§ MR. GISBORNE
rose to bring forward the Resolutions of which he had given notice, as follows, and which he read to the House:—That the Committee on the Petition for each Railway Bill shall, in every case in which they shall report to the House that the Standing Orders have not been complied with, report further whether in their opinion the Standing Orders ought to be suspended, and whether the parties, under any and what conditions, should be permitted to go on with their Bill.That where the said Committee shall be unanimous in such last-mentioned Report, or where only one Member, such Member not being the Chairman, shall dissent therefrom, such Report shall be taken into consideration by the House, without being referred to the Committee on Standing Orders.That where more than one Member, or where the Chairman shall be dissentient from such Report, it shall be referred to the Committee on Standing Orders.That in every case in which a Railway Bill shall be referred to the Committee on Standing Orders, it shall be permitted either to the promoters or to the opponents of such Bill, to be heard by one counsel or one agent on the points so referred.He stated that when he had heard the Motion of which the right hon. Baronet opposite, the First Lord of the Treasury, had given notice, for a Select Committee on the subject of Railways, he thought that he might have deferred his present Motion until the Report of the Select Committee should have been submitted to the House; but when he found that, notwithstanding the appointment of that Committee, petitions for Railway Bills were still referred to the Sub-Committees on Private Bills, and thence frequently to the Committee on Standing Orders, he had no alternative but to bring forward his Resolutions without delay. On the preceding evening, the Select Committee on Petitions for Private Bills had been appointed; and, in justice 330 to the Members who comprised that Committee, he must say, that forty-two more active, able, and intelligent men of business could not have been selected from that House. Four Chairmen also had been chosen; and of those Gentlemen it was but justice to add, that more diligent, more experienced, more impartial, and more honourable men could not have been selected to discharge the important duties which they would have to perform. But what was the nature of these Committees on Petitions for Private Bills, and what were the duties which they had to discharge? For the most part, they were measurers of lines and readers of advertisements; their object being to ascertain whether any, and what, discrepancies existed between the divers notices and publications required by the Standing Orders of that House. Those Standing Orders had been printed with the sanction of the House, and he supposed that every person engaged in railway surveying throughout the kingdom possessed a copy of them; but, nevertheless, in spite of the great care bestowed on the subject by the Standing Orders' Committee, and by the House, he knew that there were many instances in which it was impossible for parties promoting railway schemes to decide beforehand whether the Standing Orders were or were not complied with. In some very important cases, for example, which he could point out, where the point at issue was the same, decisions had been given sometimes one way and sometimes the other: yet no register or record was kept of those decisions, so that it was of no use looking for precedents to aid in determining whether or not the Standing Orders were complied with. He might, in fact, say, so stringent were those Standing Orders, that he believed he did not overstate the case when he said, that if they were rigidly enforced, there was no Railway Bill, however accurately and carefully prepared, which might not be thrown out on the ground of violation of the Standing Orders. It was the duty of the Committee on Private Bills to examine all Bills, and, if they were found defective, to refer them to the Committee on Standing Orders; and here he must observe, with regard to that last-mentioned Committee, though he had every respect for its Members individually, yet that he looked upon it as in the aggregate one of the most outrageous tribunals in the world: and he believed that nothing save the personal character of the hon. Members who composed it could uphold 331 it during another Session: but for their high standing as men of honour and integrity, he felt convinced that the railway world would have no confidence whatsoever in its decisions. Even as it was, indeed, the public had not the confidence which such a tribunal might be expected, and ought to be calculated, to inspire. In the Resolutions which he had read to the House, and which he was about to propose, he endeavoured to remedy one great evil of the present system, by enacting, that in every case in which a Railway Bill should be referred to the Standing Orders' Committee, it should be permitted to the promoters and opponents of the Bill to be heard by one counsel upon the points which had been referred. He had no doubt but that would have the effect of lightening the labours of the Committee, whilst considerable advantage would accrue to the parties concerned, whether as promoters or opponents of a Bill. He would also put an end to that system of secrecy which was at present observed in the Standing Orders' Committee, where decisions were now given affecting property to an immense extent, in the absence of the parties who were the most interested. Those decisions were given one day upon some rule which might be adopted by the Committee, and the same rule might be set aside on another day, by way of compromise, to the almost ruin of a third party, to whose case the rule was not intended to apply. With these observations, he begged to move the Resolutions of which he had given notice, and to which he hoped the House would give a ready assent.
§ LORD G. SOMERSET
said, that knowing well the great attention which the hon. Member for Nottingham had paid to the subject of Standing Orders relating to Private Bills, and looking at the Resolutions which had just been proposed and seconded, he must say that he was surprised that such Resolutions should have been brought forward by that hon. Gentleman. He must oppose those Resolutions, because he felt that their adoption, more particularly the adoption of that part which enabled parties to be heard by counsel before the Standing Orders' Committee, would be attended with greatly increased delay and expense to the parties concerned. Indeed, so far from employing counsel in cases where they were not required, there were many hon. Members who thought, from the great latitude in which those learned gentlemen frequently 332 indulged, that it would be desirable to dispense with their services in many cases in which they were at present retained. He did not base his objection to the Motion of the hon. Member on his own views alone; but he was guided by the almost unanimous vote of a Committee which had had the subject under consideration. As to compromises being acted upon, he should certainly regret the adoption of that course at any time; but he thought that such a step could in every case be defeated by the vigilance of the Committee. Having regard, then, both to the public interest and to the advantage of the parties concerned, both in the promotion and opposition of Railway Bills, he felt it to be his duty to oppose the present Motion.
§ MR. STRUTT
agreed with the noble Lord opposite in the surprise which he had expressed at the proposition of his hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, from whom, from his great acquaintance with the Standing Orders of that House, he should certainly have expected better things. He took leave to deny altogether the propositions of his hon. Friend, that the Committee on Standing Orders was a sort of court of appeal, or that it was a committee of secrecy. At any rate, it was not more a committee of secrecy than the Committee on Petitions, or any other committee where evidence was not taken. The Standing Orders' Committee had the power of calling before them the promoters of the Bill, and also the chairman of the committee to which it had been referred, who, being one of their own body, would readily give them all the information which he possessed on the subject. If there were no culpable negligence, or that a party had been misled, he had no doubt that the Standing Orders' Committee would take such a case into consideration; but where there was a non-compliance with the Standing Orders, from culpable negligence, and where any party might be damnified by dispensing with them, the decision would, he had no doubt, be different in such a case.
§ MR. GISBORNE
would be glad to place his views on record, by a division, if he thought that any hon. Members were inclined to divide with him; but as the general feeling of the House appeared to be against him, he would not impose upon them the trouble of dividing.
§ Resolutions negatived.