HC Deb 09 August 1834 vol 25 cc1128-32
Mr. Sinclair,

pursuant to notice, rose to bring forward his Motion "that there be laid before this House, a list of all the public Committees appointed during the present Session; the number of days on which they sat; the number of hours during each day; number of Members who attended at each meeting; the number of witnesses examined, and the sum awarded to each witness for expenses; the expense incurred in printing the minutes for the use of the Members, and afterwards for that of the House; the allowances to short-hand writers, Committee clerks, and all other incidental expenses; together with a list of the Members of each Committee; also, an alphabetical list of all such Members as have belonged to one or more of the said public Committees, stating in separate columns the number of days on which each of the said Committees met, and the number of times on which each of the said Members was present during its proceedings; as far as the same can be made out." He considered that it was absolutely requisite to adopt some remedy to meet the evil and the expense resulting from the increased number of Committees, and the increasing disposition to resort to Committees. They were often adopted as a compromise of some question brought forward; and much expense was thus incurred, when the chief motive of appointing the Committee had been to evade coming to a decision in the House. There was another evil regarding the attendance of witnesses; they were sometimes ordered without due consideration; messengers were sent at the expense, perhaps, of 30l. or 40l.; and when they were obtained, it was found that they gave evidence of little or no value. These evils must be corrected, and as a preparation for Amendment, he moved for this account; it could be ready by the next Session, when the House, no doubt, would be disposed to consider the subject. The hon. Member concluded by making his Motion.

Mr. Hughes Hughes

said, he had great pleasure in seconding the Motion of his hon. friend, although he feared that much reliance must not be placed on the accuracy of the return to one part of it, the Committee clerks not always taking down the names of every Member present at the meetings of a Committee. One part of the Motion he thought highly necessary; the House, and the country, ought to know the expense attending each special Committee. Two such Committees had been appointed this Session, on matters which immediately concerned two individual Members of the House, and the expense attending the inquiries before these Committees would, he understood, amount to very considerable sums. He alluded to the Committee on the Calcutta Journal, and the Committee on the Inns of Court, in granting which, he really thought, the House should have stipulated that the parties immediately interested, and not the public, should bear the attendant expense.

Mr. Aglionby

conceived that the return would be useful, particularly as he thought that the time of the House which was the time of the public, had been wasted by laborious and unnecessary inquiries.

Mr. Ward

observed that the management of private Committees in particular, required amendment, in order to prevent that canvassing for votes which now took place. He admitted, that the proceedings in Committees on private Bills were not quite so bad as he had understood they formerly were; still there was a degree of canvassing that was not very creditable. Respecting a recent Committee on a railway Bill, he, in common with many other Members, was repeatedly and most earnestly beset to attend and vote on a particular side. He declined, on the ground that as he had never attended the Committee, he had heard none of the evidence, and consequently was not qualified to give a vote. At last he was informed that ten Members who were similarly circumstanced had consented to attend and vote; and, under such circumstances he had attended and voted against them. He disapproved of such proceedings; they reflected no credit on the House; and he thought that no one ought to be allowed to vote on these Committees, except they had heard the evidence.

Lord Granville Somerset

defended the proceedings of the Committee to which reference had been made, and thought that the conclusion to which that Committee had conic was a correct one. Bad as the conduct of Committees now might be, and he certainly did not defend it, the mode of conducting business before Committees at present, was greatly superior to the practice formerly.

Lord John Russell

said, he had no objection to the Motion, but thought that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to comply with some parts, especially those regarding the Members attending the Committees, and how long they attended. [Mr. Sinclair had omitted that part of the Motion.] He admitted, that there was considerable evil in the construction and conduct of Committees in some respects. Thus thirty or forty Members would be placed on a Committee, and the resolutions or report of that Committee would be prepared and carried, perhaps by only six or seven Members. The resolutions or report would go forth as the product of the whole Committee, while there were no means of ascertaining who were the six or seven Members. This ought to be remedied; at least it ought to be known who were the parties agreeing to and sending forth the resolutions or report. Then as to the printing of accounts and documents laid before the House pursuant to orders; that practice required correction, for accounts and returns were often printed when the information contained in them appeared in documents previously printed. Next Session he should endeavour to suggest some remedy for this evil.

Mr. Littleton

thought that some amendment in the drawing up the minutes of the Committees might be usefully introduced. Minutes might be made of the Members attending Committees, especially of the names of Members present when divisions took place, or when resolutions or reports were adopted. He admitted the justice of many of the remarks made respecting the conduct in Committees on private Bills; still he thought with the noble Lord, the member for Monmouthshire, that those who remembered what conduct was pursued in those Committees some years ago, must admit that a very considerable improvement had been introduced into them. Heretofore the practice was, that all Members who attended "had voices;" so that it was not unusual for crowds to attend and vote on any particular measure who knew nothing of its merits derivable from the evidence adduced; but that abuse had been considerably remedied by the present mode of constituting the Committees by county lists.

Mr. Bernal

must also admit, that the previous conduct respecting these Committees on private Bills was of the most abominable character, as there was carried on a system of the most censurable canvassing. Members would attend the Committee rooms by scores for the purpose of voting only, in subservience to that system of canvassing; and from the frequency and notoriety of the practice, they would think themselves justified in the course they pursued. This eagerness to rush to different Committees, had led to the very general belief that Members received ten guineas for each Committee, and for each time that they attended it. He could not account for the prevalence of so erroneous an opinion; certain it was, that the belief was very general.

Mr. Hawes

bore testimony to the belief in this fiction, and the prevalence of the belief was such, as he knew, from considerable intercourse with his constituents, that it threw very considerable discredit on the proceedings of Committees on private Bills in particular—discredit that ought not to attach to them. He was therefore very glad that this opportunity had been taken to disabuse the public mind on this subject.

Mr. Potter

also knew of the prevalence of the belief that Members of Parliament received 10l. 10s. a day each for attending Committees—namely, for each time and for each Committee attended. He knew this fact from his own experience. He was in the habit, at the end of each Session, of returning to his constituents to render to them some account of the labours of the Session, and of his own share therein. In doing so he had occasion to mention the number of Committees that his duty had required him to attend. He was told in reply, that "there was good reason for his attending so many Committees—that he had pocketed a few hundreds thereby;" and it was with considerable difficulty that he could persuade the parties—if he did convince all of them—that neither he nor any Member derived any profit from attendance on Committees on private Bills, or on any other matter. He was therefore very glad, in common with other Members, that this conversation had taken place.

Motion agreed to.

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