§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ (3.45.) THE LORD ADVOCATE (Mr. J. P. B. ROBERTSON, Bute)
I beg to move the Second Reading of this Bill. The subject with which it deals is one which has been before the House for a number of years, and three years ago a Joint Committee of both Houses was 793 appointed to examine into the system of Private Bill legislation. The Report of the Joint Committee was in favour of the devolution upon a Commission of the duties relating to Private Bills that are at present performed by Committees of both Houses of Parliament; and that is one of the essential features of the Bill I have now the honour to move. The Bill now before the House, it is true, relates to Scotland only, but the subject has excited more interest in Scotland than in any other part of the United Kingdom, and probably because in the main the inconvenience of the present system has been more acutely felt in Scotland than in any other part of the Kingdom. It is right to add that a certain amount of national sentiment has been, I think most legitimately and appropriately, infused into the consideration of this question, but in the main the question has been treated as a business one. It is a most remarkable fact, and one quite undeniable, that the chief support which this Bill has received in Scotland has been derived from those Municipal and Mercantile Bodies which are most largely interested in the efficient working of Private Bill legislation. I may add that the sincerity of the support by which the Bill has been backed in Scotland is to a certain extent tested by the ready renunciation that has been made of all those expeditions to London which have been one of the least disagreeable incidents of the existing system. I believe there are three main reasons on which the objections to the present system are founded, and in favour of such a change as is embodied in this Bill. In the first place, to quote the language of the Reference to the Joint Committee upstairs—The inconvenience to the suitors has pointed strongly towards local inquiry as being the best method of informing Parliament on the facts of these questions.It is indisputable that there is an immense amount of time lost by those who are compelled to come to Westminster for the prosecution of, or resistance to, such measures; time which, in the case of many of the Scotch local public men, is of great value, not only to themselves, but to those whom they represent. It is also, I think, demonstrable that a large amount of unnecessary expense is caused by the continuance 794 of the present system, and that in a material sense a reduction of expenditure, and more particularly of that kind of expenditure which is least profitable, may be effected by the proposed change. In referring to the characteristics of the present system, I think it right to say one word of due tribute to those who, in the main, have carried it on. I hope that no one will consider that any reflection is passed by the proposed change, or by any arguments advanced in support of it, upon those Members of Parliament, and especially upon those Chairmen of Committees, who have done most valuable public service in their conduct of Scotch Private Bill legislation. If I cannot altogether disarm opposition, I hope to be able to place the controversy entirely free from any matter of personal reflection, and to say that the country is sensible of the exceeding ability and skill with which the professional men engaged in the Parliamentary Committee Rooms have done their part; and if I do not dwell upon that subject more in detail it is because I find that I have been relieved from the necessity of sounding their praises, because I observe in the public Press that there is a running comment going on in eulogy of the present system, and of the way in which the duties have been discharged. But it is not to disparage those concerned in the present arrangements to say that there are inherent defects in the present system of investigation at Westminster of what are purely local questions which are unavoidable, and which do not arise from deficiencies on the part of the instruments of that system. These questions are local questions, and an inquiry at Westminster must necessarily be deficient in that accurate and definite understanding of such local questions, which could only be obtained upon the spot. There is another feature which cannot escape observation—namely, that there have been observable in Committees of both Houses of Parliament—and, if I may say so, perhaps more observable in those which this House has the appointment of—certain inevitable weaknesses. It is impossible to avoid recognising that the enormously increasing labours which are imposed upon Members of this House diminish the efficiency of the work which is conducted upstairs. There has been most 795 impressive evidence given by various distinguished Members of the House of the exceeding difficulty of constituting Committees so as to efficiently cope with practical and difficult questions of detail. Side by side with that, it has been forced upon the attention of all who have investigated the subject that a double inquiry of the two Houses imposes a great burden upon applicants for Parliamentary powers, and it introduces an additional element of uncertainty and protracted inquiry which ought, if possible, to be avoided. In addition to the expense, the double inquiry has the effect of preventing many useful but comparatively small schemes from being brought forward. There is a third reason in favour of the proposed transfer of jurisdiction which I ought to mention and which probably I ought to have brought forward at first, because it affects the primary duties of this House. It is that unquestionably the long hours of sitting here and the close attention required of Members of the Committees renders the life of a Member of this House so laborious as to be almost intolerable. I have had the advantage of speaking to several Members of the House who are conversant with the subject, particularly with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle (Mr. J. Morley), who was a Member of the Joint Committee. The right hon. Gentleman concurs with the result I have arrived at, and sympathises with the reasons to which I have briefly referred. When I turn to the various alternative remedies which have been suggested for relieving suitors and Members of Parliament, I find that there are insuperable objections to them. In the first place, it has been suggested that the system of Parliamentary Committees might be continued as a means of inquiry into local facts by giving such Committees power to sit locally. It is farther said that there might also be a system of Joint Committees of both Houses, which would avoid the expense and delay of a double inquiry, and that such Joint Committees might have power to sit locally. But even if that remedy were practicable—owing to Parliamentary considerations—it would not meet all the objections which have been raised to the present system. I will not dwell upon that proposal, however, because I think that anyone 796 who is conversant with life in this House and with the proceedings of the other House will say that it is hardly conceivable that a Peripatetic Committee, consisting of four or five trained Members of both Houses—inasmuch as the whole strength of such a Committee would lie in its Parliamentary qualities—could conduct such inquiries without the assistance of some permanent element in the tribunal, because the absence of one or more of them might bring the local inquiry prematurely to an end. Another suggestion that has been made is more ambitious, but has even more fatal defects. It is said that the House ought to go further in this method of devolution, and should confer upon Local Bodies the power of dealing with these questions, I have seen that suggestion described as being a mere extension of the Provisional Order system, but I should like the House to observe that these very Local Bodies to whom the power of determining these questions is to be given are in the great majority of cases themselves the promoters of the measures which they would be called upon to approve or disapprove of. Take the case of a Town Council or of a County Council. What is the reason that it has to come to Parliament at all? It is because a Bill is necessarily an encroachment upon private rights, and Parliament has to determine in what respect private rights are to yield to local convenience. It may be said that you might give a right to the Secretary of State for Scotland to exercise a veto in such circumstances, but that would be a strong course, which has never yet been adopted. I do not think, therefore, that the difficulty in such cases would be overcome by giving a right of appeal to the Secretary of State for Scotland. The Joint Committee reported in favour of the appointment of a Commission, and there remains the most interesting and important question as to what is to be the relation between the Commission and Parliament. I think the proposal of the Government may be shortly stated as the substitution of the Commission for the Parliamentary Committees of the two Houses. Each House would retain its judgment on the scheme, and deal with the Report of the Commission as they would have dealt with the Report of the Committee of the House. The Commission 797 would, however, have this virtue—that each House should rely on the same Report of the Commission. It has been suggested by some of those who have considered the question, and by some whose suggestions on any subject of that kind are entitled to respect, that the Government might go even further, and that the House should not merely part with the control of the Committee upstairs, but with the Second and Third Readings of Private Bills as well, and that all the control vested in the two Houses should be the right of vetoing any scheme approved by the Commission. On that subject I will only say that it would be a very strong measure in the way of divesting Parliament of its control, and would be a most important interference with the ordinary law. The suggestion has by no means escaped the attention of the Government, but our view is that the better plan would be to substitute the Commission for the Committees as an instrument for investigating facts for each House. In the first place, it is proposed that the Commission should sit in the locality affected by the scheme, and for that purpose they would have the fullest powers of determining the place of sitting, which should be as near the locality as convenience would allow, in order that the Commission might see the state of matters which is to be the subject of the inquiry. In the second place, it is proposed that the Commission should sit out of as well as during the Parliamentary Session. Thirdly, it would sit de die in diem. The Government have had the strongest representations as to the exceeding inconvenience of the state of congestion in the Committee Rooms upstairs. This falls most hardly on the Scotch people, because they are furthest from their homes, and therefore less able to go away and come back again as business is taken up. I come next to a very difficult question, namely, what should be the constitution of the Commission? If we had an absolutely free hand, if money were no consideration, and if the House were prepared to establish an exceedingly strong Commission to do this work, we ought to have four or five very highly-paid Commissioners. But it must be remembered that the amount of such work to be done in Scotland is not so great as to justify or require such 798 an expensive Commission, although it is important and complex enough to make that a question of high importance. The right hon. Gentleman the Chairman of Ways and Means has moved for a Return of the number of Bills, in order to ascertain whether the number of Bills is sufficiently large and the subjects of such high importance as to supply continuous work for such a Commission as I have described. I desire to disclaim on the part of the Government, and on my own part, any intention to make it a legal tribunal. I think it ought not to be a legal tribunal, and I will go further, and say that I think the lay element ought to preponderate in such a tribunal. I think there are qualities not always in favour among lawyers which are invaluable in the conduct of this kind of business, but that doctrine must not be overstated. For the work of the Commission some legal qualities are certainly desirable, and I can express what I mean by very authoritative words. Sir Erskine May says that Parliament in passing Private Bills has always retained the mixed judicial and legislative functions of ancient times. That is a correct and felicitous mode of stating the case. The legal element is useful in dealing with evidence and marshalling facts, and ascertaining their net result. I do not suppose any layman will deny that a trained lawyer, other things being equal, is better equipped for this department of the subject than anyone else who has not had that training. But there are other qualities quite as indispensable. There must be business capacity, a knowledge of the great business concerns which are the subject-matter of these inquiries, and I may add that I think there ought to be knowledge of and sympathy with the common-sense view which the public take on such matters. It is also exceedingly desirable that the political and Parliamentary view of such questions should be represented on the Commission. It is well that the inquiry itself should be carried on in accordance with the judgment which would ultimately be pronounced upon the result. I have stated these considerations somewhat abstractly. The proposals of the Government are—first, that a Scotch Judge should be a member of the Commission, and in order that he may be a Judge acquainted with this kind of affairs 799 we propose the Judge who at present sits on the Railway Commission for Scotland. The second member should be one of the lay Railway Commissioners. The third should be a Member of Parliament selected by the Committee of Selection, and the fourth should be some able, capable, and experienced Scotchman, to be selected by some impartial authority on account of his fitness for this kind of work. The question is, who is to find that man out? It has been said he ought to be appointed by the Secretary for Scotland; but I can conjecture what would have been said on the other side if that suggestion had come from the Government. The Government think the Scotch Judges are removed from all suspicions of interest or partiality, and that their experience and position fit them for finding out who is the best qualified for that kind of work. I have already said it never was the intention of the Government that that member should be a lawyer. This proposal has been much criticised, but I do not think the grounds of the criticism are sound, and I would not be at all surprised if, when the rival schemes come to be examined, that of the Government is found to be the best after all. Various alternative suggestions have been made. One which deserves attention is that, considering there is a Member of the House of Commons on the Commission, there should be also a Member of the House of Lords appointed by the Committee of Selection of that House. That is a proposal which I know finds favour in many of the commercial centres of Scotland, probably because the House of Lords' Committees have been distinguished by the exceedingly able and impartial carrying out of their duties. Upon that, as upon all the details of the Bill, I desire to say that in the Select Committee we shall approach with an open mind the consideration of all this group of questions upon which there ought to be no prejudices on one side or the other, and upon which the right selection should be made upon business grounds alone. There remains the question, what Bills are to go before the Commission? The expression used in the Bill is, "Private Bills relating to Scotland," but the Chairman would have to consider whether the Bill relates exclusively to Scotland, and if it 800 does not, it would have to go through the Committees of both Houses. What should be done with Bills which relate to Scotland, but also relate primarily to England, is one of the difficulties of the situation. But, at the same time, it merely creates a certain diminution from the amount of work which the more ardent partisans of local inquiry might desire to see brought into Scotland. I think that this is one of the inherent difficulties of the question, and not an objection to be urged against the Bill itself. Many may desire to carry this principle further, but as long as we have the separation of the two countries in this respect we cannot expect that Scotland should sweep in English concerns any more than an English tribunal could sweep in Scottish concerns. That, however, is a subject to which I have no doubt ingenuity will be applied. With regard to the future stages of the Bill, I have given notice that I will move that the Bill, after Second Reading, should be referred to a Select Committee, which I hope will, to a large extent, be composed of Scottish Members, It is a subject primarily relating to Scottish matters exclusively, and one on which I hope to have the frank opinion and also, I hope, the strong support of Scottish Members. When, in 1889, the Government took up this subject, they did so in response to what I believe was a genuine Scottish demand, and I now propose this Bill in the same spirit and on the same grounds. We rely on the reiterated and strongly-expressed opinion of Scotland on this subject. I and my colleagues have received deputations on the subject, which showed by their composition that this is not a measure confined to any section of the community, either in a political, social, or professional sense. It is a subject upon which convictions have matured during the discussions of the last few years, and the future of this Bill must necessarily depend on the cordiality with which Scottish Members respond to the strongly-expressed opinion of Scotland. If the Government receive the same amount of support in this House as has been expressed in Scotland, I believe that the Bill will rapidly be placed upon the Statute Book, and will constitute a great improvement in Private Bill procedure with regard to Scotland. 801 I beg to move the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(The Lord Advocate.)
§ *(4.20.) MR. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN (Stirling, &c.)
The right hon. Gentleman has expressed with his usual clearness the motives of the Government in bringing in this Bill, and, for my own part, I think I shall best explain the position which I assume on this matter by saying at once that I will conclude my observations by moving as an Amendment—That the subjects dealt with in Private Bill legislation ought not to be remitted for inquiry to a Commission until it has been shown to be impracticable to remedy the evils now complained of by amending the present system of inquiry by Parliament, and by extending the powers of Municipal Authorities in counties and burghs.Now, Mr. Speaker, I would beg to remind the House that this is not exclusively a Scotch question. In its Scotch bearings alone it is a very large and important question, but, besides that, it embodies a totally new departure from old lines on the part of Parliament, and it may also in future years be applied to the branch of public business as well as that of private business. I hope, therefore, that other Members besides Scotch Members, who may take a different view of the matter, will join in the discussion. I may at once say that, at first sight, the Bill would seem to appeal to the sympathies of many of those who sit on this side of the House. It is a decentralising measure; it recognises the principle of nationality; it proposes that certain Scotch business should be disposed of at home in Scotland by Scotchmen, and it professes to be a devolution of the powers of Parliament. Those of us who are of opinion that a movement in the direction of what is known as Home Rule would be advantageous to the proper government of these countries may be expected to jump at these proposals, but I am afraid we shall find that there is only a false flavour of Home Rule about this measure. The first question which we must consider is, What is the nature of the business dealt with in this Bill? Private business which comes before Parliament may be roughly divided into two classes. First 802 of all, there are all the schemes put forward by Municipal Authorities in the various localities in connection with water supply, gasworks, the extension of harbours, the widening of streets, the disposal of sewage, or any other municipal purpose for the health and convenience of the citizens. Such proposals constitute, I believe, about one-fourth of the mass of the private business coming before Parliament; the other three-fourths are made up of the more ambitious proposals of the great Railway and Canal Companies for the extension of works and lines. It is a remarkable fact that all the parties concerned in this second division have expressed themselves in the main as being perfectly satisfied with the tribunal which at present has the disposal of these matters. A great amount of evidence from Scotland was taken before the Committee of 1888, especially from those representing Corporations and Local Bodies in that country, but the evidence was almost entirely devoted to the first of these two classes of private business. The witnesses complained with earnestness, and, I admit, with a great amount of justice, of the serious impediments put in the way of local improvements owing to the cumbrous and costly system of having to appeal to Parliament for approval of every little proposal of this kind—impediments which in many cases absolutely prohibited Corporations from taking steps. That is, no doubt, a very substantial complaint; but I would venture to point out that all that class of business might be, if not entirely disposed of, at all events greatly reduced, if we had the courage to give Local Authorities full powers in this matter. Whatever may be said on the subject of such a proposal, it cannot be said that it has any Party flavour, because the Party opposite are proud—and justly proud—of having extended municipal government to counties in England and Scotland. As we have granted power to them, let us make use of those authorities and trust them, and give them powers to take land for these purposes. This would dispose of a large part of the grievances urged before the Committee of 1888, and local schemes which are of such magnitude that they could not be so dealt with could still come before Parliament. I now come to the question of 803 expense. With regard to expense, the evidence given before the Committee of 1888 was very strong, especially with regard to the great expense involved in the inquiry being conducted in London, and witnesses having, therefore, to be brought there. I think, indeed, that witnesses are brought up to London in excessive numbers for any useful purpose; but, as a matter of fact, I believe that the expense of witnesses before Committees of the two Houses only amounts to one-tenth of the whole cost of the procedure. The real source of unnecessary expenditure is, in my opinion, in the high fees charged, and in the somewhat pedantic rules laid down with regard to the preliminary proceedings—with regard to originating notices, advertisement, &c. It is in that direction, and not in the mere carrying backwards and forwards of witnesses and their maintenance in London, that the real source of excessive expenditure is to be found. I think I have said enough to show what my opinion is as to the manner in which these municipal questions ought to be dealt with. I quite admit that when you come to Railway Bills you enter upon a totally different field. The promotion of great railway schemes is necessarily very costly, and although the cost primarily concerns the companies themselves and their shareholders, the public are no doubt more or less indirectly concerned in such schemes. But I believe the Railway Companies at least are satisfied that the expenses of a local inquiry would be greater than those of an inquiry in London—that the cost of taking expert witnesses to Scotland would be greater than that of bringing local witnesses up from Scotland. As to the proposed Commission, notwithstanding the somewhat open mind which the Lord Advocate has indicated on the subject, a good many of us on this side are directly opposed to that Commission as it is now proposed to be constituted. I wish to speak with every possible respect of the Judges of the Court of Session and of the Faculty of Advocates, and the other learned gentlemen who carry on so much of the business of Scotland in Edinburgh, but I would say that there is not throughout Scotland such universal confidence in their judgment and their 804 capacity to meet the wishes of the public as would justify us in entrusting to them the appointment of members of such a Commission as this. The Lord Advocate said naturally enough that if it had been proposed that the appointed members of the Commission should be nominated, by the Crown, there would have been some fear among us respecting the exercise of the Crown patronage. But whilst we do not wish to give more power to the Crown, we desire that, if this appointment is to be made at all, a Minister should be directly responsible for it to Parliament. This is the course followed in the Railway Traffic Act of two years ago, and it was the course followed in the rival scheme put before Parliament last year by some of my hon. Friends. What sort of man, I would ask, is the fourth Commissioner to be under the scheme of the Government? The Lord Advocate says he is not to be a lawyer. Is he to be a railway expert or an engineer, or is he to be merely a man in the street? I should have no confidence in a man appointed haphazard to such a position, and especially if he was chosen by Judges of the Court of Session. Disguise the fact as you may, the new Commission now suggested will be regarded in Scotland as nothing more than a new "Edinburgh Board"—as one of those bodies of which we have had too many already, in which are placed powers which ought rather to belong to the Representatives of the people, and which certainly do not enjoy that complete confidence in Scotland which is desirable in view of the important duties they have to perform. It is said the Board is to be peripatetic, and is not necessarily to meet in Edinburgh, but its head-quarters will be in Edinburgh, and I suspect it will be gradually stereotyped and crystallised into the forms which such Boards are wont to assume in Scotland. Why, after all, should we have any such tribunal? Why is Parliament to be called upon to part with its powers in these respects? Even a great Railway Bill involves public interests, and therefore it ought to be dealt with by the Representatives of the people unless it is found absolutely impracticable so to deal with it. But, in the first place, it must be proved to us that Parliament 805 is incapable of discharging this duty. This is spoken of as a devolution of duty on the part of the House of Commons. My idea of devolution is that it means the parting with some of our powers to a body forming part of ourselves, or to a representative body subordinate to us. But the present proposal is not devolution, but dereliction—it is not delegation, but abnegation. Supposing the tribunal rejects the Preamble of a Bill of which the House has passed the Second Reading. In that case, it supersedes by its action the judgment of the House of Commons. It is a very serious matter, therefore, that we are considering. I believe that while there is a strong feeling in Scotland in favour of facilitating Private Bill legislation, and in favour of having it as much as possible transacted and conducted there, I do not believe it would be any great disappointment to Scottish feeling if the railway inquiries were still conducted in London, even if the costs are excessive. Then there are two things that may be done—there may be a simplication of forms, and we may have recourse to a method which has already been suggested, and that is of having a Joint Committee of the two Houses of Parliament, which would at once considerably reduce the total expenses. Many Members may not be aware that a Committee considered this question many years ago, and that then it was settled against the proposal of a Joint Committee only by the casting vote of the Chairman. It adds to the significance of that fact when I say that amongst those who supported the appointment of a Joint Committee at that time were the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian and the present Prime Minister. As to the expenses of the tribunal, we must remember this, that the present tribunal—the Committees of the House of Commons—is paid for and already exists. It is, in fact, in itself, if we leave out of sight the question of the fees exacted and the expenses of witnesses, and so forth, more economical to the public than any tribunal that could be created. If necessary, an inquiry might be held locally. I do not see any reason why we should not enlarge our ideas on that matter. It was pointed out to the Committee which sat on this subject that the whole of this business is greatly disturbed by 806 the particular Rules of Parliament as to the business of each Session being dealt with in that individual Session, and also by the consideration of the days and hours upon which and at which the House of Commons sits. But surely we might extend our ideas in that respect, and I do not see why a Joint Committee should not conduct an inquiry locally if that course was thought desirable. Now I come to the last argument in favour of the Bill I shall deal with. If it could be supported, it would be a very strong argument—it is the relief that this proposal would give to the House of Commons and its Members. Every Member who hears me will admit that, so far as its Sittings for the disposal of Private Business are concerned, they occupy very little time. There is a considerable period of time at the beginning of each Sitting which is left unoccupied, in order that it may be devoted to Private Business; but the actual business done only occupies a few minutes, and it is only two or three times a Session that we have any discussion in the House on Private Business. I bow to the high authority of my right hon. Friend the Chairman of the Committee of Selection, who says he finds great difficulty in getting Members to sit on these Committees. I do not understand why that should be. There are always a large number of Members who are not employed on Select Committees, who are free to sit on Railway Committees, and who, as Members of Parliament, will have nothing to do except to come here and occasionally vote if this business is relegated to a Commission. I cannot imagine a more useful way of employing the time of these Members than by giving them this duty to perform, and they are chiefly men who are accustomed to semi-judicial duties elsewhere, and who might therefore be trusted to perform the duties pretty well. At any rate, we might reduce the number of Members on the Select Committees; and if the proposal for a Joint Committee of the two Houses was adopted, of course there would at once be considerable relief given. There is another point I wish to urge which is a formidable matter. At present a Bill is brought into this House and is referred to a Committee of Members of the 807 House. When they have come to their decision, the matter is sometimes brought up again in this House, but the House which trusts its Members is very unwilling to upset the deliberate judgment of the Committee. But now the House will part with the power of deciding an inquiry into the particular merits of the scheme. Does any hon. Gentleman suppose that, in the case of a great contested scheme, it will not be brought up again and again in the further course of the Bill through the House of Commons? And as the members of the Commission will not be here, except one unfortunate member, to give the reasons or state any of the facts which led to the determination of the matter, the House will be left to be guided in these questions either by Party considerations or random considerations of one kind or another not perhaps directly affecting the merits of the scheme. Any proposal of this kind, so far from saving the time of the House, will largely encroach upon the time of the House, and questions of that kind will be made more and more political, which is extremely inadvisable. On all these grounds I ask the House to proceed with extreme caution in this matter. I began by reminding the House that this is not a Scotch question—it affects England and Ireland as well as Scotland. Whatever principle we assent to in this Bill must be applied to England and Ireland afterwards. I go further, and I ask the Government why they deal with Scotland alone? because if you are to accept the principle of the measure, if you are to part with your powers in the way that is suggested, it can be much better done, and you will have a much better measure and a stronger Commission, if you deal with it as my hon. Friend the Member for Roxburghshire (Mr. A Elliot) suggests. What is the annual average number of opposed Bills coming from Scotland? It does not exceed the figure 10, and even some of these could not be classed as exclusively Scotch Bills Therefore, for the purpose of these few Bills, we are to set up a very costly piece of machinery. I believe you would get a much more effective measure by dealing with the three countries at once, and appointing a strong Commission, recognising, if you 808 think it necessary to recognise it, that Parliament must yield its functions in favour of some body or other. If the modification of our Rules in the two Houses is not sufficient, then I think we might fall back upon the idea of making the inquiry local by the Members of the House, thus maintaining the principle of decision by the House itself. But if this is impracticable, and the duty of inquiry is to be handed over to a Commission, then I prefer such a Commission as has been suggested by the Chairman of Ways and Means and the hon. Member for Roxburghshire. The present proposal appears to sin against Parliamentary precedent, and as I speak of Parliamentary precedent, perhaps I should say I am obliged to discard altogether one precedent which has been set up, namely, the Election Petition Judges. That is a totally different matter. The question whether a certain election is void, or whether it has been carried out according to law, is eminently a matter for a Judge, and is eminently a matter to keep out of the very possibility of Party feeling. We are now proposing to part with our powers affecting questions involving public policy, upon which I do not know any body more entitled or more capable of deciding than the House of Commons. I said this proposal sins against Parliamentary precedent. It ignores constitutional rights, and it seems to me to be a dangerous abandonment of the true duty of Parliament. Therefore, I move the Amendment of which I have given notice, which indicates the alternatives to which I have referred, and ask the House to declare that these alternatives should, at least, be considered fully and decided upon before the extreme course now proposed to us is adopted.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "the subjects dealt with in Private Bill Legislation ought not to be remitted for inquiry to a Commission, until it has been shown to be impracticable to remedy the evils now complained of, by amending the present system of inquiry by Parliament, and by extending the powers of Municipal Authorities in Counties and Burghs,"—(Mr. Campbell-Bannerman,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."809
§ (4.55.) MR. A. R. D. ELLIOT (Roxburgh)
The right hon. Gentleman has thought it right to advise us to proceed with caution, and the action he invites us to take in carrying out his cautious notions is to reject altogether a Bill which has been practically before the country for several years, and the subject of which has been inquired into by a very strong Committee of both Houses of Parliament, and the principle of which has been distinctly approved by several of the most distinguished right hon. Gentlemen who sit near my right hon. Friend. If we are to have a discussion upon a Bill of this kind it is satisfactory that we should meet with a frank opposition. I have no fault to find with the right hon. Gentleman in the matter of frankness. He asks us to reject the Bill in favour of an Amendment which, construed by the light of his speech, means that we are to reject the Bill in order to maintain practically the existing state of things. We may be asked to modify the constitution of Committees, to combine Committees of this House with Committees of the other House, but we are really asked to continue the present tribunal of amateurs sitting upstairs, and to fly in the face of every opinion in Scotland at which it is possible to get at. I was asked a year or two ago to take upon myself the burden of looking after the measure which had hitherto been entrusted to and most ably supported by my friend the late Mr. Craig Sellar. I had always supported the project and had my name on the back of the Bill; but I was hardly prepared to discover the unanimity of opinion in Scotland on the part of those entitled to express an opinion upon a matter so important to their country. Some hon. Members, no doubt, have read the letter in to-day's Times upon this subject. That letter represents the strong feeling of a leading member of the Parliamentary Bar in London. We are told that no one is in favour of the Bill except, forsooth, a few busybodies in Edinburgh. Looking through the Memorial which was presented to the Prime Minister last Session, strongly in favour of the proposals of the Government, I find that all the great municipalities in Scotland—Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee, Aberdeen, and all the other great towns—are unanimously 810 in favour of the proposals which are laid before the House of Commons to-day. I also find that the Chambers of Commerce one after another take the same view; and looking through the names of individuals, I notice the names of gentlemen of great eminence, principals of Universities, men of standing, men of liberal and educated opinion, to whom in Scotland some deference would naturally be paid in respect of a matter which mainly affects the interests of Scotland. Now it is proposed that there should be inquiries on the spot, and I find it is suggested that inquiries should take place at such centres as Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee, Aberdeen, and Inverness. It is said that inquiries can be more economically and better made in London. How far are we to go in this principle? Would it be cheaper, would it effect upon the whole any economy in public time that great commercial causes tried in Edinburgh, or in Dublin, or at Assizes, should all be brought to Westminster because there will be found witnesses who can give evidence as experts, and where there are to be found counsel of great ability? If these matters are inquired into in Scotland, instead of being submitted to a Committee upstairs, there will not, I imagine, be an universal bringing up to Scotland of eminent counsel and engineers, but men of ability in Scotland will be availed of—there are eminent advocates in Edinburgh and Glasgow, and civil engineers will be found there whose opinions will have weight. It is futile to urge that a cause cannot be properly tried unless it is taken to where eminent counsel can be most conveniently found. The great feature of this Bill, no doubt, is the fact that it institutes a local inquiry and a single inquiry instead of a double inquiry. Mr. Littler, in his letter to the Times to-day, insists upon this double inquiry, and he says the second inquiry is necessary, because it takes a first inquiry to enable opponents to find out the weakness of the promoters' case. Well, it is a strong thing to say that it is desirable to keep up this tribunal, and that thousands of pounds are to be spent almost recklessly, with the net result that there is to be a second inquiry before another tribunal, before the strength of the opposition 811 case can be made out. Surely it would be more reasonable to set up a strong tribunal in the first instance; a tribunal fully competent to examine into the rights and wrongs, the policy or impolicy of a proposal. Do not let us insist upon maintaining a second inquiry when we can make the first sufficient. It is, no doubt, a great change setting up a mixed tribunal. I do not pretend to any special knowledge, but as taking part in the proceedings and as an ordinary member of the public I have witnessed the work of Committees upstairs. I do not mean to say that, as a rule, these Committees do not have Chairmen of singular ability; and there are often most capable and experienced members on the Committee; but, still, I must say that I have been struck with the fact that the Bench is not quite strong enough in comparison with the Bar. At the Parliamentary Bar there are men of very great ability, every one of them a specialist, and devoted to his work. But the causes are tried before a tribunal, the personnel of which is continually changing, and the members of which are not professionally devoted to the work, and hence the natural result, the Bench is not strong enough for the Bar. Naturally the Parliamentary Bar has attracted men of first-class ability; the position offers the inducements of short hours, high pay, and long holidays. But we want a stronger tribunal. In ordinary legal procedure the most successful advocates in time find themselves on the Bench, and are specially qualified to deal with the arguments advanced before them; but, remember such gentlemen as Mr. Pope or Mr. Littler never cease to become advocates by becoming Judges. I cannot help a smile as I read the views of those who have taken up a defence of the position of Parliamentary Counsel, the positive contempt, for instance, at the mention of a Scottish Judge unacquainted with the proceedings at the Parliamentary Bar, and who perhaps, as Mr. Littler says, never put his nose inside the gallery of the House of Commons. But I would ask how often is a Member just returned to sit in Parliament appointed a member of a Committee, without having had any experience of barristers at all? What is required on these Committees is the presence of men who 812 understand the ways of advocates and witnesses; and I maintain that a Scotch Judge would be an extremely useful addition to such a tribunal, and certainly would bring a trained experience to bear upon the matter in hand, which would not be the case with a Member elected for a constituency upon the Home Rule or any other political cry. I am afraid those who advocate the successive system of inquiry—the one inquiry succeeding the other on the same Bill—forget the burden this entails upon the poorer class of promoters. To the great Railway Companies this is a matter of little consequence, this expense is but a drop in the ocean compared to their enormous expenditure on works; but there are promoters of useful public works who are deterred by the expense from submitting their proposals to a Committee at all. But I think that they should have the opportunity of submitting their plans for examination, and of showing that their proposals while being profitable to themselves are of public advantage and do not offend against general principles. It has been remarked that we now get the services of a Committee for nothing; but the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Campbell-Bannerman) must be aware that at present the fees paid by suitors who bring their schemes before Parliament are largely in excess of the amount required, and are amply sufficient to pay for a tribunal of this kind. It is perfectly true, as the right hon. Gentleman says, that the principle of the Bill extends beyond Scotland, and for my part I greatly regret that the Government have not seen their way to introduce and press forward that larger measure drawn by the late Mr. Craig Sellar. But if the Government had done this, I do not suppose the hostility of the right hon. Gentleman would have been anything but strongly intensified. We should have had resistance tooth and nail, and judging from Mr. Littler's letter, I tremble to think of the opposition that would be evoked by a proposal that not only Scotch Bills, but all Bills, should be so treated by a Commission. The principle, I fully admit, goes beyond Scotland. According to the Bill, only those Bills which relate exclusively to Scotland are to be referred to this Commission, and the Lord Advocate thinks 813 that this is fair and reasonable. But I do not quite see that. Fair and reasonable it would be in regard to a Bill exclusively relating to Scotland; but take the case of a Bill promoted by the Caledonian or the North British Railway Company, nine-tenths of the value of the interests affected might be in Scotland; but there might be some little question affecting a station at Berwick or Carlisle which would take the Bill out of the category of those exclusively Scottish and require its relegation to a Committee at Westminster. That would not, I think, be reasonable, and I should like to see a provision introduced giving to the Chairmen of Committees of both Houses authority to determine the question of venue, after considering whether a Bill mainly or substantially related to Scottish affairs, and if the inquiry would be more cheaply and more thoroughly conducted in Scotland than at Westminster. I should like to see Bills of this nature, though not exclusively relating to Scotland, tried before a Scottish tribunal. Of course, this Bill must be looked upon as being, to a very large extent, experimental in character, and it will depend upon the result how far Parliament will extend the principle. We have been told that the whole inquiry will be raised again in this House, but I do not see why this should be so. If the inquiry before a local tribunal is a more complete inquiry, if those who try these causes are more competent and experienced, I certainly do not think the House of Commons will be so foolish as to rake up the details again in a full House. The House of Commons dislikes to discuss the details of a Private Bill, and I share that dislike. Nothing is more incongruous than for the House of Commons to decide upon the merits of a Private Bill except under such exceptional circumstances as the promotion of a Channel Tunnel Bill or of a Bill affecting a question of general interest. In nine cases out of ten it is most unfitting that the House, imperfectly acquainted with the facts, should re-hear a case decided by Committee, and I cannot see why these re-hearings should be more frequent after the inquiry has been entrusted to a more competent tribunal than the Committee now is. It has been said with truth that these inquiries which are 814 treated as judicial are not altogether judicial in character, for they relate to matters of policy and public expediency, requiring the judgment of business men of common sense and not merely trained lawyers. But then it is said it is desirable that these men should hold a representative position. I, for my part, do not altogether hold that view. A question of a purely local character has to be determined, and I do not see that a gentleman is specially qualified to try that question because the expression of his opinions for or against Home Rule may have led to his election to a representative position. The merits and demerits of a particular Private Bill proposal have nothing whatever to do with representative qualifications. This tribunal will have to inquire into facts, and I must say I look with considerable approval on Clause 18, which contains a provision which will enable the Local Authority to be consulted, not by the representation of counsel, but by a written statement of their views. Thus, County Councils and Town Councils will put their views before the Commission, and I should be perfectly willing to see this provision extended to include other representative Local Authorities. But I must resist any proposal such as that of the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir G. Campbell), that we should delegate legislative powers to County Councils and Town Councils. Why, it constantly happens that Local Authorities are the promoters of schemes under which they seek powers to compulsorily acquire property and give compensation, and to give these authorities the right to exercise such powers without further Parliamentary sanction is a conclusion I am sure the House will never arrive at. However competent a man may be, it is asking him to undertake a task for which no man is competent to be advocate and judge in his own cause. I am sure such a proposal will be at once rejected. We have heard much of the constitution of the Commission, and I agree with the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Campbell-Bannerman) to this extent, that when an appointment to a public office is made, I should like it to be made by some responsible individual whom we may control in this House; and I infer from what has been said, that if the right hon. Gentleman is determined to 815 force this patronage upon the Government, he will not be resisted with any great vigour. The principle of the Bill is this: a local Scotch inquiry into subjects exclusively affecting Scotland, an inquiry before men specially qualified to conduct it, a single inquiry which will take the place of the present double Parliamentary inquiry; but the right of absolute legislation, the power to take away altogether from A or B property in furtherance of some scheme for the public benefit, is reserved, and Should be reserved, to the Parliament of the United Kingdom. I do not think, as the Bill is to be referred to a Select Committee, that I need elaborate this point any further. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxford University (Sir J. R. Mowbray) pointed out before the Committee, where he was both member and witness, the increasing difficulty of getting Members to do this work which some of them consider drudgery, and this was referred to in the Report of the Joint Committee in very strong language indeed. They had in their minds, no doubt, the recommendations of the Committee presided over by the noble Lord the Member for Rossendale, suggesting a large increase in the system of Standing Committees. Well, the result of careful inquiry by men of all parties is that the present system is acknowledged to be most unsatisfactory, and it looks as if these duties must, of necessity, devolve upon another tribunal. The more the matter is opened, the more Members apply their minds to the consideration of the question and look into the evidence, the more they will find themselves urged to the conclusion that a remedy is to be found in the institution of a tribunal such as this now proposed. I have no doubt that the proposal is supported by nine-tenths of the intelligent opinion of Scotland. I can hardly believe that the right hon. Gentleman is going to a Division against the Bill. That is for him to consider, but it surprises me that any Scottish Member should come forward and deny that there is an opinion in Scotland approaching unanimity in favour of this Bill. That I believe to be the case. The right hon. Gentleman did not much go into the question of public opinion; he put that aside; but I challenge any hon. Member to bring forward 816 anything like evidence of Scottish opinion against the Bill to be compared with Memorials and Petitions, and every legitimate expression of opinion in its favour. Since 1872 the Royal burghs have every year declared in favour of a fixed tribunal and a local inquiry. Do not let us have under the guise of caution and inquiry attacks made upon the principle of the Bill. It is now the question of a Second Reading. Are we to defeat the Bill and protract the present system, or act in accordance with Scottish opinion, and adopt a system which after trial in Scotland will, I am convinced, be followed throughout the whole of the United Kingdom?
§ *(5.27.) MR. ESSLEMONT (Aberdeen, E)
I shall not follow the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken into the question of what is the intelligent opinion among the people of Scotland; but it may not be out of place to remind the hon. Member and the House that the Town Council of Edinburgh—and they may be accepted as representing intelligent opinion at least, in the Scottish capital, on Tuesday last—came to the resolution not to support the Bill. But perhaps the hon. Member for Roxburgh will not accept this as the opinion of the people of Scotland; he soars above this, and picks out the intelligent opinion for himself. I will, however, make him a large concession. For several years my name has been associated with a Committee which has sought an alteration in the present process of Private Bill legislation, and I am quite at one with the hon. Gentleman in saying that the system of double Committee is unnecessary, expensive, inexpedient, and ought to be done away with. But although committed for years to a change in regard to Private Bill legislation, what I humbly submit to the House is that the people of Scotland have not been looking for, nor do they wish for, a Bill drawn on these lines. I admit the Lord Advocate has indicated a large concession. He says he is not going to stand by the constitution of the Commission as a vital principle of the Bill; and more than that, the right hon. Gentleman is willing, if the Bill passes Second Reading, that it shall be submitted to the sifting and examination of a Committee upstairs, and inferentially any Report from such a Committee 817 will be accepted by the Government. But let me bring to the recollection of the House and the Government this important fact, that since we began in Scotland to agitate in favour of reform in Private Bill legislation very great changes have taken place. Parliament has lately given a large number of additional powers to local government, and the whole policy of legislation on such subjects is to increase the powers given to local governing bodies. Let me ask, with all seriousness, what is the power conceded to Town Councils and County Councils but the right of bodies representing the public to deal with private interests? What we want in Scotland is not a system of appeal to Judges, but the placing in the hands of administrative bodies of certain powers, in the belief that the electors can always be depended upon to exact from them such an execution of those powers as will be in accordance with the sense of fair play to individuals. If we do not act upon that principle we cannot grant devolution or delegation in any respect whatever. It is idle for the right hon. and learned Gentleman to say that under such a system as we advocate local bodies would be judges in their own case. We have in Scotland towns that are counties in themselves, having Councils representing at least 50,000 inhabitants; and we have County Councils representing each from 100,000 to 200,000 inhabitants. These are responsible tribunals created by Parliament, and of such a character that we cannot despise them. If we are to admit the principle of devolution at all, certainly much larger powers ought to be conferred upon these bodies. During the discussions on the Local Government (Scotland) Bill we on this side of the House pressed on the Government the advisability and necessity of conferring much more extensive powers upon them than were conceded by the Government. We are entitled to assume that if any success attends the system of local government at all, these large representative bodies will very soon qualify themselves to be the administrators of much larger powers than we have yet conferred upon them. I do not see why we should not delegate to County Councils in Scotland the power of authorising very small communities 818 to take steps which may be necessary for the administration of their local affairs. I believe that between 75 and 90 per cent. of our Private Bill legislation relates to our large Railway Corporations; and I challenge any hon. Member representing those corporations to stand up and say they desire to have any local body or Commission sitting in Scotland. All railway schemes are so bound up in the ramifications of great lines of traffic that it would be inexpedient, if it were possible, to remit them for consideration to any body in Scotland. A proposal respecting the gas, or the water, or the sanitation of a little town, which is still in its infancy and is just forming a corporation of its own, would be dealt with impartially and fairly by a large County Council. I say that County Councils ought to have powers of this kind, and that small corporations ought not to be put to the expense and trouble of coming to Westminster paying Parliamentary fees, employing counsel, and so forth. The hon. and learned Member for Roxburgh (Mr. A. R. D. Elliot) has spoken about the necessity of having a Judge on a tribunal of this kind. I am not going to follow the hon. and learned Gentleman in his observations respecting the inferiority he feels to the learned counsel who come before Select Committees, nor am I going to reply to his sneering remark about "poor Mr. Littler." Poor Mr. Littler will hold his own against the hon. and learned Member for Roxburgh. What we say is that these experienced and learned and able counsel are not necessary instruments in regard to the little local affiairs in our constituencies which it is sought to make the subject of Private Bill legislation. Then, with regard to the constitution of the proposed tribunal, Judges ought, in our opinion, to be confined to the administration and interpretation of the law; and we deprecate strongly any proposal to set up the politically appointed Judges of Scotland—whom we believe to be perfectly impartial, honest and honourable—as exponents of local public opinion, and as Judges of the local interests of communities. We are introducing here a most important, and, in my opinion, a most pernicious principle. We are saying that the learned Judges of the Court of Session and their 819 nominees are to be the judges in the future in Scotland in regard to the carrying out of public works. The Amendment which has been moved by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Stirling Burghs, in effect, says that we are not to make this radical and somewhat dangerous change until we have seen to what extent we can remedy the existing evils, and until we have seen how far we can safely delegate the powers to the new County Councils. This seems to me a most reasonable proposal. I think we should give the matter the most careful consideration before we enter upon what is really a reversal of the whole policy of legislation throughout the country, taking the initiative in regard to authorising public works from the popular representatives and Parliament, and giving it up to Legal Judges. Unless the Government see fit to give an indication that they are ready to afford the House some opportunity of considering the most important subject of further delegation of powers to Local Councils in Scotland, Members from Scotland will certainly not be justified in voting for the Second Reading of this Bill. To my mind the new Local Authorities should have a fair trial with enlarged powers. I do not, to a large extent, sympathise with the idea of having an Imperial Commission going over all parts of the United Kingdom. I think the people of Scotland would be more likely to set up a good tribunal for themselves than would be the people of England, Scotland, and Ireland combined, and I am not prepared to say that it would reconcile me to the Bill if it were to be a universal measure for all parts of the United Kingdom. I do not sympathise with the idea that a Scotch Committee must be a very expansive affair; but I think that the body should be maintained in both Houses combined, consisting of Members or persons nominated by the two; Houses. This Bill by no means meets the desire of the Scotch people, who would much prefer the present system to that now proposed. They object to be placed under the control of the Court of Session, and would much rather come to London and have Private Bills considered by a Committee of the House of Commons and a Committee of the House of Lords than be at the mercy 820 of a Parliament House clique. When the Scotch people really understand this measure they will rather bear the ills they have than fly to others they know not of.
§ (5.48.) MR. HUNTER (Aberdeen, N.)
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Roxburgh told the House, in his usual fashion, that all Scotch opinion—or, at all events, all intelligent, by which I presume he means anti-Home Rule opinion—was in favour of this Bill. When he made that statement he might have reminded the House that at all events one Scotchman who is not in favour of Home Rule is opposed to the Bill. He might have referred to the fact that a very distinguished Member of Her Majesty's Government, a Scotchman, who, unlike most of those who clamour against the present system, has had considerable experience of that system—I mean Lord Balfour of Burleigh—has not only expressed opinion against the Bill, but by facts and arguments has demolished the whole case in favour of it. Whatever popularity this measure has secured has been due to the belief that it is some instalment of Scotch Home Rule. If it were even a small step in the direction of Home Rule for Scotland I should support it, but it is nothing of the kind. This Bill has no more in common with Home Rule than a painted sparrow has with a canary. Home Rule for Scotland means giving the Scotch people control of their own business; but this Bill will take away such control as the Scotch people at present have over Scotch Private Bill legislation. The Bill sins against all principle and satisfies nobody. It does not satisfy the Member for Roxburgh. It substitutes for the control of Parliament, in which the Scotch people are at least represented, a body of gentlemen who, whatever may be their merits, will be in no sense representative of the people of Scotland, and over whom the Scotch people will have no control. A good deal has been said with reference to expenses, and so on, of Private Bill legislation; but let me remind the House of one fact that ought not for one moment to be forgotten throughout the whole discussion. Before the Joint Committee of 1888 there was a general consensus of opinion that far and away 821 the best tribunal for the consideration of Private Bills is a Committee of this House. The people of Scotland have the utmost confidence in these Committees, and it is only those who have little or no experience of them who object to them. It is important to bear in mind that the only complaint against the present system made before the Committee of 1888 came from certain municipalities in Scotland and Ireland, and that the entire Private Bill legislation in which municipalities are concerned is about 5 per cent. Those who are concerned in about 95 per cent. of the whole Private Bill legislation are not only satisfied with the present system, but are entirely opposed to any alteration. What are the grievances alleged? They were stated by one witness. He was asked—You do not feel any want of confidence in a Parliamentary Committee?No; certainly the reverse. The only ground upon which complaint is made is the ground of expense.Now, taking not the larger question of the Empire as a whole, but dealing with Scotland alone, the total amount expended on Private Bill legislation by the Local Authorities in 14 years has amounted to £300,000, whereas the expenditure of other interests in the same period amounted to £1,000,000. The interest represented by the Municipalities is only one-fourth of the whole, and what is the amount of the saving which it is expected will be brought about by this Bill? Not a single word has been said about that, although it is a matter of great importance. The most exaggerated view put forward by any witness before the Committee of 1888 puts the saving to the people of Scotland at £7,000 a year. The total local expenditure of Scotland is £6,000,000 a year, and on this £6,000,000 the utmost amount which anybody in his wildest moments could imagine it possible to save is £1 in a thousand. All the preliminary and other expenses of the present system will be continued, save that of having the witnesses examined in London instead of in Scotland. It has been said that this Bill carries the object which the Scotch Corporations desire. It does nothing of the kind. What the Scotch Corporations 822 desire was well expressed by a witness from Aberdeen. He said—We are quite of opinion in Aberdeen, that if you were to hold an inquiry in Edinburgh it might cost as much as if it were held in London.But this Bill does not give an absolute right of local inquiry; it makes the local inquiry dependent on the discretion of the Court itself. This will not do, if you desire to meet the wants of the Scotch people, and they will not be satisfied unless you give them a Statutory and Parliamentary right to have inquiry made in the locality. With regard to the question of expense, there are one or two facts of which the House ought to be made aware. A shareholder of the Caledonian Railway was so impressed with the cost incurred by the present system, and the saving that might be effected if the inquiry were local, that at a meeting of the promoters of that company, he made a motion in support of some such proposal as is now before us. But there happened to be at that meeting, as there was not present at the Convention of Royal Burghs nor in the Town Councils, a gentleman who knew something of the subject, who had had large experience in connection with it, and who was able to put the true state of the facts before those present. He pointed out the fallacies of the grounds on which it was supposed that money would be saved by means of local inquiries, and the result was that of the total number of shareholders present there were not ten who supported the motion. I venture to say that the same result would follow all over Scotland if at meetings which might be held on this subject some one were present who could present the real state of the case. It is remarkable that this idea of saving money by means of local inquiries should not have extended to the Railway Companies, all of whom are found impressed with the conviction that, instead of saving money, the adoption of such a system would materially increase their expenditure. If we take the case of Newcastle, that is a city which is in very respect as disadvantageously situated as Edinburgh with regard to inquiries before Parliamentary Committees, and yet no member of the Corporation of Newcastle has complained of 823 the expense of the existing system, or enlarged on the advantages of local inquiries. The same remark may be made with regard to Liverpool. The idea is one that is peculiar to Scotland and certain parts of Ireland. Whence did that idea originate? For some years past there has been a very small, but very active, committee of lawyers in Edinburgh who have been labouring under the delusion that there are enormous fortunes to be made out of the Private Bill business if it can only be brought to their locality. This body is a most active and energetic one. Now, it happens that the Convention of Royal Burghs contains between 20 and 30 professional men, some of whom are exceedingly active, and these persons not only prepared a string of resolutions on this subject, but have also put forward a very plausible story which sounds very well until we have heard the other side—the story being that there is enormous expense incurred in taking witnesses to London. Now, let us see what is the evidence that has been given on this subject. Among the witnesses before the Committee was Mr. Vary Campbell, who is an advocate practising in Edinburgh and the leader of a somewhat small party who have been agitating in favour of the Bill. Mr. Vary Campbell was asked by Lord Monk Bretton, "Have you attended much before Committees?" His answer to that question was, "I have only personally attended before the Referees on locus standi." He was further asked, "You have not followed the Bills from the Referees to the House?" and his reply was, "No, I have not." Here, then, is a gentleman who never could have had the responsibility connected with the passing of a single Private Bill through Parliament; who, in fact, never held a single brief upstairs, and who, therefore, can be no high authority as to what is an extravagant system. On the other hand, the Committee have had the evidence of Sir James Marwick, who has been Town Clerk both of Edinburgh and Glasgow for a number of years, and who has had more experience and better opportunities of forming a judgment on this question than all the Town Clerks in Scotland put together, and certainly more than all the Town Councillors in that country. Well, what is his experience? Sir James 824 Marwick is just as good a witness as Mr. Vary Campbell is a bad one, and his opinion must necessarily carry great weight where the opposite opinion expressed by Mr. Vary Campbell carries very little. Sir James Marwick expressed in the strongest terms his opinion that the present system was by far the best he had ever heard proposed, as he knew by experience that more money would be expended by taking experts and scientific witnesses to the locality than by taking the ordinary witnesses from the locality to the House of Commons. Now, this argument about expense is just one of those half truths that are in reality more dangerous than falsification; because, of course, if instead of taking witnesses to the Court you take the Court to the witnesses, you thereby save the expense of taking the witnesses to the Court, but, on the other hand, you incur the additional expense which necessarily arises from taking the Court to the witnesses. Those who use the economical argument entirely overlook the fact that there is another side to this question, and that the taking of the Court and counsel, together with experts and scientific witnesses, to the locality would be a source of increased expense. With regard to the cost of witnesses, Sir James Marwick gave figures covering a number of years. The total expenditure at Glasgow over 11 years amounts to a sum which is a very convenient one to make use of, because the total is exactly £100,000, and therefore you can easily arrive at the various percentages. He puts the cost of general witnesses at £5,400, and of deputations at £6,000. So that on those two items the amount of saving that could be effected out of the total would be 11 per cent. On the other hand, he puts it that the cost of taking counsel to the locality would be very serious. But I assume that the Government in their draft have made it optional on the part of the tribunal as to whether it shall hold local inquiries or not. There has been a case in point in connection with the Corporation of Glasgow. An inquiry was made in that city by a Royal Commission as to the boundaries of Glasgow, and that inquiry cost £5,000. But the fees of a single junior counsel from Edinburgh amounted 825 to £1,000 out of the total sum of £5,000. Speaking before the Committee, Mr. Pope stated—I have the honour to hold a general retainer from the Corporation of Glasgow, and I have never received such a fee from them. Indeed, in the whole course of my experience the whole of my fees from the Corporation of Glasgow in any one year have never amounted to such a sum.It is obvious if counsel are taken away from Edinburgh to localities some distance away much, larger fees will be required than if counsel were acting in the course of their regular practice in Edinburgh. Counsel always runs the risk of disappointing clients when he goes away, and sometimes incurs the risk of losing them altogether. Therefore, do what you will the cost of counsel must be very high if you have inquiries made in the localities. Moreover, we have ample experience that when people have a choice between a Central Court and an inquiry in a particular locality they find it to their interest to go to the Central Court. The Londonderry case was referred to before the Joint Committee. As I was engaged in that case, I may state what happened. It has been the practice of the Railway Commissioners to hold their inquiries on Irish questions in Ireland. The Londonderry case was one of undue preference, in which a large number of local witnesses would have to be examined. The advocates in the case thought a saving might be effected if it were heard in Londonderry, and, according to the usual practice, the case was heard there. I may tell the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate that the result was not at all satisfactory, and that those who were concerned in the case came to the conclusion that they would have saved money if it had been heard in London, as in the end it had to be heard in order to receive the evidence of certain experts. That is only one case, but there are many others which illustrate the same point. During the last 15 years the Railway Commission has exercised jurisdiction over railway rates in Scotland, and the Commissioners have always been ready to go to the locality where the parties might desire it. Nevertheless, it is a fact that during the whole of those 15 years, although the Scotch people have the choice of having their inquiries 826 made in the locality instead of in London, in no single instance have the parties in Scotland desired to have the Commission sitting in the locality. We have found the same feeling in Scotland with regard to arbitrations relative to purely local matters. Take, for instance, the arbitration in the case of Lord Blantyre's Trust, having reference to the foreshores of the Clyde. That was a purely local matter, but the parties concerned preferred to have the investigation made in London, doubtless because it was more convenient, and also cheaper in the case of the experts and counsel necessarily engaged in the case. Then, again, take the case of the Corporation of Dundee, who, having entered into an arbitration in a matter affecting the burgh, had the arbitration heard in London instead of in Dundee. But with regard to the relative expenses of local and central inquiries, those persons who have had little experience entertain the opinion that a great saving would be effected, while those with large experience are altogether of a different opinion. But either on the ground of expense or the unfitness of the tribunal, these arguments are thrown entirely into the air. We shall be confronted with the Report of the Joint Committee of 1888, appointed to inquire how far the system of Parliamentary Committees might be modified. For 10 days that Committee sat hearing evidence on the merits of Parliamentary Committees without a single whisper being heard of views which were afterwards put before them. On the last day but one the Chairman of the Committee of Selection gave evidence of a totally different character. His evidence amounted to this: that, whether the system was good or bad, the House of Commons had practically resolved to get rid of Private Bill business, and that some alternative must be proposed. I cannot help thinking that it is much to be regretted that that evidence was not given in the first instance, so that the attention of the Committee might have been directed to the question of what would be the best substitute. The only views put before this Joint Committee were, on the one hand, those of the Secretary of State for War, and, on the other, the views of the right hon. Gentleman the Chairman of Committees. I do say that, considering 827 the enormous interests involved, the question of the proper substitute for the Private Bill Committees is one which deserves the fullest consideration and inquiry. I do not think anyone can say that there was inquiry as to that, though, no doubt, great consideration was given by Members of the Committee to the subject. The scheme proposed by the Secretary of State for War was in its main features that which has been adopted in the Bill of the Government, with this important and vital distinction: that the Committee recommended a general tribunal and not one for Scotland separately. Upon the question of a separate tribunal for Scotland, the Committee gave no authority to the Government. With reference to the scheme, the only evidence given in the way of criticism was tendered by the Chairman of Ways and Means, who said—Any scheme which contemplates that Bills should be read a second time and then sent for examination to some separate tribunal, in my opinion, is subject to such objections that it would be scarcely worth serious consideration.In the face of that opinion, emanating from so high an authority, the Government are not justified, without further careful inquiry and much more prolonged investigation than they have yet given to the subject, in attempting by a side wind to subvert the system of Private Bill legislation by introducing a measure which applies only to Scotland, and the main principle of which has never yet been adequately considered. The difficulty of finding a substitute will prove to be very serious, because we have no analogy to guide us. In the case of divorce, the House merely restored to the legal tribunal powers which should never have been taken away from it. In regard to corrupt practices at elections, the only reason why the House stuck so tenaciously to its right to decide elections was that in former days the Judges held office by the goodwill of the Crown, and Parliament would not sacrifice its independence by referring disputed elections to the nominees of the Crown. It is true the practice continued long after the reason for it ceased to exist, as very frequently happens. But that was the true reason why the House maintained so stoutly its jurisdiction over 828 election petitions. Of course, in later times, they were very properly referred to a legal tribunal. But the questions raised by the present system of Private Bill legislation are of an entirely different character. What is the question which is at the root of all Private Bill legislation? It is the question of taking land by compulsion. The important distinction between land taken for purposes of private gain and for the purposes of the public good was never considered by the Joint Committee, though it is the governing element in the decision of a case. The distinction is already recognised by the practice of the House. Mr. Warner stated in his evidence that the power to take land compulsorily for private purposes—that is, for purposes of private gain—had never been permitted by Provisional Order; whereas we know that Corporations and Public Bodies have over and over again been allowed to take land compulsorily by Provisional Order. That distinction rests upon sound principle. When it is the case of a private interest, it rests upon the promoters of the Bill to prove that it is for the good of the public that the land should be taken compulsorily. But when we come to a Corporation it is clearly a different matter, for the Municipal Corporation is clearly the proper authority to decide whether or not land should be taken compulsorily. It alone can decide when the public interest is involved, while it has every motive to abstain from indulging too much in the practice of taking land compulsorily. We know that the Lands Clauses Act not only gives compensation to the man whose land is taken compulsorily, but it gives him a certain bonus in addition. The Amendment points out the true solution of this question. I submit that the worst mode of dealing with Municipal Authorities is to appoint a tribunal of any sort which would consist of persons not removable, who did not represent the public, and who were not controlled by the public. I have a word of complaint to make against the Government in respect of this transaction. When the Local Government Bill was before the House, we on this side of the House made strong efforts to enlarge the powers of the County Councils and Town Councils. We brought forward this Motion:— 829That County Councils should have power to take land by agreement or compulsion, for permanent purposes, or for the benefit of the people of the locality.Forty-nine of the Scotch Members voted in favour of that Motion, and only 11 voted against it. Of Scotch Members supporting the Government there are 26, and you will find that the Government were not able to get half of their Scotch supporters to go into the Lobby against the principle of that Resolution—a principle which is the true key to the whole question of Private Bill legislation. The grievance of Local Authorities is that they have to come to Parliament at all for the majority of purposes, for which there is no need to come to Parliament. What are the grievances of Corporations? A gentleman of the Corporation of Glasgow pointed out that it was a great grievance that they could not enlarge the west end of Sauchiehall Street without paying a ridiculous price for a small piece of land held by one man, who knew that they could not proceed without getting a Private Bill, which would cost £400 or £500. I put it to the Government whether it is not preposterous that the Corporation of a city like Glasgow should be compelled to incur that expense before being able to take a small piece of land necessary for the purpose of a public improvement? Another grievance relates to the running of tramways through the streets. Surely the Local Authority is competent to decide the question, and it certainly does not need a permanent tribunal of Judges. What are the other matters? One is the removal of buildings. Surely that should be within the control of the Local Authority. Let me refer very briefly to one or two of the objects for which Scotch Corporations have had to apply for Parliamentary sanction. A very benevolent citizen of Glasgow presented a large piece of valuable land to the Corporation on the condition that it was laid out and maintained as a park. The Corporation had to come to Parliament for power to fulfil that condition. Surely the President of the Local Government Board will admit that that was a matter which the Glasgow Corporation might well have determined without Parliamentary interference. Again, the Corporation of Glasgow spent £3,084 in obtaining the authority of Parliament to 830 widen one of their bridges by 30 feet. Surely that was a power a Local Corporation ought to have. Edinburgh had to come to Parliament for power to build a bridge; the burgh of Ayr spent thousands of pounds to get power to execute street improvements; and the little burgh of Airdrie came to Parliament, at considerable expense, to obtain powers to provide model lodging-houses. Is it not possible by a General Act to give certain, limited powers to Local Bodies to take land compulsorily for public purposes, with or without, it may be, the approval of the Secretary for Scotland? Cannot some provision be drafted whereby a large proportion of the Private Bill legislation would be rendered unnecessary? That is where real economy would come in. The majority of the Bills now brought forward are not opposed; yet you enforce the provisions which entail so much expense. This is a grievance affecting municipalities which your Bill does not touch, and upon that ground I shall not have the slightest hesitation in offering the greatest possible resistance to the present measure. It is not a step in the direction of Home Rule for Scotland, or popular control, but it is a step in the direction of substituting for the proper representatives of the people persons who, whatever their excellence, will very soon be out of tune with public sympathy. I venture to say, with equal firmness of conviction, that the only way in which you can satisfactorily deal with Scotch business is this. The number of Bills proceeded with is very small, for in ten years there have only been 95 opposed Bills. With respect to Municipal Bills, the remedy could be secured by enlarging the powers of the Local Authorities, while as to railway business, you ought to have one railway tribunal for the whole of England and Scotland. Ever since the year 1873 one of the primary objects of Parliament has been to secure the treatment on one system of all the railways in Great Britain. It is impossible to deal satisfactorily with the question of running powers if you have one tribunal in Scotland and another in England. On an average there are 40 Railway Bills a year, and if they were all dealt with by one properly constituted tribunal the whole difficulty would be overcome. I 831 can only say that either in the Select Committee, or when the Bill comes back to this House, I shall move that it be in the option of promoters of Bills to say whether the scheme shall be considered before a Committee here or locally. My contention is that on the grounds of economy promoters are not likely to prefer the local inquiry. As to the constitution of the proposed tribunal I need say little in addition to what has fallen from other Members. But I do hold with the opinion of Sir J. Marwick, that a legal training is the last qualification necessary for the post. I object strongly to the notion that only a Judge could properly preside over the tribunal, for such an appointment would be incompatible with the independence and impartiality of the Board. Again, the appointment of the members of the tribunal ought not to be for one year only. How can a man be expected to give up a lucrative practice for an appointment for one year only? And if the appointments are thus limited may we not see a spectacle such as has been presented in Ireland, where Engineer A has reported favourably on Engineer B's scheme in one county, and Engineer B has done a like turn for Engineer A in another county? To prevent the members of the tribunal being placed in positions calculated to create embarrassment and suspicion their appointments must be permanent. Have the Government asked the Railway Commissioners if they are willing to undertake these duties? I presume they have. I venture, however, to think that if they do undertake them they will be placed in an invidious and difficult position, especially when called upon to deal with questions of law. Now, one of the last proposals of the Bill is to place a Member of Parliament on this tribunal, and a more unconstitutional and monstrous proposition I never heard. In the first place, he is to be the only unpaid member of the Commission. I doubt whether any constituency would tolerate the absence of its Member from Parliament in order to act as an arbitrator in private disputes; while I cannot imagine any Member being willing to give up all interest in the public affairs of the country in order to occupy the position proposed by this Bill to be assigned to a Member of this 832 House. I apologise to the House for detaining it at such length; but this is a subject of wide ramifications, and I feel that it has not yet been adequately discussed. The proposals of the Secretary for War have not yet been subjected to the test of cross-examination. It is said the Bill will enable the House to retain control over its Private Bill business. But it will not do so, for if the Commission do not pass the preamble of the Bill the House will have no voice whatever in the matter. Although the Government have advanced their views in a temperate and reasonable manner, I do hope they will see there is nothing to be gained by pushing forward the Bill during the present Session.
§ (6.49.) MR. R. W. DUFF (Banffshire)
My main objection to this measure is this: that it does not lessen in any degree the expense of carrying unopposed Bills through Parliament. Now, most of the Bills from my constituency are unopposed. A small harbour was recently projected at a cost of £12,000; yet the expense of getting the necessary Act of Parliament, although it was unopposed, amounted to no less a sum than £1,200. These are the grievances we want to get rid of, and these are the matters which stand foremost in the minds of the Scottish people when they talk on the subject of Private Bill legislation. Surely in small matters of public works—such as the harbour to which I have already referred—it is very hard that the community should have these enormous expenses put upon them. The right hon. Gentleman asks how it is to be obviated? Why should not Harbour Authorities have power to acquire land in the same way as School Boards possess it under the Lands Clauses Consolidation Act? Surely it would be easy to draft a Bill under which a Harbour Authority could go before the Sheriff and obtain the land, any dispute as to terms to be governed by the Lands Clauses Consolidation Act. I say that this Bill does not touch the grievances under which we suffer; but if the right hon. Gentleman will apply his mind to the matter he will find it possible to relieve the smaller communities of these burdens. A right hon. Gentleman who spoke just now seemed to think it was an agreeable task to preside over a Railway Committee upstairs. Well I have had some years' 833 experience, and I must say I have not found it very pleasant to have to come down at half past 11 to sit on a Committee till 4, and then to proceed with the business of the House. Still, I do believe that the decisions of these Committees have been, on the whole, satisfactory to the country, and I fear it will be very difficult to find a tribunal which will give equal or greater satisfaction. I rose more particularly to call the attention of the Lord Advocate to what I conceived to be the chief grievance in regard to Private Bill legislation, and to explain the reasons which I feel it my duty to support the Amendment of my right hon. Friend.
§ (6.55.) MR. PARKER SMITH (Lanark, Partick)
As I believe that a strong desire exists in Scotland for this Bill, I am glad that it has been introduced so early in the Session; but I hope that evidence will be called before the Select Committee which will give expression to Scottish opinion, and that before any action is taken on the decision of the Committee time will be afforded for Scotland to declare itself on the evidence. I fear that much of the opinion in favour of the Bill comes from those who are least acquainted with the matter. There are many strong practical difficulties in our path, but I do not think that they are insuperable. I was very glad to hear the Lord Advocate say that the Government would keep an open mind in regard to the Bill, which I trust will be carried through with the same success, and in the same manner, as the Police Superannuation Bill of last Session, There are two points of view from which the Bill must be examined, the Scottish point of view, and that of the House of Commons. The first argument which has been advanced is that of expense, and I think that the Member for Aberdeen has made out a very strong case in that connection; for it seems extremely doubtful whether anything in the shape of economy will be gained by this change of procedure. The Bill does not affect unopposed Bills in any way, although at present an expense of £300 or £400 has to be incurred in getting the smallest unopposed scheme through Parliament. Again, in regard to opposed Bills, I do not see where there will be 834 any substantial diminution of cost. The solicitors' work will remain pretty much about the same under the new system as it is under the present; counsels' fees will remain about the same; and if expense is saved in not having to take the witnesses to London, there will be a fresh expense in calling expert evidence from London, and it may be that counsel will have to be taken from London to Scotland. Of course the real saving will be in changing the system, which enables the opponents of a Bill to contest it before two Committees in succession: before Committees of both Houses. But another Scottish reason in favour of this Bill is one altogether outside the question of expense, for it is to be found in the desire that in these matters Scotland shall be made altogether independent of the Imperial Parliament. If people clearly understand what it is they are going to get, and what it is going to cost, and they still have a strong desire for a local hearing, by all means let them have their Bill. The change will benefit certain classes with regard to whom one thinks more about expense than with regard to rich companies or Corporations. At present, opposition to a Bill that is going to affect a person to a very slight extent is an extremely serious matter. A man does not care to incur a considerable certain expense for a problematical chance of getting some good out of it. If there were a local inquiry, one's own agent would be able to conduct one's case at extremely small expense. There is one provision in the Bill in favour of Local Bodies that seems to me a very dangerous one. By the 18th section any County Council or Town Council may make a report in writing to the Commissioners respecting the Preamble of a Bill, and the Commissioners are to have due regard to the request contained in such report. I do not see why County or Town Councils should have privileges given them that are greater than those given to individuals. I think it is very dangerous to give more weight to their opinions than to the opinions of any other class of opponents. Town and County Councils are elected to champion the interests of the ratepayers. That you may trust them to do with perfect success, but they are not likely to look at matters from the larger point of view of 835 the general public interest and consider whether a railway or any other big scheme will be of advantage to the community generally. What they seek is to get the best terms for their own ratepayers. This has been the experience of those who have had to deal with the largest Corporations in Scotland. It is clear that Bills of certain kinds—such as Gas Bills, Boundary Bills, Harbour Bills, Tramway Bills, and Water Bills—are of a local character, and might be fitly dealt with locally. But it is differentin regard to railways, and it is very hard to lay down any hard and fast line of discrimination between those railways which are completely local and those which affect the general interests of the Kingdom. I was once interested in a little railway which appeared to be one of the most innocent pieces of local extravagance that could be imagined. It was about four miles long, and ran from one village to another. But when one got below the surface and came to know the meaning of it, one found that it was a step in the great campaign of railway strategy which is going on continually between the Caledonian and North British Companies over the whole of Scotland, and it would have been very difficult indeed to say that a measure dealing with that little scheme was exclusively Scotch. The provisions of the Bill with regard to the constitution of the Court need amending in my opinion, and I hope we shall find the Government not unwilling to receive amendments of them. If a sufficiently strong Court can be obtained to command public confidence, and we can set it free from the trammels which, under the present scheme surround it, and save it from the rush on counsel or experts which is the greatest difficulty of the present system of Parliamentary procedure upstairs, I believe we may obtain satisfactory results. But there is another point of view from which one has to look at the matter, and that is the point of view of the devolution of the powers of Parliament. The strongest argument urged in favour of a scheme of this sort in 1888 was that of the difficulty of finding Members of this House to do the work. That does not apply to the present Bill, however. The amount of Scotch 836 private business is so small that it would really be an entirely inappreciable relief to take away from English Members the duty of sitting on Scotch Bills. If there was any probability of the bringing forward of a scheme like that of the hon. Member for Roxburgh (Mr. A. Elliot), applying to the whole of the country, I should much prefer to let Scotland wait, because I believe the establishment of such a general Court would be a much more satisfactory way of dealing with the railway schemes, at any rate, than setting up a small Court with very little practice like that proposed by the Government. One has to look at two points with regard to devolution—one having reference to the saving of the time of Members, and the other to the saving of the time of the House. The House almost invariably accepts the decisions of its Committees, and it does not think it necessary, on the Second Reading of a Bill, to go into the question of merits. But I am afraid that if you hand over the discussion of a Bill to a body outside this House you will not have the same confidence in the decision, whether it be in favour of or against the Bill. I should be afraid of Third Reading Debates upon Private Bills in this House, or of attempts to re-commit Bills. I should even be more afraid of Second Reading Debates. At present, on Second Reading, the House of Commons does not really commit itself upon the merits of the Bill in any way, but merely says a primâ facie case has been made out to be inquired into upstairs; but if a Bill, after the Second Reading, is to be sent to a Commission for investigation, things will be very different. Then the House must be taken, on the Second Reading, really to affirm the principle in a way it does not now, and, in fact, this is the main argument of the right hon. Member, who is really the father of this scheme. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War (Mr. Stanhope), in his evidence before the Committee, said—I think it very desirable that before the parties are put to the expense of a contested inquiry Parliament should have pronounced to a certain extent an opinion upon the principle of the measure submitted to Parliament.That seems to me to be putting the cart before the horse. You could not have a Debate on the principle of a Private Bill 837 before the inquiry, because the real principle at stake does not come out clearly till after the full discussion in the Committee. Whenever you want to oppose a Private Bill you can find some fine big principle on which to oppose it. I was concerned in a Bill for making a tunnel under the Clyde at Glasgow. That was opposed by the Corporation on the ground that the harbour of Glasgow was essential for the prosperity of Glasgow, and that to interfere with the harbour in any way would be absolutely fatal, and therefore it must not be allowed. The real difficulty lay in the question whether the scheme did in any way affect the harbour of Glasgow, and it took a fortnight upstairs to make it clear to the Committee that the harbour of Glasgow was in no way interfered with. In proposing a scheme of this kind, why make two bites at a cherry? Why do you have these preliminaries—the expense of the House fees, the chance of delay on the Second Reading, the chance of delay on the Third Reading—when your intention is to put the decision practically into the hands of an outside Commission? Why do not you go a bit further? Why not let the whole thing come before the outside Commission from the first, and without restrictions as to Parliamentary time and notices? Why not let the matter be brought up at such time of the year as will suit the parties interested? Why not let a Bill be discussed before the outside Commission, and then have it laid on the Table of the House—the course adopted in the case of an educational scheme? The House could then express its opinion upon the measure. That was the scheme put forward by the Chairman of Committee of Ways and Means before the Committee of the two Houses, and that seems to me to be a far more satisfactory scheme than the present. I believe that if the present scheme be not amended it will lead before long to the adoption of such a scheme as that of the Chairman of Committee of Ways and Means, because of the extent to which it will be found to hamper the House of Commons.
§ (7.17.) MR. MUNRO FERGUSON (Leith, &c.)
I do not think that anyone who intends to support the Motion of my right hon. Friend the Member for the Stirling Burghs (Mr. Campbell-Bannerman) will be disposed to dispute the 838 statement that there exists in Scotland a very strong demand for reform of the system of Private Bill legislation; but, on the other hand, I am inclined to demur to the assumption of the hon. Member for Roxburghshire (Mr. A. Elliot) that public opinion in Scotland is decidedly in favour of the particular measure which is now before the House. I believe it will be found that the people of Scotland are by no means desirous of having another Commission or Board added to the numerous Boards which already exist and which hamper many of our local institutions and authorities. This Bill proposes to withdraw from this House the function of supervising Private Bill legislation. I do not think that public opinion in Scotland will be satisfied until they have all Bills relating to Scottish private affairs inquired into locally, and I do not think it is possible, as has been urged by some Members, to differentiate between Railway Bills and other Bills, so far as local inquiry or local administration is concerned. It is obvious that wider powers might be given to Local Authorities in the sense of them being enabled to carry out operations in the public interest, without reference to any legislative body whatever. It is absurd to say that in a case of this kind a Local Authority would be acting as the promoter of its own Bill, because a Local Authority would, by a suggestion of this kind, have the power to deal with the questions which came before it, of course being obliged to give fair compensation wherever private rights were interfered with. With regard to railway legislation, if it be possible to send one Member of the House of Commons to Scotland to inquiries of this kind, it would surely be possible to find two to go, and it might reasonably be expected that two Members of the House of Lords might be found to go there also. A Committee composed of Members of Parliament sitting in Scotland would be in no way different from the Committees who consider the railway and other Bills upstairs. I can quite imagine that the great railway companies may be able to conduct their business as cheaply in London as in Edinburgh or any other locality in Scotland, but that is not so in the case of the smaller railway companies, or in the case of those people who 839 oppose the Bills of the great companies. I have personal experience in this matter beyond serving on Committees of this House. I have had to slightly oppose a railway Bill, and have found it an extremely extravagant undertaking. I have also been engaged in the promotion of a Bill, and I have found that in consequence of another Bill engaging the attention of the Committee for a longer period than was expected, the cost of promoting the Bill was trebled. That trebling of the cost arose through the necessity of keeping hosts of witnesses hanging about London so long. No words can express too strongly the feeling in Scotland in favour of a change in the present system. That feeling has been considerably strengthened of late by Home Rule sentiments. No doubt a considerable number of municipalities and Chambers of Commerce have petitioned in favour of the Bill, but the Town Council of Edinburgh has not petitioned in favour of the Bill. The Town Council of Leith, the port of Edinburgh, has petitioned in favour of a local inquiry, but objects to the constitution of this Commission. It is realised in Scotland that by this system of a Commission you are taking away from representative bodies the power of deciding questions of local concern. You are embarking in the direction of a bureaucracy. You are embarking on a course that will lead to the bitterest opposition in Scotland. This is a Bill which ought to be opposed tooth and nail, because of the principle that this Commission, which is practically a judicial body, will supersede the representatives of the people. We do not denounce the Bill without having an alternative course to propose. That alternative course is that the local authority should have the power to deal with such matters as gas, sewage, the acquirement of land, and so forth, by virtue of their own Acts—of course subject to the provisions of the Lands Clauses Consolidated Act—and that any matters of graver import should still remain within the category of private Bill legislation. We also suggest there should be either a Committee of Members of Parliament, or if it should be necessary, some general Commission, which should deal with the whole Private Bill legislation of the three countries. I think there might well be 840 a mixed Committee of Lords and Commons.
§ (7.25.) MR. R. T. REID (Dumfries, &c.)
I only wish to say a very few words. Although I agree with many of the criticisms of the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Munro Ferguson), I am not able to arrive at his conclusions. I think that the Bill is by no means an exhaustive Bill; that in many respects it is defective, and ought to be greatly improved in Committee, but I am not prepared to vote against the Second Reading of a Bill, the purpose and effect of which is to give to localities facilities for bringing their Bills before a local tribunal and at a far less expense than is at present incurred. I think there is considerable weight of opinion in favour of the Second Reading, at all events, of this Bill. We have the recommendations of a Committee in favour of the Bill, and we have received Petitions from a large number of Public Bodies in Scotland in favour of the measure. I am not aware that there is any substantial opposition. Then it has been stated most emphatically that no words are too strong to express the disgust and discontent of the people at the delay and expense and inconvenience and worry which is caused by the present Private Bill system of Scotland. We must remember that the House is overcrowded with business, and that the present system is extremely expensive. No one will persuade me that it would cost as much money to inquire into a Scotch Bill in Paisley or Perth or Dumfries, or anywhere you like to name, with local counsel and local solicitors and witnesses at hand, as it would cost to inquire into it before a Parliamentary Committee here. The feeling against the present system is certainly increased by the tendency of what we may call Home Rule sentiment, which is greatly increasing in Scotland. Therefore, it is obvious that some change must take place, and the question is, what change should it be? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Stirling (Mr. Campbell-Bannerman), with whose speech I agree, though I do not agree with his conclusions, would have us extend to municipalities power to acquire land for public purposes. Now, upon this we had a discussion last year and a Division in which the Government could only secure a 841 majority of 16, a majority which, I think, under more favourable circumstances we might convert into a minority. I am certain it will be necessary to confer this power, that it can be done with security, and that it ought to be done as soon as possible. But because I cannot get this now am I to vote against the Second Reading of a Bill which confers certain present advantages to Railway Companies and Municipalities for the purpose of getting their Bills through? I do not think I am justified in voting against the Second Reading. I also think that the criticisms of my right hon. Friend (Mr. Campbell-Bannerman) and of the hon. Member for Aberdeen upon the composition of the Commission were powerful and unanswerable. I noticed that the Lord Advocate said it was not intended that this should be a Commission composed of lawyers, but he proposes there should be a Judge upon it, and I assume that the other Member to be named by the President of the Court of Session will be of the legal profession. Now, I must express my strong dissent from the proposition that lawyers or Judges should take part in practical legislation. The business of a Judge is to decide between man and man according to law, of which he is an honest and capable interpreter, but he is not necessarily the wiser in deciding legislation. Indeed, for my own part, I do not entertain any great confidence in the political judgment of Her Majesty's Judges here or in Scotland. These are the views I entertain, and largely agreeing, as I do, with the observations of my right hon. Friend (Mr. Campbell-Bannerman), I look upon his Amendment as a non sequitur. It is not necessary to throw out this Bill instead of amending it, because we entertain the opinion that Municipalities ought to be entrusted with increased powers. Under the circumstances, I hope the Government will, in Committee, enable us to improve the Bill in accordance with suggestions made from this side of the House, and certainly I am not prepared to oppose the Second Reading.
§ (7.35.) MR. BRYCE (Aberdeen, S.)
The House is listening to a rather singular Debate this evening. The discussion is entirely conducted from this side, no Member of the Government 842 rising to answer the arguments advanced, and there is a very scanty attendance of English Members. This is a matter of some importance, because, after all, though the Bill relates primarily to Scotland this is not by any means a purely Scottish question. The Lord Advocate has admitted it is a sort of trial trip—an attempt to apply an experiment to Scotland which afterwards may be used over a larger field in England. Therefore, it is a question which ought to command a good attendance of English Members, and upon which English Members having large experience of the proceedings of Private Bill. Committees might give us their views. Hardly anything has been said except in dispraise of the Bill. No doubt, several Members have announced their intention of voting for it; but all have indulged in very drastic criticisms. There is scarcely any part of the rigging through which shots have not passed. Under the circumstances, it becomes worth while to consider whether the Bill ought to be proceeded with, and whether it would not be better to wait for some more adequate measure to be presented. One hon. Member has suggested that the inquiry by Select Committee should include the whole question whether or not the Bill should be extended by carrying out, not the plan of the Lord Advocate, but the plan of the Chairman of Committees, which was to refer the whole of the proceedings on a Private Bill to a Commission which should deal with all its stages—the First, Second, and Third Readings. When the hon. Member for Partick (Mr. J. P. Smith) suggests that the scope of the Bill should be so largely altered, his speech cannot be regarded as one in favour of the principle of the Bill. I should like to recapitulate our objections to the Bill. In the first place, we object in toto to the constitution of the Commission, and it is worthy of notice that no single Member who has supported the Bill has said a word in favour of this point, and, in fact, the Lord Advocate has given up this point, and says the Government are willing to agree to a complete alteration in the composition of the Commission. This is one of the points upon which public opinion in Scotland is unanimous. I have tried to ascertain what is the feeling in Scotland, and I have made 843 inquiries from my colleagues, and, I think, they all agree that while there is a strong desire in Scotland that there should be a change by the cheapening of the present process, and if possible provision made for local hearing, there is an equally strong objection to throwing the whole matter into the hands of what is known in Scotland as Parliament House. When the present occupant of the position, now of advanced age, of President of the Court of Session vacates his office, and we hope it may be at a distant date, whoever succeeds him will probably be a much younger man, and he may have uncontrolled possession of the valuable piece of patronage this Bill would confer for perhaps 35 years to come. The next point I should like to submit is, there is no provision in the Bill for dealing with the question of instructions to be given to a Committee or Commission. This is of more importance than at first sight appears. It is not at all uncommon when a Bill is going to a Committee, for the House to give instructions to the Committee to deal with particular matters which, according to the ordinary rules of procedure, it would not have been competent for it to entertain. I remember such instances as the preservation of buildings and antiquities within an area to be dealt with by a Railway Company, and even the question of how the scenery of a district might be effected by a railway has been made the subject of an Instruction by the House, and has been dealt with by a Committee. A Commission sitting at Glasgow or Edinburgh would be a very different body to a Committee sitting upstairs, and it would be more difficult to make an Instruction applicable to the Commission. This is important, particularly in regard to Railway Bills where a Railway Company is empowered to take land; it is a point which has often been fought out here, and companies have often been defeated. As a safeguard it is very important that the House should have the power of giving these Instructions, and of seeing that the body appointed to deal with a Bill is, so to speak, attuned to the temper and feeling of the House, not looking at a question as a purely legal tribunal, but understanding the sentiment the House entertains on the matter. But this is a point that seems to be entirely ignored 844 in the Bill. Then I come to the distinction my right hon. Friend (Mr. Campbell-Bannerman) has drawn between the classes of Bill to which the Bill shall apply. Speaking broadly, there are two classes of Bills—those promoted by Railway Companies and Bills promoted by municipal and similar bodies. Now, as regards railway Bills, there is no general complaint from Scotchmen; it is a question for Railway Companies. It is no public grievance that Scottish witnesses are brought up here to give evidence; but, on the contrary, I think it is regarded as rather a pleasant opportunity for a sojourn in London during the season. But I should like very much to have information from the Lord Advocate as to his view of the distinction to be taken between Bills exclusively relating to Scotland and Bills which might also affect English interests. Several Members have given instances of Bills which at first sight might appear to be of an exclusively Scottish character, Bills involving some local extension in the very centre of Scotland, which yet may be found to involve the interests of English companies in relation to running powers, so that these English companies could establish a locus standi before a Committee. It is material to know what is in the mind of those who prepared this Bill as to the distinction to be drawn between Bills which are exclusively Scottish and Bills partly Scottish, partly English. It might turn out that Bills exclusively Scottish would be comparatively small in number, and the value of this measure, so far as Railway Bills are concerned, would be very largely lost. With regard to Municipal Bills, there is almost a universal consensus of opinion on this side of the House that the proper way of dealing with these matters is by enlarging the powers of Local Bodies. The Lord Advocate seemed to think it was a sufficient answer to say that Local Bodies are themselves promoters of Bills, but surely that is not a sufficient answer. Railway Companies have their private interests to serve, but Municipalities represent the interest of the community. Our Scottish Local Authorities are honest bodies. It is not personal interest that is sought by Town Councils, but the interest of the rate payers. Why, therefore, should they not have the power, under proper safeguards 845 under general Statutes which lay down principles, to take land themselves after conducting an inquiry, instead of coming here for the purpose? Nobody will allege there is any likelihood of any peculiar abuse of such power by Scottish representative bodies. Of course this opens a large question, but it is a question which should be dealt with, and the Government should have reasons to show that it would not be possible to have general legislation imposing proper safeguards, which would sufficiently define the powers Local Bodies might exercise without continued recurrence to Parliament. There are countries—for instance, the United States—where such powers are exercised; and surely it does not pass the skill of Parliament to provide an Act, which, while guarding from all dangers, would remove the difficulties and expense of promoting a Bill for local purposes in this House, The question does not rest entirely on the ground of expense. There are many small improvements, but yet of some importance to the inhabitants of localities, which would be carried out if it were not for the formidable aspect which an application to Parliament presents, not only in the prospect of opposition to be encountered, but in the fees which have to be paid. Altogether, therefore, I think that I may fairly say that this is a point as to which Scottish opinion is-most agreed, and for which a remedy is most wanted. I will not repeat arguments which have been addressed to this point, but I think I am not going too far when I say that the result of the Debate seems to show that although there is a strong wish in the minds of the Scottish Members that the question should be dealt with, there is at the same time a general conviction that this Bill will not substantially advance the question, and that it ought to make way for a more complete scheme.
§ (7.46.) MR. SINCLAIR (Falkirk, &c.)
My hon. Friend has referred to the character of the Debate, but I think we may congratulate ourselves that the Government have brought forward this Bill rather as a useful than a popular measure, and the criticisms have been intended rather as of a useful than as of a disputative character. This question of Private Bill legislation was originally 846 taken up by the late. Mr. Craig Sellar when no difference had arisen in the Liberal camp, when it was not then, and need not now be, discussed in a Party spirit. My hon. Friend has referred, as other speakers have referred, to an alternative measure to give further powers to Municipalities by which they would be able to do these things which they now have to come to Parliament to obtain powers for. The arguments of my hon. Friend would be true with regard to a certain set of subjects, but not with regard to all. We have been told about the necessity of powers for acquiring land, and it would be perfectly possible to enable Municipalities to obtain such powers under the Lands Clauses Consolidation Act; but take such a class of cases as is involved in the desire of a Municipality to obtain an additional water supply. In such a case a Municipality would require to go outside the boundary of the locality, and it is impossible to imagine that power should be granted to any Municipality to deal with such a question as that. There must be another and extraneous power to look into the whole question, and to see that the rights, not only of private individuals, but of other Public Bodies are respected. I believe that there is a general consensus of opinion in Scotland in favour of a measure of this kind. I do not say that there is an opinion in favour of all the details of this measure, because they have not yet been laid before the country as they will be by this Debate; but practically I think that, so far as they have been discussed, the details are only opposed by Glasgow, while the larger towns and cities of Scotland are hesitating and doubtful; but all the smaller Municipal burghs are very favourable to the proposals contained in the Bill. Speaking on behalf of my own constituency, I can say that I have already presented from two burghs I represent petitions in favour of the Bill, and at one period or another I have presented Petitions in favour of the former measure of the Government dealing with this subject. The principle of the Bill which the House is now asked to affirm is this, that there shall be a local inquiry into local wants. All else is matter of detail—important detail, I admit, and 847 the manner in which the Government have approached the subject, expressing their willingness to consider these details, is, I trust, an earnest of the manner in which the Committee to be appointed will look at the measure, and that we shall have it enacted into law in a shape to advance the interests of localities and of the country generally. There undoubtedly may be cases where it would be desirable to have inquiries at Westminster rather than in localities, and I think it would not be difficult, foreseeing such cases, to provide for them as they arise, and I would propose to the Government that they should seriously consider whether an Amendment should not be introduced whereby, if the promoters and opponents of any scheme unite in desiring that the inquiry should be held not in the locality, but at Westminster, the option should be allowed. I believe an Amendment of that kind would commend itself to the country; it would not often be required, but occasionally it might be useful. Undoubtedly, the people of Scotland do desire that the expenses of obtaining Local Bills should be greatly reduced, and the fact, I think, was mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Stirling (Mr. Campbell-Bannerman) that the average number of Local Bills presented is only 10 annually. In the case of Ireland, if we except railway projects and Bills promoted by the Municipality of Belfast, we scarcely have an Irish Private Bill brought under our consideration. It is most unfortunate that the expenses of unopposed Bills should be so great; and if it were possible for the Government to draft some proposals by which those expenses should be reduced, a great advantage would be conferred on the community. The hon. Member for Aberdeen (Mr. Bryce) has referred to the advantage there is on the Second Reading stage of giving an Instruction to a Committee, and, so far as I understand, it will still be possible under the Bill to issue such an Instruction. I believe that with Amendments suggested from various quarters, and those I have alluded to, a measure may be passed into law which will be received with great gratification in Scotland, and that it will ultimately work for the benefit of the whole community. (7.55)
§ (8.30.) MR. SHIRESS WILL (Montrose, &c.)
It occurs to me that there are three fundamental mistakes which lie at the root of the measure we are now discussing. It is agreed that there is a strong opinion in Scotland in favour of cheapening the expense of Private Bill legislation, and I also gather that there is a considerable feeling in favour of local inquiries, although that feeling is not for local inquiries entirely as such, but rather as a means to an end, that end being the lessening of the cost of Private Bill legislation. It appears to me that the first fundamental mistake that has been made is the entire disregard of the first and foremost item in the cost of that legislation, namely, the question of the fees exacted by this House, which, as the House must have seen, are very heavy. The second mistake made by the framers of the Bill is that they have omitted to consider the propriety of curtailing the initial expenses attending the issue of the various notices which are requisite before a Bill can be proceeded with. The third mistake is that, assuming a Commission to be necessary, the framers of the Bill have chosen the most cumbrous and most costly form of Commission that could be devised. In regard to the first point, we have had some figures put before us in the Return moved for by Lord Monk Bretton three years ago, a Return showing the amount of fees exacted by this House over a period of 11 years, the total cost during those 11 years having been £380,000, while with the cost of the fees charged by the other House, the annual amount of fees exacted by Parliament amounted to between £50,000 and £60,000. Well, what is the result? Is all this necessary for the purposes of the work of Private Bill legislation, or does it act as a tax on public enterprise? It has been so described, and I submit that it is such a tax. Attention was incidentally called to this point by the Commission of 1888, and I take it from their Report that the annual surplus of the fees received by the two Houses is £40,000. Now, I feel quite sure that the House will see that it is neither dignified nor just, nor do they mean it in that sense, to exact so large a tax from those engaged in public enterprise as to produce an annual surplus of 849 £40,000, after all expenses are paid. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Lord Advocate has told us he has a free mind on the subject of this Bill generally, and I will ask him whether he has a free mind on this particular question of the House fees? I know that it will be said that, so far as regards the House fees for daily attendance before Committees, they will be saved; but it must be kept in view that there will be a counterbalancing expense placed upon the promoters in the cost of carrying the Court down to the locality where the inquiry will have to be made. My next point is that the expensive notices which have now to be published by the promoters of Private Bills are entirely unnoticed in this measure. There is no provision for dealing with these notices, and I doubt whether it would be competent for us to go into that matter in Committee, seeing that it is not within the general scope of the Bill. We are, I think, pretty generally agreed that the notices which have to be published in October or November are of unnecessary length. Granted that they are necessary, as no doubt they are, I think that experience has shown that other means might be adopted instead of those lengthy notices of calling attention to the provisions of Private Bills. Notice, of course, must be given; but what I especially desire to point out is the undue length of the notices as at present published. They are so long that nobody reads them, and they have to be inserted over and over again in a manner that adds immensely to their cost. Indeed, we have heard of one case in which the cost of those notices, prior to the deposit of a Bill, amounted to upwards of £200. I think that the omission of this matter is a very grave defect in this Bill. With regard to the Commission which is proposed by the measure, let us see what it is that the Bill proposes. Towards the end of the inquiry before the Select Committee of 1888, a scheme was shadowed forth by the Minister for War, which is in reality the scheme upon which this Bill has been framed. That scheme, however, is one which was not considered by any of the witnesses, and it has been imported into this Bill en bloc without due consideration. I will not repeat 850 the arguments that have been brought against the proposed Commission, many of them with great justice; but I will say that having had some experience in regard to Private Bill legislation, I think that the tribunal here proposed is not likely to be found satisfactory. However fair and just the Scotch Judges may be, I think the principle of putting a Judge to preside over such a Commission is most objectionable, because you put him in the position of dealing with matters of policy, whereas he has hitherto been accustomed to deal only with matters of law such as, for example, the construction of deeds and Acts of Parliament. It is said, however, that a Railway Commissioner is to be associated with the other Commissioners. The Railway Commissioners are chosen for a very different purpose. They are selected because of their great knowledge of questions affecting railway traffic and railway rates, and I ask the House how can this knowledge possibly render them specially adapted for dealing with the thousand and one questions of policy which affect matters of railway enterprise, gas, harbours, sewage farms, and things of that kind? They are no more specially fitted for dealing with such questions—and I am sure they do not claim to be—than their neighbours. It is also stated that a Member of Parliament is to be associated with the Commission; but although the House may approve of this appointment, what, I ask, is one amongst so many? The most objectionable appointment of all is that of the fourth Commissioner, and it is this appointment which creates so much suspicion in Scotland. Even now we do not know the special class from which he will be taken, and we have no suggestion as to who that Commissioner is likely to be. As regards the responsibility for his appointment, it is an objectionable feature that it is placed in the hands of the Court of Session, the consequence of which will be that no one in this House can be held to be responsible for his appointment. Beyond this, the Commission is to be a migratory one, the great fault of which is that, instead of diminishing the cost of those inquiries, it will in reality add to that cost very largely. Let me ask the House what will happen when notice has been given of the Bill for a particular 851 locality, say Aberdeen? The Post Office and Telegraph Office will at once be put in motion for the purpose of bringing down the Railway Commissioner from London; then the same process will be resorted to for bringing down a Member of Parliament from London, while the Judge will start with his staff from Edinburgh to Aberdeen. When these persons get down there, they may, first of all, be called upon to deal with a question of locus standi, and it may be that when they have heard the objections on that point, they will find that there is no locus standi, so that the whole of the expense which has been incurred will have been absolutely thrown away. Then, assuming the locus standi question has been got over, and the Commissioners are called upon to inquire into the merits of the case, how often does it happen that the moment the case is begun, it becomes transparent that the petitioner has misjudged his rights, and that there is nothing of substance in the opposition. Again, in that case, all the expenses incurred are so far wasted. Under all these circumstances, I do press upon the House the fact that the scheme now proposed will, instead of lessening the cost of these inquiries, very materially increase them, both in the case of the promoters of Private Bills and in the case of those who have to appear against them. I quite admit that the saving of expense to the opponents of Railway Companies' Bills ought also to be taken into account. Another defect in the Bill is that every Bill, no matter what its nature may be, is to be tried by this Commission so long as it exclusively relates to Scotland. There may be a class of cases proper for local inquiry, and some Committee—whether the Committee of Selection or some other, such as a Joint Committee of both Houses—may select those and send them down for local inquiry, under suitable conditions. With reference to increasing the powers of the Municipal Authorities, I quite agree in much that has been done. But I think due attention ought to be paid to the remark of the hon. Member for the Falkirk Burghs, who pointed out that a Local Authority might come for a Water Bill, which proposed an enterprise into the domain of some other Local Authority. We do not intend 852 that cases of that kind are to be left to the municipalities to do exactly as they please. The Lord Advocate would, therefore, be entirely mistaken if he fancied that that is the class of case to which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Stirling Burghs referred. If I thought that this Bill was one which would conduce to the fulfilment of the desires of the people of Scotland in lessening the cost of legislation, I, for one, would give it my support. But it is because I believe that it would have the contrary effect, and that it is deficient in fundamental principles, that I support the Amendment which has been moved.
§ (8.50.) SIR A. ORR EWING (Dumbarton)
Mr. Speaker, there is no doubt that this Bill has the unanimous support of the people of Scotland The hon. Member for Aberdeen laughs at that statement, though the , city which he represents is in favour of the Bill. I believe I do not make a mistake when I say that every burgh in Scotland is in favour of the Bill. True, Leith has not spoken, and Edinburgh has not spoken—I think the hon. Member for Aberdeen said that Edinburgh has spoken. The Parliamentary Committee of the Edinburgh Corporation, to which all Bills are referred, recommended to the Town Council that a Petition should be forwarded to this House to day in favour of the Bill. But a certain portion of the Town Council, men who bestow the freedom of the city and then want to take it back—men who I do not say are the highest intellectually, or highest in any way whatever—have prevented this Petition from coming before us. But if the hon. Member says that Petition was against the Bill, I utterly deny the statement. I think the House should follow the example and advice given by the hon. Member for Dumfries. He does not altogether approve of the Bill, but he says it is not a measure which ought to be thrown out on the Second Reading. He thinks it is the kernel of a good Bill, and he trusts the Second Reading will be passed, and that when it is sent upstairs it may be modified, 853 so as to meet with the general approval of the Members for Scotland, and so confer a great benefit on the people of that country. The great objection to the Bill is raised that England is not included. Well, we have a great cry in Scotland for Home Rule, and here is a Bill which gives to our country Home Rule; yet because England is not getting it Scotland is to be denied it also. Is that a position for hon. Members to take? I believe that if this Bill passes England will not be long without a similar measure being conferred upon it. Had it not been for the death of an hon. Member (Mr. Craig Sellar), I believe a Bill would have passed this House including England, Ireland, and Scotland in respect to the passing of private measures. Another great objection to this Bill is that it savours too much of Parliament House in Edinburgh. Parliament House is an institution of which all Scotchmen ought to be proud, and I believe it never stood higher in the estimation of Scotland than it does at the present moment. But if you object to this Bill the Lord Advocate has frankly stated that he is prepared to consider and meet objections in Committee upstairs, with a view to bringing it into accordance with the general feeling of those who represent Scotland. I think you will make a mistake if you attempt to throw the Bill out on the Second Reading. It may not be all you want, but, at all events, it is the kernel of a measure which has the approval of all loyal Scotchmen to whom I have spoken. You may be able in Committee to put the Bill into that form which will enable you to give it your unanimous support; and I trust that Scotland will no longer be without this measure of self-government, which all feel would be of great benefit to that country.
§ (8.56.) DR. CLARK (Caithness)
Sir, I have to congratulate the hon. Baronet on becoming a Scotch Home Ruler, and that he is able to bear testimony to the popularity of that movement. And I must congratulate the Lord Advocate upon also becoming a Scotch Home Ruler, though, probably he is not without cognisance of the circumstance that he is to be opposed by a Conservative who is 854 likewise a Scotch Home Ruler. Two years ago, when the question of Scotch Home Rule was raised, the right hon. Gentleman introduced four Bills, in consequence of which I had to make my Motion on the subject much stronger than I had intended. Of the four Bills, two are passed, and this is the third. The fourth is still in the position in which it was two years ago—I refer to the Bill for the reconstruction of Parochial Boards. The Lord Advocate says the present Bill is based on the National sentiment of Scotland, throughout which country there is a demand for it, which has been matured during the last three years. The right hon. Gentleman has said some strong things which could be used in support of a greater degree of devolution than this Bill proposes. He said that we could not expect in London that vivid and accurate understanding of these questions which were to be found on the spot. Sir, I have to congratulate the Lord Advocate upon his position, and I hope it may not be necessary for his young opponent to fight him in his constituency. Probably he has been studying history since we discussed this question last, and he has changed his views. This proposal is very interesting. Look at the question from the historical standpoint. Two centuries ago every Private Bill was referred to the Judges, who heard the witnesses and reported everything. Why did we change that method? Simply because the Judges were not in accord with the developments taking place around them. They were bound by precedent, and the result was that the thing was taken out of their hands. Well, now, I am not going to enter into an historical description of the affair. This question came up in 1846, and if you look at the reports of the Debates in this House in that year you will find that the arguments then used are those which have been advanced to day. On that occasion a Royal Commission sat, and recommended this system of local inquiry—the system which, as I take it, constitutes the principle of the Bill. That recommendation was carried into effect by legislative enactment in 1847. A large number of local inquiries were held, with the result that the system 855 was found not to work successfully, so the Act was repealed. In the present Bill the system has been somewhat modified. Now, the Act of 1847 was destroyed by one fact, and that was that the local inquiry system was found to be too expensive. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for War laughs at that assertion; but I repeat that that was the great blot, because under it promoters of schemes had a double battle to fight—one at the local inquiry and one before a Committee of this House. Probably we shall be told that by a certain sub-section the House will be prevented in the future from appointing a Select Committee on a Private Bill; but even then you will have the merits of the scheme discussed on the Motion for Second Reading, and thus you will be going back to the old position of debating these matters in a full House, with the result that you will give a splendid opportunity to those who wish to obstruct business, and there will be an intolerable waste of public time. At any rate, the system adopted in 1846 has been shown to have failed on the ground of excessive cost. It may be that the modifications proposed under this Bill now before us will do away with the necessity for second appearances here, but that will only be at the cost of a Debate on the Second or Third Reading in a full House. The Lord Advocate has argued in favour of this Bill on two grounds. First, that of the convenience of suitors; and, secondly, that of cost. Now, I do not think that if this Bill is carried there will be fewer trips to London, and consequently less cost, as he suggests. On the contrary, I expect you will have more of them. There will be an intolerable amount of lobbying, and we shall have Municipal Committees and others coming up to town to interview Members, so that the new system will prove quite as costly, if not more so, than the one now prevailing. The hon. Member for Roxburghshire did not discuss the Amendment of the right hon. Member for Stirling Burghs. Instead of that he replied to the letter of Mr. Littler, and if he had devoted himself to the Amendment, I think he would have utilised the time of the House more satisfactorily. I am not opposed to the principle of local inquiry, but I 856 am strongly opposed to the establishment of a Commission such as that which is shadowed forth in the Bill. If it had been proposed to appoint two Members of this House at the beginning of every sitting, and two Members of the other House to act as a Joint Committee to consider these matters, with power to make local inquiries, then I think the scheme would have been a reasonable one, but I shall certainly vote against the appointment of a Commission. I strongly prefer to support the scheme shadowed forth in the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Stirling Burghs. What is that scheme? That scheme is to carry out what the people of Scotland want, and in a fashion that will suit the Scotch people. We are asking for some system that will lessen the time and cost now entailed in carrying Private Bills through Parliament, and you are simply offering us instead a system which will increase both time, trouble, and cost. We want in the first place the present cumbrous methods to be got rid of; and we want, in the second place, the intolerable and absurd costs now enforced to be abolished. Why should we pay for the Second Reading of a Bill in this House as much as 15 guineas, and why should we pay from 81 guineas to 135 guineas for a Second Reading in the other House? We know that at one time the fees used to be given to the clerks and officials, and that even in this House the Speaker had a large proportion of them; but we do not now require to raise money in this way for the payment of the officials, and I do not think that the enterprise of small Municipalities should be burdened as it is burdened under the present system. Now recently a public-spirited gentleman in Thurso was anxious to make a little harbour of refuge there, and he had to come to this House for Parliamentary sanction. The Bill was an unopposed one, but he had to pay £81 for the Second Reading in the House of Lords, and he also was called upon to pay all other preliminary fees. In fact the expenses ran up to something like £700 or £800. Now, we want to have a system by which the promoters of unopposed Bills will not have to pay these heavy sums, which amount sometimes to 857 as much as 10 or 15 per cent, of the entire cost of the projected undertaking. This is a grievance which you are not touching by your present Bill. What does my right hon. Friend the Member for Stirling Burghs propose to do in order to amend this form of procedure, to lessen the intolerable burden of costs, and to give greater powers to Local Bodies? He would have a general measure very much on the lines of the Police and Public Health Acts of last Session. We know that in Glasgow some vast socialistic experiments are now being tried, as, indeed, they are being tried in other Municipalities. We are aware that some of these Municipalities have their own tramway systems, their own gasworks, and their own waterworks. They have trusts of various kinds in which millions of money are invested. They have lodging-houses for hundreds of people, at which a night's lodging can be obtained for a sum of 4½d. The example which Glasgow has set in this direction is being followed by many other towns; and all we ask you to do is to give us a Bill which will grant the Municipalities more extended powers, and relieve them of the burden which is now imposed upon them when they wish to carry through any new scheme. We really want a system of Provisional Orders—a system at once easy and cheap—by which the Municipalities having control of matters of local government will be able to carry out whatever public-spirited schemes they are willing to undertake, and which will enable them to expend the public money simply, for instance, with the consent of the Secretary for Scotland. If this concession is made to us we shall be able to push forward many valuable improvements. The First Lord of the Treasury and the Lord Advocate are already both pledged to consider the possibilities of adopting some method by which County Councils will be able to erect piers and to create harbours without having to incur the heavy expense of passing Private Bills through this House. That is what we in Scotland want. We have been told by the hon. Baronet who last spoke that this is the first effort of the Government to give what all loyal Scotsmen want, and that this is the power of determining their own affairs, But you are not doing 858 that. You are keeping up a barrier; you are maintaining costly barriers, which prevent desirable internal reforms I very strongly object to the appointment of this Commission. Every Committee of this House which has sat to consider this question has almost unanimously reported against these questions being handed over to a Commission, on the ground that legislation conducted by means of such a body would be more cumbersome and more costly than under the existing system. One argument against the Commissions is that they lay down certain principles of law and stand by them; they are bound by a system of red tape. Mr. Dodson (Lord Monk Bretton) and Mr. Leigh Pemberton both strongly opposed the system of appointing a Commission, and supported the decision of these Bills by Committees of this House. An hon. Baronet spoke of the Parliament House at Edinburgh. I say that the proposal to govern one of the most democratic countries in the world by means of irresponsible Boards was a most objectionable one. I desire to see the rulers of Scotland responsible to the Scotch people. It is a mistake to suppose that by handing over this business to a Commission the conduct of Public Business in this House will be facilitated, because in nearly every case there would be an appeal brought from the decision of the Commission to that House. Either the House ought to maintain its unfettered control over private business, or else it should delegate the whole of its power over such business to the Commission. But it seems to me you are doing neither the one nor the other in this case, for you are simply reverting to the bad system of 150 years ago.
§ *(9.26.) THE SECRETAEY OF STATE FOR WAR (Mr. E. STANHOPE, Lincolnshire, Horncastle)
I intervene with some reluctance in a Debate which has hitherto been conducted exclusively by Scotch Members, but I do so because I venture to claim to have some little experience with regard to Private Bill legislation, and I hope that I may usefully bring some points under the notice of the House. The first question that I should like to reply 859 to is why the Government have not brought in a general measure applicable to the three Kingdoms rather than, one which is applicable to Scotland alone. I think that the discussion that we have listened to to-night is a sufficient answer to that question. Although I myself would have gladly seen a general measure introduced, still I think that the Government have acted prudently in introducing in the first instance a measure dealing only with that portion of the United Kingdom in which there is an urgent desire on the part of the people that some legislation of this character should be effected. That being so, I come to the scheme of the Government as its has been presented to the House. I do not think that it is possible to exaggerate the interest and the importance of this proposal, because if it is successful in Scotland there is every prospect that a similar system will be applied to England and to Ireland. It is therefore somewhat disappointing for the Government to find that many of the Scotch Members appear to be hesitating as to whether they will accept this Bill or not. The right hon. Member for Stirling has suggested that the Government should have exercised great caution and should have directed inquiries to be made into the subject before they laid this Bill before Parliament. I should have thought that there has already been sufficient inquiry made, and that the Government have waited sufficiently long before introducing this measure. Year after year the subject has been brought before Committee after Committee, and the whole question has been discussed and reported upon by a strong and influential Committee on which were placed the most prominent Members of the House, and the decision at which that Committee arrived was that the House ought to give up to a large extent its control over private legislation. In consequence of that Report several Bills have been introduced in this House. Those Bills have been discussed over and over again, and I well remember that the principle in the Bill proposed by my hon. and much lamented Friend the late Member for the Partick 860 Division (Mr. Craig Sellar) was received very favourably here, and whenever it was mentioned in Scotland was immediately seized upon by Members and candidates as something they desired to carry through for the purpose and intention of getting Private Bill legislation to some extent away from this House. A Committee of great importance, composed of Members of great acquaintance with the subject, chosen from both sides of the House, and representing every portion of the United Kingdom, came unanimously to the conclusion which is embodied in this Bill. It is, therefore, impossible to say that the Government are not dealing with the matter after, it has been thoroughly investigated, and in accordance with the mature judgment of, at any rate, some of the most important Members of the House. In these circumstances it does seem most remarkable, when a Bill is brought forward for accomplishing the object in view, that now Scotch Members who up to the present time have unanimously been in favour of the general principle——[Cries of "No!"] Well, they have said so in the country—that they should now turn round and because it is the Government that has brought in the Bill, should be almost as determined in their opposition to it as they have formerly been in their support of its principle. The Government adhere to the recommendations of the Committee presided over by Lord Monk Bretton, and they do not desire to get rid of the jurisdiction of the House in matters of Private Bill legislation. [An hon. MEMBER: "It was not unanimous."] It was, except on one point. One Member of the Committee voted in favour of the proposal of the Chairman of Committees, and all the other Members for the principle contained in the present Bill. The utmost possible respect is due to any opinion put forward by my right hon. Friend the Chairman of Committees, but I believe the House generally will agree that it is not right at once to make so drastic a change as would be involved in depriving the House of its control over Private Bill legislation, while they would be prepared to take a step that might possibly lead in that direction and yet left the control of the House unimpaired. The adoption of this middle course has the inconvenience of not 861 touching unopposed Bills, which are undoubtedly expensive. If they wanted to deal with unopposed Bills they should not do so by legislation. What they should do would be to take care that the fees of this House and of the other House are revised and reduced. I should like to see the cost of obtaining an unopposed Bill largely reduced, so far as it can reasonably be reduced. But what is the change we propose? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Stirling Burghs (Mr. Campbell-Bannerman) allowed his imagination to run riot. He talked about ignoring constitutional rights and about the rights of the representatives of the people. Is he prepared to contend that in all private business the representatives of the people alone and no one else are to pronounce an opinion.
§ MR. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
I said unless it was proved that it was perfectly impracticable that it should be so.
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
How does the right hon. Gentleman explain the fact that referees are paid members of Committees? They are not Members of the House, and yet they vote.
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
They do vote in the Court of Referees. They are paid, and are not Members of this House. They violate that tremendous constitutional principle of the right hon. Gentleman, and are entitled to express an opinion on Private Bills. Now let us come to the grounds on which we advocate this Bill. First of all, we advocate the Bill on the ground that it has become so difficult to find Members willing to serve on Committees, a point on which conclusive evidence was laid before the Committee. Before the Committee presided over by Lord Monk Bretton, my right hon. Friend the Member for the University (Sir J. Mowbray) stated that if there was any extreme pressure at the present time it would be absolutely impossible to carry on the Private Bill legislation of this House. Of course if it is necessary for this 862 House to do this work we must give up something else, and we must sit longer or in some way or other devote ourselves to carrying out private business. But is it necessary? I think it would be easy to show it is not necessary by any means, and that by the proposals we make it would be perfectly possible to create a tribunal that will relieve the House of functions that press unduly upon it, and at the same time maintain the right of the House to regulate its own private business. In all but one minute particular the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Campbell-Bannerman) opposes local inquiry. Railway Bills and the larger part of the remaining Private Bills he would not refer to any system of local inquiry, but retain them within the jurisdiction of Parliament. As to the Bills other than Railway Bills, he says frankly, if important, he would withdraw them from Municipalities, leaving to Municipalities only that minute fraction which deals with the very small objects of local utility. Let me for a few moments grapple even with that minute fraction of Bills the right hon. Gentleman thinks might be dealt with by extending the powers of Municipalities. He did not attempt to touch for a single moment the argument of the Lord Advocate that, if Municipalities desires to acquire the property of private individuals, they will be at the same time the promoters of Bills and judges of the terms on which the property is to be acquired. I do not believe that is a proposition that Parliament is likely to confirm, and it is not one which commends itself to us. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Banff-shire (Mr. Duff) said, "Give us the same powers you give the School Boards." The hon. Member is ignorant of the fact that no School Board can buy an acre of land without Parliamentary sanction.
§ MR. DUFF
I beg pardon. An Act was passed after the Education Act giving power to Local Authorities and School Boards to acquire land subject to the Lands Clauses Consolidation Act.
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
Certainly. What is to be done? A Provisional Order is to be framed, and the House has to give its sanction to the scheme. If the hon. 863 Gentleman wishes to extend the system of Provisional Orders, so do I. It is a cheap system of carrying out many of these works. Then I must also notice for a moment what was said by the hon. Member for South Aberdeen (Mr. Bryce). He called to our assistance the example of America and especially of New York. Do hon. Members recollect the story of the Elevated Railway of New York, which was carried through the streets at the level of the drawing-room windows of gentlemen's houses, within a few feet of those windows, without any compensation being paid for the injury done? The hon. Member's proposals seem to me to have something about them which ought to be, and I hope always will be, foreign to this country. Now we advocate local inquiry on the spot, because we believe that local inquiry is the best method of ascertaining facts. It is not a chance tribunal, but one chosen with special reference to the particular case which is to be investigated. It is one that will be better able to judge upon the spot on many disputed questions than any Committee sitting upstairs, however able and industrious that Committee may be. The Commission will get through its work quicker because it will sit longer than our Committees, and will sit de die in diem. It will not tolerate waste of time. Thirdly, I advocate a local inquiry because I am confident that it will be a cheaper inquiry From some of the speeches made by hon. Members it is almost made to appear that the Scotch people prefer an expensive tribunal. It is said the great railway companies do not object to the present system. I am not surprised at that, but are the Railway Companies necessarily the best judges of what is the cheapest and best system? Is not the private suitor to be consulted? Under the present system the promoter of a Private Bill may bring a host of witnesses and keep them waiting week after week at great cost, and after all the Committee may be satisfied with one witness and all the remainder will go back without being called at all. But the unfortunate individual who desires to protect his rights has to go on paying his counsel through the whole period. 864 The real fact is that the present tribunal is a costly one, and, above all, it is costly to the private individual who wants to protect his rights. The present tribunal is no doubt incorruptible and pure, but what can be said of the system which crams into one short month all the most important inquiries of a Session, with the result that counsel who particularly want to attend are engaged up to the hilt, and anyone who wants to obtain them has exceeding difficulty in obtaining their services. I do not say that the fees paid to eminent counsel are too high; they cannot be, because an eminent counsel will always command his price. But I do say, that the fees paid to junior counsel, which depend upon the custom of Parliament, are ludicrously unjust to private suitors. As regards one question asked by the Member for Aberdeen. It is not proposed to abolish Instructions, and I see no difficulty in giving similar Instructions to the Commission as those now given to Committees. A good deal of objection has been taken to the form of the Commission. The Government are open to conviction on this portion of the Bill, but I have the satisfaction of observing that our opponents are by no means agreed as to what is to be substituted for the proposals of the Government. Objection has been taken to the Scotch Judges nominating a Member, but I think a more impartial body could not be found. It seems to be assumed that it is an unheard-of thing for Parliament to delegate a nomination. That duty has often been delegated to Judges—aye, even to County Court Judges. It might be found better that this Member should be nominated by the Crown, but I think if we had proposed that we should probably have laid ourselves open to a greater attack. I understand the proposal is that a panel of gentlemen suited for the position shall be nominated, and that from that panel the man best qualified for the work of the year shall be chosen. Some objection has been taken to the fact that we are to have a Member of Parliament on the Committee because he is to be the only unpaid member. We have had experience of that in the case of the Court of Referees. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Campbell-Bannerman) 865 says he is afraid the Court will not be peripatetic. If the Court were to sit in Edinburgh and refuse to sit in the localities, it would be acting entirely contrary to the spirit and even the letter of the Bill. Now, I come to the last point, and that is, Will the House accept the recommendations of the Committee? The hon. Member for Caithness (Dr. Clark) does not disguise what he thinks about that. He says the opportunity would be taken by obstructives in the House to make every use of the Forms of the House to discuss over and over again a Private Bill that had been before the Committee. I do not think they would do anything of the kind. I believe in the common-sense of Parliament. We always used to hear at the time of the constitution of the Court for the trial of Election Petitions that the same result would follow. What has been the case? This House, without exception, accepts the decisions of the Judges.
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
That is so now, but it was said that the House would never allow the decisions of the Judges to remain unchallenged, but I never heard a single protest against the decision in an election case. So I believe it will be with this tribunal. We invoke the assistance of the House to make this tribunal thoroughly efficient and strong. If it is made strong and efficient I am confident the House will accept its decisions. I hope I have shown that the present system cannot continue and ought not to continue. It is one we ought to change without delay. We do not pretend that our scheme is absolutely complete in all respects, and may not be amended in Committee, but still it is a workable scheme we are holding out, and we are confident that it will be a great assistance to Parliament and a great benefit to the people of Scotland.
§ *(8.1.) MR. H. H. FOWLER (Wolverhampton, E.)
If the Debate had proceeded on the same lines on which it has progressed since 4 o'clock, perhaps it would not have been necessary for an 866 English Member to intervene. A very great part of the Debate has been purely of a Scottish character, carried on by Scotch Members from a Scotch point of view, and to this all I should have been disposed to say would have been this: that if our Scotch friends are desirous of trying the experiment let them do so, but the cost will be more than under the present system. But the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War has thrown quite a new colour over the Debate, suggesting, as it did, the introduction of the scheme under discussion into England. The right hon. Gentleman practically advocated the surrender by the House of its control over private legislation; and English Members are justified in intervening in a purely Scotch Debate in order to avoid being committed to any such proposal. I think, before the House is called upon to make changes in a system which has been in force for many years, and which on the whole has worked remarkably well, some good reasons for the change ought to be advanced. Now, the first reason was given in the course of this evening by the hon. Member for Roxburgh (Mr. A. Elliot), and which I am glad to find the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for War did not endorse. My hon. Friend the Member for Roxburgh maintained that a Select Committee of the House of Commons is a tribunal unsatisfactory to the suitors who come before it, and that, if for no other reason, we were bound to alter it because of its unsatisfactory qualifications. Now, if I may venture upon personal allusions, I may say that before I became a Member of this House I had the honour of practising before its Committees, and since becoming a Member, I have had the honour of serving on these Committees, and the conclusion to which I have arrived, and which I have often expressed, is that, of all the tribunals with which I have ever been associated, I know none so competent or so fair, and none which have given such satisfaction to suitors, as the Select Committees of 867 the House of Commons. The hon. Member for Roxburgh alluded to the inferiority—he did not use the word, but he conveyed the idea—the inferiority of the Committee to the Bar practising before it. I would call attention in this connection to the evidence of the greatest living man who has practised at the Parliamentary Bar—Lord Grimthorpe. He was a leading practitioner at the Parliamentary Bar for nearly 40 years, and Lord Grimthorpe never hesitates to express his opinions even if they are disagreeable, and Lord Grimthorpe's opinions are not likely to be founded on a favourable exaggeration of the merits of these tribunals. Lord Grimthorpe stated to the Committee which sat on the subject that he believed that the decisions of Select Committees generally gave satisfaction to the public; that a good Chairman was often better able to control the admission of evidence than even a Judge; and that the Bar practising before the Committees recognised the general competence of the Committees. Another eminent counsel, Mr. Pope, endorsed that opinion. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Stanhope) urged the necessity of change, on the ground that it was becoming impossible for the House to carry on its own business, and quoted in support of his argument the decision of Lord Hartington's Committee and the evidence of my right hon. Friend the Chairman of the Committee of Selection (Sir J. Mowbray). But the right hon. Gentleman did not tell the House the whole of the proposal made by Lord Hartington's Committee, which was that the whole House should be divided into a panel, and that every Member should sit on a Standing Committee. That involves a great constitutional change; and if Her Majesty's Government propose it, I do not know that they will meet with much opposition here; but that is not the proposal now before the House. If every Member of the House is a Member of a Standing Committee sitting constantly, and having charge of the regular business of the House, it is self-evident that the present system of Private Bill Committees cannot be carried out. It was upon that theory alone that Lord Hartington's Committee recommended the change which the right hon. Gentleman has referred to. In 868 passing, I may call attention to another inaccuracy into which the right hon. Gentleman quite unintentionally fell. The right hon. Gentleman was inaccurate in saying that the Committee of both Houses was unanimously, with one exception, in favour of the proposal now put forward. The Committee was, in fact, with the exception of the Postmaster General, unanimous in preferring to discuss his scheme in preference to that of the Chairman of Committees; but the Committee voted four to six against the scheme of the right hon. Gentleman. The four Members of the Joint Committee who voted against the scheme of the right hon. Gentleman were the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland, Lord Stalbridge, Lord Balfour, and another Peer. The Report of the Joint Committee was a compromise proposal. The evident feeling of the Joint Committee, as shown in its Report, was in favour of an extension of the scheme for Provisional Orders, subject to the difficulty that it would only afford a partial relief to Members of the House of Commons. The Secretary of State for War also argued that the labours of hon. Members need lightening; but it is my opinion that the facts do not point to such a conclusion. The year 1887 was an exceptional light year; and in that Session 102 Members of the House of Commons were employed upon Select Committees to consider opposed Bills, the average service of each Member amounting to less than eight days. Is this too great an imposition on hon. Members? Does this represent an intolerable pressure? I know the difficulty of getting Members to serve on Committees, but that is one of the evils of the system. When a Member is asked to serve, of course it is never convenient; it is very irksome to Members not fond of the duty; but allowing for all exceptions, there would, under an automatic system of service, always be 300 or 400 Members available for Committees, and the service required from each would be very small during a Session. Then, too, when we talk of increasing burdens, let us recollect that the Sittings of the House have been considerably abbreviated. In my earlier days of Membership, it was considered a comparatively early hour if we rose before 2 o'clock, 869 and now we usually adjourn soon after midnight. I do not believe there is anything in the difficulty of finding Members to serve on Committees which could not be met by some alteration in the present system. With regard to the argument of the enormous cost of witnesses, that cost has been shown to be only 11 per cent. of the entire expenses. I agree that a large number of unnecessary witnesses are brought to London, but that is not the fault of the system, but of the parties themselves. The House of Commons Committees examine witnesses more rapidly than an ordinary Court of Law, and if a fact is clearly proved by one witness it is not their habit to call more upon that point. The real expense is in the fees of the House and the fees to counsel, and I do not believe that this Bill is going to diminish those expenses. The fees paid to counsel under the present system of Election Petitions are far greater than those which were paid before. People will not have local talent, and I venture to say that in an important question, say of water supply to Edinburgh, before the new tribunal the Corporation would get down London counsel and London experts at a far greater cost than would be entailed on the Corporation if they had to bring up local witnesses to London. I am not arguing against trying the experiment of local inquiry. I am not opposed to local inquiry; but I will venture to say the idea is an absurdity so far as railways are concerned. As an illustration, take the scheme which I understand is proposed, and will be opposed, to form a new connection between London and Manchester and the North. Would you have a local inquiry for that? Where should it be held? A great question of policy will have to be decided upon which Parliament alone can judge. I deny that in our constitutional system any Judges can be appointed to decide questions of policy. They are to decide questions of law. They apply the law to facts, and I hope we shall never depart from this admirable practice. The fact of a man being a good Judge does not fit him to decide cases of public policy such as are brought before Committees of this House. Take, for instance, the case of the Manchester Ship Canal, than which I do not know 870 a greater proof of the way in which our present system works. In the first instance, the Bill was passed by a Committee of the House of Commons, and was thrown out in the Committee of the House of Lords; next year the reverse was the case, and the next year it passed both Houses. In all that time difficulties were being threshed out and the scheme matured and ripened, until, by a Committee on which Mr. Forster as Chairman rendered one of his last great public services, the scheme passed, and the undertaking is now being carried through. Now, if this scheme had been referred to a Commission of Judges for the second time, that tribunal would have rejected it as a matter already disposed of. With regard to the question of Provisional Orders, we do not propose that the Municipality of A should be allowed to buy the gasworks of A at its own price, but upon certain terms—for instance, under the Lands Clauses Act. Where would be the injustice of that? The matter would then be subject to Parliamentary control. No branch of the work of the Local Government Board is more beneficial than its administration of Provisional Orders, and I do not see why the work done for England by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ritchie) should not be done for Scotland by the Secretary for Scotland, who there is no reason to suppose is an overworked official. The Local Government system is, in fact, one of local inquiry carried out by the Inspector at a very small cost indeed, and the same may be said of Board of Trade Provisional Orders. I do not remember any other arguments in favour of this scheme unless it is, as the Lord Advocate said, a homoeopathic dose of Home Rule for the people of Scotland. If the people of Scotland wish to have it, I do not wish to stand in their way, but I object to the patronage which this measure will give to the Judges. Of all patronage judicial patronage is the worst, because the Judges are irresponsible. If it were the patronage of the Crown, the Minister would exercise it with the full knowledge that he would be responsible to the House of Commons. I remember an incident related that Lord Palmerston once said that every person he met in Parliament Street was laughing at the 871 extraordinary mode of electing the Indian Council which, was proposed by Mr. Disraeli's India Councils Bill. I think if anything could excite the risible faculties of the people of Scotland it would be this proposal that the Judges sitting in Parliament House should appoint the fourth Member of the Committee. Then the Bill makes no provision for dealing with cases of unopposed measures, and I do not see what is to be the position of the House in cases where the Commissioners reject a Bill. A Bill, let us say, is brought in which raises some grave question of public policy. Members of this House object to its provisions, and raise a Debate on the Second Beading. The House practically affirms the principle and the Preamble by passing the Second Reading, and says in effect it approves of the scheme on the ground of public policy subject to the details being settled. Is the Commission to have the power under such circumstances of reversing the decision of the House? A Committee upstairs would say at once: "The House has practically settled the Preamble of this Bill." [Ministerial cries of "No!"] I have been on Committees upstairs when it has been said: "The principle is a question which the House has practically decided, and we are here to settle the details." But of course this is only a question of detail. I say with reference to the whole question, if this is to be introduced as a general scheme, you will be depriving the public of this country of a most valuable tribunal for the determination of this class of questions; you will be introducing a new element into questions of public policy and setting up a co-ordinate jurisdiction with Parliament, to be exercised side by side with Parliament, in such a way that it will assuredly create friction. Parliament will never treat the decisions of an outside body in the same way as it treats the decisions of its own Committees. Under these circumstances, I think you would be making a change which would not secure the advantages which the right hon. Gentleman expects. I, for one, Sir, knowing the objections that may be urged against the present system, and believing that a great many of those objections might be removed by reducing 872 the fees that have now to be paid, and making the proceedings more simple by doing away with all those advertisements and notices and deposits which have come down to us as relics of bygone times, and are totally inapplicable to the present day, am of opinion that we shall still find the Parliamentary system the most practicable and satisfactory we can employ for dealing with this class of cases, and I prefer to bear the evils we have than fly to others that we know not of.
§ (10.34.) MR. M. J. STEWART (Kirkcudbright)
This question has been treated to night in a spirit very adverse to the provisions of the Bill. In view of the fact that for many years it has occupied a prominent place in political discussions, and that it has figured largely in many Addresses for at least 10 or 15 years, I am rather surprised at the tone adopted by hon. Members opposite. This is the first time we have had a regular discussion on a Government measure respecting Private Bill legislation, and I am bound to say the Government have received little encouragement from hon. Members in the task they have imposed upon themselves. There can be no doubt that the feeling in Scotland in favour of some such measure as this is a very strong one. There is not in the North such satisfaction with the composition and decisions of the Parliamentary tribunals upstairs as the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. H. H. Fowler) has described as existing here. We are well aware that there are many competent Members who serve upon the Committees upstairs, but at the same time there are many who do not pay much attention to the questions that come before them, and the public are consequently led to think that their interests are carelessly dealt with. The right hon. Gentleman quoted Lord Grimthorpe as a great authority on this subject. No doubt Lord Grimthorpe had an immense practice at the Parliamentary Bar, but I question whether one who was as fortunate as he was in his 873 practice at the Bar for so many years is the best witness to call on the question. He would be, perhaps, the last man to say a word against the Committees. We find that Mr. Pope and others are cited, but these gentlemen bear the same relation to Committees now that Lord Grimthorpe did in his day. It is said that Election Petitions nowadays cost more than they did formerly. That is not the case in Scotland. The cost in Scotland is much less than it would be if witnesses had to be brought up to London and to be kept here a long time in waiting; and I think, in the same way, the cost of holding a Private Bill inquiry would be less in Scotland than in London. We are told that the expense of bringing counsel to Scotland would be greater than that of bringing witnesses to London; but in Scotland we are not in the habit of sending to London for counsel to advocate our causes. There is a strong opinion in Scotland that something of this sort should be done, and as the Bill is to be sent to a Select Committee I cannot conceive how many Scotch Members can be found to vote against the Second Reading. What we have to consider is, are we prepared to make any change in the system of Private Committees by delegating some of the powers to a Commission sitting in Scotland? In my opinion, Scotland is justified in making the first claim in this matter, for the late Mr. Craig Sellar was active in pressing his views upon the House, and his representations were very favourably received. No agitation has, so far as I know, ever taken place in England, and if Scotland wants this new system I think the House ought not to deny it to her. It is a principle we have been endeavouring to secure for some years past, and I am sure there are a large number of Members who would be willing to see some of the powers they at present possess delegated to some other authority. I can understand suitors, whether promoters or petitioners, finding fault with a tribunal of an untried character. They may say that these four or five gentlemen got together to adjudicate on their differences have not had the experience to warrant their coming to a right opinion. As to the appointment of a Judge as President of the Court, such a person 874 would be conversant with all legal Forms, and would be well qualified to assist in these inquiries, and I think if we had more Members of that kind on the tribunal it would secure greater confidence in the country. You would t gentlemen of wider experience to adjudicate, and probably views less narrow would be found to prevail. There is the objection as to a tribunal with finality to its decisions. I can conceive a Bill being brought a second time before the Commission; I can conceive the Bill being sent from House to House at Westminster, and this occurring more than once. That would necessitate a considerable amount of expense. Witnesses would have to be sent down to the locality from time to time, and the present ruinous expenditure would be repeated. But there is a danger that private enterprise might be injuriously affected. If you had the same tribunal going to a locality from year to year you would know what their views were likely to be, and, therefore, though the schemes for which powers were sought might be of great value to the public, the promoters might be restrained from persevering with them. There is no finality at present, and the result is that if a scheme is rejected one year it can be brought up again and again, and frequently is adopted in the end, greatly to the advantage of the public. One blot in the Bill is that there is no appeal to the House of Lords. I do not know if hon. Members agree with me, but I believe that a double inquiry is of great value. There are sometimes points in an inquiry which, owing to the pressure in the House of Commons, are not thrashed out there, and these are more fully gone into in the House of Lords. There is some objection to Edinburgh being the centre for the Commission. We know there is a great amount of jealousy in Scotland between the West and East—though that is not a matter for discussion here. But those prejudices are prejudices that will wear out, and we must not entertain feelings of that kind in trying to legislate for Scotland. There is this to be said in regard to conferring these powers on Municipalities and County Councils—namely, that these bodies represent the ratepayers, and if you make the inquiry too local you do 875 not represent the feeling of the wider district in which the particular undertaking is situated, and it might be necessary that a much wider view than that which would be taken by a Town Council should be secured. There has been some experience in this direction in Glasgow, where railway, and tramway, and other schemes of great value to the general public have been, for a long time, strenuously resisted by the Local Authorities. If the wider localities had had their way, some enterprises of great national interest might not have been stifled in their infancy. But with this tribunal in the Bill you would not have that local prejudice at work, and would have a much wider view taken of these matters. I do hope the principle of the Bill will be affirmed tonight.
§ *(10.45.) MR. LENG (Dundee)
At the first blush I was rather taken by the Bill, especially considering the quarter from which it comes. As an advanced Liberal I was some what surprised to find a kind of posy or nosegay of advanced Liberal principles presented by the Lord Advocate, for there is the principle of devolution, there is the principle of Home Rule, and there is—what must have delighted the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere)—the proposal to abolish the House of Lords so far as Scotch Private Bills legislation by this Commission is concerned. The principle of devolution is rather captivating as relieving Members from attendance on Committees and setting them free to attend Grand Committees dealing with Imperial questions. I was particularly interested in the evolution of the Home Rule principle in this Bill, because by bringing the preliminary process of legislation home to the people we shall do something to remove the fetish that the only sacred place for legislation is Westminster, forgetting that in ancient times Parliament assembled in different large cities in the Kingdom. It has long been contended that justice should be brought home to the people. We shall 876 now have from the introduction of this Bill by a Conservative Government the admission that the time has arrived when legislation also should be brought home to the people. Forgetting that the House is really composed of representative Members from all parts of the country, it has been thought there is something sacred in this place for the purpose of legislation, and that Members receive a baptism of wisdom when they come to the banks of the Thames which they do not possess in their own cities and counties. I would point out to Members opposite that when they are going to have this system of peripatetic Committees or Commissions with regard to Private Bills in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee, and Aberdeen, the suggestion naturally follows that what might be good for Private Bills might not be bad also for Public Bills. I, therefore, congratulate the Government on this additional step they are taking in the direction of Home Rule. There are many who would be willing to receive Home Rule by instalments. Nor do I despair of seeing in the course of time a Conservative Government propose to establish a Scottish Representative Assembly for the discussion of strictly Scottish affairs. There is, I admit, one valuable proposal, and I think it is the only valuable proposal in the Bill; that is, the replacement of the double inquiry by an inquiry before a single Committee. In the last Session of Parliament there were three separate instances connected with Scotland in which decisions of Committees of the House of Commons were reversed by Committees of the House of Lords. In one of these cases the House of Commons sat for 29 days, and the House of Lords, sitting upon the case for nine days, reversed the decision of the first Committee. It is understood that the entire expenses of these two inquiries to the various companies was not less than £50,000. With regard to these expenses, there is no doubt great weight in the statement that they arise chiefly through the employment of experts, and if these are brought to Scotland the cost will not be diminished. We have had experience of that in the city I represent. We have more than once had arbitrations, and experts have been brought from London to give evidence, and the cost in 877 each, has been enormous, not to say appalling. I may remind the House with regard to this question of one Committee instead of two, that in 1858, in the Commons Committee of that year Mr. Lowe moved that the House of Lords should be invited to concur in some arrangement by which a Private Bill might be investigated at the same time and placed before a Committee of the two Houses, or by which one general tribunal may be formed for both Houses. This plan was supported by Mr. Gladstone, Lord Robert Cecil, and Mr. Stuart-Wortley; but was opposed by Sir James Graham, Mr. Caudwell, and Mr. Bouverie, and the numbers being equal, the Chairman declared himself with the "Noes." In 1869 a Joint Committee of Lords and Commons was appointed "to consider whether any facilities could be given for the despatch of business in Parliament." This Committee considered it expedient that opposed Private Bills should be referred to a Joint Committee consisting of three Members of each House, and were of opinion "that this change would introduce greater simplicity and rapidity of proceeding and a corresponding economy." Had the recommendation been given effect to in the present Bill it would have been free from many of the objections stated. There is a certain vague general feeling and desire amongst the public in Scotland for some change; but I undertake to say there is no feeling whatever for this mode of making it, and there is a strong feeling against the proposed constitution of the Commission. It is a peculiarity of a Conservative Government that while great sticklers for the Constitution, they bring forward most unconstitutional proposals. Unaccustomed naturally to the path of reform, when they enter upon it they stagger and stumble. The present system is a constitutional system, it recognises both branches of the Legislature; but the Bill, so far as the constitution of the Commission is concerned, goes on the assumption that there is no House of Lords. Is it not strange that a Conservative Government is the first to propose to abolish the share of the House of Lords in Private Bill legislation? If such a proposal as that in the Bill had been made 878 by Liberals, we could easily have conceived what Tories would have said respecting it. Numerous Committees have taken evidence and reported on the subject, and many passages might be quoted. I may remind the House that in 1860 Lord Brougham proposed that—It is inexpedient in a constitutional view for Parliament, or either of the Houses thereof, to abdicate its functions and privileges in respect of private legislation, but, on the contrary, that both Houses ought jealously to retain their undoubted power to decide upon every proposed enactment and of assenting to or dissenting from such proposals.Mr. Frederick Clifford, in his admirable work on Private Bill legislation, which is so careful, complete, and impartial, says—The House of Lords has shown no wish to rid itself of its share in private legislation, and has always discharged this duty with great care for public and private interests. From the earliest period both Houses have treated Private Bills as part of the necessary business of legislation which the nation expected them to transact.Mr. Robert Baxter, an acute and experienced solicitor said the House of Lords were quicker in the despatch of business than even the Lower House. Then there is another point, which I think has been referred to before. It is that by having only one Member of Parliament on this proposed Commission yon cannot have the power of defending and explaining and vindicating the decision of the Committee when it is reported to this House. On various occasions during the short time I have been in this House I have seen several Members of Parliament rise to vindicate the decision of the Committee. The more it is looked into, the more, I am convinced, will it be found that the constitution of this Commission is objectionable. There is no doubt whatever, may be said, that there is too much of the legal and judicial element in its constitution. This proposal to have a meeting of the Judges in Edinburgh to nominate a list of persons from whom the Supreme Judge is to make a selection, really has nothing whatever to recommend it. It is curious to see a Conservative Lord Advocate treating the Peers of the House of Lords practically as nonexistent, 879 and regarding what are called in Scotland the paper lords as all in all, and giving to them the selection of this tribunal. Hon. Gentlemen on the other side have spoken as though the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Stirling had advocated the exclusion of Railway Bills. I did not understand him in that sense at all. He pointed out that under your own Bill it must necessarily take place, and, if it does take place, it is quite obvious that there would not be sufficient employment for any such Commission. Mr. Clifford says—If Railway Bills are reserved for the decision of Parliament the justification for a new tribunal disappears. It would relieve Parliament from little work, and it would only add another stage of litigation and expense.That is a quotation from a work written and published some years before this Bill was introduced, so that it is quite impartial. Then Lord Monk Bretton is also of opinion that there is not sufficient work in Scotland or in Ireland to justify the creation of separate tribunals. I am certainly of opinion that a far better system is that both Houses should be represented on a Joint Committee. At the same time, I believe it is the opinion of a considerable number of persons in Scotland, that the real reason of the Bill is set forth in Clause 19, which creates new offices, new places, lucrative appointments for a number of gentlemen to whom they will be very acceptable. It has been said that a great number of Chambers of Commerce and Corporations have passed resolutions in favour of this Bill, but those who have the most intimate acquaintance with the cost of Private Bill procedure are satisfied that the proposals of the Bill will add to rather than diminish that cost. There is no gentleman in Scotland who has had a larger or longer acquaintance with procedure in these Committees than Mr. Thornton, Clerk of the Police Commission of Dundee, who has promoted numerous Private Bills during the last 40 years. He says—(c) Consider for a moment what would take place if a special tribunal for Scotland, sitting in Edinburgh or elsewhere in Scotland, were appointed as proposed. In all important Bills the best talent will always be sought on the side of the promoters, as well as on the 880 part of the objectors. It may be that some Scotch lawyers would sooner or later devote themselves to Parliamentary business, and that, therefore, so far as advocacy is concerned, you might have as good advocacy in Scotland as you can at present secure at Westminster, but in that case you will not secure it one penny cheaper; on the contrary, it will be dearer. Scotch lawyers who practically withdraw themselves from general practice will require large fees, just as the barristers who presently practise at Westminster do, and if you take them away from Edinburgh to Dundee or Aberdeen or Glasgow, they will require heavier fees. A barrister at Westminster can attend half a dozen Committee Rooms—in other words, half a dozen cases a day—but in Edinburgh, while the advocate might be able to attend to his general chamber business, he could only attend to one case, because the Commissioners could only take up one case at a time, and if he were taken away to Glasgow, Dundee, or Inverness, he could not attend even to his chamber business, and so would require still greater remuneration. Advocacy, however, is only a part, and sometimes a small part, of the expense attending opposed Bills. Experts of the highest standing are often necessarily employed, and these experts are at present almost exclusively found in London, and will continue to be found there. If you bring these experts to Scotland you must pay them enormous fees. At present their offices are at Westminster, where they do a general business, and they may be able to attend a number of Committee Rooms ill a single day; but if you take them down to Edinburgh, they can only attend on one case, and they are away from all their general business, and you must, in consequence, pay them large and exorbitant fees.Then it would be far better that there should be a joint tribunal of the two Houses, whatever it may be. The now venerable Town Clerk of the City of Dundee, who has been also engaged for nearly half a century in such work, entirely agrees with Mr. Thornton in this matter. Therefore, from various points of view, Mr. Speaker, it seems that while at the first blush there is much which is captivating in the aspect of the Bill, yet, when it comes to be examined, and especially when this most objectionable feature of the constitution of the Committee is considered, I think the great majority, at all events, of Liberal Members, must support the Amendment proposed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Stirling.
§ *(11.8.) SIR JULIAN GOLDSMID (St. Pancras, S.)
Mr. Speaker, this matter appears to me to be absolutely nonpolitical in its character, and, therefore, 881 I will not refer to the earlier observations of the hon. Member who has just spoken. The principle of the Bill concerns England and Ireland just as much as Scotland, because that which is adopted for Scotland, if successful, will ultimately be adopted for England and Ireland also. I think it is the duty of those Members who have had experience of Private Bill Committees upstairs, to state their experience with a view to contributing to a sound decision. As I understand, this plan is proposed by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, in consequence of a demand which is more general and more varied in Scotland than in any other part of the United Kingdom. To those who are not satisfied with the Bill, the right hon. Gentleman says that he is willing, if it is read a second time, that the whole matter shall be threshed out in Committee upstairs. Of that I entirely approve, considering the importance of the private interests of suitors who have hitherto appeared before the Parliamentary Committees. I think it is right that every consideration should be given to the subject. I myself have had a varied experience of Committees upstairs. I have heard it said that it is a great tax upon Members to serve upon Private Bill Committees. I was endeavouring to calculate the other day on how many Private Bill Committees I have sat. I broke down in the calculations; I think it was something between 30 and 40. Therefore, my experience has been worth something As a rule, I have found, amongst Members of all Parties, not only willingness to serve on Committees, but anxiety to do their duty. Only in one instance have I known objections raised by a private Member, who said he was unfairly placed on the Committee, and that he had more important business elsewhere. It was my duty as Chairman to point out that I was not responsible for his being placed on the Committee, and that he could have no business more important than that of the country. As far as Members of Parliament are concerned, I do not think that it is a very great burden to them to serve on Private Bill Committees, and the cry that the burden is too great is an exaggerated one, which ought not to be listened to. I should just like to 882 word upon the reduced number of Members who serve on each Private Bill Committee. The number was formerly five; it is now four—and four Members are few enough to consider the important questions which are constantly brought before Private Bill Committees, especially with regard to railway matters. Of course, on the Report of the Committee the House forms a decision. But my object is principally to point out that one of the advantages of the present Parliamentary tribunal is its variety. Under this system you can never have stereotyped decisions. One Chairman may lay down what he deems to be the law, and he may believe that his decision is a perfectly safe one; but after all he may have been mistaken, and the parties to future proceedings will not necessarily be bound by the view he has taken. Consequently, I say that the advantage of variety rests with the present tribunal, whereas in the case of a judicial tribunal, unless the greatest possible care is exercised, the decisions may become stereotyped. The disadvantage of stereotyping in the case of a judicial tribunal is that where certain decisions have been pronounced yon always have a large number of astute persons practising before that tribunal ready to accommodate themselves to the ideas entertained and expressed by it. So far, therefore, I cannot say that from the point of view of hon. Members the decisions of the present tribunal have been unsatisfactory. But the real question to be considered is—is the demand for a new tribunal justified, and if so, how far can we best meet it? I maintain that the work has so far been well done; but if the country wants it done in another way, it is our duty to endeavour to provide the best possible means. This being so, I do not quarrel with the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman that this Bill should be referred to a Select Committee in order that the whole subject maybe thoroughly threshed out. But I think it desirable that a few words should be said on another matter. We have heard a good deal as to the cost of bringing witnesses from a distance. I remember that I had to sit with a very able Committee on a great Scotch scheme which was referred 883 to just now—I allude to that of the Central Glasgow Railway. On that occasion there was an extensive amount of evidence prepared on both sides, showing that those who were in charge of the Bill and those opposed to it had. endeavoured somewhat to overburden each case by bringing up too many witnesses. But this was speedily checked by the Committee, and there were some 20 or 30 witnesses who were absolutely useless. All this, of course, involves a considerable amount of cost. But then if you change the tribunal, and go to the locality, you have to meet the heavy costs of the professional witnesses and experts who have to be called in every case, an example of which may be found in the case of Mr. Barry, who appears before a great many Committees, especially in reference to underground railways. The fee which such a witness would charge in a case heard in London would be quite another thing if he were called upon to go down to Dundee or Edinburgh to give similar evidence. Consequently, I cannot help thinking that money would not be saved by going to the localities because of the extra expense attending the employment of experts and counsel. It is also said that large numbers of counsel would be called on to go to Scotland and practise before the new tribunal. I do not believe that the number would be large, because the fees would be found too heavy, and our Scotch friends are sufficiently astute to be able to find men within their own borders able to discharge the duties now required of counsel in London. With regard to the constitution of the new tribunal, I, for one, had hoped that a Joint Committee of both Houses would have sufficed to get over the present difficulty. This is a plan which has been approved by many Members of great distinction on both sides of politics, and as it has never yet been tried, I should have liked to have seen the experiment made; but, at the same time, if Her Majesty's Government think, and the House thinks, that the demand for a new tribunal is so great that it ought to be met, I do not say the Government have done wrong in bringing in this Bill, although I trust that when in Committee the 884 Government will duly consider the various points that have been raised. I would, however, offer them one suggestion, and that is, that whatever we do should be of a merely tentative character. I say this because we have been told by a Representative of Her Majesty's Government that if this Bill succeeds in Scotland, its principle will in all probability be extended to England and Ireland. I would, therefore, suggest to the Government that it may be well to limit the duration of the Bill, so as to render it terminable at the expiration of three or five years. In that case, the House of Commons and the country would have time to see whether the plan of this Bill met with general approval, or whether it would be better either to revert to the old system or accept the new one with modifications. I make this suggestion with no ill-will against their proposal, but in the hope that the Government will give it due consideration.
§ (11.23.) MR. J. CALDWELL (Glasgow, St. Rollox)
It occurs to me that this Bill is objectionable from a Unionist point of view. The policy of the Unionist Party has been to treat the United Kingdom as a whole; but, unfortunately, this is not the only occasion on which they have been prepared to detach certain national questions, and have shown a disposition to deal with them differently to the rest of the United Kingdom. I think there is an advantage in having matters of this kind determined imperially. There are many matters dealt with by Municipal and County Authorities in England on which English opinion might be of great use in Scotland. If there is to be a Commission for England and Ireland, why not have one Commission for the United Kingdom? If you are going to have a Commission for England, there is no reason why it should not be applied to Scotland. We are told that we are going to make an experiment, and, in so doing, we are bringing about a great constitutional change. The Lord Advocate has made reference to 885 local feeling in Scotland on this subject. I say that the local feeling in Scotland extends no further than this: that, whatever inquiries are necessary should be conducted in the localities. That is the only point on which Scottish opinion exists, because it is believed that it would be of advantage to the suitors to have local inquiries, and would prove a great saving of expense. No opinion, however, has been expressed in favour of this Bill. Scotch opinion is certainly not in favour of 'an irresponsible Commission, not amenable to public opinion, and not representative of the people. They would reject such a body, and would infinitely prefer a Committee of the two Houses to conduct inquiries OH the spot. There is no doubt that Private Bill legislation is of great importance to every country. Such legislation deals with numerous matters that are of material importance to the prosperity of the country—such, for instance, as railways, sanitary matters, police administration, water, gas, and many other things. When measures affecting these matters are remitted to Committees of this House, those Committees are appointed through a Committee of Selection consisting of men who are in touch with public feeling, and at the same time, with the general policy of Parliament. In the majority of cases dealt with by these Committees the judgment given is not interfered with. And, if any such attempt be made, the Members of the Committee have the opportunity of stating the reasons on which their judgment was founded. But in this case there will be only one Member of the House of Commons on the Commission, and it might so happen that he would be absent when the scheme came before the House for discussion, so that a decision would have to be come to without hon. Members having the benefit of his experience. Now this Commission must be intended to be either effective or non-effective. If the former, then we shall have legislation pratically conducted by authorities outside this House. If, on the other hand, the decision and judgment of the Commissioners is to be liable to be reversed, then the whole matter will necessarily come up for discussion in this House. The first objection I take to 886 this Bill, then, is that it is a delegation of legislative powers to a Commission not selected by, nor in any way answerable to, the people; and, secondly, that the House will have no control over Private Bill legislation. There are in a year but few opposed Private Bills relating to Scotland. If, however, Parliament is unable to cope with this legislation, why not constitute a Council to deal with private legislation, giving it power to prepare measures in the same way as the Charity Commissioners prepare their schemes? A body of that kind would be amenable to local feeling in Scotland, and it would not be absolutely independent, as it would have to submit its Bills for approval to the Imperial Parliament. In that way you would practically have local legislation along with the retention of the supremacy of Parliament.
§ (11.34.) The House divided:—Ayes 150; Noes 86.—(Div. List, No. 12.)
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be referred to a Select Committee."—(The Lord Advocate.)
§ MR. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
I must ask the Government not to take that Motion to-night. I intend to move an Instruction to the Committee, and so I believe do some of my hon. Friends. We also ought to know something as to the constitution of the Committee. I do not think the Government will lose any time by putting this Motion off.
§ *(11.50.) THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH, Strand, Westminster)
I should be very sorry to offer any opposition to the right hon. Gentleman, but I may remind him that it would be quite open to him to move an Instruction after the Bill is referred to a Committee. He will be able to do so on the nomination of the Committee.
§ (11.51.) SIR W. HARCOURT (Derby)
There should be a clear understanding that an opportunity of moving Instructions to the Committee will be afforded to hon. Members.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
I think that is very reasonable, and I am quite willing to give an undertaking that an opportunity shall be given for moving any Instructions to the Committee that hon. Members opposite may desire to move.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill referred to a Select Committee.