HC Deb 05 May 1845 vol 80 cc176-83
Mr. Warburton

said, a matter had occurred during the Private Business, that evening, which he thought it important they should take into their consideration. There was a private Bill, the Irish Great Western Railway Bill, with respect to which the Standing; Orders Committee had reported that it ought not to be proceeded with. Nevertheless, in the Paper of the Private Business of that day, there was a Notice by the hon. Member for Roscommon, that the promoters of this Bill should be permitted to proceed with it. That Notice came under discussion that evening; and the Chairman of the Standing Orders Committee, and several other Members, in speaking on the merits of the Motion, stated that in 300 cases they found the Standing Orders had not been complied with by the promoters of this Bill, and that of these thirty-four were of great importance. Other Gentlemen who had spoken in favour of the Motion, stated that it was a matter of the greatest importance for the welfare of Ireland, that, in spite of this non-compliance with the Standing Orders, the Bill should be proceeded with. The House then came to a vote on the Motion, and affirmed it by a majority of 97 to 81. He would not have called attention to the subject, except that a Member of the Government, the Secretary for Ireland, had spoken in favour of the Motion, and had voted for it. Now, when private solicitations had been made to him (Mr. Warburton) by many of his constituents to support similar Motions, and particularly in the case of the Birkenhead and Manchester Railway, when all parties admitted that there were only two or three cases in which the Standing Orders had not been complied with, his course had always been to endeavour to persuade them to accede to the Reports of the Standing Orders Committee, because in his opinion that House did not, and could not, decide such questions on the merits, but merely in favour of that party which had made the strictest canvass. He thought this was a question affecting the whole conduct of Private Bills in that House. He looked upon it that "chaos would come again," if, when the Repor of the Standing Orders Committee came before that House, such conduct was adopted by a Member of the Administration. He, therefore, rose to ask the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government, what course he would recommend to those Gentlemen who came there anxious only to perform their duties, but who, when attempts were made in future to overthrow the Reports of the Standing Orders Committee, would be much less able to resist them after such a precedent had been set by a Member of the Government? He thought the greatest injustice would be done to the supporters of other Private Bills if such a gross infraction of the Standing Orders were overlooked; particularly after they had been so strictly enforced in the Birkenhead and Manchester, and other Railway Bills in a similar situation.

Sir R. Peel

said, he was sure the hon. Member would feel that it was not in his power to control the course of any Members of the Administration with respect to any Private Bill. That must necessarily be left to his own sense of duty. But as an exemplification of his own opinion he would state, that when a gentleman much interested in favour of this Bill applied to him, saying that as he (Sir R. Peel) had always expressed a strong interest in Irish railways, he came to solicit his forbearance; he replied that he thought the Order of the Committee a judicious one, and as he had every confidence in the purity of their intentions and the justice of their conduct, he must refuse all interference. He would state also that he that morning had an interview with the Vice President of the Board of Trade on the subject, and being told that although this was a Private Bill, it had been usual for the Vice President of the Board of Trade or some other Member of the Government to support the general authority of Committees of that House; under such circumstances he (Sir R. Peel) requested his right hon. Friend to be in attendance, and vote in favour of the Report of the Standing Orders Committee. That was all he knew on the subject.

Mr. Labouchere

said, he thought the right hon. Gentleman had misunderstood the complaint of his hon. Friend. The complaint was, not that the Secretary for Ireland, or any other Member of the Government, had taken his own view of a Private Bill, but that the Secretary for Ireland had come there in his capacity of Secretary of State for that country, and had thrown into the scale the weight of his official authority; that he had acted separately from the Government at large, and had advocated a measure which had been opposed by the noble Lord the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and which the Government, as a Government, were not prepared to support. In saying this, the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Ireland must not think that he was speaking harshly. He wished him to use all fair means of gaining popularity in Ireland; but he hoped he would take it in good part, if he assured him he did not think the course he had taken was calculated to raise his consideration in the eyes even of those he had supported on that occasion. He thought the course the right hon. Gentleman had taken was very objectionable; and he did not recollect any precedent for it. He remembered, indeed, that when a former Secretary for Ireland had recommended a particular course with respect to a Bill, the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel) had supported it; but here the Secretary for Ireland took a course not supported, but opposed, by the rest of the Government. He repeated, he thought this was most objectionable; and that they ought to apply the same rules to railways in Ireland as in this country. He had always thought it right to support as much as possible the decisions of the Standing Orders Committee; for he thought to make that House a Court of Appeal from that Committee, would produce nothing but confusion. Some of his Irish friends had canvassed him on this matter; but he replied that unless the Chairman of the Committee approved of the course proposed, he should feel it his duty to vote against it.

Mr. B. Osborne

thought the Secretary for Ireland had exercised a sound discretion on this subject. His hon. Friend seemed to forget that the difficulty of complying with the Standing Orders was multiplied a hundred-fold in Ireland, in consequence of the middleman system, and other peculiarities of the tenure of land in that country. For this reason, he thought there was no analogy between this case and that of the Birkenhead and Manchester Railway; and that if they were to enforce the Standing Orders strictly, it was impossible to pass any Railway Bill for Ireland.

Mr. B. Escott

said the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Labouchere) was mistaken in supposing the Secretary for Ireland had acted in his official capacity. He himself heard that right hon. Gentleman state he did not wish to use any influence as Secretary for Ireland; and doubtless he had as much right to vote on the question as any other hon. Member who voted for it.

Lord J. Russell

said, the hon. Gentleman (Mr. B. Osborne) appeared to think that projects of this kind could not be brought before Committees if they strictly enforced the Standing Orders. Now, it might be right, in consequence of the peculiarities of the tenure of land in Ireland, not to require strict compliance with the Standing Orders; but then there should be some rule of the House on the subject. It could not be right that the authority of this Committee should be strictly enforced with regard to all Railway Bills in England and Scotland, but should be set at nought with respect to Ireland. He hoped, therefore, the House would either come to some special Resolution with respect to Irish Railway Bills, or that in future the authority of the Committee would not be allowed to be set at nought by a Member of the Government.

Sir T. Fremantle

could not remain silent under the imputation that he came down to that House to use his influence, as a Member of the Government, with respect to this Bill. If the noble Lord had been present, he would have found that the course he took did not justify such imputation. What his hon. Friend the Member for Winchester had stated was true. He stated to the House, that he rose merely as a private individual; that this was a matter on which every man should exercise his own discretion; and that he did not wish to say anything to affect the judgment of any person. He had merely mentioned that he was Secretary for Ireland to show his interest in the subject. He took the course he did, knowing that there was another competing Bill from the east to the west of Ireland; and believing that it was of great importance that they should both go before the Committee, in order that either, or both, might be passed in the present Session.

Mr. Aglionby

was a Member of the Standing Orders Committee; but he had been accidentally prevented from attending when this Bill was under discussion. If the same rule was not to be applied to Irish railways as to English railways, then it would be better not to waste the time of the Committee in dealing with Irish railway matters at all. If the House, by reversing the decisions of the Committee, threw discredit on that Committee, it would be far better to do away with the rule appointing such Committee; but if the House were determined to continue the Committee in their functions, and to make their decisions of proper value and weight, let them lay down certain rules for their guidance, and let these rules in all cases be impartially adhered to. If such things as had just occurred were to be done, public confidence would be entirely lost. There was the Bill for the Manchester and Birkenhead Railway lost for this Session from noncompliance with the Standing Orders. Now, this undertaking was not so faulty by 50 per cent., as the Dublin and Galway Railway project. If the House wished to preserve a character for consistency, they must apply the same rule to all alike—they must not have one system for England, and another for Ireland.

Mr. F. French

said, the grounds on which the Dublin and Galway matter had been brought forward in that House, were wholly distinct from the question of noncompliance with the Standing Orders. The authority of the Committee on Standing Orders had never been questioned. The supporters of the Motion for leave to proceed with the Dublin and Galway Bill, had submitted a case of gross fraud to the House; they did not dispute the propriety of the decision of the Standing Orders Committee, but they were prepared to show that none of the Orders had actually been violated, though he admitted they were apparently violated.

Mr. J. W. Patten

said, the ground on which the House came to its recent decision was the consideration of the great importance to Ireland of this railway; but then he was bound to say there had been a practice revived with regard to this particular Bill that was seriously to be deprecated. He referred to the fact of Members having been canvassed to come down and vote; and if the House did not set its face against such a practice, it would be impossible for the Standing Orders or any other Committee to discharge fairly the duties entrusted to them. The duties of such Committees were suf- ficiently onerous, and their position had not been improved by the circumstance of the House having already reversed their decisions three times. He had given notice for the Report of the Committee on this line to be printed, and the House would be in possession of the details of the question before hon. Members would be called upon to vote. If the Report was printed, and if hon. Members gave themselves the trouble to examine it carefully, they would see that the Committee had discharged their duty properly, and that the reversal of their decision was not proper.

Viscount Howick

believed that the subject before the House was one of great public importance. It was clear that were they to pursue the course which had been that night adopted, they were in the way of bringing about a state of things which would lead to the most serious consequences. All the abuses of the old system, in reference to the conduct of Private Business, would be revived, if the House were not to determine against the recurrence of such decisions as had been that night agreed to. He had heard the great importance of railways to Ireland urged by hon. Members who had supported the Motion. No one felt that importance more than he did; but important as it was that Ireland should enjoy good railway communication, it was more important still that they should not inflict upon it the evils of a jobbing system of private legislation. By delaying this measure for a year, they would probably be doing Ireland a service; they would be giving it a lesson as to the necessity of adopting the same strictness in the mode of conducting business which was in England. If, however, the Standing Orders, as they at present stood, bore in any way harshly upon the peculiar circumstances of Ireland, then let them mitigate the severity of these rules so far as regarded that country; but let them not come, as they had that night done, and in peculiar isolated cases set aside the decisions of the Standing Orders Committee. Let them reflect upon the consequences of the vote which they had that evening come to. Even supposing the competing Bill to be as faulty as that which had been just discussed, they could not, in common justice to its promoters, refuse it the same indulgence. But this, the first step in a wrong course, ought to be retraced, and it was competent for them by the forms of the House to do so. The Bill would soon be presented. It would then be competent for those who entertained the same opinions relative to the matter as he did, to vote against its first reading; and were that course to be pursued, then he thought that they had a right to call upon the Government to support it. The distinction drawn by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Ireland between his public and his private capacity was one, in his opinion, quite untenable. Would the right hon. Gentleman have so acted had he been simply the Member for Buckingham? No, it was as Secretary for Ireland that he had spoken and voted; but as Secretary for Ireland he could not divest himself of his official authority and influence. He held it, therefore, to be the duty of the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government, agreeing as he did with them generally as to the matter, to take care that those who held office under his Government, did not come forward in their official character to induce the House to come to decisions calculated to lead to injurious consequences hereafter.

Lord Worsley

said, this was not the first instance during the present Session when he had heard of hon. Members of that House being canvassed to come down and vote on particular questions. He had himself always entertained a strong determination not to vote upon any Private Bill with the merits of which he was unacquainted. He came down to the House to-night just as strangers were ordered to withdraw, previous to the division on the Irish Great Western Railway Bill; but as he knew nothing of the merits of the question, he did not vote. If the practice of canvassing Members were persisted in, where were they to stop? Some individuals might not have sufficient delicacy to prevent them from canvassing Members who were on the Committees. They had lately effected great improvements in the mode of conducting railway business in that House, and he hoped the general feeling of hon. Gentlemen was opposed to the canvass of Members for their votes on particular Bills.

Mr. T. Duncombe

considered the House was in a difficulty now, but that they would be in a still greater difficulty if they acted on the suggestion of the noble Member for Sunderland (Lord Howick). The House had, for an hour and a half, discussed the question whether the Standing Orders should be dispensed with in the case of the Irish Great Western Railway, and they eventually came to the conclusion that those Orders should be dispensed with. He considered that no case had made out for dispensing with the Standing Orders, and he had therefore voted against the Motion. He thought the promoters of the Manchester and Birkenhead Railway had good ground for complaint; for in that case he had only moved that the regulations of the Standing Orders Committee should be relaxed. That Committee, he believed, discharged their duties in strict conformity with the directions of the House; but the question was, whether there was to be any appeal from the Committee. If there was to be no appeal, let them lay down the rule that the Report of the Committee should be final and conclusive; but it would be a mockery if the decisions of the House, reversing the decisions of the Committee, were to be rendered ineffectual in the manner proposed by the noble Lord (Lord Howick.) He thought the proper course would be to allow the Bill to go into Committee, where its merits could be fairly discussed and ascertained.

Subject dropped.

On the Question that the Order of the Day be read,