, in rising to call attention to the system of Private Bill Legislation; and to move the following Resolutions:—
said: In moving these Resolutions on Private Bill Legislation, of which I have given Notice, I think it right that I should offer an apology to the House for having ventured, as a young Member—one of its youngest Members—to introduce a subject of such great importance, bearing, as it 'does, so closely on the Business of the House and the jurisdiction of Parliament, when there are so many hon. Members, both older and of much greater knowledge and experience on this subject than I can boast of, who could have discharged the duty so much more adequately and with much greater effect. I feel that I shall speak at a disadvantage in presence of many hon. Members who have spent years in this House, and who have seen and watched both the good and the bad points in connection with Private Bill Legislation; and I can only express the hope that in the course of this discussion we shall have the benefit of the knowledge and experience of those hon. Gentlemen. I would venture to inform the House why it was that I turned my attention to this subject, and have obtruded it upon the House, and I will do so in a few words. Knowing Scotland and the opinions of the people and the constituencies of Scotland very well—as well, perhaps, as any hon. Member in this House—I am aware that there is a great feeling of dissatisfaction, from one end of the country to the other, with the manner in which the present system of Private Bill Legislation is conducted. I would appeal to my hon. Friends and Colleagues from Scotland whether it is not the case that the enormous expense, the increasing uncertainty in the decisions of Committees of both Houses of Parliament, and the fact that the evidence with regard to local affairs is taken up here in London, and not in the locality affected by the Bills, are matters of serious grievance and disadvantage to Scotland, and matters which require reform. Passing from Scotland, 1613 and looking across to Ireland, I find that the same complaints are heard from that country. Year after year Bills have been introduced by Irish Members dealing with this matter, and asking that the people of Ireland may be allowed to legislate for themselves, or, at least, to conduct their local inquiries before Commissioners in Ireland, relating to matters now dealt with by Private Bill Legislation, such as railways, canals, gas and water works. When I come to examine the matter in the light of the discussions in Parliament, and of the Reports of Select Committees, I find that the dissatisfaction is not confined to Scotland and Ireland. Since 1824 there had been grumbling almost from one end of England to the other. Year after year Committees of this House, and of the other House of Parliament, have sat and taken evidence upon this matter. I think there have been at least 15 Committees or Commissions, during the last 50 years, appointed by Parliament to investigate the reasons of the unsatisfactory manner in which Private Bills have been dealt with; and while the recommendations of those Bodies have been hesitating and irresolute, the evidence of the witnesses has not infrequently been pronounced and decided enough against the present system. In the words of the Committee of 1863, the witnesses seemed to hold that "the present system on which Private Bill Legislation is founded is not satisfactory," and I may add that it cannot be made satisfactory without some drastic change. My original intention was to confine my proposals to Scotland, where I felt sure of my ground. I had intended to propose that a permanent Commission should be appointed for Scotland, before whom the evidence on Private Bills should be taken; but I found that what was bad for Scotland was bad for Ireland, and hat was bad for Ireland and Scotland could not be good for England. I felt, also, that if I limited my proposal to one part of the country, I should be met with the ready answer that it was impossible to legislate on an important matter of the kind for one part of the country only. That was the answer which was given by the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for War (the Marquess of Hartington) in 1871 on the Local Legislation (Ireland) Bill. 1614 The noble Marquess, who was then Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, stated that he considered Private Bill Legislation, as regarded England and Scotland, required amendment; and in 1880 my right hon. Friend the Member for Bradford (Mr. Forster), who was then Chief Secretary, admitted that Private Bill Legislation was inconvenient for Ireland, and still more inconvenient for England and Scotland, and that he looked forward to the time when the Three Kingdoms should have a tribunal to conduct these inquiries which should ultimately defer to the House of Commons. On these grounds, therefore, I determined to extend my proposal to the Three Kingdoms. Having made this explanation, I hope that the House will acquit me of presumption, and will bear with me while, in the words of my 1st Resolution, I attempt to prove that the system of Private Bill Legislation calls for the attention of Parliament and of Her Majesty's Government, and requires reform.
- "1. That, in the opinion of this House, the system of Private Bill Legislation calls for the attention of Parliament, and of Her Majesty's Government, and requires reform,
- "2. That in place of Private Bills which have passed a Second Reading in either House of Parliament being referred to Committees as heretofore, they should be referred for consideration and report to Commissions to be established for England, Scotland, and Ireland.
- "3. That if any party who shall have appeared before the Commission should appeal against the report thereof, the appeal, together with the case, notes of evidence, and report, with the reasons therefor, should be referred to a Parliamentary tribunal, composed (in the manner recommended in 1869 by the Joint Committee of the House of Lords and the House of Commons on the Despatch of Business) of Members of both Houses, with power to award costs,"
What are the main objections to the present system? They are three in number—the expense, the uncertainty of the decisions of the Committees, and the unprofitable waste of public time. It is universally admitted that there is no more expensive tribunal in the world than that which deals with evidence on which our private legislation is founded. It is impossible to give anything like an accurate account of the cost of any individual Private Bill; but I shall mention two or three of the more conspicuous cases which have come under my notice. In 1862, at an important meeting of the Social Science Congress in London, some papers on Private Bill Legislation were read, in which several cases were cited, and from those the following instances of the expense of the present system are taken:—Before the crisis of the railway mania, it was calculated that the lines then existing had been taxed for law and Parliamentary expenses £1,800 per mile; and that up to the year 1857 the Great Western Railway Company had spent no less than £760,000 to get the sanction of Parliament to their undertaking. The Great Northern Railway had spent £420,620 in Parliamentary expenses before a spade was put into the ground. It was also stated before a Committee in 1863 that a railway was planned from Oswestry to Christchurch, 1615 a distance of 18 miles, and the expenses in that case with reference to the Parliamentary contest amounted to between £60,000 and £80,000 for the preliminary powers only. There were several cases where as much as 15 per cent, and even 17 per cent, of the capital of small and insignificant Companies was eaten up by Parliamentary expenses; and it was not the Railway Companies only who suffered in this way, for the Gas and Water Companies fared no better, they being mulcted in a similar manner. The Carlisle Gas Company's Parliamentary bill amounted to £1,372, or 8 per cent of its capital. It cost Devonport £1,611 to secure their original Act, and £699 more for power to increase their capital; the Blackburn Gas Company spent 5 per cent of its capital, the Cambridge Company 12 per cent, and the Filey Company 15 per cent of their capital; and the Clifton Suspension Bridge across the Avon cost £1,257 for Parliamentary expenses, although the Bill was unopposed. It may be said that these figures are unofficial. I will give one or two results taken from other figures, which cannot be gainsaid. In 1862, Colonel Wilson-Patten, now Lord Winmarleigh—than whom no man is a higher authority on such matters—procured a Return through the Board of Trade of the expenses incurred by Railway, Gas, and Water Companies in promoting or opposing Private Bills from 1855 to 1861. Returns were received from 270 Railway Companies, 37 Gas Companies, and 50 Water Companies. The total amount spent in these years by the Railway Companies was £1,812,659; by the Gas Companies, £90,125; and by the Water Companies, £101,000. The whole amount spent by these Companies in these years in promoting Bills in Parliament was rather more than £2,000,000, not including the fees of the two Houses of Parliament. But these figures, it may truly be said, refer to 20 years ago, and perhaps we have grown wiser since, and do not spend our money so recklessly. But is that the case? The system remains unchanged. The main cause of these expenses is the professional charges, and these remain the same as they were 20 or 40 years ago. If anything, they have increased. Thirty guineas a-day is the least fee that even a junior counsel can take for his first day in Committee; and though 1616 the minimum is fixed, the maximum is not, and what it may be no one can say. It is not an unheard-of thing for senior counsel to get 500 or even 1,000 guineas for their brief fee, and the usual "refreshers" and consultation fees for every day in which they appear in Committee. These fees you may multiply five or six times, because there are always five or six counsel on each Bill, it being the practice, under the existing system, which drives the work into a few months in each year, when several Committees are sitting at the same time, to employ more counsel than are absolutely necessary; and, accordingly, if you multiply by five or six, and add the fees paid to this House and to the other House of Parliament, the fees of the Parliamentary agents and local solicitors, the remuneration of engineers, surveyors, and skilled witnesses, which is always heavy, and, finally, the allowances to ordinary witnesses, you will arrive at a total which accounts for the fact that Companies spend a large proportion of their capital in order to obtain powers to make a proper use of the balance. As we find that the professional charges have not diminished, so we find that the time during which Bills are kept lingering in Committee is not shortened, but, if anything, is extended. Only two years ago the Hull and Barns-ley Railway Bill was kept before the Committee for 24 days, and the expense was so lavish as to be almost inconceivable. Again, last year, the Southampton Branch of the Didcot, Newbury, and Southampton Junction Railway had to spend £1,000 per mile in defending themselves against the South-Western Railway Company before a sod was cut. This year the Manchester Ship Canal is one of the biggest concerns before the Committees; and it appears that a Provisional Committee has called for subscriptions and assistance to raise a fund of £100,000 to defray the expense of an application to Parliament to carry out the scheme. I think I have now said enough to show that this is the most expensive tribunal that exists anywhere. In 1867 a Royal Commission was appointed, and before that Commission much valuable and important evidence was taken. Among other witnesses examined was a well-known gentleman, who had been at one time a Commissioner of Works in Ire- 1617 land. He afterwards went to Prussia, where he had a good deal to do with the superintendence of the construction of the Prussian railways. He was asked about the difference between the expenses there and in this country, and he stated that the system of legislation in Prussia was totally different from ours. The preliminary expenses there, he said, were very small indeed; and he also said—I believe I am right in Baying that the various expenses accompanying the passing of Railway Bills in this country through Parliament before a sod was dug would amount to something very nearly like the cost of the whole Prussian system.This costliness is due to the system which now exists. Great Companies, with boundless purses, come to this House and to the other House; and they are, perhaps unconsciously, not unwilling to expend enormous sums, and to protract discussion as long as they can with decency protract it, in order to drive off the smaller Companies, with smaller capital, who might wish to interfere with the monopoly of the greater Companies. It is the interest of those great Companies to lengthen the proceedings, and the system plays into their hands. Parliament sits only half the year, and the Committees sit only for a few hours in the week; and that fact, coupled with the fact that the professional men and agents engaged are not anxious to hurry the proceedings, causes great delay. I do not for a moment say that either the Parliamentary counsel or the solicitors desire to spin out those inquiries to an inordinate length. It would be unworthy of me to make such a suggestion. Neither do I suppose that the municipal officials—the town clerks and the great deputations of town councillors who come up to London—are not in a hurry to go home again, but wish to stay in London at the public expense longer than is absolutely necessary. I do not make those charges against any of these professional men and official gentlemen; but I do say that the professional gentlemen, knowing that their principals, the great and wealthy Companies, wish delay, it would hardly be in human nature for them to baulk their principals of their desire. Then, again, the hours are short. In one hearing of eight hours, you could do more than could be done in two days of 1618 four hours each; and, therefore, when the Session is so short, and the hours are so short, and the tribunal inexperienced, the difficulty which counsel feel is to know when to stop. Naturally, they think it advisable to go on calling evidence until the tribunal stops them, and so the matter lingers on needlessly in one House, to be followed by similar tactics, similar delay, and similar expense in the other House.
This brings me to my second objection to the present system, and that is the uncertainty in the decisions at which the Committees in this House and the Committees in the other House arrive. I will not say one word in prejudice of the personnel of the present Committees. Members of Committees in both Houses have shown great industry, sometimes very great ability, always high honour, and they have rendered service in these difficult and delicate investigations, for which they have received inadequate credit, both from the House and from the public. But the system is one that will not bear investigation. In the first place, how is the tribunal constituted? Members of the present and leading Members of the late Administration rarely serve on Private Bill Committees. Hon. Gentlemen in large professional practice, and who have great businesses to conduct, are, as a rule, exempt; and you have also to exempt those who are connected with property through which the lines will pass, or who have pecuniary interests in the localities affected by the Private Bill. You have further to eliminate the Directors and Chairmen of other Railway Companies, and who number in this present House of Commons about 113. So that, by this process, you practically exclude from the service of these Committees the very pick of the business faculty in the House. The Committee of Selection have got to select the Chairmen, and their choice is always good; but each year, we are told, it is more and more difficult to man the Chairmen's Panel; and yet the whole system really turns on the selection of Chairmen, because, where only the inexperienced are left to fill the Committees, the whole burden really falls upon the shoulders of the Chairmen. If it was difficult to man those Committees properly before, it will be much more difficult now, for it will be remembered that it was decided last 1619 year that 160 picked Members of the House should be drafted off to serve on Standing Committees. I am aware it is supposed these will represent a microcosm of the House; but if these Standing Committees are to be successful—and it is believed they will be—more of them will be appointed, and it will come to be regarded as a considerable honour to serve on them, and an honour sought after by the best of the non-official Members of the House. If that be so, you will find it almost impossible to man your Private Bill Committees, except by those who have not the ambition to serve on the Standing Committees. The tribunal will become weaker and weaker; it will not be a question of abolishing the tribunal; but the difficulty will become so great that it will be impossible to continue the system. This difficulty of manning the Committees is not confined to the House of Commons. So long as 20 years ago, a similar difficulty was experienced in the House of Lords; and Lord Redesdale stated that he was not able to take more than a certain number of Private Bills for origination in the House of Lords. Mr. Massey, who was Chairman of Committees at that time, was examined before the Select Committee that sat in 1863 upon this very question. He was asked whether it was not his duty to meet the Chairman of the House of Lords' Committee, and to decide what Bills should originate with the House of Lords, and what with the House of Commons; and the answer to that was, that the Bills were selected by the Chairmen of the Committees of the two Houses. In answer to another question, he said there was considerable difficulty with respect to the selection of the Bills for Committee in each House, because the number of cases Lord Redesdale would undertake was very small in comparison with the number that must commence in the House of Commons. That year they had nearly 400 Private Bills, some of which went off; but of those Lord Redesdale would only consent to take 82. Well, Sir, has that difficulty been overcome? This year there are 276 Private Bills introduced into Parliament, the Chairmen have met, and Lord Redesdale has found it impossible to take more than 85. Last year, out of 320 Bills the House of Lords accepted only 96; and in 1881, out of 231 Bills 1620 the House of Lords accepted only 65. In both Houses, therefore, there is danger of a dead-lock, and this year there is greater danger than ever there has been in the history of Private Bill Legislation, owing to the appointment of Standing Committees. Such is the tribunal which this expensive system creates. It has been called—I am not using my own words—"a weak jury without a Judge to moderate between the jury and the Bar." The Parliamentary Bar is, perhaps, the strongest and most experienced of any Bar in this country; and what possible chance has the Committee, or the jury, as it has been called, against such a Bar as that? And it is not one jury, it is two juries, two Courts of original and co-ordinate jurisdiction, which is an anomaly in itself, and it is incumbent upon the parties to establish their case before these two Courts, to whom are entrusted some of the most difficult and delicate duties that can be entrusted to any tribunal. And what is the consequence? The consequence is that the decisions of those Committees come to be regarded almost as lotteries, in which the longest purse is apt to draw the prize, owing to its pertinacity. That is the opinion of a noble Lord whose experience is very great upon this question (Lord Redesdale), who, of all men, is not likely to underrate the excellence of those institutions to which he has been accustomed. He says—My opinion is that both the large Companies and the small Companies would equally gain by being brought before experienced tribunals, and one reason why there is such great expense is that there is a lottery about the decision of a Committee, which they rely upon, in a great degree, as inducing them to carry on an opposition. I think if they knew that the inquiry would be brought before persons who understood the whole question, all the little trumpery matters which they now bring in for the purpose of misleading the Committee would be left out, and they would not think it advisable to continue the opposition if it was not well founded.Mr. Hope Scott, a well-known Parliamentary barrister, says in reference to the same matter—It is a lottery, and whichever side comes before me, I say you may win, or you may lose; I cannot tell you which.And it is in the experience of hon. Members that there is always that uncertainty about Parliamentary Committees. In the ordinary affairs of life, if you go 1621 to a lawyer, he tells you either that your case is a good one, or that it is a bad one. But if you go to your Parliamentary lawyer, he will be unable to say whether you have a winning case. He will give the answer that is always given on such occasions; he will tell you—I cannot tell you until I see how the Committee is constituted; when I see what the Committee is, I shall be able to give you some opinion." If a lawyer were to tell you, in an ordinary case, that he could not say whether your case was bad or good until he saw the Judge, the whole system of jurisprudence would be discredited, for such an answer would be unbearable. In 50 years of these contests, and after untold expense incurred therein, scarcely a single rule of practice or any principle as to the decisions given has been arrived at. The House does not know the principles that actuate Committees, and one Committee does not know the principles that rule the Committee in the adjoining room. The story of contrary decisions is well known; but it will bear repetition here. There was a question to be tried before four Committees in this House, sitting in adjoining rooms, the question being as to two lines of railway—which should be preferred, a short and direct line, or a long and more circuitous line, which passed through more villages, and gave promise of larger traffic. The Committees met to decide that important question. The first decided in favour of the short line; the second in favour of the circuitous line; the third decided that neither of the lines would do, and the fourth Committee decided in favour of both. That may be an exaggeration; but it illustrates the statement that it is impossible for Committees, however just individually they may be, to carry out any uniform principle of legislation. Viscount Sherbrooke, who sat upon the Committee of 1863 as Mr. Lowe, took the same objection, because he says—The result is an uncertainty, which is not only cruel to those who undertake these enter-prizes, hut tends to an increase of litigation. No one's case is so good that he can have confidence in it, and no one's is so bad that he need despair. No one can say who is right or who is wrong, for right and wrong pre-suppose a standard; and although £30,000,000 or £40,000,000 have been spent in railway litigation, that standard has never been established.1622 So much for the two principal objections that I have to urge. The third objection I have to the existing system relates to the unwarrantable and unprofitable waste of public time it involves. I shall not lay myself open to the charge of wasting time unprofitably by dwelling on this, because it is admitted that Parliament has too much to do, and that it is necessary for us to do something to economize our resources and the time and labour of public men. The labour of the last Autumn Session was a confession of that. The labour, the irksomeness of the work, and the hours spent by Members of this House on Pail-way and Private Bill Committees are as extravagant of Parliamentary energy as the expenses connected with these Bills are extravagant of public wealth. A scheme of local inquiries such as suggest would greatly economize the public time, and save the labour of Members of Parliament. Neither shall I dwell upon the objections in detail, such as the overwork of the Chairman of Committees, or the scanty scrutiny which is given to the unopposed clauses in Bills, or the hasty manner in which the clauses are considered, though, to my mind, the House had a curious illustration of this last night, when the hon. and gallant Member for Truro (Sir James M'Garel-Hogg) gave such a feeling account of the sufferings which the Metropolitan Board of Works experienced at the hands of the Metropolitan District Railway in the matter of the ventilators on the Embankment. These objections will, no doubt, be stated with more force by other Members who are more experienced than I am upon the subject. There is one short argument, however, which I may urge upon the House, and which, I think, will have great weight with it, in favour of the 1st Resolution; and that is, that 10 years ago—in 1872—upon the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Dodson), this Resolution was carried in the identical terms in which it stands upon the Paper now. Nothing, however, has been done since 1872 to carry out that Resolution. The Session of 1873 was a troubled Session; the commencement of 1874 was not less troubled; and since then there have been six years during which the attention of Parliament and the country has been directed rather to external than to internal affairs, and 1623 the Resolution during that time has remained a dead letter. But now, Sir, we have come back home again. We have entered, it is said, upon an era of domestic legislation, and have already begun to set our house in order. Last year something was done in this direction; but there is still great room for more, and what is to be done must be done by delegation of the Business of the House to external tribunals. There is no novelty about this proposal. In 1845 Enclosure Bills were delegated to the Enclosure Commissioners; in 8486 Estate Bills were delegated to the Court of Chancery; in 1857 divorce cases were delegated to the Divorce Court; and in 1868 Election Petitions were delegated to the Election Judges.
But I have now detained the House so long upon these matters that I must shorten as much as I can the few remarks I wish to make upon the remedies that I venture to propose to the House. Many proposals have been made in the direction of improvement of Private Bill Legislation. Lord Redesdale has proposed, to appoint a Committee, consisting of one Peer and two Members of Parliament, which should sit en permanence during the autumn and winter months, and inquire into the schemes which were to be brought into Parliament in the following Session; Earl Grey proposed the appointment of a tribunal in connection with the Board of Trade, whose decisions should be embodied in Provisional Orders; Colonel Wilson Patten proposed the appointment of an extra Parliamentary tribunal to inquire into the facts of each case; Sir Erskine May proposed, and has repeatedly proposed, that a permanent tribunal of high position and high repute should be appointed specially constituted to investigate the merits of Private Bills; and the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster proposed, as I before observed, in 1872, an extended system of Provisional Orders, and a permanent tribunal to take evidence. Another proposal which is influentially urged is the appointment of a Government Department in which the powers now possessed by different Departments with regard to Provisional Orders should be vested, and all matters dealt with by Private Bills should be dealt with by this Department. That proposal has many supporters, and, undoubtedly, there is 1624 much to be said in its favour, seeing that it would materially diminish the expense, invest the decisions of the tribunals with certainty, and save the time of the House. But there is one great objection to the proposal, which to many minds is almost fatal to it; and that is the jealousy which, whether rightly or wrongly, exists to some extent in this House and this country, and to an enormous extent in Scotland, against Government Departments. They say in Scotland, and I believe in great many parts of England there are many of us who consider, that centralization has gone to its utmost limits; the cry is now for decentralization, and the evoking of the work and the faculties of the localities. To my mind, the objection of increased centralization is insuperable against this proposal. Another proposal is made which goes in the opposite direction. It is said that a great deal of work in connection with this Private Bill Legislation might be done by local authorities, by municipal bodies, or by County Boards, when we have them, assisted by assessors sent down by a Government Department or appointed by Parliament. Personally, I incline to this view. These Municipal Councils and County Boards might do a great deal in the investigation of the smaller matters of Private Bills; but the scheme which, in conjunction with my lion, and learned Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Horace Davey) and others, I have attempted to present goes half-way between the scheme of centralization and the scheme of decentralization. We do not propose to give the management of evidence now taken by Private Bill Committees exclusively to Government Departments, nor exclusively to local authorities. I should be glad if the whole system of Private Bills could be delegated to permanent tribunals, Parliament retaining nothing more than powers of confirmation. I believe the work would be better done, and Parliament would be greatly relieved; but I am well aware that Parliament would never listen to such a proposal coming from a private Member; therefore I should be only too glad if even the limited scheme I am going to mention could be approved. The scheme we propose would work in this way. Private Bills would go through all the preliminary stages, just as at present, 1625 and the first and the second reading; would be taken as at present. After that they would go before Commissions for investigation—English Bills before an English Commission, Scotch Bills before a Scotch Commission, and Irish Bills before an Irish Commission. The constitution of these Commissions should be on a largo and liberal scale, so that the services of the best men could be secured. It would be necessary that the Commissioners should be remunerated on such a scale as would raise them above all suspicion. They should consist of, perhaps, three Members for each Commission; and upon these Commissions the Parliamentary element, the legal element, and the lay element would be represented. I should not have Members of Parliament, but ex-Members of Parliament. There is no lack of funds to remunerate such Commissioners handsomely. The amount of fees paid in 1882 to this House amounted to £45,000, and the amount of fees paid to the other House of Parliament was £38,000, and out of that fund ample means could be secured to remunerate these Commissioners. These Commissioners should go on Circuit, and take evidence in open Court, which should be taken down by official shorthand writers; the counsel should appear who are wanted, and there should be all the formalities attending a High Court of Justice, and they might sit either singly or in twos or threes according to the importance of the measure brought before them. So that there might be as many as nine Commissioners sitting at the same time for the Three Kingdoms, which is above the average of Private Bill Committees that sit in this House, and they would sit all the year round. If their decision were acquiesced in, the Bill would return to the House, and would go through the remaining stages as at present. If it were not acquiesced in, there should be an appeal to a Parliamentary tribunal, composed of leading Members of both Houses, upon the system suggested by the Committee of 1869, and this tribunal should have power to inflict costs upon the losing parties to the appeal. This Parliamentary tribunal would, take the place of the Committees of the House. Their decisions would be final, and no fresh evidence would be allowed to be taken before them. This is the scheme which I venture, with some diffi- 1626 dence, to suggest to the House. I am well aware—no man is better aware—that there must be many imperfections in this scheme. It may be that it will not be difficult for hon. Members of experience in these matters to pick holes in the scheme, or even to say that it is unworkable. I fain hope it will be otherwise. I believe and hope that the imperfections will turn out to be imperfections of detail, rather than of principle; and I shall await the criticisms of experienced Members with much interest and attention. Neither I nor my hon. Friend who seconds these Resolutions is wedded to the details of the scheme; but we do attach importance to the two principles contained in it—the principles, namely, of local inquiry, and of an appeal to Parliament; and our reason for having produced this scheme is a simple one. It is that we know that the House does not like abstract Resolutions; and we have formulated a scheme, and laid it before the House, because we think it due to the House that when we have attempted to destroy some portion of the existing system, we should at least try to build up something in the place of it.
Before I sit down I hope the House will bear with me while I say a few sentences upon the advantages which I expect from this scheme. In the first place, there would be a great saving of expense. The sources of expense are the professional charges, the expense of witnesses, and the double inquiry before this House and the House of Lords. With regard to professional charges. If these Commissioners were to go on Circuit, no human being would think of taking leading Parliamentary counsel over to Dublin and Belfast, or to various places in Scotland, when they could employ the Irish or Scotch Bar; and in small cases the local solicitors could be employed. The expense under that head would be largely diminished. In the next place, the witnesses and deputations coming to London would cease; there would no longer be reason for the whole of a Town Council to come up to London in May, and wait for months. In the next place, the double inquiry would be done away with. There is, I am aware, the question of appeal to the Parliamentary tribunal, which might be said to introduce an element of expense. But there are several considerations to 1627 be laid before the House on that head. In the first place, I suppose there might be, for the first year or two, frequent appeals; but if confidence were once established in the local tribunal, and if the local tribunal were constituted of able, conscientious men, whose decisions were well received, the appeals would become infrequent, and acquiescence would be the rule and appeals the exception. Then there is always the fact that this Parliamentary tribunal has power to inflict costs, which, to a certain extent, would be a deterrent to prevent Companies who had not a good case from appealing to the tribunal. In the third place, the element of uncertainty in the decisions would be eliminated, as you would have a tribunal going on systematized rules of procedure in taking evidence, and in other matters of that kind. It would diminish the uncertainty, and do away with the haphazard decisions which are given at present. The tribunal would, of course, be a tribunal of the most experienced men in the House—men who would, under the present system, be selected to the Chairmen's Panel—and it is material to remember that no fresh evidence would be taken before this tribunal. On these grounds, I feel certain that the expenses would be greatly diminished. But there is also this important consideration. The local inquiry would elicit the truth much more accurately and simply than at present before Parliamentary Committees, and it would also enable many to give evidence who could not go to London. In the debate on the transference of the jurisdiction, in the case of Election Petitions, from the House of Commons, Sir Robert Collier stated that local inquiry was the most potent agent to elicit truth. And more than that, there was a Select Committee in 1846 to consider the value of local inquiries. And what did that Committee say? It stated that local inquiry would be of incalculable advantage in diminishing the great expenses incurred by parties for the attendance of agents and witnesses in London, and in saving a large portion of the time of Members of the House, and in supplying to the Committees on Bills the local and trustworthy information which, under the present system, appears to be so much wanted. But it is not on the ground of saving expense or eliciting the truth only that I would 1628 urge this matter. I would urge it on the ground that only by local inquiries could justice be done to small places and to poor men. There are many small places in Ireland which are anxious to have tramway schemes, or gas works, or water works, or harbour works, and who are unable to carry out these useful undertakings, owing to the enormous expense which would fall upon them if they were to come to Parliament. In Scotland I know of many instances where small towns and burghs are prevented from having such appliances and undertakings; and I know others which have been almost ruined by being brought up to Parliament, in order to secure the passing or to defeat the provisions of some Private Bill. One of the burghs which I have the honour to represent was dragged up to Parliament in 1863 to defend itself against unjust assessments which were proposed to be levied upon it by the county, owing to some Road Bill. They came up, and had the objectionable clauses modified in their interest; but at what a cost? It cost them 77 per cent of their income. I know of another small burgh in Scotland represented by the hon. Member for the Ayr Burghs (Mr. E. F. P. Campbell), with an income of £3,500 a-year, and two years ago it had to spend no less than £2,500 in securing the passing of a Bill to provide it with pure drinking water. The expenses in these two cases, and in many others which could be mentioned, would be trifling, if the inquiry had been conducted in the locality. I am sure there are many of my Colleagues from Scotland who, in their own experience, can give similar instances. But if this is true of small places, how much more important is it when it affects poor men? I urge the importance of these local inquiries on the ground of the injustice often inflicted on those who are unable, from poverty, to defend themselves. I urge it not in my own words, but in the words of a man whose utterances were always heard with attention, with satisfaction, and with respect in this House—the words of the late Duke of Newcastle, who, as Lord Lincoln, in introducing the Enclosure Bill in 1845, said that—In nineteen cases out of twenty, Committees of this House, sitting on Private Bills, neglected the rights of the poor. I do not say that they wilfully neglected those rights: far from it; but 1629 this I affirm, that they were neglected in consequence of the Committees being permitted to remain in ignorance of the claims of the poor man, because by reason of his very poverty he is unable to come up to London to fee counsel, to produce witnesses, and to urge his claims before a Committee of this House. A Commission, I think, may, therefore, be so constituted as to afford to the poor man, by examination on the spot and at his own door, more certain security than any system of private legislation."—(3 Hansard,  25.)On these grounds, Sir, I urge the necessity—I urge the justice—of establishing tribunals, whose duty it shall be to institute inquiries with a view to Private Bill Legislation in the localities affected by the Bills. I beg to thank the House for the attention I have received.
§ MR. HORACE DAVEY
, in seconding the Resolution, said, he thought the House would be inclined to congratulate his hon. Friend upon the industry and ability which he had shown in bringing forward this subject. He felt sure that nobody would question the value of the services which were rendered by Members of the House who served on Private Bill Committees. There were many Members who did not take a very active part in the debates of the House, but who yet rendered very valuable service to the country; and he could not help admiring the patient industry and intelligence of the men who, although not brought up with legal training, yet showed great aptitude for legal and other business in the Private Bill Committees. But, although he should be sorry to lose the services of such men, it was well known that every Session brought more Public Business before the House; that the debates were longer than they used to be; and that there was a greater strain put upon the strength of hon. Members than used to be the case formerly. In addition to this the House determined last autumn to try the experiment of having Standing Committees to deal with certain classes of Bills. He hoped the experiment, if successful, would be extended, and that every Member would find a place on one or more of the Standing Committees; but it should be remembered that these Standing Committees comprised about 160 or more Members, and caused a greater demand upon the time and strength of Members of Parliament; therefore, this was an additional reason for considering the question whether they 1630 should any longer continue the present system of Private Bill Legislation? In the present Session there were 221 Private Bills, of which 151 were Railway, 35 Tramway, 14 Gas, and 21 Water Bills, the capital involved amounting to about £95,000,000. These were interests of considerable magnitude, and deserved careful consideration. Out of that number of Bills probably 50 were opposed, which would occupy the attention of about 200 Members. In these Committees the most important element was the choice of a Chairman; and those Gentlemen whose ability and experience qualified them to serve as Chairmen of the Committees were just the sort of men whom it was desirable to place on the Standing Committees proposed to be introduced. Under these circumstances, there was, he thought, a feeling that the question of Private Bill Legislation deserved the immediate or early consideration of the Government. What was the remedy for the existing state of things and the inconveniences of which his hon. Friend had called attention? Down from 1845 to the present time Parliament had delegated functions which used to be performed by Private Bill Committees to other bodies. In 1845 the Enclosure Act was passed, which was the first Act which dealt with the subject of Private Bills by Provisional Orders, and that system was continued in the Public Health Act of 1848, and in subsequent Acts, ending with the Electric Lighting Act of last Session. There were several bodies which dealt with legislation by means of Provisional Orders. For instance, there were the Land Commission, the Local Government Board, the Board of Trade, and the Home Office, which were empowered to issue Provisional Orders or certificates. In his opinion, it would not be satisfactory to the House or the country that questions of the magnitude and importance which were usually dealt with in the class of Private Bills which now come before Parliament should be dealt with in the way of a Provisional Order. Nothing could be more important than that the best possible mode should be devised for dealing with questions of that character. Considerable jealousy would be felt at the entrusting interests of magnitude and importance to a Department such as the Board of Trade, 1631 which was one of the great Departments of the Government, and was presided I over by a Member of the Cabinet, who was necessarily a Member of one of the great political Parties. In his opinion, the remedy was to be found in the creation of an impartial tribunal or Commission, which should report to the House. he considered it of the greatest possible importance that the House should retain its control over these questions, and he, for his part, would be sorry to see the House part with its control over Private Bills; but he should like to see the House delegate its functions of inquiry into facts, and into the Preambles of Bills and the settlement of clauses, to a tribunal independent of the House. If they had a Commission sitting permanently throughout the greater part of the year, and taking their cases in order, they would get that consistency of decision and continuity of policy, the want of which was now so much complained of. Having quoted the opinions of Lord Sherbrooke, Sir Erskine May, and Lord Salisbury in support of his argument, the hon. and learned Member went on to point out how, by means of a Commission sitting the greater part of the year, those defects might be corrected. Another advantage of such a Commission, he urged, would be that it would be capable of sitting either in the locality to take evidence that could be best obtained there or in London when that was most advisable, and they would thus gain greater elasticity of procedure than was possible in the case of Parliamentary Committees. But he would like the Commission to report to the House simply. It should not exercise the functions which were exorcised by the Board of Trade, or the Home Office, or any other public Department which made Provisional Orders; but it should simply report to the House, and on the Report hon. Members would have the same power of calling attention to the points of the Bill brought forward which they now exercised; in fact, the House would have the most free and absolute control over Private Bills. Another important consideration was the degree in which the public interests were sometimes overlooked in the clash of the mighty warriors who crossed swords before the Committee on Private Bills. The questions there raised were 1632 often raised more as between two litigants than as concerned the general interests, and there was nobody there whose business it was to protect the public. It would, therefore, be wise to give directions to any Commission that they should go through the Bill and draw the attention of the Honse in their Report to any clause that affected the public—whether it had been brought under their notice by the litigant parties or not. Sometimes a clause in a Private Bill exempted a Corporation or a Railway Company from the operation of some general law; and it was clear that some more efficient check upon the promoters was necessary in regard to such matters. It should be part of the duty of the Commissioners who might be appointed under his hon. Friend's scheme to protect the public interests in those cases. They were told there was a danger of such Commissions becoming judicial bodies, and of their decisions crystallizing into precedents, and that the elasticity and flexibility attaching to Parliamentary Committees would be lost. No doubt it would be a misfortune if their policy as to the great Railway Bills, for example, were not capable of being adapted, from time to time, to the wants and requirements of public opinion. But that could be secured in two ways—first, by retaining the control of Parliament as efficiently as was done at present over the Bills when they came back from the Commission; secondly, by giving an appeal, as suggested by his hon. Friend, to a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament from any part of the Report which should affect any of the parties appearing before the Commissioners. With regard to the expense of the proposed system, he found it stated that the fees which were paid by promoters of Private Bills ranged from about £40,000 to £130,000 a-year, leaving an ample margin within which to provide the expense of such a Commission as his hon. Friend had suggested. Some scheme might be devised by which, when the Petition for a Private Bill was presented, and when a Private Bill was lodged, it should immediately, by the order of the Chairman of Ways and Means, be sent for inquiry to such a Commission as that proposed to be established by his hon. Friend. He had much pleasure in seconding the Motion.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That, in the opinion of this House, the system of Private Bill Legislation calls for the attention of Parliament, and of Her Majesty's Government, and requires reform."—(Mr. Sellar.)
§ MR. RAIKES
said, that the proposal of these Resolutions had occasioned him some surprise, which he thought must be shared, by other Members—first, because it had recalled to his recollection the fact that Her Majesty's Government had not themselves taken up this question, as they might, not unreasonably, have been expected to do after the course taken by them in recommending the institution of Standing Committees; and, secondly, that it should have fallen to an hon. Member who had not been, he thought, a month in the House, to bring forward this particular Resolution. But having heard the speech of the hon. Member, he was bound to say that he had acquitted himself in a manner which would entitle him hereafter to speak with authority on the subject; and the House would, therefore, be not too hasty to take note that he should have brought the matter forward at the outset of his Parliamentary career. He gathered from what had fallen from the Mover and Seconder that they did not wish to bind the House to the precise terms of the Motion; but that they believed it to be their duty to formulate some proposal as an alternative to the existing practice. Those who had sat in that House 10 or 12 years would remember that the present Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Dodson), who was then Chairman of Ways and Means, had made a very similar proposal, and that it would probably have been accepted had it not been that the right hon. Gentleman sought to put on the Government the responsibility of taking the matter up, while the Government wished to divide that responsibility between themselves and the House. The hon. Member, not being aware of this probably, had fallen into a trap, and allowed the very words which frustrated the Motion at that time, for the reason he had stated, to stand now in his Resolution. For his own part, he should have thought it better if the hon. Gentleman had proposed to make it incumbent on the Government to find a remedy for the evil of the present system of Private Bill Legislation. He agreed 1634 with almost all the Mover of the Resolution had said with regard to the evils of the present system. Such experience as he had had of the difficulties attending Private Bill Legislation in the House, had entirely confirmed him in the opinion entertained by the Chancellor of the Duchy in 1872. There could be no doubt that the present practice was dilatory, costly, and uncertain; and he feared—though he was unwilling to believe it—that it was rather losing that prestige which used to attach to it in the eyes of the public. He did not mean to say that the Committees of the House did their duty with loss earnestness, honour, and devotion than in former times; but, as Public Business continued to make greater inroads upon the time of Members, it became increasingly difficult to get Members of the most useful type to serve upon these Committees. His right hon. Friend the Chairman of the Committee of Selection might well regard the prospect before him with terror. Indeed, he (Mr. Raikes) did not see where the men were to come from. The new institution of Standing Committees had enormously increased his difficulties. He did not mean that Members would on that account be excused from Private Bill Committees; but if they happened to be among the 160 Gentlemen selected for the Standing Committees, it was obviously impossible for them to be engaged in the discussion of both Public and Private Business at the same time. To those 160 they must add 30 or 40 official and ex-official Members, bringing up the total to 200. From the remainder must also be subtracted practising barristers, and busy merchants, and the residue only, the non-official Gentlemen, and Gentlemen not busily employed and distinguished in any occupation would be left. Thus, something like half of the House of Commons would have some very good reason for not serving upon Private Bill Committees, and they would be left with the half which, he feared, the public might cease to regard with the admiration which in past years was supposed to have been felt for the proceedings of the Committees of that House; indeed, it would be impossible for them to feel the same confidence in the success of their deliberations. He did not think the hon. Member had said quite as much as he might have done in praise of 1635 that very distinguished, meritorious, and able body of men—the Parliamentary agents—to whom the House owed so much with regard to the transaction of its Business, and of whom the public out-of-doors knew but little. The principal objection to the proposed change would lie in the fact—if it were a fact—that in future the Private Business of the House would have to be carried on without the assistance of these Gentlemen; but he hoped that such might not be the case, and that in any scheme which might take the place of the present system they should endeavour, as far as possible, so to adapt it to existing necessities as to secure the continued assistance of these valuable public servants. The present Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Dodson), in the proposal which he made to the House in 1872, was in favour of a system of Provisional Orders; while the hon. Member advocated a scheme by which a Bill was to go through some of the present stages in the House, but that the most important stage should be taken outside the control of Parliament and referred to those Commissioners whom it was proposed to send about the country who, again, should refer the Bills back to the House for Report and third reading. He did not consider that the most convenient method of reforming the procedure; but expressed his preference for the scheme which the Chancellor of the Duchy proposed in the first instance, observing that the Provisional Order system was the one to which they must look in the future for the conduct of Private Bill Legislation. One great defect in the proposal of the hon. Member for the Haddington Burghs was that it would fail to obtain public confidence. Some years ago, when he himself was the Chairman of the Committee of Ways and Means, he had drafted a measure which the pressure of Public Business prevented his bringing before the attention of the House, but in which he followed the lines laid down by his right hon. Friend. That scheme comprised the following points:—If the work was to be done satisfactorily they ought to create a really important tribunal, whose authority should be, if not equal to that of Parliament, at least equal to that of a Court of Law. For this purpose he was anxious to institute a Com- 1636 mission or Court, which should consist of five Commissioners. These Commissioners should be assisted by, say, from five to ten Assistant Commissioners, one of whom should act as Registrar. As soon as a Petition was presented to the Commissioners by the promoters of any scheme, the Petition should be referred to an Assistant Commissioner, who should proceed to hold an inquiry in the neighbourhood of the locality to be affected, or, if it were thought desirable, in London. He should find the facts of the case, and upon those facts there should be no appeal. The Commissioners should then draft an Order, and should communicate its terms to the parties who had appeared in the local inquiry, and should intimate to them that if there was no appeal made against it, it should after a certain time become final. When any appeal was lodged against it the parties should be entitled to be heard by counsel; but only argument, and not evidence, should be heard upon the case as stated. When the Commissioners had heard the appeal, they would consider whether they would modify or quash the draft Order. Having finally settled the Order it would then be laid before Parliament, and would, if it was not challenged, become law within 40 days. If the Order was challenged in the House it would be referred to a Standing Committee for consideration. That was the outline of his scheme; and to his mind it would be preferable to have a really important tribunal for promoting the necessary inquiry to having that inquiry conducted by a body going round the country, such as that suggested by the hon. Member for the Haddington Burghs. It might be said that his scheme would be more expensive than that of the Mover of this Resolution. He did not deny that; but he believed that the suitors already contributed in fees much more than would be sufficient to meet the expense of his proposal. He hoped his right hon. Friend (Mr. Dodson), on the part of the Government, would communicate some interesting facts to the House; but the evening would be mis-spent unless they obtained from Government some positive assurance that they would take the lead in any change that was made. Now, he thought, was the time for the Government to take an initiative for 1637 some reform in our Private Bill Legislation, as a special and peculiar difficulty had been created in this matter by the institution of Standing Committees. The Government might say—"Wait until another year and see how the Standing Committees will work." He did not think that they could afford to wait for the experience of Standing Committees. It was a question of how they were to provide arrangements alongside of Standing Committees for the duo and proper performance of those duties which fell upon the House. The House would do better, for its own credit, if it did not allow itself to be deterred by its reluctance to recognize difficulties of its own creation from parting with a jurisdiction which it could no longer exercise with advantage to the State.
§ SIR JOSEPH PEASE
thanked his hon. Friend for the manner in which he had introduced an important subject to the House; but the very fact that he had before him the Reports of so much evidence and so much investigation must have shown to him, as to the House, that it was a matter of very great difficulty, and one that had puzzled a great many clever men. He feared that the first difficulty that must occur to his hon. Friend in his proposal was that in his proposed Commission he delegated the authority which the House was bound to keep to itself, and that he would not retain that public confidence in the Commission which the public placed in the decisions of the House. It had been his lot to be on both sides of the Table at one time or another in that House, and, during an experience of 30 years or so, he had seen a good deal of the promotion and opposition of Private Bills in Parliament; and he had come to the conclusion that, with certain modifications of the present tribunal, they could have a tribunal which would accomplish that which was wanted with less dilatoriness, less expensiveness, and more uniformity of action than if the House delegated its authority. It had been alleged by the right hon. Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Raikes) that the delegation of authority to Commissioners would prevent the working Members of the House being taken away. He did not think it could make any difference in a House of upwards of 500 working Members. He did not see how being Members of large 1638 Standing Committees was to exclude Members altogether from serving on Private Bill Committees. He thought the Resolution before the House would, if carried, cause a great deal more expense than the present system. Promoters would not be satisfied with local counsel, or local engineers, or borough surveyors, and counsel and engineers would have to go from London to Aberdeen or Cork with very large fees. The expense of promotion was not in bringing up the witnesses—that was a small expense. It might be true that Corporations of towns were very likely to come to town about the end of May, especially about Derby time. It had been said that the larger and richer Companies endeavoured to starve out the smaller Companies; but the smaller Companies were often the aggressors. The hon. Member the Mover of the Resolution had said that many Chairmen of Committees allowed counsel to run rampant. Now, he had seen a good many Chairmen, and he did not think they came within that charge. There was, no doubt, a great want of uniformity in the decisions of Committees of that House; but this want of uniformity was almost necessary, and in nine cases out of ten was almost right. He had often heard that the decisions of Committees, however disagreeable to one party or the other, were based upon sound common sense, and had given great satisfaction to the districts to which they were applied. Another point was that there were often eight or ten Private Bill Committees sitting at once; but how was the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Raikes) going to support eight or ten Committees with 30 Commissioners. A far better and less expensive plan would be to create in London one tribunal, composed of the Lords and Commons, sitting together on all Railway Bills. That would have a much more beneficial effect in the way of keeping down expense than any Commission or Committee which could be appointed. The right hon. Gentleman had said that if the House delegated its authority it must have ample controlling power in the House. This meant that the party dissatisfied would go behind the decision and say that the whole question must be raised in the House again, so that, instead of saving time, they would have all these questions debated over and over again.
§ SIR JOHN KENNAWAY
said, it would be well to remember that Parliament had been engaged on this question for more than 40 years, that from time to time proposals had been made, and that the difficulties in the way of making a change had been found to be insuperable. He congratulated the hon. Member who had introduced the Motion on the interesting speech he had made, and the reception it had met in the House was a full justification to him for bringing the question forward. The subject was, doubtless, one of great importance; the interests involved were enormous, and the jurisdiction was so peculiar that the House was bound to look into it from time to time, so as to ascertain whether they were doing what was best for the country in retaining it. The fees now taken amounted, he believed, to no less than £140,000, and out of this sum the entire expenses of the House were paid. The present debate had proceeded on the lines of that introduced 11 years ago, for then the system was stigmatized as lengthy, costly, uncertain, and unsatisfactory. On the other hand, they had the statement of the late Mr. Leeman, a great authority in railway matters, that the system had, in the long run, worked out justice; and figures showed that for 10 or 15 years the average sum invested under that system was £20,000,000 annually. Whatever the decisions were, the cost, where so much was at stake, would be large; and as the question was one of policy, there would always be uncertainty. The length of time occupied in cases, no doubt, must be great when the tribunal sat only three full days a-week; but this tribunal did not, he thought, bear unfavourable comparison with other Courts in this respect. Those objections, however, were not new. As long ago as 1846 Parliament passed an Act that a preliminary inquiry should be held, and with the result that the expenses were increased two-fold. In 1851 that Act was repealed, and Parliament had retained the jurisdiction ever since. Much had been said about the dissatisfaction that existed among the public with the present system; but on what evidence was the statement based? Board of Trade Returns showed that upwards of £94,342,000 was now proposed to be raised under that system for different Companies, and that fact cer- 1640 tainly did not go to prove that dissatisfaction existed to the extent stated with the tribunal to which the cases of those Companies were to be referred. It must be borne in mind that the objection to the transfer of jurisdiction was based on Constitutional principles. To confer exceptional powers beyond the law was the attribute of the Supreme Legislature; and where power was sought by promoters which could not be otherwise exercised, there was required a union of legislative and judicial functions which no other tribunal but that of Parliament could afford—and that especially the case where property was interfered with, and Parliament in such cases must remain the supreme jurisdiction. As to the Commission of experts, to whom it was suggested that the power should be transferred, he would ask whether such a body was likely to command confidence and support? What he thought was wanted in the matter was a changing body, who were conversant with public opinion, who would not give stereotyped decisions, and would adapt themselves to the conditions under which they were placed with regard to the questions brought before them—in fact, a High Court of Arbitration with widest powers. They must not be afraid to delegate their authority if they could not be found to use it properly, or in accordance with the wishes of the country; but too much must not be made of the fact that they delegated their jurisdiction in regard to Election Petitions, because these stood on a totally different footing, the issue in them being one of law bearing on fact. He thought relief might be found in the extension of Provisional Orders, which had already conferred so much benefit in a number of cases where provision had been made by the general law for parties who used to have to apply-to Parliament for special powers in each case, or it might be that they would be able to delegate some powers to local bodies which were not at present constituted—in the way of holding a preliminary inquiry to inquire into the facts, leaving the decision to a Parliamentary Committee. The whole question, however, was one that must be taken up by the responsible Government.
§ MR. DODSON
I do not intend to address the House at any great length upon the merits of this question, which has been so fully entered into, more es- 1641 pecially by the Mover and Seconder of the Resolution. I congratulate my lion. Friend, the Mover of the Resolution, on the great care and thought he has bestowed upon the subject, and the clear and interesting manner in which he submitted it to the House. It is 50 years or more since Bentham inveighed against the system of Private Bill Legislation in Parliament, and declared that an impartial spectator would think that—The maxim of the governing body was the minimization of the time employed in the performance of its appropriate duties, and to maximize the waste of it.Since then, as the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has reminded the House, a' good deal has been done in the direction which Bentham recommended—namely, relieving the House of some functions for which it was ill adapted. Some of these instances have been mentioned—Enclosures, Divorce, Naturalization, and Election Petitions. In no case, I believe, has the House repented the step that it has taken in relieving itself of inquiry into these subjects, and referring them in whole or in part to external tribunals. The defects of the existing system of Private Bill Legislation have been so forcibly pointed out to-night that I need not go over them again. It will hardly be denied that the system of Private Bill Legislation is attended with evils; that it is somewhat haphazard in its nature, and that it is expensive. It is haphazard in its nature, not from any want of industry or even of ability on the part of the tribunals, but from the fluctuating elements of which these tribunals are composed, their lack of experience and training, and the want of one uniform spirit and soul running through them. It is expensive, for this reason—that all the inquiries are crowded into one short part of the year; and, moreover, from the nature of the functions of Members, the daily sittings of the Committee must be very short. Nominally it meets at 12 o'clock, and sits till a quarter to 4, when Mr. Speaker takes the Chair. Virtually it does not sit more than 3½ hours a-day. It is obvious that these short sittings and frequent adjournments must add very much to the expenses of witnesses and of counsel, and of all parties attending before the tribunal. I think that few persons will be inclined to disagree with the proposition which is contained 1642 in the 1st Resolution of the hon. Member for Haddington—That the system of Private Bill Legislation calls for the attention of Parliament, and of Her Majesty's Government, and requires reform.Even those who have most objected to the suggestion of external tribunals have not been slow to admit that the system requires reform, and some have pointed to a Joint Committee of the two Houses as a Court which might be judiciously substituted for the two Courts, which now give the opportunities for a double trial in the case of each particular Bill. The House will not be surprised to hear that, so far as I am concerned, I am quite disposed to agree with the 1st Resolution, for it is a Resolution which I myself submitted to the House 12 years ago, with an Amendment suggested by my noble Friend the Lord Privy Seal, which I willingly accepted, and which was agreed to by the House unanimously in 1872. As regards the 2nd Resolution, I am not prepared to give my assent to it, and for this reason—that it does not go, according to my opinion of what is needed, far enough. It retains the system of Private Bills. They are to be read a second time in the House before they go to the new tribunal, and, therefore, whatever disadvantage attaches to solicitations for the second reading of Private Bills, to taking up the time of Members by discussions on Private Business, and to such Business being confined to the period of the Sitting of Parliament will still continue. Again, while establishing an external tribunal, it would not get rid of the expense attending the maintenance of Examiners of Private Bills. Then, again, so far as it deals with Provisional Orders, it would retain what appears to me to be a very cumbrous system—namely, the passing of Provisional Orders by embodying them in Bills which would have to go through all stages in both Houses. Then the hon. Member for Haddington proposes to establish Commissions for England, Scotland, and Ireland. He would be establishing an unnecessarily great and extensive machinery. No doubt, of late years, owing to bad trade and the distressed state of agriculture, private legislation has been somewhat less than in the days when people were wealthier and making money faster. But, still, 1643 there have been of late years some 30 Committees of this House, on the average, to consider Private Bills; and if you reckon Hybrid Committees, and Committees upon Provisional Orders, there have probably been about 40 Committees. Therefore, some 120 or 150 Members had annually sat on these Bills between 300 and 400 days. But a tribunal consisting of experienced men, versed in controlling discursive counsel and checking redundant or irrelevant evidence, and sitting not three and a-half hours, but six hours a-day, would get through, on the most modest calculation, in one day, the work that occupies a Committee two days. The result is that one body of Commissioners, sitting seven or eight months in the year, would do the whole work of Private Bill Committees. Then I come to the proposal to have a separate Commission for Scotland as well as for England and Ireland. I find that last Session there were four Committees on Scotch Bills, who sat together 36 days. That would have occupied a Commission 18 days. There were two or three Committees on Irish Bills, and they only sat nine days. The Commission would have disposed of that work in four or five days. Therefore, it is obvious that there is not work enough for a permanent Commission in the case of Scotland or Ireland. If you are not to appoint a Commission on purpose to perform this work, but simply to employ annually a certain number of barristers or other gentlemen to do this work, then it appears to me that you will be landed in the same evil of tribunals, consisting of fluctuating elements, and I do not think much advantage will be gained. The 3rd Resolution, providing for an appeal, is good for that purpose, but it is, of course, dependent upon the 2nd; and, therefore, if the 2nd is not adopted, the question of the 3rd will not arise. The hon. Baronet who has just sat down said that we had experience of external inquiries in regard to Private Bills, and that they had been a failure under the Preliminary Inquiry Act. That is true; but that Act provided for a local inquiry, which was to be held by an Inspector, who went down and made an inquiry in the locality; and I quite agree that, though such an inquiry may suffice where the object affects a definite locality, or where the interests at stake are comparatively 1644 small, no parties would rest satisfied with it in important railway contests or other great cases. But this is to be a a tribunal which is to hoar witnesses and counsel in open Court, and, therefore, it will be one which should carry at least the same weight, in my opinion, as a Committee of the House, and, at all events, the proceedings before it would be conducted in the same way. On behalf of the Government, I am prepared to accept the 1st Resolution of my hon. Friend. But I would say that the House must not expect that the Government will be able to take any action upon it in the present Session. We have got before us a programme of work which is quite sufficient. I would like to point out to the House that the changes which will have to be made in order to give effect to this 1st Resolution, in whatever way it may be carried out in detail, must be a matter for considerable discussion, and would take up a large amount of time. I said just now that the Government cannot be expected to take action upon this subject in the present Session, in view of the programme which we have already presented to the House, unless the House should be so desirous to proceed with it that they would be prepared to repeat what was done last year, and have an Autumn Sitting for the purpose. If the House should show any extraordinary desire for that, Her Majesty's Government would be prepared to give respectful consideration to the wish. I will conclude by making this one suggestion to my hon. Friend and to the House, which, I think, would be an improvement on his proposal. The Resolution he proposes to the House is in exactly the same words as that agreed to nem con. in 1872. I think it is not very desirable that the House should simply repeat the Resolution it then recorded, and I venture to suggest to my hon. Friend that he would strengthen his position by a reference to what was done in 1872. I therefore propose to amend his Resolution by leaving out all the words after "that," and add these words—This House adheres to the Resolution upon Private Legislation, agreed to on the 22nd of March 1872.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words
"this House adheres to the Resolution upon Private Legislation, agreed to on the 22nd of March 1872,"—(Mr. Dodson,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
expressed his thanks to the House for the extremely kind manner in which hon. Members had received his Resolution. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy (Mr. Dodson) had stated in his speech that there would not be work enough for separate Commissions. He (Mr. Sellar) confined his remarks to the work that would be done by the Commission appointed for Scotland. In 1881 the Committees sat upon opposed Scotch Bills for 59 days, and in 1882 they sat for 64 days on opposed cases; and when they looked into the number of Scotch Bills which came to the House from year to year, though the number was not very great, it was a gradually increasing number. The actual amount of money proposed to be raised by these Scotch Bills was very considerable, amounting for a period of four years to £19,000,000. The amount for Ireland was smaller; but he felt that sufficient work would be found for a Scotch Commission if it were to be appointed. He should gladly accept the proposed Amendment on the part of the Government, and withdraw his 2nd and 3rd Resolutions.
§ MR. ROBERTSON
condemned the present system of Private Bill Legislation; and, speaking from an ample experience, said, that the great cause of the dissatisfaction given by the decisions of Committees of Parliament was not their personnel, nor their expense, but the uncertainty which always prevailed as to the reasons which led to the success or to the failure of Bills. All they knew was that their Preambles had or had not been proved. He would suggest, as being all that was really necessary, the amendment of the Standing Orders, so as to require Committees to report to the House not only their decisions, but the reasons for them.
§ MR. GREGORY
said, his experience of Private Legislation dated from 1840. During the time that had since elapsed, he had seen great changes in the practice of the House, and very great improve- 1646 ments in the constitution of the Committees. But from what he had seen in the past, and what went on now, he very greatly doubted whether any striking change could be advantageously introduced. It would be a very doubtful policy to delegate to any tribunal outside of Parliament the power of over-riding existing Acts, and in many cases the Common Law, as was often proposed in Private Bills. No doubt, the constitution of the Committees, many years ago, was anything but satisfactory; but the new constitution introduced since then had, according to his experience, worked very well, and the result was that they had now very competent and careful tribunals. The element of certainty was embodied into their proceedings by the practice of consulting the reference. Moreover, the Bills were examined by the Chairman of Committees in the House of Lords, and the Chairman of Ways and Means in that House, who were both assisted by counsel. In this way, all Bills were subjected to a very careful scrutiny. The counsels had a full knowledge of the previous course of Private Bill Legislation. They had a distinct recollection of the various arrangements made between parties to Bills, and the connection between those Bills. This knowledge of the past, and its relation to the present, was most useful in dealing with Private Bills; but it would be wholly wanting in that new scheme proposed by the Mover of the Resolution. Besides having this knowledge, these officials were well acquainted with Parliamentary drafting. One reason urged for removing Private Bills from the present excellent tribunals and handing them over to some external body was that thereby expense would be saved. He doubted very much whether this would be the case. Where promoters had large interests at stake, and were possessed of heavy purses, there was bound to be a large expenditure in the promotion or defence of the interests at stake. This remark did not apply merely to proceedings before Committees of this House; it applied to Courts of Law, arbitrations, and references of every kind. It must be borne in mind that the expensive personages in connection with the inquiries were resident in the Metropolis. It was the counsel and the experts who were the expensive part of the machinery of Pri- 1647 vate Bill Legislation. It would cost the parties to a Private Bill a very much larger sum if these gentlemen had to be taken down to the country in order that local inquiries might be held. Again, it was said that in the localities the inquiries might be conducted longer each day; but he did not anticipate that much greater progress would be made than was at present the case.
§ Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present,
§ MR. GREGORY
resumed: With a strong Chairman, he had seen cases dealt with as speedily as they could have been in any Court of Law. Extraneous evidence was thrown aside, and attention was centred on the real facts of the case, with the result of a great saving of expense. He was old enough to recollect Lord Dalhousie's Commission in 1845, which sat upon the many railway schemes of that period. The Reports of the Commission did not receive much attention from Parliament. The Committees acted for themselves. He fancied that something like this would be the result if Commissions were now appointed.
§ MR. T. A. DICKSON
said, he fully agreed with the Mover of the Resolution that the main objections to the present system of Private Bill Legislation lay in the expense and uncertainty attending it. If the expense were a serious thing for England and Scotland, how much more must it operate against Ireland? He did not approve of the remedy suggested by the hon. Member for Haddington, as it was merely a compromise, and the power of appeal he proposed to give to the House would greatly increase the cost attending the promotion of Private Bills. Railway and Tramway Bills ought to be delegated in Ireland to County Boards or Provincial Councils, with the right of appeal to the Local Government Board or the Board of Works. The present S3'stem was fatal to the development of the industrial resources of Ireland.
§ Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members not being present,
§ House adjourned at half after Eight o'clock.