HC Deb 28 May 1894 vol 24 cc1368-87
* SIR T. SUTHERLAND (Greenock)

said, he desired to move, That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Thames Conservancy Bill that they have power to insert in the Bill, if they think fit, provisions for authorising the Conservancy to dredge the portions of the River Thames and the estuary thereof below Yantlet Creek, in the County of Kent. In proposing it he wished to point out that the Instruction dealt with a question of considerable importance, inasmuch as the Bill conferred a new constitution and new powers which would be effectually to give to the Thames Conservators a mandate which could not be altered or amended for a long time to come. It was therefore only natural that the shipowners, who were the largest contributors to the revenue of the Thames Conservancy, should desire to be assured that the provisions now intended to be made for the maintenance and improvement of the Port of London would be adequate not merely for the present but for some years to come, especially in view of the rapid increase in the size of vessels. In this respect the great desideratum was a proper depth of water for vessels of the largest size. Yet this most vital matter was totally ignored in the Bill. It might, perhaps, be argued that the powers of the Thames Conservancy Board would remain exactly as they were 30 or 40 years ago. But he begged leave to point out that a great change bad come over the Port of London since those powers were granted. He would mention two facts only to show this. Within the last 20 years the tonnage of foreign-going shipping frequenting the Port had increased 100 percent.—namely, from 7,000,000 to 14,000,000 of tons. In the character and size of ships the change was even more marked. Within the past 10 years the number of vessels of over 3,000 tons burden bad increased by 200 per cent. Under these circumstances, it was obvious that the duty was imposed on the Thames Conservancy of keeping pace with the times, and to see that proper facilities were given to the shipping by work in the direction indicated in his Instruction. Large vessels experienced great inconvenience and no little risk on account of the shoal condition of the Thames, especially in the vincinity of the Nore, a vicinity which was popularly considered to be part of the Nore, although some hundred years ago it was considered to be outside the river boundaries. It would perhaps surprise hon. Members if he informed them that for 10 miles below the docks it was impossible to find a safe anchorage for the largest ships frequenting the river, on account of the shallowness of the channel, and these vessels were exposed to the greatest possible risk, especially during the winter months when fogs were prevalent. If a large vessel happened from any cause, accidental or otherwise, not to hit off the right moment for docking, she was obliged to retrace her course to Gravesend, and there wait for the next tide. His Instruction dealt specifically with the shoaled condition of the mouth of the Thames. The charts of 1892–3 showed that in some places there were only some 19 feet of water at that part of the river, while the charts of 20 years ago indicated, at the same spots, a greater depth, thus showing absolutely that a gradual silting up bad been going on. This was a matter for the gravest consideration of the Committee. The evidence tendered by the shipping interest had been rejected simply because the entrance to the River Thames near the Nore was not within the geographical area dealt with in the provisions of the Bill before the Committee. It was therefore absolutely necessary to come that day to the House to ask for this Instruction. It was their contention that the scope of the Bill ought to be widened, and the authorities responsible for the maintenance of the Port ought to have their jurisdiction extended to the mouth of the river, which was the key of the whole situation. It was essential that this should be done in the interests of the future welfare of the Port. He was sorry to think that those interested in the Thames Conservancy were vigorously opposing the Instruction. If they opposed it on the plea of poverty, he would point out that the shipping interest were not to blame for that, seeing that for many years they had contributed between £40,000 and £50,000 a year for the improvement of the Port of London, though nothing like this amount had been expended for that purpose. Last year the accounts of the Thames Conservancy Board showed that only £10,000 or £11,000 was spent in dredging the channel or the approaches to the river, and the Board had, in fact, been obtaining from the shipping industry of the Port large sums of money which had not been expended for the purpose. He hoped it was not the case that there was some official resistance to this Motion, because if it were he could only suggest that it partook very much of the nature-of the resistance of the Egyptian Government to reduction of the light dues. That Government seemed to have retained dues which they were improperly obtaining from British shipping. In the same way the Thames Conservancy had been improperly obtaining money for the improvement of the Port of London, while they had failed to expend it on the improvement of the Port. If shipowners were to be called on for further taxation, it should be accompanied by larger representation. At the present time, while the pecuniary contribution of the shipping interest to the Thames Conservancy amounted to something like 50 or 60 per cent. of the total income, their share of representation was only one in 14, or about 7 per cent. The important point which the Motion for the present Instruction opened up was, whether a new lease of power was to be given to the Thames Conservancy under a Bill which ignored the duty of improving the Port of London? If the evidence which the shipping industry were seeking to tender did not prove their case, then the Thames Conservancy would have the strongest reason for ignoring the matter as they had done. If, on the other hand, they proved their case, as he believed they would up to the hilt, the duty of the Board would be clear. He could not imagine that such a proposal could be opposed on any ground of public policy. There was absolutely no other course open to him except that which he was now pursuing, as it was impossible to discuss the Bill upon the Second Reading. If it were suggested that this great matter ought to be dealt with by means of a separate Bill and that it ought to be preceded by a Select Committee of Inquiry, his reply was that if this course were adopted the result would be to shelve a question of the most vital importance to the interests of the Port of London. He had not spoken of the Thames Conservancy in any unfriendly spirit, but he thought that, in view of the efforts that were being made by the authorities even of many of the minor ports in the United Kingdom to meet the requirements of the time and of the efforts that were being made by rivals on the Continent, especially at Antwerp, which was being made a grander and better Port than London, the Thames Conservancy had but little to boast of in connection with their present position and had yet much to accomplish in order to make the Port of London worthy of the great Metropolis to which it belonged. He begged to move the Instruction of which he had given notice.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Thames Conservancy Bill that they have power to insert in the Bill, if they think fit, provisions for authorising the Conservancy to dredge portions of the River Thames and the estuary thereof below Yantlet Creek, in the County of Kent."—(Sir T. Sutherland.)

SIR F. DIXON-HARTLAND (Middlesex, Uxbridge)

said, he had been unable to gather from the speech just delivered a single reason why the proposed Instruction should be adopted, inasmuch as the Bill had no connection whatever with the dredging of the river below a certain point. The Bill had already been before the Committee a great number of days. It was a Bill containing over 300 clauses, and it was too late to introduce into it a new duty which it would be utterly beyond the power of the Thames Conservancy Board to perform. He opposed the Instruction on behalf of the Thames Conservancy on two grounds—first, because it was an attempt to evade the Standing Orders of the House; and, secondly, on its merits. The Bill had been brought in by order of the House itself under a clause in the London County Council's Bill of last year, in which notice was distinctly given that the Conservators were to bring in a Bill this year and get it passed into law. It was provided that in case the Conservators did not do this the London County Council were to have a right to bring in a Bill next year. The question referred to in the proposed Instruction was a very large and grave one, and one that would require the most careful examination and consideration. A very large quantity of expert evidence would also have to be taken with regard to it. It was a question whether the natural bed of the river could be altered. As a very long investigation would be required, the adoption of the Instruction would have the effect of preventing the Bill passing into law this year, and the result would be that the whole of the expense and trouble which had been incurred would be thrown away. This was not the only case in which a claim of this kind had been made. The Preston authorities some time ago wanted to have the Ribble dredged in the same way as it was proposed to dredge the mouth of the Thames now. The question was brought before the Board of Trade, who went into the subject and appointed three Commissioners, who sat, he believed, no fewer than 21 days, and presented a Report of 27 pages to the Board of Trade. On that Report, which was favourable to the proposal, the Board of Trade ordered that the Corporation of Preston should bring in a separate Bill. The Bill was brought in, was thoroughly threshed out, and became an Act of Parliament in 1892. The Thames Conservancy said that this question ought to be treated in the same way. Of course, the Con- servators did not want to do anything that would prevent the free passage of vessels into the Port of London, but the object which the hon. Member (Sir T. Sutherland) wished to attain ought to be pursued under proper conditions, which were not secured by this Bill. There were 93 Petitions against this Bill, and not one of them alleged that the Thames was silting up. He himself had examined the map, and he could only find one place in which the depth of the water was as little as 19 feet, and that was quite close to the shore. The hon. Member had spoken about the money of the Thames Conservators being spent upon the upper part of the river. He should like to know what the State of the lower part of the river would be if nothing was spent on the upper part? The question of expense was also an important one. He was told by engineers that it was a very moot point whether the river could be dredged in the way suggested, because it was said that, owing to the tides, if it were dredged to-day it would silt up to-morrow. Supposing, however, that the dredging could be carried out, the dredging machinery would cost something like £80,000, and in all probability a sum of £40,000 a year would have to be spent whilst the dredging went on. It would be a very nice thing for the shipowners if they had the channel dredged for them at the public expense. They did not find there was any proposal on their part to pay any of the expenses. He had no hesitation in saying that this Instruction was an attempt to wreck the Bill, and if it were adopted the Bill would not pass, and their whole work would be thrown away. If a now Bill were brought in next Session under proper conditions the Thames Conservancy would have no objection to support it, and then the proper machinery and proper funds could be arranged to carry the matter through. The shipowners who had their representatives on the Thames Conservancy Board when the Bill was before the Board never brought up the question at all, and when they came before the Committee they tried to introduce into the Bill clauses which they had not the power to then introduce, which ought to have been properly advertised in October and November last, so that the public might see what they were doing. This matter was introduced when the Committee had nearly finished the Bill, and it was an attempt, apparently at the eleventh hour, to wreck the Bill. The Thames Conservancy Board contended that the Bill should be passed in its present state by the Committee, and a proper inquiry should be made into this question next year. The Thames Conservancy would introduce a fresh supplemental Bill if necessary, but it ought to be brought in with the proper machinery, and then there would be no objection to doing anything that was reasonable. He hoped the House would not pass the Instruction, because, however desirable it might be in itself, it was utterly at variance with the present Bill of the Thames Conservancy, was outside its powers, and contrary to the rule of the Standing Orders of the House of Commons.

* MR. J. STUART (Shoreditch, Hoxton)

said, this matter was of extreme importance to the Port of London and Members representing London on that side of the House, and he believed some on the other side would join in heartily supporting the Instruction moved by the hon. Member for Greenock. The speech made by the hon. Member who had last spoken had really been a speech against the Third Reading of the Bill. They had shown the insufficiency of this Bill to meet the great needs of the Port of London. When the Bill was introduced and read a second time, it was his duty, speaking on behalf of the County Council of London, to say they did not oppose the Bill at that stage, because it was brought in statutably, and because they should be glad to see whether it could not be improved in Committee in the direction needed; but he indicated that it would be their duty to oppose the Bill at a later stage if it failed, as completely as they conceived it did, to meet the great purpose it was intended to meet. The Thames Conservancy had, under this Bill, taken large and extended powers over the tributaries of the Thames, and over the whole of the Thames Valley, far above Oxford and in various directions—powers extended laterally, in order to prevent the river from pollution, which they heartily approved of the Conservancy Board obtaining. These powers had been considered before the Committee, which was willing to grant them to the Thames Conservancy. But there were interests even more important to London than the pollution of the Thames, for they looked to obtain their water from other sources. The interests of the Port of London were as vital to London, and the population of London was as interested in the success of the Port of London as anything else connected with the river. The government of London had been in a state of chaos for 50 years, one consequence of which had been that the Conservancy Board extended for only 40 miles below London Bridge, the remaining 10 miles not being under the Thames Conservancy. That portion of the river, there fore, remained undredged, and it was to that portion the present Instruction referred. What they said was that if the Thames Conservancy Board had acted properly by the whole Port of London it would have introduced into their Bill measures for extending the Conservancy over the last 10 miles of the river. The hon. Baronet said that this Bill should pass through as it stood, or with such Amendments as the Committee might introduce, and that this should not be introduced in the present measure. He asked the House to remember the circumstances under which this measure was introduced last year. The County Council proposed to bring in a Bill to deal with the Thames Conservancy, and a compromise was taken on the basis that a complete and comprehensive measure ought to be brought in dealing with the whole subject in which the question of representation should also be dealt with, and the question of representation was ruled at that period as one not to be dealt with fully at the time, and the Conservancy Board was ordered to bring in a Bill on the present occasion dealing with the whole subject. They had brought in a Bill now; but by what the Member for Greenock had said that Bill was by no means comprehensive, or one which dealt with the whole subject, and to pass this fraction of a Bill, and to leave it till next year for the Conservancy Board to bring in another Bill dealing with the most important part of the whole question, was to contravene the Order of the Act of Parliament passed last Session, and to deal with it in a wholly insufficient and unsatisfactory manner. The ground on which this Bill was brought in was undoubtedly that there should be a more representative Board, and if they were going to construct the Board on the basis of the Bill as it at present stood, without having any reference to such great and widespread interests involved in such an Instruction as this, they should construct a Board inadequate for the proper government and management of the River Thames. The fact was, that the Conservancy, in introducing this Bill, had altogether fallen short of the great duty before them. They had altogether failed to see the huge interests involved, and the great opportunity that it offered for dealing satisfactorily with the Conservancy of the River Thames—not only in omitting such portions of the duty of the Conservancy as this referred to in the Instruction, and upon which the safety and prosperity of the Port of London really greatly depended—but also in the inadequate changes that had been introduced in the formation of the Board itself, which ought to be placed on a thoroughly representative footing, which ought to represent the population of the banks of the Thames and in the Thames Valley proportionately, and which ought to deal with the upper and the lower branches of the river—which were so distinctly different in their requirements by separate Statutable Committees of the Board suitable for dealing with the circumstances of each. What had the inhabitants of the upper reaches of the river to do really with the prosperity of the Port of London in any direct manner? There ought to be a Statutable Committee to deal with the upper reaches of the river, and another to deal with all that concerned that part of the river which constituted the Port of London, and these two Committees, of one thoroughly representative Board, would work in a proper manner for the different interests concerned on the Thames. They wanted to, have some comprehensive scheme like that introduced, and they wanted to have a proper system of finance introduced into the Bill. The present Conservancy had not got enough money to carry out the duties they were imposing upon themselves even in the present Bill, and their funds were wholly insufficient to enable them to discharge the new duties he had indicated. Where were the funds to come from? The Board could never get adequate funds until it became a body representative of the population along the whole Thames Valley, which might be empowered if necessary to put a rate on property affected. The Bill fell short in these points, and if the insertion of this Instruction led to awakening the Conservancy, and those who represented them, before the Committee, to the necessity of carrying out these great points, then they should have done well by carrying the Instruction. If it should postpone the Bill—and he could not for a single moment see why it should do so—all he could say was that it was better that the Bill should be postponed than that it should be carried through this House under the circumstances indicated so ably by the hon. Member for Greenock. He denied that there was any necessity for putting off this Bill on account of carrying the Instruction, and he appealed to the House to insist on securing an adequate measure, so that they should obtain now and finally a proper Conservancy Board representative of the population interested, with proper financial support and proper powers to make the Port of London the Port it ought to be in this Kingdom.

SIR R. WEBSTER (Isle of Wight)

confessed that, after listening to the speech of the hon. Member for Shore-ditch, he was led somewhat to the conclusion that the hon. Member would not be very sorry if the Bill did not succeed. He should have been more impressed if such an impassioned—not to say violent—speech had been made by one not so strictly connected with the County Council, and when he remembered that this Bill was introduced by virtue of a pledge given to the County Council, and upon a compromise by which it must be got through this year, he ventured to think it would not be fair to the promoters of the Bill if the agitation was to take place now which commenced at the earlier stage of the Bill. He contrasted the speech of the hon. Member for Shore-ditch with the speech of the hon. Member for Greenock, who certainly did not seem to desire to put the Instruction except on its true ground—namely, that of the improvement of the Port and the interests of the shipowners. What did the hon. Member for Shoreditch say? He desired to deal with the whole scheme of both the constitution and policy of the Conservancy Board. The hon. Member said there ought to be two Committees—one for the upper and one for the lower Thames, a new scheme of finance, and, finally, that there ought to be other and better representation of the shipowners on the Conservancy Board. But if he was correctly informed this important question of representation was before the Committee at the present time. What he wanted to know was what had the questions of representation, finance, and two Committees to do with the Instruction of the hon. Member for Greenock? It was perfectly plain that the speech they had just listened to was intended to lead the House to the belief that there were grounds, quite apart from this Instruction, why the Bill ought not to be passed, and if that line of argument were to be taken it seemed to him it would not be quite keeping good faith with the promoters of the Bill. He desired to say a word or two upon the merits of the Instruction, and he hoped the Government would be good enough to state what course they proposed to adopt. He did not think he should be accused of want of sympathy with the shipowners, and the hon. Member for Greenock would be the first to admit that from the point of view of improving the Port or enabling large ships to enter it, he (Sir R. Webster) would do all he could to assist. But he could assure the House that the question of dredging the Estuary of the Thames was not a subject to be undertaken with a light heart, and he did not hesitate to say from some experience in connection with these matters in other parts, that a scheme for dredging the Thames for seven miles below Yantlet Creek was not one which should be undertaken until after the fullest scientific investigation and that proper consideration which this House required when Private Bills of this class were promoted. He was not putting this on grounds of technicality. The Standing Orders contemplated that the notices issued in November should contain an outline of schemes of this character, and that plans should be given indicating the area in which it was proposed to do the work. He was not arguing the case on technical grounds, but on the ground that such a proposal ought only to be undertaken by any Public Body after the fullest investigation and the most careful inquiry that could be given to it. He would remind the House that views had been taken of the Estuary of the Thames before, which, on investigation, had turned out to be entirely fallacious. What was the present position of the Bill? They were in the month of May, and he was told that this Bill had been 16 days before the Committee already, and of 93 Petitions not one single one had raised this point, and he did not think it was a fair thing to the Conservators to raise this question now, when there were these various and vast number of interests involved, and it did not occur to anyone to bring forward this as a matter of substance. What would happen if this Instruction were adopted? He believed the Member for Greenock did not desire unduly to fetter the action of the Conservators; but if the Instruction were adopted, there must be scientific evidence and inquiries, and on the most. moderate estimate; even if proceeded with forthwith, there would be an inquiry of 10 or 12 extra days. Counsel would have to be heard in support of the case for the Instruction, and if a primâ facie case was made for it there would not only have to be an adjournment, but after consideration as to who ought to be allowed to appear on the matter, because it must not be supposed there were no interests involved in such a question as dredging the lower part of the river. But in any view the position would be this: the Bill would probably be ruined, and certainly ruined for this Session if this Instruction were passed. He would remind the House that the scheme and object of the present Bill was the consolidation of the powers of the Thames Conservancy Board and the better regulation of the powers which now existed, and it did seem to him a strong measure at the last moment to introduce an Instruction which would extend the jurisdiction over a geographical area they had not got. If this were absolutely a case of a clean sheet, and this was a Bill introduced without any fettering conditions—if there was not a suggestion of a suspicion that the County Council would not be sorry if this Bill did not pass, then there might be strong grounds for contending that the House ought not at this stage to agree to such Instruction. But he submitted to the House with all deference that in the matter of such a Bill, having such a purpose, and having regard to the present conditions, it would be unjust to interfere with the arrangement made, for if this extremely lengthened inquiry were to be entered upon it was certain there must be long and anxious criticism of the evidence, and possibly the House or the Committee upstairs would not be completely informed of the matter because of the want of preparation. He hoped the Instruction would not be passed.

MR. BRUNNER (Cheshire, Northwich)

said, the hon. and learned Gentleman had put forward the difficulties which might result if this Instruction were carried, but he should, nevertheless, vote for the Instruction, because he thought it would be well to take whatever evidence the shipping interests of London had to offer before the Committee, in order that it might be ascertained what steps should be taken with a view to effecting any improvements to the Port of London. He cordially agreed with the hon. Member for Shoreditch as to the advisability of dividing the work of the Thames Conservancy Board. He would ask hon. Members who represented the counties through which the Thames flowed in the upper part whether it would not be as well for them as for the Port of London to divide the river into two portions, and put each of these portions under the care of a separate authority? It was quite clear that certain of these counties had very little concern indeed with the Port of London, and the great difficulty of representation would be got over if two authorities were created which should govern the river from its source to its mouth. If the Port of London were put under the care of one authority there would be very little difficulty in giving the shipowners and population of London a proper proportion of representation, but when they had to take into consideration all the counties that were concerned in the upper part of the river the difficulty of giving representation to the shipping interests of London became very great. The two parts of the river were quite different. The upper part might be looked upon as a source of drinking water for the people of London, whereas the lower part of it was not at all like the other part, and ought to be in the hands of those who were interested in it and knew all about it. He therefore supported the Instruction.


opposed the Instruction in the first place because he regarded it as not necessary, and in the second place because it would adversely affect the interests of the sailors and fishermen who plied their trade in the Estuary of the Thames and the North Sea. The Instruction was promoted by that august body the London County Council, and it appeared they were anxious that the Thames Conservancy should be compelled to dredge the area indicated. This particular area was the part of the Estuary of the Thames which supplied the East End of London with cheap fish. The fishermen on that part of the river sent up to Billingsgate various kinds of fish, and if the area of supply from this part of the river was restricted the East End of London would suffer very considerably, and his constituents, the sailors who plied their trade in the Estuary of the Thames and in the North Sea, would have the bread taken out of their mouths. These sailors were some of the best seamen in the country. This area was also practically cultivated as if it was almost a market garden. This was not the first time by any means that he and his constituents had been tried in this way. The Estuary of the Thames for the last five years had been by no means a bed of roses to himself or constituents. About four years ago it occurred to the intelligence of the Board of Admiralty that they would dredge a channel from Sheerness to Chatham in order to allow the passage of big ships up and down the Medway, and it occurred to them as a happy thought to lump all the mud from the dredging on to the fishing grounds of the Essex fishermen, precisely as the Thames Conservancy Board would do if the Instruction of the hon. Baronet opposite was accepted by the House. Again, a short time ago the London County Council commenced to dump sewage matter on to the fishing grounds precisely as the Admiralty used to do with the dredgings, their fishing grounds comprising the very area now under discussion. They did not want that kind of thing to happen again. They had induced the County Council to abate the nuisance, and they did not desire that it should commence again with the Thames Conservancy. If this Instruction were passed, it would be putting his constituents out of the frying-pan into the fire. He knew this district thoroughly, and he could assure the hon. Member for Greenock that he never heard of a single instance of a ship being delayed in her passage up and down the river, or any complaint of the river being too shallow. If the House did pass the Instruction, he hoped that, at any rate, his constituents would be given the opportunity of placing their evidence before the Committee upstairs as to the damage likely to be done to them. He opposed the Instruction, which he asked the House not to pass.

* SIR E. HILL (Bristol, S.)

said that, as he deemed the question to be of general and not merely local interest, although he was not a Metropolitan Member, he proposed to say a few words in support of the Instruction. He would not enter into technicalities—either engineering or Parliamentary—still less would he discuss the composition or efficiency of the Thames Conservancy Board. He would not weary the House by any statement as to the national importance of the shipping interest, as that was well known, but it was undoubtedly patent to everyone that if the shipping was to find its way to the Port of London it was necessary that accommodation should be provided, as was done in the case of the Tees and other large rivers. This was the more needful, as the size of vessels was constantly increasing. If the Instruction were to direct the Thames Conservancy to dredge this channel he could understand the objections that had been urged against it, but the fact was that it was an Instruction to the Committee to insert in the Bill, if they thought fit to do so, a certain provision authorising the Thames Conservancy to dredge certain portions of the River Thames. There was no Instruction that they should do so, and he never before heard of a Public Body refusing to have powers which they were not compelled to exercise, and he could not see why they should do so in this instance. In the interests of the public, of shipping, and in the best interests of the Port of London, he intended to support the Instruction.

* MR. MOULTON (Hackney, S.)

said, he did not wish to delay the House, and should not have intervened if it had not been to make clear the attitude which the London County Council had taken up in this matter. In the first place, let him give the most direct denial to the insinuations that this Instruction came from the London County Council; it arose, he believed, from the fact that the evidence on this point was rejected by the Committee sitting upon the Bill, and accordingly the shipowners, without any consultation with the London County Council, prepared this Instruction. Although the London County Council had nothing to do with the origin of this, they gave their heartiest support to it for these reasons— reasons which he thought they had no cause to be ashamed of. Their one aim, both in the Bill brought in last year and in the present proceeding, was that the whole of the Thames should be in the hands of a strong Representative Body, to which could be safely entrusted those powers of finance which alone could make the Conservancy effective, and they felt with regard to this Bill, that although there might be a most valuable inquiry, no solution of the problem could by any possibility be come to, because it was impossible under the present Bill to supply the Thames Conservancy with the funds absolutely necessary to carry out its duties properly. The consequence was, that they looked on this Bill as one that might regulate the jurisdiction and the powers of the new body and which might regulate its constitution, but which could not complete the question of settling what the Thames Conservancy was to be, for it could not settle the question of finance. Accordingly, they were most anxious that in all questions of jurisdiction the inquiry should be full, so that everything that related to the Thames should be put in the hands of this body. They were also anxious that the constitution of this body should be rightly framed, that it should be representative, that it should be of such standing that they might get the best men upon it, and that the public might not shrink from trusting it even with powers of rating. But they knew that completion could not take place this year. What, then, was their attitude towards this Instruction? They felt that the extra jurisdiction the shipowners desired, and which was vital to the interests of London, should be in the hands of the same powerful, and, as they hoped, rich body which would manage all other Thames questions and carry out effectively their aims. Though they admitted that this Bill could not be final, they desired that it should add this important function to the jurisdiction of the Thames Conservancy in anticipation of the time when its constitution, jurisdiction, and resources should be finally settled. If that were done, they might be able to persuade the Legislature to endow it with proper funds. For all these reasons, he believed the County Council unanimously supported this Instruction, which he begged the House to accede to.

* MR. COHEN () Islington, E.

wished to disabuse his hon. and learned Colleague opposite of the views under which he laboured, that the London County Council unanimously supported this Instruction. He opposed it solely and exclusively because he had the honour to be a member of the London County Council, and he desired to purge the body of which it was his privilege to be a member from a charge of breach of faith in connection with the Thames Conservancy Board. This Bill, whatever its merits or demerits, was introduced into this House in fulfilment of a compact and understanding which was brought about very much through the influence of his right hon. Friend who formerly occupied the position of the President of the Local Government Board, and he regretted that many members of the Loudon County Council gave support to an Instruction that would altogether overthrow a Bill that had been brought in. In his opinion, it was the reverse of straightforward.

MR. J. ROWLANDS (Finsbury, E.)

said, the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down said there had been a breach of faith with regard to this Bill. He (Mr. Rowlands) had the honour of a seat on the Committee last year, and he said most deliberately that the solution of the difficulty which arose with regard to the recommendations of the majority of that Committee was this: that the Thames Conservancy should bring in a Bill that would grapple with the whole question of the management of the Thames with regard to the upper reaches right down to the Port of London.


said, the arrangement was to bring in a Bill to consolidate the powers of the Conservancy, and not to increase them.


I said to the mouth of the river.


That is what I object to.


said, he heard the whole of the evidence, and the one question put before them as to why nothing of a practical nature could be done was that there were no real funds at the disposal of the Thames Conservancy to manage the river. He believed in this Bill they did put an extra charge of some £10,000 a year upon the Water Companies. One thing was certain: that before there could be a thorough management of the great river on which they depended so much, there must be finances at the disposal of the Conservancy for the purposes of administration. The reason he was going to vote for the Instruction was because it was thoroughly permissive. What the hon. Member for Greenock (Sir T. Sutherland) desired was that it should be an Instruction to the Committee to insert, if they thought fit, provisions authorising the Conservancy to dredge certain portions of the river. He did not think the House ought to refuse the demand made by the hon. Member, which was made in the shipping interest, in regard to which the hon. Member was acknowledged as an authority. The hon. Member who represented one of the divisions of Essex had told them what was the interest of the fishermen in his constituency, but there was a large portion of the river on the Essex coast that could not be dredged under any circumstances.


said, his objection was that they put the dredgings upon their fishing beds.


said, that could not be done within a mile and a quarter of the Southend Pier, which had to be run out for a mile and a half to enable steamers to land passengers. Considering the evidence laid before the Committee upstairs, he thought the House would be stultifying itself if it did not give the hon. Member for Greenock (Sir T. Sutherland) this permissive Instruction he asked for.

SIR A. ROLLIT (Islington, S.)

hoped this question would be viewed from a wider standpoint than the interests in cockles and mussels advocated by the hon. and gallant Member for Essex (Major Rasch). If the hon. Member for Greenock and the County Council joined in urging this proposal, it seemed to him that everyone identified with the commerce of the City was bound to support it, and to endeavour to secure for the Conservancy adequate powers to deal both with the upper and the lower reaches, each of which was dependent on the other. If he understood the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Sir F. Dixon-Hartland) aright, he spoke of the improvement of the upper river.


I never did anything of the kind.


said, in that case he had mistaken the somewhat ambiguous remarks the hon. Member made on the subject. The feeling in London, and especially in shipping circles, with regard to the condition of the river was that, if the character and prosperity of the Port were to be maintained, something must be done, and done quickly. The constantly-increasing tendency to build large ships rendered this absolutely necessary. This question must be viewed in the light of the action of competitive ports, both in this country and abroad. The authorities at the Humber, at Antwerp, and at Hamburg were, by improving the facilities of access, endeavouring to increase the interest of these ports at the expense of the Port of London. If the House neglected the duty of making the Thames as accessible as possible under all conditions they would do a great injury to the chief Port of this country.

SIR R. TEMPLE (Surrey, Kingston)

said that, as a Surrey Member, he wished to say one word, and it was this: that if this Instruction were passed to-day it would simply be fatal to the Bill for this Session, and that, under the circumstances, would render the ultimate passing of the Bill impossible; and he believed that some who advocated this Instruction were perfectly well aware of that. He wished to say a word on the commercial interests of this question. The question might be, as described by his hon. Friends the Members for Greenock, Bristol, and Islington, one of great importance to the shipping and commercial interests, but, if so, let them be provided for by a separate Bill, and let the inquiry be now set on foot. If his hon. Friend, who had just spoken, was so thoroughly convinced of that he would ask whether he did not mention it before?


; I beg the hon. Baronet's pardon, but this matter has been brought before shipping and commercial circles for many years past, and has been thoroughly advocated.


asked why the hon. Member had not mentioned it in the House of Commons upon the various stages of this Bill? The hon. Gentleman said the duty must be done by the Port of London; then let the duty be now undertaken, let the inquiry be set on foot and a separate Bill introduced, but do not tack on to a Bill an Instruction that would destroy that Bill. Therefore, in the vital interests of Surrey, he entreated the Government not to favour this proposal, and he would ask the House, in the interest of those who sent him there, to allow a Bill that had been read a second time and referred to a Committee, whose investigations were all but completed, to pass a Third Reading.


I do not know that this is a matter in which the Government are bound, as a Government, to take any part. All I shall say is that, having listened to this Debate, I confess I think the speech just made by the hon. Member for South Islington (Sir A. Rollit) is one that convinces me that this Instruction is one that ought to be adopted. It is obviously a very large question, and not one that can be decided, as the last speaker seems to think, with a view to the interests of his constituents in that picturesque part of the Thames Valley which he represents. It must be regarded from the great interests which the Thames represents as the Port of the commerce of the City of London. I understand the proposal to be a request that the shipping interest shall be allowed to place their views before the Committee. As to the interests in this matter, I cannot conceive how a demand of that kind can be resisted. I do not enter into the question of the antagonistic views that may arise between the majority and the minority on the County Council of Loudon; but the fact that the County Council of London, the representatives of the Metropolis and the great commercial interests, and the still larger interests of the commerce of the Empire, support this Instruction is enough to personally induce me to vote in favour of the Instruction.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 269; Noes 112.—(Division List, No. 60.)

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