Motion made, and Question proposed—
That all Petitions against the Bill presented six clear days before the meeting of the Committee be referred to the Committee; that the Petitioners praying to be heard by themselves, their counsel, or agents, be heard against the Bill, and counsel heard in support of the Bill."—(Mr. Bryce.)
§ MR. BRYCE (Aberdeen, S.)
Mr. Speaker, I rise to move the Motion which 1126 stands in my name on the Paper; and as I understand this Motion is agreed to, I will direct my attention, in the two or three words which I have to say, to the question of the Amendment that stands in the name of my right honourable Friend the President of the Board of Trade. My object in moving this Motion is to secure not only that this Bill, which involves large questions of public policy, and which has excited unusual interest in the country, should be taken to a strong Committee, but that that Committee should not be unnecessarily fettered by the purely technical rules of the House. It has, however, been represented to me that the width of the words in which my Motion is drawn might have the effect of exposing the promoters to great worry and expense in defending the Bill against persons having really no particular interest in the matter, and of exposing the Committee to the possibility of their time being taken up and their patience exhausted by the interposition of importunate busy-bodies and of persons with perfectly good intentions but ill-regulated minds, who are commonly called "cranks." Nothing is further from my intention than to impose that additional labour on the Committee, or that additional cost on the promoters, and therefore I am prepared, if the promoters will give an assurance to the House that they will not take any technical objection, on the ground of locus standi, to any person who may have substantial interest or view which the Committee itself shall consider ought to be heard, to accept the Amendment put on the Paper by the President of the Board of Trade, to insert the words, "Subject to the Rules, Orders, and Proceedings of this House." I hope that assurance will be given, and that it will be possible to ensure that the inquiry shall be complete, and that the Committee shall not be debarred from hearing anyone whom they think ought to be heard.
§ MR. COSMO BONSOR (Surrey, Wimbledon)
Mr. Speaker, I have listened with great attention to the speech of the right honourable Gentleman, and I rise at once to accept the proposal which he has made. I think we are absolutely at one in wishing that this Bill should be discussed as openly as 1127 possible before a strong Committee of this House. I understand that the right honourable Gentleman is now willing that the forms of the House should exclude all persons who have no substantial interest in the South Eastern and London, Chatham, and Dover systems. My original opposition to the honourable Gentleman's proposal was based on the fact that I could not ask my shareholders to go to the great expense of defending their Bill against petitioners coming from all over the Kingdom. I will undertake that no objection will be made on the ground of want of locus standi against anybody interested in the South Eastern and London, Chatham, and Dover systems if the Committee consider they have substantial interests or views which deserve to be heard. We wish, however, to exclude blackmailers and "Daily Mailers" from this inquiry.
§ MR. PICKERSGILL (Bethnal Green, S.W.)
Mr. Speaker, I should like to point out to the House that there are many precedents for the omission of these words which the President of the Hoard of Trade desires to insert. They were omitted in the case of the Birmingham Water Bill of 1892. It may be said that that was not a railway Bill, but the words were also omitted in the case of the Metropolitan Railway Bill, in, I think, the same year, or the year before. I shall not venture to take the responsibility of dividing the House on this question, but I do not think that the assurance of the honourable Gentleman opposite quite meets the case, or that I fully understand it. In the ordinary course, according to the Rules of the House, the Court of Referees would have to decide the question of locus standi. That would, I think, be very objectionable in this case, because the Referees are governed by the practice of the House, and would have to decide strictly as a court of law decides— in accordance with precedent. Therefore I think we should have an assurance that the question of locus standi in regard to this Bill shall not be decided by the Court of Referees, but that it shall be at the discretion of the Committee whether or not petitioners should be heard.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE (Mr. C. T. RITCHIE,) Croydon
Mr. Speaker, I understand from my honourable Friend that that is practically what he has undertaken to do. Where petitioners have a substantial interest and view, which it is desirable should be put before the Committee, they shall not be governed or controlled by the ordinary locus standi, but may call witnesses, and the promoters will not object. That is, I understand, the view of my honourable Friend.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE
I think that will be satisfactory to my right honourable Friend opposite, and under those circumstances I move the insertion of the words, "Subject to the Rules, Orders, and proceedings of this House."
§ Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
§ Ordered, That, subject to the Rules, Orders, and Proceedings of this House, all Petitions against the Bill presented Six clear days before the meeting of the Committee be referred to the Committee; that the Petitioners praying to be heard by themselves, Counsel, or Agents, be heard against the Bill, and Counsel heard in support of the Bill.
§ Ordered, That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers, and records.
§ Ordered, That Five be the quorum.— (Mr. Bryce.)