HC Deb 02 April 1903 vol 120 cc990-6


Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


said that while raising no objection to the Bill in its entirety, he would ask for an undertaking from the promoters that any dredging done in the neighbourhood of the bridges under the administration of the Corporation should be carried on under the superintendence and control of the Corporation officials. He thought there was nothing unreasonable in the request, and if an undertaking were given to that effect he should be satisfied. He had no desire to say anything against the Bill.

MR. JOHN BURNS (Battersea)

said that on behalf of the promoters he was pleased to give the pledge required by the hon. Baronet.

MR. BULL (Hammersmith)

said the problem of the river communication of London differed very greatly from that of other cities. Those who compared it with the Seine and the Mersey must remember that the Seine flowed through the centre of the city of Paris, that there was very little tide there, and the difficulties we had to combat in the Thames were altogether avoided. With regard to the Mersey, it was merely a ferry, and not a river steamboat service at all. From 1860 or 1870 up to 1876 there was a steamboat service which paid very well, because at that time the fare from Hammersmith to the Bank was sixpence. All that had been altered by the railways, improved bus services, and tubes. In the 'eighties and early 'nineties the river traffic got into other hands and was ruined, not because of the river traffic itself but because the company engaged in pleasure traffic to ports around the coast. He suggested that in order to make it pay the service should be a regular one and carried on during all weathers. It should start in the early morning and be continued until late at night; that the piers which were now absolutely inadequate and placed in the wrong places should be thoroughly overhauled and placed in positions where they were accessible to the public; and that the steamers should be of light draught, with large cabin accommodation, so that the people could be properly housed in wet weather. He would suggest two services, one stopping at all piers up and down he river, and another, an express service, stopping say once at Chelsea on the trip between London Bridge and Hammersmith. He thought the sum mentioned by the County Council Bill, £380,000, was barely sufficient for the purpose of such a service as this, because if the thing was done at all it must be done upon a basis which would make it certain that in the course of twelve or eighteen months it would pay; and unless careful thought was given to the financial part, and that was put upon a proper basis, it seemed to him that the London County Council would court failure.

SIR FREDERICK BANBURY (Camberwell, Peckham)

said the object of this Bill was to establish a steamboat service on the River Thames. It had been tried several times by private enterprise and had always resulted in a pecuniary loss, and it could hardly be doubted that in this case there would be a very serious loss, which the ratepayers would have to make good, but at the same time it might be well for the Bill to go to a Committee, as that Committee would be able to sift the evidence and come to a conclusion as to the amount of loss the ratepayers would suffer. It would be fair to allow this Bill to be sent to a Committee on condition that the next Bill (the Thames Steamboat Trust Bill) were also allowed to go to the Committee.

MR. BRIGG (Yorkshire, W.R., Keighley)

, having taken part in the discussion of a similar Bill some years ago, when that Bill was rejected, expressed the opinion that the conditions under which the subject was approached now were somewhat altered. It seemed to him that an opportunity ought to be given to the London County Council to establish a steamboat service, and therefore he supported the Second Reading.


said the hon. Member for Hammersmith had expressed some doubt as to whether a proper river steamboat service could be established under the conditions of this Bill; that £380,000 was hardly sufficient for the purpose. What the hon. Gentleman the Member for Hammersmith regarded as a defect was a virtue; because the money was sufficient for a commencement, and if the hon. Gentleman's hopes were realised, it would be an easy matter, when experience justified it, for the Council to ask that the service should be put into the condition that the ambitious scheme of the hon. Gentleman evidently demanded. Everything the hon. Gentleman said with regard to piers was in favour of the Bill; and as to regular and continuous service, better piers, and piers in the proper places, he agreed with the hon. Gentleman, and was pleased to have his support. Although the hon. Gentleman did not always see eye to eye with him on the County Council, yet, as the late Chairman of the Bridges Committee, he knew the capacity of the river and how badly it was served. He would ask the hon. Gentleman at this stage to reserve criticisms on detail, and support the principles of the Bill.

He appreciated the conciliatory attitude of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Peckham, though he did not suggest that it was an indication of repentance for his attitude towards the County Council the other night. The hon. Gentleman thought that the service would not be what its promoters anticipated. As regarded that, he would only say that for years it was obvious to every one, especially Members of the House, who had a unique opportunity of seeing the Thames, that the steamboat service was a disgrace to London, considering the character of the river. It was inadequate, slow, irregular, and too seasonal. That was due to many reasons. One was lack of capital, another lack of enterprise, and a third, lack of capacity. It was provided with bad piers, piers in the wrong places, and no piers at all in the proper places. The management had worsened, and it was safe to say that the service was the worst on what was the finest river in the world. The management had shown no regard as to relations with railways, omnibuses, trams, and bridges; and the regular passengers had been sacrificed to the pleasure traffic.

Private enterprise under successive managements had signally failed to meet the river requirements of London; and he said, respectfully, that in the interests of the river, and in the interests of the health, leisure, and pleasure of the people of this vast city, private enterprise having failed, public enterprise should step in. The London County Council now asked permission to substi- tute that public enterprise. They made that demand under favourable circumstances. The Thames Conservancy practically supported the Bill; and the City Corporation gave it at least a qualified support. The Bill started under favourable auspices. The County Council, being the bridges, embankments, and highways authority for London, believed that they could supply a steamboat service better than any private enterprise, even with more capital, could offer. They would be able to bring a pier to every bridge, and a tram to every pier; and, by interchangeable tickets, a profit could almost be guaranteed; and even if there were a loss in the first two or three years, it would be insignificant.

In order to carry that out, the Council asked the House of Commons to pass this Bill, to enable the Council to purchase a fleet of new, clean, swift, and modern vessels, which London ought to have. Acting in conjunction with the Thames Conservancy and the City Corporation, the County Council would provide more piers, and better piers, would link the piers with the trams, would provide more favourable approaches, and a service which, he was convinced, would pay. The comparison with Paris was not altogether fair. There was no comparison between the Seine and the Thames. The Seine was not a tidal river; but the Thames had two tides up, and two tides down every twenty-four hours. No other river enjoyed that advantage, and he believed that the tides would lend themselves to a good steamboat service, which, judging from other cities which had instituted similar services, could be made to pay. The County Council was also the ferry authority for London, and had three ferries at Woolwich which were admirably managed. They carried 5,000,000 passengers and 500,000 vehicles every year free; and, incidentally, was allowed by Parliament to lose £20,000 a year of the ratepayers' money. Surely the House of Commons, consistently and logically, private enterprise having failed, should allow the Council, after the experience it had acquired at Woolwich, to carry people up and down the river as well as across the river. There were many other reasons why London should have a steamboat service such as the Bill sought to provide, and he asked the House of Commons, respectfully, but with great hope, to allow the Bill to pass its Second Reading and to be sent upstairs to a Committee. The result would be that London would get an efficient, cheap, and regular steamboat service, which it had long lacked, and which it was the object of the Bill to provide.

MR. CUMMING MACDONA (Southwark Rotherhithe)

said the proposal of the County Council was to provide a grand new service which would be magnificently arranged in every way. That was a most desirable object if it could possibly be attained. The grievance which he wished to press upon the House was that the Trust Society appeared to have forgotten the magnificent services rendered to London and the country by the watermen and lightermen. The County Council, on the other hand, had offered to avail themselves of the excellent services of these men to the best of their ability. Anyone familiar with the history of the country could not forget 1293, when the watermen of London carried the Members for the City of London and their friends from London Bridge to Greenwich for a half-penny, nor the time when the country called upon them to fight, and when they took part in every great naval engagement. When the Members of the House of Commons were tyrannically turned out of their Chamber it was the watermen of London who brought them back again, and the Speaker gave them thanks.


said the hon. Member for Battersea was challenged by the hon. Member for Peckham to state whether he would agree to the Second Reading of the Bill which was to follow, if the Bill before the House were read a second time. Although the hon. Member could not discuss the details of the next Bill he could quite properly have answered that challenge, but he had carefully avoided any reference to it whatever. In regard to the provision of a passenger service on the River Thames there were two proposals before the public. One was embodied in the Bill promoted by the County Council and now before the House. The Bill proposed to take possession of, or at all events to supplant, the existing piers and landing places. The private enterprise which had hitherto existed in this matter had involved a large investment of capital, and no less than five of the piers or landing places belonged to those concerned in that private enterprise. The London County Council sought by this Bill, and by their opposition to the Bill which was to follow, to transmit to the Committee upstairs solely the question that they should have the opportunity of supplying the wants of the public in regard to a steamboat service on the river. He asked for a pledge from the promoters of the Bill that the County Council would give fair play to those who had hitherto supplied the service, and that the next Bill on the Order Paper should also be sent to the Committee.

MR. COHEN (Islington, E.)

joined in the appeal made by the hon. Member for the Shipley Division that a pledge should be given by the hon. Member for Battersea. He himself felt confident of the superiority of the service which would be provided by the County Council, but still he thought both Bills should go upstairs, where the Committee would give them far more consideration than the House could possibly give.


I am prepared at the proper time to accede to the request made.