§ MR. RAIKES
moved—That the Resolution which, upon the 23rd day of Juno last, was reported from the Select Committee on Standing Orders in relation to the Dee Conservancy Bill, together with the Bill and the Report of the Examiner with respect to non-compliance with the Standing Orders, be referred back to the Select Committee on Standing Orders:—That the following Petitions in relation thereto be referred to the said Committee (that is to say):—
- "1. Corporations of Chester and Flint, River Dee Commissioners, and others interested in the navigation of the River Dee;
- "2. River Dee Company;
- "3. Shipowners, Traders, and others:That it be an Instruction to the Committee, That they have power to inquire into the allegations contained in such Petitions, and to report to the House whether the circumstances therein stated are such as render it just and expedient that the Standing Orders ought to be dispensed with.The right hon. Gentleman remarked, that, at the outset, he was desirous of stating that nothing was further from his intention than to treat with disrespect any decision at which the Committee on Standing Orders had arrived. He fully recognized, and he was sure that the House attached much value, to the services which were rendered by the Standing Orders Committee in the conduct of the Private Business of the House. And he was quite certain his right hon. Friend the Chairman of the Committee (Sir John E. Mowbray) would know and feel that he was actuated by no disrespectful motive either 1807 towards the Committee or their decisions. There were, however, precedents for the course which he now took. He was quite aware that the Motion he intended to submit to the House was not one which had been frequently made, and he had noticed that in one of the papers which had been circulated among Members exception was taken to the Resolution on that account. He, therefore, thought it was as well to remind the House that a similar Motion had been brought forward with regard to the Dundalk Water Bill, and in another case in 1875, when he had the honour to hold the Office of Chairman of Ways and Means, with regard to an Edinburgh Street Tramways Bill. The Great Northern and Western Railway of Ireland, five years earlier, also formed the subject of a similar Motion. But, as he gathered from the statement to which he had just referred, some difficulty was felt as to what might be the effect in the case of Petitions for the presentation of which the proper time had elapsed. He would, therefore, say that, in the event of this Bill being allowed to be sent back, he thought there could be no doubt that if the Committee on Standing Orders were asked to reconsider the matter they would facilitate the presentation of any such Petitions. He believed that that would be a matter of course; and he himself, if necessary, would be glad to submit a Motion to the House to the effect that any Petition presented up to a date to be fixed subsequent to this Motion which in that respect failed to comply with the Standing Orders of the House should, nevertheless, be considered by the Committee upon the Bill. He also wished to say that in taking the course which he had adopted he had no intention whatever of appearing as champion of the Bill upon its merits. Indeed, it seemed to him that there were many points of the Bill which were extremely arguable, and which would require careful consideration and sifting by any Committee of the House to whom the Bill might be referred. Having cleared the ground so far, he would now ask the Committee to consider what he really thought would be a serious miscarriage of justice if his Motion were not accepted on the present occasion. The Committee on Standing Orders had had before them a Report from the Examiner of Private Bills, and 1808 they had decided upon that Report that the Standing Orders had not been complied with, and that they ought not to be dispensed with. The Report of the Examiner was to the effect that no notice in writing, as required by the Standing Orders, was given to certain owners and occupiers on or before the 15th of December last, in respect of the compulsory taking of their lands under the powers contained in a particular clause of the Bill. Having that Report before them, the Standing Orders Committee thought proper to declare that the Standing Orders ought not to be dispensed with. He must confess that, having that Report from the Examiner before them, and in the absence of the information which he was about to lay before the House, the Standing Orders Committee only took the usual course. Now, what was the history of this case? The Dee Conservancy Bill was one of several measures introduced into the House of Lords in the present Session of Parliament. The Committee of the House of Lords, having before them two or more of those Bills, came to a decision which was embodied in the Dee Conservancy Bill as it now stood. That was to say, that they sought to amalgamate some of the provisions contained in other Bills with the Bill which they ultimately determined to pass in reference to the River Dee. Those provisions covered the ground which formed the subject of the Report upon the Bill by the Examiner. The history of the question was briefly this. The Bill which was now before the House, or which might more correctly be described as having passed the House of Lords and come down to this House, was a Bill promoted by the Corporation of Chester and by the River Dee Company for the conservancy and improvement of the River Dee, and for vesting the same and the control and management of the river in a Conservancy Board. That Bill, as introduced into the House of Lords, contained compulsory powers for the acquisition of certain embankments upon the River Dee. As the Bill proceeded through the House of Lords, and in view, he supposed, of some forms of opposition with which it was threatened, the clause containing these powers was withdrawn from the consideration of the Committee. But one of the principal grounds of opposition which was taken when the Bill 1809 came into Committee was the absence of those powers to vest in the new Conservancy Board the embankments in question on the River Dee. Objection was taken, among others, by the Trustees of the late Lord Wenlock, who were the persons now moving to get the Bill stopped on the ground of non-compliance with the Standing Orders. Ono of the Executors and Trustees of the late Lord Wenlock (Mr. John Coleman) was examined before the Committee of the House of Lords, and he stated, in his evidence, that he thought these embankments ought to be vested in the Conservancy Board. Under these circumstances, he thought the House would be somewhat surprised to learn that after this course had been taken by Lord Wenlock's Trustees, after this evidence given on behalf of the Trustees to their Lordship's Committee, and after the speech made by the learned counsel who represented them, these same persons now came before the House of Commons with a claim to have the Bill stopped, on the ground of its non-compliance with the Standing Orders of the House, because it now contained a certain provision which was the very provision for which they had contended both by evidence and speech. Now, in the Memorial which was submitted to the Examiner in the House of Commons, and which must have influenced his decision in a great degree, it was said that the Wenlock Trustees had received no notice in respect of the compulsory taking of upwards of five miles of embankments of which they were owners and occupiers. That was a point with which he had already dealt. The Bill, as introduced, did provide for the compulsory taking of these embankments, and regular notices were served, in the ordinary way, for the acquisition of the compulsory powers. The Memorial proceeded to say that the words in the clause proposing to vest the embankments in the Conservancy Board were inserted in the absence of the Wenlock Trustees. Technically, this statement was capable of being defended, because the Wenlock Trustees, having appeared against the Preamble of the Bill, as soon as the Preamble was passed by the Committee, retired, as was the custom in all such cases when it was intended to oppose the Bill in the other House of Parliament, and they did not, 1810 therefore, take part in the settlement of the clauses. But it was necessary to inform the House, at the same time, that when the Committee of the House of Lords passed the Preamble of the Bill, they stated to the whole room, in which there were present at the time the Trustees, their counsel, and representatives, that they did so on condition that clauses should be inserted vesting these embankments in the Conservancy Board; and, therefore, although, technically, the Trustees were out of the room at the time these clauses were actually inserted in the Bill, practically they were aware that such clauses were going to be inserted; and, in point of fact, it was at their instance, and upon their representation, that the Committee decided upon inserting them. The Memorial then went on to say that these clauses were inserted under an entire misconception as to the rights of the Wenlock Trustees in the embankments. He would only say, in regard to that matter, that they had been adopted after six days' consideration of the Bill before the Committee of the House of Lords; that they were urged by one of the ablest counsel at the Parliamentary Bar, and that they were supported by the evidence of one of the Trustees himself. He would further point out that this gentleman (Mr. Coleman) was also one of the promoters of a rival scheme by which it was equally sought to vest these embankments in the Conservancy Board. Therefore, he did not see what possible material the House of Lords could have required in excess of that presented to them as a means of ascertaining how urgently the Wenlock Trustees desired the incorporation in the Bill of a clause vesting these embankments in the Conservancy Board. It was further stated in the Memorial of Lord Wenlock's Trustees that the clause was inserted to meet the objections of the opponents of the Bill. He had only to say, in regard to that allegation, that, as he had already pointed out to the House, the opponents in deference to whose opposition this clause was inserted were the persons who now came to the House of Commons and complained of the insertion of a clause which was inserted at the instance of their own counsel and witnesses. Beyond that there was one other statement in the Memorial to 1811 which he desired to call attention, and it was that the Wenlock Trustees were to be deprived of the embankments without notice or compensation. That, if the House would allow him to say so, was entirely a matter for the consideration of a Committee, and had nothing to do with any point of procedure before the Standing Orders Committee. But, at the same time, he was informed that it was not the fact, because the proposal to rest the embankments in the Conservancy Board would relieve from grave responsibilities the lands of the Dee Conservancy, on which the Wenlock Trustees had a heavy mortgage, and would place the mortgagees of that property in a much more favourable position than they occupied at present. He thought that he had now dealt sufficiently with the allegations contained in the Memorial of the Wenlock Trustees, and the statement they had submitted to the Standing Orders Committee. But he might, perhaps, be allowed to refer also to an objection presented by the Duke of Westminster, and his hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury (Mr. Robertson), both of whom came forward to represent the landowners and traders of the locality. Their Petition, however, he ventured to maintain, had nothing to do with the question now raised, although it might be a valid objection upon the merits of the question. He did not, therefore, propose to enter into it, because, as the House would see, he had carefully endeavoured to keep clear of the merits of the scheme. With that the House had not, at the present moment, anything to do. What he asked the House to do was to give to the Standing Orders Committee the power of reconsidering, in the light of the facts he had now adduced, and the allegations contained in the Petition of parties who were interested, a decision which he contended would not have been arrived at if the Standing Orders Committee had had the true facts before them at the time they took the matter into consideration. It must be borne in mind that when the Standing Orders Committee arrived at their decision they had only before them the technical statements of the officer intrusted with the examination of the Private Bills submitted to the House. It was well 1812 known that the Committee on Standing Orders would never be able to get through the work they had to dispose of if they were obliged to conduct their business by the oral examination and cross-examination of the parties who were concerned. They had, therefore, to rely upon the statements made to them by the agents of the House; but they had a right to expect that such statements contained an exact and complete representation of the facts. He thought he had been able to show to the House that in this case certain statements and facts had been misrepresented or omitted in the Memorial submitted to the Examiner, and if there had been a deviation from the ordinary practice, in a case of this sort, he thought the House ought to have no difficulty in accepting the Motion which he ventured to make. At any rate, he was sure that his right hon. Friend the Chairman of the Committee on Standing Orders (Sir John E. Mowbray) would see that he was not without warrant for making the Motion, and that he was casting no reflection on the Standing Orders Committee, because they had to rely upon the representations which the Parliamentary agents, who, as a matter of fact, were also officers of the House, felt it their duty to make to them. In every representation made by the agent of a Private Bill there ought to be a careful, a literal, and a precise adherence to the facts of the particular case dealt with, and it was the duty of the House to guard their jurisdiction, in regard to Private Business, with the care and consideration for every interest involved which they had hitherto so jealously preserved. He did not think that it was necessary that he should trouble the House with any further statement on this matter. He thanked the House for the kind attention they had given to what was rather a technical statement, but which was one he had felt called upon to make in the interests of Private Bill legislation in that House, and from a real regard for justice and equity in this particular case. Quite apart from the merits of the Bill with which he was dealing, he thought he had made out a case for referring the matter back to the Standing Orders Committee, and he begged to move the Motion which he had already read.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That the Resolution which, upon the 23rd day of June last, was reported from the Select Committee on Standing Orders in relation to the Dee Conservancy Bill [Lords], together with the Bill and Report of the Examiner with respect to non-compliance with the Standing Orders, be referred back to the Select Committee on Standing Orders:—That the following Petitions in relation thereto be referred to the said Committee (that is to say):—
That it be an Instruction to the Committee, That they have power to inquire into the allegations contained in such Petitions, and to report to the House whether the circumstances therein stated are such as render it just and expedient that the Standing Orders ought to be dispensed with."—(Mr. Raikes.)
§ SIR JOHN E. MOWBRAY
said, he thought it was possible that he might save the time of the House by stating at once the views which the Standing Orders Committee entertained upon the matter. He thought it might prevent a discussion upon the merits of the Bill itself if he rose at the earliest moment to state the views of the Committee. He had had an opportunity, that day, of placing before the Standing Orders Committee a Petition from the Corporation of Chester which represented, as far as he knew, the grounds upon which the Motion of his right hon. Friend was based. He had no complaint to make of the statement which had been made by his right hon. Friend, nor did he dispute the right of any hon. Member to call in question the decision of the Standing Orders Committee. At the same time, although his right hon. Friend had disclaimed any intention of dealing with the merits of the question, he had certainly gone very much into the history of the Bill, and might probably lead the House into a discussion of those merits. It was perfectly understood that the Standing Orders Committee knew nothing about the merits of any Bill that came before them. They had merely to say whether the Standing Orders had been complied with or not. That was the whole question they had to consider, and in this particular instance they had before them a Report of the Examiner that the Standing Orders had not been complied with. The judgment at which the Standing 1814 Orders Committee arrived was founded on the Report which the Examiner himself had placed before them, and on the statement presented to them by the opponents of the Bill. His right hon. Friend was right in saying that the statements presented to the Standing Orders Committee by the Parliamentary agents of the House ought to be complete and accurate statements of the facts of the case. Their statements were always treated by the Committee as documents uberrimæ fidei, as evidence that was unimpeachable, and as allegations of facts which, within the knowledge and in the judgment of the competent gentlemen who acted as Parliamentary agents in regard to the promotion of Private Bills, could not be controverted. The documents submitted to the Standing Orders Committee were not, in the first instance, accessible to the opposite parties; but it was in the power of the Parliamentary agents on the other side to have said, when they first saw them, that the statements of the opponents of the Bill were not founded on fact. If they had done so at once, or if they had applied the day after the decision of the Standing Orders Committee was given, for a re-hearing, on the ground that the Standing Orders Committee had been misled by the statements which had been placed before them, the Committee would have been quite ready to reconsider the case. The real difficulty in this matter was that the questions upon which the Standing Orders Committee gave their decision came before them on the 23rd of June, and it would be seen that a considerable time had now elapsed before they were asked to reconsider their decision. Certainly, the proper time to have raised the question was within a day or so after these documents were placed before the Committee. The complaint was that the statements put before the Committee contained certain allegations which were contrary to the real facts of the case, and that they gave a colourable account which could not be supported by evidence. Whenever such an allegation was made, although the Standing Orders Committee had arrived at a decision, it was their custom to reconsider that decision. Therefore, the question arose whether, if the Committee would have taken that course at an earlier period, they should not do it now, simply because there had 1815 been a lapse of time? The question resolved itself into a very narrow issue—namely, whether the Committee, when they came to a decision upon certain re-presentations placed before them, were really in possession of the full facts of the case? He trusted the House would not be led, either on one side or the other, to discuss the merits of the Bill, which really had nothing whatever to do with the question of compliance with the Standing Orders. Compliance with Standing Orders consisted of certain nude facts; and although the Standing Orders Committee were perfectly ready, if it were the wish of the House, to go into the matter again, he hoped it would be perfectly and clearly understood that there was no question whatever raised as to the merits of the Bill.
§ MR. ROBERTSON
said, that in the few remarks he intended to make he would confine himself to the ordinary practice and custom of the House in reference to Private Bills. He simply wished to call attention to the manner in which the objection to the decision of the Standing Orders Committee had been brought before the House. The decision arrived at by the Standing Orders Committee was in accordance with the prescribed Rules of the House; and it was simply sought now to re-open the question in the interest of some particular persons who were promoting the Bill. The whole of the facts of the case had been brought before the Examiner, and the discussion now taking place was simply a repetition of that which occurred before the Examiner. He strongly deprecated the re-opening of questions of this kind at the instance of lion, or right hon. Gentlemen who might be influenced by certain parties outside the House, the Corporation of Chester, or others, who objected to the decision of the Standing Orders Committee. He had nothing to say against the Corporation of Chester more than this, that the facts which were alleged in their Petition to have been misstated were—and he was able to say so from his own knowlege of the case, having been a party to the opposition—fairly and correctly given in the statements submitted to the Committee, and in the Report of the Examiner. When the question was before the Examiner, counsel, and agents, both for the promoters and the opponents, were heard, and every point which had 1816 been raised by the right hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Raikes) was then gone into and argued. The real point would be familiar to every hon. Member who was acquainted with the requirements of the House in reference to the deposit and plans for Private Bills. If it was proposed to take a piece of land, the owner of that land received a notice including the whole of his land within the limits of deviation. In this particular case it turned out that when the Bill came before the Committee it was amalgamated with another Bill; but these particular works were abandoned, and the notices which wore required to be given by the Standing Orders of the House did not apply to the special clause introduced into the Bill, which altered entirely the position of the property without due notice having been given. It was quite true that the Committee intimated their intention of inserting a certain clause in the Bill affecting these embankments; but how could the opponents, who had retired from the room, know what that clause was to be? The parties opposing the Bill retired from their opposition on the distinct understanding that they would oppose the measure in the House of Commons; and when the Bill was sent down to the House of Commons, Lord Wenlock's Trustees found that a clause had been inserted providing for the compulsory taking of upwards of five miles of embankments of which they were the owners and occupiers and which formed a frontage to the Wenlock Estate. It must also be borne in mind that this was proposed to be clone without compensation, and that was the real essence of the case. If the promoters of the Bill had proceeded in the regular way the owners of the property would have been entitled, under the Lands Clauses Consolidation Act, to be compensated for the land taken from them; but they would have no right to claim compensation under the clause inserted in the Bill by the House of Commons. That clause was a distinct clause giving the whole of the embankments to the Conservancy Board; and a further clause provided that they should take land for wharfage purposes out of adjoining property, which provision, if carried out, would materially affect the interests of those who at present had access to the river. No notice for the acquisition of this 1817 and had been given; and therefore the Land Clauses Consolidation Act had been infringed, as well as the ordinary Rules of Procedure imposed by Parliament in reference to Private Bill legislation. He therefore maintained that the decision of the Examiner of Private Bills, upon whose Report the Standing Orders Committee decided that the Standing Orders had not been complied with, was precise and accurate. No notice in writing, such as was required by the Standing Orders, had been given by the holders or occupiers on or before the 15th of December last in respect of the compulsory taking of their lands under the powers contained in the clause inserted by the House of Lords. The whole gist of the matter was that the clause inserted in the Bill by the House of Lords, behind the backs of the opponents of the Bill, gave five miles of the embankment of the river, without compensation, to a third party. Therefore, when that representation was made to the Examiner, he decided that the Standing Orders had not been complied with. The Standing Orders Committee supported the decision of the Examiner, and it was now sought to revive the question in the House itself and to upset the Report of the Examiner and the decision of the Standing Orders Committee. The question, practically, resolved itself into this—What was the meaning of a "notice," and what was the meaning of the Rules and Regulations provided by the House for its Private Bill legislation? Was the House to turn itself into a Court of Examiners of Standing Orders. He sincerely trusted that it would not undertake such a task; but that it would refuse the Motion of the right hon. Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Raikes) and support the decision of the Examiner and of the Standing Orders Committee.
MR. OSBORNE MORGAN
said, he had no personal interest whatever in this question, and he should not have risen to say the very few words he proposed to say upon the matter if it had not been for an exceedingly strong representation he had received on the subject. He had been intrusted with the presentation of a Petition which had received 771 signatures against the Bill. Among others signing it were the Duke of Westminster, Lord Mostyn, the Rev. S. Gladstone, the Trustees of the 1818 Hawarden Estate, and a large number of private firms which were greatly interested in the question. He quite agreed with his right hon. Friend the Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Raikes) that it was not desirable, at the present moment, to enter into the merits of the question. At the same time, his right hon. Friend must admit that the course he had taken was, to say the least of it, a peculiar and an extraordinary one, and in order to justify it his right hon. Friend set up a precedent which occurred so far back as 1875.
MR. OSBORNE MORGAN
agreed with the hon. Member for Shrewsbury (Mr. Robertson) that it was most undesirable to convert the House into a Committee of Standing Orders. The real points of the case, about which there was no dispute, were in the smallest possible compass. When the Bill was originally introduced, it proposed to vest some four miles of embankment, on the River Dee, belonging to the Trustees of the late Lord Wenlock, in the Conservancy Board, and, of course, that proposal came under the Lands Clauses Consolidation Act, and the promoters of the Bill were bound to serve, and did serve, notices upon the Trustees of Lord Wenlock in respect of it. But when the Bill came before the Committee of the House of Lords, that clause was withdrawn, and with its withdrawal the notices which had been given to the Trustees of the Wenlock Estate, for acquiring that property, fell to the ground. What afterwards took place was this. The House of Lords, by its own Motion, inserted a clause which not only gave the four miles of embankment, in regard to which the original notices had been given, but five miles of embankment, absolutely to the Conservancy Board without requiring them to make compensation. In that state the Bill came down from the House of Lords, and the House would see, at once, how the matter stood. Here was a Bill giving away five miles of a man's property without any notice having been given to his representatives. On that ground, and on that ground alone, the Trustees of Lord Wenlock objected to the measure when it came before the Examiner. It was not pretended that they had received any notice in respect 1819 of the new locus standi they had acquired in consequence of the alteration of the Bill which had been made in the House of Lords. No doubt, it was asserted that some of the statements in the representation laid before the Standing Orders Committee on behalf of the Trustees of Lord Wenlock were incorrect, and perhaps it might have been very difficult, under the circumstances, to have been literally accurate in every respect. But that was a purely ex parte statement, and, he must say, with all deference to the opinion of his right hon. Friend the Member for the University of Oxford (Sir John E. Mowbray), that he was setting a somewhat dangerous precedent. His contention was that when the promoters of a Bill did not choose to go before a Standing Orders Committee at once, and declare that certain statements which had been made to the Committee by the opponents of a Bill were incorrect, and when they had allowed the decision of a Standing Orders Committee to remain in force for some time, it would be a most dangerous precedent to establish if the House were now to hold that, under such circumstances, the promoters of a Bill were entitled to come down to the House and, on a mere ex parte allegation, call upon it to refer the whole question back to the Standing Orders Committee.
§ SIR JOHN E. MOWBRAY
begged his right hon. and learned Friend's pardon. What he had said was that the Standing Orders Committee had dealt with the statements which had been placed before them, and that the opposite party had placed no statements before them. If, however, under such circumstances, the Standing Orders Committee discovered within a few hours afterwards that the statements made to them, and upon which they had based their decision, were not correct, then the other side were entitled to come before them and contradict them.
MR. OSBORNE MORGAN
said, the explanation of his right hon. Friend only showed the danger of going behind the back of the Examiners and of bringing arguments and allegations before the House that were not before them, for by so doing they were virtually turning the House into a Standing Orders Committee. It seemed to him that the onus probandi rested upon his right hon. Friend the Member for the University 1820 of Cambridge (Mr. Raikes), and he thought if the House adopted the Motion of his right hon. Friend they would very much shake the confidence of the public in the proceedings connected with Private Bill legislation. There was one fact, which had not been alluded to by his right hon. Friend the Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Raikes), which ought not to be forgotten, and it was that the Bill was really promoted by persons who were in the position of creditors to the Dee Conservancy Board, and who were seeking to release themselves from various obligations which had been imposed upon them by Act of Parliament. Another point was that they had now arrived at the 7th of July, and that an important question with all of them was how soon they were to "shuffle off this mortal coil" and obtain a happy release from their labours. The Bill would require a great deal of examination and consideration; and there was every reason to believe that if it were referred back again to the Standing Orders Committee, and then referred to a Private Bill Committee, it could not receive that attention which the importance of the questions with which it dealt entitled it to. Therefore, upon all those grounds, he opposed the Motion of his right hon. Friend.
§ THE SECRETARY TO THE BOARD OF TRADE (Baron HENEY DE WORMS)
said, he did not propose to discuss this question upon its merits; but he must say that the argument of the Chairman of the Standing Orders Committee (Sir John E. Mowbray) appeared to him to be a very cogent one, while the remarks of the right hon. and learned Gentleman who had just addressed the House did not, to his mind, meet the points which had been raised by the right hon. Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Raikes). As a matter of fact, a reference back to the Standing Orders Committee would only result in an investigation of the facts, and he could not understand why, if there was not anything to conceal, hon. Gentlemen should offer such a strenuous opposition to the proposal to refer the question back to the Standing Orders Committee. They had been told by the Chairman of the Committee that there was nothing uncommon in the Committee reconsidering their decision. Therefore, any argument as to absence of pre- 1821 cedents fell to the ground. As he had said, he was not going to discuss or express any opinion upon the merits of the Bill itself; but he would simply say this—that for several Sessions past attempts had been made to constitute a conservancy of the River Dee, and in the present Session four Bills had been introduced with that object in view. Two of those Bills had been formally withdrawn; the third failed in Committee; and the fourth was the Bill they were now considering. If the Motion of his right hon. Friend was defeated, as a matter of fact, the House would kill the only Bill now before them. Indeed, he took that to be the reason of the opposition now offered to the Motion of his right hon. Friend. So far as the Department which he had the honour to represent was concerned, he could only say that they viewed with great favour any Bill which had for its object the construction of a conservancy of any river; and as the conservancy of the River Dee was materially affected by the present Bill, it afforded a reason why he proposed to support the Motion of his right hon. Friend.
§ MR. WHITBREAD
said, that his only object in addressing the House was, if he could, to save its time. Therefore, he wished to recall the consideration of the House to the practical question now before it. Hon. Members were not asked to reverse the decision of the Standing Orders Committee. They were merely asked to take that action with regard to the Bill which the Committee would have taken with their own accord if the case had been brought under their notice. They were asked to refer the Bill back because the accuracy of the statements upon which the Standing Orders Committee had founded their decision had been impugned; and whenever the accuracy of such statements was disputed, it had been the custom to give a re-hearing, in order to test whether they were accurate or not. It was now proposed to refer this question back again to the Standing Orders Committee, of which he was a Member, in order to enable the Committee to ascertain whether the statements placed before them, and on which their decision was founded, was accurate or not. They had nothing whatever to do with the merits of the Bill itself, and he was sorry that the merits of the 1822 question should have been gone into at all.
§ MR. PULESTON
said, it was quite true that the Motion had nothing to do with the merits of the case; but surely the right hon. Gentleman who made it was acting upon information derived from an ex parte statement, and dealing with a technical point which had been already disposed of not only by the Examiner of Private Bills but by the Standing Orders Committee. If the Motion were adopted, he did not see what opportunity would be given to those who were interested in the matter to obtain an adequate representation of their case. Questions of this kind must be dealt with according to the merits of the evidence forthcoming in regard to them; and surely if the House took any action in reference to this matter at all, they should give to the parties opposing the Bill the right of rebutting any fresh statements; and if the whole matter was to be gone into, de novo, the people of the district should have an opportunity of presenting Petitions, if they wished to do so. Under all the circumstances, he trusted that the House would not adopt the Motion of his right hon. Friend.
§ MR. GILES
said, the House had appointed a specific tribunal to adjudicate in certain cases. That tribunal had already given its decision, and the House were now asked to reverse that decision. [Mr. RAIKES: No.] The Committee of Standing Orders had agreed that the Standing Orders had not been complied with, and that they should not be dispensed with, and the House were now asked to dispense with the Standing Orders. [Mr. RAIKES: No; not at all.] For his own part, he thought it would be better to accept the decision of the body specially appointed to adjudicate upon these matters. They were told that there were many precedents for re-opening the decision of the Standing Orders Committee. He was bound to say that that was perfectly true, but he believed they were bad precedents. On that side of the House, at all events, they were not accustomed to have a sort of vacillating policy; and when a question had once been investigated by a proper tribunal and decided upon he hoped the decision arrived at would not be reversed.
§ MR. WARTON
said, he thought the House were very much indebted to the 1823 hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Whit-bread) for having put the matter so clearly and plainly before them. They had also the high authority of the Chairman of the Standing Orders Committee (Sir John B. Mowbray), who was in favour of the Motion, and had expressed an opinion that the matter ought to be reconsidered. He thought the House were bound, out of respect for the position of the Committee, to attach the greatest weight to the opinions of its Chairman; and he was satisfied that it would not shock the confidence of the public in the Private Bill legislation of the House if, upon this occasion, they were to refer the Bill back for the reconsideration of the Committee. He did not see how such a course could shake the public confidence in anybody. If, by any possibility, a mistake had been made, an opportunity ought to be afforded for correcting it, and he did not see how it could shock the confidence of anybody to know that an opportunity had been afforded for arriving at a proper conclusion when an error had been committed. His hon. Friend the Member for Southampton (Mr. Giles) said they were asked to reverse the decision of the Committee. It was nothing of the kind. They were simply asked to refer the Bill back to the Committee on the distinct allegation that a mistake had been made, and that the decision of the Committee in regard to the Bill had been founded upon that mistake. They were in no respect sitting as a Court of Appeal to reverse the decision of the Standing Orders Committee. They were not asked to do anything of the kind, but were simply asked to afford an opportunity for reconsidering a mistake. It was simply owing to the accident of a change of Government that there had been a lapse of time between the decision of the Committee and the application for re-hearing the case. If this application had been made to the Committee itself on the 24th of June, the day after the Committee reported that the Standing Orders had not been complied with, there would have been no difficulty at all in the matter; but because, owing to political changes, there had been a lapse of time, it was now contended that the Motion for referring the Bill back again was improper. Personally, he was of opinion that the political crisis which had occurred ought not to 1824 be allowed by the House to prevent them from doing justice to the promoters of a Private Bill. They were not asked to reverse the decision of the Standing Orders Committee, but to give them an opportunity of seeing whether an error had or had not been committed. They had to consider the importance which attached to every statement made by a Parliamentary agent before a Committee of this sort. Every such statement ought to be strictly and literally true. Upon every ground, therefore, and having perfect confidence that the Standing Orders Committee would properly discharge their duty, and that they would arrive at a just decision, he would support the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 129; Noes 155: Majority 26.—(Div. List, No. 210.)