§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ *MR. SNAPE (Lancashire, S.E., Heywood)
said, he proposed to move the rejection of the Bill. The embankment to which the measure referred was constructed under an Act passed in 1829, which provided that the cost of construction and maintenance should be borne one-half by the Corporation of Liverpool and one-half by the owners of land under a certain level. In 1857 the Dock Board took over the liabilities of the Corporation. In 1864 powers were taken by the Dock Board by another Act to extend the embankment; but the incidence of taxation remained the same, with the alight variation that buildings upon the land protected—that was to say, under the 25-feet level—were brought under contribution. In 1889 a Bill, introduced to extend the embankment and alter the incidence of the taxation, was thrown out, on the ground that it was proposed for the first time by the landlords to make the ratepayers liable for some of the expenditure. In 1892 an attempt was made to force upon the Dock Board and the Embankment Commissioners the duty of extending the embankment, and on that occasion Mr. Lyster, who was engineer to both bodies, made an affidavit 1450 referring to the encroachment, and in the course of it he said—Up to the year 1884 it was about 11 feet per annum. Since 1884 the rate of encroachment has become less, and during; the last two years it has been about feet per annum…and the rate of encroachment will certainly become less and less.Speaking of possible risk, he says—No present risk under any combination of tides and winds of the sea reaching the lands under the 25-feet level. I am satisfied that a very long period, certainly not less than 30 years, must elapse before any such risk would arise…and…I am inclined to believe that no such risk will arise at any time hereafter.That referred to a date so recent as 1892. A year afterwards Mr. Lyster was called upon to make another affidavit, and speaking on that occasion — January 6th, 1893—of the possibility of danger which was deemed to exist, he said—I in all respects confirm my affidavit sworn in this matter on the 9th of June, 1892.They therefore had the testimony of the Dock Board's own engineer that this extension was not necessary, but it was not on the ground that the extension was not necessary that he raised his objection on the present occasion. The Bill introduced a new principle entirely without precedent. It altered the incidence of taxation laid down in the original Act. The Act originally enacted that half the cost should be borne by the Dock Board and half by the landowners. The landowners were now seeking to relieve themselves from the responsibility for the construction or maintenance of the embankment, and the House was asked to place the portion of the burden which they had hitherto borne, and which in all equity they ought to continue to bear, upon the ratepayers in the area of the two Local Boards who had opposed the passage of the Bill. Who benefited by the embankment? Certainly not the ratepayers, but the landlords. It was their lauds that had increased in value, and this was practically admitted by the fact that since 1829 they had borne half the cost. Now they were seeking to get the sanction of the House to transfer the burden to the shoulders of the ratepayers. But if there was any justice in bringing the ratepayers under tribute to the cost and maintenance of the embankment, then the ratepayers of a far larger area than that of the 1451 Local Boards of Wallasey and Hoylake would have to contribute, and he would tell the House the reason why. There were only 470 acres of laud in Wallasey under the level of a 25-feet tide. But in Bid-ston, where the ratepayers were not asked by the Bill to contribute a single penny, there were 1,000 acres under that level. In Birkenhead there was a rateable value under that level of £11,000, whereas in Wallasey there was only a rateable value of £1,200 endangered. Yet Birkenhead was exempted by the Bill, while Wallasey was made liable. He had been surprised that the Dock Board, who apparently did not seek to relieve itself of any portion of its liability, should have taken any action in the matter, but when he looked into the position they occupied the reason at once became apparent. The Bill limited their contribution to £4,500 instead of paying one-half. They were also limited in only having to pay half the cost of a small portion of the new work, though it might extend to a very considerable distance and impose a very large cost upon the ratepayers of the two districts. One reason assigned for the proposal of the Bill was that the railway which communicated between Birkenhead and Hoylake and Wallasey districts might be imperilled by the imaginary high tide, which Mr. Lyster declared to be an impossibility. But this railway was made upon land purchased with the knowledge that the peril—if peril there be—existed, and doubtless due regard was had to the contingency on fixing the price. It would be most unjust to ask the ratepayers of the surrounding districts, who have to pay full rates to the Railway Company for the transit of passengers and goods, to contribute to the cost of protecting and maintaining the railway itself. That was a new doctrine, and seemed to be entirely reversing the principle of betterment, about which they had heard so much of late years. It was taking away from those who received the advantage of the embankment the responsibility' of paying for that advantage, and putting it upon ratepayers, most of whom lived far above the level where any danger could come to them. The landlords needed no such relief. A few years ago a great portion of the land in the district was unsaleable. But by the extension of Wallasey, which was 1452 almost large enough to become a county borough, the lands in Bidston that were protected by the embankment had become of tremendous value, and the landowners, instead of being poorer now than when the original Act was passed, were richer and very much better able to pay for any protection that they seemed to think necessary. The improvement in value had gone on increasing, and would go on without any effort on the part of the landlords, for the land was situated near the residental parts of Liverpool. Objection had been urged that this matter would be better dealt with in Committee than in that House. To that he demurred entirely. It had been already dealt with in Committee. In 1889 a Committee of that House threw out the Bill. The opponents of the Bill had been put to very large expense already in opposing the Bill in another place, and it would be unreasonable, when no fresh facts were produced, and when the circumstances were identical with the circumstances of 1889, to ask those two Local Boards to spend possibly £1,000 or more in again opposing it before a Committee of the House with the certainty, as he trusted, of bringing about the same result that followed the contest in 1889. He hoped the House would not expose the inhabitants of the districts concerned to any such expense and trouble, and that it would not allow itself to be made a party to an act of great injustice, if not of positive oppression.
§ COLONEL COTTON-JODRELL (Cheshire, Wirral)
said that, in seconding the Amendment, he did so as the Representative of the Division which was under discussion. He appeared on behalf of over 7,000 ratepayers, who represented 45,000 of population. The embankment lay between the two districts of Wallasey on the one side and Hoylake on the other. The ratepayers of those districts objected to be saddled with any costs, because they considered the alteration was unnecessary. A very strong affidavit had been quoted by his hon. Friend opposite from the engineer of the Mersey Docks Board. But, assuming that this alteration was necessary, powers existed under the Act of 1864 to do all that was necessary. Surely those who benefited by the change and the occupiers of the buildings which were supposed to be threatened should bear the cost. The 1453 hon. Member had pointed out that it was rather hard that if Wallasey was to contribute Birkenhead should not, but he made one statement which possibly might mislead the House. The hon. Member said that the assessable value of Birkenhead was £11,000, as contrasted with the very small assessable value of Wallasey, £1,200. Of course, he was referring to the land which was to be covered by the tide, and not to the total area of those two districts. As regarded the 469 acres, of which the assessable value was £1,200, he might say that the laud lay entirely at the back of Wallasey, and was practically of no great value to the ratepayers. The greatest contention in favour of the Bill was as to the damage which would be done to the means of communication by the inundation. It was said that the railway communication with Wallasey was threatened, but he must point out that the highway between Wallasey and Liverpool was not a railway at all. It was the ferries across the Mersey, and these ferries were owned by the ratepayers of Wallasey through their Local Board, and as far as a railway was concerned it was positively disadvantageous to the people of Wallasey that a railway should come there, because it affected, to some extent at all events, the benefit they as ratepayers enjoyed from those ferries. Another point was the very small extent to which Wallasey could possibly be benefited by this proposal. The area of Wallasey which would be covered by a 25-feet tide had a rateable value of only £1,279, whereas the rateable value of the remainder of Wallasey, which was not concerned in the question of the inundation, was £175,000. As regarded the benefit to be derived by Hoylake, it had been said that they were urging this opposition as against the landowners; but in order to reassure some of his lion. Friends, he might mention that the great laud-owner of Hoylake, Lord Stanley of Alderley, was actually, in conjunction with the Local Board of Hoylake and West Kirby, one of the petitioners against the Bill. As to the question of danger, his contention was that it was not imminent, and that the districts affected would not be benefited at all. The last 25-feet tide occurred, he believed, about 50 years ago, and they were told by the Dock Board's own engineer that they were not likely 1454 to get another one so high. Wallasey certainly was not interested, and if Hoylake could be said to be benefited in any way he would have very little faith in the men of Hoylake and West Kirby knowing their own business, seeing that they had, through their representatives on the Local Board, passed a unanimous resolution against this Bill. In conclusion, he would again remind the House that a similar Bill was brought in in 1889, and was rejected. The situation today remained practically unchanged, and the conflicting interests being the same, was it likely that a Committee of this House would reverse the decision of the last Committee? It was to avoid the expense of having this question fought again in Committee, when there had been no change in the circumstances since 1889, that he now asked the House to reject the Second Reading.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three mouths."—(Mr. Snape.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ MR. W. LONG (Liverpool, West Derby)
said, that no doubt the two lion. Members who had spoken against the Bill had done so with authority, but he thought the concluding remarks of the hon. and gallant Member for Wirral had proved the necessity for sending the Bill to a Committee. He did not want, in asking the House to reject the Amendment, to fall back merely on the stock argument that this measure ought to be left for the consideration of a Committee upstairs, but he would ask what other course was possible for those who desired to support the measure? The opponents, who had gone at considerable length and detail into the past history of the question, had put before the House certain statements which he had not the slightest doubt they believed; but how could the House decide whether these statements were accurate unless a Committee heard evidence of a technical and local character? The only argument was one based on expense, but his hon. Friends had shown that the places concerned were well able to bear the expense. They were growing, populous districts, which had already derived enormous advantage from 1455 public works carried out under the sanction of the House. He therefore respectfully submitted that the House ought not to depart from the usual practice, and take into its hands the power to say what were the real facts of the case. He did not propose to discuss the merits of the question, bat he would ask hon. Members whether, having heard the speeches of two hon. Members, they would not come to the conclusion that the result of this Bill would be to produce an extremely unfair result—namely, that while the owners of the laud would derive the entire benefit, unfortunate ratepayers would be called upon to bear the burden? Yet what were the facts of the case? This Bill was a compromise, and under it the expenditure was thrown upon the people according to the degree of benefit which they received. If it were true that landowners would derive an unfair benefit, a Committee of that House was the proper tribunal to see that justice would be done. Committees of the House had always proved fair, impartial, and laborious tribunals; they always did their best to ascertain the facts, and to base their decisions upon those facts; and he warned hon. Members that if they were to take away the recognised system by which Private Bills were considered—the privileges and powers that belonged to it — they would experience great difficulty in getting hon. Members to sit on the Select Committees, and in that event they would not advance the interests of the ratepayers, but would do them the greatest possible injury. He, therefore, hoped the House would adhere to the present process as being a fair and equitable one to all parties concerned.
§ MR. CROSFIELD (Lincoln)
said, he did not propose to ask the House to listen to any reply to the arguments advanced by the Mover and Seconder of the Motion for the rejection, but he would suggest that the supporters of the Bill believed that they had at least as good a case to present to the proper tribunal. But the House as now constituted was not that tribunal. There was the recognised machinery of a Committee which could with all diligence consider the arguments of both sides, and then decide upon the question. The argument had been used that the Bill established a new precedent, and that the embankment, when first 1456 built in 1829, was to be maintained by a certain set of persons. But circumstances had changed, as the hon. and gallant Member for the Wirral Division virtually admitted when he said he represented 7,000 ratepayers in this matter, for probably in 1829 there was not more than 70 ratepayers. If he might introduce a frivolous illustration into so serious a matter, he would suggest that hon. Members interested in the noble game of golf might take some interest in the question before the House. The increased population in the district largely arose from the facilities there afforded for that game, and access to the golf links of Hoylake and Wallasey would be jeopardised if the rejection of the Bill were carried by the House.
§ MR. MACDONA (Southwark, Rotherhithe)
said, that as a resident and small landowner at West Kirby, he entered his protest against the Bill. The level of the district of West Kirby was such that it could be in no way affected or jeopardised by a 25-feet tide. He thought it would be a very great hardship for the farmers who lived in the neighbourhood and the ratepayers of West Kirby if they were compelled to pay the cost of an embankment from which they would derive no benefit whatever.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed.