There would be no difficulty in the matter at all, and if the pilots proved that they were entitled to compensation they would get it; but he believed there was no ground for compensation in the case at all. There were one or two other points upon which it was necessary that he should touch, because the hon. Member had certainly managed to put a great many points into his speech. The hon. Member said that there was this disadvantage in a Private Bill, as compared with a Public one, that Public Bills were distributed to Members, whilst Private Bills were not. Now, he would remind the hon. Member that Private Bills were always to be got. It was merely a question of walking, when they came down to the House, as far as the Private Bill Office. There was this additional fact, that Private Bills could be obtained before Parliament met, whereas a Public Bill was not usually printed and circulated until the day before the second reading. The hon. Member had said he did not dispute the merits of the Bill; but he thought, as he had charge of the Bill, that he ought to say two or three words in regard to its merits. Now, the evils of compulsory pilotage were three-fold, and necessitated a great amount of confusion in the pilotage service. Of the number of vessels which went from Gravesend to London Bridge, one-half had to take compulsory pilots, whilst the other half had not. In point of fact, there were three kinds of pilots to serve the ships. They charged different rates, and received different payments for the same service. Compulsory pilotage was regarded as a serious tax upon the shipowner, and the evidence went to show that if they did away with the charge for compulsory pilotage, all they would do would be to throw the pilots into one class, by which means they would ensure better discipline, uniformity of charge, prevent a great (teal of confusion which existed in 130 the navigation of the river, and generally have the pilotage service better rendered. At present there was this difficulty in regard to compulsory pilotage. The employment of a pilot under compulsion gave the shipowner immunity in case of a running down. Cases of this sort occurred—two ships came almost from the same place, the one obliged to carry a pilot and the other not obliged; the ship obliged to carry a pilot was free from all liability, while the other was liable to pay for damage. As to the Waterman's Company, there was also a very strong case, and one that called for an immediate remedy. He was unwilling to detain the House, because he was afraid that he had already been a great deal longer than he ought to have been; but he wanted to point out to hon. Members that the principal provisions of the Bill were founded upon the Report of the Thames Traffic Committee. That Committee was appointed by the noble Viscount (Viscount Sandon) who was then at the head of the Board of Trade, and in consequence of a collision upon the river, in which a large number of lives were lost. The Committee of Inquiry into the collision of the Princess Alice, stated in their Report that the accident was largely owing to the control of the navigation being under the Water-man's Act. The Waterman's Company had originally certain duties to perform, in consequence of which they were liable to be impressed for service in the Royal Navy, and, in spite of that liability having been removed, their privileges had still been continued. There was, again, a claim on the part of the Waterman's Company to a concurrent jurisdiction with the Metropolitan Board as to the police of the river. Another evil of the monopoly was that, under some circumstances, steam-boats were compelled to change their crews and engage men belonging to the Water-man's Company. For instance, a steamboat might, during the summer, be running daily between Ramsgate or Sheerness and London Bridge; and in the event of the proprietors choosing to put the vessel on from Gravesend to London Bridge during the winter months, they would be obliged to dismiss the whole of their crew and re-engage another belonging to the Waterman's Company. 131 Hon. Members would see from the evidence that barge-owners, wharf-owners, pilots, dock-masters, officials of the Customs and Board of Trade, and Thames police, all united in condemning in the strongest manner the longer existence of the privileges of the Waterman's Company, and that the only persons who were in favour of their continuance were the watermen themselves. There was no question of disestablishing the Waterman's Company as a Guild; all that it was proposed to do was to take away their special privileges, leaving them in the enjoyment of their property. In conclusion, he would only say there never was any intention of sending the Bill to an ordinary Private Bill Committee; on the contrary, it had been the intention from the first that it should be examined by a Select Committee. He trusted the House would not be led away by an abstract discussion upon the right method of introducing this subject, and thereby delay the passage of a measure containing provisions of the greatest importance, which would, in his opinion, tend very much to improve the navigation of the River Thames.
§ BARON HENRY DE WORMS
I would ask Mr. Speaker, whether it is in Order for two Ministers of the Crown to bring in a Private Bill on business of their own Department with only their own names upon it?
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member asks me whether it is out of Order for two Official Members to place their names on the back of a Private Bill. Two cases have already been cited by the hon. Member the Under Secretary to the Board of Trade in which Official names have appeared on Private Bills. I cannot say I think the practice a convenient practice; but, as there are precedents for it, I am not prepared to say it is out of Order.
§ MR. RITCHIE
Mr. Speaker, may I ask your attention to the particular point as to whether there is any precedent for a Private Bill appearing in this House with only the two names of Official Members upon it?
§ BARON HENRY DE WORMS
said, he did not propose to go into the merits or the demerits of this measure. He proposed rather to endeavour to answer 132 a few of the observations which had fallen from the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down. He thought the Under Secretary to the Board of Trade had succeeded in proving the case of those who, like himself (Baron Henry De Worms), believed that this Bill ought to be a Public and not a Private Bill. He had been gratified to hear, at the commencement of the speech of the hon. Gentleman, an admission that the Bill had been brought in by the Board of Trade, although he could not help feeling that much time would have been saved to the House had that admission been made at an earlier period. [Mr. EVELYN ASHLEY: I did not make that admission.] He begged pardon of the hon. Gentleman; but he had understood him to say that it was a Board of Trade Bill. He had taken down his words. However, as the hon. Gentleman now said the Bill was not brought in by the Board of Trade, he could only accept the explanation he gave, although it was difficult to reconcile that statement with the fact that the only names on the Bill were those of the two heads of the Department. But the question was not only one of law or of right; it was not a question simply whether, legally or technically, the Bill should be a Public or a Private Bill. He ventured to think it was also a question of expediency that was involved. Although they had heard many reasons why, in the opinion of the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary to the Board of Trade, it should be a Private Bill, they had heard from him no argument whatever to show why it should not have been a Public Bill. There was, however, one special reason which, in his (Baron Henry De Worms') opinion, indicated why it should be a Public Bill, and that point had been alluded to by the hon. Member for Gravesend (Sir Sidney Waterlow)—namely, compensation to the watermen. That question might, of course, appear a very insignificant one to hon. Members opposite; but he ventured to think that those Gentlemen who above all others were, as a rule, so fond of arrogating to themselves the protection of the working classes, should, as a matter of fact, consider that, in introducing this measure in a private form, they were virtually depriving many thousands of honest workmen of employment, and 133 also of the compensation to which they would have been entitled, had the measure been brought in as a Public Bill. Another argument of great strength against the Bill being made private was to be found in the fact that the expenditure of public time would not have been greater had the measure been introduced, as it ought to have been, as a Public Bill. A small amount of time was allotted by the Rules of the House to Private Business, and this was generally found to be amply sufficient for the purpose; but it was clear that the present debate would be prolonged, and would thereby show the inconvenience of the system adopted in the present instance by the hon. Gentlemen in charge of the Bill. With regard to the reasons which had prompted them in bringing in this Bill as a private and not as a public measure, he ventured to think that one of them might be found, if rumour was to be credited, in the fact which was whispered in the Lobby and elsewhere, that it was anticipated the Bill as a public measure might meet with a certain amount of opposition from Gentlemen who sat below the Gangway. If that were the reason—and he had good grounds for thinking it was—it would form a somewhat dangerous precedent, because if, whenever opposition was apprehended, it was to be in the power of the Government of the day to introduce what was really a public measure under the guise of a Private Bill, it was very difficult to know where the application of this principle would stop. With regard to the Bill itself, it had been said by hon. Gentlemen opposite that this Bill did not involve any question of money, and that, therefore, the Thames Conservators were allowed to introduce it as a private measure, the officials of the Department of the Board of Trade placing their names on the back of it. But had it not occurred to hon. Gentlemen opposite that this Bill, which dealt with the interests of thousands of persons and with millions of money, was hardly a measure which should be confided to the hands of a public body, however respectable that body might be? He was reading the other day a description by an old writer of public bodies quite as respectable as the Thames Conservancy, and had been struck with the reference to the freedom from personal responsibility 134 enjoyed by individual members of corporate bodies. The lines ran thus—Corporate bodies they, each member freeFrom personal responsibility.In what they say there's often many a flaw;But that's no matter—what they say is law.That definition met, in some measure, the case in point. The Thames Conservancy was to take in hand the whole of the Queen's highway—the River Thames—termed by hon. Gentlemen opposite, "a locality." Of course, it was not to be disputed that every part of the country was a locality; still, he thought in legislation they must be to some extent guided by the importance of the locality, as well as the importance of the interests immediately connected with it; and he said that the hon. Gentlemen opposite had in no way made out a case for handing over the River Thames in its entirety, and the interests of all connected with it, without compensation, to the Thames Conservators. Why the liberties, privileges, and rights affecting a vast amount of capital should be handed over to the Thames Conservators had not been shown. At the present time the whole of the management of the River Thames was vested in five bodies. He thought it would have been a more statesmanlike act on the part of the Board of Trade if, instead of creating a new body, they had endeavoured to place the whole of the river under the control of that Department. Hon. Members often heard Questions asked in that House as to the power of the Government to make such and such a Vestry do certain things, the answer invariably being that it was impossible to interfere with the Vestry, because they did not choose to be interfered with. Now that, he thought, was a strong argument against creating a new Vestry, and vesting in them all the rights and privileges connected with the River Thames and its navigation. He would conclude by recording his opinion that the Goverment would do well and wisely were they to adopt the suggestion thrown out by the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets to withdraw the Bill and re-introduce it as a public measure, in which form it might not meet with the kind of opposition now offered to it.
MR. ALDERMAN LAWRENCE
said, the House had heard from the highest authority that evening, that there was no precedent for two Ministers of the Crown 135 placing their names alone on the back of a Private Bill. That, he thought, was in itself a sufficient reason for at once rejecting the present Bill, because they ought to be very cautious of setting precedents of that kind. What was the reason for introducing the Bill in its present form? He could not congratulate the Secretary to the Board of Trade upon the defence he had made of the Bill on the present occasion. The hon. Gentleman had said the Bill was made private on the ground of convenience; but he (Mr. Alderman Lawrence) was obliged to say of the reasons he had adduced in support of the measure, that it was almost impossible for anyone to allow their validity. He objected to this Bill altogether. It was called a Conservator's Bill by the Board of Trade; but he had himself spoken with the Conservators, and they told him it was a Board of Trade Bill. Of course, he believed both statements, and looked upon the measure as a concoction, or stirring up together, of the views of the Thames Conservancy and the views of the Board of Trade. He knew the Conservators were anxious to carry their portion of the Bill, and that they were ready to submit to any terms and suggestions that might be made to them by the Board of Trade. The House was aware that the Thames Conservancy was a comparatively newly-formed body, and all newly-formed bodies were at all times anxious to extend what was called their sphere of usefulness, and promote the advantage of the public. In the present case, he must say that this was not to be done without carrying out some little interested views of their own. When the Thames Conservators were first appointed they had £1,200 paid to them, which sum was to be divided amongst themselves in the manner they might think proper. He believed they divided the money amongst themselves according to the number of attendances in the course of the year. Shortly after this a Public Bill was brought in extending their jurisdiction from Staines to Yanlet Reach; and it was then proposed to increase the £1,200 a-year which they were receiving to £1,800 a-year. Another Bill was subsequently brought in, which further extended their jurisdiction from Staines to Cricklade, and an additional £700 a-year was given to the Conservators, making altogether 136 £2,500 a-year. The present Bill would place immense responsibility on the Conservators. It empowered them to deal with the smoke nuisance along the river from Cricklade to Yanlet, and to impose a great charge upon the community along their line of jurisdiction. It also gave them the right to put out any light along the river that might interfere with the navigation, as conflicting with the lights now on the river. And, further, they were to have increased powers on the abolition of the Waterman's Company. For those increased duties they were to have another £1,000 a-year. His hon. Friend the Secretary to the Board of Trade said this was a case of urgency. Undoubtedly, it was a case of urgency with the Conservators, because if the Bill did not pass they would not get the additional £1,000 a-year. The Bill also provided that the extra £1,000 should be allotted amongst the members as they might think fit; but it appeared that nothing was to go to the Chairman, the Lord Mayor of London. He understood that this £1,000 was to be divided into moities, one of which was to go to the Deputy Chairman, and the other to the rest of the members. Thus, £3,500 a-year was to be given to the Conservators for the duties they had to perform. He had no doubt the Conservancy Board would soon suggest other duties that they might discharge with advantage to the public. No doubt, they would be quite ready to take upon themselves the duties of the Trinity House, and then there would be another sum wanted. Therefore, he agreed with the Secretary to the Board of Trade when he described the Bill as urgent. Now, with respect to the Bill being brought in as a Private Bill. It was obvious that, to use the invariable Ministerial phrase, the present state of Public Business would have made it impossible to introduce a Public Bill on the subject this Session. They had heard this from every one of Her Majesty's Ministers in connection with other matters, and they now heard it from the Secretary to the Board of Trade with reference to the present Bill. He had nothing to say against the officials of the Board of Trade, who performed their duties in an admirable manner; but he thought it was clever to suggest that this Bill should be brought forward as a Private Bill, on the petition of the Con- 137 servators; and that the Board of Trade were ready to meet them, and refer it to a large Committee upstairs, and that the Bill would easily pass as a Private Bill. But there would be no chance of passing it this Session if brought in as a public measure. He urged that if the Bill were allowed to go forward as a Private Bill, an injurious precedent would thereby be formed. The present measure was only the fringe of what the Board of Trade intended to do. The Secretary to the Board of Trade had given an idea of what was intended, in reply to a deputation that waited upon him, when he said the question of the re-constitution of the Conservancy Board, and also of the Trinity House, had been mooted by some gentlemen, and it had been pointed put that the Board of Trade might take a sort of increased control over the navigation of the river. He said—As to that, however desirable it might be that this question should be understood and considered at some future time, and although he thought it would be necessary to reform the constituency of the Thames Conservancy Board, he did not think that the Government could hold out any hope that it would be done this Session. This was a Bill promoted by the Thames Conservancy, and the Board of Trade had undertaken its conduct in Parliament, considering it as a public duty, and especially because the Conservancy Board had no direct representation in the House of Commons. The other reforms alluded to were really outside the purview of the Bill, and the Government must remit them to a more convenient opportunity.This showed that the Bill was only the fringe of what the Board of Trade intended to do. That being the case, he wished to know whether the House was prepared to go into a Bill that only dealt with a fragment of the whole question, and that, too, in the form of a Private Bill? With regard to compulsory pilotage, he should offer no opinion. He would only remark that the Bill for abolishing compulsory pilotage, referred to a Select Committee in 1870, was brought in as a Public Bill, and was endorsed by the right hon. Gentleman then President of the Board of Trade, and now Chancellor for the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. John Bright). It also bore the names of the present First Commissioner of Works (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) and that of the right hon. Member for Halifax (Mr. Stansfeld). That Bill, as ho had pointed out, was brought in as a Public Bill, and referred to a Select Com- 138 mittee, who made a Report; but the Bill was afterwards withdrawn. The compulsory pilotage, now proposed to be dealt with, affected the port of London only, and he gave no opinion upon the subject. With respect to the powers given by the Bill to the Conservancy Board for dealing with the smoke nuisance, he pointed out that they were of that astonishing character that they might be used to the detriment of the interests of all the great works along the River Thames. All those works would be subject to inspection under this Bill; the proprietors would thereby be put to the greatest inconvenience, and, perhaps, forced to close their concerns, because they might not be able to fulfil all the requirements of the Conservancy Board; while the proposed penalties were of the most serious character. The hon. Member for Gravesend (Sir Sidney Waterlow) had ably referred to the great cement works established on the river. These works already met with the greatest competition from foreign manufacturers, and this Bill was regarded by all interested therein with the utmost alarm. Under all the circumstances ho had enumerated, it became a question whether the Bill ought to be allowed to pass. He had now to say a few words with reference to the Waterman's Company. The Secretary to the Board of Trade appeared to him to have spoken upon this point with very little knowledge of the subject, when he implied that the Waterman's Company was organized for the first time in 1859. Why, the Waterman's Company was in existence and had its rules in force hundreds of years ago, and an Act of Parliament was passed in the time of Philip and Mary—in 1555—which ordered them to do as they did now. The Act provided that no barge, craft, or wherry, or any kind of floating craft, should be navigated on the River Thames, except there was one man upon that craft who had served, at least, two years in active service upon the river. That was the regulation in force at the present day. No person could be in charge of a craft who had not been previously at work upon the River Thames for two years. Then the Secretary to the Board of Trade went on to describe the Waterman's Company as a monopoly. You had only to cry "mo- 139 nopoly," and everyone would run away as from the cry of "mad dog." The Waterman's Company was not a monopoly. The term could not be applied justly to 6,000 men and 2,000 apprentices. All these men were obliged to serve their apprenticeship and work for two years on the river before they could take charge of a barge. Nobody called the body of chemists or surgeons a monopoly because they had to undergo examination. The navigation of the Thames had been carried on for centuries by men who were certified as being competent to perform their duties in this respect. It was all very well to say that the men were not such as could be wished. But he maintianed that if hon. Members looked at the amount of work done, and the millions of money represented by property and ships upon the River Thames, they would see that the number of accidents was very small, and that the work was generally very well done. The Secretary to the Board of Trade stated that this portion of the Bill had been founded on the Report of the Traffic Committee, which had before them the circumstances in connection with the loss of the Princess Alice. It was stated that all the men who navigated this vessel were members of the Waterman's Company. But there was nothing in that, because every craft must be navigated by men of the Waterman's Company. He would, with the permission of the House, read a list of the ships that came up the Thames annually. In the year 1878 it appeared there were sailing vessels from foreign ports, 5,818, with the tonnage of 2,250,000 tons; sailing vessels coastwise, 30,580, tonnage 1,547,000 tons; steam vessels from foreign ports, 3,585, tonnage, 3,100,000 tons; and steam vessels coastwise, 7,497, with the tonnage of 2,103,000 tons. In all, 47,480 vessels, with the tonnage of about 9,000,000 tons. In addition to these, there were the whole of the river steamboats, barges, and other craft, which were not recognized by the Custom House. He had before him also a Report of the accidents on the River Thames, which it was most important for the House and the public to consider. The Traffic Committee said—The casualties on the Thames are, as might be expected, numerous; but it must not be supposed from the terrible calamity in which the present inquiry originated that the loss of life, 140 or even of property, caused by these casualties is large in proportion to their number. From the last Wreck Register it appears that between June, 1877, and June, 1878, there were on the Thames above Gravesend 419 casualties reported to the Board of Trade, of which 373 were collisions. In all these cases, however, only six lives were lost.Let hon. Members contrast with that state of things the loss of life in the streets of London. The traffic in them was far more dangerous to the public than the traffic on the River Thames, which was carried on by the Watermen's Company, and which had been misdescribed by the Secretary to the Board of Trade as a monopoly. Again, according to the Report, during the three years, 1875, 1876, 1877, there were 36 vessels and 95 barges sunk between London Bridge and Yanlet Reach, the number of lives lost being only 15. Again, let hon. Members contrast with that state of things the loss of life in the streets of London. He had had a paper bearing statistics of the street accidents in London, but he could not lay his hand on it just now. He believed, however, that in 1879—and the average of the last 10 years would be fully as many—there were 144 lives lost and 2,560 people maimed in the streets of the Metropolis. From this, hon. Members would see what a large number of accidents there were in the streets compared with the number on the river, notwithstanding the enormous amount of property on it, and the number of small and large craft, including steamers and small boats. He did not think the Secretary to the Board of Trade would, by his proposal, at all provide greater security for life on the river; and he would remind the hon. Member that the Departmental Committee, appointed at the instance of the noble Lord the Member for Liverpool (Viscount Sandon), was appointed solely to consider the question of the loss of life, the rule of the road, and for various other matters connected with rivers. The Board of Trade, in this Bill, had not introduced one of the suggestions of the Committee as to the Thames. There were one or two clauses in the Bill which he did not understand. Hon. Members who supported it said they gave to the Conservators further powers in regard to the navigation of the Thames; but he did not see what those "further powers" meant. It had been pointed out also, 141 that it was an advantage to have this Bill in the form of a private measure, because of its early deposit in the month of December; but the announcement of the title was not sufficient to give a correct idea of what the measure consisted. The Bill was called a measure for the abolition of compulsory piloting, for rendering the river free, and for the repeal of all Acts inconsistent therewith; but it was a misleading title, for no one would suppose from it that there were clauses dealing with the smoke nuisance and abolishing the Water-man's Company. It was a deluding title and a deluding Bill, and he hoped the House would not allow it to proceed any further.
§ MR. BAXTER
said, he rose not to make a speech, but to make an appeal to the Government. It was, no doubt, evident to the Board of Trade that many hon. Members who were going to vote against the Bill were strongly in favour of some of its leading provisions. But, surely, it ought to be a Public Bill. Depend upon it, there was no practice more dangerous or reprehensible, and against which the House ought most determinedly to set its face, than attempting to over-ride public legislation by means of Private Bills. Such a course was calculated to give rise to an immense amount of jobbery, and to cause great confusion, and, therefore, to bring discredit on the legislation of the country. It was because he was anxious that the main provisions of the Bill should become law in a proper and legitimate manner that he now rose to make an earnest appeal to the Government to withdraw it, and to deal with the question in a public measure.
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
I am disposed to attach great importance to the opinion of my right hon. Friend, and I think it will be a saving of the time of the House if I state at once the course I propose to take on behalf of Her Majesty's Government. I should like first to protest, on behalf of my hon. Friend (Mr. Evelyn Ashley) and myself, that we are not engaged in an insidious attempt upon the privileges and dignity of this House, and that we have not intentionally taken any step which is not in strict accordance with precedents in similar matters. It has been said by hon. Members that this measure, although brought in by the Conservators, is really a Board of 142 Trade Bill. Well, I do not want to dispute about terms. Of course, technically speaking, as I explained to the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets, it is the Bill of the Conservators of the Thames; they will have to pay the expenses of its promotion; but, no doubt, the Bill is concurred in by the Board of Trade, and it correctly represents the opinion of the Departmental Committee appointed by the noble Viscount (Viscount Sandon), my Predecessor at the Board of Trade. In that sense, I admit to the full that it is the Bill of the Board of Trade; and that, if it were to be brought in as a Public Bill, it would be brought in in its present form by the Board of Trade on behalf of the Government. Our object in bringing it in as a Private Bill was perfectly open—there need be no secret about it. It was to save the time of the House and promote the progress of Public Business. It is a matter of general agreement that the House is overworked and choked with Business; and the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, I think, said that he would be one of the greatest benefactors the House had ever known who would devise a means of saving the House some of the labour it at present has to undertake. I am afraid I cannot claim to be such a benefactor, because my first attempt in that direction appears not to have met with the general assent of the House. But the object was to save the House from unnecessary labour if we could do so in accordance with precedent, and without doing injury to any private interest. We felt it to be a necessary condition to our bringing in the Bill as a private measure, that no private interest should be in any way injured. Well, I want to know what private interest is injured by this being brought in as a private and not as a public measure? One advantage the opponents of the measure have derived from the manner in which it has been dealt with has been that it was deposited on the 21st December, and has consequently been before them since that time; whereas, if it had been brought in as a Public Bill by a Minister of the Crown, the provisions would not have been known until the measure had been introduced and laid upon the Table. As contrasted with the proceedings in connection with a Public Bill, the private interests concerned would have their complaints fully in- 143 vestigated before a Select Committee upstairs, if the measure were proceeded with as a Private Bill, and would have the advantage of being heard before that Committee by counsel. We knew that the watermen were poor persons, and would not be able to employ counsel; therefore we agreed—as we wished everything they had to say on their case to be duly considered—to move an Instruction to the Committee to hear them by counsel, or personally, if they preferred it. As far as our intention is concerned, therefore, we have shown ourselves anxious that no injury should be done to any private interest, and that all should be represented. The second point was this—we had to see that there was sufficient precedent for the course we had taken. The hon. Gentleman the Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ritchie) gives up this part of the case. He admits that we are within our rights in this matter; but if we had not been right, and if the Bill had not been technically in accordance with forms and precedents, it would have been stopped by the Examiner on Standing Orders, or by you, Mr. Speaker. But, then, it is said that, as a matter of principle outside the Standing Orders, it ought not to have been brought in as a Public Bill. There have been six Bills introduced dealing with the Thames, four of which have been private and two hybrid. The former contained provisions similar to those in this Bill; and as to the latter, they contained provisions altogether extra to those of the present measure which justified their being put in a separate category. There is one provision in this Bill which has not been put in previous Privates Bill—namely, that referring to the abolition of compulsory pilotage; but, though I cannot find an exact precedent, I find that in the case of the Mersey, the Tyne, and other rivers of the country, Private Bills have been passed dealing with the same subject in the same way—that is to say, by abolishing compulsory pilotage. Therefore, we had a right to think that we had sufficient precedent in our favour to justify us in proceeding by Private Bill, if, by so doing, we could save the time of the House and promote the course of Public Business. What has the debate of this evening taught us? It has taught us, in the first place, that there is a pretty general assent on both sides the House why he had not been able to of the House as to the necessity for some 144 such Bill. The hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets has given us a promise that if this Bill is brought forward as a public measure, he will not oppose it on the second reading—he has said that his objection is not to the merits of the Bill, but to the way in which it has been introduced.
§ MR. RITCHIE
I do not wish the right hon. Gentleman to misunderstand me on this point. What I said was, that if the Government would bring it in as a public measure, I would not put down any Notice of opposition to block it.
That is a very small promise indeed. I understood that the hon. Member did not propose to offer any objection to the Bill on its merits. ["No, no!"] I thought that there was a general feeling on both sides of the House in favour of the merits of the Bill, the only exception to that general feeling being conveyed in the speech of the hon. Gentlemen the Member for the City of London (Mr. Alderman Lawrence), who thought it his duty to defend the Waterman's Company—which, it appears, has the honour to be one of the City Guilds, though it seems to posses extravagant privileges which no other Guild, at the present time, possesses. I am not surprised at the hon. Member for the City of London defending the Waterman's Company, because he has a natural tenderness for obstruction. He is a member of the Corporation of the City of London, and we have recently had evidence of their tendency in the matter of the Griffin. They have insisted on placing an obstruction on land, and it is not surprising that the hon. Member should defend interests which place obstruction in the way of a measure dealing with water. After hearing the debate I have come to the conclusion that, considering there is a general feeling in favour of legislation on this subject, whilst there is an equally general feeling against that legislation taking the form of a Private Bill, it would, probably, facilitate rather than hinder the progress of the Bill if we were to accept the suggestion made to us and were to ask the leave of the House to withdraw the measure in order to introduce it again as a Public Bill. My hon. Friend the Secretary to the Board of Trade explained to the House why he had not been able to adopt this course at an earlier stage. He 145 stated that he had been informed by the authorities he had consulted that it would be impossible. I do not know if it was so understood; but my hon. Friend did not wish to be taken as referring to the authorities of the House, but only to experienced gentlemen outside whom he had consulted in reference to this matter. But I have since had the advantage of consulting a much greater authority—namely, Mr. Speaker—and I find that those who advised my hon. Friend were mistaken, and that it is practicable to withdraw the Bill for the purpose of reintroducing it in the form of a public measure. Under the circumstances, the chief objection we had to the course having been removed, with the permission of the House, I would withdraw the Bill.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
I think the right hon. Gentleman has come to a very wise conclusion, and one which will certainly facilitate progress, and assist the House in dealing with the question. I do not at all mean to say that it might not be worth while considering whether better methods might not be adopted for shortening the procedure and saving the time of the House in the discussion of many classes of Bills; but I do say this, that the House expects to be consulted on such matters, that any change that is to be made should be made with the full concurrence of the House, and that it is a mistake to attempt to deal with a question of this sort in a Private Bill. I hope the House will assent to the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman, and that the Bill will be withdrawn in order that the subject may be considered, as it deserves to be considered, as one of a public character. It is to be understood that no opinion has been expressed, one way or the other, on the merits of the Bill. It must not be assumed with regard to a great many of us who have objected to the manner in which the Bill has been introduced, that we assent to the principle of the measure. There is one remark I should like to make as to the closing words of the right hon. Gentleman. I must say I was surprised when the Secretary to the Board of Trade told us, in an authoritative way, that it would be impossible to take the course suggested, and change the Bill from a private to a public measure. Certainly, the inference drawn 146 by myself and others who sit near me when that statement was made was, that the hon. Gentleman had consulted yourself, Sir, and the other Authorities of the House—that it was in consequence of such consultation, that he told us that it was impossible to take the course suggested by the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets. It now appears that it was not the intention of the hon. Member to convey that meaning; but that he only wished to give us to understand that he had consulted persons familiar with the drawing and procedure of Bills outside the House, and not the high Authorities of the House itself. That explains the difference between the statements of the hon. Gentleman and the right hon. Gentleman; but I must say it is to be regretted that anyone speaking from the Treasury Bench should make such a statement as that, which, although, perhaps, not intentionally, certainly misled a good number of Members. I trust the matter will now close.
§ MR. NORWOOD
congratulated the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade on the decision he had arrived at, because he considered it objectionable that the matters contained in the Bill should be dealt with in a private measure. He (Mr. Norwood) wished to appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to eliminate from the Bill all reference to the question of pilotage, with a view of bringing in a Bill next Session dealing, not merely with the river above Gravesend, but with the seaward approaches to the Thames. He had been a Member of the Committee which, in 1870, went very fully into this question and made a Report, from which he would give an extract. The Report said—A considerable amount of evidence has been tendered to the Committee showing that the pilotage that exists on the Thames is in a very unsatisfactory state, and that it is expedient to create a distinct pilotage authority for the Port of London, representing its trade and commerce, and your Committee concur in the suggestion for such a change.At present they were in the hands of a private, self-elected body, in regard to the Thames, although every other river of importance in the country had its own special pilotage authority. He would strongly recommend the President of the Board of Trade to deal 147 with the whole question of the pilotage of the River Thames in a separate Bill.
§ MR. RITCHIE
said, that, after the very satisfactory statement of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, he would ask the leave of the House to withdraw the Motion he had placed on the Paper.
§ MR. JENKINS
regretted that the Bill was to be withdrawn, believing that if it had been referred to a Select Committee upstairs, much valuable time might have been saved. There was much to be complained of in regard to the navigation of the Thames, especially in so far as the safety of small craft was concerned. He trusted that the new Bill would be brought forward without delay.
§ SIR HENRY TYLER
had a word to say with reference to what had fallen from the hon. Member for Hull (Mr. Norwood) as to pilotage on the Thames. His constituency felt strongly on this matter, for they insured a large number of small vessels, and these craft met with a great many disasters on the Thames. The people on whose behalf he was speaking felt the matter all the more, inasmuch as when they proceeded against the owners of the vessels that did the damage, they were told that they could only recover from the pilots. From the pilots they found it impossible to recover anything. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would bring in his Bill without delay.
§ Amendment and Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Bill withdrawn.
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
I beg to give Notice that, on Thursday, I will move for leave to introduce another Bill on this subject.