HL Deb 07 August 1907 vol 180 cc1-11

Order of the Day read for resuming the adjourned debate on the Amendment to the Motion for the Third Reading, viz., that the Bill be read 3a this day three months.


My Lords, after what was said on the previous occasion by my noble friend the Lord Chairman, and in consequence of the great expense which would be entailed on the various parties, and also in view of the Amendment which is down on the Paper in the name of my noble friend Lord Plymouth, I will, with the permission of the House, withdraw my Amendment to the Motion for the Third Reading.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Bill read 3a.


My Lords, I now desire to move the Amendment standing in my name on the Paper—namely, that Clause 4 be struck out. We were urged, in the debate the other day, by Lord Balfour and by the noble Earl the Chairman of Committees to look at this question from a broad point of view, and not to discuss on the floor of the House the merits of the Bill. I entirely accept that view. I do not attempt to ask the House to decide exactly what is the right amount of rate that should be charged by the Burgh of Leigh to the Commissioners of the Docks, but I do say that, on the facts before us, this clause has not received sufficient consideration, and that it would be only fair and right on the part of this House, looking at the question broadly, to cut out this clause if some further consideration of it cannot be obtained, because if it is passed I think that some injustice is very likely to be done.

It is impossible, in moving that this clause be struck out, to avoid mentioning what the grounds are for deleting it, and therefore, without any intention of going fully into the merits of the Bill, I must refer to what I consider the probable injustice that would be inflicted if the clause remained in. Clause 4 seeks to put a very serious additional burden on the Commissioners of the Port of Leith. This is not the first time that it has been attempted to upset an agreement which was based upon an agreement made in 1838, in which the Docks Commissioners of Leith obtained statutory exemption from certain borough rates, but, on the other hand, were bound to provide for the watching, lighting, etc., of the public quays and roads within the dock area, and also for maintaining two miles of road outside. This they are doing now, at a charge of £12,000 a year. In addition to this, they already pay rates amounting to £10,000 a year, including the public health rate, and therefore it cannot be said that they do not largely contribute to the rates.

It does seem to me, on the face of it, that it is most unfair, without very strong reason indeed, to break the agreement of 1838 on the one side by imposing rates from which the Docks Commissioners have for all these years been exempt, and on the other affording no relief from the duties that were imposed upon them in this agreement. It seems to me that on that ground alone it is right for this House to inquire how it came about that the Bill passed through the other House and that a reference to a Joint Committee was not agreed to. We have already heard that the Commissioners who inquired into this matter in Scotland were divided, and that the clause was passed by the casting vote of the chairman. I venture to think that when so important an agreement as this is sought to be upset, and when it is sought, as I have explained, to impose rates on the Docks Commissioners from which they got statutory exemption on the understanding that the obligations to which I have referred would be imposed upon them—I venture to think this should not be done by your Lordships' House unless you are fully in possession of the reasons for so doing.

The Commissioners are authorised to borrow money on mortgage. Very large sums have been borrowed and continually have to be borrowed. Every one who knows anything of dock property knows perfectly well that the changes which take place in the building of ships of all kinds necessitate very frequent additions and alterations to docks in regard to their equipment, and very often in the depth and size of the docks in order to make them up-to-date. The Commissioners of the Leith Docks have to borrow money for these purposes, and I think it is a serious thing, when the public has lent money on a certain security and with the knowledge that certain rates of the burgh of Leith are not charged on the Docks Commissioners, that a very large increase in rates should suddenly be imposed upon them. This may be a serious interference, not with their borrowing powers, but with the condition in which the lenders of money will find themselves in the future. It is purely on these broad grounds that I appeal to the House to strike out Clause 4. We have not sufficient information to justify this sweeping and sudden alteration, and, in view of the fact that the retention of the clause was only decided upon by the casting vote of the chairman, I think it would be a wise and just act to strike out the clause.

Amendment moved— To leave out Clause 4."—(The Earl of Plymouth.)


My Lords, on the last occasion when this Bill was before the House it was generally felt on both sides that it would be well if the two parties specially interested could meet and endeavour to come to some agreement on the one comparatively small point which is raised in this Bill. From the year 1867, when the Leith Dock Commissioners came into existence, up to the year 1905, they paid the public health rates; but, in consequence of a decision that was given in regard to a case at Greenock, they have not been paying those rates for the last two years, and in that period they have thus saved £4,800.


Have they not agreed to pay the public health rate now?


Yes, that has been agreed.


That point, therefore, does not enter into consideration.


That point, therefore, does not enter into consideration.


I do not agree. On 31st July the Corporation of Leith were informed that— For the sake of peace and to avoid the possibility of one or other of the parties coming to Parliament next session the Dock Commissioners are prepared to accept Clause 4, if its coming into operation is postponed for ten years to 1918. Yesterday the Leith Corporation proposed to meet the Dock Commissioners in this way—to amend Clause 4, and after the words— from and after the 15th day of May, 1908, the Dock Commissioners shall be liable to be assessed. to insert the words— for the year ending the 15th day of May, 1909, on one-tenth, for the year ending the 15th day of May, 1910, on two-tenths, for the year ending the 15th day of May, 1911, on three-tenths, for the year ending the 15th day of May, 1912, on four tenths, and for the year ending the 15th day of May, 1913, and each succeeding year"— and then the clause will read on as it now now stands— on one-half of the annual value of the lands and premises of the Dock Undertaking. By that means the corporation will get another £6,000 during the live years that the sliding scale will be in force, which, with the £4,800 already saved, comes to £10,800. The proposal to postpone the clause for ten years would involve a sum of £30,000. I think that if a compromise could be arrived at on the lower sum and on the sliding scale it would be to the advantage of both parties, and I hope that such a compromise will be effected.


My Lords, when the discussion was adjourned the other day we all hoped that the parties might meet and arrive at some arrangement which might make it un necessary to continue this discussion further. Unfortunately such appears not to have been the case. My noble friend mentioned a proposed agreement just now, but he did not tell us—and I do not think it is the fact—that that agreement has been accepted; and therefore the matter comes before your Lordships in exactly the same position as when we last discussed it.

I am not going to enter into the merits of the question at all. But what is the position of the House in regard to this matter? All we know is that a certain proposal is made which would have the effect of repealing certain sections of an Act of Parliament. That is all we know. The Commission were equally divided on the point, and the matter was decided by the casting vote of the chairman. On the other hand, the Scottish Private Bill Procedure Act provided that there might be an appeal, and it specified that it should be to a Joint Committee of the two Houses in any case in which an appeal was thought desirable. The House of Commons has declined—and, of course, it has every right to decline—to grant its half of the Joint Committee, which makes a Joint Committee impossible. That is the form in which this question returns to the House. I frankly say that had I myself been in the position of chairman, when the Commission was equally divided I certainly should not have opposed a reference to a Joint Committee. That, however, was not the course that was taken, and now your Lordships have to decide what you are going to do with regard to this clause.

If ever there could be a case in which a rehearing was desirable, surely it was a case in which the Commission was equally divided, and, more especially, where the clause in question virtually repealed certain sections of an Act of Parliament. There cannot be an appeal; that is impossible. Well, what are your Lordships to do? There was an Amendment moved by Lord Saltoun to reject the Bill in toto on Third Reading, but my noble friend, very wisely, as I think, withdrew that Amendment; and it now remains for your Lordships to say whether you will pass the clause in the circumstances I have mentioned or adopt the Amendment of Lord Plymouth. Speaking without any reference to the parties—I do not care anything about either of them—it seems to me that, in all the circumstances, the right course for this House to take is to delete the clause, and if the noble Earl takes a division upon his Amendment I shall vote with him.


My Lords, I rise to support the Amendment, and I do so on the broad grounds which the Chairman of Committees put before us when this matter was under discussion the other day. Unless your Lordships accept the Amendment the consequences will be far-reaching. Attempts at conciliation have been made but have utterly failed, and I therefore trust your Lordships will support the Amendment.


My Lords, my noble friend, Lord Plymouth, in moving his Amendment, stated that one of his reasons for asking that Clause 4 should be struck out was that additional burdens would by it be placed on the Docks Commissioners, who had been granted exemptions from rating since 1838 on condition that they undertook to carry out certain matters, such as lighting. I am advised that this exemption from rating was granted because the Commissioners were debtors to the Crown to the extent of £390,000, £340,000 of which the Crown wiped off. Reference was also made to those who had lent money to the Docks Commissioners and whose interests it was said would be prejudiced, but I am informed that these loans are only for a period of five years; and, again, it is not I proposed to levy rates on more than one half of the annual value of the lands and premises of the docks. This clause is the most important part of the Bill, and if it is struck out a large sum of money will be involved. I strongly support the view taken by Lord Tweedmouth. The offer made by the Leith Corporation would result in a saving to the Docks Commissioners of £6,000, and I do not think they are entitled to more considerate treatment than that. Moreover, the throwing out of this clause would certainly necessitate Parliamentary action being again taken next year.


My Lords, I think that the position in which this House has been landed goes far to confirm what the noble Earl below the gangway has just said, that it is most unfortunate that there was not a rehearing granted in this important case. It is too late to say any more about it, and I can only personally express my deep regret that that course was not taken. A week ago we adjourned this discussion in the hope that the parties would to some extent come together. Up to the last moment they have stood apart and no real attempt at negotiation has taken place so far as I can see; but a letter which I received this morning shows that an offer was made yesterday by the Leith Corporation to the Docks Commissioners—the offer which Lord Tweed-mouth read. It seems to me that if that offer had been made a little earlier it might have been a fair start for a compromise; and I deeply regret that the agents for the Leith Burgh, no doubt instructed by their clients, stood out to the last moment without making any otter of the kind. I should hope that, even now, the noble Earl, who has been, I presume, in communication with the Leith Docks Commissioners and is entitled to speak for them, may see his way to accept the offer; but, if he does not, I think those who have delayed so long making an offer will have incurred the responsibility of losing the clause. I appeal to the noble Earl whether he will not at the last moment accept the offer made by Leith Burgh. It is always safer for the House as a whole to put in an Amendment or strike out a clause if the course has been agreed upon by the parties. It is almost impossible for us to see what damage we may do if we act on ex parte statements. My only reason for rising was to make an appeal to the noble Earl to accept the offer, even though it falls short of what he and his friends think ought to be given, rather than run the risk of doing damage to interests on both sides by striking out the clause without knowing the full effect of that action.


Will your Lordships kindly consider what we are really doing? A large number of your Lordships know nothing at all about this clause or what the effect of its omission would be on the whole Bill. Will your Lordships look at the clause?— 4. From and after the fifteenth day of May one thousand nine hundred and eight the Dock Commissioners shall be liable to be assessed on one half of the annual value of the lands and premises of the dock undertaking as appearing in the valuation roll for the burgh general assessment and the general improvement rate under the Burgh Police (Scotland) Acts 1892 to 1903 for the burgh sewer rate under section 110 of the Water of Leith Purification and Sewerage Act, 1889 and for the assessments tinder the Roads and Bridges (Scotland) Act 1878 and the town council shall as from that date impose and levy upon and recover from the Dock Commissioners in respect of the said lands and premises the said proportion of the said assessments. So far as necessary to give effect to the foregoing provisions of this section the provisions of section 49 (Assessment to be levied—rate of assessment—description of subjects liable to assessment) of the Act 7 & 8 George IV, cap. 112 section 45 (Assessment to be imposed) of the Leith Municipal and Police Act 1848 section 3 (Exemption in section 45 of 11 & 12 Vict. c. cxxiii to continue in force) of the General Police and Improvement (Scotland) Supplemental Act 1862 (Royal Assent 21st July 1863) section 86 (Assessments in burghs how to be levied and recovered) and section 101 (Saving as to Leith Harbour) of the Roads and Bridges (Scotland) Act 1878 section 97 (Saving obligations as to streets and exemptions from taxation) of the Leith Harbour and Docks Acts 1875 section 110 (Further provisions as to Leith drainage district) of the Water of Leith Purification and Sewerage Act 1889 subsection (6) of section 15 (Games &c. in parks) of the Leith Burgh Order 1904 and any other provisions of these Acts and Order and of any other Acts or Orders are in so far as such provisions exempt the Dock Commissioners and the dock undertaking from the aforesaid assessments hereby repealed. I know nothing about the parties or the merits. I have not the least idea which side is right, and I undertake to say that is the position of nearly everyone of your Lordships. You will see that the clause refers to many kinds of assessment, and contains other provisions which it is impossible to understand from merely reading the clause. It is true that the decision was arrived at by the Commissioners in Scotland by the casting

vote of the chairman, but it was done under the Scottish Act, the object of which was that these matters should be finally decided in Scotland. To adopt the Amendment would be a blow to that Act. And how is it possible for us to effect amendment by leaving out a whole clause without any information as to what it means or any knowledge as to how the omission of this clause would affect the other clauses? In all the circumstances, I think, it would be best to choose between two courses—to throw out the Bill altogether, which I hope will not be done, or to leave it as it is.


My Lords, the last stage has now been reached, and unless the noble Karl opposite or some Member of your Lordships' House is in a position to say whether the proposal which has been made and which has been read to the House by the noble Lord the First Lord of the Admiralty will be accepted, I do not see how your Lordships can further facilitate the coming to terms by the two parties. With reference to what has been said by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, I think anyone who looks at the clause will see that the result of omitting it would simply be to leave matters as they are at present. I knew nothing whatever about the merits, and if your Lordships decide to leave the clause out you will be merely recording your opinion that another opportunity ought to be given to Parliament of considering whether or not the clause ought to be passed.

On Question, "That Clause 4 stand part of the Bill," their Lordships divided: Contents, 37; Not-Contents, 45.

Loreburn, L. (L. Chancellor.) Allendale, L. Hamilton of Dalzell, L. [Teller.]
Crewe, E. (L. President.) Armitstead, L. Haversham, L.
Ripon, M. (L. Privy Seal.) Balfour, L. Hemphill, L.
Zetland, M. Bowes, L. (E. Strathmore and Kinghorn.) Joicey, L.
Beauchamp, D. Colebrooke, L. Muskerry, L.
Clarendon, E. Courtney of Penwith, L. Pirrie, L.
Craven, E. Denman, L. Ranfurly, L, (E. Ranfurly.)
Kimberley, E. Elgin, L. (E. Elgin and Kincardine.) Ribblesdale, L.
Portsmouth, E. Eversley, L. Sandhurst, L.
Althorp, V. (L. Chamberlain.) Fitzmaurice, L. Saye and Sele, L.
Selby, V. Glantawe, L. Stanley of Alderley.
Birmingham, L. Bp. Granard, L. (E. Granard.) Tweedmouth, L. [Teller.]
Welby, L.
Northumberland, D. Churchill, V. Dawnay, L. (V. Downe.)
Sutherland, D. Falkland, V. Digby, L.
Falmouth, V. Faber, L.
Bath, M. Goschen, V. Fairlie, L. (E. Glasgow.)
Lansdowne, M. Hill, V. Kelvin, L.
Salisbury, M. Hutchinson, V. (E. Donoughmore.) Langford, L.
Camperdown, E. Knutsford, V. Lawrence, L.
Cathcart, E. St. Aldwyn, V. Lovat, L.
Cawdor, E. Oriel, L. (V. Massereene.)
Eldon, E. Abinger, L. Redesdale, L.
Haddington, E. Ashbourne, L. Saltoun, L. [Teller.]
Hardwicke, E. Avebury, L. Sanderson, L.
Mayo, E. Barrymore, L. Sinclair, L.
Plymouth, E. [Teller.] Braye, L. Stalbridge, L.
Vane, E. (M. Londonderry.) Brodrick, L. (V. Midleton.) Stanmore, L.
Waldegrave, E. Clinton, L.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Bill passed, and returned to the Commons.

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