HC Deb 03 August 1836 vol 35 cc860-5
Mr. Poulett Thomson

rose, as Chairman of the Committee appointed by that House, to propose the adoption by the House of the Resolutions to which the Committee had come. Perhaps it would be more convenient, as they would have to go through the resolutions seriatim, if any objections were made to them, for him to offer, with the assistance of the other Members of the Committee, any explanations that should be necessary, rather than to take up the time of the House in pointing out all the alterations which it was proposed to make. He would merely state, that the Committee over which he had had the honour to preside had given their best attention to the consideration of the subject; first, with regard to any amendment that it was desirable to introduce into the standing orders on railroads which were especially referred to them, and afterwards in consequence of suggestions made to them on the standing orders generally. In the course of their investigation into the subject, the reference of a petition for a Bill to a Committee naturally came before them, and it appeared that the present, practice was one which the Committee could not recommend the continuance of. It appeared, that in a petition of that description there was very little for serious consideration, the parties being heard on one side, the matter in cases of difficulty and doubt being sent to the Standing Orders' Committee. They, therefore, suggested to the House the propriety of altering that tribunal, and referring such petitions to a Committee of a different description. They proposed for this purpose to constitute, at the beginning of the Session, a Committee, consisting of forty-two Members, to be divided into six sub-Committees, having power to act each as a separate Committee, under such regulations as should be approved of by the Committee annually when first instituted. The facts of the case would be investigated by that Committee, or by each of the sub-Committees, so as to ascertain if the standing orders had been complied with, and he entertained little doubt that the business would be got through speedily, and with infinitely more care and attention than the present system admitted of. He then proposed, that the Committee should take cognizance of facts, and that upon the facts as reported to the House, the Standing Order Committee, which they proposed to diminish in number to fifteen, and which would of course consist of Members that would not serve on the other Committees, would give their decision, which would be an equitable one, as to the Bill going on or not. There would be a tribunal before which the facts would be proved—there would be a tribunal which would decide on these facts, and administer an equitable jurisdiction with reference to the facts thus proved. These were the principal alterations—there were other alterations, which would be read from the chair, on which he did not think it necessary to make any remark, as they would be explained hereafter. He then came to the resolutions relating to the standing orders on the railways themselves. A great number of the alterations proposed were rendered necessary in consequence of no standing orders being applicable to railways before; but having been placed generally under standing orders of canals and navigation. There was another change that deserved to be noticed—namely, the recommendation of the Committee with regard to a change of time for giving notices. They proposed, that the time for the deposit of maps, charts, and plans, should be changed from the 30th of November to the 1st of March; this would have the effect of throwing back Bills for six months, or one Session of Parliament; but they did not propose to apply that rule to any Bill that might be brought forward during the next Session. The Committee had drawn up two sets of resolutions—one referring to the next Session, and the other to Bills to be brought in afterwards. Into the first of these series they had introduced all the amendments they had considered necessary, with the exception of the change of time to which he had already alluded; and he should hope that no objection would be made by the House to the adoption of that change. The Committee had paid great attention to the subject, and after the most mature consideration, they had come to the resolution, that the proposed change was most necessary and advisable. Greater opportunity would thereby be afforded to parties along the line to make themselves acquainted with the proposed line, and the way in which it would affect them, and to admit of more consideration in every respect. In subsequent resolutions the Committee had modified the plan, the effect of which would be, that the promoters of Bills would have from five to six months afforded them to prepare their maps and plans, and not to get them up in the hasty and incorrect, manner as here- tofore, and all those interested would have ample opportunity to confer, and to decide on the best and most approved line. But still more important advantage would be gained, as the parties applying for Bills would be obliged to put in their plans by the 1st of March, and those plans would be open to the inspection of Committees sitting on any other Bills. Great difficulty had arisen from the resolution regarding competing lines, for parties were found who hastily got up projects without plans, which they submitted as competing lines, and thus considerable delay took place, while the bonâ fide projectors were subjected to unnecessary expense. These were the principal reasons which had induced the Committee to recommend these alterations. There was one other alteration which he would mention—they now proposed that parochial plans and sections should be lodged in the hands of parish clerks in England, and parish schoolmasters in Scotland—that would be an arrangement which would be easily complied with by parties, and it would be a very great advantage to small proprietors, who were unable, without serious inconvenience, to travel to the offices of the Clerks of the Peace. He did not intend to enter into the details of the resolutions, but he thought it necessary to say so much of the changes contemplated by them. He would only add, that it appeared to the Committee, that it was necessary to come to some understanding with the other House of Parliament; and he was happy to say that the resolutions, though there had not been, and could not be any, official communication between the Committees of the two Houses, were likely to meet with the concurrence of the other House; so that, if no obstacle interfered, the practice of the two Houses would be assimilated at the same time, which would be of great advantage. In submitting these resolutions to consideration, he must observe, that they did not emanate from one side of the House, but came generally from hon. Gentlemen well acquainted with the private business of the House, who had bestowed much attention on the subject, and whom he then saw opposite, and ready to assist him in any explanation that might be required.

Resolutions read seriatim.

On the Second Resolution, "That a Select Committee, consisting of forty-two Members (not being members of the Select Committee on Standing Orders), shall be appointed at the commencement of every Session, to which shall be referred all petitions for private bills, except those for Bills to continue or amend any Act for making, maintaining, keeping in repair, or improving any turnpike-road."

Mr. Wilks

said, he feared that the alteration proposed by his Majesty's Ministers would not be of any great practical use. The House might think they were doing a great deal, when in fact they were doing little or nothing. Nothing was more unsatisfactory than the manner in which the private business of the House was conducted. The appointment of a new Select Committee of forty-two Members would be a serious injury, instead of a great good; it would lead to the increase of litigation, and a new system of expending the money of persons who make applications for Bills. Such things, in his opinion, were to be deprecated. They wanted something similar to that which existed in the House of Lords, to which every Bill might be referred—namely, a competent legal authority and legal officers. He did not think that the present plan would meet the substantial evils of which the country complained, and of which the House and every individual Member of it had a right to complain.

Sir James Graham

said, that the hon. Member who had just sat down had introduced various topics which were not at all connected with the question before the House. He was decidedly of opinion it was worth while to try the experiment proposed. The only doubt he entertained was whether forty Members would undertake the business; but he believed there would be no difficulty about that. The resolutions had been framed for the protection of public as well as private interests, and under these circumstances he hoped the House would agree to them.

Mr. John Parker

alluded to the great additional expense which was entailed upon the parties having Bills before committees by the length of time which counsel was allowed to occupy. He hoped the right hon. Baronet would turn his attention to that part of the subject.

Mr. Aglionby

thought, after the very clear and business-like observation they had heard, no one could doubt the eligibility of the plan. The hon. Member for Boston mistook the matter very much if he supposed that the difficulties which Bills had to encounter before the Standing Orders Committee were not of a very serious nature. He, in the course of his experience on Committees, had found that (he greatest difficulties always arose from the standing orders. As to the impracticability of procuring forty-two Members able and willing to perform the duties required of them, he had gone through the list a short time since, and had made out, to his surprise, from both sides of the House, a list of no less than eighty-six Members, unexceptionable in every respect, and he did not think there would be much difficulty in reducing that number to forty-two.

Captain Pechell

cordially approved of the resolutions brought forward by the Committee. Great dissatisfaction had been created throughout the country by the system hitherto pursued in Railway Committees. He could bear witness to that point from his experience on the Brighton Railway Committee, on which he sat for fifty-four days.

Resolution, agreed to as were the whole of the other resolutions.

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