HL Deb 14 August 1907 vol 180 cc1259-73


Order of the Day for the Second Beading read.


My Lords, the object of the Bill, which I have to ask your Lordships to read a second time to-night, is to amend Section 78 of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894, with respect to the deduction of the space occupied by propelling power in ascertaining the tonnage of a ship. The Bill provides that the deduction shall not in any case exceed 55 per cent. of that portion of the tonnage of the ship which remains after deducting from the gross tonnage any deductions allowed under Section 79 of the principal Act.

The subject of tonnage is one of the most difficult to master. This Bill is the outcome of a conference between most of the shipping interests and a great many of the dockowners. When the conference first started the shipowners were anxious that the deduction should be fixed at not exceeding 70 per cent. of the gross and the dockowners 35 per cent. Your Lordships will readily understand that in view of that enormous difference in the two figures it was very hard to arrive at a compromise. Our own advisers suggested 60 per cent., but after a great deal of discussion at the Conference we managed to arrive at the figure of 55 per cent. Your Lordships are probably aware that there has been in the past a great deal of hardship to certain dockowners owing to the enormous deductions from tonnage made for propelling space by a certain class of vessels, such as the big passenger boats. I know of one case where a vessel of 1, 800 tons only pays dock dues on something like 200 or 300 tons. In fact, some of these vessels only pay dock dues on from 20 to 30 per cent. of their gross tonnage. This Bill will bring passenger vessels up to a certain standard of dock charges, and in future the amount of dues payable on these vessels will approximate to nearly 42 per cent. of their gross tonnage.

In the case of dead-weight ships there will not be an enormous amount of relief under this Bill. The Bill has been very carefully considered before a Select Committee of the House of Commons and they have reported in its favour. I may mention that most of the shipping interests in this country are in favour of the Bill. Their argument is that they want finality in regard to this subject, and that is what we propose to give them by this Bill. We do not for one moment expect that a Bill like this will remedy I every grievance; it is very difficult to secure legislation which will have that effect. But if the Motion standing on the Paper in the name of my noble friend Lord Plymouth, to refer the Bill to a Select Committee, is carried, the effect would be to kill the Bill, and that would be regarded as a very serious loss by the great shipping interests in this country and also by the majority of dockowners. In these circumstances I venture to hope that your Lordships will accord the Bill a Second Beading. I beg to move.

Moved. "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(The Earl of Granard.)


who had given notice, in the event of the Bill being read a second time, to move that it be referred to a Select Committee, said: My Lords, I think it would be convenient at this stage if I explained to the House the reasons which induced me to put down the Motion which stands in my name. First of all, I ought to make it perfectly clear to the House that I am speaking entirely as a private Member. I do not know whether my noble friend behind me (the Marquess of Salisbury) will agree with my views or not, but I wish to make it clear that I am speaking now as one interested in docks and in the trade of South Wales. The noble Earl who has just moved the Second Reading of this Bill has told us that the terms of the Bill were arrived at after a great deal of consultation with others, and that it is a compromise. Well, my Lords, if I am one of the disputing parties I am not at all averse in a general way to a compromise for getting over difficulties so long as I am included in it; but when a compromise is made with other parties in the dispute, and when one unfortunate interest is, as I think I can show, left out in the cold, the value of that compromise is, in my opinion, very much reduced.

I must ask the House to allow me to explain what has been the history of this Bill. This question was raised last year in the Merchant Shipping Bill introduced by the Government, and Mr. Brace, the Member for South Glamorgan, moved an Amendment dealing with this question of tonnage. The President of the Board of Trade replied that it was too late to introduce the question of tonnage into the Merchant Shipping Bill, and the Amendment was not pressed. Mr. Brace based his case for dealing with this question on the South Wales conditions, and I emphasize this point because I have been told that the President of the Board of Trade, in what he said in that debate in answer to Mr. Brace, had not the South Wales trade in his mind, but was dealing with the general question and was not particularly affected by the South Wales case. But I must point out that Mr. Brace undoubtedly based the whole of his case on the conditions in South Wales. He only mentioned two particular harbours, and these were both South Wales harbours. He referred to the conditions at Penarth docks, and, in dealing with the case of the pilots and the way in which they suffer also from a diminution of registered tonnage, he spoke of the evidence of the secretary of the Cardiff Pilotage Board, and I maintain that the whole of Mr. Brace's case was really based on the conditions in South Wales.

After quoting some statistics Mr. Brace said— He used these figures to show that the time had come when, the Board of Trade having failed to deal with the question, the House of Commons, when making a new Shipping Act, must include a clause which should put an end to these disastrous deductions in dock dues. Mr. Lloyd-George, in reply, said he sympathised with the hon. Member and with the object of his Amendment; but his difficulty was that it was rather too late to transform the Bill into a Tonnage Bill. He said they could not on the Report Stage spring up and say they wanted to make this a Tonnage Bill. But he admitted that there was a very strong case made out for the consideration of the whole question of tonnage; in fact, he added that the case made out by Mr. Brace was absolutely irresistible. Whatever the President of the Board of Trade had in his mind, it was perfectly natural that the dockowners of South Wales should consider that the reply he gave justified Mr. Brace in bringing their case before Parliament. In withdrawing his Amendment Mr. Brace said he did so— after the explanation of the President of the Board of Trade and his undertaking that if the dock and harbour authorities brought in a Bill to remedy this grievance the Board would support it. To this Mr. Lloyd-George retorted— Support the reference to the Committee. It was understood that the President of the Board of Trade would support the reference of Private Bills to a Committee upstairs. This took place last year. In consequence of this promise five Private Bills were introduced into Parliament this year from South Wales. Then there were conferences held to which the noble Earl in charge of the Bill has referred. At one conference Mr. Lloyd-George stated that this was a very important question and too important to be dealt with by Private Bills; he added that he would bring in a Government Bill, and promised that if the dock companies would withdraw their Bills the Government Bill should be referred to a Committee upstairs at which they would have full opportunity of appearing by counsel and stating their case. This was the definite pledge on the faith of which the Bills were withdrawn. Well, the Government Bill was introduced, and in it was a maximum of 60 per cent. to be deducted for propelling space, which is equal to a minimum registered tonnage of even less than 40 per cent. It would, in fact, have reduced the registered tonnage on which the dues were paid; but, as the noble Earl has pointed out, after the discussion of the whole question, this was reduced to 55 per cent. and that is the compromise which has been alluded to. But, my Lords, in this compromise the South Wales docks were left out altogether.

After what occurred on the Merchant Shipping Bill last year, and the answer that was given to Mr. Brace, it is, in our opinion, excessively hard that this compromise should be made with other dockowners and with the shipowners, and that the South Wales docks should be told that it was impossible to meet their case, and that they must be content with what others agreed to. Mr. Lloyd-George declined to allow this question of 55 per cent. to be reopened, and he practically precluded our coming to Parliament and asking to be in any way relieved under the special circumstances. It is true that this Bill went to a hybrid Committee in the other House, but the case, as I say, was prejudged, and counsel who appeared for the docks in South Wales were not allowed to open this question, being told that the door was absolutely shut, and that the Committee could not consider the question of altering the percentage on tonnage which Mr. Lloyd George had fixed.

Then, my Lords, we are told that the Bill will not do us any harm in South Wales. I noticed in The Times to-day what is evidently an inspired paragraph—inspired by a Memorandum issued by the shipowners—in which the case is put thus— It is submitted that, inasmuch as the few dock authorities who consider that the Bill does not afford them relief will be placed in no worse position by its enactment, these dock authorities, on whose behalf Lord Plymouth is believed to be acting, should not be allowed to imperil the passing of a measure 'which does not affect them injuriously, and has been accepted by the great majority of the parties concerned.' I must say we do not consider that that is the case. We most certainly consider that our interests are injuriously affected by this Bill. In the first place, we are told that we can never hope to get an alteration in the minimum percentage on gross tonnage; and, in the second place, we say the Bill will tend to make shipowners build ships down to the minimum, which is much lower than our present average. May I put it in this way, that the 35 per cent. that we asked for as the maximum of deductions would give us, on the average, 60 per cent. on the gross, and from 61 to 63 per cent. is about the average in the case of the dock companies in South Wales. The 55 per cent. which is now the compromise, and which is offered by the Government, reduces this, as the noble Earl has told us, to 42 per cent. on the gross. As a matter of fact, some dock companies in South Wales have private Acts which enable them to charge 40 per cent. as a minimum; but the whole point of Mr. Brace's case and the whole point of our case is that the average now is 61 to 63 per cent., and that we get absolutely no relief whatever, but as I think I have shown, are in a worse position than before.

I do not wish to go into details more than I can help; but Sir Fortescue Flannery and Mr. Seaton both gave evidence before the Committee on Shipbuilding, and stated in the strongest terms that they saw no reason whatever why these diminutions should not continue, and why naval architects should not continue to build ships so that they obtain the maximum amount of deductions and arrive at the minimum registered tonnage. I do not say this applies to all ships; but for years past it has been the tendency for the registered tonnage to be greatly reduced, although the amount of deadweight carried constantly increases. That is the point we have been making. Even if we were not worse off by this Bill, that is a poor consolation after we have made out, as we think, a very strong case for relief.

We have been told that we are acting the part of the dog in the manger in trying to send this Bill to a Select Committee, and thereby prevent, for this year at any rate, this agreement passing into law. I have no wish to act the part of the dog in the manger; I have no wish to prevent docks that will obtain advantage by this Bill from obtaining it; but I say that, having had the promises that were given to us as to the way in which private Bills would be treated if they dealt with this question of tonnage, it is very hard that when a general agreement is arrived at which is to include all interests—ports where they depend upon ocean liners and great passenger traffic, and also our ports in South Wales which are practically wholly dependent on the dead weight carrying ships—we should get no relief whatever, but should be put into a worse position by being told that any private Bill that we ever bring before Parliament to increase our minimum of registered tonnage will always receive the opposition of the Board of Trade. I have tried to suggest to my noble friend some ways in which our case might be met. Besides fixing a minimum percentage on the gross tonnage, the bonus which is given might be limited. May I explain, in a sentence, that the practice is for those ships that get up to 13 per cent. for propelling space to receive a bonus that brings them up to 32 per cent.; and I must say it seems rather strange that a deduction should be made so far over and above what they actually require for machinery, bunker coals, and so forth. Then there are other deductions besides. There are deductions for crew space, and though I quite admit that it is very desirable that inducements should be given to shipbuilders to provide sufficient crew space, still I do think it is rather hard that it should be done at the expense of dock revenues. I do not see why this question of crew space should not be put under the jurisdiction of the Board of Trade just the same as other things, or why the whole of these deductions should fall upon the docks.

I will not detain your Lordships longer. But I think it has been proved that South Wales and the exclusively dead-weight carrying ports will obtain no relief whatever by this Bill. We have been induced to withdraw our own private Bills, and now we find that the Board of Trade have, over our heads and against our interests, agreed with other ports and shippers; and we are called dogs in the manger simply because we do not cheerfully assent to a Bill which not only gives us no relief but ties our hands in the future. I am, of course, in the hands of the House. I shall see what support I get and judge from that whether it is advisable to move my Motion to refer the Bill to a Select Committee.


My Lords, having been identified with docks for the greater part of my life I should like to say a word on this question. I was very glad when the President of the Board of Trade brought this Bill forward, especially on account of the injustice existing in this matter. The Bill was intended to correct that anomaly and afford relief to dock companies and pilots, but I fear it will not do so to the full extent. I agree with most of the remarks that the noble Karl, Lord Plymouth, has made. At the same time I am not prepared to oppose the Bill, because I think it is a step in the right direction. Although the limit has been fixed at 55 per cent. the Bill does not come into operation until January, 1914. Very many things may happen between now and then, and though the dock authorities may not get their own way on this occasion, events may happen before the Act comes into operation by which the minimum percentage will come nearer to their idea of what it should be than is the case in this Bill.

Naval architects have been wonderfully clever in designing ships lately, and the proportion of registered tonnage to carrying power has been reduced to a very absurd limit. The present state of things undoubtedly presses very hard upon some dock companies, especially those companies that are not in a position to earn a proper interest upon the outlay. The docks with which I am connected are, fortunately, not in that position. We have been earning well, and have a surplus; but there are other cases in which the exact opposite can be said. I will take the case of the Penarth Dock Company. The effect of the reduction in the registered tonnage there has been of a very drastic and unfair character. When the dock was opened in 1874 the average rate of dues paid per ton was a fraction under 4d.—3.93—the ratio of the net registered tonnage to the deadweight being 58 per cent. In 1880 the average rate was in excess of that. It was 4.22d. per ton; the ratio of the net registered tonnage to the dead-weight being 65 per cent. Then we come to 1888, in which year the amount of money received by the Penarth Dock Company was the largest on record—namely, £47, 696. Reduction in the registered tonnage has been going on regularly since, and the dock authorities find that almost in the same ratio as the gross tonnage increases the dues decrease. That is the grievance.

The effect of these continued reductions has been, in this instance of the Penarth Dock Company, that in 1906 the quantity shipped was 836, 184 tons more than in 1888, yet the dues were £8, 870 less than in that year, in consequence of the reduction in the ratio of the registered tonnage to the dead-weight carried. That is the chief reason why dock authorities complain that the present figure fixed by the Board of Trade is not the proper one. I do not, however, intend to vote against the Second Reading of this Bill, because I think great credit is due to the Board of Trade and to those connected with it for the way in which they have grappled with every question connected with shiping with a desire to place matters on a satisfactory basis.


My Lords, as I have been closely associated with the question of measurement of ships for tonnage, perhaps I may be allowed to intervene in this debate. I was a member of the Tonnage Committee which was appointed by the late Government, and presided over by Mr. Bonar Law; and I signed the Majority Report which declared that there was no call to make any change in the tonnage laws. There was, however, a strong Minority Report as well. The Report of the Tonnage Committee did not settle the matter, because the dock companies still continued to come forward with Private Bills seeking powers to charge dues on a minimum percentage of the gross tonnage.

We shipowners felt that it was most desirable that this vexed question should be settled; and although this Bill, which His Majesty's Government have brought forward, will very much increase the burdens put upon a great number of shipowners, and especially on that great Company with which I am so closely associated, yet we felt that rather than incur the expenses of opposing Private Bills brought year after year before Parliamentary Committees, we would prefer to have the question, if possible, settled once for all. Shipowners have long thought that if the question of tonnage was to be dealt with it ought to be by a public Act. This contention was admitted by Mr. Lloyd-George, and he did his best to bring all interests together and to arrive at as fair a compromise as possible on this question. I am sorry that the compromise has not been entirely accepted, but that, I suppose, was hardly possible when there were so many interests concerned.

But I must confess that I have very little sympathy with the South Wales docks in their opposition to this Bill. The only ground for any opposition on their part would be that they were not in a flourishing condition; but there are few commercial concerns in the country paying higher dividends than the South Wales docks. Therefore I think they have very little to complain of. I trust your Lordships will pass the Bill in the form in which it has been brought forward by His Majesty's Government.


My Lords, speaking as one who has had a great amount of experience in shipping matters, I think it is a very good thing that this Bill has been brought before Parliament, and I regret that a matter which concerns our most important industry, the Mercantile Marine, should be discussed in so small a House. The register tonnage for dock dues has always been a most unscientific charge; in my opinion, it ought to be on the length, breadth, depth of water, and the time the ship occupies in the dock. I suppose that is impossible, but it would really have been a scientific way of settling this matter. The fact that it has remained undecided has largely unsettled shipowners. When they are planning a ship they naturally want to know what the dock dues will be, and if this point remains unsettled it will interfere with the building of new steamers.

The noble Earl complained that naval architects had so improved shipbuilding that vessels carried much more deadweight, or much more cargo for their net register, than hitherto. But the noble Earl probably does not realise that from that increased cargo the dock companies receive dues, so that if they lose in one way they gain in another. The shipowners and most of the companies who charge dock dues have agreed upon this compromise. Do not let us throw it over. If we have to vote on this matter I sincerely hope that the supporters of the Bill will be in a majority, and if the Bill is passed I do not think the noble Earl's friends in South Wales will suffer in any way. I appeal to the House to let this matter be settled once and for all.


My Lords, I am in favour of the principle of the Bill, but if it had been brought before the House at an earlier period I should have supported the noble Earl's Amendment to refer it to a Select Committee. But as we cannot have a Select Committee of our own, I think it desirable that the evidence and the speeches of counsel before the Select Committee in another place should be printed and be at your Lordships' disposal before we take the Committee Stage of this Bill. Doubtless these speeches and the evidence contain a good deal of information which is not now before us. I have heard of this question from the time I was a boy, and I have heard it argued from every side, but I am ignorant of the latest phases of it because I have not had an opportunity of reading what was stated in evidence before the Committee of the House of Commons. I therefore hope the Government will see their way to have copies of the evidence and the speeches that counsel made before the Select Committee laid before this House at the earliest opportunity.


My Lords, I am quite certain that there is one universal sentiment in the breasts of all your Lordships, and that is a hope that this discussion, although dealing with a very important subject, may soon come to an end, and I can assure you I share that view. But I really do not think that the Government deserve the assistance which they have asked for. It appears that the President of the Board of Trade, by some misunderstanding, gave the representatives of the South Wales ports the impression that they would be heard by counsel before the Select Committee of the House of Commons upon the issues which they wished to raise. But when counsel presented themselves the Committee held, either as a matter of order or as a matter of their own discretion, I do not know which, that the subject of the figure of tonnage deduction was not open. Therefore the impression which they had gathered from the statement of the President of the Board of Trade was not I founded in fact. That constitutes, I think, a very considerable hardship, if it be the case. But we are not able very well to judge whether it is the case.

Not only is this very important Bill hurled at your Lordships' heads at such a moment and at such a period of the session, but the evidence upon which the Report of the Select Committee was drawn, and the evidence, therefore, upon which my noble friend Lord Granard relies for persuading your Lordships to pass this Bill, is not available for any Member of your Lordships' House. I must say that the treatment of important subjects, which can be very properly debated and considered in your Lordship's House owing to the experts who have seats here, most of whom I see around me at this moment, in this way is a satire on modern methods of legislation. It makes it doubly hard on my noble friend who represents a very important interest in South Wales. The noble Lord opposite, Lord Nunburnholme, pointed out that there is theoretically no defence whatever for the system under which tonnage deductions are now made, and that the obvious common sense plan was that a ship should be charged on the space it occupies in the dock. I know there are very strong reasons why that is not the case, and one of the strongest reasons is that by immemorial tradition another plan has been adopted. It is too late in the day to alter that, but it does constitute a difficult issue; and when the Government come to Parliament and ask for an alteration in the law they have to bear in mind that this very unscientific method of calculating dock dues does act hardly on some people, and that if that hardship is intensified they have a double right to ask for relief.

There are exceptions in the treatment of various docks. There are exceptions in this Bill. Certain Private Acts have already been secured, and those Private Acts are not sought to be disturbed. That constitutes yet another hardship for my noble friend, who is left out in the cold. It must be admitted that the noble Earl has shown that his is a hard case. But personally I have great confidence in the Board of Trade. I believe that office has a body of officials second to none for ability and public spirit, and in most cases I should be very glad to trust them almost entirely in a matter of this kind. Moreover, there is, of course, the Departmental Committee appointed by the late Government, whose conclusions on this subject may to some extent be called in aid in support of the Government; but it is noteworthy that the Government do not adopt either the recommendation of the Majority Report or that of the Minority Report, but a sort of compromise of their own between the two.

We are now presented with this situation. Here is a change which to some extent has been recommended by a strong Departmental Committee, and which is promoted in a non-party sense by the Board of Trade, and we are asked how we ought to deal with the Bill. My noble friend Lord Plymouth says we ought to send it to a Select Committee. I am afraid that at this period of the session that would have but one result. I certainly am not prepared to take the responsibility of recommending your Lordships to adopt a course which would undoubtedly kill the Bill for the present year; and, therefore, although I feel that my noble friend and those whom he represents have not been very well treated in the matter, I think your Lordships would do well to read the Bill a Second Time and not send it to a Select Committee.


I am glad to hear from the remarks of the noble Marquess that he does not intend to support the noble Earl in his proposal to refer the Bill to a Select Committee. The noble Marquess has certainly put his finger on one of the weak spots in the case when he mentions the fact of no printed evidence being available to your Lordships, but I understand that the evidence is available now in the House of Commons and may be had there.


I made careful inquiry in the Vote Office before I made my observations. I found that what I stated was the fact.


At any rate we have asked the Commons to give us the evidence in this case. I cannot give any pledge as regards private legislation in the future, but I can assure my noble friend that any Private Bill initiated by the South Wales docks, provided it does not touch the question of tonnage, will receive the careful consideration of the Government. The Welsh docks will be in just as good a position after this Bill has passed as before. If it is a fact that the Welsh docks are charging too low dues, they should combine to ask for power to charge a little more. I am afraid it is the case that they do-not get much advantage out of this Bill.

On Question, Bill read 2a.


My Lords, I do not rise to move the Motion standing in my name, but I should like to-say that the interests of the pilots in the Bristol Channel have always been in our minds in dealing with this question, and they continue of the same belief that they will not get any help from this Bill. They feel very strongly—


I would point out to the noble Earl that there is no question before the House at the moment.


To put myself in order I will move the reference of the Bill to a Select Committee, but I shall not press that Motion. I do not wish to leave out the question of the pilots, and I would ask the noble Earl who represents the Board of Trade whether there is any possibility of a clause-being inserted later on something to this effect— Where the authority of any dock or harbour has power to charge dues upon a minimum percentage of the gross tonnage of vessels using the dock or harbour, the pilotage rates chargeable upon such vessels shall be calculated upon such percentage, where the pilots at such ports are paid by tonnage rates.

Motion made, "That the Bill be referred to a Select Committee."—(The-Earl of Plymouth.)


I can assure the noble Earl that the case of the pilots is one to which my right hon. friend has given on many occasions his earnest consideration, and I understand that he has promised that it shall receive his attention. I remember he gave very good advice to the pilots. He said, "If you take my advice you will not have anything to do with dockawners, but run the whole show yourselves." As regards the clause suggested by the noble Earl, I do not think it would be very practical. I speak, of course, off hand. If he will will let me have the clause it shall be considered.

Motion, by leave of the House, withdrawn.

Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House To-morrow.