HC Deb 25 February 1885 vol 294 cc1264-309

Order for Second Reading read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, it was not his intention to wander over that well-worn track which travelled through a wilderness of complaints against the present system, and which, so far, had led to nothing. That track had been well trodden for the last 40 years. The subject of Private Bill legislation and the evils attending it had been discussed in the House over and over again. They had been considered by Committees of the House; they had been considered in "another place;" they had been considered by a Joint Committee of the two Houses; and they had been considered by a Royal Commission. Outside the House the evils attending the present system had been an unfailing source for discussion in all sorts of learned Societies—in the Social Science Association, in Chambers of Commerce, in Statistical Societies, in Municipal Corporations, and in other societies in England, Scotland, and Ireland. It seemed to him, so far as he had been able to follow those discussions, both in and out of Parliament, that the system, as at present carried on, was left with very few friends. The only friends it had were the large monopolist Railway Companies, which were so ably supported and represented in the House by the hon. Baronet the Member for South Durham (Sir Joseph Pease). The other friends were that useful and valuable set of men, who were so well represented by his hon. Friend the Member for East Sussex (Mr. Gregory), those who were professionally employed in the Committees upstairs—a highly honourable body of public servants, who, by their ability, industry, and courtesy had done much to lessen the friction which must attend legislation which dealt with matters of private property. But if any hon. Member doubted what he was now stating, and believed that the system was defensible, then he would refer him to the evidence which was taken before the Select Committee in 1863; and if that hon. Member would take the trouble to read the evidence which was given by Mr. Rickards, who was formerly counsel to the late Speaker, or the evidence of Lord Redesdale, or Mr. Massey, formerly Chairman of Committees, or the evidence of Lord Grey, Sir Erskine May, and Colonel Wilson Patten; and, perhaps, more than anything else, if he would consider the draft Report drawn up by Mr. Lowe, he felt convinced that the hon. Member would be satisfied that the uncertainty of the system was indefensible, and that it was emphatically condemned by those experienced and distinguished men. His hon. Friend the Member for East Sussex might say that that was ancient evidence, that it referred to a state of things long past, and that it had been all changed. If so, he should then refer him to the debates on the question in 1872, initiated by the then Mr. Dodson, and, still later, to the reports of the discussion in 1883 and 1884, and he would see that the main evils attending the system had increased, that the expenditure was greater, that the decisions were as capricious and uncertain as ever, that the waste of time had not diminished, and that the waste of Parliamentary energy had, owing to the new conditions under which the Parliamentary machine was compelled to work, vastly increased. He was convinced that any hon. Member who would carefully read through the evidence of 1863 and the debates in that House to which he had referred must arrive at the conclusion that the present system was radically bad; that, as Sir Erskine May said in his evidence, "many of the evils were incurable;" and that the only remedy was to be found in the constitution of a new tribunal and a different system. He would consult the convenience of the House if he confined himself to a summary of the evils which he maintained existed in the present system, and if he reduced the illustrations in proof of these summaries to a minimum. But in doing so he must guard against the imputation that he could not extend those illustrations further. His object was not so much to dwell upon the details of the disease, as to suggest what he believed to be, at least, a fairly satisfactory remedy. He would not enlarge upon what Mr. Massey called the "vices which are inherent in the present system." Those inherent vices, shortly summarized, were great costliness; great uncertainty and ambiguity in the decisions come to by the Committees; and great waste of Parliamentary time and energy. The system was satisfactory neither to the suitors nor to the general public, nor did it redound to the business capacity of the two Houses of Parliament. Such were the charges which those who thought with him brought against the existing system, and on which they indicted it before the bar of public opinion. The charges one and all had been made good on many occasions, and it had been shown that the system had been satisfactory to no one. He would illustrate each of the charges by a single case. As to costliness;—a series of valuable Returns was laid before Parliament last Session, showing the amount of money spent in promoting and opposing Private Bills in Parliament during the 11 years from 1872 to 1882. The sum total amounted to about £7,000,000, or £650,000 to £750,000 spent each year. In other words, £750,000 a-year was the tax imposed by the present system in getting Parliamentary sanction to a series of useful industrial undertakings; and, though nominally that tax was paid by the promoters and opponents of these schemes, it was really paid by the public. Every day they heard complaints of heavy railway rates, heavy gas rates, and heavy water rates. In the first instance, of course, the shareholders paid the Parliamentary expenses of Private Bills; but those expenses must be repaid in some way or other, because they were not wiped off as bad debts. And who repaid them but the public which used the railways, burned the gas, and drank the water? Could they wonder that the managers of commercial undertakings, who had been mulcted to the extent of £500,000 a-year before those undertakings had been launched, should endeavour to recoup themselves for this heavy taxation by imposing heavy rates on the public? They could not blame them, but they could blame the system which forced them to make these charges; and they might depend upon it that the first step towards the reduction of rates and freights must be taken by lowering the expenses incurred in the initial Parliamentary proceedings; and that was what he wished to urge upon the House. The first step to take in Parliament to lower the rates which they paid was to change the system under which those charges were originally incurred. Passing to the second evil of the system—namely, the uncertain and capricious character of the judgments of the Select Committees, he would ask the attention of the House to the case of the Manchester Ship Canal Bill. The scheme proposed under that Bill dealt with upwards of £8,000,000. In 1883 the Bill was passed, by the Select Committee of the House of Commons, and rejected by the Lords Committee. It was 39 days before the Committee that passed it, and 10 days before the Committee which rejected it. Last year its fate was even more tragic. It was passed by the Select Committee of the House of Lords, which rejected it the previous year, and rejected by the Committee of the Commons, which passed it in 1883. In 1884 the Bill was 43 days before the Committee of the Lords, and 20 days before the Committee of the Commons. Thus this unfortunate scheme, with which the two Houses had been playing battledore and shuttlecock for the last two years at a cost of about £250,000, had altogether been 114 days before the Committees upstairs, for the labours of which there was absolutely nothing to show, except another flagrant example of the uncertainty and caprice of the decisions of the tribunals which were appointed to adjudicate upon great schemes of private enterprize. He did not assert that these contradictory decisions were wrong. No reasons were given, and no judgment could be formed. Bach House in 1884 came to a decision diametrically opposed to the decision to which it came in 1883; and the net result was that a Bill of magnitude and importance which had been approved at one time or other in its eccentric career had ended in being rejected, and was to all intents and purposes as dead as if it had never been introduced. This illustration—an illustration of yesterday—was sufficient to show that he did not exaggerate when he applied the epithets "capricious" and "haphazard" to the decisions of the Committees. He did not overstate the case when he said there had been no improvement in the stability and consistency of those decisions, and that the system which produced them was satisfactory neither to the suitors nor to the public, and that it did not redound to the credit of either House of Parliament.

But, grave and serious as were the evils of costliness and uncertainty, they were almost trivial in comparison with the third evil—the waste of Parliamentary time and energy which was involved in the continuance of the present system. Fifty years ago, when the system was in its infancy, the work of that House was probably about one-tenth of what it was now. In those days the occupation given by the Select Committees on Private Bills, if it did not do much good, at least did very little harm, so far as regards the waste of Parliamentary time and energy. No doubt, in that school of 30 or 40 years ago, many able and distinguished Chairmen were trained who had done much to keep up the flagging remains of the prestige and character of the decisions of Committees. From 1832 to 1835 the average number of Private Bills which came before Committees of both Houses was only 11, and in 1836 the number was 29; but in those happy days it did not much matter how much time was occupied by those inquiries. There was no difficulty then in manning the Committees. The best men of business in the House were glad to sit on them; there was no other opening for their business capacity, and no other scope for their Parliamentary ambition. It was, he thought, the late Sir Robert Peel who said that these Private Bill Committees were the best school in which a young Member of Parliament might learn his duties. In those days the hours were shorter, and the subjects which came under discussion were very much fewer than at present, the attendance of Members easier, and the wear and tear of Parliamentary life comparatively trifling. The work was a relaxation in those happy lotus-eating days of Parliamentary life. The Prime Minister said, when he entered Parliament, that the work was not arduous, probably not more arduous than the work was now in "another place" at the present day. In those days there were few Private Bills. But they lived in different times. The work of the House had, he believed, increased tenfold. Hon. Members could not give the time and attention to Private Bill Committees that they used to give. There were other training schools for men who wished to take a leading part in Parliamentary life. The best men of business in the House did not go on these Committees, but preferred to serve on Select Committees, Grand Committees, or Royal Commissions, and even the younger and less experienced men were unwilling to serve on them. That was not merely his own opinion, but the opinion of a man who had more right to speak on the subject than any Member of that House—he meant the right hon. Baronet the Chairman of the Committee of Selection (Sir John Mowbray). Speaking last year, the right hon. Gentleman said that every year there was an immense mass of work to get through, and an increasing indisposition on the part of Members to do that work. He thought the House would regard that as a conclusive opinion upon that matter. It was obvious to every Member that the Business of the House was increasing at an enormous rate; and it was inevitable that it must go on increasing every year as new centres of Imperial interest were opened out, and as year by year there was more knowledge of, and more interest in, the great expansion of the Empire. It would become more and more difficult every year to make that House a place where it was possible to do real work. Every year it would become more a place of talk and less a place of work; and it was not unreasonable that it should be so, because now-a-days they had grievances of every sort which must be ventilated. Public attention must be aroused on political matters, and both the most stupendous and the minutest interests of the Empire must be discussed in that House; and in that case those time-honoured and venerable ways they had of conducting Business must be, as future Parliaments went on, to a large extent changed. There must be, as the Prime Minister said, much greater delegation of the work of the House; and there would be, and must be, more work done in the Grand Committees, and less work done in the House itself. If that were so, there must be a change in the system that applied to Private Bill Committees and other Committees of the House. They had two Grand Committees just now, and these two Committees absorbed about 160 of the best business men in the House. They had, he believed, been promised by the Chancellor of the Exchequer another Grand Committee on Finance; and it was more than probable that as time went on other Grand Committees would be appointed. If that were so, how were the Private Bill Committees to be manned? The question had been perplexing many of the most experienced men in the House. He had already referred to the opinion of the Chairman of the Committee of Selection; he would now quote what had been said by a Colleague on that Committee. The hon. Member for Portsmouth (Sir H. Drummond Wolff) said that the existence of the Grand Committees had the effect of doubling the work of many Members; that there were four classes exempt—the Directors of Railway and other Companies, who were more than 120, practising lawyers, of whom there were 120, Members of the Government 30 or 40, and others who were exempt on account of their age. They must add, therefore, to the 160 Members told off for the Grand Committees nearly 300 who were excluded from serving on Private Bill Committees, and that left but a fraction of the House to serve upon them. It was as clear as day that the necessity for Grand Committees was the knell of the Private Bill Committees. As the present Home Secretary said in 1872, speaking on Mr. Dodson's Motion— The question 16 not whether you will abolish the present tribunal, hut rather whether you are able to continue it. That was said before the institution of Grand Committees. If it was a question then, it was a certainty now. Unless the number of Members of the House was to be considerably increased—and the feeling of the House and the country was certainly not favourable to that course—the Private Bill Committees must practically die of inanition.

If that were so, the question arose, what was to be substituted for them? Many suggestions had been made from time to time by hon. Members and noble Lords of marked experience—by Lord Redesdale and Lord Grey, by Colonel Wilson Patten and Mr. Dodson, when Members of the House, and by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Raikes), whose name was on the back of the Bill; but though each suggestion had met with a certain amount of approval, it had failed, because it had not been presented in a definite form to the House. But another suggestion had been made by one who had studied that subject, and the whole subject of Parliamentary procedure for many years, and who was justly regarded as the highest authority on these questions—he meant the right hon. Gentleman at the Table (Sir Erskine May). Sir Erskine May's plan had been before the House for many years. It was stated by the right hon. Gentleman before the Select Committee of 1858, and it had been before the country since then on several occasions. In 1863, before the Select Committee on Private Bill Legislation, of which Mr. Milner Gibson was Chairman, Sir Erskine May, in reply to questions by the Chairman, said— He thought the principal defects of the system were the great costliness of the proceedings, the double inquiry before the two Houses, the necessity of passing all Bills, however unimportant, through both Houses of Parliament; the necessity of numerous requirements, which were expensive, and which did not afford any essential security to the public. It had long been his (Sir Erskine May's) opinion that a complete remedy for the whole of the defects was to be found in the constitution of a distinct tribunal. He also thought that if Parliament was prepared to adopt a new system, it would be preferable to an alteration of the present system. There were, in his opinion, inherent defects in the present system which, were incapable of amendment. He would make the new tribunal as judicial in its character and constitution and in its proceedings as possible, constituted so as to be quite independent of Parliament, and he would select the very best men who could be obtained, giving the decisions of this tribunal as much weight as was usually attached to the decisions of Parliamentary Committees. He did not apprehend that it would he difficult to establish a tribunal which would soon gain so much public confidence, and also the confidence of Parliament, that its decisions would not be disturbed more frequently than were the decisions of Committees under the present system. He would constitute the Court of four Judges or Commissioners, and constitute it as powerfully as possible of men eminent for their judicial or Parliamentary experience. It was difficult," he added, "to indicate precisely the class of men; but he should wish to see some Judge, for instance, withdrawn from the High Court to take the lead in the New Court, or some ex-Chancellor, if he could be found, a gentleman of reputation and standing, a Parliamentary counsel of able character and high standing, and he should also like to secure a Chairman of Committees who was willing to leave Parliament. This was the scheme proposed by the man of most experience in this matter in the Kingdom; and this, with very slight modification, was the proposal of the Bill now before the House. The object of the Bill was to set free the time, but preserve the control of Parliament. It was of the essence of the measure that the legislative action of Parliament should be undiminished. Private Bills dealt with private property, and therefore it was essential that the ultimate sanction should rest with Parliament. There would, therefore, be no change in that respect. Neither would there be any change, except in one particular, in the earlier stages of Private Bills. Deposits, inquiries before Examiners, notices, fees, and matters of that kind would remain precisely as at present. If the Bill were passed, schemes in future would continue to be embodied in Bills, which would be read the first and second times, would be committed and reported and read a third time in both Houses. Therefore, both Houses would retain complete and absolute legislative power over such measures. The change proposed by his Bill was at the Committee stage. The proposal, like that of Sir Erskine May, was to constitute an external tribunal closely connected with, but independent of, Parliament, consisting of at least three Judges appointed by the Crown, with the powers and jurisdiction of the present Select Committees. In future, when Bills were committed, they would be committed not to Committees, as at present, but to these Judges. The difference in the proposed procedure before the Judges and the existing practice was three-fold. In the first place, it was proposed that the Judges should in future give the reasons for the decisions they arrived at with regard to these Private Bills. At present, when a Bill was thrown out by a Committee, the suitors were left in the dark as to the reasons for its rejection. If the Bill before the House were to pass this would no longer be the case. Another difference would be that under the new system there would be no double inquiry. The present system in this respect was the main cause of the waste of time and expense; and it was indefensible that two Courts of co-ordinate jurisdiction should each go through the same matters, and each give a decision. If his Bill passed, that unreasonable procedure would be at an end. The Report of the Judges to the House in which the Bill originated would be received by the second House as if the Bill had been referred to the Judges by that second House. This would obviously result in a great saving of money and of time. The third point of difference was technical, but important. It was that all questions of locus standi should henceforth be decided by the Judges, and not by Referees, as at present. In this proposal he wished to guard against any imputation that he was casting any reflection on the ability and industry and good work and unfailing courtesy of the gentlemen who, for the last 20 years, had performed the difficult functions of Referees. But it was generally admitted by those who were more intimately cognizant with the subject that questions of locus standi should be decided by those whose duty it was to come to a decision upon the merits of the schemes themselves; and if Judges were appointed to try the merits it would be superfluous to retain a second Court to decide questions of locus standi. That, however, was a matter of detail for the House to decide if they got into Committee on the Bill. These were the serious changes proposed by the Bill. The principle on which he went was quieta non movere to leave things as they were where they were good, and where they required alteration to make the alteration thorough. As to the titles of the Judges to be appointed under the Bill, he proposed that they should be called "Justices of the High Court of Parliament;" but if the House preferred "Commissioners," or any other name, it was of no consequence to the Bill. He proposed that they should have salaries of £5,000 a-year each. That might appear to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to be a considerable sum; but it must be remembered that if they were to have good men, who alone could inspire confidence, they must not be afraid to pay them well. Then it was shown by the Return obtained last year that between £70,000 and £80,000 a-year was paid in fees in the House of Commons and the House of Lords by promoters and opponents of Private Bills; and he thought it was not unreasonable that they should get from 20 to 25 per cent of these fees to have their cases well tried. Upon this point he had the support of a Member of the Government; because in 1872 the present Home Secretary, speaking on Mr. Dodson's proposal, said such a tribunal similar to what was now proposed must not be starved either in numbers or remuneration, for the funds supplied by suitors were quite sufficient to defray the cost. There were only two other minor points. It was further proposed that the Court should sit as a rule in London; but power was given—and it was, he thought, right it should be given—that if the suitors in any locality thought it desirable, the Court should go down to try cases in the locality, provided the Court thought it would be for the reasonable despatch of business to do so. They had also power to go to Scotland and Ireland, to spend, at least, one month in each year for Scottish and Irish Bills, if it should be thought necessary in those countries, and concurred in by the Court. His reason for this proposal was that the evils connected with the present system were more serious in Scotland and Ireland than in any other part of the United Kingdom. The dissatisfaction in these countries was more acute, be- cause the distance and the consequent expense were so much greater; and the complaints which came from public bodies—certainly in Scotland, and, he believed, also in Ireland—were loud and long. Speaking from his own experience—and he was certain some of his Friends and Colleagues from Scotland could say the same thing—he was aware of several schemes of useful industrial enterprize which had been stifled in their birth through dread of the cost of obtaining Parliamentary sanction. He should have been glad if separate Courts could have been established for Scotland and for Ireland; and he had suggested such a thing when he brought forward a Motion on this subject last year; but as he got little support, and as it was shown that the average number of Private Bills from Scotland in each year amounted only to 23, and from Ireland only to 18, he did not think he was justified in proposing the creation of separate Courts to deal with them; he, therefore, presented the proposal contained in the Bill. It might be said that the Judges, with the discretion left to them, would not leave London; but he thought they would not, in the face of public opinion, refuse to visit a locality when it was declared by the locality to be desirable that they should do so. There was also in the Bill a proposal with regard to remanents, which was merely an extension of the principle which now prevailed in the case of a Dissolution of Parliament. There was a suggestion, rather than a proposal, that the new Judges, if it were found possible to do so, should be empowered to try Election Petitions together with the ordinary Judges. The suggestion could be defended on the ground that Election Petitions used to be tried by Select Committees, exactly as Private Bills were now considered by them, and that Judges who were qualified to deal with Private Bills were also qualified to deal with Petitions. That, however, was a matter which was not in any sense of the essence of the Bill. Then there was a proposal as to Standing Orders on Private Bills. It was proposed that a sort of Committee, consisting of the Speaker, the Chairman of Committees of the House of Lords, the Chairman of Ways and Means, and the three Judges, should suggest alterations in the Standing Orders in connection with Private Bills. This proposal, like some others to which he had drawn attention, was, however, in no sense vital to the Bill, which, as he had said, had, as far as possible, been framed in accordance with the principle quieta non movere. The Amendment which the hon. Baronet the Member for South Durham (Sir Joseph Pease) had placed on the Paper admitted a great deal. It admitted that the system was defective, and it proposed to strengthen the Committees. But how was his hon. Friend to strengthen the Committees? As to his alternative to send these Bills to Joint Committees of the two Houses, that proposal had been made over and over again, and it never had received any acceptance whatever. The hon. Baronet proposed his Amendment because he would not delegate the legislative functions of the House. He (Mr. Craig-Sellar) did not propose to do that. The legislative functions of the House were kept intact by the proposals of his Bill. It was the judicial functions that he proposed to change—functions which he did not think the House was qualified to discharge. He hoped the House would not accept the proposal of his hon. Friend. He (Mr. Craig-Sellar) could not help thinking and believing that if his Bill passed it could not fail to meet the worst evils of the present system. He believed it would check expense to a large extent. It would knock on the head for ever the double inquiry before the two Houses, and it would give a stability and consistency to the discussions of the two Houses, which they lacked at present. Finally, he believed that by the delegation of the work there would be a saving of the time and energy of Parliament, and by that saving a simple and direct means of expediting and improving the work of the House of Commons and the Business of the country. He begged to move the second reading of the Bill.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Craig-Sellar.)


said, that he fully acknowledged the great pains his hon. Friend (Mr. Craig-Sellar) had taken, and the great ability he had shown, in the endeavour to work out some improvement in a system which, it was generally conceded, required amendment. He (Sir Joseph Pease) rose to move the following Amendment:— That whilst this House is prepared to take such steps as may be needful to strengthen its own Committees sitting on Private Bills, or by arrangement with the other House of Parliament, to refer opposed Private Bills to Committees consisting of Members of both Houses of Parliament, and thus obviate the present cost to promoters and opponents of having to appear before Committees of both Houses of Parliament, it is unwilling to delegate its legislative functions to paid Judges or tribunals. The House had been told that the present system of Private Bill legislation had existed about 50 years; but the hon. Member for the Haddington Burghs was hardly correct in so saying, as many alterations and improvements had been made in it during the period the hon. Gentleman had referred to. He (Sir Joseph Pease) was connected with one of the largest Railway Companies in the Kingdom; but, so far as the present Bill was concerned, he knew of no resolutions having been passed by the Railway Association against his hon. Friend's Bill, and he had put his own Amendment on the Paper, became he felt that the Bill would not be advantageous to the interests of the constituency he represented, or to the traffic which he, as one of the largest senders of traffic, sent over the railways. It was a mistake to assume that the Railway Companies were generally approving of the present sysem of Private Bill legislation, the fact being that those Companies, quite as much as the traders throughout the country, felt the amazing cost of the existing tribunal. His hon. Friend had referred to that cost, and to the millions spent on Railway, Water, and Gas Bills; but he (Sir Joseph Pease) held that it was most desirable that there should be a very careful inquiry into such matters as granting State monopolies to Gas, Water, and Railway Companies. It had been stated that £7,000,000 had been spent in Private Bill legislation during a period of 11 years. That seemed an enormous sum; but, by his (Sir Joseph Pease's) proposal, that amount would be reduced one-half. Out of the £7,000,000 at least 10 per cent had been paid in fees to the two Houses of Parliament; but, on the other hand, it should be known that the capital spent on the part of the promoters of the private legislation to which it related had amounted to the enormous sum of between £300,000,000 and £400,000,000, of which£200,000,000had been expended by Railway Companies. It was quite true that there had always been great difficulty in arriving at anything like systematic legislation in regard to Private Bills; indeed, it was difficult to conceive how it could be otherwise, and it would equally fail before the Judges, especially when it was remembered how year by year circumstances so continually altered cases, that it wag very difficult to establish precedents for railway legislation, or the action which Parliament might take as to the Gas and Water Companies. His hon. Friend spoke of the Manchester Ship Canal and of the enormous sum of money which had been spent on that Bill. As to the project, he (Sir Joseph Pease) did not desire to offer an opinion; but it should be remembered that there had been upon that question one of the greatest fights ever known as between two large towns, Liverpool and Manchester; that there had been the railway and shipping interests of one place on the one side, and all the local interests of the other place on the other side; that when it was recollected, as he was informed, that new professional evidence of the most startling and contradictory character was constantly being brought forward, and that men were brought across the Atlantic to give evidence before the Committees of both Houses, it was not to be wondered at that the result should have been what it was, and that those Committees should have been somewhat puzzled. At any rate, one of the consequences had been that the promoters of the Bill had this year brought forward a Bill, he was informed, vastly different from the last, and one which they deemed to be a great improvement on the one previously presented, and there was also the prospect that it would be still further improved in passing through the Committee stage. The result might be that the previous expenditure of time and money might prove highly advantageous, that it might, in the long run, be a saving, and would go into the pockets of the promoters of this great national undertaking. As to the work of past and present Parliaments, he could only say that his own experience had failed to show that there was more work done by the Members at the present day than when he first entered the House of Commons. The hours then were as long as now, debates were quite as fierce, Cabinet Ministers were just as much worn out and jaded, and the Opposition quite as attentive to the interests of the country. As to the work of the Committees, he did not think they were harder worked now than formerly. As to Grand Committees, he had had experience on one of them, and he must say that he thought they had not been a great success, and that the system of Select Committees was far preferable, both as to the time consumed and the practical examination bestowed on the questions considered. He had, indeed, been given to understand that there would be no Grand Committee on Trade appointed this year, as there were no Bills to bring before it. He held that if the Bankruptcy Bill had been referred to a Select Committee, they would not now have the complaints which were made against that Act. He would rather sit on a Select Committee or a Private Bill Committee than on a Grand Committee, for he would feel that his humble abilities would be better bestowed. As to the proposal to constitute a tribunal of Judges, he (Sir Joseph Pease) was at a loss to see in what respect the Judges would be more infallible than others. His hon. Friend said the new tribunal would consist of independent men; but he (Sir Joseph Pease) would like to know where these desirable men were to be obtained, for he did not think that leading Parliamentary counsel, as suggested, would consent to act as Judges under this Bill for salaries of £5,000 a-year; but even if they did, as it was proposed that there should be three Judges, he thought that, taking into account their clerks with £400 a-year each, and their retiring pensions after 15 years' service, the total expense would be more like £20,000 than the £15,000 a-year mentioned by his hon. Friend. Then the question arose, how were these three Judges to get through all the work which was now laid upon the Private Bill Committees of that House? They had seen sometimes as many as 30 to 40 Committees appointed, and there would still be cases in which it was necessary to sit for 30 or 40 days, and in which a Judge would be occupied for the whole of the time. But in a case like that of the Manchester Ship Canal no two Judges would like to sit by themselves. The whole of the three Judges would have to sit together, and while they were thus engaged what was to become of the other Private Business, such as Gas and Water Bills? It would soon be necessary to have six Judges. The Judges would probably sit quite as long, if they did not take twice as long, as a Committee now did, as they would not have the same motives for getting away. They would have greater sympathy with the counsel who were pleading before them; and as they had nothing to do but to sit for their salaries they would not cut the counsel short. In his opinion, therefore, the inquiry would be lengthened, and the fees to the counsel—as cases would be prolonged—would probably be more under the new system of his hon. Friend than under the present system; so that the expense and loss of time would be just as great as now, and greater than it would be if the Private Bills were referred to only one Joint Committee, composed of good men chosen from both Houses. As to the want of legislative system, most Judges would be apt to be warped by the events which were passing in the country; but, if not, the result would be no better. Committees had varied their decisions with the sense of the country and of Parliament existing at the time. They were told that there would be no change in the control of Parliament over a Private Bill; but was that so? The hon. Member said that he did not propose to intrust the tribunal he would appoint with legislative functions; but it seemed to him (Sir Joseph Pease) that when they intrusted a tribunal with the power of saying whether the Preamble of a Bill was proved, and of settling the clauses, they did distinctly transfer to them legislative powers. For his own part, he thought it would be derogatory to the power and dignity of that House to make such a transfer. The hon. Member proposed that the Judges should make a Report stating the reasons which had governed their decisions; but when a Judge began to give his reasons he was done. Moreover, that would be a very imperfect substitute for the present system, under which the Chairman, or the Members of a Committee, could get up in that House and explain the proceedings of a Committee, if explanation were required. The truth was that the Report of the Judges would never be accepted as conclusive, and there would be constant debates; for as soon as the Judges' reasons were placed before the House, they would have a dozen Members from the locality affected by the Bill jumping up and saying that this reason or that reason was wrong, and that the decision was wrong. Nothing could add more to the length of time required for the passing of a Bill than that. His hon. Friend proposed to give the Judges power to sit during the Session at Dublin or Edinburgh for the consideration of Irish or Scotch Bills—["No, no!"]—and that, he said, would diminish the cost; but how would that be done? Apart from any saving there might be on the fees of the House, the fees of the counsel would be the same, or would even be increased; for people who had important interests at stake would not be content with second-rate counsel, and the first-rate men at the Parliamentary Bar, as well as the leading engineers, would always be employed, and they would require double fees, if they were taken to Edinburgh or Dublin. Even though the expenses of local witnesses might be reduced, that was comparatively a small matter compared with the increased fees that would have to be paid to the higher class of professional witnesses. The expense of witnesses in London was nothing, at the present time, with the existing conveniences of railways and telegrams, compared with what it used to be when they might have to be kept weeks in London. Those expenses would be reduced by one-half if his proposal for Joint Committees of both Houses were adopted. What was wanted was a Committee that would possess the public confidence. Under the present system of railway competition, competition frequently became combination, and, in the interests of the public, required practical constant supervision. In addition to this, he believed that the people of this country had much more confidence in the Members of the House, and in Committees composed of them, than they were ever likely to have in any Judges that could be appointed. What was the training that most of the men had received who sat on Private Bill Committees of that House? They were men who possessed a great deal of local experience, many of them themselves members of great Corporations, working on Boards of Guardians, on Local Administrations, or who had taken that part in the administration of the Criminal Law which fell to the lot of most gentlemen being either in town or country. They thus formed a practical tribunal, better fitted for the consideration of such matters than Judges. When that House had to deal with Gas and Water and Railway Bills, and to decide on the propriety of passing or rejecting them, they would do their duty to the country much better by taking the decision upon themselves alone, leaving the Judges to take their proper places in the administration of the law, which they thoroughly understood. In conclusion, he begged to move the Amendment of which he had given Notice.


, in rising to second the Amendment, instead of the one of which he had given Notice—namely, that the Bill be read a second time that day six months, said, he agreed generally in the views expressed by the hon. Baronet who had brought it forward (Sir Joseph Pease). As regarded himself, he (Mr. Gregory) spoke, not on behalf of solicitors, or of Parliamentary agents, but as a Member of the House who had had considerable experience upon Committees. They had on that occasion to consider what were the grievances which existed under their present system of Private Bill legislation, and what were the remedies proposed to be applied to them by this Bill. That certain grievances did exist he was not there to deny. There was, no doubt, great expense in promoting Private Bills, and he admitted that some difficulty arose in consequence of the occasional uncertainty in the decisions of Committees. But he did not think that those evils were so great as to justify the House in agreeing to so great a revolution in its procedure as would be effected by handing over to a judicial tribunal the jurisdiction over Private Bill legislation, which it had hitherto retained in its own hands, and which amounted to a surrender of what so high an authority as the late Sir Robert Peel always maintained was one of the proper functions of the House which ought to be preserved. For himself, be thought the grievances which actually existed under the present system had been exaggerated by the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Craig-Sellar). Large sums of money were, no doubt, now expended on Private Bill legislation, and it was true that £7,000,000 seemed a large sum to have been expended during the last 11 years; but then it must be recollected that that related to an expenditure of capital of something like £400,000,000; nor did he believe that the cost of Private Bill legislation would be materially lessened by the Bill before the House. At the time when railway enterprize was very rife, and there was a keen competition between rival Companies for making the same lines, fees were certainly run up in some cases to an extravagant height; but it should be remembered that the preliminary expenses incurred by promoters were often very considerable, the work in many instances having to be done in a very limited time, and there were, therefore, expenses connected with private legislation which that Bill did not meet, and which he did not suppose that any Bill would meet, arising as they did from competition and the ordinary course of human nature. There would be no diminution in that heavy item of preliminary expenses incurred in respect of making survey-plans and books of reference; and contests would still be commenced and carried on at a great outlay, because the temper of one or both of the parties was irritated. Again, it must be borne in mind that the House had, of late years, been relieved of a good deal of the minor Private Bill legislation by means of Provisional Orders; so that, at present, it was only the higher class of Private Bill legislation which came before them and taxed their energies, Gas, Water, and sometimes Harbour Bills, being only brought before it by means of a Bill for confirming Provisional Orders. Furthermore, it must be remembered that important improvements had been made within his recollection in regard to the Committees selected for trying questions of that character, the result being that the present Private Bill Committee was by no means a bad tribunal. He believed that those Committees were animated by a high sense of the duty they bad to perform, and that their Members were often well acquainted with commercial undertakings, and able to take a large and practical view of the questions submitted to them, and of their financial bearings. Now, these questions were not, let it be observed, questions of law or fact. They were questions of expediency and of commercial results such as men of common sense, though having very little judicial experience, were quite competent to decide, for it was not a judicial tribunal that they really wanted. At the same time, he admitted that improvements might be made in these tribunals in the direction suggested by the hon. Baronet the Member for South Durham (Sir Joseph Pease). It would be well to have Joint Committees of both Houses, so that a double inquiry would be saved. That plan had been mooted more than once, and it was actually tried some years ago with great success, when a number of Bills for effecting extensive railway amalgamations, and especially one for amalgamating the London and North-Western and the Lancashire and Yorkshire was referred to a Joint Committee of Peers and Members of the House of Commons. He (Mr. Gregory) had himself served upon that Committee, which sat for six weeks, and gave the most careful consideration to those Bills, requiring the promoters to prove their case substantially before they passed a Bill, whether it was opposed or not. He thought some system of that kind might be pursued in the future conduct of such Bills. Not only would a system of Joint Committees effect a great saving in the expense of Private Bill legislation, but it would, to a great extent, get over another difficulty which had been referred to in connection with the present system, under which Bills were successively referred to Committees of each House. Instead of four or five Members being required, as at present, to serve on each Committee, it would not, under a system of Joint Committees, be necessary to obtain the services of more than two or three for a Committee. What was the alternative? It was said that the plan proposed by the Bill was recommended by high authority in 1863; but since 1863 we had had some experience of the result of appointing a judicial tribunal to deal with questions affecting the rights and relations of railways. It had been found necessary to repeal the Act which referred such questions to the Court of Common Pleas, and to substitute another tribunal, simply because the Court of Common Pleas was found to be quite unfit for the work. If three Judges were appointed, as was proposed by the Bill, considerable expense would be thrown on the Exchequer, and he presumed that the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer would have something to say on that point. It was said that the Fee Fund would provide for this; but the Fee Fund was appropriated to other purposes, and, therefore, the salaries and the pensions of the Judges and the provision for their clerks must be paid out of the Consolidated Fund to an amount which he did not think would be less than £20,000 a-year. Then, having got the Judges, they would proceed to make rules of procedure to give precedence to the Bar, and to invest their Courts with a state and solemnity which, however appropriate to the administration of justice, was by no means adapted to the rapid and satisfactory disposal of questions such as those which were involved in Private Bill legislation. He had a great respect for the Judges. They were all men of the highest integrity, animated by a high sense of duty, and of great learning; but there were few men more ignorant than many of them of the ordinary transactions of life, and the ordinary affairs of life could not be carried on according to the rules which they laid down—such, for instance, as many of the rules relating to trustees. He thought that the proposed tribunal would be altogether unworkable. The truth was, that we wanted for such questions a much more elastic tribunal than one composed of Judges could ever be. And more than that, it was desirable that the several questions should be dealt with not according to legal rules, but according to considerations of expediency, and by the light of the common sense of men of business. He did not think that the Bill before the House would conduce to this result, or that it would be desirable to pass it at the cost of increasing the Public Expenditure, and depriving Parliament of the jurisdiction it had hitherto exercised over Private Bill legislation.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "whilst this House is prepared to take such steps as may he needful to strengthen its own Committees sitting on Private Bills, or by arrangement with the other House of Parliament, to refer opposed Private Bills to Committees consisting of Members of both Houses of Parliament, and thus obviate the present cost to promoters and opponents of having to appear before Committees of both Houses of Parliament, it is unwilling to delegate its legislative functions to paid Judges or tribunals,"—(Sir Joseph Pease,) —instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


, in supporting the Amendment, said, it had been argued that instead of two trials in these matters, there should be one only; that the order of Business in Parliament should be assimilated to the order of business in every other Court of the Kingdom. The double trial of the same issue by two tribunals of co-equal jurisdiction was not only an an anomaly, but an absurdity. Let them take a case of great magnitude, such, for instance, as the Manchester Ship Canal. What was the real question involved in that Bill? It was simply to judge, as practical men, whether the accommodation that was sought was required or not. It was proposed to leave such a question as that to the Judges; but, in his opinion, they knew nothing whatever of the conditions of Lancashire, and what accommodation was required there. For himself, he objected to take any step in the direction of curtailing the Privileges of that House; on the contrary, he had always endeavoured humbly to magnify and fortify the authority of the House, and he thought there was nothing so unwise or undutiful as to seek to take away any of the Privileges of the House. The real authority of Parliament, if it was to exist, must exist by its ascendancy over the minds of men; not merely the litigants who came before them as promoters or opponents of local Bills; but the great classes of the community, commercial, agricultural, or manufacturing, whose interests were incidentally, if not directly, affected by their decisions. As for taking away from the other House its jurisdiction in these matters, he hoped the time would never come when the House of Commons would seek to eke out its power by usurping to itself a legislative monopoly. I He agreed entirely with the suggestion that the House of Commons ought to ask the other House of Parliament to consult with them as to how they could together improve the system of private and local legislation by which the investigation of Private Bills should be performed more cheaply, expeditiously, and with greater certainty. Sir Robert Peel, the greatest Member of Parliament of their time, was always opposed to transferring the privileges and duties of the House to paid servants of the Crown, because the life of England consisted in doing its duty for itself without fee, and not because he in any way doubted the power and integrity of those servants. He agreed with what the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Gregory) had said with regard to the unsuitability of members of his own Profession to deal with these matters. The many issues to be decided by that House were not trials which could be conducted by Judges, but matters of fact with which the Members of the House could best deal.


said, that Committees on Private Bills were, as a rule, eminently fair and reasonable, and their decisions were for the most part approved by the public. There were, no doubt, objections to the present system, of which the most important, perhaps, was the enormous cost, and, therefore, all they had to do was to take the necessary steps to reduce that cost. The expenses of the Manchester Ship Canal had been very heavy, and he was himself concerned in the prevention of a Private Bill which cost £8,000, a very considerable charge to make upon a private estate. He thought, however, that the proposal made in the Bill would not be an improvement upon the existing system. The House of Commons would have some difficulty in accepting the Report of the Judges. He believed that Committees of the House of Commons were better judges than Her Majesty's Judges of evidence relating to training and engineering questions submitted to them. The real question, as it seemed to him, was whether the procedure of the two Houses could not be improved, and in his opinion it could be improved by adopting the Amendment which had been moved by the hon. Baronet (Sir Joseph Pease). He thought that a Joint Committee of both Houses would answer every legiti- mate purpose at which the Bill aimed. He would, therefore, support the Amendment of the hon. Baronet.


said, that everyone who had spoken, even those who opposed the Bill, had admitted that some reform of Private Bill legislation was necessary. The two main objections to the present system were its great expense, which was far greater than it need to be; and the inordinate amount of time that hon. Members had to devote to Public Business. The exigencies of Public Business had greatly increased, and it seemed unreasonable to ask hon. Members who had been in the House, perhaps, until 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning to devote a portion of the time before the next Sitting to the work of Committees on private legislation. Whenever a Railway Bill was brought in it became a field for competition among various Companies; and, though he did not doubt the competence of Select Committees, it was probable that such questions, which became more complicated every year, might be better dealt with by some such tribunal as was now proposed. Some hon. Members did not think highly of Grand Committees; but he was disposed to think that the defects which had been shown were only the friction which necessarily accompanied the first setting in motion of a complicated machinery. In his opinion, the delegation of Parliamentary work to Grand Committees, or Select Committees, was destined to take permanent root in our system. As he had said, the Business of the House had largely increased, and it would be found necessary to delegate more and more of its functions to Committees upstairs. Thus the work of the Committee of Selection would become increasingly difficult. They would naturally choose as Chairmen of Committees men of the greatest knowledge and experience. But it was precisely those men whom the House required in the conduct of Public Business. Thus they were encountered by a formidable difficulty. Then the questions which came before Select Committees were becoming more and more complicated, and more and more conflicting interests had to be reconciled. To that state of things his hon. Friend (Mr. Craig-Sellar) had proposed a remedy which would create less possible alteration in the machinery by which Private Bill legislation was conducted than almost any other scheme could do. He had, however, raised a storm of opposition to his Bill which might have been avoided. It was unfortunate that he had proposed to call the officers to be appointed under his Bill by the name of Judges, and to give them £5,000 a-year, the exact salary of the Judges of the High Court. Now, as had been pointed out by the hon. Member for East Sussex (Mr. Gregory), Judges in the strict sense they were not. They would not have to decide upon questions of law, but matters of fact, and considerations of expediency. It would be easy to change their name and call them Commissioners, Referees, Committee men, or by some similar title. They might with advantage be chosen from the experienced body of Parliamentary agents or Parliamentary counsel, or other persons of special qualifications. They need not be confined to the Legal Profession. Then it was not necessary to surround these officials with any of the circumstances of judicial pomp. They need not even wear wigs. Those officers, he believed, would sit in the same rooms as the Select Committees now did. They would be attended by the same Parliamentary agents and counsel, and conduct the inquiries in the same way as they were conducted by a Select Committee. The only real difference would be having one gentleman sitting on those Bills instead of three or four, and that, he thought, would be a great advantage. Then the Bill preserved a principle of the utmost public interest and importance—namely, the absolute control of Parliament over Private Bills. It was highly necessary that principle should be maintained intact, for he would strongly object to the devolution of the legislative function to any body whatever. But not the least of its advantages was that the Bill would give the two elements, difficult of co-existence, stability and elasticity. One of the greatest evils of the present system was the divergence of principles applied, not only by Committees in different Sessions, but by Committees sitting next door to each other. Then the danger of too great rigidity was obviated by the control of Parliament which was preserved by the Bill. He did not pledge himself to the details of the Bill; but he strongly supported its principles, for he believed they were correct. With regard to another question, he would advocate the principle that these officials should give their reasons when they reported the decision at which they had arrived. In the present system, when, as sometimes happened, the House was asked to reject a Bill on its third reading when a Select Committee had reported on it, it was difficult or impossible to come to a satisfactory conclusion in consequence of ignorance of the reasons which had led the Committee to its decision. No doubt the expense of the procedure would be urged against it. But the suitors' fees now amounted to £70,000 or £80,000 a-year, which would provide a fund for that purpose; and, whatever the expense, it was desirable in the public interest that the best possible tribunal should be constituted. For these reasons he supported the second reading of the Bill.


said, he congratulated the hon. Gentleman the Mover of the Bill (Mr. Craig-Sellar) and the hon. and learned Gentleman who had just spoken (Mr. Horace Davey) on the increased moderation of their tone. When the Mover of the Bill first dealt with the question, two years ago, there was a wildness in his proposals, and an unjustifiable violence against the existing system. But he (Mr. Sclater-Booth) was sorry to say that he was not himself prepared to support the Bill, even though it were made a condition that it should go before a Select Committee. Did the hon. Member and did the House believe that if the abuses had been so serious, and the dissatisfaction of the country so great, that the system would have lasted so long as it had done—namely, 22 years—since the adverse Report of the Select Committee? The fact was that the questions that were dealt with by the tribunals under the existing system were, for the most part, of a political character, or questions of policy and expediency, and not merely of law. In spite of all the objections that might be entertained to the present system, he believed that suitors and the public at large had been and were, on the whole, satisfied with the decisions which the Committees of the two Houses had arrived at, and that they had a confidence in the jurisdiction of those Committees which they would not have in the jurisdiction of individuals selected as this Bill proposed to select them. The question of expense was one of the principal subjects for consideration; and if they could, by the adoption of the Amendment of the hon. Baronet opposite (Sir Joseph Pease), see their way to a reduction of the expense attending Private Bill legislation, much of the ground for the proposed serious change would be cut away. A great objection to the plan of the hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill was, that it took no account whatever of the enormous improvements, simplifications, and economies introduced into the existing system by means of Provisional Orders. Certain questions relating to municipal and other matters might now, by the Provisional Order system, be settled on the spot, without the expense of counsel and agents, and the cost of bringing the parties to London; and in that way legislative sanction was given to many schemes that were required for local and parochial convenience and advantage. It would be an unfortunate thing if they were to break up that system, as would be the case if the proposal of the hon. Member were adopted; for, as he (Mr. Sclater-Booth) read the language of the Bill, every one of these Provisional Orders would, unless care were taken, be placed under the direction of the Judges, who would be much less qualified to exercise a wise discretion as to what ought or what ought not to receive the sanction of Parliament than the present authority in the matter. Under a Standing Order which he (Mr. Sclater-Booth) persuaded the House to pass, Private Bill Committees might decline to adopt the provisions of a Bill, in spite of the fact that there was no opposition to it; but he did not think the public would be satisfied that that discretionary power should be given to paid officers outside the House. He lamented, as did others, to hear the immense percentage of cost to promoters when they came before Parliament; but they must not forget that promoters looked to the success of their endeavour to get Parliamentary sanction in order to raise large sums of money from the public. He thought, upon the whole, that it would be better to adopt the Amendment proposed by the hon. Baronet.


said, he thought it might be for the convenience of the House at that hour if he stated, on behalf of the Government, the course they proposed to take in respect of the Bill. He believed he only expressed the feeling of everyone present when he said that the hon. Member for the Haddington Burghs (Mr. Craig-Sellar) had done the utmost justice to the subject, and had illustrated what was naturally a very dry question with an excellent and clear statement. While the hon. Member ought to receive much credit for the general lines of his argument, he must say he thought that, in the course of that argument, he had, from the first, exaggerated some of the points which he took up, and he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) felt it his duty to call attention to one or two of what appeared to him to be those exaggerations. He sympathized with him—everyone did—with respect to the cost of these inquiries under the present system. That cost was undoubtedly large. He was not going to say whether it could be avoided; but he thought the hon. Member was not quite accurate in stating that it fell upon the public. Speaking with respect to railways and works of that kind, his hon. Friend had said that the cost was made good to the promoters by the charges imposed by the Company; and, therefore, the expense did not fall upon the shareholders, but upon the travelling and freight-sending public. But that was not the real case. In settling fares and rates, managers of railways did not consider at all what the Bills had cost in the first instance; they always looked to one thing, and one thing only—what, within the limits of their statutory powers and subject to the competition with other Companies, they could impose so as to make the largest profit. It did not come into their calculation what amount of capital might have been expended in obtaining their Acts or making new lines. They only looked to making the largest amount of profit, and in deciding that they had regard to two considerations—namely, their competition with other Companies, and the maximum rates and fares which by law they were entitled to charge. His hon. Friend spoke of the enormous accession to the work of the House during the last 50 years. There was during the last two Parliaments some increase of work; but 50 years ago was 1835, and if the hon. Member looked at the pages of Hansard, or the Records of the House, between 1833 and 1838, he would find that the work of the House was quite as great as now. In point of fact, the work at that time was universally complained of as extremely onerous. Two, three, four, and even five o'clock were as often the hours of adjournment then as they were now; and practically, therefore, the House must not take credit to itself for doing more work now than it did 50 years ago. His hon. Friend prophesied that, in future years, they would talk more and work less. He doubted that very much. He thought it would be difficult to talk more. On these points he thought his hon. Friend had overstated his case. His hon. Friend also explained to them the merits and the nature of this proposal as compared with the proposal made by the right hon. Gentleman at the Table (Sir Erskine May) in 1863, and, going into details, he said that while the right hon. Gentleman proposed four Commissioners, he himself proposed three; but that in other respects, practically, the two proposals were on the same footing. But his hon. Friend forgot this great difference—that whereas, according to Sir Erskine May's proposal, the Commissions which were to to deal with Private Bills were to consist of four persons sitting together, his proposal was that there should be, in all, three Judges, each usually sitting alone. There was all the difference in the world between assigning those duties to a single Judge, or whatever he might be called, and the proposal of Sir Erskine May. He was sorry his hon. Friend did not make that quite clear to the House in the course of his speech. The proposal of the Clerk at the Table was really no very great change from the system then in force, except that the Members of the Commission need not all of them be Members of the House; but his hon. Friend's Bill proposed to get rid of the Committee or Commission altogether, and to have for these inquiries one Judge, one single person, upon whom were to be conferred very large powers. As to the extenuations of the proposal placed before the House by the hon. and learned Member for Christ-church (Mr. Horace Davey), he must observe that his hon. and learned Friend's name was on the back of the Bill, and therefore it was his Bill. And yet his hon. and learned Friend had abandoned a great part of it, because, after hearing the debate, he said—"You need not have Judges; you may call them Commissioners or Referees; and you would have all the advantages of the Bill." But he was much struck by the hon. and learned Member for Christchurch insisting upon one provision of the Bill—that the Judge or Court should be bound to give reasons for the judgment arrived at. If so, he could not well be a layman. His hon. and learned Friend must have forgotten the saying of Lord Mansfield, that whatever a Judge might do, a layman ought by no means to give his reasons for arriving at a quasi-judicial conclusion, because though if he used his common sense his decision would probably be right, his reasons would certainly be wrong. Had his hon. and learned Friend borne that in mind, he would not have urged that the functions proposed in the Bill could be discharged as well by the employment of laymen as skilled Judges.


said, he did not intend, to exterminate the Bill. All that he had suggested was that the persons should not be called Judges, but that they should be of the same class.


said, he did not see in that case why they should not call a spade a spade, and if they were to be Judges they should call them Judges. He saw by the 23rd clause that they were to try Election Petitions, and that they must rank pari passu with the Judges of the High Court of Justice, with equal authority, power, and jurisdiction. If they were not in that case to be called Judges, then it was a mere question of name. Let him say a word as to what the Bill proposed—how far it was possible to sympathize with it, and what objections he felt to it. He entirely sympathized with the objects of the Bill, so far as they were intended to get rid of the waste of time, and, to a certain extent, to cost. There was a very great waste of time. He would show in a moment how that waste of time and that cost had been recognized. This question was by no means a new one. He had looked back for some years to see what Parliament had done, and what Parliament had been obliged to undo. In 1846 there was great dissatisfaction with the system then in force, very similar to the present; and the result was that, with the approval of Sir Robert Peel, in 1846 it was tried to be remedied by appointing Commissioners to ascertain the facts as to each Private Bill. They went down into the country, very much as was proposed in the Bill, and then they made Reports to Parliament upon which Parliament might act, while reserving to itself the power of sending Bills again to a Select Committee. That system failed absolutely, and Parliament was obliged in 1851 to give it up. If anyone wished to see the grounds on which Parliament gave it up, he should read a speech of the late Mr. Milner Gibson in 1864, when this whole question was discussed at very great length in the House, and the history of it given. In 1863 a Select Committee was appointed to inquire into the whole question. That Select Committee was probably the strongest that had ever been appointed on that subject, and it threshed out every conceivable proposal which was made either by a Member of the Committee or in the course of the evidence; and it reported that no Court of Inquiry could be constituted which would be, on the whole, so satisfactory to the public as Committees composed of Members of the Houses of Parliament. What the Committee reported in favour of was either a Joint Committee of both Houses, or that each House should accept the Report of a Committee appointed by the other, and he was bound to say he thought that the former was the better plan.


pointed out that this Committee did not make such a Report.


said, that if his hon. Friend would refer to pages 6 and 10 of the Report he would see this alternative presented. In 1864, the present Lord Salisbury, then Lord Robert Cecil, brought forward a Motion in the House of Commons, which was debated at much length, and was practically to the same effect as the proposal of his hon. Friend. It was that the duty of ascertaining the facts upon which Private Bill legislation should proceed should be discharged by a tribunal independent of that House, and the noble Lord had the support of the present Duke of Cleveland, Lord Sherbrooke, and others. The proposal was opposed by the late Mr. Milner Gibson, the present Lord Derby, and Lord Cranbrook, persons of great weight and authority in the House, and the result was that it was withdrawn, and never went to a Division. That was the history of the question up to the proposal of the hon. Member for the Haddington Burghs, the first objection to which was the enormous power proposed to be given to a single Judge or Commissioner. It appeared to him that, while they ought to aim at the advantages of greater speed and greater economy, which could be arrived at by some of the proposals he had referred to, the objections to the present proposal were almost insuperable. They could not shut their eyes to the fact that great railway contests, involving millions, arose in connection with Private Bill legislation; and how could such contests be left to one single person—whether a lawyer or not—for his decision?


said, his Bill provided for two or three Judges sitting together in any large measure of the kind that required it.


said, that was no doubt true; but he would ask, if the three Judges were engaged on one Bill, what was to become meanwhile of all the other Private Bill legislation? Some of these very important contests would take two or three months, and it could not be tolerated that, for the whole of that time, the other Private Bills should be at a standstill, in order that three Judges should sit together. Again, contests very often arose upon these Bills, not only between different Railway Companies, but between Railway Companies and the public. For instance, there was at present pending a very important inquiry as to the rates and tolls to be charged by nine Railway Companies; and, in all probability, it would occupy a considerable part of the time of this Session. Would his hon. Friend like to see that important question dealt with by a single Judge? It had been said that Parliament would retain its powers, and that when the Bill came before the House for second and third reading any Member could be heard upon it; but the result would then be that, almost uniformly, there would be contests in the House itself on the proposal of each Bill, and the ordinary Business of the House would be greatly retarded. Besides, he would venture to say that, of all tribunals, unless under most exceptional circumstances, the House itself was about the very worst for considering a Private Bill. Fifty Members were, perhaps, present during the discussion upon it, and 300 flocked in when the Division was to be taken. The course which he would venture to propose was this. This was the last Session of this Parliament—[Mr. WARTON: NO, no!] Yes, he thought it was; and a great Constitutional question of this kind ought not to be decided on the eve of the Dissolution, and the meeting of a Parliament elected on a totally different basis; the more so as the change could not take effect until after the Dissolution. Therefore, what he would suggest to the hon. Member for the Haddington Burghs would be to withdraw the present Bill altogether, and that his hon. Friend (Sir Joseph Pease) should also withdraw his Amendment. It would be better to leave the subject to be dealt with by a new Parliament, who might have very different views from the present one as to the delegation to others of a portion of their work. He thought it would be a misfortune if, at the present moment, they arrived at a decision on this important question; and, on the part of the Government, he had to say that if that should be the line taken by the House, and the question should be left open for discussion in the next Parliament, then, should they be in Office, they would do their best to assist the House in the matter.


said, that even if the suggestion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer were adopted, it might not be undesirable to refer the Bill to a Select Committee, so that their Report might guide the new House of Commons. Supposing the right hon. Gentleman were in Office this time next year, it would be very difficult to get this question taken up in the first or second Session of the new Parliament. He had put his name upon the back of the Bill; but by doing so he only desired to endorse the principle that the present tribunal for Private Bill legis- lation was extremely unsatisfactory, and that it was desirable to substitute some extraneous and more satisfactory one. But he held himself free to propose very sweeping changes in the Bill now before the House. One of the great objections which he felt to the present system was due to the fact that there was in the House a large and powerful body of Gentlemen, belonging to each side of the House, who always acted together and turned the decisions of the House on all Railway Bills in a direction in which they might otherwise not go. He would like to see Private Bills brought before a tribunal that was free from this influence. With regard to the amount of work in the House since the establishment of Grand Committees, it was only 17 or 18 years since he had first the honour of sitting in that House, but since the appointment of these Committees there had been a great increase in the work to be done; and if hon. Members were all to attend on the Grand and Select Committees on which they were placed, it would be found impossible for the Committee of Selection to constitute the Committees on Private Bills in a proper manner. For his own part, he was inclined to think that either Private Bill Committees or Grand Committees must go; and as. Her Majesty's Government had apparently, at present, no intention of abandoning Grand Committees, it seemed to him that some other mode of conducting the necessary business must be found. With regard to the propriety of the Judges giving their reasons for their decisions, he ventured to say that if any such scheme were adopted as was now proposed they would find that the Judges would not be required to give their reasons. With regard to the question of professional witnesses, he considered that their employment formed one of the most serious blots on our system. It would be a great benefit to the country if the pestiferous influence of hired witnesses could be destroyed. They did not appear to be advocates, only because they were nominally on their oaths. Then came the question of a Joint Committee of both Houses, which had practically been accepted by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. For his own part, he had only had experience of one Joint Committee. That had been one composed of men who were supposed to have experience on the subject, and to be of great weight in their respective Houses. The decision they had come to was unanimous; but neither of the Houses of Parliament had accepted the decision to which they came. Such a Committee as proposed might be of use, but not as a Court of First Instance. It should rather be a Court of Appeal. He had more than once advocated a scheme with regard to this matter, which was even more advanced than that which had now been brought forward. The experience gained by the House in late years from the institution of legislation by Provisional Orders was too valuable to be altogether disregarded. He would suggest that it might be a useful thing to establish a tribunal, not necessarily of Judges, but of competent and qualified persons, who should sift the scheme which was proposed to be submitted to the Legislature, and to lay down its principles in the form of Provisional Orders. He would even go so far as to do away with the necessity of a first, second, and third reading, and allow these Orders to be on the Table for 40 days, after which, if there was no proposal for their rejection or modification, they should become law. He would, however, reserve control over the Bill by establishing a Joint Committee, to be appointed at the beginning of every Session, to which any Order might be referred by Motion in either House. If they had a really efficient body, in the habit of dealing with these questions, to whom they might leave the bulk of ordinary legislation, it might pass in the form of Provisional Orders, and there would be no necessity for the procedure of first, second, and third readings. The history of the Manchester Ship Canal was a reductio ad absurdum of the present system. They had been told that the judgment of Parliament, if not infallible, was sufficiently certain. But that Bill, first of all introduced into that House three years ago, had been passed by a Committee of the House, and then thrown out in a Committee of the other House; and in the following year it had been passed by a Committee of the other House, and thrown out by a Committee of the House of Commons. There was one other point which he wished to urge. In the last few years they had had too many debates raised upon Private Bill questions at the ordinary time at which these Bills came before the House. That they could not help; but there was another thing which, in the interests of the country and of the House, they ought to stop, and that was the practice of the House instructing the Committee on a Private Bill as to the course they were to take. If they were to place faith in these Private Bill Committees, as being composed of honourable and competent men who were to do their duty with regard to the Bill before them, he hardly thought that they ought to fetter them by any instructions. This practice of the House giving instructions to Committees on Private Bills had been condemned as irregular by the late Speaker. Some such change as that proposed by the Bill had been countenanced, he believed, by everyone who had filled the Office of Chairman of Ways and Means during the last 20 or 30 years; and, having himself had the honour of occupying that position, he thought that no man could do so without becoming day by day more keenly impressed with the evils and the unsatisfactory nature of the present system of Private Bill legislation in that House, and with the desirability of a change which would be at once beneficial to the public and conducive to the fair fame of Parliament.


said, that unless the proposal of the Chancellor of the Exchequer was taken, that both the Bill and the Amendment should be withdrawn, they must vote on the latter. Now, the words of that as proposed by the hon. Baronet the Member for South Durham (Sir Joseph Pease) were entirely contradictory of each other. The hon. Member admitted the evils and the cost of the present system; but he "would strengthen the Committees," which in no way would lessen the cost. Then he gave up the Committees of this House, and would have Joint Committees of both Houses. The position of the Chancellor of the Exchequer would have been more comprehensible if he had promised that the Government would deal with the acknowledged evils. He hoped there would be no proposal to have another Select Committee to consider the general question of Private Bill legislation. There was nothing to be gained by a new inquiry except procrastination and delay, for there had been too many Select Committees, while the shelves of the Library were overburdened with their Reports. Every Select Committee had condemned the present system, by which an opposed Bill must go through two tribunals—one in the House of Commons, the other in the House of Lords. This method resembled no other double judicial proceeding. They should consider what was the present mode, in theory at least. The Chairman of Committees, aided by counsel in each House, was held responsible for a general supervision of Private Bills. He communicated with the agents, and pointed out the more obvious defects of the measures; but he had no power to enforce his views, and they might not be adopted before the Bill went up to Committee. This preliminary work was more effectually done in the Upper than in the Lower House, because the Chairman in this House was an overworked officer, and had not the time which he ought to have to devote to this important subject. At least, that was his own experience when he filled that Office. All unopposed Bills were dealt with by the Chairman of Committees, and they generally had few of those glaring anomalies as to rates and charges upon the public which appeared in Bills coming from Committees having no continuity of action or connection with each other. For example, Gas Bills frequently came down from upstairs with charges on the public varying as much as from 3s. to 12s. per 1,000 cubic feet. Those details did not strike the House, and the public suffered from the variety of its Courts. The same diversity existed in the time fixed for the repayment of loans by Local Authorities. He had seen periods allowed by Committees varying from 40 to 100 years. A continuous Committee of Judges, as proposed by this Bill, would, on the other hand, be guided by common principles, and if it departed from them, must make a special Report to the House. What was wanted for opposed Bills was a single Court, acting on uniform principles, to protect, at the same time, the rights of private individuals and the needs of the public. The increasing need of delegation had already forced itself upon the House, and would continue to do so. The Grand Committees were means for delegating the work of the whole House to a selected number of its Members; while the increasing number of Select Committees was simply delegation in disguise. The House postponed an enlarged system of further delegation; but he doubted whether there were many Members of the House who remained of the opinion that Parliament could continue as an efficient Legislative Body, and at the same time as a deliberative body upon the interests of their vast Empire, unless they delegated more largely than they had yet done their work of detail. At least, for his own part, he felt convinced that Parliament could not retain the respect and confidence of the country unless it did so. But already the delegation of the work of Parliament to the few Grand Committees with their very limited range of subjects had largely deteriorated the Committees on Private Bills as Courts of judicial decision. The Grand Committees required 163 Members, and when to these were added Members of the Government, the leading Members of the Opposition, and Members of advanced age who were not expected to act on Private Bill Committees, they could not be surprised that the Committee of Selection found serious difficulties in manning them. He quite admitted that the whole subject of Private Bill legislation was so large that it would have been better if the Government, rather than a private Member, had dealt with it under a full sense of responsibility. But the evils were admitted, and they had been waiting 50 years for a remedy. One method was put before them in a well-considered form; and if it were not accepted, it should be under the full obligation of the Government that it was bound to propose a plan of its own. They could not continue the costly, lengthy, and haphazard system, or rather want of system, which now prevailed. Its cost stopped many useful undertakings. Many places in Scotland, Ireland, and England had to submit to bad water supply, inefficient drainage, and imperfect railway or tramway communication, because they could not face the present expense of a contested Bill in Parliament on a dual system. The proposal before the House would certainly greatly lessen the cost, and, by producing uniformity of decision, diminish the chances of contradictory findings, and he, therefore, would support the second reading of the Bill.


said, that he recognized in the proposal the great pains which had been given to the subject, the time devoted to it, and the information which had been afforded to the House. He thought, therefore, that it came before the House fully entitled to respectful consideration, and as a remedy for the evils which existed was worthy of a second reading. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had charged the author of the measure with using exaggerated language; but the right hon. Gentleman had used exaggerated language himself in regard to the amount of time which the House would have to devote to the consideration of appeals from the new tribunal which the measure would establish. The hon. Member for South Durham (Sir Joseph Pease) urged that the proper step to take would be to strengthen Select Committees. But how was that to be done? He had been a Member of the Committee of Selection for 20 years, and he might, therefore, claim to know something about the subject before the House. Thirty Members were excused from serving on Select Committees in consequence of their being Members of the Government, and the same immunity was extended to the occupants of the Front Opposition Bench. Then the House included 120 Railway Directors, who could not serve on Committees concerned with Railway Bills, which formed the bulk of the Business before Select Committees. Others were excluded because they were railway shareholders, and then there were the lawyers and bankers, who could not leave their daily avocations to attend Committees. Other Gentlemen were excused from service because of their age or infirmities, and some, when they were placed on the panel, found it convenient to go to Paris beyond the jurisdiction of the House. It could, therefore, be easily understood how great were the difficulties which the Committee of Selection encountered in the performance of their duties. With regard to Grand Committees, he would appeal to the Government not to nominate any until there were Bills ready for reference to them. Last year 160 Gentlemen were told off in the early part of the Session to serve on such Committees; but they were not called upon to perform any duties until the Session had far advanced. Of course, they claimed in the interval to be exempted from attendance on Private Bill Committees. It would be, he considered, a waste of time to defer dealing with the subject until it could be brought before a new Parliament; and he, therefore, supported the second reading and a reference of the Bill to a Select Committee. He did not say that he committed himself to the Bill in its entirety; but when an hon. Member had brought forward a measure so carefully framed as this Bill was, he thought it was respectful on the part of the House to give it a second reading.


remarked, that the great mistake committed by hon. Members who looked at this matter solely from the theoretical side was that they overlooked the enormous magnitude of the interests concerned. The question was, in what way were they likely to get the greatest advantage to the public? That was a largo question of principle, on both sides of which there was a great deal to be said; and, therefore, was it likely that a solution of it was to be obtained by referring it to one or two ex-Parliamentary agents. He thought the adoption of the proposed scheme would inevitably open the door to the objectionable practice of "Lobbying," and schemes would he decided more frequently by a canvass got up by Parliamentary agents outside than upon a due consideration of the merits in this House. He was sensible of the difficulty of getting Committees to serve, and he was in favour of the plain, practical suggestion to refer Private Bills to a Joint Committee of the two Houses of Parliament.


said, he did not know whether the hon. Member who had moved the second reading of the Bill intended to go to a Division; but he hoped that he did so intend, because the right hon. Baronet the senior Member for the University of Oxford (Sir John E. Mowbray) had conclusively shown the necessity of some alteration in the present system of Private Bill legislation. If the legislation required by the wants of the country was to be carried out, it was absolutely necessary to relieve the House of some part of the work now imposed upon it. But if this Bill, with its particular scheme, was thrown out, he (Sir Henry Holland) could not see any reason why the general question of how to remedy the present state of things should not be at once referred to a Special Committee. He could not at all agree with the suggestion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the question was not one to be dealt with by an expiring Parliament, but that it should be postponed for the consideration of a new House of Commons. Why should not the experience of Members, who had served as Chairmen or as Members upon these Private Bill Committees for so many years, be utilized at once for the benefit of the new House of Commons, which would be composed, probably, to a large degree, of men who had not served before in Parliament? The Report of experienced men would have great weight with those who were coming new to the work, and who had not felt the evils of the present system. He had put his name on the back of this Bill, not as supporting it in all its details, but because it was consistent with two main principles, to which, after hearing a great part of this debate, he still adhered. The first point was that the House of Commons should not lose touch of these Bills, which often involved, as had been pointed out by the hon. Member who had preceded him (Mr. Laing), questions of public policy, and interests of great magnitude. Now, it was specially provided by this Bill that the House should have full power over such Bills. The House could deal with them, as heretofore, on second reading, Report, and third reading; and, in truth, the only difference in this respect was that the stage of Committee was taken out of the working and cognizance of the House. He was not alarmed by the picture drawn by the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the interminable debates which would be raised on the second and third readings of these Private Bills, if this change were adopted, provided that effect was given to his second principle—namely, that in lieu of the Committee a tribunal should be constituted which would command the confidence of the House and of the country. He believed that this could only be effected by having what he would term a "judicial" tribunal in lieu of the Committee. The hon. Member opposite (Mr. Laing) seemed to think this unworkable, partly, as he understood the hon. Member, because lawyers, however eminent, were not of sufficiently varied experience to deal satisfactorily with the class of eases that would come before them. But, in reply, he would observe that the proposed Judges, though called Judges or Commissioners, and having the same rank as Judges of the Supreme Court, need not be lawyers; and some of them probably would not be. Another objection seemed to be that a single Judge would have, as a rule, to deal with a Bill. That was, of course, a matter of detail; but he might point out, what he believed most Members who had served on these Private Bill Committees would be ready to admit, that the conduct and mode of dealing with cases before such Committees had in a large proportion of cases rested mainly with the Chairman; and that not unnaturally, as the Chairmen were Members of experience who had been selected, in the first instance, for their good judgment, and who had had the advantage and knowledge derived from having presided regularly over so many Committees. In saying that, he must not be misunderstood as throwing any slight upon the work of private Members who had served upon those Committees—a work of which he fully recognized the value; but he thought the tendency, especially of Members new to the work, and only coming to it once a-year, was naturally to trust to the Chairmen, who were thus practically much in the position which the single Judges would hold. But, however, that was a matter of detail, and it might be provided that every case of any importance should be heard before two Judges. In conclusion, he would say that he had approached this question from what he would call the House of Commons side of the question—that was, the necessity of relieving the House of some work; and not because of the expense of the present system, nor because of the decisions being "haphazard," as they had been termed by many speakers on former occasions. Upon this latter point he was, however, of opinion that there was every probability that if some tribunal, such as that suggested by the Bill, were constituted, there would be much less chance of haphazard and differing decisions than there was now. He trusted that the Bill would be referred to a Select Committee; or, if there was any difficulty in doing so, as pledging the House by a second reading to the principle of a judicial tribunal, he hoped that the general question might be referred to such a Committee.


said, the House had so often and so recently affirmed the opinion that reform in the procedure on Private Bills was necessary that they could hardly be surprised that the hon. Member should have endeavoured to give effect to that Resolution by a Bill. Looking at the Bill, and at the names of the hon. Members on the back of it, he felt it was only due to those hon. Members that the measure should receive a fair consideration at the hands of the House; and he should personally have been disposed to support the Motion for the second reading of the Bill, on the understanding that it should be referred to a Select Committee. All previous inquiries into the question of Private Bill legislation had been of too extended a character; and he thought that it would have been of some advantage to the new Parliament that they should have before them a Report of a Select Committee of that House in reference to a Bill on the subject which contained a definite proposal. He was in perfect agreement with his hon. Friend so far as the Preamble of his Bill went; but he was sorry to say that his accord with him there ceased. Even under the present system there was frequently an attempt made after a Bill had passed through Committee to overrule their decision upon the third reading; and if that was the case when the Chairman and the Members of the Committee were present to defend the decision at which they had arrived, what would be the case when the Judge who had adjudicated upon a Bill was not present to give his reasons for his action in the matter? He admitted that a reasonable reduction might be made in the scale of fees in reference to Private Bill legislation, because he considered that the present high scale of fees had conduced to the decrease in the average annual number of Private Bills from 490 in 1864, 1865, and 1866, to 279 in 1882, 1883, and 1884. In view of the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the Government were willing to introduce a measure dealing with this question in a future year, he thought that the best course that the hon. Member for Haddington Burghs could adopt would be to content himself with the very useful discussion his measure had given rise to and to withdraw his Bill.


remarked, that while there had been a general expression of opinion in favour of the Preamble of the Bill, not a single hon. Member had approved of the details of the proposal the measure contained. In his opinion, the resources of that House were unequal to manning two Grand Committees of 80 Members each, while providing at the same time for Committees for Private Bill legislation. While fully recognizing the necessity of reform in this procedure, and the evils of the present system, he did not think the hon. Member had pointed out how they could escape from the existing difficulties. He therefore could not support the proposal that the Bill should be read a second time.


said, he hoped there would be no interposition between the House and a division on this Bill. He was anxious to take a division now. His main object in rising was to thank the House cordially for the attention it had accorded to him, and the manner in which the debate had been conducted. He felt certain that the House would agree that the movement for some reform would be greatly facilitated by the discussion, and that was no small advantage. He agreed with the Chairman of the Committee of Selection in deeply regretting that they had lost from the Treasury Bench Lord Monk Bretton, who would have made a speech very different from that delivered by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Lord Monk Bretton viewed the subject thoroughly and accurately, and would have distinguished the strong and the weak points in the scheme before the House. The Chancellor of the Exchequer did not deal with the principle of the Bill, and did not attempt to defend the existing system—indeed, no one attempted to defend that system. He laid great stress on points of detail, which he (Mr. Craig-Sellar) said were matters of no consequence, whether agreed to or not. The right hon. Gentleman's speech was taken up chiefly with the names of the Judges, and the pomp which would surround them. In his (Mr. Craig-Sellar's) speech in moving the second reading, he said it was of no consequence what those functionaries were to be called. The right hon. Gentleman also dealt with the proposal to send Election Petitions to those Judges, although he (Mr. Craig-Sellar) said that was a mere suggestion. He did not think that the speech of the right hon. Gentleman could be satisfactory either to himself or to the House. In reply to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Raikes), he would only say that if the Bill were read a second time, he was willing to consent to its being sent to a Select Committee. He would not proceed beyond that point during this Parliament; but it seemed to him that they should have the Report of a Select Committee to lay before next Parliament, so that possibly the reform desired might be carried out.


objected to forcing on a Division when other Members desired to speak. He thought it clear that the real object of the promoters of the measure was to thrust Grand Committees upon the House. He objected to that, and did not scruple to say that the Grand Committees had utterly failed. He opposed the second reading, on the ground that the Bill was a cruel one to everybody concerned.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 58; Noes 160: Majority 102.—(Div. List, No. 32.)

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


said, that the Government could not accept the Amendment unless it were altered so as to leave the question entirely open, pending further inquiry.


asked leave to amend his Amendment by adding, after the word "unwilling," the words "without further inquiry and consideration."


objected to the Amendment.

Debate adjourned till To-morrow.

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