HC Deb 27 July 1858 vol 151 cc2168-71

said, he wished to call the attention of the House to the Report of the Committee appointed for the revision of the Standing Orders. It was unnecessary, however, for him to enter into the details as the Report was in the hands of hon. Members, but he wished to state that the recommendations of the Committee would have the effect of lessening the expense of private Bill legislation, and of shortening the time devoted to inquiries before private Bill Committees. He would not say but that the labours imposed upon hon. Members by the private business of the House were extremely severe and onerous. During the present Session they had amounted to a positive grievance, and the object of the Committee had been to provide a remedy for the future. They had altered almost every stage through which a private Bill had to pass, putting forward the preliminary stages a week, and shortening the period between the first and second readings, and between the second reading and the time for going into Committee. Private Committees would be appointed earlier in the Session, and the House of Lords had agreed to take a portion of the private business shortly after the meeting of Parliament in each year. It was proposed, also, to diminish the number of tribunals. The general opinion was, that the number of Committees on railway Bills ought not to exceed five, and he was glad to state that already three of their best Chairmen had expressed their willingness to devote themselves next Session to carrying out the recommendation of the Select Committee in this respect. The railway Committees had hitherto been so numerous that any uniformity of decisions was utterly impossible. The Committee, however, had not been able to carry out all that they had desired, having found in some matters insuperable difficulties. This was the case, for instance, in respect to the presentation of Reports from the public departments to Committees. The Reports of public departments did not frequently come before the Committee till they had almost concluded their business. He thought these Reports were highly important, and a Standing Order had been framed that every Committee that rejected a recommendation of a public department should report that circumstance with the reasons. They had, however, been unable to frame any Standing Order to meet the evil arising from the delay in presenting the Reports, from the extreme difficulty of doing so without trenching on the privileges of the Crown. It would, therefore, be necessary to bring the matter before the House next Session, and in effecting this and other requisite changes they hoped to receive the assistance of the Government, without whose concurrence they would be unable to do anything. He had only further to state that the Standing Order moved at the early part of this Session, that any Member taking his place at prayers should retain it through the sitting, would now be incorporated with the other Standing Orders. He moved that the House agree with the Report of the Committee, and that the several other Standing Orders relating to private Bills, as amended by the Committee, be agreed to.


said, he thought it was impossible to exaggerate the extreme onerousness of the labours which Committees on private Bills imposed upon hon. Members. He regretted that the Committee on Standing Orders bad not proposed more sweeping changes in the present system of transacting private business, and recommended that hon. Members should be relieved from duties for which they were, for the most part, unfit. The objection stated by experienced witnesses was, not that private Bill Committees were too numerous, but that they were too fluctuating and too weak, rendering impossible anything like fixity or uniformity of decision; and this was only what was to be expected from tribunals composed of men who were in many cases totally inexperienced in the conduct of investigations, such as were carried on by Committees of that House. Litigation before a private Bill Committee was described by Mr. Hope Scott, the eminent counsel, as an absolute lottery. The Chairman of the Great Northern Railway Company recommended that the private Bill jurisdiction should be taken out of Parliament altogether, and, although Mr. Serjeant Wrangham and Mr. Scott did not go quite so far, they agreed in thinking that permanent Chairmen ought to be appointed. He regretted to say that a proposition to that effect was rejected by the Committee on Standing Orders. He did not believe that the proposal of the Committee to reduce the number of tribunals for the investigation of railway Bills to five would be found to answer the purpose intended. It would be necessary for five Chairmen to sit fifty days in every Session for four hours a day—an amount of work which Members could not be expected to perform gratuitously. Yet the Committee on Standing Orders had refused a proposition for the payment of Chairmen, though it was difficult to say why. The refusal was chiefly rested on the "constitutional objection," but for his part he wished that the "constitutional objection" was either better defined or else altogether laid aside. One evil to which the hon. and gallant Gentleman had not alluded was the double examination of witnesses before the two Houses. He was sorry that the Committee had declined to make any recommendation upon that subject. He felt convinced, upon the whole, that the alterations proposed by the Committee would not meet the case, and that it would be necessary three years hence to have another revision of the Standing Orders.


said, he hoped that in any change that might take place on this subject the enormous and extravagant remuneration paid to Members of the legal profession would be revised. The fees on consultation were the same each day as for the attendance, and both were fixed at a scale extravagantly high, and altogether disproportionate to the services rendered.


said, it was a great hardship that an hon. Member who attended for a couple of hours at the most interesting part of the evening, and then went away to dinner, should be enabled to return at a later hour and turn out an hon. Member who had borne the whole brunt of the debate. He considered that Members who attended the whole of the evening should he secured in their seats to the end of the sitting, and he would propose to move a change in the Standing Orders to that effect next Session. He would also move certain alterations in the Standing Orders regulating the proceedings in Committee of Supply. He thought much of the private business which now came before the Committee on private Bills might be more satisfactorily and more economically transacted by county boards.


said he had objected to the Resolution of the noble Lord (Lord R. Cecil) in the Committee on the constitutional ground that he proposed to give to a certain number of permanent Chairmen—Members of that House—salaries of £1,000 a year each. One of the propositions of the Committee, which would much facilitate the business and lessen expense was, that the evidence taken before a Committee of the one House should be available in the Committee of the other House.


said, he was sure the House must be deeply sensible of the valuable labours of the Standing Orders Committee, and particularly of those of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Chairman. The recommendations of that Committee were of an extensively remedial character, and he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) could not but believe they would in practice remove many of the objections urged by the noble Lord the Member for Stamford (Lord R. Cecil). The acuteness and attention to business of the Committees of that House had long been recognized, and as they advanced in experience many objections would disappear. The suggestions of the Standing Orders Committee with reference to the reports of public departments would receive the attention of Her Majesty's Government, and he thought he might assure the House that the inconvenience complained of by the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Colonel W. Patten) would not arise in future.

Report agreed to. Resolved, That the several other Standing Orders relating to Private Bills, as amended by the Committee, be agreed to. Resolved, That this House will not insist on its privileges with regard to any Clauses in Private Bills sent down from the House of Lords which refer to tolls and charges for services performed, and are not in the nature of a Tax. To be a Standing Order.