HL Deb 20 July 1857 vol 147 cc7-20

The order of the of the day for the second reading having been read,

Several noble Lords presented petitions in favour of the Bill.


presented a petition against it signed by 13,000 of the inhabitants of Liverpool, comprising among their number 900 of the principal merchants of that city. The petitioners alleged that whereas the management of the Liverpool Dock estates was at present vested in a body consisting of twenty-four persons, twelve of whom were the representatives of the corporation, which was elected by the ratepayers generally, and the other twelve by the dock ratepayers, the Bill under the notice of the House proposed to alter the constitutional body, and to form a new trust from which the Corporation was to be altogether excluded. The petitioners then proceeded to urge their objections to that proposal, complaining that it would introduce into the management of the Dock estate the principle of Government influence, and that it would in that and other respects operate as a great injustice, notwithstanding that the Bill contained no allegation of maladministration or breach of trust upon the part of the existing management. They also complained of the appropriation of the town dues without the slightest compensation for such appropriation being made. They then went on to state that a measure upon such a subject ought to be a public and not a private Bill. For the present he would content himself with stating to their Lordships the allegations contained in the petition, reserving to himself the right of making such further observations as he might think fit upon the Motion, which he understood a noble Friend (Lord Ravensworth) was about to make, to postpone the second reading of the Bill.


said he apprehended that after the decision to which their Lordships had just come, they would have no hesitation in giving a second reading to the Bill now before them—the principle of that decision having been that in cases like the present their Lordships would send the Bill before a Select Committee upstairs, in preference to rejecting it on the second reading. It was unnecessary that he should go back to the origin of these dues on Shipping, and to show how they were first levied. In 1844, in consequence of a supposed inability of the port of Liverpool to supply accommodation for the increased wants of our trade in that quarter, a project was originated for making docks at Birkenhead, and a Bill was obtained for that purpose. Since that period no year had passed in which the Liverpool Corporation, or dock trustees or the Commissioners of Birkenhead, had not applied to Parliament for increased powers; and in 1855 there were no fewer than four measures before Parliament for that purpose. They were referred as one group to a Select Committee, of which Mr. Labouchere was the chairman; and the result was that all of them were withdrawn, and an agreement come to, some of the stipulations of which had been carried into effect, but others, in consequence of the standing orders, could not at once be acted upon. Last year the Corporation brought in a bill to carry into effect those omitted parts of the agreement; but it was found that they had neglected to include those stipulations which more particularly affected themselves. The Bill was rejected, and this year the corporation had brought forward another measure similar to the last. Fortunately other parties —parties representing the mercantile interests—anticipated their intention, and having given the requisite notices, they had brought in a Bill, of which he was about to move the second reading. Now, the first objection which he thought might be brought against it was that it attempted to carry, with respect to Liverpool, the general measure which Mr. Lowe had been obliged to withdraw last year. But that objection was wholly unfounded. The Bill did not abolish the dues on shipping; it transferred them, it was true, to a new body; but that body would have an interest in maintaining them. Even if this Bill did interfere with those dues, he contended that no one would have a right to quarrel with the form in which it was brought forward. Last year the noble Lord at the head of the Government declared that the measure was withdrawn because Mr. Lowe, in introducing it, had overlooked the widely different circumstances in which the various places concerned were placed, by which it was made impossible to reconcile the conflicting interests of the several ports; and the noble Lord declared that the subject would be better dealt with by private Bills than by public legislation. Again, a public Bill would not have given the opponents of the measure that locus standi, or those rights of notice, which they enjoyed with regard to private legislation. Another statement that would probably be made was, that this was a measure of spoliation. To that he had two answers. First, it was not a measure of spoliation—it did not violate private property; and in the next place he could show that Parliament had often dealt with private property in a much more stringent manner than was now proposed to be done. He might refer, in proof of that assertion, to the measure for municipal reform, which had been recognised by the most eminent lawyers as having dealt with property which was private in the most absolute sense of the term. He defied any one to say that this was a municipal trust—on the contrary, it was a shipping trust, and there was nothing till the passing of the Municipal Act which made it a trust in any form whatever. His noble Friend (the Earl of Harrowby) was Member for Liverpool at the time, and took care to keep Parliament in the dark on the subject. Three years ago, the House dealt in the most summary manner with the Trinity Board, interfered with its revenues, and placed them under the control of the Board of Trade, and thereby introduced the principle of central control which was now so strongly deprecated in the petition the noble Lord had presented from Liverpool. But when they talked of spoliation, he maintained that this was not private property, properly so called. Before 1708 all the legal documents and every Act connected with it proved that the municipal corporation of Liverpool considered themselves as acting as trustees for shipping purposes, the surplus only being for other purposes. In 1708 an Act was first introduced for making docks at Liverpool, and that Act, and every subsequent Act to 1785 proved that they were trustees for this purpose. In 1785 a new state of things arose. These dues, which before amounted to hundreds of pounds a year, now amounted to tens of thousands, and in that year the Corporation of Liverpool obtained a measure which entirely altered the state of this fund. They introduced the ingenious expedient of introducing a new dock trust; but inasmuch as the dock trustees wore exactly the same body as the municipal corporation, of course the latter could deal with the funds. The municipal corporation sold land to themselves as dock trustees, selling more than land enough for one dock, and so on, and thus the funds were from time to time transferred to the corporation by the sale of those lands. The result was, that from time to time funds amounting to a million sterling were transferred to the municipal corporation. In 1825, finding the commissioners of audit under the former Act were exercising an inconvenient control, they obtained an Act abolishing that body. Look at the different way in which they had dealt with other parties holding land required for the purposes of building docks. They said to the two noblemen owning those lands, "Inasmuch as we shall improve the remainder of your land, you must give that which we want for docks for nothing," and they did so.


was understood to deny the accuracy of this statement.


said at any rate the land was sold for a mere nominal value. The present measure was promoted by private parties, but it ought to pass for the promotion of the public interest. They had for this Bill, first the Report of the Admiralty of 1851, then a Report of the Board of Trade, of 1857, they had then the Committee of 1855, and they had the Shipping Dues Committee of last year, all reporting in favour of this measure, and last of all they had the Committee of the House of Commons on this Bill, who devoted twenty-five days to it. There was only one point he had to notice, that this Bill did not provide compensation. He did not think that the town of Liverpool would gravely offer this as a ground of opposition, seeing that a large portion of the debt of the corporation was to be taken by those who, under this Bill, were to have charge of the dues.

Moved, that the Bill be now read a second time.

LORD RAVENSWORTH rose to oppose the Bill, as being a violent and arbitrary measure, at variance with the existing law of the land, and with the great principles of justice which ought to regulate all proceedings of this kind, and subversive of the rights of property. It was true that the Bill had passed the House of Commons without any serious opposition, but its progress had been attended with very peculiar circumstances. When interests of this magnitude were to be considered, he did not know that there was a worse tribunal than the House of Commons upon the second reading of a private Bill. Hon. Members were anxious to get to the public business; it was supposed that the subject would be thoroughly considered by the Committee upstairs; a buzz of impatience generally went through the House, and the greatest desire was ex- pressed to dispose of the measure. Mr. Milner Gibson, when the second reading of this Bill was proposed, said the House would not affirm the principle of the measure by assenting to the second reading. Yet what took place in the Committee? There the Chairman stated that the Committee would probably have entertained a peculiar difficulty with regard to the principle if it were not that that principle had already been adopted and sanctioned by the House. As regarded the composition of these Committees, Members supposed to be particularly interested in the subject, were not admitted to serve upon them; but this exclusion, in his opinion, was a piece of one-sided justice and partial impartiality; no precaution was taken against having as members, or even as chairman, gentlemen who had come to foregone conclusions on the subject under consideration, and it was thus possible that the grossest partiality and injustice might be perpetrated. He contended that this was a measure of spoliation. The principle of compensation was altogether ignored by the Bill, although it had been acted upon and over again in similar cases by the Legislature. He believed that the object in proposing the Bill was to achieve a conquest over the Corporation of Liverpool, which could not have been achieved if Liverpool had been joined with the other ports of the kingdom in a general Bill; and when that conquest over Liverpool was effected, the other ports would be dealt with in succession in a similar manner. The noble Duke had said that the Corporation of Liverpool had neglected the interests of that port; but if that were so, how did it happen that the shipping of Liverpool had increased so enormously, and that her new docks extended several miles? The noble Duke had given no good reason why their Lordships should assent to the second reading of a private Bill which interfered with important objects, and menaced the security of the property of every corporation in the kingdom. He begged, therefore, to move that the Bill be read a second time that day three months.

Amendment moved to leave out ("now,") and insert ("this day three months.")


said that he felt it his duty to oppose the second reading of this Bill. The measure was one which their Lordships' well-known regard for the rights of property should induce them to reject. The right to these tolls was origi- nally granted by the Crown, and the mere fact that the revenue raised from them had enormously increased, in no way affected the validity of the title of their owners. This Bill involved principles which ought not to be introduced into a private measure. The right of the Corporation of Liverpool to levy these tolls had been established beyond all doubt, and had been decided in a case before Lord Denman. The total amount which they produced in the year 1572, was only £22. In 1847 they had increased to £100,000, and they now amounted to £150,000. If the Corporation of Liverpool were to be robbed of this amount without compensation, they would be obliged to impose a borough rate, the value of property within the borough would be diminished, and private interests would be injuriously affected. The Liverpool docks were commenced in 1710, when they occupied only five acres. They now covered an area of 200 acres, and were sixteen miles in length. Previous to 1825 they were under the sole management of the Corporation, but in that year the merchants obtained a share in the management, and were associated with the Corporation in the dock trust. No complaint had been made that the dock trustees had failed to provide suitable dock accommodation, and he could conceive no Parliamentary, or public, or reasonable ground for taking away so valuable a property from the Corporation of Liverpool without compensation. He thought he had stated to their Lordships reasons sufficiently strong why they should not read the Bill a second time. To do so would be, in his opinion, to act in violation of that great principle of our law by which it was provided that no person should be deprived of his property without due compensation being made.


contended that neither the noble Lord who had moved the rejection of the Bill, nor the noble and Learned Lord who had just sat down, had furnished any grounds which would justify their Lordships in departing from that course, which in relation to private Bills they uniformly adopted. Those noble Lords had, indeed, maintained that the measure before the House would affect the rights of private property; but was not that, he would ask, the case with every measure of a private character which came under their Lordships' consideration? He should also beg their Lordships to bear in mind that the Committee of the other House of Parliament, to which this Bill had been referred, had deemed it to be their duty to sit for twenty-five days, in order thoroughly to investigate its details; that Mr. Hope Scott, and the learned Gentleman who had been opposed to him, had each occupied two days in commenting upon its provisions and in summing up the evidence, while their Lordships sought to dispose of the whole question in a desultory debate of two or three hours. Now, he was well aware that the noble Lord, who had moved the rejection of the Bill, was capable of speaking for two days if he chose; but then, he had confined his observations within a very much narrower limit; and he (the Marquess of Clanricarde) could not help thinking that a measure with respect to which the Committee had taken so long a time to deliberate, could not be satisfactorily dealt with in a few short speeches of that description. He must also maintain that the principle of compensation which it was said was involved in the Bill, was one which their Lordships were night after night in the habit of referring to the consideration of a Select Committee. The Bill, however, involved something more than the principle of compensation; it embraced the question of the conservancy of the river Mersey—a question of the utmost importance; one in which the commerce, not only of this country but of the whole world, was concerned. Would their Lordships then deem themselves justified in the summary rejection of a measure of that nature upon the ground that it interfered with private property without, at all events, taking the necessary steps to ascertain to what extent that property would be affected? The fact was that the members of the Corporation of Liverpool seemed to have got the notion into their heads that the trade of the Mersey should be carried on for the special benefit of that town; but he trusted their Lordships would, by assenting to the second reading of the Bill, and its subsequent reference to a select Committee, show that they were prepared to take a somewhat different view of the subject.


said, that if the Bill had been one of an ordinary character he should concur with the noble Marquess who had just spoken in the opinion that it was desirable it should be referred to a Select Committee. He was prepared, however, to urge a departure from that course, because he maintained that their Lordships, and not a Select Committee, were the proper judges of the principle involved in a measure, and because, notwithstanding anything which the noble Marquess might urge to the contrary, the principle which was contained in the Bill under their Lordships' notice was one which he (the Earl of Derby) had never known to be embraced in any private, and hardly in any public enactment—he meant the principle of taking away private property without affording compensation. There was one point connected with the subject to which he could not help referring, and that was that the Government, deviating from the ordinary course, with regard to private Bills, had exercised their influence, more or less, to turn it into a party question. He felt bound to deprecate such a course, and to assure their Lordships that it had not at least been adopted by noble Lords on the side of the House on which he had the honour of sitting. The noble Marquess had referred to the magnitude of the interests involved in the Bill, but he would beg their Lordships to remember that those interests had acquired that magnitude under the management of that very body whom it was now sought to oust from their position. Why, the increase in the port of Liverpool had been perfectly marvellous. It was stated in the Report of the Committee that in 1710 the docks extended over five acres, in 1811 they had increased to 30 acres, and in 1856 to 208 acres; while the number of ships had in the last 100 years increased from 1,731 to 22,032. This was the interest which the Bill proposed to take out of the hands that had created it by their good management—the very fact of the property having been created by their good management being made the ground for taking it out of their management. If such a principle were adopted it would be fatal to all energy, public or private. Then, with regard to the purchase of the Birkenhead interest, did not the noble Marquess know that at the time that interest was purchased the whole concern at Birkenhead was in a state of irretrievable bankruptcy, caused by entering into competition with Liverpool, and that the sole object of the purchase was to save an enormous quantity of property which would otherwise have been absolutely thrown away? So much for the grasping views of Liverpool with regard to Birkenhead. The noble and learned Lord opposite had entered so fully into the legal claims which existed with regard to the town dues, that he would not dwell upon that subject further than to say that those claims were perfectly undisputed; they had been made the subject of family settlements and of mortgages which Parliament had sanctioned, and they had been judicially recognised in the courts of law; and yet the present Bill proposed to take away those rights, and that without compensation. It had been said that the corporation of Liverpool had dealt in an ungenerous way as regarded the matter of land, in order to increase their own corporate interest; but was that really the case? Why, the Committee which had inquired into the whole question had reported that they had incurred expense for docks, for the purchase of land, for the erection of the new Custom House, to an enormous amount, and had defrayed those expenses from their corporate revenue. It was proposed by the present Bill to take away an undisputed right from that Corporation of £100,000, or £150,000 a year, without giving them the slightest compensation; the Bill was, in point of fact, the thin end of the wedge which it was proposed to introduce to carry out the principle of the general measure which the Government had failed to carry. A Bill had been introduced last year by the right hon. Gentleman the Vice-President of the Board of Trade, the effect of which would have been to consficate the property of the various corporations of towns throughout England, without giving them any compensation; and perhaps their Lordships had not forgotten the extraordinary doctrines that had been laid down upon that occasion by the right hon. Gentleman—doctrines of such a character that even the political friends of the right hon. Gentleman shrank from defending them, and which approached almost to the Socialistic motto, "La proprietêc'est le vol." That Bill had been referred to a Select Committee, which had proceeded to inquire into the case of Liverpool alone; but ultimately the Government were compelled to withdraw it. In the meantime a private Bill was introduced by persons unconnected with Liverpool, affirming principles similar to those of the measure which was withdrawn in the House of Commons. To this Bill the Government lent their support in order to carry out the principle in a private Bill with regard to one city, and thus to put at their mercy all other corporations. This was not a matter which ought to be referred to a Select Committee of five members; it was a principle on which the House ought to decide, and the proper stage at which to take its decision was on the second reading of the Bill. The principle involved was the taking away of pro- perty from individuals or corporations by legislative enactment without giving them compensation. That was not the principle on which we acted in the case of international affairs. In respect to the Sound Dues, when the United States refused to pay them at all, we freed ourselves from this inconvenience to our commerce, by paying a fair and just compensation. And again on the question of pensions last year, we did not attempt to deprive those who received them of their income, although they rendered no service for it; we respected their rights, and gave them a full equivalent. The noble Marquess had asked upon what ground those who opposed this Bill had on the present occasion departed from the usual practice of the House. He would not enter into the details of the Bill, but if he did so, he could show the gross injustice and manifest impolicy of many of its provisions. There was no allegation of mismanagement, no charge of abuse, no proof of injury done—on the contrary, the greatest advantage had been derived from the existing state of things; yet without any ostensible complaint they were about to take away the property of a corporation for purposes which he certainly did not believe were of an exclusively public nature. This was a departure from the invariable practice of that House, and to the affirmation of the principle involved in the Bill, he could not with a safe conscience give his assent.


in vindicating the conduct of the Government in regard to this measure, denied that it had been brought forward for the purpose of introducing the small end of the wedge for the confiscation of the property of the Corporation; he also denied that it was true, as had been stated by the noble Earl, that the measure introduced last Session for regulating passing tolls and abolishing local dues upon shipping, was rejected upon principle on the second reading.


had not said that the measure was rejected. What he said was, that there were such objections to it that the Government were compelled to withdraw it.


. —The noble Earl had said that the principle was condemned. That was not so. The ground upon which it was referred to a Select Committee was that there were special circumstances connected with each harbour, in regard to which it was necessary that evidence should be heard. Such evidence was heard in regard to the port of Liverpool, and the result was that it was shown to be necessary that Parliament should legislate on the subject, and in the present Session this measure was introduced. It had two objects,—one to transfer the town dues of Liverpool from the Corporation to the dock trustees; and the other to vest the conservancy of the river, and the management of the docks on both its shores, in a single body, which should be elected by all those who contributed to the maintenance of the docks, and which should not be controlled and dominated over by the Corporation of Liverpool. That the Corporation of that place had dominated over the docks, and had on more than one occasion postponed the interests of the harbour to those of the town, it was not difficult to prove. How long was it before warehouses were erected within the limits of the docks, to which cargoes could be immediately transferred from the vessels, because the inhabitants and Corporation of Liverpool had warehouses without the docks, into which they wished to drive all the goods which came into the port? In 1824 there was a project for making a ship canal to connect Wallasey pool with the mouth of the Dee. The Corporation of Liverpool were alarmed at this scheme, and in order to defeat it they paid the promoters of it £180,000 for land which he believed had not cost them £10,000. There was some objection to this on the part of some shortsighted inhabitants of Liverpool, and Mr. Forster, the town clerk, said that the town council of Liverpool, as the protectors of the rights of the burgesses, could not expend their funds better than in preventing the establishment of a commercial rival on the other side of the water. This showed what sort of a parent Liverpool was likely to be to Birkenhead. This purchase put an end to the scheme until Mr. Rendell drew up his plan for making docks in Wallasey Pool. Liverpool applied to Parliament for powers to purchase the docks, and the Select Committee to which their Bill was referred, imposed upon the dock committee the obligation of refraining from spending money on the construction of the docks which they contemplated along the north shore until they had seen what Birkenhead could do to accommodate the increasing trade. Next year Liverpool brought forward a Bill for effecting this object, but of so inadequate a character, that the Select Committee threw it out after half-an-hour's examina- tion of Mr. Rendell. This year, independent parties, seeing that there was no chance of Liverpool carrying out the scheme, came forward and applied for powers for the purpose. The arguments by which this Bill was opposed were exactly those which were brought forward when the Municipal Corporations Act was under discussion. Then it was said that Parliament had no right to deal with corporate property without compensation; but Parliament did so deal with the property of corporations on that occasion, with these town dues among the rest, and Parliament had an equal right so to deal with them now. Nothing more was done by the Bill than to transfer these dues to the purposes for which they were originally intended—the maintenance and improvement of the harbour. It had undergone very careful and laborious consideration before a Select Committee of the other House, lasting over twenty-five days, and he hoped their Lordships would not consent to the Motion for its rejection.


was afraid that, if in a, private Bill they dealt with property in the manner proposed without giving any compensation, they would be establishing a precedent which might hereafter most injuriously affect private property.

After a few observations from the DUKE OF NEWCASTLE in reply,

On Question, that ("now") stand part of the Motion? their Lordships divided:— Contents, 23; Not-Contents, 15: Majority. 8.

Resolved in the Affirmative: Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed: the Committee to be proposed by the Lords Committee appointed for proposing Committees on opposed Bills.

Beaufort. D. Clandeboye, L. (L. Dufferin and Claneboye.)
Newcastle, D.
De Mauley, L.
Ailesbury, M. Foley, L. [Teller.]
Hatherton, L.
Airlie, E. Mostyn, L.
Albemarle, E. Overstone, L.
Granville, E. Panmure, L.
Suffolk & Berkshire, E. Ponsonby, L. (E. Bess borough.) [Teller.]
Torrington, V. Somerhill, L. (M. Clanricarde.)
Boyle, L. (E. Cork and Orrery.) Stanley of Alderley, L.
Sundridge L.(D. Argyll.)
Byron, L.
Churchill, L. Wrottesley, L.
Salisbury, M. Carnarvon, E.
Westminster, M. Derby, E.
Hardwicke, E. Colville of Culrosse, L.
Lonsdale, E. Dinevor, L.
Powis, E. Ravensworth, L. [Teller.]
Rosslyn, E.
Sefton, L. (E. Sefton.)
Dungannon, V. Wensleydale, L.
Wynford, L. [Teller.]