HC Deb 29 February 1888 vol 322 cc1787-92
THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. Smith), (Strand, Westminster)

in rising to move the succeeding Rule, said, that in 1882, when they were considering the Procedure of the House, it was decided to set up Standing Committees, by which Bills might be more satisfactorily examined than by a Committee of the Whole House. The Government were of opinion that the consideration of many measures might be effected more completely by Standing Committees of from 40 to 60 Members than in Committee of the Whole House; and while that arrangement would not preclude the House itself from considering a Bill in Committee if it should so order after it had been before a Standing Committee, yet it appeared to the Government, and to those who took a great interest in the Procedure of the House, that there would be great advantages in many cases in referring Bills to a Standing Committee. By the Standing Order of the 1st of December, 1882, the Standing Committees to which by order of the House in each case Bills were to be referred were to consist of not less than 60 nor more than 80 Members, to be nominated by the Committee of Selection, who were to have regard to "the class of Bills committed to such Committees, to the composition of the House, and to the qualification of the Members selected, and were to have power to add not more than 15 Members to a Standing Committee, in respect of any Bill referred to it, to serve on the Committee during the consideration of such Bill. He wished to move, if it met with the approval of the House, a proviso at the end of the Rule, that the Standing Committees in future should consist of not less than 40 nor more than 60 Members, with the addition, if the Committee of Selection deemed it necessary, of not more than 15 Members, chosen in the manner and circumstances indicated in the Resolution of December 1, 1882. He proposed that reduction in the number of Members of Standing Committees because it was felt that a comparatively small Committee would be a more efficient instrument for the careful examination of measures.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Resolutions of the House of the 1st December 1882 relating to the Constitution and Proceedings of Standing Committees for the Consideration of Bills relating to Law, and Courts of Justice, and Legal Procedure, and to Trade, Shipping, and Manufactures be revived. Provided always, That the Committees shall consist of not more than Sixty nor less than Forty Members, subject to the power of addition to the said Committees by the Committee of Selection, as provided by the said Resolutions."—(Mr. W. H. Smith.)

Amendment proposed, after the word "Shipping," to insert the word "Agriculture."—(Mr. Heneage.)

Question proposed, "That the word 'Agriculture 'be there inserted."


said, he had not the slightest objection to the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Heneage). There were to be two Committees, one of not more than 60, and the other of not more than 55 Members. If the Bills relating to agriculture were referred to the Committee on Trade he could see no practical difficulty.


said, he trusted that under any circumstances it would be understood that a sufficient consideration of Agricultural Bills would be secured in the Committee by adequate representation of agricultural interests. He said this because, if agricultural interests were dealt with by a Committee composed of experts in trade and shipping, he felt that they might come off second best.


said, his attention had been drawn to the working of the Resolution. He pointed out that it would be in order for the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Heneage) to move that Bills relating to agriculture be referred to the Committee on Trade, Shipping, and Manufactures. With regard to the observation of his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Down (Colonel Waring), he (Mr. W. H. Smith) pointed out that the Committee of Selection would be empowered to add Members to the number probably of 15 for the consideration of any Agricultural Bill which it might be considered advisable to send to the Committee.


said, he was not quite clear as to the meaning of the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury. He apprehended that there would be a Committee on Agriculture as well as a Committee on Trade, and that was a proposal, which he thought should receive the support of a large number of Members, especially of those who represented counties. The proposal of the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury seemed to be that they were to have a bonâ fide Trade and Shipping Committee, composed of, say, 55 Members, with power to add to them 15 Agricultural Members; that was to say that there was to be a Committee the majority of which would be composed of Members who had rather less interest in agriculture than other Members of the House. That proposal seemed to him unsatisfactory, and perhaps the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury would think over the matter and see if he could not establish a Committee for Agricultural matters as well as for Trade and Shipping.

MR. BROOKFIELD (Sussex, Rye)

said, he entirely agreed with the observations of the hon. and gallant Member who had just spoken. He (Mr. Brookfield) could imagine the case of an agricultural question being referred to a Committee on Trade, by which not only would due consideration of that question be shelved, but as to which there might be a large majority distinctly hostile to the agricultural interest. He certainly thought that the time had come when that most important interest should have its measures considered by a Grand Committee established for that purpose.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question again proposed.


said, he very much regretted that the Government proposed to limit the number of Committee Members. The idea of Grand Committees was that they were to be a miniature of the House, who would represent every portion, section, and interest, and that the examination of Bills by those Committees should not be a quiet examination around a table by a small number of Members, but that it should be a real examination of Bills with the object of getting them into such form as would render them acceptable to the House. The more they put a limit on the number of Members of the Grand Committee the less would it represent every interest and section in the House; and the less debate on and examination of a Bill they obtained in the Committee the less likely were they to have the results of the Committee accepted by the House. This, in his opinion, was a grave blot in the proposal of the Government. He admitted that the work might be easier for the Chairman, and thought the Committee might possibly get quickly through the work; but there would be an absence of that which many minds brought to the work—namely, the variety of information which distinguished this House in its debating power. He believed the more the old system was tried the more it would commend itself, and it was, in his opinion, the only one which offered the prospect of possibly overtaking the enormous amount of work to be done. Why, then, should the Government stop at this proposal; why should they not take the whole House into their confidence; and why, instead of picking out a Member here and there, did the Government not boldly accept the principle of dividing the whole House into Grand Committees to do the work, which had to be got through?


said, he recognized the difficulty, which the Government had to meet, and it consisted in this, that they had not the time of Members at their disposal. He had had the honour to be Chairman of the Panel of Chairmen selected to preside over the Grand Committees; in that capacity he had watched them while they were at work, and he wished to say a few words on this question. If the Government had told the House, or shown that there was to be a reform of Private Bill legislation that Session, it would have been possible to form these Grand Committees in a much better way than at present; but all they could expect that Session was that there should be a Joint Committee of the Lords and Commons to consider how Private Bill legislation could best be dealt with. He hoped the Government that was in power next Session would bring forward a large instead of this somewhat tentative measure, which would get rid of some of the difficulties that were found to exist when this experiment was made before. As he had said, the system worked well, but the great difficulty was to get 60 Members representing all the various interests in the House upon the Committees, and at the same time to allow the Committee of Selection to man the various Private Bill Committees. His opinion was that the question would not be satisfactorily settled until Private Bill legislation was separated from the other Business of the House. He thought they should act on the suggestion of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread)—that was to make the Grand Committee a miniature of the House of Commons as far as possible. The debates in the Grand Committees had been good, and so representative of the opinions of the House itself that the measures sent down received its assent and easily passed into law. There was at the time he referred to a great amount of feeling displayed in the House, and on one occasion obstruction appeared in Committee, but he did not think that would be the case at the present time, and he was of opinion that the devolution of the work of the House to Grand Committees would greatly tend to the successful issue of the measures which might be submitted to them.

SIR JOHN LUBBOCK (London University)

said, he had been a Member of the Committee, which considered the Bankruptcy Bill and the Patents Bill. He had on one occasion moved an Amendment, which a Member of the Government told him had his entire approval; but to his great surprise when the Vote was taken that Member of the Government voted against him, and his explanation was that it was understood that on Grand Committees the Members of the Government must vote together. If this was to be the Rule, it would result in the Government having undue weight in questions that had to be decided in Grand Committee, unless the number of Members was considerable.

And it being half-an-hour after Five of the clock, the Debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed upon Tuesday next.

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