HC Deb 31 March 1892 vol 3 cc319-25
*(3.8.) ADMIRAL FIELD (Sussex, Eastbourne)

I do not want to take up the time of the House unnecessarily, neither do I wish to move an unnecessary Instruction——

MR. CALDWELL (Glasgow, St. Rollox)

I rise to order, Sir. I understand this is an opposed Motion, and if so should it not be put off?


It came on last Thursday.


It was fixed last Thursday, by Order, for to-day.


If I get a definite assurance that this Instruction is not required I will not proceed. I have done my best to ascertain from the authorities of the House a definite opinion, but I have found differences of opinion. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. H. H. Fowler) tells me in consultation that he thinks the Instruction unnecessary; but, Sir, I make bold to say that we cannot act on thought or supposition in these matters; we must have a definite statement that the Instruction is necessary or it is not if the Committee are to direct their inquiry to this point. Now, I think it will be seen that this House, having read the Bill a second time by a large majority, referred it to a Special Committee. The Bill proposes to repeal a clause giving the Eastbourne Authorities power to prohibit bands and Sunday processions. If that clause is repealed something must be inserted in order to regulate these processions if they are to be allowed—as to when they shall take place, when the bands shall play, and for what duration of time. Of course, I am aware that it has been said that the Municipal Corporations Act gives ample powers to frame bye-laws; but the Eastbourne Authorities have already framed bye-laws, and they have been disapproved. It appears to me that some Instruction is necessary. I have consulted with the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. H. H. Fowler), and he made a suggestion which I want to embody in an Instruction, not the words as they stand on the Paper, but simply these:— That it be an Instruction to the Committee to whom the Bill is referred that they have power to inquire and report whether any further or other special provision with respect to processions on Sunday in Eastbourne should be inserted in the Bill. Now, if the instruction is not necessary, I do not want to move it; but, at all events, it can do no harm, it only suggests inquiry. If the Committee say nothing more is required, then there is an end of it; but if they find that something more is required, then they have power under the Instruction to insert a clause. All I ask is that it shall be placed beyond doubt that the Committee have the power, and that I think is a very modest request. The right hon. Gentleman has a giant's strength. I ask him to use it with some consideration. He has an enormous majority in numbers, though the strength of logic is on our side, and I think he can afford to use his strength with a little mercy and consideration towards the feelings of other people. We desire nothing extreme; we only ask that the Committee may, if they think fit, give some power of control over these processions in the Bill.


Does the hon. and gallant Gentleman strike out the last words?


Yes. I substitute the words I have read. I meet the right hon. Gentleman's views; he suggested the words after provision "with respect to processions on Sunday in Eastbourne." If the right hon. Gentleman accepts this, he will save a lot of trouble and another Division, for I shall be forced to divide. The Instruction can do no possible harm, while it will resolve a doubt which the right hon. Gentleman admits does exist, whether the Committee will consider this within the scope of their inquiry. With all his Parliamentary experience and his honourable position as Privy Councillor, the right hon. Gentleman can only say he thinks the Committee will have the power, but I say we cannot act upon that thought. I applied to the Chairman of Committees, and he could not give me a definite, positive, downright answer, and I have had a consultation with you, Sir, to which I have no right to refer. I once more appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to accept the Instruction which I now move in the amended form.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That it be an Instruction to the Committee to whom the Bill is referred that they have power to inquire and report whether any further or other special provision with respect to processions on Sunday in Eastbourne should be inserted in the Bill.

(3.13.) MR. H. H. FOWLER (Wolverhampton, E.)

This is practically a question of form; it has nothing to do with the right, or what the hon. and gallant Gentleman calls the strength, of a majority. We want the Bill to go to the Committee to be dealt with in the regular and usual manner. Of course, when I came here to-day I had simply to deal with the Instruction on the Paper by which the Committee were to "secure the peaceful observance of Sunday in Eastbourne," and to that instruction I should have offered the most decided opposition; for if the Committee were to be set the task of inquiring how the Sunday should be observed in Eastbourne, that would mean a very protracted, and however interesting, a profitless inquiry. Now, the simple question is whether the Instruction is necessary or not. I perfectly agree with my hon. and gallant Friend that it will be the duty of the Committee to go into the question of Sunday processions in Eastbourne, for that is the object of putting in the Bill before them the repeal of the clause by which processions on Sunday in Eastbourne are prohibited. Therefore, it appears to me, unless a higher authority tells me it is not so, that it is the absolute duty of the Committee to consider the whole question of processions on Sunday in Eastbourne. There is no difference of opinion between us, and I say that what my hon. and gallant Friend wants is already referred to the Committee as a matter of Parliamentary procedure. I am very much of the opinion expressed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain) last week in reference to the multiplication of Instructions to a Committee where they already have the power. It is getting in an indirect way the expression of an opinion from the House on a matter before the inquiry is held. I wish to keep nothing from the Committee. I believe my hon. and gallant Friend and myself are Members of the Committee, and we are anxious that the inquiry shall be as full and complete as possible. I am perfectly willing to be guided by the Chairman of Ways and Means. If he says the Committee without it cannot entertain this question, then I will most reluctantly consent to the Instruction. But if he says it is unnecessary, and that all my hon. and gallant Friend desires can be obtained without it, then I hope he will not put the House to the trouble of dividing.


After the appeal made to me I am bound to say a word, although my authority has been overrated. I cannot control the Committee; I can only express an opinion as to what the Committee ought to do. The Committee is charged not only with the duty of deciding upon the Bill as it stands, and whether the Preamble is proved, but with inquiry into clauses. They are charged with the greater question: whether the present power in the Local Authority should be preserved, and if charged with that greater question surely they are charged with the lesser question whether the power should be preserved under limited conditions. I am clearly of opinion that the Instruction is not necessary, because it is within the power of the Committee to do what the hon. and gallant Gentleman desires they should do.

*(3.21.) MR. J. G. TALBOT (Oxford University)

But I would ask, what can be the harm of sending the Instruction? This, remember, is not a Private Bill of an ordinary kind; it is a Bill to repeal a single clause, and I can quite understand the Chairman of a Committee ruling that the Committee have no right to go into extraneous matter. It might be urged that the Committee had no power to go into other matters, such as whether the bands should be allowed to play in some streets and not in others, which, I believe, is the present state of things in Brighton—a parallel case to Eastbourne. I can quite imagine that with such a peculiar Bill as this is the Committee might so strictly interpret its duty that the matters my hon. and gallant Friend wishes to introduce might be excluded from consideration. I cannot quite understand the right hon. Gentleman's (Mr. Fowler's) objection. He says it can be done without an Instruction. My hon. and gallant Friend doubts that, and I understand he has appealed to the highest authority in the House, and the highest authority stated—I am not violating any confidence—that it is, at least, a doubtful matter. Well, if that is so, why not agree to the Instruction? I do not wish to make any unpleasant suggestion, but it looks as if the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. H. H. Fowler) is afraid of what might be done under the Instruction. I shall certainly support what I consider a most reasonable Instruction.

*(3.25.) MR. C. S. PARKER (Perth)

The Chairman of Committees has stated with authority the general practice, but this Bill appears to me to present a very special case. In general it is the duty of a Committee to go into the whole question to find if the Preamble of a Bill is proved, and, à fortiori, they may go into minor questions and say if other provisions should be introduced. But the present Bill is one of a very peculiar nature. It is to repeal a clause in a Private Bill, and, looking at the very large majority by which the Second Reading was carried, no Committee would feel itself entitled to do anything at all approaching to a reversal of the decision of the House. I think, therefore, that Members of the Committee would feel some difficulty as to whether they were really at liberty to consider an alternative provision against noisy processions. They may remember what the Home Secretary has said as to the sufficiency of the ordinary law. Yet, looking at all that has happened—the amount of public opinion excited and canvassed, looking at the Public Petitions presented, and I may mention one from the Town Council of Perth, in favour of some means being given to the Corporation to maintain quietude on Sunday—I think Members will feel—even those who voted for the Second Reading of the Bill—that it is desirable that the Committee should go into this question. The only doubt is whether they can do so without an Instruction, and, that being so, the right hon. Gentleman might, after the concession made in the form of the Instruction, agree that it shall be sent to the Committee.

*(3.27.) MR. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)

As one of those having the doubtful distinction of being a Member of this Committee, I should like to have some definite Instruction. If we prove the Preamble we simply pass the clause; and if we do not prove the Preamble, we upset the decision of the House expressed by an overwhelming majority. It therefore seems to me it is an exceptional case, remembering also that this has not been treated as an ordinary Private Bill, but has been referred to a Hybrid Committee for special consideration. Since, therefore, there is this doubt it should be set at rest by some such reasonable compromise as is presented by the Instruction in its amended form.


Perhaps, Sir, by the indulgence of the House, I may be allowed to appeal to you to settle the matter. The whole thing is in a nutshell. May I ask you to express your opinion upon it?


With unqualified respect for the opinion expressed by an authority in the House, I think, after hearing the doubts expressed on both sides of the House, it will be far better to send the Instruction to the Committee. The Bill repeals a clause in the Eastbourne Act in reference to processions on Sundays; and if the Committee or Chairman have any doubt as to whether their power extends to making any regulation on the subject for the peace of the borough, I think it would be far better that there should be an expression of the opinion of the House that they have that power to inquire into the question. It is not a mandatory Instruction; it is only a declaration that the Committee have the power, and, under the circumstances, I think it is expedient that the Instruction should be given.

(3.28.) MR. H. H. FOWLER

After that expression of opinion, Sir, I do not hesitate to say I do not feel justified in opposing the Instruction.

Motion agreed to. Ordered, That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Eastbourne Improvement Act, 1885, Amendment Bill, that they have power to inquire and report whether any further or other special provision with respect to Processions on Sunday in Eastbourne should be inserted in the Bill.—(Admiral Field.)