HC Deb 09 June 1893 vol 13 cc635-42
* MR. BRUNNER (Cheshire, Northwich)

had the following Notice of Motion on the Paper in reference to the above Bill:— That it be an Instruction to the Committee to inquire into and report on all matters connected with the constitution, powers, finance, and management of the Trustees of the Weaver Navigation and on the provisions and administration of the Acts relating thereto, and that the Committee have power to insert in the Bill such provisions in connection with all or any of such matters as in their judgment are expedient. That the Traders using the Navigation petitioning to be heard by themselves, their Counsel, or Agents, be heard against the Bill, and in reference to the matters referred to in this Instruction. The hon. Member said he was glad to be able to inform the House that his Motion would be merely formal. He was honoured, yesterday, with the hon. Member for Crewe, by a conference with his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade. The right hon. Gentleman announced to them, as the result of that conference, his intention to move the Amendment which was on the Paper in his name. He was very much gratified to hear of that intention of his right hon. Friend, because it would entirely carry out his wishes in the matter. He never had any intention of either delaying or endangering the Bill; and when his right hon. Friend pointed out to him that the Motion standing in his name would occupy time, and involve the preparation of evidence by the Trustees of the Weaver Navigation Trust, and said he would move an Amendment to the Motion, he accepted the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman with the utmost cordiality. The constitution of the Trust had been dealt with three times over by the Board of Trade—in 1857, 1872, and 1893. Under these circumstances, seeing that the matter had been before the House for 36 years, he was sure the House would hold him justified in the action he had taken this Session. He expected to hear from the hon. Member for Crewe that the Amendment of the President of the Board of Trade had been accepted fully, and that this controversy would come to an end; and when he heard from his hon. Friend that the Amendment had been accepted he would ask the permission of the House to withdraw his Motion. For the present he moved the Motion. He had been informed by the legal gentlemen advising the promoters of the Bill that, unless the Motion, of the President of the Board of Trade came as an Amendment to his Motion the matter would have to be postponed until Monday; but whether he had been rightly advised or not he would leave it to the Speaker to decide.


The second Instruction can stand as a substantive Motion.


I beg to move the Instruction on the Paper— That it be an Instruction to the Committee to insert in the Bill a clause requiring the Trustees to come to Parliament within two years with such a Bill as may enable Parliament to deal with the whole question of the constitution and management of the Trust. I wish to make it clear that, in moving this Motion, I do not wish to express any sort of lack of confidence in the gentlemen who are at present engaged in the management of the Trust. This matter has been before the Board of Trade several times during the last 40 years, and on each occasion very exhaustive Reports have been made, requiring that the Trust shall be reconstituted. The Trust is a very old one. I need not go into the history of it, but it goes back for nearly two centuries. It is entirely a self-elected Trust. The gentlemen who compose it are the landowners, gentry, and clergy of Cheshire, who do not represent the interests of the trades which the navigation affects. I felt that the Instruction put down by my hon. Friend would occupy too much of the time of the Committee, and would probably result in the Bill having to stand over for another Session. The Bill now before the House is a very important one. Recollect that it is highly desirable for all parties that the Bill should pass this Session. It is urgently needed in the interest of the navigation; and, therefore, I move this Instruction, giving the Trustees two years in order to promote a Bill themselves for reconstituting the Trust, for bringing it more into conformity with modern ideas and interests, and I think I do so with the general goodwill of all parties interested in the matter. I bog to move, Sir.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That it be an instruction to the Committee to insert in the Bill a clause requiring the Trustees to come to Parliament within two years with such a Bill as may enable Parliament to deal with the whole question of the constitution and management of the Trust."—(Mr. Mundella.)

MR. FORWOOD (Lancashire, Ormskirk)

From what has been said in connection with this Bill, it might have been supposed it had only a local interest; but I assure the House it is a question of far-reaching importance, and has far larger consequences attending it than a mere question as between the ratepayers of Cheshire and the Trustees of the Weaver Navigation. Nearly the whole of the salt has to find its way to a seaport through means of this navigation; and when I tell the House that probably the export of salt from Liverpool forms a larger bulk than any other article from that port, the House will appreciate the importance of the question as regards the great seaport of Liverpool. I have no reason to oppose the Instruction of the President of the Board of Trade. That Instruction places upon the Trustees of the Weaver Navigation the obligation to come to Parliament with a Bill that shall raise the whole question of the constitution and management of the Trust within the next two years. That leaves very largely the initiation of any future legislation in the hands of the present Board of Trustees; and, therefore, we may assume that any action they may take under that Instruction will have considered very tenderly their own present interests and the interests of the ratepayers of Cheshire. I want to utter one word of warning in regard to this matter. This Trust, the revenue of which is derived from a large article of commerce, yields in most years a large profit, and that profit is applied in the casement of the rates in different parts of Cheshire. I think the House will agree with me that it is wrong in principle that profits derived from a great national highway should go towards the easement of any particular county of the country. As a matter of fact, 25 per cent. of the dues levied by that Canal are profit—that is, the dues on the whole are 25 per cent. more than is necessary for the maintenance of this navigation, and this profit of 25 per cent. from the dues goes in easement of the rates of Cheshire. My feeling is that that is an improper application of these profits; and in any future constitution of this Board—in any proposals that will come before the House under this Instruction—I hope we shall do away with the payment of these profit; dues to Cheshire, and give the benefit of any excess of the present dues over the cost of maintenance direct to trade. I quite admit there may be created on the part of the County of Chester a vested interest in respect of these profits which it has derived from years gone by. I may speak of an analogous case in the great City of Liverpool. The City of Liverpool had the right of levying dues on the whole of the goods passing through their port. Manchester and other manufacturing districts objected, the matter was brought to Parliament, and a perfectly reasonable sum was given to the Corporation of Liverpool in redemption of that right to levy dues; and I think a similar proposal in regard to the Weaver Navigation, if they have a vested right to this surplus, giving them a sum of money in redemption of that vested right, would be a matter to be fairly entertained by the House. So much as regards the financial part of the matter. Then, Sir, we have this great navigation. It is an important navigation, and I will at once admit that the present Trustees have faithfully and well discharged their duty, and kept up to the times in regard to the improvement of the navigation. But, Sir, it is composed of no less than 90 gentlemen connected with land, as against 15 connected with trade. The right hon. Gentleman stated that the trades—those who used the navigatiou—would have a good deal to say in regard to the maintenance of the navigation. But, unfortunately, in consequence of the creation of a largo Trust, the Salt Union, by which the salt trade of the country almost became vested in the hands of one company, and by reason of some great improvements in chemical manufacture by the hon. Member who spoke first this afternoon, practically there are only two traders who use that navigation—or rather two traders pay 80 or 90 per cent, of the dues obtained in that navigation; therefore, it might be difficult to obtain the management of the Trust simply from the traders' point of view, and I think the management should embrace those connected directly with the salt trade over a much larger area than simply those who produce, the salt and manufacture the chemicals. To show the House the anomalous state of things—


I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but think it is most desirable we should not enter into a discussion like this as to a question which we are only asking shall be brought up before this House within two years. This is simply a Bill for building two bridges, with an Instruction that within two years the Trustees themselves shall promote a scheme. I think we ought not to anticipate at this stage what that scheme shall be, or criticise it in advance.


I think, Mr. Speaker, you would have called me to Order if I had been out of Order. This Instruction is not the small matter which the House is asked to believe. This Instruction is to empower the present Trustees to bring to this House a proposal for a new constitution and management, without laying down any line on which that shall be based. Therefore, in speaking on behalf of a large community more interested in this matter than any people in Cheshire, I have a right to urge many matters which ought to be considered by these Trustees when they take into consideration the clause which will be passed under this Instruction. I have one word more to say on this point to show the character, as regards management, of the Trust. At present they charge on this great article of commerce, salt (which is really only worth 5s. a ton to produce) 1s. a ton as dues; whereas in chemicals produced by the hon. Member for the Northwich Division, which are worth £10 per ton. they only charge 8d. per ton. This great article of commerce, salt, and the whole subject requires dealing with in a very drastic manner; and unless the Trustees acting under this Instruction introduce into the Bill a clause dealing with it in a large and liberal manner, I hope the House, when the proper time comes, will not assent to it.

* MR. M'LAREN (Cheshire, Crewe)

said, it would be convenient if, on behalf of the Trustees, and also on behalf of the County Council of Cheshire, he stated what their view was as to the Motion of the President of the Board of Trade. The hon. Members for Cheshire would have offered an uncompromising resistance to the Motion of the hon. Member for Northwich, but were perfectly prepared to acquiesce in the Motion moved by the President of the Board of Trade. The House would notice that the Instruction now before it limited the duties of the Trustees to bring in a Bill within two years, so that Parliament might deal with the whole question of the constitution and management of the Trust; but his hon. Friend the Member for the Northwich Division would have desired also to include the words "powers and finance." These two words were excluded, and, therefore, the Trustees in accepting this Amendment would be bound to bring in a Bill, within two years, revising their constitution—that was to say, the method of election and composition of the Trust; and if that Bill did not meet the views of the right hon. Member for the Ormskirk Division of Lancashire, it would, of course, be open to him to take such steps as might be necessary to enlarge its scope. In regard to the present Instruction, they did not admit it involved upon the Trustees a further duty than be had indicated. The Trustees were undoubtedly the best body to bring in a Bill of that kind. It would not be a desirable thing that any outside party should bring in a Bill to reform their constitution until they had had a fail opportunity of doing it for themselves; and if their methods were not satisfactory, it would go before a Committee of that House, which could put it into such shape as should seem right. He trusted, therefore, that that Debate would not be continued. He was authorised to say for all the other Cheshire Members that they accepted this Instruction; they all agreed to vote for it; and, therefore, when every Cheshire Member was now agreed upon it, he thought the House might venture to pass the Instruction, and not take up further time on the matter.

MR. WHITELEY (Stockport)

wished to endorse what had been said by the last speaker, and to protest against the unfair aspect which the Member for Ormskirk had placed upon the question. To every one of his allegations the Trustees had a complete answer, and they considered their position unassailable, ratified as it was by nine Acts of Parliament extending over a long series of years.

MR. SNAPE (Lancashire, S.E., Heywood)

said, that in reference to the observations of the right hon. Member for Ormskirk, he was of opinion that the constitution of this Trust would have to be enlarged to a greater extent than the right hon. Gentleman had supposed. The traffic of the Weaver was largely contributed to by Lancashire, and the districts of Widnes and St. Helens would have to be taken into account when that re-constitution was brought into effect.

MR. TOLLEMACHE (Cheshire, Eddisbury),

as one of the Trustees of the Weaver, wished to say that he did not think there would be any objection on their part to consider the question of the re-constitution of the Trust. They recognized that, having regard to the date at which it was instituted, it could not be quite in touch with modern requirements, and he believed there was a motion down on the books of the Weaver Trust, saying the time had come, at any rate, when the County Council should be represented on that Trust. They did, however, take exception to the Motion of the Member for is Northwich so far as it regarded the finances of the Weaver navigation. That they should have fought to the end, and should when it should come before the House, because they had always held that the Weaver Trustees wore Trustees of the ratepayers of the county; not one farthing of the surplus went into the pocket of any private individual, but all went, under sanction of Parliament, for the relief of the ratepayers. When this question comes on one or two years hence, if such a Motion as that of the hon. Member for Northwich were made, they should be quite prepared to vote against it. At present he might say, on behalf of the Trustees, and certainly on his own part, that he quite accepted the Instruction of the right hon. Gentleman

Question put, and agreed to. Ordered, "That it be an Instruction to the Committee to insert in the Bill a Clause requiring the Trustees to come to Parliament within two years with such a Bill as may enable Parliament to deal with the whole question of the constitution and management of the Trust. —(Mr. Mundella.)

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