HC Deb 15 May 1900 vol 83 cc207-21

Order for Second Reading read.

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

MR. FIELD (Dublin, St. Patrick)

I beg to move that this Bill be read a second time upon this clay six months. I wish to disclaim at the commencement of the debate any desire whatever to interfere with the development of the Mersey Docks. As a member of the Port and Docks Commission in Dublin, I am aware of the difficulties of carrying on the operations of such a body as the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board. But the Irish Live Stock Owners' Association, of which I am president, passed a resolution asking for further landing facilities at Liverpool, and therefore it is my duty to bring this matter before the House. It may be in the recollection of the House that we had a discussion on this matter on a Mersey Dock and Harbour Bill in 1898.* There are peculiar circumstances connected with this subject which it is necessary to explain to the House. It may be * See The Parliamentary Debates [Fourth Series], Vol. lvi., page 1173. alleged by those who are in opposition to my motion that I wish to disturb the operation of the Mersey Dock and Harbour Board. That is not so. I wish them to carry out the powers which they obtained in their Bill of 1893 under which they could build a landing stage at Waterloo Pier. Now, if it was necessary in 1893 to obtain the assent of this House to build a landing stage at Waterloo Pier, why is it unnecessary now? In 1897 we sanctioned the Bootle Scheme to remove the live stock trade from the Prince's landing stage. That is precisely what we want now, with this important exception, that the market should be kept within the City of Liverpool. So far as I can see there was no mention of that in the Bill of 1893 or that of 1898. What we are asking for is improved landing stage accommodation with railway connections, but we have hitherto not obtained them. It would be useful for the House to know the fact that the Mersey Dock and Harbour Board generally carry out their own ideas without consulting the trades generally concerned; and that is a policy by which Liverpool has lost the tea trade. The large tea bonded stores which formerly were filled are now converted into ice-making warehouses. In the same way the wool trade was lost to Liverpool for want of accommodation, and consequently the wool came to London. The most recent result of that policy is to be found in the construction of the Manchester Ship Canal. We all know that it was owing to the dock dues, high railway rates, want of accommodation, and inability of the Mersey Dock and Harbour Board to provide facilities for the transit of goods to Manchester that the canal was constructed. I am not speaking for Irishmen alone, but for the whole country. If that policy is continued it may have more dangerous results in the future than they contemplate. I desire that the Mersey Dock and Harbour Board should carry out the improvements which they themselves suggested. I want them to look ahead and provide the facilities required by trade. In the particular trade with which I am connected I know for a fact that the Dublin and Manchester Steamship Company carry a large amount of live stock to Manchester without interfering with Liverpool at all. Liverpool is the natural port to which the majority of the live stock should go, because it is the great distributing centre of England, not only for Irish products, but for the coasting trade of England, Wales, Scotland, and the Isle of Man. In fact, Liverpool takes in more live stock than all the rest of England put together. I only mention a few of the ports from which stock is sent —Dublin, Belfast, Wexford, Sligo, Londonderry, Waterford, Tralee, West-port, Newry, Limerick, Larne, Dundalk, Drogheda, Cork, Galway. There are other ports from which occasionally live stock come, such as Glasgow, Ramsey, and Aberdeen. Now, I ask the House to consider seriously whether two berths form sufficient landing-stage accommodation for vessels coming from all these ports? There may come a time when a ship requires landing-stage accommodation owing to her having missed the time for getting into dock. Boats come from all parts. I do not want to detain the House with details and figures for which it would not care, but I do say that more live stock comes into England through the port of Liverpool than all the other ports put together. Therefore I ask for the convenience which is necessary. I do not rest my case on live stock alone, but on the general trade of Liverpool. The argument which will be used on the other side is that the sorting pen provides all the accommodation for which we are asking. Now, I have consulted the Bill, but I find there is no mention of sorting pens, and my contention is that the provision of sorting pens is no sort of argument against the building of a landing stage at Waterloo Pier. In Clause 5, Section 6, it provides for an extension for about 100 yards in a northwesterly direction of the Prince's Landing Stage, with a bridge to connect it with the Prince's Landing Stage, but none of the sub-sections contain a word on the subject. Since the Prince's Landing Stage has been built we are worse off than before, because owing to the increase of traffic to Liverpool the Irish live stock trade is restricted to where there is foothold for the cattle only to the extent of two berths. It may be said that no further facilities will be given by the building of a landing stage than by building a platform at the end of the present landing stage. That is the way of the Mersey Docks; they built a platform at the end of the stage, and it is there to-day as a monument of their incapacity. When the water is high no ship can stand at that point, and the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board were warned of that fact when they built it, whilst the Atlantic steamers come in and take up the whole of the stage. Let me show how they deal with our opponents in the cattle trade. There was an elaborate expenditure at Birkenhead. They refused to construct this landing stage which they themselves proposed without pressure being put upon them, but for the foreign cattle trade they have built two landing stages; at the same time they will not give us in Ireland the facilities and accommodation we want. The foreigners are subsidised whilst we, your neighbours, are taxed. This is not free trade. It is preferential to the foreigner. The foreign cattle trade ought to be in the hands of a municipal corporation. All these great public trades ought to be in the hands of a public authority. That is the doctrine accepted by this House and the whole civilised world at the present time.


Order, order! I think the question of how the Mersey Docks treat the foreign cattle trade is a little remote.


At the present time the Mersey Docks are realising a great deal of money from the management of the foreign cattle trade, and it would be only just, I think, if a portion of that money was devoted to giving the necessary facilities to the native cattle trade. It may possibly be said that the native cattle trade does not pay or does not realise an amount commeasurable with the amount we are asking the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board to expend. Granted that that is so, I maintain that this Mersey Dock and Harbour Board is not a trader. It is a great public body, and it is its duty to develop the trade so that it will pay eventually. Hon. Members may say that that is my own individual opinion, but I happened to be in Liverpool on Sunday, and a small paragraph was brought to my notice in a Liverpool paper called the Porcupine. Under the head of "What People are Asking," it says— .… If the Dock Board is not displaying a good deal of its traditional obstinacy and want of patriotism in the negotiations for pier head improvements? These words are not mine; they are the words of the Porcupine. My contention is that the Prince's Landing Stage should be kept altogether for passenger traffic, and that the Waterloo Landing Stage should be completed with railway connection to the market. This is required for the accommodation not only of the cross Channel trade, but also for the coasting trade of Scotland and Wales. Early and quick delivery is the essence of business at the present time. All perishable articles should be delivered at the time they come into Liverpool. I urge this from the general producer's point of view in the three kingdoms. This is not merely an Irish question. If live stock are delayed in the river they suffer much more than probably those who were unacquainted with the facts would imagine. Ventilation ceases almost when a vessel lies still in the harbour. When a vessel is going the ventilation is kept up. On the voyage the cattle get neither food nor water, and the sooner they are got out of the vessel the better. In submitting the motion standing in my name I am not acting with a desire to prevent the development of Liverpool. On the contrary, I wish that Liverpool may be further developed, and that the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board may carry out their own proposals. The Mersey Docks and Harbour Board is one of the few trusts in this country that do not require money. They ought to act up to the necessities of the case and provide the accommodation that is so much required for the cross channel and coasting steamers. I move that the Bill be read a second time this day six months.


said it was perfectly clear that the Irish Members of every shade of politics took the same view as the hon. Member for the St. Patrick Division had expressed. This matter really affected what was one of their greatest national industries—namely, the cattle trade. It equally affected the people of the north of England, who must be fed. To the port of Liverpool there come from Ireland over one million beasts and sheep. It was exceedingly essential for the development of the resources of Ireland that this matter should be looked after. Unless Parliament would step in on an occasion like this and protect the small Irish producer against this wealthy corporation there was very little hope for the trade. In 1893 the Mersey Docks people obtained powers in the House enabling them to make, when they saw fit, the Waterloo Dock, with railway facilities to their market. The Waterloo Dock was the place where beasts from Ireland were to be landed, and the market where they were to be sold and distributed. There was a great deal of dispute in Liverpool between 1893 and 1898 as to the rights of the corporation to deal with this particular market, but that was eventually settled, and the site of this particular market was fixed, and was now known as the Stanley Market. In 1898 the Mersey Docks people, who had done nothing whatever under the powers, of 1893, came to the House with their Bill, which was criticised. He possessed a letter, written then by an official with a view to stopping the opposition which the Irish Members of every shade of politics then offered unless the industry was safeguarded, in which there was an undertaking that as soon as Stanley Market was fixed as a market they would carry out the powers they had obtained. In March this year the site of the Stanley Market was fixed, and what they expected to hear from Members from Liverpool as honourable men was that the undertaking would be carried out. Unless this Irish trade was given facilities, he hoped the House would not allow this Bill to pass on the Second Reading. He seconded the motion.

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

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

* MR. LAWRENCE (Liverpool, Abercromby)

said he had no fault to find with the hon. Members who moved and seconded the motion; but he was rather surprised they had taken this action so soon after 1898, when this matter was before the House. The hon. Member for the St. Patrick Division had told the House that the Mersey Board was a great corporation dealing with a revenue of £1,300,000 a year, and yet he wished the House to believe that those responsible for the management of this great corporation were animated by feelings of favouritism towards certain interests to the detriment of other interests. He had never before heard anybody, in criticising the action of the board, make the very strong statement that they were guilty of protective regulations with a view to advantage one trade and depreciate another. It it were worth while he could read to the House a letter from a gentleman connected with the cattle trade in Belfast, stating that the cattle traders there were entirely satisfied with the arrangements at Liverpool, so that it was not true to say that the whole of Ireland complained of the want of accommodation. The hon. Member had sent round a whip which contained statements that were very inaccurate—two of them in particular. One of them he would not refer to, but the second was to the effect that in 1898 the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board had given him and his colleagues authority to give a pledge that the improvements and extension provided for in the Bill of 1893 would be carried out. That was not the case. In the Bill of 1893 the Board took powers, in case it should be necessary, to make certain new stages, among others one opposite the Waterloo Pier. The chairman of the board at the time distinctly stated that they did not take the powers with the view to the new stage being immediately made. He never came to the House and said, "We are going to use these powers at once." As a matter of fact, the board had never yet found it necessary. In 1898, when the matter was before the House, there was a Bill of greater importance than this, whose merits were not criticised. He was glad to say that the merits of this Bill wore not really called in question. He did not think that the trade in Irish cattle was unfairly treated by this great and important board, to belong to which was considered the blue ribbon of the commercial world in Liverpool. He wished to repudiate strongly the suggestion that the Mersey Board would stoop to boycott the Irish trade or any other trade. The Dock Board dealt fairly and consistently all round. The hon. Member for the St. Patrick Division had complained that vessels did not get sufficient wharfage. Saturday and Sunday were the days on which most of the cattle steamers arrived, and during the last twenty-three weeks the average number arriving on Saturdays was three and on Sundays five, and he was authorised to say that the extent of wharfage available for these vessels was 1,693 ft., allowing 250 ft. for each vessel, which was a very large average. The House would see that even six vessels could be accommodated at the same time. He believed that in summer two or three pleasure boats lay at the pier from time to time, but as a matter of fact this great length of 1,600 ft. had last year dealt with 5,700 different ships, and out of the large number only eighty-six had at one time or other to give way to some other ships that might, under the harbour bye-laws, have a special claim to a berth. Out of these eighty-six vessels there were only thirteen that did not enjoy what he might call their right under the bye-laws to have a clear wharf space during the length of an hour. He submitted that the hon. Member had not proved that in any sense the wharfage at present was inadequate for the cattle trade from Dublin. It had been said that two years ago they had given a pledge to carry out the work provided for under the Act of 1893. It was never contemplated by the Board on the occasion to undertake the construction of the Waterloo Wharf, and little was it in the mind of the hon. Member for the St. Patrick Division. He would venture to read part of two letters on the subject. One, dated 7th May, 1898, was from Mr. Burton, the engineer, to the hon. Member for the St. Patrick Division, and contained the following— I have now to inform you that, being satisfied by the speech of the President of the Board of Agriculture in the House of Commons on the 28th ultimo, and by the statements made by yourself and by the Town Clerk of Liverpool on behalf of the Corporation, that the removal of the Stanley market to Bootle or to some other place not conveniently situated for cattle landed at the Prince's stage, is not probable, the Works Committee have recommended to the Board that works for increasing the sorting space for cattle adjoining and to the westward of the Prince's Pier be proceeded with. The reply to that letter from the hon. Member for St. Patrick Division, dated 16th May, 1898, was to the following effect:— I am pleased to acknowledge that your board have acted in a businesslike manner, calculated to preserve the cross - channel coasting and cattle trades to Liverpool, by agreeing to provide the facilities necessary. I am glad an arrangement has been come to, which, when carried out, will be satisfactory to all those concerned. After those letters had passed the Mersey Docks Board were, with reason, very much astonished to find that when this important Bill connected with other matters came before the House, his hon. friend got up and said he had a grievance.


May I point out to the hon. Member that I always maintained and still maintain that they should carry out those powers sought for and obtained from the House.


The hon. Member said we gave a pledge to the House that we would carry out the works referred to in the powers obtained in the Act of 1893. We never made such a pledge, because we said it was not necessary then, and we say it is not necessary now. I will read what the chairman said at a meeting of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board on 4th November, 1892, when the resolution authorising the promotion of the 1893 (Various Powers) Bill was submitted and passed— These would meet the case to a certain extent, and were as much as would be wanted for a time, but in order to avoid the necessity of going constantly to Parliament, they thought it better to apply for powers to construct this floating stage, not as an alternative, but as a supplementary scheme, in case they found it necessary. No doubt a limit would be imposed upon them, but during the interval, the Board would be able to learn whether the accommodation of the Prince's stage would suffice or not, and if not, there was still the larger scheme, which would cost £350,000. That was the position the Board took up. The hon. Member had no doubt that as sensible and honourable people the Board, if necessary, would not hesitate to do anything else fairly to advance the interests of the trade. The Mersey Docks Board were, he believed, in a position to affirm that the Board of Agriculture considered that the necessity of the case had not yet been proved, and therefore they were entitled to leave the case where it was. They did not now, any more than in 1898, give a nan possumus, but any feasible proposal by which the trade of Ireland would be improved would be considered. Until the necessity had been proved it would be too much to call upon them to spend the very large figure which the building of the other wharf would naturally involve. Since 1898 they had carried out the alterations to which Mr. Burton referred. They had spent £25,000, and if they had not increased the wharfage they had certainly improved the chances of vessels getting forward with their unlading. He thought that the hon. Member before criticising the action of the Board might fairly wait until the new works, commenced in 1898, had actually come into operation.


did not think the hon. Member had met the arguments brought forward by the hon. Member for St. Patrick Division. There had been complaints for years on behalf of cattle dealers and farmers in Ireland as to the want of accommodation for the landing of cattle at Liverpool. That was the point of the case. Ireland had very few-natural resources. Ireland was a very poor country, and the principal source of wealth in that country was its cattle trade, and every encouragement and facility should be given by that House for the carrying on and development of the trade. He denied altogether the suggestion of the hon. and learned Member who spoke last that there was any misstatement in the circular where it set forth that a pledge was given to the House in 1898 that the works authorised in 1893 would be carried out as soon as possible. That paragraph was strictly accurate, and he doubted very much whether the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture would question the accuracy of the statement. How had that been met? The Stanley Market was now built, but the condition referred to had not been fulfilled. It was stated that Belfast traders were satisfied with the existing accommodation, but that was a mere illusory statement. Surely hon. Members were aware that nothing was more injurious to cattle than lying at anchor under stifling conditions. He knew from his own experience that great suffering and injury was caused to cattle in transit, and he read a few years ago a remarkable pamphlet published by his hon. friend the Member for the St. Patrick Division of Dublin, which was based on the result of an action brought by cattle traders in Ireland against the railway companies for the manner in which their cattle carrying trade was conducted. He hoped the House would show some sympathy with Ireland in the matter. It interested landlords equally with tenants, because the landlords depended for their rent largely on the price obtained for cattle, and the tenants' subsistence depended on that source also. The Mersey Docks Board, which was a Corporation, whose wealth ought to be a guarantee that they would act in the right way—although he did not accept any such guarantee—ought not to have abused their powers, or ought not to have neglected to exercise them, in accordance with the distinct pledge given in 1893. He should, therefore, support the motion of his hon. friend the Member for the St. Patrick Division of Dublin.


I cannot congratulate hon. Gentlemen from Ireland on the recruit they have received in this debate. I am bound to say, speaking with some personal knowledge of the facts of this case, that I never heard such a grossly exaggerated statement as that the House has just listened to from the right hon. Gentleman. Anyone listening to his speech would imagine that two-thirds of Ireland, if not the whole of Ireland, was brought to a state of ruin by the action of the Mersey Docks Board.


I would ask the right hon. Gentleman what passage in my speech is exaggerated.


He should behave himself.


The hon. Gentleman should not use such an expression as that.


I apologise. I ought not to have used it, but I was irritated by the right hon. Gentleman's remarks.


I am not aware that I deserve the rebuke of the hon. Gentleman. The whole tenor of the right hon. Gentleman's speech, so far as it contained any argument at all, was that the action of the Docks Board was ruining an Irish industry by their want of action and their unwillingness to meet the demands of the Irish farmers. I repeat there is no foundation for any statement of that kind. The Docks Board of Liverpool are not what the right hon. Gentleman says they are, a great wealthy corporation with an enormous income to spend as they like. They are, on the contrary, a very impoverished corporation, the members of which, by the way, perform their duties for nothing and administer a very large revenue which is derived from dues imposed on ships using the Liverpool docks, and unless they can see that any expenditure they are called upon to incur would be remunerative, they are entitled to hold their hands before they embark upon it. Suppose that the Docks Board had in 1893 or in 1898 made the specific promise referred to in this debate, and if they now found that there was no need for extra accommodation, is it reasonable that they, as trustees of public money, should be obliged to carry out that pledge even though they believed that no extra accommodation was required. The right hon. Gentleman said that complaints had been made on this question from time immemorial. Yes, Sir, many complaints have been made, such as those mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman. It has been my business to sift many of these complaints, and as a rule I have found that the charges were of a general character, and were refuted by the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board. I would suggest to the hon. Member for the St. Patrick Division of Dublin that the best way to get what he wants—and what he is entitled to ask for if he believes that insuf- ficient accommodation exists—is not to oppose this measure, which is a measure to develop the Liverpool docks. I had some part in the negotiations which took place with reference to the Bill of 1898. It was then suggested that the Stanley Market should be given up, and a site for a market obtained elsewhere. The Mersey Docks Board said that once the site was settled they were prepared to spend what money they thought right and reasonable to meet the demands that were made upon them. That is the position I understand which they take up to-day, and they are entitled to ask that before they are called upon by this House to spend more money, it should at all events be clearly shown to them that there is a demand for extra accommodation. Of course it is true that cattle suffer by the ships having to lie in the river for many hours, and that they deteriorate in condition if the arrangements made for their landing are not satisfactory. It is part of the business of my Department to use every effort we can to prevent such suffering, and there is no justification for suggesting that we allow the port authorities to give advantages to foreign cattle as against home raised cattle. We apply the same rules to all alike. Charges have been made that cattle have lain in the Mersey for long periods. I have brought these charges before the Docks Board. I have had each case examined into as to the exact time the ships arrived, came alongside, and had discharged their cargoes, and I do not hesitate to say that not one of those charges could be sustained. Surely if that is so, the Docks Board are merely doing their duty in holding their hands before indulging in further expenditure. I hope the hon. Member for the St. Patrick Division of Dublin, who has played a very prominent part with regard to this question, and who has endeavoured to secure proper recognition of the rights and needs of graziers of cattle in Ireland, will be satisfied with the debate he has initiated, and that he will not think it necessary to put the House to the trouble of a division, because, if he succeeded in his motion, he would stop the progress of a Bill urgently required for the development of the docks in Liverpool, and would not advance by one iota the cause he has at heart. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that if any person interested in the cattle trade will bring forward specific cases, either with regard to delay or the condition of the cattle after being landed, I will undertake that they shall be sifted and examined into, and if, in our opinion, it is found to be desirable that additional accommodation should be provided, I will undertake also to press that view on the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board. I have not always seen eye to eye with them, but they have always been ready and willing to listen and to carefully consider any suggestions made to them by my Department, and I am convinced that if the need for extra accommodation can be shown they will not hesitate to meet the demand in a straightforward way. I believe that it would be more advisable for the interests represented by the hon. Member for the St. Patrick Division of Dublin not to press the matter further, and to allow the Bill to be read the second time.

MR. T. P. O'CONNOR (Liverpool, Scotland)

said he must first express his regret that the right hon. Gentleman had thought it necessary to refer in the manner he did to his right hon. friend the Member for North Tyrone. He was sure he was expressing the feelings of hon. Gentlemen opposite when he said that it was a matter of regret that on that occasion they had not the advantage of the services of the highly efficient solicitor to the Board, as they had on previous occasions. The question was one on which Irish opinion was unanimous, at all events with the exception of hon. Members for Belfast, who thought that everything asked for except by Belfast was prima facie wrong, and therefore ought to be rejected by the House. With that exception, Ireland was unanimous in demanding better accommodation for the Irish cattle trade. He was sure they had the sympathy of the President of the Board of Agriculture in the matter. The position in which the House was placed by the motion was a little awkward. They were asked to reject a Bill 99–100ths of which they knew to be good because they were dissatisfied on a particular point. He thought it would be better if his hon. friend withdrew the motion for the rejection of the Bill and went on to the Instruction, which definitely raised the particular point as regards accommodation.

MR. WOLFF (Belfast, E.)

said he could not be accused of being one of those who thought that unless a thing emanated from Belfast it was sure to be wrong. So far as Belfast was concerned he had heard no complaints regarding the accommodation given in Liverpool. That possibly was only a negative testimony, but his experience was that if the people of Belfast wanted anything from Parliament they wore never slow in letting him know. He doubted whether it was actually necessary in the immediate future to build such a wharf as was suggested. That was a matter for the Docks Board to consider. At present steamers from Belfast landed their passengers at a landing stage which was centrally situated. If the cattle wharf were constructed lower down the river the steamers would be sent to it and the passengers would be landed among the cattle at a point further away from the centre of the city.


said he would adopt the suggestion of his hon. friend and would withdraw the motion by leave of the House. In introducing it he had no desire whatever, directly or indirectly, to interfere with Liverpool as a port. It was with a view to developing the port that he brought forward his motion. He was glad the President of the Board of Agriculture had recognised the spirit in which he had acted, and he would only add that he had always been courteously and urbanely treated by the right hon. Gentleman.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.