HC Deb 07 July 1845 vol 82 cc74-83
Sir R. Peel

said: Sir, perhaps it may be the most convenient course if, in moving the Order of the Day, I fulfil the promise which I have made, to state with respect to those legislative measures which are of the greatest importance the course which Her Majesty's Government proposes to pursue, seeing the very advanced period of the Session, and the great mass of public business yet to be discharged. Before I allude to the Bills under the consideration of the House, or likely to come from the House of Lords, I will answer a question put to me a few days since in respect to those measures connected with railway legislation which have immediate relation to the Board of Trade. It will be recollected, the Government promised that, availing ourselves of the experience of Committees on Railways in the course of the Session, we would maturely consider the relation in which that department stands to railways, and that if we had any modifications to suggest either in the constitution of the Board, or in the nature of the functions it has to perform, we would indicate them at a sufficiently early period to enable the House to adopt any proceedings that might be thought necessary. In the course of the present week, therefore, either I or my right hon. Friend the Vice President of the Board of Trade, will lay on the Table of the House a Minute of the Board of Trade, stating the alterations that we think desirable to have made in the functions that were last year suggested it should undertake with respect to Railway Bills. I believe the general purport of the Minute will be to continue the Board as the guardian of the public interests, giving it a power to report whether any particular project does affect these peculiar interests or not; but at the same time to relieve it from the task of deciding on the relative merits of competing lines. It is proposed that the several projects shall still be laid before the Board of Trade, and that Reports shall be continued to be laid before Parliament by the Board with respect to the merits of those projects as far as they affect the public interests, but without reference to the merits of the different competing plans. That, I believe, is the nature of the regulation suggested; and it is intended that a Minute of it shall be laid on the Table of the House in the course of this week. As I am speaking on the subject of railway legislation, I may as well refer to the Address to the Crown which has been agreed to on the Motion of the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Cobden), praying for the appointment of a Commission to inquire into the relative merits of the broad and narrow gauge. I wish to inform the House that three Commissioners have been appointed to report whether the broad or the narrow gauge has the higher merit; and they are gentlemen whose character will, I think, satisfy the House that the matter will be fully considered. They are—Sir Frederick Smith, Professor Barlow, and Professor Airey. I believe it would be hard to suggest the names of any three gentlemen which would be received with greater respect, or whose professional acquirements are calculated to give greater satisfaction. Having said this much, I will now proceed to state the course which we propose to pursue, subject to the approbation of the House, with regard to the measures now under the consideration of this House, or which will be submitted to its consideration in consequence of proceedings in another branch of the Legislature. I regret to find, on a view of these measures, several of those which yet remain to be discharged, and that must or ought to be discharged, are very important. Still, though the quantity of business to be got through is very great, I think it will be of advantage if I make a positive announcement on the part of the Government of the course which we intend to pursue respecting the measures which we feel it to be our duty to press on the consideration of the House. The entire number of Bills amounts I believe, to not less than between fifty and sixty. Of these a great number, though important to the public interests, are not, I believe, of so pressing a nature that their postponement will lead to any great public inconvenience. It is hardly necessary that I should go into details respecting the whole of these Bills; and I will, therefore, confine myself to those which are of public importance, or likely to lead to much discussion. In the first instance, we propose to proceed with the Irish Colleges Bill. That Bill has yet to undergo consideration in the House of Lords, and it is of great importance that it should be sent to that House at as early a period as possible. We propose, therefore, as far as possible, to give precedence to that Bill, and to conclude the discussion upon it before we take up any other measure. In consequence of the discussions which have already taken place on this Bill, it will not be necessary, most probably, to delay the progress of the Bill in its later stages as long as would otherwise be necessary. It stands first after the Privilege Question on this evening; and after it passes through Committee, which I hope will be on this evening, the House will then have to deal with the Motion for which the hon. Member for Wycombe (Captain Bernal) has an Amendment to the Report being received. The hon. Member was induced to postpone that Motion at the instance of my right hon. Friend (Sir J. Graham); and if the hon. Member still determines on proceeding with it on the bringing up of the Report, I shall feel it my duty, after his compliance with the request of my right hon. Friend, to give him an opportunity of doing so either then, or on the third reading of the Bill. It is for him and the House to decide, and I shall certainly feel myself called upon to accede to whatever course he wishes to adopt. If the hon. Member wishes to bring on his Motion at the first stage, I should wish to fix the bringing up of the Report for Thursday next, and the third reading for the following day. If the hon. Gentleman, however, consents to make his Motion on the third reading of the Bill, the House will probably consent to receive the Report either to-morrow or the next day, and take the third reading on Thursday. Another Bill, which I believe to be of the greatest importance, and the general principle of which has been favourably received by the House, is one relating to Scotland, and in which I do not anticipate any very protracted discussion, or any very great difficulty in passing it through the House—I mean the Poor-law Amendment Scotland Bill. Another Bill which I would wish to proceed with, and which I have been reluctantly obliged to postpone for a long time, in consequence of the discussions which have taken place on the subject of the Maynooth Bill and the Irish Colleges Bill, is the Bill for removing certain disabilities under which the Jews suffer. I would wish to fix the second reading of that Bill at an early period. There are many other Bills which must be brought under discussion, in consequence of being continuing Bills. It may be said that it was the duty of Her Majesty's Government to bring these Bills on before; but we found that to be impossible, in consequence of the time taken up with other matters. I do not complain of the discussions that have taken place on various questions; but I only refer to them as a proof that we had no opportunity of bringing forward much public business at an earlier period. Among the Bills to which I allude, and which must be continued, is the Bills of Exchange Bill, which continues the modifications of the usury laws. There are also other Bills, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department has charge of, and which are continuous Bills. For instance, there is a Bill to continue the Act which will expire at the end of the present year, relating to the rating of stock. There is also the Turnpike Trusts Bill, and the Bill for providing for the removal of Irish and Scotch poor. This Bill will be the more necessary if ray right hon. Friend (Sir James Graham) does, as he proposes, with regard to another measure, namely, relinquish for the present Session the hope of passing the Parochial Settlement Bill into a law. In addition to the Bills which I have mentioned, there are several Bills connected with Ireland, with respect to which I believe no very material differences are likely to arise. These are the Valuation Bill, the Criminal Lunatics Bill, the Bill which is called the Constables Public Works Bill, the Drainage of Land Bill, and the Joint Stock Company's Bill, which is intended to extend to Ireland the same regulations which were applied to England by the Bill of last Session. There is also, I think, a Fisheries Bill, which is likewise intended to be forwarded. In addition to this mass of business to be got through in the course of the present Session, there still remain not less than eighty Votes of Supply. There are also four Notices of Motion given by hon. Members for the first occasion of the House going into Supply. I trust, there- fore, that on account of the advanced period of the Session, and the mass of business necessary to be gone through, that hon. Gentlemen will be induced to wave their Motions, and thus to give us facilities for getting through with the Votes of Supply. This will be the more necessary, as some days will elapse, after disposing of the Irish Colleges Bill, before the House can go into Committee of Supply. This day week will, I apprehend, be the very earliest day on which we can expect to get into Committee of Supply. Under these circumstances, we have thought it best to make up our minds to relinquish the following Bills. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department wishes to have an opportunity of reprinting the Bill for regulating the practice of Physic and Surgery. My right hon. Friend had flattered himself that this Bill was so far advanced that an agreement would take place between the parties interested, and that possibly a general assent would be given to the measure. If he be justified in taking this view of the question, and if, after the Bill is reprinted, it is likely to be agreed to, and that there is a probability of the House being relieved from the question next Session, then he trusts to be able to pass it; but if any very decided opposition be apparent, after it is reprinted, rather than consume the time of the House in discussions, my right hon. Friend, after reprinting the Bill with the modifications, which I believe are not great, will not press it against the decided sense of any considerable number of the Members of the House. He means also to relinquish the Justices' Clerks and Clerks of the Peace Bill; and, as I said before, the Parochial Settlement Bill. I omitted to state that there is expected from the Lords some Bill of considerable importance—one relative to the Slave Trade, which is now under consideration in that House, and has passed the second reading. Another measure, brought forward by the Board of Trade, or the Board of Admiralty, will also be persevered in. I allude to the Merchant Seamen's Bill, which I think we may fairly hope to to pass into a law. There is another Bill, called the Merchant Seamen's Fund Bill, which we propose to postpone. If it meet with the general concurrence of the House, we shall take the course that I have now mentioned. There are several other Bills for which Her Majesty's Government are not responsible; but I confine myself to the chief. I need not advert to those in charge of private Members. I have here a list of, I believe, seventeen, which are under the charge of individual Members of Parliament, such as the Coal Trade Bill, and others; and these I cannot be expected to give any opinion upon. With respect to the Charitable Trusts Bill, I believe it to be a Bill of very great importance. Her Majesty's Government, after full consideration, approved of the principle of that Bill; but still I am justified in stating that it has been brought under the consideration of Parliament at so late a period of the Session, that I scarcely think it can be persevered in with any probability of success in this Session. From the great number of persons interested in it, I think it would be sure to lead to a protracted discussion, and I think it will cause a good deal of local excitement and fruitless consumption of time if it be not dropped. With that Bill we do not therefore propose to persevere; and I will add, that the parties interested in it are entitled to a better opportunity of having their interests attended to than they could be at this period of the Session. I am not aware that there are any other measures which it is necessary for me to refer to. [An hon. Member: The Ecclesiastical Courts Bill.] That is a Bill of which the noble Lord opposite (Lord John Russell) has charge. As that Bill is founded on similar principles as the Bill which Her Majesty's Government brought in on a former occasion, I must say that I shall feel bound to vote for the second reading; but at the same time I cannot, on the part of Her Majesty's Government, pledge myself to any support of the details of the measure. If the noble Lord wishes to have an opportunity of taking the sense of the House on the second reading of the Bill, I certainly shall give my consent to the second reading; but at the same time I cannot promise any farther assistance in carrying it through the House farther than to affirm the principle of the Bill. If the noble Lord wishes me to enter into any other arrangement, on the part of Her Majesty's Government I must beg to decline. [Captain Berkeley: What of the Small Debts Bill?] I rather think that this is one of the Bills which we propose to proceed with. There are also Bills relating to the Geological Society, to the consolidation of land revenue, and other Bills which we will go on with. [Mr. Collett: The Commons' Enclosure Bill?] I will propose to assign a morning sitting to this Bill; and I do hope, after the general impression which exists of the Bill being favourable to the interests of the working classes of society, that it will be allowed to pass. There is another measure that I am anxious to have the concurrence of the House in favour of. We have recently made very important alterations in the Customs Acts, and I think that thirteen years have now elapsed since the consolidation of the Customs Laws. The consolidation of these laws has been found a great convenience to the merchants; and we are prepared to bring in a Bill on this subject, which I hope will be allowed to pass without difficulty. The Act will be found to be a great convenience to the mercantile body; and I hope it will be carried without any attempt to pass abstract Amendments, which would have the effect of substantially postponing the measure for another Session. If it meets with the unanimous concurrence of the House, I would wish to pass a Bill just to consolidate the law, and to do so in as brief a form as possible, and if even verbal changes were to be introduced, full notice should be given of it. [Mr. M. Bellew: The Lunacy Bills?] The Lunacy Bill stands on the Motion of my noble Friend for Thursday. [Mr. Shaw: What of the Irish Landlords and Tenants Bill?] That has not come down yet from the other House.

Lord John Russell

The Bill alluded to by the right hon. Baronet—the Ecclesiastical Courts Bill—is one of which I took charge, on finding that my right hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Sir George Grey), who was far better qualified to conduct it through the House than I am, was not able to do so. I thought the right hon. Baronet would have been enabled to say, with respect to that Bill, that there was a sufficient number of Government days on which it might go through the House, either for its acceptance or its rejection. If he had done so, I should be prepared to go on with it; but I do not conceive that any purpose would be answered by proceeding to the second reading of a Bill nearly similar to that which was introduced by Her Majesty's Government in 1843, and the second reading of which was affirmed. I should hope, however, that in the course of the next Session Her Majesty's Government will undertake to bring forward such a Bill; and certainly if they do not, either I or my right hon. Friend will undertake it, and in that case I should hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give it that support which I gave his Bill for regulating controverted elections. I am not prepared, under these circumstances, to carry the Bill farther on the present occasion. The right hon. Baronet appeared rather to think that those Members who have Amendments to propose, on the House going into Committee of Supply, would be willing to forego their right. I am sorry to say that I am not prepared to hold out any hope to the right hon. Baronet of his desires in this respect being likely to meet with much support; and I have farther to inform him that another question will probably be added to them, provided no other opportunity presents itself for bringing it forward. The question is one that naturally arises in consequence of the recent proceedings that have taken place with regard to the correspondence that has been published on the subject of Spanish colonial sugar between Her Majesty's Government and the Government of Spain. My noble Friend the Member for Tiverton (Lord Palmerston) intends to draw the attention of the House to this subject; and he will, I am sure, be willing to fix it in any manner that will best suit the convenience of the House both as to time and to the exact form in which he would make it. The subject is one which now occupies much public attention; and, as the correspondence has only recently been printed, the Motion is one that could not have been brought forward earlier. With regard to the selection of Bills that the right hon. Gentleman has made, I have only to state that I am glad to find that certain Bills have been given up; and for my part, so far from exhibiting the spirit that is usually shown towards the Government on such occasions, and of considering them much to blame because Bills introduced in February should be dropped in July, I freely admit that it is almost unavoidable when measures of great importance are brought forward in the early part of the Session, that other measures must be unavoidably kept back. In conclusion, the noble Lord asked the right hon. Baronet whether the Bill respecting the duty on coals would be persevered in or otherwise?

Sir R. Peel

said, the Bill was in the nature of a continuous Bill, and should therefore be brought on.

Captain B. Osborne

would not oppose the bringing up of the Report on the Irish Colleges Bill, if his Motion could be taken on the third reading. As he was on his legs, he would wish to ask the right hon. Baronet whether it were the intention of Her Majesty's Government, if the Landlords and Tenants Bill came down from the Lords, to carry it through that House this Session. He was the more anxious that a distinct answer should be given on this subject, because he believed the great majority of the Irish Members were waiting in town merely to know the course which was intended to be taken with regard to that Bill.

Sir R. Peel

said, the Bill had been referred to a Select Committee of the House of Lords, and until it came forth from that Committee, it was impossible that he could say what course the Government would pursue with respect to it.

Sir Robert Inglis

was well satisfied that his noble Friend (Lord John Russell) had withdrawn from the further consideration of the House his Ecclesiastical Courts Bill. He trusted that the House would correctly understand his right hon. Friend (Sir Robert Peel) when he had stated that he was favourable to the principle of the noble Lord's Bill, inasmuch as he had himself introduced a similar measure to the House on a former occasion. Now he wished to remind the right hon. Baronet that the Bill which they had received, not indeed from his hand, but from his Government, was a Bill much less objectionable in its provisions than the analogous Bill of his noble Friend opposite. He hoped, therefore, that the right hon. Baronet would explain to the House that he would not adopt the noble Lord's Bill instead of his own.

Sir R. Peel

said, Her Majesty's Government had very maturely considered the alterations which it would be desirable to have made in the state of the Ecclesiastical Courts; and they had accordingly brought a measure before Parliament, which had been assented to—he would not say by a very large majority, but by a majority of the House on the second reading. He should state that he preferred that Bill to the second Bill, now pending; and in stating that he was ready to vote with the noble Lord in favour of the second reading, he did not consider that he was adopting the measures of the noble Lord, in preference to the first Bill.

Mr. Redington

said, he would wish to know whether it was the intention of Her Majesty's Government to introduce any measure for the registration of voters in Ireland, and also for an Amendment of the Municipal Corporations Bill in that coun- try. He thought it was somewhat extraordinary that the whole Session had been allowed to elapse without any Bills being laid on the Table of the House on these two important subjects, both of which were so much in need of alteration.

Sir Robert Peel

said, it was distinctly stated by him, at a very early period of the Session, that he was anxious to introduce certain measures relating to Ireland, among which he wished that the Bill for the improvement of Maynooth, and the Irish Colleges Bill, should have precedence. A week would probably elapse before the latter Bill would leave that House, and under those circumstances, and considering how the Session had been occupied, he did not think the hon. Gentleman had a right to complain of any want of attention in the present Session to Irish measures. The right hon. Baronet was understood to add, that it was the wish of Her Majesty's Government that the Irish Municipal bodies should be placed upon the same footing as the English corporations.

Mr. Hume

said, he wished to have some understanding with regard to the tax upon coals. He would be glad that the Government should fix some day for discussing that subject. He objected to the tax of one penny a ton being fixed on coals, to be expended under the control of the Commissioners of Woods and Forests.

Sir R. Peel

said, he could not at present fix a day for that purpose. The House should recollect that the tax alluded to by the hon. Member was not a tax imposed by Government, but a tax for effecting local improvements in certain parts of the metropolis.

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