HC Deb 26 April 1839 vol 47 cc569-72
Sir George Sinclair

begged to call the attention of the house to an occurrence of some importance and difficulty which had happened that day in Committee on the Manchester and Leeds Railway Bill. Several Members, to whom the bill had been originally committed, finding it impossible to attend, the committee of selection had requested the attendance, and sent the usual notices to other Members to supply their places. The Committee had accordingly assembled that day at twelve, and waited an hour for the presence of those Members who had received notice from the Committee of Selection, but only two of them appeared; and as three of these Members were required to form a quorum, the Committee were in great doubt what course to follow. Under those circumstances, they had deemed it best to choose a temporary chairman, and to make a special report of the case to the House. The hon. Baronet brought up the report, to which he referred for the further information of the House. He must add, however, that the matter had been productive of great inconvenience and expense to the parties, who had counsel, agents, and numerous witnesses in the room, from a great distance, in attendance, and who would necessarily be detained for some time longer in London by the unexpected absence of the Members who had not attended the summons of the Committee of Selection. He trusted that the orders and regulations which had been framed for procuring the attendance of Members in such cases, were not to be considered decidedly as a "final measure," but that they were open to such alterations as the House might deem requisite to meet the emergency, and avoid the occurrence of such inconvenience in future.

Lord G. Somerset

thought, that if hon. Members who had received notice to attend by the Committee of Selection, did not signify their assent, their presence could not be calculated upon; but, if they did give their assent, all parties certainly had a strong cause of complaint in their non-attendance. He thought the attendance of Members so selected should be made compulsory; but wished to learn from the chairman of the Committee of selection, in what manner notice was sent to Members that had been selected to serve on any committee.

Mr. Estcourt

said, that the Gentlemen selected on the present occasion, had been chosen for the same purpose, and in the same manner, as was usual in the practice of the House. A letter was sent to each Member, communicating that he had been selected to serve, and announcing the hour at which the Committee was to meet. On the present occasion, no answer had been sent by any of the Members to whom those letters had been forwarded, with one exception, by whom a reply had been sent last night, that he could not attend. He regretted that course, because had that hon. Member been present, the Committee could have been regularly constituted.

Mr. Wilson Patten

was of opinion, that the plan of intimation to selected Members was defective. He thought the clerk, in sending the intimations, should ask specially whether Members would or would not attend; and, if they did not get an affirmative answer, then others would be selected. In this instance, fifty or sixty witnesses were in attendance, who would be detained till next week at great expense to the parties.

Mr. Lefevre

suggested, that in the letters of intimation a memorandum should be subjoined, that parties would be exposed to expense, and requesting Members to send a special answer whether they could attend.

Sir George Strickland

said, that the matter did not appear to he of so much importance; there were eighteen Members present, but only two selected, while three were required out of the five who received notices. He thought one great reason of the difficulty which had occurred was owing to this, that the notices were only signed by the clerk of the Committee; whereas, on other occasions, hon. Members were particularly reminded, canvassed, and solicited to attend by the agents for parties on the various bills in progress through the House.

Mr. C. Wood,

as one of the parties who had attended the Committee, wished to make one or two observations. He thought it quite plain, that no benefit could arise, unless the attendance of all selected Members was enforced. He thought Members should be made aware of the inconvenience and expense that parties incurred by their irregular attendance. He approved of the suggestion, that they should he required to give special answers, and that they should not only be served with the general circular, but a special invitation of attendance; so that, by the nature of their answers, the Committee might judge whether it would be proper to choose others. He wished to ask a question which was of very great importance to the parties. Was the irregularity of the proceedings fatal to the Committee on the bill? or would it revive again so as to be enabled to sit again on Monday without further notice?

Lord G. Somerset

said, that the Committee could not sit again without special notice, and he would therefore move, that the Committee on the bill have leave to sit again on Monday next, as if nothing had happened, so soon as the question connected with the report was disposed of. He certainly thought that some more specific notice should be sent to the selected Members, and that their attendance should be compulsory, unless they could state satisfactory reasons for absence.

Mr. M. Philips

said, that a similar instance occurred in a committee a few days since, where four Members conceiving that the committee were only to meet and adjourn, had not thought necessary to attend. They offered themselves at the next meeting; but they were excluded, in consequence of not having been present to sign the declaration when the chairman was appointed. It was necessary that some definite rule should be laid down to avoid these occurrences in future.

Report laid on the Table; the Committee on the bill to sit and proceed with business on the following Monday.

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