§ Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Nomination of Select Committee [4th May], "That the Select Committee on the Rivers Conservancy and Floods Prevention Bill do consist of nineteen Members."
§ Question again proposed.
§ Debate resumed.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "nineteen," in order to insert the words "twenty-one,"—(Mr. Heneage,)—instead thereof.
§ Question, "That the word 'nineteen' stand part of the Question," put, and negatived.
§ Question, "That the words 'twenty-one' be inserted instead thereof," put, and agreed to.
§ Select Committee nominated :—Mr. DODSON, Mr. SCLATER-BOOTH, Mr. PEEL, Mr. HARCOURT, Sir ANDREW FAIRBAIRN, Mr. REGINALD YORKE, Mr. A:RTHUR ARNOLD, Mr. FELLOWES, Sir ROBERT CUNLIFFE, Mr. COMPTON LAWRANCE, Lord EDWARD CAVENDISH, Mr. PELL, Mr. ARNOLD MORLEY, Sir RAINALD KNIGHTLEY, Mr. MAGNIAC, Mr. STANHOPE, Lord EDMOND FITZMAURICE, Mr. LEVETT, Mr. HIBBERT, Mr. PUGH, and Mr. ARTHUR BALFOUR:—Five to be the quorum.
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
, in moving the Motion of which he had given Notice, observed that the Bill had been 21 times on the Orders of the Day, and he was anxious to expedite its progress. The examination of witnesses by the Select Committee was most desirable; and though it would slightly prolong their work, it would enable them, by means of the evidence they obtained, to settle many points of dispute. As the Bill stood, it contained no definition of uplands, with regard to which most important proposals of taxation had been made. Without some such definition the Conservancy Board that would be created by the Bill would have dangerously excessive powers. A few witnesses would enable the Committee to define this difficult and important term, and would make it 283 possible to settle the question in an equitable manner. He moved that the Committee have power to send for persons, papers, and records.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers, and records."—(Mr. Stanhope.)
§ MR. DODSON
, while admitting the perfect fairness with which that Motion had been made, felt bound to say it was one which he could not accept. The hon. Member thought that its adoption would not long delay the Bill, and that the hearing of a very few witnesses would suffice; but he entirely differed from that view of the matter. Looking at the number of rivers in this country, and at the variety of interests concerned in them, he believed that if they once opened the door to evidence it would be impossible to stop at the examination of so very few witnesses as the hon. Gentleman supposed. If they admitted witnesses from one part of the country, they must admit them from other parts, and to attempt to do that at this period of the Session would be fatal to the Bill. Moreover, the Bill was based on the Report of a Select Committee of the House of Lords, which took a great deal of evidence; and, further, it was only an enabling measure—that was to say, it would give to each locality which desired them facilities for legislation in its own way for its own requirements. Before, however, any river basin or part of a river basin could be legislated for there must be a local inquiry, at which evidence must be given; then the scheme thus originating must be considered by the Local Government Board, who would hear arguments for and against the scheme; and, lastly, before any scheme could acquire the force of law, it must be embodied in a Provisional Order, which had to come before Parliament, when, if opposed, it would be treated like a Private Bill and sent to a Select Committee, who would take evidence. Therefore, to take evidence on this Bill would not only be a waste of time, but also a waste of power and of expense. He thought he had now given sufficient reason for not agreeing to that proposition, more particularly at that period of the Session. Of course, there would be 284 no objection, he apprehended, on the part of the Committee to any Petitions being laid before them.
§ MR. HENEAGE
said, there were several rivers which were in no way represented on the Committee; and a Petition had come, among others, from the Humber Conservancy Board asking to be heard by counsel and by witnesses. If it could be arranged that the Committee should take cognizance of the various Petitions sent to the House in regard to that measure, he did not think that the present Motion would matter so very much; but as he doubted whether they could do so without powers being given them as proposed, by the Motion, he should support his hon. Friend the Member for Mid Lincolnshire.
§ MR. HICKS
said, he should support the proposal of the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. E. Stanhope). In his opinion, no Bill had ever been brought before the House which was of greater importance than the present one, because it dealt with every river in England and taxed every acre of land under the name of lowlands, middle -lands, or uplands. He did not say that many of their rivers were not in a bad state and did not require improvement. They had got into that state, in a great degree, in consequence of a falling off in the navigation, and through there being no funds to carry out the works which the Navigation Commissioners in former times executed. No doubt, some great Corporation should be established to execute such work; but he greatly questioned whether a skeleton Bill like that, to be carried out by means of Provisional Orders, was the best way of effecting the object in view. They ought to have the question thoroughly sifted by a Committee, and a measure brought down to them in a shape in which it could be accepted. Those who were liable to be taxed under the Bill should be allowed to state their case before the Committee. The great level of fens had been, in fact, created by the owners at great cost. They covered about 500,000 acres; but for these works these acres would have been covered with water. Was it just that these works should be handed over to a new body, or that the owners should should be taxed to clean out rivers? Then, again, the uplands were not affected in any way by drainage and would not be 285 benefited in any degree by an alteration of rivers, and yet they would be taxed under the Bill without the power of protecting themselves.
§ MR. MAGNIAC
said, he felt certain that the only satisfactory way of framing a Bill which would meet all the circumstances of the case would be to proceed on the lines indicated by the President of the Local Government Board.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 63; Noes 116: Majority 53.—(Div. List, No. 238.)
§ MR. MAGNIAC
said, he begged to move that the River Floods Prevention Bill be referred to the same Committee.
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the River Floods Prevention Bill be referred to the Select Committee."—(Mr. Magniac.)
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
wished to be informed by the right hon. Gentleman in the Chair whether it was competent for the hon. Member, without Notice, to make a Motion of that kind?
§ MR. SPEAKER
said, that the House had already ordered that the Rivers Conservancy and Floods Prevention Bill should be referred to a Select Committee, and the Motion of the hon. Member being simply that the River Floods Prevention Bill be referred to that Committee, it was competent for him to make that Motion without Notice.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Ordered, That all Petitions for or against the Bills be referred to the said Select Committee.—(Mr. Hibbert.)