HC Deb 18 July 1910 vol 19 cc948-54

"In each and every year from and after the first day of April, one thousand nine hundred and thirteen, the aggregate amount collected by means of port rates on goods discharged from or taken on board ships not within the premises of a dock of the Authority shall be so regulated as not to exceed one-third of the aggregate amount of all money received from port rates on goods."

This Clause regulates the proportion of payments to be made by the riverside and the docks. More than half the trade of the Port of London is done in the open river. In this portion of the trade the docks are of no great consequence, and are of very little use, and, although it is fair that persons engaged in that trade should bear their fair share of the extra expenses of the port, I do not think it is the intention of the House that they should be burdened with an unfair proportion. There are two limitations in this Bill, one is the one-thousandth of the aggregate value which applies to the whole trade of the Port. The second is the one three-thousandth which applies to the riverside trade only. If the Port Authority raise the maximum amount under their powers both these limitations apply, and no trouble arises. The situation that I want to deal with is when they are not raising the full amount under their powers. The argument is often used that it is impossible for the Port Authority to agree to a Clause of this sort, because it is not practicable to separate the amount in this way, but it is quite clear that if they raise the £330,000 they must do what I am asking. All I am proposing is that right through the time they are raising revenue they should observe the same proportion that they would be obliged to observe if they exercised to the full limit their taxing powers. Unless something further is done, it will be open to the Port Authority, if they only raise £130,000, to put that entirely on the riverside, and not on the docks at all. If they start by raising a large amount, then they will be able to put, not a proportion of two to one between the riverside and the docks, but any proportion they please. An argument against my proposal is that it is possible in the near future for the dock companies to develop riverside traffic themselves. If they do that it would be only fair that they should be charged against the riverside, and I should contend that any waterside premises of the dock company actually owned by them should be treated in such way, and that any development in that direction should count as for docks, and not for riverside. The Select Committee inquired into the matter, and this was the only point on which they desired to hear special remarks from the Port Authority. They said they were prepared to propose the actual Clause which I have the honour to move to-night. We went a long way, therefore, to persuade the Select Committee that our contention in regard to the riverside interests really was based on good reasons. The Committee heard the Port Authority, reinforced by the Board of Trade, who, I am sorry to say, came down against the riverside interests. I am not speaking of the President of the Board of Trade, who has shown a good deal of consideration, but of the legal representative of the Department, who certainly supported the view of the Port Authority, and very largely influenced the Select Com- mittee against adopting the Clause I am now moving. They put into the Bill some sort of a security which goes a very small way in the direction of the proposal I submit to the House. They used the words that the Port Authority should endeavour "so far as they consider practicable"—these words being destructive of most of the force of the provision in which they occur. The second stipulation was that the Port Authority should not make "an unfair proportion." There is not much security in that. The other provision was that "regard is to be taken to the circumstances of the port at the time."

The riverside and manufacturing interests of London consider that the words of the Order as now presented to the House afford very little security to them, if any at all. They are to trust the Port Authority. That is all very well, but they do not know what sum the Port Authority actually proposes to raise in the first year. The Port Authority have not seen fit to disclose whether they will raise £200,000 or £300,000, or perhaps less than £200,000. Lord St. Aldwyn held a long inquiry into the various rates of the Schedule, and there were negotiations during which the undertaking was given that the Port Authority were only going to charge 50 per cent. of the maximum duties now asked for under this Schedule. To my surprise, before the Select Committee only ten days ago, I heard the chairman of the Port Authority withdraw that undertaking, so that the position of the traders with whom the negotiations were made is certainly very much affected. One can hardly wonder in these circumstances that the riverside interests and the riverside manufacturers should now ask the House of Commons to make the position clear beyond any possibility of doubt. Despotism may conceivably be a good thing, and when we are told to trust to the Port Authority—though we are unaware of the intentions of that body—I recall a remark made here the other night by the Chief Secretary for Ireland, who, in describing despotism, said it might be better to write its memoirs than live under its sway. However good the intentions of the Port Authority may be, from the very necessities of the case their sway must be very hard on the whole of the riverside interests of London. The riverside interests of London need all the protection this House can give them. The disadvantages under which industrial enterprises and under which manufacturers in London labour must he manifest to everyone. We have an object lesson on the point in the building of a "Dreadnought" on the Thames. The Thames Ironworks Company obtained an order for a "Dreadnought," and they did so under enormous disadvantages—the disadvantages connected with the production of iron, the cost of coal, and the heavy rates and taxes of London. In the schedule of the port dues there is an additional handicap, heavily burdened though the Thames Ironworks Company are already. Anyone who knows the district around those works must be aware of the desolation caused by the absence of work, by the presence of unoccupied houses, and the lack of local business. The difference since there is work from this large order is very great. The Thames Ironworks are in one of the most difficult districts in London. There the houses are now occupied and shops are reopened. Anyone will understand how important it is that a large works like that of the Thames Ironworks Company, giving such a great amount of employment in the district, should not in any way be handicapped, as, under the circumstances, it is likely to be. These are my reasons for asking that the riverside interests should have the fullest security that the Port Authority can give. That security the Port Authority cannot avoid giving if they raise money to the full extent of their powers. Their argument that it is not possible to differentiate between the interests is not tenable. What I am asking the House to do is to say that whatever sum of money may be raised by the Port Authority those proportions of two to one should be observed. I think that is only fair, and, as representing a riverside Constituency in London, I am only doing my duty in moving the new Clause.


I beg to second the Motion. The proposition of my hon. Friend does not do all I want, but it does something. I have always recollected in these discussions that it is the private trader who has made the Port of London what it is. I can quite understand that if you were going to do anything for those people it would be right to charge them, but nothing is going to be done for them. There is plenty of money for any dredging that can be legally done by the doable tonnage dues which were put on by Act of Parliament in 1905. I say that these traders and others who conduct their own business on their own capital and by their own work ought not to be taxed by these charges to make up losses in other directions in connection with the docks. If there is money wanted to pay the amounts mentioned by my hon. Friend let them put a charge on the docks, and on the goods that use the docks, and not on the goods of others who do not use the docks, and do not care anything at all about them. This new Clause would not, of course, do away with all of the evil in connection with this proposal, but it will mitigate it to some extent. I am bound to say, in common kindness and honesty to our friends the traders of the Port of London, that they should not be charged with other people's sins, or made to pay other people's debts. Therefore I have much pleasure in assisting my hon. Friend in his proposal that a new Clause should be inserted.


I do not think my hon. Friend appreciates sufficiently that if you are going to have a Port Authority, and if it is to carry out not only the ordinary details of its business, but if it is to improve the broadway, and if it is to improve the docks or the dock accommodation, it has got to have some revenue for those purposes. I am one of those who have always thought that on the whole it would have been better, and for the general advantage of London, that any balance required should be provided as security for the improvement by the rates. That is not the opinion of the London County Council of the time, and it was not therefore embodied in the Bill. That being so it is necessary that such a revenue should be raised for those purposes. It is quite obvious that in order to raise revenue you have to impose some rates, and that those rates will no doubt be objected to by all those who have to pay them, which, after all, is quite a human thing. I desire to point out in reference to this matter that certain advantages have been given to waterside manufacturers in the Act of Parliament as originally drawn, and in this Provisional Order as now proposed. My hon. Friend has, in a speech with which I have no objection to find, made certain statements in reference to this matter and how those people were affected. An anonymous circular has been placed in my hand, obviously issued by the waterside manufacturers and those persons involved, and that nearly every statement in it, and especially those in reference to myself and the Board of Trade, are absolutely untrue and grossly misleading. I am very glad my hon. Friend, in the course of his speech, has not endorsed those statements. But I confess I must, as a Member of this House, and as a Member who is more or less responsible for this Provisional Order, protest against anonymous circulars being issued in reference to this matter.


I am Vice-President of the Manufacturers' Association, and I should like to say, as far as the waterside manufacturers are concerned, that they had nothing to do with publishing that circular. If they had, it is entirely without any knowledge on my part, and as I am vice-president of the association I imagine I should have known if they had.


Not only do I accept my hon. Friend's statement, but I have already disclaimed any connection on his behalf. But somebody has issued an anonymous circular, and as it is in favour of the waterside manufacturers, I naturally assumed it came from them. I only thought it my duty to protest against such a circular from whatever quarter it may have come. I am quite sure my hon. Friend has nothing to do with it. As regards the question of merits, as far as I am concerned, representing the Board of Trade, I think my hon. Friend will admit I have done my best in the first instance that this case should be presented to the Committee. I accepted an Instruction which he proposed after Second Reading in order that their case should be fully put before the Committee of this House, so that they should deal with this matter. Subsequently I endeavoured, as far as lay in my power, to get the Port Authority to meet the opinion and feelings of the waterside manufacturer with regard to this matter. They were anxious, for administrative reasons, and I think sound administrative reasons, that their hands in this matter should not be tied, though they were fully desirous of placing no undue burden on the waterside manufacturers. I requested them, and I pressed them, to accept some Amendment, which, appearing, as it does, in the Provisional Order, which becomes an Act of Parliament, would indicate clearly what the opinion of the House of Commons was and the opinion of the Committee in reference to this matter.

While I believe anyone who has looked into the principle must admit that you cannot have a hard-and-fast rule, for administrative purposes, with reference to these rates, and with which it would be almost impossible to manage the Port question, yet that these waterside manufacturers should have security that they should not be unfairly treated. Words to that effect, at my request and suggestion, were inserted. Those words really meet the difficulty of the waterside manufacturers and of my hon. Friend. I am bound to say I never felt, as he did, that the Port Authority, a great public authority, created by Act of Parliament, was going to commit injustice as between the various interests of the Port of London. I did not believe myself that it was really necessary to have statutory security, except in regard to the question of maximum, put in in 1908, for this particular interest; but, in deference to their wishes, and to the feeling which no doubt actuated them that they might receive some measure of injustice, I did induce the Port Authority to introduce these words. Under those circumstances, I feel bound to support these words, as I believe they are a very fair solution of the difficulty. It appears to me that in this matter we must give a certain latitude of administration to the Port Authority. At the same time, when it is felt by a particular interest of this sort that the Port Authority might overstep the just limits as between that interest and another, it is not an up-usual thing to ask that words should be inserted to guard against that unjust treatment. I believe these words fully carry out the idea in the minds of those who thought they might be unjustly treated. and under these circumstances I hope the House will support the Committee and the Board of Trade in opposing the Amendment.

Question put, and negatived.