HC Deb 17 February 1863 vol 169 cc405-8

said, that he rose to move the Resolution of which he had given notice, on the subject of the fees on private Bills. If, however, it were understood that the Bill to be introduced on the Report of the Committee of last Session were to have a retrospective effect, he was ready to withdraw his Motion. That Bill he thought ought to apply to the measures of this Session, because it was a monstrous injustice that the promoters of Bills should be mulcted of the fees they were called upon to pay. He did not believe that the House generally knew the amount of the fees or the principles on which they were charged. The fees against which he proposed to direct his Resolution were those paid on the different stages of a private Bill as it passed through that House. He believed that the ordinary expenses of an unopposed Bill which did not give authority to raise more than,£50,000 amounted to £100. On the presentation of the petition for the Bill £5 was paid; on the first reading, £15; on the second reading, £15; on the report of the Committee, £15; and on the third reading £15. If the promoters of a private Bill asked power to raise from £50,000 to £100,000, the fees were trebled, though no more trouble was given in passing the Bill. In some cases, where, for example, the promoters sought to raise £1,000,000, the charges were more than ten times the amount of fees which they would be required to pay if they asked to raise only £10,000. None of the witnesses examined before the Committee of last Session could explain the principle upon which these exorbitant fees were charged. In 1847, when a charge was introduced, the fees were assessed upon an unintelligible system. The only object seemed to be to secure that in some way or other something like the same amount of fees should be raised. On that account, he presumed, the ad valorem principle was applied to private Bills. The consequence was that not the same amount of fees, but a much larger amount, had been raised since 1847. In one year the amount raised by fees was £220,000, which not only paid the expenses of the establishment, but gave the Chancellor of the Exchequer £170,000; and the year before, when £76,000 was raised, the Chancellor of Exchequer received £16,000. That was a gross injustice to the promoters of Bills. He did not propose to interfere with the fees paid to solicitors and others under Act of Parliament, or by order of the Speaker. He was not a speculator in railways. He was connected with the management of one simply for the reason that it was connected with the neighbourhood wherein he resided. It was in low circumstances when he joined the direction in the hope of improving it. Since that time, and during the last eight years, the shares stood at 120 per cent higher than they did. He wished to explain to the House that it was not from any trade interest in railways that he acted in this matter, but because from his experience he knew that the cost of Private Bills was a crying evil and an injustice which the House ought to abolish. He would therefore conclude by moving his Resolution.


said, he rose to second the Motion. He could not but condemn the pratice of levying enormous costs upon the promoters of Bills which were for the public benefit. The expense was terrible—it was frightful. In 1854, according to Returns for which he moved, the various railway companies had expended £20,000,000 in promoting Acts of Parliament. So, when a gentleman came to this House for the purpose of protecting his property, he had to pay all the expense he incurred even if he gained his case. He asked that an end might be put to this state of things. There were other things which ought to be inquired into—the mode in which business was done by counsel. It was high time that some system of taxation should be employed in order to put some limit to their fees, which they often took, although engaged in half a dozen Committees sitting at the same time. He trusted the House would adopt the Resolution, not only for its own sake, but as a means of leading to the adoption of a new system.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That so much of the Table of Fees charged at the House of Commons (under the Standing Order of the House passed in 1852) as multiplies the Fees Payable on the Petition, First, Second, and Third Readings, and Report of Private Bills, according to the money to be raised or expended under the authority of such Bills, be rescinded—the reduction to take effect in respect of Private Bills introduced in the Present Session.


said, there could be no doubt that the question of fees paid by the promoters of Private Bills was one well worthy of consideration; but he very much questioned whether the House would think itself in a condition to bind itself, at that moment, by a positive Resolution to cut down to a certain amount the fees as proposed by the hon. Member. His hon. Friend proposed to cut down the fee fund to the extent probably of one-half. He did not know whether an exact calculation had been made, but he thought he was under the mark when he said that by the remission of fees proposed the fund would be diminished at least a half. It was reasonable, undoubtedly, that persons promoting Private Bills, seeking for something for their own special advantage, and coming to Parliament for privileges, as it were, for themselves, should defray the additional expense incurred by Parliament in meeting their wishes; but undoubtedly it was unjust to ask them to pay more. But that night he proposed to ask the House of Commons to agree to a Committee to inquire into the subject of private legislation, with a view to the diminution of the expense, and undoubtedly the question of fees must come within the scope of that inquiry. He therefore thought it would be premature at that time to commit themselves by a Resolution of the kind; and he thought his hon. Friend would act judiciously if he would not press his Motion, but allow the whole subject to be inquired into by the Committee.


said, that while he concurred in much that had fallen from his hon. Friend in support of his Resolution, he would suggest that his hon. Friend should accede to the proposal to withdraw his Motion. Having taken an active part to get these fees reduced, he well recollected that one recommendation of the Committee of last Session was, that as the fees were higher than needful, they ought to be reduced; and that Committee also recommended the subject to the attention of a Committee of this House in the next Session of Parliament. As his right hon. Friend had stated that he intended to move for such Committee, it would be premature to pass the Resolution at that moment.


said, he was of opinion that the whole subject of Private Bill legislation demanded the fullest investigation.


said, he would withdraw his Motion on the understanding that the Committee referred to was to be moved for.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.