§ [SECOND READING].
§ Order for Second Reading read.542
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
SIR F. DIXON HARTLAND (Middlesex, Uxbridge)
It is with great regret that, on behalf of the Thames Conservancy, of which body I have the honour to be the chairman, I have no option but to move the rejection of this Bill. Its keynote is the amalgamation of two bodies with utterly different, in fact diverse, functions, and to carry this out it is necessary to raise an enormous sum of money, between £30,000,000 and £40,000,000, which can only be done by having to call on the rates in aid, to destroy private enterprise, which up to now has been considered the motive power in this country, and to make another step in the direction of municipal trading I will show that it is quite unnecessary to do this in order to obtain the benefits at which the Bill is supposed to aim. For myself I have always considered that the Port of London should be kept up to date, and there is no reason why this should not be done without the risk and burdens of this Bill. The Thames Conservancy have done their utmost for this object, and the only complaint against them has been that they have not deepened the Port for the largest vessels. They did all they could with the limited means at their disposal, and, time after time, they have applied to Government for extra rating powers to enable them to raise the requisite funds. Time after time the Government have refused to take the matter up, and I ask this House what chance they had of getting extra taxing powers except under a Government Bill. As regards the docks, with the low price at which their stocks stood, it was equally impossible to raise the capital to lower their sills and allow larger vessels to enter them at all states of the tide, but with the extra taxation for which they have so frequently applied they could also bring themselves up to date, without the heroic measures proposed by this Bill. It is an utter mistake to suppose that, because these works have been delayed, the trade of the Port is a dwindling one. As a matter of fact it has increased three-fold in the last fifty 543 years, as these figures show. The tonnage entering in 1851 was 5,293,000 tons, whereas in 1901 it was 15,952,000 tons, and in reply to arguments that the percentage of increase is not so large as in some foreign ports, such as Rotterdam, Hamburg, and Antwerp, I may say that is caused because fifty years ago those places were hardly ports at all, and it necessarily follows that the percentage of increase on small beginnings must be very much larger than on an old port such as London. Then it is stated that London is a dear port, and that if this Bill is carried it will reduce the rates. As a fact it is one of the cheapest port in the world, because it is an absolutely free one. Goods discharged or loaded in the river pay nothing to the Thames Conservancy, and the barges into which they discharge are equally exempt. Every other port in the United Kingdom (except Hull) pays dues on goods to the port authority for the use of the port, and if the power was given to the new authority, whatever it may be, to make this charge the river could amply pay its way and be deepened up to date without coming on the rates for a single penny. I think these remarks have proved my point that, on behalf of both bodies threatened, extra powers and not destruction is the better course for all parties.
The most undesirable part of the new Bill is the question of using the rates for the purchase of the docks. The docks have had their day; they are a diminishing rather than an increasing power, and there is no question that deep jetties all along the river banks will be the way in which the river will be increasingly used. At present 56 per cent. of the shipping discharges in the river, and only 44 per cent. in the docks, and, in my opinion, it will continue to increase on the river, as is shown by experience on the Tyne and other places. Eighteen large schemes for these jetties have come before the Thames Conservancy in the last two years. They grow in favour on account of their economy, as vessels can use them at any state of the tide, and leave the moment the work of discharging is completed, and in addition can get alongside in half-an-hour, whereas it often takes half-a-day 544 to get into the docks. If this is the trend of public opinion it follows that the dock income will be a falling one, and quite unable to meet the interest on the sums paid for them, and the absurdity will take place that the new authority must destroy the earnings of the docks, for which they will have paid so large a sum, by its obligation to build the jetties which must come. To show the enormous alteration of dock values since this question was raised, I may point out that in June 1901 the nominal value of the stocks was £14,500,000, and the market value £10,000,000. On 9th May, 1903, the market value had risen to £14,500,000, or an increase of £4,500,000, and if this £14,500,000 is reduced to a 3 per cent. table, their cost would be £20,000,000, or a charge of £600,000 a year. If to this you add their £9,000,000 of debentures (which have also increased in value £500,000) the interest will be £270,000 more, and a market rise of £5,000,000 extra to come on the Port authority. Thus the total sum to be paid would be £29,000,000, and, adding to that the £4,500,000 required to bring the docks up to date, the annual interest at 3 per cent. will amount to £1,005,000. Add to this a sinking fund of 1 per cent. the annual charge would be £1,364,000, or if only ½ per cent. sinking fund, £1,172,500. The gross income of the docks in 1901 was £2,678,600, and the gross expenditure £1,945,000, leaving a balance of £733,600. Therefore in one case the deficiency would be £606,400, or in the other £438,900. Again, if they give up the warehouse business it will increase the loss, as this branch is looked on as one of the most valuable of its assets. By Clause 23 they are actually allowed to extend it and make the competition with the wharfingers, to which I shall presently refer, still more unfair. I think these facts show how undesirable the purchase of the docks is. They don't want to be bought; let them bear their own burdens of any obsolete stock, as the gas companies do, and let them work out their own salvation. But it will be asked—If this is done how can the river be placed under one authority, as is desired by so many people? Easily enough. The riverway in the docks, 545 as in the tideway, can be put under the control of the new authority, who can order any works necessary to navigation their dividends can be limited, they can be made amenable to the Railway Commissioners, and the whole river dues can be collected by the Customs, or some other authority to be formed by the Board of Trade, and divided between the docks and river on a scale to be settled. This would do away with the double collection to which so many trades object.
It is a known fact that expenses always increase under a popular body, and the rate of the London County Council has just gone up 1¼d. to 16¾d. The report issued by their River Committee shows that they quite understand that they will have to pay under this Bill, as they ask for increased representation beyond what is proposed, on the ground of the "heavy financial responsibility the Port of London Bill imposes on the Council." Do the House of Commons know the real facts? The cost of administration of the London County Council has doubled in thirteen years, though neither population nor rateable value has increased in the same proportion. The debt of the London County Council has risen from £32,000,000 in 1889–1890 to £46,000,000, and now stands at 123 per cent. of the annual rateable value. The London County Council are now trying to obtain a steamboat service, which must be worked at a loss, and when the cost of education and the Water Board is added, you will find that very large additions will have to be provided for. Is it likely the ratepayers will consent to increase the already large and daily growing payments when it is proved they are quite unnecessary? Another anomaly is that the Tilbury Docks are in Essex and the Albert and Victoria Docks are in East and West Ham, all outside the area of the London County Council. Will London ratepayers consent to pay rates to increase the rateable values of these places, or will West Ham allow an area which pays 10 per cent. of its rates to be taken from it? If the docks are not bought it will be quite unnecessary to borrow any money at all, or to pledge the rates, and I do strongly urge the Government at any rate not to make it a condition of this Bill 546 that the purchase must take place, but either only to give the new authority the power to purchase should they consider it best to do so, or to leave it to the Commissioner upstairs to examine carefully and decide the point. As regards the river authority, it is still less necessary. At present ships pay and goods escape. By removing certain exemptions and allowing a charge on goods far less than is already authorised by Parliament for the Tyne, there will be an ample fund for the management of the river and provide the sum of £2,500,000, required for deepening the channel, for which the surveys are already in progress. To show this is a fact, and assuming that £2,500,000 is spent on the river, the annual expenditure on revenue account for interest, maintenance and management could not exceed £350,000 a year, which amount from the present income of the Conservancy, the extra dues on shipping, and small dues on merchandise can be easily obtained without putting the ratepayers to the expense of a single farthing.
Another fault of the Bill is that no schedule of dues is attached. In every other case this has been fixed by Parliament, and I consider it undesirable that it shall be left to the Board of Trade. As regards the charges falling, if necessary, on the rates, the Bill provides that in case it does so the Board of Trade can, at the request of the London County Council, order them to be raised, as showing that this power is intended to be used. I may say the Report of the London County Council goes so far as to suggest that this shall be obligatory and not optional on the part of the Board of Trade, in case, as will take place if the docks are purchased, the London County Council have to pay any interest on the Port stock. This would probably make London a dear port, and drive away its trade. I am sorry I have detained the House so long with details, but it is a subject which, after ten years hard work, I understand, and it is of the greatest moment to London and its trade. I have no private axe to grind. I only want to do what is best for the city of London. I have only a few words more to add. The Prime Minister not long ago expressed his fears about the financial responsibilities involved in municipal trading, yet the Board of Trade introduces a 547 Bill for the extension of these responsibilities on a vast scale, and also by compulsory expropriation. A new municipal authority is to be created to work the docks with their 20,000 employees and with extensive trading powers. Wharfingers are actually to be asked to contribute to the rates to enable a public body not only to compete with them in business, but also to be allowed to grow, so that they may eventually be driven out of the field. That will be seen on reference to Clause 23. The London County Council openly ask that the municipal element may be strengthened, so as not to be subordinated to sectional interests, but what are these so-called sectional interests? Are they not the interests of every one working the great trade of the Port, and who are best acquainted with its needs? Have hon. Members read the valuable articles in The Times upon municipal trading, now published in pamphlet form? If not, I strongly recommend them to their attention, and especially to the attention of Metropolitan Members. If this Bill passes, the same principles can, with equal injustice, be applied to every other private industry. Where is it to stop? Our position as a trading nation has been gained, and will be maintained, not by municipal trading but by private enterprise. I am quite aware that Government, with its large majority, can force any Bill it likes through the House, but I would remark the success of a measure is to be found not in its passage through the House, but in its ultimate results, and I do appeal to this Government, after the Bill has been well discussed, to withdraw it till next session, when, with the experience gained, they will probably be able to introduce one which will not be to the detriment of London but will benefit the ratepayers and parties connected with the river alike.
§ MR. DAVID MORGAN (Essex, Walthamstow)
I do not often inflict myself on this House, but as this is a matter in which I am deeply interested, I wish to say a few words on it. I desire to approach this Bill from the point of view of a merchant using the docks, as a large payer of dock charges, as a dock shareholder, and as a ratepayer of London. But whatever 548 may be the point of view from which we regard this Bill, there can be no doubt that it is a measure of the first importance, a measure which vitally affects the vast interests of the trade and commerce of the Port of London and of the country, and therefore demands the gravest consideration and the closest scrutiny. As it was said in the King's Speech, this measure is one of national importance, and I hope His Majesty's Government will not treat the question as a party one, and I hope hon. Members on both sides of the House will not look at this measure from a party point of view. To the main object of the Bill—the constitution of a Commission for the administration of the Port — I have, in principle, no objection. Indeed, I think it is generally agreed that the improvement of the river, and the unification of the various authorities that now control the river would be of great advantage to the Port and to trade generally. I do not propose to discuss the provisions of the Bill which relate to the Thames Conservancy, as that has been so ably treated by my hon. friend the Member for Uxbridge. But I would touch upon the question of the dredging and improvement of the river. This is a matter of the utmost importance. It not only affects the security of the buildings all along the river, but it affects the county of Essex, where we have very large interests on the river banks. Many of these banks are in a peculiar state. Take the case of the Dageuham Lake. When the tide rises the water in the lake rises, thus showing that the stability of the bank is not absolute. Dredging is necessarily very expensive. Leaving these points, I would ask the House to consider, with the attention it demands, the proposal which empowers the Commission constituted by this Bill to acquire, manage and carry on the undertakings of the dock companies of the Port. As the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade said in introducing this measure, "It is undoubtedly a far-reaching one," and, if passed, its consequences for good or ill must for generations to come seriously affect the prosperity and trade of the Port. I feel sure that hon. Members will agree with me that this 549 measure, as it stands, can only be justified by necessity, or the clearest proof that it is the best or only way to secure the end in which we are all concerned, the improvement and development of the resources of the Port. I venture to assert that that is not necessary, that it will not tend to the advantage of the trade of the Port and that it is beset all round with difficulties which, on a close examination of the facts, are becoming evident to many who at first ignored them.
The objections to this proposal are many and serious. (1) It involves the creation of a public body supported by the rates which will compete with the capital of the private wharfingers and warehousekeepers. The dock companies are now in close competition with the wharfingers on the river, both in respect of their warehousing and shipping business. The wharfingers and warehousekeepers do not mind that competition which they find fair. There are a very large number of these private wharves, in which an immense capital is invested, and there can be no doubt that the owners of these wharves and warehouses will have just cause to complain if the Commission, with extensive powers of raising revenue from dues on shipping and on goods, subsidised and assisted by the rates, should compete with them on such unjust and unequal terms as it will under this Bill. I do not think the House will approve and sanction such an interference with the rights of private traders, an unwarrantable and unprecedented departure from the spirit and policy which has always governed the Legislature in dealing with these matters. (2) Then I object on principle to the creation of a gigantic municipal trust controlling the whole of the trade and commerce of London. I cannot but regard this Bill as another example of that tendency to reverse the policy of free competition, a tendency towards unnecessary interference with private enterprise, and it appears to me that this Bill is another step towards the realisation of Communistic and Socialistic ideals. The question of municipal trading has engaged the attention of this House. We are now awaiting further information on the subject, and until this 550 information is forthcoming, I would ask the House to pause before it sanctions the creation of a huge municipal trading concern with a capital of £30,000,000 or £40,000,000, and with such vast and far-reaching powers. (3) There is another difficulty. By the provisions of this Bill the London County Council are to be the authority to guarantee the interest on the Port stock. If this principle be confirmed, will the London County Council be satisfied by mere displacement of other trade representatives, unless they are given a preponderating or controlling vote on the Commission? I think not, and I am bound to say that, from their point of view, I think they are quite right. It follows that if the London County Council obtain such a preponderance on the Commission as they desire, you fail to secure such a constitution as would be most advantageous and desirable for the government of the Port.
Through all these discussions the advocates of a trust have invited us to take a lesson from Liverpool, and great stress has been laid on the superiority of the Liverpool system. Let us see, then, how the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board is constituted. There you have a Board of Management consisting of twenty-eight members — twenty-four elected, and only four nominated. These twenty-four members are all dock ratepayers elected by dock ratepayers, and the members nominated are, I believe, three Liverpool merchants and one Manchester merchant, so that the entire management is in the hands of competent and experienced mercantile men, and there is no doubt in my mind that the success of the Liverpool Trust is mainly attributable to this fact. It is surely remarkable that those who never tire of holding up Liverpool as an example should be content to accept for London a scheme which ignores the essential element of the Liverpool system. Moreover, I would remind the House that the new authority will be an employer of labour on a gigantic scale, and I should like to tell the House that the wages bill is by far the greatest part of dock expenditure, and may be safely put at about 60 to 70 per cent. of the outgoing. Now, if a large proportion of the 551 members of the Commission are to be nominated by the London County Council, it is only reasonable to infer that they might be inclined to regard the labour question from an electoral point of view, and this would certainly not be to the interest either of the Fort or of the holders of Port stock. (4) Farther, the increased accommodation for the largest class of steamers which is said to be necessary means the development of the Tilbury, and the Albert and Victoria Docks, the Tilbury Docks being in my own county, and the Albert and Victoria Docks in East and West Ham. Of course I am excessively pleased at anything which can be done by the ratepayers of London to improve the rateable value of my own constituency. I do not think that the London ratepayer will look at it from the same point of view. We want money for our roads seeing that now they cost much more under the County Council than they did under Quarter Sessions Popular representation means extra cost, and this will be the case under this Bill. If it could be shown that the proposals of this Bill for the control and management of the docks by the Commission would result in a more efficient and economical management which would reduce the rates, and decrease the burdens of the shipping and mercantile community of the Port, that might lessen the various objections I have urged. But what are the facts? Reams of evidence were laid before the Committee for the purpose of proving that London was a dear port as compared with other ports in and out of the United Kingdom, and it was the hope of lessening the expenses and reducing the rate on shipping and goods entering the Port that impelled the movement for a single Port authority. How are these expectations realised by this Bill? Turn to Clause 6 on the "effects of the transfer," and you will find that one of the "first effects" will be to raise the rates on shipping now charged by the Surrey Commercial Dock and the Milwall Dock Companies to the level of the rates charged by the London and India Dock Company—an increase of 50 per cent.! [Cries of "No, no."] Does that commend itself to those hon. Members who are interested in the shipping of the Port? Then, further, Clause 12 provides that all goods imported from parts beyond the seas, or coastwise, into London, or exported 552 to parts beyond the seas, or coastwise, from the Port shall be liable to such charges as the Commission may fix, subject to a Provisional Order to be made by the Board of Trade. That is to say, rates are to be imposed on all goods entering the Port, imports, exports, foreign or coastwise. This is a sweeping proposal, and goes far beyond the Royal Commission whose recommendations expressly exempted export and transhipment goods.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE (Mr. GERALD BALFOUR, Leeds, Central)
It is permissive.
§ MR. DAVID MORGAN
I know it is, but I object to that. What will be its effects on the trade of the Port? We heard much in the evidence before the Royal Commission of the keenness of the competition with foreign ports, and the growing necessity for cheapening the London charges. Now, it is proposed not to lighten but to increase the burden, and there can be no doubt that the proposed tax on goods in competition with foreign ports must handicap London and tend to transfer traffic from the Thames, especially in the case of the transhipment trade. It must be remembered, too, that about 7,500,000 tons of shipping—rather more than half the tonnage entering the Port—is discharged in the river, never enters the docks, and pays no dock dues. In respect of the "short sea" and coasting trade, London is at present the cheapest port in the kingdom, but under the provisions of the Bill the goods borne by this 7,500,000 tons of shipping will be taxed. In short, this Bill, which in many quarters was expected to usher in a new era of cheaper accommodation and low rates, is in effect a Bill for increasing rates and charges all round, and justifies the apprehension that, as in the case of Rehoboam, "the little finger" of the Commission will prove "thicker than the loins" of the dock companies. The wood trade sees this, and therefore objects to the Bill. And here I may remark that Parliament has generally insisted that when large trading interests are concerned, all the important details should be laid before them, and in a measure of such supreme importance to the trade and commerce of the Metropolis I venture to say—and it is not only my 553 own opinion—that before Parliament is asked to approve this measure the proposed rates ought to be scheduled to the Bill, and that it should not be left to the Board of Trade by Provisional Order to fix these rates. To do so is to place the gigantic interests of the trade of the Port under the bureaucratic control of the Board of Trade, and, with all respect to that admirable Department, I say that it is a position which will not generally be regarded with favour in the shipping and mercantile community. It may, perhaps, be said by some hopeful people that although the Bill empowers the Commissioners to impose these additional charges on shipping and goods, there will be no necessity to exercise these powers, or, at any rate, only to a small extent. I have heard it argued that inasmuch as the shipowners—the payers of dues on ships—and the traders, who will pay the rates on goods, are to be largely represented on the Commission, it will be to their interest, and they may be trusted to keep down rates and charges. But will they be able to do this? As the old proverb puts it, "You cannot eat your cake and have it too." Apart from the £2,500,000 for dredging and improving the river, which, under this Bill, is to be contributed by the London County Council and the City Corporation, how will the Commissioners find it possible to spend the large sums for providing the increased accommodation and facilities which are contemplated, and, at the same time, reduce the charges, which means lessening the revenue? There is, apparently, only one way of doing it, and that is by "coming on the rates" and resorting to the London County Council to make up the Commission's deficiency. But that can only be a temporary expedient, for, as I understand the Bill, when the London County Council have, under the guarantee, paid any part of the interest on the Port Stock, the Board of Trade are to step in and make an order requiring the Commission to increase the dues and charges for such period as the Board may order, and so, by a somewhat roundabout and clumsy procedure, put up the rates to the level required to meet the deficiency. That, on the basis of the existing rates, to say nothing of lowering the rates, there will be a deficiency, was affirmed by the Royal Commissioners.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I am reluctant to interrupt the hon. Member, but I think it only right to call his attention, and the attention of the House, to the rule against the reading of speeches. It is a rule of great value and importance, which I am sure the House would be sorry to see disregarded. Since the Orders of the Day were called in, we have been listening for nearly three quarters of an hour to two read speeches. I am always loth to intervene, but I have noticed a growing tendency in this direction, and I think it is time that I should call attention to it.
§ MR. DAVID MORGAN
I prepared my speech because I was anxious not to repeat myself, but I will endeavour, Mr. Speaker, to carry out your ruling. I do not wish to go very much further into this question, beyond saying that I think the result of this Bill must be to increase the charges. It may be said that my remarks have been destructive and not constructive. I think that the purchase of the docks is unnecessary, because all that is required may be obtained without entering into this very large business. If the authority is created for the guardianship of the river, I think the main object would be attained. This might be done by a very small rate indeed. For this purpose it is not necessary to saddle the Commission with a burden of £2,500,000 or to have recourse to the guarantee of the London County Council. A trifling ad valorem rate on the imports into London would suffice to provide the required revenue. An ad valorem rate of one-eighth of a penny in the £ would produce £88,500 or £13,500 per annum more than the sum required to pay the interest at the rate of 3 per cent. on the proposed expenditure of £2,500,000. An authority for the management of the river such as I have suggested would, I think, meet the present requirements of the Port. Should it be hereafter found desirable to extend its scope and authority there would be little difficulty in making arrangements for enlarging its powers and giving it a certain measure of control over the docks. From the point of view of the ratepayers I hope the House will pause before it agrees to this proposal, and I hope that the shareholders in the dock companies will receive better treatment than it is apparent they will receive from the Bill 555 as at present drafted. I am chairman of a very successful dock company which has always paid a good dividend and has done its best to meet the requirements of the trade. Now we are told that we must give up our property. Surely we who have invested our money in this concern on the faith of Acts of Parliament, should be fairly and properly treated. If this is not done you will give a tremendous blow to private enterprise. Where would the Port of London and the docks have been had you not in times past found private individuals to provide the capital for these great undertakings? I trust that before this debate finishes, the right hon. Gentleman will enlighten us on several subjects dealt with in this Bill upon which we require light and leading. I beg to second the Motion of the hon. Baronet the Member for Uxbridge.
To leave out the word 'now,' and at the end of the Question to add the words 'upon this day six months.'"—(Sir F. Dixon Hartland.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ MR. SYDNEY BUXTON (Tower Hamlets, Poplar)
The speech of the hon. Member who has just sat down seems to turn on the terms upon which these dock companies should be bought out. It is his business, as chairman, to see that the very best terms are obtained when his company is bought out for the public interest. I am quite sure that there is no desire in the House that fair terms should not be given to the dock companies in respect of money spent by them upon the docks. I think this matter may be discussed as a non-party measure. I trust that the President of the Board of Trade will allow these matters to be discussed by the House itself, and subsequently amended by the Joint Committee. I hope we shall not have a repetition of what we had on the London Water Bill, when a strong Committee of the Houses of Lords and Commons was appointed to consider the Bill, and afterwards the President of the Local Government Board entirely declined to accept their suggestions. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman is likely to treat the Joint Committee in a similar way, and therefore I think he deserves our 556 help to make this a workable measure. I have in my constituency three docks out of the seven which it is proposed to buy up, and most persons who know the circumstances connected with the Port of London will agree that there is a necessity for some change in the existing state of things. I think both of the hon. Gentlemen who have spoken admitted that something must be done, and that a reform of some sort is necessary in the circumstances. So far as I am concerned, I am content to rest my case on the evidence and the Report of the Royal Commission. A Commission strong personally to start with, and one, it is quite obvious from what we have seen of their proceedings and their Report, who went carefully and impartially into the whole question. The hon. Member for the Uxbridge division of Middlesex, who moved the rejection of the Bill, urged that the trade of London was improving, or that it was in a very healthy condition, and that, therefore, there was really no necessity for taking action at all in this matter.
§ SIR F. DIXON-HARTLAND
What I said was that the trade of London was not in a bad condition from the delay, but that it was absolutely necessary to bring the river up to date.
§ MR. SYDNEY BUXTON
That is what I understood the hon. Gentleman to say. He said that the trade was improving. But he also admitted that the waterway required improvement, and that, after all, is largely the case for the Bill. I do not think it is necessary for us to discuss the question how far at present the docks are really carrying out the purpose for which they were created. The Report of the Royal Commission shows, at all events, that there is at the present moment great dissatisfaction in regard to the way in which the business of the Port is conducted by the dock companies. It is alleged, and I think the Royal Commissioners give good evidence to show, that the Port of London is slow, dear, and vexatious, and that the conveniences and mechanical appliances are not up-to-date. They specially show that the Port of London is not adapted at the present moment 557 for the requirements of ocean-going steamers, and that there is great complaint of the delay that occurs in loading and unloading goods. That is a serious accusation—I do not say against the dock companies, because I should like to say at once that I have no desire to cast blame or fault on the dock companies themselves, and certainly not the dock company represented by my hon. friend opposite. I think they are largely the victims of circumstances. All we allege is, not that they have necessarily done the work badly, but that it might be better done if the Port of London was united under one authority and that authority a public body. The serious matter is not so much the existing state of things, but that which has been so clearly and ably pointed out by the Commission, namely, the increasing competition both of home and foreign ports, a competition which is only at its infancy at the present moment, and which will unquestionably increase in the future. The Commissioners say—and I do not think there is any dispute about this—that the ports of Antwerp, Rotterdam, and Hamburg are not only in a very fair way of competition with us but are expending at the public expense, either from public funds or by rate aid, enormous sums which in a short time will make them overwhelming competitors with the Thames and the docks of London. That is a more important consideration than the actual position at the present moment. Then I think we have to remember this very material point. While it is clear that all those foreign docks, and I think home ports as well, are expending large sums in improving the facilities and accommodation for ships. But the present dock companies—or at all events the amalgamated dock companies—as the Commissioners point out, and as I should like the House to note, with the exception of an improvement they made two years ago, and which is just finished at the West India Docks, did not make one single dock improvement in the old docks between 1871 and 1899. I do not say that that is the fault of the dock companies, but I think it is a strong condemnation of the existing state of things.
§ MR. SYDNEY BUXTON
I was referring to the old docks. Tilbury Docks, of course, are a different matter. Let me say this in regard to Tilbury Docks. Tilbury Docks are hardly a case for which the dock companies can claim much credit, because they were built at a time when there was a cutthroat competition between St. Catherine's Dock and the Victoria and Albert Dock and the East and West India Dock. One dock company went further down the river and another followed. And I think the hon. Member will recollect that while the original estimate for Tilbury docks was £1,100,000 the dock companies actually spent, on account, of mismanagement, no less than twice that sum—£2,250,000—money which to a large extent was thrown away; and I hope that will be considered when we come to deal with the value of their shares.
There is another matter which forms a considerable argument in favour of getting rid of the existing state of things. When the facts to which I have alluded were brought before the attention of the dock companies, their chairman or representative very largely excused them for the delay and cost and other matters on the ground that the system that prevails is in accordance with the clumsy custom of consignments that largely prevails in the Port, and that they have time after time unsuccessfully endeavoured to alter or improve or abolish that custom. They themselves admit that they had not been able to deal with this point. It seems to me that the only body that can deal with such a question as that is a strong public body representative of the different interests concerned. So much as regards the dock companies and the question of dock accommodation.
Then we come to the other point which was raised by the hon. Member for Uxbridge, and on which there is no difference of opinion—the necessity of improving the water-way. The hon. Member who moved the rejection of the Bill, as a representative of the Thames Conservancy, said, "Leave it in our 559 hands; we can do it, and we will do it properly. It does not require this other authority to carry it out."
§ MR. SYDNEY BUXTON
I think that the one thing that the House will not do is to give extra money to the Thames Conservancy. The hon. Member having moved the rejection of the Bill on that ground, I must draw attention to one or two sentences in the Report of the Royal Commission. A Bill was introduced by the Thames Conservancy in 1894 to reconstitute and enlarge the powers of that body. An Amendment was moved that the Board should carry out certain improvements in the dredging of the River Thames. This was opposed by Sir Frederick Dixon-Hartland, who was in charge of the Bill, but the Amendment was carried on a division by 269 against 112. And that is the way the Thames Conservancy desire to carry out their duties. The Royal Commission finally summed up their action in these words—This appears to us to have been, on the part of a public body charged with vital interests, an inadequate view of their duties.I think after such an expression by the Royal Commission it is not likely that this House will give greater powers or funds to the Thames Conservancy to carry out the dredging, and it is quite clear that it is not possible for them to do it even if they had a desire to carry it out; and so someone else must do it.
There is no difference of opinion, I think, on either side of the House, or among those who may differ on the general question, that two things have got to be done—that an expenditure of £2,500,000 has to be spent in improving the water-way, and that a capital expenditure of £4,500,000 will be required in order to improve the dock accommodation of the port. That is admitted by the dock companies themselves. Mr. Scott, the Chairman, said that they had proposed to spend £2,000,000, and that they thought other £2,000,000 ought to be spent in order to bring the accommodation up to date. There is no difference of opinion as to the necessity of the expenditure. I contend that such an expenditure as that can only be done by a public body which has control both of the water-way and of 560 the docks themselves. It is quite clear that the Thames Conservancy cannot do it, and it is quite clear, on the confession of the dock companies themselves, that they are not in a pecuniary position to carry out the improvements necessary in the Port of London. I think it is quite clear also that the House will not allow them to be given powers to charge additional dues or duties as a private body, and for their own personal advantage. I think the real argument for this Bill in principle is that you have at the present moment chaos, confusion, and jealousy reigning throughout the Port of London, and that it is only possible, by putting the whole of the duties into the hands of a public body so to concentrate the work, that economies can be carried out in management, in the handling of goods, and in other ways to make the Port of London more attractive than it is at present.
That being so, the question arises, What ought this authority to be? How ought the authority to be constituted which is to carry out the work of the Port of London? There is not, in this House at all events, I believe, any question raised—and I do not think any question will be raised—that it is a necessity of the case that this authority, whatever it is, should have the rates behind it. There was an idea on the part of the Committee of the Corporation that the business should be conducted, and the capital raised, and the shareholders bought out, merely on the basis of the existing dues, or of additional dues. That is no longer pressed, and I think it is generally admitted that if this matter is to be carried through, the security for the capital and for any deficiency that might arise, must be based on the rates; though I hope that the rates themselves will not be called upon in any eventuality. That being so, the question arises when the credit of the rates is being utilised for this purpose—both for raising additional capital and for meeting any deficiency if a deficiency occurs in the working — how are the ratepayers to be safeguarded, and what is the best mode in which the authority should be constructed? Here I am bound to say that, though I shall certainly vote for the Second Reading of the Bill, unless the constitution of the authority, which is proposed in the Bill 561 as it stands, is very considerably altered before the Joint Committee or the Committee of the Whole House, I shall probably feel constrained to vote against the Bill on the Third Reading. It seems to me to have two very serious and fatal blots. In the first place, it gives too great a preponderance of power to those traders whose one interest in the matter is to reduce rates and freights on goods. In the second place, it gives far too small a representation to the London County Council as representing the ratepayers, who, in the ultimate result, will be responsible for the finance of the proposal. Now I do not understand on what basis the right hon. Gentleman makes his proposal that no less than twenty out of forty members of the body shall be direct representatives of the traders and shipowners. With the power of this twenty to constitute a majority of the whole, it practically puts it in their power to lay on a direct charge on the rates in order to reduce the charges on their goods. The right hon. Gentleman says that these Members are elected Members. I do not think it matters whether they are elected or selected. As a matter of fact I think that the members from the London County Council and the City Corporation will be more elective than the representatives of the traders and shipowners. I do not understand how the right hon. Gentleman comes to call them elected members, seeing that in the case of the shipowners they are elected on a very high suffrage, and in the case of the traders, every one of the ten elected is to be appointed by the Board of Trade itself, in the first instance. But my objection is not at present to elected or selected members, but that there should be a majority on the Board which would be able to alter the dues in any way that pleased them, without any power on the part of the ratepayers or their representatives to prevent them. It is true that the right hon. Gentleman has put in a clause which is intended to meet this objection. That clause, however, seems to me to be a very clumsy proposal. What we want in regard to this matter is to prevent any deficiency arising which may have afterwards to be put on the rates. The hon. Member who seconded the Amendment put the case of other harbour bodies and said that there the traders 562 had the predominance. The particular case mentioned was that of Liverpool. My answer to that is that in the case of Liverpool the capital of the docks is founded on the dues and rates received, and in the case of a deficiency the public rates cannot be come upon. It is quite obvious that the interests of the traders are predominant, and that the ratepayers have no interest in the Committee. But surely it is a very different thing when the ratepayers have ultimately to pay in the event of a deficiency arising, because here the traders might put the dues so low as to cause a charge to be made on the public rates. The hon. Gentleman will find that, in the case of the Clyde and the Tyne, although the ultimate charge does not come upon the rates, even there the municipal authorities are largely represented on the dock bodies.
What I chiefly object to is that the London County Council, as representing the ratepayers, would be in much too small a minority on the Board; and I do not understand why the right hon. Gentleman, in this Bill, did not accept, in that respect, the proposal of the Royal Commission rather than make the representation of the London County Council so small. I should have thought that two things ought to be essential in regard to this authority. One that the non-traders, by which I mean those who have no personal or sectional interest in the dues and charges, ought to be in a majority; and the other is that the representatives of the ratepayers—the London County Council—ought to have a very considerable representation—I think they ask for fifteen—so as to protect the ratepayers in the last resort. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will allow this question, which is of great public importance, to be considered from the point of view of the protection of the ratepayers as well as from the point of view of the protection of the traders.
There is another point which, after all, is the most difficult part of the Bill—and that is the question of warehouses. It is quite obvious that if the warehouses are to be taken over by a public body, and if that public body is to come on the rates and utilise them for 563 commercial purposes, and if, on this basis, it is to work the warehousing part of the business in competition with the wharfingers, it would be a very unfair competition indeed. All the same, I believe the Government exercised a right discretion in so drawing their Bill that the public body will, at the first initiation, have possession of the warehouses and work them in connection with the docks. [An HON. MEMBER: And increase them.] Well, and increase them. I do not believe it is possible to separate the two businesses. It is perfectly true that a very large proportion—I believe a half—of the income of the dock companies comes from the warehouses; but at the same time the wharfingers are entitled to say that some protection ought to be provided for them in the Bill from what I call an unfair competition. I do not say the competition from the ordinary profits of working the warehouses, but the unfair competition of putting down the charges unduly and coming for the deficiency on the whole rates of London. Then comes in the question of the majority on the authority. Here again, if you are going to leave the majority in the hands of the traders, still less ought you to allow undue competition with the wharfingers. The interest of the wharfingers and that of the ratepayers becomes practically the same. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give this point his very careful consideration, so that greater protection than the Bill at present affords will be given to the wharfingers in the competition between them and the owners of the warehouses. Two things ought to be done to prevent that undue competition. In the first place it ought to be an obligation on the Port Commission to distinguish between their warehousing business and their clock business, so that it can be seen how these stand respectively; and, in the second place, the schedule of rates should be under the control of some public authority, possibly of the Board of Trade, so that the rates shall not be cut down without the matter receiving the consideration both of the Board of Trade, and also of the London County Council.
There is another point—the duty on goods. I certainly agree with my hon. friend in one respect. But he seems to 564 think that the Bill makes it obligatory on the Port Commission to put a duty on goods both inwards and outwards. As I read the Bill, it gives power to the Commission to impose such a duty if they like.
§ MR. SYDNEY BUXTON
The Commission ought to have the fullest power of putting duties on goods in order to raise the necessary funds. The Member for Uxbridge gave us some elaborate figures, which I confess I could not follow, in which he tried to demonstrate that there would be a tremendous increase in the working expenses if the dock companies were brought up. Of course we are all agreed that £7,000,000 have got to be expended on improvements of the navigation of the river, and, of course, the interest on that has got to be met. But I draw attention to what I thought was a remarkable sentence in the Report of the Royal Commission, in which it is stated that the one improvement made by the dock companies — the improvement of the West India Docks—had been an extraordinary success, that the capital expended on that had been more than repaid, and had enabled them to improve the trade of the docks. My opinion is that by putting this matter in the hands of a public body which would expend the public money judiciously, it would not be necessary to impose any heavy charges in addition to the existing ones.
There are three other points on which I wish to touch briefly. One is a question in which a considerable number of men are interested—the watermen and lightermen. I dissent from the view taken by the Royal Commission, and assent to that of the London County Council, viz., that in such an intricate port as London, with such an enormous amount of shipping and thousands of barges and small craft, you ought to have a licensed body of men. Then last year, when the Water Bill was under consideration, the servants and officers of the water companies were treated in a fair, though not in an over-liberal, way. I have compared the two Bills, and I understand that a 565 certain section of the servants of the dock companies will not receive the same treatment as the servants of the water companies, especially those who may be dismissed because their services will not be required. I am quite sure the right hon. Gentleman does not wish the servants of the dock companies to be treated less well than those of the water companies.
The hon. Gentleman who seconded the Amendment referred to the terms of purchase of the docks. We all desire that fair terms should be given to those shareholders who are expropriated for public purposes; but I wish to enter a very serious caveat against any idea that the dock companies ought to be treated on the same basis as the water companies. The water companies were in a totally different position from the dock companies. They were flourishing bodies, and could have raised any number of millions they wanted on their undertakings, whereas the dock companies—the best of them—have very great difficulty in raising £2,000,000. Therefore, the whole pecuniary position is very different between the two sets of companies. The debentures of the water companies are gilt-edged and trust securities, but those of the dock companies are not so. I hope, therefore, that the shareholders of the dock companies will not go away with the idea that they are to be treated with the same liberality as the shareholders of the water companies, and I trust that the arbitrators will take into account all the circumstances of the case. The £1,000,000 sterling which was muddled away on Tilbury Docks, and which was practically thrown into the river, should be taken into account. While it is quite true that, owing to increased dues and to the remarkable economies which have lately been effected, the position of the amalgamated companies is more flourishing now than it was a year or two ago, it must be remembered that only a few years ago these companies were on the verge of bankruptcy. I merely wish to refer to these matters, not from any desire that the dock companies should not receive a fair price for their property, but with a view of protesting 566 against the idea that the dock companies should be put on the same terms as the water companies. I trust that the Second Reading of this Bill will be passed, and that it will be sent to a Joint Committee, and that the Government will announce this afternoon that the matters to which the different speakers have referred, will be dealt with in an open mind, and with the one idea that the Bill should lead to the improvement of the Port of London, and, therefore, of the trade of London, and to the benefit of the citizens of the Metropolis generally.
§ SIR ALBERT ROLLIT (Islington, S.)
I desire to say something in favour of at least the Second Reading of this Bill, which is most important in the interest of the Port and of all London, and which is based on the report of the Royal Commission, but I reserve my final judgment for the Third Reading, after it has been submitted to the Joint Committee of both Houses. My hon. friend for the Uxbridge Division, and my hon. friend who seconded the Motion for the rejection of the Bill, have both referred to the municipalisation of these undertakings. I do not think we need argue that matter, because municipal representation is in a very great minority on the Commission, and even if there was no great municipal guarantee at all, and no great municipal contribution proposed, the presence of this element on the Port authority, viz., the representatives of the County Council and the City of London, would have a most beneficial effect. Therefore, I think that the question mentioned by my hon. friend does not arise. I have no hesitation whatever in saying that commercial trading, and industrial opinion in London, as frequently expressed through the London Chamber of Commerce and otherwise, is distinctly in favour of the principle of these proposals, viz., a single port authority, the deepening, by dredging, of the river, and the absolutely necessary improvement of London as a port. At the same time, this is a Bill on which there should be both an open mind and an open expression of opinion; and I am glad that the matter, which has already been considered by a Royal Commission, will now be submitted to a Joint Committee. And, until we have the opportunity of dealing with the 567 Bill on Report there are obviously many points of even organic detail on which I wish to reserve my opinion, including the acquirement of the docks and warehouses, though, at this stage, the proposal may be vital to the Bill, which, at any rate, I am not prepared to imperil. My hon. friend the Member for the Uxbridge division said that his policy was that the docks should be left to work out their own salvation. I would not have used the word "salvation," but another one not altogether unlike it in sound. I would remind my hon. friend that even according to himself the docks are very inadequate and financially very weak. And my hon. friend himself suggested that the dock companies should be at liberty to impose dues on goods.
§ SIR F. DIXON-HARTLAND
What I said was that the dues should be collected by a central authority, and that they should be divided between the river authority and the docks.
§ SIR ALBERT ROLLIT
My hon. friend goes even farther than I supposed, because, indirectly, he would give participation in the new dues to the dock companies, the present position of which is due to maladministration in the past, and to want of adaptation and enterprise Speaking again for the commercial community, I say they would strongly object to giving the right of taxation to such a private company with which much litigation has taken place. The London Chamber of Commerce has fought a long battle on this point for the freedom of the Port of London against the dock companies, who, in Parliament and elsewhere, have frequently put forward the claim to tax goods and lighters. What is the conclusive answer to the suggestion of my hon. friend? It is that the title which the companies have to the docks themselves is based, according to their first Act of Parliament, on the principle of the maintenance of the freedom of the port of London, of free outside delivery. The companies had a very long term in which to make the best use of their powers, and if they failed, I do not think that this House will now recoup them by giving them new powers of taxation. The London Chamber of Commerce has fought, and is now fighting, to maintain the free 568 character of the Port. My hon. friend said that London was a cheap port. I admit the difficulty of making comparisons, but my hon. friend has helped me in the matter because he has cited the case of Hull. I can say at once, on the authority of the Chairman of the London Corn Trade Association, that the Port of London, within the docks, is three times as expensive in the cost of discharge on to the quays as the Port of Hull. What is the real need lying at the base of this Bill? I venture to say it is the pre-eminence, nay the existence of the Port of London. Nowadays, competition between ports, especially where they are owned by railway companies, is as great as competition between individual traders; and the port which fails to make itself accessible in every sense of the term, sufficiently deep to be available for the every day increasing draft of vessels, and a cheap port in every sense of the term not only as regards dues, but as regards facilities for despatch and the avoidance of demurrage and other charges will inevitably fall out of the race. For these reasons, proper equipment and appliances and everything modern and up-to-date conducive to despatch, for time is money, is absolutely necessary, not for one particular trade, or trades only, but for the whole body of trade. A port must be free and accessible to all trades.
I should like to ask the House to consider the question of the diversion of trade. My hon. friend said that the trade of London was being maintained. But what about the general expansion of trade, and the lack of proportionate participation by London in that expansion? Who could say what the trade of London would now be if barriers were not imposed against it? I admit that there is a plurality of causes for the diversion of trade. These causes may be as remote as the Suez Canal, and the consequent restoration of old commercial cities like Venice and the Hanse Towns as distributing centres for Europe, as they were before Vasco da Gama discovered the Cape route to the Far East, and these things have, no doubt, and inevitably, affected the London entrepôt and transshipment trades; but if a port does not take care of itself, it will inevitably suffer. What an extraordinary 569 transformation there has been in Antwerp during the past quarter of a century. In one sense there is nothing more difficult than to remove trade, as trade has a disposition to flow in the old channels, protected by a sort of economic friction. Flushing attempted to get the trade of Antwerp, but the citizens of Antwerp were wise enough to create additional facilities. They straightened and deepened their river Scheldt, made it much more navigable, cut off the corners, improved the quays and docks with the result that the dock quays at Flushing are still grass-grown, whereas the trade of Antwerp is increasing by leaps and bounds. That is a lesson which should not be disregarded. The merchants are powerful in the matter of keeping trade, and if you ignore the merchants on your port authority you will very likely defeat the end you have in view. The merchant commands not only the destination of goods but so the destiny of a port. Now, what has been done by ports at home and abroad? In Liverpool there is no municipal guarantee—all the better, because it is not necessary. But i it is necessary we must adapt ourselves to the conditions. Liverpool is not the perfection of a port; but its port authority is one type of what such an authority ought to be. And on the whole Liverpool has done justice to itself recently, by dredging and otherwise. As regards Hull, it is a cheap port. Look at Southampton, and consider Dover, which may make headway under its new conditions, and other places that might be mentioned, and, above all, think of what is in the interest of the whole community. Think what different States and municipalities have done for the benefit of the public interest, and for the community, and what has resulted therefrom. I do not contrast private enterprise with State and municipal enterprise; I pin my faith to private enterprise, but both State and municipalities have given very great assistance to private enterprise. Think what State, municipal, and private enterprise have done for Antwerp, Rotterdam, Hamburg, Alexandria, Rouen, and other places, by deepening, canalising, equipment, etc., and ask whether here 570 in London anything has been done and whether London has been doing justice to itself. That is a serious question which ought to be asked and answered. I think, on the whole, this Bill tends to accomplish the end we have in view, or is calculated to do so; that it is in accordance with the recommendations of the Royal Commission; and where it diners from those recommendations I prefer the proposals of the Government. I do so especially with regard to the constitution of the port authority. I say again, and I want to emphasise the point, that the port authority as proposed by the Royal Commission, and I think the Mansion House Committee, was constituted very largely of landsmen, excellent men in their way but no maritime in their character. I only wish to observe again that it is the shipping people, the shipowners, and the merchants who command the trade to a large extent and who have knowledge and experience of the requirements of the day and know what it means when a port is not up-to-date. You must not ignore those persons and you must trust them. Human nature may be selfish, but whether it is the municipal element or the people as a body, if we cannot trust to something like patriotism we have no bed-rock upon which to rest. I venture to say an authority controlling a port constituted as this is, representative of some of our strongest and best interests, will not be guided by a narrow, selfish, and in the end destructive, policy but will do fairly by the port they are entrusted to administer. My right hon. friend dealt with the question of docks and warehouses. That is a very difficult part of the problem, especially having regard to the conflict between the municipal and the private trading element, but I hope the House will at least not follow one recommendation of the Royal Commission in that regard. The Royal Commission said that if the warehouses are to be acquired their disposal should be made compulsory at a certain period. I do not think they should be compulsorily disposed of if once acquired. But we cannot shut our eyes to the changes which are taking place in trade. The warehouse of to-day is passing away. Rapid transit, in order to avoid handling, is almost an axiom in trade to-day, and milling and 571 crushing mills are also being largely located at the ports, and consequently we ought to be very careful whether and how we acquire ancient warehouses and ill-equipped docks. I hope the point will be very fully discussed; that every regard will be had to the conflict that has been indicated, and that an option of refusing or retaining them will be given to the new authority. If it is finally proposed to acquire the docks and warehouses the terms and conditions will require great and grave consideration. I am bound to say I think upon the whole the provisions of the Bill indicate that consideration will be given and secured. Still the terms and conditions must be closely scrutinised. The Bill incorporates the Lands Clauses Acts and it also gives compensations to cover the cost of re-investment. The cost of re-investment is the basis of the customary 10 per cent.; the compensation given used to be from 40 per cent. to 50 per cent. but it has gradually receded to 10 per cent. and is rapidly coming to 5 per cent. The wording in regard to the redemption of the debentures is rather significant in the Bill, inasmuch as, while it introduces all those provisions with regard to compensation, it does not say a word as to the compulsory 10 per cent. but if there is to be anything of that sort I take it that it will only be in the nature of compensation for cost of reinvestment.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
In the case of the debenture holders my intention is to leave it to the arbitrator to decide whether they should receive any compensation at all.
§ SIR ALBERT ROLLIT
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that explanation. Of course one of the dangers of this Bill will be that a wrong impression may be created in the minds of the traders and ratepayers. Very adequate and proper safeguards ought to be devised, and I do not doubt will be. After the recommendations of the Joint Committee this House will take all proper precautions to protect and safeguard the various interests. There is one other particular point to which I might refer. Commerce changes, and there will be years which are lean as well as years which will be fat, 572 and there ought to be a reserve fund formed sufficient for the purpose of meeting and equalising those contingencies, so as to avoid any resort to the ratepayers. There is one thing more which I should like to mention, and that is the very singular provision that if the interest is in arrear, or if there is a deficiency which has to be made up by the London County Council, the Board of Trade may call on the port authority to increase the dues. That is the only suggestion that is made by the Bill for the purpose of retrieving such a situation. The London County Council goes, I believe, a step further, and suggests that the word "may" shall be altered to "shall." That would be a very great mistake in my opinion, because it might be that the Port authority would be called upon to increase the dues at the very time when cheaper dues were required in order to attract profitable trade. Therefore that is a point which requires consideration, as is also the question of the Trinity House, which I am clearly of opinion should be retained. In conclusion, I can only say with regard to imposing dues on goods, just as in the purchase of the docks and warehouses, we should be very careful how we deal with that matter. London is now an absolutely free port, half the tonnage which comes to the Port of London never uses the docks at all; it comes into the river and does not require to use the docks, and even in the docks there is free overside delivery to craft. By deepening the channels and extending the docks you are not going to benefit materially these light draft coasting traders, and I think in that case, as is done in Liverpool, some differentiation should take place. That is a very important matter to consider. You should not tax goods generally and equally, and thus give those who get no benefit out of it a dislike to this Bill. The improvement of the upper river, too, must not be lost sight of. The upper river must have its properly constituted authority, and I hope it will be of a public and representative character. I notice that if new dues are to be imposed they are not prescribed by statute; they are to be fixed by Provisional Older. I assume that those will be the maximum dues, and that the ultimate dues will be fixed 573 by those who have the actual government of the Port and know its requirements. I think this Bill foreshadows what is urgently necessary, not only for the Port of London, but for the City of London and larger London as well. If something is not done, the time will come when London will be among the Cinque Ports, high and dry, and unless we apply ourselves to the great work of putting the Port of London into a proper condition we shall not be doing our duty to our constituents or to the nation.
§ MR. JOHN ELLIS (Nottinghamshire, Rushcliffe)
The concluding words of the hon. Member opposite have brought home to our minds the fact that we are discussing a matter of no ordinary importance. The hon. Member for Uxbridge, seconded by the hon. Member for Walthamstow, asks us to reject this Bill on its Second Reading. I listened with attention to the speeches of those hon. Gentlemen, but I failed to see any ground for rejecting the measure. I approach the matter from a rather different point of view from the hon. Member opposite. My interest arises from having been one of the seven Royal Commissioners to whose Report this Bill is due. I see two of my colleagues opposite, and I think they will not differ from me when I say that we found our task a most interesting and agreeable one, although it was heavy and extremely complicated. If I were to go into the various issues that were raised before us, I should take up an unpardonable amount of time, but I will say that in proportion as we went on our way during those two years, we were sensible more and more of the extreme importance of the problem to the Port of London, to the 5,000,000 of people in London, and to the kingdom at large. The River Thames is a great river. If man had done as much with regard to the Port of London as nature has done, it would not be in its present state. It has a volume of tide which nearly effects its own clearance, and from that point of view nature has done almost as much as nature could. But we found that owing to deficiencies on the part of man, or of bodies of various kinds, the condition of the Port of London is lamentable in comparison with what is 574 being done in Great Britain and other parts of the world. We came unhesitatingly and unanimously to the conclusion—That, in our opinion, it has been proved that the Port of London is in danger of losing part of its existing trade, and certainly part of the trade which might otherwise come to it, by reason of the river channel and the docks being inadequate to meet the increased and increasing requirements of modern commerce.I welcome this Bill, which is practically based on the Report of the Royal Commission. In passing, I would venture to make this allusion to Royal Commissions. If they were, as a rule, composed of a smaller number of persons, and no one went on except with a more or less open and judicial mind, the Reports of Royal Commissions would be a great deal more fruitful. Coming back to the Bill, I think it will be admitted that the Royal Commission did not lose any time. We were appointed in June, 1900, and reported in June, 1902, which, considering the great matter we had under consideration, was not a very long time. We examined 114 witnesses, and sat open to the public on thirty days, but that gives a very inadequate idea of the number of times we sat digesting things internally. Nor can it be said that the Government lost any time. I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his promptitude in introducing the Bill. It was introduced in the session following our Report, and we are now, in the middle of May, discussing the Second Reading. I am not going to enter into the various questions of importance, but somewhat subsidiary in character, connected with the watermen, and other matters that might he mentioned. The crux of the whole matter is the establishment of a Port authority. That is the fundamental basis of the whole thing. I desire to say a few words as to the constitution of that authority, its powers and duties, and the financial proposals respecting it. As regards the constitution, I am free to confess that I think the number of forty is rather large and unwieldy. I should like to see the number greatly reduced. The recommendation of the Royal Commission has been put into the Bill, and I do not suppose the right hon. Gentleman sees his way to diminish the number. But with every disposition to recognise that 575 the right hon. Gentleman has a strong reason for turning the proposal of the Commission upside down, I am unable to see why he proposes to appoint precisely the number that we proposed should be elected.
§ MR. JOHN ELLIS
I quite believe that. The right hon. Gentleman stated on the first evening that he thought this would be received with general favour. That may be so, but my objection arises in this way. Will you, by introducing this element of traders' representatives, diminish the sense of the Port Commission that it is a body which will be successful in proportion as it keeps public advantage, and not private interest, as its main point? In other words, will these men go on the body to represent various particular interests which may come in conflict with the welfare of the general community and the public advantage? Are not the Government by this proposal increasing that element too strongly? I would venture to draw attention to some words in the Report in relation to this point—The new authority must gain public esteem and success in proportion as its business appears to be clearly to administer a trust to the general advantage, and not an undertaking involving commercial rivalry. In so far as the element of election brings representation of trade interests, and diminishes the sense of the body that it exists solely in the public interest and not to promote a commercial undertaking—in proportion as the sense of a public trust is high in the mind of the members, and commercial profit is weakened—in so far will the Port Commission be successful or not.As regards the powers and duties, this proposal involves the disappearance of some of these other bodies. The hon. Member the Chairman of the Thames Conservancy, said he proposed to prove that it was quite unnecessary to abolish that body.
§ MR. JOHN ELLIS
In that case it will not be necessary for me to show the degree to which the Thames Conservancy has not carried out the functions and duties which will be placed upon this body. I gather that the hon. Member to a certain extent accepts that position. After having a great deal of evidence from the hon. 576 Member himself and others, with respect to the Thames Conservancy, we came to the deliberate conclusion that that authority, as a public body—of course without the slightest reference to the personal element upon it—had been tried and found wanting, and that its disappearance was necessary in the interests of reform. I have no doubt that the Thames Conservancy will have a most useful career above Teddington Lock. I say that with no arrière pensée—that is what it is fitted for. I am rather sorry that the President of the Board of Trade has not found it possible to bring Trinity House within the purview of the Bill as recommended by the Commission. Possibly he looks forward to the time when the Port Commission, having been created and well launched on its career, might come to Parliament itself for the power of lighting, buoying, and so on. However that may be, I am perfectly satisfied that you will not get a proper reform of the River Thames until you have added the present functions of Trinity House to the Port Commission so far as they affect the river in London.
With regard to the purchase of the docks, we were fully sensible of the very grave questions raised by that proposal, and the far-reaching effects it will have. We listened to a great body of evidence from most competent gentlemen; every aspect of the case was presented to us, and after long consideration we came to the unanimous conclusion that there was no way out of it but that the docks, including the warehouses, must be purchased and worked by this new Commission. The Government has followed that recommendation, and I do not think the fears which have been expressed by hon. Members opposite will be realised in practice. You must assume that the Port Commission will consist of a body of high-minded men, and that such considerations as may be fairly urged will receive proper consideration. I do not admire that rather clumsy expedient in Sub-section 1 of Clause 18, which I think is rather a blot on the Bill. I do not believe that such a provision will be necessary. We had evidence before us from shipowners upon this question, who pointed out that with a capable body of Commissioners they would be able to make both ends meet. You must look facts in the face, and we shall all agree 577 that the Commission must have its finance upon a sound footing, and I view with jealousy the feeling that you must have all sorts of things without paying for them. If you raise the cost you must pay through the rates for it, and I am not quite sure whether Clause 12 gives entirely sufficient power to raise dues. I do not see that there are any general powers included as the Commission suggested for raising income in any other way than that which is specified in the clause. With regard to the schedule of rates I do not think hon. Members need be under any unnecessary alarm. Upon this point Parliament preserves its power. Those rates will have to be put in a Provisional Order, and this Order can be appealed against; therefore, there is no parting with the power of Parliament in this matter. But after all the goal to be reached is the creation of a body composed of men of high reputation and capacity, and that is secured by this measure. Consequently I welcome this measure, and I think we are very much indebted to the officials of the Board of Trade for having put together this Bill. I think we are also indebted to the President of the Board of Trade for insisting that this shall be one of the important measures of the session. The crux of the whole matter will be, whom will you get on the Port Commission? The testimony before us is that there are plenty of people to be found within the area of the City of London who unite all those qualifications which are necessary to constitute a satisfactory authority. By this Bill I think we shall effect within the area of the City of London, a great commercial and industrial reform.
§ MR. VICARY GIBBS (Hertfordshire, St. Albans)
The hon. Member for Poplar, in commenting upon the speech of my hon. friend the Member for Walthamstow, implied that the explanation of his speech would be found in the latter part of it, in which he disclosed the fact that he was the chairman of one of the leading dock companies.
§ MR. SYDNEY BUXTON
I assure the hon. Gentleman that I threw no reflection whatever upon the hon. Member.
§ MR. VICARY GIBBS
But the hon. Member said that the explanation of my 578 hon. friend's speech would be found in that part of his remarks in which he said that he was the chairman of one of these dock companies. All I can say is that I have no interest in either docks or wharves except so far as I am a London merchant, and in that respect I have a distinct interest in seeing that the Port of London is a cheap and efficient one. If I say something on behalf of the wharfingers it is because I think the House will be anxious to deal fairly with them. I have had no cause to complain, as a merchant, of the way in which goods are dealt with on the Thames wharves. The capital expended in these wharves has been expended on the strength of many Acts of Parliament, which have expressed or implied an assurance that there should be fair competition as between the docks and the wharves. If the clause which allows the new Port authority to work their own warehouses in competition with others is passed, there must arise an unfair competition with the wharfingers outside. The Royal Commission rejected a proposal that only certain docks should be bought by the Port authority and that others should be left outside, on the ground that it would be very unfair to those left outside to have to compete with a rate-aided authority, and, therefore, they said that all the docks ought to be bought. Is this argument not as good between dock and dock as it is between warehouse and warehouse, and if not, why not? It seems to me that you will treat them very unfairly if you carry out this proposal. The Commission said you will have to buy the warehouses because they are so closely associated with the docks, and they said you must therefore buy the whole of them. They recommended that when you have done this you should sell the warehouses as soon as possible, so that the warehousing business may be carried on fairly by the different people engaged in it. If you are going to allow the new Port authority to raise money at something like 3 per cent. to take over these warehouses, and work them and build new warehouses, they can simply cut the throats of every single wharfinger engaged in the trade. It is said, "Oh, but they are such an honourable body, and you must trust them." Certainly I trust them, but am I to trust them to neglect their own business, and to consider a business entirely outside their 579 own, and not work their own business in the best way? Am I to expect them not to build new warehouses which can be profitably employed, on the ground that they would be injuring Mr. So-and-So over the way? That is a monstrous position, for you must ask them to manage their own business in the best and most judicious way. You will see that with the exception of the County Council and the wharfingers, every other member of the Port authority will have a direct interest in lowering rates and reducing its expenses. Is that fair to the wharfingers who do half the trade of London? This is no small matter, for it is a very great thing to ruin half the people engaged in this trade, and if this Bill is carried out on business lines that must inevitably be the result. These men have borrowed their money at 6 per cent., and you cannot get money for this purpose except at high rates of interest, and now you are going to compete with them at about half the rate of interest. Do you suppose for a moment that they will not be run off the road? I maintain that they have done nothing to deserve that their case should not be respected and most carefully considered by the House. They are in such a minority on the Board that their representation is absolutely useless.
As to these dues which it is suggested should be charged, a particular case has had my attention called to it. It is the case of a very large cement firm on the Medway. This firm have wharves both on the Thames and on the Medway, and they may want to move their material from their wharf on the Medway to their wharf on the Thames. The result will be that if these dues are put on they will have to pay for moving their own goods from one wharf to the other. I think it is very hard that these wharfingers should have to pay an additional rate for assisting a public body to take away their business from them. I am not going to join my hon. friend in voting for the rejection of the measure, but I am asking the Government to remember that there is a very strong feeling in the city of London—for which I think I am entitled to speak—there is a very strong feeling among those men that the Government is going directly 580 counter to the recommendation of the Royal Commission in leaving the option to the Port authority to go into the business of warehousemen and to compete on unfair terms with the wharfingers. That is treating a body of respectable, hardworking citizens of London very hardly. I should like my right hon. friend to consider whether he cannot put some provision into this Bill which will give some protection to that body, and some more effective assurance than the general assurance that a particularly fine and honourable set of gentlemen are going to sit on the Commission.
§ MR. LYTTELTON (Warwick and Leamington)
I should like, as a Member of the Royal Commission, to tender my thanks to the Government for having acted so promptly on the recommendation of the Royal Commission. We heard a great deal the other day about the duties of Royal Commissions. They are certainly extremely onerous to serve upon, but I think that any labour undertaken on a Royal Commission would be gladly undertaken, if the Government, when they have set people to such labour, would act with the promptitude and grasp of the whole situation which has been shown by my right hon. friend the President of the Board of Trade. Objection having been taken to the Bill by two hon. Members on this side of the House, I have only got to say that it was admitted by every person who had to do with the river that there was an absolute necessity for large expenditure on dock and river improvements. The competition of Continental ports, and of other English ports, the vastness of modern ships, and the paramount need of despatch, of quick loading and unloading, make such improvements an absolute necessity, and this is admitted by everybody to be so. Then it was further admitted by the chairman of the dock companies who gave evidence before us with the greatest possible ability and candour, that the companies were not in a position substantially to raise any money at all, and that between £2,000,000 and £3,000,000 was necessary for dock improvements. It is a perfectly plain deduction from these two admissions that either the dock companies as they stand must receive further financial 581 powers, or that a public body must be created with financial powers, or, thirdly, that the improvements should not be made at all. Of course one rejects the third alternative altogether, and you are therefore faced with this alternative—either you must have a public trust created with powers as to finance which will enable them to make the necessary expenditure, or you must further add to the financial powers of the dock companies to do the improvements which are necessary. Let me tell the House what was the opinion expressed in the evidence of the witnesses who were called before us in this long inquiry. Merchants of London, shipowners of London, wharfingers of London, the Corporation of the City of London, the London County Council and the Chamber of Commerce—all expressed their willingness to make financial sacrifices by increasing the dues on goods, increasing the dues on shipping, and making some contribution from the rates, provided that these contributions were made to a public body who would administer the fund in the interest of the whole commerce of the Port, but they were not willing to make these sacrifices for the benefit of the dock companies, who, from one cause or another, have failed to do, or are not in a financial position to do, that which they admit to be necessary to be done. I venture to say that even if yon stop there you would have a formidable case for the Second Reading of the Bill. But you must add to these reasons the great advantage of placing the control of the great channel leading to the docks and the docks themselves in the same hands. It must also be remembered that the proposal which has been made by the Royal Commission and adopted by the Government is that the dock companies should receive indemnity for their property.
I perfectly admit that the really serious difficulty in this case is that of the warehousemen. We literally spent days debating this topic in the Royal Commission. I quite admit that if the warehouses at the docks are purchased by a public authority no one can contemplate without uneasiness the initiation of competition between the warehouses in the hands of the public authority and the warehouses in the hands of private owners. We endeavoured 582 in the course of our Report to deal with the subject. I must say that having discussed this matter I do sympathise very much with the difficulty of my right hon. friend behind me in dealing with it in a practical manner. We suggested, in the first instance, the purchase of both warehouses and docks. It would have been a gross injustice, and contrary to the legislation of the past sixty years, to have obtained the docks at a smaller price by severing from them a fruitful part of their undertaking, namely, the warehouses. That cannot be done, and you have to deal with this situation. The public authority must buy the docks and the warehouses together as a going concern. Nobody will deny that the price the authority will have to pay will be large. We recommended, in order to safeguard the warehousemen in competition with the wharfingers, that their warehouses should be afterwards sold at a convenient time. I have been informed since that that operation would involve a most serious financial loss to the authority. For myself, I am not ashamed to admit that I feel incompetent to deal with the problem, but I feel that there would be more chance of a solution of this problem if it is raised upstairs by the wharfingers themselves before the Committee than there would be if the Government committed themselves, on the face of the Bill, to some proposition which would perhaps be afterwards found to involve financial loss to the authority, and which would defeat the object we all have in view—to do justice to the wharfingers. But I would like to point out that the wharfingers, so far as I can gather from a paper received from them, have only made two proposals at present. One is that all the private warehouses should be bought up. That would involve other £15,000,000 or £20,000,000, and I put the proposal aside as impracticable. The other is that the dock companies should be given further financial power to work out their own salvation. What does that mean? It means that the dock companies should be empowered to receive this large sum for improving the river, and that they should also get powers to further increase their taxation upon the trade of the Port. If they are to get sufficient credit to raise £2,000,000 or £3,000,000 it would be necessary for 583 them to impose duties upon goods and duties upon tonnage. Supposing that was done, as my hon. friend suggests, why, the dock companies at the present moment, being private companies and being bound to consider their interests, would be bound to initiate against the wharfingers a very sharp competition, and they would do it, and they would be enabled to do it by taxing their rivals themselves. Surely the proposal of the Government is far better than that; at least there is a chance that the public authority would not institute a rival competition with the wharfingers. If you arm the dock companies with financial powers in the first place, you enable them to carry on effective competition, and you leave the wharfingers unprotected altogether, because the private companies would have all the powers of a public company. They would have power to tax the wharfingers and to make their position harder. Yet I frankly admit there is a very great difficulty with regard to the wharfingers.
I pass for a moment to the consideration of the ratepayer. He does not suffer any injustice by the proposals in the Bill. It is a very minute burden that he is going to take upon himself. He is going to guarantee, it is true, a large sum of money, but that sum, as the experience of the past has shown, is one which will earn a very reasonable profit. In the case of the West India Dock, the extension made lately has been extremely successful. It is fair to put this minute burden on the ratepayers, for several reasons. We are dealing with the great highway of London—the Thames. The interests of London consumers are enormously bound up in the efficiency of the river and port. The consumption of goods imported at the Port of London by Londoners and their neighbours around the Metropolis is gigantic, and if ships are frightened away by the existing difficulties, the result will be very heavy loss to consumers and to many trades and industries. The really formidable matter is that, unless such improvements are made, and made rapidly, we stand a very serious chance indeed of going down before the competition of the Continental ports. I realise what was said in the Report of the Commission, and the idea was conveyed in the speech of the hon. Gentleman—that foreign ports have 584 been worked for a long time at a loss with a view to a return in the far future. And they have been able to do so, no doubt, not only because of the keen, worldwide competition for trade, but because they have behind them subsidies granted by national or City aid. Are we going, with our gigantic trade and our great docks, to throw away the immense advantage which the credit of the rates of London gives in this competition when we are confronted with these gigantic combinations undertaken with such long and careful foresight by our rivals? I have a strong sense that it would be unwise to do so. Neither is it in the least contrary to English principle that the rates should contribute to such an enterprise. The case of Bristol and other ports are precedents. My hon. friends who moved and seconded the Amendment seemed to think that the dock companies were going to be treated with great harshness by the arbitrators who were to value their undertakings. I might quote to them the famous toast proposed by a gentleman who was certainly profoundly interested in property—"The Lands Clauses Acts: may they never be amended!" [An HON. MEMBER: "He was a water director."] I must say that when the Royal Commission recommended, and the Government substantially accepted, the provisions of the Lands Clauses Act, eliminating only, what I venture to think, the foolish provision which compels two arbitrators to be appointed, one at the instance of each party, and an umpire who is always saddled with the whole burden of the inquiry and the decision, and abolishing the 10 per cent. for compulsory sale—a provision which has long passed out of practice when applied to undertakings of this kind—I think my hon. friends' apprehensions are really unfounded, and if they were as familiar with arbitration cases under the Lands Clauses Act as I am, they would be quite satisfied that the dock companies would receive an ample price for their undertakings.
§ MR. BRYCE (Aberdeen, S.)
Nobody who entered the House during the last two hours would have thought that we were discussing a question of the greatest possible magnitude, and which involves in a large measure, not only the prosperity of London, but in some respects 585 the whole shipping trade of this country. Fortunately, while those who were not here did not appreciate that fact, those who have spoken have fully appreciated it, and those who have listened to the debate must have learned a great deal and have realised how great the importance and interest of the question is with which we are dealing. I confess I was surprised to learn that one-tenth of the whole shipping trade of the country was centred in London. I had not realised so fully before that the Port of London leads the world in respect to shipping; nor had I realised how urgent the question was and that there is, indeed, a justification for the Bill before the House. The question is not only extremely important, but it is extremely urgent, because of the changes that are passing in our commerce, which have to be faced. My hon. and learned friend who has just sat down alluded to the fact that foreign ports, especially since the opening of the Suez Canal, have taken away part of what used to be entirely ours, the distributing trade. These ports, Hamburg, Antwerp, Rotterdam and Bremen, have been making more rapid advances than London. Hamburg, particularly, has received certain help from the Government of Germany. I do not venture to suggest that we ought to follow the policy which was warmly disagreed with by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the case of light dues. At the same time, when we see that policy is being followed by ports which come into competition with that of London. I think we should do what we can to maintain the volume of trade we have. There is another point. Although the Port of London is kept comparatively clear by the scour of the long tideway, it is not so completely capable of receiving at all states of the tide the ocean-going vessels of large size and deep draught which are now being built. It is, in fact, difficult for these vessels to come up to the Port of London. Therefore, the dredging of the river becomes necessary. I cannot pass from this point without paying a tribute to the extremely able and interesting Report of the Royal Commission. It is very concise and very clear, and written in a style which makes the reading of it a pleasure, although it deals with many technical matters; and when it comes to 586 celebrate the past and the future glories of the Port becomes almost dithyrambic. I ought also to pay a tribute to the energy of the President of the Board of Trade in bringing forward this Bill so soon after the Report of the Royal Commissioners was presented. Reports of Royal Commissioners are often apt to lie dormant in pigeon-holes for a long time, even when they deal with matters which are urgent and important.
Although most of the speeches which have been delivered have dealt with small points in the Bill, surely it is worth while to recall the attention of the House to the fact that we are on a Second Reading, and that all that the House has now to do is to draw attention to the general principles of the Bill. But I wish to refer to three points. In the first place, you want a separate authority for the tidal part of the river, and you want an authority for the head-waters which will be entirely different from that which controls the lower Thames. In the second place, the authority which deals with the Port ought to be consolidated to effect control over the efficiency and economy of administration, And in the third place, the docks ought to be absorbed by the new authority. There may be more controversial points, but these are fundamental to the Bill. Upon the last point I do not think I can add to the force of the statement of the hon. and learned Member for Warwick, and Leamington who showed that the raising of additional money for the purpose of dredging the river and providing new docks, cannot be done by the dock companies themselves; that the source from which the money was to be expected could not be tapped except by a public body. That argument appeared to me to be conclusive. I think that my two hon. friends who moved and seconded the rejection of the Bill felt that their case was not strong on that point, and they did not urge it with animation. In regard to the two other principles of the Bill, it is obvious that when you come to deal with the improvement of the tidal waters, these are entirely different from those which relate to the upper regions of the river—not only the question of the control of pleasure boats and steam launches, but the questions of drainage and the control of the banks— 587 that it is quite absurd that the representatives of the Upper Thames should have a voice in the administration of the Port. There is no reason why the Trinity House should have anything to say about the supervision of the Thames waters in Gloucestershire. The point, therefore, does not require any further argument. As regards the consolidation of the authority, it is quite clear that that is necessary. The Bill differs from the Report of the Royal Commission in the respect that it does not bring in the Trinity House; and I would be glad to hear from the right hon. Gentleman what reason there is for this. I conjecture that there is so much matter of a particular technical character to be dealt with by the new authority that it was thought best to give it to a body mainly representing the trading interest. It is obvious that these chief principles will be agreed to by the House, and therefore I arrive at the conclusion that the Bill is entitled to a Second Reading, and that everything else is a matter of detail. We are now only occupied in raising questions which it will be proper for the Joint Committee to consider. These questions, on which light may be thrown by our discussions, are both numerous and important, but I will not enter into them all, but I wish to say a few words first as regards the authority. It is a very curious authority which consists of nominated persons who are really not popular persons, and of selected persons who are popular. There are ten representatives of shipowners and ten representatives of trader's. They are not elected personally in the ordinary sense, because they do not represent the general community or the ratepayers, but they represent an interest. I think there is apt to be a fallacy or confusion when we talk of them as being a popularly elected body. Those twenty represent a particular interest, which is in some respects opposed to the interest of the ratepayers. On the other hand, the County Council and the City, who are to guarantee the finance and to provide the two and a half millions, are to be represented by only ten persons in all. That has been remarked upon by several speakers as being a very strange provision, because the ultimate burden of the guarantee and the two and a half millions will 588 fall on the persons who will be represented by only ten out of forty members and that, surely, is a very strange provision as regards economy of administration. The interests of the ratepayers are not necessarily the interests of the majority of the Board.
I agree with my hon. friend the Member for Nottingham, who was a member of the Royal Commission, in his view that the proposed Commission is really too large a body. We are drifting in recent legislation into very large bodies. We have an unwieldy Water Board and we are asked by a Bill now before the House to create a very large and, I think, a very unwieldy education authority for London. Here we have an authority which is also too large for the work it will have to do. A body is generally better for administrative work in proportion to the smallness of its numbers; that is to say where it is a body which does not get into debates but deals with matters offhand. It is true that there will be a great deal of work, and hon. Members may say that we will require a large number of Members, but the largest part of the work will be best done by officials, and need only be superintended by the Commission, and for the sake of having members to man the Committees we do not require such a large body. I should therefore like to express the hope that when the Bill is considered by the Joint Committee they will agree to a number not exceeding thirty. That would very well represent all the interests concerned. I notice that one member is to be given to the Railway Association. I daresay it is quite right that the railway companies should have a voice in the matter, because the railways are very much interested in the docks being properly managed. But is the Railway Association of a sufficiently permanent and public character to be entitled to appoint a member? I should have thought that we might provide for having some person on the Board as the spokesman of the railway companies without necessarily giving a representative to the Railway Association, which, so far as I know, can change its constitution. That is a matter of detail which I think deserves the consideration of the Joint Committee.
589 No doubt there is apparent difficulty in allowing competition between the wharfingers and the Commission, but there are two ways in which that can be met. In the first place we might forbid the Commission to reduce the rates in such a way as to prejudice the wharfingers, and we might give the Board of Trade or the County Council a voice in the matter, and require their concurrence in any lowering of the rates below a certain point, which would mean unfair competition with the wharfingers. On the other hand, there is very considerable force in the recommendation of the Commission, and it deserves to be considered by the Joint Committee. It is really a question on which the wharfingers ought to offer evidence, and on which they ought to make suggestions. As regards finance, as a London ratepayer I feel some little anxiety. There is the guarantee. After all this is an experiment. It is quite proper that we should make experiments, but it is an experiment; and the guarantee may possibly involve liability. Therefore we ought to regard with some alarm the possibility of adding another burden to the increasing burdens of London. With great public spirit the County Council have, however, expressed themselves as willing to do this; and, of course, we all feel that the prosperity of the Port of London will increase the general prosperity of London. In addition to the £2,500,000 and the guarantee there will, after ten years, be further expenditure for dredging. That is a serious liability, and I hope regard will be paid to it during the subsequent stages of the Bill. I would make one further observation to indicate what to my mind is one of the real difficulties of the scheme. It is said we could raise the dues, and the remedy provided for the County Council and the City is to ask the Board of Trade to require the Commission to raise the dues. But it must be remembered that every raising of the dues may diminish the approach of vessels to the port. That is the real difficulty we have to face, and therefore we cannot allow for this raising of the dues. There is another reason why every possible security against extravagance of administration ought to be introduced, and everything that can be suggested to provide further securities 590 in the interests of the ratepayers ought to be suggested, in order to avoid very considerable financial risk. It will be felt that there is plenty of work for the Joint Committee. We all wish well to the scheme. We are all persuaded that it is necessary, and that it may confer very great benefit on the Port of London, and help it to keep its place as one of the great ports of the world. But we also feel that it is a scheme which raises many important points, and I hope that neither the Joint Committee nor this House will grudge the time and pains necessary to render it adequate and satisfactory.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
I am sure the Government have no reason to be dissatisfied with the tone of the discussion or with the speeches of my hon. friend the Member for Poplar or my right hon. friend the Member for Aberdeen. The debate has been an interesting one. A great variety of opinion on various points of the Bill has been expressed, and to some extent I think the arguments of the various speakers have answered each other. On the main point there has been something like unanimity of feeling. With the exception of the speeches of my hon. friend the Member for the Uxbridge Division and of my hon. friend the Member for the Walthamstow Division, no hon. Member has, I think, expressed an opinion adverse to the Second Reading of the Bill; and even my two hon. friends agreed in concurring with every other speaker who has addressed the House that it is absolutely essential that some means should be taken to bring the Port of London up to modern requirements; and that that would involve a large expenditure of money, both on deepening and improving the river, and also on the improvement of the dock accommodation and the provision of more dock accommodation. Both my hon. friends concurred in thinking that that could not be done unless Parliament in some way or other enabled the existing authorities to provide the funds, or to create a new authority which would be placed in a position to provide those funds. That being the case, and there being also what appears to me to be, with the exception of my two hon. friends, complete concurrence in the view that Parliament is not 591 likely to give the dock companies or the Thames Conservancy the necessary financial power, there remains only a proposal similar to that put forward by the Royal Commission, and accepted by the Government. I think this debate has proved conclusively that the House of Commons is in favour of the creation of a new Port authority for London, which shall include in its functions the functions now discharged by the Thames Conservancy and the dock companies. My right hon. friend the Member for Aberdeen asked me to state why the Government had not included Trinity House in the authorities whose functions were to be absorbed. On the First Reading I stated shortly my reasons for not including Trinity House within the purview of the Bill. What my right hon. friend says is perfectly true. The duties and functions of Trinity House in connection with the Port are extremely technical, and I do not think that there would be very much advantage in transferring them to the new Port authority—certainly not at the commencement of its labours. In addition to that, I do not think, with all due respect to the Royal Commission, that they went thoroughly into the difficulties which would attend the inclusion of Trinity House within the purview of the Bill. Had they done so, they would have found it necessary to make provision in connection with the pilotage and lighting of the Port, which undoubtedly would have been complicated, and which might give rise to a great deal of discussion. So far as I was able to consider the evidence given before the Royal Commission, there was no real complaint as to the manner in which Trinity House discharged its duties. On the contrary, the evidence rather pointed to the fact that Trinity House had discharged its duties with admirable efficiency. There is, however, one question in connection with Trinity House to which I may refer. There appears to be an idea that if the duties and functions of Trinity House were transferred to the new Port authority under this Bill, it would render more easy the abolition of compulsory pilotage and a change in the law, which at present frees from any responsibility in the case of damage done 592 by a vessel to other vessels by collision or otherwise, those vessels which are compelled by the existing law to have a pilot on board. I do not think that is the case. It is open to the Port authority, and I believe it is open to any shipowner at the present time, to move the Board of Trade to bring in a Provisional Order to do away with compulsory pilotage in the London area or any other area. The mere transfer of the powers and functions of the Trinity House to the new Port authority would not in any respect make it any easier to introduce that change if it was thought advisable. With regard to the immunity of those vessels which are under the charge of a pilot, to alter that would be to alter the general law, and there again the mere inclusion of the Trinity Board in this Bill would not make it easier to effect that change. These are the general reasons which have led the Board of Trade not to include the transfer of the functions and duties of Trinity House to the new Port authority in this Bill.
Now I come to the proposals of the Royal Commission, which we have broadly followed in this Bill, and the difficulties those proposals involve. Let me refer to the question of the warehousemen. The Royal Commission are anxious, and properly anxious, to avoid as far as possible any competition between the new Port authority, which they advised should be set up, and the business conducted by the wharfingers and the warehousemen. In order so far as possible to prevent that competition, they recommended that the warehouses should, so far as was practicable, be sold or leased within a date to be fixed by the Bill. Well, Sir, we carefully considered the condition, and we came to the conclusion, for reasons stated by the Royal Commission themselves, that that was not a practical proposal. In the first place, many of the warehouses are physically connected with the docks in such a manner that they could not be practically separated from them; and in the second place, where these physical differences did not exist, the commercial objection to any severance from the docks would be very serious indeed. I have gone as far as I was able into this question, and I am inclined to think that the estimate given by Mr. Cator Scott, that the loss involved by the sale or leasing of the warehouses 593 to the authority would amount to £300,000 a year, was not very far from the mark. I believe that estimate is below the mark, and in addition we have to consider this, that if the warehouses were sold or leased to the new Port authority it would be necessary in some way or other to compensate those employees of the dock companies who are now engaged in the warehousing business, and who are by the existing regulations of the dock companies entitled to a pension. That would involve another large expense by the new Port authority not far short of £100,000 a year. It therefore comes to this, that if this proposal of the Royal Commission was adopted by the Bill the loss to the new Port authority would amount in all probability to something not much less than £400,000 a year, and perhaps something more. [An HON. MEMBER: £500,000.] My hon. friend behind me says £500,000, and I think it is possible that it would amount to £500,000. It is impossible to regard a loss of £500,000 to the new Port authority with equanimity. I think those considerations to which I have referred show that this proposal is not a practical proposal.
I cannot help recognising the force of the argument of the hon. Member for St. Albans and others who have spoken in this debate. It must be admitted that you cannot improve the accommodation in the docks—you cannot spend large sums of money on the docks without, to some extent, increasing the competition which at present exists between the wharfingers and the warehousemen and the dock authorities. I think it is inevitable that money spent on the better equipment of the docks must react unfavourably to some extent on the wharfingers and warehousemen. I will not go so far as the hon. Member for St. Albans, who seemed to think the proposals of the Bill really spelt ruin to the wharfingers. I think, with all respect to the hon. Member, that this is rather an exaggeration. At the same time I feel, and cannot conceal from myself the fact, that these proposals will be, to some extent, to the prejudice of the wharfingers and warehousemen. But what is the position in which we are placed? We cannot have things as they are, that is evident; we cannot financially strengthen the dock companies in order that the dock companies may be able to 594 put their house in order; that also is evident; we cannot undertake in this Bill to purchase all the warehouses on the river outside the docks. That would involve an expenditure, estimated by the hon. Member for Leamington at something like from £15,000,000 to £20,000,000; it certainly could not be placed lower than £13,000,000. Therefore I reject that proposal for reasons which I think are obvious. There remains, therefore, the proposal of the Bill that the improvement for the additional accommodation required by the docks should be carried out by a public trust. The wharfingers themselves, in their evidence before the Royal Commission, drew a distinction between competition with the dock companies as a private undertaking and competition with a dock trust as a public undertaking. In Section 199 of the Report of the Royal Commission they say—We gather from the evidence taken upon the subject, that although the riverside, interests and warehousing merchants are strongly opposed to the levying of dues on goods by the dock companies, on whom they look as rivals in trade in their warehousing capacity, they are prepared to acquiesce, if this should be necessary for the improvement of the Port, in a levy of dues upon all import goods by an authority of a public character.That is now what we propose. We propose that there should be an authority of a public character to receive dues and spend the money so received in the improvement of the docks, and while I do not deny that that does involve a certain amount of competition with warehouse keepers, I think they ought to admit on their side that the competition is less serious and less severe than competition with the dock companies if the necessary financial strength was given to those companies to carry out those improvements in the Port of London which we anticipate from the new Port authority. Therefore, I am in great difficulty. I candidly confess it does not appear to me that there is any perfectly clear solution to this problem possible. But, on the other hand, I say on behalf of the Board of Trade that we shall be perfectly willing to consider any suggestions that the wharfingers or warehousekeepers may make in the Committee upstairs to mitigate the competition. The right hon. Member for Aberdeen has made one suggestion. He suggests that the charges in the 595 warehouses of the dock companies shall not be raised except with the consent of some public body like the Board of Trade. I do not care to express an opinion one way or the other upon that suggestion. I think if we could find a way in which their legitimate interests could be protected we should be only too glad to give it favourable consideration. On the other hand, I agree with the right hon. Member for Aberdeen that the interests of the warehouses cannot be allowed to stand in the way of the general policy of this Bill.
I pass from that to the question of finance. My hon. friends who moved and seconded the rejection of this Bill seemed to me to be terrified because we were setting up what my hon. friend the Member for Uxbridge called a municipal authority. I do not regard this as a municipal authority. It is an authority on which there is certain municipal representation, which the hon. Member for Poplar considers insufficient, but it certainly is not a Municipal Board. My hon. friend the Member for Walthamstow said the proposal of the Bill was an extension of Socialistic and Communistic tendencies. I really think he must have forgotten that there is not an important port of the United Kingdom which is not controlled in some way or other by a trust of this description, and no such terrible results as my hon. friend seems to anticipate will follow. In my judgment, some sort of municipal assistance is absolutely necessary if the proposals made in this Bill are to be carried out. In the first place, if the £2,500,000 required to deepen the river are provided by the new Port authority and not by the London County Council and the Corporation of the City of London, that would result in an ultimate loss to the new Port authority of something like £75,000 a year; if the guarantee of the London County Council is not to be behind the Port stock which is to be issued by the new Port authority, there would be a further and very heavy loss, because the necessary sum could only be raised at a considerably higher rate of interest. If we assume the total amount of Port stock—and this is only an assumption—to be £30,000,000, and the additional rate of interest involved owing to the absence of a guarantee works out at 3¼ per cent., which is not an extravagant sum, the 596 additional expense thrown on the new Port authority would ultimately amount to £225,000 a year. So that, without municipal assistance, it means that an additional charge of something like £300,000 would be thrown upon the new Port authority. But that is not all. I do not believe the purchase of the dock undertakings would be possible without the guarantee of the London County Council behind the Port stock, and for this reason; without that guarantee we could not ask Parliament to require the owners of the dock property to take stock in exchange for their present holding of shares. On the other band, as I am advised by the highest financial authorities, it would be impossible for the Port authority to raise the amount required to purchase the dock undertakings in cash without the guarantee of the London County Council behind them. Therefore it comes to this, that if the docks are to be bought, and we are to raise this large sum of money for the purpose, it is a sine quâ non that the new Port authority should have the guarantee of the London County Council behind it.
If the guarantee of the London County Council is to be given a question arises in connection with the representation of the Council upon the Port authority. In the Report of the River Committee of the London County Council, which has just been issued, and of which they have been good enough to send me a copy, I notice they ask for a representation of fifteen members out of forty. That is even more than the proposal of the Royal Commissioners themselves. The Royal Commission proposed that the representation of the London County Council should be only eleven. We have reduced the number still further—to eight, but in doing that we have added to the Bill a safeguard of the ratepayers, which the Royal Commissioners did not themselves propose. That safeguard is contained in Clause 18 of the Bill. I am quite, aware that there are some hon. Gentlemen who consider that the device contained in Clause 18 is a clumsy device. That idea has been expressed by the hon. Member for Poplar, and also, I believe, by the hon. Member for the Rushcliffe division. But what 597 is the view of the London County Council on the subject? So far from considering Clause 18 contains a clumsy device, the London County Council goes the length of saying that such a plan is absolutely necessary, and they further propose that it should be strengthened. I will read a passage from the Report—The effect of this would be to constitute the Board of Trade a Court of appeal who would, in the event of any deficiency having to be made good out of the county rate, decide whether the Council was justified in asking the Port Commission to increase its dues and charges, and to what extent they should be increased, in order that the Council might be recouped.That is the comment of the Rivers Committee of the London County Council on the device which the hon. Member for Poplar characterises as "clumsy." The Rivers Committee goes on to say—It seems to us that some such provision as the foregoing is necessary unless the Council is to possess a majority on the new body.They go on to say—We think, however, that the clause should be strengthened by requiring the Commission to acquire a reserve fund which should be drawn upon in case of need, and that the clause should make it obligatory upon, and not optional for, the Board of Trade to make an order to increase the dues and charges.
§ MR. SYDNEY BUXTON
I had no intention of leaving the impression on the House that I desired the elimination of that clause. What I did say was that it required strengthening considerably, that it was a clumsy way in which it was done now. The principle of the clause is right, but it wants strengthening very much.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
When the hon. Member makes his own suggestion, if he will give it us in a less clumsy form, I shall be happy to consider it. But the changes which the County Council suggest certainly would not make the device less clumsy or in any way alter its essential character. The position is this: The London County Council consider that some such clause is necessary unless the County Council is placed in the position of appointing the majority of the Commissioners on the new body. But the County Council themselves do not suggest there should be a majority of County Councillors on the Port authority, and in reducing the number proposed by the Royal Commissioners from eleven to 598 eight we have considered our justification for doing so to be the inclusion of this clause and the protection which it gives to the ratepayers—a protection which the Royal Commissioners themselves did not suggest. My hon. friend the Member for South Islington made a criticism of a very different character. His view was that if it should ever become necessary for the County Council to supplement the interest on the Port stock out of the rates, it would be in a time of commercial depression, just the very worst time to raise the rates, the time, in fact, at which the raising of the rates must naturally have the effect of producing a smaller instead of a larger amount. My reply is, that I do not see the slightest danger of the rates ever having to be called upon to supply any deficiency in the interest on the Port stock. I regard this provision as purely nominal and cautionary.
§ SIR ALBERT ROLLIT
My right hon. friend will bear in mind that the clause in his Bill assumes that possibility.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
Yes, I will come to that presently. I do not myself believe it will ever be necessary to have recourse to the provisions of that clause. The real danger, in my judgment, is a possible tendency on the part of a body constituted as we propose this body should be, so to lower rates in their own interest as to reduce the income below the expenditure. But with Clause 18 in view, having before their eyes the interference of the Board of Trade which would immediately follow upon any action of that kind, I think it is as certain as anything can practically be, that the new Port authority will take very great care not so to lower the rates so as to come under these provisions. My hon. friend speaks of a possible reduction of the income of the Port owing to depression of trade. Let me deal for a moment with that matter. The Rivers Committee of the London County Council were good enough to place before me their estimate of the finances of the Port under the new system for the next ten years. On the supposition that the expenditure on the deepening of the Port is provided for by the London County Council and the Corporation, and that their guarantee is placed behind the Port stock, they estimate that in the first year there will be a surplus 599 of £106,000, and in the tenth year a deficiency of £75,000. Supposing the Port were left to its own resources, the extra charges for interest which it would have to meet would be such as to alter these figures to the following: Instead of a surplus of £106,000 in the first year, there would be a deficiency of £51,000, and instead of a deficiency of £75,000 in the tenth year, there would be a deficiency of £353,000. My hon. friend the Member for Uxbridge asks whether that allows for a sinking fund. Under the provisions of the Bill there is no sinking fund to be paid for the first ten years. After the tenth year it will be necessary to provide for a sinking fund as well, and that will amount to about £155,000. These figures may be a little too favourable; I am inclined to think that possibly they are. But if the provisions of the Bill are carried out, after the tenth year we should have a sinking fund of £155,000 to provide, and I will assume that the deficiency of £75,000, as calculated by the Rivers Committee, will amount to one of £100,000. The total to be provided would in that case be £255,000. That would be the amount that would have to be raised after the tenth year by charges on goods as opposed to the charges on shipping which are at present levied by the dock companies and the Thames Conservancy. A sum of £255,000 distributed over all the goods coming to and from the Port of London would really be a trifle. The Mansion House Committee made a careful inquiry into the amount of income that would be derived in London from the dues on goods if the dues corresponded to those now charged at Liverpool; and the figures which they brought out are these: At present the dues on goods in Liverpool bring in an income of £641,000; dues to the same extent on goods imported into or exported from the Port of London would amount to £899,000. So that if the additional sum which the Port of London had to provide amounted only to £255,000, my hon. friend the Member for South Islington will see that dues in London amounting to something like one-third of those charged in Liverpool would probably be sufficient to provide the necessary sum. Under these circumstances it appears to me that in times of pressure on trade there is not the slightest fear that the resources of the Port outlay will not be 600 amply sufficient to provide for all the charges made upon them, even if the purchase of the docks is accepted and receives the sanction of Parliament.
Now, Sir, I think I have referred to most of the important points which have been raised in the course of this debate. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Poplar has appealed to me to say whether I am ready to keep an open mind in regard to the numerous points which will be raised before the Joint Committee. Yes, Sir; the Government are certainly prepared to consider with an open mind any arguments before the Committee, or any decisions which the Committee may come to upon those arguments. But in saying that I think I ought to make one exception. The principle of the purchase of the docks by the new Port authority is, to my mind, not a matter for the Committee, but it is an essential matter which should be decided upon the Second Reading. After the discussion which has taken place I hope that we may come to a decision upon the Second Reading this evening. In coming to this decision I hope the House will clearly understand that the Government will certainly take the approval of the House on the Second Reading to carry with it in a distinct form the question of purchasing the docks. The other questions we are prepared to leave to the consideration of the Committee.
§ MR. PEEL (Manchester, S.)
I should like to say a few words on this extremely important Bill, because I am the only one of the unfortunate trio of this House who had to sit upon this Royal Commission who has not spoken. Before I say a word from that point of view—and I speak solely for myself, because the other two hon. Members who sat on the Commission have already expressed their views—I should like to say a word as a member of the London County Council, although most of my remarks will be from the point of view of the Royal Commission and not the London County Council. I think some credit is due to the London County Council for the readiness with which in this case they have undertaken their responsibilities. The London County Council have sometimes been accused of being a little too grasping, but in this case they have readily agreed to make this absolutely 601 free grant of £2,500,000 for deepening and widening the river; and not only that, but they have willingly assented to give the guarantee of the rates for the whole capital sum of money which has to be raised to constitute the new Port authority. Notwithstanding this, they have never claimed to be placed in a majority on that body, and in this respect they have displayed great moderation. Even if they are not satisfied with the representation they have got, under these circumstances I do not think they can be accused of having made a very unfair demand. I assume that this Bill will pass, although, following the usual practice of important Government Bills, the rejection has been moved and seconded by hon. Members on the Government side of the House. I should like to say a few words on some of the details of the Bill, with which the right hon. Gentleman has just dealt. In the speech on the First Reading he was perhaps not quite fair to the Royal Commission when he said that they wished to include among the powers of the new authority a transfer of the powers of Trinity House for the sake of symmetry. When I signed that Report I had no mere love of symmetry, but it is perfectly clear that there ought to be a connection, and a close connection if possible, between the body which makes the channels and controls them, and the body which has the duty of buoying and lighting those channels. Under this Bill £2,500,000 is to be spent within the next ten years in deepening and widening the channel of the river, which is admitted to be necessary by all the interests concerned. As there will be a considerable change in the channels of the river it is most important that there should be a close connection between the body which makes them and the authority which settles the lights and the buoys to mark those channels. The right hon. Gentleman has given us a very interesting account of the reasons which induced him not to alter the general law for the sake of the Port of London, and he dealt with the points connected with pilotage and non-liability for vessels carrying compulsory pilots. This question came before the Royal Commission, and there are obviously many anomalies connected with the law of pilotage in the Port of London, and a great deal of unfairness 602 has resulted. Not only that, he also referred to the full liability of barges for any damage they do to ships. He hoped the President of the Board of Trade would give his attention to these two questions.
There is another question I should like to ask. The powers of the Watermen's Company are handed over to the new body, and they have certain powers for raising money for licensing barges. The limit of those licences has been taken away by the Bill, but I am not quite clear whether that would allow the new body to do what has been suggested, and that is to raise no inconsiderable sum upon licences for barges. The Commission suggested that there should be a different charge upon these barges according to their size. Those who have studied the subject know very well that until now the dock companies have had no right to charge any dues on those barges which use their docks. The number of barges has very largely increased, and now amounts to over 11,000, and instead of thirty or forty tons you now get barges up to 1,000 tons. The result is that enormous expense must be thrown on the dock companies who have to admit these barges in and out of their gates, through extra pumping and through the mud which comes in at all times. In the case of the London and East India Dock Companies it was estimated that a charge of £50,000 a year was cast upon them by the extra pumping they had to do in this way. It is perfectly true that the dock companies attempted to put a charge upon the barges, but it was resisted very naturally by barge-owners, because they were being taxed by their rivals in trade. From the point of view of this Bill everybody connected with the Port of London, and also the ratepayers of London through the free grant, are making some sacrifice towards increasing the prosperity of the Port of London, and in view of that fact it is fair that some charge should be laid upon these barges, considering the sacrifices that are made by the different interests, and considering the fact that by the mere entry of these barges they cause an extra amount of labour and expense to be thrown upon whatever body is in charge of the docks.
With reference to putting a tax upon goods, I thoroughly assent to the necessity for this. Of course it may be that this 603 tax will only have to be resorted to in case things do not go very well in other ways. But it is of extreme importance to have the power to put this tax upon goods. The hon. Gentleman below me referred to the fact that it was the merchants who made the prosperity of the ports and who controlled the lines of trade, but the power that shipowners have is also immense in this respect. Speaking from the experience I gained on the Commission, I should say that it would be a very good policy if the rates on vessels were as low as possible, in order to give the Port a good name, and so as to attract as much traffic to the Port of London as possible. From this point of view I would support, in case of necessity, goods being taxed. Although this clause is clearly permissive, I am sorry that the authority has been allowed to put a tax upon goods for transhipment or re-export. The falling off in the re-export trade, or the fact that it has not increased in the same proportion as other branches of trade, is one of the reasons that makes the constitution of this new authority necessary. It is precisely from this point of view that competition is most keen, and it is necessary for us to make a struggle to keep that part of the business in our own hands. There is a tremendous competition in this respect between London and ports on the Continent, such as Hamburg and Rotterdam. I believe it might be better to leave that portion of the trade perfectly free, and thus obtain for ourselves those advantages which are obtained by transhipment and re-exporting. I should like to say one word on the question of the warehouses. That has been very fully argued, and I will not go into details which have already been dealt with. I am, of course, perfectly aware of the great difficulty of separating these warehouses from the rest of the dock undertakings. Those figures which the right hon. Gentleman gave us just now—figures which I must say we tried to get during the Commission, but which we were not provided with—are an extremely important element in considering what we should do with the warehouses. Some of them, of course, it is physically impossible to separate. Others of them it is not so impossible, because they are not a part of the body of the docks themselves. 604 But I should like to lay down this principle. I feel that, if possible, even at the loss of a small amount of the revenue, it would be worth while—I do not say it should be done altogether—but I should like to lay down the principle that we should avoid any appearance of competition with private interests in the Port, because the influence a great body of this kind has and can maintain, will be enormously enhanced in every branch of its undertaking, if at the outset it comes under no suspicion of competing in any way with private enterprise in the Port of London. It was for that reason that the Commission did not wish to except any docks from the purchase, but to include them all, and so to avoid in that way all appearance of competition with private interests. This is a matter on which the wharfingers will express themselves before the Committee, and I hope some method will be found, either by a minimum charge or by some other means, to secure this desirable end, so that at the beginning of its career this body may not be forced into a position of competition with other bodies.
On the question of the constitution of the authority, the right hon. Gentleman has made great differences from the Report of the Royal Commission, but I, myself, am not disposed to quarrel with the general principle he has laid down, if you are going to call in the rates of London, and if you are not going to get a guarantee from the outside. I certainly think it would be far better to get the kind of body you have in Liverpool, that is to say, people who know the river, who are accustomed to the trade of the river, and whose interests lie in it, and who, besides the natural interest they have in it, have great technical knowledge of the matter, and whose interests, taken altogether, are really not adverse to the interests of the consumers, but whose tendency is to keep every kind of rate as low as possible. But of course the matter is complicated by the guarantee of the rates, and I entirely agree that for the purpose of raising the money and keeping the interest as low as possible, it is absolutely necessary to have this guarantee. I do think, however, that those who live outside of London, strictly so called, are very lucky. I think those who live inside 605 of County Council London are somewhat to be pitied, because the advantages of the Port of London and of cheap goods extend far beyond the limits of County Council London. Those who are within the limits of County Council London are really bearing a burden which ought to be spread more widely over the urban districts and other places lying around Loudon. I do not myself think it would be possible to call on these small bodies to assist in the guarantee, though much is to be said in favour of it. But we have to make use of this guarantee, and when you make use of it the whole matter is then changed, and you have to consider carefully what is right and what should be the part played by the guarantors on this authority. I was very glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman say that in his view the rates would never be called upon at all. Those were his calculations, and, in fact, I think he thought we were well within our security. Well, that may be so, but nevertheless when you are taking responsibility upon you, and when you are considering the guarantee of the rates, I do not think one must take too hopeful a view. You must put it from the blackest point of view you can as against the rates. The clause which secures the interest of the ratepayers has been very much commented on. I do not see myself that it is a clumsy way of doing it, but I think the clause will have to be carefully examined in several ways. I quite agree, if I may say so, with what was said below me, that it might be the worst possible plan to increase the rate when there had been a deficiency on the year before. The suggestion is made in the clause that any deficiency should be paid out of a reserve fund. Well, that is a very good suggestion, but there is no provision in the rest of the Bill that such a reserve fund should be created, and I certainly think that some Clause of that kind should be put in. I think that will very much alter one's objection to that part of the Bill. Of course the clause presents many difficulties at present. The clause says, if I remember aright, that the sum paid out of the rates in any one year shall be repaid in the next year, or the next after, out of any surplus money there may be after deducting the cost of management 606 and the interest on the purchase money, and for this purpose the sinking fund is to be suspended; so that practically the surplus for the repayment of the money drawn from the rates is to be secured by the suspension of the sinking fund. But this clause is a matter of great detail which perhaps it is better not to discuss at large on the Second Reading of the Bill. There is one comment I should like to make on the constitution of the authority, for I think it is a matter of some slight importance. Of course in London it is practically necessary, I think, that the great riverside interests should each have their separate representation on the body. They are so large and so varied that you cannot lump them together as you might in a smaller port, but I see that the shipowners, for instance, are to have a representation of ten, while there is no separate provision made for the representation of the short sea traders. And there is to some extent a difference of interest between them and the great owners of the liners and the big tramp steamers. I will only mention one instance that came out in the course of the Royal Commission. While all the short sea traders are anxious to have an authority to deal with the river and channel they are unwilling to have the docks bought up by the new authority, because they themselves unload in the stream and hardly come into the docks at all. I only mention that as an instance to show the divergence of interest between the liners and the short sea traders, and perhaps it might be necessary to give each of these bodies separate power to nominate or elect a number of representatives to sit on the Board. I should like to say one word about the necessity for setting up a general authority of this kind. I think it was quite extraordinary to see the unanimity, with the exception of the short sea traders, of all the bodies who came before us, and who were anxious that a central authority should be set up on the river which should not only look after the waterway but also purchase the docks. The necessity really has arisen partly through the action of the dock companies themselves, partly through the financial difficulty into which they have been cast by 607 the play of forces on the river, and partly also by the fact, already alluded to, that there is to be this tremendous and growing change in the course of maritime business. The ports all over the world are becoming too small for their business and there is practically no limit to the vast size of the steamers which may have to conduct business in future. The large ship is the economical ship, and thus those ports which can accommodate themselves most rapidly and most readily to the large steamers, which act as feeders for the smaller steamers, will be those which in the competition of the future, and very keen competition it will be, will be able to maintain their own. There is, moreover, the fact, and it is by no means one to be neglected, that these competing ports on the other side of the Channel may them selves become what London has long been—distributing centres. It is quite possible that instead of these great cargoes coming to London the great vessels might go to the ports abroad, and those ports might themselves act as distributing centres, not only for their own coasts but for the coasts of England also.
Then the inter-connection between the docks and the waterway of the Thames is so close that I think it would be hardly possible for one body to deal fully with either, and that they must both be united together. The advantages of organisation, the advantages of the proper distribution of shipping, the avoidance of anything like tempting ships by rebates to docks where they ought not to go, and in other ways—advantages, the result of which is seen so clearly at Liverpool—are I think absolutely necessary in the Port of London in order that it may be organised and concentrated and able to compete with those foreign ports with which we shall be constantly competing. The whole question, of course, of the prosperity of this body must depend upon the quality of the men chosen to manage it. That is the issue on which its whole prosperity depends, and if high quality is maintained then it is possible that in spite of the competition with which we are threatened from those foreign ports, in spite of the enormous sums they are 608 spending, in spite of the £15,000,000 that Hamburg has spent on its own port in the last fifteen years, or the £24,500,000 that Germany has spent on all its ports in the same period, we may, owing to the natural advantages of our river, be able to hold our own; but that can only be done if men of the highest ability and highest class in the business of the world are ready to come forward and take their part in the work of this great new authority in the interest of London. If that is done, there is no reason in the nature of things, or in the kind of competition we have to meet, why London should not maintain in future that immense pre-eminence, or, at any rate, that great predominance which, whether you measure it by tonnage of goods or tonnage of ships, it has been able to maintain in the past.
§ MR. RENWICK (Newcastle-on-Tyne)
I have listened to the debate that has taken place this afternoon, and I think I am the first shipowner who has intervened in it. I listened with great interest to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, and I could not help smiling when he told us of the difficulty and doubt he had in his mind as to the treatment of the riverside wharfingers. If I might venture to give the right hon. Gentleman a hint, I would say that the way to settle this is not to buy up the docks at all. I think if the authorities of the Port of London are going to buy the docks they are making the greatest mistake possible. The great docks of London, the West India Docks, the Albert Docks, and others, are becoming obsolete. We on the Tyne have carried out a great scheme of river improvement. We have taken away parts of the river, deepened the Channel, and added to the facilities for dealing with large ships; and I venture to say that there is not a Tyne Commissioner who would spend a penny to add to the docks. In fact, I believe they would "undockise" the present docks. And yet we are told that the new London Port authority should buy the docks so that they may have the whole trade of the Port in their own hands. It is not at all necessary. One 609 of the largest docks in the country, on the Tyne, belongs to the North-Eastern Railway Company, nevertheless the river is managed by the Tyne Commissioners. The right hon. Gentleman was perfectly right when he foretold difficulty in connection with the riverside wharves. Will he get rid of the difficulty when the Bill is passed? It is very proper that you should have one authority to deal with your river. It is equally important to deepen the river, but when that is done, instead of the competition with the wharves decreasing it will increase. The right hon. Gentleman said he was afraid that the buying up of the riverside wharves would involve an expenditure of from £15,000,000 to £20,000,000. As a business man I consider that would be a much better investment than buying up the docks. Then it is proposed to spend £4,500,000 to "adapt" and extend the docks, but if the docks are adapted very little money will be left for extension. One of the most expensive things you can do is to "adapt" docks. The tendency of the present day is not to build docks for the accommodation of large vessels. The place for them is the riverside wharf. If you have money it should be used rather to deepen the river, and then you will have the finest tidal river in the country, and will make it one of the finest waterways in the world. Ships are being built to day 750 feet long, so that one ship of this length will occupy nearly 300 yards of accommodation. No authority can afford to build a dock with thirty feet of water, and allow one side of it to be occupied by one of these large vessels 750 feet long. And who can say that we will not have ships 1,000 feet long five years hence? These very large vessels are being built not only in this country but by foreign countries, especially by the Germans. The hon. Member for Poplar spoke of the competition of Rotterdam, Bremen, Antwerp, and Hamburg. I would point out that the money spent in improving the facilities at these ports was not spent in "adapting" old docks or building new docks, but to accommodate shipping in the stream alongside of the wharves. Another advantage in favour of these 610 wharves is that if it is necessary to enlarge them you can do it comparatively cheaply, because the wharves are generally built upon timber piles and cylinders.
Speaking as a shipowner—and I am sure that the majority of shipowners will agree with me—we prefer the stream to a dock, and if the consignee asks us to allow the ship to go into a dock he has to pay compensation and the dues in addition. There is another very great advantage of the riverside wharf with sufficient water alongside; you can leave the wharf or go to it at any state of the tide, whereas the ship cannot enter or leave a dock except about an hour-and-a-half before and after high water. During the rest of the tide the ship is absolutely locked up in the dock. I took the trouble last week, in view of the discussion of this Bill, to make a trip down the river. I regret to say that there was not a single passenger steamer, and I had to go down from the Old Swan Pier in a tug with a barge behind it. I saw the very kind of wharf that is wanted just below the Tower Bridge, and the inside and outside wharves at Woolwich Arsenal, and one at Woolwich Ferry with a very large steamer lying alongside it. I also saw the huge wharf of the Beckenham Company, with a large steamer lying alongside of it. I say these are the kind of wharves which ought to be built to accommodate your large shipping. I speak with some knowledge, because I am intimately acquainted both with the coasting and foreign trade. The river is deep enough for coasting vessels, but it requires to be deepened for the accommodation of large ships at riverside wharves. Shipowners also protest against dues being put on goods to provide facilities for such work. It must not be forgotten that coasting ships have to compete with the railways, and if a duty is put on goods, while the shipowner cannot raise the freights because of that competition, an injustice is done to the shipowner. I may be told that it is optional to levy dues or not, but my experience of public bodies is, that if you give them the power to levy dues and to spend money, they do both. I am not prepared therefore to give these powers to this London Port authority.
611 I think that whether the docks are bought or not it is most important that the House should settle the principle of this matter, and not leave it to the Committee. I want hon. Members to distinguish between the Port of London and ports like Liverpool and Cardiff. In the latter ports they are bound to have docks, because there may be forty feet of water inside the docks, and not a single foot of water outside. That is not the case in the Port of London. I sincerely trust, therefore, that the House will have the courage to settle the question once for all as to whether or not the docks are to be bought. The Royal Commission distinctly said that if you bought the ware houses they ought to be got rid of, because it was against the practice of Parliament to buy up by a public authority facilities to compete with private enterprise. I believe the new authority should give generous treatment to those who wish to build wharves after the river is deepened. If you have an authority owning wharves and warehouses within the docks, that authority will feel it to be their interest to get all the revenue they can from their own property, and to squeeze and starve those who have wharves outside the docks. For these reasons, and in these circumstances, I feel it my duty to vote against the Second Reading of this Bill. This question is most important, and the House ought to have further opportunity of considering it; and I implore the London County Council and the other authority who are to provide the money to deepen the river, to give this matter their most serious consideration. Depend upon it, the opposition of the wharfingers and riverside owners will not be got rid of by referring the Bill to a Joint Committee. The question must be faced and the policy may have to be adopted either of buying them out altogether, or of dropping all idea of buying the docks and the warehouses.
§ SIR JOSEPH DIMSDALE (London)
The President of the Board of Trade at the First Reading of this Bill used these words—The Royal Commission suggested that a municipal guarantee should be given jointly 612 by the London County Council and the Corporation of the City. I understand that the Corporation of the City is not in a position to give such a guarantee, and, accordingly, the Government propose that it shall be given by the London County Council alone.The Corporation of London are quite prepared to give every reasonable and legitimate guarantee, as the rating authority for the City. The total amount for dredging and deepening the river is £2,500,000; and the share of the Corporation as representing one-eighth of the rateable value of London would be about £300,000. I assume that my right hon. friend will be able to assure me that the Corporation will be expected to raise this £300,000 from the City rates. I take it also that the proportion which will have to be found by the County Council will be raised by them, as the rating authority for the Metropolis, from the special county rate, distinct from the Corporation as the rating authority for the City. Then there is to be a guarantee for the Port stock. That also, I presume, should be raised by the Corporation and by the London County Council from the special county rate in their respective proportions. I hope my right hon. friend will be able to clear that matter up. May I say that I am voting for the Second Reading of this Bill not with any great feeling of sympathy with it. No less than twenty-two of the forty Members will be certainly interested in reducing the dock dues and charges in the Port of London. We are to have ten traders, ten payers of dues on ships, and two owners of craft on the river, making twenty-two out of a total of forty members. Against, this solid phalanx, the municipal side will be represented by the County Council having eight members and the Corporation two, while the wharfingers have the miserable total of four in all. The President of the Board of Trade laid great stress on the fact that the guarantee to be given by the County Council and the Corporation was absolutely essential; but if the guarantee is such an essential factor, surely eight members from the County Council and two from the Corporation is hardly an adequate representation; and I venture to say that both the 613 Corporation and the County Council ought to have additional representation on this Board, as also the wharfingers. Further, I fail to see why this guarantee should rest solely on the Metropolitan area. Kent and Essex are also concerned in the scheme. Why should they not bear a part of the guarantee, and have their fair share of representation? The Bill to my mind is deficient in other matters. It only deals with a certain number of docks. One dock is omitted, I think unintentionally by the draftsman. I mean the Regent's Canal and Dock Company.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
That was deliberately excluded in accordance with the recommendations of the Royal Commission.
§ SIR JOSEPH DIMSDALE
I am very sorry it was deliberately excluded, because here we have a dock company created by Act of Parliament in 1812 and which gave evidence before the Royal Commission as to its entire efficiency and good work. It has a capital of over £2,000,000, and I should have thought it would be only fair and just that this dock, which can take as large vessels as most of the London docks, should have been placed in the same position as the Surrey Commercial Dock, and other docks. I will vote for the Second Reading of this Bill in the hope that some very drastic Amendments will be made in Committee. I would ask my right hon. friend the President of the Board of Trade whether he can give me an answer to the specific questions I put to him as regards additional representation for the Corporation of London, and also with reference to the guarantee.
§ SIR JOHN LENG (Dundee)
Until the speech of the hon. Member for Newcastle no hon. Member, with the exception of the hon. Member for South Manchester, directed attention to the special interests of riverside wharfingers and warehousekeepers. The President of the Board of Trade stated that it would be impossible, for physical and other reasons, to separate the warehouses from the docks; and that, therefore, the purchase of the warehouses must be included in the scheme. But 614 the wharfingers and warehousekeepers have no direct physical connection with the docks. They do not wish to have their businesses purchased; they only wish to be left alone. Their trade is very distinct from the trade of the docks. I am connected with a very old Scottish coasting company which for a long time has had its own wharves, and which lately erected a new wharf on which large sums have been spent in fitting it with the most modern appliances. That company, and other similar companies, do not want to be disturbed. The wharfingers are willing to contribute their fair share of the cost of improving the river; but they do not wish to expose themselves to the possibility, in fact the probability, of having new burdens imposed upon them to purchase docks which the hon. Member for Newcastle stated had become obsolete. With the experience of other parts of the country, I think it would be unwise to spend large sums of money on the acquisition of docks which are now largely out of date. As to the representation of riverside interests, I concur with what was said by the hon. Member for South Manchester, namely, that the riverside interests should have their own representation, and I hope that will be carried out. The chief criticism of this Bill comes from the supporters of the Government, but the right hon. Gentleman has committed the Government by declaring that the purchase of the docks is the vital principle of the Bill. I regret that. I agree that the Thames admits of improvement as a riverway, and I should be glad to see that improvement effected; and I think it would be much more important than the acquisition of the docks.
§ MR. CUMMING MACDONA (Southwark, Rotherhithe)
I think it is my bounden duty to say something with regard to an aspect of this question in which my constituents are deeply interested. We have heard a good deal about docks and wharves, but we have not heard anything as yet about the lightermen who work on the river. Their interests, so far as I am concerned, are paramount. They are a body of workers who were organised in 1293; and I hope the President of the Board of Trade will take into serious consideration the past services of this distinguished 615 body of working men. Every other class of working man has changed more or less, but the lightermen since their establishment have never changed in their fidelity and loyalty to their Sovereign and to the interests of their employers. I submit their case most earnestly to the consideration of my right hon. friend.
§ SIR F. DIXON-HARTLAND
As my right hon. friend the President of the Board of Trade has admitted, I was in duty bound to oppose this Bill. I do not think the Government has had any reason to complain of my action in raising this debate, which has the more fully brought out their case, and having performed my duty, I now ask leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ COLONEL ROPNER (Stockton)
I should like to say that I welcome this Bill, and will have very great pleasure in voting for it. I differ from my hon. friend the Member for Newcastle in many respects. It is absolutely necessary that dock accommodation should be provided for large ships. Wharves are all very well for small and middle class vessels, but it is necessary to have docks for larger vessels. Surely a city like London must be able to provide such accommodation as Liverpool and Hull and other places all over the country. I welcome the Bill and shall vote for it, but I warn the House not to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs by overburdening shipping. The dues on shipping on the Thames are already very high, and that is why shipowners decline to send their ships to the Port of London and prefer to go elsewhere. If you wish to retain the trade on the Thames you must see that you do not over burden it. The charges on shipping last year amounted to 1s. a ton, and when the dock companies thought they were going to be bought they immediately increased their charges to 1s. 6d. At no time should the charge be more than 1s a ton net register. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will take notice of that, and I hope he will see that the water in the Thames shall always be deep enough to take a vessel of thirty feet draught.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.616
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
moved that the Bill be committed to a Joint Committee of Lords and Commons. That was, he said, the course adopted in the case of the Water Bill, and was, he thought, a desirable course to follow. The Bill could then come back and be discussed in a Committee of the Whole House. It was obviously desirable that a Bill so complicated as this necessarily was should be discussed, not merely in Committee upstairs, but in Committee of the Whole House.
§ MR. SYDNEY BUXTON
said the course proposed was in accordance with the precedent set by the Water Bill last year. Of course the principle of the Bill was outside the purview of the Committee, the House having decided that there should be a public authority. What he understood the right hon. Gentleman to agree to was, that what the authority should be and how far there should be protection to the ratepayers and wharfingers were the questions which the Joint Committee should be entitled to consider. He did not think when the Bill came back to be discussed in Committee it was likely to take a long time, because it was a Bill upon which all sections were agreed, and if the Joint Committee arrived at a satisfactory conclusion, it would not occupy much further time in the House.
§ Resolved: That it is expedient that the Bill be committed to a Joint Committee of Lords and Commons.—(Mr. Gerald Balfour.)
§ Message to the Lords to communicate this Resolution and to desire their concurrence.