HC Deb 20 February 1899 vol 66 cc1468-70

I beg to ask leave to introduce a Bill to provide for improving and extending the procedure for obtaining Parliamentary powers by way of Provisional Orders in matters relating to Scotland. Sir, as honourable Members are aware, there have been many previous attempts to legislate in this direction, the object being chiefly to provide for a local inquiry with the cheapness, expedition, and satisfaction which, a local inquiry would give, and, at the same time, to retain the effective control of Parliament. Honourable Members will remember that the Bill of the Government of last year signalised a new departure, because it attempted to solve the problem by means of introducing an extended Provisional Order system, at the same time recognising that certain subjects ought to be kept within the domain of private Bills, and granting means by which such subjects should be so decided. Now that Bill was brought in late in the Session, and committed to a Select Committee. In the report of that Committee, Mr. Speaker, you will find practical unanimity upon the question of the Provisional Order system being a practical and a better solution than the private Bill system. Accordingly the present Bill is a repetition of the Bill of last year upon that point. The real difficulty furnished by the report was the question of the constitution of the Committee. Many honourable Members were of the opinion, and expressed that opinion, that the best means would be to leave the inquiry under the Provisional Order to a tribunal composed of Members of Parliament. But there were very grave difficulties in the way of that proposal, especially in view of the arguments adduced by the two Chairmen of Committees as to the practical impossibility of getting a sufficient number of Members to serve. I need scarcely point out that that difficulty would be infinitely increased if the system were extended to other portions of the United Kingdom. Now, the Government feel quite certain that any legislation that they propose on this subject for the acceptance of the House must be capable of extension to other parts of the United Kingdom. I believe that in saying that I have the assent of honourable Members who represent here Irish and Welsh constituencies, although I do not think this is a question of nationality, but a question of convenience. Now the Bill of the Government of last year provided for the selection of a tribunal by the somewhat cumbrous and elaborate method of electing electors who were afterwards to elect certain other persons. In the Bill of this year we have taken the precaution to sweep away all that cumbrous machinery, and we have left the selection of persons to the two Chairmen of Committees of the two Houses, acting jointly with the Secretary for Scotland. At the same time we have given an indication in the Bill that, although the persons selected are not necessarily to be Members of this House or of the House of Lords, yet Members of either House are not to be ineligible if there are Members willing to give their services. The Bill of last year is reproduced, except in this one particular. This Bill practically, except in minor particulars, is really the Bill as it left the hands of the Select Committee, with those changes which I have indicated. I have only to ask the good offices of the House in favour of this proposal. The right honourable Gentleman the Member for Stirling Burghs and the honourable Member for East Fife have both spoken during the Recess in terms decidedly friendly to the legislation contained in this Bill. The right honourable Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition has again given us words of encouragement for this legislation. He said in his speech the first time we heard him this Session that there were certain rocks ahead, and that I knew what they were, and if they could be either avoided or blown up then the Measure would be safe. I hope the right honourable Gentleman will find that we have proceeded rather on the lines of pilotage than of dynamite. The Bill, as it is, is the result of much experience, and I hope that in this Session it may appear upon the Statute Book of this realm.


The right honourable Gentleman in his speech has made a pointed reference to me. I am not surprised at that, because this is a subject we have had before us so often in so many different forms that an old Member like me cannot help taking a deep interest in it. The right honourable Gentleman, in his new scheme, has certainly shown a great disposition to meet the objections that were made to the previous project. And while I am anxious not to express too sanguine a hope of what may happen when we see the actual provisions of the Bill, I think, from what the right honourable Gentleman has said, that he may possibly have hit upon a method of meeting what is desired in this case better than those which were adopted before. At all events, he may be sure that there will be every desire on the part of those on this side of the House to take a favourable view of the Measure if we can, and, if possible, to pass it into law.

Leave to introduce the Bill was given.

The three Bills were formally introduced, and read a first time.