HC Deb 12 June 1890 vol 345 cc681-92

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."

(3.5.) MR. CHANNING (Northampton, E.)

I beg to move that this Bill be read a second time on this day six months. It is a Bill which relates to questions of an exceptional character, and ought to be dealt with by a Select Committee instead of being a matter of arrangement between the proprietor and present tenant of the Scilly Islands and the President of the Board of Trade. It appears to me that this Pier and Harbour Provisional Order Bill has grown out of the situation which has been created in the Scilly Islands in reference to Local Government. If I am not mistaken, provision was made by an agreement between Mr. Dorrien Smith and the inhabitants of the islands for the maintenance of a pier at St. Mary's, by which it was provided that certain dues should be levied upon the export of flowers, lobsters, cray fish, and other articles. If that is correct, I think some explanation is required of the present proposal taken in connection with that agreement. I have every wish to speak with great respect for the reputation of Mr. Dorrien Smith. He has, I believe, always taken an enlightened interest in the development of the islands and the wellbeing of the inhabitants. But this Bill gives an exceptional treatment to Mr. Dorrien Smith, who occupies the position of leaseholder under the Duchy of Cornwall. The Provisional Order proposes to confer upon him much greater privileges than have been given to other landlords under similar circumstances, and I desire to know whether the Board of Trade is absolutely within its rights in making the Bill retrospective. It covers the existing works in connection with the present St. Mary's, which were executed under a quasi-agreement between Mr. Dorrien Smith and the inhabitants, and which ought to be provided for in accordance with that agreement. With regard to the schedule attached to the Bill, I wish to call attention to the fact that it undoubtedly places the inhabitants of the Scilly Islands at a disadvantage. Almost the whole of the necessaries of life have to be conveyed from the mainland, the Great Western Railway Company have the monopoly of carrying them, and if I am rightly informed, their charges are exceedingly high. That being so, I wish to draw the attention of the House to the fact that the dues proposed to be sanctioned in this Bill for shipping and unshipping at St. Mary's Pier are considerably higher than elsewhere. This proposal was coupled, in the first instance, with another harbour scheme for Criccieth in Wales. There may be circumstances which justify a difference between one place and the other, but, having already to pay heavy charges upon articles of prime necessity, brought over by the steamers of the Great Western Company, it is now proposed that when such articles are landed in the Scilly Islands, the inhabitants shall pay from 50 to 100 per cent, higher than the inhabitants of Criccieth. For instance, fruit, apples, and pears, which are to pay 3d. for 2 cwt. at Criccieth, are to pay 3d. for 1 cwt. at St. Mary's; bacon and pork, which are to pay 3d. for 2½ cwt. at Criccieth, will have to pay 2d. for 1 cwt. in the Scilly Islands; beef, which is to pay 3d. for 2½ cwt. at Criccieth, will pay 2d. per cwt. at St. Mary's, and in the same way the charges for butter, candles, haberdashery, hosiery, and groceries are all much higher. Then, again, so far as I can ascertain from this schedule, the dues upon the export of flowers and shell fish are left as addi- tional dues to be levied by Mr. Dorrien Smith, independently of the schedule, upon imports under the Provisional Order Bill. These are points upon which I think the House is entitled to have information from the President of the Board of Trade. Then, again, Mr. Dorrien Smith and his representatives, the "undertakers" as they are called in the Bill, are empowered to charge, under the 10th section of the Bill, for the use of warehouses, offices, and sheds, and have privileges and advantages which are not usually given in similar measures. I understand that in the Scilly Islands from time immemorial there has been a claim on the part of the tenant to charge dues on vessels at a distance from the pier, which derive no benefit from the pier, but are anchored outside the pier and breakwater. I understand that the right to levy these dues has been challenged in the past by various shipowners, and successfully challenged; and I should like to know whether the Bill will authorise, in any sense, these charges for anchorage? These are the various points upon which I ask for information, and, although I move formally the Motion which stands in my name, I shall be guided in the course I take by the reply I receive from the President of the Board of Trade.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months."—(Mr. Channing.)

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


If there was any desire on the part of anyone in the Scilly Islands that the Bill should be considered by a Select Committee, or if any objection was entertained to any part of the Bill, all that was necessary was to present a Petition against it, and the Bill would have been sent to a Select Committee as the hon. Member desires, and I venture to say that it would have been much more satisfactorily dealt with there than it can be in this House. But no such Petition was presented. On the contrary, the only Petition was one from St. Mary's, strongly in favour of the Bill. Therefore, I infer that the hon. Member does not represent objections which come from the inhabitants of the Scilly Islands.


The statements which I have made are made on the authority of a gentleman who resides on the mainland, and who is intimately acquainted with the wants of the inhabitants. He informs me that there was great reluctance on the part of the inhabitants to come forward in the matter owing to certain circumstances to which I do not wish to refer. [Cries of "Name."] I do not think that I am called upon to give the name of my correspondent. All I can say is, that my correspondent is vouched for by another hon. Member as a person of authority and integrity.


Then the objector to the Bill is an anonymous individual, who is not authorised to act for the inhabitants. Under those circumstances, I do not think I need waste much of the time of the House in discussing the matter. All I will say is, that the proprietor or leaseholder of the Scilly Islands, Mr. Dorrien Smith, in whose favour I was glad to hear the hon. Member say so much, has recently addressed a letter to the Press explaining the origin of this measure. He says that he was asked last year, by a public meeting of the inhabitants held at St. Mary's, to extend the pier, and he told them he was willing to do so if they would pay increased tolls. The inhabitants gladly accepted his proposal, and they have had ample time to re-consider the matter if they desired. No objection has been raised, but, on the contrary, all have spoken enthusiastically in favour of the Bill. The Bill has absolutely nothing to do with local government in the Scilly Islands. It is not an exceptional measure; but it is an ordinary Bill by which, in return for the facilities given to the traders in Scilly by the extension of the pier, the person who carries out the extension is entitled to charge dues for the use of the pier. If the Bill does not pass, the result will be that Mr. Dorrien Smith will be able to charge anything for the use of the pier that he pleases; and, so far as the tariff of charges is concerned, it is the same as that which was adopted by the fishermen themselves for a similar work at Newly n on the mainland. The power to levy dues is restricted to certain narrow limits, and there are 100 miles of coast outside the pier in respect of which no dues will be levied. I do not think it is necessary to trouble the House with any further explanation of the provisions of the Bill, and I trust that the proposal of the hon. Member will be decisively rejected.

(3.30.) MR. CONYBEARE (Cornwall, Camborne)

The right hon. Gentleman has based his reply to my hon. Friend who moved the rejection of the Bill mainly upon the ground that no desire has been expressed by the inhabitants of the Scilly Islands to oppose the measure. The right hon. Gentleman says that no opposition has been raised to the Bill in a Parliamentary sense, but that, on the contrary, there has been a Petition presented in its favour from a public meeting, held at St. Mary's, which Petition went before the Examiners of Private Bills. From these facts the right hon. Gentleman, in reply to my hon. Friend, infers—I do not say unfairly—that the only authority we have in this House for opposing the Second Reading emanates from persons not connected with the Island, who live on the mainland, and are not the legitimate or authorised spokesmen of the islanders. I think I shall be able, before I conclude, to bring forward some evidence to show that our opposition is based upon the complaints of the islanders themselves. I undertake to show why no opposition has been raised in the Islands, and I propose, further, to bring forward a fact which I challenge the right hon. Gentleman to controvert, which ought absolutely and irrevocably to put an end to the Bill. The first I heard of this Bill was after my return from the East, and, as I had had reason on a former occasion to view with grave suspicion this kind of legislation, I took the trouble to look into the Bill in order to see what its provisions were. I found that my hon. Friend had been in communication with certain gentlemen in Cornwall in regard to the measure, and he consulted me as to what ought to be done. At that time I had had no communication with any one in the West, but when I saw what the character of the Bill was, I wrote a letter to the Western Daily Mercury at Plymouth which was subsequently circulated in the Island. In consequence, I received numerous letters, one or two of which I ask the House to allow me to read. The first is from the Rev. Arthur E. Barran, the priest in charge at St. Martin's, who writes as follows:— May I ask for a copy of the Bill referring to the harbour dues of Scilly? I have hitherto been a staunch supporter of Mr. Dorrien Smith; but if things are as stated in your letter to the Western Daily Mercury, I shall feel it my duty to assist in opposing such a measure. The proposed dues have astonished me. I was, of course, aware of the duty on exported flowers, and with this I could find no fault, as the inhabitants were called together by Mr. Dorrien Smith, and agreed to pay this extra due if he would lengthen the St. Mary's Pier. In reference to the facts mentioned in this letter, I wish to say that I am speaking without the slightest feeling against Mr. Dorrien Smith. Since my connection with the county, I have always heard the name of Dr. Augustus Smith, the predecessor of Mr. Dorrien Smith, spoken of with reverence and respect; and I have no reason to believe that Mr. Dorrien Smith, the present lessee, has done anything to disentitle him to the same regard. I do not propose to give all the names of my correspondents, although I am ready to show them to the President of the Board of Trade to prove that the letters are not bogus letters. The writer of one of them says— I am thankful to you for the very great kindness you have manifested towards us as a people—inhabitants of the Scilly Islands—in sending to us circulars which give us information as to what is onward in Parliament, that will much affect our interest here, on the islands of Scilly. Had it not been for you I question whether very few would have known anything in regard to the Scilly Pier and Harbour Bill. We were very astonished to find such a measure before a Parliament of British Representatives in a free country and under the reign of Free Trade. I have read, thought, and conversed with many of our friends in regard to the matter. I had thought of calling a meeting at St. Mary's, and moving a resolution stating objections to the Bill in its present form; but I find, among persons whom I have conversed with, that fear keeps them back. They have stated to me if they meet and oppose the Bill they will be marked men and risk all their interest here, on the Island of Scilly, and be the subjects of notice to quit, and that means to leave the Islands. So they have suggested to me to write you, and ask you to be kind and send me a copy of the Bill by return if possible. Mr. Smith is very much excited over the appearance of your circular, and he has stated that the report is false. I have just seen one of Mr. Smith's notices, which I have copied every word for your information, as follows:—'Notice. A Pamphlet having been circulated on the Islands conveying a false impression as to the Pier Bill and Harbour for the Scilly Mantis now before the House of Commons, Mr. Dorrien Smith will he happy to see any of his tenantry at the Public Buildings who are desirous of meeting him, on Saturday next, May 24th, at 3.30 p.m., and will give any explanation needed.' As this letter introduces the question of fear on the part of the inhabitants, let me explain that this fear probably arises from the fact that, with all his philan-throphy, the late Dr. Augustus Smith was exceedingly autocratic, and did not hesitate to have persons who were obnoxious to him removed from the Islands. Another letter I have is from a gentleman who had been spending some days on the Island—Mr. S. Lear Head—who writes from Ivybridge South Devon. He says— I have just returned from the Scilly Island, arid during my stay I have come into contact with many of the islanders. I find the all-absorbing topic to be this Pier and Harbour Bill and your action thereon. Last week, after your extracts from the Western Daily Mercury had been circulated, Mr. Smith issued a notice somewhat to this effect—'Erroneous impression having gone abroad owing to the circulation of some extracts, &c., from the Western Daily Mercury, Mr. Smith will be happy to meet his tenantry on Saturday next, at 3 p.m., and explain the provisions of the new Bill.' This meeting was duly held, and about 30 of the tenants were present, with Mr. Smith in the chair; and as you will have seen, a vote of confidence in Mr. Smith was passed, and for why? because not one dared speak a word against their lord proprietor. From what I can gather nearly all the tenants hold their property on a yearly tenancy, and if anyone raised a dissentient voice the probability is that he would get notice to quit forthwith. And even if he did not, it would cause such a state of friction as would be simply intolerable and unbearable. On Tuesday last a further meeting was held, and, although Mr. Smith was not present, the clergyman was. There was a considerable attendance, and it was ultimately decided to send a Petition to Mr. Bolitho urging him to use his best endeavours to get the Bill passed. This Petition was there and then framed and signed by many of those present; but those who did not now hear that it is to be carried around from house to house. This is simply monstrous: everyone will feel bound to sign rather than offend Mr. Smith. As far as I can gather, in a casual way, the late proprietor, Mr. Augustus Smith, spent £10,000 on the pier in accordance with the terms of his original lease from the duchy. The present Mr. Dorrien Smith has now spent a further £4,000, and the islanders have agreed to compensate him by an additional tax on all their flowers and vegetables exported. They have not at all agreed to pay on their imports, and were not aware that any such tariff was to be imposed. And they decidedly object to having to pay on the articles named in your paper, including, amongst others, the necessaries of life. Without passing any approval or an opinion, I, as an independent person, cannot fail to see that there is a great deal of dissatisfaction among the islanders generally. The whole gist of their complaint is not so much against Mr. Smith personally, but against his being saddled with additional authority which is already practically absolute, and therefore very burdensome at any time. Such authority ought not to be in the hands of any one man. I may say that I am not at all personally interested in this matter, but as a passing visitor. I have never been there before, but I thought you ought to know how affairs stood. I am writing Mr. Bolitho much to this same effect, and if I can be of any further use, kindly communicate with me. This is from a second independent witness. A third letter comes from a gentleman in Penzance—Mr. Clement Chudleigh—who writes as follows on the 31st of May:— I have been prosecuting inquiries, hence the delay in replying to your favour of the 26th inst. You will doubtless have seen a report in the Western Morning News of a meeting held by Mr. Smith last Saturday—I send you a copy for perusal in case you did not see it. I have had a conversation with one who was present, and he tells me the tenantry cannot oppose Mr. Smith, as they are completely in his hands, and to go in opposition to him would mean his retaliating to the ruination of them by non-renewal of leases and otherwise; in other words, they have to do as he wishes if they want to live at all. Nevertheless, he says the meeting, at which there was not more than 30 present, and those by the special request of Mr. Smith's agent, was not unanimous, although the opposition had to stifle itself. The next dodge was for the Magistrates to organise a meeting in Mr. Smith's absence. At this the opposition was more pronounced. About 50 attended, and eventually, after trying several resolutions, and failing to carry them, or rather withdrawing them on account of the opposition, either 17 or 18 held up their hands in favour of signing some kind of a Petition to Mr. Bolitho, M.P., in favour of the Bill, and subsequently canvassed for signatures. My informant, although utterly opposed to the Bill, signed this Petition, being, he assured me, afraid to refrain from doing so, for, as he said, Mr. Smith will see the list of signatures, and will know who did and who did not sign it. I have other letters, in addition to those I have read, which state distinctly that although the islanders agreed to pay increased dues upon the export of flowers and potatoes, they had not the remotest idea that they would be called upon to pay dues upon the importation of the necessaries of life. What these increased dues are the hon. Member for Northamptonshire (Mr. Channing) has already stated, but the islanders contemplated nothing of the kind, and cannot be said to have had due notice. The right hon. Gentleman has referred to the Newlyn tariff, but that tariff merely affects fish, and does not apply to 200 and odd articles which form the necessaries of life. The right hon. Gentleman asks what harm the tariff will do, and says that it is only to apply to half a mile of the coast, leaving 100 miles untouched. But the right hon. Gentleman must be aware that the harbour of St. Mary's is the harbour of the Scilly Islands; it is the only place of trading, and from that harbour all the articles introduced are transhipped and forwarded to the other Islands. I, therefore, hope the right hon. Gentleman will not insist upon that argument. He has said nothing about the retrospective character of the Bill, but, as far as I understand it, it is clearly retrospective. I come now to another point. The 14th clause of the Bill says— If at any time and from time to time the clear annual income derived from the pier and works authorised by this Order in the average of the then three last preceding years, after payment of all expenses and outgoings, shall exceed interest at the rate of 10 per centum per annum on the entire sum from time to time appearing to the Board of Trade to have been expended in executing the pier and the works authorised by this Order, including in such expenditure the sum of £10,000 already expended on the existing pier and works, the Board of Trade may, if in their discretion they think tit, on application in writing from six or more of the owners of vessels or boats using the pier, and after hearing the undertakers reduce the rates leviable under this Order to such amounts as will be sufficient to provide the aforesaid interest at the rate of 10 per centum per annum. Now, I would ask any hon. Member if he can point to any single instance in the legislation of this country in which Parliament has guaranteed to any landowner 10 per cent, for his money?


It is the regular course.


If that is so, all I can say is that the sooner it becomes an irregular course the better. In many instances capitalists have to be content with an interest of 2¾ per cent. It is all very well to say that Mr. Smith is not likely to get 10 per cent.; but, if so, why not cut out the 10 per cent? Why insert a clause which will preclude any reduction of rates until Mr. Smith has been paid 10 per cent.; I hope that the House will reject, at any rate, that portion of the scheme. And now I come to the last point. If the right hon. Gentleman will look at the General Piers and Harbours Act of 1861 he will find that Sub-section 1 of Clause 9 provides that a schedule of the rates to be charged shall be published once at least in each of two consecutive weeks—in the months of October and November—in some newspaper circulated in the district in which the works are proposed to be constructed. I wish to know from the right hon. Gentleman whether this has been done? I hold in my hand a copy of the Cornish Telegraph of November last; but it only gives an analysis of the Provisional Order in a condensed form, and contains no schedule at all. I have caused inquiries to be made upon this important point, and I have received two telegrams, which I will read to the House. The first says— The local papers—Cornish Telegraph and Cornishman—the only ones circulated to any extent at Scilly—say the draft order, as in Telegraph sent you, is the only advertisement they have had. I have not seen the schedule of rates in any other paper. There can be no doubt of its not being advertised. That telegram reached me this morning from Penzance, where both of these newspapers are published. The second telegram comes from the Islands of Scilly, and I received it last night. It says, "Rates not published in local papers that we know." Unless the right hon. Gentleman is in the possession of evidence to show that the Schedule of Rates was published, I maintain that the provisions of the general Act have not been complied with.

(3.55.) MR. BOLITHO (Cornwall, St. Ives)

I fail to see that any valid reason has been adduced why the House should refuse to read this Bill a second time. When the scheme was first conceived, a considerable amount of pressure had to be put upon the lessee to induce him to undertake the responsibility of introducing the Bill, and from that time until the measure came before the House not a word of objection was urged against it. What fell from the hon. Member who moved the rejection of the Bill satisfies me that the objections now urged are of a very trivial nature. The House will, I think, admit that any private individual who takes upon himself a responsibility of this kind for the benefit of the public is fairly entitled to be recouped the amount of his expenditure with interest. The tenancy of Mr. Dorrien Smith's lease is only short, and, at the expiration of the lease, he has no assurance that a renewal will be granted. The Petition in favour of the Bill was signed by all the most responsible persons in the Islands, and I do not believe that any objections were concealed, because the individuals holding them were afraid to express their opinions.


I have no right to address the House again, but I wish to say that I have no doubt all the requirements of the law were complied with. In proof of that I need only say that it is the duty of the Examiners of Private Bills to see that the Standing Orders had been complied with.


I have caused the Papers to be searched, and cannot find that the schedule was published. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether, in the face of that evidence, a mere assurance that he has no reason to believe that all the formalities have not been gone through is quite sufficient. Will he not, at any rate, consent to the postponement of the Second Reading until further inquiry can be made?

(4.0.) MR. DILLWYN (Swansea, Town)

I shall certainly support the Second Reading of the Bill. I am not myself an inhabitant of that part of the world, but I have visited the Scilly Islands, and can bear testimony to the great benefits which have been conferred upon the Islands by the present proprietor and his predecessors.


In asking leave to withdraw the Amendment, I do so not because I am satisfied by the reply of the President of the Board of Trade, but because I propose to move to refer the Bill to a Select Committee.

DR. TANNER (Cork Co., Mid.)

I hope the hon. Member will not withdraw the Amendment. I maintain that this House does not sit here for the simple purpose of conferring gifts upon landlords, no matter what part of the world they may live in. I sincerely hope that the hon. Member will go to a Division.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read the second time.