HC Deb 22 July 1834 vol 25 cc340-5
Mr. J. Kennedy

said, it might appear ungracious of him to proceed with his Motion after the vote to which the House had just come but he did so without the intention of pressing it. He was only anxious to obtain information, and he felt, that the question was not likely to occupy much time. He proposed to move for a Select Committee to consider the expenses incurred and the services rendered to the country under the several Commissions of Inquiry, and certain other Commissions now existing, with a view to the discontinuance of such as shall be found unnecessary or inexpedient, particularly that for building additional churches. He was aware that at this late period of the Session he could not expect that a Committee would be granted; but he was most anxious to call the noble Lord's (Lord Althorp's) attention to the subject, which was one of very great importance. A number of Commissions were now in existence, and had been in existence for a long time past —the Charities Commission, the Corporation Commission, the Record Commission, the Law Commission, and the Commission for building additional Churches. Now, he should wish much to know what were the merits and what were the benefits which had arisen from these Commissions to compensate the country for the immense sums of money which had been expended. By the one Commission—that for building additional Churches—1,500,000l. had been expended, and Church-rates had been increased. As to the Corporation Commission, the result of it had very much disappointed the country. Those towns which had unpopular corporations were very much irritated at the delay. Now, what he wanted to know was, whether this Commission was to be suffered to go on at an expense of 100l. a-month for each of its Members, or whether some understanding should not be entered into to the effect that their Report should be ready next Session. The cost of it indeed, was enormous, when the aggregate expense was stated. The Commissioners were twenty in number, and their salaries, together with all expenses, amounted to nearly 3,000l. per month. This single Corporation Commission would cost the country about 70,000l.; and what possible advantage could be expected from it to compensate such an outlay, when by the adoption of a Bill similar to that which he proposed last year, extending the Corporation Reforms into England which had been introduced into Scotland, the end might at once have been easily obtained? That course however, had not been pursued; the Report of the Commissioners, should therefore be brought forward as early as possible. He should content himself with merely bringing his present Motion before the House, refraining from pressing it, but at the same time hoping that the attention of the noble Lord might be drawn to the subject. He begged leave to move—"That a Select Committee be appointed to consider the expenses incurred, and the services rendered to the country, under the several Commissions of Inquiry now existing, and also under that appointed by virtue of an Act of 58 George 3rd, c. 45, intitled 'An Act for building and promoting the building of additional Churches in populous parishes,' and also that of Public Records, appointed the 12th of March 1831."

Mr. Hume

seconded the Motion. His hon. friend could not have a Select Committee this Session, but he wished the noble Lord would make inquiries during the recess touching the slow progress of those Commissions. He particularly alluded to the Law Commission and the Charities Commission.

Lord Althorp

observed, that as the hon. Gentleman did not propose to press for a Committee this Session, it was unnecessary for him to say a word upon the subject. He concurred with the hon. member for Middlesex in stating, that from what came out on the Finance Committee much time had been lost by the Charity Commission. He hoped, that these Commissioners were now proceeding in a different manner. He thought the best principle on which Commissioners could be paid was not by annual salary, but by so much for the inquiry altogether. It was on this latter principle the present Government had always proceeded. With respect to the Corporation Commission, the inquiry in which they were engaged was one which could not be satisfactorily carried on by a Committee of the House for that had been tried. He admitted, that the progress of the Commission had been rather slow, but then it was desirable that when the question concerning corporations came before them, as it would next Session, that the Report of the Commissioners should be so full as to enable them to legislate forthwith upon the information which was supplied; and the labours of the Poor-law Commissioners he might remark were of such advantage, as to show that a Commission was not an undesirable mode of bringing information before the House. He considered that it ought to be made the interest of the Commissioners to be diligent, and moreover, they should be inspected. In conclusion he must say, that he was not one of those who regarded a Commission as a bad mode of prosecuting an inquiry.

Colonel Evans

hoped, that when the Report of the Corporation Commission was brought before the House, they would not be called upon to decide upon its merits, to come to a result in the same hasty way in which they had been compelled to do with respect to the Report of the Poor-law Commissioners. That Report was very voluminous, and yet before some of the volumes were published, they were called upon to come to a decision. He trusted that this would not occur again; but that, in the instance of Corporation inquiry, proper time would be given for consideration and deliberation before they were forced to legislate.

Sir Henry Hardinge

observed, that the system of acquiring information by Commissioners was a desirable one; but that the efficiency of the mode depended upon the character and efficiency of the persons employed. It would appear from public report, that some very improper persons had been placed upon the Corporation Commission.

Mr. O'Connell

suggested, that there was another ingredient wanting to secure the efficiency of a Commission—namely, sufficient authority. The Commissioners should be entitled to examine witnesses upon oath, and to commit those for contempt who refused to give testimony when called upon. Corporators anxious to shield abuses from the view, he stated, had obstructed the progress of the Commissioners, and made some of them appear inefficient who, if they had had sufficient power, would have done good service.

The Attorney General

said, that the Law Commissioners had honourably and beneficially proceeded with their labours for the last three years, without pay or the expectation of pay. He stated, without answering for individual members of the Corporation Commission, that the body in general had been most carefully selected by the Government. It should be recollected, that since the days of the Conqueror, when the Doomsday-book was compiled, no such extensive Commission as this Corporation Commission, had been issued.

Sir Robert Peel

said, that the services of the Law Commissioners had been most disinterested and most valuable for the last three years, and he knew not on what principle it was, they were unrewarded. His experience did certainly contradict the common charge preferred against lawyers, of being unwilling to improve the law. As to the hon. Gentleman's Motion, he thought it a very proper one, and hoped he would renew it next Session. He would advise him, however, to alter the terms. He did not think "services" was a good word. It was too vague. It would be difficult to Report concerning "services." He would suggest to him to move for a Select Committee to inquire what practical recommendations had been made by the several Commissions, and when and to what extent they had been carried into effect by the Legislature. While expressing his approbation of Commissions as a mode of obtaining information in certain cases, he must at the same time express his hope that they might not fall into the constant habit of making use of Commissions, and so throwing their own business upon other shoulders. It was difficult, he admitted, to make a general rule on the subject. Measures, however, should be taken to prevent the constant recurrence to Commissions, which would leave the House occupied only with party disputes. The House should be, in order to do business properly, familiar with the consideration of details, as well as with that of principles.

Mr. Wilks

bore testimony to the dissatisfaction which generally prevailed on account of the slowness of the Corporation Commission and other Commissions, especially the Charity Commission.

Motion withdrawn.