HL Deb 21 May 1919 vol 34 cc744-6

Read 3a.


My Lords, I move that the Amendments to the Medway Conservancy Bill be agreed to. Your Lordships will remember that a week ago we had a short debate on the Report; stage of this Bill, when I invited my noble friend Lord Hylton, who represents the Treasury in this House, to make a statement as regards the intentions of the Government upon the subject covered by the Bill. I am grateful to my noble friend for the trouble he took. I said then that the parties would have an opportunity of considering the statement that my noble friend made with a view of deciding upon their future action on the points raised. I cannot state to your Lordships that the solution arrived at by the announcement made by my noble friend has entirely satisfied the parties concerned. However, I am authorised to say that they feel constrained to accept the present situation, being urgently in want of money and anxious that their Bill should proceed. The essential feature of the case is that there is no doubt that the relations between all the authorities have not been as harmonious as they might have been, and I can only express the hope that the proceedings in your Lordships' House a week ago may result in these relations being placed on a more satisfactory footing. Personally, I should like to express my sense of obligation to my noble friend opposite for his efforts, which I am certain will always be in the direction of making things work more smoothly. The trouble does not lie between the parties and the Treasury; the trouble lies elsewhere. Having said this, I move that the Amendments be agreed to.

Moved, That the Amendments be agreed to.—(The Earl of Donoughmore.)


My Lords, I should like, on behalf of the Treasury, to express my thanks to the Lord Chairman for what he has been good enough to say in regard to that Department. There does not appear to be much difference of opinion with the Conservancy Board. The matter that the Lord Chairman has raised is, no doubt, one of considerable gravity, affecting as it does not merely the Conservancy of the river Medway, but potentially all the other harbours and docks in the country. I think it only right to inform the House that I have, since the discussion in this House a week or so ago, not only communicated with the Treasury and informed them of what was said by noble Lords on that occasion, but have also been in communication with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I am authorised by him to say that the question will be taken at an early date into his consideration.


Perhaps your Lordships will allow me to say a word or two on this question, as for many years I had the honour to represent the City of Rochester in another place, and of course that authority is acutely interested in this Bill so far as it affects the Med way. I think your Lordships will have heard and those on whose behalf I speak will read with satisfaction the words which have just fallen from the noble Lord who represents the Treasury—namely, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer realises the great importance of this question.

But as the Lord Chairman has said, the difficulty does not appear to arise from the Treasury; the difficulty is with other Departments. It is so very strange in our system that, although the Government is supposed to form one unit, the great difficulty always arises as between one Department and another. You get a kindly answer from one Department, but there is always this other terrible Department lurking in the background, which is not amenable to the same kindly feelings as the noble Lord who addresses us on behalf of the particular Department he represents. I think that the Government ought not merely to speak in water-tight compartments, but to speak as a whole, and that we should be assured that not only will influence be brought to bear on the Treasury—that is forcing an open door; the Treasury are convinced—but on the Admiralty to take a reasonable view of this matter.

The Admiralty seem to be trying to drive a hard bargain in this case. When a patriotic concession is made by the Medway Commissioners, the Admiralty, instead of receiving it in the spirit in which it is made, try to drive a hard bargain in respect of these payments; and the difficulty seems to lie with the Admiralty and not with the Treasury. Perhaps the noble Lord will report to the Admiralty, as there is no representative of the Admiralty present, how strongly this matter is felt, and will use his influence with that Department, and persuade the Chancellor of the Exchequer to use his influence as well, to take a generous view, or rather an equitable view, of this matter. It is not a matter of generosity, it is one of equity. It is a demand for the payment of certain sums which are really due, but owing to the actual form in which the law stands the Admiralty may refuse to pay. That is what it really comes to, and it seems to be so unreasonable that I hope the Chancellor of the Exchequer will do his utmost to persuade his colleagues at the Admiralty to take an equitable view. As regards my noble friend opposite, we have nothing to do except to thank him for the assurance which he gave on behalf of the Treasury.


I can assure the noble Marquess that the Admiralty will be duly informed of the circumstances and the effect of this discussion.

On Question, Amendments agreed to, and Bill passed.