§ [SECOND READING.]
§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. BENN (Devonport)
said the position of the port of London was five years ago considered by the Government as so critical that they appointed a Royal Commission to inquire into and report upon it, and when he reminded the House that one-fifth of the whole of the trade of the United Kingdom passed through the port of London they would admit that this was a most important question. The matter had been neglected for 100 years because although certain powers were given nothing was 154 done. The Report of the Commission was of a most disparaging character. The Commission reported that for one reason or another there was dissatisfaction with the condition of the port on the part of all concerned with it, whether ship owners or merchants. They reported that the river was becoming shallower as the vessels entering it were getting larger; that the docks were inadequate and that the delays in the river caused overwhelming injury to the trade of London. It was after that testimony that the Government found it necessary to take action, and he found himself now in the position of supporting the action of the Government. When he introduced the Bill the President of the Board of Trade (then Mr. Gerald Balfour) said the need for doing something was urgent, and that a bold and thorough solution, such as that put forward by the Commissioners and substantially embodied in the Government Bill, would be the one most likely to lead to useful and fruitful results. Those were the words with which the Government Bill was introduced two years ago. It was with the greatest disappointment that the London County Council had 155 recognised that the zeal of the Government in this direction seemed to have utterly vanished. He had been informed on good authority that they would presently have to face a speech from the Government Bench against this Bill, and with regard to that he could only say they had cordially supported the efforts of the Government in the past to settle the question, not because the Bill was entirely to their satisfaction, but because they recognised in it an honest and well-directed effort to help London. They had yet to learn the reasons which caused the Government to run away from this matter when the Government held such strong opinions with regard to the Report of the Commissioners that they thought it necessary to carry over their Bill until the next session, and did not finally drop it until last year. He respectfully submitted that if the Government had really meant business there was no reason why the Government should not support this Bill and pass it into law.
The present measure was the Government Bill with two comparatively unimportant differences which could well be made the subject of discussion and settlement in Committee. The first difference was an increased representation of the London County Council on the new port authority, because the council was asked to be responsible for the financial success of the new port. The second was the exemption of goods from rates. He would not weary the House with details as to what had been done in other towns and cities. The House - was aware of the highly satisfactory result of what had been done at Bristol and Liverpool in this regard.
He understood that the principal opposition to the Bill was to come from their old and venerated friend—the City—whom he saw well represented on the benches opposite, but he ventured to hope that, having produced what was practically the offspring of the Government and laid it upon the Table, the hon. Gentleman representing the Government would see fit later to own their child. So far as their hon. friends representing the City were concerned, he could only say the London County Council were not at 156 all anxious to take this matter up, but, finding London was suffering from an inadequate and ill-managed port, they 'felt it their duty to take action. If the City could find the money to carry this thing through the London County Council had no jealousy of the City in the matter. It was supposed that the London County Council were anxious to poke their noses into all sorts of undertakings, and to do everything for everybody. The truth was that they were by no means anxious to take up the management of the London port and docks. If the Government were earnest and sincere in the matter let them bring in their own Bill, and the London County Council would back it rather than see the port of London as it was, ill-managed and languishing for trade. If the London County Council did not consider this a most important matter he would not be now pledging the ratepayers' money to make the port of London what they thought it ought to be. But while this House were discussing academic propositions, the business and commerce of London were going to other quarters, and going to other quarters simply because the Government had not the courage to pass their own Bill.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ LORD ALWYNE COMPTON (Bedfordshire, Biggleswade)
said he did not represent the City. He interposed in the debate as a director of one of the dock companies interested, and approached the question entirely for a business point of view. It was perfectly true that when the Royal Commission was appointed in 1900 there was a certain amount of agitation against the dock companies, much of which, in his opinion, was founded on misrepresentation, which became clear as time went on. The hon. Member had spoken of the critical condition of the Port of London at the time the Royal Commission was appointed. He challenged contradiction when he said that, for the past 100 years private enterprise, without any municipal help, had managed the London port, with 157 the result that it was to-day the finalist port in the world, capable of docking the largest ships in the world, and instead of languishing for trade, as the hon. Member describe it, its tonnage had doubled during the last thirty years. The Royal Commission which sat in 1900 produced a Report in 1901 that had the merit of being unanimous, in which it was recommended that a port authority, consisting of representatives of the London County Council, the City Corporation, and ship owners should be created for the purpose of acquiring and controlling the existing dock companies; that £4,500,000 should be exended on the extension of the docks; that £2,500,000 should be provided by the London County Council for the dredging of the river, and that that body should also guarantee the interest upon the new port stock to be created for purchasing the docks. Then came the Government Bill announced in 1902, and which in 1903 was mentioned in the King's Speech as of national concern which stated the importance attached to the matter. That Bill was read a second time. The hon. Member was anxious to know why the Government Bill, founded upon these recommendations, had been allowed to drop. The reason was that a' number of people interested in the port had discovered that it was not so good a measure as they had at first been led to imagine. The what fingers found that they were not being fairly treated, and there was a great deal of opposition to it, and Member after Member rose up and asked the Government to withdraw it. They knew their own business, which required a great amount of experience to carry on successfully; and they doubted very much the ability of a collection of amateur—swhose qualifications for sitting upon a port authority was to grind their own axe, to look after their own interests—to carry on the trade of the port with a satisfactory result.
The hon. Gentleman who moved the Second Reading stated that the Bill was in principle the same as the Government Bill; but in his humble judgment it differed from the Government Bill in important and essential particulars. In the first place, there was a vast difference in the compensation provisions; secondly the financial provisions were entirely 158 different; and thirdly, the constitution for the new port authority was entirely different. As to the compensation provisions, he was astonished at the extraordinary ideas of the County Council in regard to the value of existing debentures. He had always understood that a debenture was a legal debt on a solvent company; and it was actually suggested in the Bill that the value which the debenture holders were to receive for their debentures was to be decided by arbitration. As to the financial provisions, he did not know what was the opinion of the County Council as to the value of those undertakings which were to be taken over. He did not suppose that the County Council realised that the companies possessed three square miles of freehold property in the City of London. He did not suggest any value for that property himself, but in addition £4,500,000 were required for dock extension, and £2,500,000 for deepening the river. The hon. Member for Battersea professed to be a man of common sense; but did the hon. Gentleman know where the income was to come from to meet all this? He believed that the County Council would find themselves insolvent at the very commencement, save only that they had the rates behind them. Therefore, they were solemnly entering upon this undertaking, knowing perfectly well that it must at the outset be a heavy burden on the ratepayers of London. He believed that the whole thing was a "try on," and he could not understand how anybody who had considered the question from a finanical point of view could have commended this Bill in the light and airy manner of the hon. Gentleman.
Then, as to the constitution of the authority. The Royal Commission assigned to the County Council eleven members out of forty; the Government Bill gave them eight or nine; but the Council, with characteristic modesty, gave themselves twenty-four.
§ LORD ALWYNE COMPTON
said he would put this point to the hon. Member. How about the labour question? They would, of courses be responsible for the 159 labour bill at the docks, which amounted to something like £4,000,000 a year. With all respect, he doubted whether it would be wise that such a body as the hon. Gentleman proposed should have the control of such a huge labour bill. Speaking for himself, he was inclined to think that the work could be carried on commercially without municipal or political control, and that the Thames Conservancy, strengthened and fostered by the Government, and with the assistance of the dues on goods entering the port, as recommended by the Royal Commission and adopted by the Government, would be a better authority to deal with all the difficulties of the case.
§ MR. ALBAN GIBBS (London)
said he desired to second the rejection of the Bill. As a Member for the City of London as well as for himself, he viewed with grave fear the taking away of the management of the port of London from the very able men who were thoroughly conversant with its intricate and complicated business, and the handing of the control over to another body which knew nothing about the business or the administration. He had another objection, viz., that the proper position of the City of London was not recognised in the Bill. With the exception of Westminster, the City had the greatest rate able value of any other section of the area of London; it was there that all the ship owners and merchants who used the port were to be found. In his opinion the Corporation of the City of London ought to have, if not the controlling voice on the committees, at least a great share of authority. In the Government Bill the controlling interest in the committees was given to ship owners and merchants; but that had been entirely altered in the present Bill which centred the whole administration in the County Council. Then, by the Government Bill the what fingers had a representation of four on the committee; now they had no representation at all. There were also no powers in the Government Bill to make wharves and buy land to compete with the what fingers; but that new clause had been introduced into this Bill. Again, the Royal Commission recommended that 160 the dock warehouses should be got rid of as soon as possible. There was nothing about that in this Bill or in the Government Bill; but the Government Bill provided that a separate committee should be formed, on which the what fingers should be represented, to work the warehouses. He agreed with his noble friend that since the Bill of two years ago a very great change of opinion had occurred, and he thought that the Government last year exercised a very wise discretion in not bringing forward that Bill again. He trusted that the Government would not allow this Bill to pass without giving it more consideration. There were many other matters not dealt with in the Bill, such as a great barrage system on the river. He did not profess to be an engineer, but he believed that many competent people argued that such a system could be worked satisfactorily. He, therefore, asked the House to reject the Bill.
To leave out the word 'now,' and at the end of the Question to add the words 'upon this day six months.'"—(Lord Alwyne Compton.)
Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ MR. SYDNEY BUXTON (Tower Hamlets, Poplar)
said that the two speeches just delivered were only directed against the details of the Bill. Indeed, it was impossible for any representative of the City to object to the principle, because the Corporation of the City a year or two ago supported the principle of the measure, and proposed to finance the dock question. Everybody who had read the Report of the Royal Commission knew that it would be impossible to hand over this great question to the Thames Conservancy, which was a body not intended for this work and the proposal of the dock companies that they should have a guarantee of 4 per cent, on their stock before they began to improve the docks was out of the question. It seemed to him, therefore, that as some authority had to take action it was the duty of the London County Council to make a proposal for the solution of the difficulty. All that his hon. friend desired was that the House should 161 endorse the principle of the Bill by giving it a Second Reading, which principle was that the docks and waterways of the Port of London should be under some public authority.
§ MR. SYDNEY BUXTON
said that the value of the docks and of the debentures could be decided on fair lines in Committee upstairs. He was quite sure that the Committee would do no injustice to the shareholders or debenture holders.
§ LORD ALWYN COMPTON
said what he wanted to know was how the undertaking was to be carried on after it had been purchased.
§ MR. SYDNEY BUXTON
said that what they were deciding by reading the Bill a second time was that the undertaking was to be carried on by a public authority instead of by private companies. He represented a constituency which had a larger proportion of docks than any other in the London area; and he felt strongly that the Government had no right to raise this question if they did not intend to settle it. For five years the trade of the port had been largely paralysed. The noble Lord said that the dock companies had been improving the trade of the port last year. That was in spite of, and not in consequence of, the action of the Government. He did not throw any blame on the dock companies themselves. They, as directors, had to attend to the interests of share-holders. They had reduced their expenditure in the last few years so far as they could, and they had raised their charges to the highest possible figure, the result being that, along with the uncertainty, the port of London had very materially suffered.
It was necessary to recall what had taken place in regard to this question. The noble Lord opposite said this question was very much due to the agitation against the dock companies. On the contrary, it was the dock companies themselves who raised the question. Five years ago they introduced a Bill in order to enable them to carry out absolutely essential improvements 162 in their docks, which ought to have been carried out many years ago; and they came to this House and said they had not got sufficient revenue to do the work, and asked to be allowed to raise charges, and especially, as the Commission pointed out, to tax their rivals in trade. The House threw out the Dock Companies Bill and appointed a Royal Commission to enquire into the matters. The Royal Commission reported with unusual celerity, and the Government with unusual promptitude introduced a Bill, the Second Reading of which was agreed to after one day's discussion without a division. Certain opposition had subsequently developed from the Members for the City and the then chairman of the Thames Conservancy. But he thought the hon. Members for the City would allow him to say that if it had been a question of the Bill going on they would not have desired to have appeared as obstructionists, and the Amendment they put down would not have seriously delayed the passage of the Bill. If the Government had been in earnest about the measure, and had given one or two days to it in the first session, it would have passed and become law. The Government, however, did nothing of the sort, and made the unusual proposal that the Bill should be carried over to the next session. He believed there was no precedent for it, but the House agreed to the proposal on the ground that the question, having once been decided, ought to be settled. But the Government did nothing whatever the next session; and through the whole of two sessions, had only devoted one day to its consideration, and were consequently very much to blame for the present position. The dock companies, too, had very great cause of complaint at the position in which they had been placed. He quite agreed with the chairman of the dock company, who a short time ago said that an act of great injustice was being done to the companies by the way in which legislation was hanging over their heads, and that a very serious injury was being done to the Port of London by the uncertainty engendered.
The noble Lord who had spoken that evening objected to the principle of 163 the Bill. He (Mr. Buxton) was prepared to stand on the Report of the Royal Commission, who said that, in spite of the great natural advantages of the Thames and of the port, compared with other ports, it was dear, slow, and vexatious, that its accommodation was altogether inadequate, and that the waterway required a considerable amount of dredging. The Royal Commission further said—and this was really the gist of the present Bill—that it was essential, if the dredging were to be carried out satisfactorily and the dock accommodation put in a proper state, that in the first place the port should be treated as a whole under a public authority, and secondly that the only way to do it was to have something in the way of rates behind it in order that it might be able to raise its capital under proper conditions. The noble Lord opposite said that the dock companies would have been able to carry out this work themselves.
§ MR. SYDNEY BUXTON
The Chairman of the London Dock, Company, in giving evidence before the Royal Commission, said the Government ought to proceed vigorously if they were going to deal with the question. They could not, he said, let the matter stand as it was at present. For good or for evil they had the over.doc of the Royal Commission, and something had to be done. So long as the verdict stood it was impossible for any dock company to face any large expenditure of capital knowing that in a very short time they might be bought out and could not possibly receive an equivalent for the capital they spent. This meant, as he (Mr. Buxton) had said, that at the present moment, thanks to the action of the Government, the port of London was largely paralysed. That being so it was essential that somebody should take up the question. Further the Royal Commission pointed out that unless something were done very speedily Antwerp, Hamburg, and Rotterdam, and other rival ports, would largely increase their trade at our expense, and he confessed to reading with very grave 164 concern a report from the British Consul issued two or three days ago in regard to the trade at Antwerp. The Consul said that the port of Antwerp had made progress both as regarded the number of vessels and the total tonnage, and that the port authorities there were keeping pace in the highest possible degree with the demands of maritime traffic. The question of rivalry was more important than the actual efficiency of the port of London itself. His opinion was that the question, having been raised, ought to be settled rapidly, otherwise they would find not only that the trade of the port would diminish but that its rivals would before very long take away a great deal of its trade. As the Government declined to move in the matter it was the bounden duty of the London County Council to raise the question, and in the way they had done. He frankly admitted he did not agree with the proposal of the constitution proposed in the Bill. The County Council, he believed, would agree that the number of representatives that they proposed was excessive, and would leave that and other details to the Committee. He was quite convinced that the last five years had done a very great deal to injure the trade of the port of London, and unless the matter were settled satisfactorily the trade of the port would continue to fall off and that of its rivals would continue to increase.
§ MR. H. LAWSON, (Tower Hamlets, Mile End)
hoped that the length of years which had elapsed since he had last addressed the House had established a re-integration of his claims to the indulgence shown to a new Member. He certainly had not come back there to throw stones at the London County Council of which he had the honour to be a member for many years. He believed that no more vital blow could be aimed at the administrative efficiency of the London County Council than to allow this Bill to become law. The hon. Member for Poplar had said that the principle of the Bill was to establish a public authority for dealing with the affairs of the port of London. The hon. Member would forgive him for saying it was nothing of the sort. Many of those who opposed the Bill were in 165 favour of a public authority. He himself would go further and say he would like to see a public authority backed by national finance such as had enabled the Dutch, Belgian, and German ports to attain their present position. The proposal of this Bill, however, was to make the London County Council the port authority for London, and to make the rates of London not only the basis, but the constant support of its finance. Only two things could be postulated—the local authority's sublime ignorance of dock management and the certainty of increased expenditure on the existing service. Though the existing service would be in itself a heavy burden, the House had been reminded by his noble friend that there were many other charges which must fall on the new authority. Whatever might be said of the London County Council, it must be admitted that it had not been illiberal to labour, and just as there had been constant concessions to their present employees, so there would be much larger concessions to the legions now under the management of the dock companies. Even in the case of the tramways there had been constant agitation and concessions to the employees, and at the docks the County Council would have to deal with a highly organised body of men who ever since the strike of 1889 had exercised a great influence on the port of London, and who were perfectly certain to obtain a rising scale of wages. The County Council had surely sufficient to its hand. Its functions were ever increasing. A member had to attend daily in Spring Gardens to fulfil his duties. How was he to find time for the difficult task of managing the docks? It was all very well to say that nothing had happened since a Docks Bill was introduced. A great deal had happened to the London County Council—it had become the education authority for London.
§ MR. H. LAWSON
said he would not quarrel about a word. At any rate 166 they had become the education authority, and it had added largely to the labours of the London County Council. Many of its members, in addition, were on boards of guardians and borough councils, besides having large private businesses to concern them. Two-thirds of the members were seeking seats in Parliament, and some had already arrived. If its members were going to be overburdened by the work of administration under this Bill, what about the ratepayers they represented, who were going to be overburdened by the finance? It must be remembered that this was not going to be a remunerative undertaking. The Royal Commission stated in its Report that the existing revenue would not do more than pay the interest on the new dock stock to debenture holders and shareholders, but the Royal Commission provided for an extra revenue to be derived from goods brought into the port by lighter and landed at the wharves. The London County Council repudiated that source of revenue—quite rightly, he thought, for these extra dues would be a very heavy burden on the manufactures of London—but that repudiation deprived them of the additional revenue open to them. Seventy-five per cent, of the goods discharged in London were delivered by lighter. £25,000,000 to £30,000,000 would have to be borrowed for the purpose, and on March 31st, 1904, the consolidated stock of the London County Council stood at £58,750,000, and the debt of London as a whole was very much larger. The only recourse, then, for the money to be spent on the docks was the pockets of the ratepayers, and, that being so, the finance of the Bill failed hopelessly. He did not know whether the hon. Member for Poplar was prepared to inflict on that borough, which was now paying 12s. in the £ for rates, a part of the new burden which would be incurred by the new docks, and was estimated by the Royal Commission at £7,000,000.
§ MR. SYDNEY BUXTON
said in his opinion there would be no extra charge through the docks, and there would be a great deal more employment in his constituency if this matter were not hung up indefinitely.
§ MR. H. LAWSON
said the London County Council would not charge upon goods brought into the free water which they prized so highly, and therefore they could get the money in no other way than by burdening the ratepayers. The whole Bill rested on the urgency of the case, but he thought that the urgency had been very much exaggerated. Short-sea traders did not complain to the Royal Commission of the present conditions, and long-sea traders confined themselves mainly to pressing for a better channel for big steamers. It looked as if the agitation had been engineered for a time by the merchants, but the whole spirit had gone out of it since the Royal Commission reported. Other ports had progressed more speedily than London, but London had, nevertheless, increased its tonnage entry in fifteen years by 60 per cent., and was, therefore, not doing badly. Southampton in this country and Hamburg and Antwerp abroad were the main examples, but Southampton Docks had been developed by the private enterprise of a railway company, and the others were to some extent ports of call. If the House were of opinion that in the national interest larger facilities ought to be afforded then he thought it could only be done in fairness to the people of London by something in the nature of a national guarantee. After all. the whole thing was largely a question of dredging the river. Sir Thomas Sutherland, said it was only a question of spending £2,500,000. That ought not to be beyond the resources of the dock companies. He was not against the principle of establishing a public body, but there was no ground for urging this counsel of despair. Certainty as an old member of the London County Council he could imagine nothing more calculated to diminish the efficiency of its work, and as a London Member he could not con-template with equanimity the fated and fatal increase of rates which was driving trade out of the metropolitan boundaries. He therefore hoped, while not in the least declaring himself against the principle of public control, that the House would refuse to read the Bill a second time.
§ MR. JOHN BURNS
said times had changed since 1889, when he had the honour of fighting in a pleasant 168 way the battle of the dock strike, and he did not think at that time that his name would be on the back of a Bill for creating a dock trust for London. What was more, in the interval of the sixteen years the dock directors would be the first to admit that never by word or speech had he assailed their management from the point of view of a councillor or Labour Member, and never had he been on any but the friendliest of terms with those who sixteen years ago he; had the honour of being an industrial opponent of. He was supporting this Bill not for the purpose of making any attack on the dock managers of London, but because he looked upon them as bold men struggling with adversity, and out of pity for their position and sympathy for their difficulties he desired to help them.
The object of the Bill was to carry out the desire and intention of the Government. In the last five years dangerous competitors with the Port of London had sprung up where ten years ago they were not the least suspected. No one could read the Foreign Office and Consular Reports without being convinced that with ports like Hamburg, Antwerp, Bremen, and others to compete with it the international trade of the port of London was not where it was five years or ten years ago. ["Free trade"] But for free trade the docks would have been closed, and the Stock Exchange asking for a parade to collect subscriptions for them. But the port was not making the strides that it ought to make Nature had given London the finest commercial river in the world, with two tides up and two tides down, on which they could get the cheapest lighter age to be found anywhere, and with a huge market as its basis. And yet though nature had blessed London, obsolescence of men, machinery, and plant was cursing it. The docks, though not so bad as the opponents of the companies declared, were capable of immense improvement, but it was impossible for the dock companies to improve their position so long as they were assaulted intermittently by Government Departments and by faddists and interested persons. He stood there asking for the municipalisation of the London 169 docks, not on the initiative and at the request of the County Council, but in default of the Government's carrying out its own programme of three years ago. The agitation about the docks and port was not initiated by the County Council, or set up by ignorant misrepresentation. In 1892, before the present controversy arose, The Times said—The basis on which this article starts is a matter of common agreement: it is the deplorable and incontrovertible fact that no port of any considerable size in the United Kingdom is so grossly mismanaged as the port of London. One thing, however, is reasonably certain; it is that, if any body of men, either the Corporation or the City, or the dock companies, or the Chamber of Commerce would take the trouble push forward a scheme for the formation of a public trust to control and manage the whole of the port of London, that body of men would receive the support and the gratitude of the entire mercantile community, with the exception, perhaps, of some what fingers, traditionally opposed to reform, who would find some difficulty in carrying on their business profitably if the dock rates were as low as under economical management they would almost certainly be.The reasons for the backwardness of the London port given by The Times in 1892 existed to-day in a stronger form. If hon. Members would go down to the docks they would see ancient methods, inefficient gear, and insufficient accommodation, while the desire of the dock companies to alter this condition of affairs was prevented by their poverty and the refusal of the Government to give them the help they ought to have extended years ago. He could cite the testimony of what fingers, shippers, the Royal Commission, and others proving beyond the shadow of a doubt that the port and docks of London were not so good as they ought to be. It was all very well for the City to oppose the London County Council. If only the Corporation would suppress its municipal rivalry, the two bodies, if shut up in a Committer room, would be almost unanimously in favour of the substance of the present Bill. Were they to allow the dock companies to go on with insufficient capital, with lack of Parliamentary powers, were they to allow the City to be always opposing the County Council, and was Parliament to be afraid to tackle this question in a truly Imperial manner?
170 In the matter of ocean supremacy and riverside efficiency this Government of Great Britons were the smallest possible Little Englanders; they were smitten with "the craven fear of being great," and they had neglected the docks and the river to an extent which was deplorable from every point of view. If something had to be done and the Government would not do it, who was to undertake the task? Private enterprise was crippled; Parliament would not allow the City Corporation, with only one square mile out of the 119 in London, to enter upon an expenditure of £30,000,000 or £40,000,000 for this purpose; they would not permit the Thames Conservancy to do it, although that body had immensely improved under the new chairmanship; and they would not entrust the duty to the County Council. He himself was only a municipal Socialist, but the hon. Member for, Mile End really out-heroded Herod, for I he was a collectivist, an Imperial Socialist, and wanted to make the poor Irishman and Scotsman bear a share of the burden by guaranteeing Imperial finances for a local port. ["A national port"] Then what about Liverpool, Glasgow, and Hull? If hon. Members were prepared to nationalise all the ports of the United Kingdom he would withdraw the Bill at once. But what was to be done with the docks and port of London? The companies could not overcome the difficulties by which they were confronted, and the Government showed no desire to help them. Instead of having 23,000,000 or 24,000,000 tons going up and coming out of the river, they had only 17,000,000. Other ports were rapidly taking part of the trade. To avert this the County Council were called in. They did not take the initiative, but they made up their minds that they would, if reluctantly, accept this task rather than allow the docks to go to the dogs. What was to be done? Parliament threw out the Dock Companies' Bill it would throw out the Thames Conservancy Bill, it would not have a City Bill, and it had decided to vote against the County Council Bill. Was it going to tell the companies to reorganise their capital, reconstitute their financial conditions, ask for power to spend money which 171 they would have difficulty in getting, and then promise to back them with the rates or Imperial funds? No; the Government would treat the dock companies even worse than they treated the County Council. As a Londoner, who was fond of the river and proud of the port, and desired to see them improved, he protested against this treatment, and declared it to be such as the House of Commons ought no longer to sanction.
What was the objection to the Bill? It could not be on the ground of finance, because it was proposed to refer the interests of debenture holders to arbitration. The objection was raised that the County Council proposed not to put dues on goods, or proposed to put them on in a particular way. That, he maintained, was not a matter for the House on the Second Reading, but for the Committee upstairs to deal with. It was objected that the Bill would create a new municipal authority; but precedents all pointed to municipally-managed ports being in a better condition for the ship owners and traders than the port of London was now in. The question of representation could be dealt with by the Committee upstairs. The reasons the County Council asked for so large a proportion were those advanced by the President of the Board of Trade himself, viz., that they found the money and guaranteed the stock upon the rates. The right hon. Gentleman said—The County Council cannot be protected from financial incompetence on the part of the new authority unless the County Council have a majority.And he added—That is out of the question.There would be no objection to the City having a larger representation if they advanced the money, but they did nothing of the kind, and therefore were not entitled to larger representation than anybody else. The dock companies shareholders held that Parliament ought to, and the County Council might do, more for the port. The County Council had done and was doing all that it could. Besides the £2,500,000 for deepening the river, they had spent or were spending £2,250,000 on the Rotherhithe Tunnel, £3,000,000 on the 172 Blackwall Tunnell, and £500,000 on Woolwich Ferry. ["What has that to do with the port and docks?"] It was impossible for the docks to be efficiently worked and goods to be got out and in quickly unless the river was. deepened and the approaches widened and improved, and as their contribution towards that improvement the County Council were doing everything that could reasonably be expected of them. Hamburg spent £9,000,000 in improving her docks and port, with the result that in twenty years the tonnage of Hamburg: had jumped up from 3,000,000 to 9,000,000. The present management of the London docks was inefficient, antiquated, and obsolete. If the port in the course of two or three years met with more serious rivalry the House must blame, not the County Council, but the lack of courage of this Imperial Government, surrounded, as it was, by a small knot of City obscurantists who were jealous of the County Council. If the Bill were not passed the County Council would wash their hands of the responsibility. If, as he predicted it would be, labour in the East End was confronted with greater difficulties within the next five or six years, the responsibility would rest on this unimaginative, irresponsible, and cowardly Government, who, having introduced a Port Bill two years ago, rejected a replica of it when it was presented to the House.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY TO THE BOARD OF TRADE (Mr. BONAR LAW,) Glasgow, Blackfriars
said this subject had occupied a great deal of the time of the Department with which he was connected, and there had been much said on both sides in the present debate with which he disagreed. He did not think, however, that any good purpose would be served by going into those points, and he would confine himself to giving one or two reasons why he strongly held that this Bill should not be read a second time. The first consideration that occurred in connection with the Bill was that the object with which it dealt was far too large to be treated in a private Bill. It was unnecessary to labour that point, but he might remind the House that the area affected by the Bill was so large that it 173 returned over 100 Members to this House, and private Bill procedure would not give all those Members an opportunity of discussing the proposals put forward.
On its merits, too, he thought the Bill was highly objectionable. He did not think there was any hostile feeling towards the County Council. If such a thing did exist at any rate he did not share it. He was bound to say that through all the stages in dealing with the Government the representatives of the County Council showed themselves extremely moderate and reasonable. They really seemed to him to be actuated solely with a desire to present as good a Bill as they could; but that moderation disappeared when they introduced their own Bill. He did not agree that these things were matters of detail where the County Council Bill disagreed with the Government measure. It was true that in form this was a duplicate of the Government Bill, but in principle it was diametrically opposed to it. The principle of the Government Rill was to create a strong port authority and to give it practically unlimited control over the port of London. But the principle was largely embodied in the way in which the committee should be composed, and it was hardly possible to imagine a worse body than that created under this Bill. The principle which should be adopted was the good old rule that the men who paid the piper should call the tune.
§ MR. BONAR LAW
asked who would pay the piper in this case. Those who would contribute to the revenue of London were the payers of dues on goods or on shipping. They would be directly interested if the port was well managed and would suffer if it was badly managed. In this Bill, however, it was proposed that the authority should be in the hands of the County Council; and so long as the port paid its way it would not be directly affected; it would not benefit by good management nor suffer by bad management. If a proper Bill were introduced there would be no danger of the rates of London being called upon.
174 Why should London differ from other ports, like Glasgow or Liverpool? If it was a good principle that those who paid the rates should control the expenditure it was broken in this instance. London had a much larger market than other ports, and whether the port of London was well managed or ill managed it would have to pay its own way. He could not understand why the Council had left out of this Bill the power to levy dues on goods unless it was to make it possible s that they should be able to fall back on the rates. It had been calculated that if the same dues on goods were levied in London as were levied at Liverpool there would be an additional revenue of £1,000,000 a year to the port of London. What was wanted in a port authority of this kind? There was no question involved of a political or religious character, and it was simply a question of pounds, shillings, and pence. What was the best class of men to manage these affairs? Obviously the best business men. Were they more likely, as proposed in the Government Bill, to allow business men who paid the dues to elect their own representatives, or to get them out of the representatives of the County Council? He thought that this was a vital point in the Bill. Glasgow and Liverpool elected business men who paid the dues, and their reputation as business men was the safeguard. They were the pick of the business men of those two places. Was that the qualification that secured the election of members of the County Council?
§ MR. JOHN BURNS
said the London Chamber of Commerce supported the Bill. There were better business men at Spring Gardens than on the Treasury Bench.
§ MR.BONAR LAW
said the qualifications of members of the London County Council were much the same as the qualifications of Members of that House. One, of the things that secured their election was the power of making good speeches. That was a good thing, but it was not what was wanted for the port authority. He remembered reading a long time ago an essay in which the writer pointed out that everyone read 175 the Philippics of Demosthenes, but nobody remembered that Philip was right and Demosthenes was wrong. He would take as an illustration the hon. Member for Battersea—he would not take himself as an illustration, because it would be too ambitious. Supposing the hon. Member for Battersea was a member of the Port trust, and that the chairman was one of the numerous Members of the House who had the reputation, and deserved it, of being good business men but hardly ever opened their mouths, if a dispute arose between the hon. Member for Battersea and the chairman, whom would the betting be on? The chairman would be nowhere, but he might be right and the hon. Member for Battersea wrong.
§ MR. BONAR LAW
said only good business men were wanted. In the case he had mentioned good business men would support the chairman and not the orator. What was wanted was the good business man, and nothing either more or less. It was a fact that in the Bill of the London County Council it was suggested that a certain number of men should be elected. But what class of business men did they think would accept nomination to a board constituted in the manner proposed? They would have no authority, they would simply form one of a body which would be nothing more nor less than a sub-committee of the London County Council. He would rather vote for a Bill to transfer the whole dock authority of London to the County Council. That would be an intelligible proposal. If they were to have the authority, let them, at least, have the responsibility. That would be better than constituting a mongrel body like this which would have no authority whatever except that derived from the London County Council. The Government had invariably adopted the policy of refraining from exercising Government pressure in regard to a private Bill, and they would not put on the Government tellers; but, speaking for the Board of Trade, he strongly urged the House not to read this Bill a second time.
§ MR. CHARLES HOBHOUSE (Bristol, E.)
said that as a member of the Thames I Conservancy he wished to correct an impression which seemed to have been sedulously brought before the House by the speakers who had supported this Bill. With no intention to mislead the House, the hon. Member for Battersea endeavoured to convince hon. Members that if the trade of the port of London was not decreasing it was in a parlous condition. What were the figures? The figures were so remarkable, both as to the actual increase and the comparative increase, that he hoped his hon. friend would allow him to endeavour to convince him. He would give figures to show the increase of the trade of the Port in the last five years. In 1900 the trade was, roughly speaking, 22,857,000 tons. In 1904 it was 25,700,000 tons, or an increase of about 3,000,000 tons in a port which, according to the hon. Member for Devonport, was "inadequate, ill-managed, and languishing for trade."
§ MR. CHARLES HOBHOUSE
said the hon. Member used those words, and they were not to be found in the Report. He had described the trade of the port of; London as languishing, where as that trade had actually increased by 3,000,000 tons in five years. What was the comparative increase as compared with the principal ports of the United Kingdom? Taking the period between 1894 and 1904 the increase at Liverpool had been 28 per cent.; the Tyne ports, 15 per cent.; Glasgow, 29 per cent.; Hull, 17 per cent.; Bristol, 16 per cent.; and Southampton, on a small total, 40 per cent.; while the increase had been no less than 32 per cent, in the Port of London. The increase of trade in this languishing port of London was the highest percentage but one of all the ports of the United Kingdom.
§ MR. CHARLES HOBHOUSE
said he had been unable to obtain the figures for 177 Hamburg, but he had been told that the trade of the port of Hamburg was about 9,000,000 tons, and the trade of the port London was 25,000,000. The hon. Member was very fond of saying in reference to fiscal questions that percentages should not be counted, and that you should go upon the actual increases. He was ready to adopt that standard of comparison. A large percentage on a small trade could not be shown to be more important than a small percentage on a large trade. The trade of the port of London had increased to a greater extent, both as regarded its percentage and actual increase, than that of any other port in the United Kingdom, and to a far greater extent than that of the port of Hamburg. He hoped that this Bill would not be revived in any subsequent discussion in the House.
The whole case for the purchase of the docks had been argued upon the assumption that the greater part of the trade of London was done in the docks, and the whole argument of the noble Lord the Member for Bedford had been that if the docks were purchased and handed over to the London County Council they would be practically placing under the control of that body the trade of the port of London. He wished to remind hon. Members that they would be doing no such thing. It was not the case that the greater part of the trade of London was done in the docks. The percentage of the trade carried on in the docks was only 40 per cent. The remaining 60 percent, was handled in the river; and as the system of wharves and 'jetties expanded, as it was expanding, the dues received from them would form a valuable addition to the income of the Thames Conservancy. He complained that the Government Departments which sent representatives to the Conservancy did 178 not give them of the best material at their command, and appealed to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade to supply them, not with timeworn material, but with the best possible kind of Civil servant he could give them. The revenues of the Conservancy were not fully adequate to the whole of the task set before them; but if they had the power they would not make the mistake being made by the County Council in this Bill, and ask for fresh revenue from the shipping, but they would ask for it from the goods. In every other port the dues charged were on ships and goods, and that system had been found commercially sound. He could not understand why the County Council had omitted all charges on goods from the Bill, for such charges must be the profitable source of income.
§ MR. DAVID MORGAN (Essex, Walthamstow)
said that for over twenty years he had been a director of one of the London dock companies; and as a merchant and a large payer of dues to the docks he was convinced that this Bill was not only absolutely unnecessary, but would increase the charges in the port of London enormously or else impose a heavy burden on the ratepayers. The docks might well be left to work out their own salvation. He was perfectly certain from his experience that no Committee or Commission with a large proportion of members of the London County Council upon it could give the same care and attention to the spending of the money which would be required to efficiently manage and work the docks as a body of business men who had been brought up to the work all their lives. The Liverpool representatives on the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board consisted entirely of men who understood the business, and they were people who 179 paid the dues. There was no necessity to ask the ratepayers of London to find £30,000,000 to purchase the docks. The present port authority had done much better lately, and they had begun to look more after the requirements of the port. As long as they did all that was required he did not think there was any need to ask the ratepayers of London to find this enormous amount of money.
§ MR. PEEL (Manchester, S.)
said that as one of the members of the Royal Commission he could not support the Bill. The Commission was unanimously of opinion that the management of the docks should rather be committed to a board representing all the interests concerned than to the municipal authority. There were reasons affecting the port of London which made it infinitely more important that such a body should not be set up in London than anywhere else. The hon. Member for Battersea said he considered the question of the proposed number of members of the London County Council a matter of detail. Would he agree to reduce that number from twenty-four to eight or nine, as was
§ proposed by the Government last year? He was perfectly certain that the hon. Member would not accept that challenge, because he regarded it as one of the main principles of this Bill.
§ MR. PEEL
said the measure had no chance of going to a Committee, but he felt sure that the hon. Member would not accept a diminution in the number of members of the London County Council, Although he had stated that it was merely a matter of detail. The only effect of a Bill of this character would be to drive a way trade from the Port of London to Liverpool, Bristol, Newcastle, and other ports. The shipping trade was a very sensitive and slippery article, and if it was not very carefully handled it could be very easily driven to some other port
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 123; Noes, 191. (Division List No. 140.)183
|Abraham, William (Cork, N. E.)||Cremer, William Randal||Gilhooly, James|
|Abraham, William (Rhondda)||Crombie, John William||Gladstone, Rt. Hn. Herbert John|
|Barlow, John Emmott||Crooks, William||Goddard, Daniel Ford|
|Barry, E. (Cork, S.)||Cullinan, J.||Grant Corrie|
|Bell, Richard||Delany, William||Gurdon, Sir W. Brampton|
|Blake, Edward||Devlin, Chas. Ramsay (Galway||Hammond, John|
|Boland, John||Devlin, Joseph (Kilkenny, N.)||Harcourt, Lewis|
|Brigg, John||Doogan, P. C.||Hardie, J. Keir (Merthyr Tydvil)|
|Bright, Allan Heywood||Duffy, William J.||Harwood, George|
|Brown, George M. (Edinburgh)||Duncan, J. Hastings||Hayden, John Patrick|
|Burke, E. Haviland||Elibank, Master of||Healy, Timothy Michael|
|Burt, Thomas||Esmonde, Sir Thomas||Hemphill, Rt. Hon. Charles H.|
|Buxton, Sydney Charles||Evans, Samuel T. (Glamorgan)||Henderson, Arthur (Durham)|
|Caldwell, James||Eve, Harry Trelawney||Higham, John Sharp|
|Campbell, John (Armagh, S.)||Farrell, James Patrick||Holland, Sir William Henry|
|Campbell-Bannerman, Sir H.||Fenwick, Charles||Horniman, Frederick John|
|Causton, Richard Knight||Ffrench, Peter||Jacoby, James Alfred|
|Channing, Francis Allston||Field, William||Johnson, John|
|Clancy, John Joseph||Findlay, Alexander (Lanark, NE||Jones, Leif (Appleby)|
|Condon, Thomas Joseph||Flavin, Michael Joseph||Jones, Wm. (Carnarvonshire)|
|Corbett, A. Cameron (Glasgow)||Flynn, James Christopher||Jordan, Jeremiah|
|Crean, Eugene||Foster, Sir Walter (Derby Co.)||Joyce, Michael|
|Kennedy, P. J. (Westmeath. N.)||O'Connor, John (Kildare, N.)||Sheehy, David|
|Kennedy, Vincent P. (Cavan, W||O'Doherty, William||Shipman, Dr. John G.|
|Kilbride, Denis||O'Donnell, John (Mayo, S.)||Sinclair, John (Forfarshire)|
|Lamont, Norman||O'Donnell, T. (Kerry, W.)||Slack, John Bamford|
|Law, Hugh Alex. (Donegal, W.)||O'Dowd, John||Spencer, Rt Hn. C. R. (Northanta|
|Lawson, Sir Wilfrid (Cornwall)||O'Kelly, Conor (Mayo, N.)||Stanhope, Hon. Philip James|
|Levy, Maurice||O'Malley, William||Sullivan, Donal|
|Lyell, Charles Henry||O'Mara, James||Taylor, Theodore C. (Radcliffe)|
|Macnamara, Dr. Thomas J.||O'Shaughnessy, P. J.||Thompson, Dr. E C (Monagh'n, N|
|MacNeill, John Gordon Swift||Partington, Oswald||Toulmin, George|
|MacVeagh, Jeremiah||Power, Patrick Joseph||Walton, Joseph (Barnsley)|
|M'Crae, George||Reddy, M.||Wason, John Cathcart (Orkney)|
|M'Hugh, Patrick A.||Rickett, J. Compton||White, George (Norfolk)|
|M'Killop, W. (Sligo, North)||Roberts, John Bryn (Eifion)||White, Luke (York, E. R.)|
|Moss, Samuel||Roche, John||Whitley, J. H. (Halifax)|
|Murnaghan, George||Rutherford, W. W. (Liverpool)||Wilson, John (Durham, Mid.)|
|Murphy, John||Samuel, Herbert L. (Cleveland)||Young, Samuel|
|Nannetti, Joseph P.||Shackleton, David James|
|Nolan, Joseph (Louth, South)||Shaw, Thomas (Hawick B.)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES—Mr. Benn and Mr. John Burns.|
|O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny)||Sheehan, Daniel Daniel|
|Acland-Hood, Capt. Sir Alex. F.||Dickson, Charles Scott||Jeffreys, Rt. Hon. Arthur Fred.|
|Agg-Gardner, James Tynte||Dimsdale, Rt. Hon. Sir Joseph C.||Kearley, Hudson E.|
|Agnew, Sir Andrew Noel||Disraeli, Coningsby Ralph||Kennaway. Rt. Hon. Sir John H.|
|Anson, Sir William Reynell||Dixon-Hartland, Sir Fred Dixon||Kenyon-Slaney, Rt. Hon. Col. W.|
|Arkwright, John Stanhope||Douglas, Rt. Hon. A. Akers-||Kerr, John|
|Arnold-Forster, Rt Hn. Hugh O.||Dyke, Rt. Hon. Sir William Hart||Keswick, William|
|Arrol, Sir William||Egerton, Hon. A. de Tatton||Knowles, Sir Lees|
|Aubrey-Fletcher, Rt. Hon. Sir H.||Emmott, Alfred||Lambton, Hon. Frederick Wm.|
|Baird, John George Alexander||Fellowes, Hon. Ailwyn Edward||Law, Andrew Bonar (Glasgow)|
|Balcarres, Lord||Fielden, Edward Brocklehurst||Lawson,Hn. H. L. W. (Mile End)|
|Balfour, Rt. Hon. A. J. (Manch'r||Finch, Rt. Hon. George H.||Lawson, J. Grant (Yorks. N. R.|
|Balfour, Rt Hn. Gerald W.(Leeds||Finlay, Sir R. B. (Inv'rn'ssB'ghs)||Lee, Arthur H. (Hants., Fareham|
|Balfour, Kenneth R. (Christen.||Fisher, William Hayes||Lees, Sir Elliott (Birkenhead)|
|Banbury, Sir Frederick George||Fison, Frederick William||Legge, Col. Hon. Heneage|
|Banner, John S. Harmood-||Fitzroy, Hon. Edward Algernon||Leveson-Gower, Frederick N. S.|
|Bathurst, Hon. Allen Benjamin||Flower, Sir Ernest||Long, Col. Charles W. (Evesham|
|Bentinck, Lord Henry C.||Forster, Henry William||Lonsdale, John Brownlee|
|Bignold, Sir Arthur||Foster, Philip S. (Warwick, S. W.||Lowther, Rt Hn J. W (Cum. Penr.|
|Bigwood, James||Galloway, William Johnson||Lucas, Reginald J. (Portsmouth)|
|Bill, Charles||Gardner, Ernest||Lyttelton, Rt. Hon. Alfred|
|Bingham, Lord||Godson, Sir Augustus Frederick||Macdona, John Gumming|
|Blundell, Colonel Henry||Gordon, Hn. J. E. (Elgin&Nairn)||Maconochie, A. W.|
|Bond, Edward||Gordon, J. (Londonderry, S.)||Majendie, James A. H.|
|Boscawen, Arthur Griffith-||Gordon, Maj. Evans (T'rH'mlets||Markham, Arthur Basil|
|Brodrick, Rt. Hon. St, John||Gore, Hon. S. F. Ormshy||Martin, Richard Biddulph|
|Brown, Sir Alex. H. (Shropsh.)||Goschen, Hon. George Joachim||Maxwell, Rt Hn. Sir H. E. (Wigt'n|
|Burdett-Coutts, W.||Gray, Ernest (West Ham)||Maxwell, W. J. H. (Dumfriesshire|
|Carson, Rt. Hon. Sir Edw. H.||Greene, Henry D. (Shrewsbury)||Mildmay, Francis Bingham|
|Cavendish, R. F. (N. Lanes.)||Greene, W. Raymond (Cambs.)||Montagu, Hon. J. Scott (Hants.)|
|Cavendish, V. C. W. (Derbyshire||Gretton, John||Moon, Edward Robert Pacy|
|Cayzer, Sir Charles William||Hall, Edward Marshall||Moore, William|
|Cecil, Evelyn (Aston Manor)||Halsey, Rt. Hon. Thomas F.||Morgan, David J. (Walthamstow|
|Chamberlain, Rt Hn. J. A. (Worc.||Hambro, Charles Eric||Morpeth, Viscount|
|Cheetham, John Frederick||Hamilton, Marq. of (L'nd'nderry||Morrell, George Herbert|
|Cochrane, Hon. Thos. H. A. E.||Harris, F. Leverton (Tynem'th||Morrison, James Archibald|
|Cohen, Benjamin Louis||Hay, Hon. Claude George||Morton, Arthur H. Aylmer|
|Colomb, Rt. Hon. Sir John C. R.||Hayter, Rt, Hon. Sir Arthur D.||Mount, William Arthur|
|Cook, Sir Frederick Lucas||Heath, Sir James (Staffords. N W||Murray, Charles J. (Coventry)|
|Corbett, T. L. (Down, North)||Henderson, Sir A. (Stafford, W.)||Nicholson, William Graham|
|Craig, Charles Curtis (Antrim, S.)||Hermon-Hodge, Sir Robert T.||Palmer, Sir Walter (Salisbury)|
|Cross, Alexander (Glasgow)||Hickman, Sir Alfred||Pease, J. A. (Saffron Walden)|
|Crossley, Rt. Hon. Sir Savile||Hoare, Sir Samuel||Peel, Hn. Wm. Robert Wellesley|
|Cust, Henry John C.||Hobhouse, C. E. H. (Bristol, E.)||Percy, Earl|
|Dalkeith, Earl of||Hope, J. F. (Sheffield, Brightside||Pierpoint, Robert|
|Dalrymple, Sir Charles||Hoult, Joseph||Pirie, Duncan V.|
|Davenport, William Bromley||Hozier, Hon. James Henry Cecil||Plummer, Sir Walter R.|
|Davies, M. Vaughan (Cardigan||Hudson, George Bickersteth||Powell, Sir Francis Sharp|
|Denny, Colonel||Hunt, Rowland||Pretyman, Ernest George|
|Purvis, Robert||Skewes-Cox, Thomas||Tuke, Sir John Batty|
|Pym, C. Guy||Smith, Abel H. (Hertford, East)||Valentia, Viscount|
|Quilter, Sir Cuthbert||Smith, Rt Hn J. Parker (Lanarks||Warner, Thomas Courtenay T.|
|Randles, John S.||Smith, Hon. W. F. D. (Strand)||Webb, Colonel William George|
|Rankin, Sir James||Spear, John Ward||Welby, Lt.-Col. A. C. E. (Taunton|
|Rasch, Sir Frederick Carne||Stanley, Hon. Arthur (Ormskirk||Welby, Sir Charles G. E. (Notts.)|
|Reid, James (Greenock)||Stanley, Rt. Hon. Lord (Lanes.)||Wentworth, Bruce C. Vernon|
|Renshaw, Sir Charles Bine||Stewart, Sir Mark J. M'Taggart||Whitmore, Charles Algernon|
|Renwick, George||Stock, James Henry||Williams, Colonel R. (Dorset)|
|Robertson, Herbert (Hackney)||Strutt, Hon. Charles Hedley||Wilson, John (Glasgow)|
|Royds, Clement Molyneux||Talbot, Lord E. (Chichester)||Wolff, Gustav Wilhelm|
|Runciman, Walter||Talbot, Rt. Hn. J. G. (Oxf'd Univ.||Wortley, Rt. Hon. C. B. Stuart|
|Rutherford, John (Lancashire)||Thomas, David Alfred (Merthyr)||Yerburgh, Robert Armstrong|
|Sackville, Col. S. G. Stopford||Tollemache, Henry James|
|Sadler, Col. Samuel Alexander||Tomkinson James||TELLERS FOR THE NOES—Lord Alwyne Compton and Mr. Alban Gibbs.|
|Scott, Sir S. (Marylebone, W.)||Tomlinson, Sir Wm. Edw. M.|
|Sharpe, William Edward T.||Tuff, Charles|
Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
§ Words added.
§ Second Reading put off for six months.