HC Deb 13 February 1884 vol 284 cc788-822

Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [12th February], That the Resolutions of the House of the 1st December, 1882, relating to the constitution and proceedings of Standing Committees, he revived."—(The Marquess of Hartington.)

Question again proposed.

Debate resumed.


asked if there was any precedent for reviving a Rule of the House in the manner proposed by the Resolution? Should not the Committees be brought before the consideration of the House one by one?


No doubt there are many precedents for such a proceeding.


said, that, before addressing himself to the general question, he wished to refer to the inconvenience, to say the least of it, of the form of the Resolution, and of the language in which it was couched, to which exception had been taken by his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bridport (Mr. Warton). It was quite possible that the House might be disposed, in the main, to accept the Resolution; but at the same time it was extremely likely, with such experience as they had been able to gather, that the House might wish to modify and revise the Rules. It appeared to him that unless the Speaker would allow Members considerable latitude in the discussion of the question, it might be very difficult to introduce even any of those Amendments in detail which might be acceptable to the Government and be ratified by the House. He understood the Home Secretary had made some comment on his not being in his place when the Resolution was proposed last night at a quarter past 12 o'clock, contrary to general expectation on that side of the House. The answer he should make was a reference to the speech of the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for War (the Marquess of Hartington), when this question was under discussion, in the first instance, during the Autumn Session of 1882. On that occasion the noble Marquess said— That, as far as he could judge, there would he no indisposition on the part of the Government to give the House an opportunity of dis- cussing the operation of these Grand Committees. If, as he trusted, the present experiment "was successful, the Government would probably ask the House to renew the experiment; and, perhaps, extend its operation. He had no hesitation whatever in saying that such a proposal ought to be brought forward in proper time, when the House could thoroughly discuss it."—(3 Hansard, [275] 516.) Bearing those words in mind, he and other Members did not for a moment suppose that the Government would consider 12.15 A.M. a convenient time for considering so important a change in the Rules of the House as that which had been introduced by the constitution of Grand Committees. That explained his absence from the House when the subject was brought on for discussion that morning. He now came to the consideration of the operation of the Rules themselves. He had never ceased to adhere to the Constitutional objection which he had entertained from the first to the existence of the Grand Committees—namely, that they were in violation of the ancientmaxim—"Delegatus non potest delegare". The House was chosen by the people of this country to consider the details of all legislative proposals, and he did not believe it was within the limits of their commission to transfer that duty to any other body whatever. However, the question now before the House was not so much the Constitutional position of the Grand Committees as their practical effect. Last year the Bankruptcy Bill and the Patents Bill were referred to the Committee on Trade; and to the Committee on Law were referred the Bill for creating a Court of Criminal Appeal and a Bill in the nature of a now Code of Criminal Procedure. The Committee on Trade succeeded in disposing of the two Bills referred to it; but the Committee on Law got through the Criminal Appeal Bill only. That Bill, however, was dropped by the Government, and, consequently, the labour of the Grand Committee on Law was absolutely futile, if the object of its existence was legislation. A great number of hon. Members were withdrawn from very important duties—from officiating as Chairmen of Committees on Private Bills, for example—in order to take part in what proved to be sterile discussions. Now, let them consider the subsequent fate of the Bankruptcy Bill and the Patents Bill after they had passed through the Committee on Trade. On many occasions profuse assurances had been given to the House that those Bills would be submitted to its judgment when they should be brought forward to be considered as amended. But the Bankruptcy Bill was considered as amended by the House on August 13, when it was next to impossible to discuss it adequately, and was read a third time on August 14. Much the same fate befell the Patents Bill. It might, therefore, fairly be said that with regard to both these important measures the functions of the House of Commons were absolutely superseded, and that the House failed to fulfil the duty imposed upon it of sifting and examining thoroughly the legislative projects of the Government. In the case of the Bankruptcy Bill one question had to be considered which was essentially a question for the House—namely, in whom should vest the enormous patronage created by the measure. An Amendment was placed upon the Paper, proposing that the officers to be called into existence should be nominated by the County Court Judges to whose Courts they would be attached in accordance with the custom regulating the appointment of the other officials of those Courts. Now, he asked, what possibility was there of discussing a question of that sort on August 13? If any obloquy should hereafter fall on the President of the Board of Trade and the Government for the mode in which their patronage was exercised, they would have only themselves to thank for it, because they did not give the House an opportunity of discussing, under reasonable conditions, a question which amounted to an important Constitutional change. As to the unfortunate Committee on Law, he was surprised that the Government should bring that body again into being. He rather imagined that the Committee on Law did not enjoy the confidence of Her Majesty's Government. It had been stopped by the Attorney General in the discussion of one of the important measures which were submitted to it, because it was evident that the Attorney General had abandoned the hope of getting the Committee to treat the question in a reasonable manner. The Committee had been told that the measure might as well be abandoned, because the method in which they were handling it was not in accordance with the views entertained by the Attorney General himself. But there was still more remarkable evidence to quote in the case of the other Bill, because the Bill passed by the Committee relating to the formation of the Court of Criminal Appeal was abandoned by the Attorney General himself, and he was not willing to become sponsor for it on the floor of the House. Uncharitable people, in fact, accounted for the failure of the Committee on Law by saying that the Attorney General had not the same tact and capacity in managing Grand Committees as the President of the Board of Trade. No greater waste of time could be pointed to in the history of any Legislature than had occurred in connection with this Grand Committee on Law. They were now asked to deal with these Standing Committees on their merits. It was no longer a matter of theory, and the House was now asked to judge them by their fruits, and to say how far the experiment had answered. He would accept the challenge, and express his opinion that on two important measures the Committees had ousted the jurisdiction of the House, and on two other important measures had failed to satisfy even the Members of the Government, who shrank from discussion in carrying them through. The Bankruptcy Bill was passed by virtue of a denial of the Privileges of the House, and if the Committee had succeeded on that Bill it had only done so by taking away the rightful functions of the House itself. He did not think any Gentleman could point to a case where there had been greater miscalculation, or where the hopes entertained had been more completely falsified, than in connection with these Committees. He would put it to the House whether it was desirable or consistent with the dignity of the House, the requirements of the Public Service, or their duty to their constituents, to perpetuate an institution which only operated when it operated against the duty and functions of the House, but which was in the greater part of its functions inoperative, although it drew from the service of the House Members who could not well be spared, and substituted for full and fair debate hole-and-corner discussion under the auspices of some influential Member of the Government, who was generally prepared with a sufficiency of Members to enable him to impress his particular view upon the Com- mittee. There was one other point to which he would refer. There could be no doubt that the labours of the Speaker had been appreciably increased by the institution of Grand Committees. Although the new arrangement might have reduced the number of hours during which the House of Commons sat in Committee, he did not find that the House itself sat fewer hours than it had sat during preceding Sessions; but the time saved by the Committees had been wasted while the Speaker was in the Chair; and he could not but fear, if he were allowed to say so, that the right hon. Gentleman's retirement from the Chair which he had so long adorned had been accelerated by the weight of public duty which had been cast upon him. During the 15 years he had been a Member of that House he could not remember any instance of more complete failure in the conduct of Public Business than had been presented in the last Session of Parliament.


Sir, when the right hon. Gentleman rose I expected that he was about to propose an Amendment to the Motion before the House. The nature of that addition was conveyed to me, and I was very sorry to miss anything of that kind from his speech, because it would have supplied me with one point in which I might have been able to agree with him. As regards his speech, I am sorry to say my course would be only one of unmitigated objection to all it contains; but I may mention the suggestion I have heard, and which I do not think at all an unreasonable suggestion. It was that there should be added a provision that no Report should be received from a Grand Committee later than the 1st of August. I think that addition not only unobjectionable, but valuable. I should have been very glad to make such a Motion myself, excepting that it would be a departure from the principle on which the Government have proceeded. The right hon. Gentleman has objected to the form of this Motion. We had a specific, and, I think, sufficient reason for the form of this Motion. We felt that it was our duty not to drop—not to blight at the present time the hopes that the House may, we think, reasonably entertain of the operation of the Grand Committees. We felt, on the other hand, that it was a longer trial of the experiment which we were entitled to ask, and not the composition at once of a matured and extended plan—that it was right we should have further experience. That being so, it appeared to us that the safest course we could take was, not to attempt to amend in this point or that point of detail the proposition on which the House worked during the last Session, but to renew that proposition as it stood, that in that way we should avoid raising new matter of debate and possibly of resistance, and should give the House, as we wish to give, an opportunity of again trying the very same experiment as was tried last year. According to the right hon. Gentleman, that was a very unreasonable view, and I very much regret that we have not the support and approval of the right hon. Gentleman. We are under a very great necessity. The case of the House with regard to the transaction of Business is extremely difficult, and it is a matter of great urgency that there should be some improvement in our organization, with a view to the more satisfactory and, in point of time, the more economical discharge of portions of our legislative work. Under those circumstances, we have proposed a plan. It is well known that our plan is in accordance with the view of those who may be considered as the greatest Parliamentary authorities. I think I may say that it has not, in principle, excited the opposition of those who principally represent the late Government. It certainly has met with a very large amount of adhesion from a very large portion of Members of the House. Some Members are too sanguine—I myself may be one of the most sanguine—as to the scale upon which it may be hereafter possible to lighten the labours of the House by the agency of Grand Committees; but I should be very sorry that my own views were made the measure of the present action of the House. I say, let the present action of the House be confined within safe and moderate limits. The right hon. Gentleman objects to that, and mixes with his objection some matter that I think would have been better dropped. He finds my hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General extremely defective in the discharge of an important portion of his duty, and these personal defects of the Attorney General he thinks fit to mix up with his speech. Sir, I greatly question the propriety and the taste of that reference. I doubt very much whether any man upon that side of the House will not agree in the sentiment I have just delivered. But, happily, the faculties and qualifications of my hon. and learned Friend are too well known in this country and in his Profession, and his mode of conducting business in this House is too well established by positive experience, to allow of anyone's attaching the smallest weight to the criticisms of the right hon. Gentleman. I must make another and a good-humoured reference to that most formidable statement contained in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. It filled me with alarm—I might almost say with horror—and what the effect will be in the constituency of the University of Cambridge I cannot conceive. But I wish to call the attention of the champions of the Constitution on the opposite Bench to the portentous words that fell from the right hon. Gentleman. He said—"I have a Constitutional objection to these Grand Committees, delegatus non potest delegare". You cannot delegate, he says, "because you are yourselves an assembly of delegates." "An assembly of delegates "is the definition given by this Constitutional authority of the functions of the House of Commons—and all those sections or cliques which lie in the extremest region of democratic opinion have now been surpassed and east into the shade by the solemn declaration of the Conservative Member for the University of Cambridge. I hope I am what is called a Liberal politician, and I repel with my whole soul the doctrine that we are delegates; and I believe no man but the right hon. Gentleman will be very forward to assert that doctrine. We are Representatives of the people, sent here to deliberate, and to use our powers in the manner we think best; and in the choice of our means for the use of our powers we claim all the liberty which has been enjoyed by the Members of this House for many centuries. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman will derive much benefit by delegatus non potest delegare. The right hon. Gentleman is dissatisfied with the result of the Grand Committees. We are not dissatisfied. The result as to one, we grant, was imperfect; but, Sir, non constat, that may have been the fault of the Government. The Government may have been unfortunate in its selection of measures. But I have heard nothing about the operations of that Grand Committee which in the slightest degree gave to its proceedings the character of a demonstrated failure, rooted in its constitution for the purpose of functions such as were committed to it. The right hon. Gentleman says it is true that some of your Bills passed, but that they only passed because this House abdicated its duty. But this House frequently abdicates its duty in the view of the right hon. Gentleman. He often thinks it is the duty of the House to vote and do a particular thing, and this House does the exact reverse. Therefore, it is a constant charge by the right hon. Gentleman that the House has abdicated its duty. But what does that mean? It merely means that the House does not reconsider things which he thought required reconsideration, but which the House, having everything placed before it, did not think required reconsideration. In fact, it means the complete success of that Grand Committee. It means that the House was so well satisfied with the Bills in the shape in which they were brought by the labours of the Grand Committee that it found no necessity for treading over again the ground which had been traversed by the Committee. I make no extravagant statement of sanguine expectation, or of complete and absolute success. I do not refuse, if the right hon. Gentleman likes to make a Motion of the kind I have glanced at, to undertake consideration of it. I have explained, as the reason why we do not undertake it, that we do not wish to raise any new question at the present time; but I ask the House to renew and continue the experiment in regard to which we say it has obtained a real success. We say this without assuming anything with regard to whether the future will open out larger purposes. We say it has attained a real success, and my statement of the success is this—if it had enabled the House to pass, in what it deemed a satisfactory condition, one important measure, had it been only one measure which otherwise could not have been passed, it would have been successful up to a point to justify and require re-appointment. Instead of that, we were enabled to give to the country two measures which were, in the opinion of this House, valuable measures, and which, in the opinion of the House of Lords, had been brought to a satisfactory state of advancement by the labours of the Grand Committee, which, but for the Grand Committee, we should not have been able to accomplish. I think I shall carry the general feeling of the House when I say that that is a sufficient reason for the proposal we now make; and though I do not disparage the authority of the right hon. Gentleman, who has given great attention to the Business of this House, and who showed much ability when he was entrusted officially with the conduct of an important part of its proceedings, I am truly sorry that he is obliged, by his sense of public duty, to resist our mode of economizing the time of the House without suggesting any other mode—for he has suggested none; and "a beggarly account of empty boxes" is all that he possesses in order to relieve our necessities, and to help us in the part we are called on to occupy. I very sincerely regret that we do not carry his concurrence; but I trust the House will consider the proposal we make is reasonable.


said, he thought that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Raikes) had done good service in the speech which he had made, for he had elicited from the Government the admission that some date should be fixed beyond which Bills should not be received from the Grand Committees. Last Session the President of the Local Government Board had said that the Criminal Code Bill was one with which it was impossible to deal in a Committee of the Whole House. He (Mr. Gibson), however, maintained that the Criminal Code Bill was one with which it was not impossible for a Grand Committee to deal. A Grand Committee on Law could not deal with a Bill on which there was a sharp antagonism of opinion, though it might deal successfully with a Bill which only affected legal machinery. No Bills which involved, like that Bill, important political considerations could be left to a Grand Committee; and he particularly objected to the proposal to deal in this way with such a stupendous Bill as that relating to the government of London. He had no doubt, from the temperate tone of the Prime Minister's speech, that no one recognized that more than himself. From what the Prime Minister said the other night, he had thought the Government were only going to ask for the re-appointment of the Grand Committee on Commerce, which did pass two Bills of some importance. But, if that was made a ground for claiming that Committee as a success, he would remind the House that there was practical unanimity on both sides as to the principle of both these Bills; and they could as readily have been dealt with by a Select Committee specially appointed. He did not deny that the Committee on Trade achieved a substantial result, and, therefore, he thought they would be justified in reviving that Committee; but there was no such force, power, or cogency in the suggestion to revive the wholly abortive Committee on Law. Last year they were told what Bills would be referred to these Committees; and it would not be too much to ask what was the character of the measures which were to be taken up by them this year. The Secretary of State for War had mentioned two or three Bills which were to be referred to Grand Committees; but he hoped for some clear and definite statement on the subject. If he found there was any desire on the part of the Government to hand over Bills involving political differences, he should resolutely oppose the appointment of any Committee whatever. The sending of private Members' Bills to a Grand Committee was, he thought, open to grave question. If this experiment were sanctioned by the House, it might be that in later Sessions it would be found that their machinery could be utilized for a certain class of private Members' Bills; and it might be that private Members, no matter what political consequences their Bill involved, would whip up their followers, and get the Bill sent to a Grand Committee. That kind of struggle would be unseemly to a degree; and he hoped they would have some clear statement from the Government on the points to which he had referred. Specifically, he would like to know whether the Government desired to do more than re-appoint the Committee on Trade and Commerce; what were the exact Bills they proposed to send to that Committee; and what were their views as to sending private Members' Bills to these Committees?


said, he rose principally for the purpose of answering the questions of the right hon. and learned Gentleman; but, in the first place, he should like to enter a caveat against the opinion that the right hon. and learned Gentleman had expressed that the Bankruptcy Bill and the Patents Bill, being in some sort non-controversial Bills, would have been as satisfactorily dealt with in Committee of the Whole House as they had been in the Grand Committee. On this point his impression was the exact contrary of the right hon. and learned Member. He admitted that the Bills were not controversial Bills in the usual sense. Though there was a difference of opinion with regard to them, it was not a difference that divided the two sides of the House. Those Bills went to the Grand Committee with the good wishes of all; but they raised an enormous number of points of detail of the most complicated character. Why, it was absolutely necessary they should be discussed, and the extent to which they were discussed was evidenced by the fact that two well-known Members between them made more than 1,000 speeches on the Bankruptcy Bill alone. If such a Bill were introduced into the Committee of the Whole House, the House would see that it would be absolutely impossible to have proceeded with it. There were on the Bankruptcy Bill 20 meetings of the Grand Committee, on the Patents Bill four meetings, and as he did not suppose that any less number of meetings would have sufficed for those Bills in the House of Commons, it would therefore have been impossible to have devoted the time to them, considering the other Business that had to be disposed of. The right hon. Gentleman suggested they might have been sent to a Select Committee; but that would not have been satisfactory to the House, because they could not have constituted a small Select Committee on which it would have been possible to obtain the amount of information and experience which was at the disposal of the Grand Committees. Upon the Grand Committee they had 80 Members, which included almost everyone who had any special knowledge on these two subjects. That would have been impossible upon a Select Committee, and when the Bill came back to the House, all who had any special knowledge upon the question would have been justified in making their opinions heard on Report, and an immense amount of time would have been wasted in consequence. As to the questions asked by the right hon. and learned Gentleman, he thought the intentions of the Government were pretty plainly stated by the Secretary of State for War last night; but he might say it was the intention of the Government to refer to the Committee on Trade, Commerce, and Shipping a Bill for the better security of life and property at sea; and, secondly, a Bill for making permanent and defining and extending the functions of the Railway Commission. The right hon. and learned Gentleman and the House would see that both those measures would be of the same character as those which were referred last year to similar Committees, and as there was a general agreement upon their principles, they would not give rise to any political controversy. The Government accepted entirely and frankly the principle which had been laid down by the right hon. and learned Gentleman that at all events in the present experimental stage of these Grand Committees it would be neither wise nor profitable to send before them measures which might give rise to important political controversies. The same principle would be applied to the Law Committee. The word "law," however, was of very wide application, inasmuch as every Bill might be regarded as one for the amendment of the law, and therefore the Government did not feel themselves restricted to sending before that Committee merely Bills relating to legal procedure. They proposed to send before that Committee, first, a Bill providing against corrupt practices at municipal elections; secondly, a Bill dealing with stolen goods; thirdly, a Bill making some amendment in the Law of Evidence; and, fourthly, a Government measure dealing with the subject of the registration of deeds. The right hon. and learned Gentleman, he thought, would see that all those were questions which were not of political controversy, but questions of detail; and with regard to the most important of them there was a general concurrence of opinion. The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked whether the Government would support a reference to a Grand Committee of Bills brought in by private Members. The Government did not like to exclude the possibility of this, although he confessed there were very serious objections. For instance, it was very difficult to see how the conduct of a Bill of that kind could be arranged for in a Grand Committee, because it would have to be taken up by the Member in charge of the Bill, and it would place him and the Committee in an embarrassing position. The Government really in this matter were very much in the hands of the House. They could not prejudge the question. They could not say that the House should not send a private Member's Bill to a Grand Committee; but, having regard to what was the sense of the House, he thought such a course would be undesirable, and he thought he might say the Government would give no support to such a proposal.


said, he understood that the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister based his application for the re-appointment of two Grand Committees chiefly upon what he called the success of the experiment last year. It was further argued that the appointment of these Committees had lightened the labours of the Members of the House. But, so far from that, he thought that the action of the two Grand Committees could not be magnified into success, and that, so far from lightening labour, a great strain was put upon those who had to sit on them. He had had experience of one of these Committees—one whose lot was not to reap the laurels of success. That Committee was attended with the greatest regularity, but it was admitted that the labours of that Committee ended in a complete failure. He ventured to say that if the Criminal Code Bill had been referred to a Select Committee instead of the Grand Committee on Law, the Bill would have fared much better, and that the Select Committee would have succeeded where the Grand Committee failed. These Grand Committees were struck with the utmost fairness, and they were thoroughly representative of each Party in the House, but this very fact weakened the hands of the Minister in charge of the Bill. Each question had to be decided by the Members then present, and there was no ringing of Division Bells and the turning of sand-glasses to allow of his supporters arriving and voting as they were asked. This was one of the causes which led to the failure of the Grand Committee on Law last year. Having regard to views of the Prime Minister about devolution and delegation, he had some suspicion as to what these Committees would lead to. The suggestion was an excellent one, that a date should be fixed after which no Bill from a Grand Committee should be taken into consideration by the House; but if the date fixed was the 1st of August, this condition would be practically useless. His opinion, on the whole, was not favourable to these Grand Committees. He maintained that a Select Committee well chosen of men who intended to devote themselves to work was a tribunal capable of grappling with questions of some intricacy, and that small tribunals found it easier to deal with these questions than larger bodies.


said, that as a Member of the Law Committee last year, he felt bound to admit that that Committee had not been a success. The other Grand Committee was a success, but the Law Committee was not. In the Bill on Criminal Appeal, the Attorney General altered its position, by introducing an Amendment making the Bill stronger, so strong, indeed, that, in the opinion of several hon. Members, it was thought that it would almost do away with capital punishment. When the Bill was before the Grand Committee there was a Division, and it was perfectly clear that there was an extraordinary divergence of opinion.


That Amendment was carried against me.


I am not referring to the same Amendment.


I introduced no Amendment to the Bill; I endeavoured to keep it as it was, and I think the hon. Gentleman voted against me.


said, he thought it was the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) who got up and said that this Amendment would do away with capital punishment. The whole success of these Grand Committees depended, in his opinion, upon the selection of measures to be brought before it. They had heard something about the Bills that would be referred to these Committees this year, and he hoped the Government would put the House in possession of some information relating to the Bills that would be so referred. He ventured to ask the Government to consider well before they referred all the Bills that had been mentioned to the Grand Committees. Then there was another important question as to the time of the Report, and on this subject he asked permission of the House to move the following Proviso:— That no Bill reported from such Standing Committee shall be taken into consideration by the House at any date of the Session later than the 1st of August. He hoped the House might be disposed to accept that Proviso. He would desire to see an earlier date adopted, but he thought the 1st of August had been mentioned by the Prime Minister some time ago. This adoption of the 1st of August as a limit beyond which no controversial Bills would be discussed would, of course, be a tentative proposal, and subject to revisal or review another Session, when some such proposal to reconstitute such Committees might be renewed; and he hoped the House and the Government would, therefore, accept it.

Amendment proposed, At the end of the Question, to add the words "Provided that no Bill reported from such Standing Committee shall be taken into Consideration by the House at any date in the Session later than the 1st of August."—(Sir Baldwyn Leighton.)

Question proposed, "That those words be there added."


said, he agreed with the hon. Member for Mid Somerset (Mr. R. H. Paget) as to the manner in which the Committees had been struck. Everything had been done, so far as the selection of Members belonging to different Parties in the House was concerned, and so far as related to the different portions of the United Kingdom, to make these Committees successful. If he might be allowed to make one criticism, as a humble Member of the Legal Profession, it would be this—that in the Law Committee last year there was a defect, and it was that upwards of 20 per cent of that Committee were Members of the Legal Profession. When it was stated that 20 per cent of the Members serving upon that Committee were lawyers, some explanation, he thought, was given as to how a great deal of time had been occupied in discussion, and why so much work was not done as might have been done. With the exception that there wore too many lawyers on the Committee, no one, he thought, could find fault with the manner in which the Committee had been selected. With reference to the Bills sent to that Committee, his experience was that the first Bill brought before it was one which had the acceptance of the House, inasmuch as it passed the second reading. But it was not a Bill which was greatly approved by all the Members of the Committee who even appeared to be favourable to it. There was no heart or enthusiasm among the Members for the Criminal Appeal Bill, and there seemed to be no great desire or anxiety that it should be passed into law. With regard to the other Bill before the Committee, it was a measure which excited considerable Party feeling, especially on the part of hon. Members from Ireland; and it was found almost impossible to get that measure passed against the opposition that was raised. It appeared to him, therefore, that neither of these Bills should have been sent to such a Committee. Reference had been made to the exhaustion of Members after attending these Committees, and their inability to take part in the subsequent proceedings of the House. He attended very regularly at that Committee, and he could not complain of any serious feeling of exhaustion. After the Committee in which he was engaged came to an end he served on a Private Bill Committee, and there he found the exhaustion to be considerable. The reason, however, was obvious. In a Standing Committee a Member was one out of 60 or 80 Members, and his responsibility and anxiety were therefore relatively small. On a Private Bill Committee, dealing with important pecuniary matters, a Member was one of four, and his responsibility and anxiety were consequently increased. In his opinion, therefore, if there was anything to account for the exhaustion of Members, he should say it was not the Grand Committees, but the Private Bill Committees; and if either of these Committees was to go to the wall, it should not be the Grand Committees—it should be the Private Bill Committees. The right hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson) had said that he was opposed to such a measure as the proposed London Government Bill being relegated to a Grand Committee. Many Members would agree with him that it would be a Bill of far too great magnitude to be sent from the management of the House. The Bill affected great interests, and would excite greatly Party animosity, and it would never do to send such a Bill to a Grand Committee. But such Bills as had been mentioned by the Government seemed to him precisely the Bills that ought to be sent to the Grand Committees this year. By sending these Bills to the Grand Committees the labours of the House would be lightened and the work of the country carried on successfully. He, therefore, Sloped the House would agree to the re-appointment of these Committees, so that they might get to work as speedily as possible.


said, he did not agree with the hon. Member who had spoken last with reference to the proportion of lawyers on these Committees. There was an advantage in having a large proportion of lawyers on these Committees, and that was that the lawyers spoke on the question, and worked it out, not for the purpose of making speeches to their constituents, but for making speeches on the question itself. Then, with regard to physical exhaustion, and to the comparison in this respect between Grand Committees and Select Committees, he thought the statement of the hon. Member pointed to a fatal flaw in the constitution of these Grand Committees. Select Committees, even though they included a considerable number of Members—he had known as many as 31 on a Committee—still preserved the feeling of individual responsibility among those who composed them. But in the case of the Grand Committees they had the room arranged, as far as possible, on the model of the House of Commons. They had the Treasury and Front Opposition Benches, and if they took the poker from the fireplace to represent the Mace, the resemblance would be complete. In the Grand Committees the feeling of personal responsibility among the individual Members had broken down. The moderate and conciliatory speech of the Prime Minister had very much cleared the question. The right hon. Gentleman in what he said had, probably far more than he himself thought, abandoned the position he had taken up; for he owned that these Grand Committees had not been sufficiently tried to enable the House to assume that they had succeeded; and he only proposed to continue in the temporary form of a Sessional Order the experiment of last year. They had much to do last year, and they were all glad to see how the plan would work; but the real trial had not yet come, and it would come if ever the Grand Committees became an established, irrevocable part of the machinery of the House. The composition of the Committees might possibly become a matter of Party debate; the questions to be referred to them would equally become a matter of discussion; while the Bills that came down from the Committees would not go through the Report stage so easily as some might suppose from the experience of 1883. Therefore, the present conversation had more than justified itself by the confession made on the part of the Government that the arrangement was merely an experiment. He thought the House might well, in adopting the Resolution, adopt also the Proviso of the hon. Baronet behind him.


said, that the hon. Baronet (Sir Baldwyn Leighton) had challenged Members who had served on the Grand Committees last Session to state their opinion as to the working of those Committees; and he (Sir Henry Holland) had no hesitation in replying to that challenge, although he was afraid that the views he entertained were opposed to those entertained by many Members on that side of the House. By the terms of the Motion, Members were not, in truth, called upon to declare whether the experiment of last year was or was not a success, but only whether it should be repeated; and he did not hesitate to say that, upon the whole, he was inclined to consider that the experiment had succeeded last Session. Of the three Grand Committees, it was admitted that two had worked well, and that the Bankruptcy and Patents Bills had been thoroughly well sifted and dealt with by those two Committees. He must admit that the third Committee—the one on the Law Bills—had not been so successful. Different reasons had been assigned for this failure. One Member thought it was because too many lawyers had been chosen to serve upon it, and that a discordant element had been thus introduced. Certainly, discordance had prevailed to a considerable extent. He himself believed that the failure arose from the unfortunate way in which the work was presented to them. Instead of having the proposed Criminal Code before them to consider as a whole, the Committee were first asked to deal with a Bill upon a particular point—namely, right of appeal, which was a much contested point, and which should have been considered in its proper place as part of the Code, when it would have been discussed with less feeling. However this might be, he thought a further trial should be given to Grand Committees. But with a view to securing the successful working of them, he thought that care should be taken in selecting the Bills to be referred to them. He was not present when the President of the Board of Trade made his statement; but he understood that the proposed Merchant Shipping Bill was mentioned as one of the Bills which might properly be referred to a Grand Committee. He regretted this, as he thought no Bill should be so referred, upon the details of which evidence might have to be taken and witnesses examined. The President of the Board of Trade must be well aware that the statistics and figures, and his inferences from those statistics and figures, upon which he based his Bill, were, rightly or wrongly, disputed. It might be necessary, therefore, to examine witnesses, with a view to elicit the opinions of shipowners and insurers, and other persons so deeply interested in such a change of the law; and he could hardly conceive a worse tribunal before which to examine witnesses than a Grand Committee. Everyone knew the length to which examinations ran in a Select Committee of 15 or 16 Members. The difficulty would be enormously increased in a Committee of 60 to 70 Members, and the unfortunate witness would have to spend many days of his life under examination, unless some regulation was made by which all questions must be put by or through the Chairman; and even that plan would not work easily or satisfactorily when the details of a Bill were of a technical character and much disputed. Comparisons had been made, in the course of the debate, between the working of Select Committees and Grand Committees. He did not dispute the fact that Select Committees were quite as capable as Grand Committees of grappling with the details and difficulties of any measure; but he doubted whether the Report of a Select Committee had as much weight with the House as the Report of a well-chosen Grand Committee. Again, it had been urged that a Minister of the Crown in charge of a Bill had not so much power to enforce and carry his views in a Grand Committee as in a Select Committee. That probably was true; but for that very reason it might be that the decision of a Grand Committee would have more weight with the House than that of a Select Committee; in the same way that the verdict of a fairly-chosen jury would carry more weight than the verdict of a packed jury. He was ready to admit that the work of individual Members was not lightened, but, perhaps, rather increased, by the working of Grand Committees, and this was a point which would have to be considered, if the number of Grand Committees was enlarged; which, however, he understood was not, as yet, proposed or contemplated by the Government. And in such case, looking to the difficulty there would be in finding Members free and able to act on Private Bill Committees, it might become necessary to consider more carefully the plan suggested for partly relieving the House of the Private Business by appointing Commissioners to examine upon the spot into private schemes for docks, railways, gas, and water extensions and so forth, and to report the evidence and their opinion to the House. He would conclude by re-stating his opinion that they should not refuse to try the experiment of Grand Committees for another Session. They did not thereby pledge themselves—nor, indeed, were they now called upon to pledge themselves—to the ultimate adoption of such Committees.


said, that the failure of the Grand Committee on Law appointed last year was not due to the presence of lawyers on the Committee, many of whom, being practising barristers, were unable to attend its Sittings; and he himself only addressed it twice. In his opinion the failure was due to the fact that the Bill referred to that Committee dealt only with a portion of the subject; and, unfortunately, during the discussion in Committee, he was party to a Resolution enlarging the scope of the measure, which he was afraid placed increased difficulties in the way of the Attorney General; and, no doubt, there were great differences of opinion on both sides. He, therefore, thought it ought not to be in the power of the Grand Committee either to diminish or to enlarge the scope of a Bill as it had been settled on the second reading; and he believed that it would be advantageous to lay down a rule to that effect for the guidance of Standing Committees.


said, he thought the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Willis) had not gone quite to the root of the matter. He did not consider the passage of the Bankruptcy Bill or the Patents Bill a fair test of the efficiency of Grand Committees, for, in his opinion, both measures could have been dealt with quite as satisfactorily by a Select Committee of 30 Members. The failure of the Grand Committee on Law was undoubtedly owing to the fact that controverted questions of principle came before it. Those questions became the subject of debates and Divisions similar to those which took place in Committee of the Whole House, with the result that an enormous amount of time was expended without result, or, at any rate, with the very inadequate result of passing a Bill of 28 clauses after 19 Sittings. The President of the Board of Trade had given them a list of Bills he proposed to introduce. Three were of minor importance, and might very well have been referred to Select Committees; the remaining three, however, could hardly be considered in the same light. The measure for putting down corrupt and illegal practices at municipal elections was one of them; and he need only remind the House of the days and weeks spent in passing a similar measure respecting Parliamentary elections last Session. He feared the same debates would recur, and the same amount of time be wasted in the Grand Committee. Then there was the Merchant Shipping Bill and the Railway Commission Bill. He did not know the precise character of those measures at present; but there was no doubt—no one who had read the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman at Newcastle could doubt—that very grave questions of principle would be involved in the first measure. With regard to the Railway Commission Bill, that would probably include not merely the extension of the powers now possessed by the Commissioners, but largely augmented powers, questions of railway rates, preferential charges, and other matters which ought to be discussed in Committee of the Whole House. He feared that when these questions were raised much waste of time would ensue, and that the conclusions of the Grand Committee, if they came to a conclusion, would not be accepted as final by the House. It appeared to him that in the selection of these two last measures the Government were making the mistake which they made last year in reference to the Criminal Code Bill and the Criminal Appeal Bill, and even to a greater degree. As to the proposal of the hon. Member for South Shropshire (Sir Baldwyn Leighton) that a date should be fixed beyond which no Report of a Grand Committee should be received, he regarded it as a good one, and would support it.


said, that he thought there was general agreement in the House with the principle that success in these Committees was only to be anticipated if the Bills referred to them were Bills which did not involve any controversial questions of Party politics. But the right hon. Gentleman who had just spoken carried the principle a little further, and even went so far as to say that he doubted success in cases in which there was any principle involved upon which there could possibly be a difference of opinion. That was going a little further than was necessary. He (Mr. Chamberlain) believed that with respect to the measures to be referred to the Grand Committees, it would be found that practically the main principles were principles upon which both sides of the House were agreed. For example, the Corrupt Practices at Parliamentary Elections Bill would, no doubt, form the precedent for the Bill on Municipal Elections; and that was a measure which, in principle, was adopted equally by both sides of the House last Session. He, therefore, did not see why the discussion of the new Bill could not be conducted satisfactorily by a Grand Committee representing every section of the House. Then, with regard to the Merchant Shipping Bill, he should say that that, also, was a matter in which both sides of the House had an equal interest; it was a matter on which both sides of the House were already pledged; and he might say, without anticipating his speech on the second reading, that it would be found that the main lines of the Bill were in exact accordance with opinions and Resolutions which had been submitted to the House by hon. Gentlemen opposite. Under those circumstances, he did not think there was any reason to anticipate any serious difficulty as to what might be called principle, although there might, perhaps, be considerable difference of opinion as to the method of applying the principle. At all events, the Grand Committee was, of all bodies that could be conceived, the best to deal with a subject of this kind. His hon. Friend (Sir Henry Holland) had said there would be some difference of opinion as to the facts upon which this legislation was based. He did not think that would be the case, although there might be some difference of opinion as to the arguments which might be founded on these facts. The hon. Gentleman also said that the evidence of skilled witnesses might be required. Not at all. The only cases in which it was proposed to refer Bills to Grand Committees were cases in which Bills would otherwise be referred to the Committee of the Whole House; but it was not customary to examine witnesses in Committee of the Whole House. But he went further, and said that, although the Committee would not be called upon to examine witnesses, it was certain that the interests which were chiefly concerned would be largely, even he might say exhaustively, represented. There was no doubt the Committee would be in possession of all that experience and knowledge afforded to guide them to a right conclusion. As regarded the Railway Commission, the main features of any measure on that subject had been already decided in that House by a Resolution passed last Session without opposition, and after considerable discussion. He, therefore, did not anticipate that it would be found that there was any such serious difference upon this matter between Parties or sections of the House as would show that either of these Bills was of a character which could not be satisfactorily dealt with by Grand Committees. The hon. Baronet the Member for South Shropshire (Sir Baldwyn Leighton) said that, by his Amendment, he was only giving effect to what the Prime Minister had suggested. Of course, the Government were bound by the speech of the Prime Minister not to offer any objection to a Proviso consistent with the terms of that speech; but there was an important difference between the Amendment, as worded by the hon. Baronet, and the statement of the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister had said that he would not object to a Proviso stipulating that no Bill should be reported from a Grand Committee after the 1st of August; whereas the terms of the hon. Baronet's Amendment said that no Bill should be taken into consideration after the 1st of August, which was a very different thing. It was not easy to see what the effect would be of the Amendment; it was conceivable that if the Proviso of the hon. Baronet were adopted grave inconvenience might follow. Supposing, for instance, that a Bill had been reported from a Grand Committee in the middle of July, and that the House found itself engaged in Business which could not be interrupted. It might be a Bill that was not likely to cause any considerable discussion in the House; but it would be extremely inconvenient that the Government should be forced to consider the Bill before the 1st of August. It was also a temptation to any persons, who might be so disposed, to extend their opposition so as to cover that fixed limit of time. If the hon. Baronet would alter his Proviso so as to make it that no Bill should be reported from the Grand Committee after the 1st of August, the Government would offer no objection to that. He might say, however, that if it were found that the fixing of a set time had the effect of tempting any persons, so disposed, to throw obstacles in the way of the progress of measures, the House might then very fairly be asked to reconsider the Proviso.


said, that he was glad to have that opportunity of expressing what construction he himself put on the Prime Minister's suggestion. For his own part, he had listened with great surprise to the gloss which the President of the Board of Trade had put upon the words of the Prime Minister. There had been a strong feeling on that side of the House in favour of an earlier date, either the 15th or the 1st of July; but, as the Prime Minister had expressed himself willing to accept a later date, they had given way. If the proposal of the Government were carried out it would be in their power to keep a Bill hanging over for two or three mouths, and then to bring it forward when it suited their Party. The Prime Minister had expressed some regret that he (Mr. Raikes) had concluded his observations without some Amendment, but he had confined himself to objections to the general principle, and had left the details to others. Then, as regarded the question of delegation, it must be borne in mind that, whereas Members of that House were certainly not sent there as mere delegates of the opinions of others, they as certainly were delegated by the nation to perform duties of grave importance in examining projected legislation, and they had no right to delegate those duties to a Committee. Before resuming his seat he desired to express his regret that he had said anything which had annoyed the Attorney General, who had scarcely a right to take offence when he had only been anxious to pay a compliment to the President of the Board of Trade.


said, it would be scarcely candid for him to remain silent after the statement made by the President of the Board of Trade that the Shipping Bill could be referred to a Grand Committee, as its principles were admitted by all sides in the House. The right hon. Gentleman had not yet fully explained these principles, but if public utterances and such means of information as they possessed were to be trusted, he believed the measure would deal with two very important subjects in connection with merchant shipping. It was understood out-of-doors that the question of insurance would be dealt with more or less vigorously, and that it was the intention to apply the provisions of the Employers' Liability Act to shipping. The shipping of this country had existed for centuries, and marine insurance had not been interfered with, and the question before them was a very serious one. So far as he could gather, the opinion of the mercantile community—not shipowners alone—was that this was a Bill which ought to be remitted to a Select Committee for evidence. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade had made some very severe observations in public upon the conduct of shipowners. He might be justified in his observations, but surely the great body of shipowners of this country were entitled to demand that he should prove the truth of those observations, some of which had been publicly contradicted. He did not wish to prejudge the question in the slightest degree; but representing, in some measure, the shipping interests of the country, he ventured to submit that it was very possible the Bill would be such that the House could not refer it to a Grand Committee with advantage. In the case of the Bankruptcy Act last Session everyone had been anxious that the existing law should be altered; but when they came to the disturbance of vast trading interests, he humbly submitted that the House would listen with some attention to the charges made against them, and to what was to be said on their behalf, before any great alteration was made. He thought it right to say that the House might be called upon to refer the Bill to a Select Committee.


said, he believed that the Bill on Merchant Shipping would be likely to give rise to the discussion of many points of law requiring the elucidation of experts. Therefore, as witnesses would have to be called, it was almost a matter of necessity that the measure should be submitted to a Select and not to a Grand Committee. He understood that there would be much difference of opinion expressed about the Bill. They were all agreed that it was desirable to prevent as much loss of life at sea as it was possible to prevent, but many Members might object to the particular means which the President of the Board of Trade proposed to adopt to effect that object. He approved the Proviso that had been proposed, and thought that the unsatisfactory manner in which the deliberations on the Bankruptcy Bill closed last Session constituted a proof of the necessity of such a Proviso. In the very last days of the Session the House was asked by the President of the Board of Trade to accept Amendments which had been passed in the House of Lords, and which had not even been printed, on the faith of his assurance that they did not alter the main features of the measure. The Amendments were accordingly agreed to, but it could not be maintained that the manner in which they were carried was satisfactory. While he was willing to give every credit to the Government for the manner in which the Grand Committee on Trade had been conducted, he thought the working of the system ought to be so arranged as to ensure a more perfect consideration of the measures referred to such Committees.


said, he regretted that the Government had not thought fit to make any modification in the Resolution agreed to last Session. As a Member of the Committee of Selection, he had come to the conclusion that the Standing Committees were far too large for the convenience of the House. The existence of Grand Committees had the effect of doubling the work of many Members. There were four classes of Members who were exempted from service in Committees on Private Bills. They were Directors of Railways, of whom there were more than 120 in the House; practising lawyers, of whom there were 120; Members of the Government, who amounted in number to 30 or 40, and a few Members who were exempted on the ground of their age. When to these numbers were added the 160 Members called upon to serve on Grand Committees, it would be seen how very difficult it would be in future years to carry on the Private Business of the House. He thought, therefore, it would be expedient to reduce the number of the Members serving on the Standing Committees, and on that account he should support the Amendment.


said, he hoped that the right hon. Gentleman opposite would agree to the Proviso of the hon. Member for South Shropshire (Sir Baldwyn Leighton). At present any Bill sent down from a Standing Committee might be kept back for the convenience of the Government to the very last days of the Session. In "another place," objection was naturally raised to Bills sent up at a very late period of the Session from the House of Commons, and unless some day were fixed beyond which Bills sent down from Grand Committees would not be considered by the House, the Government would be able to send such Bills up to the House of Lords at any time, especially when there was no opportunity to discuss them; and for that reason, if for no other, he hoped the Amendment would be added to the Resolution now before the House. He ventured to say that it was with pleasure he heard the remarks made by the hon. Member for Hull (Mr. Norwood), especially as he read very carefully the speeches recently delivered by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would give him his attention for a minute. In those speeches grave accusations were made against the shipowners of this country; but during the last few days there had been placed before the House Returns from the Wreck Commissioner, and he thought those Returns did not bear out the statements of the right hon. Gentleman. Whether the statements of the right hon. Gentleman were absolutely accurate or not he could not tell, but of this he was certain—that a vast interest like the shipping trade of this country should be heard before legislation was attempted. He would, therefore, send the Bill, if it contained by imputation grave charges against the shipping interest, to a Select Committee, with power to call any witnesses they might think necessary. If the Government legislated without ascertaining whether the statements made were accurate or not, he thought they would be doing a very unwise and a very unfair thing. He trusted to the fairness of the right hon. Gentleman that a Bill based on a condemnation of the shipowners of this country would not be passed without their being heard in reference to its provisions. The hon. Member for Haddington Burghs (Mr. Craig- Sellar) was a young man, and he might not mind sitting in that House from noon till 4 o'clock the following morning. The hon. Member had not been so long in the House as he had, and, therefore, he did not think anything of the labours of a Grand Committee; but imagine a measure like the Franchise Bill being under consideration in the House at the same time that a Grand Committee was dealing with a Shipping Bill. It was more than a Member engaged on a Grand Committee could be expected to do if he were to attempt to give proper attention to his Parliamen- tary duties. If the proposal for the reappointment of the Grand Committees were carried, he would suggest that they should sit on Tuesdays and Fridays, and not on Mondays and Thursdays, which were Government days. Thus hon. Members who served on the Committees would be relieved to a certain extent of some of their labour. He did not think, however, that the consensus of opinion was strongly in favour of these Grand Committees. It might be necessary that they should be tried for another year, but he did not think it had been shown that they had lightened the burdens imposed on Members of the House. Perhaps they enabled the Government to push through certain Bills which would not otherwise be passed, though he questioned whether, in the interests of the House and the country, an exuberant number of Bills was of any benefit.


said, he doubted very much whether it was in the interests of the country to have the Grand Committees in their present form; and he maintained that the Criminal Code Bill, which was opposed by himself and his Friends, was inquisitorial and unjust, particularly to Ireland. That was not merely his own opinion, but was the opinion of The Times newspaper, which had written upon the subject. He would suggest that there should be some division of the Sittings of the Grand Committees, with a view of avoiding the strain upon Members who desired to be in the House in the evening.


said, he must express the satisfaction with which he heard the remarks of the hon. Member for Hull (Mr. Norwood). He (Mr. Whitley) was convinced the President of the Board of Trade would make a serious mistake if he referred the Shipping Bill to one of the Grand Committees. It would be very distasteful to the House and to the country, he thought, if such an important measure were disposed of in that way; and when the proper time arrived he would be prepared to oppose any such effort on the part of the right hon. Gentleman. The success of the Grand Committees depended entirely upon their carrying with them the feeling of the House; and once it came to be the general opinion that the authority of the House was ousted, there would be a great objection to the principle of those Committees. He was not prepared, at that moment, to pronounce an opinion generally upon the Grand Committees; but he freely admitted the great ability and the great courtesy with which the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General presided over the Committee on Law; and he was quite sure he was expressing the opinion of all the Members of that Committee when he said that the failure of the Committee was not in any way due to the Attorney General. If Bills were, however, brought before the House from the Grand Committees when the great majority of Members had left London, it would be most unsatisfactory to the House and to the country at large. He trusted, therefore, that the President of the Board of Trade would give the House an assurance in the same spirit in which the Prime Minister accepted the suggestion, that no Report should be received from a Grand Committee after the 1st of August.


said, he did not agree with his hon. Friend behind him in opposing the re-appointment of the Grand Committees this year. It would be unworthy of the House, after having talked about the scheme for so long a time, to be satisfied with one year's experiment. But he thought the success of the Grand Committees would depend almost entirely on the determination of the House and of the Government, so far as it directed the House, to keep the procedure in them as nearly as possible analogous to the procedure of a Committee of the Whole House, and this could only be done by retaining a very large quorum of Members on each Committee. It was also essential to the success of the experiment that the Government should not again commit the mistake of asking these Committees to sit during the Sitting of the House. He hoped the Government would have no difficulty in accepting the proposal which had been made.


said, that, having sat on a Grand Committee, he could give the best possible evidence of the strain which attendance on those Committees imposed on hon. Members. That strain, he thought, would, if Bills promoted by private Members were to be referred to Grand Committees, become at times too much to endure. On the question whether Bills reported from the Grand Committees ought to be taken into consideration after a certain date, he must say that that was a very reasonable Proviso, and, subject to its adoption, he was prepared to give his support to the re-appointment of these Committees. Although it might be said that it would be impossible to force on an unwilling House Bills reported from the Grand Committees after a certain date, and although it might always be in the power of a majority of the House to decline to consider such Bills, yet the safeguard was an illusory one. They knew that the majority of the House, from the 1st to the 10th of August, consisted of officials, and of a small class of Members who probably knew nothing about the details and the principles of the measures which might come from the Grand Committees, and who would be little disposed to pay regard to their merits. He hoped the Motion would be carried, subject to this Proviso, and that the Standing Committees would be continued for another year.


wished to know whether, if the Resolutions were passed in the form proposed, the House would not be committed to Standing Committees for two Sessions? In his opinion the Government had broken their promises in reference to the Grand Committees. With regard to the practical working of these Committees, he might observe that Bills not involving matters of principle could be dealt with perfectly well by a Select Committee, and that Bills which did involve a principle ought not to be referred to a Grand Committee. They did not wish for these Grand Committees, because if it was a matter in which no principle was involved a small Committee would do very well, with the additional advantage of being able to receive evidence. He was bound to say, however, although he detested the politics and distrusted the law of the Attorney General, that the hon. and learned Gentleman conducted the Committee on Law with the greatest good temper and fairness. The reason this Committee on Law failed was because Bills involving disputed principles were referred to it, and if the Grand Committee were to continue, he thought the Government should give an assurance that such Bills should not be so referred. In his opinion these Grand Committees were instituted merely for the purpose of enabling the Prime Minister to go to the country and make a great parade of having done something.


said, he thought what had taken place must have satisfied the Government that it would not have been proper to bring on this subject at a late hour in the evening. The matter had been very fairly discussed, and he did not wish to prolong the debate further than to say that he was by no means convinced of the success of those Grand Committees, although he was not unwilling that the experiment should be made for another year. He was bound to say that the list of Bills which had been read out, and which it was proposed to refer to these Committees, contained several measures which were not at all suited for discussion before such Committees. He took it for granted that when the Question was put from the Chair as to whether these Bills would be referred to a Grand Committee or not, the House would have an opportunity of discussing the subject. On a question of Order he wished to ask whether the Resolution passed at the Autumn Session of 1882, as to the duration of the Grand Committees, was a Sessional Order, and might now be considered dead, and not applying to the Resolution now before the House.


I have to say that it is quite clear that the Resolution of the 1st December, 1882, with reference to the duration of the Sessional Order, has now lapsed by the effect of time, and is no longer in force. It will be seen, also, that the Resolution now before the House relates to the constitution and proceedings of the Standing Committees, and not to the duration. I have no hesitation in saying that the Resolution now before the House, if passed by the House, would only have operation during the present Session.


asked whether the House was to understand that the Resolution on which the House was now requested to give its decision did not include any limitation as to the length of time during which these Standing Committees should exist?


said, he had already stated that it would be in force for the present Session.


asked whether it would be competent for him to move an addition providing that the Resolution be a Sessional Order?


said, the addition would be quite unnecessary.


wished to ask the Prime Minister a question with reference to what had fallen from him the previous night on this subject. Hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition side of the House understood that the Prime Minister assented that no Bill before the Grand Committee should be considered by the House after the 1st of August.


No Report from the Grand Committee should be received.


said, that made a very material difference. What they desired to secure was, that there should be time for the adequate discussion in the House of any Bills which might come down from the Grand Committee. It was perfectly evident that if the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman were accepted by the House that discussion would not be secured, because a Bill might be reported from the Grand Committee on the 1st of August and not reported to the House until the 31st of August. He was in favour of the re-appointment of these Grand Committees. He thought all Members of the House were interested in the progress of what he might call non-contentious Business, such as that generally brought before the Grand Committees. The Government were able, by these Grand Committees, to double the time at their disposal while they were sitting, and the Bills sent before these Committees should receive all reasonable facilities from hon. Members in order that they might pass. The success of these Committees depended upon two things—first, the nature of the Bills which ware placed before them; and, secondly, the opportunities which the House had to consider the Bills after they came down from the Grand Committees. He urged upon the Government the absolute necessity of accepting the proposal before the House. It ought to be a subject of careful consideration whether such a Bill as the Merchant Shipping Bill should be referred to a Grand Committee. It was a Bill which concerned a vast number of interests; and looking to that, and the great variety of opinion which undoubtedly existed, and the great feeling created in certain classes by the proposal of the Government, he thought it would be a fatal blow to the system if the right hon. Gentleman attempted to refer such a Bill to a Grand Committee. He was in favour of the continuance of the Grand Committees, and was sincere in asking the right hon. Gentleman to pave the way for their success by granting what was now asked.


said, he must repudiate the accusation of the hon. and learned Member for Bridport (Mr. Warton) that the Government had broken faith with the House in respect to the Grand Committees. As to the observations of the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ritchie) touching the Merchant Shipping Bill, of course such Bills as that would have to be submitted to the judgment of the House before they were referred to Grand Committees. But he might say this—that, in the opinion of the Government, the passing of the Bill depended upon its being sent to a Grand Committee. The Bill was full of details, and there would be the greatest possible difficulty in carrying it through a Committee of the Whole House. As to the Amendment of the hon. Member for South Shropshire (Sir Baldwyn Leighton), the Government were very anxious to meet the views of hon. Gentlemen opposite, as there was no desire to press unduly anything which did not meet with the evident sense of the House; and if the hon. Gentleman would alter his Amendment to make it read as follows, the Government would be ready to accept it:— Provided that no Bill reported from such Standing Committee shall be first taken into Consideration by the House at any date in the Session later than the 1st of August.


said, he would accept that modification, and would ask leave to withdraw his Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment proposed, At the end of the Question, to add the words "Provided that no Bill reported from such Standing Committee shall be first taken into Consideration by the House at any date in the Session later than the 1st of August."—(Sir Baldwyn Leighton.)

Question proposed, "That those words be there added."


said, he did not quite approve of the proposal of the Attorney General, and should have preferred the Amendment in its original form.


said, that if the object of the system of Grand Committees was to pass Bills it was successful, but if it was to improve the law it was a failure.


said, he thought the Committees had a demoralizing tendency, because they tended to induce Members to shift their responsibility from the House to the Grand Committees. With reference to the Merchant Shipping Bill, he thought it was likely to meet with considerable opposition on the Motion to refer it to a Grand Committee. It was of such wide-reaching importance that it could not be properly taken away from the cognizance of the House. He also urged some reasons for thinking that the Bill dealing with the Railway Commission, the Corrupt and Illegal Practices at Municipal Elections Bill, and the Bill for amending the Law of Evidence were not suitable measures to be dealt with by the Standing Committees.


inquired whether, if the Amendment was adopted in its present form, the right hon. Gentleman would have any objection to say if an alteration of the half-past 12 Rule would be required to bring Bills reported from the Standing Committees under the ordinary operation of that Rule?


said, he could not see his way to mix up the two questions.

It being a quarter of an hour before Six of the clock, the Debate stood adjourned till To-morrow.

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