HC Deb 22 July 1898 vol 62 cc811-9

(By order); Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed— That the Bill be now read a second time.

Amendment proposed— To leave out from the word 'That' to the end of the Question in order to add the words— the promoters of the General Power Distributing Company Bill (H.L.) shall have leave to suspend any further proceedings therein in order to proceed with the same Bill, if they shall think fit, in the next Session of Parliament. That not later than three clear days after the next meeting of Parliament, the Bill, the proceedings whereon shall have been suspended as aforesaid, shall be deposited in the Private Bill Office in the form required by the Standing Orders, with a declaration, signed by the Agent, annexed thereto, stating that the Bill is the same in every respect as the Bill with respect to which proceedings have been so suspended at the last stage of its proceeding in the House in the present Session. That such Bill, endorsed by one of the clerks in the Private Bill Office as having been duly deposited, with such Declaration annexed, may be laid by one of the clerks of that office upon the Table of the House in the next Session of Parliament. That in respect of the Bill so laid upon the Table, the Petition for the Bill and the order of leave to bring in the same in the present Session shall be read, and thereupon such Petition shall be referred to the Examiners of Petitions for private Bills, who shall by endorsement on such Petitions certify whether or not the promoters have made compliance with the Standing Orders, and upon the Examiners certifying that the Standing Orders have been complied with, the Bill shall be read a first time, and ordered to be read a second time. That all Petitions presented in the present Session against such Bill, within the time prescribed by the Rules and Orders of this House, and which stood referred to the Committee on such Bill, shall stand referred to the Committee on the same Bill in the next Session of Parliament."—(Mr. J. W. Lowther.)

*MR. J. W. LOWTHER (CHAIRMAN of WAYS and MEANS,) Cumberland, Penrith

The House will observe the notice of Motion standing in my name dealing with this Bill, in which I ask the House to take on this occasion a somewhat unusual course, but not a wholly unprecedented one. I think that I ought to explain to the House the quite exceptional circumstances under which this Bill mow comes before it at so late a period of the Session. With regard to the merits of the Bill of course I shall say nothing. I have no opinion to express, and it would not be desirable on this occasion that I should express any opinions as to the merits of the Bill, even if I had any. It is an important Bill dealing with a large area of country, and also dealing with new principles. When the Lord Chairman of the other House at the beginning of the Session attracted my attention to this Bill, we observed that this and some other Bills were raising some new principles and we thought it was very undesirable that those new principles should be developed piecemeal, and that it would be far better that they should be dealt with altogether, and, as it were, in the lump, so that the new principles which were desired to be put into effect should receive equal consideration. Thereupon at the instigation of the Lord Chairman, the House of Lords approached this House with a view of appointing a Joint Committee to inquire into the matter. This Joint Committed was appointed in the month of March and it sat during that month, the month of April, and the month of May, and I think it was not until June that the Committee reported. This Committee was called the Electrical Energy and Generating Stations Supply Committee, and while its proceedings were going on this Bill was of course hung up. As soon as the Committee had reported, the promoters of this Bill—the Bill being a House of Lords Bill—pushed forward their Measure. It was sent to a Committee in the other House and passed through that Committee, but not until after some considerable time had been taken in threshing out the details of the Bill, and not until some Amendments of considerable importance were made in it. The Bill now comes down to this House on the 22nd of July. The time for presenting petitions has not yet even expired, and will not expire until next week. After the petitions are presented it is quite possible that objections may be taken to the locus standi of some of the petitioners, and that would involve the matter being sent to the locus standi referees' court. It is obvious under these circumstances that even if the Bill were to receive the assent of the House on the Second Reading now, it would be the 1st of August at the very earliest date before it would be possible for it to be sent to Committee. I feel, therefore, under those circumstances that it would be absurd to ask the House to appoint a Committee to sit on the 1st of August to consider a Bill of this magnitude, and to consider also the opposition, which, I may say, is likewise of considerable magnitude. Seeing that it was not in any respect the fault of the promoters of the Bill that this delay has occurred, but that it was entirely due to the action of Parliament itself that further proceedings in relation to it were suspended during the greater part of the Session, I thought it was only fair that the promoters should not lose all the costs to which they have been placed, and I think it may fairly be replaced at the commencement of next Session in the same position in which it is now at the present moment. Naturally what I say in regard to the promoters holds equally good with regard to the opponents. The case of the opponents will not in any way be damnified by hanging this Bill over until next Session; they also will find themselves in exactly the same position at the beginning of next Session as at the present time, and there is also this to consider—that I think it is a matter of convenience to give the promoters and the opponents a space of six months in which they can come together and see whether terms cannot be arranged. As I said, some considerable alterations have been made in the Bill in another place, which have somewhat affected the positions of some of the parties interested, and I think, therefore, it would be a good thing to give the opponents time to consider the changed aspect which has taken place in regard to this Bill. I shall naturally be asked whether there is any precedent for an action of this kind. The words standing on the Notice Paper are taken almost verbatim and literatim from a similar Motion which was moved in 1871 with regard to certain tramway Bills. Of course there are a few alterations in the words, because in that Motion several Bills were being dealt with, and in this case there is only one. What occurred in 1871 was, I venture to think, an extraordinarily close precedent to what has occurred this Session. After the Tramway Act was passed in 1870 there was a very large crop of tramway Bills, and it was found on the 16th of July—I think that was the exact date—that it was impossible at that period of the Session of 1871 to deal with all those Bills, and thereupon this Motion was made that these Bills should be suspended until the following Session. On that occasion also a Joint Committee of the two Houses was set up to consider the question of tramway Bills, and, oddly enough, that Committee sat for exactly the same time as this Committee has sat this Session;—from March until June. Therefore, as I say, it would be almost impossible to find a precedent which more closely agrees with that which I have followed on this occasion. I do not think that it needs any further words from me to ask the House to assent to my Motion. I conclude by saying, as I began by saying, that it is undoubtedly a very exceptional method of dealing with a Bill, and it is only in consequence of the great pressure of time caused, not by any fault on the part of the promoters, but by the action of the House itself, and only for that reason that I am asking the House to deal with this matter in this somewhat exceptional manner. I beg to move the Motion standing in my name.

MR. MELLOR (York, W.R., Sowerby)

After the explanation given by the Chairman of Ways and Means I hope that the House will assent to the motion which he has just moved, because it seems to me to be an extremely reasonable proceeding, and under the circumstances it would be unfair to ask the promoters of this Bill to pay over again all the costs which they have incurred during the present Session of Parliament. I think it is most desirable that this House should wish to save the costs of promoters of private Bills as much as possible, and, for my own part, I should welcome an inquiry into the costs of private Bill legislation with a view to seeding whether these costs could not be very materially reduced. It seems to me that the Chairman has given ample reason for his Motion, and that he has quoted a precedent which is exactly in point, and I think, if it had been necessary to go into the matter at greater length, he would have found that there were several other precedents with regard to this particular matter in which Bills had been dealt with in this identical way. I may say this that the promoters will be at the beginning of next Session in exactly the same position they are in now, and therefore in no sense will they be damnified because none of their money will be thrown away. With regard to the opponents of the Bill—and there are many Members of the House who wish to oppose this Bill—they will be exactly in the same position, with all their rights and powers preserved; and they will have this great advantage in dealing with it in this manner: that, at the beginning of next Session we shall come upon the matter somewhat refreshed by the long vacation and be able to devote a greater amount of energy to the consideration of the very important questions which are raised in this Bill. At the present moment I do not wish to say one single word about the Bill itself, but I entirely agree with what the Chairman has said—namely, that this Bill raises some very important questions, and one, at any rate, which, to my mind, is almost entirely novel. Therefore, I think the House ought to have ample time to consider the Bill, and also to consider the objections which are, and may be, urged against it.

*MR. STUART WORTLEY (Sheffield, Hallam)

The opposition to this Bill is an opposition of great magnitude and of not less weight, and those of us who on behalf of certain municipal corporations are taking a more prominent part in that opposition do not propose to dispute the propriety of the Motion submitted to the House by my right honourable Friend the Chairman of Ways and Means. There are points of view from which one might regret that the question of principle has not been settled swiftly and once for all to-day, and that is the only possible difference which could have arisen between us and the Chairman of Ways and Means. Not having been disposed to take that view to-day, I ventured to suggest to my honourable Friends who are associated with me in opposition to this Bill that we should really have contended against the promoters at a disadvantage had we taken what would not have been a square issue upon the merits of this Bill and had set ourselves in opposition to a proposal, attended as it was with all that weight which necessarily and properly attaches to the proposals of the Chairman of Ways and Means. Under those circumstances we take note of the distinct statement that this Motion does not carry or involve the Second Reading, and that, as regards the Second Reading, our rights at the beginning of next Session will be as full and perfect as they are now, and that the Bill will then come before the House in the same position as it is now, as we think, with all its native imperfections still upon it. We think we might have made a very fair attempt to-day to reject the Bill, but we are conscious of the strength of our case, and, considering as we do that all our rights and privileges are preserved to us, we acquiesce in this Motion, feeling sure that our case will be as strong next year as it is to-day.

MR. J. STUART (Shoreditch, Hoxton)

I do not oppose the Second Reading of this Bill, and I simply say that I entirely object to the Bill. The proposal of the Chairman of Committees is a thoroughly just and fair proposal, and it is so because it is the House itself and Parliament itself which has delayed this Bill, and not the promoters of the Bill. The Chairman of Committees has gone back to 1871 for a precedent, but let me remind Members of this House who may be doubtful on this point that the state of circumstances must concur; but now we are upon an individual Bill brought forward, and Parliament itself has determined to deal with the general principle. Sir, this has occurred much more recently than 1871, because in the year 1895, when we had the question of municipalities working their own tramways several Bills were deferred until late in the Session, and then when the Session terminated those Bills were carried on to another Session. And, so to speak, by a chance the question of precedent did not then occur. Sir, whatever may be our view of the Bill, I think we must be desirous of doing fairly by all parties concerned, and while not at all approving of the Bill or the principle upon which it is founded, I feel that it is in proper keeping with the precedents of this House that we should pass the proposition of the Chairman of Committees.

*MR. J. BRYCE (Aberdeen, S.)

I have only one word to address to the Members who have examined this matter, and that is, I hope that they have realised the gravity of the question before them. We are accepting the proposal of the Chairman of Committees, and it is hardly possible to over-estimate either the gravity or the novelty of this proposal. Those who try to study the matter will admit that there are great difficulties both ways. But, Sir, a fair course between these difficulties and the precedent alluded to is one which would require a much longer Debate and a much fuller Debate than the House will give it at present. I think it will be understood as the matter leaves us now the House will resume the consideration of so important a Bill early next Session.

*MR. J. LOWTHER (Kent, Thanet)

When I first heard of this Motion I was disposed to view it with considerable misgiving in case it might be drawn into a precedent applicable to public legisla- tion, as I do not approve of the policy of hanging up public Bills from one Session to another, which has been from time to time advocated, but think the explanation of the right honourable Gentleman the Chairman of Committees has made it quite patent that no such risk is being incurred on the present occasion. He has made it quite clear that solely on the ground of the very exceptional circumstances with which this particular Bill is surrounded he has adopted his present proposal, and that there is no suggestion of any abandonment of the salutary rule which provides that the Bills of one Session shall not overlap the other. Under the circumstances I think this will rather tend to strengthen than otherwise the general rule which guides the House.

MR. T. BAYLEY (Derbyshire, Chesterfield)

I beg to support this Motion, and I hope the House will adopt the right honourable Gentleman's suggestion and hand the Bill over to next Session, for it is a Bill which requires the very serious and careful consideration of this House and of the Committee.

Question put— That these words be there inserted.

Agreed to.


I have now to move, Sir— That this Order be a Standing Order of the House. If this is not made a Standing Order the House next Session will have no cognisance of this Motion, and in order that the House next Session shall have cognisance of it and deal with it in the way in which the House has just resolved, it is necessary that this Motion should be made a Standing Order of the House.


I rise to a point of order. I think we ought to have had notice of that.


No point of order arises. That this should be made a Standing Order is consequential upon the Motion which the House has just adopted.

Question put— That this Order be a Standing Order of the House.

Agreed to.