HC Deb 08 March 1844 vol 73 cc720-6
Mr. Hindley

rose to move, That any Member whose constituents are locally interested in any competing lines of railway, may be permitted to sit upon the Committee appointed to decide upon their respective merits, though without being allowed to Vote upon any question arising thereon, He considered that the Members of the House of Commons, by its late Resolutions, had given up the power of representing their constituents altogether. As long as private business was delegated to the House of Commons, every Member had a right to represent the local interests of his constituents. Personal interest, indeed, stood upon a different footing. Where a Member of the House had a personal interest in a particular line, he ought not to vote in the Committee upon it, because he might at least be suspected of being influenced by his own objects; and the result would be to weaken the effect of the decision. He had himself acted upon this principle when he held a number of shares in the Sheffield and Manchester Railway. On going down to the borough which he had the honour to represent, he found that there was a very considerable feeling in favour of another line. He himself then thought that the public interest would require both lines; and, in order that he might be an unprejudiced and unsuspected judge, he gave directions to his broker to sell his shares, and they were sold at a sacrifice of 1,000l. It was a fact that the shares fetched 800l. less than they would at the present day. Therefore, as to personal interests, he quite agreed in the propriety of the Resolution; but the local interests of constituents he regarded in a totally different light. To whom were the constituencies to look for the defence of their local interests, if not to the Gentlemen who were sent to represent them in that House? And were the Members of the House of Commons sunk so low in public estimation as to make it necessary to affirm that they had not sufficient sense of justice, or sufficient knowledge of what was due to themselves, to their constituents, and the country, to be enabled to give a fair and honest vote. He believed the fact to be, that many Members had not the moral courage, when there were two parties among their constituents, taking different views, to run the risk of offending one of them by declaring in favour of what they conceived to be most for the public interest. For his own part, he should never shrink from advocating what he believed to be for the public good, without reference to any party whatever. As the rule of the House stood originally, he asked, would any Member have been permitted by his constituents to absent himself from a Committee in which their interests were af- fected? If a Member said, "Gentlemen, I cannot vote for either of you;—both sides have great claims to attention, but I cannot favour either: I am interested for you;—I understand your case, no man better; but if I vote for either, every one will think I have been biassed, and, therefore I shell leave the matter to be disposed of by others who know nothing at all about it"—his constituents would have told him, that he was sent to that House to represent them, and that if he did not attend to their interests, the sooner he took himself away from the House of Commons the better. If, indeed, the duties of Members of that House were merely of a judicial character, he could understand that argument. If the interest of particular localities were to be decided by the learned Judges and twelve impartial Jurors, after hearing arguments of counsel well and good, but let not the House have any responsibility at all with respect to private business. Let all such business go to the Courts of Law, and then that House would be rid of a great deal of trouble. What was now done openly and publicly, would be liable, hereafter, to be done secretly. At present, if a Member took one side or the other, his whole conduct was before the eyes of his constituents, and if he acted unjustly, the public opinion of his constituents would punish him; but here were five Gentlemen—and who would tell him that some influence might not be used to impress them with a particular view, by arguments which had nothing to do with the justice of the case, by party influence, or other such means? Who was to tell him that this sort of back stair influence might not prevail, and that an individual whose conduct was not before all, might not act in a way which he would not have dared to do when he was open to the judgment of public opinion? He thought the House was departing from a truly English principle by adopting these Resolutions. He liked the principle, that a man who adopted a particular course, should be responsible to public opinion with respect to that course. If his constituents did not approve of it, they had a remedy in their own hands at the next election, but here the Committee acted in private and were not under the check of public supervision. He thought there was in that House a love of property and a love for the defence of persons who had property, an esprit de corps, and that, therefore, those who were not represented in that House, the great body of the people, had but little chance of any of their interests being brought before a private Committee. He should not detain the House longer, but he urged them to pause before they went too far with these Resolutions. If Gentlemen would look at this proposition, they would see that it was not to rescind the proposition adopted on Monday evening. He did not go so far as that. He did not ask that Members, whose constituents were locally interested, should sit and vote in the Committee, but what he asked was, that those whose constituents were so interested, should not be deprived of the opportunity of sitting in the Committee, hearing the arguments that might be adduced, asking questions of the witnesses, and then leaving it to the five impartial Gentlemen chosen by the Committee of Selection to decide how far those arguments possessed any real weight. He thought that this was due to the constituency—he trusted it would be allowed, and without further detaining the House, he moved the Resolution which he had put into the Speaker's hand.

Mr. Gladstone

said, that having on the part of the Railway Committee moved a series of Resolutions on the subject to which this matter related, he must beg to say a very few words with respect to the Motion before the House. The hon. Gentleman had taken a good deal of credit to himself for not proposing on Friday a vote which should rescind the Resolutions agreed to on the previous Monday evening, notwithstanding that those Resolutions had been passed under every advantage which any discussion could possess, except, singly, the presence of the hon. Gentleman. With regard to the present Resolution he must observe that in the first place it was entirely superfluous, and in the second place would be extremely inconvenient. His belief was, that the hon. Gentleman was entirely mistaken in the impression that there was anything in the Resolutions which would deprive constituencies of the benefit of the presence and services of their representatives. He believed there was nothing in them to prevent any Member whose constituents were locally interested from using the privilege which, as a Member of that House, he possessed, and appearing in the Committee, and making any statement he might choose—not, indeed, being recognised as a Member of the Committee, and in fact appearing in no other capacity than that of a Member of Parliament; but the powers which he possessed as a Member of Parliament would be amply sufficient for any useful purpose, and would enable him to represent any claim on the part of his constituents. As such was the case, he thought great inconvenience would result from investing Members of that House, who were not Members of the Committee, with a recognised authority to appear as advocates or nominees sitting in the Committee, and possessing every authority except that of voting, but taking part in the discussions equally with the Members of the Committee. He thought to adopt such an arrangement, while it was totally unnecessary as aiming at supplying a defect which did not exist, would be exceedingly mischievous, because it would impair the authority which belonged to the Committee, and would constitute a number of Members of the Committee, who would be swayed by different interests, and must render the tribunal less competent to conduct the proceedings in such a manner as would be conducive to the interests of the public; and, therefore, as well as because it was utterly unnecessary, he trusted the House would have no hesitation in negativing the motion.

Mr. W. Patten

was extremely glad to hear what had fallen from his right hon. Friend. There had been a great difference in Committee as to whether Members were to be allowed to attend and represent the interests of their constituents. He thought that if it had been known, at the time when the measure was introduced, that Members would have the power of stating the case of their constituents, who were not able to appear by Counsel, many who supported the measure would have voted against it on that express ground.

Mr. Labouchere

agreed in substance with what had been stated by the President of the Board of Trade. He was aware that any Member had the right to be present at a Committee, but he was not aware that he had a right to address the Committee. He spoke under correction, when he said so, but his impression was, that a Member had no right to address a Committee unless he was a Member of it. Whether it were so or not, he would vote against his hon. Friend the Member for Ashton, who had brought forward his Motion against a Resolution carried upon the other side by a large majority. The effect of the Motion would only be to protract the proceedings and increase the difficulties of those coming before the Committee. On the point which he had raised he trusted that the Speaker would state what was the law and practice of Parliament.

Mr. Gladstone

said, he had not meant to state that any Member had an absolute right to address the Committee; all he had meant to say was, that, practically, no objection was felt to the making of a statement.

The Speaker

wished to observe, in reply to the question of the right hon. Gentleman, that no Member who was not a Member of the Committee had any right to interfere with the proceedings. He had no right to examine witnesses, though he might he present in the room.

Dr. Bowring

had received several communications, stating that out of doors great satisfaction was felt at the adoption of the Resolutions, and a desire was expressed by many that the same principle should be established, not only with respect to Railroads but on every Private Bill.

Mr. H. Hinde

thought that, as the House had decided by the former Resolutions not to admit the representation of Local Interests, they would not be disposed to adopt the very imperfect remedy proposed by the hon. Gentleman opposite. He wished to put a question to the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade on this subject. He understood it had been stated that it was not the intention of the Committee to whom it had been referred to decide what were competing lines, to report the evidence taken by them to the House. He wished to know whether there would be any objection to communicate that evidenee?

Mr. Hindley

observed that if any measure affecting the interests of his constituents were referred to a Select Committee, he should apply to that Committee, as matter of courtesy, to receive his suggestions.

Mr. Hawes

thought it ought to be clearly understood what was the law and practice on this point. If he were a Member of the Committee, and any Member of the House who was not on the Committee endeavoured to influence the proceedings, he should exercise what he considered to be his undoubted privi- lege, and request the Gentleman to abstain.

The Speaker

begged to repeat that no Member who was not a Member of the Committee had any right whatever to attend for the purpose of addressing the Committee, or of putting questions to the witnesses, or interfering in any way whatever in the proceedings.

Motion withdrawn.

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