§ Order read for resuming Further Proceedings after Second Beading.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be committed to the Standing Committee on Trade, Shipping, and Manufactures."—(Mr. Chamberlain.)963
§ MR. RAIKES
, in moving, as an Amendment—That in the absence of any definite regulations for the transaction of public business by the Standing Committees, it is inexpedient to transfer to those bodies the jurisdiction hitherto exercised over Public Bills by Committees of the whole House,said, that while it would not be desirable or right on that occasion to re-open the general controversy as to the desirability of the new machinery created in the course of the Autumn Session, seeing that it was an accomplished fact, he thought the House would not be unwilling to pause for a few minutes to consider a step so momentous as that proposed on the present occasion, and which would give effect to a very remarkable change in the system of legislation. They all knew that the Prime Minister regarded this part of the scheme of Procedure proposed last year as remedial; while the earlier Resolutions were rather the coercive part of his policy; and, therefore, they should all of them be more disinclined to criticize it than they otherwise might. But the House had been placed in no small difficulty by the determination of the Government, in the course of last Session, that the procedure of these Standing Committees was to be, not that of the House, but that of a Select Committee; and it was really upon that point that he wished to offer a few observations to the House. They were asked to supersede the jurisdiction which the House had hitherto exercised over all legislation that came before it, and to transfer that jurisdiction to a small body, no doubt selected with the intention of its possessing what was called a microcosmic character, but which was not a Committee of the Whole House. Such a Committee would have to subsist for some time before it could have the measure of public confidence which the House had when in Committee. Great reason ought, in his judgment, to be adduced in favour of a change in their proceedings which was likely to be fraught with results so considerable. While they were told that this was to multiply the voices of the House of Commons, it appeared to him to be more analogous to shutting up its natural organ of speech, and making it speak through both its ears. Select Committees, he would point out, might be roughly divided into two classes— 964 the class of Select Committee which had legislative functions, and was occupied with Private Bills; and, in the second place, that class of Committees which was rather of an advisory or consultative character, and which was the Select Committee to which they generally gave that name. He would also point out that the procedure of those two classes of Select Committees varied in some very important points. In the case of a Select Committee on Private Bills, the Chairman was allowed a vote, and he was also allowed to give a casting vote; but in a Select Committee on public matters the Chairman was not allowed to vote, and had only a casting vote. They were entitled to ask which of those two classes of Select Committees was to shape the procedure which was to be adopted in the Standing Committees? He would ask, besides, whether any decision was to be arrived at outside of those Committees as to the mode in which their Members were to address the Chair—whether they were to rise in their places or not? That was a matter of more importance than might appear on the face it. Next, there was a point of even more importance—that of the publication of their proceedings. Her Majesty's Government, he knew, had made some provision for the admission of the public; and he was glad that the Committees were to be allowed to be master of their own proceedings, and to have the power of admitting and excluding strangers. They might say some provision had been made for the publication of the proceedings of the Standing Committees in the ordinary channels of information; but he did not see himself that the space in the new rooms admitted of the information being diffused very widely. They might, he thought, squeeze four reporters into the box; but when they came to an important question, and when there would be reporters from all the London newspapers, and from most of the great Provincial newspapers, it would be found to be rather difficult to arrange the claims of the respective journals as to the possession of those seats. But another important question in connection with the publication of their proceedings was, how the House was to be officially informed as to the proceedings of this Committee. He believed that when Notice was given of an Amendment on 965 a Bill like the present, by any Member of the House who did not happen to be a Member of the Standing Committee, that Amendment would be placed on the Notice Paper in the usual manner, and the Committee would be called upon to consider it on its merits. How such Amendments would fare in the absence of those who were responsible for them remained to be seen. What was the authority which was to regulate proceedings of that sort? He was anxious to hear some suggestion from the Government which would simplify the matter. Was the question of the procedure of the Committees to be left to the Speaker, or to the Chairmen's Panel, who had been chosen by the Committee of Selection; or to the Committee of Selection itself; or to the Standing Committees themselves? All those matters were left in the dark. It was to be regretted that the Government, in creating those new tribunals, had not formed a definite scheme with regard to their procedure. Another question was, what was to be the power of the Committees with respect to their own adjournment? Were they to adjourn as the majority might determine, when, perhaps, there was only a small number in attendance? And were they to be empowered to adjourn for any length of time they pleased—say, for three weeks, or a month? Such a power might be extremely inconvenient; but he did not see what check on such proceedings was provided. On the other hand, there would be a certain amount of inconvenience if the Committee were compelled to sit during whole days when there was no question before it; and it might be extremely embarrassing to proceed with a Bill when it was intended to remodel some of its clauses. Then, again, how were divisions to be taken? There was no difficulty with a Select Committee, because the numbers were small and Members answered to their names, and the names wore taken down. He presumed that was to be the form in the present case, because they had been informed that the practice of Select Committees was to be followed unless it was otherwise ordered. But in a Committee of 60 or 70 Members there would be some difficulty in adopting that course. Again, what was to be the position of the Chairman? There was a difference of practice between the Private Bill Com- 966 mittees, which were legislative, and the Select Committees, which were simply advisory. He gathered that the Procedure of the latter would be followed with respect to the Chairman. The Chairmen of Select Committees occupied a different position from the Chairman of Committees of the Whole House, and were enabled to speak and vote. It would be a misfortune, considering the eminence of the Chairmen of these Standing Committees, if they were not allowed to take part in discussions. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ripon (Mr. Goschen) was Chairman of one of the Committees, and it would be a pity if he could not contribute to the discussions. But, at the same time, it was not an unmixed advantage for a Chairman to take part in debate, as he would find it difficult to maintain the traditional authority and impartiality of the Chair, and more especially when, as was extremely probable, his ruling might be questioned by the very Members with whom he might have just previously been engaged in an animated dispute. That authority and impartiality were an heritage of the House which ought to be strictly maintained. How little the question was understood out-of-doors might be gathered from the statement made that morning in a daily newspaper, which was supposed to express the views of the Ministerial Party, that the proceedings in those Committees would be governed by the proceedings of Committees of the Whole House. He wished it were so, for then the House would know where it was, and he could look forward to the proceedings of those Committees with more hope than he could pretend now to entertain. He had always regarded the whole scheme as objectionable and unconstitutional. Members of that House were sent to represent their constituents, and they were not empowered by those whom they represented to delegate their functions to others. He believed these bodies would embarrass and complicate the working of the House. He would think otherwise if he thought they would give—as they were promised to give—greater opportunities for the expression of individual opinion. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister said they would tend to liberate the House from thraldom, and encourage young Mem- 967 bers to speak and develop the latent talent of the House. He (Mr. Raikes) was sure that would be a good result; but he doubted whether it would be so. Speaking as an ex-Chairman of Committees, he would be glad if young Members could be induced to speak; and any Chairman would, for example, rather listen to a young Member than hear the hon. Member for Carnarvonshire (Mr. Rathbone) address the Committee for half an hour. The working of those Committees would be extremely likely to disappoint those who had formed sanguine expectations. He would be very glad if the right hon. Gentleman should have succeeded in forging a new weapon to make the House more useful to the country; but, as the question now stood, he thought the new system was open to the gravest objection. What was chiefly desired was a statement from the Government as to some simple and plain Standing Orders which would have the authority of the House, and would simplify the procedure of the Committees. They were entitled to ask the Government to come forward with some proposal. He believed the functions to be delegated to these Standing Committees were such as should not be given to any Committee. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving the Amendment which stood in his name.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "in the absence of any definite regulations for the transaction of public business by the Standing Committees, it is inexpedient to transfer to those bodies the jurisdiction hitherto exercised over Public Bills by Committees of the Whole House,"—(Mr. Raikes,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. LYON PLAYFAIR
I do not intend to follow my right hon. Friend (Mr. Raikes) in his attacks on the Committees, or his prophecies as to their failure. If my right hon. Friend had found it to have been compatible with his engagements to act on the Panel of Chairmen, when requested to do so by the Committee of Selection, I am sure that he would have found it unnecessary to submit this Motion to the House. The Standing Orders in relation to the Standing Committees provide— 968That the procedure in such Committees shall be the same as in a Select Committee, unless the House shall otherwise provide.This Instruction is quite definite, and the Panel of Chairmen has had several meetings for the purpose of considering whether the procedure of Select Committees was sufficiently definite and comprehensive to guide the deliberations of Standing Committees, which differed from them chiefly in size and importance. They found that in practice the Amendments to a Bill are considered and determined in a Select Committee upon the same procedure as that of a Committee of the Whole House. Even in regard to debate, the practice is the same, although it is apt to lose some of its formality from the small number of Members of a Select Committee. This was the only essential point on which the Panel of Chairmen thought it necessary to be quite clear, that there should be the same formality of speaking and debate as there is in a Committee of the Whole House; for, without this formality, a large Committee of 80 Members is likely to get into confusion. But this is a mere detail, which varies in Select Committees themselves in accordance with the character of the Chairman who presides; and it was not in contravention of the Standing Order, and did not, therefore, require any authority from the House. The Panel of Chairmen carefully considered and laid down for themselves the mode of procedure in Standing Committees; but, in doing so, they only formulated the practice of Select Committees when performed in a formal and efficient manner, either according to Standing Orders, or established usage. They thought it would be most convenient that the Committees should meet on separate days, and considered that, on the whole, Mondays and Fridays would be most suitable for the Trade Committee, and Tuesdays and Thursdays for the Law Committee, until the House entered regularly into its Morning Sittings. The hours of sitting proposed are from 12 to 3.45. The Panel of Chairmen provided for the due printing and circulation of Amendments, not only to Members of the Committee, but also to the Whole House, through the authority which Mr. Speaker already possesses. Although minute details had to be considered as to the mode of taking and recording divisions, there was no- 969 thing in these that did not entirely adapt themselves to the practice of Select Committees, and they were not of a character which the House required to approve. In fact, after careful consideration of the procedure, the Panel of Chairmen thought the Standing Order of the House was quite sufficient for the guidance of the presiding Chairman of each Committee. They had no doubt that the ready co-operation of the Committee itself would soon adjust any unexpected difficulty which might arise. They were not empowered by the House, and much less were the Government empowered by the Standing Order, to propose any formal Rules for the guidance of the Standing Committees. The House in its wisdom enjoined the procedure of Select Committees; and beyond conducting this procedure with increased formality of debate, there was nothing else required, in the opinion of the Chairmen, to enable the Standing Committees to be conducted with efficiency. I trust, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Raikes) will be satisfied that the various points have been considered, which may enable the Members of the Committee to pursue their labours with method and efficiency, and that he will not consider it necessary to divide the House upon this Motion.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
pointed out that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lyon Playfair) had not answered the question which had been put by his right hon. Friend (Mr. Raikes), as to whether the Chairman was entitled to take part in the discussion as in the Select Committee?
§ MR. LYON PLAYFAIR
The Panel of Chairmen have received no power from the House to make Rules; but they have agreed among themselves to follow mainly the practice of Committees of the Whole House.
§ SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
said, he presumed that the Amendments to any Bill referred to a Grand Committee would, as a matter of form, have to be presented at the Table of the House, printed, and then, under Standing Order 22, referred to the Committee. He wished to know whether this reference to the Committee would not merely be a matter of form, but whether, when the Amendments were sent upstairs, they would he brought to the attention of the Committee, as the clauses to which they referred were brought forward? If not, the Member 970 interested in any particular Amendment would have to be running after some Member of the Committee to ensure their being proposed at the proper time.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
said, the right hon. Gentleman the late Chairman of Committees did not appear to have even attempted to make any answer to most of the questions put to him by his right hon. Friend the Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Raikes). The Resolutions relating to the Grand Committees had not received the same attention as the other Resolutions, for everyone was so sick of the subject at the Autumn Session that all the Amendments relating to the formation of these Committees were dropped on the last day of the Session. The question of these Grand Committees required more careful consideration than the House had as yet given to it. He had examined the composition of these four Committees with some curiosity; and, so far from the Government majority being proportionately represented on them, there was no such thing at all. If hon. Members from Ireland sitting below the Gangway on the Opposition side were classed as part of the regular Opposition it would be found that on the Grand Committee on Law the Government had only a majority of three, while on the Committee of Trade and Commerce they were in a minority of two. This might lead to awkward results for the Government; for supposing in the case of an important Government Bill, such as the Bankruptcy Bill, a Motion were carried adjourning the Committee for a month, there would be very little chance of the Bill passing. Again, after the first one or two meetings of a Committee the attendance might be very scanty, and opportunities might then arise for sharp practice, placing the Government in an embarrassing position. He thought, therefore, the Government ought to express their opinion as to whether a Motion to adjourn the Committee for a month was one which it was competent for the Committee to carry; and, if not, whether it would be competent for the Committee to carry any Motion at all. Although a Bill such as the Bankruptcy Bill might not be a Party question, there might be details on which very strong opinions were entertained, and it was only right that those opinions should be properly represented. He also thought 971 the Prime Minister, who had been responsible for the introduction of these Resolutions, should decide whether the Chairman could take part in debate or not. At the same time, he thought it very singular if the Chairman were allowed to do so, for he would thereby expose himself to taunts and observations of a scornful character, to which, having regard to the dignity of his position, he ought not to be exposed. He would point out to the Government that the Panel of Chairmen had been left entirely without Rules for their guidance. There was nothing to prevent any Member questioning the Chairman's decision and debating it. Besides those he had mentioned, there were many other points which might be raised with regard to these Grand Committees; and he did not think, therefore, that the Government would lose any time if they were to postpone the matter until after the Easter Recess, and to give it their consideration in the meantime. If Amendments were hastily run over in Committee, owing to Members not being in their places, lengthy debates would arise in the House and Motions to re-commit the Bill, and more time would probably be lost than at present. He thought the point brought forward by his right hon. Friend would be found well worthy the consideration of the House.
§ MR. W. M. TORRENS
said, they had believed that this new expedient in legislation would be a reflection of the character of the House; in other words, that these Legislative Bodies to whom they deputed their authority would be representative of the various interests in the country. He owned that nothing would have induced him to acquiesce in the appointment of such a new authority if he had not believed that it would be thoroughly representative. An analysis of the list of the 64 Gentlemen whose names had been submitted as representative of the House on this question would, however, show that that principle had not been adhered to. In introducing his Bill the President of the Board of Trade expounded to the House the far-reaching effect of the measure, and did not disguise that it would have the most momentous effects upon the habits and social condition of the people. The body delegated by the House to scrutinize the Bill ought, therefore, to be representative of their interests. As regarded political Parties, he believed 972 the balance had been struck fairly well; but there was an almost entire absence on the Committee of Representatives of the mass of the industrial community and of retail trade and labour. Upon that Committee, of the 10 Metropolitan cities four were absolutely unrepresented —Marylebone, Finsbury, Chelsea, and Southwark—with upwards of 1,500,000 inhabitants — were unrepresented. In Ireland, of five so-called cities, two— Cork and Limerick—were totally excluded. Twenty-eight towns and cities in England, all of them containing above 40,000, many above 60,000, and several above 100,000, inhabitants, and with a total population of 2,500,000, were also unrepresented. With the disfranchised portion of the Metropolis, that made 4,000,000 of people without representation on the Committee; and those 4,000,000, it should be remembered, consisted mainly of the industrial population, whose social position this Bill was intended to change. One city excluded was Norwich—a most industrious and enterprizing place—which deserved greater consideration. Nor was one of the six Members representing the county in which Norwich was situated on the Committee. Had this Bill not affected all classes of the community he should not have raised this question. He objected also to this Panel on the ground that it was essentially one of capitalists. These were not times when the House should delegate its authority exclusively to those whose influence was supposed to be exerted only on one side. The Committee should have had upon it the Representatives of such towns as Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Brighton, Nottingham, Bradford, and Bolton. He hoped that the Government would use its superintending care in this matter, and make the Committee more representative of the industrial classes. In his judgment, the division of the House into three or four Panels would have been a much better plan; but, at any rate, the Grand Committees should be increased to the number of 100. He wished the experiment of the Grand Committees every success; but, if it were to have that success, an alteration must be made in the direction he had indicated.
§ SIR JOHN R. MOWBRAY
said, he felt bound to vindicate the action of the Committee of Selection. He regretted that the hon. Member for Finsbury 973 (Mr. W. M. Torrens) had not given him Notice of his intended attack, for, had Notice been given, he would have been better prepared to refute the charges that had been made. The Committee of Selection believed that the Members whom they had chosen represented the House politically and territorially, and also represented its intelligence and talent, as shown in the debates. The hon. Member for Finsbury complained that certain large towns were not represented; but he would remind the hon. Member that 24 large towns were represented, including Liverpool, with 493,000 inhabitants; Glasgow, with 477,000; Manchester, with 383,000; Birmingham, with 343,000: Leeds, with 259,000; Sheffield, with 239,000; Bristol, with 182,000; Stoke-upon-Trent, with 120,000; Salford, with 124,000; Hull, with 123,000; Portsmouth, with 113,000. Then there were the Cities of London and Westminster, the Metropolitan boroughs of Hackney, with 362,000 inhabitants; the Tower Hamlets, with 391,000; and Greenwich, with 169,000. There were also the Cities of Dublin, with 267,000 inhabitants, and Belfast, with 174,000. Among the great county constituencies were Yorkshire, South-West Biding, with 397,000; North Durham, with 225,000; Mid Surrey, with 203,000; South Essex, with 181,000; West Cornwall, with 161,000; West Gloucestershire, with 158,000; East Suffolk, with 157,000; West Kent, with j 154,000; South Northumberland, with 110,000; and Perthshire, with 101,000. Then there were other industrial centres, important, but not numerically strong, such as Preston, Wigan, Huddersfield, and Burnley. Among Members representing smaller constituencies, but connected with trade and commerce, were the Members for the University of London (Sir John Lubbock), for Aylesbury (Sir Nathaniel de Rothschild), for Boss and Cromarty (Sir Alexander Matheson), and for Downpatrick (Mr. Mulholland). The hon. Member said that capitalists only were on the Committee. Was the hon. Member for Stoke-upon-Trent (Mr. Broadhurst) a capitalist? The hon. Member pointed out that the City of Cork was not represented. That was true; but the House would see, on the other hand, that the County of Cork was re-presented, while the City of Cork was represented on the Law Committee by one of its Members (Mr. Parnell), who 974 had expressed publicly in the House his desire to be on that Committee. It might also be true that the City of Norwich was not represented; but there were special difficulties in obtaining an hon. Member representing that neighbourhood. The Committee of Selection might have made some mistakes; but they had throughout been actuated by a desire to do their duty conscientiously. If there were any omission from the list of the Committee which it might be desirable to fill up, the case could be met by the exercise of the provision which enabled the Committee of Selection to add the names of 15 specially qualified Gentlemen.
§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH
said, he was one of those who felt keenly the incompleteness—he might almost say the ambiguity—in which this question of Standing Committees was left by the House at the end of the Autumn Session; and in consequence he had expressed some little hesitation in acting as Chairman of one of those Committees. But having discussed the matter with friends who had given much time and thought to the subject, he was convinced that it was his duty to endeavour to assist in giving the experiment the best chance of success in his power. At the same time, he should not have accepted the Chairmanship of one of these Committees if it had been understood that the Chairman was to be a partizan Chairman; and he made it a sine quâ non that there was nothing in the Standing Orders of Select Committees which should prevent the procedure of Standing Committees being assimilated as much as possible, as regarded form and order of debate, with the proceedings of Committees of the Whole House. The assistance of the Speaker in forming the procedure of Standing Committees would be highly desirable; but much must be left to experience. It would have been highly imprudent to lay down a scheme of procedure which could not have been exhaustive, and so must have offered loopholes to attack. It was far wiser, the House having determined to try an experiment, that Standing Committees should commence to sit unshackled by any new Rules of Procedure.
Sir, I think my hon. Friend the Member for Finsbury (Mr. W. M. Torrens) has introduced into this discussion matter which was hardly within the immediate scope of 975 the subject before us. I am glad, however, that an opportunity has been given to the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir John R. Mowbray) to show the great care with which the Committee of Selection has discharged its important duties in connection with the selection of the Standing Committees; and I am very glad to have an opportunity of expressing my sense of obligation to the Committee of Selection for the manner in which those duties have been performed. The speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Finsbury, who has very clear views on the present question, distinctly shows that his objections go to the root of the whole matter. They are not objections applicable to the manner in which the Committee of Selection has performed its duty, but to the duty which has been given to that Committee. My hon. Friend said, and I have no doubt truly, that there are 29 towns of 40,000 people unrepresented, and there are also 26 large towns unrepresented, it being claimed by my hon. Friend that those large towns should be represented; 29 plus 26 make 55, so that, in a Committee of 65 or 70 persons, the Committee of Selection, according to my hon. Friend, would have been obliged to begin by appointing 55 Members for large towns of about 40,000 people. It is, therefore, quite clear that the objection of my hon. Friend is really an objection to the number of the Committee. He says it should have been larger—that is, he objects to the Standing Order itself. I think it is quite unnecessary to anticipate, as the noble Lord (Lord Randolph Churchill) has done, the possibility of the failure of those Committees in consequence of gross and monstrous error. Of course, if we are to suppose the Members of any of the bodies to which the House delegates its powers to be actuated by folly or criminality, we might fear most absurd and monstrous consequences. I do not, however, think it is necessary to entertain that supposition, which appears to be at the basis of the whole argument of the noble Lord. Happily, we can proceed, to a great extent, in matters of this kind upon the principle of confidence; and I must say I have known no more satisfactory sign of the "manner in which the principle of confidence can be entertained, and can be applied to a large portion, at any rate, of the Business of this House—no clearer proof of the disposition that al- 976 ways exists to withdraw from the arena of Party contention very important portions of our legislative work—than has been afforded to us, in the first place, by the manner in which Gentlemen sitting on both sides of this House have consented to undertake very onerous duties, and to become responsible for the working of a measure, for the original inception of which they have no responsibility whatever, and of which they may have disapproved. I cannot conceive anything more agreeable than to witness conduct of that kind, now exemplified in the remarkable concurrence of my right hon. Friend on this side and of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, who has just sat down, and who is himself one of the Members to whom I refer in mentioning the manner in which the spirit of co-operation has been displayed, even upon a subject which might have afforded us material for a long debate, and even, I might say, of a long contention. The right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has stated that, in his judgment, it would have been a mistake if the Panel of Chairmen bad endeavoured to lay down a set of Rules for the guidance of these Committees. He says they are bound by the Order of the House to adopt the procedure of Select Committees, as it is expressed in Standing Orders, and as it is established, no doubt, by practice. As to what lies beyond that, the Panel of Chairmen have determined that it is better to wait the teaching and guidance of experience. That is exactly acting upon what has been declared in this House, and thoroughly understood in this House before the House arrived at its final decision. The right hon. Gentleman says, in all truth, that it would have been a great mistake on the part of the Panel of Chairmen if they had endeavoured to frame a set of Rules with regard to which, in the first place, their authority might have been questioned; and, in the second place, they might have been certain that their enumeration might not have been complete. In that I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman. They would have made a great mistake had they endeavoured to anticipate beforehand cases that might possibly arise in working out an experiment which contains within it so much of novelty. But I will go further, and say that, great as that mistake would have been on the part of the Panel of 977 Chairmen, it would have been a still greater mistake were we to adopt the advice of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Raikes), and in this House to attempt to perform the functions which the Panel of Chairmen considered the)' were unable to perform. I do not mean we should have laboured under any defect of authority; but I do mean this—that we should have discussions of a much more promiscuous and miscellaneous character, much less closely adhering to the point, proceeding from Members, in many cases, much less qualified than the Panel of Chairmen are, to discuss the matter, and always labouring under this difficulty, that experience alone can guide you along a path which is, in a considerable degree, novel. That is the state of the case as to the general grounds. At the end of November or the beginning of December the House adopted this proposition, that we should make an experiment. The noble Lord the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill) says, with truth, that a number of Amendments distributed over the Notice Paper were not discussed. That was so; but those Notices disappeared, mainly on this ground—that the Government were willing to give satisfaction to what they thought the reasonable inclination of a large portion of the House to bring the experiment within narrow limits, so that we might see what we were about, and not commit ourselves wholesale to a new system, until we had some experience of the working of it. As far as the main matters are concerned in the Rules applicable to Select Committees and the usages of these Committees, and as to all that lies beyond, it would be better to wait the teaching of experience, as it will be represented to us through the able and experienced body of Gentlemen who have undertaken to act on the Panel of Chairmen. I am bound to say that all the points the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Raikes) has enumerated were points which, I hold in my humble judgment, can easily be disposed of when they come to be put in practice in these Committees. With regard to the question suggested by the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill) as to the position of the Chairman, there is no doubt that the Chairman in the Standing Committees 978 will be entitled to speak. As these Grand Committees are to be governed by the Rules of Procedure which governs Select Committees, it will clearly be within the discretion of the Chairman to give his opinion. It might be said, from the nature of these bodies, that it would not be expedient that the Chairman should avail himself to the full of the rights he may possess as a Member of the Committee. That may be so; but the degree in which he should exercise that right, and the question whether it is desirable to impose any limitation of that right—these are questions which we could not possibly discuss with advantage. We must feel our way in such matters. Put men of sense in the Chair, and these men of sense, with the Committee around them, will be perfectly able to form weighty and trustworthy judgments on any questions that may arise. I hope it will not be necessary to go through all the points raised by the right hon. Member for the University of Cambridge, because I would much rather, now that the House has taken its course, and has determined upon an experiment of a certain character and limit, as far as Grand Committees are concerned—I think it is very much better that that should be held to be under the care and guardianship of those who have received the confidence of the House, the Members of the Committee of Selection, and the Panel of Chairmen, rather than that it should be treated by myself as Leader of the House, or by other Members of the Government, because our desire is—as we feel we are working for a common interest, and until the time may come when we are to consider whether we are to carry the experiment further, or recede from it altogether—that as far as possible the matter should remain in the hands of those who would speak without the possibility of any selfish interest or Party prejudice, as the right hon Gentleman has just spoken this evening. An hon. Member had spoken of Amendments ab extra. Papers are often referred now to a Committee which is sitting; but they do not prescribe the mode in which the Committee should deal with those Papers. I It is far better for the present that we I should trust the discretion of the Committee, as to the mode of dealing with those Amendments. We have shown distinctly to the Committee that we wish 979 to retain for all the Members of this House the power of making suggestions and Amendments; and no doubt the Committee, if they would preserve the confidence of the House, will perceive, when they observe Amendments on the Notice Paper, that the House desires that those Amendments should be taken into consideration. The noble Lord the Member for Woodstock seems to think that the difference between the two modes of procedure—the procedure before the Private Bill Committees and that before Select Committees—is not sufficiently marked. I think I may give the noble Lord the assurance that this is not so. The proceedings before Private Bill Committees are under separate Rules of their own, and will not interfere or clash with the proceedings of these Standing Committees. The proceedings of Select Committees are governed by certain Standing Orders, by usage, and by tradition. I will not dwell longer on this matter, believing that the question is a simple one, and that we decided it last December. We stand simply on the proposition that, as to what remains incomplete in the practical mode necessary for the conduct of Business before these Standing Committees, it is best that in the present state of things we should wait for experience and take that as our guide.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
Sir, the right hon. Gentleman has somewhat misunderstood the Motion of my right hon. Friend, and has put upon it a construction which the observations of my right hon. Friend did not convey. The right hon. Gentleman seems to think that my right hon. Friend desires to express an opinion that definite regulations ought to be made in and by this House for the prosecution of Business before the Standing Committees. What I understood him to say was that, before any Bill was committed to one of the Standing Committees, the regulations which he desires to see should be made somewhere, by some authority, and that we should know what it was we were doing when we sent up a Bill to be dealt with before one of these Committees. There is a great distinction between that proposal and a proposal that the matter should be discussed in the House. Everybody feels —even those who, like myself and others, have been sceptical as to the working of the Grand Committees—that the experi- 980 ment ought to be fairly tried; and we are desirous that it should be fairly tried, if at all. But the question is—What is the best way of trying it? I do not say there should be a detailed code of regulations on every point; but I think we should be informed as to some of the main principles upon which the Committees must act, whether experimental or otherwise. This discussion has been very useful, and we have learned a great deal that will be of value to us as throwing light on the situation; but still we are left in an unsatisfactory position with regard to one question which has been referred to. The cardinal question is that of the position of the Chairman, and I think that is a point upon which it would be extremely desirable that there should be a clear understanding. The answer given is, that we are to be guided by the Rules of the Select Committee. If you are, of course the Chairman will take a very active part in the discussion of the Bill, and will not only vote when called upon for his casting vote, but will probably draw up himself and propose Amendments to be discussed. Surely the point has by this time been fully considered by the Government? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Edinburgh (Mr. Lyon Playfair) has given no certain sound on this question; my right hon. Friend the Member for North Hampshire (Mr. Sclater-Booth) has said that he understands it very clearly; but the Prime Minister had made the whole matter obscure and doubtful. What has been said I have no doubt will be carefully weighed by th6 Chairman, and the Committee will give proper weight to what, I think, I may say is the obvious sense of the House, that the Chairman's business is to act as Chairman, and he must consider that that is the more important part of his duty, and not the promotion of this or that particular view. No doubt it will be a great loss if the Chairman should be precluded from giving his opinion; but if we are to give the Standing Committees a fair chance, they must be so guided that the duty of the Chairman must be to make himself efficient in that post, and not an advocate. I hope my right hon. Friend will feel it unnecessary to divide the House on this question, but will content himself with the useful discussion that has been raised.
§ MR. NORWOOD
said, he regretted the conspicuous absence of the legal element from the Grand Committee to which the Bankruptcy Bill was to be referred. The Solicitor General and the Solicitor General for Scotland were to be Members of the Committee; but, except for those two hon. and learned Gentlemen, the Committee would not have the valuable help of any of the 11 barristers and solicitors who had taken part in the debate last night. In considering the clauses of the Bill it would be a distinct disadvantage to be without the assistance of Gentlemen specially acquainted with the mode and conduct of bankruptcy proceedings; and he hoped, therefore, that a few Members of the Legal Profession would be added to the Committee. With regard to the general question, he was glad that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Edinburgh (Mr. Lyon Playfair) had elicited so much information from the Government; and he felt sure that the Government themselves would see the advantage of carefully preparing the Rules under which delegated Business was to be conducted. One point, however, remained unsettled, and it would be well to know whether the Grand Committees were to sit four days a week or only two, and at what hour they were to meet. He would only add that the Chairman ought not, in his opinion, to take a leading part in the proceedings.
§ MR. RITCHIE
remarked that the position in which the House was placed was well illustrated by the contrary views taken by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Hampshire (Mr. Sclater-Booth) and by the Prime Minister as to the duties of the Chairmen of the new Committees. Were the Chairmen to act like Chairmen of Committees of the Whole House, or like Chairmen of Select Committees? It had been suggested that the Panel of Chairmen should lay down Rules of Procedure; but the Standing Order gave them no such authority, and the question was eminently one for the decision of the House. The new procedure had been described, correctly enough, as an experiment; but it was a most important experiment, and he should have preferred to see it tried on some measure of less consequence than the Bankruptcy Bill. It did not appear that anything had 982 been laid down as to what should be done in the event of there not being a quorum of a Grand Committee. It was a pity that this experiment was to be tried under unfavourable auspices, because the course of procedure had not been settled. He trusted the right hon. Gentleman would not divide the House, but would be satisfied with the discussion.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said, he wished to draw attention to a point which seemed to have escaped the observation of hon. Members who had taken part in the discussion up to the present. He desired to point out that provision had only been made for four reporters in each of the Grand Committee Rooms—that, in all probability, the Serjeant-at-Arms would experience great difficulty in allocating the seats, and that whatever arrangement he made would be sure to give offence to many newspapers. As the House was aware, a certain sum of money was given to Mr. Hansard for reporting the debates of the House, and also for reporting the debates in Committee of the Whole House. Mr. Hansard did not report the proceedings of Select Committees. Well, these Grand Committees were neither Committees of the Whole House, nor Select Committees, and were not within the terms of the arrangement with Mr. Hansard. It was evidently intended that their proceedings should be reported in some way, otherwise accommodation would not have been prepared for four reporters; and he would therefore suggest, as a means of making it easier to give satisfaction to all newspapers, that instead of admitting four reporters they should admit only one, who should give copies of his reports to all the newspapers that required them. Some arrangement of this kind might be made with Mr. Hansard. It would, of course, involve an extra Vote; but he thought that such an arrangement as that would be found to give satisfaction. For his own part, he agreed with those people who believed that their Business would go on better if they had no reports at all; still, that was not the general view; and he, therefore, thought the suggestion he now made deserved some consideration.
§ MR. GREGORY
said, he wished to make one practical suggestion to the Chairmen's Panel. It appeared to him 983 that there was considerable difficulty about the point which had been raised with regard to Amendments. As he understood the arrangement at present, if a Member, either through his constituents, or through being connected with a public body, proposed an Amendment, and was not a Member of the Grand Committee, he must take his chance of having the Amendment discussed or brought before the Committee by an hon. Member who did belong to it, but would not have an opportunity of representing his own views of the Amendment which had been suggested to him. Then, when the Bill went back to the House, if those Amendments were not in the Bill, and the Member interested in them tried to raise them again, he would be told that they had been considered before the Committee; and, although he had not had an opportunity of representing his constituents or his own views upon them, it would be impossible for him, after they had been considered by the Grand Committee, to raise them again for the consideration of the House. That might be a very serious and difficult position, and the only way of obviating it that occurred to him was that a Member, not being a Member of the Grand Committee and having Amendments on the Paper, should be allowed to attend the Committee, not as a voter, but as an advocate, so that he should have an opportunity of placing his own views before the Committee. The Amendments would then be properly discussed. That was the only way out of the difficulty which he could think of; and he threw out the suggestion for the consideration of the Chairmen's Panel, who would be able to decide what it was worth.
§ MR. WHITBREAD
said, the Leader of the Opposition appeared to think that there ought to be some Rules framed, not by the House, but by some other authority, for the guidance of the Standing Committees. But who were to frame them? The Chairmen's Panel had no power to frame Rules, and he had come to the conclusion that they had better be left to the practice established under the Standing Orders, or that the House must be asked to frame Rules; and the latter alternative was not desired. The Chairmen's Panel would be doing all that lay in their power if they came to an agreement to make certain 984 recommendations with regard to procedure to the Committees when, they met. The House had indicated pretty clearly in the Standing Orders that the Chairman of Ways and Means was an officer to keep Order in debate, and in that respect differed from an ordinary Chairman of a Select Committee, who had charge of the measure before him; and any Chairman who wished to keep control of a Committee would be careful to avoid entering into a debate in such a way as to expose himself to a charge of partizanship. The noble Lord (Lord Randolph Churchill) had expressed his fear that the Government would lose its authority in these Committees. The Standing Committees, however, had been so composed as to give to every section and Party in the House a strict representation according to its number; the majority of the Government, the strength of the Opposition, and that of other Parties, were all fairly represented on the Committees. They were told by the House to make each Committee a miniature House, and he believed the mandate had been well carried out. His hon. Friend (Mr. W. M. Torrens) had complained that some four Metropolitan constituencies and 26 large towns were not represented; but when these were compared with the remaining Metropolitan boroughs and the 29 large towns which were represented, he thought it must be plain that the representation was on a fair and sound basis. With regard to the lack of the legal element on the Trade Committee, to which the hon. Member for Hull (Mr. Norwood) drew attention, he would merely say that the Committee was not yet fully constructed, and therefore the criticisms were somewhat premature. The House had given them power, after having made a miniature of the House at large, to add 15 specialists; and the claims of the Legal Profession to a larger representation would not be overlooked. With reference to the remarks of his hon. Friend the Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ritchie), he would suggest that a Grand Committee should be left to follow the practice of Select Committees, governed by the Standing Order, in the event of a quorum not being constituted. The suggestion which had been offered with regard to reporters was well worthy of consideration. It was within the province of the Speaker 985 to make arrangements for reporters; but as the available space would be very limited, perhaps it would be possible to arrange that a single report should be accessible to all who wished to have it. In conclusion, he stated that the Chairmen's Panel had agreed that there should be two Sittings of each Committee every week.
§ MR. DAWSON
said, that the discussion on this question was confined to a mere criticism of the proposals of the Government; but no Member had made a practical suggestion on the matter. Now, it appeared to him that a better plan than that of the Government would be if the whole House sat in the afternoon for the purpose of Business, and, rising for an interval, it could sit again for Business with which the House alone was concerned. If that suggestion were adopted the continuous character of the proceedings would be maintained, and they would not be kept there until an unreasonably late hour, and the Speaker would not have to suffer the dreadful hardships to which he was at present subjected. He thought it right to make that suggestion, inasmuch as it had been stated that the Government intended to dwell on this subject further during the Recess; and perhaps they would take into consideration whether their purposes would not be better attained by the plan he suggested than that of the Grand Committees.
§ MR. WARTON
complained that the President of the Board of Trade seemed determined that his Bill, or none, should pass. He (Mr. Warton), however, was of opinion that the Bankruptcy Bills of the hon. Baronet the Member for the University of London (Sir John Lubbock) and the hon. Member for Evesham (Mr. Dixon-Hartland) should also be referred to this Grand Committee.
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
said, that was a matter entirely for the Committee of Selection. He had, however, conferred with the Chairman of the Trade Committee, who thought it would probably not be convenient for that Committee to meet so early as the first Monday after the Easter Recess. He proposed, therefore, to put down the first meeting of 986 the Committee for Monday, the 9th of April, which would leave plenty of time for the addition of the 15 names necessary to complete the Committee.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question again proposed.
§ MR. DAWSON
said, he quite appreciated the great merit of this Bill, and the great ability which the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Chamberlain) had displayed in introducing it; and for that reason he desired to know why Ireland was excluded from the benefits of the measure? The Secretary of the Dublin Chamber of Commerce was in favour of the Bill; and if it were true that the Bill had the approval of the commercial element in Ireland, he did not see why that country should be excluded from its operation. He thought that, on social matters of this kind, it would be much better if the Government legislated courageously for the two countries on the same basis; and then, if the Irish Members found it necessary to dissent from any part of the measure, they could do so by moving an Amendment. In his opinion, the legislation for the two countries ought to be uniform.
§ MR. MELDON
said, that he should dissent from the view taken by the right hon. Member for Carlow (Mr. Dawson), as to the desire that his Bill should be extended to Ireland. He thought that in Ireland people were very well satisfied with their present bankruptcy system; and he should, therefore, protest against the extension of the provisions of this Bill to that country.
§ MR. DAWSON
In personal explanation, I have every respect for the legal opinion of the hon. and learned Member for Kildare. ["Order, order!"]
§ MR. DAWSON
Merely in personal explanation, I wish to say that I have had the authority of the Secretary of the Chamber of Commerce of Dublin that this Bill has met with the approval of the mercantile classes in Ireland.
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
said, he was inclined to agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it was desirable, wherever feasible, that legislation for the three countries should be on the same lines. But in the present case there was already separate legislation for Ireland, Scot- 987 land, and England; and as he had no information which led him to believe that the Scotch or Irish were dissatisfied with the present system, he did not feel justified in attempting to impose upon them what might or might not be an improvement. He had, however, since the introduction of the first Bill, which was on the same principle as the Bill just read a second time, received information from the Dublin Chamber of Commerce and several Irish Members on both sides of the House that they would be very glad to have its provisions extended to Ireland. His answer was, if that should turn out to be a general opinion, he thought it a matter in which the principle of Home Rule might apply, and that he did not think the Government would have the slightest objection to extend the Bill to Ireland. But he was afraid, after what had fallen from the hon. and learned Member for Kildare (Mr. Meldon), there was no such unanimity of feeling as would induce the Government to adopt that course.
§ SIR WALTER B. BARTTELOT
asked, as a point of Order, whether there would be any difficulty in the way of an hon. Member who wished to move an Instruction to one of the new Committees?
§ MR. SPEAKER
said, there could be no doubt that it would be competent for the House to instruct the Committee in the manner suggested by the hon. and gallant Baronet.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill committed to the Standing Committee on Trade, Shipping, and Manufactures.
§ Ordered, That the Committee do sit and proceed on Monday 9th April, at Twelve of the clock.