§ Lord G. Somerset
rose for the purpose of bringing under the consideration of the House the First Report from the Committee on Railway Bills. The Committee had been appointed to consider the most expedient mode of conducting the examination into the enormous number of railway projects submitted to the House; it had in consequence prepared a variety of Resolutions which he apprehended were framed in such a manner as to afford to the House nearly all the explanation of which it would stand in need. The Committee had confined themselves to the question of the Bills likely to be brought before Parliament, and for this purpose they had called before them Mr. Laing, of the Board of Trade, who stated, that no fewer than 248 projects had been submitted to it. It appeared that the Committee of the Board of Trade had divided the bills into what they called groups or families, as a great many must be considered together and in connexion. The first point the Select Committee of this House had decided was, that a Committee ought to 272 be appointed to classify the Bills; and we believe the noble Lord added that the nomination of the Members of that Committee ought to be in the Government. Let the nomination be where it would, it must be found very difficult to select names of individuals who were not more or less influenced by local considerations. As to the classifying of Bills, he observed, that competing lines would not sufficiently represent the various projects bearing on each other, for there were in most cases a great number of subsidiary lines, depending upon the question whether one line were taken on the other. Difficulties might also arise out of the forward state of some projects, and the backward state of others. On the choice of the five Gentlemen to whom a family or group of railway schemes was to be submitted, some serious considerations could not fail to arise. On some accounts it was exceedingly desirable to place upon the Committee Members who had local knowledge, since they often prevented the necessity of employing agents or counsel to represent the interests of the smaller and poorer proprietors of the soil. On the other hand, the objection to local Members was, that they would sometimes be too much influenced by local and partial interests. The line of 186 miles from London to York, passed through about 300 parishes, and it would not be possible to form a Committee on such a line of Members who were not, in any part of the distance, locally connected? Of the five Members to be appointed three were to form a quorum, and no business could be proceeded with if fewer than three Members were present, but an adjournment must take place until the next day. The trust was considerable; but he had no doubt that the Members would show themselves worthy of the confidence of the House. Another point related to the mode in which Bills were to be dealt with in Committee, and it seemed just that an opportunity should be allowed to every petitioner to state his case; but this was a matter which the House need not be in haste to determine, as it did not appear likely that it would be in a condition to go into Committee upon any railway bill until after Easter. His Lordship concluded by moving that the Resolutions be read. Resolutions read as follow:—
- 1. "That a Committee of Five Members be appointed, to be called The Classification
273 Committee of Railway Bills, and that Three be the quorum of such Committee.
- 2. "That Copies of all Railway Bills presented to the House, and a list of all projected Railways, of which Plans and Sections have been deposited in the Private Bill Office, be laid before the said Committee, together with all Reports and Minutes of the Board of Trade upon such projected Railways, which shall have been laid, or which shall from time to time be laid, before the House.
- 3. "That the Committee of Classification shall form into groups all Railway Bills or projects which, in their opinion, it would be expedient to submit to the same Committee.
- 4. "That Committees on Railway Bills during the present Session of Parliament shall be composed of a Chairman and Four Members, to be appointed by the Committee of Selection.
- 5. "That each Member of a Committee on a Railway Bill or Bills shall, before he be entitled to attend and vote on such Committee, sign a Declaration that his Constituents have no local interest, and that he himself has no personal interest, for or against any Bill or project referred to him; and no such Committee shall proceed to business until the whole of the Members thereof shall have signed such Declaration.
- 6. "That the Promoters of a Railway Bill shall be prepared to go into the Committee on the Bill on such day as the Committee of Selection shall, subject to the Order that there be seven clear days between the Second Reading of every Private Bill and the sitting of the Committee thereupon, think proper to appoint, provided that the Classification Committee shall have reported on such Bill.
- 7. "That the Committee of Selection shall not appoint an earlier day for the first meeting of the Committee on any group of Bills than the twenty-sixth day after the presentation to the House of the Reports of the Board of Trade on all Railway projects included in such group, unless all the Petitions for Bills relating to such projects shall have been sooner presented.
- 8. "That the Committee of Selection shall give each Member not less than fourteen days' notice of the week in which it will be necessary for him to be in attendance, for the purpose of serving, if required, on a Railway Bill Committee.
- 9. "That the Committee of Selection shall give each Member a sufficient notice of his appointment as a Member of a Committee on a Railway Bill, and shall transmit to him a copy of the Fifth Resolution, and a blank form of the Declaration therein required, with a request that he will forthwith return it to them properly filled up and signed.
- 10. "That if the Committee of Selection shall not within due time receive from each such Member the aforesaid Declaration, or an
274 excuse which they shall deem sufficient, they shall report to the House the name of such defaulting Member.
- 11. "That the Committee of Selection shall have the power of substituting, at any time before the first meeting of a Committee, another Member for a Member whom they shall deem it proper to excuse from serving on that Committee.
- 12. "That power be given to the Committee of Selection to send for persons, papers, and records, in the execution of the duties imposed on them by the foregoing Resolutions.
- 13. "That no Member of a Committee shall absent himself from his duties on such Committee, unless in the case of sickness, or by leave of the House.
- 14. "That, if the Chairman shall be absent from the Committee, the Member next in rotation on the List (who shall be present) shall act as Chairman.
- 15. "That Committees shall be allowed to proceed so long as Three Members shall be present, but not with a less number, unless by special leave of the House.
- 16. "That if on any day within one hour after the time appointed for the meeting of a Committee Three Members shall not be present, the Committee shall be adjourned to the same hour on the next day on which the House shall sit, which had been fixed for that day.
- 17. "That in the case of a Member not being present within one hour after the time appointed for the meeting of the Committee, or of any Member absenting himself from his duties on such Committee, such Member shall be reported to the House at its next sitting.
- 18. "That each Committee shall be appointed to meet on each day of its sitting, not later than Twelve o'clock, unless by the regular vote of the Committee.
- 19. "That parties promoting Railway projects which have been grouped together by the Classification Committee, shall be permitted to appear before the Committee on a Railway Bill belonging to such group, and to offer evidence either against the Bill immediately under the consideration of the Committee, or in support of their own projects.
- 20. "That in Committees on a Bill or Bills, when such evidence has been given, it shall be within the competency of a Committee to adjourn their proceedings until the Bill or Bills for such other projects shall be before them, care being taken by the Committee of Selection that in all such cases the Bills for the so opposing projects shall be referred to the Committee by which the first Bill or Bills had been considered.
- 21. "That, as soon as the Committee of Classification shall have determined what Railway Bills or projects are to be grouped together, they shall report the same to the House; and all Petitions against any of the said Bills or projects shall be presented to the
275 House three clear days before the meeting of the Committee thereon.
- 22. "That the Committee on a group of Railway Bills or projects shall hear, so far as may be necessary, parties appearing in support of such Petitions, so as to receive without interruption the whole of the evidence on the general merits of all the Bills or projects before them, and also on the details of the Bill or project, or Bills or projects, which they shall be of opinion ought to be adopted, in order that if the Committee should consider that a Bill or Bills not yet read a second time at the time of the inquiry ought to be preferred, they may be enabled, when that Bill or Bills shall be formally committed, to dispense with receiving any further evidence, and to confine their proceedings to making such Amendments in the Clauses as their previous investigation may have shown to be necessary."
§ On the question that the Resolutions be agreed to,
§ Mr. Christopher
wished to call attention to the 5th Resolution, the effect of which would be to exclude Members who had a local interest in railways from serving on Committees; and he thought it would be desirable to know whether the House would at once come to a decision that any Member whatever, whose constituents had an interest in railways which might happen to pass through any particular county or district, was, as a matter of course, to be excluded from serving on such Committee. He had read over the Resolution, and it did not appear, on the face of it, that such a Member would be necessarily excluded from serving on the Committee. But if it was the intention of the House that all Railway Bills were to be referred to a Committee to be nominated particularly by another Committee of classification, as it was called, he apprehended it was the object of the Committee to exclude all those Members who had a local, though not a private, interest in railways from serving on them. He believed that was the intention of the Resolution, and he hoped the House would pause before it gave its sanction to any such proceeding; for though he was free to confess, from his experience of Committees on Private Bills, that a great improvement had taken place within the last few years, namely, by the House being able to select a sufficient number of qualified Members, whose decision the House invariably affirmed, yet he thought it was necessary that some person acquainted with the locality which the Bill affected should be upon the Committee. 276 But he thought it very material that this principle should not be carried out too far; for instance, in many cases, after the counsel and witnesses had withdrawn, when the Committee came to deliberate on a particular Bill, he had seen the greatest disadvantage arise from the fact of none of the selected Members having any knowledge of the locality. Now, in proof of that, he would put one case—he would suppose that a railway was intended to pass through Lincoln or York, and he would suppose that the selected members were three Scotch and two Irish Members, who had no interest in the subject, and knew nothing about it, and, supposing that an opposition arose in the course of the inquiry, he should like to know in what situation the Committee would be placed, in consequence of having no Member present who knew any thing of the locality. How, he would ask, could they come to an impartial judgment without having some person present who knew something of the spot? He did not object to certain of them not being allowed to vote; but he was certain if it was the intention of his noble Friend to exclude all Members whose constituents had any interest in the measure, that, the greatest inconvenience would result. He hoped the House would pause before it sanctioned such a proceeding.
§ Mr. Gisborne
agreed with the statements and reasoning of the hon. Member; but unfortunately he could not give him his vote, as he agreed with the proposition of the noble Lord. He agreed with the noble Lord, that, in consenting to these arrangements, he would give up all the advantages of local knowledge. The evidence which would be brought before the Committee, under the present arrangement, would not furnish the best information on local subjects, for those who could give the best and truest information would be excluded. The parties giving evidence would endeavour to make that evidence tell favourably for those who brought them forward. It was an established and well-known fact, and one which hardly any body could account for, that wherever professional men, such as lawyers, doctors, or engineers were engaged, the most satisfactory evidence would be given by the most respectable witnesses in direct contradiction of each other. He had on one occasion felt his mind bewildered by the contradictory 277 testimony of the witnesses, until the confusion was removed by the local knowledge of a gentleman who happened to be on the Committee. He (Mr. Gisborne) should support the Motion of the noble Lord.
Mr. Tatton Egerton
had served last year on a Railway Committee of five Members which had to decide on the claims of two lines of railway, Both companies set up such a strong case on the ground of traffic alone, that if the case stopped there, the Committee would have been perfectly prepared to recommend either one or the other of them to Parliament. But, in the meantime, owing probably to some owners of property whose interests were likely to be affected by the proposed line, a third Railway Company started into existence, and proved by satisfactory evidence that on the ground of a deficiency of traffic neither of the other speculations should be encouraged. The result was that the whole three speculations fell to the ground. He mentioned this to show the position those Committees would be placed in, if the House excluded local Members from them. He was not at all anxious that local Members should have votes, but he thought they should be present at the deliberations of those Committees. He thought the exclusion from the Committees of Members having local knowledge would in some cases cause the infliction of great hardship on small landowners. He knew a case where a party would have been completely sacrificed if it had not been for the local knowledge of a Member of the Committee. He had no objection whatever to a Committee of five having the power to decide as to which line should be recommended to Parliament; but, at the same time, he thought local Members should have an opportunity of attending those Committees, either for the purpose of cross-examining witnesses, or for affording the Committee the best information in their power.
§ Mr. Shaw
said, he had the honour of serving as Chairman of a Select Committee last year, and felt, on one occasion, the 278 greatest advantage from the local knowledge of a Member who happened to be present. On that ground he thought some advantage might be derived from the presence of local Members; but he believed it would be totally impracticable to admit on the Committee any persons having local interests. Besides, it would be impossible to find for so many Committees, Gentlemen having a local knowledge. Although fully aware of the advantage of local knowledge, yet he considered the proposition of the noble Lord the safer course.
§ Mr. G. Bankes
was decidedly in favour of having hon. Members with local knowledge giving the advantage of that local knowlege to the Committee. Even if Members had not the local imformation that might be required by the Committee, they would be capable of producing witnesses who could give the information that might be required. If the House passed the Resolution in its present shape, it would give rise to endless cavil. It was essential that in deciding between competing lines they should be able to select the best. Under the impressions which he entertained he could not consent to the Resolution now before the House.
§ Mr. Greene
said, that, considering the mass of business before the House, the attendance of local Members upon these Committees was impossible. With respect to the line between London and York, what chance was there that they could be able to select from the Speaker's list, Members to represent any part of that line? He thought that the House had acted wisely in endeavouring to reduce the number of Members in attendance on these Committees. It should be recollected that those Committees sat judicially and not representatively. He would support the Resolution.
§ Mr. C. Wood
, in his experience of Railway Committees, had seen great benefit arise from the presence of local Members. In the case of a long line running from London to York it might be difficult to introduce into a Committee a sufficient number of Members who were acquainted with the whole extent of the line; but that would not be the case in the generality of instances, it would not apply to shorter lines. He would propose to take six Members from the Speaker's list of the counties through which a proposed line of railway might pass, and then the 279 five selected Members: he did not think eleven would be too many. In election matters the smaller the number the better the tribunal; but it was not so with reference to Railway Committees, because they not only sat in a judicial but also in a representative character. He had seen great advantages arise from the appointment of selected Members, and in many instances he did not think they could have conducted their investigations to a satisfactory conclusion without the assistance of local Members.
§ Mr. Milnes
thought it of consequence in all these important matters that the public should be satisfied that the tribunal was impartial. The object of the Government would be to select five Gentlemen who were quite ignorant of the matter which they would have to undertake, whilst on the other hand five Gentlemen might be selected who were most likely to have local prejudices; and he thought that, balancing all the difficulties, it would be best to pass the Resolutions which had been proposed by the Government.
§ Sir John Easthope
said, that in a former Parliament he had the misfortune to sit on a Railway Committee (the Stone and Rugby) for sixty-two or sixty-three days. The right hon. Baronet opposite (Sir R. Peel) was also, like himself, a Member of that Committee, as a representative of local interests. All the selected Members were amongst the majority who carried the Bill through the Committee; but the representatives of local interests, of which he (Sir J. Easthope) was one, carried on the contest under the pressure of local influence, until it was too late in the Session for the Bill to pass. That was, on that occasion, the effect of having local Members on such Committees. They were obliged, under the pressure of interests which they could not resist, to stick to their posts for sixty-three days, and he believed they often voted against their consciences. He was more ashamed of the fact than he was of the avowal. He would rather resort to any expedient than sit on a Committee of that kind again; he had, in fact, made up his mind that anything less than the compulsion of the House should not induce him to sit again on such a Committee. As to the advantages which it had been said would arise from the presence of local Members on Railway Committees, he begged to ask 280 whether any information that was likely to be of benefit and importance could not be had in the shape of evidence? And he would also be glad to know whether five Gentlemen, without the undue bias of local influence and local knowledge, were not much more likely to judge of that evidence correctly, and give it the proper weight which attached to it, rather than they would be if they rested upon the undue authority and influence likely to be given to it when it came through the medium of Members? The effect produced on the minds of a majority of the Committee to which he had referred, by the circumstances which transpired, was, that local influence had been subversive of public justice.
§ Mr. Aglionby
said, the opinion of the hon. Baronet the Member for Leicester was entitled to great weight. In 1838 the present Speaker proposed a Resolution to the effect that, although upon certain Committees the presence of Members connected with local districts afforded much local information, yet it was more than counterbalanced by the local interest, in fluence, and prejudice necessarily attending their presence, especially as any information afforded by them would be of much more value if given by them in the character of witnesses. That being also his opinion, he should support the Resolutions of the Government. He did not think constituents ought to expect their Members to be the mere slaves of little pecuniary interests. For his part, he never could attach much weight to local information given by Members, who were tied and bound down to the interests of parties concerned. He thought the plan proposed by the Government would afford the greatest facility for the transaction of the business of the country, and would give the greatest satisfaction even to the projectors of competing lines, who did not respect the present tribunal.
§ Mr. Entwisle
was desirous to raise the question of the exemption of Members who had interests in railways from serving on those Committees. Either they should be exempted, or if they were compelled to serve they should be allowed to do so without imputations. He had heard the hon. Member for Greenock put a question to the hon. Member for Reading whether he had or had not a personal interest in a Railway Bill (as we understood) for which he had voted? He had been present when 281 agricultural Members had voted on the Corn Laws — when West Indian proprietors had voted on the Sugar Duties, and when manufacturers in that House had voted against a Ten Hours' Bill. He recollected many instances in which hon. Members in that House had voted respecting some particular measure by which their pecuniary interests would be affected. As the measures under discussion tended to affect the property or those hon. Members, of course they must have had a pecuniary interest in the Resolution. The right hon. Gentleman (Sir J. Graham) had stated that he had felt it desirable that he should hold no property in railway shares, in order that he might not be fettered in the discharge of his duly as a Member of that House. Fie (Mr. Entwisle) thought it high time that the question should be raised, whether persons possessing property in railways should be considered as disqualified from attending on those Select Committees. For the purpose of raising the question, he wished to give notice that it was his intention to move that every hon. Gentleman who had a direct pecuniary interest in railways should be exempted serving on any Committee that might hereafter be instituted under the regulation now before the House.
said, the question was one worthy of grave consideration. He could imagine many cases in which it would be very difficult for Members to understand on what occasions their constituencies had local interests in particular railways or not; and he was sure many Gentlemen who then heard him, could bring instances to their recollection in which that difficulty had presented itself strongly before them.
§ Mr. Hume
said, in the year 1838 he had found it necessary to take the sense of the House on that question. He had been always of opinion that Members of Select Committees should, like jurymen, be always chosen from totally disinterested parties; and it was with that feeling that he had thought it necessary to bring the subject before the House in 1838. He might add, that everything that had taken place since then had tended to convince him of the justice and necessity of the arguments which he then put forth. As to the question of local interests, he considered that whenever a constituency asked their Representative to support a particular measure, that he was then 282 bound not to become a Member of the Committee appointed to decide upon that measure. That was already the law of Parliament; and he could recollect many instances in which the appointment of particular Members upon Committees had been objected to in consequence of their private interests, or the interests of their constituents, being immediately involved in the questions to be decided. He thought the Resolution then before the House a salutary one; and as to the question of local interests, he was decidedly of opinion that no Member ought to be on a Committee on a Bill in which the interests of his constituents were concerned. An hon. Gentleman had referred to the interests of the poorer classes being attended to; but for his part he could say that he never knew an instance in that House of a very rich and powerful interest being opposed to a poorer interest, in which that great interest was not immediately taken care of in the selection of the Committee appointed to decide between them. He was only surprised that any Members should wish to be on Committees where their own interests, or the interests of their constituencies, were to be considered. There were in every locality in the country two parties; and he for one could not think it desirable for any Representative to find himself unnecessarily in a situation where he would have to decide in favour of one of these local parties and against the other. He considered that the House ought, therefore, to feel grateful to the Committee for having recommended such a Resolution as that then under consideration to their notice.
§ Mr. Hawes
said, it was very important that the House should come, as far as possible, to an unanimous resolution on the question before them. In subscribing to a declaration to which he was required to assent, he could not pretend to say whether some individual among his constituents might not have an interest in the question. That was a matter on which he could not have on all occasions any certain knowledge; but he could sign the declaration as to whether the constituent body which he represented had generally any local interest in the subject to be decided upon. He considered it most important that there should be no doubt on the subject of that regulation, but that they should be as unanimous as possible in coming to an explicit understanding 283 respecting it. He entirely concurred in the propriety of the Resolution before the House, and he thought that whatever tended to give the Committees a judicial character, must aid in raising them in public estimation, and therefore promote their general utility. The hon. Members who were opposed to the Resolution had not suggested any other course which it would be advisable to take. From the slight experience which he had on the subject, he considered that there could be no difficulty whatever in a Committee procuring the attendance of any Member connected with local interests as a witness before them; and then such Member could give any suggestion which he might wish to offer to the Committee with much better effect than if he had himself formed one of the Committee. That question had been long before the House, and in 1838 it had met with mature consideration, and the decision then come to had been since fully tried. He should repeat, that he considered, by carrying out the feeling which seemed to be entertained in the House, of giving the Committees more the character of judicial tribunals, they would succeed in making their decisions have greater weight with the public.
Mr. Stuart Wortley
said, if the principle which was contended for by some hon. Gentlemen were adopted, some hon. Members—such, for instance, as the Representatives of the City of London—would enjoy a perpetual exemption from serving on any Railway Committee whatever, as there was not a railway in the Empire in which some of their constituents were not concerned. The same might be said of the Members for Manchester and for Liverpool. He would not enter into the general question on that occasion: but he could not avoid saying that he had great doubts of the ultimate success of the experiments then in progress. Still, as he was not prepared with any better plan which he might suggest to the House, he would not detain them by urging the difficulties and objections which suggested themselves to his mind.
§ Mr. Roebuck
felt the force of the difficulties which existed to the adoption of the principle laid down in the Resolution; but still he could not withdraw his assent from the general plan. The hon. Member for Lambeth had told them that the words "local interests of constituents" could only be interpreted as meaning the interests 284 of any particular constituency, taken as a body; and were it otherwise, the hon. Member for the West Riding of Yorkshire (Mr. Wortley) must himself have some local interests that would be affected by most Bills, and which it would be impossible for him to be aware of. He thought it should be left to the General Committee to decide whether the local interests of any hon. Gentleman's constituents were affected by the measure to be brought forward; but the personal interests of the individual Members should be left to be decided by their own declaration.
§ Lord G. Somerset
said, it would not be the duty of the General Committee to put any Member upon a Railway Committee who they might conceive would be influenced in any way by the result; but, in addition to the precautions of the Committee, it would, he thought, be advisable to have the declaration signed as recommended by the Resolution. Besides, the House should bear in mind that the principle was one which had been in operation for several years.
§ Sir Robert Peel
thought the distinction drawn in the Resolution should not be lost sight of. The words "local interest" were inserted where the constituency was referred to; and when the party himself was spoken of, the words "personal interest" were used. It was, therefore, quite clear that a distinction was drawn between local and personal interest by the Committee, and that the latter term was used where the interest of an individual was concerned, and "local interest" where the constituency at large was referred to. He should at the same time admit that it was no easy matter for a Member at all times to declare that his constituents had no local interest in a particular railway; but still he thought the form of the declaration cleared away much of the difficulty that had been suggested to the House. The words of the declaration were, "I, A B, as one of the Members, &c., do hereby declare that my constituents have no local interest, and that I have no personal interest," &c. The Committee believed they had given satisfaction in suggesting that Resolution, but still many points of difficulty would arise. For instance, a Member for the City of Dublin would find it hard to say whether his constituents were or not interested in a particular line of communication with the centre of Ireland, or with the west of Ireland. 285 It was, however, well to adopt a form of declaration, and leave particular instances of difficulty to be decided by the selecting Committee.
§ 5th Resolution agreed to.
§ Mr. Gisborne
said, he had strong objections to the 7th Resolution, and he had intended to found some general remarks upon it, on the Report of the Board of Trade. The noble Lord opposite (Lord G. Somerset) had, however, informed him in private, that it was likely that an opportunity would be given him of entering with more propriety upon the subject when the Railway Consolidation Clauses Bill was before the House, and he would not, therefore, enter at any length upon it on that occasion. He would wish to know from the noble Lord whether he was right in understanding that it was not intended to go into Committee on any Railway Bill until after Easter, and also that the Board of Trade would have presented all their Reports on Railways before Easter.
§ Lord Granville Somerset
did not think that any Railway Bill would go into Committee before Easter. Some bills had been introduced, while others had not yet been brought forward, and therefore it would be necessary to wait, that the peculiar advantages of the different lines might be compared. As to the question which had been put to him, he was under an engagement to the hon. Member to afford a full opportunity of discussing the constitution of the Railway Department of the Board of Trade with as little delay as possible.
§ Mr. Hawes
hoped that his hon. Friend would raise the whole question at an early period, as the Railway Department of the Board of Trade had very great powers, and to it was entrusted the authority of deciding respecting great masses of property. He did not think that the Board was altogether constituted in a satisfactory manner, or was of such a character as to fully deserve public confidence. At present, according to appearance, those who were ostensibly at the head of the Board did not possess more authority than the other Members of it, and who were not so well known to the public. Might it not happen that the President and Vice-President of the Board of Trade should vote on one side on a Railway Bill, and the subordinate members might take the opposite side, and thus the opinion of the 286 former might be defeated. He thought that with a view to increase public confidence in this tribunal that its proceedings should be open under certain circumstances. He thought that one of the parties to a railway having put in their plan, with documentary evidence, that the other party or parties might have the opportunity of inspecting them and sending in replies. He did not know what practical objections there would be to this course; but at any rate the present close mode of carrying on their proceedings was not the most satisfactory way of arriving at the truth. His chief objection, however, to the constitution of the Railway Department of the Board of Trade was, that it was of such an anomalous character. While it exercised such a great influence over the commerce and the property of the country, the greatest care should be taken to free its decisions from all appearances of partiality. He thought that some publicity, on their parts, would aid in attaining this object; but at that time he was not prepared to say how much, and at what stage of the proceedings. There should also be some evidence on the Report, that it was drawn up on a full review of the claims of all parties. The matter was a very important one, and called for the most serious attention.
§ Sir Robert Peel
remarked, that they should look at the question in a practical point of view. They should consider that any alteration in the Railway Department of the Board of Trade could not effect any change in their legislation during the present year. It had been announced that night by his noble Friend, that not only were the decisions of the Railway Board as to competing lines announced in the Gazette, but that the Reports, including the reasons on which they were founded, would all be laid before the House before Easter. Good Friday fell, he believed, on the 21st of March, and to make an alteration in the Constitution of the Board, so as to have effect during the present year, was impossible. He, therefore, thought that the hon. Gentleman would agree with him, that on this point they should rather look to the legislation of future years. He was fully aware that the weight and the influence of the decisions of the Board was enormous. He could not, while adverting to this subject, help expressing his admiration at the zeal and unceasing care of his noble Friend 287 who presided over the Board to the mode in which its proceedings were carried on; and he was sure that no public man ever devoted more time and attention, and with more determination to act with perfect impartiality and fairness to all parties who came before them; and he also believed that the other Members of the Board were equally anxious to come to sound conclusions on the different cases sent before them. He knew nothing personally of the different cases; but from the Reports of the Board which had been already printed, and, above all, from one which he had read that day on the Manchester and Leeds district of railways, he was satisfied that the result of its labours would be attended with important consequences. In this Report were to be found most valuable suggestions, the result of careful investigations into matters connected with the construction of railways: he would allude particularly to that portion under the head of "Gradients," in which were to be found several new and important opinions, and which never could be obtained but by the Reports of such a body as this. In this part of the Report, a full and general view was taken of the means of overcoming some of the greatest difficulties connected with the construction of railroads. It was pointed out by what means the substitution of locomotive power had been, by the improvements in the construction of the engines, effected for a fixed or stationary power upon inclined planes, and by which also enormous expense in the construction of gradients of lessened inclination was avoided. An example of the substitution of the locomotive engine for the stationary power, and attended with considerable saving, had recently taken place on the inclined plane at the Euston Square terminus of the London and Birmingham railway. This document, he was satisfied, would turn out to be of very great importance, as a guide in their future legislation, and he doubted very much whether from a Committee of that House they could have got such a body of information. The House would have all the Reports on the different lines before it previous to Easter, and they then would be the better enabled to say, whether or not it would be prudent to make an alteration in the constitution of this Board. He would not say anything as to any change of individuals, as that was unnecessary; but on the soundness 288 of the judgment manifested in the Reports, and for the reasons on which they were founded, he had a very strong opinion, and he did not believe that the Board could be altered so as to affect legislation this Session.
Mr. Stuart Wortley
observed, that a discussion on this subject could not lead to any immediate practical object, for most of the results of the investigations of the Railway Committee of the Board of Trade had been presented. He, therefore, recommended the hon. Member for Notingham to pospone until towards the end of the Session any discussion on the constitution of the Board, as it could not lead to any immediate practical result in the Railroad Bills before the House. They had not all the matter before them to enable them to form a judgment until they saw what practical result the Reports of the Board had upon the decisions of the several Committees. He believed that the hon. Member would advance towards the attainment of the object he had in view by deferring to a future period the debate on the subject. He was quite of the hon. Member's opinion that it was a matter well deserving the consideration of the House; and whenever he brought it under discussion, he should be prepared to state his opinion.
§ Mr. Horsman
said, that as far as he was able to judge from the opinions of those who were best able to form sound and impartial opinions on this subject, it appeared that the proceedings of the Board had generally given satisfaction. As for the general question of any change in the constitution of the Board, it would be sufficient time to consider that when the general subject came under discussion. His hon. Friend had said that the questions before the Board were decided by the majority of votes; but of this there might be some doubt, in consequence of the question put by the hon. Baronet not having been answered. He was extremely anxious, as a Member of the Committee which recommended the construction of a Board of this kind, that it should work well; and he was sorry to hear prejudices raised against the Reports emanating from it, and he believed many of them to be unjust and without foundation. Doubts might arise in some quarters, because names of persons were signed to the Report who were not so publicly known as 289 those holding more responsible offices. As they would have all the Reports of the Board on the several railroads before them within a short time, it would be inexpedient to go into the question then.
§ Mr. Curteis
had received a letter from one of his constituents complaining of the short time the Private Bill Office was open for the purpose of enabling parties to inspect the various plans, maps, and specifications of the several lines of railroad. This gentleman stated that this Office was only open two hours a day, and that a charge of 6s. was made for each inspection. The writer of this letter was a wealthy person, and, therefore, the latter charge could not be of so much consequence to him, but he was actuated by public grounds in the course which he had adopted.
§ Resolution agreed to.
On the 13th being put,—
That no Member of a Committee shall absent himself from his duties on such Committee, unless in the case of sickness, or by leave of the House;
observed, that this was the first time that an important principle had been proposed to be brought into operation, namely, the compulsory attendance of Members on Committees. The only occasion when such attendance was necessary now was by express provision of Act of Parliament, and he did not know whether they intended to introduce a similar course with regard to other Committees that were now in force with respect to Election Committees. The House should recollect that in no case hitherto had a compulsory attendance on private business before a Committee been enforced. They could not compel any Member to attend before a Committee on a Bill for a canal, a road, or a dock, and he thought it was imposing a great hardship on Members of that House to enforce attendance on this new description of private business. He did not know what kind of tribunal to propose as a substitute for a Committee to decide upon the merits of Railroad Bills; but hon. Gentlemen must be aware of the difficulties which surrounded questions of this kind. It appeared that no Member appointed on a Committee should be allowed to absent himself from attendance on it unless in consequence of illness, or by especial leave of the House. By and by they would have numbers of Members, or their friends for them, starting 290 up to move for leave of absence on all sorts of excuses; and many Gentlemen, who, perhaps, were the best qualified to be on Committees of this kind would be the first to apply for leave. Some Gentlemen might say that they were going the Northern or Western Circuit, and that others were retained on important business in Westminster Hall, and could the House refuse to assent to their absence under such circumstances? It should be recollected also, that the enforcing the attendance under such circumstances would not be consistent with common fairness, for it would be equivalent to saying that no Gentleman at the Bar should have a seat in that House; for a Gentleman might be called upon, from the circumstance of so many of these Bills being before Parliament, to serve upon several Committees, one after another; and, indeed, with respect to some of these Railway Bills, it was probable that they might continue their sittings day after day for two or three months. What, he would ask, could they do with respect to such a great number of Members of that House who had avocations elsewhere? Besides so many Members of the Bar engaged in their professional pursuits, there were a great many Members also engaged in mercantile transactions. Was the House then prepared to sanction the validity of excuse on such a ground? It appeared that 248 different plans of railroads had been or were before the Board of Trade, and all these were to come before the several Committees after Easter, when the warfare would commence in real earnest. Was it to be borne, that the many bankers, barristers, merchants, and solicitors, who had important avocations elsewhere, were to be allowed to be excused from this attendance, while the Committee of Selection were to look round the House, and impose the task of being Members of these Committees on any Members they chose to nominate? It had been said, that a Gentleman was not fit to be a Member of that House if he was not prepared to attend Committees on Railway Bills; but there were many Gentlemen elected Members of this House before railroads were began. Therefore, he said, it was not just to them to enforce such an attendance. He wished that there was a competent tribunal, other than a Private Committee of that House, to investigate the merits not merely of railroads, which had now become 291 such a great element in the interests of the country, but in other matters of a similar nature. He, for one, should be disposed to be a little rebellious on the occasion. He had, however, always found in the House of Commons a number of amateurs who were willing to take upon themselves labour of this kind, and he hoped that it would be found sufficient to call upon them to attend to these Bills; and as he had no love for meddling with other persons' business, he should think himself justified in leaving the matters to others more willing to attend.
§ Mr. Warburton
must do the right hon. Baronet opposite (Sir R. Peel) the justice of observing that he had ever been a maintainer of the privileges of that House. Now he did not think that these privileges could be maintained for any length of time if the House did not manifest to the public a determination to attend to its duty in this respect. Was his hon. Friend to say that that House was to abandon its duty, and to neglect a description of public business which was essential to the best interests of the country? What had his hon. Friend proposed, and what would be the result of adopting his suggestions? The House would find that if in one important department it chose to transfer its authority to another tribunal, and that it did not perform one of its most essential duties, the country would begin to consider whether other of its functions which it now performed might not be dispensed with. If they did not wish to lower the character of the House in the eyes of the country, they must attend to these matters, and, however inconvenient such attendance might be to Members individually, still, when they entered that House, they should be fully prepared to take upon themselves a due share in the discharge of the business of the country. He was sure, on reflection, his hon. Friend would be willing to take his share in attendance on the railway business. Surely his hon. Friend was aware of the immense mass of property invested in undertakings of this nature, and how much the public interest was concerned in legislating respecting them. The country would say, if they devoted their time merely to talking about party matters, that they were sent to meet there to attend to more important duties. Nothing could sink the House sooner in the public estimation than the notion of transferring the Legislature on such important 292 matters as those involved in railways to another tribunal.
§ Sir R. Peel
believed that this was a matter which deeply concerned the dignity of the House, and its capacity of serving the country. The hon. Gentleman said that he was for transferring the legislating on what was called Private Business from that House, and to provide a substitute. He entertained great respect for the opinion of the hon. Member opposite, and confessed that he was surprised to hear such opinions as he had heard emanate from him. Would the hon. Gentleman say that by his suggesting a different mode of transacting private business than by Committees of that House, he would give to any other tribunal the power or the liberty of passing a Railway Bill? What would be the result of giving to any court of law or other tribunal the power of legislating on what was called the Private Business? It would not be a mere formal proceeding, but you would be creating a tribunal which would soon be arrogating to itself all the powers of legislation and all the privileges possessed by that House. And how would you constitute this tribunal? Was it to be representative? Was it to be elected by a constituency? How was that constituency to be formed? Was it to be a similar constituency to that returning the Members of that House? If the power of legislating on such subjects was transferred to such a tribunal, with any Judge that you pleased at its head, you would soon find that you had very little else to do than to register its decrees. If this House constituted a tribunal for the regulation of the internal commerce and all the communication throughout the country, it would create a power which would soon obtain greater credit than that possessed by the House itself, as the public would say that, as it could not perform this most important description of business, it was very unfit to have any further power left to it. The hon. Gentleman said, that many Members did not contemplate railway business when they were elected. This might be true; but it had come upon them, as other business had, in the course of time, and it was their bounden duty to attend to it. It therefore appeared to him, if they wished to recommend themselves to public esteem, and to rise in the eyes of the country, that the best mode would be to show that they 293 were convinced of the necessity of grappling with the subject, and had the good sense to devote their time to the great labour which must necessarily attend their satisfactorily dealing with those measures. The House of Lords had already adopted the principle of compulsory attendance on Committees. On each Committee on a Private Bill, five Members were appointed; and it was necessary at every meeting these Members should be present; a proceeding on the part of the House of Lords, with respect to legislation in Private Bills, which had given great satisfaction to the country. Should they, then, the Representatives of the people, say that they thought it proper that a Judge, or other parties, in another place, should perform all those important functions? He would say, rather than adopt the course suggested by the hon. Member, let men high in office—let men, the leaders on the opposite benches, make up their minds at once to devote their unwearied attention to the measures of this kind which would be submitted to the several Committees upstairs. He, for one, would come down and sit for four hours a day on one of those Committees, rather than resort for even a moment to such a course. It had been proposed, on a former occasion, to give up the jurisdiction of the House in election matters, but the House had most properly refused to comply with any such suggestion; and if they gave up the decision in cases of this kind to another power, and directed their attention to subjects involving party considerations, they might depend upon it that they would soon find themselves degenerating into a mere debating club. If the House would not devote its attention to legislating on the internal affairs of the country, and involved so deeply as they were in questions of this kind, and would come down night after night for five or six nights consecutively to engage in some great party squabble or contest, they might rely upon it, that, however great the display of eloquence, and however distinguished the talent manifested, one year would not pass over without their sinking in the eyes of the country, and without the public ceasing to regard the Commons' House of Parliament of the United Kingdom as the guardians of the rights and liberties of the people. He could not listen to such a doctrine broached for the first time, without at once rising to 294 protest against it. Without resorting to means of enforcing an attendance on these Committees, he hoped that the good sense of the Members of that House would induce them to do their duty to the country, by devoting their time and attention to this important description of business — and the young Members of that House might be assured, that if they wished to raise characters for themselves as public men, no better course could be adopted by them, than to manifest a readiness to serve on Committees of this kind, and to devote their attention sedulously to the important subjects which would come under consideration before them. He would venture to say, that conduct of this kind would, in the course two or three Sessions, give a young man in that House a higher character than any display he might make in the shape of a few brilliant speeches; and that by thus getting a more perfect knowledge of public business, he would attain a higher name and character in the House of Commons than by any other course. He hoped without exception—and therefore he would say, let Members, both in and out of office prepare to adopt this step — they would determine to devote their time to these matters, and that all would be prepared to serve on any Committee, unless excluded by the Resolutions; and if they made the experiment they would succeed in doing more to raise and establish the House of Commons in the opinion of the country, rather than by debating until the end of September on mere party matters, notwithstanding all the ingenuity and ability that might be displayed. If the hon. Member for Weymouth seriously intended to press his opinion, he (Sir R. Peel) would urge him to bring it forward without delay, so that the proposition might be extinguished in the bud, which involved in itself results so dangerous to the best interests of the country.
§ Mr. Hawes
agreed entirely with all that had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman, and from his hon. Friend the Member for Kendal. He, therefore, would not repeat the arguments which they had urged. He rose for the purpose of suggesting to his hon. Friend the Member for Weymouth, that the several Committees for Railways were not to be constituted like Election Committees. On Election Committees it was absolutely necessary that every Member 295 must be present during the whole time of proceeding; but in each of these Committees, constituted as they were of five Members, they could proceed to business when three Members were present, and, therefore, the analogy assumed by his hon. Friend did not exist. It might be well, in introducing a new principle into the mode of conducting private business, that they did not force it to the extreme; but he almost regretted that any exception to the number of the Members attending a Committee had been allowed, and he had formed this opinion, because he feared that in some instances it might occasion some dissatisfaction in the working of the plan. After the Committee to whom the subject had been referred, who had so well considered the subject, and who had made the recommendations on which the Resolutions were founded, and after the statement of the noble Lord the Chairman of that Committee, he would not make any proposition on the subject. He would, however, suggest, that if any alteration was to be made in the constitution of these Committees, it should be, that the whole of the five Members forming it, should attend as on an Election Committee. He said this, because he felt that when the interests to be determined on were so great, it would be most desirable that the whole of the Judges by whom these conflicting points were to be decided, should attend on each occasion of the Committee sitting. He was perfectly certain, if proper attention were paid to the Private Business, that it would raise the character of the House in the estimation of the public, and that it would add greatly to its general usefulness to the country.
§ Mr. Borthwick
agreed with the right hon. Baronet; but he thought that when the right hon. Baronet expected this Roman virtue from hon. Members, they would respond more readily if he left them to do their duty of their own will, and not under restraints. Then they would be entitled to the praise which the right hon. Baronet offered them. He considered that it would be most injudicious, and injurious to the character of that House, to transfer their jurisdiction with regard to railways to any other tribunal. The Members of that House were the guardians of their own honour; and he was convinced there was not a Member who would not be prepared to submit his own rights and those of his 296 constituents to the adjudication of a Committee of the House, and he believed this feeling was entertained by the country. He trusted that all hon. Members of the House were prepared, as an act of duty, to take any fair share in the conduct of business which might be required of them.
§ Mr. Hume
said, if the hon. Member for Evesham (Mr. Borthwick) had come to the House to-night for the first time, he should not have felt surprised at the observations he had just made. It was very well to talk of the anxiety of Members to do their duty, and of their Roman virtue; but he had frequently seen Committees unable to proceed with business because they could not obtain a quorum. Such was the dependence which might be placed on the anxiety of Members to discharge their duty! What was everybody's business was nobody's business; and even when Committees of that House had been open, it had been found difficult to obtain a quorum. On this account he had long endeavoured to induce the House to adopt some common-sense regulations on this subject. It was, he considered the duty of the House to take care that the business of the country should receive proper and efficient attention; and he thought that the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel), who was so strong a supporter of the privileges and institutions of the House, would support those privileges most effectually by making the House do its duty. It was a serious thing, when witnesses were brought from Yorkshire or Cumberland, or other distant parts of the country, to have them detained here, day after day, at an enormous expense, because the Committees did not proceed with business. He fully approved of the regulations now under consideration, and was satisfied that they would work well, and would tend to support the character of that House, which had been lowered in public estimation by the proceedings in Private Committees. He had heard charges preferred out of doors, and with great justice, too, not against individual Members, but against the system on which their proceedings were conducted. He did not attach blame to individuals, he objected to the system, which ought to undergo a thorough change. He held, that every Member of Parliament ought to take his turn in attending to Committee business; and if lawyers could not attend to the business of the House they had better not get into Parliament. He had been much gratified at the declaration of the right hon. 297 Baronet opposite, that rather than the privileges of the House should be relinquished because hon. Members would not attend to their duty, the right hon. Baronet, notwithstanding his numerous and important engagements, was prepared to come down and take his share in Committee business. That was an excellent example for some hon. Members, hundreds of whom had little or nothing to do.
Mr. Stuart Wortley
said, it had been stated that the course proposed by this Resolution, peremptorily requiring the attendance of Members upon these Committees, was analogous to that adopted in the case of Election Committees; but in his opinion this regulation was more strict and peremptory than that which existed with respect to Election Committees and selected Members. The Election Committees were appointed under the compulsion of an Act of Parliament; but the regulations which accompanied that Act, at least gave Members a little notice of the call likely to be made upon them. The Member's name was put upon a panel, and he knew that if he was not elected at a certain time, a definite period must elapse before his turn came round again. Then, with regard to selected Members: a Member received an application, inquiring at what time he could most conveniently attend to private business; and, on receiving his reply, the Committee of Selection placed his name on the list. Now, he did not see why a similar course should not be pursued with respect to Committees appointed for railway business. He believed that, if it were considered necessary by the House that Members should be called upon in turn to undergo the labour of sitting upon such Committees, a sufficient number of Members would be found who would willingly and diligently discharge the duty; but at the same time he thought the convenience of Members should be consulted, so far as could be done without detriment to public interests. He would like to know whether it was intended that the Committee of Selection should call peremptorily, and without notice, upon any Member. [An hon. Member: Fourteen days' notice is required.] Then, at the expiration of that time, was the Member required to act, or could he claim exemption for a subsequent period?
§ Colonel Sibthorp
could not see why this compulsory system should be adopted with regard to Railway Bills only, and why it should not be applied to Committees sitting 298 upon any other subjects. The hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Hume) had said that the business before Committees was frequently retarded in consequence of the non-attendance of Members. Why, the House sat at twelve o'clock that morning to consider Mime Bills relating to railway business; but, although the hon. Member for Montrose was generally most attentive to his duties, he did not see the hon. Member in his place during the early sitting. He thought it much more necessary to enforce the attendance of Members when hundreds of thousands of pounds of the public money were voted away, than it was peremptorily to require their attendance on Railway Committees. Oh, but the voting away of the public money did not touch self! Some hon. Members had shares in these railways; their own pockets and their private interests were concerned; and it was a farce to talk of their regard for the public. Millions of the public money might be voted away during the absence of those hon. Gentlemen, but they took very good care to be present when their own pockets were touched. He wished a positive injunction were issued, requiring all Members to attend in their places; and he would have no objection to fine and imprisonment for non-attendance. When the public money was disposed of, members were at balls and routs, or perhaps not at such good places. But if a Railway Bill were to be discussed, Mr. So-and-so had a cousin or a relative who had invested money in the speculation, or perhaps he himself held some shares; and that was a sufficient inducement to bring him to the House. He thought they should adopt means to insure the attendance of Members on all occasions, and not merely when these humbugging railways were considered.
§ Mr. Darby
could understand the objections to compulsory attendance, if these were not Select Committees; but as they were Select Committees, he thought it right that Members should be compelled to attend. Some imputations had been thrown upon Committees of that House; but from seven years' experience he must say, that he believed those imputations were groundless and unjust. At one time, when Members who had sat upon Committees sent notes relative to the evidence to interested parties, such conduct might have disgraced the House; but he was convinced that the Committees by whom business was now conducted, were free from such imputations. 299 There was always a strong feeling on both sides with regard to railway projects; and if the disputed questions were decided by the first Judge of the land, or by any other tribunal, both parties could not be satisfied, but the justice of the decision would be impugned by one party or the other. Men who performed their duty properly must, therefore, submit to these imputations; and if they did discharge their duty faithfully, they need care little for the accusations preferred against them. The right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel) had said that the Committees afforded the younger Members an excellent opportunity of becoming conversant with the course of business. He did not know whether the hon. Member for Evesham ranked himself among the younger or the middle-aged Members of the House; but he (Mr. Darby) considered that there was great justice in the remark of the right hon. Baronet, and that it would be most advantageous to the younger Members themselves, to the House, and to the country, if they applied themselves to the business of Committees.
§ Lord G. Somerset
said, with reference to what had fallen from the hon. Gentleman near him (Mr. S. Wortley), he considered that the notice of fourteen days which was proposed would prevent Members from suffering any great inconvenience. It was provided, also, that the Committee of Selection might excuse hon. Members from attending, if satisfactory grounds for their absence were assigned. He could assure the hon. Member for Lambeth (Mr. Hawes) that the Committee had fully considered the convenience and the inconvenience which would result from enforcing a more strict attendance on Committees. Their object was, to secure more punctual and regular attendance from a large portion of the Members of that House. They had selected three Members, instead of five, as a quorum, because they thought it advisable not to adopt too stringent a regulation; for, if five were a quorum, there would be a risk that the Committee might frequently meet without that number being present. He hoped, however, under these regulations, and by not allowing frivolous excuses for absence, future inconvenience with regard to those Committees would be avoided.
§ Lord J. Manners
wished to know what penalty would be inflicted upon those hon. Members who did not attend Committees to which they were appointed? It seemed to him that the mere fact of these Committees 300 being Select Committees, did not render the compulsory attendance of Members necessary; for they had now Select Committees on various subjects, and he was not aware that any great inconvenience had been felt because all the Members of those Committees were not present on all occasions. He could not see why three Members might not discharge the duties of such Committees as efficiently as four or five.
§ Mr. Greene
could assure the noble Lord that unless some means of compelling the attendance of Members were resorted to, it would be impossible to carry out this plan efficiently. In the course of the last two years, no less than 250 Members of that House, who had nothing else to do, had positively refused to attend the Committees; and it was, therefore, absolutely necessary that some compulsion should be adopted. There were many hon. Members who had attended Committees most regularly; but were the 250 hon. Gentlemen to whom he had referred to be exempted from such attendance? The system proposed by these Resolutions would be utterly inefficient without the enforcement of compulsory attendance.
§ Mr. Protheroe
recommended that if any hon. Members were appointed upon a Select Committee, they should be required to attend on that Committee, and on that Committee alone.
Sir W. James
thought there would be some practical difficulties in carrying out these Resolutions. Supposing that, at the expiration of the fourteen days' notice, all the five Members made excuses which were admitted; was a further notice of fourteen days to be given to other Members before the Committee could be formed? If that were the case, great inconvenience and expense would be entailed on the parties applying for Bills. He feared, also, that if the 250 hon. Gentlemen who had been described as absenting themselves from the Committees altogether were not required to attend, the really good working men, who gave their attendance willingly, might be worked to death. It was, however, far from his intention to oppose these Resolutions, which were, he thought, very creditable to the Gentlemen by whom they had been prepared.
§ Resolution agreed to.
§ On the 19th Resolution,
§ Mr. G. Bankes
said, he wished to make a few observations upon this Resolution, and those which followed, with reference 301 to the remarks he made at an earlier period of the discussion as to Members possessing local information being excluded from these Committees. It was provided by another Resolution, that if any party came forward with a new project of railway, which might appear to the Committee better than the one originally proposed, the Committee should have power to adjourn their proceedings, even though their inquiries should have gone on to a considerable extent, to give time for that other later project to come before the House and Committee, and then to proceed pari passu wish the first Bill. Now, let him suppose that no party was prepared at that time to incur the expense of carrying on a project of this kind, and yet that the Committee should be satisfied that the measure before them was a bad one. If that were supposed, he thought the House would at once see the propriety of Members locally connected with the district sitting upon the Committee even though they should have no vote. The hon. Member for Montrose talked of personal interest or personal bias on the part of such Members; but it was not with reference to such interests as these that he addressed the House. Local knowledge and local interests were totally different things, and, by excluding, as they now proposed to do, local knowledge from those Committees, they would either encourage bad projects, or, where the measure was good, they would greatly increase the expense. The impression had gone abroad that the powers of the Committee of the Board of Trade were much more extensive than it now appeared they were. The projects against which they decided had been depressed, but they were now rising again; and all these measures were now likely to come before the Committees, and therefore a vast pressure of business was likely to come before them, in which he thought it was unwise to deprive themselves of the advantages of local knowledge. He spoke for the interests of the public, which included the interests of both rich and poor; but he would tell the House of a case which occurred, and not in his own county. A railroad was about to be cut through an extensive and fertile district, where the poor had the right of pasturage; and the question put was, were the poor entitled to notices in this case, as well as the rich proprietors? He (Mr. Bankes) said that he conceived they were so entitled to notices, and he hoped they were. But he would tell the hon. Member 302 for Montrose, that if Members possessed of local knowledge were to be excluded, the Member who told him of this circumstance would not be able to state his case before the Committee. He knew that the question had been well considered by the noble Lord and the Committee before coming to this conclusion; but, nevertheless, unless he were excluded, he should certainly feel himself bound to attend any Committee in which his local knowledge might be of service.
§ Mr. Hume
replied, that the case to which the hon. Member alluded had been fully considered. The course now recommended had been adopted by the House of Lords with complete success. No hon. Members would be prevented from attending any Committee, but they would not be allowed to take part in the proceedings except as witnesses. He beseeched the House to try the same course which had been found so successful in the Lords.
agreed with the hon. Member for Montrose, and he congratulated the noble Lord and the Committee on their having now brought the railway business of the country into something like a real practical shape. At the same time he saw the force of what had fallen from the hon Member for Dorset, and he trusted the noble Lord would give due weight to his suggestions. In cases where conflicting evidence was given by competing parties, he would suggest that the chairman should have power to call for the evidence of persons who were locally connected with the district, but unconnected with the railway projects, and take from them such evidence as they could rely upon. This of course must be done at the expense of the House and not of the parties; but he thought the evidence so obtained was likely to be of great importance. With regard to the numbers on a Committee, he thought the smaller the numbers were, the greater would be their responsibility, and the better effect would their decisions have upon the country. He had sat upon one or two Committees in competing railways, and he would state that in every one they had agreed unanimously to the Report laid before the House, and he had learned they were looked upon as fair and honest decisions.
§ Mr. Ward
said, the suggestion of the hon. Member for Somersetshire would only have the effect of making the inquiry almost interminable. What was the good of the Committee of the Board of Trade if 303 they did not, in their investigations, attend to the public interests? He thought the same thing might be said of the suggestion of the hon. Member for Dorset. If stray county Members were to be allowed to press their individual crotchets upon the attention of Committees, it would only be another source of delay. He was satisfied that by adopting the Resolutions of the Committee, limiting the number of Members, enforcing their attendance, and impressing upon the mind of every man that he had serious duties to discharge, they would ensure their being well done, and make the management of their private business worthy of the House of Commons.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer
agreed with the hon. Member for Dorset that there was a difficulty regarding the attendance of Members possessed of local information. He took a different view of the question from the hon. Member for Somerset, who looked only to the question of two competing lines. He thought more danger was to be apprehended to individuals where there was only one line. He knew certain districts of country where railroads were taken in one direction rather than another because it suited the convenience of the engineer—the parties aggrieved were compelled to submit, because they had no means of bringing their case before the House. Where there were competing lines, a party aggrieved by one railway could throw himself into the arms of another, who would naturally adopt his case as against their rival line; but where there was only one he had no protection beyond that of bringing his case before the House. Now, if Members possessed of local information were allowed to appear before the Committee, he thought they might bring forward the case of such parties without trouble or expense to him; and if this were not attended to he thought a very grievous wrong would be left without a remedy.
§ Mr. Shaw
said, he had once sat as chairman in the case of two competing lines, and it was stated to him that a Member was present who wished to give evidence in the case. He, as chairman, immediately had him called as a witness, and he gave very important evidence, to which no objection was made by either party. If a Member of Parliament wished to be examined before a Committee, he apprehended there could be no difficulty in having him examined.
§ Mr. J. Jervis
thought that no objection could be fairly taken to the course suggested by his right hon. Friend. At present the practice in Committees was not to hear any person who had not presented a petition to that House. The subject was one on which doubt might be entertained, and he hoped therefore that it would be explained by the noble Lord. He considered the practice proposed preferable to that which now existed; but, at the same time, he was of opinion that the point in question required explanation.
Sir W. James
said, supposing a petition was presented, and some party failed to substantiate it, and an hon. Member was to go to the Chairman of the Committee, and state that he wished to appear before that Committee and give some information which he deemed of importance, would it not be a hard case to parties interested in the particular line of railway under consideration if, from some neglect or from some technicality, the hon. Member was prevented from coming forward and giving the evidence? He quite concurred, however, in the recommendation of a Committee, that no Member having a local interest in any railway project should act on the Committee to which such project was referred. The attendance on Committees of Members so situated had been productive of strife.
§ Mr. Hume
If a Member offered himself as a witness to any Committee, he (Mr. Hume) could only say that if he was Chairman of that Committee, or a Member of that Committee, he would insist on his being examined exactly as another witness would be. What difficulty could such a proceeding create? It could not take the Committee by surprise, but would give to the Members of the Committee a better opportunity than they might otherwise have of coming to a proper decision.
§ Mr. Darby
said, the case was this. One local Member of a place might be present all through the proceedings, and cognisant of the whole, while the other was not. It was a great question, whether the advantages derivable from that circumstance should be done away with. He believed, that five Members on a Committee would be as good as ten; but he considered that it would be highly improper that one Member alone should be allowed to give his own account of the matter at issue.
§ Sir R. Peel
Sir, I think it very important that we should come to a general understanding on the subject under discussion. 305 I presume that no party can claim to appear as a witness before the Committee in a case where private interests are in question, unless upon a petition to the House in the regular form. The Railway Department of the Board of Trade are precluded by their constitution from making reports on matters involving private interests; that is provided for by the clause in the Resolutions of last year which empowered them to act. Therefore, the Board of Trade can give us no information on the subject of private lights as affected by any of the projects laid before them. If private rights are affected, and if it be deemed necessary by the parties to defend them, they must consequently petition the House before they can be permitted to give evidence. In relation to the question of the presence of Members of Parliament at the Committees, I think it would break down the whole system if they were to act in that manner. I do not know whether they are now permitted to remain in the Committee-rooms after they have been cleared of strangers. I hope their good sense would keep them away under such circumstances; but it is my impression that no Member of Parliament who is not a Member of the Committee — one of the five—has a right to remain in the Committee-room pending a decision of the Committee. I do not know that a Member of Parliament has any right to claim the privilege of being heard as a witness when other witnesses in the same position have been excluded. I think this right would lead to speeches instead of facts; for if a Member had a right to give evidence he would convert it into a right to make a speech. But, on the other hand, I see nothing in the constitution of the Committee to preclude the Chairman, with the consent of the Members, from exercising the right of calling on Members of Parliament to give them any information on the subject-matter before them which they may consider calculated to affect the interests of the public. [Mr. Jervis: Or private interests?] I apprehend on private interests that a petition should be presented a certain time previous to the appointment of the Committee, in conformity with the Standing Orders of this House. Let us suppose, in reference to the question of the public interest and the powers of the Committee, to call witnesses—let us suppose two competing lines of railway—or only one—for one will illustrate the position as well as two; 306 surely, a Committee is not precluded by anything in its constitution from permitting Members of Parliament, who may be acquainted with certain facts relating to them, to give that information for the advantage of the public interest. Members of Parliament, as Members, have a right on the question of public interests I apprehend; but as to private interests they must be heard by petition.
§ Mr. Borthwick
said, that the right hon. Baronet had shown, with his usual discrimination, that Members of Parliament in the case in question were not different; from other witnesses. He would put a case to the House: suppose, that a railway; were to pass through the market-place of Evesham, or even the church of that borough—were the Members for the town, or the other Members for the county of Worcester, to be precluded from coming forward and informing the Committee on subjects so nearly affecting their constituents? If the right hon. Member for the University of Dublin was in the chair of a Committee, when he or his Colleague tendered evidence under such circumstances, doubtless they would be heard; but suppose the chair was filled by some hon. Member who had not the Roman virtue of that right hon. Gentleman, what would become of Evesham church or Evesham market-place—and where would be the rights of the Worcestershire constituency? The whole principle of the Resolution ran counter to the constitution of Parliament, and also to the speeches of the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government. The speeches of the right hon. Gentleman, and the Resolutions were at variance, and he (Mr. Borthwick) hoped the House would follow the speeches, and reject the Resolutions. He also hoped the House would free Committees from the shackles which were to be put on their hands by the Resolution. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Sussex had attempted to show the House that he was very young on the matter before them; but he would completely succeed in proving that fact, if he trusted the interests of his constituents to such a Resolution as that before the House.
said, that by a Standing Order of the House, it was provided, that no petition on a Private Bill should be presented less than three clear days before the nomination of the Committee, otherwise the parties could not be heard. In his opinion, the whole question respecting the 307 attendance of Members of Parliament before the Committee, resolved itself into the fact that local Members, who were present under such circumstances, were not in the position of witnesses, but in that of nominees. In very few instances were local Members competent to give information on the subject from their own knowledge; and if it was desired that these tribunals should be reckoned pure, the presence of Members of Parliament, under such circumstances, should be altogether prevented.
§ Lord J. Manners
said, the Standing Order applied only to petitions against Railway Bills; but the question really before the House was as to Members of Parliament desiring to give evidence before a Committee. He did not think that their claim was concluded by the Order of that House, but, as the right hon. Baronet had justly said, it was to be decided by the judgment of the Chairman and the Members of the Committee. There was, however, this great difficulty in the latitude allowed by the right hon. Baronet—one Committee might decide one way, and another the other. Thus there would be a diversity of action on these bodies in that respect, and a total absence of all uniformity in practice. That was a thing to be deprecated; for there would be no such respect for these decisions when there was no uniformity in their practice. The House should, therefore, decide the question in one way or the other.
§ Lord G. Somerset
said, his decided impression was that, with regard to private interests, parties presenting a petition three clear days before the nomination of the Committee, had a right to be heard as witnesses. The question was, whether the Committee had the power of calling such additional evidence before them as they thought would give the most satisfactory information. He had no doubt of the power on that point; and he had the strongest conviction on his mind, that Committees under these circumstances have a distinct right to examine any person whom, in the exercise of their judgment, they should deem capable of furnishing them with such information, whether on the part of the parties to the Bill before them, or on that of those who were in opposition to it. On the other hand, however, he did not think that a Committee had the power of compelling the attendance of such evidence; and that, if they desired it, they should be obliged to come to that House for power for the purpose. In 308 his opinion there was not such ambiguity in the Resolution as to require the special interposition of the House: and it seemed quite plain to him that Members of Parliament had no right to force themselves as evidence on Committees.
§ Resolutions were agreed to.