§ [SECOND READING.]
§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. GRENFELL (Buckinghamshire, Wycombe)
said he rose to support the Second Reading of the Bill which had been deposited upon behalf of the Thames Conservancy. He did not know that the fate that had been dealt out to other Bills on the same subject, such as the Port of London Bill, encouraged anyone very much in promoting a Bill of a somewhat similar character; but this Bill was rather different from the other Bills which had been introduced by the Government, or the one introduced by the London County Council, in so far as it appertained to the Thames Conservancy, and affected the river as a whole. He had found in regard to the Thames Conservancy that there was a good deal of doubt as to how its business was transacted and as to how its funds were provided. The Thames Conservancy had jurisdiction over the whole of the River Thames, from its source practically down to within a short distance of the Nore. The funds were entirely distinct. They were divided into two parts, the Upper Thames Navigation and the Lower Thames Navigation funds; and those who contributed the sums of money for the lower navigation might rest assured that they were absolutely devoted to that purpose. As regards the upper portion of the river there were two principal committees, the River Purification Committee and the Upper River Committee, and this Bill proposed to effect certain changes with regard to river purification. Under the jurisdiction of the Thames Conservancy there were altogether some 5,200 square miles; 561 under the jurisdiction of the Purification Committee there were 3,800 square miles, and those were above the intakes of the London water companies, and, therefore, it was of the most supreme importance that those clauses of the earlier Bill should be carried out in the spirit as well as in the letter.
He believed that the Thames at the present time was the cleanest river in Europe. At all events it was the river in Europe which had the least drainage flowing into it, and it was the river which was more analysed than any other in the world. It was analysed by the London County Council, it was analysed by the London water companies, and it was analysed by the Thames Conservancy. This Bill proposed to make some slight alterations in regard to the function of the Thames Conservancy of seeing that the river was kept absolutely pure. It was proposed under this Bill that the power of the inspectors should be extended throughout the whole of the tributaries of the Thames, above the intakes of the London water companies, and should not be restricted, as they were now, to within three miles of the main river, and also that the power of inspection should be distributed as regards trade refuse over the whole of that area and the tributaries. They also proposed under this Bill that the powers of the inspectors should not be confined to between the hours of ten in the morning and four o'clock in the afternoon, but that they should be empowered to inspect at any time. There was also another small matter in regard to the purification of the river. The mill-owners when they cleaned out the mud of their mill beds should be compelled to take it and spread it on the land, and should not be allowed to stir it up and pass it down the river.
The Thames Conservancy had jurisdiction over the whole of the River Thames, including the whole of the fresh-water portion of the Thames. That was 136 complete water miles and comprised forty-seven locks. In carrying out their duties they in many respects met with a certain amount of difficulty which they sought under this Bill to remedy. Clause 7 dealt with land. They had had great difficulty in 562 securing land for building locks, lands for making the necessary locks, and so forth. It would have been absolutely impossible for the Thames Conservancy to have built certain of their locks if they had not been able to employ the Lands Clauses Act. Under this Bill they sought to have the same power of securing land as would be given them under the Lands Clauses Act. There were one or two other matters of minor importance, but he did not wish to detain the House by going into them.
With regard to the lower river, of which they had heard very much of late, this Bill, the Bill of the Thames Conservancy, as deposited, sought practically to carry out the recommendations of the Royal Commission. It sought to carry out certain works of great magnitude for which it asked power to borrow the sum of £3,000,000. The Port of London was practically forty-one miles in length. It was still, and had been for the past 200 years, the largest port in the world, and even of late years it had been increasing, though of course there were indications that with the great works being carried out at foreign ports that supremacy would in a short time be contested. London, unfortunately, had ceased to be the great transhipment port of the world, which it used to be for many years in the past. Large ships were able now to go to foreign ports instead of coming to London, whence in the old days the merchandise used to be transported to foreign ports in smaller vessels. They had heard that the Port of Antwerp intended to make large improvements, and it had been the intention to have an access to that port thirty-nine feet in depth, with numerous quays and docks all down its length, and it certainly was borne upon the attention of anyone who had the welfare of London, he might almost say the welfare of this country, at heart, that they at all events should make some slight attempt to keep the trade which they already possessed, and prevent it being attracted in this way to other ports.
The Bill which had been deposited attempted to make some move in this direction. The main provisions were that a sum of £3,000,000 should be 563 borrowed in order to carry out the recommendations of the Royal Commission. The Thames Conservancy was at present the body in charge of this great waterway. Its duties were manifold, but its income, unfortunately, very small. He believed that London, as far as the large portion of the merchandise in the Port of London was concerned, and as far as the river dues were concerned, was certainly the cheapest port in Europe. As far as the money which went to keep up the waterway was concerned, the port authority received lower dues in London than it did in any port in Europe. The charges of the Thames Conservancy were ½d. per ton for coastwise trade, and ¾d. per ton for the trade in and out, and in return for this miserable pittance they had certainly very important duties to perform. In the first place, dredging was committed to the charge of the Thames Conservancy. They were the only body authorised to carry it out, and it was perfectly obvious that with the small sum of money which the Thames Conservancy received it was absolutely impossible for them to carry out any of these large schemes of dredging which were carried out in the ports abroad. They all knew that in foreign ports these ports were assisted by the public or municipal funds. That had not been, as regards public funds, the practice in this country; and if they took the other ports of this country, they found that the ports were maintained by charges which were levied both on the tonnage of ships and by dues on goods. There were no dues in the Port of London on goods, and they only received a very small return from the tonnage dues on the ships. The duties of the Thames Conservancy were first of all the dredging. They had expended a larger proportion of their funds in dredging than any other port. During last year they spent something like £27,000 in that way. Besides that the duty fell on the Thames Conservancy of carrying out the whole of the survey of the port. A survey had just been completed. Something like £20,000 was involved in the survey of the river from the Nore up to Gravesend, and something like £40;000 in a survey of the river from Gravesend up to London Bridge. They provided moorage and anchorage free; they provided 564 causeways and landing stairs, and so on. Besides all this they had to regulate the traffic, and were the guardians of the shipping against the dangers of explosives. That was a great deal of service for very small dues, and it could not, therefore, be surprising that in a large scheme of dredging such as must be carried out in the Port of London, the Thames Conservancy should come to the House and ask for more money to enable them to carry out those duties.
The scheme as defined in the Bill was founded on the Report of the Royal Commission. A large sum of money, £3,000,000, was to be borrowed, and the dredging was to be carried out from the Nore right up to the Royal Albert Docks. Under the Bill the Thames Conservancy would finance itself in carrying out these large improvements. It was proposed in the first place to levy dues on goods, as was done at other ports, to increase the dues upon shipping, and to levy dues on barges. The Thames Conservancy provided seventytwo moorings for barges free, and there were something like 12,000 barges ins the Port of London, which went in and out of the docks and used the river. It was also proposed in the Bill to give increased representation to shipowners and traders in accordance with the recommendations of the Royal Commission.
There was one matter which he would venture to draw the attention of the Government to for a very short space of time, and that was the danger under which the Port of London lay with regard to dangerous oils. The Thames Conservancy had already approached the Board of Trade, and he believed the Board of Trade had been in communication with the Home Office on the subject, but he would like to call the attention of the House for one moment to one fact. Though the very greatest care was taken with regard to the carriage of these dangerous and inflammable oils up the river—they were only allowed to carry them in certain ships which had been inspected, and to deposit them in certain places—when these dangerous and inflammable oils went down the river there was absolutely no care taken to see that they did not endanger, by accident or 565 criminal neglect, the enormous amount of shipping—33,000,000 tons in the Port with 12,000 barges—and all the quays and docks With which the river was so closely studded. Therefore he wished respectfully and publicly to call the attention of the Home Office, and also the attention of the Board of Trade, I to this lamentable state of affairs. Some of the members of the Thames Conservancy made a few experiments, on a small scale only, with regard to some of these inflammable oils. They put some on the water, and lit it with a match, and convinced themselves that there was a very terrible danger indeed.
It was the scheme of the Thames Conservancy under this Bill to carry out the recommendations of the Royal Commission. But anyone who had made himself at all conversant with the intricate nature of the interests on the Thames, the interest of the docks, the interests of the wharfingers, the interests of the barge-owners, and the interests of the traders, could not but feel that this scheme was certainly not of a character to be a settlement of the question of the Port of London. The Thames Conservancy were fully alive to the absolute necessity of some real attempt being made to try to bring together all those divergent interests, and to bring a Bill to the House of Commons which would have the consent and the concurrence at all events of a very large proportion of all those bodies. It was a very difficult task, and it might be an impossible task; but still if the attempt was made, and then representations were made to the Government of the day on that basis, he felt confident something would be done for the Port of London on a big scale, which might bring it up to date. This scheme was practically a dredging scheme. He differed to some extent with the very important Report, the admirable Report, of the Royal Commission, with regard to the dredging scheme. Being more or less conversant with the river, he felt rather doubtful himself as to the propriety and necessity of a deep narrow channel right up into the heart of London. He felt that there were many difficulties in regard to that scheme besides its expense. There was a danger to the 566 river bank. There was also the danger of starting running water, and there was a still greater danger of starting running sand, which he believed would be a very difficult matter to deal with. In regard to a narrow channel on the river, he had had conversations with the dockowners, and they told him that at low water with a channel only 600 feet wide, with ships 600 feet long, very few pilots would have the courage, or rather the audacity, to bring ships up. These and many other considerations with which he would not weary the House had led him to try to see himself, in a humble way, if he could not suggest to the House a somewhat humbler scheme, at all events, a scheme which had had in the past a very great deal of support, the unanimous support, of two important inquiries held into this subject.
Giving up this scheme of dredging out the river fifteen feet right up to London, they found if they went lower down they came across a portion of the river as to which it had been unanimously stated that it was absolutely necessary that there should be deep water, at least thirty feet. That portion of the river, twenty-one and a-half miles, extended from the Nore to Gravesend. In 1896 a Commission was appointed, the Lower Thames Navigation Commission, whose special duty it was to inquire into this portion of the river and to make recommendations. This Lower Thames Navigation Commission unanimously reported that one of the first essentials to be provided in the river was a channel thirty feet deep and 1,000 feet wide from the Nore to Gravesend. The reasons they gave for this were, that it would be greatly to the interests of the Port of London if any ship leaving the river outward bound could be absolutely certain that when it got to Gravesend, whatever the state of the tide, it could continue its journey, and if howemard bound that at the lowest state of the tide it could be absolutely certain of getting up to Gravesend, in which case they would very often save a tide later on. This view was supported by all the ship-owners who were examined before that body. They all expressed themselves strongly in favour of the thirty-feet channel from the Nore to Gravesend. In 567 addition to that the evidence subsequently taken by the Royal Commission unanimously endorsed their view that there should be a deep-water channel up to Gravesend. The short-sea trader might naturally think that as his vessel did not draw much water a deep channel from Gravesend outward would not be a matter of very great importance to him, but some of these short-sea traders took rather a wider view of the matter as to what might happen. They testified that their prosperity depended upon the prosperity of the port, that the interests of the smaller vessels were bound up to a large extent in the interests of the larger ships, and that if larger ships came to the port there would be more work for the smaller ships to do. They were also face to face with this fear, that if real attempts were not made to improve the Port of London, as the trade now was to the big vessel, the Port of London might lose all those big ships, and a great deal of the work now done by the small vessels would be driven away with them. What he wanted to try to impress on the House was that it was perhaps, even for shipowners, not a wise thing to take a narrow view as regards this matter, even if they did not themselves see how they were going to benefit by the deepening of the river. If the river was deep enough at Gravesend it fell in with any scheme of developing the port that had been brought to the public notice. The deepening of the river up to Graves-end must be done. Therefore, any money which was spent on the river below Gravesend, from Gravesend to the sea, was money that certainly would not be thrown away, but which would fall in with any scheme, and not only with any scheme but with any body which had in time to come to regulate the affairs of this port.
That being the case, he ventured to make the following proposition to the House. Knowing that the scheme was a large scheme, and in some of its aspects net an entirely satisfactory scheme of settling this great matter, he ventured to suggest that he might be allowed to withdraw all those clauses from the Bill which suggested interference with the upper river, or with the Port of London with regard to dues, and merely to retain those clauses which 568 would enable the Thames Conservancy to carry out this scheme of deepening the river from the Nore to Gravesend, and also give them the means of obtaining a certain amount of the expense of that deepening. He observed that though when he read the evidence given before these various Commissions the millowners were unanimous in desiring, a deep channel, when he talked on the subject of payment they were not as entirely enthusiastic as they were before. An outline of the scheme which he should lay before the House was that the Thames Conservancy should be empowered to borrow £400,000. Their contribution to this great work would be that they would borrow this great amount of money, and would be liable for the repayment of interest and capital. He believed the money they borrowed before they borrowed at 3 per cent. with 1 per cent. for sinking fund, which made it 4 per cent., it amounted to £16,000 a year contribution from the Thames Conservancy for fifty years. Then he would ask the shipowners to contribute something, not for fifty years but for three years, and he believed that during the three years they should be able to complete the whole of this scheme, so that there would be from Gravesend to the Nore a channel thirty feet deep at ordinary low water spring tide, and 1,000 feet in width. As he had already said, the only dues which the Thames Conservancy levied were dues on ships, and they were at present ½d. coastwise and ¾d. in and out. He would propose at this period, to double those dues, and make them 1d. and 1½d. He need not go through the various comparisons of the ports, but he found that in those ports which charged dues on goods the charge would be a great deal more than those increased charges, even with the tonnage charge on ships. He thought that would be a scheme that at all events would be worth while the consideration of this House and of a Committee upstairs.
The position was this: Was nothing to be done to the Port of London for the next five years? He had proposed a scheme which anyhow would fit in with any scheme, whatever scheme was carried out in time to come. He ventured to think that the charges were not great, 569 The charge for three years even on the shipowners was not a large charge. The first time dues on tonnage were ever charged in the Thames was in 1799, and that was a temporary charge. They were lowered in 1834, and had remained at that low figure ever since, although the demands on the Thames Conservancy had been infinitely greater. Nothing could be done to improve the Port of London for years unless this Bill was considered by the Committee upstairs. He ventured to think that the House would take a favourable view of this business proposal he had put before them, and which the House would have the power of reconsidering when it came back from Committee.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ SIR JAMES JOICEY (Durham, Chester-le-Street.)
said he had listened to the very interesting speech of the hon. Gentleman who had moved the Second Reading of this Bill. He was bound to say that he had been surprised at the changes the hon. Member proposed to make in the Bill, and if these were carried out his strong opposition to the Bill as it now stood would disappear. The policy which the hon. Gentleman was pursuing was a very wise one, because if those changes had not been made the most strenuous opposition to it would have been offered by those whose interests would have been affected. He understood that the hon. Gentleman was going to abandon altogether all the clauses except those which dealt with dredging the river from the Nore to Gravesend. No one was more anxious than he was to see the ports of the United Kingdom made thoroughly good. He represented a part of the north-east coast of England which had spent very large sums indeed to improve the rivers. He recognised that it was necessary to have good access to the River Thames, and to the various docks, and no one, he was sure, would grudge a reasonable charge, provided they were likely to get a good share of the benefit which would arise from that expenditure. In his part of the country they had a large 570 number of coasters trading from the Tyne and from Scotland to London, the present depth of the river was as much as they required, and they felt that it would be rather hard that they should be called upon to pay a large proportion of expenditure for the deepening of the river mainly because a few large liners might have a better access to the docks. The people who used the docks ought to pay for that. As the liners only used the river perhaps once in two months, and as the coasters from the Tyne and Scotland practically came into the Thames every week, the charge put upon them,, as compared with the large ships, would be a very heavy one indeed. He would not tie himself as to what would happen in Committee upstairs; but after the hon. Gentleman's statement he would be disposed to vote for the Second Reading of the Bill. He observed, however, that a large proportion of the gentlemen on the Thames Conservancy were not dues payers. He had had experience of that kind of thing. There was a time when the whole control of the Tyne was in the hands of the Newcastle Corporation. The people who spent the money which they had not to find always spent it in their own interests, and almost every penny that was got from shipping dues was spent in improving the town and not the river. An Act was afterwards passed appointing a Commission for the Tyne on which half the representation was given to the municipalities on the river, and half to the dues payers, while three were appointed by the Board of Trade to hold the balance. He thought that the dues payers were entitled to half the representation on the Thames Conservancy.
§ *SIR W. HART DYKE (Kent, Dartford)
congratulated his hon. friend no merely for the deep interest which he took in the Thames, but also for the very lucid explanation he had given of the objects he had in view. It seemed to him, however, that his hon. friend was in considerable difficulty, because the changes he proposed would make this practically a new Bill, and unless the sailing-barge interests, which he represented, were satisfied on some points they would object to sending the Bill upstairs. The 571 cement and other trade from the Medway, which was the largest in the county of Kent, represented almost exclusively the sailing and other barges plying to and from the Thames, and it would be a serious thing if the dues on these barges were doubled. Many of these barges also were engaged in carrying raw material up to the docks to be converted into manufactured goods. A Return was obtained by the Thames Conservancy of the number of these barges, and in one week in October last no less than 2,005 passed and repassed Gravesend. The barges were mainly engaged in the cement industry, which gave employment to something like 10,000 men, and it was estimated that the proposed charges upon them would mean an extra burden of from £1,800 to £2,000 a year. That was a serious burden on an industry already in great difficulties as regarded foreign competition, and in which those engaged could now scarcely keep their heads above water.
§ *MR. RUNCIMAN (Dewsbury)
said he thought the hon. Gentleman was to be congratulated on having dropped three-fourths of his Bill. The only serious objection taken so far to the proposal as it now stood was from the right hon. Member for Dartford. He quite understood the class of traffic to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, and he would remind the right hon. Gentleman that all barges under forty-five tons register could enter the Thames without paying mooring dues or dock dues; so that it was only vessels over forty-five tons which were likely to be touched by the proposal of the Thames Conservancy as it now stood. He was sure that the great improvements made in the rivers of Scotland or England could not have been carried out successfully if all the vessels frequenting these rivers had not contributed to their upkeep. The Clyde had been dredged to a great depth up to Glasgow at enormous expense. Only seventy years ago the Clyde was a muddy stream which at Glasgow it was possible to wade across. Now, vessels drawing thirty feet could go up to Glasgow, but all the vessels using the Clyde drawing nine or ten feet of water and upwards had contributed their quota to the work 572 of deepening the river. The same held good of the Tyne. It was, moreover, obvious that any general extension of the trade of the Port of London would benefit the smaller vessels also. He was glad to hear that the hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill was going to drop the scheme for tinkering with the Thames Conservancy. That body could not be maintained as at present. There should be a new port authority representing all the users of the river. In regard to the financial proposals, he trusted that the principle laid down in the Bill of throwing all the new dues received on shipping exclusively would not be regarded as a permanent precedent for the future. The period of fifty years for the repayment of loans for dredging was absurd. No one could maintain that the work from Gravesend to the Nore would not have to be redredged at least every ten not every fifty years. He thought these financial proposals were unsound, and would not be tolerated in the case of any municipal scheme.
§ MR. DAVID MORGAN (Essex, Walthamstow)
said he understood that the Bill which they were asked to give a Second Reading to was to consist of only Clauses 3, 4, 9, and 10. As chairman of a dock company which had just spend £1,000,000 on new entrances they naturally wanted more water. They looked upon this movement as the beginning of the work, and they hoped to see not only a deep-water channel from the Nore to Gravesend, but in the higher reaches of the river also. He thought the hon. Gentleman was very well advised in altering the Bill, because as originally introduced it would have been most strenuously opposed by most of the users of the Port of London. There was an important question regarding the safety of the banks when dredging took place. In the county of Essex there was a large stretch of land which was below the level of the river and which would be flooded if due care was not taken to prevent the weakening of the banks of the river, and he hoped that the Committee upstairs would see that, in carrying out the work of dredging to an extra depth, the banks would be properly protected.
§ MR. JOHN BURNS (Battersea)
said that the Thames Conservancy was to be congratulated on its new official representative; and, personally, he congratulated that body on the change of its chairman, who had made a bad Bill a little! better. So far so good; but they must not allow their congratulations to the new chairman to carry them into depths of unsound finance. He could not help being struck by the speech of the new chairman of the Thames Conservancy when he said despairingly, certainly feelingly, "Is nothing to be done I for the Port of London?" Why did he not say that a year ago, when the Government introduced a Port of London Bill? Then the Thames Conservancy had an opportunity of getting what they were asking for now in the remnant of this Bill, the effect of which would have been not only to benefit large ships from the Nore to Gravesend, but which have benefited the small vessels which carried cargo from Gravesend to Teddington Lock. But many members of the Thames Conservancy had done their best to oppose the Government Bill, and it had been dropped. Another body brought in a Bill—he meant the London County Council—the object of which was to carry out what the Government proposed to do, but to do it under circumstances where London, as a whole, would contribute more from the common treasury towards the improvement of the river, and the result of which would have been a smaller charge on goods than was proposed in this attenuated Bill.
The Thames Conservancy had always pursued a dog-in-the-manger policy on this subject. He, himself, on the Rivers Committee of the; London County Council, had moved a I resolution to make a free gift of £2,500,000 for the improvement of the river, so important did he believe was it that the Port of London should be developed. But that proposal was not received as it might have been. Both the Government and the County Council's Bills had been cast aside, and now the Thames Conservancy came forward tardily with a Bill of their own, nine-tenths of which had to be jettisoned. What had happened was that nine-tenths 574 of this bad Bill had been jettisoned, and the chairman had been thrown over with it. The only proposal was that the Thames Conservancy should be allowed to spend £400,000 on dredging the river from the Nore to Gravesend, and to get that money back they proposed to double their dues on shipping. That, of course, was a matter for the shipowners to fight out with the Thames Conservancy, but, in his opinion, the doubling of the dues would affect some interests far more prejudicially than the promoters of the Bill were inclined to admit. If they were going to improve the River Thames to the extent of the demands made upon it, £400,000 was a miserably inadequate sum for that purpose. Why should that part of the river from Gravesend to Teddington Lock be ignored? He conceded that this project would admit a large number of ships from the Nore to Gravesend, but there were a large number of ships of between 1,000 and 3,000 tonnage that did a great deal of trade who would not be benefitted. He alluded to the smaller class of crafts which traded between Gravesend and Battersea, which carried north country coal to the Beckton Gas Works and the South Metropolitan Gas Works, also to the colliers carrying 900 tons up to Nine Elms and Battersea. All these vessels would have to contribute to the double duty on shipping while they would get absolutely no advantage or benefit from this expenditure, which would be laid out for the benefit of the liner. "The liner was a lady," and as usual the lady was going to have the best of the bargain. But the bulk of the regular trade was done not by large vessels but by these small ships. He hoped if the Bill was allowed to go to a Committee that these points would be considered, as he was sure that the wharfingers, the gas works, and the electric lighting companies, who did not depend upon the big steamers for their coal, would between now and next year get up an agitation against the very large vessels having a monopoly of the result of all this expenditure while those vessels which used the river most and paid the most rates did not get an equitable share of the benefits conferred by the Act. This was only one of the many anomalies which he might point out. He had no prejudice against the dredging 575 of the river, by whomsoever it Was done, but he did not wish the members of the Thames Conservancy to humbug themselves into the idea that the outlay of £400,000 was going to put the Thames in proper order. London owed a great debt to the chairman of the Thames Conservancy for the great attention he had given to the River Thames, but he would put the point to him that even supposing I they spent £400,000 in dredging it thirty feet deep what was to prevent silting down, which would cause them to spend three or four times the amount now contemplated.
All the difficulty arose because the authorities had not the courage to do what they ought to have done. The Government introduced a Bill which dealt with the River Thames from above bridge and below bridge as one whole, and asked not for £400,000 but for £2,000,000 or £3,000,000. If that had been done they would have got a good river and adequate dredging from the Nore up to Teddington Lock. London did not ask for anything extravagant—nothing like what Antwerp and Bristol were doing. These two ports were spending ten times as much as London on their rivers and ports, which had not the physical or natural advantage which Father Thames had. The Thames Conservancy, however, would not agree with the Government measure and they also would have nothing to do with the County Council, but they brought in a Bill intrinsically bad and they asked Members of the House to let some portion of it through, because they all knew that this neglect of the dredging of the river£that this dilly-dallying with the River Thames was a commercial menance to the Port of London, and that this little concession which was to be given to the Thames Conservancy or to its new chairman was one which would have to be renewed two years, or at all events five or six years, hence. Their action hitherto had been miserably inadequate to bring the river up to a reasonable standard of depth and efficiency but, being a county councillor, he was a reasonable man. Coming from Spring Gardens, one was necessarily charitable and tolerant, and he was disposed to vote for the proposal of the new chairman upon one condition, viz., that 576 he did not alter the personnel or the constitution, that he abandoned everything in the Bill except the £400,000 for dredging, and that he would put in in Committee a provision by which the owners of the smaller vessels should be equally protected with the owners of the larger vessels which used the lower reaches. If he would do that, then he was not disposed to vote against him. He said this, however, to the Government, that whatever the hon. Member who introduced this Bill did, a tremendous responsibility rested upon the Board of Trade. With all its shortcomings and defects, we had the largest port in the world and 15,000,000 tons coming from all corners of the earth and from every sea and region entered it, and he believed that if we had a port worthy of its name and the river we had, that 15,000,000 ought to be 22,000,000 within the next five years. Yet the Government, filled with the craven fear of being great, because Sir F. Dixon-Hartland held a blunderbuss at their heads, ran away and neglected their Imperial duty and their commercial liabilities.
What were they going to do with this Bill? Were they going to regard this miserable proposal as the last word on the port and river of London? If so, they were evading their duty. Their duty was to take this little Bill as a last concession to a dying body—a body which he would, if he had his way, take out to the Nore to-morrow and drown without the least compunction. Were the Government going to regard this little Bill as entirely a temporary concession to tide over a temporary difficulty until the Board did what they were authorised to do, and that was, look at this question from the Imperial point of view? They had hitherto been looking at it from the point of view of pettifogging vestrymen, who had a ditch to look after instead of the finest river in the world. Were the Government going to treat this as the final word or as a mere temporary expedient? He could assure the Government that if they did not do something for dredging, deepening, and improving the river they would, three or four years hence, be confronted by the hon. Member 577 for Walthamstow, the hon. Member for Tilbury, and others, who would unite to save London from a Government which had been too feeble in promoting the interests of the river, and had not had the moral courage to face its responsibilities. But he saw from the general attitude of the representative of the Board of Trade that they were going to adopt his view, and that they would place this Bill as a temporary expedient in the hands of the Thames Conservancy to get over a difficulty. If the Government took that view, and it was the only statesmanlike view, he would not oppose the Bill. He hoped, however, that the Government would see that the officers of the Thames Conservancy, more disingenuous than the chairman, did not use the measure to fasten the Thames Conservancy on the London river and the London port. If the Government would view the Bill as he did, as merely helping lame dogs over a stile, and enabling the Thames Conservancy to justify its existence for the next two years, he was willing to vote for the Second Reading.
§ *SIR ALBERT ROLLIT (Islington, S.)
said he had supported the Government Bill for this purpose, and also the Bill of the London County Council, and he was glad to say that he could support that the residue of this proposal should go to the Committee. This question was vital to the interests of London as a port. Unless London was made a deep and a cheap port they would soon be lamenting not only the languishing, but departing, trade, and the commercial pre-eminence which London had hitherto enjoyed. There was one advantage in regard to the discussion of the previous Bills. London and the House had at last realised that it was not a question whether the trade of London had been somewhat increasing, but it was a question of what might have been the increase of trade in London, as at other ports both at home and abroad, if proper facilities had been given. The trade of the port of London suffered a slight decrease last year, although previously there had been slight increases, and the shipping ha nearly doubled during the last thirty years. The trade of Antwerp, however, had doubled in the last ten years. 578 He remembered the chairman of the Thames Conservancy advising his colleagues to go to Antwerp, and if they did he was sure they would be astonished at what had been accomplished. There was now a deepened and straightened river and excellent access to the port, and there was at this moment a proposal to spend £10,000,000 more money on diverting and straightening the river at the last awkward bend into Antwerp itself. That would make Antwerp the best port in the whole world, and they had to take care that London was similarly armed, and that our port was made accessible and convenient, with one port authority charged with its equipment and the management of its trade.
One recommendation of this Bill as it now stood was the withdrawal of the proposed dues on goods. The London Chamber of Commerce had fought this question of keeping London a free port in the Courts and in Parliament for many years, and this was the most important consideration. They not only, as he had said, wanted a deep port but a cheap port, such as Hull was compared with London even for delivery on to quay. The Bill now became nearly u pure Conservancy Bill, and though it only dealt with one section of the river the other sections would have to be dealt with, but the Bill was consistent with that. He understood from his hon. friend that the proposal to repeal the present exemption from taxation of small vessels below forty-five tons would not now be dealt with by this Bill. It was a well established-exemption, and he thought it was based upon a correct principle. The very small coasting and trading vessels which dealt with a very large amount of the cement and other of the Medway and coastwise trades of London should not contribute like the larger vessels. At any rate, they should not contribute in the same degree as the larger vessels, to which this dredging of the channel was absolutely essential, a differentiation for which there was a precedent at Liverpool. He understood that his hon. friend would not insist upon the repeal of the exemption, and, 579 therefore, and upon that understanding which he had given him personally, and which he was glad to hear he now confirmed, he heartily supported this measure, which he believed would be a great step in the direction of making London a modern port.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY TO THE BOARD OF TRADE (Mr. BONAR LAW, Glasgow, Blackfriars),
as representing the Board of Trade, said that they had considered this Bill and had come to the conclusion that it must be opposed, and not only so but they had intimated to the various public bodies who had the right to ask their opinion that it was their intention to prevent the Bill being passed. He did not feel, however, that the pledge given in regard to the Bill bound him at all in regard to these proposals of his hon. friend. Everyone would agree that it was not the same Bill. He should like, if his hon. friend would permit him, to add to the congratulations which had already been bestowed upon him not only on account of his speech but still more for the credit which he deserved for having made a proposal which was really practical, and with the principle of which nearly all were in agreement. He felt, however, this difficulty, that owing to circumstances, for which the hon. Member was not in the least to blame, they did not have notice of the present proposal in time to consider it on its merits, but he dared say that there were many objections which they would have realised more fully if they had had time to thoroughly go into the matter. It was therefore for the House to decide whether or not this scheme deserved to be sent up to a Committee to be considered on its merits—personally, he thought it did. He was not going to reply at any length to the remarks of the hon. Member for Battersea. The hon. Member said that he would be glad if in regard to this question they adopted his advice; well, they did so. Another thing which rather pleased him in the hon. Member's speech was that although he said a great many hard things about the Government, he did not go quite the length that he went with regard to the Thames Conservancy, and did not propose to take 580 them out and drown them. He gathered that it was a metaphorical expression, even in regard to the Thames Conservancy, though the hon. Member seemed to intimate that he had been doing his, best to do the same in regard to the Government, but they on that side might have the satisfaction of knowing that there would be a good deal more dredging to be done before the hon. Member could succeed in his object.
§ SIR CARNE RASCH (Essex, Chelmsford)
said that certainly the London County Council were not possessed of the craven fear of being great as the hon. Member said of the Government. Although the Government had spoken, he hoped the House would allow a man who had represented Tilbury Docks and the estuary of the Thames for fourteen years to say a few words. He thought it was rather hard that a trade which had not been consulted, and which did not want this deepening of the channel, should be made to pay for it. He alluded to the lighters and barges used in connection with the cement trade, of which there were about a thousand. They plied up and down the river drawing about seven feet of water, and they would get no benefit out of the change which was proposed. It was all very well for coal tramps and ocean liners which went to Tilbury Dock. They got advantage and they should pay for it. In the distressful county in which he had a seat one of the few successful trades was the cement trade on the banks of the Thames, and the members of that trade would receive with considerable disfavour any proposition of this kind, or any attempt to penalise them. Then as to sea walls, he might point out that a great part of the county of Essex was below the level of the German Ocean, and sea walls were necessary for their salvation. In the division he represented frequently in the middle of the night people used to be called up to repair the sea wall lest they should be drowned. On the estuary of the Thames the sea wall played a very important part. No man would knowingly take a farm with a sea wall upon it, and no man would take a farm when the sea wall was liable to the backwash of steamers passing up and down 581 which they had not had before, but which they would have now. He thought the two classes he had mentioned should be specially protected.
§ *SIR JOHN BRUNNER (Cheshire, Northwich)
said he was heartily glad that there was to be an improvement in the River Thames, and he was very sorry that the Government apparently took so little interest in the matter. He had declared in that House more than once that he was very tired of the squandering of our national funds in different parts of the earth, and if the Government a good many years ago had made up their minds to improve the Thames instead of building a railway in Uganda, the Empire would have been greater to-day. He had to thank the chairman of the Thames Conservancy for bringing in this Bill, though he hoped he would forgive him for saying that the Thames Conservancy, as at present constituted, was not a body which should do the work. The House did not realise that the duties of the Thames Conservancy extended from keeping ditches in Gloucestershire in a sanitary condition down to the superintendence of the shrimping at Gravesend. We should never get this work done in a business-like way until we divided the Thames into two jurisdictions, with Teddington Lock as the dividing point. The Thames above and below that point was entirely different in its character. The Thames where it was a pleasure resort ought to be governed by a separate body and not by one which was interested in the London Docks and in trade. An hon. Member who had spoken a few minutes before spoke of the work which had been done at Antwerp, but the same story could be told about every nation in Europe, about our Colonies, and about the United States. Everywhere in the world except here the whole nation worked together. It was "all for all," and he hoped he might live to see the day when the House would rise to the height of their great responsibility, and that they would one and all join together in working for the benefit of the trade at home.
§ Question put, and agreed to.582
§ Bill read a second time, and committed.
§ CAPTAIN JESSEL (St. Pancras, S.)
said he would not occupy them more than a minute in moving the instruction of which he had given notice. The clause from which the instruction was taken was embodied in the Port of London Bill which passed the Hybrid Committee. He therefore hoped the House would accept his Motion. He begged to move.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That it be an instruction to the Committee on the Bill to insert a clause to provide that the Conservators of the River Thames shall make compensation to all persons whose property or works are damaged by or in consequence of any operations of the Conservators in connection with dredging or otherwise deepening and improving the channels within the limits defined by the Bill, and to provide that any dispute or difference arising therefrom shall be settled by arbitration under the Arbitration Act, 1889."—(Captain Jessel.)
§ MR JOHN BURNS
appealed to the House not to support the instruction. The residue of the Bill ought to go to the Committee unconditionally. The practice of moving instructions to Committees had gone too far, and in this case it was both unreasonable and unfair.
§ Question put, and negatived.