§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ MR. CHARLES M'ARTHUR (Liverpool, Exchange)
, who had given notice of a motion for the rejection of the measure, said he had no desire to place obstacles in the way of the construction of the new dock and other improvements at Swansea which were contemplated by the Bill, nor did he and those who were acting with him intend to interfere with the discretion of the Swansea Har- 1143 bour trustees to charge what rates they thought fit on shipping entering that port; but what they did say was that those rates ought to be charged on the legal tonnage of the ships, and not upon the arbitrary tonnage basis proposed in the Bill. This endeavour to substitute an arbitrary tonnage basis for the tonnage basis laid down by the Merchant Shipping Act was an endeavour to interfere with a public Act by means of a private Bill, and was opposed to public policy. Every British ship had to be measured under the Merchant Shipping Act, and her tonnage had to be ascertained in accordance with a system of measurement laid down by that Act. When the tonnage of the ship had been thus ascertained it was cut into the ship's beam, and that then became for all purposes the tonnage of the ship. That tonnage was the tonnage on which rates had to be charged, and in point of fact this system was uniform all through the country with one or two exceptions. In all ports, with one or two exceptions, where the tonnage dues were charged they were charged on the legal tonnage of the ship. This Bill proposed to establish a new system of tonnage. It proposed that in the case of steam vessels other than steam tugs the net registered tonnage on which dues should be charged should in no case be less than 50 per cent. of the gross tonnage, and that in the case of tugs the net registered tonnage should in no case be less than 18 per cent, of the gross tonnage. If Swansea were to have this power of making her own tonnage basis tile same liberty would have to be conceded to other ports, and the uniformity established by the Merchant Shipping Act would be destroyed, and a state of chaos would be brought about. There was an additional advantage of the present system, inasmuch as when the British system of measurement was adopted by foreign countries the tonnage of the ship ascertained in the foreign country was her tonnage for all purposes in Great Britain, He did not see why a provision of that kind should be overridden by the proposals of a private Bill. He thought the reason on the part of the Swansea trustees for asking for this power was that there were some vessels which were so constructed that 1144 they obtained a net registered tonnage much less than they ought to have, and on that account it was desired to correct the anomaly by means of this proposal. But if it was desired to correct an anomaly arising out of the general law it should be done by an amendment of the general law, or by an alteration in the instructions given by the Beard of Trade to their surveyors. He understood that the Beard of Trade had this very matter under their consideration at the present time, and it that were so, surely it was a very inopportune time for any particular port to rectify the matter by means of a private Bill. He would remind the House that in 1899 a Bill was brought, before the House of Lords in which this proposal was contained in reference to Bristol and other ports, and when the matter was brought under the notice of Lord Morley, as Chairman of Committees, he said it was not one that ought to be proposed in a private Bill, and the Bill was withdrawn. He did not wish that this Bill should be withdrawn, for it contained many very useful and beneficial matters, but he hoped the promoters would give an undertaking that this particular clause would not be pressed. If it were not pressed he would withdraw his opposition to the Bill. If, on the other hand, the clause came down from the Committee in the shape in which it now stood, the opposition to the Bill would be renewed, and he should press it to a division.
§ SIR GEORGE NEWNES (Swansea)
remarked that this Bill proposed an expenditure of £2,000,000 for the benefit of a. densely-populated district and of the commerce of the country, and the clause to which objection had been taken by the hon. Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool was, after all, only a subsidiary matter. He should have pleasure in accepting the offer of the hon. Member and in acceding to his terms.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed.