HC Deb 26 February 1886 vol 302 cc1361-8

I beg to move— That the Committee of Selection do appoint a Committee not exceeding Nine Members, to whom shall he referred all Private Bills promoted by Municipal and other Local Authorities, by which it is proposed to create powers relating to Police or Sanitary Regulations which deviate from, or are in extension of, or repugnant to, the General Law: That Standing Order 173A shall be applicable to all Bills referred to the said Committee: That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers, and records:—That Five be the quorum.


I think the House is entitled to some explanation from the hon. Gentleman who has made this important Motion. I am afraid that it is simply following in a direction which has been taken by the House on previous occasions—namely, that of withdrawing more and more from the jurisdiction of the House an important class of Private Business. Before the Motion is assented to, I should like to hear from the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary what number of Irish Members he pro- poses to place upon this Committee; or whether, as has usually been the case, it is intended that there shall only be one? Then, again, in regard to the application of Standing Order 173A to all Bills referred to this Committee, on looking at that Standing Order I find that its powers are most important; and I think the House should not consent hastily to the appointment of a Committee which is to exercise such large and important powers without a distinct statement of the object with which the Committee is to be appointed. I take it that a large number of Private Bills which have not yet passed a second reading will, if the Resolution is passed, be referred to this Committee. Among them maybe the Belfast Main Drainage Bill, in which the Irish Members are much interested, and in regard to which I propose to move an Instruction to the Committee on Tuesday, so that it may not go to the Committee in the ordinary way. I entirely object, therefore, to pass this resolution until we have had a full explanation with regard to it, which we are entitled to have; and I think we have a right to hear whether this particular class of Bills has increased in number, or whether the ordinary Committees of the House have failed to deal with them in a satisfactory manner. I think the most convenient course would be to give the hon. Gentleman time for a fuller explanation; and I beg, therefore, to move that the debate be adjourned.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Sexton.)


I think the hon. Member ought to remember that this is merely following the course which has been adopted in other Sessions. This Committee was originally appointed in the last Parliament after a discussion, and by a Resolution in this House; and I can assure the hon. Member that in the constitution of the Committee a proper and fair representation will be given to Ireland. I feel that I am justified in saying that if any Bill affecting the Irish people is submitted to the Committee, it will certainly not be necessary, in order to secure its due consideration, to add an Irish Member to the Committee. With regard to the object of appointing the Committee, I may inform the hon. Member that it is rather to secure the protection of the public interests than any delegation of the power of the House. The Committee is appointed to see that the powers sought for by Corporations and Local Bodies are not in excess of the general law of the land. I think the House will agree with me that that is a very desirable object; and I trust that the House will, therefore, assent to the Resolution. The one function of this Committee is to see that the usual regulations are adopted. With regard to the loans, that is a very important matter; and I am given to understand that it is one which makes a frequent appearance in the Private Bills submitted to this House. An important function of this Committee will be to see that the usual regulations in regard to loans are not exceeded for the repayment of the loan. If I remember aright, in some of the Bills which have been introduced into this House that period has been very considerably exceeded. Further than that, the Committee will be empowered to see whether the nature and extent of the works contemplated justify 60 years' grace for repayment, or whether even a shorter time should not be insisted upon. I hope, after this explanation, that the hon. Gentleman will not press the Motion for the adjournment of the debate. The case was fully stated to the House last year; and the hon. Member will see that if the Resolution is now affirmed the number of Members of the Committee, instead of being seven, as in last year, will be raised to nine, in order that all sections of the House may be properly represented upon it.


The hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary has not replied to my hon. Friend's chief point, which is this—is it proposed that the Belfast Bill shall be referred to this Committee? That question has never been answered at all. If the Belfast Bill is to be referred the Irish Members will feel very much dissatisfied, because there are a number of very important questions which arise in connection with that Bill, and we are afraid that this Committee has been hurriedly set up for the purpose of shunting upon it the consideration of the Belfast Bill. The hon. Gentleman says that the Committee is proposed to be raised in number from seven to nine. If that be so, I think the Irish Representatives are entitled to have two Members on the Committee. What we should like to know, therefore, is whether it is intended that we should have two Members upon the Committee? I think that would be a reasonable way of settling the question; and therefore I will ask the hon. Gentleman these two questions—Is the Belfast Bill to be referred to this Committee; and shall we have two Members upon it?


Having had the honour of acting as Chairman of a similar Committee for the two last Sessions, I may inform hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway that, in case of all Bills referred to that Committee, the purpose for which they were so referred was simply to ascertain that no powers were proposed which would override the provisions of the general law, the object of the Committee was to prevent any such powers being allowed to slip through without being brought to the knowledge of the House and receiving its direct sanction. I know nothing about the Belfast Bill; but I presume that it will take the same position as any other Private Bill. If it contains any such provision it certainly will have to go before this Committee. May I say a word as to the question of Irish representation which has been raised. The hon. and learned Member for South Londonderry (Mr. T. M. Healy) says that he is very anxious that Ireland should be fully represented upon the Committee. Now, I remember that the same question was raised last year; and, on the Motion of some Gentleman below the Gangway, an hon. Member from Ireland was placed on the Committee. I am sorry to say, however, that the Gentleman so appointed gave a very scanty attendance to the meetings of the Committee; and if the Committee this year is to contain Irish Members I hope they will justify their nomination.


I am not going to oppose the Resolution; but I think very important reasons have been given in favour of the adjournment of the debate. I do not clearly understand yet what the object of the Motion is; and I think we ought to have the assurances which my hon. Friend desires. First of all, whether the Belfast Bill, in which we take a very particular interest, is to be referred to this Committee. I think the Under Secretary ought to be able to answer that question. In the second place, are we to understand that two Irish Members will be placed upon the Committee? Of course, our interest in a Resolution of this kind is largely increased by the fact that the Bill affecting such an important city as the City of Belfast is about to come on in this House. What strikes us is this—that if only one Irish Member is to be put upon the Committee it might naturally suggest itself to those by whom the Committee will be nominated to appoint one of the Members for Belfast. Now, that is exactly what we are afraid of. I would point out that there exists in Belfast a very large population indeed, consisting of nearly one-half the population of the city, whose interests are not represented in this House. [A laugh.] Hon. Members may laugh at that statement; but it is an absolute fact, and the interests of that large body are entirely unrepresented by the present Members for Belfast. Every Member of the National Party is in the daily receipt of letters from citizens in Belfast, urging upon them to guard their interests in various matters. This is the reason why we desire the adjournment of the debate until we are in a position to see that we are not sacrificing the interests of the people of Belfast who have applied to us, not being represented by their own Members, to look after those interests. I would, therefore, earnestly press upon the Under Secretary the propriety of postponing this Resolution, so that if ho is not able to give the information we ask for to-day he may be in a position to do so on some future occasion.


The question which has been raised on the opposite Benches has come upon me rather by surprise; but I think there ought to be no real difficulty in allowing this Resolution to pass. In the first place, in regard to the Belfast Bill, I believe that it has no connection with the present question at all. As far as I can gather, there is nothing contained in that Bill which is repugnant to the provisions of the general law.


It contains an extension of the general law.


I think not; but, however that may be, it is not necessary to decide either one way or the other now. In my opinion, it is not a Bill which extends the general law; but the Bill itself will have to be examined, and if it is found that it contains anything which is at variance with the general law it will, no doubt, have to be referred to this Committee. As to the composition of the Committee, that is a question which will have to be considered by the House when the Members of the Committee are nominated; but it cannot be a good reason for rejecting the appointment of any Committee at all. What is now proposed by the Under Secretary is to appoint a Committee of nine Members; and whatever view may be entertained as to the names of the Committee can be argued at the proper stage before an ultimate decision is arrived at. At the present moment, nothing can be done in that respect. What is now before the House is only the reappointment of the Committee; and I do not think that hon. Members have any real objection to its re-appointment. Of course, the question of its composition will be reserved until a later period; and if the names appear to require any addition, or are not thought large enough, it will be competent to make a proposition to that effect. It would not, however, be regular to do so now.


The Chairman of Ways and Means says that this is not the time for naming the Committee; but this is precisely the time for extracting an assurance that two Members from Ireland, whoever they may be, will be placed upon it. In the absence of that assurance, I hope that my hon. Friend will go to a division upon the Motion for the adjournment of the debate. I see from the terms of the Resolution that the names will not be submitted to the House at all, but that the Members of the Committee should be appointed by the Committee of Selection. That is an additional reason why we should get an assurance now from the Under Secretary that two Members of our Party will be placed upon the Committee.


The hon. Member who has just spoken requests that two Members of the Irish Party should be placed on the Committee. But what is the Irish Party? Her Majesty's Government must clearly understand that the Irish Party is not confined to the Gentlemen below the Gangway.


I do not think that the House can enter into a controversy of that kind on a Motion of this nature, and I would appeal to hon. Members who object to the constitution of the Committee not to oppose this Resolution now. It is impossible to give any assurance now, because it is doubtful whether this controverted Belfast Bill will ever go before the Committee at all. All that I can say is that if hon. Members opposite will allow this Motion to pass, which only declares that a Committee shall be appointed, I will promise that, before the names are given or the matter finally settled, there shall be a careful inquiry. Hon. Members will, consequently, not be compromised in any way by assenting to this Resolution; and when the time comes for nominating the Committee it will be competent for them to move that an additional Member be added to it. That is the regular course; and I hope that, as this is a Motion which may not affect the Belfast Bill at all, but which does affect a great number of questions in which the large towns and other places in England and Scotland are interested, hon. Members will not, on the mere hypothesis that the Belfast Bill will go before the Committee, prevent this Resolution from being passed. At the proper stage, when the names of the Committee are proposed, hon. Members opposite will have a full opportunity of suggesting any alteration.


It would be very much to be regretted if there should be any warmth displayed upon a subject of this kind, or if it were to lead to any lengthened discussion. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer was not quite right in the opinion he expressed that the proper time for considering the composition of the Committee would be when the names are submitted to the House. I can give the only assurance to hon. Members below the Gangway that can be given at this moment. It will be the duty of the Committee of Selection to name the Members of this Committee. Our object will be to secure that the composition of the Committee shall be as strong as possible, and that the Committee itself shall be presided over by an impartial Chairman, so that no interests, either public or otherwise, will be neglected. I know nothing whatever of the provisions of the Belfast Bill; but if it is necessary to bring it before the Committee I am certain that it will receive a fair and impartial consideration. I hope that, under these circumstances, the hon. Member will not press the Motion for the adjournment of the debate.


I am satisfied that the right hon. Gentleman the Chairman of the Committee of Selection (Sir John R. Mowbray) will act up to any undertaking he may give, both in regard to the spirit and the letter, and therefore I beg to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question put.

Ordered, That the Committee of Selection do appoint a Committee not exceeding nine Members, to whom shall he referred all Private Bills promoted by Municipal and other Local Authorities, by which it is proposed to create powers relating to Police or Sanitary Regulations which deviate from, or are in extension of, or repugnant to, the General Law.

Ordered, That Standing Order 173 A shall be applicable to all Bills referred to the said Committee.

Ordered, That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers, and records.

Ordered, That Five be the quorum.—(Mr. Broadhurst.)

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