HC Deb 11 June 1856 vol 142 cc1316-20

brought up the Report.


said, he wished to be informed what amount of money was involved in the grant proposed to be made under the Bill.


said, the step now taken was merely to authorise the bringing in of a Bill. Full explanations would be given when the Bill was brought in.


said, that if the principle was admitted, it should also be extended to England and Ireland.


said, that giving leave to introduce the Bill would not pledge the House to its support. In assenting to the petition, his noble Friend (Lord Palmerston) had reserved the right of the Government to oppose the Bill, if they should see fit.


said, he must complain that the House was, by this proceeding, called upon to take a step in the dark, and he thought the House ought to have some explanation before being called upon to affirm the principle.


said, that although the measure was brought in as a private Bill, it partook very much of the nature of a public Bill; and, perhaps, although it was not usual in private Bills, it would be as well that some explanation should be given, at that stage, of its purport.


said, that having charge of the Bill, he would beg to explain that the ancestor of the present Earl of Perth, in the reign of James II., was attainted of high treason and executed, his estates and property at the same time being forfeited to the Crown. His wife, however, who was ignorant of his supposed treasonable transactions, was possessed of private property in her own right, and this property was included by mistake in the confiscation, although she had committed no crime against the Crown. The descendants of the Earl and Countess had recently, within the last two or three years, in fact, secured the reversal of the attainder, and obtained the restoration of the title, and the object of the proposed Bill was to obtain some compensation from the hereditary revenues of Scotland for the private property of the countess, which had been improperly confiscated.


said, he thought that great care should be taken that the public revenues should not be voted away upon the application of private individuals, and the House should be cautious how it opened the door to claims of this description. He trusted that by the vote which the House now gave, it would not be prevented from bestowing most ample consideration on the measure on a future occasion.


said, he quite concurred with the right hon. Gentleman, that the utmost caution ought to be observed with regard to these Compensation Bills. Private Bills of that character ought not to be brought in at so late a period of the Session, and perhaps it would be as well that some positive rule should be laid down for the future for regulating the introduction of these half private, half public Bills.


said, perhaps it would not be out of place if Mr. Speaker were to explain the existing mode of proceeding in introducing these double character Bills.


said, in the first place, the promoters lodged a petition at the Private Bill Office, which was afterwards referred to the Standing Orders Committee to determine whether it was desirable that the Standing Orders should be dispensed with as had been done in the present instance. The Standing Orders being so suspended the petition for a Bill could still only be received by the House on the recommendation of the Crown, and when that recommendation was given, the petition was referred to a Committee of the whole House, because it related to the disposal of public money. That ordeal the present petition had already gone through, and the House was now asked to receive and adopt the Report which the Committee of the whole House had agreed to. Supposing the House to agree to the Motion, the Bill founded upon it would be introduced, and after the first reading it would be referred to the Examiner of Private Bills, to see if there were any Standing Orders, which it was necessary the promoters should have complied with. Everything being found to be in strict order, the Bill would be then read a second time as a Private Bill and referred, not to the ordinary Private Bill Committee, but to a distinct Select Committee. The Bill would then come back to the House in the shape of a Public Bill, when it would have to be referred to a Committee of the whole House, and in all its subsequent stages it would be treated in the same manner as though it were essentially a public measure.


said, he could express no opinion whether the Bill was founded in justice or not, as he was wholly uninformed as to the precise grounds of the claim the promoters asserted. No communication whatever had been made to the Treasury upon it, and under those circumstances perhaps it would not be unreasonable if he asked the hon. and learned Gentleman who had charge of the Bill to state now what were the materials upon which he proposed to ask the House to form a judgment in discussing the second reading of the Bill.


said, he viewed the Bill in the light of a most dangerous and unconstitutional precedent. The courts of law and equity were open to the parties if the State had wronged them, and to those tribunals they should be referred, rather than encouraged in a dangerous and unconstitutional mode of proceeding like the present. There was nothing in the case to distinguish it from numberless other instances where parties had forfeited their property and been driven into exile.


said, that adverting to what had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he was not prepared then to go into the grounds upon which he should ask the House to pass the second reading of the Bill; but he would take care that before that Motion was brought on, the nature and extent, as well as the grounds of the claim should be communicated to the Treasury.


said, the explanation of the hon. and learned Gentleman was completely satisfactory.


said, that the Standing Orders of the House did not permit of the Bill being read a second time until after the lapse of three days from the first reading, and required an interval of fourteen days from its passing that stage before it could be referred to a Select Committee, after which it would have to be referred to a Committee of the whole House. He therefore hoped the hon. and learned Gentleman would see how utterly hopeless it would be for him to get the Bill through the House in the present Session in time for its being carried through the House of Lords.


said, he was surprised at the doctrine which he had heard expressed, that going into Committee on a Bill and its earlier stages were matters of form, whereas they were very important steps indeed. It was when a Bill was committed that they were enabled to get a full explanation of what the objects of the Bill were.


said, the question was of to much importance that he considered that it ought to be discussed in a full House. He would put it to the hon. and learned Gentleman to refer the Bill to a Committee, as that was the stage in which the measure could be discussed.


said, he was thankful to the hon. Gentleman, the Chairman of Committees (Mr. FitzRoy), for the explanation which he had given with respect to the time that would be required to carry the measure through the House. He was also obliged to the hon. Gentleman the Secretary of the Treasury, (Mr. Wilson) for his suggestion. He should, before bringing the measure again before the House, go very minutely into the consideration of the question that he might be enabled to give them the fullest information with respect to it, and should he find the Session so far advanced as to preclude the possibility of carrying the measure before its close, he should not this year proceed further with it.

Resolution reportedThat the Chairman be directed to move the House, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to settle an annual payment out of the Hereditary Revenues of the Crown in Scotland on George Earl of Perth and Melfort, and the heirs male of his body on whom the title of Earl of Melfort shall descend, in consideration of the unjust seizure and disposition of the Estates of Euphemia Wallace, heretofore Countess of Melfort.

Resolution read a second time, and Petition for Bill re-committed for Monday next.