HC Deb 18 July 1855 vol 139 cc1020-4

brought up the Annual Report of the Select Committee for the Revision of Standing Orders and stated that the alterations recommended were principally to make the Standing Orders of the two Houses as far as possible agree. The chief alteration which the Committee recommended was in the eighth Standing Order—that for the future no Members locally interested should be Members of a Committee on an opposed Bill. In all the changes which had been made for many years past the aim had been to give Committees an entirely judicial character, and that was the object of the proposed alteration. Local Members now stood in the anomalous position of having power to interfere, without any responsibility or share in the decisions of the Committee. In the case of an unopposed Bill, it was referred to the Chairman of Ways and Means, and he was assisted by one of the Members whose name was on the back of the Bill; but when Bills were opposed, it could only be necessary to resort for advice to local Members in such, few instances that they were amply provided for by the power of any Member to attend in any Committee-room. Local Members would not be deprived of any right as Members of Parliament, but would have the opportunity of directing the attention of the House to any mistakes which they conceived the Committee had made in their Report. For these reasons, he should move that the House agree to the recommendation.


said, that without offering any opinion as to the expediency of the proposed alteration, he would beg to direct the attention of the hon. Baronet to the unnecessary fees exacted on the bringing Bills before the House. It was very well known that on that account the undertaking of many useful projects in Ireland had been checked, and that railway enterprise had been most especially discouraged there.


said, he objected to the recommendation of the Committee as unconstitutional. It went to deprive local Members of the means of attending to those interests which they were meant particularly to represent—it would lead to great inconvenience on the part of the House, and it would induce to the canvassing for support amongst Members of Committees by the promoters of Bills when they found they were debarred of the presence and assistance of their local Members; and in addition, it would promote the discussion of the Reports of Committees on Private Bills—a result hitherto avoided as much as possible.


said, he fully concurred in the opinion expressed by the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Spooner), in opposition to the proposed recommendation.


said, he felt great doubts of the expediency of the alteration, as he was convinced many useful Bills would have been lost had not the local Members been present to supply information, which the Committee could obtain from no other source. If local Members were deprived of the power of taking part in the proceedings, they would cease to attend the Committees, and the interests of their constituents would in many cases suffer.


said, he believed the decisions of Committees would give more satisfaction, if, after the parties were requested to withdraw, they did not see that the local Members remained to influence those decisions. It would be far better for the character of the tribunal that information should be given by witnesses, and not by Members, who had no power to give a vote in the Committee. He could assure the hon. Member for Roscommon (Mr. French) that the Standing Orders Committee wished cordially that some means could be found for diminishing the fees; but that question had not been referred to them. As to protecting the public against the arrangements of rival parties, whose interests were distinct from the interests of localities, he considered it part of the duty of every Committee to watch over the public interests. He hoped the House would agree in the alteration, and, in future, exclude local Members from Committees on opposed Bills.


said, he would suggest that local Members should be permitted to be present in Committees, in order to ask questions and hear the discussions, but should be excluded, together with the public, when the Committee came to consider a Report.


said, he thought that, carrying out the principle which had been acted on for some years of making Committees as independent as possible, it would be right to exclude all members locally interested from taking part in the proceedings of Committees. Local members ought to be excluded, because, as judges, they were not to have a voice; as advocates, they would be objectionable, because no opportunity would be afforded for replying to their arguments; and, as witnesses, they would be obnoxious to the same objection that the other side could have no opportunity of cross-examination. He did not think the presence of local members was at all requisite, as in the cases of Railway Bills, where local interests were left unrepresented on the Committee, no complaints had ever been made that local interests had suffered thereby.


said, he differed from the opinions expressed by the right hon. Gentleman. Local members were excluded from Railway Committees because the local interests affected by those Bills were so extensive that they could not be completely represented. He thought upon Private Bills the presence of local members was an advantage, and therefore he hoped the House would not deprive them of the power of examining witnesses.


said, he was of opinion that local interests would not be left unguarded by the proposed change, and he would recommend the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Sotheron) to adopt the suggestion of the hon. Member for South Nottinghamshire, Mr. Barrow.


said, that as Chairman of the Committee, he would support the suggested alteration; but at the same time he must confess that he was much surprised the country had not taken exception to the present practice long ago.


said, that the reason why local representation was admitted was that the Committee should have the best information on the subject before them. Another reason was indeed alleged—that of the constitutional right of Members. He thought the best system to adopt was to exclude local members altogether, and to examine them as witnesses if they had any information to give.


said, he concurred in the recommendation to exclude local members, and would take that opportunity of remarking that he considered the present system of examining witnesses before Committees of that House to be extremely objectionable. He believed that persons examined in that House without the administration of any oath gave very different evidence from that which they would give before the House of Lords, where they were sworn.


said, he thought that some steps should be taken to relieve private parties, whose interests were affected by private Bills, from the heavy expense to which they were now subject.


said, for the sake of unanimity he was willing to adopt the suggestion of the hon. Member for Nottinghamshire (Mr. Barrow) as a step in advance, for he believed that it could not be a final arrangement.


said, if the hon. Chairman of the Committee assented to the suggestions of the hon. Member for South Nottinghamshire he (Sir G. Grey) should not dissent, but he really thought the preponderance of argument was in favour of the proposal of the Committee. He thought it would be humiliating to Members of that House to be allowed to attend upon Committees, but to be turned out of the room whenever the public was ordered to withdraw. If the principle was to be adopted that local members were not to influence Committees, except as witnesses, then they ought only to be allowed to appear as witnesses. The majority of the House appeared to be in favour of the Resolution of the Committee of Revision, and he thought it would be desirable to come to a decision upon that point.


said, he differed from the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Muntz), with respect to the administration of oaths, and thought the proper alteration would be to abolish the administration of oaths in the House of Lords, and thus harmonize the practice of the two Houses.


said, he could not help thinking that some advantage was derivable from the presence of local Members upon a Committee, although that position was disagreeable to the hon. Members themselves. He thought local Members ought not to be called upon to retire from the room when the public were excluded, but they should withdraw to a distant part of the room, so as not to take part in the discussions of the Committee.


said, he regarded the subject as one of considerable importance, as affecting the purity of the decisions of that House. The presence of local Members was undesirable, and he considered it would be useless to adopt the suggestion of the hon. Member for South Nottinghamshire, as it would fail to produce unanimity upon the present occasion.


said, he wished to ask whether, if Members were to be called upon to give evidence as witnesses, they would be required to pay the fee of three guineas for the privilege? He wished the House would turn its attention to the enormous expense attending proceedings before Select Committees.


said, that in a case in which his constituents were concerned, the amount of fees which were required to enable the parties to appear, either by themselves or counsel, was tantamount to a denial of justice.

Motion made, and Question put— That the Committee on every opposed private Bill (not being a Railway, Canal, or Divorce Bill), or Group of Bills, shall be composed of a Chairman and Four Members not locally or otherwise interested in the Bill or Bills in progress, to be appointed by the Committee of Selection.

The House divided:—Ayes 80; Noes 57: Majority 23.

Certain Standing Orders were then repealed, and new Orders, as reported by the Committee, agreed to.

Back to