HC Deb 11 May 1858 vol 150 cc455-73

, in moving the following Resolution— That in the opinion of this House it is expedient that the investigation into the merits of Private Bills, at present conducted by Select Committees of this house, should in future, as soon as the necessary arrangements can be made, be conducted by a paid and permanent Tribunal. —said, that it could hardly be denied that Select Committees were both costly and inefficient, and yet they wielded enormous powers in relation to the commercial interests of the country. It had been calculated that within the recollection of the present generation upwards of £300,000,000 had been invested in railway enterprise, the whole of which had been expended in accordance with the decisions and under the superintendence of Select Committees of the House. But railway enterprise was not all, or anything like all, the business that had been entrusted to them, for besides matters of railway enterprise, they exercised the same duties with regard to the internal administration of most of the principal towns, and the commercial communications of the country, so that he did not think he should be far wrong in saying that something like two-thirds of the amount of the National Debt would represent the capital of which these Committees bad within the period referred to, directed and superintended the application. This money they had disposed of by the exercise of power of the most unlimited description; for, with the exception of the Committees of the other House of Parliament, there was no appeal from their decisions, which must be taken as absolutely final. Now, with such enormous powers as were vested in their hands, and with such important interests as were at stake, one would suppose that those tribunals would consist of men who bad been very carefully selected for the arduous duties they had to perform. How was that consistent with the fact? So far from its being the case the fact was that they were chosen by their constituents without the slightest reference to their intellectual fitness for the official duties which they were called upon to exercise. One man was liked because he was favourable to the ballot, another because he was opposed to Maynooth, and a third because he held particular views respecting the franchise; but throughout the whole of the United Kingdom not a single person was elected on account of his proficiency in the management of private business or his fitness for the discharge of those judicial duties, which the custom of the House imposed upon him. Still, it might be said, that such an assembly as this which contained the collective wisdom of the country would be sure to furnish sagacity and talent enough for all purposes. But unfortunately all the intellect of the House of Commons was carefully weeded out before it entered upon the private business of the House. It was the House of Commons—brained—that did all the work of the Select Committees. It had become the practice of the Committee of Selection, before proceeding to name the Committees, entirely to omit from the list of Members all persons of great political distinction in the House, and others of high intellectual character, whose public duties would be interfered with by their being called on to sit on private Committees of the House. It was no doubt a very proper and necessary practice, and the business of the House must very soon come to a standstill if it were not adopted. At the close of last year he (Lord R. Cecil) moved for and obtained a list of those Members, who during the late Parliament were not appointed upon Select Committees; and that list was exceedingly instructive, inasmuch as it showed how carefully the Committee of Selection had weeded out the large majority of those to whom hon. Members were accustomed to look as maintaining the intellectual character of the House. It might be safely said, that almost every man who had been in a Cabinet, or who happened to be in a Cabinet, and all the distinguished merchants, bankers and lawyers were taken out of the list of those from whom the Committee of Selection considered themselves at liberty to select judges before whom those private enterprises were decided. Speaking of the last Parliament he found amongst those who were excluded from the list, the names of such men as Mr. Baines, Sir Richard Bethell, Mr. Bonham-Carter, Mr. Bright, Mr. Cairnes, Sir Alexander Cockburn, Mr. Collyer, Mr. Cowper, Mr. Corry, Mr. Deedes, Mr. Denison, Mr. Disraeli, Mr. Buncombe, Mr. Mimes Gaskell, Mr. Gibson, Mr. Gladstone, Mr. Goulburn, Sir James Graham, Sir Bulwer Lytton, Sir Fitzroy Kelly, Mr. Horsman, and so on; he might, if he chose, increase the number. The noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn (Lord Stanley) was an exception, and there were some others; but the general rule was as he had stated it. He might add that he (Lord R. Cecil) was himself one of those who served on the Committees, and he should therefore be acquitted of anything like invidiousness when he spoke of the utter incapacity of those Committees. As if that were not enough to ensure the incapacity of these tribunals, it also happened that a Bill was never tried before the same Committee a second time. It was a constantly varying tribunal. The men who tried the matter at issue one year did not try it the next; and what was the result? Why, that this tribunal differed from all others in this respect—that it had no consistent collected body of precedents by which its decision could be guided. Hence had arisen such an amount of confusion, as to have become quite a proverb. Our railway system was a conspicuous instance of this. At one time competition of lines had been forbidden, at another time encouraged; at one time a line would be prevented from supplying a particular district, next year the privilege would be granted. One year a railway would be encouraged to encroach on a neighbour's territory, another year encroachment would be summarily forbidden, and so on. Many towns were debarred from undertaking ordinary sanitary improvements because of the expense which must be incurred in obtaining the necessary assent of Parliament. In many cases, too, towns had been put to the greatest inconvenience by the contradictory proceedings of the Private Bill Committees. The noble Lord then mentioned two or three cases by way of illustrating how the system of thus employing judges who were not trained to their ditties, and were constantly changing, had practically worked in the social and internal administration of towns. Amongst them he might mention the case of the town of Liverpool, where the local government was conducted under no less than sixty Acts of Parliament. Two of these Acts were brilliant specimens of Private Bill legislation; so much so, indeed, that be would take the liberty of mentioning them to the House. Both were passed in the Session of 1842; and whilst one of them enacted that the Commissioners of Highways might prosecute a person who erected any obstruction on the footway, the other—passed, be it remembered, at the same time—provided that any person might erect an obstruction on the footpath with the consent of the corporation. The result it was not difficult to predict. A person did, under the authority of one of these Acts, erect an obstruction; that was to say, he built a house. He was at once taken up by the Commissioners of Highways under the other Act; and the magistrates had the duty imposed upon them of deciding between two private Bills which were passed with two contrary objects, and in the same Session of Parliament. Another Act was passed in reference to Liverpool, which gave the Commissioners of Sewers power—not to compel persons to drain their houses into the main sewers—but absolutely to prevent them from doing that. He also begged to call the attention of the House to the opinion expressed by a Select Committee, appointed twelve years ago, with regard to the mode in which Private Bill legislation was conducted, and the effects arising therefrom. That Committee stated that under the present system, the expense of obtaining the most necessary or desirable Private Bill was needlessly heavy, whilst the great mass of those so-called "Private Bills" materially affected public interests, and, though local, were essentially public Bills; that the public at large were often greatly prejudiced by local Acts; that, besides this, there were often introduced into local Bills, provisions of the most objectionable nature—some varying or interfering with the general statute or common law of the country; some, though ordinary in their nature, perplexing and difficult to understand; and, finally, some so contradictory and mutually discordant as to render their enforcement impossible. Very often the Committees were called upon to decide important questions of a legal character relating to the conveyance of land; and he would ask the House whether they thought that a Select Committee was a tribunal calculated to inspire public confidence in that respect. A case which occurred last year well illustrated the difficulty of the questions of this class, which were sometimes submitted to Committees. Land, it was well known, was only conveyed to railway companies in trust; and a question arose whether the land was thus conveyed downwards beyond the depth required for the purposes of the railway. How the question was decided he did not know. The next objection to the present system was the enormous expense it entailed upon all persons engaged in Parliamentary contests and in Private Bill legislation. Not only were the fees extremely high, but witnesses were obliged to be kept in London at an enormous expense, sometimes for weeks together. The Committees were seldom able to sit much more than three hours and a half a day, especially when the business before the House was heavy, on account of the enormous physical labour it imposed upon them, whereas a Judge was able to sit six or seven hours in trying cases, and consequently the services of counsel and solicitors had to be retained for a much longer period than would be necessary in the case of an investigation before an ordinary legal tribunal. Select Committees not being trained in the law were exposed to all the tricks of the counsel, and could not check them when they introduced irrelevant evidence or observations. Solicitors had a direct interest in keeping up the present system, because Parliamentary fees were larger than even those in Chancery. Hence, when solicitors condemned the system, their evidence was conclusive against it. On this point he had the evidence of Mr. Baxter, the solicitor to the Great Northern Railway, and much engaged in private bill legislation. Mr. Baxter said, "Supposing the opponents to a Bill went before a Committee, and that the Committee did not consist of thorough business men accustomed to sit on Committees and despatch the matter in hand with decision, the counsel became irregular, and confusion, delay, and expense resulted." As an example, he instanced the Great Western Railway, which had been fifty-seven days before a Select Committee, at an expense of £40,000; and they had to abandon the Bill for the Session, owing to the length of time that was occupied. [Colonel W. PATTEN observed, that that evidence had been given several years ago.] That made no difference—Members were just the same now as they were then. Another cause of ex- pense was, that a peculiar class of counsel had to be employed. The great majority of Members who sat on Committees were not experienced in judicial inquiries, and the counsel who could apply their tricks with the greatest energy and skill were worth their weight in gold. Mr. Scott, a barrister, himself engaged in Parliamentary business, had published a guide to counsel employed in Committees and to Parliamentary agents, and the advice he gave the latter was always, if possible, to select as a leader some lawyer who was acquainted and on speaking terms with the members of the Committee. The result was, that expert counsel required enormous fees. One case had been mentioned to him in which a learned Gentleman asked, and readily obtained, 100 guineas for a single day's work. The Great Northern Company, before it put a spade in the ground, spent £432,000, of which a large proportion—£103,500—was expended in opposing other lines. Liverpool spent £80,000 in ten years in private Bill legislation. The waterworks of St. Helen's cost altogether about £3,000, of which £1,000 was expended in getting the Bill, and he believed that the expense of constructing waterworks in small towns was about equal to the Parliamentary expenses. These facts afforded sufficient grounds for dissatisfaction with the existing system. Private Committees united all the evils, except venality, which could disgrace a tribunal; the judges were inefficient, and the proceedings costly. But there was another disadvantage connected with them, and that was the enormous amount of labour which they imposed upon hon. Members whenever Parliamentary work was heavy. It was impossible for any hon. Member to keep up with the progress of public legislation if he were compelled to spend his mornings in a private Committee. The remedy rested with hon. Members themselves. He had no doubt that his Motion would be opposed by all those distinguished statesmen who were excused, on account of their eminence, from sitting on private Committees. They did not feel the chain, but those hon. Members who were liable to serve were in a majority, and he hoped they would stand up against the great authorities. The Chairman of the Committee of Selection (Colonel W. Patten), having held the office twenty-five years, well knew the evils of the system, and ought to lend his aid in redressing them. But he might be asked what he would put in the place of the ex- isting system. He had no plan of his own, but would refer the House to one recommended by a thoroughly practical man (Mr. Blamire), the Copyhold Commissioner. It was analogous to that employed in enclosures. The proposal was to establish a permanent and paid tribunal, the members of which should, if necessary, go circuit; that they should decide upon every scheme brought before them as rapidly and cheaply as possible; that they should make their report in extenso to the House, and thon the Government should introduce and pass Bills in accordance with their recommendations, and in ninety-nine cases out of one hundred the Bills so framed would pass with perfect unanimity. This was done every year with enclosure Bills. Formerly those Bills cost an enormous amount; now the average expense was £20, and the Bills were passed without opposition. But it was said that the functions of these Committees were not judicial but legislative. Even if the business was one of legislation, it did not follow that any five Members appointed on a Committee had the requisite qualifications for the duty of legislation, which was properly vested in the House. Thirty years ago Select Committees were really legislative bodies, consisting of eighty or one hundred Members, and "whips" went round, towards the close of the case, to secure a decision on one side or the other. At that time ten or twelve Members made the investigation, and then a large number who had not heard a word of it came in at the end and gave the decision. That was a disgraceful system, because the duties of the Committees were really judicial, and not legislative, and it was put an end to. A Resolution was proposed by Mr. Green and Mr. Shaw lefevre— That the business of Committees in private Bills is of so judicial a character, and so frequently involves the decision of rights and pecuniary interests of so vast an amount, that it is expedient to assimilate them as much as possible, in functions and practice, to judicial tribunals. That was what he was now asking—that they should make the judges competent and justice cheap and accessible. Another argument was, that if there was a preliminary examination, the subject would always be reopened in that House. This had been the case where a Committee was appointed after a preliminary investigation had taken place, and very often the decision had been reversed. But if time system of Select Committees were done away with, this could not occur. At One time all the Members for the towas interested in any Bill were allowed, most im- properly, to sit on the Committee, and this system had been upheld by the late Sir Robert Peel. He imagined that interested Members, if excluded from Committees, would re-open the question in the House; but his fears had been proved to be groundless, and he had no doubt that those now expressed would be shown to be equally idle. Finally, he was told that the course he proposed would be unconstitutional, and would surrender the privileges of the House. There might have been some weight in such an argument in the time of the Stuarts; but now that that House was supreme in the State, he hoped that it would, by amending its own tribunals, template the work which had commenced with the reform of the Courts, and would disregard all fears which arose out of a barren love of privilege and power. The noble Lord concluded by moving the Resolution.


seconded the Motion.

Motion made and Question proposed— That, in the opinion of this House, it is expedient that the investigation into the merits of private Bills, at present conducted by Select Committees of this House, should in future, as soon as the necessary arrangements can be made, be conducted by a paid and permanent tribunal.


said, that the House was deeply indebted to the noble Lord for calling attention to a subject the importance of which was hardly sufficiently appreciated either within or without that House, and he could assure him that it was not among Members who took an active part in the transaction of the private business of the House that he would find opponents to any amelioration of the present system. He had himself been so engaged for the last twenty years, and during that time had proposed remedies for several abuses which he believed to exist in the present system of dealing with private business. Before he approached the general question he was anxious, in reply to the remarks of the noble Lord on the way the Committee of Selection discharged its duties, to explain to the House some of the difficulties under which it laboured. Every description of Private Bill was referred to them, and it was their duty to select such Members as they thought most suitable to examine the merits of the Bill, while the number from which they had to select was extremely limited. From a return which the noble Lord had obtained it appeared that during the last Parliament 280 Mem- bers did not serve upon Private Bill Committees. The average number serving upon public Committees was 250; 57 Members were excused on account of age. There were 30 Members of Her Majesty's Government, or connected with it, who could not attend on such Committees; 13 Members were unseated at the commencement of the last Parliament; 10 or 12 Members had died; 4 or 5 had been made Peers, and 20 others had been excused on account of ill health. If all these were struck off the list, it would be seen that there were not a great many left who would be eligible to serve on Private Committees. The noble Lord complained that the Committee of Selection had "brained" the House. As a proof of the contrary, he would refer to two or three names: Sir James Graham, Lord J. Russell, Lord Stanley, Mr. Henley, Mr. Labouchere, and other Members of distinction, who on several occasions had acted as Chairmen of Committees. There was, certainly, an arrangement by which the leaders of circuits were, to a certain extent, relieved from serving on Committees, they consenting to render their services on special occasions. The noble Lord, moreover, in referring to those who were exempt, had overlooked the fact that many of them were on the Committee of Selection. The Committee of Petitions, and other permanent Committees. His (Colonel Patten's) own name was included in the noble Lord's list, yet he sat from the beginning to the end of the Session upon private Committees. In short he could assure the noble Lord that the names from which the Committee of Selection had to appoint private Committees were for many reasons very limited, but it had always been his endeavour to make the selection in the way most calculated to meet the convenience of Members, and with a view to the efficient discharge of the business which would come before them. He entirely agreed with the noble Lord in his observations respecting the excessive expenses attendant upon Private Bill legislation before Select Committees. Almost every Member of great experience in the House had endeavoured to devise some scheme for diminishing that expense, and he (Colonel Patten) himself proposed before the end of the Session to ask for a Committee to inquire into the subject. No doubt the expense was an evil which ought to be remedied, but he feared that that would not be accomplished by referring the whole Private Bill legislation to another tribunal. Some years ago the experiment was tried, and a kind of preliminary inquiry under the Board of Trade was instituted in the hope that appeals would not be made from it to the House. That preliminary inquiry was founded somewhat upon the model of the Enclosure Commission, which the noble Lord appeared to approve; but after several years of trial he (Colonel Patten), who had been the first to propose its appointment, found it necessary to move that the whole plan should be abandoned. One of the principal reasons of the failure of the preliminary inquiry was that, after it had decided, an appeal to the whole House was almost invariably resorted to. In the Liverpool case, to which the noble Lord had adverted, the greater part of the expense was incurred, he believed, in the preliminary inquiry, and then the matter had all to be discussed again in the House itself. Every attempt which had been made to provide a substitute for the present system hitherto had failed, and the House had been compelled to recur to it again. He (Colonel Patten) had a strong opinion with regard to the system of railway legislation which had prevailed in this country, but he was satisfied that while nothing could be worse for railway proprietors, the system was generally advantageous for the public. In France and other countries, where the railway legislation was conducted upon some such system as the noble Lord proposed, railways were, no doubt, constructed upon more economical principles than they were here, and the shareholders were proportionately benefited; but the public could not get branch lines and facilities of that description, which were enjoyed to a greater extent in this country than in any country in the world. He was glad that the noble Lord had brought his mind to bear upon this subject, and he hoped that he would propound some practical means of remedying the inconveniences of the present system. The noble Lord had spoken with some degree of laudation of the plan which prevailed some years ago, when there were 30 or 40 Members upon a Committee; but he was sure that if the noble Lord had ever served upon such a Committee he would not have a word to say in its praise. The merits of the case were not thoroughly looked into by the majority of the Members on each Committee, and "whips" were as general and were conducted with as much energy and anxiety as when an impo- tant division was about to take place in the House. His own opinion was that many improvements had been effected within the last twenty years, and that Select Committees in the present day were admirable tribunals as compared with those which preceded them. He could mention the names of Members who had come voluntarily during the last ten or twelve years to serve upon the same class of Committees, and by this means an uniformity of legislation had been introduced which the House never could have attained to but for the services of those hon. Gentlemen. If he might be excused for mentioning the name of one hon. Member who had given his valuable assistance in this way, and to whom the House and the country ought to be infinitely indebted, he should mention the hon. and gallant Member for Carnarvonshire (Colonel Pennant). The noble Lord opposite had conferred an obligation on the House by bringing forward this subject, but he thought that he had drawn a rather unfavourable picture of Select Committees. He was sure if the noble Lord would permit him to improve his knowledge of them by placing him upon one or two more of those Committees that he would see that they were not obnoxious to all those charges which he had brought against them. For these reasons he recommended the House not to commit themselves to a Resolution the consequences of which they could not clearly foresee; and he hoped that the noble Lord, in his reply, would endeavour somewhat to fill up the outline of the proposition which in his opening speech he had but sketched.


said, he apprehended that there were very few persons who would profess themselves entirely satisfied with the system of private Bill legislation as administered in that House. Probably it was a subject which at one time or another had occupied the attention of almost every working Member, and he believed, if the opinions of all those who had considered it could be collected, that it would be found that there was a general agreement upon two points — first, that some amendment in the system was desirable; and, secondly, that the difficulties in the way of such amendment were of such magnitude as to be almost insuperable. His noble Friend, notwithstanding the ability with which he had treated the whole subject, had mixed up some grievances that were imaginary with others that were un- doubtedly real and grave. He had complained of that which no one denied, namely, the costly mode of procedure before these tribunals. But it should be remembered that all litigation before any tribunal in this country, where great companies were concerned, and important interests were at stake, had a tendency to run into enormous expense. The waste of money which had taken place in the contests between opposing railway companies had been in no appreciable degree due to the peculiar composition of the tribunals to which they appealed. Their litigation had been, indeed, more expensive than that which occurred between private individuals, but that was because, when private individuals went to law, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred they were spending their own money; whereas the proceedings taken by great companies were often instituted by a secretary, a solicitor, and a Board of Directors, who, at comparatively little loss to themselves, could squander the money of the, shareholders. No one acquainted with the history of the struggles occurring of late years between the great railway companies, could fail to see that there had existed on the part of those charged with their management a too eager desire to gain possession of small districts, regardless both of the expenditure incurred in securing them and of their value when obtained. His noble Friend said that these tribunals acted without responsibility. He (Lord Stanley) denied it, but even if they did act without responsibility that would be nothing more than what happened in every court of the last resort. But in fact those tribunals were responsible to that House for their decisions, which had been, and might be, revised by that House. His noble Friend also complained of those tribunals being courts from which there was no appeal. Now, that was not exactly the case, for though he (Lord Stanley) admitted the examples were rare, nevertheless they had sometimes seen the decision of a Committee reversed by the House; and there was always a second hearing before a Committee of the Lords. It should be recollected, too, that in proportion as they extended the right of appeal, they increased the liability to expenditure, which the noble Lord very properly deprecated. His noble Friend also complained of the amount of labour imposed upon the Members of those private Committees. Considering the number of Members available to serve on those Committees, and the share of labour that fell upon each individual, he did not think there was anything to justify that complaint. There might have been reason to complain at the time when the general railway system of England was under discussion, but that was an exceptional period, which could not recur. The Committees sat nominally four hours a day, but really only three and a half hours; whereas a Judge of the land, who was generally a man advanced in years, sat often eight or nine hours a day. Chairmen of quarter sessions, or magistrates who paid much attention to their duties, went through a larger amount of labour in the course of the year than the Members of these private Committees were called upon to endure. As to the question of exemptions to which his noble Friend referred, that had been so ably handled by the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite, that he (Lord Stanley) did not think it necessary to comment upon it. His noble Friend had argued that the Members of that House were from their habits and position unfit to sit on what he called a judicial tribunal. The same reasoning, if sound, would prove that the Members of that House were unfit to serve on a jury. As to the simplicity of laymen, the ingenuity of lawyers, the tricks practised on Committees, and the varying and even contradictory decisions to which they were apt to come, precisely the same allegations might be made in regard to every class of cases tried before a judge and jury. But the truth was, these Committees were not judicial tribunals. His noble Friend contended that they were so, because, he said, parties having private interests in the question at issue were alone admitted to a hearing, and nobody appeared as counsel on behalf of the public. But it was the duty of the Committee, and especially of the Chairman, to consider not what were the interests of the parties who came before them, but what was for the general advantage of the public. Take the case of a railway as an illustration. It was not a question whether A or B had a right to make a particular line, but whether the line proposed by the one or the other would best meet the wants of the district through which it would pass. And whenever the Committees had to deal with questions at all judicial in their nature, it was a rule invariably enforced by them, or ought to be so, not to interfere in any matter of which a legal tribunal could take cognizance. The legislative remedy only began where the judicial remedy ended. But, granting it to be objectionable to intrust these functions to Committees of that house, what was the alternative open to them? In what hands would they place this power and patronage? Remembering what was the state of things when all the great arterial lines of communication were being laid down, let them ask themselves whether the power of deciding in what direction those great lines should run, what towns should be supplied with direct railway communication, and what towns should be placed upon branch lines or be altogether excluded, was a power which, consistently with the independence and purity of the administration of this country, could be safely vested in any Minister under our system of government? It was said, indeed, that the Government might delegate its functions. But delegate them to whom? This was not a case of judicial procedure. The decision of questions involving the very largest interests was intrusted to the Judges of the land; but those Judges were fettered and tied down by the law, which it was their business to declare—not to make; whereas, in the great majority of cases which came before Committees of that House, there was no law to administer and no fixed rule for their guidance, except that widest rule of all—namely, the duty of considering what was for the advantage of the general public. Such functions, then, affecting such vast and varied interests could not, without great abuse—certainly not without great suspicion of abuse and consequent discontent—be confided to any administrative Board which they could create. But though the endeavour to do away with the system of private Bill Committees would neither succeed nor deserve to do so, still a great deal might be done for the amendment of that system. The attempts made in the course of the last few years with that object had not, he must admit, been successful. The suggestion had been made, but never tried, that they should dispense with the necessity of an appearance before separate Committees of each House, and that a single Committee should be substituted composed of Members of both Houses jointly. The preliminary inquiry to which his hon. and gallant Friend bad adverted was also proposed as a means of lessening expense, and his hon. and gallant Friend had borne his testimony as to the manner in which it operated. In 1853 the then President of the Board of Trade established a general board of chairmen of Committees, the object being to bring their varying decisions into unison, and to lay down something like a code of rules by which all Committees should be guided. That experiment promised well, but it was afterwards found that the understanding come to in the general Committee had no power to bind the Members of the several Committees there represented by their chairmen; and not being so bound, they could not be relieved from the responsibility of deciding according to their own judgment. The attempt to enforce uniformity of decision lasted but for a short time, actually ceasing to exist, he believed, at the end of the very Session in which it was first established. No doubt diversity and even contrariety of decision was a great evil requiring a remedy. But while frankly acknowledging the defects of the existing system, they ought not to overlook its merits. Nobody would assert that these Committees, as now constituted, were influenced either by personal interest, local bias, or political predilections; nor, on the other hand, could they be fairly accused of negligence or carelessness in the discharge of their duties. There might in some cases be a want of special knowledge, but, having for eight or nine years taken part in Committees of that House, he could not call to mind a single instance in which it had appeared to him that there had been neglect of duty or want of attention on the part of those Members with whom he had served. He believed that those Committees were free from all imputation of partiality or neglect, and he thought that the objections which had been taken on the ground of diversity of opinion were not to be attributed to the constitution of the tribunal, but to the fact that in many cases both that House and the public were without experience of the subjects with which they had to deal; those subjects were equally new to all, the legislation upon them was experimental only; and under such circumstances it was impossible that conflicting judgments should not be occasionally aimed at, before they settled down into a uniform course of procedure.


said, he had no wish to occupy the time of the House by entering at length into the question. The subject, however, was one of importance, and involved interests of the greatest magnitude to the country at large. He had listened with the deepest attention to the arguments of the noble Lord who introduced the ques- tion to the attention of the House; and, while admitting the possibility of improving the present system, under which the private Committees of that House were constituted, he confessed his inability to discover the superior advantages of the noble Lord's proposition. Doubtless the labours of the Members constituting those tribunals were at times exceedingly severe; nevertheless, as the delegated custodians of the many important interests intrusted to them, they were bound to accept the responsibilities cast upon them, and conscientiously to fulfil those duties that were imposed upon them. He for one would resist every attempt to transfer those duties to any other body than that appointed by the great council of the nation—the chosen representatives of the people. What was the noble Lord's proposition? Why, it was one that would involve the necessity of employing some two or three hundred individuals, and of adding a considerable amount to the charges on the Consolidated Fund. He should at once say that he could not acquiesce in the proposal made by the noble Lord, and he hoped, until some more effectual remedy was proposed, that the House would not be induced to depart from the present system.


said, that the expenses attendant on the present system were enormous. He more particularly alluded to the large fees which were at present paid to professional men practising before Parliamentary Committees. So great were the costs arising from these and other causes, that they practically amounted to a denial of justice. He thought therefore that some remedy ought to be provided.


said, he thought that the noble Lord was entitled to gratitude for having brought the subject before the House, but he thought that the better way of dealing with the question would be by general legislation for local bodies. An objectionable form of centralization was produced by bringing all sorts of petty questions up to London to be decided, and such a course was only beneficial to the lawyers. At the same time, many questions arose which required to be legislated for, and that might best be done by referring the subject to a Committee, as at present.


said, he did not see why lawyers should not make their market as well as any one else; but he thought that, in many cases, the machinery of Parliament was unnecessarily set in motion, and at the same time there were questions involving large and complicated interests which were best dealt with by bringing them before Parliament in the form at present in operation.


observed, that while agreeing in some degree with the observations of his noble Friend, he considered that it must always be necessary as a last resort that those matters should be brought before the Legislature of the country. He thought that the noble Lord had done good service to the public generally by bringing the question before the House. If the noble Lord would move for the appointment of a Committee, he (Mr. Ewart) would certainly support him; but at present, he confessed, he could not see his way towards the removal of the evils complained of in the proposition he had made.


suggested that it would be advisable to follow the precedent of the Enclosure Act, and to legislate for local bodies as regarded water rates, paving rates, lighting rates, &c., giving them power, in any such matters, to act upon their own authority, after giving proof to an established tribunal that they had fulfilled all the requirements of the Act. He thought that the attention of Government ought to be turned to the establishment of a system of this character.


said, he would deprecate a hasty adoption of the principle of local legislation. Such a proposal was especially dangerous when it included such works as waterworks for instance, for the water was usually brought from a great distance over the property of others, and might in some cases be seriously detrimental. For instance, Manchester brought their water a distance of thirty miles, and Liverpool a distance of twenty-six miles. He might also remind the House that there was scarcely a town in which local boards of health had been established, that had not petitioned for their abolition. He was ready to admit that the expensiveness of the present system might very properly be considered by a Committee, with a view to its remedy; but he feared that, so long as counsel and agents were employed before Committees upon private Bills, the expense of such Bills would be very large; and he must, by way of suggestion, say from his own experience that the mode adopted in the case of Turnpike Trust Acts, which were promoted before the Commissioners by solicitors, worked satisfactorily and with less expense. On the whole, however, he did not think that any better tribunal could be adopted, for the decision of private Bills, than the one which now existed. At all events, till a better one was pointed out, they ought to adhere to the present one.


said, that he had sat six years in the House, and he did not know upon what principle Select Committees of the House were chosen.


said, a Committee had been appointed by the House to select the Members of Committees upon private Bills. That Committee of Selection endeavoured to place at the head of a Committee such Members of the House as were most experienced in private legislation, and also to place on it two or three other hon. Gentlemen peculiarly qualified to deal with the matters intrusted to it.


, in reply, said, that he had had no intention whatever of making any personal attack upon the Members of the Committee of Selection, who were entitled to the gratitude of the House for their disinterested labours. The hon. and gallant Member opposite (Colonel W. Patten) had alluded to the proposal of preliminary examinations, which he had himself suggested. But, in the cases to which he (Lord R. Cecil) alluded, Select Committees were allowed to re-open questions which had already been thoroughly examined. The noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn (Lord Stanley), it appeared to him, had treated with some contempt the labours of the private Bill Committees. When the Judges of the land were engaged in their labours from six to seven hours a day, the noble Lord said the Committee should not object to sitting for three hours and a half. But the noble Lord must remember that these three hours and a half were over and above the nine or ten hours which were usually occupied in the regular business of the House. His noble Friend had also dwelt very strongly upon the legislative functions of these Committees, which, he said, were conducted in a purer manner than they would be elsewhere. But the answer to this was, that legislative functions, if exercised at all, ought to be conducted by the whole House collectively, and not by any small sections of it. Another point was the unjust state of the existing regulations with respect to fees. As the practice at present existed, if a man had occasion to resist any application to Parliament—as, for instance, for a railway Bill which was to take his land from him compulsorily—though his right might be well established, and his resistance perfectly legitimate, he was compelled no less than the other party to pay heavy fees. This was a state of things which ought not to continue. At the same time, after the general expression of opposition on the part of the House to his Motion, he (Lord R. Cecil) would not press it.

Motion by leave withdrawn