§ Read a second time.
§ *MR. J. M. HENDERSON (Aberdeenshire, W.)
moved, "That this Bill be referred to a Joint Committee of Lords and Commons." He said he did not desire to burden the House with the details and merits of this question, which was whether the 9th Section of the Private Legislation Procedure (Scotland) Act was to be operative. The House was conversant with private Bill procedure, and knew that either party had the right of going before a second Committee for a hearing. But under the Scottish procedure they had no right to a second hearing except by leave of the House. What took place in this case was that after the Bill was submitted 602 to the Commissioners, four in number, drawn from a panel under the terms of Section 4 of the Act, and inclusive of Members of both Houses, a local inquiry was held in Edinburgh last April, and counsel and witnesses were heard for [a period extending over three days. As to the decision of the preamble of the Bill the four Commissioners were unanimous on all points except one. and on that point they were equally divided. On that point the petitioners asked that the Confirmation Bill should be remitted to a Joint Committee of both Houses as provided by the Act. The Procedure Act provided that the chairman should have a casting vote in the case of an equal division of opinion. He did not suggest that the chairman in this case did anything but what was right; he did not suggest that there was any partisanship or partisan spirit manifested in this decision; it could not be so because in all cases except this one the Commissioners were unanimous. But it was a very serious matter that one man's vote should alter the whole of a procedure which was very nearly a century old. The 9th Section of the Act would appear to him to be a dead letter unless it applied to a case of this kind. In an ordinary private Bill the parties had the right to a rehearing, and surely a Scottish private Bill should not be deprived of the right which the parties to all other Private Bills possessed whether for or against. It did not seem to him to be doing any great favour to Scotland to give it a special Act for its procedure on Private Bills if this were the case. A legal decision in any Court of law, or indeed in most commercial matters, where there was an equality of votes, was that the status quo ante obtained. It was so in a Court of law, and it was so in any case where there was a serious matter such as this involved. What they had to do in this instance was to show that there was a prima facie case for the reconsideration of the matter. The petition set forth a very serious case for substantial inquiry. The Dock Commission for very nearly a hundred years had been under an Act of Parliament which freed them from assessments to certain rates. They did their own policing; they had about two and a half miles of roads outside of the docks 603 which they maintained, paying men to do the work, for which a rate would have had to be made. The Dock Commission were free from the rate not out of charity but as a quid pro quo under a certain Act of Parliament. Effort after effort had been made to get rid of that position, and to bring them subject to the rate, but effort after effort had failed. They were told that railway companies were subject to the same rates, but railways belonged to private owners and were run for profit. This dock company had no shareholders to whom it paid dividend; it was a public body which carried on a public-work for the public benefit; it was outside the ranks of private companies earning and paying dividend to shareholders. They were told that other docks had to pay these rates, and no doubt they had, but other dock companies had not to pay what this Dock Commission had to pay. They had to pay the cost of policing, lighting, cleansing and maintaining roadways, together with about two miles and a half of roadways outside of the dock, out of dock revenues. The annual cost was about £11,500. The Dock Commission had actually half as many policemen as the whole of Leith itself; it had forty odd police, while the rest of Leith had ninety odd police. The dock revenue also paid the poor and school rates, and a number of minor rates, amounting with the public health rate to £9,000, with, in addition, the property and income-tax, say £3.000; that was to say, they subscribed £23,600 for local purposes. Further than that, their revenues, the estimates of which were grossly exaggerated, were burdened with a capital debt of £247,000, representing the redemption price of other public burdens placed on the dock revenues. These burdens were annuities of £8,000 a year for public purposes, while the yearly service for the redemption of the debt was £11,000 a year. Originally this dock did not belong to Leith at all; it belonged to Edinburgh; Leith had nothing to do with it; Leith never subscribed a penny piece to put the dock there; it had never subscribed a shilling for any policing or cleansing that went on in the place. What was the position? It had got an indebtedness for building other docks of £800,000. How was that money raised? How could they raise any money of that kind 604 unless they satisfied the investor that he had a large margin to come upon as security for his so lending? This £800,000, with which were built the last docks, was borrowed on the faith of the Act of Parliament which gave these Dock Commissioners immunity from this rate. It would be a breach of faith that this additional taxation should be put upon them for work which they did themselves. He said, without going into the merits of the case, that the mere fact of there having been a division of opinion and a vote of two and two should at least form a ground for further consideration before a Joint Committee, as he moved. Every burden that they placed on the Dock Commissioners would be just so much off their power to be of practical use. Let the. House remember that there was great competition with foreign docks, and unless the English and the Scottish docks could keep themselves up to the mark by giving rebates, which were so considerably reducing the incomes, unless they could keep up every improvement and every facility, all of which were supplied with borrowed money, their dock business would go down. Every shilling which these Commissioners made was not put into their own pockets, but was used for developing the docks and in helping to draw the commerce of the world to Leith. He said advisedly that it was foolish for the town of Leith and for the corporation of Leith to try and harrass the Dock Commissioners, and to try to put additional burdens upon them. If the dock business were to go down and were to be lost, where would Leith be? It would become a wilderness. Everything possible ought to be done to increase the trade of the port instead of injuring and harassing it. He begged to move the Motion standing in his name.
§ *MR. W. R. REA (Scarborough)
seconded the Motion. He did so in the first place on the grounds presented to the Committee; which sat in Edinburgh, and secondly, on the general principle which underlay their decision. This proposal was to some extent the result of a quarrel between one municipality and the successors of another municipality. These docks were originally built by the city of Edinburgh, and the present Dock 605 Commissioners were not a profit-making company but the lineal successors of the Edinburgh Council, who were responsible for the making of these docks in the first instance. These Commissioners succeeded to the functions of the town council in that they lighted, cleansed, and maintained the roadways in the dock estate. Under this Bill it was proposed that not only should the dock authority maintain these services which were usually maintained by the municipality, but they were also to pay the ordinary rates to which the ratepayers in another category altogether were subjected. That was prima facie an unfair position in which to put this particular authority. This authority had been put to some exceptional charges, amounting to about £8,000 annually, and any such increase in the burdens placed upon the dock must inevitably fall upon the traders and upon the trade of the country in general. After all, Leith owed its prosperity to these docks, and it was a mere suburb of Edinburgh. Consequently there would be a considerable risk if the dues had to be raised to such an extent that shipowners would be obliged to transfer their trade to some other port. The question had also a national bearing. At the present time they heard a good deal about foreign competition. The shipping trade was carried on under some great disabilities on account of foreign competition. When foreign ports were being fostered and supported by foreign nations, and every care taken that undue burdens should not be placed upon shipping, the House should pause before authorising a scheme which would upset a situation which had existed for over seventy years. Not only so, but the scheme would establish a precedent which might be followed by other local authorities having docks within their area, and that might very seriously affect the shipping trade of the United Kingdom at a time when it needed fair play. He associated himself with the desire which had been expressed to effect whatever reduction was possible in the cost of Private Bill legislation, but thought the House should consider very carefully before, under the Private Bill procedure of Scotland, it allowed a decision which had been in force for seventy years to be upset in this 606 manner. That decision had not been arrived at without grave consideration. The local authorities of Leith had made, on four occasions, efforts to upset the arrangement which had been in force since 1838, and in every instance they had been defeated. Under this peculiar procedure a Joint Committee representing the two Houses sat in Edinburgh to hear evidence and a decision was arrived at, not unanimously, but by the casting vote—which was the second vote —of the Chairman of that Committee. He had every confidence in the Joint Committee of both Houses, but there were questions of principle which he submitted should not be settled by Committees of either House of Parliament sitting at a distance from London, and one of those questions was that a principle which had been in existence for seventy years consistently ought not to be upset by the casting vote of the Chairman. He asked the House to reconsider the matter. If the subject had been heard before a Court of law and there had been such a division of opinion as occurred before the Committee which investigated this question in Edinburgh, the Court would have decided in favour of maintaining the status quo. They ought to consider the matter very carefully before they decided to allow a divided Committee to upset a decision which had been in force for seventy years. It was a very technical question and there was a vast amount of evidence, but, fortunately, under the procedure of these Private Bills in Scotland there was a method by which such difficulties as had arisen in regard to this measure could be remedied. Under the Scottish Private Bill procedure, if objection were taken to the Provisional Order Confirmation Bill, or should there be a petition against it, then it was open to the House to refer the whole matter to a Joint Committee of both Houses, which might again hear the evidence and decide the matter upon its merits in such a manner that the authority which he represented would feel that, although they might not get all they desired, they had received a fair hearing and they could not say that the matter had been settled over their heads. It was on those grounds, without asking hon. Members to prejudge the case, that he invited the House to justify the clause 607 in the Private Legislation Procedure (Scotland) Act, which enabled them to refer the matter to a Standing Committee of both Houses by supporting this Resolution.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be referred to a Joint Committee of Lords and Commons.' "—(Mr. J. M, Henderson.)
§ MR. MUNRO FERGUSON (Leith Burghs)
said he must ask the House to reject this proposal. If, as had been argued by the hon. Member who had just sat down, this question ought to be decided upon general principles surely the House ought to pass the Second Reading and not refer the Bill to a Committee at all. Questions of general principle could not possibly enter into the question of the recommittal of this measure. The allowance of half-rates was a compromise, because the burgh of Leith thought the authority ought to pay full rates. With regard to the Private Bill Procedure for Scotland most hon. Members representing Scotland would rather strengthen that system than weaken it. He contended that no case had been made out for a rehearing before a Committee. The question of the omnibus came up because one of the parties in the case had been refused a locus standi, and a rehearing was granted. But the decision was reaffirmed and no change was made. The only, result was that it involved considerable additional cost, and that was the real objection to the rehearing of cases. If there were many re-hearings they would knock the whole of the Private Bill procedure system on the head. It would make the new system of procedure far more costly than the old. The Committee was composed of Members of both Houses of Parliament. It had a chairman who was experienced in business and in local affairs, and the case had a careful hearing. The Committee sat for five days, and its decisions were unanimous, save on the one point of the half of the burgh rates. The liability for half of the burgh rates was carried by the Chairman's casting vote. The point now raised was that, the Chairman having given a casting vote, the decision was practically valueless. But how could 608 they get on without the casting vote? It was necessary to business. The hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire contended that the casting vote, if it was used at all, should be used to maintain the status quo. He could give an excellent example of how that system worked. There was a parish near which he lived in Scotland where that procedure was adopted, and the consequence was that no business was done in the parish for more than a year. He had to go on the council to remedy that state of matters, and the proceedings had been since gone about by his casting vote, and he did not see how business was to be conducted in any other way. If Parliament had intended that it should be otherwise conducted, there would have been five Commissioners instead of four. Where there were only four Commissioners, the constitution of the Committee necessarily led to the use of the casting vote. He looked upon what was now being done as obstruction. He had stated the main point which was being urged against the Bill, and a more frivolous pretext for rehearing he could hardly conceive. The second point was the claim of immunity which he thought was hardly more worthy of attention. No doubt at one time the law was unsettled in regard to the liability for rates of docks, but that was settled by the Mersey Docks case, and also in a local case affecting Leith. The exemption of Leith from the assessment was given by reason of the debt on the docks, which in 1860 amounted to £250,000. The Government took £50,000 in settlement of that debt, and the Scottish Courts decided, and the decision was upheld by the House of Lords, that, the debt being discharged, the docks were liable to assessment. There remained the local exemption clause on which, and not on general principles, the exemption was continued. The matter afterwards came up in several ways, and ultimately a clause was inserted in the Burgh Police Act of 1892 which provided that such exemption should continue only until repealed by Provisional Order. That was an invitation by Parliament to treat each case on its own local merits. That was what had been done in the case of Leith, and but for some technical difficulties for which 609 the Burgh of Leith was not responsible the matter would have been settled sooner. The House had heard about ports in Scotland and England which were competing with foreign ports, but there were other ports in the Firth of Forth which were competing with Leith, and which were not immune from asessment. There were Boness and Grangemouth which competed with Leith. At Kirkcaldy a harbour was being built at considerable expense. He thought these ports should be allowed to conduct their trade without Leith harbour and docks being given the undue preference they now enjoyed in being able to escape a fair share of local taxation. Leith was the cheapest port, and it already sufficiently drew trade away from the other ports. Leith docks were a most prosperous and wealthy concern. Long might they be so. They were bound to become more prosperous with the great development of the Lothian collieries alone. This great institution was valued at about £2,250,000, and its debt was only £800,000. Its net revenue, after paying interest and sinking fund, was something like £30,000 a year. The ratepayers of Leith were in an unusual degree people of small means, because the wealthier people who carried on business in the burgh mostly lived out of the burgh. The Docks Commissioners pleaded that they did the lighting and policing in their docks, but they did no more than any of the ratepayers would have to do in providing policing and lighting for their own places of business. Then in regard to the streets, the town authorities are quite ready to take them over, and they would have to do so if they were asked. When they left the streets which were maintained by the Commissioners of the Docks and came to those which were maintained by the burgh ratepayers they found that the traffic was something like 500,000 tons a year to Edinburgh. That traffic was conducted by heavy lorries which did enormous damage to the streets, and that fact constituted a good case why the Commissioners of the Docks should contribute their full quota to the rates like the other ratepayers. His surprise was that the Burgh of Leith did not insist on more than was now asked, and especially the payment of poor rates. 610 The burgh must be astonished at its own moderation and at the consideration it had shown for the great shipowners of Scotland, England, Ireland, and elsewhere, who now enjoyed the use of Leith docks without contributing their quota to the public revenue of the burgh. Leith was asking to receive a very moderate and a very tardy measure of justice. It was supported in its contentions by Convention of Royal Burghs, and by other ports in Scotland, and he confidently asked the House to uphold the decision which had been arrived at by the Committee presided over by the hon. Baronet the Member for Inverness-shire. He asked this as a supporter of the principle of local inquiry. No case whatever had been advanced for rehearing. The case had had a perfectly fair hearing and no fresh matter had been brought forward to justify a rehearing.
§ MR. C. E. PRICE
said that for many reasons he would have preferred that this matter had not been brought before the House. The Leith Docks Commissioners were known to himself; they were men of high standing, and their association with the management of the docks had been entirely to the satisfaction of those concerned. But inasmuch as a great principle was involved in the question now before the House he thought it was his duty to support the hon. Member for the Leith Burghs. The question at issue was whether any trading body should exist in any town or burgh and have separate or special treatment by way of exemption from rates. He held that no trading body, whether they made profits for themselves or others, should exist and have special and separate treatment. He wished to refer to the composition of the Committee. If hon. Members would look at the document supplied by the Leith Dock Commissioners, they would see that there were two Members of the House of Lords and two Members of the House of Commons. He could not think that that Committee was what might be termed a democratic body when they remembered that at the present time there was a great difference of opinion in the Liberal Party as to the rights of trading communities. He 611 was sure that if that Committee had reflected the relative position of the Parties in that House it would have come to a decision which it would not have been necessary to wish to revise. The second point was that if they had four Members in a Committee he did not see how it was possible for that Committee to carry on its business without using the casting vote of the chairman. It was quite conceivable to have two on each side. With regard to the value of the casting vote of the chairman, he was quite sure no Member of that House was better qualified to preside on that Committee than the hon. Member for Inverness Burghs, if only for the simple fact that he had had an excellent business training. He was one of the most popular provosts that ever presided over Perth, and he was admirably qualified to use that casting vote. The hon. Member who seconded the referring of this matter to another Committee had questioned the value of decisions come to so far from this House, But as London happened to be a good way from Scotland, he did not see how they could hold any inquiries in Scotland without a decision being come to from a long way off.
§ MR. W. R. REA
said he had no intention of impugning the value of decisions come to in Edinburgh, but there were certain occasions where a decision was come to by the narrowest possible majority, and in such cases he thought it was desirable to exercise these powers which they were entitled under the Act to exercise and to revise the decisions. He had no intention of casting any reflection on the value of inquiries held in Scotland.
§ MR. C. E. PRICE
said that in order to meet the objection of the hon. Member the Committee should have been composed of five and not four members, but the Committee was appointed under the rules of the House, and the objection should have been taken earlier. As it was, it was scarcely possible to submit any question to any body of four members where they would have three giving their votes one way. Another point was that if they were lightly to set aside the decision of local committees and local 612 inquiries, what value were they to derive from the Committee which it took Scotland so many years to get established at all? If they were going to set aside the decision of the Committee without some new facts being brought forward, and no new facts had been brought forward, simply because certain Members objected to that decision, that inquiry became of no benefit to Scotland. Another aspect of the question was that if they referred it to another Committee they at once increased enormously the expenses which had been associated with the inquiry, and therefore he trusted that the House would not listen to the arguments of the mover and seconder of the Motion. It seemed to him simply absurd that a trading body should have the right of carting their goods from Leith Docks through their streets up to Edinburgh and yet bear no share of the expense of the upkeep of those streets. It was not possible for them in Edinburgh to get access to Leith Burghs without covering the streets of Leith, and accordingly to exempt this Dock Commission from rating was to his mind not dealing equitably and fairly with those concerned.
§ MR. AUSTIN TAYLOR (Liverpool, East Toxteth)
said it was a part of the Scottish procedure that there should be an appeal to that House, an appeal, of course, as the last speaker said, which must not be lightly exercised. He was sure that no one representing an English constituency would desire that that appeal should be lightly exercised, but there must be cases occasionally in which it was tight to challenge the decision of a Private Bill Committee in Scotland, and the question before the House was really whether this was or was not such a case. This matter of the Leith Docks and the Leith Burghs, as he understood it, was a very old story; it was not a new story at all. It had been going on for about forty years. The exemptions which the Dock Commissioners of Leith were entitled to had been in operation for something like a century, and during the last forty years, according to the statement of the advocate who represented the Leith Burghs before the Committee, no less than four attempts, if not five, had already been 613 made by approach to Parliament to get rid of those exemptions by the burgh of Leith. He had in his hands a summary of those attempts. The advocate for the Dock Commissioners stated, rightly or wrongly—he was formerly a Member of that House and held an official position there, so that he might be assumed to Know what he was speaking about—that Parliament told the Leith Burghs in 1860 and in 1868 that they should not get rid of these exemptions, that in 1875 this whole matter was discussed and thrashed out before a Committee of that House, and that then these exemptions were still maintained, and that again in 1892 and in 1903 attempts were made to get rid of these exemptions by the Leith Burghs which attempts were equally unsuccessful. Therefore, what the House had to consider was that this was an old dispute that had gone on for forty years and on which Parliament had four or five times already indicated its mind in favour, not of the burgh of Leith, but of the Dock Commissioners. Therefore, on the top of all those attempts of Leith to get rid of these exemptions, they had this inquiry by a Private Bill Committee, which after an exhaustive inquiry was equally divided; so that after a prolonged dispute evidently upon a matter which, to put it no higher, Parliament was extremely doubtful about, they had the additional capital debt which could not be estimated at less than £100,000 put upon those Dock Commissioners and the Dock Estate at Leith by the casting vote of the chairman of that Committee. He was perfectly satisfied, and he felt sure every Member was satisfied, that that casting vote was given after the most careful deliberation and in the best exercise; of his judgment, but his hon. friend, although a Scotsman, was not infallible, and as Dr. Johnson, who was notoriously a friend of Scotsmen., once said, a fallible being would fail somewhere, and what they had to consider was whether, in view of the history of this long dispute and its culmination in the casting vote of the chairman, there was not a fair prima facie case for a rehearing of the whole dispute upon its merits. He wished to address the House very briefly upon the question of policy which was involved by the threatened 614 action of the burgh of Leith. His hon. friend the Member for Leith Burghs had referred to the case of the Mersey Docks, and he did not interrupt him with any idea of questioning the decision which he was quoting or of in any way insinuating that dock property like any other property was not liable to rating; but he did want to bring before the House what was the real position of the Mersey Dock Estate, because he thought it threw a great deal of light upon the policy which ought to be pursued by boroughs that desired to maintain their position in the teeth of the competition which all ports in this country had to-day to face. The position in Liverpool was this. The Mersey Docks and Harbour Board carried all the town sewers across the dock estate to their point of discharge in the river; they had paid the capital cost of constructing those sewers, and they maintained them. The Board also cleansed, scavenged, lighted, and watched the dock estate at their own cost. So far the case was almost parallel to that of Leith, the same obligations and the same duties were performed by the dock estate in Liverpool as were per-formed in Leith by the Dock Commissioners. By Section 224 of the Act of 1846—sixty years ago—the Board's estate, except warehouses, was exempt from sanitary rates, and that exemption had been recognised by subsequent Corporation Acts. The Board did not pay the sanitary rates, the money from which was used for the purposes of cleansing and lighting the city, and meeting the city's obligation for raising money for sewerage. As a return for that exemption the Board had constructed at their own cost the sewers under their own estate to carry off the town's sewage, and they cleansed, scavenged, and lighted the dock estate at their own expense. As regarded the policing, the same arrangement held in Liverpool as in Leith. The corporation or the borough lent police for the purpose of policing the dock estate, and the Dock Commissioners in both cases paid a charge for the hire of those police officers. His hon. friend had cited the case which made the dock estate on the Mersey liable for poor rates, but he wished to make it quite clear to the House that the position of the docks in 615 Liverpool was exactly parallel to that in Leith which this Provisional Order desired to upset. It was perfectly natural that the burgh of Leith should desire to get all the relief from rates that it could, and to equalise the burdens upon the ratepayers by calling in fresh sources of revenue. But was that a wise or far-seeing policy for a town or borough to adopt which was dependent upon a dock estate which had to meet the competition of foreign ports? In Liverpool the desirability of the freedom of the docks as far as possible from rates was recognised as a necessity although it was a burden, but they recognised in Liverpool, which he might claim to be one of the most prosperous ports of the United Kingdom, that it was desirable that the dock companies and the municipality should work hand in hand and that the rates upon the docks should be kept to the lowest possible level. One of the special circumstances which had brought this about had been the very formidable competition, not of tariffs, but of State-aided railways in connection with ports on the Continent, which give through rates with which the railways of this country, without extensive expenditure, could not possibly compete. Surely that was an argument for cutting down the expenses at our ports, not at once and directly, but by degrees, and he thought our authorities might be usefully employed in discussing—not so much in subsidising this or that particular trade or industry—whether they could not make the charges at the ports something approximating to the charges which had to be paid abroad. Although this Bill only concerned the Leith Burghs and only had a local action, he felt that there was a fair case not only on the merits of this particular Bill but on the policy of it for supporting the Amendment moved by his hon. friend the Member for Aberdeen.
§ MR. GULLAND (Dumfries Burghs)
said that after the somewhat Imperial outlook of the last speaker he would like to discuss this question from the local and Scottish point of view. There seemed to him no reason why this matter should be brought up again here because the question was thoroughly heard and dealt with in Edinburgh. The best 616 counsel in Scotland, with the exception, per haps of a few Members of this House, were employed although probably they did not receive such a high fee as the Parliamentary Bar would receive. But altogether the case was gone into so thoroughly that there was no new point which could be brought up. When they saw that Scotland had achieved the amount of self-government which had been conferred upon her under the Act, Scottish Members would be unwise if they countenanced any attempt to go behind the Private Bill Procedure which had been set up. If every litigant who was unsuccessful in Scotland was to appeal to the House they would reduce the whole of that procedure to a farce. If there was any reason, or any special reason for it, perhaps such a proceeding might be tolerated but he had heard nothing stated that night which would justify it. He was a ratepayer in regard to the Leith Docks and therefore his interest was all the other way in this instance. But he did not think that it was fair that a Dock Commission should avoid paying rates, because Edinburgh trade s used the streets of Leith for carrying their goods up to Edinburgh and down from Edinburgh. He thought they ought to pay rates and the only way they could be got at was by making the Dock Commission pay a certain proportion. That was an argument which was to his mind unanswerable. Then it was said that the Dock Commission had their own cleaning, lighting and watching to do but so had every ratepayer within his own property. The position of dock companies was not therefore peculiar. The special reason, as he had understood it why the Commission sitting in Scotland held that only half rates should be charged was that it was a recognition that the dock company did something in that way. Rut then it was said that the Burgh of Leith never subscribed a penny to the dock. That was quite true and they never subscribed a penny to any house or any works. He knew the Dock Commission well and he said that there was not in the United Kingdom a more enterprising body of men. The docks were in a flourishing condition, and to talk about ruin coming because of this extra charge was absurd. Somebody had talked about uniting Leith with Edinburgh. That was desirable, and 617 everybody looked forward to these two burghs being amalgamated. The real competitive ports were the others in the Firth of Forth, and they all had to pay burgh rates. There was a feeling in Leith that the Dock Commission had got too much into the hands of the shipowners. It was right that they should accept the decision arrived at in Scotland which was fair and reasonable.
§ THE SECRETARY FOR SCOTLAND (MR. SINCLAIR, Forfashire)
said it might be a convenience to the House if he stated the opinion of the Government on this matter. Might he remind the House that this was a serious question? A false decision might destroy the system of Private Bill procedure in Scotland which it had taken the House years to construct. Let him remind the House that the system of Private Bill procedure in Scotland was introduced under the Private Legislation Procedure (Scotland) Act of 1899. There was great difficulty then in finding time for the transaction of Scottish business in Parliament. There had never been enough time available, and as years went on it had been found and would be found more and more difficult to find time for this special business of Parliament—the Private Bill legislation of Scotland— and it seemed then to be in the interest of Scotland and of Parliament that, subject always to the control of Parliament, provision should be made for such schemes and undertakings to be heard, and examined locally in Scotland. When this scheme was brought before Parliament in the first instance, it contained provisions for the automatic rehearing of every case, but the House of Commons of that day was quick to see the danger of that proceeding. It was quicker than the Government. It was stronger than the Government and it refused an automatic rehearing in every case. Such a rehearing would have weakened the authority and the responsibility of the local commissioners appointed by the House itself. It would not have met the two great evils of the situation which then existed, and it would not have greatly saved the time of Parliament. Moreover, it would not have reduced expenditure — indeed, such a system as was then contemplated would have 618 increased the expense of these proceedings. But while the automatic appeal to Parliament was revised, Parliament did reserve control of the procedure, and it was in accordance with Section 9 that his hon. friend had brought forward this Motion to ask for a Joint Committee of both Houses to review the decision arrived at by the local Commissioners in Scotland. That was the procedure laid down by the Act. The practice of the last seven or eight years confirmed the wisdom of Parliament in laying down the rule as it existed. The system had worked with great smoothness and success, and the number of Provisional Orders which were brought in under this machinery had worked out well. The system had been working since 1899, and in only four cases hitherto had there been any debate in Parliament. Only four instances had arisen in which a demand for a rehearing had been preferred. In two of those cases the rehearing was refused and in the two other cases the result of the rehearing was to confirm the decision of the local Commissioners. Therefore, Parliament had been extremely slow and reluctant to weaken the authority of these local Commissioners in any degree, and he thought properly so. It remained to consider whether there were any special reasons in the present case which could be urged as supporting a departure from the procedure hitherto followed. He thought a great deal too much emphasis had been laid on the fact that the decision of the Commissioners was arrived at by a casting vote. Nobody denied that, but he might remind the House that that contingency was foreseen by the House when the Act was passed. There was an express commission in Section 10 of the Act, by which the chairman of the four Commissioners was given a casting vote in addition to his deliberative vote, and the decision was not less the decision of that Commission because it was carried by the casting vote of the chairman. He did not wish to make too much of its being carried by the casting vote, because if he did, they were likely to run into a another and serious danger, which was that they might assent to the view that because a decision was arrived at by the casting vote of a chairman that decision 619 was one that necessarily demanded a re hearing. That would be contrary to the spirit of the Act itself and might contain the germ of a precedent very dangerous to the whole procedure. In this instance there was no case as there was in the other Leith case of a locus being denied. The case was well and ably presented, and it was fully and patiently heard by the Commissioners so far as he could gather. What produced the decision of that Com mission, broadly, was in the first place the possession by the Dock Company of a considerable sum of surplus income, and, secondly, the general rule of other cases. Broadly speaking, the decision brought this case into conformity with the general law. Dock companies were liable under the general law to pay rates, while, on the other hand, according to practice, they received some measure of exemption. It was no part of his duty on that occasion to go into the merits of the case, but, inasmuch as the actual parties in the matter had laid their case before him, the House no doubt would expect him to express an opinion upon it. It had not hitherto been usual for the Government to interfere with the discussion in the House on these matters, and he proposed to follow precedent in this case. But, after full examination into the matter he could find no reason to think that an injustice had been done; no new facts had arisen and there was no substantial ground, as it appeared to him, for believing that another tribunal would come to any other decision than that which had been arrived at by the present tribunal. It would be a similar tribunal to that which had already examined the case, and he saw no reason for differing from the decision of that tribunal. Speaking of himself, he could not support the Motion proposed by his hon. friend.
§ MR. MITCHELL-THOMSON (Lanarkshire, N.W.)
said he would like to draw attention to the fact that any arrangement that was arrived at by the Commissioners who held the inquiry in this case was not a compromise. If it had been a compromise he would certainly not have been found standing in his place in that House to support a party which, having made a compromise in Scotland, came to West- 620 minister to endeavour to upset it. If the hon. Gentleman the Member for Leith Burghs considered the matter in the light of the volume of evidence which he held in his hand he would find that there was no compromise whatever. The question the House had to consider was whether the party dissatisfied with this decision had the right, and whether, if they had the right, it was proper that they should exercise that right to ask for a re-hearing by another Committee. The hon. Member for Dumfries Burghs seemed to think that there was some idea of going behind the local opinion in Scotland, but nothing was so far from the facts. There was no question, whatever, of swing behind any local opinion or any evidence. All that was being done was to follow in this House the procedure laid down in the words of the Act which set up these local tribunals. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Scotland had referred to the Act and had stated the most extraordinary proposition he had ever heard, namely, that when the Act was passed it was laid down by this House that no party who desired to make an appeal to the House should have the right, necessarily, to make that appeal, or have a right to ask for that appeal. He would like to refer the right hon. Gentleman to a speech made by the then Lord Advocate, the present Lord President of the Court of Sessions, who said that the House settled and embodied in the Bill a provision that any person who appeared before a local Parliamentary tribunal and was dissatisfied should have a right to go to another tribunal. The then Lord Advocate's view was that inasmuch as this House had, as a matter of considered policy, come to the conclusion and embodied that conclusion in un Act of Parliament, namely, that there should be an appeal to Parliament, that appeal ought to be given as an ordinary right, unless someone was in a position to say the case was one that ought not to be debated on appeal. Did the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Scotland say that this was a case which ought not to be debated on appeal? He only desired to point out for the information of some hon. Members that the decision on which this re-hearing was 621 being asked was not the decision on the whole of the case, but a decision upon one part of the case, which decision was arrived at by the casting vote of the Chair-man. Even a Commission was not infallible. As the hon. Member for the East Toxteth division of Liverpool had said, even the best of them might be wrong sometimes. They had the admission of the framers of the 1899 Act, and they had the admission of those who had read that Act and who sat upon the Treasury Bench that in passing that Act Parliament desired to keep for itself the power to revise and to inquire into the findings of the various Commissions which were appointed. When was that power to be exercised? Could the House conceive any case in which it was to be exercised, unless it was a case where the decision was arrived at upon an equal division of opinion in the Commission by the casting vote of the chairman, as in this case? His mind failed to conjure up any situation that was adequate to meet that proposition if this was not the case. All he wanted to urge upon the House was, if the facts and figures were placed before the local Commission with full knowledge of the circumstances and local matters, by the most skilful advocates of the Scottish Bar, and, if as a result of that the decision was only obtained by the casting vote of the chairman, then surely if there was any right to appeal for a re-hearing, it was in a case of that kind. If a question of public policy was concerned, he would point out to the hon. Member for Leith Burghs that while he did not dispute his law he would like to point out two facts; first, that this particular Dock Authority paid rates up to 24 per cent. of its gross earnings; and secondly, that it carried on its business on land which, if the policy of the Government, adumbrated in this House only the other day, was carried out, was to be exempted altogether on the ground that it was a product of industry, it being reclaimed land. The Commissioners were a body representing the public, they made profits for the public, and it would be a serious problem were one public authority to be liable for work which another public authority was liable to keep up. In regard to the streets the fact of the matter was that 80 per cent. of the traffic of Leith was 622 through traffic which went by railway and never passed through the streets of Leith at all. The Dock Commissioners were responsible for the upkeep of over two miles of streets, and they did keep them up. He did not think it would be disputed that in the passing of the Act of 1899 that House and Parliament desired to reserve to itself the power of revising and if need be correcting, affirming, or denying the results of local inquiries. That delegation of powers was a delegation of powers to a sub-Committee and not an entire delegation of all the powers of that House. The right of revision was reserved, it existed, and if it was ever to be exercised he could imagine no class of case in which it could be more justly and legitimately exercised.
§ *SIR JOHN DEWAR (Inverness)
said, as chairman of the Committee which dealt with this matter, he wanted to say a word or two about it and to state the reasons why he gave, his casting vote. After all, it was a very simple case, and he did not object to the way in which it had been presented to the House. But the question was simply this, whether or not—and it was a principle they all recognised—everybody within the municipal boundary was bound to contribute his fair share towards the municipal government of the town. If that principle was not given effect to efficient municipal government was impossible. Leith docks were exempted from rates as far back as 1805; and that, had been going on all these years, and it seemed to him that it was only right that this arrangement should now be reconsidered. Leith docks had escaped during all these years a very large amount of taxation, while all the time, they were getting the service of the Leith Burgh. The public health department, for instance, which was very largely occupied in the service of the Leith Docks. Every ship had to be examined by the medical officer and his assistants, and in many cases to be disinfected and a great many services rendered. The Leith docks paid public health rates from 1867 to 1905, and when they refused to continue to pay them the financial affairs of Leith were thrown into confusion and Leith was compelled to present this Bill. They were told that the docks policed their own premises, 623 but so did railways and other enterprises. The Leith docks were well policed, but they received besides a great deal of assistance from the Leith police, who acted along with the dock police. Not only that, but all offenders arrested by the dock police were brought before the borough police court, where the person was charged and all the machinery of the burgh police force used in bringing him to justice. It was on the general principle that every one ought to contribute to the government of the municipality that he gave his casting vote. Certain concessions had been made and half rates were agreed to for certain services. He had been a little doubtful whether any concession should be made, and it was only because a compromise had been come to between the burgh authorities and the Dock Commissioners that he agreed. The Leith burgh officials agreed that there ought to be some allowance given in regard to the services rendered by the Leith Dock Commissioners in policing and other matters, and the agreement was that one-half of the rate should be accepted in respect of certain charges. The burgh authorities agreed that it was a reasonable proposal that one-half of the rate should be accepted. Since the burgh was satisfied he consented, but he had grave doubts as to whether any concession should be made at all. He knew that in Glasgow an allowance of 4d. in the £ was made in similar circumstances in respect of the docks. He did not think that any great injustice had been done. As a general principle he held that everybody ought to contribute a fair share to the government of the municipality. If Leith docks were to remain exempt it meant that every ratepayer in the town had to pay l½d. in the £, working men of Leith contributing 1 s. 6d. or 2s. each, so that a rich corporation might get off its just contribution. That was why he gave his casting vote. He had given a great many casting votes in his time and he had often given them in favour of the status quo ante; but what would have happened if his casting vote had been given on that side on this occasion. Leith had tried for thirty years to have this injustice removed: for various reasons they had been unsuccessful, but after presenting their case to a Commission which sat for four days, they had in his judgment completely 624 established their case, and if his casting vote had been given in favour of the status quo ante it meant that Leith had no further means of being heard. They were here dealing with a corporation which was making a surplus of £30,000, and he did not think that it was one of the institutions which ought to be relieved. He thought the House itself ought to decide the principle as to whether or not the docks ought to be relieved from, contribution to the rates. The practice of exemption from rates he believed to be a wrong method of giving assistance from a municipality. If contribution was to be made it should be made in such a way that every one might know what it was.
§ *MR. STUART WORTLEY (Sheffield, Hallam)
said he was one of those concerned in the proceedings in connection with the Scottish Private Bill Procedure Act, and he wished to say a word or two with regard to what the Secretary for Scotland had said. If anyone was entitled to respect in the giving of a casting vote it was the hon. Member who had just sat down. Still, it was evident from what he had told them that he had strong views on the general question, and the very fact of his having those strong views was an example of the fact that this question ought to be dealt with by Parliament and not by a. local tribunal. Another fallacy which ran all through the considerations and decision of the hon. Gentleman was that he treated the dock company as if it were an individual or a trading corporation. But it was not possible to predicate of this Dock Com mission that it was a corporation either rich or poor; everything it did was in the public service. It was entirely beside the mark to make comparisons between this corporation and the poorest inhabitants of Leith, or such comparisons as were usually made between rich and poor.
§ *SIR J. DEWAR
The decision given in the Mersey Dock case held that such corporations are liable for rates.
§ *MR. STUART WORTLEY
said that this was a case in which the corporation had special exemption because of the value which was given by that corporation; 625 and here they were proposing to diminish the security to lenders of money without at the same time assuming any responsibility for the debt due to them. These were facts which caused the greatest doubt about the decision arrived at, and one asked one's self in what case, if not in this, should there be the rehearing which it was contemplated by the Procedure Act that there should be in these cases? The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Scotland had said that there was originally a provision in the Bill to hear all cases. He had not been able, in the discussions which had taken place, to find it. There was. however, a question twice raised by the right hon. Gentleman the present Lord Advocate; twice he moved in the Committee stage on the Procedure Bill, and on Report, to omit these retrials in opposed cases before a joint Committee of the two Houses, but the House twice decided to retain them in the Bill. It might be said that the instances were rare in which the House had consented to any such procedure. But it was also true that the instances were rare in which they had the casting vote of the Chairman. After all it was a matter of ordinary experience and of common sense. Here they had a Committee equally divided on a question of the first magnitude in the Bill, and in what case should the House itself be resorted to for a decision if not in such a case as this? What were the facts which had induced this Committee to reverse all the decisions of previous Parliamentary Committees? He was glad to hear that the right hon. Gentleman did not propose to exert the Government influence or to interfere in any way with the decision of the House, and he thought that the House would do well to adopt the Motion of the hon. Gentleman the Member for West Aberdeenshire, on the ground that it was exactly the sort of case in which it was intended by the House and by Parliament that a rehearing should take place.
§ MR. CROMBIE (Kincardineshire)
said he was also a Member of the Committee which had been referred to, and he remembered that when the question of these appeals was before Parliament the House was most careful about retaining 626 in its hands the decision in the circumstances which had been alluded to. Some hon. Members seem to think that every time the chairman used his casting vote there should be an appeal to Parliament. That was not the intention of the House of Commons when the Scottish procedure for Private Bills was adopted. If it had been the House of Commons would never have inserted the provision for the chairman to use his casting vote. It had been asked under what circumstances could there be an appeal. There were two contemplated in the Private Legislation Procedure (Scotland) Act of 1899. One case was when any new facts arose which had not been before the Committee, and the other was one in which there had been some flagrant act of injustice. In the case of this Bill no new issue had cropped up and no flagrant injustice had been done to anybody. In his opinion the Committee which sat in Leith for five days was much more competent to come to a decision on the merits of the Bill than a joint Committee of Lords and Commons.
§ MR. WATT (Glasgow, College)
said that, notwithstanding the warning given by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Scotland, he desired to support the Motion that this Bill should be referred to a Joint Committee of Lords and Commons. Immunity from taxation had been enjoyed from time immemorial by these docks, and they had never been taxed for burgh purposes. The arrangement which had existed for so long was placed in the form of a contract in 1838 by an Act passed in this House, and there was a quid pro quo given on the part of the Dock Commissioners of Leith. By that arrangement the Commissioners had to bear several burdens, and it was on account of that fact that they were permitted to be immune from taxation, an arrangement which had existed up to the time when it was proposed to alter it under this Bill. One of the burdens they bore was £8,000 a year, which was utilised practically for the upkeep of Edinburgh University and the schools in Edinburgh. These liabilities were 627 still borne by the Dock Commissioners, and it was for this reason that the Commissioners had not, up till now, been taxed by the Burgh Commissioners of Leith. Another burden which the Dock Commissioners undertook in 1838 was he lighting, policing, and scavenging of the dock estate. That cost them £10,000 a year, and that was one of the burdens which they took over. The third burden they took over was the upkeep of the streets outside the dock estate. These arrangements had upon four separate occasions been assailed in Parliament with the object of empowering the Town Council of Leith to tax the Dock Commissioners, and on each of those four occasions they had failed. Parliament in three Public Acts had recognised and continued the exemption from rating on account of the burdens which the Dock Commissioners were bearing. One Commission which sat in Edinburgh unanimously came to the conclusion that the Dock Commissioners should be taxed with the public health rate, and that burden amounted to about £1,700 a year,; but even that Commission recommended that the Dock Commissioners should not be charged for arrears in this respect, and consequently there was a spirit of compromise even in that decision. The effect of the casting vote of the chairman would be that the Dock Commissioners would be saddled with an additional £3,000 a year in spite of the definite arrangement made in 1838, under which they got immunity from these taxes. He thought for these and other reasons, the: Bill ought to be referred to a Select Committee of both Houses of Parliament.
§ MR. RAINY (Kilmarnock Burghs)
said that the matter was one of considerable importance from the point of view of procedure. When a Commission appointed under the Act came to a decision after very careful investigation there should be no interference with it unless some manifest injustice had been done, or unless there had been some omission of material facts, or some new facts had come to light. Unless they were going to make a farce of Scottish private legislation procedure, 628 the House was bound to support the decision of the Committee. No evidence had so far been produced in the debate to show that any injustice had been done. [Cries of "Oh, oh!"] He knew there was a difference of opinion upon some points, but he did not think it had been shown that there had been any manifest injustice, or that there had been any omission of considerations which ought to have been before the Commission, and no new facts had been adduced which the Commission had not before them. If the House of Commons gave countenance to some of the dicta which had been laid down in this debate they would make a perfect farce of the whole of Scotch private legislation procedure. Therefore, he asked the House to consider very carefully before it upset the decision which was come to. He admitted that there was a very fine point about the chairman's casting vote, but he also submitted to the House that sufficient materials had not been presented that night to make it appear that this was a matter where the House should upset the decision of the Committee.
§ *MR. CATHCART WASON (Orkney and Shetland)
said his hon. friend had in support of his argument quoted a late Lord Advocate. But as far back as 1901, when one of the first cases decided by a Scottish Committee came before this House, Mr. Graham Murray, now Lord Dunedin, was emphatic in upholding the right of this House to review the decision of the Committee. In this case he took the view that the House might well, and without casting any slur on the Committee who sat in Edinburgh, review the decision. If the decision of the House was favourable to the Committee it would do very much to strengthen the hands of these Committees in future. If the decision was unfavourable, then, at any rate, the Commissioners of the Harbour of Leith would feel that they had had their case fairly presented to the House of Commons. They were only asking a re-hearing. An appeal was now granted in almost every case. He would not repeat arguments which had already been laid before the House, but would support the Motion of his hon. friend the Member for Aberdeen.
§ Question put.630
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 80; Noes, 236. (Division List No. 285.)
|Higham, John Sharp||Massie, J.||Silcock, Thomas Ball|
|Hobart, Sir Robert||Micklem, Nathaniel||Simon. John Allsebrook|
|Hobhouse, Charles E. H.||Mildmay. Francis Bingham||Sinclair, Rt. Hn. John|
|Hogan, Michael||Montagu, E. S.||Smeaton, Donald Mackenzie|
|Hope, W. Bateman(Somerset. N.||Montgomery, E. S.||Snowden, P.|
|Hudson, Walter||Morse, L. L.||Soares, Ernest J.|
|Hunt, Rowland||Morton, Alpheus Cleophas||Spicer, Sir Albert|
|Hyde, Clarendon||Murray, James||Stewart. Halley (Greenock)|
|Jardine, Sir J.||Myer, Horatio||Strachey, Sir Edward|
|Jenkins, J.||Napier, T. B.||Strauss, E. A. (Abingdon)|
|Johnson,John (Gateshead)||Nicholson, CharlesN.(Doncaster||Stuart, James (Sunderland)|
|Johnson, W. (Nuneaton)||Nolan, Joseph||Summerbell, T.|
|Jones, Leif (Appleby)||Norton, Capt. Cecil William||Taylor, John W. (Durham)|
|Jones, William(Carnarvonshire)||O'Donnell, C. J. (Walworth)||Taylor, Theodore C.(Radcliffe)|
|Joyce, Michael||O'Grady, J.||Thompson, J.W.H.(Somerset,E|
|Kearley, Hudson E.||Parker, James (Halifax)||Thornton, Percy M.|
|Kekewich, Sir George||Pearce, Robert (Staffs. Leek)||Toulmin, George|
|Kennaway,Rt.Hn.Sir John H.||Pearce, William (Limehouse)||Trevelyan, Charles Philips|
|Kilbride, Denis||Pearson,W.H.M. (Suffolk,Eye)||Ure, Alexander|
|Kincaid-Smith, Captain||Pease, J. A. (Saffron Walden)||Verney, F. W.|
|King. Alfred John (Knutsford)||Pickersgill, Edward Hare||Vivian, Henry|
|Laidlaw, Robert||Pirie, Duncan V.||Walker, H. De R. (Leicester)|
|Lambert, George||Pollard, Dr||Walsh, Stephen|
|Lamont, Norman||Price,Robert John(Norfolk,E.)||Walters, John Tudor|
|Layland- Barratt, Francis||Priestley, W.E.B.(Bradford,E.)||Ward,W. Dudley(Southampton|
|Lehmann,R. C.||Rainy, A. Rolland||Wason,Rt.Hn.E.(C'lackmannan|
|Lever,A.Levy (Essex,Harwich)||Richards,T.F. (Wolverhampt'n||Whitbread, Howard|
|Levy, Sir Maurice||Richardson, A.||White, George (Norfolk)|
|Lewis, John Herbert||Rickett, J. Compton||White, J. D.(Dumbartonshire)|
|Luttrell, Hugh Fownes||Roberts, G. H. (Norwich)||White, Luke (York., E.R.)|
|Macdonald, J. R. (Leicester)||Roberts, John H. (Denbighs.)||Whitehead, Rowland|
|Macdonald,J M.(FalkirkBurghs||Robertson,SirG.Scott (Bradf'rd||Whiteley, George (York,W.R.)|
|Macnamara, Dr. Thomas J.||Robertson, J. M. (Tyneside)||Whitley,John Henry(Halifax)|
|MacNeill, John Gordon Swift||Robinson, S.||Wiles, Thomas|
|Macpherson, J. T.||Robson, Sir William Snowdon||Williams, J. (Glamorgan)|
|MacVeigh,Charles (Donegal,E.)||Roche, John (Galway, East)||Wills, Arthur Walters|
|M'Callum, John M.||Rogers, F. E. Newman||Wilson, Henry J. (York., W.R.)|
|M'Crae, George||Rose, Charles Day||Wilson, John (Durham, Mid)|
|M'Micking, Major G.||Rowlands, J.||Wilson, W. T. (Westhoughton)|
|Mallet, Charles E.||Runciman, Walter||Wood, T. M'Kinnon|
|Manfield, Harry (Northants)||Samuel, S.M.(Whitechapel)||Young, Samuel|
|Markham, Arthur Basil||Seddon, J.|
|Marks,G.Croydon(Launceston)||Shackleton, David James||TELLERS FOR THE NOES—Mr.|
|Marnhan, F. J.||Shaw, Charles Edw. (Stafford)||Munro Ferguson and Mr.|
|Mason, A. E. W. (Coventry)||Shipman, Dr. John G.||Charles Price.|
§ Bill to be considered To-morrow.