HC Deb 09 June 1898 vol 58 cc1221-42

Motion made and Question proposed— That the Order for Committee be discharged, and that the Bill be referred to a Select Committee of seventeen Members."—(Mr. Graham Murray.)

Amendment proposed— Leave out 'seventeen Members,' and insert 'the Members representing the constituencies in Shetland, with fifteen other Members to be added by the Committee of Selection.'"—(Mr. Pirie.)

MR. PIRIE (Aberdeen, N.)

I must join issue at once with the statement made yesterday by the First Lord of the Treasury that this was an uncon- troversial matter. I think, on the contrary, that the composition and constitution of this Committee is decidedly a matter for controversy, and I cannot, therefore, admit the accuracy of the First Lord's statement when he said that the privilege of allowing such a Committee as this to be appointed at a time when no controversial business could come before the House—was in no way unprecedented. I think that there is a very great subject of controversy as to the constitution of this Commitee, both as regards its composition and its powers. We are asked to agree to a Committee, and no means are given to us through the action of the Government in bringing it up at times when no opposed business could be taken—no opportunity is given to the Members of this House of obtaining any details as to its constitution. We are asked simply to accept the Motion without any discussion at all, simply because the Government requests us to do so. I do not think, Sir, that the treatment which Scottish questions have had this Session from the Government is such that we should even stretch any point at all in their favour. But apart from this, our duty to our constituents in Scotland does not allow Scottish Members to sanction the appointment of a Committee in which the principle for which we have always contended as far as Scottish questions are concerned is not recognised, and that principle is, that on all Scottish questions Scottish opinion shall be predominant. That is really the object which has induced me to put this Amendment on the Paper. The question naturally arises: Whose interests are really at stake in this Bill? It is interesting to remember the Debate which took place on the second reading of this Bill, and the opinions which were expressed on both sides of the House regarding it. Now, Sir, we were told by the First Lord of the Treasury that the Opposition to this Bill came principally from this side of the House. Those who remember the second reading will recollect that the right honourable Gentleman the Member for Montrose conclusively pointed out to the First Lord of the Treasury that he was completely wrong in that statement. The opposition to this Bill came principally from Members on the Government side of the House; from Members representing the Chair- men of Committees, Parliamentary barristers, and railway interests, and those were the interests which honourable Gentlemen were now asked to believe were really most at stake in this Bill. I venture to say, Sir, that the interests which are most at stake in this Bill—that is, the present interests—are those of the Scottish taxpayers and ratepayers. Scottish institutions, too, are vitally affected by this Bill. There are other reasons, Sir, why I think that the Amendment which I have proposed is pre-eminently a justifiable one. Scotland is to be made the subject of an experiment. I am perfectly ready to admit that, and I hope to see, if this Bill does come into operation, that it will eventually be able to be extended to other parts of the United Kingdom. I am, therefore, quite prepared to admit that other interests must be recognised, and it is for that purpose that I provide in my Amendment that— Fifteen other Members be added by the Committee of Selection. But, supposing for a moment, Sir, that it is not exclusively a Scottish matter. I should like to ask if we as Scottish Members are not to be equally entrusted and have equal confidence placed in us as regards the guardians of public good and the welfare of the United Kingdom as will be placed in English Members when they are asked to exercise an exclusive right over matters which are not exclusively English. I say that there is no more reason why Scottish Members should not be entrusted with a predominant voice in matters which are not exclusively Scotch than that English Members should almost invariably have the predominant voice over matters not entirely connected with England. Again, I say that my proposition would really expedite matters. It would have the effect of sending back the Bill from Committee to this House, after having passed through a Committee which would command the confidence of Members of this House, and thereby seriously diminish the amount of discussion which will be required on this Bill when it is returned to this House. I would further say, Sir, that a very radical reform is essential before it can be possibly acceptable to the people of Scotland, and for that reason it should go before an influential Committee which may be able to change it in accordance with the wishes of the Scotch people. My object has never been to defeat this Bill, but very much the reverse. I came down to the Second Reading of this Bill knowing that it was a very bad Bill, and I did my best to suggest improvements. Criticisms were applied to this Bill by the honourable Member for Dundee, who compared it with other Measures, and he said that it could only be properly compared in its evil and bad qualities to the first Education Bill of this Government. And yet, knowing this, I came down to-day prepared to register my vote in favour of the Second Reading. I have to say that I consider that when Scottish Members are applied to to vote for a Measure which they know is really wrong—it is a most lamentable confession to have to make to this House, and yet this is due to the necessities of private Bill procedure in this country—I say that it is not at all creditable that such a state of affairs should exist. I must say that it shows, considering the short time that this Bill has been before the House, a great want of sincerity and confidence on the part of the Government as to their intentions regarding this Bill.


The honourable Member is departing from the scope of the Bill, and is out of order.


I bow to your ruling, Sir, and I will keep to the point. To show that the Amendment I am proposing will be of a normal character, I have precedents without number which I can state in order to show that on every reform of Scotch questions similar motions have been made by Scotch Members. The honourable Member for West Aberdeenshire has, on more than one occasion, moved Motions to a similar effect. I have the precedent of the private Bill brought in by the Conservative Government of 1891, In which, Sir, exactly, almost word for word, the same proposition was moved by the honourable Member for Leith, but the Committee to which this private Bill of the Conservative Government of 1891 applied consisted of all Scotch representatives and 30 other Members added by the Committee of Selection. I have been told that my proposition is a novel one, but I would draw the attention of the House to a speech—and I will read but a few words of it—of Mr. Hunter, who spoke to the House on this subject as to whether this Bill should be referred to a Committee composed exclusively of Scotch Members with 13 English Members. He said— The point is not whether the Committee is to consist of 20 or 100 persons, but whether it is to be a Committee representing Scottish and Liberal opinion or English and Tory opinion. He also said, Sir— The question is whether Scotsmen are to have their own way or not? This is what I am contending, Sir, in the Amendment which I have put on the Paper. I desire to say, in conclusion, that before I decide as to whether I shall press this Amendment to a Division, or not, I wish to ask for some information as to the intention of the Government as to the proposed composition of their Select Committee of 13 Members. I wish to know whether there is to be a substantial majority of Scotch Members on that Committee. It is with the view of eliciting this information from the Government as to their intention with regard to the Select Committee that I have placed this Amendment on the Paper, and therefore I beg leave to move my Amendment.

MR. BIRRELL (Fife, W.)

in seconding the Amendment said that this was a Measure in which Scotch interests were largely affected. But although the whole of Scotland was anxious that a cheaper and more expeditious method than that which at present existed of dealing with their private business should be discovered it had by no means made up its mind as to what machinery should be adopted for the purpose of the Bill. If Scotland was to be satisfied with the Bill, it was necessary that she should be the predominant partner, as it were, in the matter. If the Lord Advocate had thought fit when moving for the Committee, he could have determined the manner in which the Committee should be constituted. He (Mr. Birrell) had no passionate desire to see all the Scotch Members assemble in one room as a Committee. Such an assembly might be almost too august for human eyes to contemplate. If the Committee had to do the work which was alluded to in the speech which was made upon the Second Reading, he was not at all sure whether it would not be better to sea if some means could not be discovered by which it would be possible to reform the rules for private procedure of this House, so as to satisfy the Scotch Members without taking the control away from Parliament altogether. He thought that Scotland was entitled to a predominance of opinion. It was not in any way a party question, and the opinions of Scotch Members on both sides of the House ought to be brought to bear upon it. If the Committee was put forward without the security of Scotch opinion it was perfectly certain that its report would not be received with much respect in Scotland.

* MR. GORDON (Elgin and Nairn)

I wish to support the Government proposal upon this occasion. There is one thing I desire even more than a Scotch Committee, and that is the success of this Bill. The question is complicated by the marked divergency in the opinions of the Scotch Members, and the country itself, in regard to these proposals. As we all know, the Debates in this House were curtailed by previous business, there was no full opinion of the Scotch Members, nor had Scotland time to give its opinion to its representatives. The country at large is deeply interested in everything which may tend to reform the private procedure. We are not living in a political Garden of Eden, and everybody who knows what a Scotch Committee means must know that August would come before any conclusion was arrived at in this matter, and it would not be disposed of until the Greek Kalends. The Scotch corporations and counties look to the Government to carry this matter to a successful conclusion.

MR. CALDWELL (Lanark, Mid)

The speeches in favour of the Second Reading of this Bill show that while the principle of the Measure is approved by the House there is a great divergency of opinion as to the detail, and there is a pretty general view that it ought to be sent to a Select Committee. The question we have now to consider is what kind of Select Committee should it be sent to. Now it is suggested that it should be submitted to a Scotch Committee of 17 Members, but we are not told, as is usually the case, whether a proportion of these Members is to be selected by the House and so many by the Committees of Scotland. In the second place we are not told whether this Select Committee is for the purpose of collecting evidence in regard to the views of the people of Scotland. The Lord Advocate and the Government would hardly have expected us to come here upon the question of a Select Committee without a word of explanation as to how the Committee is to be formed. A great deal will depend upon the view which the Government take as to the functions of the Select Committee. If it be for the purpose of taking evidence and hearing the opinion of Scotland with regard to the tribunal to be set up in that country, then we may very well admit that a good deal may be said in favour of a Committee of 17 Members, because obviously if you are going to take evidence and inform yourselves upon this subject, 17 Members would be a most appropriate number for the Committee. If the Committee is not to take evidence, then, of course, another question arises. The opinion of the Scotch Members is this, that the opinion of Scotland upon a Measure of this kind should be ascertained by a Committee. Now, we must look at the matter from one of two points of view. Either the Select Committee must be formed to hear evidence or ascertain the views of Scotland through evidence taken before the Committee, or else you should ascertain the views of the people of Scotland through her representatives, who will deal with the Bill from a purely Scotch point of view. What is the principle of the Bill to which the Second Reading has been assented to? The principle of the Bill is that so far as private Bill legislation affecting Scotland is concerned, it should be separated entirely from Imperial private Bill legislation, that it should be placed upon national lines, and a tribunal should be set up in Scotland which would deal with purely Scotch private Bill legislation quite apart from the Imperial Parliament. We are now separating Scotch Measures from the Imperial Measures, and setting up a tribunal in Scotland. That raises the question, who are the Select Committee who are to deal with the subject? We all agree with the principle of the Bill; but it is a question of machinery. The object of it is to establish a body in Scotland to take the place of legislation in this House, and in the House of Lords—to set up a new tribunal in Scotland. Obviously that tribunal should be set up in accordance with Scotch opinion, and by those cognisant and conversant with the Scotch mode of procedure and Scotch administration. Therefore, if you are to remit this matter, this purely Scotch question, and set up this Scotch machinery in Scotland, what do English Members know with regard to Scotch procedure, municipal legislation, and matters of that sort that are involved? I say that so far as the Committee are concerned, if we are to establish a body in Scotland, that body should be composed and know the wants and sentiments of the people. As I said, there is no objection to the principle of the Bill, and this is not a matter of Party politics. It has been pointed out that this Select Committee practically can do anything. But the Select Committee will accomplish nothing except this, that it will only give you the opinion of Scotland as regards the proposal to set up a Scotch tribunal. Parliament will have full control over every step in the progress of a Bill, from the Second Reading to its close. It may be maintained that in remitting the matter to Scotch Members there is a danger to the Union. Nothing of the kind. It will be for this Select Committee to go over the Bill and remodel it in accordance with what they believe to be Scotch opinion. That is a very important matter. What we ask you to do is to send a Bill to a Select Committee of the Scotch Members, and then, having ascertained what is the opinion of the Scotch Members upon that Measure, the Government are in no way bound to carry out the recommendations of the Scotch Members. That will in no way commit us to anything the Select Committee may do; therefore the whole point we insist upon is this, that in a matter relating entirely to Scotland the Select Committee should be a committee of experts who have a knowledge of Scotch law procedure, and are able to consider the matter from the Scotch point of view. We object, in the case of Scotland, to this fact, that we are in this peculiar position, that we are allowed to have our say as regards Imperial questions, we are not prevented by this Government in particular from having our say in Scotch Bills. Take last year. You had a large Bill affecting public health, a matter purely of detail. The result was we had a limited number of Scotch Members on that Committee, but the great majority were English and Irish Members who did not attend the Committee. Scotch Members who were not on the Committee had an equal right to be heard on those questions with those who were on the Committee, and you nominally kept English and Irish Members on the Committee, and kept Scotch Members off who had every right to have a say on the subject. During this Session, on Friday last, the Poor Law of Scotland Bill came up. It deals with important things in the law, and when it goes to the Standing Committee the majority of Scotch Members are excluded. The matter concerns Scotland, and does not concern any other portion of the United Kingdom. I remember when Lord Advocate Macdonald was in office he carried his Burgh Police Bill through Committee, and that was a Committee composed of Scotch Members, with only one or two other Members of the House. Anyone who sits on a Committee on Scotch Bills knows there is no such thing as Party in questions of that sort; it does not arise at all. It may be said that this Bill makes an important change with regard to the procedure of the House, and therefore it is necessary to have other Members of the House on the Committee as well as Scotch Members. But let me point out that there is no change whatever in the procedure of this House. From the moment a Scotch Bill comes from the Scotch Office there is, according to your Bill, no change in the existing procedure. We ought to have Scotch opinion represented. You are going to set up this Committee with a view of taking evidence, and if you do that I venture to say that the opinion of the people of Scotland should be heard through the medium of a full representation of Scotch Members on that Committee.


I should not have thought that among the many accusations which have been levelled, or maybe levelled, against the Government there should have been the desire attributed to them to deprive the honourable Member of a fair share of the discussion of Scottish matters in the House. Certainly the last thing I could wish is that any Scotch Member should be silenced, and it would be the last thing we should succeed in doing if there was any such intention with regard to the honourable Member who has just spoken. I cannot think that the mover of the Amendment seriously proposed to press it to a Division. I gather that he did not intend that, and the speech made by the seconder confirmed me in that estimate of the Parliamentary position. Indeed, as the Motion stands, the House could not accept it, for it amounts to a proposal for a Select Committee of 87 Members, each one competent to examine witnesses, and do the work which is often found to overburden the energies of Committees of 17 Members. A Select Committee of 87 Members was obviously an absurdity. The work of a Committee of such a size could only be conducted on Grand Committee rules. The suggestion made by the Scotch Members on the Second Reading of the Bill was not that the Measure should be sent to a Grand Committee, but to a Select Committee. One of the objects in sending it to a Select Committee was to expedite the taking of evidence. I take it that the Motion as it stands would receive no favour from any part of the House, and I doubt whether the honourable Member wishes seriously to see it carried into effect. There have been occasions when the suggestion that Scotch Bills should be refered to a Committee entirely composed of Scotchmen have led to great constitutional Debates, and if the present suggestion had been that we should so far revolutionise the Parliamentary system, I should have been obliged, not for the first time, to have addressed to the House an elaborate argument against what I should regard as a revolution in our Parliamentary system injurious to every part of the United Kingdom, but most of all to Scotland. As I understand it, the question is whether or not upon this Committee Scotch opinion is to be fully represented. Well, Sir, I confess that when I came into this House a few moments ago I did not know what the composition of this Committee was to be. As is well known to every Member of this House, the method of arranging these Select Committees is for the Whip of each Party to name the Members of his Party who are to form a portion of the Committee. The composition as to the parties being fixed by unalterable rule, I should have thought that instead of moving this Amendment it would have been sufficient if inquiry had been made of the Whips as to whether Scotch opinion was to be fully represented upon it. Had the answer not been satisfactory, I would almost venture to suggest that the proper time for taking objection was not when the Motion was put down, in the ordinary form, as we have it on the Paper, but when, on a subsequent occasion, the names were before the House and came up seriatim to be voted upon. However, as honourable Gentlemen opposite have not thought fit to take that course, but wish to obtain information, as, I think, somewhat prematurely, as to the composition of the Committee, I am informed that the Committee, as settled at present, is as follows:—The Lord Advocate, Mr. Anstruther, Mr. Courtney, Sir C. Dalrymple, Mr. Gordon, Mr. Renshaw, Sir Herbert Maxwell, Mr. McKillop, Mr. Thorburn, Mr. Wortley, Mr. Blake, Sir T. Carmichael, Mr. Caldwell, Dr. Clark, Mr. Crombie, Mr. J. H. Lewis, and Sir Robert Reid. That is a very Scotch Committee, and I think it is a very able and a very competent Committee. That may be a matter of opinion, but that it is a very Scotch Committee is not a matter of opinion—it is a mere question of statistics. And, now, having told the House the Committee provisionally decided on by the authorities to whom we are to entrust these weighty decisions, I hope they will permit this Motion to be adopted, reserving any further commentary until the names are submitted.

DR. CLARK (Caithness)

Sir, the speech of the right honourable Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury affords ample justification for moving this Amendment. Even yet we have not got sufficient information as to the policy of the Government. When this question was before the House, and we agreed to the Second Reading of the Bill, it was on the understanding that it was to come before a Select Committee. At that time we wanted to know the character of the Select Committee, and we wanted to know whether it would be a Committee of Members of both Houses, because it affected the interests of both Houses, and ought to be considered by them. Then we had this Motion put down without any information; and I cannot understand how the Lord Advocate could have come here for the purpose of passing it as an unopposed Measure when he knew, or ought to have known, that on every occasion during the last 15 years we have always had a very prolonged Debate upon it. Now, Sir, I do not know what the function of the Committee is to be. Perhaps when the Lord Advocate speaks he will tell us what the Committee is intended to do. This is not a new subject at all. Ten years ago the matter was pressed by the then Conservative Government, of which the right honourable Gentleman was a prominent Member, and the first thing they did was to have an inquiry before legislation. We had a Joint Committee of both Houses, and they reported as to the special mode of procedure. When a Bill was brought in to carry out that Report, a Select Committee was appointed in exactly the same phraseology, except that there were 21 Members instead of 17. Well, now, if we are going to have this Bill sent to a Committee, and one brought back in a shape which will pass the Committee stage of this House, and the Report stage, and afterwards be adopted, I am very strongly in favour of this Motion, but it ought to be done by the Scotch Members, because the Bill solely affects Scotch interests. As far as this question is concerned, I am astonished at the remark made by the right honourable Gentleman. He is generally very accurate, but to-night he, has made a complete slip, because this Measure of Procedure which he so strongly condemns was brought in by a Government of which he was a very influential Member. There was a Bill brought in for Scotch purposes in 1889, but then the late Lord Advocate put down a Motion to refer it to a Committee of 21 Members. He put down the names of all the Members, and they were all Scotch Members. The only difference was that between the appointment of the Committee and the sitting of the Committee, the Solicitor General, who was a member, was appointed a judge, and the honourable Baronet the Member for Ipswich [Sir C. Dalrymple], who up till then had been a Scotch Member, was put on as an expert. The same thing occurred in 1886 and 1887, when a Unionist Government was in power. But this procedure, though begun by a Conservative Government, has been applied both by Conservative and Liberal Governments. What is the proportion of the Committee from the names read by the right honourable Gentleman to-night? There will be on this Committee of 17 five Scotch Liberal Members. You will appreciate the proportion when I mention that there are 40 Scotch Members on this side of the House, and 32 sitting on the other side. With a proportion of 40 out of 72, there are only five Liberal Scotch Members out of 17 on the Committee. Now, Sir, reverting again to the function of the Committee—if the function of the Committee is to make inquiry, that means that you are not going to pass the Bill—indeed, you cannot possibly pass it—this Session. If you are going to inquire as to what has occurred in the procedure of the House during the last 10 years, as to the time taken by private Bills, and other particulars, it will probably be discovered that things have changed. If that is to be the function of the Committee, I can understand that there ought to be both English, Welsh, and Irish, as well as Scotch, Members upon it. I, for one do not object at all to the principle of the Bill, and I am thoroughly in favour of there being local inquiry. My right honourable Friend the Member for the Stirling Burghs [Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman], on behalf of Scotch Members some years ago, when a previous Bill was brought in by a Conservative Government of the same character, said, on behalf of Scotch Members, that they would be perfectly willing to agree to it if you had a Joint Committee of Lords and Commons going down to Scotland and making inquiries—two from this House and two from the other; and I believe the Leaders of the Liberal Party are perfectly willing to agree to the same terms. But this is an entirely different proposal altogether, and probably the Bill will be strongly opposed. Well, now, I think the House ought to know exactly what the function of the Committee is to be. There is no instruction to inquire; and if the Government are going to have 10 Members and the Opposition seven on this Committee, they may be able to vote down any Motion which is made by the minority, while the Bill may be thrashed into shape according to the will of the majority. One word with regard to public opinion in Scotland. I think public opinion in Scotland is in favour of some legislation, but public opinion wishes to be informed as to the character of the Measure. As has been said in the course of the Debate this evening, Scotch Members have always hold that matters affecting Scotland ought to be primarily in the hands of Scotch Members. If there are English, Irish, or Welsh Members who are experts on some questions, we should be very glad to have them, and to have their evidence and assistance. As the Committee is at present constituted, however, it will be difficult to tell what the opinion of Scotland is. In the circumstances, unless we get some clear and explicit statement as to the functions of the Bill, my honourable Friend will persevere with his Amendment.


We have no desire to protract the proceedings on this motion, but surely it is fair to point out that the whole of the discussion upon the Second Reading of this Bill was taken entirely out of the hands of the Scotch Members, and that the Debate became a discussion dealing with the whole question of the private Bill procedure of this House, and not with the point relating to the operations of that which relates exclusively to Scotland. The critics may be divided into two categories. In the first place, there were those who were perfectly contented with the present private Bill procedure in this House. On the other hand, there were those who were not contented with the procedure. I feel that there is a necessity for considering this subject, and, if it is to be treated with consideration and care, and its importance recognised by this House, we may reasonably ask the right honourable Gentleman the Lord Advocate for a little more explanation and information about this Committee, and the purposes for which it is to be appointed. I am sorry to be importunate, but the right honourable Gentleman will admit that on June 9, within two months of the end of the Session, it is asking more than can reasonably be expected that this Bill should go to a Committee such as was outlined in the Debate on the Second Reading and then pass through all its stages in both Houses and become law at the end of this Session. I would respectfully ask whether Her Majesty's Government are really going to attempt to remodel all the private Bill procedure of this House, or if the project of the Government is to be limited to an endeavour to beat this Bill into a shape which will then be presented to the House as acceptable and as suited to the people of Scotland. If the firsts is the purpose of the Government, if they are seriously going to undertake an inquiry into the whole private Bill procedure of this House—an inquiry, perhaps, involving a change in the private Bill procedure not only for Scotland, but for other parts of the United Kingdom—then I am heartily with the right honourable Gentleman, and shall be glad of another opportunity of furthering the project of the Government. But if this scheme, which was condemned by experts and by those well acquainted with the private Bill procedure of the House, and is one of several schemes which have proved abortive, is to be submitted to a Select Committee in order, with the force which the Government has at command, that it should be more or less made into a practicable shape to be submitted to the House, and in some way redeem the pledges which the Government perfectly, honestly, and wisely took on this subject, I think we are entitled to question the purpose which the Government has in view. I would ask the right honourable Gentleman the Lord Advocate to believe that some of us on this side of the House are perfectly honest in our desire for some reform of private Bill procedure for Scotland, and I would further ask that the right honourable Gentleman would, frankly tell us what is the purpose for which this Motion is now brought forward, and what the Government means to do with this Bill.

SIR C. CAMERON (Glasgow, Bridgeton)

I think the honourable Member for Aberdeen deserves credit for having given us an opportunity for this discussion. It may be that the opportunity for taking exception to the constitution of the Committee is when the Committee comes to be named, but what, in the first place, I wish to know is what the Committee is going to do, and generally what its functions and objects are. In any case, a Select Committee may perform one function which may be of great utility, or another which will be extremely mischievous. Reference has frequently been made to a Committee consisting almost entirely of Scotch Members to which were relegated Scotch Bills. That Committee went through a Bill clause by clause, but without taking any evidence as to the effect of the clauses. If it had been proposed to send this Bill to a Committee of that sort, which would go through it clause by clause, as in the case of the Police Bill, I should say the result might be to bring back the Bill in such a form that it would not be entitled to command our confidence and respect. On the other hand, if, as the First Lord of the Treasury has said, the Committee is to take evidence on the various points of detail in the Bill and go into the clauses with a determination to put the evidence fully and fairly before the House, then very good work may be done. But I doubt very much whether it is work that will be productive of any good this Session. The Committee cannot sit for a week or ten days yet, and by that time so little of the Session will be left that if the Committee can manage to get through the Bill and work it into some shape to be brought forward next Session, it will be doing quite as good work as can be expected from it. The First Lord of the Treasury has told us again and again that he is opposed to the erection of Scotch Grand Committees, as involving a constitutional change and a dangerous interference with this House; but it must not be forgotten that one of the most important and valuable Acts relating to Scotland passed of late years—the Local Government (Scotland) Act—was passed in a satisfactory shape entirely owing to the work of a Scotch Grand Committee. There are a number of details in the Bill which will require to be looked into, and regarding which it is most important that full evidence should be taken, such as the constitution of the tribunal which is to be entrusted with the local inquiries. We have not yet had placed before the House anything like a satisfactory statement on the point, which is the very mainspring of the whole proposal, and it is most important that, before proceeding with legislation, we should have the information. Complete evidence should also be taken regarding the machinery for Provisional Orders. This is a highly technical matter, and it is most important that full evidence should be given to the Committee on the point, so as to avoid that complication of systems and that hopeless jumble which would result if the machinery were unsuitable. Lastly, there is the question of what should be the functions, or if there should be any functions, of the chairman of the Joint Committee of the two Houses. I think, however, the best plan would be not to press this Amendment to a division, but to remain satisfied with the statement of the First Lord of the Treasury, that the Committee should largely consist of Scotch Members, and should take evidence on the various details of the Bill.

MR. J. PARKER SMITH (Lanarkshire, Partick)

I would point out to the honourable Member who has just sat down that a Select Committee on this Bill would examine witnesses. The Chairmen of Committees of both Houses and the Secretary for Scotland are witnesses, I think, obviously called for, in any consideration. Whether the Committee will go farther, and take evidence from Scotland, is another question. There is one question which I hope the reference to the Committee will include, and that is the power to discuss the whole question of fees charged to the promoters of private Bills. Those fees are one of the great objections to the present system with regard to ordinary or small Bills, and I think the work of the Committee would be very incomplete if the terms of this reference were not large enough to enable it to express an opinion on that kind of subject. Sir, I do not think that there is occasion to enter into the merits of the Bill on the present occasion; but, however I may criticise its merits, I do think that in their proposal to refer the Bill to a Select Committee instead of a purely Scotch Committee, the Government are taking an absolutely logical and right course. It is not a purely Scotch question at all; it is an Imperial question. It affects Scotch procedure on the one hand, and it far more affects the procedure of Parliament on the other. It appears to me that it is a question that every Member of Parliament ought to consider as one touching himself, and one on which he is called upon to express an opinion. He ought not to look at it, as honourable Members opposite have suggested, as a purely Scotch question, but as one step in the process of devolution which will apply, not to Scotland only, but to the whole country. I therefore think that the question is not ripe enough to be dealt with in this Session, and I think the Government are perfectly right in referring it to a Select Committee, which, during the remaining weeks of this Session, will have time to inquire into the question with a view to action in a subsequent Session. The question is one which affects the whole action of Parliament, and is much too important to be dealt with in a hurry. Indeed, it can only be properly dealt with after due deliberation.


I was not in the House when this matter was opened, but I gather from the usual sources that there was a general agreement amongst Scotch Members that the intentions and objects of the Bill are desirable, though there are a great many details open to severe criticism, and that severe criticism has been pretty freely applied. Now, Sir, it has been suggested, I think, in some quarters that there is on this side of the House a disposition hostile to the Bill. Why, Sir, it would be an extraordinary thing if we had any such disposition, because here is a proposal on behalf of the Government which concedes one thing after another, principles for which we have always stoutly contended. In the first place, there is the devolution of Parliamentary business. This is not the first time we have heard from these benches the necessity of that alteration taking place. Then there is the recognition of nationality.


Order, order!


Well, I am arguing against the assertions that have been freely made that the Motion on the Paper in the name of two of my honourable Friends is intended to delay the passing of the Bill, and I am not sure that the right honourable Gentleman himself has not in the most prominent way given expression to that imputation.


No, no! I have done nothing of the kind.


I am glad to hear that it is so, but there is a further point; and I think our position on this occasion would be made clearer if I reminded the House of certain things when this Bill was last before the consideration of the House of Commons. On that occasion we on this side of the House argued that there was a great desire for an improved system in Scotland, not as affecting that large part of private business which concerns the great railways, but rather that other portion of business which embraces local improvements promoted by principal municipal authorities and public bodies in Scotland. On that occasion we pointed out that there were two ways of meeting that desire on the part of the people of Scotland.


The right honourable Gentleman is out of order; he is discussing the merits of the Bill.


I bow to your decision, Sir, but at the same time it has been imputed that the Scotch Members on this side of the House are actuated by a feeling hostile to the Bill, and I wish to point out, in order to get rid of that idea—and I will do it in a very few words—that a few years ago, when the same question was before the House, we pointed out that the way to meet the difficulty in Scotland was, in the first place, by enlarging the powers of local authorities; and, in the second place, by developing and extending the system of procedure by Provisional Orders. This was the very system which we were then told by the Government was impossible, and we were met by an absolute non possumus. Yet that is the very system, embodied and propounded in this Bill; so that, so far from being à priori hostile to this Measure, we are à priori entirely in favour of it, if only the method proposed is free from fault. Now, Sir, I have thought it necessary to say that, in endeavouring to avoid any trespass upon the ordinary rules of Debate, in order to make clear our position. Well, now, my honourable Friends have put down an Amendment to the effect that this Bill, being a Scotch Bill, should be referred to a Committee to which all Scotch Members should belong. Well, there is no one who would more strenuously support such a proposal than I if I thought this was a purely Scotch Measure, but I think a little consideration will show anyone who takes that view that you do not make a Measure purely Scotch by merely putting the word "Scotland" in parentheses in the title of the Bill. This Bill, be it a good proposal or an imperfect proposal, at all events, is one which will establish a precedent for the other parts of the United Kingdom, and therefore Members not connected with Scotland are not only fully entitled to be heard on the subject, but to have a complete voice in the matter. When we are assured that the Select Committee to which it is proposed the Bill shall be referred shall include a majority of Scotch Members, I feel sure my honourable Friends will be satisfied that all that they ask for will be granted. I have thought it right to say these few words, because, as a general rule, on Scotch Bills I agree with my honourable Friends. I do not wish it to be supposed that in a Bill of this particular kind we are at all relinquishing our desire that Scotch opinion should be predominant in the settlement of Scotch legislation. This, however, completely differentiates from an ordinary Scotch Bill, and therefore I for my part have no other intention than to support the proposal of the Government.


I withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


In putting the main question I desire to call the attention of the House to the fact that this Motion would have been more regularly put down as a separate Motion than moved under an Order of the Day. I understand, however, that the Motion is brought on this day with the general consent of both sides of the House, and under the circumstances I think it will be the general wish of the House that the technical objection should be waived, and the Motion now be disposed of.

Question put— That the Order for the Committee be discharged, and that the Bill be referred to a Select Committee of 17 Members.

Agreed to without a Division.