HC Deb 16 March 1900 vol 80 cc1053-9

Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment to Question [15th March], "That the Committee of Selection do appoint a Committee, not exceeding Seven Members, to whom shall be committed the following private Bills by which it is proposed to supply electric power:—

(read a second time on Thursday, 1st March)."—(Lord Balcarres.)

And which Amendment was— To leave out the words 'the Committee of Selection do appoint a Committee, not exceeding Seven Members,' in order to insert the words 'a Select Committee be appointed' instead thereof."—(Mr. Galloway.)

Question again proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

Debate resumed.


I have to apologise for not being in my place yesterday, but I had an appointment elsewhere and was not able to be present. There is one point in which I am in agreement with my hon. friend the Member for South-west Manchester in reference to these proposals, and there is also a point in which we are in dispute. The point in agreement is that these Bills are so important in character that they ought not to be referred to an ordinary Private Bill Committee. That is the point in agreement between us; but when we come to the character of the Committee to which they should be referred my hon. friend and myself at once diverge. My hon. friend proposes that the Committee to which these Bills should be referred should be a Select Committee. Now, I have two objections to their being referred to a Select Committee. One objection is that if they are referred to a Select Committee they would have, in addition to passing through that Committee, to pass through another Committee. That is a very serious objection, because it would mean inevitable delay, and probably the loss of the Bills this year. The Select Committee does not stand in the position of the ordinary Private Bill Committee, but I have another objection, and that is this. A Select Committee is a Committee nominated by this House, selected from both sides of the House, and I contend that is not at all the way to select a Committee to consider Bills of this important character. Gentlemen are selected to serve on the Committee who either offer to serve because of the interest they take upon the subject or because they represent one side or the other of the two parties interested, and that I maintain is not the kind of Committee which ought to deal with these Bills. We want a perfectly independent Committee selected by the ordinary tribunal, the Committee of Selection, composed of gentlemen who have no interest in the Bills except to hear and judge the evidence which is put before them. It is felt by many that a Committee to which other Bills might be referred, which is not specifically constituted for a special class of Bills, will not be strong enough to deal with these. Let it be remembered that this is a new departure, and if the House assent to these Bills it will assent to a very important departure. The circumstances of the case justify the House in assenting to that departure, but it ought to take care that the Committee to which these Bills are referred should be specially selected by the Committee of Selection for this purpose, and that the Committee ought not to be so small a Committee as the ordinary Private Bill Committee. For the reason that a Select Committee is a Committee which is largely composed of partisans of either one side or the other, and for the other reasons I have mentioned, I object to a Select Committee. I support the motion of my noble friend because I think the Committee should be a stronger Committee than the ordinary Private Bill Committee.

MR. BRYCE (Aberdeen, S.)

The House has before it what is really a very important question, because it involves far greater measures than those which come before the House by means of a Private Bill. We have to choose between three kinds of Committees to which these Bills might be referred. There is the ordinary Private Bill Committee, then there is the Hybrid Committee, and thirdly there is a Select Committee. There is a fourth course which might be taken, and I am not sure, but for one objection which I should like to mention, but what that would not be the best course of all. I think the best thing would be to have a Joint Committee of both Houses; at the same time I quite appreciate the fact that if these Bills were referred to such a Committee the opponents of the Bills might feel that if in a case of this kind the Report of the Committee went against them they would lose the opportunity of bringing them before a Committee of this House. I think there is a great deal to be said in favour of having a Committee of such strength and dignity as would be obtained by the appointment of a Committee of both Houses. Clearly the ordinary Private Bill Committee could not deal with a matter of this kind. It is admitted on all sides that the magnitude and gravity of the matter is such that it ought to be referred to a Committee of very great strength. I do not think a Select Committee would necessarily be the partisan Committee which the right hon. Gentleman suggested. It is perfectly true that the general tendency of such Committees has been to become partisan Committees, but it is not their essential quality. I think it is only right that on a Select Committee there should be one partisan of each side to see fair play, but the rest of the Committee should be absolutely impartial. At the same time I admit that there is a great deal in what the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade has said, and the same objection applies equally to the Hybrid Committee. Therefore, we come to the third class of Committee. That is a Committee appointed by the Committee of Selection, which would be absolutely impartial, and I do not see why my hon. friend should not be satisfied with such a Committee. We are all well satisfied with the Committee of Selection, which has discharged its duties well for many years. We know now the views that have been expressed as to the shape which this Committee ought to take, and I cannot but think that effect will only be given to those views by the appointment of a strong Committee of seven members which is strictly impartial. I do not think we can doubt for a moment but that the Committee of Selection will take pains to select only such persons as have no interest one way or the other. This discussion has been very valuable, and I think now both my hon. friends on this side of the House and upon that opposite may safely leave the matter to the Committee of Selection.

*MR. JOHN ELLIS (Nottinghamshire, Rushcliffe)

The right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down made a suggestion which, if really before us, would deserve careful examination. But as I understand the question before the House, a motion has been made by the noble Lord to refer these Bills to a Committee appointed by the Committee of Selection. Since then an Amendment has been made by the hon. Member for South-west Manchester in favour of this House appointing the Committee, but I do not gather that he proposes to press that Amendment very strongly. I rise to support the motion of the noble Lord. I have a very strong feeling myself that we have gone very much too far in the matter of Hybrid Committees, which have grown almost to be a scandal, and I hope we have nearly seen the last of them. I am in perfect agreement with those who say that the ordinary Private Bill Committee is too small for a case of this kind, and I entirely approve of these Bills being referred to a larger Committee. What we want to do in this case is to maintain and strengthen, if we can, the principle adopted by the Private Bill Committee, the fundamental idea of which is that the whole element of advocacy is excluded. Hon. Members who are appointed on a Private Bill Committee have to sit de die in diem, and they have to make a declaration that neither they nor their constituents are interested in the subject matter referred to the Committee, and the chairman, who has the casting vote, is a man of great experience, not selected by the Committee itself, but by the Committee of Selection. That was the system set up in this House in 1844 for Railway Bills, and as regards others in 1855, and it has worked most admirably as an efficient tribunal. In this case we can trust the Committee of Selection to find seven members. I have a motion on the Paper which is almost in the same terms as that of the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Monk), and my object was to support the noble Lord in his motion to refer this matter not to a Committee of this House or to a Select Committee, but to an enlarged Private Bill Committee.

MR. GALLOWAY (Manchester, S.W.)

I think I may be allowed to say that the result of this interesting debate shows that I was fully justified in bringing my Amendment forward, because the original motion was that, although the Committee was to be composed of seven members, three should form a quorum. I now desire to ask leave to ask the noble Lord, if I agree to withdraw my Amendment, will he agree to withdraw that part of his motion in favour of three members forming a quorum, and say that the whole seven only should form a quorum.

*SIR HENRY FOWLER (Wolverhampton, E.)

I have taken some interest in private Bill legislation, and when I had the honour to occupy the position now occupied by my right honourable friend opposite, I was confronted with this question of the appointment of Hybrid Committees, and I then said that I would not propose a Hybrid Committee again. I agree with every word that the hon. Member for Rushcliffe has said in respect to them. I think these Private Bill Committees are and should be considered judicial bodies, and that no man ought to sit upon them who has, personally, or whose constituents have the slightest interest in the matters with which they have to deal. I feel that of late years the character of this House has been imperilled by its nominating gentleman on Select Committees to represent various interests, and I think the time has come when that representation of interests should cease if the House is to keep the confidence of the country as a just and impartial body, and the Committees of the House are to be regarded as absolutely impartial tribunals. Parties affected should appear by counsel, not by members of the Committee who are at once judges and jury. In the case of these Bills there should not be a quorum of the Committee. The same rule that prevails in Private Bill Committees should apply. Every member of the Committee to which these Bills are referred should be bound to hear and judge the evidence. What does a quorummean? It means that gentlemen have appointments elsewhere when they ought to be in attendance on the Committee, and I have seen such a scandalous thing as members of a Committee coming in to vote for resolutions and amendments without having heard a word of the evidence. I quite agree with the President of the Local Government Board that this should be a strong Committee of seven members, and that in all other respects it should fulfil all the obligations and be subject to all liabilities of the ordinary Private Bill Committee.

*LORD BALCARRES (Lancashire, Chorley)

I would merely like to say, in the event of my hon. friend withdrawing his Amendment, I shall be prepared to omit the motion standing in my name that three shall form a quorum.


I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question again proposed.

SIR JOHN BRUNNER (Cheshire, Northwich)

I desire to submit to the President of the Board of Trade an Amendment to omit the words "not exceeding," and in their place insert "of." Everybody who has spoken upon the matter has taken it for granted that there will be seven members on the Committee. It has been the guiding principle of the argument put forward that it should be a large Committee, and I think the House would be willing to express that opinion by accepting this Amendment. I beg to move.

Amendment proposed— To leave out the words 'not exceeding,' and insert the word 'of.' "—(Sir John Brunner.)

MR. HALSEY (Hertfordshire, Watford)

The invariable practice of the Committee of Selection upon receiving the Instruction, "A Committee not exceeding seven members, "would be to appoint seven members, and I do not think that that practice has ever been departed from. Owing to my having been in the country I did not hear the beginning of the debate, but, from what I have heard, may I take this opportunity of expressing my satisfaction that there is a prospect of the Amendment of my hon. friend the Member for Gloucester being accepted, because I think it is most desirable that this should be a Committee under the ordinary rules that govern Committees on Private Bills. I was glad to hear what the right hon. Gentleman opposite said about Hybrid Committees, because it does seem to me that the Committee ought to be in the position of a judicial body and that partisans should be excluded from it. I hope that upon similar propositions the House will bear in mind the suggestion which the right hon. Gentleman has made.


This Amendment deals with a matter which, to my mind, is of great importance, for it will mean a declaration by the House of the principle which has just been enunciated.


After what my hon. friend the Chairman of the Committee of Selection has said it would appear that this Amendment is not necessary, but at the same time I cannot see any harm in it. It makes it perfectly plain what the House desires, and I would suggest that it be accepted.

Amendment agreed to.

Main Question, as amended, put and agreed to.

Ordered, That the Committee of Selection do appoint a Committee of Seven Members, to whom shall be committed the following Private Bills by which it is proposed to supply electric power—

Lancashire Electric Power Bill,

Durham (County of) Electric Power Supply Bill,

South Wales Electrical Power Distribution Bill,

Tyneside Electric Power Bill,

(read a second time on Thursday, 1st March).

Ordered, That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers, and records.

Ordered, That the Committee be subject to the Standing Orders relative to the proceedings of Committees on Opposed Bills (except that fixing the number of Members).—(Mr. Monk.)