HC Deb 28 March 1906 vol 154 cc1362-89
MR. DICKINSON (St. Pancras, N.)

said that the subject to which he wished to draw the attention of the House was that of the port of London. The port was the source of the present prosperity and wealth of the capital of the Empire, and its condition should be made the concern of the Imjjerial Parliament in a very intimate way. No less than one-third of the value of the imports coming to this country passed through the port of London. It was no exaggeration to say that more than one half of the foreign and colonial or transhipment trade of the country was carried on in the port of London. If that port were done away with, no other port in the country could take its place, and the trade would be taken to a port belonging to some continental country. His Motion referred to the urgency of the need for consideration to be given by Parliament to this subject: but he did not intend to paint any lamentable picture of the condition of the trade of London. Fortunately, that trade was very large indeed, and it was increasing year by year. The port of London might be said to rank second to none in the world. It was situated in the midst of a teeming population, and the Thames Channel, from the sea to the City, was better and deeper than the channels of Hamburg, Rotterdam, and Antwerp, while the large rise and fall of the tide gave great facilities to the movement of craft up and down the river. That being so, the question might naturally arise as to why there should be any urgency in the matter. The fact was that Londoners had been too long dependent upon the kind provision which Providence had made for them. Our neighbours the Belgians, the Germans, and the Dutch had recognised the truth of the saying that "God helps those who help themselves." Although it was all very well to trust to Providence, even Providence required some assistance in the shape of labour and capital. The amount of labour and capital devoted to the improvement of the port of London was far less than had been given to many other ports in the world. That was due chiefly to neglect, of which there were three contributive causes. First of all, there was the present complicated system under which the duty of attending to the affairs of the port of London had been divided between several different authorities. In the second place, for a number of years the Thames Conservancy, which had the care of the port, did not show that amount of foresight which they ought; and in the third place, the dock system of the port had been in the hands of private companies which, from no fault of their own, could not provide the necessary capital to develop all the requirements of the port. He did not wish to criticise or animadvert on either of these authorities. Both the Thames Conservancy and the dock companies had had to run the gauntlet before the Royal Commission, and he had no doubt they had done their best during the past few years for the port. It was their misfortune that they had not sufficient powers to deal comprehensively with the great problem of the improvement of the port. In order that the House might understand the urgency of this question, he would give shortly an account of the proceedings which had led up to the present position of affairs. About the year 1890 the London County Council promoted a Bill of its own which contained certain provisions aiming at a stronger representation of the public on the Thames Conservancy Board. The result of that proposal was that four years later the Thames Conservancy promoted a Bill for the entire alteration of their constitution and for other purposes. During these intervening years considerable agitation had sprung up in regard to the condition of the port as it affected shippers, and especially the owners of large ships. In 1894 a Commission was appointed, consisting of three eminent gentlemen—Sir John Wolfe Barry, Admiral Sir George Nares, and Mr. Lyster—whose duty it waste report upon the necessity of deepening the channel of the lower reaches of the river, so as to enable the largest ships to come up to the port at low tide. That Commission reported in 1896 in favour of a thirty foot channel to Gravesend. No practical steps, however, were taken to carry out the recommendation of that Commission, and in 1900 application was made by the London County Council to the late Government to appoint a Royal Commission to consider the whole question of the Port of London. The Royal Commission was appointed, and was presided over by Lord Revelstoke. It sat for eighteen months and heard a large number of witnesses, and had the peculiar satisfaction of being able to report absolutely unanimously on all the points referred to them. Shortly stated, they recommended that a single public authority should be established to whom should be entrusted all the duties connected with the management and improvement of the port of London. They recommended, further, that very considerable sums of money should be expended in carrying out the improvement of the port and the docks, and that the dock companies' undertakings should be purchased by that public authority. Mr. Gerald Balfour, who was then President of the Board of Trade, prepared a Bill based on the recommendations of the Royal Commission, and introduced it into Parliament in 1903. In introducing the Bill, Mr. Gerald Balfour said— It is absolutely essential that some means should be taken to bring the port of London up to modern requirements. And, in winding up the debate on the Bill, Mr. Gerald Balfour used these words— The debate has proved conclusively that the House of Commons is in favour of a new port authority for London. The Bill was referred without opposition to a Joint Committee, presided over by Lord Cross. That Committee took evidence, and ultimately reported the Bill to the House, but it was then too late in the session for it to be possible to pass it that year. The unusual step was, however, taken of suspending the Bill, so that it might be proceeded with in in the following session. Unfortunately, during the interval those private and local interests, which had been the bane of London legislation for many years, were set in motion and succeeded in dissuading the late Government from their purpose. Mr. Gerald Balfour undoubtedly had at heart the interests of the port of London, and he felt certain that the ultimate abandonment of the Bill, without giving the House of Commons another opportunity of discussing it, was not due to Mr. Gerald Balfour. Seeing that the Bill had been dropped, and that there was no other course open to them, the London County Council promoted a Bill of their own. Mr. Bonar Law, who then represented the Board of Trade in the House, opposed the Bill on the ground that it was not a proper subject for private Bill legislation; and accordingly the Bill was thrown out. At the same time a Bill was promoted by the Thames Conservancy which proposed to give that Board very great powers for the improvement of the port, but this Bill was only allowed to proceed in an emasculated form, and merely gave power to borrow £200,000 for the dredging of the channel. In the meantime public opinion had been chafing at this delay. and some of the leading London newspapers took up the question. On October 7th, 1905, an article appeared in the Standard in which, referring to the tendency for Antwerp and Rotterdam to take the transhipment trade from London, it was stated— It is of vital importance to save the oceanic transport of goods consigned to Great Britain for our own historic port, that the control of the river, and all that appertains to its trade requires to be vested in a single supreme authority. And in the financial supplement of The Times for February 19th, 1906, reference was made to the abortive Bills of recent sessions and the article went on to say— The uncertain situation which has been created is paralysing all improvements in the port … It will take a long time to make up for the last six years delay. Even Mr. Scott, Chairman of the Lon don and India Docks Company seemed to be impressed with the necessity of something being done. Speaking quite recently at the annual meeting of that company he said— I cannot believe that no attempt will be made to settle this question. If such a scheme for a port authority be brought forward … we ought to try and make such a scheme a business scheme … if we can do it we shall do something to remove from the port of London the uncertainty which has hung over it for some years past, and to hasten the construction of those docks the need for which we foresaw several years ago. So that in all quarters there was general agreement that action ought to be taken without delay. Indeed he did not see how anyone could come to any other conclusion after the Report of the Royal Commission. Stated shortly, that Royal Commission made two main proposals. The first was the improvement of the docks, and the second the improvement of the channel. On the first point they found that notwithstanding the fact that statistics showed a constant growth in the trade of the port, they had ascertained that the increase in the volume of trade had been much greater in Southampton, Hamburg, and Antwerp. When they inquired into the reason for this, they found that the general opinion was that the port of London was a slow port and caused much inconvenience to shippers, owing to the fact that the docks were quite inadequate to the needs of modern commerce. They rested that conclusion on a considerable volume of evidence. Mr. J. W. Bennett, of the Home and Foreign Exchange, said— For years we have brought over very large quantities of our goods into the port of London, and we should bring them still if we could get a quicker delivery, and more facilities … We pay a much higher rate of freight into Southampton so as to get quicker delivery than we should with the port of London. The Royal Commission commenting on this branch of the evidence said— We may refer to some figures pat in by Mr. Pembroke as to the relative time and cost of discharging ships of the same class at London and in Liverpool. In one case which he quoted, the same ship came from Rangoon with the same kind of cargo, on one voyage to London, and on another to Liverpool. At Liverpool she discharged 500 more tons than at London in two days less time, and the expense were £367 less … Sir Alfred Jones, who has experience of the ports of London, Liverpool, and Bristol, put in figures to support his statement that while London costs about the same as Liverpool and Avonmouth, the despatch is about five times as bad in he case of a large vessel in London. It appeared, therefore, that there was general dissatisfaction with the management of the port of London on the part of all concerned, and the conclusion of the Royal Commission was as follows— It has, in our opinion, been proved, that the port of London is in danger of losing part of its existing trade, and certainly part of the trade which might otherwise come to it, by reason of the river channels and docks being inadequate to meet the increased and increasing requirements of modern commerce. It was obvious that it was in the interests of the entire nation that some action should be taken to improve the docks and the channel of the river. If the House would allow him he would read a few words from the Report in regard to this matter— It will be observed that in the largest class of modern vessel, ships over 10,000 tons, German competition is very close; it seems to be possible also that the United States are about to attempt to increase their mercantile marine by a subsidising policy. These are amongst the signs which show how seriously the maritime superiority of this country is now-being challenged. It is clear that any incapacity of the greatest British port, which takes about two-fifths of the trade of the United Kingdom, and does so much transhipment and re-export trade, to accommodate the largest modern steamers, may count in deciding the result of the contest. The Commission further pointed out that the mercantile superiority of this country was being challenged by Germany and the United States; that large vessels would probably dominate the oversea trade of the future, and that for their accommodation in the Port of London, the improvement of the docks, and the deepening of the channel of the river were essential. They estimated that £7,000,000 must be spent on these works if the Port of London was to be restored to its proper position; and this would be in addition to the money required for the purchase of the dock companies. It was impossible to estimate at present what the price of these undertakings would be, especially as their financial future was by no means assured. The profits of the London and West India Docks were in 1903 £647,000, out of which the company paid a dividend on their ordinary stock of 3⅙ per cent; in 1904, £646,000, the dividend was 3⅛; and in 1905, £585,000, it was only 1¾ The Millwall Company paid no dividend on £1,100,000 of its stock. The Surrey Commercial Dock paid 6 per cent. up to 1899, and had paid 5 per cent since. The Stock Exchange value of these companies amounted to £20,000,000; but there was little doubt that if they could be purchased at a fair value the income of the new port authority would suffice to make good the cost. With regard to the sum of £4,500,000 required for improving the docks, the commission suggested that the port authority should have the power to levy a duty on imported goods. That proposal involved very important considerations, and he was inclined to the opinion that it would be unwise to place an additional duty on goods brought into London, and that as the improvement of the docks would reduce the delay and thereby lessen the charges upon shipping, it would be less objectionable to make the latter pay the additional duty. The question of deepening the channel was a more difficult one still, because the Royal Commission could not see any way in which the money could be raised for the carrying out of this great object except by charging it upon the ratepayer. They reported that it would cost about £2,500,000, and made the suggestion that the money should be raised by the County and City Councils and charged upon the rates of London. The maximum of charge involved would be a three farthing rate all over London. If this scheme was carried out the management should be placed in the hands of a public body, and the Royal Commission recommended the creation of such a body. In doing that they only advocated the course which had been taken all over the world. There were very few examples where harbours and docks were in the hands of private companies, and the result was that London had now to compete with ports that were largely subsidised by State money. For instance, in recent years immense sums had been expended on improving the ports of Hamburg and Antwerp. During the last fifteen years £2,500,000 had been spent on the Port of London, but in the same period £15,000,000 had been spent at Hamburg on enlargement and on new docks. In Antwerp they were making the quays three times as large at a cost of £7,500,000. The result was, that in six years the tonnage of Hamburg had increased 31 per cent. while London had only increased 14 per cent. and Antwerp had increased at double the rate of London. It was the same with Liverpool. In fifteen years £8,500,000 had been spent, and in the last six years the Liverpool tonnage had increased by 29 per cent. It was clear that for harbours the expenditure must be in advance of requirements, and for this reason the money must be found by the State or by the municipality. In regard to Antwerp, the Belgian State Government had contributed a considerable amount of money, and the German Empire had contributed towards the construction of the Port of Hamburg. A deputation sent recently by the Thames Conservancy to examine continental ports had come back convinced of the necessity of adapting the Port of London to the requirements of modern ocean-going ships. In order to maintain the port, therefore, considerable expenditure would have to be incurred, and if the municipal authorities offered to provide or guarantee the money they would be entitled to have sufficient representation on the governing body to protect the ratepayers from unlimited demands. On the other hand, the interests of the port required that there should be a large representation of the trading community on the governing body. Although the question of the constitution of the new authority was one of difficulty, he believed it would not be impossible to arrive at a compromise as between the various parties interested. All that was required was that the matter should be taken up by His Majesty's Government at an early date; and so great was the desire in London to obtain a satisfactory solution of this problem that the Government would not find insuperable difficulties in the way of reconciling conflicting interests. He concluded by moving the Resolution.

MR. W. BENN (Tower Hamlets, St. George's)

said, that so far as the terms of the Motion were concerned, he thought that both sides of the House were in general agreement. A Bill had indeed passed the House which embodied the general principle. The demand that something should be done for the Port of London was based, not on any positive decline in the trade which came to the port, but on the belief, which was supported by the figures of the last ten years, that the Port of London was not maintaining the leading and supreme position which it had enjoyed in the, past. We wanted to maintain our unique position. Taking the figures of England and Wales he found that in 1894 London was handling 34.6 per cent. of the imports; 19.3 of the homo exports and 59.8 per cent. of the re-exports which maintained our position as the entrepot of the world. After ten years, in 1904, London handled 31.7 of the imports, 19.2 per cent. of the home exports and 52.9 per cent. of the re-exports. If he took the increase of shipping entered between 1890 and 1903 it showed that London had increased 30 per cent.; Antwerp, 101; Hamburg, 76; Marseilles, 55 and Rotterdam, 138. The tonnage of foreign shipping entered at Liverpool in 1901 was 6,000,000 and in 1904 7,980,000, an increase of 1,980,000. In London the figure in 1900 was 9,580,000 and in 1904 10,780,000, or only an increase of 1,200,000. The interest of Labour in the question of the improvement of the port was very great. It included all those engaged in the carrying trade and there were 60,000 carmen and 37,000 railway workers, there were also the bargemen and the lighterman numbering 5,600 and 19,710 dock and wharf labourers. The manufacturers were also interested as they wanted cheap raw material quickly. The decline in the average number of dock and wharf labourers was a very serious matter. In 1900 they numbered 15,530, in 1901, 16,454 while in 1905 they only numbered 12,507. These figures explained to some extent the unemployment which now existed and showed how serious the present state of things was for workmen. If it were solved it would go some way to settle the vexed question of unemployment in London. There were two causes which had brought about the present situation, the first was that the river was not deep enough and the second that the docks were not adequate. Looking to the fact that the size of the ships was continually increasing it was essential that a proper depth of water should be maintained. Mr., now Sir,. Alfred L. Jones who was the senior partner in the firm of Elder Dempster and Co., President of the Incorporated chamber of Commerce at Liverpool, and Chairman of the Liverpool Steamship Owners' Association had said— If London is restricted in the depth and size of her ships and Hamburg and Rotterdam, those two ports in particular which are going ahead tremendously, are able to get facilities which we cannot get it is a tremendous drawback to the British shipowners and British commerce altogether. I might go further, because you may look with certainty to the future producing very much larger ships. The economical ship is the large ship, and unless you can provide for the large ship you cannot compete for the carrying trade. So far as dock accommodation was concerned, the Royal Commission found that it was inadequate in quays and berths, and that a now dock was required. The Report of the Royal Commission was also very emphatic as to the necessity for the establishment of a public authority, and he believed hon. Members on both sides of the House were of the same opinion. The dock companies themselves admitted that they were unable to do anything unless their financial powers were considerably extended, and what they wanted to do, as he understood, was to levy new dues. It was said that it would allow them to tax their rivals in trade, namely, the wharfingers, in order to restore a lost position. Inasmuch as the Royal Commission did not favour extended powers for the Thames Conservancy, both the existing authorities were ruled out of court.

As regarded the inevitable public authority, he did not desire to adumbrate the general lines on which it must be formed, but he did desire that the people of London should have an adequate representation upon it. He held no brief for the London County Council He did not happen to be a member of that body, although his hon. friend the Member for Devonport had some interest in it. But he put the claim on quite different grounds from that. He did not say that the people of London should be represented on the new authority, because they were going to raise £2,500,000 for dredging or guarantee the port stock; but he said the people of London should be fully represented because the Port of London was London's most valuable asset. It was the port which had made London what it was. It had been described as the main artery of London. He thought it could be more appropriately described as the heart of London. He hoped that one result of this debate would be to extract from the Government a pledge that they themselves would move in this important matter. They felt extremely proud of the energy, activity, and wealth of the citizens of London which had built up the greatest port in the world. They were very desirous that London should maintain this position, and they asked the Government to help them. In conclusion might he remind the House of the words of Cowper— Where has commerce such a mart, So rich, so thronged, so drained, and so supplied, As London, opulent, enlarged, and Still increasing London? Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House is of opinion that the condition of the Port and docks of London urgently demands attention, with a view to the management thereof being forthwith placed in the hands of a public authority."

MR. BOWLES (Lambeth, Norwood)

said he had listened with very great interest to the speeches delivered in this debate, and he thought that whatever opinions might be held in any section of the House upon the merits of the Resolution which was now before them, there would, at any rate, be common agreement among all sections as to the great interest and importance of the question which it raised. It seemed to him as a London Member that the Port of London was indeed the greatest asset of the greatest city in the world, and he did not think it was too much to say that the prosperity of this country depended in a very large degree, and in the most direct manner, upon the proper and efficient administration of all the great seaports of this country, and in a particular degree upon the efficient administration of the Port of London. If it were the fact that the present administration of the Port of London was inadequate, inefficient, not proportioned to the needs of the times, and not likely to be able to cope with the developments of the future, then he was entirely at one in saying it was high time a change of some sort was made. The first question, however, was whether or not as a matter of fact the present administration of the Port of London was so inadequate or so inefficient as to demand the sweeping change adumbrated by some hon. Gentlemen. In spite of all that had been said by hon. Gentlemen on the Ministerial side he was by no means satisfied, and he did not know that the House could be entirely satisfied, that the management of the Port of London had been so bad as had been suggested, or so bad as to warrant the tremendous changes that had been proposed. He was glad to hear hon. Members say that they did not raise any allegation that the trade of London was declining or that London could be regarded in any sense as a decadent or dying port. It was undoubted that the tonnage which came into London was increasing in a very remarkable degree, and not only was the tonnage increasing, but the value of the goods dealt with was increasing still more, and by every index that would enable one to judge of | the prosperity of the port it was impossible to regard it as a decadent or dying port. What hon. Members said was that it was not progressing so fast as certain other ports which were amongst its most important rivals. He did not think that it was seriously possible to base a proposal of the magnitude of that suggested by the hon. Gentlemen on the Ministerial side upon such an argument as that. He did not deny that the rate of the progress of the trade of London was lower than that of the trade of Antwerp, Hamburg, Hotter-dam, and many other ports of a like nature, and that was simply because London had started from a much higher figure than any one of those ports. Taking the year 1850, there entered the port of Antwerp in that year 350,000 tons of shipping, whilst in the same year 5,000,000 tons entered the Port of London. If London had increased her trade in the same proportion as Antwerp had, then in the year 1904, instead f having 17,000,000 of tons entering the Port of London, there would have been 134,000,000 tons of shipping, which was very nearly equal to the whole of the shipping entering the great ports of the world in one year. It was hardly possible therefore for hon. Members seriously to found a complaint as to the administration of the Port of London upon an argument which was so essentially fallacious actuarily. Before the London County Council started shipping on its own account in London the amount of tonnage, for instance, of the Old Swan Pier was practically nothing, but at a moderate computation there were now at least 1,000,000 tons per annum there, due entirely to the enterprise of the London County Council, or, in other words, the London County Council's shipping had increased by 1,000,000 per cent., while British shipping had increased by infinitely less. He did not think, however, that hon. Members would contend that the steamships of the London County Council were in a more flourishing condition than the whole of the British mercantile marine. He would appeal to the Report of the Royal Commission to show that the trade was not so bad as was made out by some hon. Members. Reporting on June 16th, 1902, the Commissioners, after a most exhaustive review of the whole circumstances, said— We are unable to conclude, therefore, that the figures show any relative decline compared with the other ports named. They went on to give reasons for that view, and they said that Southampton, Hamburg, Rotterdam, and Antwerp had all gained largely in shipping returns in recent years by the establishment of lines of steamers, many of them with subsidies, just as London and other ports gained at an earlier date, but that there was nothing to indicate that the older ports were being superseded or prevented from largely increasing. The mere assertion, which was true, that London was not increasing so fast as other ports, therefore, in the face of that argument itself, and of the considered conclusion of the Royal Commission, was not sufficient to determine this House to accede to a very fundamental change in the administration of the port. It was said that the river was not up-to-date, that the channel was not deep enough, and that the port generally ought to be made available for large ocean-going steamers. Really one would think that London was unavailable for large ocean-going steamers, and that the depth of the channel compared unfavourably with that of the channels of ports in foreign countries. As a matter of fact the channel into the Port of London was not only one of the best, but, he believed, the very best into-any port in the world. Its minimum depth at low water right up to Tilbury Dock was 24 feet, and in 1908 it would be 30 feet, as it was being dredged 6 feet. There was a range of tide of from 18 to 20 feet in the channel, so that what was now 43 feet at high water would be 49 feet two years hence. In other words, there would be a depth at the very worst of 24 feet, which in a few hours, by the operation of the tide, became the tremendous depth of 43 feet. It was said that it must be made available for large ocean-going steamers. He found some difficulty in understanding how hon. Members could suggest that there was a want of capacity for that purpose at the present time. The largest cargo vessels fully laden could not reach the great competing ports which had been referred to—Hamburg, Antwerp, Rotterdam—but the biggest cargo vessel that floated on the seas could go easily, on the turn of the tide, right up to Tilbury Dock, and be dealt with with the greatest ease. The kind of cargo vessel to which they must look forward was such a steamer as the "Celtic," which was 680 feet long, 5 feet beam, and drew 31 feet of water. At Southampton that vessel lay upon the mud, which, as the House knew, was a serious thing for a ship of that size, and in the mind of any owner of a big ship was a reproach to the port. At Antwerp it was utterly impossible to receive a ship of that kind in any of the docks, and if she lay outside, as she was bound to do, she was on the mud at low water. At Hamburg, Rotterdam, Amsterdam, and Bremen, four of the largest ports in Europe, a ship such as the "Celtic" could not go near; it was utterly impossible to do so if the vessel were fully laden. At Bristol a ship of the size of the "Celtic" could not enter because the widest dock entrance was only 70 feet. At Liverpool, to which as a matter of fact this ship traded, she was only recently able to get into dock at all when the spring tides were very favourable, and at other times she had been forced to discharge in the middle of the Mersey. So that, taking all the ports mentioned in competition with London, the largest cargo boat found serious and real objection to each one. But in the Port of London a boat of the kind could go into Tilbury Dock without even waiting for high water, and could go straight up to the dock at any state of the tide and do her work without being placed in any unseamanlike position. He did not know that there was any better way of judging between any two docks in respect of the service they respectively rendered to steamers than by ascertaining what was the length of quay. Judged by that standard London provided a total of forty-four miles of quay space, Hamburg had not quite half that accommodation, and Antwerp had but eleven miles, much of which was not available for ocean-going ships. Taking the total length of quay space and the amount of tonnage entering the port, London had more liberal accommodation than any other port in the world, in spite of the fact that it had to deal with more tonnage than any other port in the world. Whether they applied the test of quay space, of the depth of the water, of width of dock entrance, or of the provision of adequate graving docks, cranes and other discharging appliances, he said, without fear of contradiction, that London had nothing whatever to fear from a comparison with any port in the world, and it was really not the case that the docks of London were not thoroughly up-to-date for all practical purposes. Undoubtedly there was some truth in the allegation that London was a slow port, but that had nothing to do with good or bad administration. It was due to the fact that there was in London what there was not in most of the other ports of the world, namely, a custom founded on general convenience whereby the charges for dealing with cargoes upon the dock side fell, not upon the consignee, but upon the shipowner, and he had to consider whether it was worth his while to run to the expense of unloading his cargo on the dock side and having it sorted there, or follow the practice of discharging by the slower, but very much cheaper method of lighters or barges. The first was the quicker, the latter the cheaper method, and it was a matter of arrangement between shipowner and merchant which the port authority could not control. He thought he had said enough to show that with all its faults the management and administration of the Port of London was on the whole as good as, and in many respects greatly better than the administration of any other port. The proposed change, therefore, was unnecessary, and certainly if it were necessary it should not be in the direction adumbrated by hon. Members on the Ministerial side. The Resolution said that there should be a public authority. He did not think there could be any real objection to that, but the Resolution was like an official answer —it all depended upon the interpretation; and he confessed that he did not believe that the hon. Member who moved this Resolution did so entirely without reference to the proposal that had been made for the quick or slow municipalising of the control of the Port of London. All he could say was that that was a change which he was firmly convinced would be very injurious to the Port of London. There were only three ports in this country which were managed by the municipal authorities, and each one of them was badly managed and a failure. There was the Port of Bristol, and that city had endured for many years a 6d. rate in respect of its port. That rate he understood was shortly to be increased to 1s. Then there was Preston which had endured a 2s. rate for a very long time; and finally there was Manchester, the story of whose dealings with the port was well known. The example of Manchester was not such as to encourage ratepayers to increase their confidence in the municipal management, of ports. He asked the House to consider, if those ports were badly managed and had suffered by municipal management, how enormously greater and more serious to the whole community were the dangers which would be involved if the gigantic interests of the Port of London were turned over to municipal control. The mere docks of London ran all the way to Tilbury, and the authority which controlled the docks must control the river as well. He would point out that the river as a port ran all the way to Southend, and that was miles outside the area which it was ever suggested should be under the jurisdiction of the London County Council. Even the present dock area was enormously outside the jurisdiction of the County Council, but he was afraid that what this Resolution meant was County Council control of the Port of London. Surely the activity of that body was already great enough. They dealt with the roads of this tremendous collection of cities called London. ["No, no."] They dealt with education, they dealt with lunacy, they dealt with health, they dealt with the administration of building acts, they dealt with the extinction of fire, and they had to deal with the difficulties inherent in trying to recommend to the notice of the ratepayers in running a line of steamboats that were running at great loss. They ran trams, they controlled main drainage, they regulated weights and measures, while their representatives also had a very large interest in the water supply and in the housing of the people. They wanted also to supply the greater part of the bulk electricity provided for the industries of the city, and in addition to that he was afraid they now wanted to get the absolute control of the Port of London. Hon. Members opposite had referred to the Royal Commission. If there was one thing on which that Royal Commission was absolutely definite and strong, it was in the clear recommendation that what ever happened, however the new port authority might be constituted, the London County Council should not have the controlling and dominating interest in it. From the beginning it must be said the London County Council had been equally strong in seeking to secure that control. In the recent Bill to which an hon. Member had referred they desired not the nine members out of the forty suggested, but twenty-four out of the forty members. What was far more important, they desired, as they always would desire in everything they put their hands upon—indeed they claimed—the absolute financial control of the port. He reminded the House that anybody who had financial control had the whole control. What was meant by the financial control of the Port of London? At this moment the dock companies alone paid every year £1,000,000 in weekly wages, and of that £1,000,000 the London County Council would have absolute control. But there was other work than that of the dock companies. There was the work done by shipowners and others, which amounted at a moderate computation to another £1,000,000. Thus there was £2,000,000 paid every year in weekly wages in the docks alone, and they formed only half of the whole port. There was at least another £2,000,000 paid along the wharves on the quays of the river altogether apart from the docks. If the House came to the conclusion that it desired to give the control of the Port of London to the London County Council, it should clearly understand that it was giving to that body the control of at least £4,000,000 a year in weekly wages, and of 60,000 or 70,000 men, every one of whom had a vote. He asked with some confidence whether it was right, whether it was reasonable, that a public body, a body of gentlemen, however respectable, however sound, who relied for their position on popular election should have under their control the wages of 60,000 or 70,000 men, amounting to such a gigantic sum as he had named. He thought there could be only one answer to such a question. Neither the Mover nor the Seconder of the Resolution had suggested any solution for the difficulties which they alleged to exist. He believed that nothing could really be shown to be seriously wrong with the Port of London, but if there was anything wrong he was certain it would not be put right but would be made infinitely worse by turning the control over to the London County Council. If the thing was wrong; in his belief the solution was to be found by forming in London and giving the control of the Port of London to a trust based on the system followed in port after port of the United Kingdom with conspicuous success. He might refer to Glasgow, to Swansea, to the Port of Leith, to the Tyne, but above all to the Port of Liverpool, which was the most striking instance of the success of the system. At Liverpool the port authority was an authority consisting of twenty-eight persons. Of that number twenty-four were elected by the people who paid the dues, that was to say by the shipowners and by the merchants, and the remaining four were nominated by the Mersey Conservancy Board. The effect of that was that practically year in and year out the harbour of Liverpool was admirably administered, that the authority was able to raise money cheaply and well, and above all that the expenses of running the port were kept down consistently with efficiency. That was due to the fact that they had in Liverpool absolutely the only check which in his opinion would ever be effective against extravagance, namely, that the men who had the spending of the money were themselves the men who had to find the money and not men who could foist the expenditure off on the ratepayers of a large community. That was an admirable business arrangement,' and he saw no reason why such an arrangement should not be made in respect of the Port of London. He had no doubt that if the dock companies and other authorities concerned were approached in this matter they would be perfectly ready to co-operate in the formation of such an authority. There was no objection to a public authority, but there was serious objection to a municipal authority. While he believed the Port of London at this moment was in a very admirable state indeed, he did not think it was likely to remain in its present excellent and up-to-date position if the intolerable uncertainty which had hung over it for the last five or six years was allowed to continue. It was a most miserable state of things when the dock companies themselves, who were all men having great interests connected with the river generally, did not know from one day to-another almost what was going to become of them, and whether it was worth their while to spend money on such improvements as became necessary in the best ports from time to time. It was that that was the matter with the Port of London, added to the crushing and terrible burdens which the municipal authorities had already put on the rates. Nothing but private enterprise, nothing but the best possible management, nothing but that courage and endurance which he believed had been conspicuously shown at all times by the port authorities of London during the long period which they had gone through, could have maintained the Port of London without bringing it into infinitely greater disrepute than there was any sign of at the present moment. He hoped that after consideration of this matter a proper solution might be found, but he did not believe it would be on the lines broadly suggested by the Resolution before the House. On the contrary he believed that would inflict on London what he believed to be the greatest danger which now menaced it, namely, the imposition on the greatest asset of the greatest city of the United Kingdom the injustice of municipal control.


remarked that the last speaker ended in a general attack on the London County Council, but he had altogether failed to acquaint himself with the facts on which he asserted that the London County Council sought to control the Port of London. He had referred to the Bill of the London County Council. The last public assertion of that body before any public tribunal was the evidence of the hon. Member for the St. Rollox Division of Glasgow before the Committee on the Government Bill, and that evidence held good to-day. He there, speaking for the London County Council, claimed only a representation of fifteen members out of a board of forty. He (Mr. Barnard) thought the House would agree that that was a very moderate demand. Might he in a word follow a remark which the last speaker had made? The hon. Member had said that the Council had too much work to do, and referred to their work in maintaining education. Everyone knew that the work of education was imposed on the Council by the late Government against the wishes of the Council, and everyone also knew if the question of money was to be brought into the transaction that the order which was sent to the London County Council to carry out the work of education did not have in the same envelope the Post Office Order necessary to meet the expenditure entailed by the work. He was bound to say for his port that he was sick and tired of hearing of the London County Council from the Opposition benches when any matter of a remedial character dealing with this great city was under discussion. They had heard to-night two good speeches, one from a member of the London County Council and another from a gentleman nearly connected with it. He was pleased to hear the speech of the Member for St. George's, but there was one remark of a practical character which he hoped the House would permit him to make. The hon. Member gave a number of statistics. He compared Liverpool with London, and said that the percentage of Liverpool trade increase was so much more than that of London. All who read the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham would remember that if they started from the highest degree and went into percentages they might get into a very mixed comparison from a business point of view. He welcomed most heartily the speech of the Member for St. Pancras, who put the matter in the right key and approached it in a perfectly businesslike attitude. He had insisted most fully that the position of the Port of London at the present moment was undoubtedly one that required great consideration, and the only question was in what way they were going to deal with it. The hon. Member for St. Pancras had mentioned the position of the London County Council regarding the guaranteeing of the money payment. That was where he (Mr. Barnard) ventured to join issue with him. From. his point of view he did not believe there was any necessity whatever that the Port of London should be in any way subsidised from the rates. He thought it was well able to bear its burden from either ships or dues. What did the people who talked about the Port of London complain of? He happened to have been on the governing body of the Port of London for some time, and if they would allow him he would read out the figures. In 1858, the first full year after the Conservancy was formed, the trade in the port was something under 9,000,000 tons. In 1868 it had risen to 10,000,000 tons, in 1878 to 13,000,000 tons, in 1888 it had gone up to 20,000,000 tons, in 1898 to 22,000,000 tons, and last year, 1905, it reached the enormous figure of 25,867,000 tons. If he contrasted the difference between the various ports of the United Kingdom, taking the period 1894 to 1904, he saw that during that time London had increased in its tonnage by 24 per cent., Newcastle had increased by 16 per cent., Glasgow had increased by 30 per cent. the municipal Port of Bristol had increased by 19 per cent., whereas Liverpool had gone up by 30 per cent. If he went over these points one by one he found in the total figures that London had always increased by a larger amount of tons than any other port. As regarded the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board, he ventured to say that if London had had the same powers given to it in its Conservancy as was suggested by the Member for St. Pancras, and the capital sum that the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board had to deal with, it would have increased with the same rapidity that the Liverpool Docks had done. He would not dwell on the question of the Port of Bristol; he knew that it was a municipal port, but he would remind the House that the hon. Member who had last spoken said that Bristol was charged 6d. in the £ for its port. He had in his hand, however, the evidence of the general manager of the Bristol Docks, given before the Royal Commission, and it was distinctly stated that 4d. was the maximum charge on the rates which they were entitled to make. He did not think any case had been made out to show that the Thames Conservancy, as responsible for the Port of London, had been in any way delinquent. With the funds at their disposal they had done everything in their power to bring the port up to as near a state of perfection as possible. The hon. Member for St. Pancras had mentioned that the Thames Conservancy brought in a Bill two years ago, and dropped most of the provisions of it: but that was because political exigencies made them do so. He would point out that they did not drop that part of the Bill which carried with it an expenditure of £400,000 for the dredging of the Thames. It was a funny thing that the London County Council did not appear on that occasion. Why did not they lodge a petition and indulge in some of that opposition on the Second Reading which the House had heard of to-night, if they thought the Thames Conservancy was not fit to govern the river? They did nothing of the sort, but allowed the Thames Conservancy to carry the Bill, and they were now engaged in prosecuting the work with that sum of money at their disposal. He ventured to think that the proper body for the future management of that great river was a public trust of some description. He personally expressed his opinion that it was highly undesirable; he believed it was unscientific to multiply different forms of local government. He could not help thinking that the Thames Conservancy formed the nucleus of a governing body. Parliament could, and ought to alter the constitution of that body. Everyone knew the constitution of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board and they also knew about the Clyde and the Tyne. If this House could use its influence to bring about the establishment of a managing body for the Port of London in which the traders, as the men who required the conveniences and paid the money, had the dominating interest, he had no doubt that with all the natural advantages which London possessed the port would go still further ahead and exceed the pre-eminence it occupied at the present time. Those who had to do with the management of the river had done what they could to learn lessons from other places; they sent twelve of their members to Antwerp, and as the result of their investigations the report which they presented distinctly showed that the Port of London was not very far behind the times at the present moment. Undoubtedly it could be improved, and he believed it would be improved by an aimiable conference between the principal parties concerned. That was how the Thames Conservancy carried their Bill last year when they got permission to spend the £400,000 to which he had referred. He believed it only required the Board of Trade to give a lead to bring about some salutary and advantageous result on the lines largely indicated by the hon. Member for St. Pancras who, he was glad, had brought forward that Resolution.

MR. RUSSELL REA (Gloucester)

agreed that those who had had the management of the docks of London in the past had done the best they could with the resources at their command. There could be no doubt, however, in the minds of those who heard the speeches of the mover and seconder and who knew the facts that the progress of the Port of London was arrested, especially as regarded the construction of new works and new docks. The reason of this was that there was no authority which was able to tackle the problem. The dock companies had not the financial power to extend and develop the Port of London as it should be developed. They had come to this House again and again and had demanded those powers, and again and again they had been refused. The power to charge dues on goods entering the port was a necessary power to give to the port authority. It would provide an adequate revenue at very slight cost to the users of the port. Supposing the port authority were allowed to levy dues on the imports to London on the same scale as they were charged by the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board at Liverpool a revenue would be provided of £900,000 a year. That revenue would be very much greater than would be required by the port authority in addition to the rates now charged on shipping. They had no power—and Parliament would never concede to any private body the power—to charge dues on the goods entering and leaving the Port of London. But such a power was necessary to an efficient port authority; and for the Port of London, therefore, there must be a public trust, either national and independent, or municipal. The Bill of the late Government, which was a good Bill, proposed an independent trust with a municipal element in it, and it gave the right to levy dues on goods. The late Government weakly allowed that Bill to be wrecked on account of municipal jealousy on small and insignificant points. That Bill did give the right to levy dues on goods. The Bill having been allowed to expire, the County Council brought in theirs last year. It was frankly a municipal Bill. The Council gave themselves a membership of twenty-four out of the forty of which the port authority was to be constituted. The new authority was practically to be a committee of the London County Council, designed to rule the Port of London. But then they did not venture to ask this House for the power of levying rates on goods, because they knew that it was extremely improbable that Parliament would grant it. Their scheme was therefore financially unsound, and it would have cast a fresh burden on the ratepayers. He believed that any municipal element was entirely unnecessary; and as a London ratepayer he protested against the idea of any guarantees being given by the County Council to an authority that would be as wealthy as itself. There were as strong objections to municipal control as there were to private control. Municipal control would mean the grant to a municipality of the right to tax the nation on a fourth of the imports that entered the country. Though a friend of municipal enterprise, he submitted that for the municipality to con- trol the Port of London would not be a democratic measure at all; on the contrary, it would be a reactionary and anti-democratic measure. In Liverpool the docks fifty years ago were under the municipality, and they were taken from the municipality by Parliament, very greatly to the advantage of the port. The true democratic principle was that the control should be in the hands of those who found the money. What London wanted was first of all a port trust; next, that this trust should be endowed with adequate power, financial and otherwise, principally the power to levy a very insignificant rate on goods; and, lastly, that those who contributed the whole of the revenue should constitute that port authority. But the authority must be an independent and national authority, and not a municipal or even a semi-municipal authority.


said they had had a most useful debate in which many interesting speeches had been made. He could not pretend that the Government were now in a position to make any pronouncement on the subject, but when the matter was gone into it would be done with the care which its great importance undoubtedly demanded. The question was exceedingly important, not merely to London, but to the whole of the country. If a step had to be taken it should be taken with great care and caution. He had read the evidence and the Report of the Royal Commission, and he thought that the case of the County Council had been put very moderately in the present debate. He did not think the very moderate and statesmanlike speech of the hon. Member for St. Pancras justified the criticism passed upon it by the hon. Member for Norwood. The hon. Member did not claim that the control of the Port of London should be handed over entirely to the London County Council. What was the problem before them? There were a good many things on which they were all in actual agreement so far as he could see. There was undoubted dissatisfaction with the present arrangements of the port, in spite of the able defence made by the hon. Member for Norwood. It was not so much an attack upon the management of the Port of London as upon the inadequacy of the present system. He dared say that the port authorities had done their best with the resources at their command. He had no doubt that the Thames Conservancy had its failings, but there was undoubtedly, for one reason or another, considerable dissatisfaction with the management and administration of the port of London on the part of those who used it. On this subject the Royal Commission in their Report stated that there was dissatisfaction with the Port of London on the part of all concerned with it, whether shipowners or merchants. He did not think that was due to mere grumbling. There was some sort of justification on the part of those who used the port for the opinion the)' had expressed. There was another thing upon which there was absolute agreement, and that was as to the urgency of the problem. For one reason or another all Parties in the House agreed that something should be done quickly in the matter. There was some evidence to show that owing to the uncertainty created by the Rival Commission, by Bills brought before the House of Commons, by one scheme after another to alter the authority, the present authority could not embark upon schemes, even within their resources, for improving the present conditions. It was desirable that this uncertainty should be brought to an end, and as soon as possible. But there were other reasons why the problem was an urgent one. The Commission came to a perfectly unanimous decision. They said— It has in our opinion been proved that the Port of London is in danger of losing part of its existing trade, and certainly part of the trade which might otherwise come to it by reason of the river channels and docks being inadequate to meet the increased requirements of modem commerce. That was a very serious conclusion to come to by a very impartial Commission, and one which no Government could pass over without going very carefully into the matter.


May I remind the right hon. Gentleman that the deepening of the Channel below Gravesend is now being attended to, and that above Gravesend it is nearly complete.


Yes, but on a very small scale. It was clear that a. very considerable sum would have to be expended in deepening the channel of the river. There was agreement also that a considerable sum would have to be spent, not merely upon dredging and deepening the channel of the river, but upon dock extension. Practically there had been no dock extension for over twenty years, while there had been an increase of over £10,000,000 in the business of the port since the last dock extension. How was the necessary capital to be raised? It was clear that the present dock companies could not raise the capital for the purpose, and, that being so, some other authority must be set up for the purpose in order to carry out these very urgent and necessary reforms. And the third point on which there was general agreement was that there must be one authority, and that. that authority must be a public one. There was no country in Europe, as had been said, that handed over the control of its great docks to private authorities, and he thought the time had come when there ought to be one great public authority for controlling the greatest harbour in the world. The other point was what that authority was going to be. He did not understand that the London County Council put forward a claim to having the controlling voice. On that he expressed no opinion. Then as to the terms of purchase, that was a matter that would have to be gone into very carefully later on. It had been suggested that there should be an amiable conference, and there appeared to be a disposition to have such a friendly conference. There would be nothing done this year, for the reason that the notices had to be given in November. He thought the suggestion should be acted upon, and that a conference should be summoned by the Board of Trade. In his opinion a useful purpose had been served by the discussion, which had shown a general agreement, and he thought there was every prospect of a satisfactory conclusion being arrived at.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, "That this House is o opinion that the conditions of the Port and docks of London urgently demands attention, with a view to the management there of being forthwith placed in the hands of a public authority."