§ Order read for resuming adjourned Debate on Question [18th July], "That the Bill be now read the third time."
§ Question again proposed. Debate resumed.
§ Sir LUKE WHITE
This Bill is to confirm a Provisional Order made by the Board of Trade under the Port of London Act of 1908. Considering the discussion which took place upon this Bill the other night, and the great amount of interest taken in it throughout the country, I think it is right, as Chairman of the Committee, I should make a few observations with regard to the position of this Provisional Order Bill. Under the Act of 1908 it was recognised that the Port Authority would require very considerable additional income to carry out the powers with which they were entrusted, and it was provided that they should be entitled to levy port rates on goods imported from ports beyond the seas or coastwise into the Port of London, or exported to ports beyond the seas or coastwise from that port. The Act of 1908 required that the Port Authority should submit to the Board of Trade a schedule of maximum prices, or, rather, maximum rates, and that the Board of Trade should embody the schedule in a Provisional Order. Before any definite Order was made by the Board of Trade, Lord St. Aldwyn was appointed to conduct a public inquiry. That inquiry took place, and over two hundred different bodies appeared, either personally or by counsel, before his Lordship during that inquiry. It occupied thirteen days, and at the conclusion of that inquiry it was, on the Report of Lord St. Aldwyn that the 1527 Provisional Order was made. The Port of London Act of 1908 directed that goods imported for transhipment only, or which remained on board ship, for conveyance to another port, should be exempt from port rates, leaving it to be determined by Provisional Order what goods were to be treated as goods for transhipment only. There is no distinction in the Act of 1908 as to the terms coastwise or oversea goods. Under this Provisional Order it is provided, in accordance with the provisions of the Act of 1908, that no port rates shall be charged on transhipment goods or goods which remain on board a vessel for conveyance to another port.
We have determined in the Provisional Order to confirm the opinion of Lord St. Aldwyn that "goods imported for transhipment only" shall mean goods imported from beyond the seas or coastwise for the purpose of being conveyed by sea only to any other port, whether beyond the seas or coastwise. It is this portion of the Order to which the Midland traders and the railway companies object. The Committee appointed to consider this Provisional Order Bill had before them a very large number of Petitions. We heard all the parties, and over twenty learned counsel appeared for those interested in the inquiry. Ultimately, with certain alterations, the Provisional Order is now before the House on Third Reading. We gave careful consideration to the case presented by the Midland traders and the railway companies. We were asked to decide that coastwise traffic should have no exemption. This involved in our opinion an alteration of the Act of 1908. We came to the conclusion that it would be necessary if such an alteration was determined upon, that that alteration must be effected by a Bill to amend the Act of 1908 and not under this Provisional Order. Before any such alteration of the Act could be made it would be necessary all parties interested in or affected by the provisions of the Act of 1908 would have to be heard. My opinion is borne out by the Report of Lord St. Aldwyn himself. When the inquiry took place the railway companies and certain traders in the Midlands appeared before that inquiry. Lord St. Aldwyn decided that, apart from the technical difficulty, that is the alteration of the Act of 1908, that coastwise traffic should not now be deprived of the exemption which was given to it by the Act of 1908. With regard to this Provisional Order, we 1528 as a Committee did not come to the conclusion to decide this case upon the merits of the Midland traders. We felt that the evidence which was given before us was of such a nature that if we had to hear all the parties it would involve an alteration of the Act of 1908, and under those circumstances we came to the conclusion that if any such alteration was to be made it could only be made in an amending Act of Parliament. that a Bill must be brought in to amend the Act of 1908. If that was done then not only would this House be enabled to hear all parties but the Committee would be entitled and would hear, not only the traders of the Midlands and the railway companies, but all those who are interested in and would be affected by the alteration or the Act of 1908 and those interested in coast traffic. It is only fair for me to say that that was our decision.] this matter is to be considered hereafter it should be by a Bill brought in to amend the Act of 1908. I do not think it could be done under the present Provisional Order. I hope the House will pass the Third Reading of this Provisional Order. The trade and commerce of London, nay the trade and commerce of the whole country, is looking forward to very great improvement in the Port of London. This Provisional Order would enable the authorities to bring about the alterations and improvements in the port which were set forth in the Act of 1908. Under those circumstances I trust that the House will pass the Provisional Order in its present terms.
§ Mr. GEORGE THORNE
I understand, Sir, that, according to the Rules of the House, I am technically precluded from speaking again on the Third Reading; but as the adjournment of the Debate took place on Monday last, in the hope that some arrangement might be arrived at, I trust by your leave and the leave of the House I may be permitted simply to state what has taken place and the position at which we have arrived. In view of the adjournment which took place on Monday, a meeting was held upstairs of the representatives of the districts particularly affected, and a deputation was appointed to meet the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade. We met him, and he, very courteously, stated that he thought that the case would be better met if we could also meet representatives of the Port of London Authority. Therefore, yesterday we had the opportunity, 1529 with the President of the Board of Trade, of meeting Lord Ritchie and other representatives of the Port of London Authority. We then discussed the whole position, and I am sorry to say at that moment I feared no arrangement could be arrived at, but to-day I have received a letter from the President of the Board of Trade covering a letter addressed to him by Lord Ritchie on behalf of the Port of London Authority. That letter we have very carefully considered at a largely-attended meeting, and, while regretting that what is offered is not what we desire, we recognise that what we desire could not be accomplished under existing conditions. The Chairman of the Committee (Sir L. White), who thoroughly understands the situation, has clearly indicated what we have been compelled to realise, that what we desire can only be achieved by an Amendment of the Act of 1908, and that it cannot be done by the present Bill. Recognising that, we have felt that the only way for us to approach the matter was from the standpoint of what is now possible under the Act of 1908. None of us desired to imperil the Bill itself. Our only anxiety was to make sure that the interests affected should be fully considered. We object altogether to the discrimination which exists, but we see that that cannot be avoided under the existing Act. What it is suggested that we should accept is set forth in the letter which I understand the President of the Board of Trade will read in full. The Port Authority recognise the apprehension that the Midland traders are under, and express their sincere desire to meet them as far as possible. They state that they will consider the matter with a view to seeing whether any and what modifications of, or, possibly, exemptions from, rates would he just and advisable, in the interests both of traders and of the Port Authority, which in this matter are practically identical. They say also that they are willing to do this at once, before the rates are imposed, as well as after, and to consider all such suggestions most sympathetically. Inasmuch as there might be a difficulty in carrying out this promise, it having been brought to their attention that there are certain limitations in the Act of 1908, they are willing to make a slight modification, I believe through the Committee in another place, which will give them the power of exemption which they desire to exercise if under the circumstances they think it wise to do so. This statement has been submitted to my colleagues. We are 1530 not at all satisfied, but we realise that under existing circumstances it is the best we can achieve. I am bound on their behalf to state distinctly that we accept this offer because of the conditions which now exist, but the right hon. Gentleman will admit that it does not commit us in the slightest degree in the, future. The traders and all concerned will be perfectly free in the future to take such steps as they think fit, if they consider that their interests are unfairly jeopardised. At present we do not desire to carry our opposition to the Bill any further, and I very gratefully acknowledge the courtesy that we have received, both from the President of the Board of Trade himself and from the representatives of the Port Authority.
Mr. ERNEST POLLOCK
I am sure all Members of the House will join with the hon. Member for the Buckrose Division (Sir L. White) in his desire that the Port Authority should get the Bill which they desire as an important step in the progress of the Port of London itself. The Midland traders, for whom many of us have spoken, have not in any way desired to jeopardise the whole of the Bill. What they felt was that they had been overlooked; and it is one of the advantages of the various stages through which a Bill has to pass in this House that each stage gives the House an opportunity to reconsider any case which has been overlooked in the great complexity of the matters embodied in such a Bill as this. When the Bill was last before the House I supported the adjournment in order that the question might be gone into by the Port Authority. We fully recognise that the Port Authority are a public body to whom are entrusted wide and important duties, and that it is their desire to enhance the trade of the Port of London to the best of their ability. At the same time, they are a statutory authority whose powers are limited by the original Act and by the Bill now before the House. The Midland traders have felt that their case had been lost sight of. Through the courtesy of the President of the Board of Trade we have had an opportunity of meeting the representatives of the Port Authority. We fully recognise the difficulties of their task. It is by no means easy to adjust the rates of the various persons who will bring their goods into the Port of London, either for transhipment, or for import, or for export. All these various interests have to be considered. No doubt the Act of 1908 1531 imposes considerable limitations on what can be the sphere of activity of a Provisional Order. We fully recognise that the Port Authority are friendly towards all traders, and are anxious to improve the trade of the Port of London. But they would not be doing that if they adopted any scale of charges which would imperil the trade coming from the Midlands to the Port of London. Recognising that, we have had an opportunity of putting our case before them, in order to see whether or not they could, without in any way displacing the facilities given to other traders, embody equal facilities for the traders of the Midlands. We have received a letter, which I understand the right hon. Gentleman will read, in which the chairman of the Finance Committee of the Port Authority undertakes to deal with specific cases, should it be found that hardship is created, particularly in reference to the Midland traders.
So far so good. But there is a difficulty which might arise in the Provisional Order itself. The Interpretation Clause appended to Clause 9 defines transhipment, and under Clause 10 of the Provisional Order certain further exemptions or rebates can be made by the Port Authority. It was pointed out that it was not easy to see that the powers there given were sufficient to grant exemptions in favour of Midland or other traders should the Port Authority desire to do so in the interests of the trade of the port. The Port Authority have therefore undertaken, when the Bill with the Provisional Order scheduled to it is in another place, to insert in Clause 10 words which will enable them to deal, not only with the trades specifically referred to in the Clause, but with any other trade. That will place in the hands of the Port Authority a wide discretion, enabling them to deal with the various trades which may be brought before them, and in respect of which some discrimination may be necessary. We quite appreciate that the Port Authority have their difficulties. They have got to start the business of the Port. The Schedule contains the maximum rates which they are entitled to charge, but no wise body would exact their maximum charges. We understand that they will have power to grant exemptions to Midland and other traders if need be, and to deal with some of the difficulties which have been put before the House. We are not completely satisfied. Very few persons are completely 1532 satisfied with a matter which must be dealt with on a basis of compromise. But although we are not satisfied, recognising that it is the Act of 1908 which places the difficulty in the way of the right hon. Gentleman and of the Port Authority, we feel that we have been met as far as the Port Authority can at present meet us. Therefore, while giving notice that when the proper occasion arises we shall ask for more, and recognising that we have got as much as it is fair to ask at the present moment when no Amendment of the Act of 1908 is possible, we are content to let the Third Reading of this Bill pass without further opposition; but when the opportunity offers we shall endeavour to alter the Act of 1908.
One word more. Of course, you cannot realise what the effect of these rates are until they have been tried in working for a certain length of time. That is a difficulty no doubt. At the same time, I feel sure that the Port Authority will recognise that if they establish rates which are a deterrent to the Midland traders sending their goods down to the port, then they, by that means, do a hardship to the Midlands. They make it very difficult for trades to be started and carried on in the Midlands, and they hold out a sort of advertisement which is a deterrent to Midland traders, who are at the present time suffering under very severe burdens. What I desire to point out to them is this: that the easier the rates they offer to the public, the larger is the amount of trade they are likely to secure. Of course, as this is a business question, and as they are a business authority, a public body seeking to do their best for the interests of all parties, I feel quite sure that after the representations we made in this House they will endeavour to do their very best to meet the difficulties, which are sincerely felt in the Midlands. These are not a matter of railway companies' grievances, but are matters in which the traders of the Midlands feel they are suffering at the present time. On the undertaking which has already been given to us as to the alteration that is to be moved in another place, we feel that the interests of the Midlands have been safeguarded so far as it is possible. We intend to take every step in the future to improve our position, but we do not desire to prevent the Third Reading of this Bill being taken to-night.
§ Mr. HAMILTON BENN
In view of the satisfactory termination of this matter, it 1533 would seem almost unnecessary to go into the merits of the case, but as a member of that authority whose life has been somewhat in jeopardy during the last few days, I would like to say a few words. Because if this House refuses the authority the means of carrying out the duties entrusted to it it would not continue in its present position. It seems to me that we have been face to face with rather a strange Parliamentary position. This position is due mostly to misconception and misunderstanding. I do not think that the true position of this matter is fully before the House. While I do not wish to enter into controversial matters now that the question has been temporarily settled, I do think it is very desirable that some answer should be given to the speech which was made on Monday by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. George Thorne). Otherwise it might be taken that there was no substantial answer to the very strong case he put forward. I may say as a new Member of this House that one of the things that surprises me is the oratorical powers of many of its Members. The speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton on Monday was calculated to deceive even the very elect! I know myself I was very sorry for the poor Midland manufacturer who was going to be so hardly hit. But the facts are very different from what we were led to suppose, or perhaps I should say what were put forward. The Midland manufacturer erects his works in the Midlands because he has good reason for doing it. He has many advantages which the manufacturer on the sea coast has not. He has cheap land, good labour, and many advantages that the sea-coast or London manufacturer cannot have.
What, however, I want specially to point out is that the Midland manufacturer is put under no worse terms than is the London manufacturer in this matter. We were face to face as a public authority with an Act that debarred us from putting any dues upon the transhipment of goods. We could not, for that reason, put any dues upon goods coming from the Midlands, while the London manufacturer had to pay those dues on what he exported. We were quite debarred from considering the Midlands, apart from other of the great interests committed to our charge. That, however, does not prevent us from considering individual cases of hardship such as those put forward by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton. We are 1534 bound to consider each case put before us on its merits. The whole aim and object of the establishment of this Port Authority is to increase the facilities of the port and to increase the business of the port. It would therefore be quite impossible to suppose that a public authority which has no shareholders to consider, and which has only the interests of the port to consider, would hardly use any trade which was coming to the port. One of the cases cited as an instance of hardship of works moving from the Midlands to the coast did not seem to me to be a particularly happy one. I refer to the special instance of a manufacturer who moved from Wolverhampton to Newport. I happen to know the firm in question. It always had its head office, and also the larger part of Its works, at Bristol. The management acquired works some years ago at Wolverhampton, which subsequently they did not desire to carry on there. They therefore moved that part of the business to Newport, but though they manufacture part of their galvanised sheets at Newport they have to convey these sheets from Newport to Bristol to be finished. The export trade of that firm is carried on from Bristol, and not from Newport. Again, the manufacturer on the coast will, as far as possible, ship his goods direct from his manufactory to their ultimate destination. He does not come round by London unless he is absolutely obliged to do so. All these manufacturers who have gone to the coasts and to a port have gone where they could get a large part of their trade carried direct. But, Mr. Emmott, if it, is found, as has been stated in the letter which has been written to the President of the Board of Trade, that there are trades in the Midlands which require special consideration, the Port Authority will most certainly give consideration to those trades. I may mention that the Port Authority has already constituted a committee which is charged with the supervision and examination of trade. Month by month the import and export trade is examined in detail to see in what respect it can be increased or if there are hardships; and if particular charges weigh upon any whether they can be modified or altered in order to suit the trade and to increase the trade. I think, therefore, the Midland manufacturer may rest quite satisfied that their interests will be safeguarded as far as possible by the Port Authority. In fact, it is the business of the Port Authority to 1535 consider these questions most carefully, and I hope the assurances that have been given will be considered satisfactory by the House.
§ Mr. J. H. THOMAS
I hardly think it is necessary to follow the hon. Member who has just spoken except, perhaps, to say that our complaint is that the merits of our claim have not been considered in consequence of circumstances for which the House has no responsibility. The very fact that the Chairman of the Committees who has spoken said that his Committee was precluded from going into the merits of the case purely in consequence of the Act of 1908 should convince the House that the claims of the Midland traders are worthy of their serious attention. It will be generally recognised that the adjournment which took place the other night has been amply justified, because the Port of London Authority, which received the deputation of which I had the honour to be one, met us very frankly. Prior to that the Port Authority did not recognise there was so much in our claims as they did after they had met the deputation. The Midland traders were not considered when the 1908 Act was passed, not so much because they had not a case, but because of the wide additional power that was given in the Provisional Order. Then, when the Provisional Order came up for discussion we were told that it was too late to discuss our claims because they were governed by the Act of 1908. When the Third Reading came we were simply met with the plea, "Apart entirely from the merits of your case, this is the Third Reading, of the Bill, and, therefore, it is too late to consider the matter." The House will recognise, therefore, that so far as the Midland traders are concerned they never had a fair chance of stating their grievance.
The hon. Member opposite has stated that the life of the Port Authority has been jeopardised. I frankly say, while I have never been hostile to the Bill, I should not have hesitated to vote against the Third Reading, but should have felt in the circumstances I was doing my duty to my Constituents. It is absurd to suggest we have no grievance. In my own Constituency at the present moment there is the possibility of a large factory being closed down and 600 men thrown out of work. That is a firm manufacturing iron girders, and I am assured that so keen is the competition that the margin in some 1536 cases is not more than a few pence per ton. Under the provision of this very Bill iron girders from Derby to London will be taxed 10d. additional per ton. That in itself clearly demonstrates the seriousness of this question to Midland manufacturers. We have never claimed a preference.
§ Mr. J. H. THOMAS
I was under the impression it was 10d., but, assuming that the hon. Member is correct, the additional tax of 5d. will make all the difference between Derby retaining the contract and losing it. The claim of the Midland manufacturers is not that the Port Authority should not have its dues, but that those who are favourably situated at the present time shall not have an additional preference against them. We do not object to contribute the dues necessary for the carrying on of the business of the port, but we do object strongly against any Act of Parliament that gives an undue preference as this does. It is only because we feel that some part of our claim has been met and because we accept the spirit of the letter of the Port of London Authority, and believe that they were satisfied yesterday that our claim was a legitimate claim, and that they will meet us in a frank, fair, and open way that we are willing not to divide against the Third Reading. At the same time, we desire to give a clear indication that this is only part of the concession, and does not at all meet our full claims.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
My only desire in connection with this Bill is to help it through. I am quite sure that hon. Members opposite will readily acquit me of being actuated by any special desire to make smooth the path for any Member of His Majesty's present Government. But I have always believed and acted upon the principle that questions like that we are discussing to-night, affecting the trade of the country, should not been used as pawns in the party game. I know quite well from the speeches made that there is no need whatever of my saying anything to support the view of the President of the Board of Trade. I am only going to say a few words, because I am perfectly satisfied that if the Bill is passed as the result of the letter we have listened to to-night, there will be an entirely false impression as to what the real position 1537 is. The impression would be that on the merits the case put by the Midland traders had been entirely justified, and that it is purely on technical ground that that case was not carried through. I am perfectly certain a greater mistake was never made upon any subject brought before the House. On questions of this kind a Government Department is always in a position of great difficulty. We who are Members of this House are very easily influenced by letters we receive from bodies in our Constituencies relating to subjects that we know nothing about. We get these letters, and we feel we must at least do what our Constituents demand. Everybody knows how easy it is to set an agitation of this kind going, however little backbone there may be in it. I am inclined to think that is what has happened here. Probably somebody in the Wolverhampton Chamber of Commerce comes down with very little to do and says to his fellow Members: "You see this Port of London Bill, it is going to make you pay dues which you have never paid before." Of course, nobody wants to pay duties if they can possibly help it, and consequently they say; "All right, try to stop that if you can." A resolution is passed unanimously, they get their local Member to pledge himself against it, and then they communicate with other chambers of commerce, inviting them to give their opposition to this Bill. Other chambers of commerce treat the question much in the same way. They say: "Our position is like Wolverhampton; they have considered this question, let us pass a similar resolution and write to our local Member." Consequently we hear Members debating this question in the "Mother of Parliaments"—new hands will probably already have pledged themselves—prejudiced in favour of a particular view without knowing that there is another side to the question.
I should like to point out how this case stands, as I understand it. Supposing there is an evil, what is the magnitude of it? Let me take a typical case. Take the case of hardware goods, for which the maximum rate is 1s. per ton. Exports can only have a rate of 6d. per ton. Now what is the value of a ton of hardware? I am sure it is not less than £20. That means that for every £100 worth of hardware goods for which the shipper gets the use of the Port of London pays 2s. 6d. In these times of close competition, any charge, however small, I agree, ought not to be ignored. It is a question of proportion, and to suggest that this small maximum charge 1538 is going to drive men in Wolverhampton out of employment is more worthy of an election poster. What is the real point of this case? It is that additional revenue is required. I am sure the representatives of the Midlands will agree that those who use the port should bear their fair share of the expense. What is their case? They say: We are perfectly willing to pay our share, but we insist that rivals of ours, who send their goods to London by sea, should also pay their share, and there should not be any discrimination against us for transhipment. If that discrimination exists in reality as well as in theory, I should be the first to recognise it, and try to remove it. But the curious thing about this agitation, got up in the way I have described, is that this is not a grievance which affects exclusively or mainly the Midland manufacturers, but it affects to a greater extent the manufacturers in and around London. It does so for this reason: The Midland manufacturers have two or three strings to their bow, because they can ship from Liverpool as well as from London. The London manufacturer has only the one string, and therefore nothing can be more ludicrous than to treat this question as one affecting only the Midlands, because it affects more largely the manufacturers in and around London. I believe there is no discrimination at all of the kind suggested. In the first place, is it the case that the kind of goods that come from the Midlands by rail for export are of the same kind as those which come from other districts by sea? I do not believe it is to any extent, but I will assume that it is. Then the case against this claim from the Midlands becomes much stronger and absolutely untenable. What is the position? The Midland manufacturers do two kinds of trade—one for export from the Port of London and the other for sale locally in the districts in and around London. It is impossible for me to say what is the exact proportion of these two trades, but I am perfectly certain my hon. Friend behind me, who is himself in the trade, will admit that the sales in and around London are enormously greater than the amount for export from London to other places. I believe that for every pounds worth of Midland goods which come to London for shipment there are at least £9 worth which come to be sold in and around London alone. Now what is the fact in regard to this alleged discrimination? Supposing this rivalry between the two districts does exist. Any rival of the 1539 Midland trader who sends girders into London does not pay a penny dues in competition with the Midland manufacturer. After this Provisional Order has been passed, what will happen is that the rival of the Derby bridge builder has got to pay dues on every ton of girders brought to London for sale only. In other words, what it amounts to is this: In the case of one-tenth of their trade, the Midland manufacturer is put at a disadvantage, but in the case of nine-tenths of his trade he actually gains, as against his rival, by the Provisional Order, about which he makes so much noise. If I have succeeded in making this point clear—and there is not the slightest doubt about its reality—then the real result is that after all this agitation and fuss about the discrimination against the Midland manufacturers, the net result is that this Bill gives a discrimination in favour of the Midland manufacturer as against his rival who sends his goods to London.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
But the cheap rate by sea transport is there now, and that will not be changed. When this Bill is passed the man who sends his goods by sea will have to pay dues, and the man who sends his goods by rail will not have to pay those dues; therefore, the discrimination is against the man who sends his goods by sea. It should be clearly understood that the whole of this agitation—which I admit is sincere and put forward, I am sure, with moderation—instead of being a discrimination against the Midlands, those manufacturers will, if anything, gain against their rivals by the provisions of this Bill. I should like to say a word or two about the transhipment trade. If that question is to be raised at all, it ought to be considered from a far broader standpoint than has been possible in the discussions we have had. I am speaking from recollection, hut, if my memory is not inaccurate, as the Government introduced their Bill of 1908 they left this question of transhipment to be settled by Provisional Order. The House of Commons at that time was so impressed with the importance of the entrepot trade of London that they were not willing to leave the matter to be decided by Provisional Order, but put pressure on the Government and insisted that there should be no dues on goods which are 1540 transhipped. The hon. Member, I think, for East Wolverhampton (Mr. George Thorne) resented very much the idea of this House being bound by a decision of the last House of Commons. I thoroughly sympathise with him in that. The present House of Commons is far from perfect, but at least it is a great improvement on the last, and I should be very sorry indeed as a general principle to say that because the last House of Commons decided something therefore we ought also to decide in the same way.
The consideration which influenced the last House of Commons, however, applies just as strongly to this. What was that principle? It was that the entrepot trade has always been one of the special trades of London. It has been of immense advantage not only to the port but also to London as a whole. From the nature of the case and from causes which cannot be helped, the entrepot trade is relatively getting less and less, but everybody wishes to preserve it if they can, and we know that particular kind of trade is liable to severe competition with other great ports on the Continent, like Hamburg and Antwerp, which have facilities which are not now enjoyed by London. I am therefore perfectly certain that, if this House of Commons looked at this question from a broad point of view, it would say that whatever alterations may or may not be desirable it would be very unwise to do anything which could possibly interfere with the entrepot trade of London. This question of the freedom of transhipment goods is not one of discrimination in favour of one district as against another. It is simply a question of what is best in the interest of the Port of London. It is, of course, arguable that London would not have suffered if these transhipment goods had paid their share of the dues, but the question should be considered from the point of view of the necessity of the Port of London, and I am convinced there is no Member of the House who looks at it from that point of view who will doubt for a moment that the decision of the Act of 1908 was right, and that it would be a great mistake to depart from the principles of that Act.
I think this question of discrimination is all a matter of imagination, but there is one aspect of this Bill with which I have a great deal more sympathy. The hon. Member, I think for the Tower Hamlets, moved an Amendment to give 1541 additional protection to those who use the rivers. I did not support his Amendment because I could not in that form, but I do think, and I have said the same thing in other stages of this Bill, that that body is really more entitled than anyone else to consideration in the framing of this Bill. More than half the trade is done in the river outside the docks; yet it so happens that the way in which the Port Authority is constituted is such that the interests which conduct their business in the docks will, if they choose to exercise it, have absolute authority over the port. I do not suggest for a moment that the Port Authority will act in an unfair way, but I can understand the waterside manufacturers feeling it is not fair to them that it should be left to a body which represents an interest which is not the same as theirs to decide in what way the expenses of the port are to be raised. I am sorry to raise this question—it may perhaps start it in the Committee of another place—but I would have been glad if Sub-section (5)—I think it is—which gives some protection to these users of the river could have been strengthened in some way, and if, for instance, it could have been made possible that in certain cases there would have been an appeal to the Board of Trade. I venture to suggest to the Deputy-Chairman of the Port Authority and to the other representatives of that authority that it might be wise for them to consider this question. There is a feeling that this great interest in the river will not be adequately represented on the new authority, and I am sure the Port Authority would lose nothing by giving the concession which may go a long way to remove that feeling of anxiety.
§ Sir A. WILLIAMSON
As the only Member of the House present who sat on the Select Committee of the Bill of 1908, I think I ought to assure the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. J. H. Thomas) that the position of the Midland traders was not by any means lost sight of by that Committee. Not only did we have many persons before us who put the Midland case and that of the Midland traders, but the railway companies who are largely interested in the Midlands occupied a very large proportion of the time of the Committee in putting forward the case for the inland manufacturers. The point that is really of paramount importance in this whole matter is the value of the transhipment trade of 1542 the Port of London. The last speaker referred to the value of this trade, and, as a merchant, I should like to emphasise the great importance of freeing the transhipment trade from rates in the Port of London; otherwise I fear a great deal of the transhipment trade now done in London will pass to the Port of Antwerp, where there are no dues on goods transhipped. Take the case of a cargo from the Tyne to some foreign port. The Port of London does not provide enough cargo of itself to load a vessel; neither, perhaps, does the Port of Antwerp. It is a choice between loading in the one place or the other, and sending the goods from the Tyne either to London or Antwerp to be transhipped to a foreign port. If there is no charge in Antwerp on transhipped goods and if there is in London, I do not think the House needs to be told that the goods will go to Antwerp to be transhipped and not to London. You may say what does it matter to London whether they come here or not? It matters a great deal. Half of the cargo either in or out is either from London or destined for London, and the fact that the ship comes here means that the people get the goods that come in the ship cheaper than if they went to Antwerp and then came across. Consequently there is a great advantage to those in London having these ships loading or discharging with transhipped cargoes in London, and it can only be done if you assist the operation. Therefore the transhipment trade is of value to London, and the importance of that was before the Committee. I think the grievances of the Midland manufacturers have been very much exaggerated in this Debate. After all, these coastwise cargoes, these transhipment cargoes, do pay dues. Suppose goods come from the Tyne to London to be transhipped. Take the case of girders from Middlesbrough. They are brought to London by sea to be transhipped. Those sent from Wolverhampton are sent by rail. The Wolverhampton manufacturer complains that his goods have to pay export duties in London, whereas the manufacturers in Middlesbrough escapes that payment. But that is not the case. The manufacturer in Middlesbrough pays the dues there, and consequently the position is not so adverse to the Midland manufacturer as would be supposed.
Another point which seems to have escaped attention is that the dues fixed by this Bill for exports and imports into London are on a very moderate scale indeed. Take various articles manufactured in the 1543 Midlands. Galvanised iron at Liverpool pays 1s. 6d. in and 9d. out. In London it pays 10d. in and 5d. out. Bar iron at Liverpool pays 1s. in and 8d. out. In London the charges are 10d. and 5d. respectively. Take, too, the case of hardware. At Liverpool it pays 2s. 3d. in as against 1s. in London, and 1s. 6d. out at Liverpool as against 6d. in London. The scale is indeed a very moderate one, and there is this further observation to be made that the figures mentioned in the Bill are the maximum scale, and, owing to the fact that you can only charge on one-thousandth part of the total value of goods in and out of London, the Port Authority will not be able to charge on the average more than two-thirds of the maximum rates as they appear in the Bill so long as the value of the exports and imports of London remain at their present figure. I think the grievances of the Midland traders have been very much exaggerated. They have altogether lost sight of the distinct advantage which they possess in supplying the demands for the consumption of London itself; and even if there were some drawbacks, if the trade were subjected to some little handicap by the charges, we must not forget that some charges must be made if we are going to improve the Port of London. If one set of traders escapes payment, others will have to provide the money; and the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London, who rather spoke as if he favoured the Midland traders' case, might find his constituents called upon to pay more.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I do what I consider to be right in this House, and if my Constituents lose by my so doing what is right, I am sure they will support me.
§ Sir A. WILLIAMSON
I know the hon. Baronet is always very philosophic and inclined to favour the case of his opponents, rather than that of his Friends. I do not think it is at all likely that this House will listen to any future Bill seeking to reverse the policy of freeing transhipments goods through the Port of London, a policy which has been deliberately adopted by this House after long and patient investigation.
§ Mr. PARKES
As several speakers have attacked the contention put forward on behalf of the Midland manufacturers, I feel bound to say some words in support of their case, especially as I belong to 1544 one of the largest towns in the Midlands. We do not object to the Port of London getting their dues upon what we know as the transhipment trade, but we do think they are making a mistake by bringing themselves into competition with Antwerp. When this Bill was first brought in it simply dealt with transhipments through the Port of London from one country to another; it was only an afterthought that the coastwise trade in this country was exempted from these dues. I do not see how it can possibly be argued that there is any equality of treatment between the coastwise trader and in inland trader when the duties are imposed in the one case and not in the other. In that you find the whole crux of our argument, and I do not think that anything that has been said up to the present has tended to clear away the feeling that an unfair discrimination is exercised between the Midland trader and the coastwise trader. I was rather surprised to hear the arguments of the hon. Member for Dulwich (Mr. Bonar Law). I think they went to show that he was not thoroughly acquainted with the facts of the case. I admit there may be a certain amount of goods coming into London which are consumed in London, but I do not admit that the Midland trader, even in that case, has any advantage over the coastwise trader, because he is handicapped by the heavy railway rates which prevent him from putting his goods into London at the same price as the coastwise trader can place them there, even after paying the port dues. I believe it is the fact that a certain kind of steel goods coming from Middlesbrough and Hull to the Thames pay a duty of 6d. per ton, while on similar articles sent from the Midlands the charge ranges from 10s. to 15s. per ton. It will thus be seen that the Midland manufacturer stands at a great disadvantage in bringing his goods into London. But we are not talking so much about the goods brought into and sold in London, we are talking about transhipment goods.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
We are really talking about the Provisional Order, but incidentally I raised the question of the advantage gained by the Midland traders in connection with the trade they did in London itself.
§ Mr. PARKES
Our case is not dependent so much on the goods sold in London itself. In many cases they do not go near the docks, they are sent by rail, and the 1545 docks can make no charge in respect of them. We are contending purely and simply for the transhipment goods, and we say there is an unfair discrimination exercised between transhipment goods sent from the Midlands and those sent by sea from ports on the north-east coast to London. It is said that the rates are only 1s. on £20 worth of goods, and that sounded a very plausible argument; but if the matter is so small that the Midland people should not take any notice of it, why should the coastwise people do so? and all that we contend for is equality or treatment between the two parties. The hon. Gentleman also said that Members were pledged on this subject, but I can say distinctly that no man was pledged before he came to the House of Commons on this question. It came up a short time ago, and I admit the Midland people were no[...] wise enough to see the matter soon enough, but, at the same time, they ought not to be penalised because they did not rise up to the gravity of the case until it was almost too late. It is said the gentlemen belonging to chambers of commerce have nothing to do but to think of these matters, but I think such allegations ought not to be hurled at the chambers of commerce, because when they heard of it from the manufacturers they at once did all they could through their Members in this House to remedy this injustice, and we should not be discharging our duties to Midland traders and to our feelings of justice if we did not give expression to their views. As to the galvanising trade, the hon. Member made a very small matter of it, but said there were great advantages in the case of the Midlands. I have been in the Midlands all my life, and I do not see where the advantages come in.
The trade of the Midlands is fading away, and many people are being driven from them to the coast. I do not think it is desirable to drive all the traders from the Midlands to the coast. The hon. Member said something about galvanised sheets being made in Wolverhampton, while they were partly made elsewhere, but I know that in that particular galvanised trade one of the largest firms in it have just removed their works from Wolverhampton to the coast in order that they may successfully compete with their rivals. I think we have made out a case which justifies us in taking up the position we do, and I think we ought to talk this matter over quietly, and if we did we should convince the Port of London Authority that we had a grievance. I think we did convince 1546 the Port of London Authority yesterday that we had a genuine case, and I believe the more our case is examined the more it will be seen that that is so. I should like to say this, in conclusion, that we in the Midlands recognise the spirit of conciliation which has been manifested by the Port Authority and the right hon. Gentleman, which has been of great advantage, and I hope it will continue. We do not want to fight this question, because there can be a great amount of opposition raised in the Midlands against this Order, but we want to settle the matter by peaceable means, and as far as that spirit of conciliation has been manifested by the Port of London we thank them, and believe that they will try to meet us. If they do not try to meet us we shall be very much surprised if we do not get fair play. We believe, however, that we have a good case, and that they will carry out their promise to us; but if not, we shall not relinquish this movement until we get justice.
§ Sir OWEN PHILIPPS
The Members of the Port Authority were very pleased yesterday to have an opportunity of meeting the Midland Members, represented by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton and one of the hon. Members for Derby, and of hearing their case and considering it, and I can assure the hon. Members, on behalf of the Port Authority, that we appreciated the spirit in which they put their case before us, and also I can assure them that it will be the endeavour of the Port Authority to remedy any grievance that may be found when this Schedule is put into force and to do everything in their power to help forward and increase the trade of the Port of London, and not to do anything to damage any portion of the trade that comes to that port. I would also like to take this opportunity of expressing our indebtedness to the hon. Member for Dulwich (Mr. Bonar Law) for the great assistance he has always rendered us, not only on the occasion of the Provisional Order, but on the Bill of 1908 and previous measures, to settle this Port of London difficulty on satisfactory grounds. We have had recently all sides of the House agreeing to vote large sums of money to protect the Empire from attack, and now we are simply asking for a moderate sum of money in order to enable us to ensure that the Port of London Authority will be able to maintain the position which the hon. Member for the City (Sir F. Banbury) will, I know, be the first to welcome, when we can say that the Port of London is really not only the most 1547 important port in the world, but the one which has every modern convenience, and has every facility to help forward the trade of the country. I am sure I can only repeat that we will do everything that is possible to help not only the traders in the Midlands but in any other part of the country.
§ Mr. W. PEARCE
I think the Midland Members have brought before the House the great importance of every part of this Provisional Order, and have shown that the rates need not be very heavy to make a very great difference to commercial interests. The hon. Gentleman opposite did show in one degree where this burden is heavier on the London than on the Midland manufacturers; he pointed out that London has no choice of port, but that the Midlands have the choice of two or three. London has only one port, and therefore the London manufacturer has to pay not only on his exports, but he has to pay also on his imports, and in this degree it is a very hard case, because London as a manufacturing centre has to submit to this very great disadvantage, that it has no natural raw material, and that the whole of the raw material of its industries have to be brought into London, so that the London manufacturer has to pay on his imports and on his exports. I should think, however, that the London case could be helped, because if I only had the power and enthusiasm of my hon. Friend behind me I could almost have defeated the Third Reading by expatiating upon the harder case of the London manufacturer than that of the manufacturer in the Midlands. But I want to try to elicit information before the Debate on this Bill closes. When the Port of London Bill was introduced into the House of Commons an estimate was given as to the amount the local authority were likely to have to pay, and we were given an estimate of £180,000. That was to provide new clock accommodation also, and I have not heard that the Port Authority have a scheme for providing this new accommodation. We were given to understand that, except as to the provision of new dock accommodation, the income and expenditure of the old dock companies would pretty nearly balance. I should like to know if this is the case. I want to know what is the kind of sum that the Port of London proposes to raise in the first year. If it is a small sum London will be very much relieved. If it is a large sum, and rumour 1548 had it a few weeks ago that it was intended to raise £300,000 or thereabouts, and on the schedule of maximum dues to raise £500,000, I want to point out how serious the position of London would become. If this large sum is required does it arise from deficiency? Again I should like information as to what was said of the maximum dues they are likely to charge on the trade. During the negotiations with Lord St. Aldwyn it was generally intimated that 50 per cent. of the maximum was likely to rule. I heard that understanding withdrawn before the Select Committee, and this is giving very grave concern to the whole of the London trade. If we are to have this very large burden on London I am quite sure it will most gravely affect the whole of the commercial possibilities of the London district. It must increase the cost of production of everything that is made in the London district. It must make the Port of London dearer rather than cheaper, and, with these two great disadvantages, I hope the House will begin to realise what a serious matter this Provisional Order and Schedule may become. If anything like the large sum I anticipate will be required it will be a matter of the very gravest concern to the whole of the London district.
I am afraid I am rather a pessimist myself, and I almost anticipate the time when the Port Authority may have to come to Parliament for further powers still. I very much doubt whether the £330,000 which they are enabled to raise under the Provisional Order will suffice. When they do come I hope the House may remember, from the speeches they have heard from the Midland Members, what a great danger this kind of general tariff undoubtedly is to the whole commercial and trade possibilities of London. I feel most strongly that it would have been very much better to put a charge like this on the rates of the whole district rather than to burden a portion of the trade of London and stand the danger of swamping it altogether. The only piece of comfort I have derived from the Debates of the last two nights is the statement of the President that he agreed with me that if Parliament had realised what the situation was likely to be it might have been decided to raise this money from the rates rather than by a general schedule. I wish to thank the right hon. Gentleman opposite for his words of sympathy with our waterside manufacturers. It is a hard case, which 1549 can hardly be remedied in the way he suggested. Better still, when the House takes the Bill into consideration again, it might be done by altering the franchise. The riverside people, who only pay a portion of this new duty, will stand a chance of very little representation when the franchise depends on the whole revenue of the Dock Company. That is something between £2,000,000 and £3,000,000. The new charge they are allowed to levy will be £300,000 under their present powers, and it goes without saying that the franchise of the riverside interests, depending on a fraction of £300,000, they are not likely to get a big membership on the Board when the whole franchise depends on a revenue roughly approaching £3,000,000. I hope the President may be able to allay some of my fears, and I am glad to have this opportunity of trying to impress upon the House the very serious position which the raising of a large sum of money like this must have on the whole commercial possibilities of the riverside of London.
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. Sydney Buxton)
I am glad it is only necessary for me to ask the House to pass the Third Reading without a Division, because I gather that, while some Members naturally have serious objections to certain provisions of the Bill, they are not prepared to take upon them the very serious responsibility of dividing against the Third Reading. In reply to my hon. Friend (Mr. Pearce), I think from the point of view of the Port Authority themselves it is only just to remind the House how we stand and why we stand in the present position. The Port Authority was created and had certain duties cast upon them, not only in reference to carrying on the docks they took over, but also to improve the waterway and to improve the dock accommodation. I am one of those who think that on the whole it would have been better if the additional charge required for this purpose had been cast on the rates of the whole county. That, however, was not the position at the time. The Moderate majority of the London County Council, in their discretion, did not desire to deal with it in that way. Therefore, it was quite obvious that, as funds must be raised in order to carry on the Port Authority and to improve the waterway and the docks, the only method in which that could be done would be by a charge on the shipping and on the goods 1550 imported and exported from the docks. Therefore I think the Port Authority must be acquitted of all blame when they have to present to the House of Commons a Bill of this description. The duty was cast upon them of raising the revenue. They have taken a very long time in drawing up their schedules of rates, but they have taken a very great deal of trouble indeed, and, as far as they possibly could, they have met the various interests concerned, and I congratulate them on the successful results of the efforts they have made.
Some reference has been made to the Act of 1908 and the transhipment question, which is not really a matter involved in the bulk of the discussion we have had. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bonar Law) gave a correct description of what occurred when the Bill was first introduced. This question of what is transhipment, and whether transhipment should be exempt from rates or not, was left to be decided by the Provisional Order which we are now discussing. A very strong feeling was evoked from all quarters that not to have a definite exemption in the Act of Parliament exempting from all dues, inwards or outwards, transhipment goods might have a very serious effect indeed on the trade of the Port of London. Unfortunately, London dock accommodation as compared with Antwerp and other places had fallen into arrears. London was in this matter in severe competition with Continental and home ports, and it was thought, and wisely thought as far as the transhipment goods were concerned, that they ought to be free from all dues in order that London should not be deprived of that trade altogether. That conclusion was come to by the House of Commons after grave deliberation, and I agree that it would be very difficult indeed to alter the principle of that proposal, and, as at present advised at any rate, I certainly should not give my support to any proposal which would involve a charge of dues on any transhipment goods.
The discussion has really turned on the case brought forward by the representatives of the Midland traders. I must not be held, because I have not gone into the merits of it, to admit the validity of the case they have presented against the Port Authority. In reference to the case which was brought before me I desired to do two things. I was very anxious that the Midland traders should have an opportunity of stating their case both in the House of Commons and before the Committee, because it was quite obvious that 1551 it was not until the eleventh hour that the particular grievance which they believed themselves to be suffering from was brought to their attention. I freely admit that they had not at the earlier stages of this question in 1908 or subsequently, or, at all events, they thought they had not, full opportunity of bringing forward their case. I was very anxious that they should have that opportunity, as being more or less responsible for the Bill jointly with the Port of London Authority. I was anxious, if there was a grievance of this description, that it should be as far as possible met on legitimate grounds by the Port Authority. I was anxious to see, if there was a real grievance, that it might be met. My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. George Thorne) and others came to me on more than one occasion, and finally I made the suggestion that I thought it would be well that they should have an opportunity of meeting representatives of the Port Authority, in order to see, if they had a grievance, how far it might be met in the circumstances, and how far my hon. Friends, as representing the traders, and the representatives of the Port Authority might be able to come to an amicable arrangement on the matter, and so avoid opposition on the Third Reading of the Bill. I am sure my hon. Friends representing the Midland traders will admit that the Port Authority met them very fairly and frankly, and made very fair proposals to them in the circumstances of the case. I think it might be well that, with the leave of the House, and in order that there may be no misunderstanding in the matter, I should read the letter which Lord Ritchie, as representing the Parliamentary Committee of the Port Authority, wrote to me to-day. I will read the letter in order to have on record what the proposal of the Port Authority was in regard to this matter and the extent to which they have met the views of those representing the Midland traders. The letter is as follows:—
§ "Port of London Authority.
§ "109, Leadenhall Street, E.C.,
§ "21st July, 1910.
§ "My dear Buxton,
§ "Confirming my statement made on behalf of the Port Authority at the interview yesterday, the Port Authority are unable to accept the proposal that the Act of 1908 should be so amended as to place a duty on the transhipment trade of London. To do so would result in largely diverting the trade from the Port of London to foreign ports, which would seriously injure one branch of the trade of London without benefiting any other Class of traders.1552
§ "But they have had their attention drawn to the position of the Midland traders, and to the apprehension expressed that the proposed rates would materially Injure their trade.
§ "They are prepared, as I stated at the interview—before the rates are actually imposed, and subsequently—to consider sympathetically any and all cases of alleged hardship which may be put before them. They would consider them with a view of seeing whether any, and what, modification of, or possibly exemption from, rates (the rates in the Confirming Bill are, it must be remembered, maximum rates only) would be just and advisable in the interests both of the traders and of the Port Authority, which in these matters are practically identical.
§ "In order to make it clear that such action can be adopted, they would agree, before the House of Lords Committee, to add after the words 'entrepot trade.' on page 4, line 29, of the Bill confirming the Provisional Order, the words 'or any other trade.'
§ "Yours faithfully,
§ "(Signed) RITCHIE OF DUNE[...]."
§ That seems to me a very fair offer, and I think those representing the Midland traders are very well advised in accepting it and withdrawing their opposition to the Third Reading of the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton said that he had not got all he wanted. I am bound to say that if he thinks in this workaday world he can always get all he wants he is a very sanguine man. I should have thought a man of his age would not have expected to get all he wants. I certainly have found in a considerable Parliamentary experience that I never get all I want, and very seldom indeed even a small portion of what I want. I think my hon. Friend ought to be satisfied in the circumstances with the arrangement made with the Port Authority. I am glad that we have been able to arrive at an amicable solution of this very difficult and very acute question, and that on the Third Reading of the Bill there will be no Division called.
§ Mr. SYDNEY BUXTON
I do not know what the hon. Baronet means by interrupting my peroration. I would really ask what he means, because I do not want any misunderstanding in regard to the matter. I ask him what he means by the interruption, because it may have a bearing on what I am about to say.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
My interruption arose out of the right hon. Gentleman's statement that there was to be no Division on the Third Reading of the Bill. I said that was owing to the fact that the House of Lords exists, and that what is wrong in the Bill here can be put right there.
§ Mr. SYDNEY BUXTON
I do not want to enter into controversy with the hon. 1553 Baronet on that subject. It is not proposed to get rid of the Second Chamber altogether. Many of us think that one of the advantages of a Second Chamber is that you can use it as a revising Chamber. I am glad that the House of Commons has been able to come to an amicable agreement in reference to this matter, which will enable the Port Authority to carry out improvements in the port with great advantage to London and the country as a whole.
§ Sir CLIFFORD CORY
The whole of the speeches to-night have either been on behalf of the Midland traders or in opposition to their grievance. I think it is only fair that traders in other parts of the country should have their grievances brought forward as well as the Midland manufacturers. The Midland manufacturers have more attention paid to their case because they are rich, whereas the poorer traders, who have very few representatives, have not had their case stated. They are probably a very much larger class and, at the same time, very much poorer. In paragraph 4 of the Schedule of the Bill in the second paragraph it provides that no port rates shall be charged by the Authority on fish caught in the open sea and brought in fresh to the Port of London direct. There are fishermen who send their fish to London by rail or by coasters. I understand that it is the intention that all fish sent direct to the Port of London, whether for transhipment or not, should be free, otherwise there will be an unfair preference to one section of the industry as compared with others. There are some small fishing districts where it would be impossible for the fishermen to send direct from the fishing grounds to London. Now they send by rail or by coasters. If, as the Bill is now worded, they send by coasters, they will have to pay port rates. I think the right hon. Gentleman was good enough to give a sympathetic hearing to an Amendment I put down on the Report stage on this matter, and which was proposed by the hon. Member for Yarmouth. I trust he will see his way when the Bill gets into Committee in another place to have this matter attended to. I am sure he will only be doing what is just and fair in accepting the Amendment, and he will be conferring a great boon on the very struggling men, who find it extremely difficult to make their living at the present time.
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read the third time," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read the third time, and passed.