§ LORD ROBERT CECIL
rose to move—That in the opinion of this House it, is expedient that the duty of ascertaining the facts upon which legislation in respect to Private Bills is to proceed should be discharged by some tribunal external to this House.He feared he had but little chance in the present state of public feeling upon the great and important national questions which occupied their attention, of successfully inviting the attention of the House to the comparatively humble subject which he desired to bring before them. If it had anything in it that could commend it to the attention of hon. Members it was the fact that it had reference to their personal comfort and the ease with which they might perform their Parliamentary duties. Pew of those who heard him but had personally suffered from the system of legislation on Private Bills as it existed. The Treasury Bench was, he believed, exempt from serving on Private Bill Committees, as, also, were those hon. Gentlemen who occupied an analogous position on that (the Opposition) side of the House. Gentlemen advanced in years were likewise free from the necessity of discharging the onerous duties to which he alluded. But with these exceptions every hon. Member had been forced at one time or another to take part in those duties. What he wished to point 1546 out was this, that a feeling against the existing system was generally prevalent, and that there was to be found a remedy for the evil which the House would easily be able to put into operation. He appealed to the experience of hon. Gentlemen themselves. That experience would afford him ample testimony to the inconvenience of having, in addition to the performance of their public duties, to occupy a great part of their time in discharging duties which more properly belonged to another tribunal. He hoped that hon. Gentlemen would not run away with the idea that when they sacrificed themselves in order to do the duties which fell upon them in consequence of the system they thereby earned any considerable title to the affection of their fellow countrymen. He was afraid the fact was quite the reverse; for the discontent; outside the House with the system was general. When he last brought forward the question he referred to a petition from; the Associated Chambers of Commerce, presented by the hon. Member for Bradford, in which the system of Private Bill legislation was denounced in the strongest terms. Since then the Associated Chambers had met again and expressed their opinion in terms so distinct that he would quote them to the House, and he would remind hon. Gentlemen that these Chambers of Commerce represented the classes principally interested in the successful and just performance of that particular duty. They represented the commercial classes, who chiefly came before the Committees of that House to ask protection for commercial undertakings or to resist alleged encroachments on their rights. The Associated Chambers of Commerce had passed a resolution, in which they stated that the present system of Private Bill Legislation was expensive and inefficient, and interfered with the course of public business; and they recommended that a superior court should be constituted, consisting of judges, with the requisite professional and engineering information. Not only was that resolution passed, but a debate took place, and he would refer to what fell from a gentleman representing the Hull Chamber of Commerce, in order to give to hon. Members an idea of the appreciation in which their labours on private committees were held. That gentleman (Mr. Norwood) said that he was concerned, as chairman of a proposed dock company, in a Bill which three years ago was a long time before a Committee of the House of Commons, con- 1547 sisting of five gentlemen, four of whom had no knowledge of commercial matters; and such was the ignorance displayed by them of the matter under consideration, that after being examined for a considerable period to show the necessity for the formation of a graving dock, he heard to his great mortification one Member of the Committee say to another, "What does he mean by a graving dock?" to which question the other replied, "I am sure do not know, but suppose it is something relating to ships." Considerable expense (Mr. Norwood added) was caused by the ignorance of Committees, who often took a great deal of evidence which had nothing to do with the matter before them, and it was owing to their want of knowledge on special subjects that they allowed themselves to be brow-beaten, as they sometimes were, by the Parliamentary agents and counsel. It was apparent, from the resolution passed at that meeting, and from the speeches by which it was supported, that the commercial classes were not very fond of this particular jurisdiction, which inflicted so much inconvenience on Members of that House. He knew that he should be told that the House of Commons was jealous of that jurisdiction, and that every considerable authority was against depriving the House of the power it had so long exercised. That was a mistake, however, for no authority could be found in support of the existing system. A Committee sat on the subject last year, and many competent witnesses were heard before it. He would not refer to their evidence, but simply mention the names of those who condemned the system. Among these witnesses were Mr. Rickards, the speaker's counsel. Lord Redesdale, Mr. Massey, Lord Grey, Mr. Adair, Mr. May, and Colonel Wilson Patten. He did not say that all agreed in the remedy which he proposed, but they all concurred in the opinion that the present system was bad, and according to their several characters, they expressed an opinion in stronger or milder terms, but they agreed that the present system did not give to the parties that justice for which they paid, and to which they had a right. The matter had at last come to a crisis, the machinery had broken down, and hon. Members felt the evil of the call made upon them. He need not remind the House how difficult it had been during the Session to carry on both the public and private business. Persons out of doors had noticed how often the deliberation of the House had 1548 been interrupted by what was called a "count out," and they attributed the circumstance to the indolence of hon. Members. If the public really knew the burdens which hon. Members had to bear, they would form a more charitable judgment. It was not merely the public business that had broken down, but the private business was coming to an equal dead lock. His hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Lancashire (Colonel Wilson Patten) told him that his difficulty was increasing daily, and that he was afraid of passing before an open window lest he should be thrown out of it by indignant private Members lurking about. The position of the hon. Member was like that of a familiar of the Inquisition in olden times in respect to Moors and Jews; and private Members looked on the hon. and gallant Gentleman as a man who could take away their liberty and shut them up for three or four weeks. The useless labour imposed on the hon. Member for North Lancashire and the Committee of Selection to maintain an inefficient system would, he believed, have amply sufficed to discharge all the functions which the House had any occasion to perform in reference to Private Bills. He had stated that there was no authority who said that the present system was satisfactory but he was wrong, for there was in the blue-book, containing the evidence given last year, the testimony of a certain number of witnesses who asserted that the system was everything that was satisfactory. It was a curious phenomenon, for which he did not attempt to account, that this testimony was given entirely by Parliamentary agents and counsel. Perhaps a little light was thrown on this matter by the hon. and gallant Member for North Lancashire, who stated in his evidence that—The great defect of the present system is that there is no single individual who appears before the Committee who has not a direct pecuniary interest in prolonging the proceedings.That possibly might, in some degree, account for the support given by the parties he had named to a system which every other authority most unflinchingly condemned. The House would naturally ask him what plan he had to suggest in place of the existing system. It was not, of course, for him to furnish information on that point in detail, and he needed only to point out principles on which a remedy might be based, leaving to others who had opportunity and official knowledge to fill 1549 up the details. He had gone through a good deal of the minutes of evidence taken before Private Bill Committees, with the view of ascertaining whether a portion of | their labours might not be transferred to some other tribunal. The issue presented; by every Private Bill was very simple On one side there was to be considered the injury done to private individuals, and, on the other hand, the advantage to the pub- he from the project contemplated. The balance had then to be struck in order to see which outweighed the other; but be fore that point was arrived at, there was an enormous amount of facts to be proved, and a great deal of time was wasted in ascertaining those preliminary facts. For instance, on a Water Bill, which had occupied a great deal of time this Session, and which desired to bring water to a population. It might drain certain lands, interfere with mills, or it might interfere with existing companies. There were three opponents to deal with—the old water companies, the people to be supplied, and those whose stream was injured. A great part of the labour of the Committee was devoted, however, to such questions us these:—The amount of population, the present supply of water, the exact nature of the scheme, the distance of the sources, the volume of the contemplated supply, the size and safety of the reservoirs, the area of the gathering ground, the height of the hills, the angle of the fall, the rainfall of the district, the chemical composition of the water, and the estimates of expenses. These were all simple facts. They were not matters of opinion. They could all be ascertained by an engineer going to the spot, and when once ascertained could admit of no doubt. If the opposing party chose to appoint an arbitrator, the two could decide whether the facts were true or not without any expense or labour on the part of the Members of the House, and without any danger of their decision being called in question, It was the same with railways. There were gradients, curves, distances, configuration of surface, the geological character of the ground, the estimate of the work. These were the items which now occupied the time of the Committee, and which might be easily disposed of by a scientific arbitration. In one Committee on a Water Works Bill, he remembered hours being consumed in inquiring into the safety of the reservoir. Was that a subject for the consideration of Members of the House? 1550 Was it not rather a subject that could be more fitly abandoned to an engineer? The same with regard to railways. He remembered a whole day being spent in an inquiry into the nature of the ground through which a tunnel was to pass. Surely that labour might have been spared to the Committee. Besides these questions of fact there were questions of opinion, The traffic between place and place, and the injury done to individuals. Those were points upon which scientific men could not judge, and which ought to be decided by a tribunal, such as a jury empanelled on the spot, or that recommended by the associated chambers of commerce, rather than by five Members of the House of Commons. The damage done by a railway after a Bill was passed was left to be decided by a jury, and by the same analogy, the injury done before the Bill passed, should be decided also by a similar tribunal. He had no wish that any Gentleman who took the same side as himself should assent to all the details of his Motion. All he wished was that private Members should unite with him in condemning the system as a whole, in pressing the matter on the attention of the Government, and intimating to them that they must undertake the duty of remedying it. The truth was that, unless private Members took the matter up, nothing would ever be done. It was not the interest of official Members to do anything—they were free from the burden. The argument constantly urged whenever an attempt was made to induce Members to abandon the system was, that the House of Commons was jealous of its prerogative, and would not part with it. He believed that such an argument was a libel on the House of Commons. The House of Commons would readily part with any jurisdiction which had ceased to be useful to the public whom they represented. Any pride or pleasure that might have been felt in this jurisdiction had long since passed away under the heavy pressure which it imposed on private Members. He knew that he should be opposed by Members of great authority in these matters. He saw his noble Friend the Member for King's Lynn (Lord Stanley) taking notes, and his noble Friend had had more to do with imposing this weight on private Members than any other man: Delirunt reges plectuntur Achivi. When his noble Friend went mad, private Members were victimized. His noble Friend was an enthusiast for that particular kind 1551 of work, but his enthusiasm was confined to his own breast, and the mass of Members would gladly see a jurisdiction, against which suitors murmured, and the expense of which was a reproach to English jurisprudence, transferred to a more efficient tribunal, leaving their own energies free to perform those most important and larger duties with which they were charged by their constituents. The noble Lord concluded with his Motion.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "in the opinion of this House, it is expedient that the duty of ascertaining the facts upon which legislation in respect to Private Bills is to proceed should be discharged by some tribunal external to this House,"—(Lord Robert Cecil,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. MILNER GIBSON
said, he entirely concurred with the noble Lord in the description he had given of the labours hon. Members of that House had to perform during the Session in connection with private legislation. No doubt, the duties of representatives of the people of this country, both in reference to public and private business, must be heavy and laborious. The business of law-making in a country like this could not be done without labour or without great sacrifices. Law-making must be founded on deliberate and anxious inquiries—and private Bill legislation was a form of law-making. It was, in fact, the making of exceptional laws for cases which were not provided for by the general law of the country. If the general law of the country could be reduced to such a form that everybody could do those things now requiring special legal sanction under certain conditions laid down beforehand, there would be no need for Private Bill legislation; but until that could be done, Parliament was obliged to pass exceptional laws for particular cases, and he was one of those who believed that these exceptional powers ought to be given only by Parliament. They were matters of judgment, discretion, and expediency; and it was for Parliament to consider, after an investigation of its own, whether the facts made out justified it in rejecting or passing the proposals made to it. The noble Lord had hardly fairly described the qualities of Members of that House for deciding 1552 matters brought before them in Committees; nor did he think there was so much dissatisfaction amongst the public with the manner in which Parliament had performed this duty. Improvements, undoubtedly, might be made in the mode of bringing business before the Committees, and also in the mode in which the business was conducted; but there was not that general dissatisfaction with the Parliamentary tribunal which the noble Lord had described. Though the noble Lord had said that many of the witnesses condemned these Parliamentary tribunals, he had not informed the House what was the finding of the Select Committee who heard those witnesses on one side and the other. [Lord ROBERT CECIL: The Report was only carried by a majority of one.] There was a small majority, but he thought it was carried by more than one vote. The Chairman did not vote. The opinion of the Committee was this:—That having regard to the character of the questions which arise on the consideration of contested Private Bills, your Committee is disposed to concur with the view entertained by the majority of the witnesses, that no court of inquiry could be constituted for the purpose of investigating such questions which, on the whole, would be so satisfactory to the public as Committees composed of the Members of the Houses of Parliament.The noble Lord named many eminent gentlemen who had given evidence condemnatory of the present system; but nearly every one of those gentlemen proposed to form his new tribunal in some way or other out of the old ingredients. The Members were to be Members of Parliament or Peers. Take the case of Lord Redesdale, to whom the noble Lord had referred. He would have had a Committee composed of two Commoners and one Peer, and they were to sit before the commencement of the Session of Parliament and to eliminate from the measures proposed to be laid before Parliament such as in their judgment ought not to be passed, allowing the rest to be carried in the ordinary way. Then take the case of the hon. Member for Ipswich. His proposition was to leave the Committees as they were with the exception that he would appoint a paid Chairman—a plan which he thought would ensure the duties being performed under an increased sense of responsibility. The other hon. Gentlemen named by the noble Lord, all of them, contemplated the ultimate decision coming to Parliament. They all agreed 1553 that whatever external tribunal there might be there must be an appeal to Parliament. Then, if there was an appeal to the House of Commons, what would the House do? Would the whole House entertain it? No; they would hand the question to a Select Committee, and the interested parties would have to be heard by counsel. [Lord ROBERT CECIL: No, no.] Was it probable that in those great struggles, in which the main question was whether old companies should retain possession of a district or new companies should be admitted to compete with them, any Judge would endeavour to stop persons from proceeding further who had a right of appeal to the House of Commons? On the contrary, he would gay at once, "this is a question for Parliament to decide, involving, as it does, points of expediency and discretion." That being so, the battle would after all, in all great questions, be fought within the walls of that House; and all that would be effected by establishing such external tribunals as were proposed was, that one stage more would be added to the conflicts which took place—one more source of expense. There had, he might add, been something like an attempt to provide for Private Bill legislation by means of such preliminary inquiries before external tribunals. A Committee, which sat in 1853, and of which his right hon. Friend the Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley) was Chairman, made a report in which were set forth the failures which had attended the attempts made to control the action of Parliament by preliminary inquiry. The first who tried was Mr. Huskisson, and he failed; next came Lord Dalhousie; and in 1844 the Government of Sir Robert Peel proposed a scheme to determine what plan should be adopted in reference to the subject; but Parliament refused to be controlled by those preliminary inquiries. He did not, he might add, quite understand the plan of the noble Lord. His Resolution was—That in the opinion of this House it is expedient that the duty of ascertaining the facts upon which legislation in respect of Private Bills is to proceed should be discharged by some tribunal external to the House.Did the noble Lord propose that the facts and the evidence were to be taken before one court, and that the decision upon those facts and that evidence was to be pronounced by another? Were the facts to be ascertained by some judicial body, and then the preamble of the Bill to be settled by a Committee of the House of Commons? 1554 The difficulty in such a case would be to define beforehand what a Committee would consider to be material in guiding its decision. If the facts which it was necessary to prove before the Committee could be settled beforehand, it would be quite possible, no doubt, to ascertain them by any process which it might be deemed right to adopt. Even then the Committee could not be precluded from examining further into those facts, because the inquiry before the Committee on a private Bill had no definite character. It was in the nature of an inquisition with the view to satisfying Members of Parliament whether it was expedient that certain powers should be given to the parties who applied for them, so that the facts to be ascertained could not be defined beforehand without great difficulty. If it were proposed that the Committee should meet first in order to consider what facts should be inquired into elsewhere, he did not think much time or labour would by such a plan be saved, or much expense or delay to the parties themselves avoided. The Committee would first assemble to decide what facts were material to the issue; a court would then set about the investigation of those facts; and then the Committee would have to meet a second time, to sift them as reported by the court, and see whether they establish the preamble. Let him take, by way of illustration of his argument, a proposition for the formation of a tunnel in Oxford Street, from the Marble Arch to Tottenham Court Rood. What facts could in that case be ascertained for investigation by an external tribunal, with a view to their being laid before the Committee? The Committee, in exercising its inquisitorial power, would gradually understand the whole bearing of the question, and those facts would come out which appeared to be material for guiding them in their decision. The principle for which the noble Lord contended was, no doubt, acted upon to some extent at present, for instance, by the 150th Standing Order it was laid down that, in cases of amalgamation, certain things should be proved to the satisfaction of the Board of Trade; whether, for instance, the respective parties paid up a certain part of the capital ordered to be raised by means of shares and so forth. The Committee, supplied with those facts, took them as matters proved, and to that extent their labours were of course diminished. He was quite willing moreover to admit that, if it could be done, the lessening of those labours farther was 1555 an object which it would as far as possible be desirable to accomplish. Those, however, who had carefully considered the question, could hardly, he thought, see their way to the expediency of taking the jurisdiction over private business out of the hands of the House of Commons so clearly as the Chambers of Commerce to which the noble Lord referred seemed to do. It must be borne in mind that the proposals which came before the House in the shape of Private Bills changed with the times, and that they ought not, therefore, to be dealt with by a fixed body, apt to be guided by precedents; and to lay too much stress on consistency and uniformity. They ought rather to be judged of by the representatives of the people at the moment, and if the contrary course had been pursued, it was possible we might not have had a railway at all; or, at any rate, the railways would have been long delayed, for lawyers would naturally proceed upon the principles which he had just mentioned, and great obstacles would thus be thrown in the way of progress and improvement. Such a tribunal might have been astounded at the proposal to make the railway from Liverpool to Manchester. Lawyer-like they would have looked to consistency, and felt bound by precedent. He believed there was no body in the country fit to deal with these fluctuating and changeable questions like a representative body; and therefore he, for one, would not give his consent to the Resolution, if in the least it went to take away the jurisdiction of Parliament in these matters. Lawyers could tell the legal effect of certain facts, when facts were proved before them. A law being in existence, judicial bodies might apply the law to the facts; but he denied that judicial bodies were the proper parties to say what the policy of the country should be. It was not a question of administration but of legislation; and he thought it behoved the House not lightly to agree to any proposition which seemed like parting with its jurisdiction over the private legislation of the kingdom.
§ COLONEL WILSON PATTEN
said, that after the satisfactory and conclusive statement of his right hon. Friend he should not have trespassed on the attention of the House were it not for the peculiar course which had been taken by the noble Lore below him in recommending his Resolution to the House. He regretted that the noble Lord had not contented himself with pointing out the defects of the present system 1556 of Private Bill legislation without seeking to cast so much odium not only on Committees of the House, but also on individuals composing those Committees. He had scarcely ever heard, for instance, so unjust and uncalled for an attack as the noble Lord had made on his noble Friend the Member for King's Lynn (Lord Stanley). Did the noble Lord, he would ask, know the circumstances under which his noble Friend took upon himself the laborious duty of presiding over the Committee to which his observations pointed? His noble Friend bad, at the end of last Session, come to him and stated that he was afraid he could not again undertake that duty, and it was only at his particular and earnest request that he consented to go through the labour which it imposed during the present Session. Yet the return which his noble Friend got was that the noble Lord sought to throw upon him the odium of the present system. [Lord ROBERT CECIL: should be the very last person to do anything of the kind.] He was sorry if he had misunderstood the noble Lord, but he had, at all events, thrown odium on the Committees of that House, and had quoted statements made by somebody—nobody knew whom—as to what he had heard pass in conversation in a particular Committee between two of its Members. Now, if there was anything for which the Committees of the House on Private Bills were distinguished, it was for their impartiality and the painstaking manner in which they devoted themselves to the investigation of the cases which came before them. Although the commercial community complained of the way in which the business was conducted, it was the great railway bodies who, when another system was tried some years ago, brought back the present course of procedure by declaring their want of confidence in any tribunal except one constituted in Parliament. He had expressed an opinion before a Select Committee that certain facts might be ascertained elsewhere; but when he consulted with men of experience, such as the noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn, the hon. Member for Ipswich, and other Chairmen of Committees, he found that they were of opinion that the investigation could not be divided between Parliament and an external tribunal. The experiment of having a preliminary inquiry had already been tried without success, for it only doubled the expense without giving any satisfaction; and after two years' experience of it he felt compelled to move 1557 its abandonment. Perhaps some mode might yet be devised of holding a preliminary investigation; but unless the House had some practical scheme in view, it would be dangerous for it to pass a general Resolution leading the public to expect something which all their experience hitherto had proved impracticable. If his noble Friend really wished to have the matter taken up, he should move for another Committee, and place himself at the head of it. His noble Friend had alluded jocularly to the animadversions which were passed by hon. Members on the Committee of Selection; but he was bound to acknowledge seriously the great and valuable assistance they had derived from Members in conducting the private business of the country. He hoped the noble Lord would not press his Motion,
said, he felt bound to state that he did not understand his noble Friend to speak of him (Lord Stanley) in any other spirit than that of good humour, and he also wished to discuss the question in the same spirit. The House was indebted to his noble Friend for bringing forward the subject. He was the last person to deny that the manner in which the Private Bill legislation was conducted was capable of various amendments in detail. Faultfinding was easy; but the real question was, however, not whether the existing arrangements were perfect, but whether any other system could be substituted which would work better. As to the general dissatisfaction with which it was alleged the decisions of Committees were regarded, he could not admit it. It must be remembered that several rival interests were represented before a Committee, and it stood to reason that some of them must be defeated. Those parties whose hopes were disappointed not unnaturally left the Committee not particularly well pleased. What they had to consider was whether it was possible to transfer the decision of these cases from Parliament to any other tribunal. It was suggested that they might have a Board or Commission, which would be paid for its labours, would sit regularly, and would possess the advantage of greater experience and greater dispatch. But the next point was whether this Commission was to give judgment with or without an appeal. If there was to be an appeal, it must be to the House or to a Committee, and in either event he did not see what would be gained. In every case, involving important pecuniary interests, 1558 the Bill would be fought to the last, and thus the result would be, if it were sent to a Committee, that an additional step would be added to the trial, with a corresponding increase of expense to the parties concerned. If, on the other hand, the decision rested with the House at large, he feared the consequence would be a mere scramble for Parliamentary influence. Or, lastly, if there was to be no appeal, they must consider the amount of absolute irresponsible power which would be placed in the hands of three or four permanent officials. Railway business to the amount of £30,000,000 or £40,000,000 annually came before Parliament. It was no answer to say that the Judges dealt with pecuniary interests quite as important. He admitted that; but a trial before one of the ordinary courts bore no resemblance to the trial of a Private Bill before a Parliamentary Committee. The Judge had a simple and definite issue before him. He had to decide whether, say, a property belonged to A or B, or whether the law had or had not been violated by certain persons. He had no arbitrary power or discretion. He had only to ascertain what the law was, and to apply it to the particular matter before him. But in the case of a Private Bill there was no fixed law. The issue was whether this or that company should make a line, but there was no right in the matter. It was merely a question whether it would be more for the public advantage that the one or the other should get authority to construct the line. It was impossible to deal with matters of that kind in a way which would not leave a large and arbitrary discretion in the hands of those with whom the decision rested, and on that ground the ultimate judgment could not safely be intrusted to any body apart from the House. It had been proposed, however, that the facts ascertained in the preliminary inquiry should be embodied in a report, or summary of evidence, which should be laid before the Committee, and upon which counsel should be allowed to argue, before the Committee came to a decision. Without absolutely condemning that plan, he would point out some difficulties which attended it. Whatever might be gained by the more methodical course of procedure in taking evidence, it was inevitable that the evidence would be exceedingly voluminous. Even omitting details which were unimportant, if not irrelevant, it would often happen that the testimony 1559 would fill a folio volume of several hundred pages; and there was no security that the Committee would master that printed statement as completely as they would learn the features of the case from listening to the witnesses day after day. He did not deny that that plan would save some time to the Committee, but when they took into account the length of the inquiry before the Commission, in addition to the trial before the Committee, they would see that the whole affair would last a great deal longer than now. It was to be remembered, too, that defeated parties would probably be dissatisfied with having decisions given against them by an unseen and unknown tribunal. There would not be the same conviction in their minds that their cases bad been fairly gone into, as there was when they saw the witnesses examined in their presence and observed the Committees carefully watching the evidence. Such were the difficulties which appeared to him to stand in the way of the proposition now before the House.
The principal objections to the existing mode of transacting private business were three in number—the allegation of the uncertainty of decisions, the expense to the parties, and the labour imposed upon the Members of that House. His belief was that since the House had adopted the practice of limiting the number of chairmen, and thus throwing the main responsibility into fewer hands, the instances of contradictory decisions, so much complained of formerly, had, if not ceased to occur, been greatly diminished in number. The fact was, that even if all Private Bills were tried by some independent tribunal they never could have that uniformity of decisions which prevailed in courts of law; because, in dealing with Private Bills, there was no fixed law to administer, and the question of what was best for the public interests was necessarily a very vague and general one, upon which men of equal competence might come to different judgments in different cases. He was afraid, again, that they never would get rid altogether of unnecessary expense to the parties whatever mode of procedure might be adopted; but he thought that the promoters and opponents of Private Bills were themselves principally in fault. Other litigants proceeded at their own charges, but when Railway Companies fought one another upstairs, the shareholders paid the expenses, and the directors enjoyed the pleasure 1560 and excitement of the contest. He did not know why railway shareholders did not, as a general rule, exercise much control over their boards; but such was undoubtedly the case, and as long as one set of men spent the money and another found it, so long they could not expect economical administration. He believed, in the last place, that the labour imposed upon the Members of that House fell hard in some instances; but the evil lay not so much in the amount of the work as in the inequality with which it seemed to be divided. He had made some rough calculations on that subject—though he was afraid he could not vouch for their strict accuracy—from which it appeared that assuming from the total number of members 150 might be deducted as disabled by age, or exempted by station, and distributing the duty among 500 hon. Gentlemen, the average amount of labour devolving upon each did not come to more than eight days in the course of a year. Considering the magnitude of the interests involved, it could not, he submitted, be fairly said that that amount was excessive. At the same time he thought that some relief might be given in that respect. For example, he had never been able to understand why in ordinary cases there should be separate hearings before Committees of the two Houses of Parliament. When some time ago a joint Committee was appointed to consider the London Railway Bills, he was himself afraid that the experiment might not succeed, but the plan worked very well, and he had no doubt that in 99 cases out of every 100—for he presumed that each House would preserve the right of dealing separately with cases requiring special attention—one Committee might do the work for both Houses. That course would lessen the work to a considerable extent. Then he thought that the number of five members on Private Bill Committees was unnecessarily large. Last year he proposed to reduce it to three, and he was still inclined to hold that opinion. The objection urged against it was that in the event of any one of the three being disabled by illness, the whole of the responsibility would rest upon the Chairman. If the House were of opinion that that objection was of so much weight as to overrule the advantage of diminishing the number to three, then it might be reduced from five to four, the only disadvantage of which would be that in doubtful cases it would be necessary to give the Chairman a double vote. He had calculated in a rough way 1561 that the effect of these alterations would be to reduce the amount of labour imposed upon members by one-third. Such were the practical suggestions be had to offer, and he hoped they would be taken into consideration with any other amendments that might be proposed; but, meanwhile, ho trusted the House would not proceed upon the unusual and unsatisfactory plan of passing a general Resolution, which condemned the existing system without substituting anything else in its place.
said, he concurred with a good deal of what had been said by the President of the Board of Trade, and by the noble Lord who had just sat down, upon this question. The Committees of the House of Commons with regard to private business, had assumed more and more the character of prophets than of judges. The facts were daily lessening, and the matter became one of speculation more than of judgment. He had reason to believe that if the House directed their rules to be more rigidly enforced, half of the burdens thrown upon Members would quickly disappear. It appeared from a return, that the sum lodged with the accountant general as deposits for railway schemes that year, amounted to £6,300,000. That was to be multiplied by 12½, to represent the capital involved in the decision of the Committees; so that nearly the sum of £80,000,000 was brought under the adjudication of Parliament. The first thing he would ask the House to consider was, how far the existing rules and regulations had been attended to. If their rules were not only not enforced, but were allowed to be set at defiance, he should feel little interest in any plan which might be proposed. They should first try what the enforcement of their rules would do before they rushed into a totally different and new system of proceeding. He dared to say the Committees did not give satisfaction to all parties, but he should be glad if in some respects they gave less satisfaction. If the present system should be found so bad as to be wholly incapable of enabling them to transact the business which came before them, then he would say reform it altogether. He thought the Chairmen of Committees, of whom he was one, might do something by coming to an understanding with each other on the subject of Standing Orders. At present, there seemed to be a considerable variation of opinion as to the degree in which 1562 the Standing Orders should be carried into effect.
§ MR. GATHORNE HARDY
said, he could not support the Resolution ns it stood, as he was not prepared to give up the practice of taking vivâ voce evidence by the first tribunal before whom a case might come. The proceedings of the Committees, however, might be shortened in many ways; for instance, when a Bill originated in the House of Lords, a Committee took the evidence in full. When the Bill reached the House of Commons, why should they re-hear the whole of that evidence instead of accepting the printed evidence from the House of Lords, just as the two Houses recognized each others' blue-books on political subjects? When a Bill had come from the other House, he thought a Committee of three, instead of five, was sufficient to deal with it; and that, unless in the case of a special application, no evidence further than what had been heard before the Lords should be given. As to a tribunal external to the House, he thought, however carefully its inquiries might be conducted, its decisions would not be treated with very much respect by the House. Indeed, the scheme which was recommended by his noble Friend had been tried, and had completely failed. He remembered the case of an inquiry in the country on which a friend of his sat for six weeks, and then when the Bill came before the House the whole matter was gone into again before a Committee. The same was the case with reference to the inquiries under Lord Dalhousie and the Board of Trade, although they were so elaborate and so careful that nearly every recommendation which they made had, though rejected at the time, since been accepted by Committees of that House. He regretted that his noble Friend (Lord Stanley) should have so completely sacrificed himself to the conduct of private business that he was unable to sit upon public Committees, or to give the full advantage of his assistance in the proceedings of the House. The duty of serving upon Committees ought to be more equally distributed among the Members, and it would be well if no one would consent to do more than his share of it.
§ MR. LOWE
said, that he had the greatest respect for the Committees of that House, the Members of which discharged a most onerous and ungrateful duty with great ability and the greatest integrity; but he did not think that full justice had 1563 been done to the evils of the existing system. The first objection was that a great amount of valuable labour was diverted from the public Committees and public business of the House to the performance of judicial functions, and judicial functions of by no means a high order. The second objection was that the Gentlemen who sat upon those Committees were in somewhat the same position as juries would be if they were called upon to administer the law without judges to assist them. They were gentlemen of ability and integrity, but they were in the hands of practised counsel, by whom they were addressed in artful and able speeches, and they had to perform many of the duties of a judge at Nisi prius without the training and practice which gave authority and facility to the decision of such judges. The proceedings before such a tribunal must necessarily be greatly prolonged, and such a prolongation caused enormous expense and -led to a denial of justice to many persons, who had to put up with injuries of which they could not afford to complain. Nor must they look, as in ordinary cases, to the litigants to agitate for redress, because, although they did not say so, there was no doubt that the great railway companies regarded the enormous expense of these Parliamentary contests with complacency, as they looked upon it as a security for their maintenance of what they had got from the Legislature. Since the Committee system first came into operation, the theory upon which the Legislature dealt with joint-stock companies had greatly changed, and much time and labour would be saved if Committees, accommodating their practice to that change of principle, were to confine their inquiries, in the case of railway companies at all events, to those parts of the Bill which authorized companies to do something which they could not do without the authority of the Legislature. Then, although decisions were continually being given upon points which were of the greatest consequence to the public, no rule, no law was created. Although a judicial decision was of value to the litigants, it was of still greater use to the rest of the community, who steered their course by it, and were thus enabled to avoid litigation. Such a result was not, however, attained by the Committees of that House. One Committee did not know what another had done or was doing. No record was kept, although a point might have arisen twenty times before, it was treated as a case of 1564 first impression; and the same question was often decided by different Committees in diametrically opposite ways. The result was that no one knew when he was sure to maintain his right, and no one could tell that he might not overthrow it. This afforded a great encouragement to experiments, and was a great source of anxiety to those who were interested in established undertakings. If a judicial and permanent element were introduced into the Committees, their judgments would be reported and gathered together, and would form precedents which would guide future decisions. A hundred years ago it was thought that the mercantile law could not be reduced to rule, but Lord Mansfield took the matter in hand and accomplished it. At the present moment railway companies did not know on what terms they held their property. They did not know whether competition was a proper ground of opposition; so that there were some hundreds of millions sterling embarked in railway property, and no one knew on what security. Not only had the House no practical control in the matter, but it really knew less about railway business than about any other kind of business; and after twenty years' experience of the inconvenience and insecurity arising from this, we left things just where we had found them. He did not pretend to any great practical knowledge on the subject, but it struck him that there were several modes by which an improvement could be effected. He believed it would he an improvement if a single person took the evidence now taken by Committees, and reported it to the House, leaving it for parties to move for a Committee if a Committee was desired. Again, he imagined it would be a great improvement to have joint Committees of the two Houses, even if the evidence was still to be taken by Committees. He thought it would he an improvement if hon. Members consented to act as special jurors, and to be presided over by a judge, so that they would act like special jurors in a case at nisi prius. Then, he could imagine that there might be a Committee appointed to act in these cases as the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council acted in appeal cases for the latter body. He believed there was no tribunal whose decisions gave more satisfaction than did those of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. He felt bound to express his opinion that Committees of the House of Commons, as then constituted, were not a satisfactory 1565 tribunal, and that some change was required in respect of their private legislation.
§ MR. RICHARD HODGSON
thought the decisions of Committees on Private Bills, although sometimes erroneous, were on the whole very satisfactory, and were much respected by the public. If an error was committed one Session, it could be remedied the next. No tribunal that he could imagine would pronounce decisions that would be equally satisfactory to the public Turning to the Motion of the noble Lord, he did not see how, as was suggested, it; would tend to save expense. True, the evidence as to the estimates connected with Private Bills might be taken by a Commission appointed by Government, or by, the House of Commons; but evidence of that kind was open to dispute, and would frequently be required to be given again before the Committee at a great addition to the expense. It was the great expense of these inquiries that the country objected to. The fees which parties who came before the Committees were obliged to pay had been beyond all measure extravagant. j, Something had already been done in the way of reducing those expenses, and he hoped that still more would be effected in that direction, for by that means much of the dissatisfaction entertained against Private Bill legislation would be removed.
§ LORD HARRY VANE
said, his right hon. Friend the Member for Calne (Mr. Lowe) had placed the matter in so clear a light, and he concurred so fully in his right hon. Friend's observations, that he should not have thought it necessary to address the House, only that the great weight of authority seemed to be, not only against the proposition of the noble Lord the Member for Stamford, but also against any essential change in the present system, He concurred in thinking that the country was not so satisfied with the existing system, as some hon. Members seemed to suppose. A Select Committee was composed of Gentlemen some of whom might have a great knowledge of the subject to be considered, and others of whom might not have any knowledge of it at all. It was, therefore, an uncertain tribunal, and its decisions must be unsatisfactory, and lead to constant appeals to that House. He agreed with the President of the Board of Trade, that in a community like that of England, where opinions and interests were continually changing, it would be unwise to intrust to a fixed tribunal the powers adminis- 1566 tered by Parliamentary Committees; but it seemed to him that some one ought to be connected with a Committee who should give it a judicial character, and that it should be guided by some one of experience in the matter before it, as well as skilled in judicial investigation. It frequently happened that a great mass of evidence was taken by a Committee which had no bearing on the question. Counsel, Parliamentary agents, and solicitors had no interest in shortening the proceedings; and if the Chairman had not the moral courage to stop them, it often happened that they protracted the proceedings very unnecessarily. The suggestion of his right hon. Friend, therefore, was one of a practical character; and though it had been made before, was one worthy of consideration as likely to be of considerable advantage. The suggestion of the hon. Member for Leominster, that evidence should be taken once instead of twice, was one of which he approved; and if the Lords would consent to accept the evidence taken before a Committee of the House of Commons, and the House of Commons would adopt a corresponding rule, the proceedings would be shortened and a saving of expense effected. It should be borne in mind that the parties upon whom the expenses of proceedings before Parliamentary Committees ultimately fell were often not the litigants. There was a large class interested in litigation before the Committees, whose views consequently were not identical with those of the shareholders. Attention should, therefore, be directed as much as possible to the reduction of expenses. These would never be lessened unless the House took the matter in hand; and great credit, therefore, was due to the noble Lord for directing attention to a matter which was more thought of out of doors than hon. Members might be disposed to believe.
§ MR. PAULL
said, the Motion had called forth many interesting speeches from Gentlemen well qualified to pronounce opinions on the subject, but the noble Lord would see that it could not be expected to do more. His proposal to have one tribunal to take evidence, and another to decide upon it, was one which the House would never adopt. The noble Lord (Lord R. Cecil) was in error in assuming that the House and the Government had not grappled earnestly with this Question. There was no subject which had commanded more attention from the painstaking and practical Members than that of Private Bill legis- 1567 lation; and the fact that the grievances still continued showed how difficult it was to provide a remedy for them. Everybody admitted the evil, but it was the very magnitude of die grievance which led to its, continuance. From many of the proposals made that evening he felt compelled to differ. He did not believe, for instance, that hon. Members would feel themselves satisfactorily placed under the guidance of a judge by whom their attention; was to be directed to special issue. The training of the, judicial mind would infallibly lead the Judge to discard many of the innumerable issues which always; presented themselves in the investigations, of Private Bills, and thereby a great deal of matter would be excluded which yet might well deserve, consideration Members moreover, coming, as, they did from various classes of., society, would better appreciate the force of those issues than a single judicial mind could be expected to do. Again, he felt considerable doubts as to the propriety, in a constitutional point of view, of joint Committees of both Houses of Parliament. The subject had a right to petition both Houses of Parliament; and suppose a petition setting forth important facts, were presented to either. House after a Bill had undergone investigation by the joint Committee, the House surely could not ignore that petition. That very eveni9ng, in the case of the Dublin Improvement Bill, an instance had been afford of the importance of a second hearing in another place, where the omissions, neglect, or misrepresentations of parties at the first hearing might be supplied or corrected. No doubt, investigation by the second tribunal was attended with expense, but that was as secondary consideration compared with security of individual interests. It was impossible that was a secondary consideration compared with security of individual interests. It was impossible that the noble Lord himself could more ardently desire improvement in legislation of this nature than he did. In fact, he had introduced a Bill relating to one branch of the subject, piers and harbours, and presided over the Committee that the Bill was referred to. He then learnt form most respectable witness, that the view he had taken was erroneous, that the view he had taken was erroneous, and that the Parliamentary tribunal was by no means so unsatisfactory to the public as was supposed; those gentlemen declared their preference for the independent and impartial decisions of Committee, attended though these might sometimes be with expense and delay, to the arbitrary caprice of a public department, the officials of which 1568 were apt to run in a groove and to decide everything accordingly. He had come to the conclusion, as regarded a very large proportion of the business brought before Parliament, that it would be difficult to find any other tribunal which could deal with it as satisfactorily. There were, however, a vast number of applications which might be submitted to some tribunal out of doors? and he believed the extension of the system of provisional orders, being purely permissive, might be attended with useful results, preserving always the right of ultimate appeal to Parliament. The-working-of the Piers and Harbours Bill threw is some light; upon the matter. In the first year there, were nine applications for: provisional orders; seven were granted and; passed by Parliament without opposition: last year there were fifteen applications and in only three cases were granted, and there was one appeal to Parliament. That year there were twenty-seven applications, and in only three cases were objections taken and referred to a Committee. Without going into the question of the constitution of the-Committee, his strong feeling was that these subjects must be kept within the walls of Parliament, as regarded final legislation, but that the provisional order system might be extended, with a, sanitary effect.
§ MR. WHALLEY
said, the real question at issue in most of these Private; Bills, especially with regard to railways, was the question of competition between great companies; and if that could be settled, he believed: there would be no difficulty in acceding almost unanimously to the views which- the noble Lord- had so admirably expounded. The reason why the great companies were so unanimous infavour of the existing tribunal was because, owing to the expenditure and the great uncertainty of an appeal to Parliament, struggling enterprises were kept out of the field. The present system gave a virtual monopoly to the great companies, and seriously damaged the prospects of new local undertakings. Out of some£3,000,000 spent on new lines in the district with? which he was connected, he believed he was not exaggerating when he said that; an expenditure of £l,500,000 was due to the fact that-all these schemes had to pass, through Parliament. Money could rarely be raised for a local project in the district itself, and then it was necessary to apply for aid to contractors, engineers, and solicitors, who had no identity of interest with the district;, who assumed the management 1569 of the line with reference only to their own interests, and who repaid themselves at the rate of 50 per cent for the risks they incurred. The great railway companies found out that they had no chance of getting their claims so well attended to as by the Committees of Parliament, and they acted on that knowledge. That was the only reason why that class of business was retained in the House, with such public results ns the noble Lord had described, and with the private results upon the personal convenience of Members which mast be familiar to all. It should be remembered that there would be as much finality in the decisions of any other tribunal to which those questions might be referred as there was in those of Select Committees. Those Committees did not really legislate — they simply reported their opinion to the House; and this would be the case with any-other tribunal to which these matters were referred. The Report of the Committee of last Session noticed the various schemes which had been brought forward in reference to that class of business, and said that as it was not proposed by any one of the schemes to absolutely exclude parties from going before a Committee, in most cases they would avail themselves of the privilege, and thus the institution of a preliminary tribunal would only add to the length of the proceedings. That really was the ground for the House not parting with that class of business; and surely they should not be deterred from doing so, in consequence of the difficult questions involved, for the questions before Railway Committees were really much more simple than those brought before other Committees. In fact Railway Bills were much less complicated than Gas or Inclosure Bills. The increasing power of the great railway companies deserved the attention of that House. In 1853 competition was first allowed as a ground of objection to a new scheme; and then only at the discretion of the Committees. In 1863, when the question of competition was discussed by the Committee upon the various projects for the improvement of the present system, he carried a vote in the Committee that, so far as competition had been allowed as a ground of objection to new projects, it ought not to have been allowed, and that it should not be so in future; but that Resolution, though it formed the basis of about one half of the Report, was actually rescinded by the Committee—a step altogether without precedent, and due entirely 1570 to the overwhelming power and influence of the great companies in the Committees of the House. If they could exercise such influences in the Committees appointed to consider the subject of Private Bill legislation, much more might it be expected that such influence would be felt in the Private Bill Committees. The trade and general commerce of the country were involved in the question to an extent that was not exceeded by any single matter that engaged the attention of Parliament. The power of the great railway companies was also shown in regard to the Bill now before the House, and brought in by the President of the Board of Trade, for affording facilities for constructing railways. The Bill provided that where all the parties in a district having an interest in a new railway consented to its construction they could apply to the Board of Trade, and need not incur the expense of going before a Committee. The great companies, however, combined as one man, and insisted that they must have a voice in the new project. The Bill had therefore been altered to meet their views, and as it now stood it provided that if any railway or canal company intimated to the Board of Trade that they were not satisfied with the project, then the whole machinery of the Bill was set aside, and the parties applying for the Act were referred to a Committee upstairs, where they would have to cope with the inexhaustible resources of a great company. He trusted that, whatever the result of the present Motion might be, the noble Lord (Lord Robert Cecil) would not abandon the subject, but would continue to give it the patriotic, earnest, and enlightened attention he had already bestowed upon it. The noble Lord would find additional reason to be satisfied that he was devoting his influence and ability to a subject which would well repay his attention.
§ MR. DUTTON
said, that although he did not go so far as the noble Lord, yet he could not think that Committees of the House were satisfactory tribunals to deal with these matters, except, indeed, so far as the honesty and integrity of purpose which they brought to bear upon the subject. It would be supposed that almost the first requisite of a tribunal to consider a railway Bill was great local knowledge, yet the Members of a Committee invariably came from different parts of the country, and thus could not bare the requisite local knowledge. It had been said, in reference 1571 to the enormous sums spent before Committees, that the directors spent the shareholders' money recklessly; but on- behalf of himself and his brother directors he must say that the expenditure was forced upon them, and chiefly by counsel overloading the inquiries with: unnecessary evidence. Directors had a clear; interest in saving money, because what they spent was partly their own. It had been said that the great companies were in favour of the present system; but he certainly had never heard his colleagues express such an opinion, or that they waned to keep small companies out of the field. It was true that they were obliged to fight a great number of Bills, and often had eventually to buy the interest of the new companies, but that was not an economical mode of acquiring a line. Unfortunately the facilities for obtaining freeholds were now so great that, with the aid of a discount house and a contractor, any project; no matter how absurd, could be set afloat without diffienlty. And then it was competent for a company to go before a Committee, and after fighting for a time, if their scheme was rejected they might go before a new Committee the next year with the same counsel and the same engineer, and then they would probably get a Bill without adducing any new evidence That showed that the present system was not very perfect. He had listened; with great pleasure to the speech of the right him. Gentleman the Member for Calne, and agreed with him in thinking that there was a great want at present, because there was nothing to guide the Chairman of a Committee to a decision; there was no system of railway law to which he might look for direction in any difficulty. If the noble Lord should carry the question to a division he could not support him, but he thanked the noble Lord, for the very able manlier in which he had brought the subject before the House.
§ MR. PUGH
said, he should have great pleasure in voting for the Resolution of the noble Lord. In a matter of this nature he would not have ventured to intrude his opinions on the, House, but having read with much attention the Reports of the Select Committee's of 1858 and 1863, and the best portion of the evidence, he collected than, the highest authorities, in, that House and out of it were unanimous in expressing a strong sense of the evils of the present system. Considerable changes had been made in consequence of the Report of the first Committee, and the question was 1572 whether the time was not now come for going still further. It was stated by some of the authorities to whom he had alluded, that the evils of the; present system were inseparable from the nature of the tribunals; that their decisions were fluctuating, uncertain, and frequently inconsistent, and did not command public confidence; It was also said that the Committees disliked the work allotted to them; and no one could blame them-if they did. They knew that their constituents had no interest in that work; if they had there was no labour they would not willingly undergo. As it was, they would prefer to devote their time to social and imperial questions, or to the study of international law which now more that ever invited the attention of the country. They saw that the strength and talent of the House was eliminated before an appeal was made to their ranks. Those engaged in office were exempt, and likewise those engaged in the profession of the law. The orators of that House, to whose utterances they all lent an attentive ear, on whose effusions they ever dwelt with so much pleasure, were rarely, if ever, found to ply the laboring our in the Committee-rooms upstairs. The duties of the Committees were of a more humble and unaspiring nature—The applause of listening senates to command Their lot forbade.Thus, they found themselves committed to a contest beyond their strength, from which not much of credit or reputation; was to be gained. It was the advice of a celebrated critic of antiquity to the poets never to take up a subject above their resources, and to consider well beforehand what burden their shoulders were abel to bear—"Sumite materiam vestris, qui scribitis, æquam,Viribus; et versate, diu, quid ferre recusant,Quid valeant humeri.And the same, rule applied to orators, as an orator is said to be next akin to a poet. If he were asked what system was to be established, in lieu of that now to be displaced, he, would refer to the suggestion which had been made of a railway tribunal composed, of men either in Parliament out of it; and he would not attach too much, weight to the objection against parting with any of their jurisdiction. In other; matters, such as those submitted to the Inclousure Commissioners, they had parted with a good deal already, and he thought they might part with more of that description without the slightest diminution of their hereditary splendour. He 1573 hoped he had said nothing in any degree disparaging or undervaluing the labours those who in the chief Committees set all this machinery in motion with so much ability and self-devotion. He had experience from them nothing but consideration and kindness, and it was only because he had studied their opinions as embodied in the Reports with the deepest attention, and was influenced by their high authority, that he had ventured to say what he had, adopting their suggestions and treading in their steps, though, perhaps, going a little further than some of them. Seeing, then, that this confinement of Members in committee-rooms was unnecessary and useless, and might better be dispensed with; seeing that they had abolished the slave trade, and that Factory Acts had been passed with the approbation of every friend of humanity and his country, he would cordially vote for the Resolution, as containing within it the element and the germ of the emancipation of Members of Parliament.
§ LORD ROBERT CECIL
said, he thought it would be useless to press his Motion in the then state of the House, and therefore he proposed to withdraw it.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.