HC Deb 02 June 1825 vol 13 cc1013-4
Mr.H. Whitbread

presented a petition from the directors of the London and Westminster Oil Gas Company, complaining of the manner in which that bill had been got rid of by the committee above stairs. After a long and laborious inquiry in the committee, of which he was chairman, and in which fifteen or sixteen counsel were heard from day to day, a number of persons, most of whom were interested in the Coal Gas companies, and not one of whom had attended for a single hour during the progress of the inquiry, came down on the last day, and voted against the bill. In this way a measure which would have been of great advantage to the public, had been lost, and with it no less a sum than 30,000l. which had been expended in order to carry through parliament. The manner in which private business was conducted in committees above stairs was a disgrace to the country.

Mr. T. Wilson

concurred in the necessity of a reform in the mode in which private business was conducted in committees.

Mr. W. Smith

agreed, that the manner in which business was conducted, by committees above stairs called loudly for reform. So much did he disapprove of the practice pursued, that he had not entered a private committee room for many years.

Mr. Tremayne

concurred in the necessity of such a reform.

Mr. Calcraft said,

that the general system undoubtedly stood in need of reform; but it could not be denied that it was a matter of considerable difficulty. The practice of deciding on the merits of a question, without hearing it argued, was one of daily occurrence in that House. He by no means, however, meant to set up one vicious practice as a defence for another. He had not himself matured any plan of reform, but he thought the best precedent they could follow would be the Grenville act, the provisions of which had been found to be an effectual remedy for the abuses which prevailed in Election committees. He should recommend the appointment of a special committee by ballot, whose duty it should be to consider and report on the merits of private bills. The conduct of private committees above stairs, had given great dissatisfaction to the public.

Mr. Sykes said,

that in the present instance a measure of great public advantage had been thrown out by a majority of members, who had a direct private interest in opposing it, and who had voted against it without hearing a syllable of the evidence. He had never met with a case of more gross injustice.

Mr. Littleton

expressed his astonishment, that any individual, who had the slightest pretension to the character of a gentleman, or a man of common honesty, could venture to conduct himself in the manner in which some of the members of this committee had acted. That any member who had not heard a tittle of the evidence on a private bill should venture to come down on the last day and vote against it, was so scandalous a proceeding that he could not find language strong enough to express his reprobation of it. He could not think, that there was any resemblance between this case and that of the votes given by members in that House. It was the duty of private committees to decide on details of which they could only judge by hearing the evidence; whereas members in that hearing decided on principle, and might have other opportunities of judging of the merits of a question, independently of the arguments which they might hear in that House.

Mr. Trant

concurred in reprobating the conduct of private committees above stairs. For his part he was resolved never again to enter the door of a private committee room, until the business was put on a different footing.

Mr. J. P. Grant

said, he had abstained from voting on this committee, because he had been unable to attend it. Though there must be a great number of members in the House who voted on that committee, and who now heard their conduct reprobated, not one of them had ventured to contradict the statement.

Mr. Bright

recommended the immediate appointment of a committee.

Ordered to lie on the table.