§ Order for Second Heading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time"
§ *MR. BARNARD (Kidderminster)
moved that the Bill be read upon this day six months. He said he did not propose to go at any length over the contents of the Bill, although he thought it contained propositions which would be very legitimate matter of debate upon 1494 the Second Reading. It appeared to him that the proposed dues on goods should be collected at the Customs House by the public authority. The proposal to divide between the dock companies and the river authority the proceeds of the port dues was in his opinion open to objection because the dock companies were profit-making concerns, and it was a very grave question whether such a proposition should receive the sanction of the House. He desired to discuss the measure not so much upon what it contained as upon the larger consideration of what he regarded as the interests of the Port of London. It appeared to him that at the present time there was every reason why, in the interests of the port, they should pause before they did anything further of a piecemeal character. The considerations which governed the interests of the port required a comprehensive measure once and for all dealing with the whole subject. The Port of London was altogether unique. It stood apart from nearly every other port in the country. He did not desire to take up the time of the House by going over the different propositions which had brought them to the position they occupied that night. There was no doubt that the present stagnation had arisen through the jealousy of the varying interests involved. It was not necessary for him to point out the great differences between the Port of London and the other ports of the United Kingdom. Everybody knew that Manchester had the ship canal. They knew what had been done in connection with the Mersey by the Dock and Harbour Board, and they were familiar also with the efforts which had been made in connection with the Tyne and the Clyde. He did not propose to discuss the details of these different ports. The dominating question which existed in connection with all of them was how the necessary money was to be got in order to carry out the work, and what ought to be the controlling body which should carry out the administrative work. There were different proposals continually placed before the House in connection with this subject. They heard a great deal about Antwerp and the Thames Conservancy, to which he happened to belong. He had mad; two or three expeditions to Antwerp and other important Continental ports to investigate what had been done there, 1495 and to get the advantage of knowledge of what was going on. But the Port of Antwerp could not be properly compared to that of London on business grounds, for these reasons. Antwerp was aided enormously by what he would term national funds. The Port of London, after all, had been conducted on purely business lines. When he looked at the figures as to how these different ports had progressed he said at once that the comparison in his opinion was altogether fallacious. If he read the figures showing what London had really done it would appear that the result was not so bad. In fact, the Port of London would bear a good deal of looking into. In 1895 the Fort of London tonnage of shipping inwards with cargo amounted to 14,200,000, while for the last year in respect of which figures were available the tonnage was 17,450,000. Liverpool had risen from 7,800,000 to 9,800,000. He mentioned these figures simply by way of illustration in order to show that London had increased by a larger tonnage than any other port, and that at the present moment it stood in the proud position of being more than equal to Antwerp and Rotterdam put together, their combined total being only 14,000,000. This question was a difficult one, and he believed that the main trouble had arisen in connection with what was to be done in regard to the taking over of the clocks and wharves. He did not know what might be the feeling in the House, but they were all familiar with the findings of the Royal Commission. They recollected that if the original idea of taking over the water companies had been earlier accepted on the recommendations of Mr. Cross's Committee, or even that of Sir William Vernon Harcourt, it would have been a great deal better for London. They knew, equally in connection with licenses, that if Mr. Bruce's proposals had been accepted at the time they were made, it would have been better for all of them. He ventured to think that in this country it was generally recognised that a private interest was not to be ruthlessly interfered with. He was not going to lay down what principle ought to be followed respecting control, but he believed the time was coming when the Government should face the question of the Port of London and produce legislation which would, as far as possible, do no harm to the private 1496 individual but lay down the principle that the port should be controlled by a public authority, and that the present condition of affairs should be ended—that the Thames Conservancy, as it now existed, should cease to exist—and that there should be an authority governing the upper river, and be another authority controlling the Port of London. From his experience as a member of the Thames Conservancy he was personally of opinion that that body had been unduly assailed by people who did not understand its working or its powers. According to the powers at their disposal and according to the weapons and tools they had to work with, he, with all respect, expressed the view that they had done the very best they possibly could do in the circumstances. Whenever they had made proposals they had been assailed by particular interests—persons who were looking after their own particular affairs. The Thames Conservancy proposed a Bill after the Report of the Royal Commission was published, and it adopted as far as possible the recommendations of the Commission. After a time it became evident that the whole Bill could not pass. The Thames Conservancy therefore threw over a great many of its propositions, but it left in one which carried with it the principle that the Thames Conservancy should be immediately entrusted with power to raise revenue for the purpose of extended dredging. What was the answer of the Thames Conservancy? That was passed unanimously through the House, and the Thames Conservancy, in carrying it into effect, had done what he believed would be of great future advantage to the Port of London. He thought that the policy of the Thames Conservancy could not be fairly attacked. They had made no serious mistake, but they simply had not the means to carry out the work which it was necessary for them to undertake. He would not attempt to discuss what ought to be the constitution of the Port of London, but personally he could not help feeling this. He recognised that the London County Council proposal to have a controlling interest was a perfectly legitimate one if they were to be responsible for the financial security to carry on the new authority. In that case they were 1497 undoubtedly entitled to a controlling influence. He himself favoured the lines of the Mersey Dock and Harbour Board, the Tyne Commissioners, and the Clyde Trustees, as much more desirable in the interest of all concerned. Briefly put, it amounted to this, that those who provided the money—the shipowners, due-payers, or whoever they might be— were the people who were best qualified to see that the money was properly spent. If they required business facilities they would not hesitate to tax themselves in order to raise revenue to improve the port, for the purpose of assisting in the development of their business. As to economical expenditure, if it really was their money that was going out they would be very careful to see that it was wisely and properly spent. They knew that in connection with Liverpool and the two northern ports that system had worked very well indeed, and he thought that it would be so also in London. Last year when a similiar Motion was proposed by the hon. Member for St. Pancras, he suggested that it was desirable that there should be a conference of the parties principally concerned. The President of the Board of Trade agreed to that idea, and a conference was held, the discussions at which cleared the air. It did not accomplish all they wished, but some points of difference were compassed and he thought the decisions arrived at would make it easier for the Government Department to draft the measure which they proposed to bring forward. A great deal had been heard about the Port of Antwerp. That port received assistance out of the public funds of the Belgian Government. The British Government had made themselves responsible as guarantors for Irish land, and he thought it would not be unreasonable if, in some form or another, on business lines they took upon themselves responsibility in connection with the development of the Port of London. He did not believe they would be ever called upon to fulfil any guarantee. The port could easily be made self-supporting. It was for this reason, among others, that he ventured to move the postponement of the Bill, for he was hopeful that the President of the Board of Trade would announce his intention of bringing in a measure, which, once and for all, might settle this very great and vital question.
§ *MR. W. BENN (St. George's) Tower Hamlets,
said that the Second Reading of the Dock Company's Bill afforded a very welcome opportunity for discussing the urgent needs of the Port of London. That was perhaps the best that could be said about it. The recent disclosures concerning the contribution made by the Dock Company to political propaganda would hardly have inclined the ear of the House of Commons towards them, even if the Bill itself, in view of the history of the movement for the reform of the Port of London, had not been altogether an impossible proposition. What were the proposals put forward by the Dock Companies, and what relation did they bear to the recommendations of the Royal Commission, and to the Bill of the late Government? First of all, it was proposed to impose upon all goods imported from over seas (except transshipment goods) dues on a scale copied from that in force in the Port of Liverpool. The Dock Company and the Conservancy were to share in the proceeds of these dues in proportion to the amount of goods discharged in the river and docks respectively. The exact amount of the yield was not certain, but in all it should not be less than £750,000 per annum, and of this it was estimated that two-thirds would go to the Dock Company. It was notable that in addressing his shareholders in 1902 Mr. Cater Scott, the Chairman of the London and India Docks Company said, that "A proper system of charges need not be as high as the Liverpool Schedule." It had also to be remembered that the dock rates and charges were in most cases higher in London than in Liverpool, so that to add to the dues actually levied in Liverpool would be detrimental to the interests of those using the Port. Further, the Government Bill in 1903 did not impose dues, but only gave the Commission the option of imposing them, and it was clear from the proceedings on that Bill that it was not necessarily intended that the option should be exercised. It was, of course, impossible to exaggerate the importance of not making London a dear port. The evidence given before the Commission by the London Waterside Manufacturers Committee stated that the members of that committee imported annually 8,000,000 tons of raw material. Thus it was easy to understand what enabled 1499 London to be a great manufacturing centre, and the raw material so imported was actually able to compete in the manufactured form with foreign goods which came in at the same port. The second desire of the company was to put a tax on barges, amounting to 3s. 6d. on those under 100 tons, and 5s. on those over. It was hoped that the yield of that tax would amount to £30,000 a year. The Royal Commission considered the proposal to curtail the ancient right known as "free water," and described it as an attempt by the company to secure "power to tax their rivals in trade in order to recover a lost position." He would come in a moment to the important part played by the wharves in the success of the port, and it was only necessary now to say that any proposal to limit their present privileges would have to be considered with the greatest care. The third proposal of the company was to reduce the shipping dues from 1s. 6d. to 1s. It would be remembered that some five years ago these dues were raised from 1s. to the statutory maximum of 1s. 6d. In view of the profits which the company would derive were their other proposals accepted, it was not surprising that they were willing to bait their line with this sprat. He now came to what the company proposed to do in return for the privileges conferred. They offered to spend £2,000,000 on dock extensions. That sounded a large figure, but it was worth remembering that Mr. Cater Scott in his evidence spoke of two or three millions which would be "necessary for meeting all the dock requirements of the port on very moderate terms." Further, the Royal Commission recommended an expenditure of £4,500,000 on dock extensions and improvements. What the proposals amounted to, therefore, was that the company proposed to spend less than half what the Royal Commission recommended, and yet desired to impose a scale of dues on goods which was certainly much heavier than the Commission ever contemplated. The next proposal was that the Thames Conservancy should spend £1,000,000 on improving the river. Whether that proposal was made with the consent and approbation of the Conservators was not stated, but under the new scheme of dues it was estimated that they would receive about £237,500. The Royal Commission suggested that a sum of £2,500,000 1500 should be spent on dredging, and proposed, as it would be remembered, that the London County Council should find the money. Then there was the power which it was proposed to give the Board of Trade to increase the number of Conservators from thirty-eight to forty-five. What was the reason for that? The Bill sought to give the dock companies public money. It proposed what was in effect a tax on all the trade of London, and as they had a Government pledged to public control following public money, the promoters felt constrained to make an otter which should have at least the appearance of a concession to the public. It took the facetious form of "public money for the docks, public control for the Conservancy." Was it necessary to add that no such tinkering could possibly make the Thames Conservancy a suitable port authority? To sum up the objections, no private Bill could possibly deal with a problem of this magnitude. That was the reason given by the Conservative Government for rejecting the London County Council Bill in 1905. Further, the present proposals were quite inadequate to meet the needs of the port. The Commission recommended an expenditure of four and a half millions on the docks, and two and a half millions on the river. Again, it was of paramount importance to keep London a cheap port. The Commission only countenanced the imposition of dues as a last resort. Finally the object of the Bill was to set up the finances of the dock companies, and in consequence it would increase the purchase price should it ever become necessary for a port authority to take them over. The fact that the company's proposal was a bad one did not diminish the urgency of the problem. There was absolute unanimity as to the necessity for a new port authority. The mere enumeration of the existing bodies and their powers and constitution proved the need for unified control. On the need for a new authority the Conservators, the London Chamber of Commerce, and Lord Desborough's Committee were all in agreement. Leaving the question of the constitution of such an authority, he came to the powers which should be bestowed upon it, and the important question of taking over the docks. Supposing the new authority purchased the whole undertaking—docks, warehouses, and all as a going concern. They then would find themselves in 1501 this dilemma. If they kept the warehouses, they would be in active competitions with the wharfingers. If, however, as was half-heartedly recommended by the Royal Commission, they disposed of the warehouses, they would then have parted with the most profitable part of the undertaking, and at a price which must entail a loss, because clearly the warehouses as an independent undertaking would not be so valuable as when running in connection with the docks. That certainly did not point to the advisability of the purchase of the docks. There was another matter worth consideration from the business point of view. Was it wise to put public money into dock undertakings? Let the case of the wharves be considered. These wharves dealt with an enormous and increasing amount of the trade of the port. The Royal Commission said that—The business of wharves, independent of the docks, has, under the present arrangements, grown to a magnitude unequalled in any other port,and the Thames Conservancy in support of their Bill in 1905said—More than one-half of the tonnage of the port is dealt with at wharves and mornings in the river, and in respect of that part of its trade London is the cheapest port in Europe, so far as the dues payable to the port authority are concerned.Taking the figures of 1901 and 1905, it was found that in that period, while the total tonnage dealt with in the docks had increased by only 207,953, the total tonnage dealt with in the port had increased by 1,236,494. It had to be remembered, too, that at Hamburg, Rotterdam, and Antwerp large use was made of river quays. Sir Thomas Sutherland and Mr. Beckett Hill advocated this development before the Royal Commission, and it was stated that at one time the Peninsular and Oriental Company had actually purchased land with a view to constructing such a quay. It was a striking fact that in Antwerp, notwithstanding the recent addition to dock accommodation, more than half the tonnage was dealt with at river quays, and, further, the average tonnage of the ships was greater at the quays than at the docks. It was true that at the moment all the development was taking the shape of docks, but when the question of the diversion of the river bed was settled, no 1502 doubt the construction of more river quays would be proceeded with. Finally, he might point out that quite recently the Board of Trade had sanctioned an undertaking for the construction of river quays at Long Reach. Those considerations made it necessary to think carefully before recommending the purchase of the docks by the new authority. This was not a question, however, the decision of which need stand in the way of the setting up of the new port authority which they all desired to see. There were many duties quite unconnected with the management of docks and warehouses. There was the deepening of the river which the Commission estimated to cost £2,500,000. Surely it was not too much to ask that the Goverment should find that money. London bandied 31 per cent. of the import trade of the country, and the service might well be regarded as a national one. The new authority might also take over the maintenance, management, and control of dock entrances and waterways. These, of course, were only suggestions, but with a strong Commission consisting of worthy representatives of the greatest port in the world it ought not to be impossible to do something to save London from the decline that was feared for it. It was true that so far they had held their own, but in matters of this kind it was absolutely necessary to be ahead of the times. He maintained that it should be the duty of a new authority to maintain the port up to the requirements of her trade, and he hoped they would hear from the President of the Board of Trade that it was the intention of the Government to deal with this matter with the boldness and completeness which its importance demanded.
To leave out the word 'now' and at the end of the Question to add the words 'upon this day six months.' "—(Mr. Barnard.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ *SIR E. BOYLE (Taunton)
thought the last speaker was altogether mistaken in his view that the port dues of London were higher than those of other ports. The hon. Member had also said that £2,000,000 for the construction of a new dock was inadequate, 1503 but after careful consideration the promoters believed that it was every penny that would be required. In addition, the hon. Member had talked about a tax being levied under the Bill upon goods coming into London, but, of course, if one had to support docks, the money must be got from somewhere and the promoters thought it was fair that it should come from the goods which passed through the docks. The £7,000,000 estimate provided for much more than the construction of a dock; it also included the cost of widening and deepening the river and several other charges. The objects of the Bill were of such a character that he thought they would, to the mind of any unbiassed Member, bring more or less conviction as to its utility. There was nothing in the Bill that could be considered of an objectionable character. He was not going to read any of the clauses of the measure, because they were very lengthy, but he would summarise the more important ones as they stood as amended after interviews with the chief interests concerned. The Bill constituted the Thames Conservancy as the port authority, with duties to dredge the river, to regulate traffic on the river, and to collect port dues on ships and the new dues on goods. It gave the Board of Trade power to compel the dock companies to make any further and necessary improvements required by traders, and it left the dock companies as they were. But it put an obligation on the London and India Docks Company to construct at once a new dock and other works to cost £2,000,000, and on the other two companies and the London and India Docks Company to do whatever was necessary from time to time. It reduced the dues on ships from 1s. 6d. to 1s. per ton as recommended by the Royal Commission. Moreover it put dues on goods limited in amount by a schedule attached to the Bill. That again was the unanimous recommendation of the Royal Commission and was done at every other port except Hull. Coastwise transhipment and export goods were to be exempted. The schedule attached to the Bill, whether it was high or low, was the Liverpool schedule, and the Bill gave to traders an appeal to the Board of Trade and the Railway Commissioners on every port and dock charge, so getting over any question of the dues on goods being 1504 said to kill any manufactures or any trade by putting an exceptional charge upon them. These were the chief objects as set out in the Bill, and he was sure that there was no unbiassed and open-minded member of the commercial world who, after going through the measure, would find anything greatly to object to in it. It was true that it gave the London and India Docks Company power to levy dues on goods up to the amount of an annual payment rising to £270,000 in 1911 and thereafter. Why did it do that? It did it for the reason that the dock company undertook to spend £2,000,000, the amount which on the highest authority was said to be necessary, on a new dock; that sum would not be raised under 4 per cent., which equalled £80,000 a year. The dock must be a burden for many years until it came into full use; it could not be remunerative for twenty years at least, as a dock must be built far larger than present requirements, to meet future needs. Another reason was that the dock company were giving up 6d. per ton on dues on ships, and therefore that amount had to be got from somewhere. That 6d. per ton would amount to £150,000. In addition the dock company would have to pay increased rates and taxes and other outgoings on the new docks, and that would amount to £40,000 a year making a total of £270,000. This £270,000 which the Bill provided for would be gradually reduced as the new dock came into play, and in view of these figures it was a mistake for anyone to say that the Bill enriched the company. It did no such thing, but the port would get a new dock and the public further and better accommodation. The dock companies had no objection to being taken over by a board of trustees, they had no objection to being taken over by the London County Council or any other authority. All they said was that what had to be done in this direction should be done at once as time was of the greatest consequence. The effect of the adjournment of the question even, for one year was to be deplored. If, at the end of that period, some method of purchase was provided for by the Board of Trade by means of a Port Trust, it would be two years before the proposal could be carried out. He took the precedent of the water companies, and said two years, because that period elapsed. 1505 before they, after the passing of the measure, finally took over the undertakings of the water companies. With the year's delay, that made three years before anything could be done, and then it would take at least a year for the new authority to ascertain where was the best place to construct the now docks and to get out plans and specifications and make contracts for the building. If the Bill was not passed, therefore, it was practically impossible to relieve the pressure on the space of the docks till the year 1911. It must take four years. Supposing however, the dock companies were allowed to proceed with this Bill, they could start to get out their plans, specifications, and contracts next August, and there was no reason why the dock should not be open to receive ships in 1911. There was another reason why they should be allowed to proceed with the measure this session. The dock would be constructed in the poorest part of London, in the East End, and if they were allowed to commence it this year, the necessary work would give relief to thousands of working men in the district. The construction would last over this Christmas, next Christmas, and the Christmas after, and directly the work was completed the dock would give employment to thousands of people in the district in which it was most required. If the Bill passed it would do nothing whatever to stop a Port Trust or any other arrangement when the Government thought fit to bring it forward, with this advantage to the Government, that at any rate the maximum claim would be to some extent fixed, as the Bill would limit the dock companies to a dividend of 4 per cent. The dock companies had brought in a special sterilisation clause to that effect to meet the objection that their dividend would be unrestricted. He would not read the clause because it was a little long, but it was to the effect that they were willing to limit the return on the new capital, spent on the construction of the dock, to 4 per cent. for the next four years so as to give the Government time to take over the Dock undertaking. There did not seem to him to be anything very grasping in that proposal. They were willing, so as not to stop the necessities of the port being adapted to the requirements of the trade, to say, 1506 "Let us commence this dock; let us charge interest at 4 per cent. and you at any moment may step in and only pay us the cost of constructing the dock plus 4 per cent. on the money we have spent." He thought it must be admitted that the matter was urgent. In 1903, in the King's Speech, the necessity of dealing with the Port of London was referred to as a matter of "urgent national concern" They were now in 1907, and such was the urgency of the matter that the dock companies would be content to accept only this return of the money actually expended upon the new dock.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE (Mr. LLOYD GEORGE,) Carnarvon Boroughs
Four per cent, on what?
§ *SIR E. BOYLE
replied that it was 4 per cent. interest on the capital employed in constructing the new dock. He did not wonder at it striking the right hon. Gentleman as moderate. It was not 4 per cent. on the capital of the company, but 4 per cent. on the cost of the dock.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
asked where that was in the Bill. It did not appear from anything he was officially told in the Bill, which was what he was talking about. The only thing which he had officially was the document which he held in his hand, and the hon. and learned Gentleman had no right to refer to extraneous matters.
§ *SIR E. BOYLE
said that, if the right hon. Gentleman would refer to the new clause which was to be added to the Bill, he would see that it set out what he had stated in no uncertain terms.
§ *SIR E. BOYLE
said he did not know as he had not the Bill with him, but the new clause ran—If the undertaking of the company is purchased at any rate not later than four years from the passing of this Act, otherwise than by agreements by any public body or trustees, the provisions of this Act shall not be taken into account in ascertaining the price or consideration to be paid by such body or trustees for the said undertaking. Provided that in the event of such purchase the company may bring into account the actual amount of any capital expenditure wade by them in pursuance of the 1507 obligations imposed on them by or under this Act together with interest at the rate of 4 per cent. per annum from the date of such expenditure.Last year the Company brought in a Bill which would have assisted both themselves and the Millwall Docks, but they had to withdraw it because of the sterilisation clause that was insisted upon by the President of the Board of Trade, who said he would bring in a Bill this year. He knew how a sterilisation clause affected the claims of the Water Board, and he asked hon. Members who were business men whether they would submit to be put under a contract which meant "Heads I win and tails you lose." The returns of a dock company were not certain, but speculative. They depended on the trade. Let them imagine a dock company saying that if they earned 6 per cent. they would never accept more than 4 per cent., and if they earned nothing they would be content. If that sterilisation clause was put in it meant that the Bill would be thrown out. The present Bill had the support of the shipowners, merchants, and large timber trade of this country and other traders, but it was obvious that in a Bill of this magnitude it was impossible to please everybody. Somebody was bound to object. All he asked was that the Bill should be allowed to go forward, and that if it was just and beneficial it should be passed into law. If it was unjust let it be thrown out, but let the House not destroy it unheard with the sterilisation clause. If the Bill was allowed to go upstairs, if there were any objections they would be investigated, and if there was no substance in them they would be put on one side. During the last seven years the Company had spent £20,000 in bringing in Bills to obtain what they believed would be beneficial to the country and themselves. That was the position seven years ago when they were first seized of the necessity for the enlarging of the Port of London, not only for their benefit but for the benefit of the traders at that port. Since that date 1,200,000 tons more had come to the Port of London, and so far as the Company were concerned, they had no more area or facilities to offer now than then. Was there any other; reason that should impress itself on the Government why they should give to the Company the relief they asked? Hon. 1508 Members would be somewhat surprised to know that at the present moment these great docks, the greatest in the world in one sense, did not possess an opening wide enough to admit battleships of the "Dreadnought" type, and that the Thames Shipbuilding Company lost the contract to build such ships because there was no dock in which they could be docked in the Port of London. To put it into colloquial language, that was bad business; bad for the port not to be able to accommodate such ships and bad for the State that the Thames shipbuilders were not able to contract for that size of vessel, because if they were constructed on the Thames there was no place in which to dock them. With our clear improving trade this was a really pressing subject, and the Company did not want to be put off with fair sounding terms and kindly wishes. They wanted to have a firm, clear, and definite promise that something would be done which would prevent the trade of the Port of London being injured and that the docks of London should no longer be restricted from making the full use of the natural advantages and magnificent premises they possessed. In 1905, that tonnage of the Port of London was 285,000,000, in this last year it was 314,000,000—an increase of 29,000,000, and the docks had no more facilities, no more advantages, to offer the public than in former years, and if the ships were too big they had to refuse them altogether. Things had arrived at such a pass that something must now be done. They had waited patiently and had been buffetted every way by one Government and another who had seen the necessity but done nothing, and if they were not now allowed to press this matter further the right hon. Gentleman ought to give some definite pledge that he would without further delay relieve the Docks Company from the unfair position in which they had been placed and take such steps as might be desirable for the improvement and protection of the Port.
§ MR. ELLIS (Nottinghamshire, Rushcliffe)
said the House would appreciate that the question before them was of great magnitude and complexity, and of the greatest possible urgency, and also agreed whith those who said that they wanted practical performance and not 1509 merely fair words. As a member of the Royal Commission that investigated this question for two years, he regretted that the 1903 Bill had not been passed into law. In the course of the inquiry no fact astonished him more than the volume of the trade of London, which was by far the greatest port in the world. There was no signs of diminution of trade, but proof of a steady increase in its volume, even since the Report of the Royal Commission had been issued. He would like to read one of the concluding paragraphs os the Report of the Commission which put the matter very clearly—In conclusion we desire to say that our enquiry into the conditions of the Port of London, has convinced us of its splendid natural advantages Among these are the geographical position of the Port; the magnitude, wealth and energy of the population behind it; the fine approach from the sea; the river tides strong enough to transport traffic easily to all parts, yet not so violent as to make navigation difficult; land along the shores of a character suitable for dock construction and all commercial purposes. In addition to these advantages, London possesses docks, which, although they are not in some cases upon the level of modern requirements, are yet capacious and capable of further development. The deficiencies of London as a Port, to which our attention has been called, are not due to any physical circumstances, but to causes which may easily be removed by a better organisation of administrative and financial powers.While sympathising with the objects sought to be attained by the Bill, he could not agree with its methods. Clauses 25 to 38 relating to the constitution of the Thames Conservancy, were surely almost ultra vires, actually out of order they could not be the Bill having been put from the Chair, Coming to the works proposed, they were urgently needed; everybody wanted the work done who knew anything of the circumstances of the case. He rather regretted to hear what had fallen from the hon. Member for Taunton with regard to the sterilisation clause. The omission of the Thames Conservancy clauses and the adoption of a reasonable sterilisation clause would be to his mind the ideally best course. But he dared say that his right hon. friend on looking carefully over the case had found himself not quite able to take that course, especially after what had fallen from the hon. Member. Therefore, it came to this, that, though the Bill had considerable merits, he did not suppose for a 1510 single moment that, having regard to the Report of the Royal Commission, and to the universal demand there was that the Thames should be placed as regarded the administrative authority in the same position as that occupied by some of our great rivers—the Government saw their way to allowing the Bill to be read a second time. The President of the Board of Trade would speak for the Government of course, and he earnestly urged him not merely to make a promise or to say a few fair words, but to bind himself by a Parliamentary pledge to introduce a Bill dealing with the whole subject next year. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for St. George's, Hanover Square, who was the one other Member of the House on the Royal Commission permitted him to speak on his behalf. The right hon. Gentleman wrote to him as follows:—I think the delay in putting through the improvements of the port which we recommended is deplorable. In my opinion the docks ought not to be impeded in legislation, appropriate to their powers and constitution, except on a distinct pledge by the Government themselves to pass a Bill next year.It was purely a non-political and business matter. Following the precedent of 1903, the Bill could go to a Joint Committee, and i t would come back from that Committee in such a position that the Government would be able to put it through. He did most earnestly but he hoped that they would have a Parliamentary pledge from his right hon. friend of the nature he had indicted.
§ *MR. WILES (Islington, S.)
said he desired to support the rejection of the Bill for two reasons. First of all, because the Bill seemed to him one of the most astounding proposals that had ever been put before Parliament; and, in the second place, because he felt that the dock companies of London, in the days tint they had been handling the trade of the port, had failed in their trust to the people and commerce of London. The Bill was opposed by all the organised trades of London. Shippers, sugar merchants, metal merchants, those engaged in the grain and flour trade, and those connected with the whole of the riverside warehouses, were all opposed to the Bill and with no uncertain voice. He believed it was understood that the Bill was pro- 1511 moted by all the dock companies of London, but really he thought that it was promoted by the London and India Dock Joint Committee. He believed that that Committee managed the Albert and Victoria Dock, the West India Dock and the Tilbury Dock Companies had some working agreement with the Millwall Dock Company, and the Commercial Dock Company he thought only gave a half-hearted support to the measure. The latter was the only dock, he believed, which had been managed in an efficient and business-like manner, and the only dock company which paid a dividend and had given satisfaction to the traders of London. The proposal of the Bill was to put a tax on all goods which came into London from over the sea. Further, it proposed to put a tax upon barges that were obliged to enter the docks to take goods off steamers. As far as he could see very little advantage was going to be given to the merchants and traders of London in exchange for the tax to be put upon goods. The only advantage suggested was that a new dock was to be built at a cost of something like two millions of money. He thought that it was a great question whether the new dock was required in London. What Londoners and merchants and shippers required was that the present dock accommodation should be brought to a perfect condition by the introduction of modern machinery; that, he believed, would give satisfaction. If the Bill passed, a tax would be put on the raw material of all the manufactures and industries of the River Thames, simply, he believed, to enable the dock companies to make better dividends, and perhaps very few, if any, facilities would be given for delivery and despatch in the management of the docks. He spoke with rather bitter experience of the dock companies. He had been in business in the City for twenty-five years, and he knew that everyone who had brought a large amount of goods through the docks had always found that London was in a worse position than the other great ports of the country. Especially was the trade of London hampered by the management, or he might say, very often the mismanagement of the docks of the Joint Committee. The grain trade, with which he was acquainted, was perhaps the largest 1512 trade that passed through the docks of London, and it was the one which had suffered particularly. A few years ago London not only supplied the great district of the Home Counties, but she also a large through trade with the Midlands. London had lost that trade very largely, because buyers said that the delay was so great when they bought in London, the weights so irregular, and they never knew what charges would be made by the dock companies. They said that they would rather buy from Liverpool, Hull, or Bristol, because those ports took pride in the management of their docks, and the docks at none of those, ports were managed by private enterprise. The London dock companies had long realised the tremendous consumption of the growing districts of the Home Counties and of the districts around London, and they thought, he supposed, that they had a monopoly of that tremendous trade. But in the last few years the ports of Harwich and Southampton had grown up like mushrooms, and they had made great competition with the traders of London. In those two ports, especially in Harwich, the working-out charges were very light indeed. In London it cost 1s. 9d. to work grain from a steamer into lighters; in Harwich they could work it for 10d. or 1s. a ton, leaving a profit to the contractors. When representations were made to the London dock companies about these disadvantages, what happened? Unfortunately the dock companies were unable to obtain more capital; so they fell back upon the old resource of making subsidiary companies. The Millwall Dock Company had to form the Millwall Equipment Company; they had more directors, more shareholders, more expenses in connection with that subsidiary company. They divided the 1s. 9d. a ton profit with the old dock company. It was the same with the Victoria Dock Company. The Victoria Dock Company, he supposed, could not raise money for the new machinery which was required, and so they also formed a subsidiary company called the Grain Elevator Company, which worked the trade and divided the profit. He believed that if these dock companies were to work themselves, the goods would be worked 1513 out of the vessels easily for 10d. or 1s. a ton. But now, instead of merchandise being worked out cheaper, they proposed to put a heavy tax on all goods entering into London. What the people of the Port of London wanted were cheaper working-out charges instead of the higher charges which the dock companies proposed to put on. These tariff reformers, as he might call them, were not satisfied with putting a tax on food that came into London, but they also proposed to put a tax on barges which carried the food. He thought that London had suffered long enough at the hands of these dock companies and syndicates, and he was convinced that the proposal in the Bill was the worst that could be made for the trade and interests of the people of London. He trusted that the President of the Board of Trade, with his great knowledge and ability, would before very long bring forward a better scheme, in order to deal with the whole question. It was a matter of great regret to the merchants and traders of London that the Bill of 1903 was not carried through. Why it was dropped nobody could ever understand. Whether the Government of the day were afraid of the dock directors who were then in Parliament, or whether they were afraid of the Lord Mayor, who opposed that Bill, he did not know. He felt sure the right hon. Gentleman would fear neither dock director nor Lord Mayor, but would bring forward a satisfactory measure which would help forward the trade of the Port of London.
§ MR. W. F. D. SMITH (Strand, Westminster)
said that this was not a Party question. The late Government introduced a Bill during the last Parliament dealing with the question. The right hon. Member for the Rushcliffe Division had stated that he was not quite sure whether the clause dealing with the reconstitution of the Thames Conservancy Board was in order. He wished to point out that that Board held its powers under a private Act passed in 1894, and therefore such a proposal to amend its constitution was within the limits of order.
§ MR. W. F. D. SMITH
said the company could not be blamed for introducing the Bill. They were, he believed, given to understand that in the present session of Parliament the Government would introduce a Bill dealing with the whole subject, and delay in dealing with the question would be most unwarrantable. At the present moment they were no better off than when the Royal Commission reported in 1902. That Report was followed by the introduction of the Bill of 1903, and all who took an interest in the question knew that that Bill had to be withdrawn because it seemed impossible to reconcile those who were in various ways interested in its provisions. He agreed that the withdrawal of that Bill was unfortunate, but under the circumstances he did not think that the Government could have forced it through the House. It was true that since that time the trade of the Port of London had not decreased in the manner predicted by the Royal Commission; during the past few years it had increased, and last year there was a record increase. But that fact, far from suggesting any reason for further delay, seemed to him to be an additional reason for immediate action, because if the accommodation in the Port of London was insufficient in the year 1902 it must be infinitely more insufficient in the year 1907 when the trade had greatly increased. There was at this moment the added advantage that the chances of coming to some agreement amongst the various interests concerned were brighter than they had ever been before. If the President of the Board of Trade could bring together all those interested he would be deserving of their congratulations. As a supporter of the Bill introduced by the last Government he did not for a moment go against the recommendation of the Royal Commission which reported in 1902, but at the same time he wished to state that he saw much danger in any further delay. If the subject was not dealt with now there might be a delay of several years, whereas if this Bill were passed the new locks might be commenced at once. He could well understand that the Govern- 1515 ment did not desire to prejudice in any way their future action, and if they intended to deal with the whole subject no doubt they would desire to keep a free hand. He would like to know whether it was possible for the Government to allow this Bill to pass and at the same time preserve their own freedom of action. Would it not be possible to place in the Bill some safeguarding provision which would leave the Government perfectly free to act and introduce their own Bill next year? He was anxious that in some way or other it should be made possible for the work to be commenced this year. That was a point which might very well be considered, and he hoped that before the right hon. Gentleman replied he would make up his mind upon it. What he was sure, all sections of the House desired was to see the question settled, because they were all anxious that the accommodation of the Port of London should be increased and improved as soon as possible.
§ *SIR A. SPICER (Hackney, Central)
said he agreed that this was not a Party question, and he took no exception to what had been said as to its urgency. Speaking as one who had been connected with the commerce of London for a great many years, and speaking in the name of the large body of traders represented by the London Chamber of Commerce, he desired to say a few words in opposition to the Bill. The measure was promoted by private companies, who were asking Parliament to impose new burdens on traders, primarily for their own benefit. It was a much larger question than could be dealt with by private companies. More than half the tonnage that came into the Port of London did not use the docks at all, but was dealt with by private wharfowners and the waterside manufacturers. The waterside manufacturers alone represented a capital of £100,000,000, whereas the whole capital of the dock companies amounted to only £24,320,000. These manufacturers had invested that large capital on the strength of free water privileges—privileges which existed before the docks were created, and were safeguarded by Parliament when the docks were sanctioned. It 1516 had been said that the shipowners had agreed to the Bill, but it was only the owners of ocean-going ships who were supporting it, and their attitude was very natural, because under it their dues would be lessened. He regretted that the last Government's Bill was not passed, and those who represented London at that time had a great responsibility on their shoulders for the pressure, they brought to bear on the Government of the day to drop it. All delay was bad for London. The sphere of influence connected with London, the trade of which must be done practically in the Port of London, was constantly increasing. They must also bear in mind that there was a large class of trade which, if London did not provide for the ships throroughly up-to-date facilities, drifted not to other British ports but to distributing ports like Hamburg and Antwerp. That trade, having once drifted away, was very difficult to regain. The question was complicated by a variety of competitive interests, but they had to remember that the consumer of the daily necessaries of life was also deeply concerned. The manufacturing industry of London was the largest in the Kingdom. It was split up into an enormous number of specialities. All these varied interests could only be dealt with by a Bill introduced by the Government trying to deal fairly with them. He sincerely hoped that one good result from the discussion would be that the President of the Board of Trade would be able to assure them that there would be no delay in bringing in a Bill. It would not be easy to satisfy all Parties, but for himself he hoped there would be set up a port authority, representative of all interests, which should take over the docks, not by purchase under arbitration terms, but by negotiation, with the understanding that the present proprietors of the docks should be placed in a position neither better nor worse than they occupied at the present time.
§ *MR. W. PEARCE (Tower Hamlets, Limehouse)
said he was glad that this question had been kept free from the atmosphere of Party. He looked upon a wise solution of the Port of London question as being a most important matter in London's immediate welfare. The present Bill, had, to his mind, 1517 two fundamental objections—objections which, he hoped, the Government would be able to avoid. The first was that it continued to rely on private enterprise; and, secondly, it threw the whole cost of the improvement as a burden upon trade. Those objections were both avoided by London's greatest rivals on the Continent. In judging of this question they must remember that it was the Continental ports which were the rivals of London. It was those ports which had been the latest successes, and it was from them that something was to be learned. In none of the Continental ports did they entrust these duties to private enterprise, and in none of them was the whole burden imposed on trade. In every one there had been large contributions from Imperial or local funds. It was no wonder, therefore, that the Royal Commission made this recommendation, in Paragraph 232, of their Report—The power of undertaking large present expenditure and of working for a long time at a loss with a view to compensation in a distant future is, in the keen world competition, an advantage possessed by undertakings which have the force of an empire, state, or great city behind them. If, in some countries national and municipal resources are thus employed, it becomes most difficult for private enterprise elsewhere to hold its own against the intelligent, far-sighted, and formidable rivalry thus created.Many who had been considering the question had seen the great difficulty of acquiring the docks and the whole of the undertaking because of the large price it would be necessary for the public to pay. He had wondered whether it would not be possible to remove the conduct of the port from the hands of private enterprise, and at the same time not to throw an enormous burden on trade. There appeared now to be pretty general agreement that the pressing necessities of the port were, first, a 35 feet deep channel from the Nore to Gravesend, and a 30 feet deep channel from Gravesend to the Albert Dock; and secondly, new deep water docks 40 to 45 feet deep with entrance locks 900 to 1,000 feet, and dry docks of equal size, Until these new docks had been established London would be unable to accommodate the large ships of to-day. It could not at present dock the "Dreadnought," and "unless the improvements were made it would not be able to take in the large ships which in future were going to do 1518 the commerce of the world. Neither of these needs was met by the Dock Companies' Bill. The first was the duty of the Conservancy, and the second was beyond the companies' powers and resources. On the other hand both could be performed by a revised Conservancy, having powers to spend £5,000,000. That sum should be raised on a Government guarantee, interest secured by an increase of the tonnage dues of ½d. and ¾d. on registered tonnage, now doubled for three years for a similar purpose. It could not be urged that such Conservancy Docks would be unfair to the existing docks, for they would serve a special purpose for very large ships, new and additional, and would not therefore compete for the same class of business. In that way it was possible to escape from the present dilemma, the necessity of changing from private enterprise to public authority by purchasing the whole undertaking of the dock companies. The purchase could only be made at a figure prohibitive of commercial success, and it would saddle the public with a bargain of the worst description. A dock system, over capitalised, not up to date, administered by a new authority without full experience, would bring discredit to all concerned. Moreover, a heavy burden on the trade of the port would be avoided, for his proposed increase in tonnage rates was very much less onerous than a general rate on all goods imported.
§ MR. BOWLES (Lambeth, Norwood)
said the hon. Member for Limehouse had based his opposition to the Bill on the fact that its adoption would have the effect of handing over the Port of London, to private enterprise. It seemed to him that the hon. Member entirely misundertood the very grave and urgent situation in which they now found themselves. The situation was simply this. Five years ago the Royal Commission reported that the question was urgent. There was nobody who had an interest in, or knowledge of, the trade of London who would not agree that this was really a matter of the gravest importance and urgency. It was perfectly intolerable that, owing to the failure of successive Governments, urgent and necessary improvements should be denied to London, the greatest port in the world. 1519 The hon. Member for St. George's (Tower Hamlets) had said that the Bill imposed new dues. That was perfectly true. They could not have new facilities without new expenses, The hon. Member had also said that this was taking public money for the benefit of private companies. Did the hon. Gentleman know where this "public money" was coming from? Was money derived from a private dock company acting in their own interest what he called "public money?"
§ *MR. W. BENN
said the Bill proposed to put an entirely new charge on the trade of the Port of London. That was what he meant by "public money."
§ MR. BOWLES
said he denied that the money so raised would be in a real sense public money. But all these were points eminently for consideration by a Private Bill Committee upstairs. It was quite idle to expect the House to consider the technical matters involved in this measure with any real advantage. The question w as whether, if the Government was unable to find time to deal with the matter itself, there should be another year's delay. On a former occasion the President of the Board of Trade said four things. Everybody, he said, was dissatisfied with the present state of things; that everybody was agreed that the matter was of real and genuine urgency; that what was wanted was primarily dock extension; and, finally, that there should be one authority to manage the Port of London, and that that authority ought to be a public authority. There was nothing in this Bill inconsistent with any one of those four requirements. It was the only attempt they were likely to see in the present year to deal with this important problem, and he thought that the House would be taking a very serious responsibility on itself if, for reasons which had not been avowed, inquiry by a Committee upstairs were refused. This was a great tree trade Government, but he would remind hon. Members that there were other hindrances to trade than tariffs, and that a very serious responsibility would be incurred if the House and Government permanently refused to the London dock companies the power to spend money on the development of the Port of London which every- 1520 body admitted should be spent. He had no interest in the matter except as a London Member, and he believed that the trade of London would suffer more and more unless this Bill received a Second Reading. Therefore, he hoped the President of the Board of Trade would not allow any mere pique to prevent that Second Reading being taken unless he had some real and grave reasons for denying it.
§ *MR. TREVELYAN (Yorkshire, W.R., Elland)
said he did not see why the Dock Company should be allowed extended powers, and the reason was that they took the shareholders' money and spent it for Party purposes in London elections and were not ashamed. [OPPOSITION cries of "Oh, oh."] He had brought up the same question in the case of a Bill promoted by the London and North Western Railway Company. The House would agree with him that he would be acting inconsistently and putting himself under suspicion of favouritism if he did not ask the House to treat all companies in the same manner. On that occasion he and the House agreed with him, thought that the railway company had done wrong; but the dock company did worse, because in the former case the directors humbly admitted their error to the House.
§ *MR. TREVELYAN
said that in the case of the Dock Company it was apparent from a letter which appeared in the papers that the company had entered into a complete and systematic policy of subsidising local elections in London. That appeared to him to be a practical defiance of the views of the House. The letter to which he referred was written in answer to an, inquiry by the President of the Board; of Trade in regard to the matter. In the letter which had been printed in The Times, and was circulated ins the Votes for that day, the London and India Docks Company stated that the reason why they gave a subscription to the London Municipal Society was to aid the endeavours of that society "to return 1521 members at the recent municipal and guardian elections pledged to economy in local administration." The company went on to point out that they had been acting on this principle for some time, and had subscribed to the West Ham Borough Alliance and Poplar Borough Alliance. And the company further stated that it was because of the success of these alliances at West Ham and Poplar elections that the directors welcomed the efforts of the London Municipal Society in the same direction to secure economy. Of course their operations might have been very successful in the case of Poplar. [An HON. MEMBER: But not in West Ham.] But supposing, for the moment, that it was true that the exposure of the abuses at Poplar was of great advantage to the public; supposing for the moment that it was true that it was not the activity of the Local Government Board under its present head, but that of the political Party called the Moderate Party which was the sole agency that had brought to light these abuses—it was a very poor Party which did not do something good in the course of its existence—apart from all that, this was a Party organisation, and the dock companies had been helping it. It was the assistance given to a Party "which they objected to in regard to dock companies. He doubted whether the House would pass the Bill of a company which gloried in having subscribed to a Party organisation and declared by letter its intention of doing so unless it was absolutely prevented. He thought the House would feel that the matter had become serious, and he hoped the Government would have something to say either on this or some other occasion to prevent this state of things by bringing forward legislation. But, whether the Government were prepared to bring forward legislation of that sort or not, it appeared that the House had before them an unrepentant company and, in his opinion, they ought to take the opportunity of teaching it a lesson. He hoped the House would take that view, as the sooner they got a public authority which did not dabble in politics the better. Until they did get such an authority he hoped the House would not grant any further powers to companies which had taken such action.
§ LORD R. CECIL (Marylebone, E.)
thought the point of view of the hon. Gentleman was admirably illustrated by the last phrase which he used, that he desired to teach this Company a lesson. [OPPOSITION cheers and MINISTERIAL counter cheers.] He was not surprised to find that that was a fair sample, of the opinion of the bulk of the Liberal Party. Let them see exactly what the Dock Company had done. He thought it would be for the advantage of the debate if he read the letter, which the President of the Board of Trade had published that morning, written on behalf of the London and India Docks Company. That letter was the whole ofthe knowledge he possessed on the subject and gave the actual facts of the case. The letter was as follows—Sir,—-The directors have had before them your letter of the 12th instant. They have no objection to stilting that they subscribed £100 to the funds of the London Municipal Society in December last, and they are advised that under the judgment given by the Court of Appeal on November 19th, 1906, the contribution was a perfectly legal one.Their reason for giving the subscription was to aid the endeavours of the London Municipal Society to return members at the recent municipal and guardian elections pledged to economy in local administration.The Company, like all proprietors of industrial undertakings in and near London, have suffered grievously from the excessive local rates levied upon them. Rates have been increasing for many years past, and there has been no remedy open to the Company in the municipality itself, for although they pay a large proportion of the rates in every locality in which their docks are situated, they have absolutely no voice in the election of the persons who spend their money.The only course open to the Company, therefore, is to support reputable organisations which are founded to educate voters as to the peril to them of the increase of municipal burdens and to expose the mismanagement of particular local institutions. Acting on this principle my directors have subscribed to the West Ham Borough Alliance and the Poplar Borough Alliance. Both of these alliances have been remarkably successful in the work, and it may be within the knowledge of the Board of Trade that they have been active agents in bringing to light, the notorious scandals which have been the subject of recent official inquiry in these two boroughs; indeed in the case of the inquiry into the administration of the Poor Law at Poplar the alliance was officially recognised by the Local Government Board's representative as the body chiefly responsible for proving the charges made against the guardians. In Poplar alone, as a result of the action taken by 1523 the alliance, there will be savings in expenditure at the rate at £70,000 a year, which will be shared by the whole of the ratepayers of the borough.It was because of the success achieved at Poplar and West Ham that the directors welcomed the efforts of the London Municipal Society to apply to those matters in which London as a whole is concerned the same reforming energy which has been applied locally at Poplar and West Ham.The directors observe that it has been charged against the London Municipal Society that it is a political organisation. No ground for such a charge is to be found either in the rules or the statement, of objects of the society. No political test for membership is imposed; and as a fact there are persons belonging to both the Unionist and Liberal Parties amongst its members, and on the council is Sir F. Schuster, who was the Liberal candidate for the City of London at the last general election.The directors, amongst whom are adherents of both sides of polities, would certainly not continue their support to the society if they had any reason to believe that its aims were political; but no evidence has come before them to show that there has been any conduct on the part of its managers which indicates a departure from the spirit of its constitution.That was the defence of the London and India Docks Company. The charge of subscribing to a political object was dealt with in the letter, and if it was a technical charge it was sufficiently met by the Company's observation that they had been advised that under the decision of the Court of Appeal they were well within their rights in the action they had taken. He therefore did not rest his observations on any technical ground but went to the larger and more substantial objection which he understood was raised. The objection raised was to the existence of trusts, to the power of money being used to affect political elections. That was the real charge which lay at the basis of this question. He was one of the last to deny that the power of money so used was a serious danger to democracies in all parts of the world. But the danger was not confined to companies. It was as great in the case of private individuals. In fact it was greater, because statutory companies were compelled to publish accounts, and if any money was used for these purposes it could be traced on those accounts. He had had a short experience of the House but a lengthy experience in Private Bill Committees, and he submitted that the practice of utilising the procedure on private Bills to forward objects not connected with those Bills ought to be 1524 very carefully watched. He protested against the practice. Where the action was private no one would defend it, but when it was political it was a very dangerous weapon to use. He hoped the House would not countenance this attempt to achieve a political end, whether good or bad, by supporting an Amendment which would put an end to a Bill intended to forward a wholly different object, and which had nothing whatever to do with political corruption or the maintenance or otherwise of the Progressive Party.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE (Mr. LLOYD-GEORGE)
said he would rather not enter on the questions raised by the two last speakers and he did not propose to put the action of the Government on this Bill on the ground suggested by his hon. friend the Member for the Elland Division. He could not agree that this was the case of a private company entitled to do what it liked with its own assets. It was the case of a company which owed its existence to Parliament, which had a Parliamentary monopoly, and whose revenue depended on privileges and powers conferred by Parliament, coming now and asking for power to levy tolls outside its own territory in order to pay a dividend of 4 or 5 per cent. where it was now paying nothing. The noble Lord, in reading the letter of the London Dock Company, said there was no political test for membership of the London Municipal Society.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
said that was the claim put forward by the dock company, but he believed it was also put forward by the Tariff Reform League. He would like to know from the noble Lord if in his opinion the Tariff Reform League was not a political organisation. It would be rather interesting to get his view.
§ LORD R. CECIL
said be was the last person in the world to apply to for information about the Tariff Reform League.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
said that was the very reason why he had asked the 1525 noble Lord—because he thought the noble Lord was the last person in the world to endorse that claim. The noble Lord with regard to the Tariff Reform League had acted fairly and with impartiality of judgment, and he only asked that that fairness and impartiality of judgment should be extended to the operations of the London Municipal Society. He would rather discuss the Bill altogether apart from that question, because he wanted the House to believe that the action of the Government had not been dictated or inspired in the slightest degree by any notions they might hold with regard to the subscriptions of great corporations in receipt of Parliamentary powers. He would deal with the merits of the Bill itself. He did not believe that the supporters really anticipated that it would go through the House. On the contrary, he believed that it had been introduced simply for the purpose of raising a discussion on the whole question, and with that object in view he thought that perhaps they had rendered a public service, although he thought that it might have been done at much less expense by bringing on a Motion than by promoting a Bill. The Government could not possibly give support to the Second Reading of this measure. If the Bill were carried it would enable these private companies to levy a toll upon practically all goods that came into the Thames. They contemplated that out of the revenue thus raised they should receive a dividend in respect of one company of 4 per cent., of another 6 per cent., and of a third 4 per cent. The first of these companies was at present earning about 2¼ per cent., the second 5 per cent., and the third had not for at least six or seven years paid a penny in dividend. He did not think the House could possibly contemplate carrying a Bill which would have the effect of placing a permanent burden on the trade of London for the purpose of providing for these companies the dividends which he had mentioned.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
said that was the old plea, that it was only a very little 1526 one. The Millwall Company was only a small one, he agreed, but still that was the general proposition which he stated. The companies had never proposed to eliminate Clause 18 from this Bill. That would have been a totally different proposal. They meant to adhere to Clause 18, and the only thing they proposed was that, as far as the new dock was concerned, it should be valued on the basis of a 4 per cent. dividend. The next consideration was well known to them, that if they put in a provision of that kind it would be practically guaranteeing a dividend of 4 per cent. in the Bill, and the hon. and learned Gentleman well knew that any arbitrator would take that into account, with the result that the value of the docks in London would be increased. Therefore, the hon. and learned Gentleman, as far as he was concerned, had not affected the general character of the argument Another point with regard to the Bill was that it had not the support of the trades of London at all. The Chamber of Commerce were against it, the riverside manufacturers were against it, the grain and flour people were against it, and so were the timber trade. It was true the shipping trade at first, induced by a probable reduction of 6d. per ton, gave a kind of qualified assent to it, but they subsequently withdrew that, and now they trusted the Government would see that something was done to improve the Port of London. But that was not supporting the Bill proposed by the hon. and learned Gentleman, whose measure would have no effect in improving the Port of London. In these circumstances, the Government had come to the conclusion, after most careful consideration, that they could not possibly support the Second Reading of the Bill, which, if passed, would unfortunately have the effect of embarrassing the Government when they came to deal with the question. The Bill, if the docks were purchased, would give them an artificial value by conferring on the dock companies these powers.
§ SIR E. BOYLE
was understood to say that the right to 4 per cent. as to the new dock only lasted four years, and as to the whole of the rest of the docks the Bill made no difference.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
said he did not agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman at all; and he said so after very careful consideration with those who advised him as to the whole effect of the Bill. The hon. and learned Gentleman knew perfectly well that, in a Bill of this kind, to increase Parliamentary powers, to increase the revenues to the extent of hundreds of thousands of pounds a year, when the property at the present moment was not in a very solvent condition, and when one company could not pay a dividend to its ordinary shareholders—
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
said the hon. and learned Gentleman must really let him finish his sentence. As far as one dock company was concerned it had paid no dividend; as far as another dock was concerned it had paid only 2¼ per cent. and had been paying 1¼ per cent.; and as far as the other dock was concerned it was paying 5 per cent. With any Bill of this kind giving Parliamentary powers, and increasing the revenues to the extent of hundreds of thousands a year, surely the hon. and learned Gentleman, with his experience, must know that it would enormously increase the security and the real value, as a marketable asset, of the whole concern. Therefore when the Government had before them the prospect of having to deal with the whole problem of the port of London, it must take into account all questions of this kind, which might have an appreciable effect in connection with the introduction of a Bill. Therefore, when the Government had before them the prospect of dealing with the whole problem of the port of London they must be influenced by these considerations, and would not be justified, for the sake of one year, in supporting a Bill of this kind, which might eventually embarrass them very considerably in the settlement of the whole problem. Probably that answer would not be considered quite sufficient. He 1528 agreed that the Government ought to deal with the subject as soon as possible, and he was authorised to say, on their behalf, that it was their intention to deal effectively with the problem in the course of the next session of Parliament. It could not be done this session, because the Standing Order required that notices should be given in November. He knew he said something not quite so definite last year, and he thought it might have been done even this year if there had been the slightest prospect of getting any general agreement among the parties interested. He had seen representatives of every one of the interests concerned, but it appeared hopeless to expect agreement. He had met representatives of the waterside man, ufacturers, the Corporation of London the Thames Conservancy Board, the London County Council, and others interested and there was not one deputation which agreed with another, there were no two men on the same deputation who agreed, and as far as the Thames Conservancy was concerned the moment one man made a proposal his neighbour got up and repudiated it on the spot. That was the nature of the problem with which he had to deal, and he did not think there was a more difficult problem to deal with even in Ireland. He denied the statement which had been made that this was an easy problem to deal with, because the various interests concerned were far from coming to any common basis of agreement. He did not know whether there was any probability of coming to an agreement, before November, but if no solution was arrived at by that time the Government would suggest the best course, taking into account all the circumstances of the case. Some things had emerged out of the controversies, and two or three things must be regarded as part of the necessary basis in any general treatment of the subject. The objects to be attained were agreed upon. There must be further port facilities, a deepening and widening of the channel an improvement in the 1529 accommodation for berthing, discharging, collecting, and distributing. These were objects upon which there would be general agreement. The second consideration was that it must be dealt with by a public port authorty. They could not leave the problem to any private company; there must be one public authority dealing with the whole problem of the port. At the present time he was told that there were over fifty authorities which had some kind of finger in the pie. There ought to be an end to all that. The third consideration was that the trend of public, opinion was against having the control of the river given to any individual municipality. In his judgment that involved as a necessary corollary that no single municipality should have a majority of the representatives on that public authority. The other proposition he laid down was that the general public must be represented apart from the payers of dues, for he did not think that the public authority ought to consist exclusively of representatives of those who paid tolls and dues in the Thames. The best means of securing the representation of the general public was by means of nominations of Government departments and the municipalities concerned. Opinion also seemed to be hardening against the compulsory purchase of the docks. He was expressing no opinion on the subject; he was merely pointing out that there seemed to be a growing opinion in that direction, a growing tendency to protest against the idea that the docks must be purchased compulsorily. It was said that compulsory purchase inevitably meant that they paid twice as much for a thing as it was worth, and the traders said that if more was paid for a thing than it was worth it would always be a burden on the trade of London, for some one had to pay for it, and the effect would be to increase the charges in the river and make the port of London more expensive than at present, without obtaining an adequate return for the outlay. After all, when they came to 1530 settle the problem the interest of London must be the paramount consideration, and not the interest of any private company. There was capital which had been invested in the docks 100 years ago, I a good deal of it dead capital, capital which would have been wiped out long ago by a municipal sinking fund. Those docks were purely and simply private enterprise, which had paid high dividends for over twenty years, but they had neglected to make provision for a sinking fund which would have wiped out most of their capital long ago. Purely they were not justified in coming forward now and asking that they should be paid back the whole of that money. That would be imposing a burden on the port of London which would not in the slightest degree bear comparison with that on Continental ports. He did not think that ought to be allowed in any Government Bill. The next point which he would like to state for the consideration of those who would have to give their opinion eventually upon the best, method of dealing with the port was this: To secure the necessary improvements some dues on goods or ships, probably on both, would be required, and he believed that traders were prepared at least in principle to accept that necessity. He did not think they would agree to anything like the Liverpool scale of charges. There was a pretty strong feeling expressed by all the traders who came before him that the Liverpool schedule of charges was too high, but he thought every section was prepared to contribute something. The only condition raised by many traders was that the dues should not be used for the purchase of docks, but for the purpose of improving the river. A good deal had been said in the debate about a Government subsidy, but the Government could not hold out any hope of any subsidy being given to the port of London. It was said that the Imperial Government had contributed a considerable sum of money to the competing port of Ham- 1531 burg. But in Germany they had only two or three ports of any consequence, while in the United Kingdom we had six times as many ports to deal with. If a Government subsidy were to be given to the Port of London, then Newcastle, Liverpool—where it was proposed to spend many millions of money—Bristol, Cardiff, and all the other great ports of the United Kingdom would want their fair share of Government contributions. Whether the London County Council or the Corporation of London would see their way to contribute anything was a different matter. It was not for him to lay down any proposition on that point, it was purely a question for the London County Council and the Corporation to think out for themselves. He trusted they would not decide the matter in a hurry, but that before the Government gave notice of their proposals they would be able to make up their minds to assist in the matter. If the port was to be an effective competitor with the great Continental ports, millions of money must be spent in deepening the channel and improving the facilities, especially for discharging and distributing cargoes. The facilities at Antwerp and Hamburg were the means of an enormous saving of time, and the equipments there were superior. To effect such improvements as these was the only way in which the end desired could be achieved, and it was because he felt that any effective method of dealing with the problem would be embarrassed by the carrying of this Bill that he invited the House to throw it out.
§ MR. CLAUDE HAY (Shoreditch, Hoxton)
said the President of the Board of Trade had asked the House to reject the Bill on the ground that the Government was going to introduce a Bill on the 1532 subject next session. Was the Government Bill to be an alternative to this measure? He understood from the right hon. Gentleman that the Government Bill would recognise the fact that no municipal authority should be the body entrusted with the affairs and fortunes of the Port of London.
§ And, it being Eleven of the clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.