HC Deb 11 May 1893 vol 12 cc611-20


Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [10th May], "That Mr. Benn be a Member of the Committee on the London Improvements Bill."—(Mr. Marjoribanks.)

Question again proposed.

Debate resumed.

MR. JAMES LOWTHER (Kent, Thanet)

said, he had hoped that it would not be necessary for him to again bring this matter under the notice of the House, and that the right hon. Gentleman the Patronage Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Marjoribanks) would have substituted another name for that of Mr. Benn. As he had explained yesterday, he did not take exception to the name of Mr. Benn on personal grounds, but on the ground of his being a Member of the Body promoting the Bill. He was aware that, in certain exceptional cases, persons who occupied the position of promoters, or who were closely identified with Bills, had been placed on the Hybrid Committees which have sat to consider those Bills; but he ventured to think that these were examples rather to be avoided than followed, and that very serious inconvenience and mischief would result from a departure from the normal practice of the House, which was to constitute its judicial tribunals in a manner which would secure not only that their proceedings should be conducted with impartiality, but the confidence of the outside public. In the case before them five of the Members were nominated by the House and four by the Committee of Selection. He imagined that the parties or sections of the House would be proportionately represented on the Committee; but the fact still remained that the odd vote which would carry the Bill, or insure its rejection, or the determination of its clauses, or of an Amendment of importance, might be that of the Member who was himself one of the promoters of the Bill. Now, in his judgment that was a state of affairs which, if persisted in and made a practice of, could not fail to bring discredit upon the character of the business of the House for judicial impartiality. He might be told that it was sometimes convenient for a Committee to have at hand some person who was conversant with the details of the Bill they were considering—someone who could give information at first hand. But he maintained that the proper place for a Member who was prepared to render assistance of that kind was the witness chair. Besides, every Member of the House had the right, at all times and seasons, to be present when a Bill was before the Committee—save at those times when the room was cleared for the purpose of consultation. And he had known cases in which Members had claimed as a right to address Committees otherwise than as witnesses on a Bill from the point of view of interested persons, in the same way as counsel could address them. He remembered the present Sir Robert Peel claiming that right in the case of the Birmingham Sewage Bill. On these grounds it would be seen that there would be no occasion, in the interests of the information of the Committee, for the presence, as a Member of the Committee, of a Member of the London County Council. The exceptions which he had referred to, in which the general rule had been departed from, were, to his mind, unfortunate precedents which the House would do well to avoid repeating. He would remind the House—without going, however remotely, into the merits or demerits of their legislation—that the London County Council had been in the past, and were at present, and were likely, probably, in the future, to be promoters of Bills containing a great deal of contentious matter, and that was an additional reason for insuring that the judicial proceeding of the House in regard to those Bills should be conducted in a manner which would be recognised both inside the House and outside as absolutely impartial. He hoped that on reconsideration the Patronage Secretary to the Treasury would see that it would add to the strength of the Committee, and afford it that opportunity for private consultation amongst its Members which it could not exercise if one who had a right to be present at its innermost counsels was a promoter of the Bill, if some other name were substituted for that of the hon. Member, who, if he were not a member of the London County Council, he (Mr. James Lowther) should be the last person to object to.

MR. BENN (Tower Hamlets, St. George's)

said, that if this were a personal matter he should not attempt to address the House upon it; but as it involved a question of principle, which was of great importance to the London County Council, he begged to he allowed to say a word or two. The short time he had been a Member of the House had enabled him to discover that they had two kinds of Committees—namely, a Select Committee, which was of a judicial character, and a Hybrid Committee, the Members of which were appointed by the House, for the purpose of adding Members who might be described as partizans. He was not present yesterday when the right hon. Member (Mr. James Lowther) referred to this matter; but he had read in The Times this morning that the right hon. Gentleman had said— It was the practice of Members who served on Select Committees to sign a declaration to the effect that neither individually nor through their constituents had they a personal stake in any Bill that came before them. He had read that paragraph with astonishment, because the right hon. Gentleman must have known, with his long Parliamentary experience, that Members of Hybrid Committees were not, called on to sign such a declaration.


said, he had drawn a distinction between a Hybrid Committee and a Select Committee.


said, that if that were the case, he could not understand the right hon. Gentleman's statement, unless it had been to prejudice his (Mr. Benn's) case. As to precedents for the course which was now being taken, they were ample. The late Chairman of the Metropolitan Board of Works had always been put on Hybrid Committees considering Metropolitan Board Bills, and the London County Council had been ably represented on the Strand Improvement Bill and the Water Commission Bill by the hon. Member for St. Pancras. The House was not asked to do a new thing now, but merely to endorse a practice that prevailed in connection with all such business. This Bill had been referred to a Hybrid Committee at the request of the right hon. Gentleman and his friends. On the 26th April the hon. Baronet the Member for South Kensing- ton (Sir Algernon Borthwick) had moved that the Bill be referred to the Committee on the London County Council (General Powers) Bill, in full view of the fact that he (Mr. Benn) served on that Committee. It was strange that the right hon. Gentleman opposite should now have changed front in such a remarkable manner. The right hon. Gentleman had said, according to The Times report— He did not object to the hon. Member on any personal grounds, but he maintained that his appointment on the Committee would take away from the spirit of judicial impartiality which was always associated with Committees of the House. He would ask the right hon. Gentleman to apply his microscope to the Benches on his own side. He was driven to make that remark because on the Committee referred to, as well as on previous Hybrid Committees, the hon. Member for Wandsworth had found a place, and he was none other than the Vice President of the Property Defence Association—an Association composed of such persons as the Duke of Norfolk, the Duke of Portland, and the Duke of Westminster.


said, that the Society in question was not represented in any way before the Committee.


said that, at any rate, the hon. Member was the Vice President of the Property Defence Association, and that body had issued a manifesto against the present Bill. He thought that what applied to the London County Council in this matter should also apply to this Society. He (Mr. Benn) did not ask the House to add his name, but in common fairness to follow the long list of precedents in regard to Hybrid Committees, and to add to the Committee the name of a Member of a Public Body directly interested in the success of the Bill.

MR. RENTOUL (Down, E.)

said, that if anything was wanting to induce him to support the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. James Lowther) it would be furnished by the speech of the hon. Member who had just sat down. They had heard before of a man being a judge in his own cause, but here they had a man who was judge and counsel in his own cause. The hon. Member (Mr. Benn) was an old friend of his. He had known him long, and he was astonished that he should rise to say a word in the matter, seeing that he was personally interested. Precedents had been referred to, but it would be impossible to mention a more exaggerated case than that before the House. The hon. Gentleman was not merely a member of the London County Council, but had acted as the Whip of the Progressive Party on the Council for the past three years, and he had been a most efficient Whip, as he (Mr. Rentoul) could say from his own knowledge as a member of that Body. The hon. Member was about the most extreme member of the advanced or Progressive Party in the Council; therefore, if any name could be objectionable on this Committee, it was that of the hon. Member. It would manifestly be an unfair thing to put upon a Committee the person who might be described as the chief promoter of the Bill that Committee was appointed to consider.

*SIR J. MOWBRAY (Oxford University)

said, that, as Chairman of the Committee of Selection, he could not agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Thanet, because the constant, if not invariable, practice had been for the House to nominate on these Committees two or more Members who had a personal interest in the question to be dealt with. It was the special duty of the Committee of Selection to select other Members who would form the impartial and judicial element, and although the Committee of Selection did not nominate the Chairman, they always placed on the Committee some hon. Member whose standing and position in the House was so recognised that he was generally chosen as Chairman.

MR. MARJORIBANKS (Berwickshire)

said, he thought the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Chairman of the Committee of Selection constituted a full answer to the arguments of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Thanet, who had opposed the nomination of the hon. Member for the St. George's Division of the Tower Hamlets on the ground that it was a departure from the ordinary practice. Instead of so being a departure, it was, undoubtedly, in accordance with the practice which had prevailed in the House as long as he could remember. Before the London County Council came into existence the Chairman of the Metropolitan Board of Works was constantly appointed as a Member of those Committees; and that was by no means the first time that a member of the County Council had been appointed, and that, too, without objection being raised. When objection had been raised to a Member sitting on a Committee it had been on the ground that he was pecuniarily interested.


He or his constituents.


, continuing, said, that the hon. Member for the St. George's Division certainly was not pecuniarily interested in this Bill. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. J. Lowther) seemed to have mixed up in his mind the cases of Hybrid, Private Bill, and Select Committees. That, he (Mr. Marjoribanks) would remind him, was a Select Committee, and the practice hitherto adopted in these cases had been to consider the appointments first in a judicial capacity, and then in a capacity for representing the various interests, so that Members might cross-examine the witnesses from the different points of view involved. If there was any doubt as to the impartiality of that section of the Committee which the House was now asked to appoint it would be the duty of the Committee of Selection to remedy the defect, and that they might be sure would be done. He certainly could not, under the circumstances, support the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman, and he would not withdraw the name of the hon. Member for St. George's Division.

MR. BOULNOIS (Marylebone, E.)

said, there was a feeling in the London County Council, not confined to the moderate party, that members of that Body who happened at the same time to be Members of the House should not sit on the Committees. The hon. Member might not be pecuniarily interested in the Bill, but he was a prominent member of the London County Council—he was leader of the Progressive Party; and that Party, having thrown away the Coal and Wine Dues, were now at their wits' end to devise a scheme in order to make a purse. In the Bill under consideration the Progressive Party had inserted a clause which, if carried, would create an unequal tax; and he did submit that bearing in mind this peculiar character of the Bill, and the fact that the London County Council would be well represented before the Select Committee both by counsel and expert witnesses, the placing of the name of the hon. Member on the Committee would tend to convert what should be a Judicial Committee into a practically partizan tribunal. Its Report, under such circumstances, would carry with it less weight. Surely the Secretary to the Treasury would do well to withdraw this particular name, to substitute for it one equally strong from a Party point of view, but still the name of a Member not so obviously interested in the Bill to be considered.

MR. JAMES STUART (Shoreditch, Hoxton)

said, that in the present case the matter had gone further than precedent; for when the Notice referring this Bill to the Select Committee was put upon the Paper an arrangement was made between the hon. Baronet the Member for South Kensington (Sir Algernon Borthwick) and the right hon. Baronet the Member for the University of London (Sir John Lubbock) that, in order to avoid any difference of opinion, each should put down a Notice in identical terms. It was this very Notice they were now discussing. He might add that when, in 1890, a Hybrid Committee was appointed on the betterment question they had the high authority of the then President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Ritchie) in placing upon it strong advocates of each side of the question.

*MR. KIMBER (Wandsworth)

said, he did not understand the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Thanet to deny it had been the practice to place on Hybrid Committees persons interested in the Bill to be considered. What the right hon. Gentleman did argue was that the practice was bad in principle, and that it ought not to be extended by this House as now proposed. The right hon. Baronet the Member for Oxford University would see that, in consequence of the present balance of Parties in the House of Commons, the Government majority, on a Committee of nine, would only be one; and if that odd man happened to be a member of the London County Council, it was obvious that the conclusions of the Committee would be merely a registration of the foregone conclusions of the London County Council. If the name of the hon. Member was adopted he should ask that his own name be removed from the Committee.

LORD R. CHURCHILL (Paddington, S.)

said, that, as a London Member, he could not altogether agree with the position taken up on this matter by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Thanet. It would be an unfortunate thing if the idea got abroad that any member of the London County Council, who, at the same time, was a Member of the House, was thereby disqualified from serving on a Committee. In former days the Chairman of the Metropolitan Board of Works, a salaried official, was put on every Committee which had to deal with the affairs of the Metropolis, and no great objection was raised to the practice, although the fact of his receiving a salary might have given rise to objection; but here the case was entirely different. The members of the London County Council received absolutely no pay, and if they had strong opinions they were the outcome of natural convictions. The people of London would consider it rather hard if membership of their County Council was to be deemed as a special disqualification for sitting on Parliamentary Committees, when no such disqualification attached to the membership of other corporate bodies. Of course, it would not be fair that only one side of the Council should be represented, but he understood that the Committee of Selection could put on four more Members, and they would probably put on the Committee one Member representing the other Party in the County Council. In any case he entered his protest against taking a direct line of policy which it would be difficult to defend in London, and which also pro-supposed that there would never be on the County Council any real, strong representation of moderate opinion. He hoped his hon. Friends would reflect upon the construction likely to be placed on their action.


said, he very much regretted that a new practice had been introduced that day. A proposed Member of a proposed Committee had defended himself that day, and another proposed Member of the Committee, without himself being attacked, had thought it right to get up and attack the other Member. This was very much to be regretted, and he hoped that it would not be repeated. Hon. Members were not nominated unless it was understood that they were willing to serve; and, therefore, the task of vindicating their nomination against any opposition that might be raised ought to be loft in the hands of their friends. He held that what had occurred had been very undignified, and trusted that it would not be repeated.


As a matter of personal explanation, I should like to say I did not attack the hon. Member for the St. George's Division. I scarcely referred to him. I think the hon. Baronet could not have been in the House when I spoke.


I sat through the whole discussion. I can only say it is a matter greatly to be regretted, and I trust that in future these personal questions will be avoided.


I must ask that my name be not placed on the Committee.


I appeal to the hon. Member to withdraw his objection. I think the five Members have been very fairly struck.


I think that after the statement made by the hon. Baronet I am bound out of self-respect to withdraw. I have not the slightest objection to sit, and have always found the duty a pleasant one; but I do think it rather hard that the hon. Baronet should have designated my observations as an attack on a gentleman whose name I did not mention.


I hope the hon. Member will not imagine that I desired to attack him in his personal capacity. I have known him many years, and well know what an able man he is. I trust, therefore, that he will serve on the Committee.


I understand, from what has passed this afternoon, that the appointment of partizans on either side is a practice which many hon. Members appear to regard with favour. Personally, i take a different view, and I entirely dissent from what my noble Friend (Lord R. Churchill) urged as regards the practice which ought to pre- vail; and although I think it is a very bad practice, yet if the House wishes to adopt it I ought not to stand in the way.

Question put, and agreed to.

Mr. Brodie Hoare, Mr. Kimber, Mr. James Rowlands, and Mr. Snape nominated other Members of the Select Committee, with four to be added by the Committee of Selection.—(Mr. Marjoribanks.)

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