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Thames Lightermen Bill (By Order)

Volume 90: debated on Thursday 7 March 1901

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Order for Second Reading read.

in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, said it was intended to make further provision for navigating lighters and barges on the Thames and in the Port of London, and altering for that purpose Section 66 of the Watermen and Lightermen Act. It was claimed by the Watermen's Company that barges and lighters working in the Port of London and on the Thames between Teddington Lock and Gravesend should be navigated only by men whose qualification was a licence from the Watermen's Company. This Bill, therefore, destroyed a monopoly. If these lightermen went out on strike and refused to navigate barges, the owners had no remedy at all. It was quite true that they could get people in to do the work, as long as the lightermen were on strike, but supposing they had engaged a man to navigate a barge at eight o'clock in the morning, if any lighterman choose to present himself at one o'clock on the same day they were bound to get rid of the man first engaged and to take on the lighterman. Now, the foreign, trade of the Port at Loudon, represented something like 252 millions sterling, and much of it was dealt with by lightermen. It was of great importance that this matter should be looked into, especially when, as happened recently, the lightermen came out on strike for something like three months, with the result that the whole trade was disorganised and the Port of London greatly injured. The difficulty arose from the fact that the owners of barges were unable to navigate their own vessels, and were compelled to employ licensed watermen. He did not think anything could be said against the desirability of making it possible for lightermen to work their own barges. At present the greater part of the work was done by tugs, and the lighterman simply sat in the stern of the barge, which was tugged down the river by steam, and received his pay when he condescended to call for it. His hon. friend opposite had put down an, Amendment to the effect that this Bill ought not to be proceeded with while the Royal Commission on the Port of London was sitting. But in the opinion of the promoters of this Bill this was not a matter which was referred to the Royal Commission. Moreover, it was a matter of great urgency that the Port of London should be protected and enabled to do its own work. He therefore hoped that the Bill might be allowed to pass. But if his right hon. friend the President of the Board of Trade considered that this really was a, matter which was referred to the Royal Commission, and which, therefore, could not properly be proceeded with in this House, he could only say that he would urge very strongly upon him that he should do his best to induce the Royal Commission to take this particular work in hand, and to issue an interim Report. Of course if that were done he would withdraw the Bill.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."

said he had no doubt whatever that this subject was within the reference to the Royal Commission on the Port of London. The Royal Commissioners had themselves taken the same view, for a day or two ago he received a letter from the Watermen's Company, in which the following passage occurred—

"The Royal Commission on the Port of London have notified the Watermen's Company that their rights and privileges are to be inquired into by them, and have allowed the company to he represented by counsel before them."
Under the circumstances it would be very undesirable for this House to take into consideration a Bill dealing with the matter. As to the suggestion of his hon. friend that the Commissioners should be invited to make an interim Report, he was quite willing to bring that to their notice and to leave it for the Commissioners themselves to decide whether or not it was expedient to do so.

said it seemed to him, without going into the merits of the question, that it would not be right, under the particular circumstances which had been drawn attention to, to press the measure, and he was therefore very glad that it was to be withdrawn.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Bill withdrawn.