§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ THE LORD ADVOCATE (Mr. GRAHAM MURRAY,) Buteshire
Following what I think I may say is the usual practice, I should have personally preferred to have said nothing in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, but I find from various communications that have reached me that there is, to say the least of it, so much misunderstanding as to the scope of the Measure, and, if I may say so, also, so little success in grasping its provisions, that I think it would be for the convenience of the House if I explained the provisions of the Bill. Although the Bill is new, the subject is an old one, and I am not going to waste the time of the House in trying to prove, what I believe no one here will deny, that there is, I do not call it a grievance, but still an admitted want felt in the present system of private Bill procedure. The present system has, in the course of time, been found to be an admirable system where the Measures with which it is concerned are of sufficient magnitude, and where the contending interests are both large, but for smaller interests and for smaller people undoubtedly the 1506 present system has been prolific of great discomfort, and in many cases of great injustice. That subject has been so often debated in this House that I need say no more, but I shall be surprised indeed if any hon. Gentleman will have the courage to get up and say he thinks the present system of private Bill procedure is considered satisfactory in Scotland, or, for the matter of that, in other parts of the kingdom. But when we come to the problem of how the reform is to be effected I think the outstanding points are these: first, there is the obvious advantage that the initial steps necessary for promoting private legislation should be taken locally in Scotland, instead of being taken, as at present, at Westminster. That stage being passed, the subject obviously divides itself into unopposed and opposed Measures. In the case of unopposed Measures one of the greatest blots upon the present system is that everyone admits that it is both cumbersome and expensive. In the case of opposed Measures, the one thing which I think has been universally desired has been that the determination of the question upon its merits should be remitted to local inquiry. That is a reform which is in the interests not of one class alone, but of two classes. Too many people seem to think that the only reason for local inquiry is the very proper reason that bodies who wish Parliamentary powers for Measures which, on the whole, will not meet with great assistance, should be enabled to get those powers without coming to London; but I would remind the House that it is also in the interests of opponents, because I have no hesitation in saying that, probably as an abstract means of justice, the present Parliamentary system is far more favourable in its duty to the large opponent than to the smaller. We are accustomed to see cases in which the smaller interests are simply bludgeoned by the great corporations, either railways or municipal corporations, and so far as Parliamentary procedure is concerned I ask with confidence those hon. Members who are accustomed to Parliamentary procedure, in Private Bill Committees, whether the way in which opposition is treated is not a great scandal. Everyone knows that there are cases in which the smaller interest has nothing to say 1507 against the Preamble of a Bill, but is only vitally affected by a clause. What happens? They are bound to appear upon the Preamble, they are practically not listened to unless they do appear; and they are kept dangling week after week while the larger interests fight; and at the last moment, their opposition being treated as nothing—and it is nothing upon the question of holding the Preamble proved—at the last moment, when the adjustment of clauses is reached, there is an undignified scramble, and the smaller interests are scarcely listened to. I think the House will accordingly see that local inquiry, as far as opposed legislation is concerned, is obviously the pivot of the whole position. Local inquiry can only be provided in two ways. You may either—and this would be the most perfect way if it were not practically impossible—have Committees of this House acting peripatetically, instead of sitting at Westminster. That would be an excellent plan if it were possible, but it is impossible; we could not possibly take away hon. Members from the service of this House and send them down to Kirkwall or Wick to conduct a local inquiry. But if you cannot have this system, you must have in some form or other the principle of delegated work, and the moment you come to delegation there arises the absolute necessity of Parliamentary control. Parliamentary control is of two classes: there is the control of the Measure itself; and there is also control, not so much upon the merits of an opposed Measure as to secure that those general principles of Parliamentary procedure which are the outcome of long experience shall not be transgressed, and that simply because a Measure is unopposed it shall not creep in with the addition of something which is against Parliamentary practice, and hon. Members know that the former attempts made in this direction were not practically successful. The present Bill is not altogether new, but it is new in the grouping together of two principles. The first of these principles is that it does not seek, as several other Bills did, to destroy the existing system; it does not propose to put an end to private Bill legislation, but it recognises that there are certain Measures which are either of such magnitude of principle, or so obviously non-local in their 1508 character, that they would be better proceeded with according to the methods of private Bill procedure than by the other methods proposed. Secondly, the Bill utilises the experience of provisional orders, and deals with the local inquiry in the manner of a provisional order. May I remind the House that our experiments—and they were nothing more—in the provisional order system have been exceedingly successful? I do not know if hon. Members who were in their places on Monday noticed an answer given to a question put by the hon. Member for Partick to the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade. The hon. Member for Partick asked the President of the Board of Trade what was the whole number of Provisional Orders included in Confirmation Bills introduced by his Department into Parliament, during each of the last five years; what number were opposed in either House of Parliament; and what number were rejected. The answer of the President of the Board of Trade showed that during the last five years the total number of Provisional Orders was 326, and that out of that large number, only 11 were opposed in one House and five in both Houses.
§ MR. JOHN E. ELLIS (Notts, Rushcliffe)
Can the right hon. Gentleman give the figures separately for England, Scotland and Wales?
§ MR. GRAHAM MURRAY
I can. The total in England was 277, in Scotland 32, and in Ireland 18. Wales, in this matter, is not recognised as a separate nationality. I see that these figures make a total of 327 instead of 326. Of those Provisional Orders that were opposed in one House there were five in England, four in Scotland, and two in Ireland; of those opposed in both Houses there were five in England and none in either Scotland or Ireland. Two of the English Confirmation Bills were rejected, but none in either Scotland or Ireland; that is to say, in this large number of 326 Provisional Orders, only 11 were taken to the test of Parliamentary review, and when that test was taken you have the view of the Department concerned in 1509 nine cases out of 11. It takes very little ingenuity in the way of analogy to see that in that successful result of legislation by way of Provisional Order we have the solution of the problem we seek. Hitherto the Provisional Order has been a Provisional Order in the Department on one special subject named by Act of Parliament, and it is a very obvious enlargement of that idea to allow Provisional Orders to be promoted by one general Department, and to make no strict distinction of the subjects with which they deal other than this, that they must be subjects of the same class as can at present be dealt with by means of private Bill. Of course, we are not going to destroy the private Bill system, and it follows from that that there must be of necessity the power of deciding whether the subject in question is one that is fit and appropriate for a private Bill or for this new procedure by Provisional Order. The first question that may be asked of me, and indeed has already been asked in some of the communications that have reached me, is, why are you not content to leave it to the applying authority to say whether they will proceed by way of Provisional Order or by private Bill? My answer is that to leave the choice of two methods of procedure to the applying authority would cut away entirely the great protection we believe this Measure will give to the smaller interests, because the larger interests would then, having their own way, rush their opponents up to London and frighten them out of the field. As part of the scheme contained in the Bill, a select tribunal will be set up consisting of the Chairmen of Committees of the two Houses. Representations have been made to me from persons who think that the Secretary for Scotland has something to do with this Bill. But the Secretary for Scotland has nothing to do with the matter, it is the Chairmen of the two Houses. It is really a question of detail that can be settled afterwards, as to whether each separate Chairman shall have a veto, or whether the two Chairmen should sit together on this tribunal. If the Chairmen should decide that the matter is one that ought to be proceeded with by private Bill, then, so far as this Measure is concerned, the question is at an end, because 1510 the old Parliamentary procedure will be resorted to. Upon this point I can only say, and especially in reference to certain criticisms that have come from the Corporation of Glasgow, that our intention is that all the notices that have been given, and all the preliminary and formal steps that have been taken, shall be available, and will not have to be renewed, if the Chairmen decide that the Motion is to be proceeded with by private Bill. If, on the other hand, the Chairmen decide that the question is one that is appropriate for procedure by Provisional Order, a local inquiry will be held by a tribunal, and a Report of the result will be furnished. If the Report is in favour of granting the powers which are asked for, and there is no opposition from private opponents, then there will be a Provisional Order. But before the Provisional Order is issued, the various Government Departments will be informed of what is proposed to be done, in order to allow of that continuity of Parliamentary procedure which is at present secured by the joint consideration of the two Chairmen of Committees, and the Reports furnished by the various Departments to the particular Committees in charge of the Bill. But if there is private opposition, hon. Members will notice that it is in the power of the private opponents, if not satisfied with the result of the local inquiry, to take the matter to Parliament. The only difference upon the Parliamentary procedure which then ensues is that instead of the old and somewhat cumbersome double system of double inquiry before the Committees of both Houses there will be an inquiry once and for all before a Joint Committee. To sum up what I have said, the scheme in brief is this—and the description is not exhaustive, but rather brings out the cardinal points—first, that the initial, informal steps for legislation shall be taken in Scotland; secondly, that private Bills shall be resorted to, instead of Provisional Orders, if the interests are large or non-local; thirdly, that unopposed Measures shall be allowed to pass, but only under adequate safeguards for the preservation of Parliamentary continuity of treatment; and, fourthly, in the case of opposed Measures, that there should be local inquiry, but 1511 that anyone who is dissatisfied with the result of the local inquiry shall have the power to go to Parliament. I have been favoured with criticisms upon the details of this Bill, criticisms with which I do not mean to deal at this moment, because I shall probably have an opportunity of saying something more in the later stages of the Debate. But there is one subject which has bulked so largely both in the criticisms I have seen in print and also in the remarks with which I have been favoured by many hon. Members, especially those who sit behind me, that I shall not apologise for saying a few words upon these points. It has been said that in this Bill the Secretary for Scotland is given far more power than ought to be put into the hands of any one Government official. But the last thing which the framers of this Bill desire to do is to magnify the office of the Secretary for Scotland. I know that these criticisms have nothing to do with my noble Friend, and I am perfectly willing to forget my noble Friend, and to take as a test what I hope is a purely imaginary person, a Secretary for Scotland who, short of absolute corruption, will do his very worst. The Secretary for Scotland is certainly mentioned often in this Bill, but it is quite obvious that the Provisional Order system must be worked by Department, and really the Secretary for Scotland is many times mentioned when it would be just as well that his Department should be mentioned. It is merely in his Ministerial position that he is mentioned, in order to look after an advertisement or something of that sort. I am quite sure that I am speaking the sentiments of both sides of the House when I say that Members are much more anxious to utilise the Departments that we have now got than to create any new Department for the purposes of this scheme alone. Now, what could this imaginary Secretary for Scotland do, doing his worst? Although he might possibly stop legislation, I defy him under this Bill to grant legislation which ought to be stopped. And as a practical matter there might be a great distinction between the two things. First of all, the House should remember that he has no hand in the decision as to whether the matter shall proceed by 1512 private Bill or by Provisional Order. He has to accept the Report of the Chairmen whether he likes it or not. Therefore it is obvious that in matters of magnitude and non-local interest, the Secretary for Scotland is, so to speak, not in it. In the case of Provisional Orders there is, of course, the obvious division of unopposed and opposed. If the Measure is unopposed, it is quite true that he should grant, but not on his own hand, because he has got, before he grants, to submit his Order to the other Department. Now I venture to say that this is a proposition which can scarcely be gainsaid, that if a person or a corporation asks for Parliamentary powers, and there is not a single private individual who objects to those Parliamentary powers being granted, and there is nothing in the practice of Parliament, as represented by the various Government Departments, to prevent those powers being granted, there is no reason why the prayer of the petition should not be granted. Of course, it might be supposed theoretically that the Secretary for Scotland might disregard what other Departments said. All I can say is, that, although I can understand a person saying that, I am quite certain that a person who does say it, has had no practical experience of what the working of a Government Department is. Anybody who really knows how these matters are worked knows perfectly well that, as a matter of fact, one Department works with another. Fancy the Secretary for Scotland flouting the Treasury. I do not suppose there is one of them who would not dearly love to do so. It is a dream of official life which will never be realised. Now, if we leave unopposed Orders and come to opposed Orders—
§ MR. C. B. RENSHAW (Renfrewshire, W.)
What protection is there for the Secretary for Scotland in his capacity under this Bill against the Secretary for Scotland in dealing with questions coming before him in his Departmental position?
§ MR. GRAHAM MURRAY
Of course, obviously, the Secretary for Scotland in the Department will probably advise himself as Secretary for Scotland under the Bill; but I do not think he will go 1513 through that somewhat elastic process. The function at present of the Secretary for Scotland is to deal with matters essentially Scotch. As a matter of fact these general canons of Parliamentary procedure are at present looked after not by the Secretary for Scotland, but chiefly, of course, as hon. Members perfectly well know, by the Chairmen of the two Committees. Then there is a certain class of provisions which we might hear something about from the Chairman of the Police and Sanitary Committee. There is also a certain class of provisions which are peculiarly under the ægis of the Home Office, and many others under the ægis of the Board of Trade. Really, in other words, the only particular protection the Secretary for Scotland at present gives is in the matter of a Bill before this House—an essentially Scotch matter—and, of course, while he would consider it as being Secretary for Scotland, it does not change the man in whatever capacity he considers it. I have failed to make my meaning clear, unless I have shown that, on an unopposed Bill, if there is no opposition, there is a certainty that it does not tread on private interests, and if it does not do that the only other thing to think about is whether we are breaking Parliamentary traditions. And I say the other Department—that of the Chairmen of Committees—will be ample custodians of these Parliamentary traditions. Now we come to opposed Bills. Of course, in that case the Secretary for Scotland must refer the matter to a local inquiry, and if the result of that local inquiry is against granting the Measure hon. Members will kindly note that the Secretary for Scotland has no option, but he must refuse the Order. He cannot disregard the Report, and accordingly that bears out what I say, and I entirely fail to see his power of granting iniquitous legislation, when there are such obstacles to his so doing as this. If, on the other hand, the Report is favourable, either wholly or in part, the result is that the Secretary for Scotland, following the reporter, might propose to issue the Order in a modified form. Then there is the very careful provision that this modified form should be again circulated through a Government Department, so that again he will have to face the difficulty that 1514 those who are best skilled in Parliamentary traditions will see whether there is something objectionable which did not exist upon the original Order. And then after that—after all these things are done—if he then proposes to issue the Order, there is still a power in the opponent who thinks that the powers granted will bear hardly upon him to bring the whole matter, and submit it to the adjudication of a Parliamentary Committee; so that I say without fear of contradiction that, so far as the structure of the Order is concerned—so far as settling what powers are to be granted in a Provisional Order—the Secretary for Scotland has no absolute power at all. What, then, can he do? Two things. As the Bill is at present framed, he can do one by himself, and in the other he can be assisted by others. On the structure of the Bill he is one of five persons to choose a panel from which his local tribunal is to be selected. He is in a minority. He is one against four, and I do not think that, under the circumstances, he is an unreasonable person to be put there. No doubt, he nominates the principal lay Members who are to conduct the Parliamentary inquiry. Sir, I say at once it is no part of the vital principle of this Bill that the Secretary of State should remain in that position. Others might be substituted for him, or others might be associated with him. But what I do say is this, that I am sure that the House will take care that if they do substitute others they will at least provide someone who is sufficiently in touch with Scotland, and would know something about the men whom they were selecting. I have already laid down what I believe to be the cardinal features of this Bill, which we cannot depart from without sacrificing the scheme as a whole. Upon other matters I hope we shall always maintain the attitude of not being inflexible, and be always anxious to meet the wishes of the House. I hope hon. Members will remember that, whether their views with regard to this Bill be friendly or sinister, it is a case where they are dealing with a general scheme, and where they are bound to consider any particular Amendment, and not only to consider that, but as to how the scheme as a whole will stand after that particular Amendment 1515 has been accepted. You may repaint a feature in a picture, but if you repaint that feature you may find that there is an incongruity about the whole which will rather wreck the likeness. I do not propose to go into other details as to how certain things are to be done, but what I claim for the Government is this: that we have, upon these lines which I have laid down, presented a workable scheme—one which will give a local inquiry, which will satisfy local feeling, which will, I believe, save expense, and yet which, while not unmindful of the particular interest of individuals and opponents, who will always be allowed to come to Parliament, will also remember those general principles of Parliamentary control which, I believe, are dear to the House, and which certainly this Government and those who are responsible for the Bill, would be the very last to wish to sacrifice.
§ Motion made and Question proposed, "That this Bill be now read a second time."
§ DR. G. B. CLARK (Caithness)
In rising to move the rejection of this Bill. I condole with the right hon. Gentleman in the unfortunate position in which he is placed. I do not believe that either on that side of the House or this, this ill-considered Bill has many friends. Although I admit that there are some good things in the Bill, and I also admit that the private Bill procedure requires reforming at the present moment, I think that this is a bad way of doing it. Although we want less cost in these matters, all I have spoken to on the subject think that this Bill will greatly increase cost. We want to simplify the procedure, but all of those who have had any experience with private Bill legislation think that, instead of simplifying procedure, this Bill will complicate it. We, of course, want to lessen time, but I think this Bill would lengthen rather than shorten the time. We have had the present system for a period of 45 years, and during that time we have had two inquiries regarding it, and unfortunately on the first inquiry one of the best proposals 1516 that were made, and one which I am glad to see carried out in this Bill, was lost by the casting vote of the Chairman. And under this Bill the Chairman will only have one vote. That is a very valuable part of the Bill. The 1888 Committee proposed a Commission, and I think that the Commission as proposed then, was a very unwise change, and I think that the House of Commons came to that conclusion because the Bill was brought in by the then Government and by the predecessor of the present Lord Advocate, and although it got to the Report stage the feeling against it was so strong on both sides of the House that ultimately the Government determined not to go to a Third Reading. We have had since 1888 an inquiry upon this matter, and one in 1891. My right hon. Friend proposed a compromise, and the Bill would have passed, but unfortunately the compromise was not accepted. Then, in 1892, a very much better Bill than this was brought in, but it met with very strong opposition from the Irish Members as well as from the Scotch Members. I may say, in passing, that I expect to hear from the Government some opinion as to the future of private Bill procedure apart from this, because some time ago we pressed the Government as to whether this was to be an experiment tried for Scotland only—whether it was an experiment to be tried on Scotland, and then afterwards to be extended to England and Ireland. That is the historical aspect of this private Bill question, and this is the fourth Bill. I am surprised at the great change of opinion which has occurred to the Secretary for Scotland on the subject of this Bill. Formerly, he had strongly denounced devolution, and now this Bill would place in his hands the very powers that he so strongly denounced. Now I am not going to enter so fully into the details as the Lord Advocate has done. There are some good things in this Bill as there have been in those of the past, and I expect, if it is successful for Scotland, if you are able to modify it, it is quite possible that a Bill of this kind may be brought in extending the principles to England and Ireland. In looking at this question, we must look at it from an English and 1517 Irish standpoint also. This Bill was brought because of the agitation for Home Rule, and I perfectly well remember that the right hon. Gentleman who was then the Lord Advocate admitted that it was a Home Rule Measure for Scotland. There are several good things in it. This is an overburdened Parliament, and this is a policy of devolution. I am thoroughly in accord with the principle of devolution. But this Bill goes farther. On proper lines devolution ought to be nationalised, and this Bill carries that out by being national, but the procedure, unfortunately, instead of being placed in the hands of the representatives of Scotland, is placed in the hands of a bureaucracy—people over whom the Scottish people have no control. That is a very bad principle, and I am opposed to it. If it is made permissive there would not be so much objection to it, but being, as it is, compulsory we must strenuously oppose it. One man power is very bad and very objectionable, and, if we are going to extend the power of the Department of Scotland, I am afraid the whole thing will break down. Apart from that, it is questionable whether you will not suffer from Tammany influence and the spoils-monger, as in America. Looking at it from this standpoint, what is the character of the suitors who come to this House for private Bills? We have just got the Return, yesterday, made by the Lord Advocate, but we have not had time to look into it. If it had come in last Monday we might have had time to go into the figures, but the Return, as it is, is of no use to us. The Return of last year showed that during the preceding 10 years there had been 98 Bills, which would be about 10 Bills a year, and three-quarters of which were railway Measures. Now does the railway interest want this Bill? We know what they want, and we know why they fought against it before, and why Lord Balfour fought for them so strongly when this Bill was in its initial stages. We have no reason to believe that they have now changed their minds. There was a small section of the railway Bills which might have come in under this Bill, but they will not do so now because they will come under another Act—the Light Railways Act, which will be much 1518 cheaper and easier than this. Very well, the smaller railway Bills will come, not in the form of a Bill, but in the form of a Provisional Order, under the Light Railways Bill. What will be the result? Simply the fights that have always taken place here between the two or three great Scotch railway companies, who, we know, always fight one another. The Scotch railway companies do not desire this Bill, because they think it will add considerably to the cost. The Scotch railway companies know the ropes pretty well, and if this Bill assisted the great bulk of them you would find them very strongly in accord with it. What is the nature of the opposition so far as they were concerned? They point out that, as far as witnesses are concerned, only one-tenth of the cost of private Bills is for the purposes of local witnesses, and if, instead of local witnesses coming up here, a local inquiry was to be held down there, the expenses would be far greater. They say you have got skilled witnesses, experts, and counsel, not only lawyers but men of the world, and if your local witnesses can come here, they do it cheaper than if you take these gentlemen down to Scotland. Now, why should you compel suitors, already overburdened with costs, to spend more money? Why should you not give them the option, if they think proper, of determining the matter here. The suggestion of local inquiry is one that I am in favour of, under certain circumstances—that is to say, if the people desire it; but where they do not desire it I do not see why they should be compelled to have a local inquiry. Take a number of instances of work of this kind, which have taken place during the last eight years. There is the case of the Dundee Gas Works that was taken over by the corporation, and there was an inquiry there which might have taken place at Dundee, Edinburgh, or Glasgow, or anywhere else in Scotland, but it was thought that it had better be held in London because it was cheaper to do so. In a case of that kind, why should you prevent them coming where they think they can get their work better done and at a cheaper rate? So far as local inquiries themselves are concerned, the Lord Advocate himself represented the Glasgow Town Council at a local inquiry regarding 1519 the Boundary Commission, and, after working very hard for them, and doing his work very well, the Town Council objected to the cost, which was £1,000, £973 of which represented the fee of the right hon. Gentleman and his clerk, for doing the work. And if a person comes down from Edinburgh or from London to do local work for you, you must pay him. If my right hon. Friend had been doing his ordinary work in Edinburgh he would have earned a great deal more than £973, and that is why it is very much better and cheaper to bring your local witnesses from a distance. It is the skilled witnesses who run up the costs, and it is much cheaper to have the inquiry here. Although, no doubt, small railway matters, which will not come under this procedure, might be dealt with in Scotland, I do not see why the Scotch railway companies should be compelled to follow a procedure which, I think, must prove more costly and less convenient than the present system. Then, as to the other class of Bills. The other kind is that in which the corporations come, and I frankly admit that in that class this Bill would be very valuable. It will enable corporations to get omnibus Bills by means of Provisional Orders, and it will go far to take away the objections that now exist where street improvement and all that kind of thing is concerned. The present system by which they come here is absolutely ridiculous. It was ridiculous that they should have to come to London and spend money when they wanted to provide bridges, street improvements, and public parks. In Glasgow they wanted to widen their bridge by 30 feet, and it cost them £3,000 to come here and get the necessary Parliamentary powers to do it. Why they should have to come here I do not know, except that by the old procedure Parliament refused to give the people power to acquire land without they came up to Westminster to obtain it. But we have got past all that; we are giving the local government the right to do so under certain conditions, without coming here. My complaint is that the last Government and this were not actuated by any benevolent object in pursuing this course. When, in 1889, a Local Government Bill was brought in, seven-eighths 1520 of the Scottish Members were in favour of giving the local authorities the power to acquire land. Nine out of every ten of the Bills which come before this House are to acquire land, and on former occasions 49 of the Scottish Members voted in favour of giving these powers to the municipalities, and only 11 voted against it; they could not get support from their own officials, as we who voted in favour of that power were five to one. In 1894, and again on the Public Health Bill, we again opposed, and we got concessions. We got a concession from the right hon. Gentleman who gave the Local Government Boards power to acquire land for sewage purposes. In 1889, in 1891, in 1894, and in 1896, the policy of this side of the House has been to give to the municipalities the power to acquire land. In so far as you are going to adopt this system of giving them Provisional Orders, I object to its being done by the Secretary for Scotland. No power of that kind should be given, except under the usual form of allowing the Order to lie upon the Table of this House and of the other House for the usual period. I object to this method adopted by the Conservative Government of taking away our powers, and I hope this Parliament has not surrendered the power which it ought to have in its paramount right of control. Now, the man who has most experience in these matters is Sir James Marwick, who is town clerk of Glasgow, and formerly town clerk of Edinburgh, and who, with Sir Thomas Thornton, the town clerk of Dundee, was opposed to this Bill, as it was far more costly. From his evidence it appears that the Measure provided no adequate reform, that it provided an unsatisfactory tribunal, that it would increase expense, but provided needless uncertainty as to whether a Provisional Order would be allowed to proceed or not, and formal proceedings and delays were so numerous and of such a nature that in many cases of importance, where opponents appealed to Parliament, it would be impossible to dispose of the applications in one year. That is an important pronouncement, coming from a large contributor to private Bill legislation. I am not going to enter into what may be called the Committee stage of the Bill. I am against the principle 1521 of this Bill, and, in my opinion, this proposal is a very ridiculous one. I appeal to London Members how they would like all questions of local government to be determined by the Home Secretary and a body very similar in its character to the old Metropolitan Board of Works, because that would be the English equivalent to the procedure which this Bill proposes shall apply to Scotland. They propose that these tribunals shall be composed of men nominated by the town council, and presided over by a sheriff. I do not think the sheriff of Glasgow or Midlothian could be utilised for the work, nor the sheriff of Ayr, who is Chairman of the Crofter Commission, so that the work would fall upon the other ten Scots sheriffs who could be utilised; but these gentlemen are all practising barristers, and you may have this anomaly—that on one occasion a sheriff would be appointed chairman, while on another he would be appearing as counsel before it. Now, I do not think that that is a proper or satisfactory state of things at all, and I wish the Government would try some other proposal. If they are determined to make it compulsory, and run the thing on a wrong principle, I can only invite the House to oppose it for that reason, and afterwards to try and make it as little objectionable as possible in its other stages. I desire now to say something upon a matter that this Bill does not touch. I desire to see the costs less. Why should you have this compulsory procedure? If it were made permissive I should not oppose the Second Reading, but as it stands I hope the Government will not proceed with this very crude Measure, but will withdraw it, and try to bring in another Bill. If they wish to try Home Rule, Scotland is a very good place to try it, and we will give it a very good chance, but I do not know whether the hon. Member who drafted this Bill knew what he was drafting. On the face of the Bill, it is called "The Private Bill Procedure (Scotland) Bill," but if you look at the objects of it, it does not appear to come within the province of the title. It does not improve procedure, but it takes away the right of any Scotsman to come before Parliament at all. The Welsh would have that right, and 1522 Irishmen and Englishmen would have that right; but no Scotchman would have that right. Look at the last clause, and you will see what you propose to call the Bill in the future. The short title is the Provisional Order (Scotland) Act, 1898, so that under the name of the Private Bill Procedure (Scotland) Bill you have a Bill really for the purpose of giving the right to Scotsmen to bring a Bill before the House. The object of the Bill is merely to extend the procedure of the Provisional Orders. The Bill has been very ill considered. Being opposed in principle to the method proposed of bringing the change about, I have great pleasure in moving that the Bill be read a second time this day six months.
§ Amendment proposed to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words, "upon this day six months."
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ MR. D. A. THOMAS (Merthyr Tydvil)
asked, on a point of order, the ruling of the Speaker in regard to what he believed to be the priority of an Amendment of his, which stood second on the Paper.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The point of order does not arise. If the hon. Member wishes to bring his Amendment he must move it. I am surprised to find the point of order taken, because the hon. Member came to the Table and told me that he had arranged with the hon. Member for Caithness to move the rejection of the Second Reading. I cannot give my ruling on a point of order which does not arise.
§ *MR. A. BIRRELL (Fife, W.)
I rise to say a few words in support of the Motion that has been moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness. This Bill is a revolutionary Measure, but that need excite no surprise considering the quarter of the House from whence it comes. I do not know that it need, therefore, excite any animosity on our side. But when a revolutionary Measure affords us an opportunity of criticism, I think we ought to avail ourselves of it to the utmost, particularly when we have a Measure which proposes to delegate to others, outsiders and strangers, who have no constituencies, and who have no particular responsibilities, duties which have been 1523 satisfactorily performed for centuries by hon. Members of this House, the performance of which duties has not been called in question. Now this Bill deals not only with public authorities, but with persons who desire to obtain Parliamentary powers in regard to any matter affecting private interests. The whole scope of this Bill is thrown open to every class of the community. There is not, as I think there ought to be, an attempt by schedule or otherwise to explain the nature of the work to be dealt with by the machinery of this Bill. Parliamentary powers, as they are now called—though if this Bill passes some other name ought to be found for them—when they are obtained by private persons, are often sought solely for the purposes of gain. We are all familiar with the syndicate that gets up an agitation, or does the necessary preliminary work of obtaining a private Bill in this House; they are a number of fussy and very often impecunious persons, who have much time and little money at their disposal, and they spend much time in running about getting conditional contracts and sub-agreements, and they are aided and abetted, so far as money is concerned, by friends who pay the preliminary expenses in the hope that they will be repaid if Parliament is wise enough or foolish enough to grant them these Parliamentary powers which will enable them to deal freely with the property of their neighbours. This kind of thing is on the increase in this country; and this proposal, which will enable, at all events, the initial stages of work of this sort to be done at very small expense and without very much consideration, is, I think, a somewhat unnecessary step to take at this time. I quite agree with my hon. Friend as to the great importance of public works which have often to be done by small communities, who, though the work is important, are not richly endowed with a large rate. It is most desirable that public bodies should have every facility given them to secure the necessary powers as cheaply as possible. The Lord Advocate helped us to some extent in the Public Health Act to enable public bodies to get Provisional Orders at a comparatively cheap rate, and an extension of that sort would deserve our kindest consideration. But I doubt whether facilities should be extended 1524 in this way to all private persons who seek, for the object of pecuniary gain, wide Parliamentary powers. Though the right hon. Gentleman made an eloquent speech minimising the powers which this Bill confers on the Secretary for Scotland, I am bound to say that it does repose in him a very great amount of discretion. I will call attention to another matter. The right hon. Gentleman laid great stress upon the fact that Parliamentary tradition was going to be preserved by these outside bodies, who would have imposed upon them Parliamentary discretion. Section 3, subsection 2, states—Provided that if the examiner under this Act shall report that the general orders have not been complied with, the petitioners may, in the prescribed manner and within the prescribed time, apply to the Lord Ordinary on the Bills in the Court of Session to dispense with any general order which has not been complied with, and the decision of the Lord Ordinary shall be final; provided that if any conditions are attached to any dispensation with compliance with any general order the Provisional Order shall not be proceeded with until the examiner shall have reported that conditions have been satisfied.By one stroke of the pen Parliamentary tradition is transferred to an extra-Parliamentary body, and to a body of men having traditions of their own, having wills of their own, and obstinacy of their own; and there is no reason to believe that the Judges of the Court of Session will listen, with any great complacency, to people who are endeavouring to thrust upon them the traditions which the Lord Advocate says are so dear to this House. If the traditions are dear we ought to keep them in our own hands. With regard to the panel—which is rather an ominous word in Scottish jurisprudence—of whom is the panel to be composed? There is the most extraordinary definition I have ever heard. The 4th clause says that "the panel shall be formed of persons qualified by experience of affairs." That is a French term; if the Lord Advocate means business men, why doesn't he say so? He proposes to hand over to them the work of this House. You will have your panel, but they won't serve by turn, they won't serve by any rota, they won't gain experience in the very important duties you propose to delegate to them. You might be a member of this panel all your life and never once 1525 exercise any of its duties, because who can doubt that, in the work of selecting its members, it will be the Secretary for Scotland who is supreme? The Lord Advocate says five persons; but who can doubt that in any work of this sort it will be the Secretary for Scotland who will do it? It will be very invidious for anyone to quarrel with the choice made by the Secretary for Scotland. Scotland has too long been administered by cliques and coteries, and there will be no satisfaction, whichever side of the House supplies the Scotch Secretary, with the mode in which he makes this selection. Furthermore I think that to hand over work of this sort permanently to the chairmanship of a practising lawyer is greatly to be deprecated. Whether it is due to the ability of lawyers or not, I do not know; but if you put a lawyer into the chair, at once there is a relaxation of discipline and interest on the part of the lay members. They think they have got somebody there who is ex officio entitled to set them right and lay down ex cathedrâ rules of evidence and procedure. I can conceive of nothing which would cause a greater revolt in this House than that the Chairmen of our Committees should, in all cases, be lawyers. I do not go into the legal mind, or consider it at all; I am satisfied that we should not in this House tolerate the permanent official chairmanship of our Committees placed in the hands of a particular class of the community. I think that this part of the Bill is so bad as to take away one's confidence in the whole of it. There is another point in this Bill which shows that you proceed on the wrong course. You think it necessary to insert all kinds of safeguards. In every case where there has been a local inquiry you are so anxious to prevent injustice being done that you allow anyone who has appeared before the Commissioners to memorialise this House against the finality of the Order. Anybody whatever who has appeared before the Commissioners may at once, without any exception, proceed to memorialise this House. My point is this, that any person having a locus standi, who is dissatisfied with the Order which the Commissioners make, can, within a month, memorialise the House against it, and consequently put the promoters of the scheme, unless the memorial 1526 is dismissed, to the expense of proceeding before a Joint Committee; and the only thing that prevents this being done in every case is the discretion of the Secretary for Scotland. If the Secretary for Scotland chooses to say that this memorial is vexatious, he may put it on one side. If he does not take that somewhat strong course your scheme is destroyed. I think this is to impose a very great onus on the discretion of the Secretary of State for Scotland. I have more confidence in this House and its Committees than in him. We seem whittling away Parliamentary government and control. I should find it easier to believe in the divine right of kings" than in the divine wisdom of Secretaries of State, even for Scotland. I do not think that the Lord Advocate is right when he says that this Bill does not impose upon that office very considerable discretion. We are asked to believe that never under any circumstances will Secretaries of State for Scotland be otherwise than most discreet persons. I do not quite share that belief. It is quite possible he may be over-worked; it is quite possible he may be out of health; it is quite possible he may be out of the country. Heaps of things may happen which may prevent him from carrying on the business of his office in a satisfactory manner if you add too much to his duties. I, therefore, object to throwing open proceedings under this Bill to all and sundry, without any attempt to classify the nature of work for which Parliamentary powers are sought. If it is for obviously beneficial public works, then I quite agree that every possible consideration should be displayed, only I would suggest that that end is far more likely to be obtained under the Public Health Act than by the provisions of this Bill. If it is only a matter of private enterprise, I see no reason why it is necessary to call upon this House to delegate to a panel of persons, to be selected from time to time by the Secretaries of State for Scotland, duties which I believe this House is still perfectly able to perform. I cordially second the Amendment.
§ *MR. C. A. CRIPPS (Gloucestershire, Stroud)
I need not apologise for intervening in a discussion on what appears to 1527 be a Scotch Bill, because I think I may say that I have a larger experience of the questions involved in this Bill than almost any other Member of this House. I think, too, in dealing with the speech of the Lord Advocate, he may perhaps have overlooked the important principles involved, because, after all, he chiefly deals with matters of machinery; and although I, for my part, intend to vote for the Second Reading of this Bill if certain assurances are given by the Lord Advocate at the later stage, yet I think the principles involved are so important and their importance is so much overlooked in this Bill as it stands, that, apart from some guarantee of that kind, I shall have to range myself on the side of the opponents of the Measure. Mr. Speaker, let me first of all deal with one or two statements which the Lord Advocate made. Naturally enough I am not a keen opponent of the existing system. It is a system in which I have had a very large experience, and a system which has treated me in a very kind way. But I protest against what the Lord Advocate said as regards the character of the Committees appointed by this House for the purpose of private Bill procedure. I do not believe that small interests, to use his expression, are ever bludgeoned in inquiries before Committees of this House.
§ MR. GRAHAM MURRAY
I never said a word about small interests being bludgeoned by Committees; but I used the expression of the way in which large corporations do manage, by the fear of expense, and by the advantage they possess from having unlimited command of money.
§ *MR. CRIPPS
Well, of course, I take what the Lord Advocate says, and without further controversy, but I do say it is a special feature of the Committees of this House that they take the same care, and even greater care, of the small interests than they do of the large railways and other corporations which come before them from time to time. And let me say one other word in reference to what the Lord Advocate said. He stated that the clause interests were sacrificed. Let me say again from my experience—and I can appeal to many well-known chairmen who are sitting in the House at the present moment—that 1528 when a clause question comes along it receives as careful consideration and as careful a decision is given upon it as upon the larger question, either of principle, or policy, involved. Mr. Speaker, the nest point the Lord Advocate particularly directed his attention to is this. He spoke in reference to the powers of the Secretaries of State for Scotland. Now, to my mind, it is utterly superfluous as regards the Second Reading whether those powers extend a little more or less in one direction or another. The specific and vital point is this: you substitute the Secretary of State for this House. In all these matters of extreme importance to our commercial life, which affect the great railways and other large interests, the power of this House is vested in the Secretary of State for Scotland. Now, I agree with what the hon. and learned Member said who spoke last. It is not a question of whether one person is to be trusted or another. The question is far outside any matter or any dispute of that kind. It is whether, whoever the person may be—and here I admit, if you have anyone at all, it probably must be the Secretary of State for Scotland—we ought to delegate all those powers once and for all, and have no power over all these questions in future. I must say in passing—and I shall come back to this point in another stage of my argument—that so far as I am aware no Bill or Commission has ever proposed to go to the same length as in the proposals now brought forward by the Lord Advocate. It has nearly always been an essential condition that in some way or other either the power or the control of Parliament should be maintained. In this Bill we are asked for the first time, without any definition being given as to safeguards, to delegate the control of one of the important portions of legislative work. Mr. Speaker, let me state, if I may, what seem to me to be the two questions involved in the Bill of the Lord Advocate. One is, how you can get the most efficient tribunal, how you can get the most economical tribunal, and how you can best satisfy what I may call local claims in dealing with questions of this character. I propose to come back in a moment to 1529 that problem, which was the problem that the Lord Advocate chiefly dealt with, and I admit frankly enough many of the criticisms which he has applied to the existing system. But he entirely forgot the other part of the case. He entirely forgot the question with which I was dealing just now—I mean the question of the devolution of the duties of Parliament; and I say if ever there was a time in the history of this House it is now, when we ought to be careful to draw a true distinction between matters of legislation on the one side and matters of administration on the other, and so far as we have the power we ought to keep matters of legislation under our own control. I am opposed myself to giving legislative as apart from administrative powers to local bodies, either in the form of Home Rule or any other form. But there is another and a much more insidious way in which the power and authority of this House are being attacked at the present moment, and that is by the official element. It is not only the official element which it is proposed to substitute for Parliament. It is in the recollection of this House that we are passing Acts of Parliament here almost from day to day in which, instead of ourselves defining what the real power shall be in the future, we leave it either, as in the Agricultural Rates Act, to the Agricultural Department, or, in the case of the Education Act, to the Education Department. And if we are to keep in the future, as we have in the past, the regard and confidence of this country, we must see that we fulfil our duty at whatever expense of time and trouble, and we must deal with legislation for ourselves, this being the duty with which we are entrusted, and which we are bound to carry out to the best of our ability. Now, Mr. Speaker, these matters of private Bill legislation are in many directions matters of first rate importance. Just let me take one or two illustrations. More than a thousand millions of capital have been invested in railways in this country under private Bill legislation in this House, and not only has that been a most important question, not only has that been dealt with, on the whole, in a most successful way, but I say further that the large interest which now exists ought to be 1530 saved from attack except under the power of legislation vested in Parliament. I will take one or two other points, and I think they may possibly appeal to the Members of this House. What are the chief issues in these railway questions which come before this House? The chief issues in these railway questions are matters in which the principle of legislation ought to be the predominant, and in which the principle of either official or judicial decision ought to have very small weight indeed. In these Committees you have the public interest on the one side to say how far competition ought to go, and you have the vested interests of the railways on the other to say how far they ought to be protected against the harm which competition might do to the capital already invested. And as regards the various questions we have in this House, I say there are few of more real importance. They go to the whole basis of the security of private enterprise, and private enterprise which has carried out those great works under Parliamentary sanction ought in the future to have a guarantee of what is known as Parliamentary security. Now, Mr. Speaker, I will not take other illustrations, but having taken that illustration, let me come to the terms of the Bill itself. Is there any security whatever in this Bill that at any stage, from beginning to end, of one of those great questions of private Bill legislation this House will ever be able to exercise its veto or to express its opinion? It cannot do it from beginning to end. It has been noted that, but for the authority given to one of the two chairmen—who are, after all, but individuals—no Scotsmen, and you might extend it to the rest of the Kingdom, could come and petition Parliament at all for the purpose of legislation. That is an extraordinary revolution to make in a matter of this kind. But let me go a little further and deal with the question of the powers of the Secretary for Scotland. However important a legislative proposal may be, if the Secretary for Scotland likes to sanction it the proposal has just the same power as if it had gone through Parliament and had the sanction of both Houses of Parliament, and as if it had been authorised by the country. This 1531 important point differentiates the Bill from the ordinary proposals as regards the Provisional Order. On all matters dealt with as questions of legislation under Provisional Order I would ask the Lord Advocate, when he makes his reply by and bye, to answer this question, if it is necessary in the case of the ordinary Provisional Order to keep the ultimate control in the hands of Parliament, why does he think it unnecessary when there are greater interests involved and larger interests at stake as there will be under the proposed provisions of the Bill with which we are now dealing? Now, Mr. Speaker, let me say a word upon the other proposals of the Lord Advocate, first of all with regard to the tribunal which he proposes. The attack on the present tribunal—I mean the Select Committees upstairs—has never been on the ground that they are not efficiently dealing with the questions brought before them. You may search Commission after Commission; you may read through all the evidence which has been collected on this subject; you may take the experience of everyone who knows the character of the business from having been personally concerned in it, and they will one and all tell you that either from the point of view of the decisions come to, or from the testimony of the litigants who come before a tribunal of this kind, every satisfaction is felt, and confidence has been thoroughly established by the decision of the various Committees in this House. Now, Mr. Speaker, on the ground of economy, I think there is much to be desired. Under the present system, the procedure is undoubtedly unduly expensive. I do not think that anybody can deny that fact, but I wish to point out in extenuation that it is not so much from the character of the tribunal as from the nature of the Standing Orders, and the very high figure at which the House fees are fixed at the present time. But let us for the moment take a wider view of this question of expense. Is there the smallest reason in principle, except possibly as regards fees for certain professional services—and I do not think there is any difference there—why the procedure in this House should be more expensive than it would be under the proposal contained in the Lord Advocate's 1532 Bill? Mr. Speaker, the expense of these proceedings depends upon the nature and character of the interests with which you are dealing. If the Standing Orders of this House are unduly expensive, if they are cumbersome and antiquated, as an hon. Member said on the other side of the House, by all means let them be brought more up to date and reformed in accordance with modern ideas. But when that has once been done you want the same protection, you will want the same form of procedure, the same experience of engineers or surveyors, whether questions of this kind are to be decided by one tribunal or the other. It is a mistake to suppose—I am certain from my own experience of tribunals of this kind—that there is any necessary want of economy in our Parliamentary procedure. We ought to have a change in our Standing Orders and in the general regulation of our business in the galleries upstairs. Now, Mr. Speaker, I do not want to detain the House at any undue length upon a point of this kind. Let me take an illustration which I think confirms the opinion which I have been expressing just now. I would take the experience of the Light Railways Act, because what the Lord Advocate is doing here is not really to introduce the Provisional Order system. It is nothing like that system. He is really producing a system which may properly be compared with the procedure introduced with the Light Railways Act and the Light Railways Commission. What has been found in dealing with that Act? Why, this: that an unnecessary element was introduced which ought not to have been introduced, and that has been the official element; that is an element entirely unnecessary in itself. When a point of difficulty arises what do we find? What did we find the other day? We do not want the decision of the permanent official of the Board of Trade. That is not the decision which is required; that is not the decision which will be consented to in any really important matters. What we want is the decision of Parliament itself, whatever the procedure or form may be. Might I remind the House of an instance that occurred the other day? I merely give it as an illustration of what I consider to be the unfortunate introduction 1533 of the official element into questions of this kind. It was known—it was notoriously known—the other day that the Light Railways Commissioners gave their assent to a scheme which was said to interfere with land bought by the War Office. Mr. Speaker, that was a question undoubtedly of much importance, that was a question in which the two parties were entitled to a decision of Parliament. What happened? We could not get a decision upon it, because Parliament had given up its duties in this matter, and it devolved upon the Board of Trade. And when we come before the Board of Trade—I am not speaking of any particular official, I am talking about officials in the abstract sense—when we come before an official of the Board of Trade on a question of this kind you have not got the tribunal you want, nor the authority you want, and you cannot get the question decided at all. In a case of that kind you ought to be able to come to Parliament and get the decision of Parliament. Not only do you deprive the petitioner of the right he now has, but you may relegate him to the position of having no remedy at all. Mr. Speaker, in conclusion may I suggest what in my opinion seems to be a proper solution of a question of this kind for the consideration of the Lord Advocate, for as he told us he only considers certain provisions to be vital, and he will consider suggestions either from one side of the House or the other. I agree with what he says, that a Bill of this kind if framed on the optional system would have very little value. I make that admission because people who have the option would certainly prefer to come before this House rather than go before any official body like the one suggested. I am sure that they will prefer the system now in vogue rather than the system in the Lord Advocate's Bill. I think the first matter to be attended to this; Parliament ought not to be asked to deal with its duties in this general and vague way, and the first point, to my mind, would be that some further definition should be introduced into this Bill in order that Parliament may know in respect to what specific matter it is asked to devolute its powers. Now what is the second point? I agree with the Lord Advocate that it is important if 1534 you can get a local tribunal in certain cases. I believe in many cases the advantage or importance of local inquiries is very much exaggerated, but still, undoubtedly, I think the claim ought to be allowed in a large number of cases to have what we know as a "local inquiry," by a local tribunal. Mr. Speaker, why should Parliament give up any further powers? Why should there be in effect an appeal from the local tribunal to the Secretary of State? Let us eliminate the Secretary of State altogether from this Bill, and when we have once constituted a tribunal of this kind, which will exercise quasi-judicial functions in the locality, lot the Report come at that stage and be dealt with by a Joint Committee of the two Houses. In that way you give every satisfaction to the local claim and the local element; in that way you introduce a principle of economy which all Members of this House desire to see introduced, and at the same time it is only right on questions of this importance that, instead of the Secretary of State, Parliament itself should be the ultimate deciding authority. And why not? I would ask the Lord Advocate why he should in any case of this kind substitute for Parliament the Secretary of State? Is it not right that we should deal with such questions? If you have the two inquiries—one local, which undoubtedly is a great advantage, and the other a Joint Committee of the two Houses—surely you satisfy both the local demand and the just demand of Parliament. At any rate, I would only say this, in conclusion. I have spoken at some length on this subject, because I have had a large experience of these private Bills, and I do ask the House most earnestly not to give up duties which it is competent to perform in the most efficient manner, because you can satisfy all local demands on the one side, and keep in your own hands what we ought to retain in legislation on the other.
*MR. J. W. MELLOR (Yorkshire, Sowerby)
I should like to say a few words with regard to this Bill. Mr. Speaker, very early in my experience as Chairman of Ways and Means I came to the conclusion that an excellent reform might be made in the 1535 procedure of this House with regard to private Bills. I do not suggest for one moment that there is any fault to be found with the Committees themselves. I believe myself that the Committee system of this House has worked extremely well, so far as matters brought before it are concerned. I believe they have been impartial tribunals, and, if they have erred, they have erred for want of local knowledge. But now, Mr. Speaker, the question is as to whether there are not grave defects in the system which has existed so far. Unquestionably this system now exists as it was originated, because it was supposed that Parliament alone, that is to say the representatives of the people, should have the power to interfere with public or private rights, so far as the country was concerned. That was the origin of their jurisdiction. Parliament, by means of the private Bill system, was able to empower people to take property, make railways, and do all those acts with which the House is perfectly familiar. Well, if you are going to transfer that system to any other, it is important to be very cautious how you deal with a system which has existed so long, and which has, in many respects, worked well, and which, I think, has been of some benefit to the country. Now, what are the complaints that are made against this system? First of all, the demand upon the public time is an increasing demand with regard to this kind of legislation. A great deal of time is taken up with private business which to my mind, might be better devoted to other business; that is to say, there are more important duties that this House has to discharge and which would be better done if they could get rid of a good deal of this private business which now comes before Parliament. Mr. Speaker, there is another matter which is a great grievance with regard to this private Bill business, and that the enormous expense, both to the promoters and to the opponents of Bills. Well, Mr. Speaker, I think that members of this House should remember what the cost of a private Bill is and what the promoters and opponents have to pay as to proceeding. They have, in the first instance, to satisfy the Standing Orders Committee; they have then to come 1536 before the Court of Referees in order to deal with those who are opposing the Bill. The opponents as well as the promoters appear by counsel before the Court of Referees, and they claim to be heard in respect of this matter and of that matter, and it is left for the referees to decide. They have then to come before the Select Committee of this House for the third stage, and then, when they have succeeded in passing that Committee, they have to come before the Select Committee of the Lords. So there are practically four stages through which a private Bill has to pass, and not only have the promoters to carry their Bill through those four stages, but the opponents of the Measure are put to an enormous amount of expense which certainly startled me when I first came to consider the matter, and which I think, if instances could be brought before this House, would astonish not only the Members of this House, but the country. Mr. Speaker, with regard to this matter, I do not think the Lord Advocate has over-stated his case, because what the Lord Advocate said was this: the persons who suffer are not the great railway companies, and not the great corporations, but it is the small opponent, who has difficulty in raising sufficient money in order to oppose the Bill if it affects his interests, and who is very often shut out because he cannot afford to come to London in order to defend himself by opposing the Bill. Therefore he has to suffer, without any remedy whatever. My hon. and learned Friend who has just sat down says that before Parliament delegates the interests of all persons concerned, whether of the small opponents or others, it should very carefully consider these questions, and no one will doubt that. The question is whether or not, you could not do something for the man who would like to oppose if he could afford it, who has got some right which is affected, and is unable to support it. That is the person who suffers more than anybody else under the present system. I think it is time that Parliament endeavoured to do something to help these people and to reform this system, because I think this private Bill system is growing considerably each year. The 1537 expenses are so great, and the difficulties in the way of both promoters and op-posers are so great, that I think something ought to be done to remedy this state of things. With regard to the railway promoter, and I do not want to say much about him—the railway interest is one of the most powerful in the country, and I think that it can take very good care of itself. My hon. Friend who has just sat down was rather pathetic about the railway interest, but I do not stop to waste any sympathy on that interest. Petitions are presented against a private Bill and if the railway company or the promoters of the Bill can agree with a petitioner he withdraws his petition; if all petitions are withdrawn against the Bill, that Bill then goes before the Unopposed Bill Committee, which consists of the Chairman of Committees of this House, of the Counsel to the Speaker and sometimes of a Member whose constituents are interested; but I should like to point out to the House that there is no official or other person before the Unopposed Bill Committee who can bring to the notice of that Committee any matter that might be urged against the Preamble of the Bill, and therefore, practically speaking, when petitions are withdrawn or compromised, then the Preamble of the Bill is generally taken as proved, there is no means of acquiring local knowledge, no person who comes before the Unopposed Bill Committee to say, "I object to this Bill, because it is going to do a great deal of injustice to people who have not got the means to come here." As the Lord Advocate pointed out, the various departments report as far as their department is concerned. They deal with the clauses, and upon the basis of their reports the Committee acts, so far as the public departments are concerned, and reports upon these matters only. Well, there is no other person except the promoter who appears before the Unopposed Bill Committee. Now, that is a state of things, I must confess, that I should like to see altered. I should like to have seen a scheme whereby the Committee stage of every private Bill could have been sent down to the country for local inquiry. I believe that a real inquiry—a real local inquiry—on the spot, before a properly constituted tribunal, requiring persons to be heard 1538 who might not be able to afford to come to London, would be an excellent thing. But, then, there are local inquiries and local inquiries, and I should like to see a local inquiry conducted by people in whom the country has confidence, and which would be able to deal with all questions that might arise. Just let us look for a minute at what is to occur according to this Bill. In the first place, proceedings will be commenced in the office of the Secretary of State for Scotland. I cannot myself see so much objection to this. It seems to me that the Secretary of State for Scotland has very little to do with these matters according to this Bill, and he is not a very formidable person in the matter. But then the Bills are to come before two Chairmen, the Chairman of the House of Lords and the Chairman of the House of Commons. As I understand the Bill, they will sit together as a sort of Committee of two. If you suppose that this system is extended to the whole of England, Ireland and Wales, and the United Kingdom, why, just conceive what the labours of these two Chairmen will be. They have to read through the Bills, and to consider every part of the Bills with which they are going to deal, and a great deal more in addition that is not afforded to the Chairman as a rule, either in the Lords or in the Commons. They will have to examine maps and plans and drawings, and to consider whether they are to allow the matter to come before Parliament, or go before the special tribunal to be established under the Bill. Suppose, for instance, that you can get a satisfactory tribunal; suppose you are satisfied with the tribunal of the two Chairmen, of course, it will be necessary to assist them in some way by a Standing Committee; after all, such work is very important; you are going to allow these two Chairmen to decide as to whether this Bill shall go before Parliament in the ordinary way or whether it shall be sent down to be treated exactly as has been pointed out by, previous speakers. Supposing the Chairman thinks that the matter can go down to Scotland for consideration; now, then, it strikes me that the most important part of this Bill is the tribunal in Scotland. With reference to the tribunal, I think a great deal of discussion will have to take 1539 place on its composition before the House will ever consent to delegate its authority to it. Let us see how this tribunal is to be composed. There is, first of all, the sheriff. Why on earth was the sheriff selected? I do not know. I have endeavoured to find out from my Scotch friends, and they cannot tell me. It seems to me that the sheriff should have nothing to do with it. He is usually a practising barrister, and I do not see why he has been selected to preside over this tribunal. He is by no means the person whom this House would select. The composition of the tribunal is the essence of the scheme. If we get as good a tribunal as the country will demand, and has a right to expect, I do not think there will be much harm in the Bill. But it all depends on the composition of the tribunal. Now, the tribunal is to be selected by the conveners of the counties, the lord provosts, and so on, according to the mode specified in the Bill. It is proposed to take away from the representatives of the people powers which they have long enjoyed, and which have been used with considerable care. If we are going to take away those powers from the representatives of the people, in my opinion we are bound to place them in some representative authority. Why is all this machinery used in selecting the tribunal? Why cannot you refer this matter, if you want tribunals, to committees of county councils in Scotland, and persons appointed by the county councils interested? I do not suppose that anybody will ever suggest that the members of the county councils are not good men of business. Would it not be perfectly possible to empower county councils to select committees who would act for this purpose? If we were to delegate this matter to county councils in the districts concerned, they might appoint committees perfectly competent to deal with it. If we did that we should not find so much complaint against local inquiry as there will be when the Bill comes to be understood, and the powers of this House are to be handed over to officials selected in the way described. Now, Mr. Speaker, I, for my part, cannot agree to any such tribunal as that. I do not know whether the tribunal and its composition is to be vital to the Bill, but I do know that if the Government wish to carry this Bill, 1540 and to satisfy the House and the country that it is of value, they must very considerably alter the composition of this tribunal when the Bill is in Committee. Mr. Speaker, there is another matter. The Report of the Committee is to go to the Secretary for Scotland, and in default of any person objecting within a month, then, as I understand it, if he approves of the report the Provisional Order is to become law. If anybody objects to the decision of the Committee, which he would do according to the Bill at the peril of paying costs if his opposition is vexatious, then the matter is to be relegated to a Joint Committee of the House of Lords and the House of Commons to decide. It seems to me that the Joint Committee is the best part of the Bill. I think it is a very good suggestion that matters of this kind should be dealt with by a Joint Committee. I have never yet heard any reasonable defence of the present two independent inquiries, and I think that, if the Government succeed in substituting for the two present Committees one Joint Committee, as they have indicated, even leaving the rest of the practice as it is, they will have carried out a great reform for which people interested will have reason to be thankful. I hope the Government will reconsider the composition of the tribunal, and the point with regard to the two chairmen, and that when the House comes to deal with this Bill in Committee the Lord Advocate will be able to make such a statement in regard to it as will remove a great many of the objections which will otherwise arise.
§ MR. L. H. COURTNEY (Cornwall, Bodmin)
Mr. Speaker, I am afraid this Bill will meet with as many differences of opinion as there are persons who will speak about it, for everyone who has spoken in general condemnation of it has approached it from a different point of view. But the speech to which we have just listened must have been very refreshing, and a variation from the intense conservatism of the two preceding speeches. The speeches of my hon. and learned Friends in approaching this Bill were of a very remarkable character, but those hon. and learned Gentlemen 1541 appear to think that there is nothing to be desired in the way of change in our present system. I feel with the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken that there is a great deal to be desired, and I go a great deal further than the right hon. Gentleman. My right hon. Friend thinks that if we substitute a Joint Committee for separate Committees in the two Houses we will have done nearly all that is required. Mr. Speaker, I venture to think that we shall have done very little. We must go a great deal further into the practice of private Bill procedure. I do not wish to lay down or suggest that Parliament should not have the final word. In the present state of public opinion it is essential that that should be recognised and secured, but the first inquiry should be outside Parliament altogether. What is the state of things now prevailing, which is so eulogised and rejoiced in by my hon. and learned Friends? We compress all this private Bill legislation, we crowd all this work into some months of the year. We do not begin sittings of Committees directly Parliament sits; they are interrupted by two vacations, and they come to an end before Parliament rises. We crowd all the work into four months, and then the confusion, the scramble, the hurry, the speed, and, I would add, the uncertainty of the result of the work upstairs, are essential evidence of the fact that we crowd the whole business into that limited period. If we want to get this work done at all decently in regard to expense and with consideration for the poor suitor and the poor opponent, as well as the rich suitor and the rich opponent, we must have some tribunal which shall be more accessible, not merely from the point of view of holding proceedings locally, but of holding its office open all the year round, into which suitors would be able to go at any time—barring some long vacation—and before which they should be able to summon those who oppose their projects, so that the stage to which my right hon. Friend has just referred, and which now demands the attention of Members of Parliament, and which is accompanied by expense, might in a large measure be discharged in chambers, as work is done in the administration of courts of justice, reserving the more important and contested 1542 points for after consideration, and perhaps reserving in the end the final word, if necessary, for a Joint Committee. Mr. Speaker, I laid this down as well as I could before a Committee some years ago. It was rejected by the Committee, but one who voted in favour of working according to the suggestion I ventured to lay down was a man of experience, and, I may add, knowledge and credit, in my estimation, because he was my right hon. Friend Mr. Raikes, who sat for many years as Chairman of Committees, and whose ability in that position has, I venture to say, never been surpassed in accuracy and sureness of judgment by any of his predecessors or successors in office. He had experience of some six years, and he was in favour of my suggestion. Another Member of nearly equal experience, Lord Monk Bretton, also favoured it. The present system requires considerable additional expense in the way of employment of counsel, as well as additional expense in working in a limited time, and involves also the denial of accessibility to the tribunal which now exists on the part of poor suitors. Theoretically every person can come and petition for a Bill here. What is the objection to allowing that petition to go to a permanent tribunal, if you can get a tribunal of sufficient authority? The tribunal suggested in this Bill is somewhat fantastic. What is the objection to letting the initial stage be taken before that tribunal, even though we reserve the last word to Parliament? I suggest it should be done in this fashion—that anyone who wished could go to the tribunal of sufficient authority set up for the purpose, and that that tribunal should have the primary conduct of the affair. Notices, of course, would have to be served just as they are now, and, if the tribunal had sufficient weight and authority, it would protect all interests, just as much as any quasi-judicial tribunal does at present, with perfect security. My own view is that the inquiry in the first instance should in all cases be local. My right hon. Friend who has just sat down suggests that applications for private Bills should be considered by the two Chairmen of Committees, and that they should separate those to be heard locally from those which should come to Parliament. The 1543 two Chairmen are to meet and consider whether a particular application may be heard, locally or whether it must come before Parliament. When are they to meet? Are they to meet in vacation? That is a new suggestion calling these gentlemen together during vacation. Then my right hon. Friend must describe what they have to consider before coming to a conclusion. Would they have to hear counsel on the question, as to whether an application is to be heard locally, or to come before Parliament? This is a very important question—it is almost essential. Are the Chairmen of Committees to hold a court with counsel coming before them to argue it? And if they hold a court after Parliament has begun to sit and decide that an application may be heard locally, it would be, I am afraid, lost for that Session. Waste of time would necessarily be involved in the system as suggested. I should like to know what my right hon. Friend the present Chairman of Committees has got to say about it. I know myself I should feel the greatest possible repugnance to have this function put upon me, to determine whether Bills should come in the ordinary course before Parliament or be sent to local tribunals. That is scarcely a question which it is right to put to the Chairmen of Committees, even with the assistance of counsel to argue the point. If we have faith enough to think that we can protect justice in the end, let us not shrink from giving the power to start all this business locally in the first place. Either the petitioner or any opponent interested in the matter might go to the tribunal set up and move that further proceedings be transferred to Parliament. Then the tribunal itself would not be incompetent to entertain that question, though I am inclined to think it would be rarely raised. But the first consideration I would suggest is that a petition be lodged in a local office, or with local commissioners established for the purpose. Then either the petitioner or opponent might move for a rule nisi and argue that the whole business be sent to Parliament, and no further proceedings be held locally. Supposing you have got a tribunal of sufficient weight and authority, how simple the successive stages before that 1544 tribunal would be. It would not be the Secretary for Scotland, it would not be a branch of his office that I am contemplating; it would be some permanent tribunal of weight and authority, and the procedure before that tribunal would be such as I understand by procedure in the courts. Here is a petition applying for a Bill. Here are persons who are objecting to the Bill. Particular issues might be sent to be tried by a member of the Commission locally, or they might be tried away. The Commission holds its sittings regularly, interlocutory applications could be made, the whole question of locus standi settled, the whole business transacted cheaply and securely, if only you have a competent tribunal—transacted cheaply and securely, and completed in the place where it originated. Then, according to the Bill, if a promoter or other person is dissatisfied he may, with certain permissions, come to Parliament and have the case argued out here. Why those permissions? Why not, under penalty of costs, allow the opponent—the objector—to come and have the case heard here after it has been fully determined? According to the stats of the returns of Provisional Orders, the applications should be extremely few, and if the penalty of costs be a real penalty they would probably be fewer—I think they would almost disappear. I have not that terror, which the hon. Member for Fife has, of the want of ability, or want of equity of such tribunals. If things worked as I should expect them to work you would get very few Bills sent up to the House of Commons or the House of Lords. But I would leave the door open, at all events, until it had been proved by experience that it was unnecessary to leave the door open—leave the door freely open, and let those who are dissatisfied with what has been done locally come and fight it out again here, and then, as my right hon. Friend has said, it could be fought out before a Joint Committee. But with respect to that, I think it might be provided that the Joint Committee should only proceed on evidence which can be produced in courts of the realm; there should be no bringing of fresh evidence; it should be a sort of argument, such as the argument before the House of Lords when that House sits to hear a cause as 1545 a last resort. The Joint Committee of the two Houses might hear a case between promoters and opponents after it has been settled by the local tribunal, and, in that case, the authority of this House and the authority of Parliament would be absolutely reserved. As to the suggestion, of which my hon. and learned Friend made so much, of something being done which Parliament should disapprove; and the illustration he attempted from the incapacity of the Office of the Board of Trade to settle satisfactorily the question of a light railway across Salisbury Plain, and the power to carry out military manœuvres—all that would be reversed if you leave the door open in case of necessity for coming here. My hon. and learned Friend seemed to treat that as a hardened reservation, as a thing which could not be maintained, and argued against the Bill as something immutable in its present form. Not merely by reason of the occasional failures, which might be avoided if there were more time, and perhaps I might add more training, not to the determination of questions which Committees upstairs have to consider, but with regard also to the great expense and uncertainty of Parliamentary action, and to the point upon which the Lord Advocate dwelt, that small opponents are now practically debarred from appealing, I have a great desire to see some alteration and amendment made, and I therefore approach this Bill, not from the point of view of those who want to get rid of it altogether, or of those who think things as they are are so good that there is no need for change. I approach the Bill as a step towards a better state of things; a Bill which we might take in hand and possibly alter into something which might be a good Bill. With respect to that I have not spoken my last word. What does the Lord Advocate propose to do about this Bill? I have said I should like to hear my right hon. Friend the Chairman of Committees upon it. I should like to hear the Chairman of Committees in the other House upon it. I should like not merely to hear them make speeches; I should like to examine and cross-examine them. Well, the Lord Advocate laughs. That is not impossible. If we read this Bill a second time, and refer it to a Select Committee, before that 1546 Committee we could get the Chairman of Committees. We could, by permission of the other House, which would, no doubt, be granted, get the Chairman of Committees of the other House. We might get another person I should like to obtain—that is Lord Balfour of Burleigh, the present Secretary for Scotland. We might get them into a Committee-room, before the Select Committee, and could ascertain from them exactly how they think certain parts of the proposed machinery would work, and what the effect of this or that alteration would be; how certain modifications might be adopted and others rejected; and you might produce in the Select Committee a Bill, which I do not say would be perfect, but would be a very great improvement on the present order of things, and would give great promise of amendment in the future. I do not think this Bill need disappear. Let us read it a second time if the House is so good-natured, send it to a Select Committee, hear this evidence before that Select Committee, and then it would come back here recast. It would not come back to be considered on Report only, but in Committee here; and then, I think, we really might make out of this first draft, this necessarily sketchy Bill, something which would be useful and tend to remove the very grave evils which now exist, and which, I am sure, some steps should be taken to remove.
§ DR. R. FARQUHARSON (Aberdeenshire, W.)
I think those of us, like the hon. Member for Caithness, who oppose this Bill, would like nothing better than to see the present Secretary for Scotland and the Chairman of Committees of the other House exposed in the Committee-room upstairs to the unflinching cross-examination of the right hon. Gentleman opposite. But I am bound to say that, when those two gentlemen came out of the box, I do not think we should say very much more about this Bill, because those of us who followed the discussions on this subject on former occasions, and those who have studied and read, as I have done, the Report of the Committee of 1888, may remember well the trenchant criticisms passed by the present Secretary for Scotland and the very able statement he submitted to that Committee. I think those of us who remember the fate of 1547 the Bill of last year will recall the fact that the poor little bantling did not long survive the sharp handling it sustained in the other place in the hands of the Chairman of Committees. And, as regards the opinion of the Chairmen of Committees, there is not the least doubt that their feeling is that of painful anticipation of the large additions to their duties which will be cast upon them if this Bill ever becomes law. I am bound to agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness in thinking this is a bad Bill. I think, in opposition to my right hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Courtney), it is past praying for. I do not think there is any method of knocking it into shape, and beating it in Committee into anything really more or less than it is—a bad Bill. I think the Bill will stand in the way of future progress. I think the only way is to let this Bill gently follow the fate of its two predecessors, and then we shall possibly get something of a wider scope. I am obliged to the Lord Advocate for the very clear and practical exposition he gave of the principle of the Bill and its scope, but I am bound to say that, after his speech, I came to the view that this Bill is a much wider and more dangerous one than I had thought it was before. I am one of those who have the courage, as the Lord Advocate said, to assert that the present system of private Bill legislation is not so bad as has been made out, and I do not think that he or anyone else has shown that there is any sufficient cause yet made out for this large and grave constitutional change. I am glad that the hon. Member for Caithness is going to give us an opportunity of expressing our convictions in the Division lobby, and I hope the hon. Member for Stroud, whose position and great knowledge may be of particular value in this matter, will show a little flash of independence on this occasion, and follow his observations and his arguments into the Division lobby, and join us there. I think, before we accept a Bill of this kind, we ought to have it very plainly put before us that there is some popular demand for it, in Scotland or elsewhere. What is the nature of the popular demand in Scotland? I believe there are certain lawyers, I believe there are certain bodies called conventions, the members of which 1548 represent no one but themselves, who have been bringing forth arguments in favour of something of this kind. I think there is some nebulous sentiment about the acceptance of something of this kind, as something which tends to carry out Home Rule for Scotland; but I am bound to say I have received no communications of any kind from my constituents, or from elsewhere, and my constituents are 10,000 people, of a very encouraging character, which is proved by their having returned me by considerable majorities at five successive periods to this House. I have heard nothing from them nor from any other part of Scotland. I believe in some of our younger and more verdant days, some of us may have occasionally got up a cheap cheer by giving some kind of vague general approval of some legislation of this kind, but I am bound to say that since these somewhat remote periods in my political history I have said nothing myself, and I have been asked by no person in my constituency nor in Scotland to do anything in this business. We have got from two very important bodies in Glasgow and Dundee two very strong, very important, and, I think, extremely able voices of dissent from this proposal. If it is argued that this Bill is necessary, I think it ought to be shown that there is some loss of popular confidence in the tribunals as they at present exist. Let us go once more to the Committee of 1888. In the Report of that Committee I find it stated that Committees of both Houses demand confidence, and that this view is expressed by several persons interested in private Bill legislation, who have declared that they do not desire to see the existing Committees wholly, or in part, superseded or supplemented by some other tribunal. Lord Balfour, the present Secretary for Scotland, animadverted very strongly on the evidence given by the then Lord Advocate to the effect that those tribunals had lost their confidence throughout the country generally. I think another point made by those who are supporting this Bill is that there is great inconvenience in this House on account of the somewhat large block of business; the House, it has been said, is congested with work. I do not see much evidence of that at the present 1549 time. I understand that the popular opinion is, we shall be all taking our single tickets for Scotland and elsewhere about the middle of June; but, at all events, I am prepared to state to the House that there is very little backing to this Bill, and the fact is there is not a large amount of Scotch business coming before us. In 1897 Lord Morley stated in the other House there were only three Scotch Bills, and from 1892 to 1896 there were no Scotch Bills at all. In 1896 there was only one. I do not think, therefore, that the Scotch Members can claim any special amount of sympathy on account of the excessive amount of work they are called upon to do on Scotch Private Bills. Again, I should strongly recommend anybody who wants to study these questions to read the evidence of the eminent Parliamentary counsel, Mr. Samuel Pope. He told us that out of 670 Members of this House only 102 were called upon to sit on a Private Bill Committee; that six of them served for one day, eight for two days, three for three days, 13 for four days, and so on; one for 15 days, two for 16 days, one for 17 days, two for 19 days, and so on. And I may remind this House that many gentlemen were sitting on the Police and Sanitary Committee, on which I myself sat, and the Chairman of which I am glad to see sitting opposite. This Committee sits for about 20 or 30 days each Session, and therefore I consider that myself and the other gentlemen on this Committee have done our share in Committee work, though I do not wish now to complain, nor have I ever complained. Work on Private Bill Committees would indeed be insignificant and altogether trifling were it not for the exemption from work of this kind which certain Members, or a certain section of this House, claim. They cannot claim exemption as a right. The Chairman of the Selection Committee gave us some very valuable information on this and other points. He told the House the other day, in answer to a question, that no class of person in this House has any right to claim exemption. Now, we have in this House a large number of lawyers. I do not object to them, because they are very able men, and they frequently contribute very 1550 ably indeed to the services of the House. They have no sort of prescriptive right. They are exempted by courtesy and the convenience of the House. My right hon. Friend stated, in answer to my hon. Friend's question on that occasion, that they have no prescriptive right at all. My right hon. Friend the Chairman of the Committee of Selection told the Committee in his evidence that there was very little inclination on the part of hon. Members to serve on Committees of this House. If that were so, it might be a very good argument for legislation of this kind. The right hon. Gentleman's evidence was most amusing. He told us how one hon. Member who was selected went over to Paris and telegraphed that he had been called abroad and could not attend. He said all sorts of dodges were resorted to by hon. Members in order to escape this class of Parliamentary responsibility. My impression is that within later years committee work has become much more popular in the House. The practical abolition of the private Member for all legislative purposes in this House has compelled us to seek refuge upstairs. This is becoming more and more a House composed of practical business men, who are often disgusted with the methods of procedure here when contrasted with the methods of procedure at their own county councils and public bodies, and who are extremely glad to go upstairs to get an opportunity of doing some kind of practical business work. For myself, I look with great suspicion upon any scheme likely to take away that work from them. Committee work is important, interesting, and responsible, and, as I have said, is getting more popular, especially among senior Members. I do not think junior Members of the House show any excessive zeal for Parliamentary work. They are more inclined to take things easy. I do not want to lecture them, but I think they might take an example from the Chairman of the Committee of Selection, who, even at his age, does not shirk work. With regard to the burden of expenses, it is my opinion that under the method of procedure shadowed forth in the Bill the expenses will be on the whole 1551 considerably greater than they are now. I quote the following opinion in support of my contention—The Committee is of opinion that it is by no means certain that any saving of expense would be effected by local inquiries, except in the case of comparatively unimportant Bills, and of Bills which only affect a very narrow locality.The cost of Provisional Orders is often very great. There is a well-known Glasgow case which proves this, and there was a case in Aberdeen the other day in which very excessive expenses were incurred with the preliminary stages of a Tramway Bill. The expenses would be very much greater at local inquiries than here, because if there is any opposition counsel will be heavily briefed, and experts must be employed, and the old Parliamentary fight comes off, with added preliminary expenses. You are, therefore, not much "forrader." The proposed alteration in the procedure does not touch Scotland alone; it has far-reaching possibilities in other directions. Though the Bill is a small one, it is, to use an old phrase, the thin end of the wedge; it proposes a very large and vital change in the constitution of our Parliamentary procedure. Lord Morley said in this House that—He could not help feeling, however, a little misgiving at so large a transference of power from the Legislature to the Executive.Again I agree with him. There is not the least doubt that under this Bill the responsibility of Parliament and the control of private Bill legislation will be handed over to the Secretary for Scotland and the Chairmen of Committees, who decide the nature of the Bills, and then to the Sheriff and Panel, an irresponsible tribunal, whose composition has been referred to this evening in not altogether complimentary terms. Is the Sheriff to be a practising barrister, and how are these men to be paid? I am quite certain that there can be no confidence in a tribunal of this kind. Local inquiries may be good, but they cut both ways. You will have local prejudice and local feeling, and you will lose the advantage we get here under the present system of freshness and variety. There is one thing I should like to mention. 1552 My hon. Friend the late Chairman of the Police and Sanitary Regulations Committee will agree with me that it is of the greatest importance, when these local Bills come up here, that they should be taken in hand by the Police and Sanitary Regulations Committee, and that every clause should be subjected to careful scrutiny. A Bill from Glasgow recently came before the Police and Sanitary Regulations Committee. If it had passed in the form in which it was presented it would not have been safe to walk the streets of Glasgow either by day or by night. Still, the Committee licked that Bill into shape, and left it in a form in which it might be intrusted even to a Glasgow bailie. I do not know—perhaps the Lord Advocate will explain afterwards—whether these gentlemen, got together in a hap-hazard manner, and, headed by the Sheriff, are to have the power of knocking these Bills into shape, of cutting down the extravagant pretensions of local authorities, and of bringing the Bills a little more into harmony with common sense. I want to read one more extract from the Report of the Secretary for Scotland. He said that—The Committee believe that almost everything complained of could be remedied by improvements in the present system. They hesitate, therefore, to recommend a new tribunal to take the place of Committees of Parliament, which they believe in the main command the confidence of the business world and of the country generally.I hesitate, with the Secretary for Scotland, to adopt this new form of procedure. We had better bear the ills we have than make a change of which we cannot foretell the result. I do not object to a change in our Parliamentary procedure if it is needed. I should give my support to this Bill if I thought it would do good, or would relieve the pockets of those who have to pay these large sums; but I do not think it will do either of these things. I think the present mode of procedure might be improved, and I will enumerate the various ways in which I think that improvement could be effected. You should lessen the House fees, begin Committees earlier, make Parliamentary ascents come into line with you, and get their Bills ready, lessen the number of 1553 counsel and witnesses, and deal very sternly with deputations. I also urge that the Scotch Office should use its power more resolutely. Up to the present that office has not exercised to the full the power which it undoubtedly possesses. I agree with hon. Members who have spoken that it would be better to make this Bill experimental in the first instance, as we are trying a great experiment which must eventually spread to the rest of the United Kingdom. And I think it would be a very good plan to have the Bill made, at all events at first, optional. In my own opinion, I do not think any good cause has been shown for this Bill, and even if there has been a good cause shown, I do not think this Bill is one which will remedy the grievances complained of. That being so I shall, unless I hear something later on to alter my opinion, certainly fellow my hon. Friend into the Division Lobby.
§ *MR. W. THORBURN (Selkirk and Peebles)
Mr. Speaker, I rise to thank the Government most sincerely for the introduction of this Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeen has said there is no feeling in Scotland on this Bill. I think if he resided as much in Scotland as I do, he would know that there is a very strong feeling in Scotland in favour of this Bill. Rightly or wrongly, the people of Scotland are of opinion that a considerable saving in the cost of obtaining private Acts will be effected by a Measure such as this. Some say the cost will be increased by this Bill. I cannot see how it could possibly be more expensive; on the contrary, I believe, that a very large saving in the cost will be effected. Moreover, it will obviate the necessity and inconvenience of bringing witnesses to London. As the Bill stands I admit that it does not very clearly deal with the question of saving of expense, but it can be so amended in Committee as to have the result we all desire. I should like to see, in connection with a Bill of this kind, a provision for a reduction in the cost of notices in cases where, say, a city is acquiring property for the sake of improvement. At the present time every owner or occupier of a house in the locality affected by an improvement has to be served with a notice, at a cost of from 6s. to 9s. per notice. I 1554 contend that that is an absurd sum to incur. A great saving could certainly be brought about in this respect. Whatever is done, I think the cost of these notices should be reduced to a minimum. Then I should like to see a limitation put upon the number of counsel, and—as my hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeenshire has suggested—upon the number of witnesses. I think, also, as a matter of detail that it should be competent for local solicitors to practice before this Commission. Many local solicitors are able men and perfectly competent to perform the duties. I should also like to see some provision for taxing the expenses which are incurred. The powers of the Secretary for Scotland have been objected to as being too extensive under this Bill. Well, I have carefully considered the Bill, and I must say that it appears to me that a great deal of the powers of the Secretary for Scotland are merely administrative. There is one thing to be said in favour of the Secretary for Scotland having these powers, and that is that his conduct is amenable to Parliament. It has been said that we shall not always have such a strong Scottish Secretary as we have at the present time; but I do not think that is a very serious matter so long as his conduct is amenable to this House. I am not enamoured with the tribunal. I do not know that the panel from which the Commission is to be drawn would furnish the best men for the purpose. For my own part I would be quite content with a Commission—something on the same lines as the Light Railways Commission. So far, they have performed their functions with great satisfaction to the public. Something on the lines of that Commission would be as effectual as the proposed panel under the Bill. No doubt this Bill is opposed by one of the greatest interests in the country—namely, the railway interest. But, those Members who represent Scottish constituencies, whether railway directors or otherwise, will incur very grave responsibility if they either vote against the Second Reading or impede this Bill. It is stated by my hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeenshire, that this Bill has been introduced in 1555 the interests of Scottish lawyers. It is also said by some that "We wish to keep oor ain fish-guts for oor ain sea-maws." It is not on the ground of the Scottish lawyers' interest that I support this Bill. I support this Bill on the ground that it relieves Parliament of a considerable amount of work, and it is, to my mind, a wholesome devolution of part of its duties. It seems to me that it will tend to lessen the expense. I strongly urge the Government to give their careful attention, between now and the Committee stage, to the question of expense. I confess that if the people of Scotland find that this Bill is not attended with a considerable saving of money as compared with the present system of private Bill legislation, I feel convinced that they will not be satisfied with it. The aim we all have, as far as I know, is to lessen the expenses of private Bills, and I sincerely hope that before this Bill passes through this House, provision will be made to attain such a desirable end.
§ MR. J. BRYCE (Aberdeen, S.)
The hon. Member who has sat down has presented himself to the House as the only friend to the Bill. [Mr. THORBURN: NO, no!] After all, he is not a very warm friend. He has told us that he does not find anything in the Bill that will reduce expenses, and that he does not like the tribunal. Considering that these are the two features of the Bill, it does not appear to me that he can be called a very hearty supporter of the Bill.
§ MR. BRYCE
I hope I shall be able to join in doing so. But my support of the Bill will depend upon the prospects of the improvement of the Bill. I quite agree with the hon. Member who has spoken that there is a grievance in Scotland. The hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire has even more of optimism to-night than usual. According to him, everything is for the best in this best of all possible worlds. I cannot go so far as that. I think the hon. Member for Peebles went too far. The Lord Advocate appeared to me to say what 1556 was eminently true, when he remarked that in this case we had got to consider, not so much the great companies and the great populations who come here with enormous funds behind them in order to attain their object, as the private opponents. In their case there is often hardship. We cannot be long in this House without knowing many instances of private persons who are forced to incur expenditure far beyond their means in order to defend their interests. Some of these people are unable to defend their interests because they cannot find money; and they live under a sense of injustice, for the reason that the procedure of this House does not permit an English citizen to defend his private rights. We can heartily agree with the Lord Advocate's object in bringing in this Bill, and with the aim this Bill sets before itself. But it is another question whether the Bill will carry out the end aimed at. The main point is to get a good tribunal. If we get a good one, we get the main thing. The House will not fail to see that this is a new tribunal. Several tribunals have been proposed before. We had an elaborate discussion in 1891. A new attempt has been made to find a new tribunal. The Lord Advocate must feel that this is a most vital point of the Bill, and the part on which criticism is centred. I think it is a pity that he did not start by making out a very good case. We do not know the grounds on which he came to a conclusion that this was a better tribunal than before. It is composed of two parts—the sheriff and the panel. The sheriff may be a competent man, but it is not at all certain that he will be. No man has more respect for the sheriffs of Scotland than I have, but they do not all possess equal ability. Yon do not want a man who is a practising lawyer. You want a man who is a good chairman, and a man who is competent; and it does not in the least follow that the sheriff will combine these things. The sheriff may be a man who may practice before the tribunal one day, and the next day be chairman of it. The Lord Advocate may note the traditions by which this House has been governed in its private business, and remember that no Member of this House ever practises before it, and that if a Member has been 1557 very distinguished before he enters this House, he immediately proposes to retire from practice. You cannot mention a case in which a man may be a judge one day and an advocate the next. As regards the question of a panel I find myself unable to imagine what sort of a one will emerge from the highly elaborate scheme proposed. It reminds me of the arrangement by which the Venetians created their Council of Ten. There was a body of 30, who elected a body of 15, who elected a body of 25, who elected another body of 7, and the final 7 chose the Council of Ten. It is even more complicated than that which I have indicated. You go through so many changes that you are absolutely uncertain of what it will be at last. I think it would be far simpler to have them nominated by some authority in whom yon could have confidence, or else have them elected by public bodies in Scotland, than to go through this elaborate system. That is not the only complicated thing in the Bill. The system under which the Secretary for Scotland comes in is a more complicated one. It is true that the functions of the Secretary for Scotland are chiefly ministerial; he is more a piece of mechanism than an officer exercising independent discretion. Still, there are some points on which he will exercise discretion. I must put it to the Lord Advocate that this is a very unfortunate departure from the traditions on which we have gone in the past. We do not want to bring politics into anything in connection with our private business. There is nothing more remarkable about the conducting of private business in this country than its exceptional purity. That purity is unquestioned; and those who have studied what private legislation is in other countries will know that all other countries have fallen into one or two errors—either the business is deprived of its public quality by putting if into the hands of officials, or else it has incurred the reproach of dishonesty and corruption. We are the only country that has avoided those evils, and I hope we shall not go into line with the officialism that affects the legislation of other countries. Here we have the Secretary for Scotland, and I may say there has never been a Secretary for Scotland, or any Minister, 1558 in whose good sense or firmness or judgment we have more absolute confidence than the present Secretary for Scotland. I am speaking merely of business. We do not want to bring a political officer into the conduct of private business. It is far better not to be under suspicion of having had any political influence brought to bear upon it. The case of the Board of Trade, and other Government offices, which have to deal with private Bills occasionally, has been referred to. The case is much stronger against the Secretary for Scotland. There is one other point peculiar to Scotland which ought to be adverted to in this case. The Scottish railway fights are always involved with the interests of the great railway companies. I do not remember in the last 20 years any important Scottish railway contest which did not resolve itself into a contest between the east coast and the west coast. Therefore the relief that would be given to those cases would be very small, because the chairmen of the two would have to decide in nearly all these cases, so that relief in the way of expense would really fall to the ground. One point more, which has not been noticed by anyone who has spoken, is the dealing with large questions of principle that sometimes arise in private Bills. We have sometimes in this House a private Bill in which arises a question that is not fit for the Committee at all, but is fit for the House itself. No Member can fail to remember a number of instances in which we have animated, instructive, and important Debates on large questions of public policy in connection with private Bills, such as those questions, for instance, of the housing of the poor who have been displaced, in which we have had to establish by a number of Debates on the Second Reading that provision must be made for the housing of the people. We have had a great many other cases in England, such as the taking of commons and open spaces. I remember, in 1880, there were a number of very animated and important discussions which, practically, established the principle that where a railway company proposed to cross a common it must make out a case of absolute necessity. That could only be obtained from discussion on the Second Reading; and a 1559 similar principle applies to the case we had last year, in which a railway company proposed to interfere with a piece of natural scenery, or a building of historic or architectural interest. Those are questions which may be laid before a Private Bill Committee, but it is only in this House we can raise them. If the rules of locus standi are to be transported bodily into the deliberations of the new tribunal, it is clear that the persons who want to raise those questions will want locus standi. Therefore the opportunity we now have of raising those questions will be lost altogether. An argument which has always been used with a great deal of force is, that if you have to put back a Measure, you have to incur a great deal of expense in fighting the Bill through its earlier stages. Under this present proposal you have to go to an enormous amount of expense, and it would be very hard upon the promoters to throw out their Bill at the last moment on public grounds. This House will remember that that argument has been used with great force where we have tried to throw out it Bill on the Third Reading, where some question has arisen as to a public principle. That is the principle which has been adopted by the House, and it is a very useful principle, but under this Measure we should have no such power as we have at present to give instructions to a Committee, and by this means the public would be left out of consideration entirely. I put it to the House that that is the condition. The Secretary for Scotland has tried to remedy it, and I hope the House will insist upon its being remedied when they go into Committee. I do not make these remarks in any spirit of hostility to the Bill, nor do I ignore the difficulties which the subject presents; it is a very difficult subject, and many attempts have been unsuccessfully made to deal with it. Already we have had five Bills brought forward. It is because it is so extremely difficult that we ought to take care, when a Measure is brought in, that it is a good piece of work, and we ought not to accept it if it is not. If that can be done, I do not desire by any means to give up this Bill. I see one excellent proposal in it, namely, the proposal to have a Joint Committee of both Houses, and I hope that whatever 1560 happens to the Bill we shall take steps to carry out that suggestion; but I do not abandon hope that this Bill will eventually be brought into such a shape that it can be passed.
§ *SIR HERBERT MAXWELL (Wigtownshire)
I should prefer to have remained silent during this Debate, because I feel I cannot speak as favourably of this Bill as I should wish. I am most unwilling to show any want of sympathy with its authors, who have had a very difficult subject to grapple with. I should have remained silent but for something that fell from the lips of the hon. Member for Selkirkshire; but I think I ought to remove a misapprehension that was unintentionally created on his part by the words he used. He spoke of the opposition of the Scotch Members to this Bill as if it had arisen solely from those who happened to be directors of one or other of the great railways of Scotland. I am a director of one of the chief railways in Scotland, and I desire to say that I have heard no reference made to the subject either by my Board collectively or by any member of that Board that I can recollect. I am not aware of any objection being made on the part of the railway companies to the Measure as a whole. Of course there are details which will come at another stage. I will go further, and say, so far as I can ascertain the opinion of Scottish railway managers, the people are very far from being adverse to what I take to be the leading principle of the Bill, namely, an efficient and impartial local inquiry. The difficulty, of course, is to get an impartial and efficient local inquiry. I am sure sufficient has been said on that subject by the hon. Members who have spoken, who are all prepared to accept this Bill, but for one or two objections. I think there is a difficulty as to constituting a proper tribunal. Let me call the attention of the House to what fell from my right hon. Friend in his speech in moving the Second Reading of this Bill. He said particular care should be taken to maintain the traditions of this House in the procedure of private Bill legislation. Now, what is the most significant tradition of this 1561 House in respect to private Bill legislation? It is that no Member shall serve on a Private Bill Committee who has any personal, direct or indirect interest in the subject-matter of the Bill under discussion. I observe that in the provision dealing with the selection of local panels for the consideration of private Bills under the Measure before the House, in order to conform to the traditions, the same provision is made, namely, that no person personally or indirectly having any private interest in the subject-matter of the Bill shall sit. It is easy enough to secure the fulfilment of the condition in the Imperial Parliament; and so carefully is the tradition observed, in order to ensure that no interested Member should sit, that it has been the practice of Parliament that no Scottish Member should serve on a Private Bill Committee dealing with Scottish affairs. I have known a case where a Scottish Member has been serving on a group of Bills chiefly relating to Great Britain and Ireland, and a single Scottish Bill appeared amongst them, and the Scottish Member applied for permission to withdraw from the Committee during the period that Bill was under discussion, and that permission was granted. It is clearly the tradition of Parliament that those who sit upon private Bills shall be wholly independent and free and impartial. As regards a local question, will not the difficulty of securing impartiality, and complete detachment from private motive and influence, be greatly enhanced when you come to deal with a limited area in selecting a panel? I contend that all Parliamentary tradition would be violated by this Measure. I do not think that this Measure will secure any degree of confidence or impart any degree of satisfaction to the people of Scotland. I listened with great interest to what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sowerby said about the possibility of a Committee of the Members of this House visiting various localities in order to hold local inquiries in connection with private Bills. Well, I confess that, on the few occasions that I have advocated the devolution of private business, that has been in my mind. The Lord Advocate says it is impracticable, and may be dismissed as such. For my own part, I do not see 1562 where the impossibility comes in. I think it would be a much more direct course and a much more simple one. Take the great fight we had upstairs last year over the Loch Garry Railway Bills. I think it would have been a much better and far simpler course if the Committee formed by this House had gone down to the Caledonian Canal, and held their meeting there on the spot, instead of bringing up witnesses to this House in the broiling months of June and July, and keeping them for weeks upstairs. That is the impression upon my mind, and the impression of many of my countrymen. When they talk of local business being done elsewhere, they do not contemplate that Scotch business will be entirely withdrawn from this House, but they do contemplate that Members of this House will be sent down to hold inquiries when and wherever it is desirable. The right hon. Member for Bodmin spoke with greater kindness about this Measure than did the right hon. Gentleman who spoke before him. He said it was an honest attempt to remedy the present state of things, but it was an experiment. Quite so; but it is an experiment to be made upon Scotland, and I object to my country being made the corpus vile for that experiment. I think something might be done, but I do not like these panels, constituted as they are, and I do not like this absolutely new departure in private Bill procedure first to be tried upon my unfortunate country. I think we are all agreed that something must be done to reform a private Bill business, which has approached the limits of an abuse. Something must be done, but I think that it points to a universal scheme affecting all parts of the United Kingdom, and I do not think that Scottish Members should be tempted to part with the privileges which they now enjoy, in order that they might ascertain how this grand new scheme may work, whether it will be successful or otherwise. I may point out one curious feature in the Bill to which attention has not been drawn as yet. It is a comparatively small point, but it stands in the forefront of the Bill, and is an anomaly. Parliamentary procedure is full of anomalies, and we suffer them, and rather like them, because many of them are associated with the past history 1563 of our country; but it is quite a new thing when bringing in a new Bill to start off with an anomaly. It seems that by this Bill no promoter hereafter will be able to apply for a private Bill; they must all in future apply for a Provisional Order. At the same time, although there is no schedule of the Bill setting forth what class of subject is deemed to be a subject for a Provisional Order or a private Bill; yet we are assured by the right hon. Gentleman the Lord Advocate that the subjects will classify themselves so clearly that there cannot be any doubt in the mind of the promoters or in the mind of the Chairman of Committees as to the arrangement of the different subjects under these two heads, "General Provisional Order" and "Private Bill." If the matter is so clear as that, what is the use of asking the promoter to apply for what he knows he cannot get? He has to apply for a Provisional Order, knowing perfectly well that the Secretary for Scotland will refuse it, and the class of subject for which he wants the Provisional Order is not one upon which he can accept a private Bill. As to the question of expense, that is certainly one which I think might be dealt with in a comprehensive scheme, applying to all parts of the United Kingdom. Doubts have been expressed by persons whose experience in public business entitled them to express a very clear opinion upon this question, as to whether the expense to the promoters and the opponents of any Measure under this Bill will be any less than in the past. Supposing it is less? The deficiency will have to be made up some way or the other. You are proposing by this Bill to withdraw a considerable amount of private legislation from this House. That legislation is a source of considerable revenue to this House—a great deal too much so, in my opinion. But still it is a source of revenue; and whatever there may be lost must be made up by the taxpayer of the country. That is a matter not to be lost sight of. The expenditure must be kept up. Is it to be borne by promoters and opponents of private Bill legislation or the taxpayer of the country? It is a matter for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to consider. I do not wish to prolong 1564 the discussion upon this Bill, but I do urge the Lord Advocate to take into consideration some of the points which have been brought before his notice this evening, and to see whether he cannot recast this Bill or mould it in such a manner as to give us more confidence and greater hopes of a practical solution of what has been a long-admitted grievance with regard to this matter.
*MR. R. C. MUNRO FERGUSON (Leith Burghs)
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bodmin has called this Measure a sketchy Bill, but I do not know that that epithet was very appropriate, because this is a Bill which the Lord Advocate has told us has no novelty. The same Bill has been before the House in many other forms already, and the Measure which is now proposed under the auspices of the Secretary for Scotland, is only swelling the number which have been introduced by hon. Members on both sides of the House upon this question. The Secretary for Scotland has taken part in the drafting of the Report on private Bill legislation, and, no doubt, also has taken a large part in the drafting of this Bill. I think there is something more which is wanting in the Bill than its sketchiness alone, and the right hon. Member for Bodmin must have thought there was something more which was wrong in the Bill, because he very properly suggested that it should be sent to a Select Committee to be considered before it was considered by a Committee of the whole House. Judging from the criticism which has been bestowed upon the Bill, I think that that course of procedure is very highly to be commended. The Bill which is now before the House does not differ very substantially from the Bill of 1891. There are some differences in the clauses, but the results of the Bill are practically the same, and I think that the postponement which has occurred in taking the Second Reading of the Bill has been proved to be a very wise course, both from the Debate we have listened to this evening and the criticisms upon the Bill which have come in from 1565 Scotland. The criticisms and suggestions which have come in from Scotland divide themselves into several heads. The Commission comes in for a large amount of attention, and quite properly so, because it is the centre of the Bill, and it is very difficult to know whether one is going to vote for the Bill or against it until one has some idea of what the position is going to be. I have every desire to support the principles of the Bill myself so far as local inquiry is concerned, but I can hardly support the Second Reading with a Commission such as that which is now held forth in this proposal. Other objections have been taken in memorials from Scotland to the maze of procedure through which Scotchmen, who desired private Bill legislation, are doomed to wander before they can obtain either a Provisional Order or a private Bill. The suggestions that come from Scotland are either in favour of a Joint Committee of the House for the consideration of private Bills, or else in favour of a Joint Committee sitting in Scotland. That is the Glasgow proposal, to which my right hon. Friend gave such very little consideration. I think it is evident from the discussion to-night, and, having regard to the representations which have been made to us from Scotland, that this Bill will either have to be remodelled or dropped. I sincerely hope that it will not be the latter, because this private Bill legislation has been treated by the hon. Gentlemen opposite as a sort of apotheosis of legislative reform for Scotland. We have taken it on our side as touching a fringe of the question rather than as the whole settlement of the Scottish claims for separate treatment. On the other side, if has been considered by hon. Gentlemen as a course which would meet all the legitimate requirements of the country. The Bill, therefore, can hardly be dropped. The Government is pledged to it, and rightly pledged to it also, for two reasons—one the convenience of Members of Parliament, and the other the convenience of the different localities and communities interested. I think the Lord Advocate and others were fully justified in saying that there was an almost unanimous feeling in Scotland in favour of local inquiry. I think there is also practical unanimity of 1566 opinion in favour of a Committee composed of the representatives of the people such as was asked for by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Wigton just now, and it is practically unanimous against such a Board or Commission as is proposed under this Bill. I think public opinion in Scotland differs upon the point whether the inquiry should be held in London, or whether it should be held in Scotland. The great corporation of the great railway companies especially, having all their arrangements here for conducting inquiries and avoiding a considerable amount of opposition to the inquiry being held at a point so remote as Scotland, are in favour of an inquiry in London, but there is a large body of opinion in Scotland, which is in favour of a local inquiry—the small folk to which the right hon. Gentleman referred so sympathetically this evening. These small folk, I would observe, in the case of a big Bill, conducted by a railway company, remain under all the disadvantages under which they are at present, because in the case of any big Bill they will have to come to London, just as now, in order to present their case for consideration. Then, there is another phase of public opinion almost unanimous in Scotland, which is in favour of giving larger powers to local authorities for the compulsory taking of land for any permanent object or for the benefit of the public. That is a point which I do not think has been noticed very much hitherto in the course of this discussion, and yet a Motion to that effect was carried by 49 voles to 11 upon the Local Government Bill for Scotland when it was under consideration in this House. It was brought up by my hon. Friend the Member for the Border Burghs on the Public Health Bill last year; it has been brought up on an Amendment which I moved on the Local Government Bill, and the same Motion was moved by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee upon the Report of the Public Health Bill last year. The subject has been repeatedly brought forward. It has never been really met, and, if it were dealt with, a great part of the subjects which would have to be referred to this Commission would be dealt with be the local Parliaments themselves. I have 1567 for many years past never been able to see why a large range of subjects of the greatest public importance should not be dealt with by the great local authorities themselves, the town councils and county councils, without seeking Parliamentary powers. For the other objects of legislation I am entirely in favour of the principle of local inquiry, although I do not think that the Parliamentary system has ever been fairly tried. In the admirable speech to which we have just listened from the hon. Gentleman the Member for Stroud, I think he did not sufficiently consider the great difficulties with which suitors from Scotland have to deal in coming here. These difficulties are doubled by the system of dual control, and the mere appointment of a Joint Committee, instead of the present system, will halve the costs—almost halve the costs—of conducting private Bills sent here. There are many points of the Bill which I think it will be best to deal with in Committee of the whole House. Certainly they ought not to be dealt with by any other Committee, and there will be Amendments on the Paper from England, Wales, as well as Ireland, which are affected by the precedent winch it is sought to establish by this Bill. But there is one point which cannot be dealt with too soon, and that is the composition of this Commission.
[The attention of Mr. SPEAKER having been called to the fact that there were not 40 Members present, the House was counted, when 40 Members being in attendance the HON. MEMBER resumed—]
No doubt the bait is held out to us that Scottish business is to be placed in Scottish hands, and many of us would take almost any opportunity in order to attain that end, but I think, in this case, it is far too high a price. For what are we asked to do under this Bill? We are asked to add to the number of Edinburgh boards. Many of us who have felt a desire to extend Scottish control over Scottish business have been alarmed at the progress made in the establishment of all sorts of commissions and boards in Edinburgh, and if this condition of things goes on much longer we shall soon be ruled by bureaucracies. This paradox will arise that, whereas the 1568 people of Scotland are better qualified in many ways to conduct local self-government than the people of any other part of the United Kingdom, they will have less local self-government in Scotland than in England, and will be on the highway to establishing a system of bureaucracies which might be the envy of the loyal minority in Ireland. And that is not to be wondered at, because it is the natural sequence to the attitude of the Government towards the whole question of devolution. The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury pointed out the other day the difficulty of getting through the work of this House. I certainly do not think he over-estimated that difficulty, and as long as we have to conduct four sets of national as well as Imperial affairs in this House, so long will there be the difficulty of getting through the work of the House. And that devolution has been necessary has been proved from the time of the establishment of the Scottish Office at Dover House until now. The danger of extending officialism, to which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Stroud did not call attention a moment too soon, is a serious danger, against which we have to guard. We have, for example, in the Scottish Education Department an example of the slightness of the control which a Scottish Member can exercise over the Scottish Office; and this will afford a much more complete example of the danger. There may be a great deal to say for officialism in educational matters, but in the field of private Bill legislation I believe that you cannot get better men to direct the policy than those which you find usually upon Committees of this House. But whether it is private Bill legislation, or whether it is other legislation, we are compelled, under our system of doing business in this House, to choose between two methods—one is Parliamentary devolution, and the other is bureaucracy or officialism; and I do not think the hon. Member for Stroud, who very properly drew attention to the loss of popular control which this House will sustain if it ceases to do the work which is expected of it—I do not think he sufficiently appreciated the need there is for devolution, the impossibility of conducting all the multifarious business of this House in any one legislative assembly. If, as he says, he 1569 regards officialism as even more insidious in the public interest than he regards devolution, I think he will end by being a Home Ruler himself. Well, Mr. Speaker, I think either devolution or officialism becomes necessary under the present extraordinary system through which we conduct so many sets of affairs in this House. Hon. Gentlemen opposite are as much opposed to the one solution as we can be to the other, and, therefore, what we have surely to try to arrive at is some compromise under which, if it is only by some makeshift or some stopgap, we can deal with the practical grievances of Scotland, at any rate, for a time. The right hon. Gentleman opposite objected to a peripatetic commission of Members that was supported by the hon. Member for Wigtown, and also by the Town Council of Glasgow in the memorandum which it sent in. I think the right hon. Gentleman will find in the memorandum drawn up by the Town Council of Glasgow, the appointment of a committee of Members of Parliament to hold local inquiries is very strongly recommended. It may be a makeshift, but it is simple and satisfactory compared to the provision which is laid down in this Bill, and it would form, at any rate, a basis of a local inquiry, because, apart from any objection to the principle of these boards or commissions, let us look at the practical objections which arise to the working of this committee. The Scotch sheriff may be a sort of maid-of-all-work, but it is plain to everybody in this House that he has certain disqualifications which follow from his position for the new office. I think it will be generally agreed that the average Scotch sheriff, admirable man that he be, would be less qualified to act as chairman of Scottish Bills in private Bill business than would the ordinary chairman of one of the committees in this House. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton, in his speech on the last of these many Bills which have been introduced on this subject, stated that of all patronage judicial patronage is the worst, because judges are responsible; and he denied that under our constitutional system judges should be appointed to decide these questions. Judges are to decide questions of law. The fact of a man being a good judge does not fit him to decide cases of 1570 public policy such as are brought before committees on these questions. And, then, Mr. Speaker, it seems to me odd that whilst lawyers, who by a kind of self-denying ordinance have deprived themselves of the privilege of serving upon private Bill Committees in this House, why, in sharp contrast, a lawyer should be put in the forefront of the proposed Committee to deal with private Bills on the nomination of the head of the Scotch law. For my own part, I do not think that all the versatile ability of the sheriffs of Scotland, combined with that of the Justice General, is likely to make the patronage proposal either popular or expedient. Nobody is more competent, I should think, in the world to appoint a person as chairman than the present Lord Justice General; but he can never be called to account for his appointments in this world, and I certainly hope it may be very long before he is called upon to account for them elsewhere. And the next Justice General may not be nearly so competent to make this appointment as the present holder of that distinguished office. Then, as to the other commissioners. The Secretary for Scotland practically selects the other two commissioners. I do not go into the question of panel, to which so much attention has been drawn. But supposing the present Secretary for Scotland, or any other Secretary for Scotland, holds the divining rod by which he is to find the best possible man to serve upon this Commission, supposing he knows who the best man is, is it quite so certain that he is likely to get him? I confess I am not quite so sure upon that point. I do not think it would be so easy to find men to serve out of the public life as it is to find them in public life. Members of this House are influenced by a deep sense of their duty to the State. No doubt the Secretary for Scotland may find some gentleman in Princes Street with time upon his hands, or he could fill up his Commission several times over at the Parliament House. But whether it will be as easy to find the kind of men which you really want ready to take this kind of employment in Scotland as you would here is another matter, and perhaps they would be less ready when the charms of novelty have worn away. For my own part I am opposed to what has been suggested in the direction of 1571 officialism. There are boards of different kinds in Scotland with which we all of us are acquainted, and all created with the best intentions, but over which we, nevertheless, have very slight control, and it is highly desirable to guard against these dangers of officialism in the North. It may be said in support of a Parliamentary Commission that it would be responsible to Parliament as the Private Bills Committees are now, and it would also render unnecessary the extraordinary and costly procedure which is guarded against under the Bill. It is not very easy at the first sight to follow an ordinary Parliamentary Bill, but in spite of all my experience, which has been a somewhat long and unhappy one, of Parliamentary Bills, I must say that my compassion goes out to the suitors who will have to master the contents of projected legislation. The checks which you find in the Bill, if they are not intelligible here, what must they look like to those outside? Admitting certain difficulties in the peripatetic Committee of Members, they are not insuperable. There have been Commissions who have served the country containing Members of Parliament, who have conducted their investigations in the height of the season while Parliament has been sitting. I have frequently taken part in that kind of work, and the work of sitting on a private Bill in Scotland would suit many of us remarkably well. Sessions do not seem to get, like many things, shorter as we get older, and these interminable Sessions of Parliament are no more appreciated by my colleagues from Scotland on the other side of the House than they are appreciated by many of us on this side. I heartily sympathise with the hon. Baronet who said how much pleasanter it would be to conduct an inquiry down the Caledonian Canal in the month of July than conduct it here. Seriously, it would suit many of us, I believe, far better to spend a month or two of the year in Scotland in private Bill legislation, either in the beginning or at the end of the Session, than by spending the whole of our time in this House. After all, it is a comparatively small part of the time of a Scottish representative which is spent upon Scotch or Imperial business with which he alone has any concern. More than half of his time is 1572 occupied about matters of which he knows little and cares less. The Irish landlords, Welsh bishops, and Anglican schools are subjects in which many people are interested, but they are merely disturbing influences to the ordinary Scotsman, and they have no interest for him. Therefore I do not think that there would be any real difficulty that Scottish Members should attend to the conducting of Scottish private Bill legislation in Scotland. I venture to dwell upon this point because of the opposition with which the right hon. Gentleman opposite met it in his speech. I confess that I do not regard it as any permanent alternative to the present system, but there is certainly no need to apologise for that proposition when you place it alongside of the proposals of this Bill. It would, at any rate, provide for a local inquiry. It would provide and promote the maintenance of a very simple system of procedure; it would retain Parliamentary control, and, pending the consideration of whether some kind of devolution is or is not possible, it provides for present needs. The right hon. Gentleman stated that this was a workable scheme, because it provided for local inquiries; but I do not think it does that, because all important Measures will have to come up here for consideration. It is said that it satisfies Scottish local feeling; but it does not do that, because Scottish local feeling, as I have ventured to indicate, would be dead against having an extension of officialism. The right hon. Gentleman said it would save expense, but I very much doubt it. You may go through the whole of the local inquiry stage and find yourself landed in the Parliamentary Committee at the end of it. Therefore I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman has made out his case. As I have already pointed out upon the point on which he laid so much stress—the case of the smaller opponent, a class with which I have the utmost sympathy—that class of case would not be met whenever a large Bill came to London. It would be met by what the right hon. Gentleman has called "a peripatetic Committee." On the other hand, the appeal from the local to the Parliamentary inquiry would add very much to the expense. The right hon. Gentleman argued that a great deal of 1573 the opposition to this Bill came because we thought it was giving too much power to the Secretary for Scotland. I am sure that question has never entered into the head of most hon. Members on this side of the House. The reason why we are opposed to this is not because we are giving any particular power to any particular man, but because you are introducing a system to which we have expressed our hostility; and so long as you propose to extend officialdom in Scotland it becomes almost impossible for us to support the Second Reading. I may say that I wish to support the Second Reading. The main part of the Bill is the local inquiry. As far as that goes I am absolutely with the Government, and I sincerely hope that when the right hon. Gentleman replies he will give us some assurance that this question of the Commission will be reconsidered. I certainly have not spoken with any hostility to the main principle of the Bill, but I see great difficulties in the Measure which, as a Scotch Member, I think cannot be defended. It is possible to have a Joint Committee sitting here, and it would be possible to have a Joint Committee sitting in Scotland. I would almost for the moment rather take the Joint Committee sitting here, if the other cannot be obtained, and I would sooner reconcile myself to the ills under which we suffer, to use the words of the hon. Member for West Aberdeen, than incur those which are so generously provided for under the proposals of this Bill.
§ MR. RENSHAW
The hon. Member who has just sat down has made a very valuable contribution to this Debate. I understand from his remarks that he is in favour of the Bill, but I am bound to say that I am afraid from the views he expressed he is not very strong in support of the Measure. He has criticised many points, and fairly criticised them. Mr. Speaker, I wish that I myself could support this Bill. I wish that I could say anything in support of what has fallen from the Lord Advocate or the views which he expressed when he 1574 brought in this Bill. When I came into this House to-day I must frankly say that I had studied carefully every point, and I do not see that the Bill is a real solution of these problems, which are undoubtedly problems of great interest in Scotland, and in respect of which I am sure all of us are anxious to see a solution arrived at. Mr. Speaker, this Bill confers, it seems to me, upon the Secretary for Scotland far wider powers than this House will be wise to confer upon any Department of the State. That is the first point on which I take issue with the promoters of the Bill. When the right hon. Gentleman was speaking and making an exceedingly interesting statement on the principles of the Bill I asked him how the different Departments would interfere in order to prevent unopposed Bills passing through without a certain amount of criticism upon them, and what was going to happen in the Scotch Department. I put that question because one of the difficulties I see is the position in which it places the county authorities in Scotland. The county authorities at the present moment cannot—I think I am right in saying—either promote or oppose a Bill in Parliament unless they have the consent of the Secretary for Scotland. [An HON. MEMBER: No, no!] I think I am correct in that statement, and these county authorities will consequently be placed in a very great difficulty if this Measure is adopted. They will have to apply to the Secretary for Scotland for permission to oppose a Bill, and, in the second place, suppose there is no opposition, the very authority they ought to depend upon for the safeguarding of their interest is that authority that has charge of the management of their own local affairs. That seems to me a serious objection to the Bill from that point of view. But the greatest objection I have with regard to this Bill is as it affects the position of the Secretary for Scotland, for it places the Party head of a Government Department really in the place of Parliament. Now, I object to this handing over to what hon. Members have described as officialdom those responsibilities which have hitherto devolved upon this House, and which I believe have been most satisfactorily discharged by Members of this House. I do not think it would be 1575 right to take away from authorities in Scotland, or in any other part of the kingdom, that privilege which is enjoyed in all parts of the United Kingdom of being able to come to the Houses of Parliament for permission to carry out whatever scheme they desire to carry out, either in private or in the public interest, and having an opportunity of stating their case. I think a proposal to place anything between this House and the public in that respect is an undesirable step. But whilst I hold that view, and hold it very strongly, I am not opposed—in fact, I am favourable—to this local inquiry. I think in the course of this Debate there is hardly a Member who has spoken who has not expressed a wish that these local inquiries should take place, and they have taken up this point in common. I understand from the right hon. Gentleman that that is one of the points which he regards as a fundamental principle of the Bill. I understand also that another point which he regards as fundamental is that there are to be no option suitors. Now, Mr. Speaker, I should like to say a word or two with respect to the powers which this Bill gives to the Secretary for Scotland, which the right hon. Gentleman perhaps a little overlooked in the statement he made, and which the Lord Advocate had described as powers which would be innocuous. Now, I should like to draw the attention of the House to Clause 3, and there they will find that when this draft order has been submitted, when it has gone through the ordeal of consideration by the Chairman, the Secretary for Scotland would have absolute discretion to say whether, in regard to a petition for a Provisional Order, there should be any preliminary inquiry or not. That, I think, is one of the gravest of responsibilities cast upon the Secretary for Scotland. If I understand the words of the clause correctly—and hon. Members will observe the word "shall" in line 31—they mean that the Secretary for Scotland is to have it absolutely in his discretion whether there is to be any inquiry at all, and not merely whether it is to be a local inquiry or not. I think the drafter of the Bill must have been a little doubtful himself as to the manner in which it would be received, because I notice it is made obligatory upon the Chairman to make 1576 a Report upon the draft order, and not, as in the second clause, optional. It is laid down that in regard to every Provisional Order a Joint Committee, consisting of the Chairmen of Committees and two Members of each House, shall be established. The section, I think, scarcely conveys the meaning intended. Now that is one point, and a strong point, I think, in which it is proposed to give power to the Secretary for Scotland which it is extremely undesirable should be placed in his hands. Then the right hon. Gentleman spoke of the check which the action of the Chairman would be in deciding whether or not a draft order should proceed by way of Provisional Order or should be referred to the House. There is one point to which I should like to draw the attention of the House in the important clause which deals with the power of the Chairmen to declare that the Standing Order in reference to applications has not been met by the petitioners, that they may have power to come to Parliament, and that the Chairmen shall take the draft order into their consideration, and may, within the prescribed time, send a Report thereon to the Secretary for Scotland. I want to know why this option is allowed to the Chairmen in this matter. Surely it ought to be obligatory to make a Report upon these Bills when they come forward, and it ought not to be possible for the Chairmen to make no Report whatever, and that Report, in the name of the Chairman making it, ought to be put before Parliament after it has been before the Secretary for Scotland. There is one other point to which I should like to attract the attention of the Secretary for Scotland, the provision in regard to the petitioners appealing to the Chairman of Ways and Means in the Commons, and the Chairman of Committees in the House of Lords, if they wish to approach this House, and deal with the subject by way of Bill and not by Provisional Order. It seems to me that that ought to stand in the very forefront of the Bill, and it ought to be perfectly clear that a petitioner has the privilege of coming to these Chairmen and asking for power to approach Parliament rather than adopt this Provisional Order system. At this point, Mr. Speaker, I should like to call the attention of the House to the Bill 1577 which was introduced subsequent to the Report which has been frequently referred to to-night—the Bill of 1888, introduced by the right hon. Gentleman, the Leader of the House. That Bill was intended to apply to private Bill legislation, not only for Scotland, but also for Ireland, and one of the very first provisions, put in the most prominent place in that Bill, was to this effect—and I think it is an admirable provision, and one which could be inserted with great benefit to all concerned in the Bill now before us—There shall be a Standing Joint Committee of the two Houses of Parliament on Private Bills, consisting of the following:—The Chairman of Committees, House of Lords; the Chairman of Ways and Means, House of Commons; and two Members of each House of Parliament appointed at the beginning of each Session in manner provided by Standing Orders. The Joint Committee may sit and act, notwithstanding the prorogation of Parliament, and subject to the Standing Orders may regulate their own procedure.Now, Mr. Speaker, I submit to the consideration of the House that if Parliament should take any steps whatever such as those suggested in the first clause of this Bill on any application to the Secretary for Scotland for a draft order—which we understand to-night from the right hon. Gentleman, for the first time, was an application to be made in Scotland only, and I do not think that up to the present moment any suggestion of that kind has been made, as the Secretary for Scotland is to be more frequently found here than in Scotland—we certainly think we should have a Joint Committee of this kind established, so that all petitioners coming to Parliament, and all Bills introduced by petition, should be brought before a Committee of this House, constituted in the manner provided by the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury in 1892, and that that Committee should consist of two Members of this House, two Members of the House of Lords, and the respective Chairman of each House, and should consider these Bills, and have the power to decide—which they could do very readily and with a very slight amount of trouble—whether a Bill which was petitioned for should proceed by way of Provisional Order from the Secretary for Scotland, or whether it should go through the ordinary process of a private Bill in this 1578 House. There can be no difficulty in this, and one of the great advantages of following that plan would be this, that everybody would know then, if their proposal came forward as a private Bill, that a Committee had decided what course it should go through, and that there could be no possibility of a mistake after they had started. One of the greatest difficulties of the proposal in the Bill now before us is the great variety of methods which it entails. I have looked somewhat carefully into this matter, and have regarded it in several lights, and I find there will be something like six different methods by which to get Parliamentary powers: the first, by private Bills, as they are now obtained; secondly, you would have Estate Bills, which, for some reason, are still to be treated on all occasions as private Bills; thirdly, you will have Provisional Orders under the Board of Trade—and we have a large number of Provisional Orders under the Board of Trade in Scotland. The right hon. Gentleman gave us some interesting statistics in regard to them, and I think, if anything were needed to convince the public generally and this House that changes in regard to private Bill legislation should lie in the extension of that system of Provisional Orders, it was the statistics placed before this House by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade the other night. Bills confirming these Provisional Orders will still have to come before this House in the ordinary way. Then we come to another class of Provisional Orders, the Provisional Orders which have been brought in through the Secretary for Scotland. Those Bills will not be treated in the same way as Provisional Orders promoted by the Board of Trade, but they will have to pass through all the stages subsequent to their being applied for as Provisional Orders which are provided for under this Act, and they will, therefore, be differentiated from Bills introduced as Provisional Orders by the Board of Trade. Then there is another class of Provisional Order which will be somewhat different in regard to the manner in which they are provided for and dealt with—those under the Public Health Act of 1897. Under Parts 2, 3, and 6 of that Bill the proceedings which are enacted regulating the application 1579 for Provisional Orders are different from the proceedings in the case of Board of Trade Provisional Orders, or in the case of Provisional Orders of the Secretary for Scotland. In addition to that, there is the general system of private Bills, and last, but not least, there is the system by which rights are to be acquired before the Railway Commissioners. That shows what a variety of methods are possible to anyone who wishes to apply for Parliamentary powers, and it is really almost impossible to avoid making mistakes where you have so many different methods by which you may proceed. The difficulties in the way of private Bills are now very great, and take very skilled persons to encounter them successfully, and anyone who wishes to deal with the question will have to weigh in the balance these, different ways of proceeding. Now, I referred just now to the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury, introduced in 1892, and when the right hon. Gentleman introduced that Bill the speech that he made in so doing suggested that there were three reasons in regard to the question of private Bill legislation in this House. These three reasons were the convenience of suitors, economy, and the time of Members of this House. I should like to say a word or two about these points. In regard to the convenience of suitors, the number of Bills and Provisional Order Bills which have been applied for in Scotland during the last 10 years, and which have passed, has averaged rather more than 30 Bills a year. The great bulk of there Bills are railway Bills, and I have heard it said in the course of discussion to-day that this Bill with which we are now dealing is very largely conceived in the interests of the small objectors. The right hon. Gentleman was quite eloquent about the wicked-nesses of the powerful corporations, and about the extreme danger to which the small objector is exposed. But my impression is that the small objector is much more protected in dealing with a large corporation in London than he would be if he had to fight that same corporation at a local inquiry. On the mere question of the taking of land, which is generally the question on which the small objector is involved, that question before a local inquiry will not take 1580 very long to decide. Therefore, for my own part, I do not really believe very much in this matter of the small objector. It is a bogey raised for the purpose of influencing public feeling in the country, and possibly Members in this House. I have come across the small objector, and I am of opinion that he is perfectly capable of taking very great care of himself, and in nine cases out of ten makes an exceedingly good bargain. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aberdeen referred in the course of his speech to the case of a Bill which was checked in its progress through the House last year because the right hon. Gentleman thought it was unfair that it was going along the north side of a lake, and he thought it ought to go along the south side of the lake, and the only reason why it should go along the south side of the lake was because one of the petitioners did not want to have a railway pass through his property, and, therefore, in that case the small objector was sufficiently powerful to compel the wicked railway company to go to the south side of the lake instead of the north. Why is it that the large corporations and the railway companies, as a rule, are in favour of the continuance of the existing tribunal? I think the reason is not far to seek. It is because they have found that tribunal a satisfactory and a fair tribunal. It is because they have confidence in it, and it is also because there are in connection with it a trained body of barristers, who have always been identified with the companies, and who know their business almost as well as the officials of those companies themselves, and who, if any question of importance has to be dealt with by local inquiry, will undoubtedly be called upon to discharge the responsible functions in the North which they now discharge at Westminster. But these gentlemen, versed in expert evidence, are much more available in London than they are in the North, and, therefore, it will need to be a very strong case when it is proposed to deal with the needs of these large companies by local inquiry, and not by private Bill legislation. Let me remind the right hon. Gentleman that the point is not one as between the large corporations and the smaller objectors. I think the right hon. Gentleman 1581 said that under no circumstances would the Government be induced to give an option. Now, it does seem to me that an option might be given where promoters and opponents alike desire to come to Westminster, in place of having the local inquiry; but then there was the point of the Parliamentary tribunals, to the constitution of which the hon. Member for Leith looked forward, and thought of the happy times he would have in Scotland, where he might itinerate while making inquiries. I have no doubt that we should, under those circumstances, have most excellent tribunals. But this Bill, if passed, will not relieve. Scotch Members. I do not suppose there is a case on record—I have not seen one since I have been in this House—of a Scotch Member being put to sit upon a Scotch Bill. This will not relieve Scotch Members from sitting upon private Bills upstairs; they will still have to do their part in the Committees on Welsh, English, and Irish Bills. This is not going to relieve the Scotch Members, but it is going to relieve the Welsh, English, and Irish Members from sitting on Scotch business. Now there is one other part in connection with the railway companies which, while I am speaking upon this subject, I should like to refer to. It will be noticed in the Bill that I referred to just now, that the Board of Trade Provisional Orders are to be dealt with differently to the Provisional Orders issued by the Secretary for Scotland. Why? Because the Board of Trade have at their disposal special expert opinion on various subjects, and that is why in this Bill I imagine it is proposed to deal with the Provisional Orders for the Board of Trade in a different manner to those brought in by the Secretary for Scotland. It is precisely on this ground, and because railway questions are very much the same over the whole of the United Kingdom, and also because the railway system is carried on under one Parliamentary system, and is subject to the supervision of the Board of Trade, that the great railway systems of Scotland are anxious that they should continue to enjoy the privilege of appearing before the same tribunal as their fellow railways either in England or Ireland, and that they, therefore, oppose the Bill. There is a second point, the point of 1582 expense. That is a point that has been comparatively little referred to in the course of the discussion to-night, and to anyone who reads the evidence given before the Joint Committee which sat in 1888 there was nothing, especially from the Scotch witnesses, which was so strongly emphasised as, in the first place, that the reduction of fees was desirable, and the simplification of notices, and that the printing charges and the advertisements were too high. Now, at the present moment this House has the control over the expenses, and tolerates a system under which suitors for private Bills in this House have to pay £40,000 a year for the privilege. That is simply monstrous. Why is it that these heavy charges, of which they might be easily relieved, are imposed on suitors for private Bills? On the question of means, I regard the local inquiry as a saving of expense in regard to minor Bills, as I have already said, but when it comes to be a question of expense, and I examine the Bill as to what the proposals are, I find by section "R" that if a Provisional Order goes on by Bill, it must be subject to the Standing Orders. Well, there are the General Orders, which are to be approved by the Secretary for Scotland and the Chairman, and those Genera] Orders must be very much on the same lines as the Standing Orders. A Provisional Bill which has been undertaken under General Orders can hardly fulfil the provision of Clause 2, that it is to be subject to Standing Orders. If it has to go on for a Session in Parliament, the Chairman intervening, then those fees as fixed must be altered. That is a thing that must be remedied. A certain number of private Bills must come to this House, and the different officials will still have to have them before them, and their fees must be paid. The fees also have to cover, under this Bill, the fees of two Commissioners upon each of the tribunals, the payment of office accommodation, and the various clerks to the Commission in Scotland, travelling expenses and remuneration of examiners, and over and above this there will be fees for the staff which will have to undertake and overlook the Bills here. That being so, it seems to me in place of having lower fees we shall have higher fees; therefore I do not look forward to any reduction of expense. In 1583 the Joint Committee of 1888 the evidence of Sir John Mowbray went to prove that that was the case. There were all-night sittings then, and there was an enormous amount of private Bill legislation, but at the present time that is not so. One hon. Member moved for a return of the number of Members who sat on Committees for private Bill legislation. What was the case? Last year 145 Members sat on opposed private Bills or on Bills referred to Select Committee. Of those, 57 Members sat five days or less, and only 45 sat for 12 days. The great bulk of those 45 hon. Members were Chairmen of Committees; there were 24 Committees, which sat in all for 292 days, or an average of 12 days for each Committee. I do not think I exaggerate when I say there are 600 unofficial Members of this House, and if the amount of work which took place on private Bills in 1897 had been divided among Committees composed of five Members they would only have to sit five days each, and then only half the private Members would have been occupied. That being the case, with the full knowledge of the amount of constraint placed on private business, nobody can say we have very heavy work in that respect. There are some hon. Members who are willing to perform more than their share of the work, and there are others who are just as anxious to avoid their responsibility in regard to private Bill legislation. If every hon. Member took his share there would be no possibility of there being any overwork in connection with these matters. I very much regret that I am not able to speak more sympathetically of this Measure, because I am anxious to have local inquiry wherever it is possible, and I think it might be applied to a certain class of cases. My principal objection to this Bill is the tremendous power and the possibilities which it places within the reach of the executive of Scotland. I object to its depriving Scotch suitors of the right to approach Parliament direct, and I do not see that it would be any cheaper to those who desire to promote Bills in Parliament than the existing system. I think for these reasons that I cannot contribute to the support of this Bill by my vote this evening. I do believe, however, that there is considerable force in the suggestion 1584 made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bodmin. There is a basis in this Bill of something which may be beaten into shape—something which can be moulded into a better form than the Bill is in at the present time. Even those who have advocated the claims of the Bill have rather apologised for so doing, and I cannot support it, because I do not think that it would really and truly be a Measure of substantial reform such as we require at the present time.
§ SIR C. CAMERON
This is a matter which not only concerns Scotland, but the whole of the United Kingdom, and it seems to me that in any experiment that we may make we should have regard to the possibility of the extension of the system to the other parts of the United Kingdom. I think the proposal which has been put before us by the Lord Advocate is a proposal dealing exclusively with Scotland, but which possibly may be made to extend, at some subsequent time, to England and Ireland. Let us consider what the effect of it would be if it were ever extended to England. We should have the county councils nominating two representatives and the mayors of the towns two each; and then we should have the Home Secretary nominating two representatives—from no one knows where, or of what class of community—in conjunction with some county court judge nominated by the Lord Chief Justice—on these tribunals, for all applications for Parliamentary powers. Could anything more ridiculous be conceived? I am not sufficiently familiar with the working of legal institutions in Ireland to draw a parallel as to how this Bill would apply in Ireland, but I think of what would occur in England, and would suggest to my Welsh friends that they ought to consider the matter very carefully before they put in a claim for the extension of this very crude Measure which is proposed for Scotland. In Scotland opinion does trend in favour of local inquiries, and where a thing can be conducted cheaper by a local inquiry than it is upstairs, I think that no one can wonder why it should not be so conducted; but the proposals of this Bill would not lead to any such results. If 1585 there is to be any delegating of the powers of Parliament, they should be delegated to a tribunal worthy to deal with them. Can it be wondered at that those entrusted with the carrying through of a Bill upstairs should repudiate altogether the possibility of feeling confidence in a tribunal of which they know nothing; selected from people whose qualifications are not of the highest, as constituted by this Bill? As to the simplification and cheapening of all procedure, the Lord Advocate has told us that out of a very large number of applications—250—of Provisional Orders, almost all of them became law, that two were rejected, and 15 became the subject of Parliamentary contention. That is an excellent reason for simplifying procedure, and a great deal might be done in the Scotch Office, and with the costs diminished; and with different and distinct additions there is no reason why the Provisional Order system should not be further extended; but this Bill proposes a different thing; it proposes to supersede the present method of private Bill legislation, while it cheapens and simplifies procedure; but in the greater number of the more important Bills it will have no such effect whatever. The right hon. Gentleman has explained to the House that the first step which will occur will be that the suitor will carry his petition for a Provisional Order to the Chairmen of Committees of this House and of the House of Lords, and if they declare that the subject is not such as could be dealt with by the local tribunal it then becomes a private Bill, and comes before the Committee of the House of Commons and goes through all its stages in the usual way, and then goes to the House of Lords and goes through all its stages there. If the Bill is allowed by the Chairmen of Committees to go before the local tribunal, and it comes up to this House and is objected to, then it is treated in another way. It goes before a Joint Committee, and then it goes to the other House, and the other House can make Amendments, and can relegate it back to the same or another Joint Committee. I approve of the principle of a Joint Committee if it would simplify matters—and you want to simplify matters upon a much greater scale than is done by this Bill. Why do you not bring forward a proposal that the Joint 1586 Committee shall deal with all private Bills? As a result of this Measure, we should have two classes of votes in Parliament on Scotch Measures—one where the Provisional Order has been rejected, which will be dealt with in the same manner as at the present time; and the other, those Bills which are "protested" at a subsequent stage, which will go before a Joint Committee of the two Houses. On the subject of expense, I contend that this Bill is as unsatisfactory as anything one could conceive. As to saving expense, those people most interested in private Bill legislation believe that no saving of expense will be effected. On the contrary, the Parliamentary Bills Committee of the Glasgow Town Council, acting under the advice of Sir James Marwick—than whom no one is more capable of expressing an opinion—declared that the expense of the local inquiry would be at least as great as under the present system. They say the Bill provides an unsatisfactory tribunal and increased expense. The charge against the Bill is directed strongly against these tribunals, which will be altogether unsatisfactory, and the procedure of which may, while saving expense, result in such procrastination and delay as in many cases will prove fatal to the progress of any Measure in a single Session of Parliament. I protest against the proposal being made obligatory; if it is to be made it ought to be made tentatively. Glasgow is not alone upon the opinion she holds; the Town Clerk of Dundee, a gentleman of vast and varied experience in these matters, puts it in a sentence. He says—In my opinion the country would be much better off without than with such a Bill. The reform proposed is no reform at all. The proposed new procedure of Provisional Orders would involve more expense than the present system and be less satisfactory.There you have two of the leading town clerks of towns in Scotland speaking in this very emphatic manner, and their views are shared by the other municipalities of Scotland. The railways also declare their most strenuous opposition to this Bill. My hon. Friend has referred to the Caledonian Railway Commission appointed under the old Bill, but that was partly a legal and partly an administrative body. He was most emphatic in his 1587 opposition to this proposal. He said it would involve much greater expense than is at present involved. In almost all the railway cases, when they came before the Chairman of Committees, who had to give them preliminary consideration, they were held to be unfitted to be handed over to the local tribunals, because they involve other interests as well as Scotch. With regard to the Corporation Bills most of those are wide-sweeping and ambitious. They deal with all questions almost that this experiment requires to be dealt with, very carefully, to see that it does not interfere with any general statute. The tribunal to be appointed under this Bill is one whose functions will be to decide questions of propriety and policy. It will have to consider the needs of a locality, and the fairness and reasonableness of the proposal made, just as a Parliamentary Committee would, and as men of the world would, apart from technicalities. I hope my hon. and learned Friend will be able, to say that the last word as to the composition of the Committee had not been said. It is very desirable to eliminate the element of officialism in the constitution of a body which should be as close an equivalent to a Parliamentary Committee as possible. If there is an indication of an open mind on this question, I will support the Second Reading of the Bill, because I cannot shut my eyes to the great demand from the municipal and commercial classes in Scotland for some Measure of this sort.
§ MR. S. HOARE (Norwich)
It is only natural that this discussion to-day should be of special interest to those hon. Members who represent Scotland; but, at the same time, Sir, I venture to think that the question before us is one which interests Members in England, Wales, and Ireland as much as those in Scotland. But, Sir, I do not think I should have ventured to interpose had it not been that it has fallen to my lot for some years to preside over those Committees to which frequent allusion has been made this evening; and especially has it been my lot to preside over Scotch Railway Bills. I have from time to time had to sit—not for the five days which my hon. Friend alluded to, but on one occasion elsewhere I had to sit for 22 or 23 days on 1588 Scotch Committees. And perhaps it is right that one of those who occupy the position of Chairmen of Private Bill Committees upstairs should express his opinion on the Bill which is now before us. Now, Sir, I fully realise that my right hon. Friend in proposing this Bill has done it because he believed that in Scotland—as I have no doubt is the case—there is a very strong demand that some of this business should be relegated from this House to Scotland, and so far, I think, he deserves the sympathy of both sides of the House. But I think, before we agree to the Second Reading of the Bill, we ought to realise whether or not by the new procedure all the varied interests that come before the Committees of the House are protected as thoroughly as we in this House consider they should be, and as they have been for a vast number of years. I think we must ask my right hon. Friend to satisfy us that these important rights shall be protected, and that this House, in cases of necessity, shall have a voice before any final decision is come to, if the House requires it. Now, Mr. Speaker, let us just for a moment consider the procedure of private Bills. Let us take a private Scotch Railway Bill, and see what it has to go through, and the care and attention with which it is examined. In the first place, it has to go before the Chairmen of the various Committees, to see if it is in conformity with the Standing Orders, and then, on the Second Reading, the House has the opportunity of expressing whether or not that Bill should go to a Committee upstairs. I know that the House is very cautious in stopping the progress of a Bill unless there is very good reason, but within the last three weeks it has fallen to my lot, and that of several of my hon. Friends, to stop a Bill introduced in this House by a gentleman unconnected with a certain locality, who wished to support a claim for waterworks in that district, and we were successful, even without going to a Division, in stopping a Bill which, evidently, the House unanimously considered was an absurd Bill. This merely shows the advantage it is to be able to come before the House first. If in the case I have alluded to there had been the approval of authorities, or officials, an inquiry would have been held in the district; the various villages and small towns interested would, 1589 at some cost both of time and money, have had to appear before that inquiry, whereas now the House, in a moment, without a Division, decided that they ought to be put to no expense whatever in the matter. Therefore I say that the Second Reading of a private Bill, although it rarely gives rise to a Debate, at the same time is an important safeguard in the starting of a private Bill. Then, Mr. Speaker, there is the question of petitions against that Bill. By a Committee downstairs deciding as to the locus standi the Committee upstairs is relieved of a very difficult matter. I notice in this Bill that the authority which will be set up is to decide questions of locus standi. I do not know whether they are to receive Committees in the same way as this House receives them; but I would say that, having had some experience in Committees, I consider it is of the greatest advantage to our deliberations that we should begin at once with the business before us, and not get those very irritating discussions as to whether this party or that party has a locus standi. I think it is infinitely better, and a great safeguard, that the question of locus standi is settled downstairs by an efficient Committee, so that no one can complain that we have not allowed this or that corporation, or this or that party, or this or that person, to be heard, because we would not give him a locus standi at that inquiry. Therefore I maintain that when a Bill comes before our Committee it has been through the ordeal of a Standing Orders Committee, it has been through the Second Reading here, and it comes to us only with such petitions against it as those in which the petitioners have proved that they have a proper locus standi. Then, it must be remembered, Mr. Speaker, that when the Bill is brought before us, it is brought before us with very strict rules of procedure, in accordance with Standing Orders. We have many of the most eminent counsel of the day appearing before us. I think I have had 10 or 12 this afternoon myself. We have the matter thrashed out in a way which, I believe, could not be surpassed in any other proceedings, whether legal or otherwise. I know not whether when this new authority is set up there will be the same rules as we go by; whether it will be necessary to have petitions, and to keep to the matter of 1590 those petitions alone. If we did not keep to that rule our labours would often be interminable. If we were to take evidence from any person coming into the room at a late period, who had not, according to the rules of the House, put in his objection to the Bill, we should have a very prolonged labour, and should not come, I think, to the conclusions which we, as a rule, are able to come to, at any rate, without a delay of many days. Then, after we find the preamble of the Bill proved, we go through the clauses one by one, and where we see an alteration is required we make it. These clauses can be altered and discussed, and eventually, with the amendments, and with the preamble proved, it is my duty to report the Bill to the House. When that Bill has been reported an opportunity again occurs to revise our decision, and then the Bill is reported, and again, comes on for the Third Reading. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin rather threw out the idea that our work was sometimes done hastily, and that our decisions are not always correct. I can easily understand that our decisions, like all human decisions, may not always be correct according to the views of everybody. My hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin threw out the idea that sometimes the work of these Committees was done hastily, and their decisions were not always correct. Well, those decisions may not always be correct. They, as a rule, are adopted by the House, and I must contradict, if I may do so, my right hon. Friend when he says that the work is done hastily, for, I believe, it is our desire that all information that is put before us shall be listened to. It is true sometimes when we think that counsel has put all that is required for our decision that we perhaps give him some gentle hint that we have made up our minds on that particular subject, but, as a rule, the decisions of the Committees upstairs are adopted by the House. I may say that in my not very long experience I can, at any rate, say that I do not remember the case of any Scotch Bill, over which Committee I have presided, when once decided, being brought before the House on the Third Reading and our decision being altered. Now, Mr. Speaker, we have to consider further whether, in the constitution of a new 1591 Committee by this Bill, we shall not lose every security, if I may say so, for the due consideration of private Bills. It is possible that some hon. Members for Scotland might object to the rule that is universally carried out in this House, and that is that no Scotch Member sits on a Scotch private Bill. We have always in the Bills to which I have alluded had four Englishmen to consider them, but, I venture again to repeat that the conclusions at which we arrived apparently met with the approval of Scotch Members, because our recommendations were not questioned when the Bills came before the House for the Third Reading. While I am a great supporter of people in the locality having a voice in the affairs, and expressing their views, I am inclined to think, in reference to Railway Bills, that they so often concern districts far wider than the district through which they might pass that it is a question whether a Select Committee of gentlemen entirely from Scotland would in the end be entirely advantageous. If I look, Mr. Speaker, at the present Bill, I find these safeguards conspicuous by their absence. My right hon. Friend in his very interesting remarks said that his object was to retain for this House the control over private legislation in Scotland as far as possible in the future as in the past. Now, I am afraid, after reading the Bill several times, that I cannot agree that this Measure will do that. Now, I am not going to criticise the Bill at any great length. In the first place, the object which is to take the place of our Private Bill Committee upstairs is to consist of two gentlemen selected from a panel and a sheriff. The two gentlemen are to be chosen by the Secretary for Scotland, and he is to take into consideration the importance of the Bill and other circumstances. Now, I am afraid myself that if our Committee that sits upstairs were selected by any one Member of this House, or any one Member of the Government, however eminent he might be, when his decision came to be questioned there might be some consideration and some discussion as to the formation of that Committee, that there has never been in this House. Although the decision of the Committee may have been questioned, we are always satisfied with the Committee selected. In selecting Members 1592 of the House on the various Bills they are selected with great care and great knowledge, too, and I feel confident that their system of selecting Members to take this important work in hand must be better, and must be more satisfactory, than the selection of any two men out of a panel by the Secretary for Scotland. Then my right hon. Friend, I dare say, will be glad to satisfy my mind as to the procedure for this Bill. The House must remember that there will be no Second Reading of the Bill, but, on the contrary, if I understand it right, the "order," I think it is so called, has to be considered by the Chairman of the House of Lords and the Chairman of Committee of this House, and unless they consider that the Bill goes beyond Scotland, or other circumstances, that Bill is to go back to the body in Scotland. Now, Mr. Speaker, while having great confidence in the decision of the Committees of the two Houses—and no one has more—I rather hesitate, as a Member of this House, that we should give up the right we ourselves possess to decide how a Bill, of the character of a Railway Bill or a Provisional Order so-called, should be dealt with, and that we should give up our right of having some control over what is done. I am also inclined to think that we are imposing a duty upon our Chairman of Committees for which we certainly never elected him, and a duty which might give rise to very great difficulties. As Chairman of the Committees he is to decide whether a Bill, under certain circumstances, should come to this House or not. Supposing in further proceedings there is an alteration in the Bill, he has again to decide and give an important decision with reference to what shall be done. Now, I can easily believe that if the Secretary for Scotland, in his appointment, were to appoint two men to sit on a certain Bill, and the House did not agree with that appointment, and felt that it was a wrong appointment like any other appointment by a great officer of State, this House would at the proper time allude to it in discussion. Now, Sir, when we come to the position of our Chairman of Committees, I cannot but feel that we should put him in a very serious position. We have to remember that when there has been serious opposition to a Bill; and when that Bill, having 1593 been discussed by this body set up in Scotland and then coming back to this House, we have to realise that there are various parties interested in the Bill—deeply interested in their desire that the Bill should be discussed by Members of this House—supposing, in his wisdom and according to his belief, our Chairman, or the Chairman of the House of Lords, were to decide that that Bill should not come before this House, and without the House having any voice in the matter the Chairman should decide that that Bill should not be discussed by this House, I can conceive it possible that hon. Members, who might feel aggrieved that this House had not had an opportunity of discussing the Bill, might take the opportunity, when it occurred, of calling attention to the line pursued by the Chairman of Committees in this House. That Chairman at the time might be sitting in his place, and he would be unable to answer, although he would be the only man who could state the reasons why that Bill had not been allowed to come before this House for discussion, and I am inclined to think that we should place upon his shoulders duties which we never anticipated he would have to undertake by passing on to him a function which we have hitherto kept in our own hands. There is another point, and that is, I take it, that this Provisional Order can come before a body in Scotland at any time of the year and not during the Session of Parliament, and I should like to ask the Lord Advocate whether he proposes, or expects, that the Chairman of Committees shall be constantly in attendance to take up these Orders whenever they come before him. Now, Mr. Speaker, if I could be satisfied that in the proposal of my right hon. Friend we have safeguarded all the interests in the same way in the future as we have safeguarded them in the past, I should now be ready, if the general feeling of Scotland was in favour of such a Bill. I should be ready, indeed, to support it warmly. I can quite believe that though I have ventured to speak—and I ventured to speak in a humble way—of our work on the Committees; though I ventured to speak of that work I really think there could be an improvement in our proceedings, but I rely on this as a matter for Parliament to deal with. It may be that the 1594 fees and expenses are unduly high, but that is a matter within our power to settled. I can also realise that under certain circumstances a local inquiry might be, if the people of the locality wished it, of advantage to a further inquiry here. I would also further say that I have found that, and think now, there should be a system by which it would not be necessary to go through the whole of the Committee work twice before each House. I think it might be possible, by a system of Joint Committees, that we might have only one Committee, and in that way we could settle at once for or against a Bill. One thing I am certain of, and that is that this Bill proposes a very great and very serious change, a change which, if introduced into Scotland, I can scarcely see why it should not be introduced into the law in England as well. Why, if it is good, should it not be introduced into other districts should they wish it? Are the labours of this House in reference to private Bills so big that they cannot undertake the work? So far as railway Bills are concerned, it must be patent to everyone that the line of hard work of railway Bills in this somewhat small country is gradually coming to an end, but the more serious questions affecting them have almost all been considered. The Light Railways Bill—and the light railways may be the railways of the future—does not come before us; and we shall have to consider some new, some small private lines, some minor alterations in stations, and such-like work. I do not think that we have a right to say that the work of private Bills is so heavy that this House cannot meet the emergency. But this Bill does not meet the question which I believe is in the minds of the Members for Scotland, that many of them would like to have a local inquiry before coming to Parliament on the question as to how it can best be done. I confess. Sir, that I do not quite like the idea of the plan that has been put in the Bill by my right hon. Friend. I would rather see this duty of inquiry carried on by Commissioners, Railway Commissioners, or others who thoroughly understand the work, and who know exactly the points they have to look to. I should prefer still more, were it possible, as my hon. Friend opposite suggested, that one or two of our Railway 1595 Committees, if desirable, should hold an inquiry as to local matters on the spot. I know not whether such a thing is possible, but this I do desire to add, and that is, that, whatever scheme is drawn up, I trust the House will retain in its own hands the power of having a final "yea" or "nay" in the matter. Private Bills, in the first instance and in the last instance, are, I understand, announced in the Private Bill Office. Now, I want to ask my right hon. Friend whether that gives us power to call for that order and to discuss it if we deem it desirable. If that power were given us on what may be called the Third Reading, and if we had an opportunity of reviewing a matter which had been passed, then a great deal of the difficulty would be removed; but I can see that there are difficulties in that, and, indeed, difficulties surrounding the whole matter. It would be useful to this House, it would be a great advantage to private Bill procedure, to the general work of this House, if, after having had these discussions this evening, it should lead to something definite and final in the future as to whether or not the question should be reopened, and, if so, how? Now, my right hon. Friend to-day will ask for the Second Reading of the Bill, and I would ask him whether, considering the difficulties in the minds of many on both sides of the House, on the Second Reading of the Bill he would take into consideration the suggestion of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin, and whether he would allow it to come to a Select Committee, where the people who will be most interested in carrying out the provisions of the Bill would have an opportunity of expressing their views, and see whether it could be worked out or not? We are all anxious that if the procedure of private Bills can be in any way facilitated, if it can be reduced in cost, and rendered easier to the people interested, we should be ready to support it; and, therefore, I think if this question for the Second Reading, which would show that we are willing to consider it, and we are willing to consider the points raised, and which we desire to be especially taken into consideration, we should be satisfied if the Select Committee were appointed to consider the Bill, and it would come back to us and we should have a further 1596 opportunity of considering it. As I said in the beginning, my right hon. Friend has brought forward this Bill with the desire to meet the requirements of the people in Scotland, and I know that he will realise that in making the criticisms I have done, I have made them because I have a strong belief in the old procedure. He may think, perhaps, that I am wedded to that particular work which has fallen to my lot, but at the same time I hope he will feel that I have only ventured to make these remarks with the one desire, that if any change is made it shall be one satisfactory to Scotland, and at the same time leave in the hands of this House that control which I consider they should always have.
§ *MR. J. B. BALFOUR (Clackmannan and Kinross)
I have listened with interest to the speech of the hon. Member with respect to a subject upon which he is eminently qualified to speak, but I infer from what he said that he does not quite appreciate the objections which are felt in Scotland to all Bills great or small, going through the course which he has described. He mentioned the various stages—and they were numerous—and the various costly proceedings at present adopted in the case of all private Bills; and he said, what I am quite sure we shall all agree in, that nothing was done hastily. I do not think anyone has charged this House or its Committees with doing anything hastily. I am afraid the grievance we feel in Scotland is rather of an opposite description. The feeling in Scotland is that while there can be no tribunal so good as Parliament for inquiries in regard to private Bills, if there were no other consideration than the quality of the work done, there would be no desire in Scotland to interfere with the present practice. But, then, you have always to consider whether you may not have too much of a good thing, whether you may not find your machinery too costly, too difficult, and too slow for doing the particular kind of work you have in hand, and I venture to say that it is considerations of this kind that have led in Scotland to a widespread feeling, manifested many years ago, and still existing, that in some shape or form there should be some 1597 method of pursuing in Scotland inquiries into, at all events, the smaller of the Measures which have to be promoted in that country. That, I think, we shall all be agreed upon. It is not a new question. There have been for years proposals by the most important and representative bodies in Scotland urging that something should be done in this direction. I hold in my hand a list of a Committee dated 1892, and which has carried forward the same movement ever since. I find the representatives of 51 municipalities, including Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee, and Aberdeen, as well as the leading chambers of commerce, and almost everybody that has an interest or title to speak, in favour of some amendment of the present procedure in Private Bills, which, however admirable it may be, if time and cost were immaterial, is unsuitable, and indeed prohibitory, in the case of smaller Measures. That, I think, would satisfy the aspirations of Scotland in this matter, and I understand that that is the object of the present Bill. [An HON. MEMBER: Is the right hon. Gentleman presenting a memorial in favour of the present Bill?] No, I am not. I am mentioning the number of bodies who have made an appeal of this sort. I am referring to what the hon. Member said, that the objection in Scotland is not to the impartiality or the zeal with which Parliamentary Committees do their work, but that for a very great number of smaller matters coming from Scotland some system less costly would be preferred. That at once suggested the difference between two classes of the Measures, one of which it has been the custom to deal with by private Bills and the other by Provisional Orders. Now, there is, under modern conditions, a very much larger number of smaller Measures as regards Scotland, at all events, than of larger Measures. There are certain private Bills, no doubt, which are well fitted for consideration by Parliament, but probably for every one of these there are 20 or 30 matters of smaller importance in regard to which the cost of Parliamentary inquiry would be entirely out of place. As I understand the object of this Bill, it is to deal with the whole subject, but it provides a means for separating the greater Bills, appropriate for being dealt 1598 with by the existing system, from the smaller Bills which it would be appropriate to deal with by a Provisional Order. I believe, from having seen a great deal of these matters, that it will be found to be more satisfactory to begin by proposing a Provisional Order, and allowing any Bill of such exceptional magnitude as to be fit to be dealt with by Private Bill procedure to be dealt with. That is, I understand, the proposal of this Bill. It is called Provisional Order Bill because it proceeds upon the assumption that, unless some cause is shown to the contrary, a Bill may be dealt with in the cheaper and simpler way. But then it provides, if the Bill is thought by the promoters not fit to be dealt with in the cheaper and simpler way, it shall be taken out of the Provisional Order class and relegated to the present system. That is an intelligible principle, and if it is capable of being carried out it is sound. As I understand this Bill, it provides that, unless the Chairmen of the two Houses are agreed, the Bill shall be dealt with by Provisional Order; if they are not agreed, it shall be dealt with as at present. It says, that if either Chairman is of the opinion that the proposal does not relate to Scotland only, or is not fit for a Provisional Order, it shall be dealt with by Private Bill, and the effect of that is, if I rightly understand it, that before a Measure can be dealt with by way of Provisional Order in the simpler and cheaper and local method, there must be an agreement by the Chairmen of the two Houses that it is fit to be dealt with in that way. That is a very important safeguard, and I should think that, with all the traditions of Parliament, those eminent persons when in doubt would give the benefit of the doubt in favour of procedure by private Bill. This is not a proposal to sweep away the whole of the private Bill procedure, but it is a proposal to discriminate and leave under the present system those Measures which are of such magnitude and importance that cannot be dealt with by Provisional Orders, but allowing the smaller matters to be dealt with by way of Provisional Order. We had some interesting statistics given us, and they were very significant, because they show that a vast proportion of the matters for Parliamentary sanction are 1599 of the Provisional Order class. If that be so, surely this Bill is a reasonable proposal if it is practical. If this Bill proposed to give to any official, I do not care how highly placed or important, what would truly be a legislative power or a veto upon legislation, I should be against it; but, if I rightly read the Bill, the Secretary for Scotland has not under it anything like the powers which some hon. Members seem to assume he has. I have looked through the Bill carefully, and if I have read it aright it does not contain any provision under which the Secretary for Scotland can either on his own motion reject or advance a Bill. He cannot do so in its inception, because that rests with the Chairmen of Committees. He cannot do at the second stage, because, if the report is in a certain direction, the Bill goes in the ordinary course. In Clause 3 there is a word as to which I should like an explanation from my right hon. Friend the Lord Advocate. I think it will be agreed that Clause 2 contemplates that if there is no report against the Bill going on, it is to go on; but undoubtedly there is in the latter part of Clause 3 a provision that the Secretary for Scotland may, if he thinks fit, take a certain step. Now, if that means that the Secretary for Scotland has the power after the matter has got that length—the point I refer to is on line 32—to stop the Bill, I should object to it, but I can hardly imagine that that is what is intended. I understand that in the absence of an adverse report, the Bill must go forward; but—and I should like to have an explanation from my right hon. Friend, because it will make a great difference, to my mind, if there is to be a power, after it has gone from the two Chairmen, to the Secretary for Scotland to stop it—if it were made clear that he had not such a power, it would be more acceptable. After that the Bill goes on in a certain course. Now, something has been said with regard to local inquiry. One hon. Member spoke of local inquiry as if it must be by some local body. That is not my understanding of the term "local inquiry," as applying to matters of this kind. I understand that "local inquiry" 1600 means inquiry in the locality as opposed to inquiry at Westminster. I am sure everyone interested—if an inquiry in the locality could be made in the presence of such a Committee as assembles at Westminster—would feel that it would be the best tribunal you could possibly get. If there could be a Joint Committee of both Houses to go and make a local inquiry in the locality, it seems to me that many of the objections would be obviated, and it would be unnecessary to bring up a large number of eersons to Westminster. Of course, anyone who has had occasion to consider this matter cannot fail to be sensible that the composition of the tribunal is attended with great difficulty. If you do not get a Committee of Parliament, then the aim should be to get a tribunal as near as you can to it. Take the case of a Bill where there is no opposition. If there is no opposition, why should the Bill come to Parliament at all? It would be quite superfluous. If there is opposition then there is a provision for the Bill, after the local inquiry, proceeding here. Something has been said in regard to the possibility of the Secretary for Scotland stepping in, as if he should decline a memorial. There, again, I should be glad to have an explanation from my right hon. Friend as to whether I rightly understand the Bill or not. If it is Sub-Section 5 of Section 7 that is referred to, I do not understand that that gives power to the Secretary for Scotland of his own motion to decline a memorial and allow the Bill to go on. The Secretary of State will be merely performing what is really a Ministerial act in giving effect to the opinion of the Committee. If that is so the inquiry would take its course before a Committee of Parliament. Therefore it seems to me, if that understanding of the Bill is right, there is no sufficient reason for declining to give this Bill a Second Reading. But there is another point, and it is one on which I confess I feel a very great deal of difficulty; that is the composition of the body which is to hear the evidence. I admit that that body, as it is described here, appears to be satisfactory, but if Members of Parliament could not be got to go down, then. I think the aim should be to get a body as nearly analogous as possible 1601 to that tribunal. That would, of course, at once condemn to my mind any proposal to set up a body of officials, because I think there can be no greater mistake than to substitute for a Committee of Parliament any official control, or any body having an official element. I therefore cannot approve of the introduction into this body of the sheriff, or any official, because there is nothing corresponding to that in a Committee of Parliament. Some reference has been made to the Railway Commission. I submit that there is no analogy whatever between the Railway Commission and the body which will be set up by this Bill. The Railway Commission is partly a legal and partly an administrative body; it has to construe agreements and Acts of Parliament. But the tribunal to be appointed under this Bill would have to decide questions of propriety and policy; it would have to consider the needs of the locality, and the fairness and the reasonableness of the proposals made, and to deal with all these matters as men of the world apart from technicalities. I hope my right hon. Friend will be able to assure the House that the last word as to the composition of the tribunal has not been said. I think he must feel that there is force in these objections; and, at all events, that it would be very desirable to eliminate anything which might seem to savour of officialism in the composition of a body which should be as near an equivalent of a Parliamentary Committee as possible. If there is some indication given that an open mind be kept upon that question, I shall be prepared to vote for the Second Reading of the Bill, because I cannot shut my eyes to the great demand, particularly from the municipal and commercial classes in Scotland, for some such measure, and it seems to me that, if some such amendments as I have suggested were made, a large part of the opposition with which the Bill has been received, will be met. There are many other points I should have liked to touch upon, but I will not now further detain the House.
§ MR. GRAHAM MURRAY
The time has come, I think, when it will be convenient that I should reply on the general Debate. I confess I do so with some difficulty, not from any want of confidence in the proposals of the Bill I 1602 have submitted, but because those who have been in the House during the progress of the Debate will, I think, admit that there has been such an extraordinary diversity of opinion and criticism that, to say the least of it, it is somewhat difficult to focus the argument in reply. I have heard it said in legal proceedings that, when a decision is given which pleases neither party the decision is almost sure to be right, and if I may apply that view to the argument to-night then I think this Bill has received the very highest praise. The Debate has suggested one or two questions. The first question is, is there a demand for a change in the present system? Upon that point the views expressed have been nearly unanimous. There have been certain exceptions. The hon. Member for Aberdeenshire said that there was no anxiety for a Measure of this kind, and the reason was, he said, because he had had no petitions sent to him in favour of the Bill from the 10,000 exceedingly intelligent people who have shown their intelligence by electing him for so many years. That is so true, that, well knowing the class of speech the hon. Gentleman was going to make, they gave this last and convincing test of their intelligence by not communicating with the hon. Gentleman on the subject. Then there was the hon. Member for Stroud, whose speech has, I think, already been disposed of by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bodmin. The hon. Member for Stroud was really in favour of the present system, because he thought that whatever is, is best. He spoke in terms of touching gratitude of the Parliamentary Bar, and what it had done for him. I am sure we all echo that sentiment, because the best thing I know about the Parliamentary Bar is that it has sent us such an excellent product as the hon. Member. While those two dissentient voices were raised, on the other hand every hon. Member who has addressed the House has testified to the unanimous opinion that there is in Scotland a necessity for some change. I need not go through it again, but one reason for that desire for change is the inadequate protection under the present system of the smaller interests. The hon. Member for Stroud a little misunderstood my position upon that 1603 matter. I never attacked the assiduity or the uprightness of Parliamentary Committees. I attacked the system because it makes it possible for large interests so to frighten the smaller interests, either by the prospect or by the actuality of expense, that the smaller interests are unable to defend themselves. I am supported in that view by the experience of the hon. Member for the Sowerby Division. He knows that I was not altogether speaking without some little knowledge, because I was one of those who rushed in where angels feared to tread, and for one brief period of my life I did practise before the Parliamentary Bar. The hon. Member for the Sowerby Division agrees that I have not overstated the case. But that is not the only testimony I have. I may quote a portion of a letter that I have received from a gentleman in Glasgow; I shall not give his name unless it is desired, but he is a gentleman of very considerable experience, and holds the same views as the hon. Member for Renfrewshire. He was one of the opponents of this Bill as the right hon. Gentleman behind me is, but he takes the same view as to the necessity of protecting smaller interests. Now, I was dealing with the matter of expenses, and, no doubt, in this Debate the question of whether there would be diminished expense under the Bill has been canvassed by certain hon. Members. I noticed also that the hon. Member for Caithness-shire, who really, so far as his criticisms of the Bill were concerned, rather resorted to that style of attack which is known in his own remote country, as "cursing at large," took occasion on this question of expense to recall a personal incident in my own career when I had the honour of appearing for the municipality of Glasgow, and actually walked away with a fee of £970. I am very much obliged to the hon. Member. I have been waiting ever since 1888 to have the honour of replying to Mr. Samuel Pope, who made that statement.
§ MR. GRAHAM MURRAY
It was Mr. James Colquhoun, the Town Treasurer of Glasgow, who gave the figures, but it 1604 was Mr. Samuel Pope who furnished the comment upon them. Mr. Pope said in a most apologetic voice that he had served the Glasgow Corporation for many years, and had never been able to take away so much plunder himself. He went on to say that any Member of the Parliamentary Bar, in which I suppose he included the hon. Member for Stroud, who was then an ornament of it, would, he was sure, be glad to give his professional assistance to Glasgow on the same terms. Now, what he did not mention was this: At that time I may say I was in a very fair practice at the Scottish Bar, and I was made, in pursuit of this inquiry, to go to Glasgow for either 21 or 23 days (I forget whether it was 21 or 23 days that the inquiry lasted), and, of course, I had absolutely to surrender the whole of my practice in Edinburgh during that time. All I can say is that if Mr. Pope or the hon. Member for Stroud would have consented to go for three weeks just about Whitsuntide, and take no briefs except one for £970, then various rumours I have heard must have been strangely unfounded. Upon this matter I would again call the witness that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Renfrewshire has so kindly given me. This gentleman gives an instance of a small Bill—he does not name it, but I take it that it was a common ordinary Bill, which presented no peculiar features. The inquiry as to it lasted in the House of Lords four days, and in the House of Commons five days; that is nine days in all; and he says that the counsel's fees amounted to £1,469 15s. A very moderate knowledge of proportion will show that £1,469 15s. for nine days at Westminster is rather larger remuneration than £970 for 21 days at Glasgow. And, again, upon this matter, I have noticed that several hon. Members have quoted with approbation two printed documents, which got their genesis from the respective town councils of Glasgow and Dundee. Of course, anything that comes from those great municipalities is worthy of respectful consideration. It has not been mentioned, by the way, that, so far as the capital of Scotland is concerned, the town council there passed a resolution in favour of the principle of the Bill; of course, reserving to themselves the right to make various proposals in 1605 Committee for the amendment of details. So far as Glasgow is concerned, I can only say that I had the honour of meeting a deputation of the town council, and I do not think they were quite at one with the somewhat picturesque epithets employed by Sir James Marwick. As far as regards Dundee, no one knows Sir Thomas Thornton better than I do. No doubt, to those unacquainted with him, he would be a very terrifying person, but I have had sufficient experience to know that Sir Thomas Thornton's roar is not so bad as it seems. Upon this matter of expense I at once contrasted the criticism of Glasgow and Dundee. I noticed that Sir Thomas Thornton, who said on the question of expense that it would be always necessary to have three counsel, points out that that would be just as expensive as the fees for the number of counsel they have to employ before a Committee upstairs. On the other hand, the practice of Glasgow is a singular comment upon that view, because not only on that inquiry to which I have already alluded had I the honour of representing them single-handed, but I notice that their practice in these modern days has not changed; because only the other day, when there was a very important inquiry, in which the Corporation of Glasgow were exceedingly interested—I mean that inquiry into the telephone system—although the telephone company was represented by four counsel, the Corporation of Glasgow were represented by only one. Therefore it seems to me that the practice of Glasgow shows that practical regard to economy, which counts for a great deal more than what they put down in their criticisms upon this Bill. Then the next question that has been mentioned is the question whether there ought to be local inquiries in the case of opposed Bills, to which the Provisional Order system is inapplicable. There, at any rate, there has been practical unanimity. I do not think a single hon. Member has said a word in favour of the present system. Of course, I am speaking only of opposed Bills of such a kind that the Provisional Order system would not be applicable to them. Then the next question is, should there be devolution or not? So far as I have analysed the Debate, there are only two hon. Members out of all those who 1606 have spoken, who have really gone against the principle of devolution. Those were the hon. Member for Leith, and the hon. Member for Wigtownshire; and both those hon. Members advocated a peripatetic Committee of Parliament. I said in my opening remarks that I did not think that that was a practical proposal, and I am borne out in that by finding absolute silence of all other hon. Members on the subject. Then, if there is to be devolution, what is to be the tribunal? Here, of course we have had a good deal of criticism. First, the hon. Member for Fife, in the course of one of his interesting and amusing speeches, objected very much to the panel, consisting of "men of experience in affairs," on the ground that it had something of a French smack about it. Well, there is an ultra-Scottish flavour in that criticism, but upon this whole question of the constitution of the tribunal, I may say at once—I do not think that I left any doubt about it in the speech I made in moving the Second Reading—that we have an open mind. What is more, I will say this: undoubtedly, there has been a great deal of misapprehension as to the persons whom we intend to form the constitution of a portion of this panel. In the memorial that came from Dundee there was actually this stupendous mistake made. It was imagined that the panel was intended to be formed entirely of provosts and town councillors. That, of course, is a fantastic rendering of the Bill. I perfectly agree with my right hon. Friend, who has just sat down, that the more nearly you can get the panel composed of the same class of material as that which forms the present Parliamentary Committees, the better the panel will be. I know of no reason why we should not hope that the panel will be very largely reinforced by Members of Parliament. I do not see very clearly how we can limit by definition the persons who ought to be in the panel, and I do not know that any better phrase, if a phrase is necessary at all, has been suggested than the one used in the Bill—"men of experience in affairs," which would surely cover even Scottish Members of Parliament. The House will notice that the question of who is to be on the panel, and the question of the method by which you are to select that 1607 panel, are two different questions. The method of selection is, perhaps, the bigger question of the two, and here, again, I can only say that we are not in any way wedded to the propositions which are laid down in the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aberdeenshire threw a certain amount of ridicule on our proposals for the constitution of the panel, and compared them with the methods by which, in old days, the council was elected in Venice. That criticism does not strike me as particularly forcible, because we know that the council of Venice conducted its affairs for a considerable period with great success. I must say, however, that we have not derived much assistance from the speeches of any hon. Gentlemen, because no two of them agreed as to what would be better than what is proposed in the Bill. Two hon. Members preferred a peripatetic Committee of Parliament; one was in favour of direct nomination. I must say that the hon. Member for Leith was in error about Glasgow, because the Glasgow paper is undoubtedly in favour of direct nomination. The hon. Member for the Sowerby Division wanted the panel to be composed of representatives directly elected by some body, which in its turn should be an elected body. I have shown the House that there has been—is—no unanimity as to what the best plan would be. I can only assure the House that if the sense of the House can be ascertained as to what would make the best panel, and what would be the best method of electing it, we shall be prepared to accept amendments in that sense to the Bill. Now, Sir, hitherto I have been speaking of what may be called the lay members of the tribunal. There has been considerable criticism of the proposals in the Bill as to the position which shall be assigned to the sheriff. There, again, let me say that we do not look upon the question of the sheriff being on the panel as any vital part of the Bill. I will tell hon. Members why we propose to put the sheriff on the panel. Under the present system the Committee are represented so far as the Chairmen are concerned by a body of Chairmen who, as hon. Members know, are selected from Members of undoubted experience by the Committee of Selection. It is certainly necessary, I 1608 think, in the proceedings of any Committee of this sort, that there should be somebody at the head of the Committee who is more or less acquainted with the laws of evidence, and able to guide the discussion in proper lines, and we thought that the sheriff was not an inappropriate person to fill those qualifications. As I mentioned before, the sheriff, although he is a practising lawyer, is something more than a practising lawyer, he is a practical administrator; and, what is still move to the purpose, as a matter of fact, the sheriffs have done most excellent work in connection with the Provisional Order system. The sheriffs have, as a matter of fact, the conduct of inquiries under the Provisional Order system, and have fulfilled those duties with extraordinary success. Therefore I do not see that it was any very great stretch of confidence to suppose that the sheriff would do as well under this enlarged system of Provisional Orders as he undoubtedly has done in connection with the present system. Then with reference to devolution, and with reference to the tribunal to be selected and the safeguards to be provided. One peculiarity in this Debate has been that no one, I think, has criticised the proposal of the Bill, by which it is intended to divide the Measures into Measures appropriate for private Bill legislation and Measures appropriate for procedure by Provisional Order. Therefore I think I may fairly assume that the proposals of the Bill commend themselves to the general sense of the House. With regard to the position of the Secretary for Scotland, both the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Sowerby Division have expressed the view that I was right in saying that the Secretary for Scotland has not really the absolute powers which are supposed to be conferred upon him. No doubt I have not convinced my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, but at the same time, if he will allow me to say so, he has simply reiterated his charges, and did not for one moment face the argument which I submitted to him. In this matter I should like, in answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan, to tell him that I entirely assent to his interpretation 1609 upon the two matters that he inquired about—as to the powers of the Secretary for Scotland in Clause 3, and in the clause about the refusal of the memorial. If the matter is not clear, we are most anxious that it should be made clear beyond all doubt when we get into Committee. He certainly expressed our view of the Bill when he gave his interpretation of those two clauses. On the other hand, the hon. Member for Leith says that his opposition has nothing to do with the question of the Secretary for Scotland; he objects to what he calls the multiplication of boards in Edinburgh, and he went on to indulge in some general diatribes against officialism. It is fair to remind the hon. Member that, so far as I know, the only new board created in recent years in Edinburgh is the Local Government Board, and that was established by the Government of which the hon. Gentleman himself was a distinguished Member. I fail to see how it can be said that under the present board there is the creation of any new Department. Our great object has been not to create any new board or any new Departments. In fact, it was to avoid the creation of a new Department that the carriage of the Order was proposed to be devolved upon the Secretary for Scotland. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Stroud said that the Bill substituted the Secretary for Scotland for Parliament, and he said also that the power of this House would be gone in regard to private Bills. Now, I cannot help thinking that that language, when it is really confronted with the Bill, is nothing less than language of exaggeration. My hon. Friend's argument as to the power of the House being gone, and as to substituting the Secretary of State for this House would apply just as well to the Provisional Order system. ["No, no!"] I say yes, for this reason. So far as the initial stages of a Bill are concerned the only change that will be made by this Bill is this: that in the case of an unopposed Bill, under this new 1610 order there is not necessarily a confirming Bill, while, on the other hand, under the present system, there must be a confirming Bill. In the case of opposed Bills, the opposition has an absolute right to bring the matter before this House; I am not talking, of course, of a case of frivolous opposition, but in the case of any real or serious opposition this House is the absolute arbiter of the destiny of the Bill. Take the case of unopposed orders under the present system. Where is the control of this House upon an unopposed order? As a matter of course there is the stage of the Third Reading, but how many instances can my hon. Friend give me where this House has opposed, on the Third Reading, a Provisional Order Bill, which was unopposed? When a Bill is unopposed it does not go to a Committee of this House, and the only check this House can have is the check which it exercises through the Chairman of Committees. That check is equally given under the scheme of this Bill. Accordingly, I say again, I do think that my hon. Friend's language is the language of exaggeration, because, although I admit that there is a technical difference in the two sets of procedure, there will be as much practical control under the new system as there is under the present. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin enjoined me to be of good courage, and said the Bill was not to be despaired of. He proposed that we should have a Select Committee in order that we might see him having an afternoon with various most estimable persons. Now, there may be some things to be said about a Select Committee, but I am afraid there must be some other reasons given than that. On the question of a Committee, it is rather early to speak about that, but there, again, I have no doubt we shall be perfectly prepared to consider the suggestions that have been made to us in the course of this Debate. Parliamentary control is certainly, in our view, the essence of this Bill; and having listened to the whole of this Debate I confess that 1611 I do not think the Bill has been much infringed upon in the way of showing that Parliamentary control is not maintained. Now, Sir, it has been my fate before now to be a kind of Athanasius contra mundum, and I am not alarmed at the amount of criticism that has been directed against this Bill; but I cannot help thinking that when this Debate comes to be scanned, as it will be scanned in Scotland, it will be found that not only are the criticisms that have been directed against this Bill mutually self-destructive, but also that hon. Members have not really addressed themselves to the problems which they have to face. I could perfectly understand opposition to this Bill, if that opposition were based upon the view that there was no necessity for any change; but, inasmuch as there has been a chorus of unanimity on the necessity of a change, I think that hon. Members opposite, and, for the matter of that, hon. Members behind me, too, are bound to address themselves to a practical solution of the question. That practical solution must depend upon these questions: first, are you, or are you not, going to have devolution; then, when you have settled whether or not you will have devolution, the question is, have you maintained adequate Parliamentary control? We have had a great deal of sporadic criticism to-night, but very little criticism of the scheme of the Bill as a whole; and, although, as I say, there has not been much speaking in favour of the Bill, yet I feel that very little, because I am perfectly certain about public opinion in Scotland; and I think some of the hon. Gentleman who have spoken to-night will not have lived very long before they find that out also. At present I do not think that they have, by their criticisms to-night, at all helped us to really solve the problem which they all say they are anxious to solve, but to which they have contributed no practical, rational solution.
SIR T. D. GIBSON CARMICHAEL (Edinburgh, Midlothian)
The hon. Gentleman 1612 the Member for Peebles and Selkirk said at an early period in this Debate that anyone who lived in Scotland, as he did, would know that there was a strong feeling in favour of this Bill. I myself live in Scotland, and I venture to doubt very much whether there is any general desire for this Bill. The hon. Member said that any Scotch Member who voted against this Bill would incur a very grave responsibility. I am not going to incur that grave responsibility, because I am not going to vote against the Second Reading of this Bill. I have appeared far too often before Scotch audiences not to know that it is a bad thing to have voted against any Measure of this kind. On the other hand, I am not sure that I am going to vote in favour of the Bill. I believe there is a desire in Scotland for a Bill to deal with this subject, provided that the Bill is one to give to Scotland in these matters cheapness and simplicity, and a tribunal which will command respect. The case cited by the Lord Advocate, interesting to himself and many others, rather showed that there was need for some reform which would secure cheapness and simplicity. I am not at all sure that this Bill will tend to cheapness, and as to the matter of simplicity. I believe the Bill will complicate rather than simplify procedure. I am not one of those who are afraid of increasing the power of the Secretary for Scotland. I know there are some Scotch Members who apparently think that the Secretary for Scotland is a big enough man already. I do not hold that view. My own view is that the Secretary for Scotland ought to be a great and powerful man, and I should be glad to see him one of the most prominent men in the Cabinet, but any additional powers conferred upon him must be conferred in such a way that they will command respect in Scotland. Unless I entirely misread the feeling in Scotland, I do not think the tribunal proposed in this Bill is one that will command respect. I was glad to hear from 1613 the Lord Advocate, and I think all Scotch Members will be glad to hear, that the constitution of that tribunal is not to be regarded as a vital part of the Bill. I had hoped that the Lord Advocate, recognising, as he must have done, that the tribunal he proposes is looked upon with no more favour on his own side of the House than on this, would have pointed out some possible alternative. He objected to the notion of a peripatetic Committee or Commission, and I confess that I quite agree with him in that objection. It might be an enjoyable holiday for some English Members to go to Scotland on private Bill business, and some compensation might be found by appointing Scotch Members to deal similarly with English Bills, with the opportunity of spending a fortnight on business—and fishing—in Hampshire. But, seriously, the notion of a peripatetic Committee is quite out of the question, and I am glad the Lord Advocate is against it. There is one matter on which I should like to ask for information, and that is whether Scotch Members in this House, after the passing of this Bill, are to continue to serve on Private Bill Committees. If the private Bills we bring up from Scotland are to be dealt with, not by ourselves, but by other gentlemen "experienced in affairs," why are we to continue to serve on Private Bill Committees at all? We have heard a good deal about the criticisms of this Bill that have come from Scotland. It has been pointed out by the Lord Advocate that the city of Edinburgh has not expressed any disapproval of the Bill, and I have yet to learn that the opinion of the city of Edinburgh is not as good as that of Glasgow or Dundee. I think Edinburgh has taken a perfectly right course in not opposing the Second Reading, and in simply pointing out that the Bill is capable of great alterations in the way of amendment and improvement. A Scotchman who came to see me to-day, a man who is, I imagine, a "man experienced in affairs," at any rate a man who has had great experience in Scotch local affairs, and who is a good Conservative, said to me, "I do not think the Bill will do us much good, but I do not think it will do us much harm." I think that is about the opinion of Scotchmen generally. I should have been glad to support a Bill having the object for which 1614 this Bill is intended, but unless we have some clearer assurance than we have had, that the tribunal proposed will be one which will really command respect in Scotland, I shall not be prepared to vote for the Second Reading.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR,) Manchester, E.
I feel it is impossible to resist this Motion, as I am aware that there are many Members on both sides of the House who are very desirous of laying their opinions before the House. But I hope that when the Debate is resumed on an early date—Monday, I hope—hon. Gentlemen will remember that we have been anxious to give opportunity for ample discussion of the Bill, and will not trespass too long on the time at our disposal.
§ Debate adjourned till Monday next.