§ Order for Second Reading read.
The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the TREASURY (Mr. Guinness)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
The passage of this Bill is one of the conditions under which we have negotiated the sale of the Port of Richborough to Messrs. Pearson, Dorman, and Long. The House will remember that this port was created purely for war purposes, and it justified its existence by the transport which it provided for 2,000,000 tons of warlike stores during the War. Since the War it has been used also for a very large traffic in war stores, railway material and rolling-stock, and so forth, which had to be brought back to this country, but now that all that transport is finished, the administration of this port has been very unsatisfactory, because the Government have no power to levy dues on ships or cargoes, and all the dues that were charged went to the Sandwich Haven Authority, leaving the Government responsible for spending a large sum on dredging, buoying, and maintaining the harbour facilities. So inconvenient was this obligation that when, in March, 1921, the Government negotiated the abortive arrangement to sell this port to the Queenborough group, there was an arrangement between them and the Port of Sandwich Haven Authority to promote a private Bill to get a joint control over this new port, and to bring about a revision of dues. The arrangement of that day fell through, and that Bill, which was a private Bill, necessarily dropped.
1067 The last Government realised that Richborough was dependent for its prosperity and traffic on the development of industries in its neighbourhood, and they opened negotiations with Messrs. Pearson, Dorman, and Long, who are developing the coalfield in that area, to take over the port. An agreement has recently been concluded, under which this port will be sold to that group, subject to the passage of this Measure, to secure the purchasers an equal representation on the joint board of Haven Commissioners proposed to be set up, and in that way to relieve them of the very onerous obligation, which the Government has recently had to carry, to keep up the port and yet not get any contribution from the dues. Further, the Bill would provide for a right in perpetuity to the purchasers to cross the main Ramsgate-Sandwich road with certain railways on the level. For the moment, pending the completion of the purchase, the Bill proposes to give the powers of nominating half of the members of the new authority to the Secretary of State for War, who would transfer them to the purchasers in due course. If this Bill fails to pass by the end of next January, it is a condition in the contract that Messrs. Pearson, Dorman and Long would have the power to rescind and throw this port back on the Government. We have lost a great deal of money over this undertaking already, and I hope that that condition will not arise. The Sandwich authority is in agreement with the Government and with the purchasers on this Bill, and, if the House will now give it a Second Reading, I propose to ask that it be committed to a Select Committee.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I do not intend to detain the House more than two or three moments. I hope the Financial Secretary will not think that we are agreeing in detail to this Bill to-night. I myself question very much the proposal for the nomination by the War Office of 20 per cent. of the Board, and handing over to this private contractor 50 per cent. of the constitution of the board. MY own view is that this is a very questionable practice altogether, the Government entering into a bargain, and then making the passage of any Bill through this House a condition of this bargain. 1068 The whole thing is an unparliamentary procedure, and I cannot compliment the Financial Secretary—or perhaps it was his predecessors who started it. In Committee, certain of my colleagues intend to raise the constitution of this board very acutely. I have only to say to the Financial Secretary that I wish to give notice that when the Bill comes on in Committee we intend to amend it.
§ Mr. SCURR
I want to join with the hon. Member (Mr. Buchanan) who has just sat down and say that we are profoundly dissatisfied. The Prime Minister recently made a declaration with regard to the necessity of peace in industry. When you are handing over to a firm of contractors part of the representation, at any rate a similar representation should be given to the workers, because, after all, if we are going to have peace in industry, it is absolutely necessary that the workers should be given direct interest in the management. Very often many of the difficulties that arise in industry are due to the fact that the workers are simply treated as machines. They have no interest at all beyond that of merely earning their salary. But if they are given an opportunity of being able to take part in the management of the concern, then they are able to give their ability and skill, and it helps the board and the management. For these reasons, I hope the Financial Secretary will understand that we are prepared to resist the Bill if these concessions are not granted.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Select Committee of Five Members, Three to be nominated by the House and Two by the Committee of Selection.
§ Ordered, that all Petitions against the Bill, presented three clear days before the meeting of the Committee, be referred to the Committee; that the Petitioners praying to be heard by themselves, their Counsel, or Agents, be heard against the Bill, and Counsel heard in support of the Bill.
§ Ordered, That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers, and records.
§ Ordered, That Three be the quorum.—[Mr. Guinness.]