HC Deb 06 February 1843 vol 66 cc209-13
Mr. Ewart

was very desirous to improve the constitution of committees on private bills, by prohibiting the attendance on them, as Members, of any Member of the House who was interested for or against any bill. He wished to assimilate the practice of that House to the practice which prevailed in the House of Lords, where it had been eminently successful. To attain these ends he begged leave to move the following resolutions:— 1. That it is expedient that committees on private bills should be approximated more nearly than they now are to judicial tribunals, and exempted as much as possible from all motives of local and personal interest; and that the responsibility and efficiency of committees of this House in general would be promoted by diminishing the number of Members composing them. 2. That, with a view of attaining these objects, the number of Members composing committees on opposad private bills be reduced to seven. 3. That such seven Members be appointed by the Committee of Selection, after the second reading of such bills; but that, previous to such appointment, the Committee of Selection do ascertain from each of such seven Members, that he is willing to serve, and that he is, neither through his constituents nor himself personally, interested for or against the bill in question; and that, in case he is unable to serve, or is interested as aforesaid, the Committee of Selection do appoint some other Member to serve in place of him. 4. That the Committee of Selection appoint no Member to serve on more than one such private bill committe at a time. 5. That the number of Members composing Select Committees be likewise reduced to seven; except on special cause shown to the satisfaction of the House for extending the number to more than seven. 6. That, previous to the naming of any such Select Committee, the Member who moves for its appointment shall communicate with the Committee of Selections; in order to avoid, as much as possible, the appointment of Members to serve on such select committee who may already be fully occupied by a private bill committee, or by other select committees.

Sir G. Clerk

could not give his assent to the resolutions proposed, because the amended system which was in practice in private committees during the last Session had worked very well, and had given pretty general satisfaction. No Member could now vote upon any bill in committee who had not attended and heard the whole of the evidence which was offered either in support of it or against it. The Committee of Selection now appointed three Members who were wholly unconnected with the locality to which the bill they were appointed to consider applied; they were, therefore, impartial judges, whose opinion had great weight. It was found very difficult, upon many occasions, to secure the attendance of three gentlemen who had no interest in or were wholly indifferent to the matter brought before them, and it would be still more difficult to secure the regular attendance of seven. Gentlemen would find it a heavy tax upon their time, and if these resolutions were adopted the consequence would be that many days would be lost and great expense incurred by necessary adjournments, consequent upon the absence of some of the gentlemen appointed, But he thought it was absolutely necessary that gentlemen locally connected with bills should be on the committees. Suppose that seven disinterested Members were appointed, and really did attend, and that the bill before them was that for making a railway; if it ran near a nobleman's or gentleman's mansion, or through his park, he had ample means at hand to employ counsel to protect his interests; but who was to protect the interests of the small proprietors? Who so well as the gentlemen who represented them in the House? Besides, the local knowledge which the Member had was often the means of explaining a point in five minutes, which counsel, who spoke only from their briefs, might have spent hours over, and left in the dark after all. Notwithstanding the many objections which had been started to the composition of private committees very few objectionable bills were passed, and they were generally bills which were unopposed. But, even with respect to them, a new system had been introduced by the hon. Member the late chairman of ways and means (Mr. Bernal), by which it was almost impossible that an objectionable bill, even unopposed, could be passed.

Dr. Bowring

said, that these resolutions seemed to him to be recommended by sound sense and an accurate estimate of what such a tribunal ought to be. The tribunal in question ought to approximate more nearly than it did at present to a court of law. This country prided herself on her judicial tribunals, where such evidence as ought to be received was admitted, whilst such as ought to be rejected was refused, and he saw no reason why Committees of this House on private bills should not be of the same nature. He also approved of the resolution which went to reduce the number of the Members of the Committee to seven. In his opinion the responsibility of the private bills Committee ought to be greatly increased, and he thought his hon. Friend took a very accurate view of this subject by endeavouring to throw on the shoulders of every individual in the Committee every possible responsibility; all that his hon. Friend proposed was, that with respect to Committees on private bills, they should introduce the same principle and recognize the same rules as had been for some time adopted, and, he might add, with so much convenience elsewhere.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

entertained an opinion decidedly adverse to the motion. The hon. and learned Member placed the question on a false ground, when he represented a private Committee as a body of a strictly judicial nature. He thought it entirely different. A private Committee was appointed to discharge legislative functions, and do, with respect to a private bill, what the House itself did in the case of a public bill, taking that course which the force of opinion and circumstances pointed out as expedient. A select Committee on a private bill stood in the same situation as a Committee of the whole House on a public bill, and discharged similar functions. A judicial tribunal was not the best fitted to decide on questions of expediency. If the representatives of places or districts affected by the bills were excluded Irom the Committees, all these questions and discussions now disposed of in the Committees would be introduced into the House itself, to the exclusion of more important business, and the undue consumption of the public time.

Mr. Bernal

must admit that he was not particularly enamoured of the motion now introduced, nor in love with the present mode of proceeding upon private bills. There were very great difficulties in the way, and, do what they might, the conflict of opinions to which the right hon. Gentleman had just adverted, and which he wished to avert from the time applied to public business, could not be prevented. If there were any thing like a public principle in any bill that was introduced, he defied them to get rid of that conflict of opinions; but he had long thought they should do something to radically change the present system, and he did not think it impossible to obtain one less objectionable. He considered that they should have some person in the capacity of a judge who should sit and preside over the tribunal before which opposed bills should be instituted, conducted, and finally settled, and, that there should be certain rules and regulations of conduct maturely considered and agreed to by the House by which that judge, be he whom he might, should guide the decisions of the Committee in conformity with them. When all the information was collected and decided on by that judge, who should consider whether the rules and regulations of the House had been properly followed or not, that should be transmitted with a report from the judge to the House, and then the House would have something solid and on which it could depend to place its own decision. It had often been said that a job might easily be effected by the present system of passing unopposed bills, and if any such job were in view it was only to present a petition. The bill was referred to the Committee as an opposed bill, and the job might then be effected. He much feared that his hon. Friend could not cure that defect; and, as he did not consider that the resolutions would effect any good object, he was not prepared to support them.

Mr. Hume

approved of the resolutions which would approximate the practice of the House of Commons to that of the House of Lords, and had been recommended by former Committees. Members connected with districts from which bills were pending were now placed in a most embarrassing situation, being equally pressed by both parties to support them. He could not conceive any two cases more exactly similar than the trial of a question of property before a jury, and the trial of such a question before a Committee of that House. All the improvements which had been made in election Committees had for their object to find individuals to serve on the Committees free from local influences and party feelings. The same arguments applied to the present case; and as to the difficulty of obtaining the services of Members, was it to be supposed that in the whole House five impartial and uninfluenced men could not be found to try a question affecting a particular section of the country.

Mr. Ewart

said, select Committees were to be considered as not legislative but judicial bodies, and the more impartial they were rendered the more of public confidence they would enjoy. Since this had been in some degree regarded in the election Committees they had been much more respected.

The House divided on the first resolution:—Ayes 27; Noes 84: Majority 57,

List of the AYES.
Aldam, W. Hawes, B.
Bowring, Dr. Lawson, A.
Brotherton, J. Mitcalf, H.
Crawford, W. S. Ogle, S. C. H.
Denniston, J. Ponsonby, hn. C.F. A
Duke, Sir J. Protheroe, E.
Duncan, G. Ross, D. R.
Elphinstone, H. Scott, R.
Forster, M. Stansfield, W. R. C.
Greene, T. Stanton, W. H.
Staunton, Sir G. T. Williams, W.
Strickland, Sir G. Wood, B.
Strutt, E. TELLERS.
Thornely, T. Ewart, W.
Wawn,J. T. Hume, J.
List of the NOES.
Acland, Sir T. D. Herbert, hon. S.
Acland, T. D. Hindley, C.
Acton, Col. Hodgson, R.
Allix, J. P. Hope, G. W.
Antrobus, E. Hussey, T.
Arkwright, G. Inglis, Sir R. H.
Baring, hon. W. B. Jermyn, Earl
Barnard, E. G. Knatchbull, rt. hn. SirE
Bentinck, Lord G. Lascelles, hon. W. S.
Blackstone, W. S. Lefroy, A.
Borthwick, P. Lennox, Lord A.
Botfield, B. Lincoln, Earl of
Broadwood, H. Lygon, hon. Gen.
Bruce, Lord E. Mackenzie, T.
Bruce, C. L. C. Mahon, Visct.
Buller, Sir J. Y. March, Earl of
Busfield,W. Masterman, J.
Chetwode, Sir J. Meynell, Capt.
Clerk, Sir G. Murphy, F. S.
Clive, Visct. Nicholl, rt. hon. J.
Colquhoun, J. C. Northland, Visct.
Colville, C. R. Packe, C. W.
Corry, rt. hon. H. Peel, rt. hon. Sir R.
Craig, W. G. Plumptre, J. P.
Cripps, W. Pollock, Sir F.
Divett, E. Praed, W. T.
Douglas, Sir C. E. Pringle, A.
Drummond, H. H. Rashleigh, W.
Duncombe, T. Richards, R.
Egerton, W. T. Rose, rt. hon. Sir G.
Eliot, Lord Smythe, hon. G.
Escott, B. Smollett, A.
Estcourt, T. G. B. Stanley, Lord
Fitzroy, Capt. Tennent, J. E.
Ffolliot, J. Trotter, J.
Forbes, W. Verner, Col.
Gaskell, J. Milnes Vivian, J. H.
Gladstone, rt. hn. W. E. Vivian, J. E.
Gordon, hon. Capt. Wodehouse E.
Goulburn, rt. hn. H. Young, J.
Graham, rt. hon. Sir J.
Hamilton, W. J. TELLERS.
Hardinge, rt. hn. SirH. Fremantle, Sir T.
Hastie, A. Sutton, hon. H. M.

Resolutions rejected.

House adjourned.