HC Deb 23 June 1880 vol 253 cc672-9

Debate resumed.


said, his experience was that it was not at all advisable that the whole of the Private Bill Business of the country should be transacted upstairs; and he thought the measure of the hon. Member for Cavan (Mr. Fay) was well worthy of consideration, and might be extended to Scotland, and, perhaps, to portions of England. The present system was a great scandal, and on the ground of economy alone a complete change was necessary. It was a system which common sense and public opinion would not long tolerate, especially as it had a tendency to restrict industrial enterprise. It formed one of the strongest arguments for Home Rule. Complaints were also frequently made of the arbitrary ruling of the autocrat in "another place."


in supporting the Bill, said, there were many useful enterprises that were rendered impossible or were retarded on account of the expense and inconvenience of the present system of Parliamentary inquiry. As an instance, he would refer to the case of Waterford, from whence a Bill was presented for the benefit of the town, which the Commons passed, but which the Lords rejected through mere capriciousness. The expenditure for the promotion of this Bill—£1,400—fell upon the promoters, and the locality was deprived of a Bill which would be of the greatest possible advantage. If the preliminary stages of the Bill had taken place in Ireland instead of London, Waterford would now be deriving one advantage of having a most useful measure in operation.


said, the measure before the House was one upon which Irish Members were almost, if not entirely, unanimous, and great weight ought, he thought, to be attached to the fact that Gentlemen representing large constituencies in Ireland were of the same opinion on the subject. It was not only the matter of expense in connection with large undertakings; but rather in many of the small matters that the grievance was felt. The cost of promoting schemes moderate in themselves was so great that many small improvements, which would have brought great and last- ing benefit to Ireland, could not be carried out on account of the expense. Many small but still important matters would be brought forward if there was a local tribunal in Ireland which could deal with them, and that was a thing most seriously felt. As the Bill was to be confined entirely to Ireland, he thought it would at any rate be a step in the right direction if the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland were to indicate the intention of the Government to deal with the question By doing so, he believed that the Government would take away this grievance from Ireland. On the whole, the measure was one of great practical importance and utility, and he hoped it would be supported.


said, he desired to interpose at the present moment, and to state the opinion of the Government in regard to the measure. With the principle of the Bill he had no fault to find; on the contrary, he entirely agreed that greater facilities should be given, if possible, in regard to the passing of Acts dealing with local matters. There was no doubt at all that legislation by Private Bills, not only for Ireland, but also for a great part of England and the whole of Scotland, was attended with very considerable needless expense and delay, arising from the necessity of conducting the inquiries in London, instead of in, or, at all events, somewhere near, the locality with respect to which the undertaking in question was promoted. He thought it would be very desirable to diminish the expense, and so extend the facilities, by having some local tribunal to inquire into the facts on which the promoters of the measures relied as entitling them to give effect to their schemes. It had been for some time one of the features of our system, that all inquiries of a judicial or of a semi-judicial character should be conducted as near as possible to the place concerned. But, whilst he entirely agreed with the principle of the Bill and in the desirableness of the object which his hon. Friend (Mr. Pay) sought to attain, he regretted to say that when he passed on to the mode in which he sought to embody his intentions and to carry them into effect, he (the Attorney General for Ireland) was obliged to differ from him altogether. Whatever tribunal might ultimately be chosen as the best, the present attempt to combine Parliamentary action with local inquiry only increased the difficulty. It was now proposed that local inquiries should be conducted in Ireland by a Committee of each House, sitting in Dublin or elsewhere in Ireland. Now, let the House consider how this would work. With Private Bills the first reading, and the second reading, and, in fact, the several stages, followed very much the course taken with Public Bill legislation. Suppose the Bill now before the House became law, the course would be this. A Private Bill would be introduced and read a first time and second time, suppose in the early part of the Session. It would then, according to the proposed Bill, be submitted to a Committee who would hold their inquiry during the long Parliamentary Recess. Thus, the progress of the Bill after the second reading would be stopped until August or September. An inquiry held in Dublin, or Armagh, or elsewhere, upon an Irish Bill might, and probably would, be a more efficient inquiry than if conducted in London. But, having got thus far, and reached, say, October, the Committee would have to wait and make its Report to the House in the following February. After that a third reading might, no doubt, be had before the close of that month. But then the Bill must be sent to the Lords, and there would have to go through the same process with a similar occupation of time; so that, in reality, it would take over two years to pass a measure of the kind. He thought that was a mode of dealing with the difficulty which would be very little, if at all, better than the existing method. There were, indeed, considerable inconveniences now, and he was quite willing to admit them. They were, he felt, difficulties which it was desirable to avoid and overcome; but he could not see in the provisions of the Bill before the House, any reasonable prospect of accomplishing this. To attempt to conduct local inquiries by Committees of the House would probably increase the difficulty; for, though it might be that some expense would be thus avoided, it must certainly cause increased delay. Therefore, although he accepted the principle stated in the Preamble of the Bill that something ought to be done, he could not accept its provisions. It was impossible, however, to accept a measure merely because the recital of its object was correct. It was necessary to see that the object was likely to be attained. Now, here, he must say, he could not find in the enacting clauses any principles, except that of committing inquiries to a Parliamentary Committee sitting during the Recess, thereby causing the difficulties to which he had alluded. He admitted that the present was a state of things which should not continue, and he hoped before very long means would be devised to put an end to it, so that Inquiries as to the desirability of constructing railway, water, and other works for particular localities should be conducted by some process the better part of which would be conducted on the spot and not in the House; but he could not see his way to accepting the method proposed in the Bill. He hoped, under those circumstances, the Bill would not be pressed.


said, if these proceedings had taken place in a Committee Room, and had the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General for Ireland (Mr. Law) been in the position of Chairman, the decision which he had just announced would have found expression in a phrase very favourable to the progress of a Bill— namely, "The Preamble is proved." The necessity of legislation was admitted, and such legislation could not be very long delayed. He regretted very much that the hon. and learned Member for Tipperary (Mr. P. J. Smyth), who introduced the Bill on a previous occasion, was precluded by form from taking part in the debate. He had only arrived at a time when the proceedings of the House were somewhat interrupted, and so had not yet taken the Oath. Had he been present, he would have been able to suggest Amendments which might be introduced in Committee, and which would remove those difficulties to which the Attorney General for Ireland had referred. Those difficulties, especially the delay, were, no doubt, of a very substantial character; but he would have expected from a Gentleman holding the position of the Attorney General for Ireland, and who admitted the principle, that he would have given the House the benefit of his known experience, and have suggested a way in which the difficulties could be removed. He, however, had not done so; but he had dimly referred to some machinery by which those inconveniences could be removed, and these private measures dealt with in Ireland. Now, he (Mr. O'Shaughnessy) would have the assent of the whole Home Rule Party in giving the right hon. and learned Gentleman this warning and this information—that it would be found utterly impossible to transfer to any but an elected Irish body, and to a body possessing the hereditary qualifications for legislation like the Irish Peers, the right to deal with Private Bill legislation. There was in the right hon. and learned Gentleman's speech the foreshadowing of an idea of a new Board of officials of some kind. ["No, no!"] He feared there was a suggestion foreshadowed that, by means of official machinery, this Private Bill Inquiry might be worked out. [The ATTORNEY GENERAL for IRELAND (Mr. Law): No, no!] He feared that suggestion would be made, for, apparently, there was no idea of using the legislative force that came from Ireland; but let this be borne in mind by those who considered the measure—no attempt to transfer to Irish officials the jurisdiction over Private Bills now enjoyed by the House of Commons in London would be entertained by the Home Rule Party. There was an easy means of remedying the defects the right hon. and learned Gentleman referred to; but not by the machinery of the Local Government Board, the Board of Works, or any new Board formed by their side. If it was right and desirable that Irish Peers and Irish Members should consider Irish Bills in Committee in Dublin, it was equally desirable and necessary that they should discharge other duties with regard to Private Bills, and there would be no difficulty about it, as they would meet there after the sitting of Parliament. But he wished to take advantage of the admission of the right hon. and learned Gentleman that some remedy was required to ask what was proposed, and to assure him that any transference of the kind he had mentioned would meet with uncompromising opposition.


Sir, I can only repeat to a great extent the remarks made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General for Ireland (Mr. Law). I think the case of the necessity for reform in this matter has been most abundantly proved. It is quite clear there is very great inconvenience in having all these inquiries conducted in London; and my belief is that if the House were to inquire thoroughly into the matter of Private Bill legislation, they would find that this inconvenience applies to England and Scotland as well as to Ireland. That, of course, is a very much larger question, and I do not suppose that the Mover of the Bill, or the hon. Members whose names are on its back, would expect us, on a Wednesday afternoon, at this time of a short Session, to be prepared to propose that any great change should be made with regard to Private Bill legislation. Still, I think the case is the strongest for Ireland; and I not only hope that some way may be found to remove this grievance, but I think some way must be found. I have very carefully looked through the Bill to see if there was any way by which one could support the second reading without pledging oneself to the particular mode in which it is proposed to meet the grievance; but I must say I failed to find it. Sometimes, in these Wednesday discussions, we take a very wide view in regard to second readings if a Bill tends in the right direction, and we find any leading clause in it which enables Members to vote for the principle, as it were, and which is often clone with the knowledge that the vote means that the House thinks the question ought to be dealt with, and that the Government will then take the subject up. Even if this Bill were read a second time to-day, there would not be the slightest chance of its becoming law in the present Session in the present state of Public Business. When I come to look through the Bill, I find nothing but the Preamble to which I could pledge myself, or to which I think the House would be prepared to pledge itself. But, then, you cannot vote for the second reading of the Bill solely on the Preamble. When I come to the clauses, I think there is a good deal that is open to the objections raised by my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General for Ireland. At any rate, it would require close consideration before the House would pledge itself to that mode of meeting the want. I think that if the House passes this Bill, they will be pledged to meet this grievance by Parliamentary Committees sitting in Ireland. The hon. and learned Gentleman who has just sat down (Mr, O'Shaughnessy) has said he is strongly in favour of that plan, and has almost said that no other plan can succeed. Is not that going rather too far? It is possible that the result of inquiry may be that both English and Scotch Members would like to find some other tribunal to conduct their inquiries, and then I do not suppose that Irish Members would prefer Parliamentary inquiry any more than English or Scotch Members. The manner in which the hon. and learned Member has touched it has made it a very big question indeed, not to be decided offhand merely as a Bill to remove inconveniences. Again, we have heard a great deal about county government. That is a question which, has created great interest in England and in Ireland, and it may, perhaps, be supposed that one effect of a reformed system of local government would be that some of these matters would really be taken up by the County Boards. I do not think Irish Members would wish, to bind us to such an extent that, if that came up, we should be in the position of having pledged ourselves that the subject should not be thus dealt with. In connection with county government in Ireland, I do not want to give any precise statement. I think it is a matter that requires careful consideration; but I confess I have looked forward to the time when in this respect all the Three Kingdoms shall have a tribunal to conduct all those inquiries, which tribunal would ultimately defer to the House of Commons. I hope my hon. Friend who has brought this forward will be content with the interesting discussion we have had, and I will pledge the Government to a careful consideration of the matter. I cannot do more. There are so many things to be done and so many things to be said with regard to Ireland, and the time for doing this is so short, that we cannot hope to deal with the question this Session; but I hope we may before next Session find time for proper consideration of the matter, and with profitable results. We, and in that connection I include my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, believe that the evil is felt in Ireland, and we are determined to see how it can be met. Therefore, I ask my hon. Friend to withdraw his Bill, or the House may be placed in a false position. I hope the Bill will be with- drawn; otherwise I shall feel it my duty to move the Previous Question, and, as a matter of form, I must take that step now, in the possibility of the hon. Member not complying.

Motion made, and Previous Question proposed, "That that Question be now put."—(Mr. William Edward Forster.)


saw no reason why Irish professional men should not have the advantage of conducting these inquiries in their own country. At the same time, he thought Irish Members should be content with the assurance given by the Chief Secretary for Ireland, and withdraw the Bill. He was satisfied that whatever the right hon. Gentleman said he meant.


said, he took an interest in this Bill, because the same principle as was contained in it was applicable to Scotland. There was in it a demand that had been made there for many years. The evil was felt very strongly indeed in the North, and a desire for some such arrangement was almost universal amongst those who had to do with private legislation. He did not, however, agree with the clauses of the Bill, as he thought it would be easy to establish a better plan.

An hon. MEMBER wished to suggest to the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General for Ireland that, as he had expressed his approval of the principle of the Preamble, he would, probably, when they came to deal with the measure, as promised by the Chief Secretary for Ireland, find it useful to look into the provisions of two Bills which were brought in on this subject in 1872 by Mr. Pim and others, because he thought that, to a certain extent, the first part of the Bill was defective. By looking at the Bills to which he referred, many valuable suggestions might be received by the right hon. and learned Gentleman.


out of deference to the statement of the Chief Secretary for Ireland, asked leave to withdraw the Bill. He was much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for the cordial answer he had given.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Original Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Bill withdrawn.