§ Question again proposed.
§ Debate resumed.
§ SIR G. OSBORNE MORGAN (Denbighshire, E.)
said, he must not be taken as animated by any spirit of hostility to the Bill in objecting to the Motion to refer it to the Grand Committee. There 458 was no Bill read a second time this Session in which so many Members took an interest as the Light Railways Bill, and the result of referring it to the Grand Committee would be to exclude nine-tenths of those Members from taking part in the discussion on the Bill in Committee. The Grand Committee on Trade was composed mainly of manufacturers, merchants and bankers, and the representatives of large boroughs like London, Manchester and Glasgow, who were not likely to be much affected by the provisions of the Bill. No doubt a number of Members would be added to the Committee as specialists, because of their knowledge of the subject of the Bill, but he did not think that would remove the objection. He had been overwhelmed with requests from his colleagues, especially those who came from Wales, to get them places on the Grand Committee; and he did not think it would be for the advantage of this Measure that these Members should be shut out from the discussion. Another objection to sending the Bill to the Grand Committee was that it raised a new principle and marked a new departure. Of course, he knew that it was a great temptation to send a Bill to a Grand Committee, because it was the easiest and best chance of getting it through; but, in view of the character of the question, he hoped that temptation would be resisted.
§ MR. T. LOUGH (Islington, W.)
said, it appeared to him that the House ought to take a little more interest in this question than it seemed inclined to do. There were three reasons why the Bill should not be sent to the Grand Committee, but should be discussed fully in the House. The first was the haste with which the earlier steps of the Bill were pushed through the House. The Measure touched a very large matter. He could not pretend that he had not had an opportunity of stating his views, but he complained that, owing to the great hurry of the proceedings in the Second Reading, their views had hardly received the consideration which, in his opinion, they were entitled to. This whole policy of light railways had produced a profound effect in Ireland, and he did not think the result of the policy of building those interesting structures there had been what the House thought it had been. This 459 Bill proposed to commence a work of the same kind in Great Britain; and he thought that it demanded the most careful consideration of the House. What opportunity had they had of considering it? The Bill was distributed on the Friday morning, and the Second Reading was taken on the following Monday night, and when the Second Reading came on he was astonished to find that the right hon. Gentleman did not open the discussion by explaining the provisions of the Bill. In the course of that discussion, a great many important questions of principle were raised. The right hon. Gentleman was greatly hurried in his reply; he believed some of his Friends on the Front Bench were pulling his coat-tails. The right hon. Gentleman, he was sure, had a great deal more to say about the Bill in. the House than he had yet said. His second point was in connection with the finance of the Bill. He thought the finance was all wrong. The principles on which it proceeded were unjust both to the local and the Imperial taxpayer, and so, without being hostile to the policy of light railways, he thought some different principle of finance should be adopted. That was a subject that could hardly be adequately discussed by a Grand Committee. They were going to begin a great work on which they ought to concentrate their attention, and which it was most important to the people of the country should be placed on a proper basis. His third reason was that they seemed to have no work to do. In the Queen's Speech some 19 Measures were promised, and they had been craving for these Bills so that they might think them over. But all they had got was this Light Railways Bill, which, after being dangled before them for a moment, was now to be snatched away to a Grand Committee. This Bill would affect the towns as well as the country districts, and the representatives of the great cities ought to have an opportunity of discussing its provisions.
§ MR. RITCHIE
said, the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down had advanced three reasons against the proposal before the House. One of them was that the interval between the First and Second Reading was short, and that the discussion on the Second Reading was hurried. He also made complaint that 460 he (Mr. Ritchie) did not make a speech in moving the Second Reading. It was, however, in accordance with custom that, having made a long and full explanation in introducing the Bill, he should reserve himself until the discussion on the Second Reading was drawing to a close, in order that he might answer the objections and criticisms offered to the Bill. It was quite true that there was only a short interval between the introduction and the Second Reading of the Bill, but no one could complain that he did not very fully explain all the provisions contained in the Bill. He did not enter into details. That was a matter for criticism and discussion in Committee. [Opposition cheers.] Did that cheer indicate the belief of hon. Gentlemen opposite that when details had to be discussed they must be discussed in Committee of the whole House? If that was the view of hon. Gentlemen opposite who were responsible for the sitting of these Grand Committees, all he could say was, they had better at once abolish the whole thing. If such a Bill as that now before the House was not to be referred to the Grand Committee, he could not see what Bill could properly be referred to it. There was really no contention whatever with regard to the principle of the Bill. The only question of principle raised on the Second Reading was in regard to finance. That was raised by the hon. Member for West Islington, but was supported by no other Member. He therefore claimed that, in regard to the principle of the Bill, there was no real difference. The only difference was on questions of detail, and he maintained that the Grand Committee could deal far more effectively with these questions than a Committee of the whole House. He was satisfied, from having sat on many Grand Committees, that they could not possibly have a better tribunal for discussing the details of such a Bill than the Grand Committee on Trade. The present opposition came with a very bad grace from hon. Gentlemen, opposite. He remembered that they had sometimes referred Bills which invoked very great difference of opinion to the Grand Committee. The Employers' Liability Bill was an example. In that case there was extremely sharp contention in regard to one principle in the Bill, but, notwithstanding the objections raised, it 461 was sent to the Grand Committee. If that could be done, he could not for the life of him see how hon. Gentlemen opposite could refuse to send a Bill of this kind, which was not contentious, to the Committee upstairs. Another reason which the hon. Gentleman gave was that they had no work to do. If he meant that they had not a large number of Bills to discuss, he ought to know that the exigencies of the financial year made it imperative that the Government should ask the attention of the House at this period of the Session, not to measures, but to finance. The hon. Member might however rest assured that the Government had plenty of Measures which they hoped to bring before Parliament, and which would give him the work for which he pined. Having regard to the manner in which the House had received the Bill, and the fact that the discussion had been mainly on points of detail, he asserted that, if ever there was a Bill which ought to go before a Grand Committee, this was one.
§ MR. E. STRACHEY (Somerset, S.)
said, the right hon. Gentleman seemed to think that, because this was a Bill the principle of which they were all agreed upon, that was the very reason why it should be taken from the House and sent upstairs. When it was agreed that the principle was admitted, and that there was nothing contentious about this Bill, he would venture to submit that that was the very Bill which ought to come before the House, because there could be no possible obstruction to it, and probably one night, or two nights at the outside, would be sufficient for its discussion in Committee. Having regard to the character of the Debate on the Second Reading and to what was said on that side of the House, there would not be the slightest inclination to raise any hostile criticism on details or to discuss the Bill in anything but a practical manner in Committee. What did the right hon. Gentleman do by this Motion? He sent the Bill to a Committee upstairs of which a very large number of Members on both sides of the House were not members, and who would have no opportunity of taking any part in the discussions on the details of the Bill. Although it was a Bill the principle of which they were agreed upon, it was very necessary to see that the details were discussed, not 462 at very great length, but by hon. Gentlemen in every part of the House who had special knowledge of these matters. It was impossible to get hon. Members having a special knowledge to attend the Grand Committee on Trade, while there was no difficulty in getting hon. Members in the House in the evening to discuss these matters. He could not help thinking that the Government proposed to set up an entirely new principle, namely, that of giving free grants of money. Such a principle had never been adopted as regarded England, and it was a very dangerous proposal to take such a matter out of the control of the House. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would re-consider his decision if he received the assurance, as he was sure he would do from that side of the House, that the Bill would not be treated in anything like a hostile spirit in Committee of the whole House.
§ SIR W. HART DYKE (Kent, Dart ford)
said, he had never been personally in favour of Grand Committees, and he was no lover or supporter of them. But he had always understood that their object was to save the House as a whole much hard work, and, if there was any good or any reality in them, and they were not to be a mere sham, they should be made to serve that purpose. What was the principle of these Grand Committees? There were certain Measures, containing matters of principle to which many hon. Members objected, which it would be very wrong and unfair to shut out from the consideration of the vast majority of members of the House, ant it was the essence of the new scheme of devolution that no seriously-contentious matter should be sent to a Grand Committee. But now hon. Members opposite had argued that, because this was a non contentious Measure, because it was a Measure the principle of which they were all agreed upon, therefore it was not a Measure which ought to be sent to a Grand Committee. It seemed to him that the speeches of hon. Gentlemen opposite went to the very root of the whole matter of Grand Committees, for surely if ever there was a Measure which ought to be referred to such a body it was the Light Railways Bill now before the House. In his long experience of the House he had scarcely ever known a Bill the principle of which had been so 463 unanimously received by hon. Members on both sides, and, that being so, he thought they ought to make some arrangement by which they could refer it to a Grand Committee at once. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Denbigh had said with truth that a large number of Welsh Members would thus be shut out from the discussions on the Bill, but he must remind the right hon. Gentleman that it was the custom to add to the Committee a certain number of Members who were interested in a particular measure. No doubt that course would be followed in the present instance, and the objection of the right hon. Gentleman would thus be removed.
§ MR. J. BRYCE (Aberdeen, S.)
said, he differed from the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down in that he was a great advocate of these Grand Committees. He regarded them as a very useful addition to their procedure. He also differed from the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman that this Bill did not raise questions of contention. On the contrary, it was a Bill which raised some extremely difficult questions which deserved to be very carefully considered. The first of these was whether the existing restrictions imposed on normal railways should be relaxed; the second was whether power should be given to the Light Railway Commissioners, instead of Parliament, to incorporate companies and pass ordinances for the creation of these light railways. Upon these two questions he believed little or no difference of opinion existed in the House. The third question was whether local authorities should be empowered to make subsidies to these light railways, and the fourth question was whether Treasury grants should be made to subsidise these light railways. On these two points they had a considerable difference of opinion as to principle. They were very important principles—how far they should extend the powers of local authorities to enter into undertakings of this kind and to charge them to the rates, and how far they should empower the Treasury to make grants, which was a perfectly new policy with regard to England, and, except as to the congested districts, to Scotland. That was a precedent which deserved the attention and the whole strength and force of the House. It was not a matter for a mere 464 quorum of Members in the Grand Committee. It was a matter for a Committee of the whole House. When the President of the Board of Trade rose, he hoped he was rising for the purpose of giving the House a precedent that was applicable to the present case. The right hon. Gentleman had not done so, and so far as he (Mr. Bryce) was aware there was no precedent. If the right hon. Gentleman could give them one he was sure they would be very glad to hear it from him.
§ MR. RITCHIE
said, there was a Light Railways Bill, though he did not just remember the year, under which very considerable grants were made from the Treasury, and that was referred to the Grand Committee.
§ MR. BRYCE
said, that probably some speaker would follow him and deal more minutely with this question, which seemed to him to be one of importance. He did not think that this was a question which ought to be handled by so small a body as a Grand Committee. The question of what powers should be entrusted to local authorities was a very different one to those which generally came before the Grand Committee on Trade, and it was a question on which a large number of Members, representing different constituencies, might very well wish to express an opinion, while the question of whether grants from the Treasury should be made was one on which many Members, not otherwise connected with the policy of Light Railways, might desire to express an opinion. They ought to have the opportunity of expressing that opinion, and they could not express it on the Grand Committee. He said, therefore, that, considering the very great novelty and the very great importance of the issue which this Bill raised, it was not a Bill which should be discussed in so small a body as the Grand Committee, with the necessary exclusion of many Members who might desire to offer their opinions upon it. He also ventured to submit that it was a departure from the 465 understanding on which Grand Committees were set up, to send to them Bills on which a large difference of opinion on principle existed.
§ MR. H. HOBHOUSE (Somerset E.)
said, that while he had a great deal of sympathy with those who desired to debate this Bill in a Committee of the whole House he intended to vote for sending it to the Grand Committee for two reasons. The first was that it would be discussed in a much more businesslike and satisfactory way in the Grand Committee than it could be in Committee of the whole House. He had attended these Grand Committees for a great many years past, and he had always noticed that when matters of very minor interest were before them there was a difficulty in getting a quorum, but when a Government Bill, raising really important questions, came before them, there was no difficulty in getting a quorum, and the questions had always been discussed in a thoroughly businesslike spirit and free from any feeling of party spirit. Another great advantage was that the questions could be decided in the Grand Committee in a way they were often not decided by the House—not by the votes of those Members who had sat through all the discussions of the Amendments, but by those who had rushed in at the sound of the Division bells and gone into the Lobbies according to the bidding of the Party Whips. The Members of the Grand Committee would decide questions which they had heard discussed throughout. Although the Bill might contain some contentious points, yet, on the whole, it commanded a very large consensus of the opinion of the House. The only serious principle the House could claim to debate was the right of the Treasury to grant money for the purposes of light railways. But they should have an opportunity of debating this in Committee of the whole House. There would be an Expenses Committee, and the Report of that Committee, before the Grand Committee could insert in the Bill any clause empowering advances out of the Treasury; therefore, although he admitted this was a great, a new and important principle, yet he would point out that there would be an opportunity of discussing it in Committee of the whole House. Saving that, he 466 believed those of them who wished to see the Bill passed into law were pretty well agreed as to the general principles involved, and he very much doubted if the right hon. Gentleman who spoke last had been able to proceed further with his Bill of last year, he would not rather have passed it into law last year through the agency of the Grand Committee than have allowed it to fall into the limbo of forgotten Measures by reserving it for the Committee of this House. Because he was one of those who desired to see the Bill passed and who knew the dangers that befel secondary Government Measures which were kept for the Committee of the whole House, he thought it far better that this Motion should be passed and the Bill be discussed in a businesslike manner upstairs, so that it should have a good chance of becoming law this Session.
§ MR. J. CALDWELL (Lanark, Mid)
observed that when the Grand Committees were appointed every Member of the House had an opportunity of expressing his opinion on the Second Reading of a Bill. There was then no Closure, but everybody knew perfectly well that upon this particular Bill a great many Members had no opportunity of expressing their opinion on the Second Reading. The result was that they were now asked to send the Bill for its next stage to a Committee upstairs, no that they should be again excluded from expressing their opinion on the Bill. He ventured to say that was not in contemplation when Standing Committees were appointed by the House, and it was an element to be taken into consideration. There was one great constitutional change effected by the Bill, the nature of which was not touched upon on the Second Reading. At the present moment Parliament alone had the power to take land and give authority in regard to matters of railway legislation, but by this Bill a new body was established altogether outside Parliament—a Railway Commission—and that new body was to have the power to grant applications which, when once granted, were not to be so much as laid before Parliament for sanction. That was an entirely new principle, because now, when power was given to a body like the Local Government Board in the case of Provisional Orders, those Orders 467 were still brought up for confirmation in the House of Commons. But what they were going to do now was to confer on the Board of Trade the power of sanctioning railways taking lands, etc., without such matters being brought before Parliament at all. The only thing the Board of Trade had to do was to make a report of the proceedings to Parliament, and the particular grant was withdrawn from the purview of Parliament altogether. It had been stated that a grant had been made in the case of the Highlands, but an Act of Parliament was passed through the House to sanction that grant. Under this Bill there would be no Act of Parliament, and no reference to Parliament whatever in the Measures which might be sanctioned by the Board of Trade. Parliament ought not to surrender its rights, or such a grave constitutional change ought not to be allowed to take place without the fullest discussion in Committee of the whole House, and if there was going to be this new departure it ought only to be made in cases where every Member of the House had the fullest opportunity of stating his views upon the matter discussed.
§ SIR ALBERT ROLLIT (Islington, S.)
observed that two opposite opinions had been expressed about this Bill, one hon. Member saying it was contentious and another that it was non-contentious, while the Amendment to the Bill upon the Second Reading gave the Measure most hearty support. But, assuming that it was contentious, the late President of the Board of Trade asked what the precedents were for sending such a Bill to a Grand Committee. Contention was no object to a Bill going to the Grand Committee. The Employers' Liability Bill was a highly-contentious Bill, but it went to the Grand Committee; and so was the Factories Bill of the late Government, and it also went to the Grand Committee. The opportunity of discussing the principle had passed on the Second Reading, and what was left was the discussion of those details which could either be properly relegated to a Committee of the whole House or to the Grand Committee. He had from the first supported the principle of the Standing Committee. They wanted a great deal more devolution instead of less, and it seemed to him that two 468 conditions upon which Grand Committees were supported were fulfilled here. In the first place, this was a Government Bill; and, in the next, this was a Motion made by a Minister of the Crown. Again, there was a great deal of detail requiring expert and businesslike discussion, which would be best achieved in the Grand Committee. What they desired was the speedy passage of the Bill; and, because he believed the principle of devolution was right in itself, this Bill adapted to it, and that a good Bill would result from the discussions in the Grand Committee, he heartily supported the Motion of the Government.
§ SIR JOSEPH PEASE (Durham, Barnard Castle)
observed that for once he had the pleasure of being of the same opinion as his right hon. Friend the Member for the Dartford Division. He had never liked Grand Committees. He did not think they were good, and they took upon themselves matters which had much better be attended to by the House. They were constituted for the devolution of businesss; but this was exactly one of those Bills of which the House ought to have the control. The proposed Measure gave great power to local authorities, and it was only a little while ago that hon. Gentlemen opposite took the view that powers vested in local authorities for the spending of money were powers rather to the detriment than to the benefit of the commonwealth. He had always entertained the view that the local authorities they were establishing had not been constituted in the manner which enabled them to conduct their business with great economy. This was a Bill which placed large and almost unrestricted powers in the hands of local authorities; and if ever a Bill ought not to go upstairs to the Grand Committee, but ought to be dealt with in this House, it was the present one. It was true they all wanted to see the Bill passed; but surely the House was better able to deal with the question than a Committee of an almost uncertain character. If these railways were to do good, they must be made in connection and work harmoniously with the trunk railways of the country. How many railway men were there on the Grand Committee? Perhaps there were as many as desired to go on; but they were only 469 two—one being the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Agriculture, and the other an hon. Gentleman from the North of England. Surely the House itself had better take up this question of Imperial contribution to local authorities, and keep it in its own hands, rather than run the risk of adding to local burdens by handing a Bill like this over to a Grand Committee, which was often a very badly-composed tribunal.
§ MR. F. A. CHANNING (Northants, E.)
thought the Standing Committees were of the greatest possible value. In the case of one or two Bills which he had seen dealt with by them, the most admirable results had been obtained, and especially so in the Bill dealing with the hours of railway servants. He ventured to think, however, that this Bill raised considerations of a wholly different character. If it had been the same Bill as that of last year, he would say at once, "Send it to the Standing Committee," because the Bill of last year was merely a facilitating Bill; whereas this Bill handed over a large amount of public money to the local authorities, and that was a matter in which the representatives of the taxpayers were directly interested. He did not think his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade could complain in the least of the way in which this Bill had been treated by the House. He was one of the supporters of the Bill, and desired to see it passed into law; but he would ask whether, after the House had decided the other day that the question of voting public money must be discussed on the floor of the House, and had refused to allow any of the work of Supply to be handed over to a Committee, it was consistent that this Bill should be taken out of the hands of the representatives of the taxpayers of the country, and that the application of public money should be discussed upstairs. He thought that such a proposal was very dangerous, and he should heartily support the retention of the Committee stage of this Bill on the floor of the House. His hon. Friend the Member for Somerset had said that, if the Bill was so retained, it would fall into the category of abandoned Measures; but he could assure his hon. Friend that both sides of the House were too much 470 interested in the Bill to allow the Government to set it aside, even if they wished to do so. The number of districts interested in the Bill was so large that it was utterly impossible that all of them could be represented on the Standing Committee. The Bill raised a great many issues, it had not been unduly discussed by the House, and the only opportunity of discussing its details was by Amendment in Committee. Would it not, therefore, be more harmonious, more logical and more rational if the Government could see their way to afford one sitting of the House for the Committee stage? If, on the other hand, the Bill was sent to the Grand Committee, it was obvious, from the discussion that had taken place, that there would be a long and somewhat animated Debate on some portions of the Bill on the Report stage. The Government would really facilitate this Measure if they assented to the very reasonable claim put forward from his side of the House.
MR. T. M. HEALY,
referring to the Irish Bill of 1889, pointed out that when that Bill was sent to the Grand Committee there had been previously an Irish Act of 1883 which had been well discussed in the House, and the Bill of 1889 was only a draft on the Bill of 1883. This Bill raised a most important question of principle. By the Standing Orders, every money Bill must be founded on a Resolution in Committee, and he thought it was a distinct infringement of the ancient privileges of the House that a Bill of this kind should be sent to a Grand Committee. The reason why he, as an Irish Member, was interested in this Bill was that the Government had given a pledge that they would introduce a similar Bill for Ireland, and he thought it would be exceedingly unfair if that Bill was delayed until they saw the shape this Bill took in Committee. He thought they ought to have a statement from the Government as to the course they proposed to pursue on the Irish Bill. Would they follow the precedent of 1889, and if so, in what way would the thing be worked? In 1889 they had a Committee practically composed of Irish Members. Would the same course be taken with regard to the Irish Bill? He would also ask the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of 471 the Treasury whether he intended, in Grand Committee, to announce the names of his Commissioners?
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR,) Manchester, E.
As regards the introduction of the names of the Commissioners, that will not be done in Grand Committee. As regards the question of the relations of this Bill to the Irish Bill, I would say that when you are dealing with Ireland and Great Britain in two Bills, one of those two Bills must come first, and I would point out that, as a matter of fact, Ireland is a long way in advance of England in legislation of this kind. Further, it appears to me that the conditions of Ireland are so different in many respects that I do not imagine that the discussion in Grand Committee of the English Bill will have much bearing one way or the other on the action which may be taken on the Irish Bill. If the Irish Bill is referred to the Grand Committee, the Government will take care that the Irish Members are properly represented. As regards the general question, surely I am not making an unreasonable request when I ask that this Debate should now be brought to a close. Hon. Members on the other side of the House have said that the matter contained in the Bill is so controversial that it ought not to be referred to a Grand Committee; but, if I cast my memory back and refer to the action of hon. Gentlemen opposite, in relation to Grand Committees, I shall not be contradicted when I assert—as I do fearlessly assert—that the action of hon. Gentlemen, opposite has been to stretch to the utmost the purposes for which Grand Committees might be used, and in the past they have gone to the very length of, if they have not overpast, the limit of the duties which ought to be intrusted to these bodies. According to the previous contentions of hon. Gentlemen opposite, this is the very kind of Bill which ought to be referred to a Grand Committee. It is a Bill in which there is general agreement. It contains a great mass of detail. It is a Bill which, if it does grant public money, does not leave it to the Grand Committee to decide how much shall be granted. It is carefully reserved to this House to decide what are the limits beyond which that grant shall not go. I cannot understand what abuse 472 can follow from the reference of a Measure of this kind to a Grand Committee. It is surprising that Member after Member should announce in glowing words his desire to see this Bill pass, and describe the many benefits that would ensue if it were passed, and should then follow up that declaration by asking the Government to take a course which everybody in this House knows is likely to kill the Bill. The hon. Member for Northampton said that hon. Members on his side of the House were so anxious to see the Bill pass that they would take care that the Government did not drop it in favour of other legislation. I may be allowed to remind the hon. Member that if the Opposition can prevent the Government from passing Bills it cannot force them to pass any Measures. If this Bill should not be successful, the hon. Member will have to explain to his constituents that he was one of those who did everything in their power to prevent this Bill from becoming law. The House will decide whether it does or does not wish this practical Measure to pass. If it decides that the Bill must be considered in Committee of the whole House, then, having regard to the opportunities for prolonged discussion which that procedure involves, I tell hon. Members on behalf of my colleagues that there is little or no chance of the Bill becoming law.
§ SIR. W. WEDDERBURN (Banffshire)
said, that this was a question in which his constituents were vitally interested, and they would consider it a great grievance that this important matter should be withdrawn from the cognisance of the House before their representative had had an opportunity of speaking no their behalf. At the Second Reading stage he had risen several times, but was not fortunate enough to catch the Speaker's eye. The Debate was closured, and he had had no opportunity of speaking. Hon. Members spoke, because they thought it their duty to do so, in behalf of their constituents. On an Amendment to the Address, he had appealed to the Leader of the House on behalf of the fishing population of Scotland, and when the right hon. Member replied that it was not the case that their interests were being neglected——
§ MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! The hon. Member must confine himself to the question before the House, which concerns the Committee to which this particular Bill should be referred.
§ SIR W. WEDDERBURN
explained that the reason why he wished to keep this Measure in the House was because he had not been allowed an opportunity of speaking on behalf of his constituents. Continuing, the hon. Gentleman said, that the proposal of the Government was to refer this Bill to a Grand Committee. Having regard to what they had heard as to the way business was sometimes conducted in Grand Committee, it might make some Members shudder to know that a Measure in which they were interested was to be referred to a Committee of that kind. He was not, him- self, opposed to the Grand Committee system, and he had served on the Committee to which the Local Government (Scotland) Bill was referred, and which did its work satisfactorily. But he was not aware that the Grand Committee to which the Bill under consideration would be referred had an adequate number of Scottish representatives upon it, and as the Bill was intended for the benefit of the fishing population of Scotland, it was very necessary that there should be a reasonable representation of Scottish Members interested in the subject upon the Committee. The, Bill was in its essence a financial Bill, but they had had hitherto no indication as to the direction in which the money would be applied. There was, it was true, a provision to the effect that the Secretary for Scotland would provide for Scottish needs; but how were they to know that he would be able to prevail against the English Minister for Agriculture, who would be the predominant partner in this matter? Considering the great importance of this Measure to the Scottish people, he would like to ask the First I Lord of the Treasury whether any particular sum under the Bill would be earmarked for the use of Scottish fishermen?
§ MR. PHILIP STANHOPE (Burnley)
thought that the House must have been surprised at the statement of the First Lord of the Treasury. The right hon. Member had given them to understand that if the Bill were discussed, as he thought it ought to be discussed, in 474 Committee of the whole House, the Government would be compelled to drop the Measure. That expression of opinion did not seem to show that the Government had very much at heart the programme for the benefit of the agricultural interest to which they had understood this Session was to be devoted. He had served on many occasions on Grand Committees, and knew well that those Committees often performed the duties intrusted to them better than the House could have performed them. But in this particular Measure there were questions of principle involved, which could not be properly discussed by any delegated authority. In the first place, there was a considerable demand for public money. That was a question that not only interested agricultural constituencies, but which also interested the Members for urban districts. In the second place, there was the question to what extent the great Railway Companies were to be allowed to take advantage of this Measure, because it was evident that the proposed application of public money might be taken advantage of by a Railway Company, unless precautions were taken, for the purpose of increasing the railway monopoly in this country. Then there was a cognate question, which he was informed it was desired to raise in connection with this Bill—namely, the question of our canal system. If it was desirable to spend money on light railways——
§ MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! The hon. Member is now discussing the merits of the Bill and the arguments for and against them. I understand that his object is to show that the Bill should be referred to a Committee of the whole House, but it appears to me that he is now going beyond what is reasonable.
§ MR. STANHOPE
said, that he did not think that the Bill ought to be withdrawn from the purview of the House. He hoped all Liberal Members would support the proposal that the House should retain its control over this Measure.
§ MR. HERBERT LEWIS (Flint Boroughs)
complained that many Members interested in this subject had been excluded from participation in the discussion on the Second Reading. It had been said that if the Bill went to a 475 Grand Committee it could still be discussed on Report. That was true, but it was well known that the discussion on Report could only be perfunctory. If a Special Grand Committee had been nominated for the purpose of considering this particular Measure, there would not be so much reason for objection; but the effect of the proposal of the Government would be that many Members deeply interested in the Bill would have no opportunity at all of discussing it. What was the character of the Bills that had been referred to Grand Committees? Like the Enfranchisement of Places of Worship (Sites) Bill, the Hours of Railway Servants Bill, the Clergy Discipline Bill, they were Measures involving legal technicalities. The Bill under consideration, however, stood upon an entirely different footing. A comparison had been drawn between this Measure and the Employers' Liability Bill, but those who set up that comparison overlooked the fact that the Employers' Liability Bill was discussed in that House for many days on the Second Reading, whereas the discussion on the Second Reading of the Light Railways Bill was closured in an untimely manner.
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND (Waterford)
thought that many of the speeches made on the Opposition side of the House would have been more appropriate if delivered against the informal proposal for the establishment of Grand Committees. It was true that, when a Bill was referred to a Grand Committee, most Members of the House had not the same opportunities of discussing its details as they would have if it were referred to a Committee of the whole House. But surely that was a matter that was taken into account when the method of procedure by Grand Committee was first under consideration. The hon. Member for the Flint Boroughs was in error when he said that it was only Bills involving legal technicalities that were referred to Grand Committees. Last Session a Bill dealing with the question of the Municipal Franchise in Ireland was referred to a Grand Committee. Endeavouring, as he had been, to look at this question from a strictly and narrow Irish point of view, he desired to say that he was one of those who believed that Ireland might 476 be able to reap some benefit from a continuance of the system of Grand Committees; and therefore he was opposed to any action of the House which would discredit the system. The meaning and object of Grand Committees was to relieve congestion of business in the House itself, and though congestion of business might be urged as one of the reasons for consenting to Home Rule, he believed it was possible for Ireland, pending the achievement of Home Rule, to obtain through the medium of those Committees some useful legislation on those minor grievances which afflicted Ireland. If it was true that there would not be an adequate representation of all classes of Members who were specially interested in this Bill, he took it for granted that any class of Members who desired representation on it would find it by means of those Members who were to be added for the special purpose of the Measure. He understood the cold-blooded threat of the Leader of the House with reference to the progress and fate of the Bill, a reference which an hon. Gentleman said had shown a want of heart on the part of the Government. The reference of the right hon. Gentleman, at any rate, showed want of time; the time of the Government was limited, of course, and he recognised that, in view of the other Government Measures, it would be impossible for them to give a guarantee that the Measure would be passed into law it' retained in the House. It was fair that the Government should be asked to give the Irish Members a fair share of representation in the consideration of this English Bill in the Grand Committee, because it was possible that the Irish Bill might run on the same lines. He was, therefore, in favour of sending this Bill to the Grand Committee on Trade.
§ The FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY and Mr. T. R. BUCHANAN (Aberdeenshire, E.) rose together.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I hope that the House will come to a decision without compelling me to resort to any process of the kind suggested. The question is in very small compass.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 269; Noes, 87.—(Division List, No. 33.)