HC Deb 17 April 1839 vol 47 cc161-6
Mr. Pryme

begged to call the attention of the House to an occurrence which had taken place in the early part of the day in the Committee of the London and Blackwall Railway. The Committee met that morning at the appointed hour, and the Members present proceeded to sign the declaration prescribed by the House, and they then proceeded to elect a chairman, when he (Mr. Pryme) was unanimously chosen. After he had taken the chair other Members, seven in number, entered the committee-room. Under those circumstances, a doubt had originated whether those Members who had come into the room after the chair had been taken could competently take any part in the proceedings. A discussion of considerable length arose, and a motion was made that those Members who had come in after the chair had been taken should be allowed to vote on signing the declaration. The question was put, that the Committee do proceed to business. The Committee divided:—ayes 7; noes 8. Under those circumstances, the question had been reserved for the consideration of this House, as it was a matter of importance, and another case of a similar nature had occurred to-day in the Committee on the North of England Railway Bill. He now begged to ask the opinion of the House: 1st, Whether on committees on private bills it was enough for Members to enter the room after the chair had been taken, and then proceed to sign the declaration; and, 2d, Whether the right of voting in such cases would be confined to those Members who had signed the declaration before the chair had been taken.

Mr. Warburton

thought, that the further consideration of the question should he adjourned till to-morrow. He considered, that the signing of the declaration must be considered as the first act of the Committee.

Mr. T. Duncombe

said, that as one of the Members who had entered the Committee-room after disfranchisement, he hoped that he would be allowed to state the circumstances to the House, so far as he was able to understand them, and for that purpose he would refer to the minutes of the proceedings of the Committee. The case had been fairly stated by the hon. Member for Cambridge with this exception, that be had not correctly explained the manner in which the Committee came to a vote. The minutes bore, that after the appointment of the chairman, a doubt had been raised as to the right of Members who had come in after such appointment. The room was cleared, and a motion was made, that it was the opinion of the Committee that Members who had entered after the chairman was appointed, but before business had commenced, should be entitled to vote on signing the prescribed declaration. It was then that he (Mr. Duncombe) raised the doubt as to the right of the Committee to decide the question of qualification or disqualification; and, in order to get rid of the difficulty, he moved the previous question, that the Committee do proceed to business; on which an amendment was ultimately put by the chairman, that the words proposed to be left out stand part of the question. The Committee divided—ayes 7, noes 8. The chairman declared, that the noes had no right to vote; so that the true state of the vote was, ayes 7, noes 1. If the chairman of the Committee was right in that decision, it was clear that the seven disfranchised Members could take no part in the subsequent proceedings of the Committee. He could not acquiesce in the opinions which had been given by the chairman of the Committee. The question was one of importance for the House to consider, for he understood that a similar case had occurred that day in the Committee on the Great North of England Railway Bill, in which Committee two Members who had entered after the chairman had been elected were allowed to vote.

Sir De Lacy Evans

thought, that they ought to consider this matter well before coming to a decision. At about a quarter of an hour before twelve o'clock eight Members only were present. Eleven Members, it appeared, had voted on the appointment of the chairman, and the result was, that the whole matter bad been settled in a few minutes. He, therefore, was of opinion, that the House should consider well before a rigid construction of the rule sought to be applied should be adopted. The result would be, that five or six individual Members favourable to one party, by punctual attendance the first day and hour appointed for a committee to meet, might thus secure preponderance, and exclude all others.

Mr. Pease

thought, they ought not to draw the cord too tight. If the rule were applied with strict rigidity, it would be attended with very inconvenient results.

Mr. Estcourt,

as a Member of the Committee of selection, said, that, in his opinion, the declaration and memorandum which the House had directed to be subscribed by Members were clear and explicit. The declaration was, that the Member was willing "to serve throughout the proceedings of the Committee on such bill, and that he will never vote on any question which may arise without having duly heard and attended to the evidence relating thereto;" and the memorandum stated, that "the declaration, signed as aforesaid, must be delivered to the clerk of the Committee on the bill so soon as the Committee shall have met, and before they shall have appointed their chairman, otherwise the Member signing the same shall not be entitled to vote." He thought it thus plain, that no hon. Member who had not signed the declaration previous to the election of the chairman could take part in the proceedings of the Committee. It had been said, that the rule was stringent, and that they should not draw the cord too tight. What was the object in framing the rule? Was it not owing to the notoriety which prevailed, that Members were in the habit of coming down to vote on private bills on particular occasions without having heard the evidence. An objection had been raised, that by the strict adoption of the rule a few hon. Members, by prompt attendance, might secure an undue influence in committees, by immediately signing the declaration, and then appointing their chairman; but when it was remembered, that hon. Members could sign the declaration any time before the time appointed for the meeting of the Committee, by calling at the Private bill Office for that purpose, the House would perceive, that there was really nothing in that objection.

Mr. Hawes

said, that the question was one of importance to him, and he would be too glad if the House should decide that he was excluded. He held it to be perfectly clear, that if the memorandum was equally authentic with the declaration, that he and the other Members who entered the room after the chairman was appointed, were, in that case, disqualified from taking any share in the proceedings of the Committee. But the memorandum was not, in his opinion, equally binding on the House; and, as regarded the provisions of the declaration, he was certain, that all the Members who were interested in this question would have complied with its provisions, by making themselves thoroughly acquainted with the evidence.

Sir J. Graham

said, that he thought it was fortunate that the same difficulty should hove so soon arisen in two committees. He was satisfied that, with a view to the good working of this measure, the House should come to some explicit understanding and fixed rules respecting it. His idea of the matter was this: the House had delegated to the Committee of selection the power of framing regulations, to be binding on all the members of private committees, subject to this principle, that they should enter into an engagement to attend throughout the proceedings. Now, the construction put upon those words, "throughout the proceedings," by the Committee of selection, was a construction which he, upon the whole, was prepared to contend for—namely, that it meant that Members should be present at the election of the chairman. It was important that rules upon the subject should be fixed, and then rigidly enforced. If not, they would only be incurring all the embarrassments of the new, and all the abuses of the old, system. The objection of the hon. Member for Westminster, that it would be unjust to disqualify those Members who should happen to arrive five minutes after the appointed time, and find that the chairman had been elected, might be valid if it were only possible to sign the declaration upon that occasion. But the House was aware, that two days' notice should be given before the meeting of the Committee, during which time every facility was afforded for signing the declaration. With regard to the future, he had no doubt whatever, that the Committee of selection should enforce the rule that no Member could attend or vote who should not have signed the declaration, and been present at the election of chairman. But to give that rule a retrospective operation, so as to affect the two cases that had already been mentioned, would not, in his opinion, be just. He suggested, therefore, that the rule should be laid down and rigidly enforced, but without any retrospective tendency.

Lord John Russell

said, he thought the declaration should be made previously to any act of the Committee, but the rule ought not to be so rigidly enforced as to disqualify Members who might come in two or three minutes after the commencement of the proceedings. He thought that the Members who had attended this morning should be allowed to act.

Mr. Shaw Lefevre

said, the question was one of some importance, and he hoped it would be decided by the House. In the Committee on the London and Southampton Railway the Members who had not voted for the election of Chairman were allowed to vote, and he thought that precedent ought to be adopted.

Mr. Pryme

moved, that under the special circumstances of the cases, those Members of the committees on the Commercial (London and Blackwall) Railway Bill, and on the Great North of England Railway Bill, who signed the declaration as appointed by the Committee of Selection after the chair was taken, but before any other business had commenced, be authorized to attend and vote in the said committees respectively.

Sir R. Peel

thought words ought to be introduced showing that the present arrangement was but an exception.

Question carried.

Back to