HC Deb 18 June 1847 vol 93 cc701-9

(in the absence of Mr. Hume) moved the resumption of the Adjourned Debate on the question— That it is expedient that the constitution and practice of all Committees on Private Bills, in future Sessions of Parliament, should be assimilated as nearly as may be to those of Committees on Railway Bills; and that it be an instruction to the Committee for revision of Standing Orders to make provision accordingly. The hon. Gentleman adverted to the various changes which had been made in the constitution of Committees on Private Bills for the purpose of securing an impartial tribunal, and to the want of success which had attended those changes. In reference to Railway Bills, however, the House had resorted to a new principle. Such Bills were referred to Committees consisting of five members, who were entirely unconnected with the district to which the Bills related. Testimony was generally borne to the infinite superiority of that system. Difficulties were experienced and complaints were made in consequence of the attendance in Committees on Private Bills of Members who had a local interest, or might be supposed to act under the influence of their constituents. Indeed, he recollected on one occasion, when, as chairman of a Committee on a Private Bill, he had to give a casting vote, that a Member of the Committee who voted differently said to him, "You were perfectly right in the vote you gave, and I was perfectly wrong; hut what could I do with such a number of my constituents present?" Local Members might be present in Committees to assist; but they should have no voice in the decision. The opinions of Parliamentary agents and others possessed of the greatest experience was in favour of the exclusion of local Members; and he might further state that the House of Lords had adopted that system.


thought, considering the importance of the Motion, that the hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Hume) ought to have been present to support it himself. Its adoption would do nothing but impose duties of a most severe and arduous nature upon Members of the House in regard to Private Bills. Hon. Gentlemen would be compelled to attend to every gas, waterwork, or paving- Bill—to Private Bills, in short, of all descriptions, and to sit in the Committee-rooms dealing with most uninteresting matter. From the nature of the private business, it would he impossible, when it was increasing to so much, for hon. Gentlemen to do justice to the subjects. He thought, indeed, the time was approaching when the House of Commons would see the necessity of rejecting that description of business, and of appointing that tribunal thoroughly to investigate the preliminary matters which formed the groundwork of all proceedings up stairs, reserving to itself the power of finally adjudicating. He would give every opposition to the Motion.


observed, that the mode of conducting private business was a matter of public interest and imperial concern. He feared, with his hon. and learned Friend who had last addressed the House, that much of their business was of a character which rendered another tribunal perhaps more appropriate. But he was satisfied that the large accumulation of their business, public and private, would make it physically, morally, and intellectually impossible for the House to get through it efficiently. With respect to the question which was then before the House, as to whether it was or was not fit that they should commit all Private Bills to one and the same kind of tribunal, composed of Members without local knowledge or local interest, his opinion was, that local interests ought to be represented. How much would it increase the expense, for instance, to send a Rochdale Gas Bill or a Rochdale Paving and Lighting Bill to a Committee which knew nothing about the local merits of the question, and who would have to depend altogether for their information on the counsel employed? The increased expense might be a comparatively light matter in the case of a large interest like that of a railway from London to Dover, but it might bear rather heavily upon the parties concerned in a Private Bill like that he referred to. He must say he was not prepared to adopt a measure which, although prospective in the present instance, had been deliberately rejected by a majority of two to one when it was proposed to apply it to the present Session. He concurred entirely in the propriety of that decision, and he heard no reason assigned which, in his judgment, was sufficient to justify the House in reversing it.


supported the Motion. He did not see the force of the objection urged by the two hon. Gentlemen who had just spoken as to the oppressive labour which this new system would throw upon Members. There was no new work to be introduced; the work was already done by Members; and all that was proposed was a new method of doing it. The hon. Members had also talked of the increase of private business being likely to lead to its being done out of the House altogether by a judicial body: that might be a very proper arrangement; but it was inconsistent with their other argument, that local bodies ought to be represented in the management of the private business, because there would be no representation of local interests in such a tribunal as that proposed. He begged to remind the House that the present Motion embraced other objects besides that of assimilating the constitution and practice of Committees on Private Bills to those of Railway Committees, in the matter of selecting Members. There was the practice of sending groups of Bills to the same Committee, and the practice of making the attendance of Members compulsory, both which practices would be a great improvement in regard to Private Bills. With regard to the representation of local interests in the Committees, he admitted that in a few cases it might be a disadvantage to exclude it; but, on the whole, he was inclined to think that that disadvantage would be more than compensated by having the Committee entirely selected.


hoped the House would pause before it adopted this resolution, and not deprive constituents of the benefit of their representatives. This was a constitutional question. He recollected that the predecessor of the present Speaker declared that it was not according to the constitution to deprive constituencies of the benefit of their representatives. He should be inclined to support the resolution, provided it were modified so far as to allow local Members to have a seat in the Committees along with the selected Members. Supposing the Bill related solely to some particular borough, he would have the Member for that borough on the Committee; suppose it related to a county, he would have the two county Members on it; and supposing it related to more than one borough, he would have the Members for each of the boroughs on it. He thought such a plan as that would be a great improvement.


concurred in thinking it would be highly inexpedient to adopt this proposition. He had lately sat on a Railway Committee along with four hon. Members of great talents, and they had all felt themselves exposed to much inconvenience from having no local information. The railways referred to them were all in Scotland, and there was not one Scotchman on the Committee. The consequence was, that they felt great doubt if they had given a proper decision in all cases. They did the best they could, and he hoped their decisions were right; but they acted under great disadvantages. And how could it be otherwise, seeing that the House appointed men whose principal qualification was ignorance of the subject? Such a tribunal, for want of a better, might be adopted with respect to railways; but he hoped it would continue to be an exception—at all events, until a better and more matured plan than this was laid before the House.


said, that the hon. Member for Oxford had argued that the House ought to decide against the Motion, because they had already given a decision against it in the course of the present Session. He (Mr. Strutt) begged to remind the House of the circumstances under which that decision was given. The hon. Member for Dumfries brought forward a Motion on the subject on the second day of the Session. Objections were taken to his bringing it forward at that time; and the Secretary of State for the Home Department stated, that he did not wish to express an opinion either for or against the Motion; but, considering that it had been brought forward without the House having long notice of it, and considering that the subject had not previously been submitted to a Committee, and did not come before the House with the weight and authority of a Committee, he hoped the hon. Member would consent to withdraw the Motion. The hon. Member for Dumfries consented to withdraw it; but this having been objected to, a division unexpectedly took place, and it was rejected. It was not rejected, however, upon its merits, but for the reasons he had stated. Now, however, the resolution came before the House recommended by the nearly unanimous opinion of a Committee who had fully discussed and considered the matter. He must say for himself that when he sat on a Committee as a local Member, he felt that he was placed in a painful position. His constituents naturally, and he must say rightly, because he was their representative, expected him to attend to their interests; while, on the other hand, he felt that he was there in a judicial capacity, and that he ought to pay no respect to mere local feelings. The hon. Member for Dorsetshire had said, that Members were selected whose qualification was ignorance of the facts. But what was the qualification of jurymen? In the case of jurymen it was felt that impartiality was much more important than a knowledge of particular facts, because the want of information might be supplied by counsel and evidence, whereas impartiality could not be supplied by any other means. Having long entertained that opinion, and having previously given his vote in favour of it, he felt bound to repeat that vote; because all the experience he had had in private business, and of the working of the two systems, had convinced him that the House would act wisely if they adopted the Motion then proposed, and formed their Committees on a uniform system.


was of opinion that a broad distinction existed between Railway Bills and Local Bills: the former related to matters in which the whole country was interested; the latter referred only to subjects which possessed no interest beyond the localities to which they applied. If local representation should be shut out from Committees on Private Bills, the consequence would be, that many points of great interest to the inhabitants of the localities affected would fail to be investigated. If it should be deemed expedient to prevent local Members from voting in the Committees, at least allow them the privilege of being present and taking part in the proceedings.


said, that he had the honour of having served upon a Committee with the Speaker before the right hon. Gentleman was placed in the chair, in which the question now under consideration was raised in immediate connexion with the private business of the House, the duties connected with which the right hon. Gentleman discharged in so admirable a manner. The question was no less difficult than important, and its difficulty was enhanced by the divided authority which prevailed respecting it. The opinion which the Speaker expressed before he was appointed to the chair was decidedly in favour of the change now proposed; but, on the other hand, the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor, Lord Dunfermline, maintained that local representation in private Committees was, on constitutional grounds, not only defensible, but necessary. Then, again, the noble Lord the Member for Liverpool, who had perhaps greater experience with respect to Private Bills than any other Member of the House, and whose integrity in dealing with them was universally acknowledged, opposed the resolution; whilst the hon. Member for Hants declared his intention of voting for it. The observations which had been made relating to the manner in which the proposed change would affect the convenience of Members, would not in any respect influence his decision on the question. When a Gentleman undertook to act as a representative of the people, he did so under the implied, if not the express condition, that he would sacrifice his convenience and devote his time to the public service. The question to be decided, therefore, was, what was for the public good with respect to the matter which they were then discussing? He did not believe it would promote the interests of the people to put an end to representation as respected private business. He could not concur in the opinion expressed by the hon. Member for Weymouth (Mr. Bernal), that the time had arrived when it was desirable to cut off from the House all jurisdiction with respect to private business. With due diligence and the proper appropriation of time, he believed the House would be able to discharge all the duties which at present devolved upon it. He should be sorry to see the House part with any of its functions, the due discharge of which elevated it in the opinion of the public. The resolution before the House recommended that Committees on Private Bills should be assimilated as nearly as might be to Committees on Railway Bills. The words "as nearly as might be" gave a character of ambiguity to the proposition. At the close of the Session, and in the last hour almost of an expiring Parliament, it would be neither wise nor expedient to affirm a proposition which on the face of it appeared to propose so extensive an alteration, and yet was so ambiguously worded that it might produce no substantial result. If, therefore, the Motion were proposed to a division, he would vote against it.


said it was true that no plan had been submitted to the House, but it was the object of the resolution to refer the matter to the Standing Orders' Committee, in order that they should draw up such regulations as they might deem necessary. If he must choose between the existing practice and the alteration proposed, he preferred the latter, and would therefore give his vote for the Motion.


said, that he would support the Motion. From his peculiar position he had no interest in the matter; but he wished to state distinctly, as the result of the experience of many years, that he thought it would be a great improvement to adopt the same system for Private Bills as for Railway Bills: it was, perhaps, the last opinion he should give in that House before retiring to a private station.


was sure the House would receive the opinion of the hon. Gentleman with great respect, and would hear with regret that they were about to lose the valuable aid they had derived from his long experience in this important part of their duties. With regard to the question before them, he could not agree with the right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Graham) that any great constitutional principle was involved in the Motion. The only question for them to decide was, how they could best form an impartial tribunal for the trial of Private Bills. The constitutional principle was equally involved in the rule laid down with regard to Railway Acts. His own opinion was strongly in favour of assimilating more closely the system of Committees on Railway and Local Bills; but he thought Members connected with the locality need not be entirely excluded from the proceedings; they might attend and take part in the inquiry, but should have no vote. He knew that Members were frequently placed in a difficult and dangerous position from their constituents urging them to vote one way, while their duty as judges compelled them to decide another.


could not lay claim to the experience of many Members who had spoken in that debate; still, he had not been without considerable experience both on Railway and other Private Bill Committees. He admitted that the question of excluding from Committees on ordinary Private Bills all Members with local or personal interests, was not free from some difficulty; yet he had no hesitation in giving it as his opinion, that in the balance of advantages, the preponderance was decidedly in favour of assimilating the practice to that on Railway Committees, and confining the tribunal in principle to selected Members. He had not arrived at the conclusion of his hon. Friend the Member for Weymouth (Mr. Bernal), that the time was come when the House must altogether part with its jurisdiction in private business; but he was very sensible of the vastly increased weight and responsibility of that department of the functions of the House; and sure he was, that if the House meant permanently to retain it, they must apply timely reform in that respect; and he considered the present a step in the right direction for the purpose.


knew that political contests were often fought on local Bills. He was fully convinced that if they rendered the tribunals before which Private Bills were tried, impartial, it would raise the dignity of the House, and confer a benefit on the public.


said, the opposition to his last return was founded entirely on his conduct on a local Bill. He wished to see Members act as judges, not as advocates.

The House divided:—Ayes 116; Noes 88: Majority 28.

List of the AYES.
Acland, T. D. Labouchere, rt. hon. H.
Aldam, W. Langston, J. H.
Arkwright, G. Lascelles, hon. W. S.
Arundel and Surrey, Earl of Lefroy, A.
Lincoln, Earl of
Baring, rt. hon. F. T. Lindsay, Col.
Baring, rt. hon. W. B. Loch, J.
Barrington, Visct. Mackinnon, W. A.
Berkeley, hon. C. Marshall, W,
Berkeley, hon. Capt. Marsland, H.
Boyd, J. Maule, rt. hon. F.
Brown, W. Miles, W.
Buller, E. Moffatt, G.
Burke, T. J. Morpeth, Visct.
Callaghan, D. Mostyn, hon. E. M. L.
Cardwell, E. Muntz, G. F.
Chapman, B. Nicholl, rt. hon. J.
Clay, Sir W. Norreys, Lord
Colebrooke, Sir T. E. O'Brien, J.
Collett, W. R. O'Conor Don
Collett, J. Ogle, S. C. H.
Courtenay, Lord Paget, Col.
Crawford, W. S. Palmerston, Visct.
Dalrymple, Capt. Parker, J.
Denison, J. E. Patten, J. W.
Dennistoun, J. Pattison, J.
Dickinson, F. H. Philips, G. R.
Divett, E. Plumridge, Capt.
Dodd, G. Powlett, Lord W.
Dugdale, W. S. Protheroe, E. D.
Duncan, Visct. Pusey, P.
Duncan, G. Rich, H.
Duncombe, T. Richards, R.
Dundas, Sir D. Roebuck, J. A.
East, Sir J. B. Shaw, rt. hon. F.
Ebrington, Visct. Sheil, rt. hon. R. L.
Elliec, E. Somerville, Sir W. M.
Escott, B. Sotheron, T. H. S.
Esmonde, Sir T. Stanton, W. H.
Estcourt, T. G. B. Strickland, Sir G.
Ewart, W. Strutt, rt. hon. E.
Forster, M. Tancred, H. W.
Gibson, rt. hon. T. M. Thornely, T.
Gladstone, Capt. Tomline, G.
Gordon, Adm. Towneley, J.
Gore, hon. R. Trelawny, J. S.
Gower, L. Tufnell, H.
Grey, rt. hon. Sir G. Turner, E.
Grogan, E. Villiers, hon. C.
Hanmer, Sir J. Vivian, J. H.
Harris, hon. Capt. Wakley, T.
Hastie, A. Walker. R.
Hatton, Capt. V. Williams, W.
Heneage, E. Winnington, Sir T. E.
Hollond, R. Wood, Col. T.
Hope, A. Wortley, hon. J. S.
Horsman, E. Yorke, H. R.
Howard, hon. E. G. G. TELLERS.
Howard, P. H. Greene, T.
Jervis, Sir J. Heathcote, Sir W.
List of the NOES.
Adare, Visct. Barnard, E. G.
Baillie, W. Beckett, W.
Bankes, G. Bentinck, Lord G.
Bernal, R. Hodgson, R.
Bodkin, W. H. Howard, hon. C. W. G.
Borthwick, P. Hudson, G.
Brisco, M. Ingestre, Visct.
Broadley, H. James, Sir W. C.
Broadwood, H. Kemble, H.
Buck, L. W. Lowther, Sir J. H.
Buller, Sir J. Y. Lowther, hon. Col
Burrell, Sir C. M. Lygon, hon. Gen.
Carew, W. H. P. Mackenzie, T.
Cavendish, hon. G. H. Manners, Lord J.
Cholmeley, Sir M. Miles, P. W. S.
Christopher, R. A. Morgan, O.
Clerk, rt. hon. Sir G. Morris, D.
Clive, Visct. Newdegate, C. N.
Codrington, Sir W. Newport, Visct.
Cole, hon. H. A. O'Ferrall, R. M.
Corbally, M. E. Palmer, G.
Deedes, W. Pechell, Capt.
Disraeli, B. Peel, J.
Douglas, J. D. S. Prime, R.
Duckworth, Sir J. T. B. Rashleigh, W.
Duncombe, hon. A. Repton, G. W. J.
Duncombe, hon. O. Rice, E. R.
Egerton, W. T. Ross, D. R.
Egerton, Sir P. Sandon, Visct.
Entwisle, W. Seymour, Lord
Feilden, Sir W. Sheppard, T.
Ferguson, Sir R. A. Smith, rt. hon. R. V.
Fielden, J. Somerset, Lord G.
Forbes, W. Spooner, R.
Fuller, A. E. Trollope, Sir J.
Gaskell, J. M. Trotter, J..
Gisborne, T. Vane, Lord H.
Gore, M. Vyse, H.
Graham, rt. hon. Sir J. Waddington, H. S.
Hall, Sir B. Walsh, Sir J. B.
Hamilton, W. J. Welby, G. E.
Hamilton, Lord C. Worcester, Marq. of
Heathcote, G. J.
Henley, J. W. TELLERS.
Hildyard, T. B. T. Brotherton, J.
Hodgson, F. Inglis, Sir R. H.

Motion agreed to.

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