HC Deb 16 May 1843 vol 69 cc427-8
The Speaker

I wish to call the attention of the House to the circumstances attending their proceedings on the " Schoolmasters' Widows' Fund (Scotland) Bill," which passed the Commons on the 25th of April last. It was returned by the Lords, with amendments, on the 2d of May. These amendments were submitted to me, and were perfectly unobjectionable. It appears from an entry in the minutes of proceedings of the House of Lords of the 5th of May, that this bill was returned from the Commons on that day, with the amendments agreed to; but there is no record in the votes of the House of their ever having been considered; and upon an examination of the bill, it appears that it has not been signed by the clerk in the usual manner, which certifies that the amendments have been agreed to. It must, therefore, have been inadvertently and by mistake taken up to the Lords, and afterwards placed in the commission, as it received the Royal Assent on the 9lh of May. In 1829 a case occurred of a somewhat similar character. A bill, entitled, " An act to amend the law relating to the employment of children in cotton mills and factories," passed the House of Commons. The Lords made certain amendments, but did not send back the bill, and it was by mistake placed in the commission. The House of Commons, on being informed of this circumstance by the Speaker, appointed a committee to search the Lords' journals, and afterwards demanded a conference with the Lords upon the subject. The House, being satisfied with the explanation given of the transaction by the House of Lords, agreed to the amendments, and passed a bill to render valid and effectual the act which had passed by mistake. This is a matter of such deep importance that it is scarcely necessary for me to recommend it to the earnest attention of the House. The bill is either become the law of the land, or another bill will be necessary, in case this House should think fit to agree to the Lords' amendments to render it valid; and in any case it will be necessary for this House to take such steps as will prevent a recurrence of similar mistakes, by which not only the privileges of this House, but the law of Parliament, might be seriously affected.

Sir R. Peel

I think it will be the unanimous opinion of the House that this circumstance should not be permitted to pass over without some notice. Here is a bill, with respect to which, some amendments have been made by the House of Lords' and with respect to which a final opinion has not been pronounced by this House. It has been inserted in a commission, and may now have the effect of a law. The amendments introduced may not be of much importance, but still I think it would be a dangerous precedent, if you should permit amendments to have the force of law, to which we have not given our assent, without an express record of all the circumstances under which the transaction took place. I should therefore, propose a select committee to inquire into the circumstances under which the Schoolmasters' Widows' Fund (Scotland) Bill was returned to the House of Lords and received the Royal assent, the amendments which the bill had received not having been agreed to by the House of Commons.

Motion agreed to. Committee appointed.