§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD Of TRADE (Mr. Sydney Buxton)
It may be for the convenience of the House that I should make a few observations in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, in order to show how the matter stands now, and what has been the action of the Port Authority with regard to it. The House will recollect that ten years ago the then dock companies brought before the House certain proposals in regard to the increase of rates which they suggested should be carried out. The House did not see its way to allow these increases in the rates and charges in the Port of London to be carried out by private companies. The Government of the day appointed a Royal Commission to inquire into the matter. The Royal Commission reported, and a Bill was introduced on the subject which in its earlier stages did not make any progress. In 1908, however, my right hon. colleague the Chancellor of the Exchequer, my predecessor at the Board of Trade, took the matter in hand, and, after negotiations with various persons interested, ho carried a Bill which is called the Port of London Act. I do not suppose that he himself will say that the composition of the body created, the Port of London Authority or its general powers are absolutely perfect. A certain amount of give- 115 and-take in the negotiation had to take place. But I think it is recognsed that the Port Authority, at the time and under the circumstances, was the best form of body that co aid be devised. And they are the body which act under the Act of Parliament. The Act threw upon them in the first place the duty of maintaining the dock accommodation, and threw upon them the duty of raising funds to meet the expenditure incurred. Clause 13 of the Act specifically instructed them that the method of raising revenue was fey means of rates upon imports and exports, After discussion a Committee of the two Houses met to consider the principle, and I do not propose now to discuss the principle in regard to that matter.
The Instruction of the House of Commons at that time to the Port Authority was to raise revenue. It was to raise it by rates on imports and exports. It was also instructed within a specified time to draw up a Schedule embodying the rates they proposed which would give them sufficient revenue for the purpose which they had in view. These rates were to be maximum rates, within which maximum there was some elasticity of handling those rates; and this power was subject to certain restrictions and certain provisos. In the first place they had to submit the Schedule to the Board of Trade for review and for revision, and they were prohibited from imposing rates on transhipment. This was done in order to save and protect that great trade of which there was so much in the Port of London. They were also prohibited from imposing higher rates on goods landed or discharged at their own docks than on goods which were landed or discharged elsewhere. They were also instructed that equal charges must be made on all persons in respect of similar descriptions of goods. In addition to that there were limitations on the aggregate receipts, and Sub-section (3), Clause 3, provided that the aggregate annual receipts from the imports and exports were not to exceed one one-thousandth part of the annual oversea value of the goods, and the receipts from the river traffic were not to exceed one three-thousandth part of the aggregate value of the overseas goods. Those were the various restrictions on their powers; but subject to those they were allowed by the Act to produce a Schedule under the Act. Under this Clause they considered the question for a 116 considerable period and they did their best to come to agreements with the various interests concerned. Finally they produced a Schedule of the various rates which they proposed to levy in the Port of London. As they were bound under the Act, they sent this Schedule to the Board of Trade and the Board of Trade came to the conclusion that the best method of arriving at a satisfactory arrangement in regard to this matter and the best method of giving public opportunity to those who had objections to make would be to hold a public inquiry.
They were fortunate enough to secure as their representative at that inquiry Lord St. Aldwyn, who had acted throughout this matter. He took a very great deal of trouble, held a long and exhaustive inquiry, and gave every opportunity to the various objectors to each of the rates to state their case. I think everybody will admit that he gave a very patient and exhaustive hearing to the various questions raised, and I think all who are concerned will agree with me in saying that the Port of London and those interested in it are very much indebted to Lord St. Aldwyn for the very great ability and impartiality which he showed in connection with that matter. He very greatly modified the Schedule, he reduced a very considerable number of the rates, and, what was in some ways still better, managed so to work that a very large proportion of the questions at issue were settled by agreement, which was a very difficult task, as it always is" when questions of rates are concerned. I think we were fortunate in having a man who was able to handle it so well. I would like to say that I think also the House will recognise that individual traders, associations of traders, the London Chamber of Commerce, and other bodies of that character, have also rendered very signal service in dealing with this matter, in modifying their own point of view and endeavouring to arrive at an agreement where it was possible. The Port Authority also deserves credit for the way in which they have met objections which were taken to these rates, and I am glad to think that a very large number of the various rates have been accepted or settled by agreement. The House will see the general result of the conclusion come to by Lord St. Aldwyn in the Schedules attached to the Provisional Order Bill before us. The Port Authority proposed 117 and he accepted, certain import and export duties. In every case he saw the export duties did not exceed the import duties; but he sent us his report, which was substantially accepted by the Board of Trade, because, in the first place, he had given very great attention to the matter, and, in the second place, it appeared to us that we could not very well, unless we were ready to discuss the whole matter from beginning to end, do otherwise than accept the proposals which he made. I am glad to think that a considerably smaller number of points are still in dispute, and I may venture to say to the House that those are hardly matters in which there is any question of principle on the Second Reading, but are matters for a Committee of this House or for a Committee of the House of Lords rather than for the House itself. The difficulty was, of course, to estimate accurately what would be the receipts from the over-sea trade as well as rebates. The estimate of the Port Authority to the Board of Trade was that they would receive from exports and imports £750,000 a year. In the Schedule of the Provisional Order Bill, the Second Reading of which I a2n now proposing, the receipts from over-sea exports and imports is estimated at £524,000 a year. The result of Lord St. Aldwyn's inquiry, therefore, has been a substantial reduction on the proposals of the Port Authority. These are maximum rates, and I do not think it will be necessary for some time to come, if ever, to raise those maximum rates. They are maximum rates, not actual rates, and there will be a very considerable margin given for future expansion. Lord St. Aldwyn, in his Report, said that the Port Authority, being a strong, powerful, and representative body created under the Act of Parliament, ought to have very considerable latitude in dealing with these matters. I therefore venture to recommend to the House this Provisional Order as in substance following the Act of Parliament, after having been carefully considered by the Port Authority, after having been revised by Lord St. Aldwyn's Committee, after having been considered by the London Chamber of Commerce and others who came in agreement, and after having been again revised by the Board of Trade. They are proposals which on the whole I believe to be on the right lines. They are economical proposals for the Port Authority, and they provide for the carrying out of the obligations laid upon that authority by the Act of Parliament, 118 enabling them to improve the accommodation of the Port of London, and to make it, what it ought to be, able to give a lead to other ports, not merely in this Kingdom, but throughout the world. I hope, therefore, the House, whatever may be their views as regards certain points, will accept the Second Reading which I now move, with the full confidence and knowledge that any points or objections which may be raised will be amply considered by a Committee of this House, and, if necessary, by a Committee of the House of Lords."
§ Mr. GUY WILSON
I beg to move to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to insert the words "upon this day three months."
I rise to submit this Amendment, which stands on the Paper in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen (Mr. Esslemont); and, first, I should like to thank the President of the Board of Trade for the help he has given us, and for his assurance that in Committee there will be facilities afforded to amend the proposals now before us. I cannot help feeling that the trade for which I speak on this occasion has not received that consideration which is its due. The Act of 1908 gives power to impose charges on goods imported from across the seas and coastwise. I contend that fish caught in the North Sea and brought direct to the Port of London cannot possibly be held to come within the category of goods from across the seas. For that reason I hope the House will see its way to amend this part of the measure in order to allow fish to be imported into the Port of London without a rate being imposed at all. Further than that, in connection with all the Acts which up to now have dealt with this class of goods and with Billingsgate Market, there always has been a general feeling in favour of the importation of fish into the Port of London. I hold that, instead of imposing a further rate on these goods that come into the Port, the rate should, if anything, be lessened. At the present moment the fees and charges we pay are very much higher in the Port of London than in Hull, Grimsby, or Fleet-wood. Although this may appear a very small matter, it is a very serious matter indeed for the companies concerned in the fish trade. One thing to which we seriously object is that, while we are asked to pay this further rate on fish landed in the Port of London, yet we are given no further facilities, and nothing is to be done for us at all. The rate that we are to pay 119 will go towards the provision of further dock accommodation for passenger vessels, cargo vessels, and "tramps,' while we, the owners of fishing vessels, are to get nothing. At the present moment we pay for wharf-age and for markets to the Corporation of London, and we also pay in respect of pilotage to the Trinity House. It is for these reasons I beg to move the rejection of the Bill. I repeat that although it may seem a very small matter, this levying of a further rate on fish imported into the Port of London it is a very serious matter for those engaged in the trade. It affects the Constituency which I represent very much indeed—more so than any other constituency in this country. There are four great companies who bring fish into the Port of London, and until now, and during the last three or four years, they have had very bad times indeed; they nave bad very great difficulty in making ends meet; they have paid no dividends at all, and if this further rate is imposed upon them they will have to consider whether or not they will continue the service to London. If it be discontinued it will mean that fish will go to Grimsby, Fleetwood, and Hull, and it will arrive there in not so fresh a condition as it does when brought to London. It would be transhipped from Fleetwood, and the change would entail that the fish would have to be handled two or three times instead of once, so that it would arrive much less fresh and in a stale condition. At present there is competition between the fish carried from Fleetwood to Hull, and the fish carried from Grimsby to London, and if this competition ceased the railway companies would put up the rates, and, as a consequence, the population of London, who already buy two-thirds of the 65,000 tons of fish which come to the Port of London, would have to pay more for their fish, while it would not be of as good a quality as at present.
§ Mr. J. A. DAWES
I second the Amendment moved by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Hull. I do so with some diffidence, I can assure the House. Unless there was some special reason for the exemption of fish coming to the Port of London, it would be perfectly hopeless, I think, to endeavour to vary the Schedule which has been prepared with such labour and care by Lord St. Aldwyn. It seems to me, however, that there is considerable ground for altering the 120 Schedule so far as fish is concerned. As was pointed out by the Member for Hull, the Act of 1908 itself specified particularly the goods on which the rates are to be levied; that is to say, Section 13 provides that goods imported across the seas and coastwise into the Port of London shall, etc. I do not see how under any circumstances fish could be brought within the four corners of that Act. It was not imported from abroad, and equally it was not coastwise. Lord St. Aldwyn appears to have considered that the intention of Parliament was that everything should be dutiable. It is not, I submit, a question of what Parliament may or may not have intended, but a question of what Parliament has actually enacted by the Act of 1908. Besides the legal point, no doubt the moment you begin to exempt one commodity there are twenty, thirty, forty, fifty others for which an equally good case may be made out. But seeing that there is a doubt, and I think more than a doubt, as to whether fish comes under the Section, one may perhaps urge other reasons why an exemption should be granted.
I trust that the right hon. Gentleman will favourably consider the total exemption of fish. First of all there is the question of the cheapness of this form of food. In this connection it is not perhaps out of place that I, as a representative of an industrial constituency, should speak in support of the exemption. As I understand it, something like 70,000 tons of fish is brought into the Port of London every year direct from the North Sea by fish carriers, and that of that 70,000 at least two-thirds consists of such fish as skate, whiting, and other varieties sold, as was stated in evidence before Lord St. Aldwyn and not contradicted, at one penny per pound. That really must be fish which is consumed by the poorer classes of the community. From that point of view I would urge on the right hon. Gentleman to favourably consider the exemption. Then there comes the further question, incidentally, perhaps, that it might be that an impost on fish would increase the unemployment already sufficiently rife in London. It was given in evidence before Lord St. Aldwyn that it was, if I may so describe it, just touch and go as to whether the companies made any profit or not on this fish which is brought in. It was also given in evidence that if anything in the nature of an impost was put OH fish the fish would be taken elsewhere by the single boaters, probably to Grimsby or Hull, and 121 not to the Port of London. The method of unloading in the Port of London is by manual labour. In the evidence it was brought out that it was impossible to do this by mechanical means. The boats have to lie three or four abreast, and they have to be unloaded simultaneously in order to catch the market. I need not point out that if anything were done to drive the fish to other ports it would mean the disappearance of the familiar sight of the Billingsgate porters and a reduction in employment. That may not be a very important point, but it is a point which I hope the Committee will consider.
There is the possible injustice or hardship that may be caused to the fisherman through whose labours this fish is brought to London at all. I suppose all of us who study the fishing question view with serious misgivings the diminution in the number of the fishing population. From the fishing population is recruited to a large extent the Naval Reserve and the Navy, and mercantile marine. There is no doubt of the fact that in recent years there has been a considerable diminution in that population. The almost total disappearance of the Yarmouth and most of the sailing fleets necessarily means a diminution in the fishing population. I believe I am putting it at a low estimate when I say that one steam trawler with seven or eight hands can do as much work as four or five sailing vessels carrying also possibly five or six hands each. From that point of view it means also that the fishermen must have been making less, and it means also that this race, hardy, rough perhaps, but one of the most industrious and hard-working sets of men one could find, may possibly be prejudiced by any impost put on this commodity. I have been out with the men engaged in mackerel and herring fishing. I am quite sure that any Member of this House that knows anything at all about the question knows for what very little money those men work, and how very hard they have to work. I have been out with a herring drifter on the North Coast, when we have caught 500 fish after something like eighteen hours work. The very next night I have seen the boat with half its nets gone to the bottom, swamped with fish which were utterly useless, and had to be thrown away. I do urge on the House not to do anything they can avoid doing to make the lot of those men harder than it is already. I do so for three reasons: First, because the fish does not come with- 122 in the Act; secondly, on account of the paramount necessity of a fresh and good supply of cheap fish in London; thirdly, the unemployment question—possibly the least important, because it may or may not really be affected, and possibly because of the possible hardship done to fishermen. I would appeal to hon. Members on both sides. Hon. Members on the opposite side do not desire to tax raw material. This is raw material. Hon. Members on both sides of the House profess that they have no desire to increase the tax on food, and, finally, this is an impost' which under no circumstances can the foreigner be made to pay.
Mr. ERNEST POLLOCK
I rise to support the opposition to this Provisional Order Bill not only on the grounds which have been indicated to the House, but also on a wider ground. This Bill is introduced in pursuance of Section 13 of the Port of London Act, 1908, which provides that this Provisional Order shall be prepared and brought in within a certain limit of time, and also that it shall be embodied in the Schedule that "all goods imported from parts beyond the seas or coastwise into the Port of London, or exported to parts beyond the seas, or coastwise from that port shall, subject to any exemptions or rebates which may be contained in a Provisional Order under this section, or allowed by the Port Authority, be liable to such port rates as the Port Authority may fix, not exceeding such rates as may be specified in the Provisional Order."
The Sub-section has a proviso, which has been treated as an instruction and as the only instruction in drawing this Bill, namely, "(b) The Provisional Order under this Section shall provide for exemption from such rate goods imported for transhipment only, or which remain on board the ship in which they were imported for conveyance therein to another port, and may determine what goods are for the purposes of such exemption to be treated as goods imported for transhipment only." I wish to ask why the only exemption provided for under the Provisional Order is the exemption referred to in that proviso. There are no exemption under the earlier portion of the Clause, and there are no exemptions which ought to find their place in a Provisional Order having due regard to the needs and necessities not only of coastwise trade, but of trade from the centres of industry in the Midlands. Every person who touches a Bill of this kind and 123 finds himself confronted with a schedule of this magnitude knows that he is undertaking a very difficult task. Every Member would no doubt desire to pay a tribute to the industry and ability of Lord St. Aldwyn; but that is not quite the point. In this Provisional Order he has slavishly followed Sub-section (b) of Section 13 without giving any effect at all to the other exemptions which for good reason ought to find their place in the Order. Clause 9 of the Provisional Order provides: "No port rates shall be charged by the authority on transhipment goods, which expression wherever used in this Order means goods imported for transhipment only and also goods which remain on board the vessel in which they are imported for conveyance to another port." Then there is an interpretation clause, saying that "goods imported for transhipment only" shall mean goods imported from beyond the seas or coastwise. The effect of that Clause is, that if the goods come from abroad and are transhipped, or if the goods come coastwise from another port, say from Bristol, no port rate is to be levied upon them. But if goods come from the centres of industry in the Midlands, say by canal, to the Port of London, they will have to pay the port rate. The result will be that, however much the port rate is, by so much there will be a preference in favour of the coastwise trade or in favour of the foreign goods sent over here for purposes of transhipment. It may be a very fair thing that port rates should not be levied upon those two classes of goods, but it cannot have been duly considered, I think, by the promoters of this Provisional Order that they are leaving out of the exemption all goods which may come by canal from the centres of industry in the Midlands to seek the Port of London as a port of export. The Bill is designed to enable the Port Authorities to recover a proper and reasonable reward for the services they render; but has it been considered by those responsible that the Bill as drawn may defeat that object? Because if goods coming from the Midlands, which in the ordinary course would seek a port of export in London, have to pay these port rates, the Clause may act as a deterrent, and instead of the port of London enjoying an increase of business by reason of the Act of 1908 and this Provisional Order, which is the complement of that Act, goods from the Midlands may find their way to Liverpool or 124 elsewhere. I do not offer my opposition to the Provisional Order in any captious spirit; but I wish to know whether this question has been duly and carefully considered. It is so often possible to make a slip and to forget what the effect of such a provision may be that I respectfully draw attention to this matter.
It may be said that there is power in the port authority to grant exemption. I quite agree. But if there were no provision at all for such exemptions in the Provisional Order it would be very hard of any trader to send goods in the hope that the port authority when they had got the goods would grant exemptions from the port rates. The person administering the schedule would look to see whether any exemption was provided, and, if it was not, the answer would be that no such exemption could be granted—overlooking entirely the powers given under Section 13 of the Act, which are just as important, and were intended by Parliament to be considered just as much as the proviso which I have quoted. Clause 9 therefore, instead of benefiting the Port of London, proposes to impose a port rate upon goods which ought to have just as much consideration as goods which come coastwise or from abroad for purposes of transhipment. This House would by no means assist the port authorities charged with the execution of this Act if there was not given in the terms of the Provisional Order some sort of indication to the traders in the centres of industry that their goods also would be fairly treated in the same way as goods which come coastwise. If the exemption is not to be discovered in the Act, there is no advertised security at all to induce traders to send goods to the Port of London instead of to Liverpool or some other port where the port rate might not be so heavy. It is only by having an explicit statement in the Bill, a Clause which shall deal with this matter, and shall deal with all exemptions, that a clear indication can be given to traders that by sending goods through the Port of London they can enjoy the great advantages of that port and at the same time derive the exemption, not so much giving them any preferential treatment, but by which they shall be safe from any adverse treatment as against goods coming coastwise or from abroad for the purposes of transhipment. So much for Clause 9. Hon. Gentlemen on the opposite side of the House have pointed out what seems to me a very serious blot upon the Bill in Clause 13. The difficulties 125 under which the fishing trade is carried on at the present time do not need expansion by me. But if you are going to place the fishing trade in a greater difficulty than it has been before, once more you have done no good to the fishing trade, but, above all, you have done no good to the Port of London. However, I do not want to detain the House any longer, but I do ask and submit that this Bill has not been drawn with a due regard to all the various interests concerned. While the schedule may have been carefully drawn and considered, there is scope and need for further exemptions in favour of other traders which ought to be put in the Act. On that ground I desire to oppose the Bill.
§ Mr. G. R. THORNE
I very much regret that it falls to my lot to appear in any way to oppose a measure which has been introduced by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade. But the fact that he is President of the Board of Trade, particularly in view of the statement which he made in presenting the Bill to the House a few moments ago, makes me believe that the objections which I, in common with other Members, may raise in opposition to this Bill will receive, at any rate in Committee, the fullest possible consideration. I trust before the Bill leaves the House to-night that we may have the assurance from him that that consideration will be given. It will remove the difficulties which we are presenting to him. It may be, perhaps, regarded as a very strange thing that a Midland Member stands here in opposition to this particular Bill. The answer to that is the paradoxical one that I am opposing it now for the very reason that I am a Midland Member. I have been approached, in common with all my colleagues for Wolverhampton district, by the Corporation of my town, by the Chamber of Commerce, and by a large number of Midland manufacturers, who think that this Bill will very seriously handicap and injure the trade of the Midlands. I very much regret their representations were not made at the hearing before Lord St. Aldwyn. I have a copy of his report, and in looking through the long list of those who appeared before him I do not find any Midland names. I recognise that the railway companies were represented, and that Lord St. Aldwyn in his Report, referring to their opposition said:—In the case of coastwise goods the exemption which transhipment gives from the rates was attacked by the railway companies running into London, who objected to the advantage thus given to sea-borne traffic as against themselves.126 I am not here on behalf of the railway companies, though I entirely agree with that point of opposition. I am here speaking to this House on behalf of those whom I immediately represent. Their interests are very seriously affected indeed by the preference which is given to these manufacturers who are on the seaboard, as against the Midland manufacturers.
We are not here in a spirit of antagonism to the Bill as a whole. We want to see the Port of London prosper. But we do not believe that Parliament should be asked to assist in the prosperity of the Port of London by assisting in the adversity of the Midlands. It is consequently in the interests of the Midlands that we are here, not to hurt the Port of London, but to prevent, if possible, the Port of London hurting us. To explain the position which those whom I represent take, I may just allude, in one sentence, to the fact that in Wolverhampton and Birmingham, and the great industrial districts in between, is to be found one of the great seats of the manufacture of heavy goods for export. Manifestly to those who are engaged in that trade one of their most serious considerations is the cost of transport. Anything that affects that cost materially affects them in the competition which they have to meet from other competing traders. What I submit is this: When anybody, be it the Port of London or any other body, appeals to Parliament for assistance, Parliament will naturally grant proper assistance; but I submit as a general proposition that this assistance should not be granted so as to give an advantage to one section of the community at the expense of another section. It is because I submit that the proposals of this Bill would have that effect that I am here in opposition to it. It is known to all that the freights for taking goods by land is greatly in excess of that for taking goods by water. Taking that important fact into consideration, realising that manufacturers in the Midlands have to compete with manufacturers on the seaboard, that fact is a most material point in the consideration of the Bill which is now before the House. Goods going by train or canal from Wolverhampton and district, and the Midland district generally, and using the Port of London, have to compete with goods coming from the Port of Hull or other similar places; consequently those coming from seaboard districts have already now the benefit of a 127 much cheaper rate than we who send goods from the Midlands. We are handicapped at the start. It appears to me, under these circumstances, that when Parliament is asked to intervene, it is a reasonable thing to ask that Parliament should try to lessen the handicap and not in the slightest degree to increase it. For this, however, as against others, we are not asking. We take the facts as they are. We realise the difficulties which arise in regard to the Midland man as compared with the seaboard manufacturer. That being the fact, what we ask is that a fair consideration shall be given to both, and that the provisions of the Bill shall not be such as further to handicap the Midland manufacturer and practically destroy his chance in the race in which he is engaging for the business of the world. That is our position. I am satisfied that the President of the Board of Trade is a man so absolutely reasonable, and so desirous of meeting fairly all contending interests, that he will at once see the point that we are making; and I think, if I can get the assurance tonight, that in the course of the Committee stage he will do everything that is practicable and possible to meet our difficulties and give us fair play with other competing traders and manufacturers—speaking for myself, and I think I may speak for the others also—that assurance will be accepted in all loyalty, and we may possibly see a way whereby what we desire on behalf of the people we represent shall be achieved. I have been treated with the most absolute courtesy in answer to questions put by me to the President of the Board of Trade. I asked why there should be this particular exemption granted under the Act of 1908, and I was told that it was in the interests of the Port of London itself. That I can quite understand. If the Port of London were merely a trading concern and had not to come to Parliament, that answer would be sufficient: but as it comes to Parliament to ask for assistance, I say that that assistance should only be granted on perfectly fair and equitable terms. Such an exemption as this is should not have been conceded. I submit that the answer given is not a sufficient reason to come to Parliament and to ask Parliament to interfere in such a way as to cause unfairness between two sets of competing traders. I hope the Port of London will realise, and that the Board of Trade will realise, that this 128 is not only an unjust, but a short-sighted policy as well. The Midland manufacturers will not be inclined, to use a common phrase, to take this lying down. They will strive in the best fashion possible to meet the position, and if possible to secure some other port that may give them more favourable terms than the Port of London; and, if so, the Port of London will, by the very course it is taking, suffer to a great extent. There is another tendency, and, unfortunately, it is not a problematical matter; it is a tendency already taking place, and to the serious detriment of the town I represent in what has happened in recent years. There would not only be a natural tendency for Midland traders to send their goods to other ports, but, far worse, there is a tendency for Midland traders and manufacturers to remove their works from Wolverhampton and the Midlands to seaport towns. That is already taking place. I should like to afford the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade an object-lesson on this absolutely vital matter if I could persuade him to do us the honour of paying a visit to Wolverhampton. I should then point out to him sites in the east end of our town which a few years ago were hives of industry, where a large number of men were employed and an enormous amount of work was carried out, and whence, if these still existed, there would be goods coming up to the Port of London for transit to foreign countries.
Where there were once hives of industry there is now a quietness as of the grave. The reason is that the great cost of transit for heavy goods for export trade apparently made it absolutely impossible to carry on these works in the Midlands in the competition that existed, and these works have been removed to Newport, Mon., and to Elsmere Port. The result is that these businesses are taken away from the Midland districts, and we in the Midlands have had to suffer. I am not saying that Wolverhampton is not a good centre for trade generally. I do not want in the slightest degree to damage my own town. I am directing my remarks to the difficulties which exist in regard to the heavy export trade. Wolverhampton is a good centre for all others, and we only contend on behalf of those whom we represent that nothing should be done by Parliament to help the tendency which now exists in making it harder for our manufacturers to exist. Many of them have already 129 considered whether duty will not compel them to follow the example of their predecessors and remove their works. I believe local patriotism largely prevents them and impels them to stay where they are; but as business, common-sense men they must look facts in the face, and every little that is added in addition to the economic difficulty makes their difficulty the greater. Parliament steps in, and by helping the Port of London in an unfair way, makes this burden all the greater, and makes it so much the worse for the Midlands. We are compelled, therefore, to come to Parliament and to protest against such a course. I have only another point to make and it is this, that this very power which the Port of London is now seeking may hurt itself, because the result will be, as I have shown it is the tendency, to remove from the Midlands to the ports, and as goods coming from the seaboard are to be exempt, so the Port of London will not get the rates. Therefore, on the merits and in fairness to the competing traders and in the interests of the Port of London itself, I appeal to this House that in Committee, at all events, this difficulty shall be fully faced and overcome. We do not ask preference at the expense of the seaboard; all we ask is that the seaboard shall not have preference at the expense of the Midlands. Looking at the matter from a purely business standpoint, and as one who desires to promote the trade of the Midlands, I am compelled, on behalf of the Midland people, to offer the Bill my strongest opposition until this objectionable preference is removed.
§ Mr. EBENEZER PARKES
I, like the hon. Member who has just sat down, have something to say on behalf of the Midlands. I am afraid when this Bill was before the Committee, it did not receive that attention from the Midland point of view that it deserved. I inquired on several occasions whether representations were made in the Committee from the Midland districts. I was assured the case was in the hands of the Midland Railway Companies. Whether they have put the case of the Midlands I am not prepared to say. The hon. Member opposite said there was a possibility of the large traders migrating to the coast. I notice that was very heartily cheered by a great many Members of the House. I suppose hon. Members of this House will not wish to see the Midland districts denuded of their trades and manufactures. If 130 that were the case, and as we were made to believe that all other industries and occupations are dependent, more or less, upon the manufacturer, what would become of the Midlands if these manufacturers migrated to the coast? The Midlands should not then be penalised, as they are by the Bill as it stands at the present.
I consider there is unfair discrimination against the Midland districts. Take two sets of traders—one trader carrying on at the coast the same kind of business as the other carries on in the Midlands, what would be the effect upon those two? You have an import duty on semi-manufactured goods and export duties from the Port of London upon goods from the Midlands going to foreign parts. That means that some goods have a double duty upon them if they come from the Midlands, and if we remember that those dues of the Port of London run from 4d in the £ to 2s., we can realise what the possible impost upon manufactured goods from the Midlands would be. It may mean anything. 1s., 2s., 3s. That, in the present state of competition, is quite sufficient to destroy any trade that has to face competition. I have been assured that this point is not sufficiently considered. It not only gives preference to the manufacturers in this country on the sea coast, but it also gives preference to foreign manufacturers as against the Midlands. I confess I cannot understand how the Board of Trade can justify giving preference to the foreigner against the Midland manufacturer. That is certainly the effect of the Bill as it stands. I am also told it will have a deleterious effect upon the trade of the Port of London itself. Certain people go to the Port of London because there they get certain ships that go to certain ports of the world, but that will be remedied in time by establishing lines of ships to these foreign ports from other ports in the country, so that the effect will be that in the long run the Port of London would suffer the loss of a great deal of its trade. I think that is very short-sighted policy indeed, and I think it is only necessary to look at the matter in a fair and square way to see the unfairness of the competition imposed. I cannot think for one moment that the President of the Board of Trade, actuated as he is by very fair feelings towards all classes of the community, can for a moment consent to put an impost on certain manufacturers in the Midlands as against those who happen to be trading on the coast. The tendency of this action 131 will be to kill those trades in the Midlands. There are very great interests in Birmingham which require the most careful consideration, and anything of this kind which imposes further imposts and burdens upon them will be most disastrous. I hope the President of the Board of Trade will give this matter most careful attention, and take the points I have raised into his favourable consideration.
§ Sir OWEN PHILIPPS
As chairman of the Port of London Authority I should like to bring before the House another aspect of this question. The Port of London Authority has spent over twelve months in close attention to this important question, and has taken great pains to deal fairly with this matter. When this Schedule was published we received the objection to about 45 per cent, of the rates imposed from no less than 200 associations and firms. We listened most carefully to the representations from those bodies. We met an enormous number of them, and I think no gentleman who appeared before the committee of the Port of London Authority will say that he did not receive very kind treatment. That body consists almost entirely of traders, who, like myself, have a very large interest in the future of the Port of London. Consequently we were able to look at the question, as I contend we did, from the traders' point of view. After hearing and dealing with all the objections, as the President of the Board of Trade has stated, he appointed Lord St. Aldwyn to hold an inquiry into the further objections raised. A large number of firms and associations again placed their case before his Lordship, who gave a lot of time to careful consideration of the question, and he heard all they had to say. Lord St. Aldwyn met a large number of these cases, and the net result of the concessions granted to the trade amounted to £122,000 a year off the maximum rates. To listen to the arguments put forward by some hon. Members one would think that a small rate would absolutely ruin the trade. Take the case of the steam trawler. I know and sympathise with the difficulties trawlers have had to contend with during the last three years. It has already been pointed out that the cheapest kind of fish is worth a l¼d. per pound, or 11s. 8d. per hundred weight. What is this rate which is going to kill the trade on the cheapest class of fish? The maximum rate allowed by the Schedule is less than a halfpenny, and if that is the 132 strongest case which can be brought against this Schedule, I contend that it shows clearly that it is a very fair one. Another hon. Member has stated that these port rates will drive the trade to Liverpool. May I point out that this Schedule is largely based upon the rates of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board, which are considerably heavier than the maximum which it is proposed to authorise under this Bill. It has been said that the Midland manufacturers did not appear before Lord St. Aldwyn. If they did not it was simply because they knew that their case was in very safe hands, and would be very ably put by the great railway companies interested in the Midlands. Those railway companies did have their case very clearly and ably put before Lord St. Aldwyn, and they made out the best case they could. The result was that they failed to convince the members of the Port of London Authority that they had a good case, and when they came before Lord St. Aldwyn they also failed to convince his Lordship. When hon. Members get up and state that Midland manufacturers have to pay rates which are not paid on coastwise cargo it should be remembered that there is no case that can be made for the Midlands that will stand examination before any impartial committee. I would be the last person to support any dues on the Midlands or elsewhere that would drive trade from the Port of London. London is competing for trade with other ports in the Kingdom, and if Parliament gives the Port of London Authority power to levy the dues in this Schedule, the net result will be good for the counties in the Midlands as well as other parts of the country. The net result of improving the Port of London by deepening the water and improving facilities for loading and discharging and handling cargo will undoubtedly tend to make London a very much cheaper port, which will cheapen transit, and thus tend to benefit manufacturers not only in London, but throughout the whole of the Midlands. I hope the Government will not accept the proposal before the House.
§ Sir WILLIAM BULL
The speeches we have heard this evening only show the tremendous difficulties that beset those on the Authority for the Port of London. I desire to point out the view of the coastwise traders in coal on this question of dues. Coal is a raw material, and we feel that it should come into London free. At the present time the railway companies all 133 bring their coal into London free, and it is now proposed that a tax of 2d. per ton should be put upon coal borne by sea. I therefore ask the House to very carefully consider the great question of the competition going on between coal which is seaborne and coal which is railway-borne. I do not think, if the tax was equalised by a tax being put on railway-borne coal, that those who carry coal by sea would object, but the competition is so close orders going from one to the other on a difference of |d. per ton, that they earnestly protest against this tax of 2d. per ton upon coal brought into the Port of London. It would very largely cripple the sea-borne trade. It would not only at once damage it, but gradually the trade would be diminished and the large amount of money which is sunk in plant, machinery, and steamers dealing with this trade would be entirely lost.
The average value of the sea-borne coal to the Port of London is from 10s. to 11s. per ton, and the proposed rate of 2d. per ton therefore amounts to 4d. in the £. There is no other article rated higher than a penny in the £. Consequently, the proposed rate on coal is 400 per cent, higher than that on any other article. This was clearly brought before the Committee of which I had the honour to be a member, and the chairman said at the time he considered coal was entitled to exceptionally favourable treatment, but he thought it was a question that ought to be threshed out on the floor of the House. They were dealing with principles rather than with details, and the proper time for it to be considered would be when this Provisional Order came up for discussion in the House. Coal is also the only article on the coastwise rates which is the same as the oversea rates. In all other cases it is half of the oversea rate, but here it is exactly the same. The whole trade is a private enterprise, and it does not use the docks in any way or only to a very slight extent. The Port Authority has power to raise £330,000 per annum from rates on goods. This is divided in round figures as to £220,000 derived from goods using the docks and £110,000 from goods using the river. The proposed rate of 2d. per ton on coal will produce £70,000 per annum, leaving only £40,000 to be derived from the whole of the rest of the goods using the river. I contend that is an undue proportion to put upon a raw and useful material like coal. The coal trade do not in the slightest object to pay- 134 ing what they consider to be their fair share of the revenue required by the Port Authority. They, of course, recognise that the Port Authority has to be kept up, but they would point out that their dues were increased for three years from a halfpenny to one penny per net registered ton in 1906, and that this increase was made permanent in 1908. This meant an increase of ¼d. per ton weight, and an additional burden of about £10,000 per annum.
Of course, I know the usual objections will be made by the President of the Board of Trade. In the first place, he will say the Port Authority must obtain sufficient revenue for its purpose. I quite agree, but I think I have shown that the seaborne coal will bear an undue proportion of the rates towards the sum they are bound to raise. He may also say the coaling trade is a very prosperous one and can well bear a rate of 2d., but I think I have said enough to show that things are very fine in the coal trade, and that the 2d. will make all the difference between coal coming by railway and coal coming by sea. There are many millions of pounds' worth of plant engaged in this trade, and it gives employment to thousands of men not only here working in the Port of London, but also in the collieries of the North of England and in the South of Wales. I therefore hope the President of the Board of Trade will give his earnest consideration to this plea on behalf of the seaborne coal trade.
§ Mr. MORTON
It is only right before this Bill is given a Second Reading that the House should fairly consider the consequences of it. I am very much astonished to find a Liberal and Free Trade Government bringing in a Bill of this sort, a Bill which proposes to tax everything coming into the Port of London, from acetone to sulphate of zinc and from absinthe powder to zaffers, whatever that is. I regret that the right hon. Gentleman did not explain his position as a member of a Free Trade Government in having to move in this House duties on so many articles, including the food and necessaries of 6,000,000 Londoners. I can quite understand that in an emergency it may be necessary to tax the food of the people, as we are doing at the present moment in the shape of sugar, but there ought to be some very good and strong reasons for doing so. That induces me to ask what is the reason for bringing forward 135 this Bill at all? What is the reason for taxing the food and the necessaries of the people of London? My hon. Friend who told us he was the vice-chairman of the Port of London Authority (Sir Owen Philipps) said they have been considering it for a year, but he must know that is a very short time to consider the business of the Port of London, the greatest port of the world. Then he said something about traders, but if he had given much close attention to this matter he would have found that every trader outside the wharves is opposed to the Bill and to this taxation of goods. Again, he told us it is only a halfpenny tax, but, according to his own showing and allowing for the deductions made by Lord St. Aldwyn, it is £628,000 per annum. That is a fact he has to get over.
§ Sir OWEN PHILIPPS
May I correct the statement of my right hon. Friend 1 The reduction made by Lord St. Aldwyn of £122,000 arose from the exemption included in the Bill, there being a net maximum of £446,000.
§ Mr. MORTON
That is not what the hon. Gentleman told us in his speech. I defy anyone to make out for certain what the charges are going to be under this Bill. They may amount to £400,000, or to £628,000; but the point I desire to submit was certainly more than one halfpenny. My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade told us that this matter had been before a Committee which did not go into details, and certainly when the matter was before the Joint Committee in 1908, Mr. Fitzgerald, K.C., who represented the Board of Trade on that occasion admitted that a number of Amendments had been proposed to the Clause to exempt various classes of traffic, and also to exempt particular traffic from particular dues, or to fix the conditions of particular traffic, but it was the intention that these details should be gone into on the Provisional Order when such an Order was made, and everybody interested would then be heard. Thus it was clear from the statement of the learned Gentleman who represented the Board of Trade that at that time there were no details to discuss. I mention this to show that it was intended an opportunity should be afforded to discuss these questions. I rather gather from the speech of the President of the Board of Trade that the matter has already been considered, but that this was not the 136 proper occasion to discuss it. I can only say if this Bill was brought in independently, and if it was considered on its merits, it would never get much further; but it has, unfortunately, been brought in by the Government, and rightly or wrongly they intend to shove it through. The main purpose of this Bill is to increase the revenue of the Port Authority. In the first place we were told that the maximum increase would be £750,000. Now they are only legally entitled to charge £350,000, and why they should take power to charge the larger amount I confess I cannot understand. I should think the traders would be much more satisfied and that they would and themselves in a much better position if the maximum charge that could be imposed were set out in the Bill itself. We are told, however, that they may charge a maximum on some goods and that they may charge nothing on others. That is the worst part of it, because on all bodies of this sort there are influences at work and there may be favouritism shown in the fixing of the rates.
I repeat that the main purpose of this Bill is to increase the revenue of the Port Authority, and I cannot understand why the Board of Trade should be supporting such a proposal. The original Bill provided that there should be a separate account kept for the docks, but the first year ended on 31st March last and, although two and a half months have since elapsed, the Government have produced no accounts. Had they done so we should have been in a better position to decide whether or not these charges should be made. As far as my knowledge goes the Port Authority do not need this money for the upkeep of the river. It is practically admitted that they want it in order to make up the loss on the docks. Of course, if they paid three times the value of the docks they were bound to get into difficulties. The Board of Trade themselves told us that the revenue from the docks, except in the case of the sinking fund, was enough to meet the outgoings. Now we are told that the accounts will show that they only want this money because they have paid more than the value of those docks. I should like to have accounts produced so that we may see how far this is accurate. We had something of this sort in connection with the purchase of the London water companies, and that should have taught us a lesson. This appears to 137 be something worse. There may have been good reasons why the supply of pure water should be under the control of the London Authority, but that is no reason why the docks should be under the control of that authority at all. I think we are entitled to know what the authority want this money for. If they only want it to make up the loss occasioned by improper purchases and by handing over to speculators on the Stock Exchange many millions of the Londoners' money, which they expect Londoners to pay by having charges made upon their goods, then I say they are entirely wrong, and we ought to take care to see that the burden is put on the right shoulders. I think that the docks ought to pay for this, and the Board of Trade told us that they would; but even if they do not pay for it, those who use the goods and use the dock ought to bear these extra charges, and not the private traders up and down the river. It is well known to those who understand the business of a port that the largest portion of the business of the Port of London is done at jetties and wharves, and a good deal is done in the river itself, and instead of discouraging that kind of trade, which is the cheapest way of carrying on business —instead of discouraging that trade and setting up docks in competition with it, something ought to be done to help the people engaged in it. But these people are going to have docks established near them for the use of large steamers engaged in other trades than themselves, and they will have to pay simply because what is done is useful to some one else. One trader in the river told me that if this was carried out he should lose about £1,000 per annum. He did not care anything about the docks, and they never did anything for his trade, and that is true of more than 60 per cent, of the trade in the river, and these people will be allowed to put a charge upon that trade of the river which does not use the docks and does not want them. I cannot understand it at all, and all the people I have spoken to on the matter agree with me.
Then it is said that Parliament has forced upon these people a bad bargain, and they must get the money somewhere. All I can say is, if that is true, and they must get the money somewhere, let them get it honestly. Why should the people of London be charged upon their food and necessaries to make up a loss with which they have nothing to do, and never had? 138 This matter was never considered by this House or on the Committee, and we wash our hands of it, and leave the responsibility with those who passed it. I am specially interested for the moment in the City of London and the supply of food to it. Some people may tell us that there is not a large sleeping population in the City of London. That may be so, but there are a large number of people who come in every weekday and want food and all this food is going to be taxed by my hon. Friend and he has given no good reason for doing it. I am told that these taxes on food, even if they do not charge the maximum, will mean over £100,000 per annum. Then there is another question which affects the Corporation of London, and that is that which concerns the London markets and especially the fish markets. I should like to say, being on the Committee which considered these questions, that we were most anxious to help the traders and we are spending our money in order to do so in regard to the supply of meat and fish or anything else, and on behalf of the Corporation of London we shall do all we can both here and upstairs to prevent these unfair charges being put upon the food of those who go to the City. We have for a number of years, for the purpose of assisting the fish trade of Billingsgate, only charged the people half tolls. As far as I know we shall continue doing it, but there is not much good in our doing so if the hon. Gentleman is going to put a charge on in another way for the purpose of paying stockholders on the Stock Exchange a profit. I have no doubt at the proper time we shall make a claim for legal Parliamentary rates under this Act, and the Port of London has no right to put any extra charge upon the cost of fish brought into London.
The fish trade of the Port of London is concerned with the cheapest fish, which are used by the poorest class of people. The higher priced fish come mainly by railway, but the cheapest sort, which are consumed mostly by the poorer class of people, come up the river. It ought to be the business of this House to take great care that the food of the people of London, especially of these poorer classes, is not unnecessarily increased, and not increased at all unless the most urgent necessity is shown for putting a tax upon the food of the people. This question may get before the law courts eventually, but, apart from that, I think the Liberal party and the Liberal Government should endeavour to prevent the carrying out of this tax upon 139 the food of the people of London, especially the poorer class of people for whom food is brought into London by river. Then there is another trade which is interested in this matter, and that is the meat trade, which is not, I understand, in a good way at the present moment and is decreasing to some extent in regard to supply. Nothing more ought to be done to drive away the trade or in any way to hurt it so as to put an unnecessary charge upon the people of London. We have to supply meat for London which contains many millions of people, and therefore it is our duty to see that they get as cheap a supply of food as possible. I think I have sufficiently explained why one should take very active steps in this matter. We were told that the inquiry before Lord St. Aldwyn was a public enquiry, but what did the Noble Lord say? He said he could not go into these questions of what they were going to do with their money. I am not blaming him for only exercising the powers he had got, but how can you call it a public enquiry when it only examines into half of the question and when you put on these taxes without enquiring what is going to be done with them? I contend that it is not an enquiry into both sides of the question. Lord St. Aldwyn only had to deal with the question referred to him, but I want to deal with these maximum rates so that traders may know for certain what they have to pay without consulting the Port of London Authority or any other Port authority. I claim that they do not want this money for the maintenance of the river or the fairway. I can speak with knowledge when I say that we of the old Thames Conservancy were told distinctly that if you continue the double tonnage due there will be all the money provided that you want for the maintenance of the fairway or the upkeep of the river. That was the conclusion that they came to after consulting experts, and they thereupon, in the first place, got these dues doubled, which gave an extra £80,000 for the purpose of deepening the river between Gravesend and the Nore, and we were advised then that if that doubling of the tonnage dues was made permanent—that is, after three years—it would provide all the money you could possibly spend on the upkeep of the river, because you cannot do very much dredging above Gravesend.
Therefore, as far as my knowledge of the matter goes, there is none of this money wanted for the upkeep of the river. 140 It is only wanted to pay debts which never ought to have been incurred, which neither this House nor its Committee, nor anyone else, had an opportunity of considering, and those who are responsible, and those who use the docks, should pay for it. But what they mean to do is actually to reduce the fees so as to allow them to compete more successfully with the private traders in the river. In my opinion that is not fair at all. We have to bear in mind that no doubt they were very much taken in when they bought the docks. They were allowed to go for a year in bad repair, and part of this money no doubt is going to repair them. Who says we want more docks? There was a report presented to the Board of Trade by engineers which we ought to have seen. It has been carefully concealed, even from the Port of London Authority, and it was concealed from the Joint Committee which sat to consider the Port of London Bill in 1908. I should like the Board of Trade to produce that so as to settle the question as to whether or not they were deceived, and the people of London were deceived, when they bought the docks. I challenge my right hon. Friend to produce that. If he is afraid to do so I cannot help it. Then I am told there is another report presented lately by engineers. We have written and asked these gentlemen to give us a copy of their accounts up to 31st March. They have not done it. Where are those accounts? There is no reason why in two and a half months the dock accounts, if nothing else, should not have been presented. I should like to see another report which has been made as to the actual necessity of repairs to keep the docks from tumbling down. The companies probably let them go as far as they could and left us to patch them up afterwards. Everyone who has studied the question knows that the proper development is not in docks but in deep water jetties, and everyone who knows anything about shipping will tell you the same, and that all the best ports of the world have no docks. They do their business in the river, as a great deal of it is done now.
§ Mr. MORTON
All I wish to say now is that we particularly want to consider the question about meat and about coal. A great point was made by the Liberal party some years back that they had taken the 141 dues off coal. Now the Liberal party are going to put this on the Port of London only, and if they put only 2d. you have to bear in mind that the introduction of these charges is protective. It is the thin end of the wedge, and I shall not be surprised to find my right hon. Friend challenged on this question before public meetings.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I have for a long time taken a great interest in this subject. The speeches to which we have listened are of a kind which everyone who has been for any length of time a Member of the House is accustomed to on occasions of this kind. Hon. Members who have a prejudice against this or that private Bill make ex parte statements on details which it is absolutely impossible for anyone except an expert to examine, and it apparently looks as if the whole of the House was in favour of the speeches in opposition to the Bill. Then gradually other hon. Members come to the House and it is realised that the House itself is not a proper place for deciding matters of detail of this kind The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Morton) has given us an example of this kind. He made two or three remarks which I was inclined at first to listen to with a great deal of sympathy. He told us, for instance, that this Bill was so bad that if it was not brought in and protected by the Government it would have no chance of passing through the House. There are many other Bills which have been brought forward by the Government in regard to which I think the same statement could be made with at least as much force. Then the hon. Gentleman made another remark which was cheered by some of my hon. Friends behind me "What do you make of this Free Trade Government which is actually putting dues on goods coming into London?" I should like to make a Tariff Reform case out of that if I could, but I am bound to say I do not see my way. The hon. Member asks why in the world do you put these dues on goods which are going to be consumed by the people of London? Why not have them free? There is a very simple answer. If you are to have a port it involves expense, and someone must pay. You might just as well say you would like all the food which comes into the country to be carried in without paying railway charges. These expenses have to be paid by someone, and the whole point is whether or not the way in which it is proposed to raise the necessary money is the way which on the whole is best.
142 I should like to put one or two general considerations which are familiar to those who have been interested in this subject for the last ten years, but which are, for the moment, I am afraid, forgotten. For a very long time everybody interested in London pointed to the fact, which, I believe, was undoubted, that the Port of London was going back as compared with the other great ports in the world. If that was true—and I thought it was—the Port of London had to be improved. After the question had been considered in two different Houses of Commons, we came to the conclusion that there ought to be an improvement, and that the way to effect it was to put the management of the Port of London in the same hands in which the management of the other chief ports are put, namely, into the hands of those who are doing the trade of London, with the certainty, or at least the probability, that the men who are doing the trade would in the long run do the best in the interests of London, and that they might be trusted to put on dues which would not destroy one trade or another. If that is not true, if you cannot trust this authority which you have set up, there is no use arguing about this or that detail; you have made a mistake all through. On the other hand, I say that all you have to do is to trust the body which has been elected. The facts which have been put before us to-night are facts with which they are familiar, and if it is true, as we have been told over and over again, that this or that regulation is going to destroy the Port of London, surely they are not such fools as to say they will not act in the way which is really best for the interests of the Port of London. All this simply means, in my opinion, that you cannot decide questions of this kind by Debates such as we have had to-night. You have to trust to the more detailed examination by people who have specially devoted themselves to the question. I think the Board of Trade are in a way to be congratulated on the care they have taken that this matter should have careful consideration. I am sure that anyone who has read the report will at least feel that a man of undoubtedly great ability and great practical experience has given a very large amount of time and consideration to this subject; but we are not confined to this examination by Lord St. Aldwyn. After the Second Reading of this Bill has been carried—1 gather from the speeches which have been made that nobody wishes to oppose the Second Reading—it will again go before a 143 Committee, and every one of those points can be considered by the Committee better than on the floor of this House. It is before a Committee that these details ought to be taken into consideration.
I shall take one or two illustrations of how difficult it is to decide them here. I take the argument which was put forward in regard to coal. My hon. Friend thinks it very hard that a maximum duty of 2d. should be put on coal coming into London. There is nobody who does not realise that nothing is more important for London as a whole than that it should have cheap coal. London is, I think, the largest manufacturing city in the world. It depends absolutely on coal imported from a distance, and it is absolutely essential that the dues on coal should be very low. After all, that trade is coming to you, and it not be assumed that a very small duty on coal will be injurious to trade. Personally I may say—though this is a matter of detail—that I should have been better pleased if the amount actually to be charged had been Id. instead of 2d., but surely the coal trade is one that is able to pay part of the expense of the port. It has been said with perfect truth that the competition between railway-borne coal and sea-borne coal makes very little difference on the sale price. But let the House remember that though freights differ enormously in different years, nobody has found by actual experience that sea-borne coal does not come to London. I am sure that we may dismiss from our minds the idea that a small rate on coal will seriously interfere on the balance with coal which is carried by rail or sea.
An hon. Member asked—why exempt goods coming to London for transshipment? The entrepôt trade of London used to be one of the great trades of London. Everybody knows now that the tendency is for goods to be shipped in full cargoes and sent direct. I am sure there is no one who would say—and it is the very last thing which a wise Port Authority would do—that they should adopt the course of putting dues on goods sent to London for transhipment, and thereby injure what is left of the entrepôt trade. The hon. Member for Sutherland (Mr. Morton) says that you are going to raise the price of food. If that is going to happen in the long run, then the whole policy of the port is at stake. The ground on which a Bill was originally contemplated was that the Port of London was not up to date. Everybody connected with the shipping 144 trade knows that the tendency for steamers, and especially tramp steamers, is every year to become bigger and bigger, and to have a larger tonnage. Already there are tramp steamers that cannot come up to London, and if that tendency is allowed to continue—and remember the larger the ship the cheaper the freight— and if London is to depend on the smaller sized vessels instead of getting cheaper food we will have to pay a great deal more for food in London. In conclusion let me say that I am perfectly certain the House must feel that this is a subject which can he safely left firstly to the authority which has been set up, and secondly to the Committee to which the Bill will go after passing through this House. I hope that no serious opposition will be given to the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ Mr. PEARCE
We are told that this Schedule is for raising £525,000, but it covers even larger ground that that, and there should be a possibility of raising at least £600,000 under the Schedule that we are asked to pass to-night. It is a matter of common knowledge that the Port Authorities propose to raise £300,000, and I cannot help wondering whether, when this Bill was introduced, if anyone had realised that at the very beginning of the new rates a charge of £300,000 was to be imposed and charged on the trade and commerce of the river it would have been as easy to pass the Port of London Act as it seemed to be. We were told at the time, that the charges laid down by this Bill were insignificant, and there was never a hint that there would be a charge of £300,000 imposed upon the commercial activity of the whole riverside and of the various manufacturers of London. There are two limitations in the Bill, and I want to ask attention to these limitations in the hope of getting some statement from the Board of Trade upon them. The Port Authority fortunately are not empowered to raise an unlimited sum. They are bound by two limitations, the one one-thousandth part of all goods coming into the river, and the one three-thousandth part of the goods that do not use the docks. Very little has been said on behalf of the London manufacturers tonight, and I want to point out that there are two very serious faults in the Schedule as it stands at present, and which does not cover, as I consider, the real intentions of Parliament. Both these limitations are operative when £300,000 is demanded, and therefore one would think that 145 from goods that did not use the docks of the Port Authority only, roughly, £100,000 would be raised; but anyone with a knowledge of London conditions who examines the Schedule will see that 50 percent, of the maximum rates, including ccast-wise goods, must be largely in excess of £100,000, and what the riverside feel is that unless some steps are taken by the Board of Trade to put this right for the first two years—and it is not until the end of two years that the limitation I speak of comes into operation—very much more is likely to be taken out of the river versus the docks than really was the intention of Parliament should be done. One hears sometimes that the day may come when this £300,000 may be reduced to, say, £150,000. There is nothing in the Bill or in the Schedule to provide for this reduction being made in due proportion. As the Schedule stands at present, provided the Port Authority were raising £150,000, they might raise £100,000 out of the river and £50,000 out of the docks. I am not going to say that they would be likely to do that, but I would like to remind the House that the new authority are bound to discriminate, and in four years' time, when they are elected—they will be elected by the payers of total dock income, not by the payers of the £300,000 new Revenue charge, but by the payers of the whole of the old revenue of the docks. Under those circumstances the riverside interest outside of the docks cannot by any possibility get one-third membership of the Authority, and might only have to content themselves with two or three members out of the whole membership of the board. I urge, therefore, that the Board of Trade should at least give some indication that their policy will be to recommend the Committee to make any difference between the river and the docks to run in due proportion with what was the intention of the Bill. These charges, if they are reduced, should be reduced pari passu, and if they do that, and put in an Instruction and ensure that a due proportion should be raised in the first two years, a very great deal would be done to relieve the real anxiety of the riverside interests at the present time. If the dock authority really mean business, and examine their Schedule in order to make sure that they do not exact more than £110,000, which they are entitled to have—they will have to grant rebates and probably to make a reduction on ex- 146 poits—they would do very much to alleviate the very real anxiety which the merchant and manufacturing interests in London now feel. I hope the President of the Board of Trade will make some announcement which may allay the anxiety which exists.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
Before we go to a vote on this Bill I should like to understand where we are. I understand that if the Second Reading is carried, the Bill will go upstairs to the Committee. If that be so, may I point out to the House that the vast majority of the objections which have been raised can be dealt with only in Committee, and cannot be decided in the House itself. One point, it seems to me a very reasonable one—has been brought forward by the Fishery Association of the City of London. They maintain that they have always had the right to have their fish brought in free of duty. I think there is something to be said on behalf of that contention, but it is a matter which should be considered upstairs, and cannot be decided here. [An HON. MEMBBK: "Why?"] Because here there is no opportunity of having arguments for and against the measure, and one wants to hear them. My hon. Friend (Mr. Bonar Law) said on the Second Reading only party statements could be made. No doubt those statements are made in absolute good faith, but they cannot be investigated or proved by anyone save an expert who understands the matter. I have always been against the establishment of a Port Authority in London, and I have always said that the proper course was to leave it in the hands of private enterprise. My hon. Friend will confirm me when I say that I did my best in opposing the measure which he brought in when he was Under-Secretary to the Board of Trade.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I did my best, a feeble best. But we have passed the Act, and after all it was not this side of the House who passed this Act, but, being passed, we have to abide by it. Hon. Members opposite did not share my opinion that if you have a municipal authority, or a Government authority, or a port authority of this sort managing anything, it is always more expensive than if the matter was in the hands of private enterprise. I have always contended that, ever since I have had the honour of a seat in this House, and hon. Members who contended the reverse, are apparently now 147 beginning to find out their own error. However, that may be, hon. Members opposite brought in their Bill which is now an Act, and they have to find the money to carry it out. After the inquiry before Lord St. Aldwyn, this Provisional Order Bill is the result. I do not for a moment say that there are not many Clauses which ought not to be inquired into in the Committee upstairs. I mentioned one point, that as to fish, which is entirely a Committee point. An hon. Friend says, "No," but I do not understand why he says so. I have had the honour of sitting here for eighteen years and these points have always been considered Committee points. We cannot do so here. We can only speak once, and if a statement were made which we knew to be in error we could not get up and expose it. Neither can we cross-examine. No doubt there are a good many points which require alteration, but they should be considered upstairs. I would say, in answer to the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, that he is a decided Free Trader for every country and every town except Wolverhampton. When anything is to take away business from Wolverhampton and bring it to London he believes in protecting the business of Wolverhamptoc. He does not care anything for the business of London. I approve of fair play all round, and that is why I am in favour of Tariff Reform. I wish everybody to be on the same footing. I do not think the hon. Member was justified in making those remarks. If, everything being equal, London can get benefit out of the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, why should London not get it? Is it not, right that the best man should get the advantage. Is not that the principle of hon. Gentlemen opposite, and was that not the principle of Cobden? If it touches his own pocket he has quite a different view of it. I have endeavoured to show why I shall support the Second Reading, not because I approve of all the proposals in it, but the faults found with it can be dealt with in Committee.
§ Mr. J. H. THOMAS
There has been a very long discussion on this Bill, and only three speeches have been delivered in support of the proposal. None of those speeches, in my judgment, has met the legitimate difficulty, and the admitted grievance of the traders of the Midlands. On the contrary, our grievance is rather aggravated by the speech of the hon. 148 Member for Dulwich (Mr. Bonar Law), who said that Wolverhampton had no-right to expect this House, if they brought forward a measure here, to consider any question affecting any other corporation other than Wolverhampton. In other words, he rather indicated that it would be the duty of this House to give a preference to a corporation in submitting a Bill for consideration. That is my interpretation of his suggestion. No one who has spoken yet on behalf of the Midland manufacturers has asked this House to give any preference whatsoever. The whole point of our complaint is not for a preference to the Midland manufacturer, not that we ask for special treatment, but because the peculiar difficulty the Midland manufacturer has to contend with to-day is such that it already handicaps him, and he is further handicapped by the provisions of this particular Bill. The hon. Gentleman who spoke from this side, speaking as the vice-chairman of that particular authority, stated that every effort had been made to meet the grievances of those particular manufacturers. He said that they had received very fair treatment at the hands of this particular authority. All I can say is that whatever treatment they received, it has not satisfied them. As a matter of fact, every Chamber of Commerce and every local authority in Derbyshire has passed strong resolutions against Clause 9. Why? Because there are certain trades and towns which are favourably situated as regards facilities for trade. The only means of transit from Derbyshire are rail and canal, but under Clause 9 of this Bill Derbyshire is placed in the unfair position of having to pay an additional rate for manufactures on the coast. We in these particular constituencies submit that we have a legitimate grievance. We are not asking for preferential treatment, nor are we asking the House to commit itself to a policy which is anything but just and fair; we simply ask that the President of the Board of Trade should recognise that this Clause, if passed as it now stands, will cripple the trade and industries of these particular constituencies.
§ Mr. FRANCIS MILDMAY
Notwithstanding the statement of the vice-chairman of the Port Authority that the greatest care has been taken in connection with this scale of charges, we feel that we have good reason to complain. In some respects the charges are so disproportionate that it is our duty to protest 149 against them at the very first opportunity. Without going into detail, I would ask the House to compare the charges for cider in cask and beer in cask. The charge to which cider in cask is to be subject is 100 per cent, more than the corresponding charge on beer in cask. For cider in bottles the charges are still more disproportionate. The charge proposed for cider is 1d. per dozen bottles, which works out at 3s. 6d. per ton in weight, whereas for beer it is only 6d. per ton, or one-seventh the charge for cider. These cider charges must be a serious burden upon the agricultural industry in the West of England, and a still heavier blow to the cider industry, which is already languishing. Large quantities of cider in cask are shipped from the ports in South Devon, to be bottled at the depots in London; whence it is exported abroad, so that it is hit both ways. The principle I wish to: lay before the House is that the charges on cider should certainly not be; higher than those on beer, cider being a directly agricultural product. To the charges as now laid down in the Bill I have the very strongest objection, as I believe have other Members. They do not intend to oppose the Second Reading, but I do hope that those in charge of the Bill will recognise that we have a reason for complaint.
§ Mr. JOWETT
The hon. Baronet the I Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury) in his remarks just now, suggested to the House that every industry and every concern managed by a public body, municipal or other, was more expensive on that account. May I point out, in the first place, that this is not a public body, and, in the second place, that the charges against which we are protesting are charges on account of financial transactions which had been previously entered into. But my purpose in rising is to put a point regarding the unfair treatment of the West Riding of Yorkshire, which is concerned particularly in the importation of wool. The original Schedule issued by the new authority named 1s. 6d. per ton as the charge to be levied by the Port Authorities for wool. The traders in the West Riding of Yorkshire took the first opportunity they had to protest against that very onerous charge, being concerned as they are with a vast trade—a trade so vast that many Members of the House would probably be astonished to know what its real volume is. In 1908 the wool catalogue 150 of the London Wool Sales, most of which goes to the district in and around the places I have indicated, amounted to no less than 1,083,000 bales. The charge of 1s. 6d. per ton on an industry of that size is a very heavy charge indeed. But the chief ground of complaint lies here: that after the Schedule stated that 1s. 6d. would be charged, and receiving a protest from the traders concerned, the Authority issued a new Schedule from which the word and classification "Wool" was entirely dropped out, and written in ink was an amended charge of 6d. per ton. Naturally the traders concerned felt that their objection had been met, and said nothing else. Judge of their surprise when the Bill was printed to find that the charge was 1s. 6d. per ton, as had previously been intimated. I contend that a change of that sort should not have been made in the way it was made. I believe it was subsequently explained that it was a printer's error. Let that be as it may, it is a very serious matter indeed for a trade such as the wool trade to have such a charge sprung upon it.
§ Sir OWEN PHILIPPS
May I say that the hon. Member, in making that statement, is misinformed as to the facts. I understand that the matter has been explained officially by the Secretary of the Port Authority to the Chamber of Commerce in question.
§ Mr. HERBERT NIELD
I hope a Division will be challenged upon the Second Reading, and, if so, I will certainly go into the Lobby against it. I quite appreciate the misgivings of the hon. Member for Limehouse (Mr. Pearce), and of all who are Members for riverside constituencies as to the effects of this Bill. The Bill differentiates most unfairly, and in some instances in opposite ways. It differentiates between those who use the river and those who use the docks. I can quite understand the misgivings of hon. Members representing riverside constituencies, and I should have thought the right hon. Gentleman, himself representing a constituency largely dependent on the river would have seen the danger to the interests of those who use the river for transit over the side into barges, and have no occasion to use the docks at all. I do think it a very grave thing on the part of the Government to saddle the 151 whole of this trade, whether it uses the docks or not, and thereby very considerably hamper those dependent upon the prosperity of the river qua river by charges imposed without regard to whether or not any benefit is derived. Even in the Constituency I represent, with its very limited river frontage, I am satisfied very considerable harm will be done to those whose livelihood depends upon unrestrained trade. I think the Government should well consider whether there is not need for making the burden far more just by differentiating between those who get benefit and those who do not, and by preserving employment to those in river constituencies. It does seem to me—and this is the differentiation on the other side—that in a trade like the coal trade, the competition in which is so keen and so finely cut that you are putting difficulties in the way of coastwise traffic because the number of men employed in coastwise-borne coal trade is out of all proportion to the number of those employed in railway-borne coal trade. These are two points that demand the serious consideration of the Government, and unless they can give reasonable assurance that the Committee upstairs will be allowed to exercise independent judgment in this matter we should vote against the Second Reading. The hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London says, "Of course the Committee will exercise independent judgment on this! Bill," but one knows if this Bill were now before the House upon its merits there would be an overwhelming majority against it, and it is only the fact that the Government are behind it that gives it the slightest chance of passing.
desire to make a few observations on the points raised, and I think I am entitled to say that the principle of the Bill has met no unfriendly reception this afternoon. There have been a great many criticisms on various points of detail. I think upon one point the House did not quite appreciate the Parliamentary position, and I think there is a great deal of misapprehension as to the likelihood of the effect of the charges which are to be imposed. I think the House should recollect that this Bill is sent into the House in response to, and under the instruction of, an Act of Parliament passed by the House itself a year ago. The Port Authority was created, 152 rightly or wrongly, by the House of Commons, and it had an obligation put upon it of bringing the waterways, docks and other accommodation affecting the trades of London up-to-date, and there is also the obligation of raising the necessary funds. It had, however, ibis advantage, that at the time when the Bill was going through for various reasons it was not thought wise that any burden should be thrown on the London rates for the assistance or the advantage of the Port of London Authority. Therefore it had to fall back on its old resources. When hon. Members are criticising this proposal I would remind them that after all, when thrown on your own resources, you cannot fall back on the rates, and, therefore, the authority was limited as to the articles on which it could levy goods. It was specifically intended and understood that these additional rates should be raised by rates on exports and imports, therefore I do not think it is fair for hon. Members to assume or imply that all these proposals of the Port Authority were outside their discretion, and ought not to have been introduced. As a matter of fact, the authority are proceeding under an Act of Parliament passed a year ago. Various points of detail have been raised, but I am afraid I can only echo what has fallen from hon. Members already, namely, that the House of Commons is not really a fair tribunal for considering these matters of detail, which are obviously questions for consideration in Committee. The Committee set up under this Bill is the Private Bill Committee of the House of Commons, in which we all have very great confidence, and the various questions which have been raised will go to it. The points which have been argued this evening will be put before that Committee, and on the other side the Port Authority and others can be heard in opposition, and then the Committee will decide those questions on their merit. It h obvious that it is quite impossible for the House of Commons in a Debate of this sort to arrive at anything like a proper decision.
With regard to the various points which have been raised, I do not wish to discuss them on their merits this evening, because I do not think in the first place I could deal with them satisfactorily and, secondly, these are matters which are going to the Committee, and I do not wish to prejudge them. There are two points which I desire to allude to the question of fish and the waterside manufacturers. They come into these proposals in this 153 way: The object I had in view in dealing with the charge on fish has been to meet the point raised by Lord St. Aldwyn, who proposed that fish should be treated as an import, and should have a special charge upon it. The question how far fish coming from British fishing grounds is or is not an import is a question which is still in doubt, and I thought it unfair to decide a legal question in this way by accepting Lord St. Aldwyn's suggestion to place upon it a certain rate. For this reason 1 struck that proposal out, and left it for the Committee and the House of Commons to decide how far fish should be brought under that category. It will be a question now for the Committee to decide whether fish should be excluded or not. With regard to waterside manufacturers, their position as I understand it is how far without some instruction the question they desire to raise of protection against possible undue imposts being placed upon them would be prejudiced. My hon. Friend proposes a mandatory Instruction with reference to it. I do not think it would be fair either to the Port Authority or to the Committee that a mandatory Instruction should be accepted; but I shall be prepared, when his Instruction comes on, to suggest to him that it should be an Instruction to the Committee to consider this question and deal with it as they think fit. That will give these interests a full opportunity of placing their view before the Committee, and enable the Port Authority to place their view before the Committee. Therefore, on the same grounds that I have deprecated the discussion of Committee points here, I shall endeavour, by the action I propose to take in the case of the fishing interest and of the waterside manufacturers, to put them in a position to be able to state their case before the Committee, so that the matter will be discussed on its merits. I do very seriously ask the House to pass this Bill without an addition. It would be really taking upon himself a very great responsibility, I think, for any Member to oppose a Bill of this sort, brought in by a Port Authority created by Parliament, and under instructions as to the method in which they should raise their revenue, and throw out the general principle, and deprive them of their revenue on a Committee point of detail.
§ Sir FORTESCUE FLANNERY
I am prepared to take the responsibility of following into the Lobby anyone who will tell against the Second Reading, because 154 this is not only an imposition on the food of the people of London, but also on the work of an industrious and danger seeking class. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said in another connection that he was gentle to the poor, and I invite the President of the Board of Trade to be tender to the food of the poor in this matter. The fish coming into London forms a larger proportion of the staple food of the very poor than any other article coming into the Port of London. I dare say the fried fish shops in the East End of London are familiar to the right hon. Gentlemen in some respects. Perhaps he knows how many thousands of tons of fish per year are cut up into small parcels and sold as the food of the people in the Metropolis alone. We are to have an import tax upon this food of the people. The late Baroness Burdett-Coutts, out of her own private means, started a market in the East End of London for the sale of fish under favourable conditions. The market was opened with publicity, and it was welcomed by every class in the community, because it was helping to make cheap one of the staple articles of food of the poor. From time immemorial the market at Billingsgate has been free from due. From time immemorial the harvest of the sea has been brought into London for the food of the people without paying any due, and I am not able to see why the needs of the Port of London for deepening the draught of the river in order that big ships may be capable of coming up, should be paid for by this impost upon one of the cheapest and most nutritious articles of diet. Therefore I agree with the hon. Member for Sutherland shire that these charges should be borne by the shareholders or those who have financial interests in this matter, rather than by taxation upon this cheap but necessary article of food. It is with a conscientious conviction that I shall vote against a Bill which is a contradiction of every article of faith professed by hon. Members opposite.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read a second time," put, and agreed to.155
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That it be an instruction to the Committee on the Bill to amend the Bill so as to ensure the due proportion between the burdens on the river trade and the dock trade, as provided by Sub-section 3 of Section 13 of the Port of London Act, 1908."—[Mr. Pearce.]
§ Mr. BUXTON
I cannot accept this mandatory Instruction, although, as I have already indicated, I propose to put down an instruction to the Committee giving them power to consider this question if they think fit.
§ And it being Eleven of the clock, the Debate stood adjourned, to be resumed tomorrow (Tuesday).