§ MR. BOUVERIE laid on the table of the House two large manuscript volumes of returns relating to turnpike-road trusts, which had been moved for by one of the hon. Members for Glasgow, relating to turnpike trusts. The hon. Gentleman said he laid these returns on the table of the House in order that hon. Members might be enabled to form a judgment as to the nature of the returns which were often moved for, in many cases with little or no practical object, and the printing of which put the country to an enormous expense. Great trouble and time had been already expended in the preparation of the returns which he now exhibited.
§ MR. E. ELLIS
had only to say he hoped they were not about to add to the trouble and expense already incurred by ordering these returns to be printed.
§ MR. W. PATTEN
quite agreed with the hon. Gentleman opposite that much needless trouble and expense were incurred in the preparation of returns, which were often calculated to subserve no object of public advantage. The returns could not be printed without the consent of the Printing Committee; but this was only one instance out of many of the great expense and trouble which were often incurred for returns equally valueless with the present. He remembered one instance in which no fewer than 30,000 letters had to be written for the purpose of obtaining the information wanted, and when it was obtained it turned out to be different from what had been anticipated by the hon. Member who moved for it.
§ MR. ROEBUCK
thought it would be of great advantage to appoint a Committee, or some other authority, to superintend the ordering and preparation of returns. At present, when returns were moved for, it very rarely happened that a dozen Members knew what was passing in consequence of the buzz of conversation in the House, and in a single instant it often happened that the question was put, and the order of the House made, which led to a great expenditure of money and labour. This would be avoided if the previous sanction of a Committee were necessary to the procuring of returns.
§ MR. SPEAKER
would remind the House that the Printing Committee some 716 time ago recommended hon. Members, before they moved for returns, to consult the librarian, in order to ascertain whether the information required might not be had by other means. If hon. Members would adhere to that recommendation, the expense of preparing voluminous returns might in many cases be avoided.
MR. CORNEWALL LEWIS
said, that at present, when the head of a Government department was asked whether he had any objection to lay such and such returns upon the table, he, being considered a party interested, was unwilling to offer any objection, unless there was some public reason for doing so. But it seemed to him that what was principally wanted was some impartial tribunal, who would look into the subject and decide in each case whether it was worth while to incur the necessary expense of procuring the returns.
§ MR. DISRAELI
hoped the House would pause before imposing any restrictions upon the obtaining of information. He admitted there were considerable abuses under the present system; but still the abuses were not so great as they were twenty years ago. Considerable improvements had been introduced into the regulations with regard to returns since that time, principally, he believed, through the exertions of the hon. Member for Montrose; and he did not think there was anything at present to call for the interposition of the House. If hon. Members, before moving for returns, would consult the librarian, he believed that all the existing abuses would be checked, if not altogether prevented.
§ MR. THORNELY
said, that if Motions for returns were referred to the particular department of Government which was supposed to possess the required information before they were agreed to, he could not help thinking that much expense would be saved.
§ MR. HUME
thought that if Members would adhere to the recommendation of the Printing Committee to inquire whether the information required was not already before the House in some shape or other, and if, in addition to this, they would adopt the rule which he always observed never to move for returns unless they had some object in view beyond the mere desire to obtain the information, very much of the expense now incurred would be avoided.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
considered that many returns were made to meet the purposes of the department, rather than with 717 the view of affording the information required.
§ MR. COBDEN
said, that the conversation was originated not by the expense of printing, but by the expense of collecting the materials for printing. The rule which he adopted with regard to returns, and which he would recommend to others, was, never to remove for returns unless he meant to take some proceedings with regard to them. He thought there should be a Standing Committee appointed to whom all Motions for returns should be referred before they were ordered, with a view to ascertain, first, the probable expense of collecting the materials, and the time that would be required in collecting them; and, second, whether the information required was not already in existence. The library was already incumbered with returns which Members, with very little pains, might have collected from other documents already published; indeed, he must say, that he believed few persons examined into facts and figures more than he did, and yet he was astonished to find that the current statistical details published by the House contained almost everything he wanted.
§ Returns ordered to lie on the table.