§ [SECOND READING.]
§ Order for the Day for the Second Reading read.
LORD HAMILTON OF DALZELL
My Lords, in rising to propose the Second Reading of this Bill, which deals with very large financial interests and with matters of the greatest importance to the trade of London, I feel that I must ask for the indulgence of the House to one who is very far from being an expert either in finance or in Parliamentary practice. The Bill deals with a question which has been repeatedly before Parliament during the last eight yearn. It is a very much longer period than that since a feeling of uneasiness was first manifested amongst those who carry on their business in the Port of London, and a fear was first expressed that the trade of the Port was in far from a satisfactory condition.
In the year 1900, as your Lordships are aware, a Royal Commission was appointed to inquire into the conditions of the Port, under the chairmanship of a Member of your Lordships' House, 1109 the noble Earl, Lord Egerton of Tatton. Lord Egerton was, unfortunately, obliged to resign his position on the Commission early in the following year, and his place was taken by my noble friend Lord Revelstoke. The Royal Commission reported in the summer of 1902, and their Report contains a most elaborate and most painstaking inquiry into the many difficult and intricate questions connected with the Port of London. It also contains a series of recommendations of which I think their principle features are these—first, that a new public authority should be appointed which should have control of the whole of the tidal portion of the Thames, and that that authority should be given sufficient revenue and borrowing powers to enable it to carry out improvements in the channel of the river, and any extension of the docks which might be considered necessary; secondly, that this authority should acquire the docks.
Since the appearance of that Report, Bills dealing with the Port of London have been presented to Parliament almost every year. Two have been presented by the London and India Dock Company, one by the Thames Conservancy, and one by the London County Council. None of these Bills, however, have become law with the exception of the Bill of the Thames Conservancy, which was passed after considerable amendment, and in a form which allowed the Thames Conservancy to carry out a useful but not very extensive scheme of dredging, and which also allowed them to double their tonnage dues for that purpose for a period of three years. But, in 1903, a much more important Bill was introduced, and a Bill showing the great urgency which this question possessed in the opinion of the late Government. That was the Bill introduced by Mr. Gerald Balfour, he being then President of the Board of Trade. That Bill followed very closely the recommendations of the Royal Commission, and under it the new public authority was given power to purchase the docks. The Bill was referred to a Select Committee, of which the noble Viscount, Lord Cross, was chairman, and after an exhaustive inquiry the Committee reported in favour of the Bill with certain Amendments. 1110 That Bill was not, however, further proceeded with.
The effect of all this inquiry, which has not resulted in any legislation, has been most unfortunate, for it has created a feeling of uncertainty and unrest in the docks which has put a stop to all expenditure of capital during the last six or eight years. Indeed, I believe I am not overstating the case when I say that the only important work which has been carried out in the Port of London during the last eight years has been the opening of the Greenland Dock of the Surrey Commercial Company. That dock, which was a very large and useful work, was carried out at a cost of £1,500,000, but that work was undoubtedly decided upon long before the appearance of the Report in question. And while London has been standing still her rivals, both at home and abroad, have been forging ahead very rapidly. I will give your Lordships a few figures which show this. Liverpool has spent £5,000,000 on her port recently, Bristol has spent £2,500,000, and Southampton, £2,000,000, while, if we look abroad, the figures are even more striking. Hamburg, Antwerp, and Rotterdam, London's great rivals in the entrepot trade of Europe, have spent enormous sums on their ports. Hamburg has recently spent £15,000,000, and contemplates an expenditure of another £1,250,000, and at Antwerp it is proposed to spend £7,000,000 on docks and £4,500,000 on a canal. I quote these figures in order to show the extreme severity of the competition to which London is being subjected. And it should be remembered that, in the case of these foreign ports, very large subsidies have been received both from municipal and from State sources. Nothing of that kind is possible in the case of the Port of London, which must, I think, work out its own salvation, because, as your Lordships will see, it would be impossible for the Government to spend a large sum of money, or advocate its expenditure, in the Thames if it was not prepared to do the same in the case of all London's rivals round the coast; further, the present London County Council do not see their way to give any financial assistance, either by grant or guarantee.
1111 That was the position of affairs when Mr. Lloyd-George took the matter up last year. He saw the extreme urgency of the case, and determined, in following the recommendations of the Royal Commission, to profit by the experience of his predecessors, and, if possible, avoid the rocks on which the 1903 Bill had been Wrecked. His policy throughout has been based on this, that the prime necessity of any scheme for the settlement of the Port of London was that it should bind together into one body all the divergent interests at present existing in the Port; and he has seen that the surest way of doing that was to secure that the terms of settlement should be as near as possible absolutely fair and just as between those different interests. With that object in view, Mr. Lloyd-George and Mr. Churchill have entered into negotiation with, I believe, every trade and interest in the Port of London. Those negotiations have gone on till a very recent date, and the result of that labour is to be found in the Bill now before the House.
The Bill Was referred to a Joint Committee, of which I had the honour of being a member. That Committee was very ably presided over by Mr. Russell Rea, who had been a member of the Committee on the 1903 Bill. We also had the advantage of the presence of several Members of both Houses of Parliament having an intimate knowledge of docks and of the shipping interest generally, and we also had the advantage of the presence of a most distinguished Member of your Lordships' House in the noble Viscount on the cross benches. The Joint Committee amended the Bill in certain particulars, and finally reported in favour of it. I had hoped until recently that I might have said that that Report was a unanimous one, and I had been encouraged in that hope by the very generous support given to this Bill in another place by the members of the Joint Committee, irrespective of party. But, my Lords, the Amendment on the Paper in the name of the noble Lord opposite, Lord Richie, of course, shows that our Report cannot be considered as being unanimous. I would like to say this with regard to Lord Richie's opposition. He made it 1112 clear at an early stage of our proceedings that he objected to certain important provisions in the Bill; but he, none the less on that account, devoted himself most strenuously to the consideration of every detail of the Bill at a subsequent date, and I am quite sure that, much as I regret his decision, it has been arrived at on conscientious grounds and after mature consideration.
I have said that the proposals of the Bill are very similar to those of the Bill of 1903—they were both founded on the Report of the Royal Commission. The main features of the Bill, and of that Report, are the establishment of a public authority and the purchase of the docks. Those points are very intimately connected, as I will attempt to show your Lordships. In doing so, I must refer again to the Report of the Royal Commission. I hope your Lordships will excuse my doing so on several occasions, but I think any one who has studied this question must have found, as I have done, that the ground is so completely covered by that Report that no matter in what direction you may investigate you will invariably find that my noble friend Lord Revelstoke has been there before you. In paragraph 253 of the Report the opinion of the Royal Commission with regard to the condition of the docks is very clearly expressed. They say—It has, in our opinion, been proved that the Port of London is in danger of losing part of its existing trade, and certainly part of the trade which might otherwise go to it, by reason of the river, channels, and docks being inadequate to meet the increased and increasing requirements of modern commerce.That is a very strong statement, and, having come to that conclusion, the Royal Commission proceeded to sketch out a scheme for the improvement of the Port.
The difficulties of doing this are very much increased by the peculiar conditions existing in the Port of London. In the first pi ice, we have the fact that part of the trade is carried on in the river and part in the docks; and, in the second place, we have the fact that of the cargo using the docks only a small proportion contributes anything whatever towards the revenue of the dock companies. That is brought about by the operation of the principle which is known as free 1113 water. That principle I believe to be peculiar to the Port of London. Under it the dock companies are only allowed to charge rates upon the goods actually using their quays, and are bound to allow barges and lighters to have free access to the ships lying in their docks for the purpose of the loading and unloading of cargo. That principle was established by Parliament more than 100 years ago, when the first docks were opened on the Thames, and I believe it his been continued in the case of every subsequent dock which has been constructed.
The results of this system were very clearly brought out before the Joint Committee this year by one of the witnesses. I refer to Mr. Collier, who was called by Messrs. Cory and Sons, the great coal merchants. Mr. Collier, I believe, had been a former manager of the Manchester Ship Canal. He gave us some very interesting figures. He told us that in the year 1906 the total goods imported into and exported from the Port of London amounted to 29,400,000 tons, and that of that amount 18,400,000 tons were dealt with in the river and 11,000,000 in the docks. Those are not figures for which the Board of Trade is responsible. They are figures which were given before the Joint Committee by a hostile witness. This witness went on to tell us that, of this total of 11,000,000 using the docks, only 2,500,000 contributed anything whatever towards the income of the dock companies. I remember thinking when I heard these figures, though they were given with quite a different object, that they were far the strongest argument that we had yet heard in favour of the changes proposed by the Bill. If the Report of the Royal Commission is further studied, it will be found that the Royal Commissioners were amply satisfied that a very large expenditure on the docks was necessary if London was not to fall behind her trade rivals; but they were also satisfied that the revenue of the dock companies did not justify them in embarking on that expenditure.
The question then arose as to how those two difficult factors were to be brought together. It was clearly not possible to place higher rates on the already heavily 1114 burdened goods using the quays of the docks, without incurring a grave risk of driving trade away altogether. The remedy suggested by the dock companies was that they should be allowed to charge rates upon the goods loaded and unloaded overside in the docks; in other words, their suggestion was that the principle of free water should be varied to their advantage. This proposal was, of course, received with very keen opposition from the wharfingers and other river interests, whose trade had been built up on the understanding that free water was to be maintained. The argument which seems to have weighed with the Royal Commissioners, is to be found on page 90 of their Report. There it is said that—The vital need for financial strength would be better met by the creation of a new body responsible to the public than by strengthening, as against other interests, companies responsible to shareholders.That, my Lords, is really the argument in favour of the establishment of a Port Authority and the purchase of the docks by that authority. I hope I have made that clear. Those are the two difficulties which exist with regard to the London docks—first, that the docks are so hampered by the restrictions which Parliament has placed upon them with regard to free water that it is impossible for them to earn sufficient revenue to improve and extend their docks as they should, in their own interests and in that of the Port; and, secondly, that any proposal to remove those restrictions is invariably met by most strenuous opposition—and, from their point of view, perfectly justifiable opposition—from the wharfingers and other river interests. The investigations of the Royal Commission led them to the conclusion that the only possible remedy was the creation of a public authority and the purchase of the docks. Mr. Lloyd-George's investigations, carried on on quite independent lines, led him to an absolutely similar result. I must apologise for having detained the House so long over those two points, but they are really the two main Second Reading points in the Bill. Although those two principles have been twice accepted by the other House of Parliament, in 1903 and again this year, this is the first 1115 time, I believe, that they have been discussed in your Lordships' House, and I therefore thought it my duty to place them fully before you.
The Bill, as your Lordships will have seen, has been prefixed by a rather full, and, I am afraid, rather long Memorandum. I hope the existence of that Memorandum will excuse me if I run rather rapidly over the various heads of the Bill. First of all, there is the constitution of the new Port Authority. That is to consist of twenty-eight members, eighteen elected and ten nominated. By means of this division the preponderating voice in the management of the Port is given to those who have the greatest interest in maintaining it in as efficient a condition as possible—that is to say, those who actually carry on their business in the Port. Of the eighteen elected members seventeen are to be elected on a general register by wharfingers, payers of dues, and owners of river craft, and one is to be elected by wharfingers alone. The registers of electors are to be found in the Fourth Part of the First Schedule of the Bill. All payers of dues of £10 a year or upwards are entitled to a vote, and the more they pay in dues the more votes they will get up to a maximum of fifty. The wharfingers will be entitled to votes in proportion to the rateable value of their premises, up to a maximum of ten votes. The owners of river craft will be entitled to votes according to the number of river craft which they own, up to a maximum also of ten. The remainder of the body is to consist of the ten appointed members. I do not think it is necessary for me to read that list to your Lordships.
There are one or two points with regard to the appointment of the first body which I think I ought to explain. In the first place, it will be clearly impossible to hold an election on the register of payers of dues until those dues have been in force for at least a year, and as it is hoped this body may come into existence very shortly after the passing of the Bill, it is proposed that for the formation of the first authority the Board of Trade are to have the nomination of the members who will ordinarily be elected after consultation with the interests in whose hands the 1116 election will lie. On the same principle the Board of Trade are to be allowed to appoint the first Chairman of the Board. Then the Port Authority is to take over and exercise the powers and duties of the Thames Conservancy so far as those powers and duties are at present exercised in the tidal portion of the river. It is also to take over the powers of the Watermen's Company, as regards the registration and control of barges and boats within the limits of the Port.
The revenue of the new authority will fall under two principal heads. In the first place, there will be the revenue now enjoyed by the Thames Conservancy derived from tonnage dues on the ships using the Port. Those dues may be continued on the higher scale recently authorised. In the second place, the Port Authority is to be allowed to charge rates upon the goods using the Port. This proposal to charge rates on goods has caused a certain amount of uneasiness in certain quarters, and, in order to allay the anxiety which has been displayed, my right hon friend during the passage of the Bill through the other House inserted a provision that that rate was not to exceed in amount one-thousandth part of the total value of goods imported into or exported from the Port overseas in one year. That is a rather complicated phrase, but what it means is that the average rate on goods is not to exceed 2s. in £100. That is not a very heavy contribution, even supposing that the maximum rate is charged. Then the maximum rates are to be fixed by the Port Authority, and one of their first duties will be to draw up a scale of maximum rates which will have to be submitted to Parliament in the form of a Provisional Order.
As regards purchase, the docks of London are to be bought—that is to say, the property of the London and India Dock Company, the Milwall Dock Company, and the Surrey Commercial Dock Company. The price is a price which has been agreed between the directors of those dock companies and the President of the Board of Trade, subject, of course, to confirmation by Parliament. The basis on which that purchase is to be made is to be a revenue basis. The price has been arrived at in this way. The dock companies placed 1117 their accounts and their property at the disposal of the Board of Trade for the purposes of investigation, and a distinguished accountant as well as a distinguished engineer made an examination. As a result they reported to the Board of Trade that a net maintainable revenue of £809,000 a year was to be derived from the docks. The purchase is to take place on the basis of handing over to the shareholders of the companies Port Stock which will impose a charge of £800,000 a year on the Port Authority.
The Government claim that the bargain is a fair one. We do not claim that it is mere than fair. My right hon. friend does not claim that he is driving a hard bargain, but he claims that as nearly as possible he has made a bargain which is fair as between the dock companies and the trade of the Port of London as represented by the new authority. The two gentlemen—the accountant and the engineer—who made the examination of the dock companies' accounts and property were both called as witnesses before the Joint Committee and were subjected to a most rigorous cross-examination. Their figures, however, were not shaken, and the Joint Committee decided, by a very large majority, to report in favour of the bargain which has been concluded. In the 1103 Bill the bargain was to be carried out on an arbitration basis. In departing from this we have also departed from the recommendation of the Royal Commission in that detail, but we claim that by doing so we have saved the Port Authority a very large sum of money. The stock which is to be issued is to consist of two classes—A Stock bearing interest at 3 per cent. and forming a first charge on the revenue of the Port Authority, and B Stock bearing interest of 4 per cent. and ranking after A. Those two classes of stock are to be exchanged, according to a scale set out in one of the Schedules of the Bill, for the shareholdings of the different dock companies The total amount of stock to be issued for this purpose amounts, roughly, to £22,500,000. Besides that, the Port Authority have power to issue further stock to a value not exceeding £5,000,000.
The only other point in the Bill with which I need trouble your Lordships is 1118 the reconstitution of the Thames Conservancy. That is made necessary by the fact that the Port Authority is to carry out the duties at present performed by the Thames Conservancy in the tidal portion of the Thames. That fact also accounts for a new Thames Conservancy, consisting of ten fewer members than the old one. Besides the old members who will serve on the new body a few have been added representing up-river urban districts and boroughs which were not formerly represented, and, in addition two extra nominations are given to the Board of Trade, who will now have four nominations. One of those is to be chosen after consultation with the persons carrying on the barge traffic in the Thames, and two after consultation with persons using the river for purposes of recreation. These, my Lords, are the leading features of the Bill.
I have only a few words to say in conclusion. I see there are Notices on the Paper urging your Lordships to reject this Bill. I venture to hope that the House will not adopt that course. There is another proposal, of which we have heard rumours, and which would be equally fatal to the Bill. I refer to the proposal to carry the Bill over to next session. The Government cannot possibly accede to that proposal. Surely, my Lords, it is time that this matter was settled. It is more than six years since the appearance of the Report of the Royal Commission, and the condition of the Port is, if anything, worse than it was when that Report was issued. The recommendations of the Commission have now been endorsed by both the great parties in the State. There can surely be no further reason for delay. The Bill was treated as a non-party measure in the other House of Parliament, and the Government received most generous and most useful support from many Members of the Party of noble Lords opposite. In particular, I should mention the assistance which was given by Mr. Bonar Law. If, as I hope may be the case, the Bill becomes law this year, the two right hon. Gentlemen who are jointly responsible for it will, I have no doubt, be very proud to have been the means of settling this question; but I am sure they will never forget that 1119 they share any credit which may be due with successive Presidents of the Board of Trade, commencing with the late Lord Ritchie, who was responsible for the appointment of the Royal Commission, and that they share that credit in no ordinary degree with the permanent officials of the Department, who have devoted years of labour and of study to the solution of this very difficult question. I beg to move that the Bill be read a second time.
§ Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a"—(Lord Hamilton of Dalzell.)
* LORD RITCHIE OF DUNDEE
, who had given notice, on the Motion for the Second Reading, to move that the Bill be read a second time this day three months, said: My Lords, I do not anticipate that those with whom I was associated on the Joint Committee which considered this Bill last summer were surprised when they saw this Amendment standing in my name on the Paper. They will remember that when we came to consider that provision of the Bill which deals with the transfer of the docks to the Port Authority—a provision which the Board of Trade told us was I vital to the existence of the Bill—I ex-pressed my strong disapproval of the terms of transfer, and went so far as to divide the Committee on those terms, knowing that if I had been successful the Bill would have been killed.
The Bill came to the Joint Committee with an assurance from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade that he was prepared to justify up to the hilt every detail of the terms on which the docks were to be transferred to the new Port authority, and it came also with an assurance from Mr. Lloyd-George that he was confident, not only that the income from the ordinary business of the dock companies would be sufficient to meet the interest charges on the new stock to be created under this Bill, but that there would be a margin over and above which might be devoted to the general benefit of the Port. I naturally supposed that we should have received overwhelming evidence in support of this assurance. As a matter of fact, two expert witnesses were put in—an accountant and an engineer. The 1120 accountant examined the books of the dock companies and said in effect—I am satisfied with the books, provided the engineer is satisfied with the physical condition of the docks.Thereupon, the engineer went down to examine the docks, and in twelve days, with one assistant, he performed the incredible feat of examining 438 acres of docks, 14,000,000 square feet of ware-houses, and innumerable cranes and other machinery, and reported that he was satisfied. They are, therefore, both satisfied; the Board of Trade is satisfied, the dock companies are satisfied, and the Joint Committee has to be satisfied.
A question was raised as to the condition of the dock walls, but the engineer, although he admits he has not had them examined, claims to be so expert that he can tell they are all right by simply looking at the quays. No evidence is given as to the amount or the value of the machinery and equipment of the docks. We are told that such and such a sum has been spent annually on the maintenance of the machinery and equipment. I forget what the sum was. It is of no importance. It might have been £5,000, or £50,000, or £500,000. It is a mere mockery to tell us what sum has been spent annually in the maintenance of machinery and equipment if we do not know at the same time what is the value of the machinery and equipment. There is a secret Report—a Report which the dock companies refuse to produce. Of course, it must be a very favourable Report, otherwise the Board of Trade would not have gone on with the bargain. Then why is it not produced? I will be charitable and suppose it is modesty on the part of the dock companies, modesty lest Parliament should be so favourably impressed by the Report as to insist on giving a few millions more for the docks than the Bill gives.
With this mutual satisfaction on the part of the accountant and the engineer, it might be supposed that the figures submitted by the accountant would have given overwhelming justification of the terms of the transfer. The transfer is on a revenue basis, and we are told that the amount of interest required on the new stock to be created under the 1121 Bill is £800,000 a year. The accountant takes the average income of the dock companies for the last six years, and adds to that average a certain sum which he anticipates will be saved under management by the Port Authority as compared with management by the dock companies. He estimates a saving of £18,000 a year. This is an estimate which is unlike all other estimates in that it is certain not to be exceeded. He adds this estimated saving of £18,000 to the average income of the dock companies during the last six years, and arrives at a total of just over £800,000. But, unfortunately, the income of the dock companies is a diminishing income. If we take individual years, we find that the incomes in the years 1907, 1906, and 1905 would have been insufficient to meet the interest charges on the new stock. It is necessary to go back to 1904 to find a year in which the income of the dock companies would be sufficient to meet the interest changes on the new stock. Yet the Board of Trade is still quite confident that the income will not only be sufficient to meet these interest charges, but that there will be a surplus which can be devoted to the general benefit of the Port.
The accountant and the engineer had to prove two things—first, that the income of the dock companies, not four years ago but at the present time, is sufficient to meet the interest charges on the new stock; and, secondly, that that income is maintainable. They have not proved either. If they have proved anything at all, they have proved exactly the reverse. The dock directors are not so confident as the Board of Trade that the income is to be sufficient to meet the interest charges on the new stock. They are so fearful lest the income will not be sufficient that they have made it an essential condition of the bargain that a tax should be levied upon all goods that enter and leave the Port, and that that tax should be specifically allotted to the payment of any deficiency that there may be on the interest on the stock. The Report of the Royal Commission has been frequently referred to and quoted by the Board of Trade when it served their purpose, but I should like to read to your Lordships a paragraph 1122 to which they have never made reference. The Royal Commission dealing with the question of additional dues say—We entirely concur with the view that, having regard to the existing and increasing competition with the Thames of other, and especially of certain foreign ports, such additiona charge should be confined to the provision of such improvements as are strictly necessary, and which may be expected to be productive.The dock companies say they must have this tax to protect their now stockholders. It is not likely to be productive if it is to be devoted to this purpose. I should like to explain to those of your Lordships who are not familiar with the peculiarities that exist in the Port of London, that less than half the shipping which enters and leaves the Port uses the docks at all. The larger portion uses wharves or jetties along the banks of the river or tiers in mid-stream. A large portion of the trade actually competes with the docks. Therefore it is manifestly unfair that they should be taxed in order to support their competitors. I admit that the Amendment which the noble Lord referred to and which was carried during the Committee stage of the Bill in the other House has improved the Bill to a certain extent. I refer to the Amendment by which this tax is limited to the thousandth part of the whole trade of the Port; but there is no provision for distributing the one-thousandth part over the whole trade. We know that transhipment trade is to be exempted; we know that part of the coastwise trade is to be exempted—
* LORD RITCHIE OF DUNDEE
At any rate, some part of that has been exempted. We know that the coal trade may probably be exempted. There is nothing to prevent the concentration of this tax of one-thousandth part on, say, a tenth part of the trade; that would be a tax of 1 per cent. and a tax of 1 per cent. would be a very serious thing, but whether the tax is 1 per cent. or one per mille the principle is the same. It is a bad principle, and it is grossly unfair that those who do not use the docks at all, those who are actually competing with the docks, should 1123 have to contribute towards their maintenance. My Lords, beware lest history repeats itself. A horrid vision of passive resistance passes before the eye, followed by a melancholy and endless procession of Presidents of the Board of Trade, each burdened with the corpse of a Port of London Bill mutilated and dishonoured. Consider the guile of the dock directors and contrast it with the simplicity of the Board of Trade. The dock directors first of all persuade the Board of Trade that though their income for the years 1905, 1906 and 1907 would be insufficient to meet the interest charge under the Bill, yet that in the year 1909 and the years that follow it is not only going to be sufficient for that purpose, but there is going to be a margin over and above for the general benefit of the Port, and then, by a sort of confidence trick, they cajole the Board of Trade into giving them a protective tax upon goods. A thousandth part of the trade of the Port of London does not sound a very dreadful thing, but on the basis of last year's figures it amounts to £330,000. I know that some people are sanguine enough to suppose that this Bill is going to make the Port of London cheaper. But it seems to me a trifle odd that the first step in that direction is to raise a tax on goods. I have been closely associated for some twenty years with the mercantile and manufacturing interests in the City of London. I have had personal experience of the comparative advantages of the Port of London and the Port of Hamburg, and I know that there is constant and keen competition going on between those two Ports. I have seen even in my comparatively short experience a great deal of trade diverted from the Port of London to the Port of Hamburg. I know that every 1d. additional rate that is levied on the trade of the Port of London means the diversion of more trade from the port of London to Hamburg or to some other Port. See what different methods are adopted in Hamburg. I should like to refer again to the Report of the Royal Commission. Paragraph 231, says—It appears that at Hamburg the Port is not worked at a profit, and that the expenditure exceeds the receipts; the Government, however, consider that the benefit due to the influx 1124 of trade compensates the city for the specific loss, and they look to the future for an increase of shipping parallel to the increase of expenditure.In Hamburg, the Government encourages trade at the expense of the docks. In London the Board of Trade protects the stock holders in a languishing concern at the expense of trade. I do not advocate similar methods in London. I think that trade ought to pay its own way, but I do say that we ought to hesitate long and seriously before we do anything which is likely to make it still more difficult for London to compete with Hamburg.
I understand that during the last few days there has been considerable agitation on the Stock Exchange as to the fate of this Bill, not that the Stock Exchange cares a brass farthing about the Port of London, but because certain large profits will disappear if the Bill does not pass into law. Since the Bill has been introduced, some of the stock of the London and India Dock Company has risen enormously; so vastly superior is the security of this tax upon goods to the security of the ordinary revenue of the Dock company that some of the London and India Dock stock has advanced something like 25 per cent. since this Bill was introduced. The stock-holders in the London and India Dock Company conceal their joy at this unexpected piece of good fortune when in public; they throw up their hands and say: "We are the victims of misfortune; we cannot, help ourselves, we must bow to the inevitable" and all the rest of it; they conceal their joy in public, but they rejoice exceedingly in private. I can give an instance of that. A friend of mine who is the fortunate possessor of some of the London and India stock, bought before the Bill was introduced, and, therefore, showing a very handsome profit to-day, said to me recently: "If you do anything calculated to spoil the chance of this Bill becoming law, I will kill you." Out of respect to my skin rather than out of consideration for his pocket, I advised him to sell and secure his profit. "No," he said, "we think that the Dock Company made such a good bargain that the stock will appreciate still further," and he was perfectly right. He spoke to 1125 me before the Bill went through Committee in the other House, and after it emerged successfully through the Committee the stock did advance a few more points, and I have no doubt that if your Lordships pass the Bill to-night it will advance still more; perhaps considerably more. On the other hand, if your Lordships were to reject the measure there is not the least doubt that the price of the stock would revert to something like where it stood before the Bill was introduced.
It would almost seem that the main object of this Bill is to rescue the dock companies from an unfortunate situation. It is a sort of Old-Age Pensions Bill. Many of the arguments that were put forward so pathetically in favour of the Old-Age Pensions Bill in the earlier part of the year could be applied with equal pathos in support of this measure. Some of the docks are very old, far older than seventy. Some of them are very decrepit. They have served their country well in the past. They have been honest in their dealings I believe, with one unfortunate exception; shall their country desert them in their old age? No, my Lords; in the name of humanity we will support them, and in order to support them we will tax somebody else. If you pass this Bill, it will launch the new Port Authority on its career with a horrible burden of debt round its neck, bound hand and foot to an antiquated system of dock accommodation which cannot compete with many of the great ports of the Continent; unable to undertake any large and comprehensive scheme of new docks; because by doing that the old docks will be robbed of the trade on which they depend to supply the interest on their stock, and finally if you pass this measure, you will deal a deathblow to private enterprise.
I have only touched upon those provisions of the Bill which appear to me to be most unjust. There are other provisions which are uncertain in their operation. The Bill is full of uncertainties, and when we appealed to the representatives of the Board of Trade for guidance when the Bill was before Joint Committee, we were met with a 1126 reply which, towards the end of our inquiry became almost stereotyped: "Oh, you must trust the new Port Authority; you must put your trust in the Board of Trade; it will be all right in the end." My Lords, I am afraid it will be all wrong in the end, and I should be sorry to put my trust in any Board of Trade which is capable of producing such a measure as this. Sir Hudson Kearley, during the course of our inquiry, himself admitted that in some respects the Bill was a speculation. The whole Bill is a speculation, it speculates on the sudden conversion of a diminishing revenue into an expanding revenue; it speculates upon getting men capable of managing the affairs of the dock companies without paying them anything for their time and trouble; it speculates on the various interests in the Port getting their proper representation on the new Port Authority, although many of them say that they will not only not get that representation, but that they will be practically disfranchised. It is a speculation in which the counters to be used are the trade and prosperity of the Port of London. It is a speculation out of which only one result is absolutely certain to follow, and that is to make the Port of London dearer than it has been hitherto, and to render it more difficult for our merchants and manufacturers to compete with their foreign rivals. My Lords, I beg to move the Motion that stands in my name.
To leave out the word 'now,' in order to insert the words 'this day three months.'"—(Lord Ritchie of Dundee.)
§ * LORD SWAYTHLING
My Lords, I trust you will permit me to say a few words as to the merits of this Bill from the point of view of City men. After the remarks made by the noble Lord opposite, and as I am going to vote for the Bill, I may be allowed to say that I hold no stock, neither does my firm hold any stock, nor am I in any degree interested personally in the matter. A prominent shipowner assured me that almost all the London shipowners were in favour of the Bill; they considered it a fair Bill and one which 1127 was favourable to the interests of all concerned. He considered that it was useless to expect any reduction in the dues, but he thought, and his colleagues thought, that it was better to pass this Bill as it was agreed to by the contracting parties. He said that the present companies have very small resources for making any extensions, with the exception, of the Surrey Dock Company, which is prospering. The companies are doing well at the present time as regards rent because of the inactivity of trade and their warehouses are full of goods awaiting a market. The last effort failed because the wharfingers wanted to be bought out, and also because there was no price agreed upon, and arbitration, as we know, goes very generally against the purchaser. Also in the former effort they had not provided the cash with which to pay for this great undertaking, whereas now they pay in Port of London Stock, which, in its nature, will not compete with the stocks of the Government. From other sources I have learnt that the majority of traders and financiers in the City are in favour of the Bill, although those who think they can make better terms are opposing it. The docks are easily adapted to modern requirements, and there is enough land for extensions.
Germany spent in the years 1898 to 1902, £25,000,000 on a few docks, whereas in London we did not spend anything during those years, and yet the Port of London deals with a third of the whole trade of the country, estimated—I cannot vouch for the exactitude of the figures—at £350,000,000 sterling. Surely it would be an advantage to have one central authority controlling all our docks? That is the case with the other great towns in this country, and I should think that their example, and in many cases their successful efforts, we ought to follow. I have read the Bill. It is a very long one and I cannot see anything particularly objectionable in it. I was greatly pleased to see that in Clause 29 there was a provision for establishing receiving houses for alien immigrants, thus removing a scandal which obtains and hardships which are inflicted upon innocent people when they land in this country. While their cases are being considered, they are stranded in what 1128 is to them a strange country; their resources are soon exhausted, and they have, perhaps for the first time in their lives, to appeal for charity. It is not for me to enter into the details which are contained in the Reports of the several Commissions, but I believe that this is a great opportunity to acquire, without any burden to the country, the great undertaking which the Port of London controls, and I feel sure that your Lordships will not refuse the Bill a Second Reading, because the arguments of the noble Lord who has moved its rejection are based almost entirely on the question of the estimated value of the purchase. The potential value probably is exceedingly great; it is the only part of London in which docks could be created, and this long controversy may be ended by this Bill. I trust your Lordships therefore will give it a Second Reading.
§ * LORD LEITH OF FYVIE
My Lords, I had the honour of being appointed, as representing your Lordships' House, a Member of the Joint Committee. I was at the first meeting of the Committee, and there came up a question as to whether as a Committee we were to accept the Second Reading of the House of Commons. I objected to that for the simple reason that I was not au fait with what had been done with the previous Bill, and, therefore, I wanted to hear it in your Lordships' House thoroughly discussed and thoroughly considered. I therefore objected to that principle of accepting the House of Commons Second Reading, but it was understood that values and all other particulars should be thoroughly open to the Committee and investigated. The first act of the Joint Committee was to pass a resolution. I was not present, but I thought that the wording was entirely satisfactory in that respect. It was to accept the principle of purchase, which I must confess I do not yet understand, and that all values and all questions were to be thoroughly opened out and ventilated and investigated. As we went on in the investigation of the case it was very evident from the decision of the Chairman of the Committee that it was impossible for the minority representatives to get a hearing. I remonstrated by letter and also by word in the 1129 Committee against this policy, because I thought it was not at all wise, just, or equitable; but it was pursued, and it was pursued up to the time that I left the Committee. I hold that this question of the principle of purchase must be as well by valuation, and arbitration as it is by negotiation, and when we came to investigate, I was surprised, as one of your Lordships' Committee, to be met with the argument that the contract as between buyer and seller was sealed, and could not possibly be opened up to your Lordships' Committee or to the Joint Committee. We also, on investigating with the experts were met by the engineer's statement that his report even was not open to the Joint Committee. We had before us the experience of the Royal Commission and the experts they employed, who distinctly in detail warned the Royal Commission against the docks being taken as they were, and we asked about that, but everything was shut down, everything was stopped. I tried to get information from the engineer as to what the particulars of the investigation were, and in that cross-examination it came out that he had been from ten to twelve days with one assistant going round the docks. At last he admitted that he could not tell me what his instructions were from the promoters, but he admitted that what he did and what his assistant assisted him to do, was to check the reports of the engineers of the dock company, the sellers. Now uothing could be more unreasonable than for a Committee to consider the engineer's reports, for many years perhaps, on the property that the sellers were proposing to sell. I therefore remonstrated very strongly on that point, but I was met with the argument from the promoters that they could not show contracts; that it would be a breach of faith with the sellers—a perfectly unreasonable method in a negotiation of any kind, one which would be unreasonable even if this were not a Corporate Act, which of course it is, because it is promoted by the Government, and immediately the Government promotes it all liability ceases on the part of the Government; there is not a penny that the Government will stand by the poor stock holders of 1130 the dock company to protect them. They make rules and regulations as to the present condition of the authority and up to that point they are the power. The values of these docks were, as the expert accountants gave them, checked upon the basis of a six years business, which the noble Lord introducing the Bill, and also the noble Lord objecting to the Bill, admitted. As a business man, I object to a proposition being put to reasonable men that it is a good purchase to buy property on the basis of an income which, by the figures I hold in my hand, represents the highest income they had ever had in the history of their business, and which also represents an estimate of the accountants of a possible speculative saving of £18,000 per annum by this transaction, all of which, under any consideration of Corporate Acts, would have been scratched out and not allowed in promotion by the Corporate Law which we passed last year.
Then, my Lords, with regard to the margin which I am sure you would say ought to be a conservative one, in this case it is certainly less than one-tenth of 1 per cent., and yet the basis of the valuation is based on the full maximum. That is certainly a warning to anyone investigating. Of course, I had a judicial position on the Committee, and when it came to a question for the Committee to decide whether it would pass the stocks as proposed in the Bill, my noble friend Lord Ritchie and myself, two in a quorum of six out of ten, voted against the B Stock. I then moved an Amendment which you will find in the Committee's Report which would have simplified the matter as regards the direct liability on that stock from year to year. My Amendment was based on a very usual practice in all reorganisations, that where you are estimating and speculating on future values you should not make the commitment a fixed charge—in other words, in this case there is a fixed charge for the total amount. My Amendment was that you should make the whole of B Stock, or certainly an amount equivalent to the amount of the present deferred stocks in these dock companies which it is proposed to buy—there is something over 6,000,000 of those deferred stocks, some of them bearing no 1131 dividend, and some of them, like the Surrey Dock, bearing a dividend of 5 per cent. very steadily; whereas in the case of the East India Dock Company their stock in the last of the six years on which the estimates were based only paid a 3 per cent. dividend, their dividends during the years on which these valuations are based commencing at 1¼ and working up to 4 per cent., and yet it is said that it is fair to put it at the maximum rate that they have ever paid. I again say it should be on a stock that was not chargeable on the rates, or, at any rate, that it should be only on net dividends. My Amendment was a case of swopping one stock for another on the same basis as the original stock. But I was in a minority, and being in such a minority and finding myself having to go on with a business to which I was absolutely opposed—because I did not consider that the methods were honest, and that to continue with the values as they were proposed was distinctly dishonest—I went to Lord Onslow and asked him if he would relieve me from that Committee. That, as your Lordships know, was done by appointing another Member of this House to take my place.
The principal points in this Bill as I have considered them are these; if you carry the Bill to a Second Reading and attempt to amend it you will find what we found on the Committee, that you must not touch this in any way, because if you touch it you will spoil it; if you scratch this baby the baby will die at once; and it is not a question of amending it in any way. The only practicable Amendment possible in the very short time your Lordships have before the end of this session would be to appoint the authority, give it the necessary power of appointment of managers, and let those managers get to work and get into the saddle; then when they have had experience of the necessities of the Port of London they should be allowed to draw up a scheme, having regard to the principle of the thing as admitted by all the Royal Commissions and everybody else doing business in the Port of London, for the necessity financial requirements of the future. In the Bill they have allowed that at £5,000,000, but there is not in 1132 the Bill a scrap of security left; they have skinned the whole thing into the present stocks that they have promised to give away. They have not allowed any security on which to borrow money; the only thing they can find as a security to borrow money on is a rate on goods, a thing that has never been done in the Port of London yet.
My Lords, in passing this Bill, you will assume the responsibility for doing something that has never been done before; you will make the Port of London, from being a cheap port, the dearest port of all, and you will gradually see it go down in the face of the competition of every other port. I can refer to every other port in the kingdom; the Clyde, the Mersey, the Humber, and all of them are looking forward to this Bill becoming law, because, in their opinion, if it is passed in its present shape, London will immediately lose 16,000,000 tons of coal. Coal merchants will tell you that 1d. on the ton will turn the balance. If you go to other merchants, those engaged in the wool business, for example, they will tell you that it takes only an infinitesimal amount to turn it, and that anyone giving facilities for handling wool will get the business. I am not opposed to the scheme, but I am in every way opposed to so mortgaging it before-hand, and so slipping a mill-stone round the neck of this proposed authority that it will be impossible for it to do anything. The consequence is that you will get second-class and third-class men to manage this enormous Port of London. Not only that, but there has already been considered as a possibility, the introducing of municipal progressive methods into the Port of London. What will that mean? It will mean the repetition of what went on in the London County Council in the matter of municipal trading; it will be a repetition of Poplar in their methods, because it is unquestionably based on unbusinesslike irresponsible methods; they will spend the money first and then find out what the trade is really wanting.
My Lords, I will not detain you longer. There are several other business points about it, but they are ones that come up, or would come up, in Committee. 1133 All I wish to do now, is very earnestly to warn your Lordships that you will do a most dangerous thing if you pass this Bill. I refer you to anyone doing business in the Port of London, if you need confirmation of what I say. You will reduce labour and increase the unemployed. You are bound to do that whatever is done. I have asked those who are doing large business in the Port of London to speak out and say if they are in favour of this Bill, but I have not got one single interest to speak in favour of it since the Bill has been before your Lordships' House until this afternoon, when there was the telegram that Lord Ritchie got from the Beefeaters Association. I do not know what they are nor does anybody else. They are not in the Directory anyhow. That is the only corporate thing in any shape or form that has come before us. The whole City of London has been canvassed to find somebody who will say a word in favour of the Bill, and naturally, as a business man, I cannot appreciate how your Lordships can possibly pass a Bill into law when it is opposed by the whole of the interests of the Port of London.
* THE EARL OF ONSLOW
My Lords, I intervene in this debate, merely to draw your Lordships' attention to the stages which this measure has gone through and to the position which it now occupies. I confess I read with considerable surprise that my noble friend Lord Ritchie intended to move the rejection of this Bill, and for this reason: that my noble friend was upon the Joint Committee to which the Bill was referred, and I should naturally have supposed that he would have taken some opportunity during the progress of the proceedings of that Committee to place on record his entire dissent to the whole principle of the Bill. But I have looked through the proceedings of that Committee from end to end, and I find a paragraph to the effect that the preamble was declared to be proved. The only difficulty about that is that there is not any preamble to the Bill at all. Therefore, I do not find great fault with my noble friend for not protesting against a preamble which had no existence. But, at any rate, there were other methods open to the noble 1134 Lord, and he might at any time during the progress of the inquiry have placed on record his dissent to the Bill as a whole.
LORD RITCHIE OF DUNDEE
May I interrupt the noble Lord. I do not know whether he was in the House when I spoke.
LORD RITCHIE OF DUNDEE
I pointed out that when we came to consider the provision of the Bill which deals with the transfer of the docks to the Port Authority, I opposed it as strongly as I could. I opposed it with the full knowledge that if I had been successful in my opposition the Bill would have been dropped, because we received an intimation from the Board of Trade, or it was generally understood at any rate, that unless that particular clause dealing with the transfer of the docks to the Authority was accepted as it stood, the Bill could not proceed. I opposed that provision of the Bill then, and I oppose the Bill now, and I maintain that my action in both cases was entirely consistent.
* THE EARL OF ONSLOW
I entirely endorse what the noble Lord has said. I am thoroughly aware that the noble Lord did oppose Clause 3 of the Bill. But there is something more than Clause 3 in the Bill; there is the question of whether it is right or whether it is not right that the docks should be purchased. That is the first and most important point in the Bill. It is quite true that the Committee at its earlier meeting, I think at its first meeting, decided to accept the principle of purchase while they reserved to themselves the right to investigate every detail of the Bill, and I think my noble friend was a party to that decision.
LORD RITCHIE OF DUNDEE
I am extremely sorry to interrupt again, but I would like to remind the noble Lord that it was on his advice that the principle of purchase in the Bill was accepted; indeed I have a letter from the noble Lord himself in which he says that he thinks probably on the whole it would 1135 be advisable to recognise the principle of purchase.
* THE EARL OF ONSLOW
If I may be allowed to correct my noble friend, I think the point was that while it was within the competence of your Lordships' House to reject the Second Reading, that is to say, to object altogether to the principle of the Bill, I thought for convenience of procedure it would be well for the Members of your Lordships' House on the Joint Committee to fall into line with what undoubtedly was the position upon which the Members of the other House went into Committee, namely, that the question of principle was one which had been decided by the House of Commons, in consequence of the Second Reading of the Bill in that House; but that in no way prevents this House from dissenting from that position, and if your Lordships are prepared, as perhaps you may be, to decide against the recommendations of the Royal Commission of 1902, that there should be a single public authority to regulate the docks, that the transfer of the powers of the Dock Companies should be made to some authority in the nature of a Port authority, and that there should be a transfer of the powers of the Conservators of the River Thames, it is quite within the competence of your Lordships to do so. You will, of course, in that case be taking a different line from what was taken by the Government of 1903 and by the findings of Lord Cross' Committee, and you will be taking a course which is in opposition to that of the Resolution of the House of Commons in March, 1906, when they declared that the time had come for playing the Port of London under one authority. I venture to think that your Lordships can only reject the Bill upon those grounds or upon two other grounds, that the price is excessive, and that the new authority will be unable to pay its way, or that the representation of the various interests in the Port of London and in the River Thames have not due and proper representation on the Port Authority.
Now as to those two points I would venture to put it to your Lordships whether you really are in a position to exercise a mature judgment. Both those matters were most carefully gone into by the 1136 Committee, and I was very glad indeed to hear that my noble friend Lord Ritchie, though he was not convinced, clearly admitted that the whole case as to the price to be given was put before the Committee, and that by a majority, a large majority I think I may even say, the Committee decided to recommend Parliament to report the Bill containing both those propositions to the House. The price is named in the Bill, and, although the contracts may not be disposed, it is open to everyone of your Lordships to see exactly how much is to be paid for these dock undertakings. There was more than one division, I think, in the Committee, but there was one in which there were five on the one side and two on the other, the division to which my noble friend Lord Leith has referred, and your Lordships, no doubt, before the conclusion of this debate will hear something from other noble Lords, Lord Milner and Lord Clinton, both of whom were members of the Committee, with regard to it. I venture to think that your Lordships will incur considerable responsibility if you reject this Bill upon Second Reading after it has been exhaustively examined by a Joint Committee.
And, my Lords, who are the people who are petitioning your Lordships to reject this Bill? I have a letter here which I dare say has been sent to a great number of other Members of your Lordships' House from the Port of London and River Thames Defence Committee. That Committee consists of the Corporation of London, the Thames Conservancy, the London Waterside Manufacturers' Association, the Association of Master Lightermen and Bargeowners, the London Direct Short Sea Traders' Association, William Cory, Limited, and the Councils of Middlesex and Kent and the West Ham Corporation. I have spoken to the noble Lords who served on that Committee, and I think I am right in saying that every one of those authorities petitioned and was represented by counsel and proposed Amendments, most of which were not accepted by the Joint Committee. Therefore, your Lordships will see that the opposition which is put forward in your Lordships' House, whatever 1137 may be the value and the weight of it, at any rate is not new opposition which has not been carefully considered already by the Joint Committee. Therefore, unless your Lordships are prepared to say that the Committee is a Committee in which you do not think you can place confidence, and that the whole matter ought to be re-opened, I venture to think that, in accordance with the usual practice of your Lordships' House, you ought to trust to the judgment of the majority of that Committee.
§ LORD LEITH OF FYVIE
Might I interrupt Lord Onslow for a moment? I would like to put this to him. You say that the Committee allowed these petitioners to be heard. Will you allow me to refer to the Report in which the Chairman of the Joint Committee says—We have ruled out the principle of the purchase of the docks and the principle of these agreements for purchasing the docks. It is not open to this Committee to vary these agreements.I only served on this Committee up to a certain point, but I heard that said day after day by the Chairman of the Joint Committee to the counsel of these petitioners.
* THE EARL OF ONSLOW
I am really sorry, but I am afraid, after what has been said by the noble Lord, that I must ask your Lordships to look at what did actually take place on the question of the purchase price of the docks. I am reading at page 289. The Chairman said—The position that the Committee take up is simply this. We have ruled out the principle of the purchase of the docks and the principle of these agreements for purchasing the docks. It is not open to this Committee to vary these agreements; we are not arbitrators; but it is open to this Committee to reject every one of these bargains and substitute an arbitration if we like. If you move that sub-clause (a) or (b) or (c)——those are the clauses having regard to the terms of purchase—should be struck out, we shall be bound to hear you.Upon that there was moved on behalf, I think, of the Shortsea Traders to leave out in Clause 3 the words from "the first authority," to the end of the subsection. That is to say, to leave out the whole of the clause which embodied these terms 1138 of purchase. Then witnesses were called and finally counsel addressed the Committee, and the late Sir Ralph Littler said—Surely the Committee will pause before they say that subsection (a) of this clause shall be passed.And he went on to say that if his arguments were right subsection (a) must go, and—If you find no other resource then the only other resource is arbitration.That is to say, the principle of purchase by agreement as against the principle of purchase by arbitration was placed before the Committee, and I think I am entitled to say distinctly rejected by them.
May I call your Lordships' attention to the composition of that Committee? The Committee consisted in part of Members of your Lordships' House, and also of Mr. Russell Rea, a large shipowner of Liverpool, who I am told has no interest in the docks or the Port of London, Sir Albert Spicer, a member of the London Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Williamson, a member of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board, Sir William Bull, Member for Hammersmith—who, I think, said in another place, that he went into the Committee greatly prejudiced against the Bill, but came out strongly in favour of it—and Lord Castlereagh, the son of my noble friend Lord Londonderry, who usually sits on this bench. I venture to say that is a strong Committee, and I hope your Lordships will pause before you throw over its recommendations. When the time comes I shall have something to say about some of the clauses in the Bill, some of which I agree with, but only in part, especially those which deal with the taking of land compulsorily otherwise than in the usual way by promoting a Bill in Parliament. But those are matters of detail for consideration in Committee.
There is another point, and one that has been, I think, somewhat strongly urged, that we have arrived now at a time of the session when it is extremely difficult for your Lordships' House to consider carefully the Amendments put down for the Committee stage, and it has been suggested that the procedure might be adopted which was adopted in the 1139 Bill of 1903, of carrying it over to the next session of Parliament. But, my Lords, there was no reason why the Bill of 1903 should not be carried over. That was a Bill of an ordinary character, and the terms of purchase were by arbitration and not by agreement. But in this particular Bill, I am given to understand—the noble Lord in charge of the Bill will correct me if I am wrong—that the agreements which have been entered into by the Board of Trade for the purchase of the dock undertaking will last only until 31st December in this year, and that, therefore, if your Lordships should decide to carry the Bill over, the risk will be run of losing the advantages of those agreements, although it is, of course, quite possible that those who entered into them in 1908 may be equally willing to enter into them in 1909.
I have said all that I have to say upon this subject. I am not going to enter into the merits or the demerits of the Bill. I only want to point out that it has been referred to a very strong Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament, and to urge upon your Lordships that you should consider carefully before you decide to reject the Bill the principle of which has been affirmed by the majority of that Committee.
* EARL CROMER
My Lords, I shall detain your Lordships but a very few minutes, for I am not going to deal at any length with the general merits or demerits of this Bill. For myself I may must say that, although the Bill is possibly capable of being amended in Committee, it appears to be an honest and praiseworthy endeavour to deal with an extremely difficult subject; therefore, if we go to a division I shall certainly vote in favour of the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Leith of Fyvie, said that the City of London had been canvassed in vain to get supporters of this Bill. I have no sort of authority to state what the opinion of the City of London is, but it did occur to me that it might be of some use to ask Lord Revelstoke, as he was Chairman of the Commission, what he thought of this Bill. He is at this moment in America, 1140 but I had some conversation with him about it before he left, and I telegraphed to him this morning and asked him what his opinion was. I received his reply during the course of this debate; he says—I should sincerely regret the rejection of the Port of London Bill.I think, as Lord Revelstoke was the Chairman of the Commission, that perhaps your Lordships will attach some weight to his opinion.
But it was not to make this statement that I rose. I should like to deal with one point which has not yet attracted attention. It is really, strictly speaking, more a point for the Committee Stage, but inasmuch as a very important question of principle is involved, and inasmuch as I think also that perhaps the noble Lord opposite in charge of the Bill may like to consider the suggestion I have to make before the Committee Stage comes on, I claim your Lordships' indulgence while I speak on that point for a very few minutes. I allude to the question raised in the sixth clause of the Bill. I need not read the clause, it is a very long one; it will be sufficient for my purpose if I say that under that clause certain subjects, notably the acquisition of land, which up to the time have been dealt with by Private Bill legislation, may in future be dealt with by the Board of Trade without any legislation, at all, though any Order, other than a Provisional Order that is made, has to lie on the Table of both Houses for thirty days with a view to giving an opportunity for any objection being raised. This is a very important question, and I think it ought to be very fully considered before anything is done.
I am able to speak with some little experience of this question of Private Bill legislation, because during the last year the noble Earl, the Chairman of Committees, seems to have got into the habit whenever he is looking out for a Chairman of a Committee to pounce upon me. The result is that I have spent about three out of the last nine months in the Committee rooms of your Lordships' House listening to speeches of counsel at all times interesting, but sometimes rather prolix. 1141 The conclusion I have come to is that this question of Private Bill legislation is one which will, sooner or later, demand the serious and earnest attention of Parliament. I assure your Lordships that as far as I have been able to see, the waste of time and of money is really almost beyond description. I know how very difficult it is to apply a remedy, and I am certainly not going into the general question now; but as this clause has been the subject of a good deal of discussion I do wish to say something on the question of principle. Let me give your Lordships a case in point. A few months ago I was the Chairman of the Committee appointed to deal with the question of the supply of electricity in bulk to London. We sat for two and a half months. I see three of my colleagues, Lord Sanderson, Lord Welby, and Lord Lamington, present, and I think they will confirm what I say. Our inquiry was preceded by an inquiry held under Lord Camperdown's chairmanship in 1906, and I know I am under-stating the fact when I say that the total expenditure on those Committees was over £100,000, Thats a gigantic figure as it appears to me. We sat for two and a half months. The Bill then went to the House of Commons, and it was there wrecked for reasons which I need not go into now. The result was that the whole of that money was wasted. Of course, anybody who goes to law must expect to spend some money, but I really do not suppose that such a case has ever been heard of, people spending £100,000 in an ordinary civil suit, and the difference is that in an ordinary civil suit one does have the satisfaction of getting something decided. The peculiarity in the case of this Committee, and it is often the case in other Committees also, is that after spending all that money nothing was decided: it goes on, and the same thing begins again in another session. That is not a satisfactory state of things, and on those grounds I very warmly approve of the general principle embodied in this clause, which is to allow the Board of Trade and the Government Departments to have greater freedom in dealing with these matters. I mention 1142 it because I repeat it has been a good deal discussed and criticised.
But although I agree with the general principle, there are some points which I should like to allude to, because I think perhaps the noble Lord in charge of the Bill may like to consider them before we get to the Committee stage. Your Lordships will observe, if you look at the Bill, that the Board of Trade before they deal with the question are to appoint an impartial person to hold a public inquiry. If we are going to withdraw from the public the guarantees of safety which ere now derived from being able to appear before these Parliamentary Committees, we ought to take as much care as we possibly can to provide other guarantees in order that the public inquiry should command confidence. Nothing has struck me so much as the great confidence that has been displayed by those who come before us in Committee, both on the part of lawyers and on the part of witnesses, in the thorough impartiality of the inquiries conducted by your Lordships' House, and I have no doubt the same applies to the other House, although as I have never been a Member of that House I cannot speak with authority on the subject.
There is nothing said in this clause as to whether the individual who holds the inquiry is to call witnesses or not. I understood from what was said in another place by the President of the Board of Trade that witnesses would be called. I think it is worth considering whether something specific should not be laid down in the Bill on that point. Then again nothing is said about whether counsel are to be heard. That is also a point worth considering. I do not want to express any opinion on the point now, but I think it is one that deserves consideration. There is one further point which I think is of still greater importance; it is said that the inquiry should be conducted by an impartial person. That is a very vague term. I suppose there is no man living who does not think that he is impartial; we all think that we are impartial, but there are a great many standards of impartiality. For instance, there is the standard of impartiality 1143 which is adopted by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, and by the other learned law Lords when they sit in their judicial capacity. That is probably the highest standard of impartiality to which fallible human beings can attain. Then there is the standard of impartiality of the party politician; that has generally, by the outside world, been considered not quite so high a standard. Then there is the standard of impartiality of a person concerned in matters connected with Government who is not a Government official; and there is also the standard of impartiality of the Government official who may, perhaps, even unconsciously, be somewhat biassed by the fact that his advancement and promotion depend upon his employers. The importance of this point has been forcibly brought to my mind recently, because I am at this moment dealing with an investigation as to the desirability of the amalgamation of certain towns in what are known as the Staffordshire Potteries. The President of the Local Government Board went down to the Potteries and made a strong speech in favour of amalgamation. Subsequently an inspector of the Local Government Board was sent down to inquire, and I know that several of my colleagues will confirm me when I say that there were a good many complaints that that inquiry was not an impartial one. I do not for one moment mean to say that I am expressing any opinion with regard to those complaints, but certainly many complaints were made, and I am sure that the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack will confirm me when I say that when it comes to anything in the nature of a judicial inquiry it is not only necessary that the Judge should be impartial, but almost equally necessary that everyone concerned should be convinced of his impartially. I venture to suggest that it would be very well worth while to consider whether it should not be provided that the impartial person should be somebody not connected with the Government at all, or at all events not connected with the special Department concerned. I do not say that I am prepared to move any Amendment, but I hope the noble Lord in charge of the Bill will consider the point 1144 before we get to the Committee stage, because, in my opinion, it is really one of considerable importance.
§ * LORD AVEBURY
My Lords, the noble Lord who has just sat down quoted a telegram from Lord Revelstoke who, no doubt, speaks with very high authority on any subject connected with the commerce of London. We all know that Lord Revelstoke has paid a great deal of attention to this subject, and that he is in favour of a strong Port Authority for the Port of London. So am I, but I am not in favour of a Port Authority which is brought into life with a millstone round its neck, and I very much doubt whether Lord Revelstoke who, of course, has not seen, this Bill in its present form, would, if he had done so, have given it his support. The only noble Lords who have spoken besides myself who have any experience of the business in the Port of London, Lord Ritchie and Lord Leith, have spoken very strongly against this Bill, and I desire to give them my earnest support. Lord Swaythling, who addressed your Lordships from the other side of the Horse, said that he spoke for financiers. No doubt some financiers have a great interest, as Lord Ritchie has pointed out, in seeing this Bill pass into law, but we speak for another class. I represent the Corporation of London, the Short Sea Traders, the London Manufacturers' Association, the Lightermen and Bargeowners, the Thames Conservancy, my own County of Kent, and the County of Essex. The noble Earl, Lord Onslow, has tried to throw some discredit on their opposition because he says they were heard before the Committee. But they were not heard before the Committee on the most important point of all, the great question in this Bill, whether you are going to invest twenty odd millions of money in buying up the docks of London. That is one of the great questions in this Bill, and that was from the beginning ruled out of order by the Chairman. Who are these people whom I represent? The Short Sea Traders represent most of the shipping and pay half the dues that are paid in the Port of London, and they are most strongly against this Bill; the London Manufacturers' Association have invested £70,000,000 to £80,000,000 along the 1145 river in their manufactories, and they are very much against this Bill too, both on the ground that the Bill will inevitably make London a dear port, and on the ground that it will drive away our trade and commerce. Then there is the Thames Conservancy and the counties of Kent and Essex, who are, I believe, mainly interested in that vital part of the Bill, the constitution of the Port Authority. Those whose views I am representing held a meeting a short time ago at which they unanimously passed this resolution—That this Conference of representatives of industrial, trading and carrying associations and public bodies interested in the Port of London, and specially convened to consider the Port of London Bill as amended in Committee, hereby records its conviction that the provisions of the Bill, more especially those providing for the transfer of the docks to a public authority, and determining the financial basis of that transfer will, if passed into law, disastrously affect the industrial, trading, and carrying interests of the Port of London.These are the people whose livelihood depends on the Port of London, and they are all opposing this Bill, and they have asked me to oppose it in your Lordships' House. I challenge your Lordships, can any business interest in the Port of London be brought before you who approve this Bill; and I ask your Lordships, when we have now, at the end of the session, had no opportunity of thoroughly considering it, are you going to pass a Bill which is opposed by practically the great majority of those who are interested in the trade of the Port of London?
With regard to one of the remarks made by the noble Lord (Lord Swaythling), we are not against a Port Authority. We are in favour of a Port Authority, but we are against this Port Authority, and against the saddling of it with this immense responsibility. There are two main objections that we feel to the Bill. We oppose this Bill first, because it is an interference with, and another nail in the coffin of, private enterprise and another step in the direction of Socialism; and secondly, because it will inevitably make the Port of London more expensive, and thus drive away trade. As regards the first consideration, the essence of Socialism is twofold; the first principle is to take away property from those who own it, and give it to others; the second is to 1146 destroy private enterprise, to municipalise it and substitute for it public undertakings. As regards the first head, I make no complaint against the Bill. We quite recognise that the Board of Trade have endeavoured to treat the dock shareholders, and indeed my noble friends who have spoken on this side of the House consider that the Government have done rather too much justice to the docks. I have no objection, therefore, on that score; our objection comes under the second head, and we do say that bit by bit, year by year, and step by step, we are undermining private enterprise, that private enterprise on which the prosperity of the country so much depends. One year it was the telegraphs. We have lost several millions by taking over the telegraphs. Another year it is the telephones; we shall lose a great deal by taking over the telephones. Two or three years ago we took over the water companies, and at the present moment four of the districts in the Metropolis out of the eight supplied by the Water Board are paying more dearly for water than they would have done if the water companies had been left alone. Another year it was the London steamers. The disastrous result of the abolition of the water companies and the experience we had of the Thames steamboats is an experience which makes us feel very strongly against this Bill. Public management is always more expensive than private management. As Lord Ritchie has told you, the sum involved in this Bill is over £22,000,000; the annual expenditure is £800,000; and there is a trumpery margin of £9,000. This supposed surplus of £9,000 is arrived at, even assuming that all the estimates of the engineer and the accountant are perfectly correct, because he imagines that the Port Authority will save £18,000 on the expenditure of the docks. That is contrary to the whole of our experience. Public management is always more expensive than private management, and it is just as certain as I am standing here, that you will find the expense of the docks under public management will be greater than it has ever been up to the present time.
We none of us object, in fact, we all of us, I think, are in favour of a considerable expenditure upon the river 1147 and I believe that those who use the river are quite prepared to bear their share of any expenditure that may be necessary in order to improve the river, but why should they bear a share of expenditure which is merely for the purpose of paying interest upon this Dock Stock? I have alluded to many bodies in the City who are opposed to this Bill. The London Chamber of Commerce has been referred to. The only resolution passed by the London Chamber of Commerce is as follows:—That, in the opinion of this Council, the President of the Board of Trade should be informed, in reply to his request: That, from the commercial point of view, the compulsory purchase of the docks is regarded as inexpedient; also, that the imposition of heavy dues on goods is opposed to the general feeling and action of the Chamber; but, subject as above, the Council confirms its previous resolutions in favour of the constitution of a representative Port Authority for London, with adequate powers and financial resources, the latter of which should be aided by State guarantees and contributions.This Bill contravenes everything in that resolution. There are no State guarantees or contributions. I feel the force of what was said by the noble Lord in introducing the Bill against any such guarantee, but that was one of the conditions on which the Chamber of Commerce based its consent to the Bill. I do not know whether I shall be told that this is not a compulsory purchase. It is not a compulsory sale, at any rate, because the docks are selling willingly, but the Port Authority is saddled with this purchase, whether it wishes it or not, and I venture to say, therefore, that the present Bill entirely contravenes that resolution.
Then my noble friend, Lord Onslow, attaches great importance to the action of the Joint Committee. But, my Lords, the Joint Committee never considered what is really the principle of the Bill, they took it for granted that the docks were to be purchased, and the first ground on which we object to this Bill is because that has been done. At the very first meeting, I think it was, the Chairman of the Committee said—We have decided to exclude from the discussion before this Committee the question of the principle of the purchase of the docks.1148 And, therefore, it is not open to anybody to say that the Committee were in favour of the purchase of the docks; they never considered the question, they never heard the arguments against it, they took it for granted that that was to be done, and the only thing they went into was the question of price.
Now, my Lords, why should not this Bill be carried over? It is a Bill which vitally affects the City of London, and we have really had no time in which to consider it. The noble Lord, Lord Onslow, says that it cannot be carried over, because if it is carried over these arrangements with the docks will fall through. We suggest that the docks will be only too glad to make those arrangements over again. Just consider what it means. The noble Lord, Lord Ritchie, gave you the evidence of what the effect has been upon the price of Dock Stock, and when the effect on the price of Dock Stock has been so great is it not perfectly clear that if you do carry the Bill over the directors of the docks, as sensible men, will be very pleased to make again the same arrangement? No noble Lord has given us any reason why the docks should be purchased? venture to say that the noble Lord introducing the Bill gave us no reason whatever why these docks should be purchased. There are miles of other wharves and warehouses along the river which you are not going to buy. Why should you buy those belonging to the Dock Company and not the others? It is surely very undesirable that the Port Authority should own some warehouses, and thus come into competition with the others. The noble Lord in charge of the Bill said that the trade of London was going down, and that it was necessary that something should be done. Would you believe it that in the last four years the trade and commerce of London has gone up £64,000,000, and yet it is said that this Bill is absolutely necessary, because the trade and commerce of London is going down.
Now I come to the next most important part of the Bill, that is the question of what the Port Authority is to be. There is no port in this country which has a Port Authority at all resembling that which is proposed 1149 in this Bill. In the other House oh 11th November, when the Bill was under discussion, both Mr. Bonar Law and Mr. Balfour made some remarks on the Port Authority as proposed in this Bill. Mr. Bonar Law said that—You could not possibly have a worse system from the point of view of dealing fairly with existing interests than the system in the Bill.That was Mr. Bonar Law's opinion as regards the constitution of the Port Authority urged in the Bill. Then the Leader of the Opposition pointed out that this Bill gave—A sectional representation with this great disadvantage, that only one section would be represented, that was the section which dealt with the docks and not with those great interests which were involved in the use of the river outside the docks.He went on to say that—That was the fundamental and essential difficulty, and that in reality the effect would be that the electors who had it in their power to control the management of the whole Port of London would be the owners of the docks, and the owners of the docks alone.That is one reason why Kent and Essex and West Ham and the Corporation of London and these other bodies whom I am representing are opposing this Bill, and with the high authority both of Mr. Bonar Law and of Mr. Balfour, that this proposed authority is a radically bad authority, I most earnestly appeal to the House not to pass the Second Reading of the Bill.
May I give your Lordships one other authority, that of the London Chamber of Commerce itself. Mr. Pillman, who represented the London Chamber of Commerce, said that they felt very strongly—That the elected members of the Port Authority as proposed in the Bill were too small a number to enable the difficult and complicated business of dock management to be successfully carried out.And then he was asked—Whether in saying that he was Baying it from a ripe judgment and knowledge of the complicated nature of dock business and trading business in the Port of London,and he said—Yes, not only would they not be sufficient in number but that you would not get a knowledge of the interests of the various trades in the management of the dock business which is so very essential, the dock business being essentially a business which required a considerable amount of technical knowledge which only those who were versed in the trade 1150 were properly qualified to exercise in the administration.There you have really the highest possible authorities showing you that the constitution of this Port Authority is eminently unsatisfactory and is almost certain to lead to disaster.
Then we are sometimes told that a trust of this kind works very well in Liverpool, so why should it not work in London. The supporters of the Bill brought up before the Committee Mr. Thorne, a very able man, solicitor to the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board, to give evidence in favour of the Bill, but he was obliged to point out that the Liverpool Dock Board was a totally different Board from that which is proposed in this Bill. There is no municipal representation on the Dock Board of Liverpool; it is entirely composed of these who have an interest in the trade and commerce of Liverpool; and when he was asked about the constitution of this Port Authority he said he—Was bound to answer that he considered the Liverpool Board was a much better Board than the one which is proposed in this Bill,and we think he was perfectly right. What is the weight of authority on the two sides—what is the weight of authority in support of the Bill and against it? Several noble Lords have spoken in favour of this Bill, but there has been no noble Lord who has been connected with the trade and commerce of London, and I do not think there will be. Those who are interested in the trade and commerce of London are, as far as I know, or at any rate most of them, against the Bill, and I represent here, as I said before, the Corporation of London, the London Manufacturers' Association, who have invested £70,000,000 or £80,000,000 along the river; I represent the Short Sea Traders, who pay one-half of the dues of the Port of London; I represent the Thames Conservancy, and the Lightermen and Barge Owners' Association, the members of which body obtain their livelihood on the Thames, and whose livelihood depends on the prosperity of the Port. I ask who is there on the other side connected with the Port and the trade and the commerce of London who is in favour of this Bill? Is it not a very remarkable thing that we should be asked at the fag end of 1151 the session without having had any time in which properly to consider this Bill and without your Lordships having any opportunity of making inquiries outside this House, to pass a measure which is certainly of vital importance to the trade and commerce of London against the opinion of those who are engaged in that trade and commerce, who have worked at it all their lives? My Lords, on their behalf I appeal to this House not to pass a measure which in the words of the resolution which was unanimously passed by those whom I represent, will, in their opinion make the Port more expensive and thus disastrously affect the trade and commerce of London.
§ LORD CLINTON
My Lords, I think that I am the fourth member of the Joint Committee who has risen to address your Lordships, and I fear you may think, from the very unanimous disagreement of the members of that Committee, that we must have had a very inharmonious gathering. I can assure you, my Lords, that nothing is further from the facts. Although I disagree entirely with two of the members of that Committee who have spoken, yet I can assure your Lordships that we spent a most happy eight weeks in listening to some of the most tedious and oft-repeated evidence that it has ever been my unfortunate lot to endure. I do not wish to follow my noble friend Lord Leith, in his terrible foreboding as to what is going to happen to the Port of London and to the British Empire if this Bill should unfortunately pass, but I do wish to say that I listened with something like great interest to him when he described himself as an oppressed minority on that Committee. It is a curious fact, but I do not think that either I or any other member of that Committee would have discovered that fact unless the noble Lord had told us so himself. I believe if your Lordships will look into the print of the Report of that Committee you will find that the time taken up by the noble Lord during the period that he was a member of the Committee was at least ten times as much as that taken by any other member, and I think 1152 he had a full opportunity of relieving himself of that position of being an oppressed minority; I am quite certain that other noble Lords on that Committee will agree with me when I say that our Chairman, Mr. Russell Rea, treated every member of the Committee and every interest on that Committee with great impartiality, and there was no excuse for anyone being in an oppressed position.
I disagree with those members of the Committee who have spoken so strongly against this measure, because I believe that the Port of London is most urgently in need of a remedial measure of this kind. The evidence which was placed before the Committee proved perfectly conclusively to my mind, that unless there was a vast improvement in the management, and in the maintenance of the docks, and in the waterways of London, it was quite impossible for the Port ever to regain that position that it once held as the first Port of the Empire, and I do not believe that it is possible that those absolutely necessary improvements in the channel docks, and other things can be carried out as long as the management and maintenance of the Port remains in so many different hands. I believe the first essential of improving the Port of London is to do what every other port in this country does, to put the management into the hands of one authority, the Port Authority. When the noble Lord who introduced this measure spoke, he laid before us a most interesting historical summary of what had been going on in the Port, and the Report of the Royal Commission issued in 1902 states absolutely clearly that there is very serious danger of the Port losing its trade unless some measures are taken to prevent it. What was true then can, I am quite certain, be argued with vastly additional force at the present moment, because although six or eight years have elapsed since that Royal Commission sat, although everyone, we believe, is alive to the fact that the danger of losing trade not only exists, but really is likely to increase, yet little or nothing can be done to prevent that loss of trade, and you cannot; I think, expect that it should, because it cannot be expected 1153 that private authorities will expend their own capital as long as Bills of this kind are impending. The Report of the Commission goes on to show that the Port has actually been losing, not only actually, but relatively to its competitors, a vast amount of trade.
I believe that this is a sufficiently alarming state of things for Parliament to take serious notice of. Several attempts, as we know, have been made to put it right, and although most of those attempts. Bills and Reports and otherwise, have been favourably received by the House of Commons, yet no proceedings have so far been taken upon them. Believing, as I do, that the need for alteration and improvement is really urgent, I find it somewhat difficult to understand why people who are acquainted, and I have no doubt thoroughly acquainted with the City of London, should urge objections to this Bill upon what I must describe as minor points. I believe this is a Bill which it is essential that we should look at in the broadest possible way; we should not be led away by Amendments or by suggestions dealing with relatively small matters, because we have the main principle before us that the Port of London at the present moment is badly managed and is in a bad state. We have had plenty of evidence before us that it is having a very bad effect upon the trade of London, and we also have it plainly recommended to us by every Committee that has sat that something in the nature of this Bill is absolutely necessary for the improvement of the Port. The chief of the major objections which have been taken against the Bill are naturally financial ones. They are objections which, no doubt, there are grounds for suggesting, but at the same time they are objections which it will be difficult for even those who make them to prove, provided they wish to keep this Bill in any form, because it is naturally based on financial foundations. Those financial arrangements are the outcome of delicate negotiations, of private agreement, and they are so closely connected with the frame-work of the measure, that it is almost impossible to deal with them unless you destroy the frame-work of the scheme altogether. 1154 The objection raised is that the price paid for the docks is too high. The figures which Lord Ritchie gave your Lordships seemed to me to be not quite accurate in some respects. He told you that the purchase price of the docks was based upon a diminishing revenue. I think that that is not actually the case. I think the revenue of the docks at this moment is an increasing one. But I suppose docks, more than any other business, are liable to great and serious fluctuations, and in the six years period contemplated under this Bill, there have been very remarkable fluctuations in the income of the docks. They were at their highest in 1902, which year showed a net income of £873,000, and they were at their lowest in 1905, which year showed a net income of £732,000. Since then the income from the docks has not, as Lord Ritchie told us, been diminishing, but has been steadily increasing, and at the present moment it has risen up to £763,000 which is £31,000 above the lowest income.
LORD RITCHIE OF DUNDEE
What I intended to say was that during the six years which were taken as the average, the income of the docks has been a diminishing income. The noble Lord has himself just read out the highest figure in 1902, which was the first of the six years.
§ LORD CLINTON
I agree with the noble Lord. I thought what he meant was that the income was diminishing straight on up to this moment.
§ LORD CLINTON
Whereas, of course, at this moment it is increasing. The price at all events is fixed by agreement between the parties on a valuation by professional accountants of very high standing, who have certified that the existing revenue is a proper and sufficient one upon which to base such a valuation. There is also the report of the engineer, who is satisfied that the equipment and the position of the docks is sufficient to maintain the present revenue. The noble Lord (Lord Leith) com-plained to your Lordships that the 1155 engineer has not taken the trouble to go down and examine the foundations of the docks, and that he could not tell you whether the dock walls were in a proper state of repair or not. There was certainly no report furnished for that purpose, neither was there any occasion for such a report, because in taking over docks or any business that is going on, you want to know something more than the value of the bricks and mortar; you want to know exactly what we were told in this Committee—that they were in such a position as to maintenance and equipment as would enable them to maintain their existing revenue, and it was upon that existing revenue that the basis of purchase was made.
Another serious objection, not the most important one, brought before us in Committee was that the basis upon which this transaction was done was a wrong one, that the valuation ought to have been arrived at not by mutual agreement but by a process of arbitration. I am quite aware that the Royal Commission six or eight years ago reported that arbitration should be resorted to as a basis for purchase, but I am given to understand that the opinion of many people in that respect has very largely changed, and that they are now of opinion that arbitration is not the better course. I know very often when in other matters one has asked for arbitration in this House, in matters connected with land, small holdings and other things, one has always been told that on account of its great expense it should never be resorted to, and I think that is a fair argument in this respect. Arbitration in this case would have been a particularly expensive matter, because you could not arbitrate here with one single authority; you would be bound to arbitrate with three different authorities, each of the different docks requiring an arbitration to themselves. Also, I do not think it is the custom to resort to arbitration as long as peaceful methods are possible, and I believe that the Board of Trade adopted a perfectly right course in deciding, when they found that they had come to a satisfactory conclusion with the dock authorities as to price, that it was quite unnecessary 1156 to recommend the country to go to arbitration on the matter.
There is one other point upon which I should like to say one word to your Lordships. I think those who sat on the Committee will agree that one of the chief matters upon which the opponents of the Bill founded their objections was the constitution of the new Port Authority. As your Lordships are aware, it is partly elective, the elected members being elected on a general register of all those who pay dock dues, wharfingers, or owners of river property; and the contention of the objectors was that there should be elective members forming a sectional representation representing each section of the river. I certainly was very strongly in favour of the whole body being represented from a general register, believing that with a larger constituency of that kind you would be much more likely to get the best men available, that you would not, in such a case, have upon your Board men who were there for the purpose of representing one particular interest, probably at the expense of others, and also because it is obvious that if you admit one section to representation you are almost bound to admit the whole of them, and in that way you would have a Board very cumbrous and unwieldy, and unsuitable for the work it has to do. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, just now, challenged your Lordships to show him anybody connected with the City of London who had expressed themselves in favour of this Bill. One of the opponents of the Bill opposed this measure very strongly upon the ground of sectional representation alone, and that was the Chamber of Commerce. I presume they may be regarded as a body connected with the commerce of the City of London. Their counsel in speaking for them used these words—I wish to say in case there has been any misapprehension that the London Chamber of Commerce are not here as opponents of this Bill. On the contrary, and so far as the question of the purchase of the docks is concerned, and many of the provisions of the Bill, the London Chamber of Commerce are strongly supporting the Bill and are firm believers in it. The only point we are interested in primarily is the question of the constitution of the future authority to govern the Port.
§ LORD AVEBURY
The only resolution which has been passed by the London Chamber of Commerce is the one I read to the House, and I showed that the Bill did not carry out the provisions of that recommendation.
§ LORD CLINTON
I am sorry I did not hear the noble Lord read out that particular resolution. What I am reading from is the statement made by Mr. Erskine Pollock, the leader for the Chamber of Commerce, on that Bill.
§ LORD CLINTON
I presume their leading counsel had instructions to speak for the Chamber of Commerce. But, my Lords, that at all events shows that a large amount of opposition to this Bill was on a minor point, that of sectional representation, and not against the Bill on its merits. I believe that this measure carries out the general lines laid down by the Royal Commission, in the Bill of the Unionist Government, and in both the Joint Committees which have deliberated upon the matter. They have all approved of the levying of dues. Those are the principal points of this measure, and I do not think that your Lordships have heard any good arguments to-night why we should not approve of those principles.
§ LORD DESBOROUGH
My Lords, I have had some experience of the Port of London, and having seen a great many of the representatives of the enormous interests carried on in that Port, perhaps it is almost my duty to say a few words on this Motion. Few people seem to realise the enormous trade that is carried on in the Port of London. The trade amounts year in and year out to a sum which reaches the gigantic figure of no less than £486,000,000. It is, therefore, evident that any Bill which will vitally affect the interests of the Port of London, which is now and has been for 200 years past by far the largest Port of the world, should be looked at with the greatest care and consideration. I think it has been borne in upon 1158 almost everyone that the time has arrived when this question should be dealt with and if possible settled. We have had a Royal Commission, we have had Bills brought in by two Governments, we have had these Bills considered by two Joint Committees of the Houses of Parliament, and, therefore, it is absolutely impossible to say that the subject, great though it is, has not been adequately considered; and there stands out, at all events, one point, which is the vital point of the Bill, on which there has been a unanimity and consensus of opinion expressed by a Royal Commission, by two Government Bills, and by the two Committees which inquired into those Bills, and that is that the docks of the Port of London should be taken over by a public authority. I venture to think that this question of the acquisition of the docks by a public authority is the important point, and constitutes the crux of the Bill. I am quite aware that a great deal might be said, with the greatest truth and justice, against the principle of buying out the docks and placing them under the authority which is going to be the ruling and governing authority of the Port of London. I am quite aware that it might be said with justice that on the whole the trade of the Port of London has been built up by private enterprise, and that, as far as the river is concerned, as distinct from the docks, the Port of London as regards that trade is by far the cheapest Port in the world. The ships that come into the Port of London pay small dues. The dues which are paid to the Thames Conservancy are, compared with the work they have to carry out, infinitesimal—1½d. a ton in and out and ½d. coastwise. They have to do the whole of the harbour management, there are two harbour masters, an upper and a lower, they have also to do the whole of the surveying and dredging, and I may say that at the present time they are carrying out a scheme of some magnitude by making a deep water channel of thirty feet at low water under the Bill which I had the honour of introducing to the House of Commons myself and which had the good fortune to go through. £200,000 have been spent upon those improvements, and they will in due time be 1159 handed over to the new Port authority. But if that is the case, and if the prosperity of the Port of London is so largely due to private enterprise which has not been helped by any Port Authority, which has equipped its jetties and piers and made them unaided, and the Port Authority has only assessed them on what they have done—if they have carried on their huge business as they have done up to the present without any assistance, it should be unnecessary to subsidise any particular portion of the Port and so allow that portion to become practically a competitor of theirs. But we have been faced with a most difficult question. I admit that a great deal could be said on either side, both for the acquisition of the docks by a public authority, and against it. But when we consider that the Royal Commission and the two Governments, assisted by the Board of Trade, who for ten years have been considering this question, have come to the conclusion that it is impossible for the trade of the Port of London to be carried out in a proper manner without something being done for the docks, I think that your Lordships would be ill-advised to refuse a Second Reading to a Bill which, after all, is an honest attempt to solve a most difficult question.
I think there are two methods by which the docks might have been dealt with. One is the present method, a new authority, the Port Authority, to acquire the docks and to manage them as part of the public authority. The other method, which I was, and am even now, very much inclined to support, would be this: to have an independent river authority, which would treat all parties on an equality, raise dues on goods and ships to improve the facilities of the Port, but giving to the docks which must be continued such a sum of money as would enable them to equip themselves properly and provide the necessary capital. This sum of money, if that system had been adopted, would have been spent under the control of the Board of Trade, who would have seen that certain improvements required by the Board were carried out. I have received many deputations on this subject from many different interests connected with the Port, and when that scheme 1160 was broached great objections were raised by the river-side manufacturers, who represent a capital of something like £100,000,000, and by the short-sea traders, on the ground that it would be impossible, or, at all events, that they would never consent to public money, that is to say, dues, raised on goods and ships being devoted to private enterprise. I must say that that converted me to the view that the only alternative must be that the public authority should take over the whole concern, as they do on the Mersey, and manage the river-side properties, the quays, and the docks as well.
But I am not blind to many objections to this schema. It may be the knell of private enterprise on the river. I only hope that that will not be the case, and that the precautions which have been taken by the Board of Trade will prevent such an eventuality. But we must remember that private enterprise in the river in times past has made the river what it is, and this new authority, the first of whose obligations must be to provide £800,000 a year interest for the shareholders, whose whole idea must be to make the docks pay, and who will be judged eventually by the success or the failure which they make of their management of the docks, can hardly be regarded as an absolutely fair arbiter of the private enterprise on the Thames, unless the Board of Trade, to whom there is an appeal on almost every part of this Bill, see that private enterprise on the river is encouraged to the utmost. From my experience of the River Thames, I feel most strongly that the Board of Trade, and I should like to make a very earnest appeal to them, should keep this possible failure of the new body most sternly in view, and maintain most careful watch over what may happen to private enterprise on the river. At the present time the Thames Conservancy, which is the highway authority for the river, when any new scheme comes along considers it on its merits. The first step taken is to submit the scheme to the harbour master of the upper or the lower portion of the river, who draws up a report as to whether the new scheme will interfere with the navigation of the river; if his report 1161 is satisfactory the scheme is sent on to the engineer, who makes his report upon it as to whether it will interfere in any way with the rise or fall of the tide, and whether there are any engineering difficulties and objections to it. But supposing there is some scheme on foot for making a great deep-water jetty—and there is a large portion of the mercantile community who consider that the future of the trade lies in the river and not in the docks, that there is no limit to the size to which ships may go, and that therefore money spent on the riverside jetties and in deepening the river alongside those jetties will be a better precaution for the future than money spent on docks, which limit the size of the ships that can enter into them by their depth. Supposing a new scheme of this kind were brought forward—and as I say many of them come before the Thames Conservancy—it will have in future to come before a body the first of whose considerations is to make this £800,000 a year which they have to earn in order to pay the interest on the purchase of the docks and on the stock. Unless there is a very sharp lookout kept by the Board of Trade, who have a paternal hand over every movement of this new body, as to how private enterprise on the river is being treated, I am afraid it is almost impossible to expect that a Board whose interests are so bound up in the docks will view, I will not say in a friendly manner, but in an impartial manner, any schemes, which may eventually compete with the docks.
But on the other hand I must say that this question has gone on too long. It would be a misfortune if something were not done for the docks at the present moment, and I do not believe for one single moment that a better scheme than this has been proposed. I have already shown what the objections to a scheme of subsidising are, which scheme has almost the same objections to my mind as a scheme of purchase. But at the same time it is absolutely essential that private enterprise in the river should not receive any check which it is possible it may receive, and I think that the 1162 Government should give some assurance that they intend to see that the new Port Authority should not be so engrossed in the securing of dividends because of the large sum of money for which it is responsible, as to be blind to the just claims of private enterprise in the river. I think if that is done it will be a satisfaction to those large trading communities, the riverside manufacturers with a capital of something like £100,000,000, and the short sea traders, and others, not one of whom use a dock, and a great many of whom will have to pay money for docks which they do not use, and which they do not want, but who at the same time, are, I believe, willing to contribute a certain amount to enable the Port of London to maintain the supremacy which it has held for 200 years, and which I hope it will maintain in the future. I believe it would be almost a national misfortune if this Bill were thrown out. It takes five years to build a new dock, and five years to make it pay, and if this Bill is even postponed, I do not see how anything could take place for another year; there would have to be at least a year lost before anything is done. I do not believe that a better solution of this great question will be found, and if the Government give some assurance that they will be watchful and active guardians of private enterprise on the river, I believe that this Bill when it is passed will do good and not harm to the Port of London.
§ * VISCOUNT MILNER
My Lords, I think your Lordships must have heard about enough of the differences of that happy family party, the Joint Committee, but it seems to me that it would hardly be respectful to your Lordships' House if I were to be the only Member of that body who did not give some reason for his action either in supporting the Bill before the Committee or in supporting it as I intend to do by my vote in the House to-night. I feel all the more compelled to do so because the Bill has been attacked in your Lordships' House by another Member of that Committee in a speech which I think made a decided impression, and very rightly and naturally so, by its lucidity of argument, and force of expression—I mean the speech of the 1163 noble Lord who moved the rejection of the Bill. Might I be allowed to say that as his attitude on the Committee and subsequently in this House has been criticised, I do not myself feel that there was any inconsistency at all in his line of action? On the contrary, I think that the course which he has taken here to-night in moving the rejection of the Bill is perfectly consistent with the line he took in the Committee. I greatly regret the view he takes, but I do not think that anybody can complain of any inconsistency in his action, and I quite agree with the noble Lord who introduced the Bill that the other Members of the Committee have reason to be grateful to him because, although he was separated from the rest of us, or most of us, on the capital question of principle, he nevertheless remained a Member of the Committee and gave us to the end the benefit of his advice, very valuable advice, as I need not tell your Lordships after having listened to him to-night.
But, having said that, I am afraid I must go on and say that I differ from him in toto, both as to the reasonableness of this agreement, and also with regard to the assumption which seems to mo to underlie his whole argument, that there is some necessary antagonism between the interests of the docks and other riverside interests. That is a view which he carries to what seems to me the extreme length of maintaining that there would be something unjust if general river revenues, revenues derived from the taxation of all the users of the river, were to be applied even to the smallest extent, to the extent of a few thousands of pounds a year, for purposes connected with the docks. For reasons which I shall presently try to explain to your Lordships, I hold that that is a narrow and a one-sided view, and I do not believe, if we were approaching this great question from that or any similar point of view, we could ever arrive at a solution. Before dealing with those two points to which I shall confine myself, I mean the merits of the agreement itself, and the supposed antagonism between dock interests and other riverside interests, I wish to make one personal observation with regard to the 1164 Committee. Stress has been laid by the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, upon the importance of the findings of that Joint Committee and the weight which they ought to carry with your Lordships' House. Speaking with all humility (I was after all only one out of ten) I do think that the long labours of that Committee are entitled to weigh considerably with your Lordships' House. I will not say too much about its composition, but I can say without fear of exaggeration or boastfulness that it was a most laborious and conscientious body. Two arguments have been put forward to shake the authority—as I think, the rightful authority—that the decisions of that Committee ought to possess in this House. One is that the points that have been brought forward here to-night were not considered by the Committee, and the other is that it was not composed of experts. As regards the argument which was strongly urged by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, that the objections of those bodies to which he referred, and of which he gave us a long list, had not been properly considered by the Committee, I assure your Lordships that he is labouring under a complete delusion. It is not for me to say whether the consideration which we gave to them was proper, wise, or sufficient; all I can say is we did consider them at great length. There has been a constant and a hopeless confusion arising out of the fact that the question of the principle of the purchase of the docks was held to be excluded from the consideration of the Committee. That is so. Inasmuch as the principle that the Port Authority should acquire the docks had been laid down by the Royal Commission, had been the main object of the Bill of 1903 which had a Second Reading in the House of Commons, and was again the main object of this Bill, which had also passed its Second Reading in that House, the Joint Committee or at least the majority of that body, held that the question of the principle of the purchase of the docks was one which we should be wasting our time in considering. But it was never suggested, that the question whether the terms on which the purchase was 1165 to be carried out were fair and reasonable, was not entirely within the competence of the Committee, and, in fact, I think at least half the argument addressed to us during the eight weeks that we sat, turned on that very point. The noble Lord who moved the rejection of this Bill contended that the evidence produced on that point by the Board of Trade was insufficient, and that it did not support the conclusions we were asked to draw. Personally, I differ from him, and I shall have a word to say on that directly. But that is not the point at issue now. The question is: Did we or did we not consider this matter of the sufficiency and the wisdom of the agreement? All I can say is that, during the time I sat on that Committee, half the hours we spent, I am sure, or very nearly half, were spent in listening to arguments which either directly or indirectly bore upon this one central point, whether too much was being given for the docks or not. Therefore, this matter did have the fullest consideration.
Now, my Lords, as to the contention that the Committee were not experts. Of the five Members of the House of Commons who sat upon it, certainly three, and I believe four, are intimately connected with the shipping trade, and one of them has a peculiarly intimate acquaintance with the conditions of the River Thames and represents one of the constituencies on its banks. No doubt it may be true that noble Lords on that Committee, With the exception of the noble Lord who moved the rejection of this Bill were not experts in the same degree. I plead guilty myself to having entered that Committee with perhaps an exceptional ignorance of the matters which it had to decide. For that very reason I felt called upon not only to give my most careful attention to the evidence, but to read up all that had passed on this subject before—the Report of the Royal Commission, the evidence on which it was based, and the evidence which Was given before the Committee which sat on the previous Bill. All I can say is that the more I studied the question the more I became convinced that this Bill, if not a perfect Bill, is yet the best way out of a very difficult 1166 and complicated situation. I do not believe that anybody can judge fairly of this Bill unless he has made himself thoroughly acquainted with all the difficulties which have been found to beset and to defeat all the previous alternative attempts at solving the problem. The findings of the Royal Commission have been quoted by speaker after speaker, but there are one or two things in those findings which have not been quoted, and which are so germane to the main point of discussion that, sorry as I am to detain your Lordships, I think I must just refer to them. Of course what results from the Report of that Commission and from the study of the whole of the literature of the subject, if I may use that rather pedantic expression, is this, that there is an overwhelming body of opinion in favour of the establishment of one Port Authority, and of that one Port Authority becoming by one means or another the owner and controller of the docks.The docks,says the Report of the Royal Commissionare as essential to the working of the Port as the river itself.And again—I call especial attention to this—The interdependence of proposals for improving the river and of those for improving the docks and the peculiar conditions under which the trade of London, is carried on render it highly desirable that these two closely connected elements of a Portnot antagonistic elements, according to the Royal Commission,—"should be no longer controlled by independent authorities." The Royal Commission therefore recommended—The creation of a single public authority for the control and improvement of the Port in which all the powers and property of the London and India, the Surrey Commercial and the Millwall Dock Company should be vested.And they added these words—Apart from the opinion which we have formed as to the Port of London, the weight of evidence with regard both to home and foreign ports is in favour of a consolidation of all docks in a Port in the hands of a Port Authority.It may be said, of course, and it is said, that it is right that the Port Authority should acquire the docks, but that it is wrong that they should acquire them on the terms given in this Bill. It seems to me in reading the Report of the 1167 Royal Commission that the Royal Commissioners hardly hoped for anything so fortunate is that the public should be able to get these docks by agreement. What they said was that "in default of agreement" they recommended that the value of the docks should be determined by a Court of arbitration. In their eyes agreement was evidently a preferable method, and certainly it is contrary to all experience of arbitration that it should be a more favourable way of a public authority acquiring private property than the method of agreements It is a remarkable fact that, before agreement was arrived at or mooted, many of those interests which are now raising so loud a clamour against agreement, were equally clamorous at the thought that there might have to be arbitration, and they contended—and I think with a great deal more reason than they object to the present agreement—that arbitration would lead to the Port Authority being saddled with an excessive sum paid for the docks. I think I agree much more with their argument then than I do with their argument now. But now that, contrary to expectation, agreement has been arrived at, these same persons are opposing the method of agreement.
Now on what grounds is it argued that under this agreement much too high a sum is being given for the docks? I say much too high a sum, because I suppose as reasonable men we would not let this great measure, so long deferred, so necessary, so urgent, be wrecked because a trifling sum too much were given for the purchase of the docks. Mind you, I am not admitting that a penny too much is being given; but even if it were, you must consider what would be the consequence of the alternative, the cost of further delay in a matter in which there has been already too long delay. It seems to me it is hopeless to argue on a question of this kind with absolute certainty about £1,000,000 or £500,000. There may be an error to that extent. I say frankly, if we were giving £1,000,000 or £2,000,000 too much, it would be much better worth our while to do so than to allow this Bill to be lost with the possibility of five more years elapsing before Parliament was again asked to deal 1168 with the matter. There are objections to every course, but the most objectionable course of all seems to me to allow the delay which has already continued too long, to continue any longer. I am making that concession against myself, because I am prepared to argue that the agreement is not open to these objections Let us see what are the arguments, directed against the agreement, looking at it upon the strictest grounds of £ s. d., and assuming for the moment that if it can be proved we are giving £100,000 too much the whole thing should be thrown into the waste-paper basket. I am prepared to argue it on that ground, although I do not think it should be so argued. We ought to have a certain amount of latitude. Well, it is said that we are giving too much for these docks, because the stocks of the companies have risen since the terms of purchase were announced. I do not pretend to be very well versed in the habits of the Stock Exchange, but I have often found in my own limited experience of City business that when any purchase or amalgamation was in the air, the immediate effect was to send up the stocks of the companies which happened to be amalgamating or undergoing purchase. Very often they fell again when the thing had been accomplished. But, at any rate, they rose for the moment. I do not think we ought to attach too much importance to a rise of that kind, and, as a matter of fact, if some of the stocks have risen others have fallen. I would like to ask this question: Here is a provisional agreement, and in order that that provisional agreement may be accomplished, it has to be accepted by both parties. If we, as representing the public, are to reject this agreement because stocks have risen, then if these stocks had not risen I think it is highly probable that the other party would have rejected the agreement. The shareholders of the companies have to be considered, and the view that they were likely to take. But, reverting back to the question of the value of those stocks, I do not think it is fair to test it by the Stock Exchange operations of the moment. What I think would be a fair test to take would be the average value of these stocks for a certain number of years before this 1169 agreement, which is supposed to be so favourable, was mentioned, and, on the other hand, to take the probable value of the stocks which are going to be given in exchange for them. I have made a calculation on that basis. I have taken the A Stock, which is the Preference 3 per cent. Stock of this Port Authority, but which is not going to have a Government guarantee, at 85, and its B Stock, 4 per cent. and also without a Government guarantee, at par. That works out at £20,905,000. And when I look at the average Stock Exchange value during the last six years of the stocks which are going to be converted—and this was before this agreement appeared on the scene which is said to have given them an artificial rise—I find it to have been £20,925,000, or £20,000 more than what I think is a reasonable estimate of what this Port Stock will stand at in the future. Therefore, I do not see on the face of it that we are giving too much for these stocks. That is one way of looking at it—from the standpoint of capital value. But the noble Lord also argued it from the point of view of income. Well, I am prepared to meet him on that ground also. The Port Stock is going to carry interest amounting to £800,000 a year. The average net revenue available for interest or dividends on the stocks which are being converted has been calculated for six years at £808,000. Well, the noble Lord objected to £18,000 of that. Then I say throw it out. I think there is something to be said for that adjustment of £18,000, and there is also something to be said against it. Well, put it out. That will make the sum £790,000. I do not suppose it is disputed that unless the value of these stocks is going to decline greatly in future—a point with which I will deal directly—I do not suppose it can be disputed that it is a fair principle that we should give these people whose property we are going to expropriate, the same income they have enjoyed hitherto. That is the principle on which the agreement is based. On the average, of the past six years there has been available for the owners of these docks as annual income £808,000, or, if the noble Lord insists on the exclusion of the £18,000, £790,000, and in future they 1170 are to have £800,000. Therefore, they will be the gainers by £10,000. But that does not take the whole case into consideration, because no mention has been made here to-day of a point which was very strongly urged on the Committee viz.: that besides their income-yielding property these docks had considerable surplus lands, the value of which does not enter at all into that £790,000 a year. It was difficult to arrive at any good estimate of the value of those lands. Some of the estimates put forward were perhaps excessive, but certainly I think it is a moderate conclusion that they were worth something between £1,000,000 and £2,000,000, and that £1,000,000 is the minimum figure. I think you may well throw these surplus lands into the bargain, and, if you do, then the terms on which the docks are being purchased are, if anything, unfavourable to the docks rather than unfavourable to the public.
But then it is argued: "Oh, yes' but you are taking present values.', The noble Lord has pointed out that the income of the docks in 1902 was higher than it is to-day, and he has said that it is a declining revenue. Whether it is or is not a declining revenue is a point on which I think there may be considerable difference of opinion. The noble Lord, Lord Clinton, pointed out that, although the net income of the docks to-day is less than it was in 1902, it is more than it was in 1905. And a good deal of evidence which ought not to be neglected and overlooked was given before the Committee to show that there were special causes affecting some of the docks during the last two or three years which might well account for the difference in their net revenue to-day from what it was in the most favourable years. But there is more to be considered than that. When people are being expropriated, like the owners of this dock property, they are apt to consider, and they are entitled to consider, the possibilities which may increase the value of their property in the future, as well as those which may diminish it. In that connection there are some remarkable words in this often-quoted Report of the Royal Commission. To a great extent what threatens the revenue of 1171 the docks is the reduction in the amount of goods that go into warehouses. Now on that point the Royal Commissioners say—Although the extension of free goods and other circumstances have had a tendency to diminish warehousing at the docks, and thereby to diminish the revenue of the docks, yet, on the other hand, an increase in the number of dutiable goods or other circumstances might have the reverse effect.Is anybody prepared to say, on that point, that an increase in the number of dutiable goods is so wholly out of the question that people whose revenues may be beneficially affected by it are not entitled to take it into consideration to-day? But there is another point which ought not to be overlooked, and it is a most important one in justice to the docks. If their revenue is falling—if it is true that their revenue is threatened, as the noble Lord says, why is it threatened? It has been threatened to a great extent because they are not able to make those improvements which are necessary to keep it up. And why are they not able to make the improvements? They have come time after time before Parliament with schemes to enable them to improve the docks, and Parliament has not given them the power necessary for doing it. I think Parliament was perfectly right, because Parliament was influenced by the consideration that another authority was going soon to be created—a better authority as we think—to deal with the matter. But surely it would be rather hard upon the docks if we were to beat down the price of expropriation to-day because they are threatened with a loss of revenue, due to the fact that Parliament has not allowed them to make the improvements which are necessary to keep up their revenue. That is a most serious consideration. We hear a great deal about justice to other river-side interests, but I think if we were to attempt to expropriate the owners of the docks on the basis of a possible future reduction of revenues, due to the cause to which I have just referred, we should be doing less than justice to them.
May I say in conclusion of this long argument that for my own part I have not the smallest interest, direct or indirect, 1172 of any kind in the docks. But I am perfectly certain that if the method of agreement had not been adopted, and if, neverthelesss, the docks were to be acquired, they would have been acquired on less favourable terms than they are likely to be acquired upon to-day. And now, just one word on the point of the supposed antagonism between the docks and other river-side interests. Even supposing—taking it at its worst—the revenue to be derived from these docks does not cover the interest on the Port stock, and supposing that it has to be supplemented to some extent by duties on goods, I say I do not admit that that would in itself be an injustice to the other users of the river, because I hold that there are indirect advantages to the trade of the river from the docks which are felt by others besides those immediately making use of them. If that is disputed I should like to quote some words which have been written on this subject by a very competent authority. I quote them because they express better than a non-expert such as I can what I feel on this subject. This is a quotation from a letter which appeared in the public Press from a gentleman named Douglas Owen, whose name may be well known to some of your Lordships, and who certainly is a considerable authority on all questions connected with shipping. He says—How can it be seriously contended by the short-sea vessels and the traders that the docks are no concern of theirs or no use to them? Why, Sir, close the docks to the big ships and the short - sea shipowners and the traders would be ruined. The traders get three-fourths of their goods from the docks. These goods come in the big ships, and but for the great docks to receive the ships the traders might put up their shutters. It is the big ships that make a modern port.… And where would the short-sea steamers be without the big ships? The short-sea ships assist in the distribution and delivery of cargoes brought by big ships in the docks, and although most of the short-sea steamers do not use the docks they, like the traders, depend on the docks. And so the Bill requires that they shall bear their share in dock maintenance and construction. What is there hard or strange in that?Now, in conclusion, I may say that I listened with great interest to the speech just delivered by my friend Lord Desborough, and I fully agree with a great deal that it contained. But I must say that I wholly fail to understand the 1173 ground of his fear that this new Port Authority is likely to sacrifice other riverside interests to the docks. Why on earth should it do anything of the kind? It is going to be elected not by the defunct shareholders of the docks, but by the payers of dues generally. No doubt there is a certain number of members of the Port Authority to be appointed to public bodies, but they will presumably not have any special animus against river-side traders or special affection for the docks. But the bulk of the members of the Port Authority are going to be elected by the very payers of dues whose interests it is supposed they are going so ruthlessly to sacrifice for the maintenance of the docks. Why should they? Their interest will be to get revenue in the best way they can, in order to improve the Port, and thereby to bring credit to themselves. They have no personal pecuniary interest in the matter, and as far as they have a revenue interest at all it will be to raise revenue by the most profitable means they can. They are saddled with this £800,000. The fact that it has been paid for the docks does not make any difference to them. They have got to find it. Why should they find it by developing the docks at the cost of other river-side interests, unless they see that from the point of view of the Port as a whole it is the most paying thing to do? They will want to make the Port as a whole a success. They will want to develop the Port, and the very worst way to do that would be to spend a great deal of money on the docks, if by so doing they were not going to increase the trade of the river and get an increased revenue from the Port. The fact that they are saddled with £800,000 for the docks docs not mean that they will be such fools—if I may use the expression—as to try and get that revenue by forcing all business into the docks, if it is better for the Port, and if it, therefore, pays them better, to adopt some other means for the improvement of the river traffic. My Lords, I am sorry to have intruded so long on your Lordships' House, but all I can say in conclusion is that having, as a non-expert, given my best attention to this matter I am thoroughly satisfied 1174 that the Bill before your Lordships' House is a good one.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, if the noble Viscount, with his great position and financial experience, has modestly disclaimed the character of an expert, I wonder with what credentials I may ask your Lordships to listen to me for a few moments. I am afraid I can aspire to no character except that of our old friend, the man-in-the-street, but as he is supposed nowadays to be the best judge of everything, perhaps your Lordships will be inclined to listen to a few hesitating words from myself. I think we may agree that every speaker who has addressed your Lordships in this debate is of opinion that something must be done. That is the principal moral of the debate as it has been brought home to my mind. That was pressed upon your Lordships by almost every speaker, notably by my noble friend Lord Clinton, who, speaking from his experience as a member of the Committee, declared to your Lordships how deeply impressed he had been as he listened to the evidence before that Committee of the absolute necessity of a great change being made in the administration of the docks and of the Port of London. There is also the further fact, dwelt upon by the noble Viscount who has just sat down, that this claim that something should be done has been greatly intensified by the failure of Parliament after it had once touched the subject to deal with, it completely. They undoubtedly put obstacles in the way of the proper administration of the Port, which has very much increased the claim which those interested now have upon Parliament finally to deal with the subject. But that failure of Parliament cannot be laid at the door of the House of Lords. The Bills which have been introduced have been introduced and failed in the House of Commons, and I was very much struck by an observation which fell at the beginning of the evening from the noble Lord in charge of the Bill when he told us that to-night was the first occasion that the House of Lords had had the opportunity of discussing this great subject, although the 1175 matter has been urgent for at least ten years.
What an occasion, my Lords! On 14th December, with a prorogation immediately in sight, we are asked to deal with, this matter of supreme importance, which has taken ten years to get through the other House of Parliament, and which We are to get through in the course of a short Week. My noble friend Lord Desborough told your Lordships what the trade of London was. It was something like, I think, £400,000,000 a year. Well, this stupendous interest has to be dealt with in the House of Lords with only one day between Second Reading and Committee stage. We are supposed to be able to thread our Way through all the intricacies of this problem and to arrive at a just conclusion affecting all these interests in forty-eight hours. And this is what the Government call keeping up the House of Lords as a revising body. They do not like the House of Lords to reject Bills. All they say is that we ought to revise Bills. Then they bring up a Bill concerning interests Worth £400,000,000 a year, and expect us to revise it in forty-eight hours. The only comfort we have is that this measure has been before a Joint Committee. I desire to re-echo everything the noble Viscount has said as to the respect we ought to pay to the findings of the Joint Committee. I confess that, under the circumstances, I cannot help being a little sorry that they did not discuss the whole subject. I quite understand the reason. No doubt it was thought by those who had the control of the deliberations that it was impossible to find time to go into the whole subject over again, but, undoubtedly, there has been an unfortunate impression left behind that one of the most important issues has not been properly investigated by the Joint Committee. I wish it could have been otherwise. As it is, of course, I entirely believe what the noble Viscount said that, although the actual question of purchase was ruled out, the question of price was not ruled out but was thoroughly discussed. The noble Viscount went into the question of whether this price was too high. I am not quite sure whether he thought it was too high or not, but there 1176 was one observation which he made against which I think I might be allowed to enter the mildest kind of protest. He said that even if we were to give £2,000,000 too much it would not matter very much, and that it was better than not to pass the Bill. Who are "we?"
§ Viscount MILNER
The public Better give £2,000,000 too much by agreement than £5,000,000 too much by arbitration.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Who are the "we" under these circumstances? If "we" were the British taxpayer or Parliament, or even the ratepayer, I might have been disposed not to have entered this very mild protest, but "we" are the other traders on the river. I am not going for the moment into the question whether the bargain was a fair one, but I do not think we can treat the other traders in the river as though they were the general public, whom we have a right to tax to any extent we please, and say in the generosity of our hearts that we give rather more to the dock companies, although the persons who pay are not ourselves or those we represent but a very limited class of traders competing on the river.
Now, my Lords, I think the impression which has been left upon the mind of the man-in-the-street is that the price is a little high. I was very much impressed by the speech of Lord Ritchie on that point, and, although the noble Viscount has contested it, the fact that the stock has gone up tremendously in value since the Bill has been introduced does give me the impression prima facie that the price was a little too high. But having said that, I must confess my entire agreement with the noble Viscount that if the matter had gone to arbitration the price would have been a great deal too high and therefore the noble Viscount is perfectly right and the Government were perfectly right to prefer procedure by agreement to that of arbitration, because it is far the more economical of the two.
Let me say one or two words as to the incidence of the burden of the new taxation which is to be levied or might be levied under the operation 1177 of the Bill. Even supposing the price is an absolutely fair one there will be a burden laid for the first time upon persons engaged in trading on the river. Those of your Lordships who have listened to this debate are aware that there is a certain conflict of interests. There are two sets of persons—those who trade in the docks and those who trade outside the docks, and they are to some extent in competition. Certain new taxation is to be levied which falls for the first time upon those in the outside river, and who is going to get the benefit of that taxation? It may be a large sum, or it may be a small sum. The total of the new taxation cannot be more than £300,000, but something will fall upon those interests outside the docks, and who is going to benefit? The noble Viscount says it will benefit everybody if properly administered, and so it will, but there is this difference between the benefit which it confers upon those who trade inside the docks and those who trade outside, that in the one case it is a direct benefit, and in the other it is an indirect benefit. I do not think that can be evaded. This money will be used primarily to make up any deficiency in the interest on the shares of the present shareholders, who will become holders of the new Port Stock, and they will be directly benefited by this burden, which is for the first time thrown, not upon themselves, but upon their competitors in the outside river. But so long as there is an indirect benefit to those persons who use the river outside it is quite clear that they should pay for it. I agree. It becomes, therefore, a question of adjustment, how far the burden is properly imposed, having regard to the benefit which may accrue from it.
And how are we to know how much that burden will be? My Lords, we cannot know. Your Lordships have no means of judging how much that burden will be, because it entirely depends upon the decision which may hereafter be come to by the Board of Trade, and which, in the form of a scale of rates, may hereafter be embodied in a Provisional Order which will come before Parliament. It, therefore, is of the greatest importance how that Provisional Order is drawn. And I 1178 may parenthetically remark that this Bill gives, in many clauses, enormous powers to the Board of Trade. Personally, I do not complain of that. From personal experience I have great confidence in the efficiency and fairness of the Board of Trade, but this scale of rates, which is of importance, which determines the amount of burden which shall be thrown upon those who trade on the outside river, is largely in the hands of the Board of Trade, and whether the result will be fair or unfair largely turns upon the impartiality of that great department. There is, however, one other security which these taxpayers, for they will be taxpayers, might look to, and that is their representation upon the Port Authority. Upon that my noble friend Lord Avebury expressed considerable doubt whether the representation conferred upon those who trade in the outside river is sufficient. I should like to ask any member of the Government who is good enough to speak to-night to tell your Lordships how much representation they expect will be enjoyed by the interests other than the docks. Your Lordships will remember that there are ten nominated members and eighteen representative members. We may assume that the ten nominated members will be impartial persons. There is no reason why the representatives of the County Council should favour one of the competing interests rather than another, nor why the representatives of the Corporation of the City of London, the Admiralty, or Trinity House should show favour either way, so that we may look upon these ten as more or less impartial persons. Then come the eighteen representative members. The franchise under which these eighteen gentlemen are to be elected is of a rather peculiar kind. It is not a case of one man one vote, but there are to be votes according to the amount of dues which the taxpayer pays. There is this curious fact, that although there is at least as much trade carried on outside as there is in the docks yet the voting strength of the docks is infinitely greater than the voting strength of the interests outside. As I understand it the dues which give the franchise are all the dues paid by the traders. Those dues consist of 1179 two classes. There are the dues which are imposed on goods impartially, on the same scale to everybody whether they trade in the docks or out of the docks, and there are also dues which belong to the docks only, and which will be paid only by the users of the docks; dues, that is to say, in respect of wharfage, and I suppose the use of the warehouses. Both sorts of dues give the franchise, and as the number of votes increases according to the amount of dues, and as those who use the docks pay dues on a much higher scale, they will enjoy an enormously larger voting strength than those outside the docks. I am not sure, but I have an impression that out of these eighteen seats the traders outside the docks will not be able to secure more than four or five. I may have given myself away, because if that statement is wrong the noble Lord will be able to correct me, but I have an impression that only about four or five seats will be secured out of the eighteen. As I have said, the amount of trade is almost equal in the two cases, and those outside are to pay a burden for the first time for something which is for the direct benefit of those inside, and only for the indirect benefit of themselves, and yet those others are to have fourteen seats. I hope the Government will either correct me if I am wrong or give me reason why that strange disparity should exist. I confess that upon the face of it the interests outside the docks seem to me to be underrepresented. The matter, no doubt, will be much more properly dealt with in detail when we get to Committee, but I ask the Government whether they cannot reassure your Lordships on that point. Although I have made these criticisms I venture to return at the end of my observations to what I began with, and that is to say that something must be done. This plan holds the field. It is undoubtedly necessary that a great change should take place in the administration of the Port, and, therefore, so far as I am concerned, and I believe so far as those who sit on this bench beside me are concerned, we shall support the Second Reading of the Bill.
* THE CHANCELLOR OF THE DUCHY (Lord FITZMAURICE)
The Government 1180 have certainly no cause to complain of the manner in which this Bill has been received, nor do I even make any complaint of the one or two rather polemical observations which fell just now from the noble Lord opposite. It was no doubt difficult for him to resist the temptation of making some comment upon the comparative shortness of the time which, owing to the circumstances of the session the Government have, with regret, been able to allow as an interval between the Second Reading and the Committee Stages. But I think that in regard to the present Bill I, at least, have no difficulty in making a reply. This Bill, as is well known to your Lordships, is not an ordinary public Bill. It partakes very largely of the character of a private Bill, although, no doubt, a gigantic private Bill, as evidenced by the procedure which has been necessary in regard to various matters which are not necessary in regard to a public Bill. And the greater part of the work connected with this Bill in its different stages has, in both Houses of Parliament, been taken more or less out of the hands of the Houses as a whole and relegated to Committees. I think I am right in saying that in the House of Commons if you compare the time that was taken up by this Bill in Committee with the time that was taken up with the debate on the Second Reading and the Report Stage, you will find it was exceedingly small. The Committee to which this Bill went was not a Committee of the House of Commons, but, as we all know by this time, a Joint Committee of both Houses; a Committee, that is to say, on which your Lordships were represented.
Therefore, we are not approaching this Bill as if it were a new matter; or as if, on the Committee Stage, it were a Bill of which we, as a House, had never had any previous knowledge; because both on the Joint Committee, and, if I may go farther back, on the Commission which went into this whole matter not so very long ago, I think in 1903, your Lordships' House was fully and ably represented. Nor can it be said that upon the recent Joint Committee the Government, as a Government, made any attempt to obtain a predominant 1181 voice. There were, no doubt, Government representatives, but they did not bear any very large proportion to the total members of the Committee. I do not think I am exaggerating in any way when I say that the Government may claim that before this Bill will have reached the Committee stage in a couple of days it will have been drawn through the sieve of the critical opinion of your Lordships' House to a degree and in a manner which is quite exceptional, and which is not applied to public Bills in general. Therefore, any criticism which, no doubt, would be very natural, and very frequently, I admit, legitimate, as to the late hour at which Bills are sent up to your Lordships' House is not in this case apposite because of the reasons which I have ventured to lay before the House.
It is not, of course, my intention to take up your time at this hour, and when we have other Bills to deal with, by making any attempt to go over the ground which has been so ably covered already by my noble friend who made so clear, and, if I may say so, so admirable a statement to your Lordships. More especially, too, is it unnecessary for me to do so, because, although in the course of the debate a number of points were brought up, some of them new and all of them important if technical points, yet the speech made by the noble Viscount from the cross benches has, in reality, given an effective answer to nearly all the criticisms that were made upon the points of detail in regard to the port charges and other matters of that kind. In any case, these points, even if they were not, in the opinion of any noble Lord, threshed out before the Joint Committee of the two Houses, are essentially points which can be raised in the Committee stage. They are not points which justify a Motion for the rejection of the Bill. And I would remind your Lordships of what, perhaps, we have lost sight of, that what we are discussing consists of two Motions, one of which has been moved and both of which are on the Papers of your Lordships' House, for the rejection of the Bill, and what I really have to reply upon are the speeches of the two noble Lords in whose names 1182 those Motions stand. I express a hope that by this time they have become convinced, from the course of this discussion, that it would not be wise to put your Lordships' House to the trouble of a division.
Putting aside the points of detail to which I have referred, there has been, in reality, a striking unanimity upon the main points of the Bill. There is unanimity in regard to the division of the Thames between two great bodies, instead of its being governed by one body, which, although a single body, was obliged to have a division of accounts and a division of jurisdiction within its own limits. I allude to the division of the waterways, and of the financial arrangements for certain purposes, which exists under the Thames Conservancy at a point near Teddington, and again in regard to certain reaches which are divided by the City Stone at Staines. Everybody is agreed that that complicated arrangement should cease, and that there should be two really separate bodies for the Upper Thames and for the Port of London, the latter of which is practically identical with the lower river. I think if anybody had been likely to take any strong objection on behalf of the upper waters it would have been Lord Desborough, who made a most able and interesting speech. There is nobody who knows the history and arrangements of the Upper Thames better than he does, and although, of course, I am not going to put my own very humble experience alongside his, I think I am capable of looking at the interests of the Upper Thames, because for many years the county with the administration of which I am connected has had a representative, or at least part of a representative with Gloucestershire, upon the Thames Conservancy. Although occasional criticisms have been made in quarters with which I am familiar in regard to the proposed division between the Upper and the Lower Thames they seem to me of late years to have dwindled away, and latterly I have heard practically nothing of them. There is complete and absolute unanimity based upon the Report 1183 of the Commission of 1903, that the docks of London should be put under a public authority.
* LORD FITZMAURICE
My noble friend dissents, but there has really been so little divergence of opinion that although I may be wrong in saying there has been abselute unanimity, yet I think there has been something very like it. I was not alluding to the line taken in these Houses when I spoke of unanimity, but I was alluding to the Reports of Commissions, to the Reports and inquiries of Committees, and to the expressions of the more important public bodies of the Metropolis. Then there is the question as to whether municipal enterprise should or should not be called in to back up any scheme of authority. We know that a few years ago there was a proposal that the ratepayers of London should take the risk, in addition to the already heavy burden of expenditure, of coming forward with a guarantee, greater or less according to the views of different persons and public bodies, in support of a scheme for the acquisition of the docks on the Thames. But that is not a portion of this Bill. I confess that I heard with some little regret the language used by the noble Lord, Lord Leith, who was a member of the Committee for a short time, but who, I believe, retired from it. The noble Lord made some observations in regard to the public body which is to be constituted under this Bill, and then, arguing from some recent controversial matters which have attracted public attention, went out of his way, I think quite unnecessarily, to make some rather uncomplimentary observations on the London County Council, and then proceeded to drag the Poplar guardians, by, if I may say so, the scruff of their necks, into this controversy. To have suggested that there was any connection between the future administration of the great public body which is to be called into existence under this Bill and the sort of things we have recently heard about some of the boards of guardians in London, was, I am bound to say, a most unfortunate observation.
1184 My noble friend who has just sat down, speaking with all the authority of a former President of the Board of Trade, pressed me rather hard to enter into some of those details which have been discussed backwards and forwards in the House in regard to the relative position in respect of finance in this measure of the persons interested in the docks because they used them for the purposes of their trade and those persons who carry on their trade outside the docks and in the river at large. He pressed me rather hard to explain what was likely to happen as between those parties, the parties inside and the parties outside, if I may use the expression, when this Port Authority comes into existence. Well, really, that is to invite me to enter into the region of prophecy. I cannot possibly tell exactly how the relative positions of the persons who constitute those two more or less separate bodies of persons will work out in practice. After hearing the speech of the noble Viscount upon the cross benches, who was a Member of the Committee, and who speaks with such great knowledge and authority on any subject on which he addresses your Lordships, I feel all the more encouraged to have the courage of my own convictions and to say I decline to enter into the region of prophecy. What the noble Viscount said was that after having heard all the evidence on the subject, the tendency would be for all parties, whether inside or outside the docks, to obtain great benefit in future from the arrangements under this Bill, and that, therefore, the tendency on the part of these parties to look upon themselves as rival and conflicting interests would diminish rather than increase. The noble Viscount pointed out that in reality, owing to the far greater value of the property of the dock companies than had previously been admitted by the critics of this Bill, and owing to the fact that the same body that was to govern the docks was to be the Port Authority, and rule all the river in general, it was quite a mistake to suppose that the persons whom I am calling, for the purposes of my argument, the parties outside the docks would not benefit very largely indeed by these new arrangements. If the hopes and aspirations of the framers of 1185 this Bill are fulfilled the whole condition of the river in which they are just as much interested as they are in the docks will tend greatly to improve.
Then I must remind your Lordships of what may seem to be a hardship viz., that port dues are to be levied upon the parties outside for the first time. Taking the fund of the Port Authority as a whole there can be no doubt that it will be greatly benefited by the receipt of these dues and therefore it will be able to borrow on far more advantageous terms, than otherwise would have been the case and the outside traders will benefit by this. And still more important is the fact which I think was mentioned for the first time in this debate by the noble Viscount, that the properties belonging to these dock companies which will come into the possession of the Authority include undeveloped land which, I understand, has an enormous possible increment of value in it. Therefore, everybody, whether an inside or outside man, whether he sends his goods into the docks or whether he unloads in the manner described, which has been called the outside process, will sooner or later, and sooner rather than later, obtain a marked benefit from the value accruing, or likely to accrue, from those great properties, in which at present the outride man has no interest. Therefore he gets value for his money.
Then there was another point which had been mentioned with regard to Clause 6. Here, again, I must say this is essentially a Committee point. It deals with the acquisition of land by a novel machinery. We admit that this machinery is novel in some details. It is not altogether new, because your Lordships are aware that quite recently the necessity of getting a Provisional Order through Parliament in every case where land is taken compulsorily or otherwise, but, especially if taken compulsorily, has gradually begun to be limited. The principle of limitation, as so often happens in matters of English law, began creeping in at a comparatively remote date. There are one or two Acts of Parliament relating, for example, to acquiring land for bridges and even for widening roads which were passed at the beginning of the last 1186 century. There was an Act of Parliament about widening streets in London—an Act known as Michael Angelo Taylor's Act, after the man who passed it—where a very simple process was brought in for acquiring land, and your Lordships, only a year or two ago, allowed that process to be used for the acquisition of land for small holdings in certain cases. The fact is that the machinery for the acquisition of land which requires confirmation by a Provisional Order and allows the whole question to be raised again after the inquiry has become unpopular with the outside public, and I think with Parliament, because of the enormous expense. As the noble Lord, Earl Cromer, pointed out, the Government have in this case taken a considerable step forward. I believe it is a step in the right direction, but at the same time the Government will make no complaint if the details of this new machinery are very closely scanned when we reach the Committee stage.
The absence of a municipal guarantee is something at which every ratepayer in London will probably rejoice. Hardly a Week goes by in your Lordships' House but some complaint is made, generally by my noble friend the Chairman of the County Councils Association, that the burdens and risks of the ratepayer are becoming more and more increased by legislation. In this Bill we come with no proposal to increase the rates of the County of London or of the City, or the rates in any part of the great Metropolitan area.
These are, I am inclined to think, the principal points that have been raised during this debate, with one exception. My noble friend Lord Desborough pressed the Government to give a pledge that they would be very careful to safeguard the representatives of what I have called the outside, interests in the future, having regard to the immediate position at the moment of the passing of the Bill. I am inclined to hope that if my noble friend will look at page 9 of the Bill he will see that in subsection (i) of Clause 7 the Government have very largely anticipated his wishes, because that subsection says that if the Port Authority revoke any licence for any purposes mentioned in Section 103 of the Thames Conservancy 1187 Act an appeal shall be given to the Board of Trade, who shall see that justice is done in the matter. The subsection may be, perhaps, a little technical and involved, but substantially it meets, and I understand Was intended to meet, the point raised by my noble friend; that is to say, that the Port Authority is to be careful by its action in any case to avoid destroying, intentionally or unintentionally, those rights and privileges guaranteed by licence, which have been given to the parties who have a very large stake in the river. That also is a further answer to the point raised by my noble friend on the front bench, opposite, when he was pleading the case of the outside traders in the river.
Lastly, I would like to say that I have the authority of my noble friend the Leader of the House, who is also, as your Lordships are aware, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, for saying that the provisions of this Bill, which we hope will influence very greatly for good the trade of the great Port of London with foreign countries, and not only with them, but also with our own Colonies, are viewed with great interest and approbation in many of the most important of our Colonies amongst those, who are interested in their trade. Believing, as we do, that after long inquiries by Commissions, by Committees and otherwise, that we are securing, if not the unanimous approval, certainly the approval of the great majority of the important branches of trade and commerce in this country, and bearing in mind also that we have the assurance of Colonial support, I hope I can say with confidence that your Lordships will read this Bill a second time without a division.
§ On Question, whether the word "now" stand part of the Motion, resolved in the affirmative.
§ Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Wednesday next.