HC Deb 19 March 1900 vol 80 cc1165-72

I have put on the Paper a motion dealing with the method of procedure in regard to the Dublin Corporation Bill, and perhaps as it is somewhat unusual though not unprecedented, I ought to make a short statement with regard to it. The importance of this Bill is such that it has induced the Chairman of the House of Lords Committee and myself to consent to the Bill being referred to a Joint Committee of the two Houses. First of all I think the importance of this Bill will be acknowledged, and by nobody more so than by the opponents of the Bill who during the last session of Parliament gave very strenuous opposition to the Bill. Now the Bill affects very many interests, and I do not think it will be contended that it is anything but a Bill of great importance. Secondly it is extremely desirable to avoid, if possible, any conflict between the two Houses in regard to this measure. Unfortunately, last year a conflict was generated in the expiring days of the session in regard to it which led to the Bill being dropped. The Bill passed this House on consideration by a majority of 162, and it passed its Third Reading unanimously, and yet unfortunately in the other House the extension proposals of the Bill were thrown out in Committee. I think it is extremely desirable if we can to prevent a recurrence of this unfortunate circumstance, and I believe if the House were to adopt the proposal which the Lords Chairman and I now make, any chances of difference of opinion would be obviated. Then it is important that we should obtain as strong a committee as we possibly can to consider this matter. Without casting the slightest reflection upon the Gentlemen who devoted considerable time last year to the consideration of this Bill, I think that the House will possibly be better satisfied with the results of an inquiry by a somewhat stronger Committee, and the best way in my opinion to obtain the services of a stronger Committee would be the appointment of a Joint Committee. We therefore suggest a Joint Committee, and I think we should be better able to obtain the services of some of the strongest Members of this House if it is known that they are to join with some of the best Members of the other House in considering a Bill of this magnitude and character. Then there is the question of expense. Last year the Bill was for seventeen days before a Committee of this House, and fourteen days in the other House. I have had no estimate whatever of what the costs have been to the respective parties, but I feel sure they must have gone into several thousands of pounds, and probably if I said tens of thousands of pounds I should not be very far off the mark. If we are to maintain a system of legislation by private Bills, we cannot continue it if we go on imposing such vast penalties upon those who come to this tribunal for a solution of their difficulties, and by the appointment of a Joint Committee we should at least halve the expense, and probably even bring it below this sum. These are the reasons which have induced Lord Morley and myself to agree to the course which I propose. The reasons which may be urged before the House against this proposal are that it is an unprecedented one. I am prepared to admit that so far as sending Bills for the extension of boundaries to a Joint Committee is concerned it is unprecedented; but with regard to sending private Bills to a Joint Committee it is not unprecedented. In 1873 several important Bills were sent to a Joint Committee in the way I propose, and notably when the London and North Western and the Lancashire and Yorkshire proposed to amalgamate their systems, and when the Midland Railway and Glasgow and South Western proposed the amalgamation of their systems, these Bills were similarly treated. Those Bills were no doubt of great importance to the travelling public, and also to the shareholders of these railways. But I venture to say that the Bill which I propose to deal with in the same way is a Bill of not less importance to the ratepayers and inhabitants of the city of Dublin, and not less important to the ratepayers and inhabitants of the surrounding suburbs of Dublin, and indeed I may say it is of great importance to all the inhabitants of Ireland, because it deals with the extension of the metropolis of that country, and in that respect no doubt all the inhabitants of Ireland would be interested in the fate of the Bill. Therefore, so far as the importance of the Bill goes, I should be quite prepared to argue that this Bill is quite as important as those which the House dealt with in a similar way in the year 1873. In addition I would point out that Provisional Orders have been dealt with in this way. The Rates and Charges Provisional Orders Bill of 1892 was in this manner sent to a Joint Committee. Then the House will recollect that in the Private Bill (Scotland) Procedure Bill a clause was inserted by which it was provided that confirmation Bills—Bills confirming Provisional Orders which were opposed—should in future be sent to a Joint Committee of the two Houses. Therefore Parliament last session expressed its approval of the principle of Joint Committees, and I think we should not be going against the spirit and intention of Parliament if we were to treat this Bill in a similar manner. These are the reasons which have induced me to submit this course for the approval of the House. I propose to ask the House to deal with the Clontarff Bill in a similar manner because it is practically an identical Bill. It deals with the same subject matter. As to the procedure, if this motion is carried it will be communicated to the other House, and the other House will return it to this House with their assent, and then it will fall upon this House to nominate members of the Committee. As to the number to be elected, I should be inclined to limit it as far as possible, following the precedent of 1873, and appoint three Members from this House and three from the other House, but if there is a strong feeling to increase it I shall be prepared to add one to the number. I should also be anxious that the Members should be selected by the Committee of selection, beause I feel certain, especially after what was said last Friday, the House would have greater confidence in the selection thus made, than if the selection were made in the ordinary way by the whips from either side of the House.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That it is expedient that the Dublin Corporation Bill and the Clontarf Urban District Council Bill be committed to a Joint Committee of Lords and Commons; that a message be sent to the Lords to communicate this resolution, and to desire their concurrence."—(Mr. J. W. Lowther.)

*Mr. J. W. MELLOR (Yorkshire, W.R. Sowerby)

I am glad the Chairman has made this motion. I hope the time will come when every private Bill, or certainly every important private Bill, will be sent to a Joint Committee of the two Houses. I do not think it is necessary to labour the question as to whether there is a precedent or not for this motion, because the legislation of the last session is in my opinion conclusive as to the opinion of this House; a most valuable principle was laid down when it was decided to send Scotch private Bills to a Joint Committee of the two Houses. There is a great deal to be said on the question of expense. I think that the expenditure on private Bills is rapidly becoming a public scandal, and that the time has come when the House ought to take the matter into its own hands and see whether some system cannot be devised under which the great expenditure on private Bill legislation can be reduced. It is true that in five cases out of six Bills may be and are promoted by great companies, private and otherwise, but it is frequently the case that much expense falls upon the opponents who cannot help themselves. I cannot help thinking that the referring of private Bills to a joint Committee will be the first step to bring about an important reform which will enable persons to come before Parliament without being put to an expenditure which may ruin them. Such a reform will be highly appreciated in the country.

Mr. CARSON (Dublin University)

I should not dissent from this motion if it were a proposal of a general character, but I must say that I at all events desire to enter my protest against this system being first introduced I think for definite purposes in relation to this Irish Bill. I know very well that the motion is made to try to push this Bill through. I know very well what the Government did last year. The Government did their level best to get this Bill through, and they went to very great lengths to try to coerce the other House of Parliament; and I am perfectly well aware that this motion is made not for the purpose of creating a general system of referring private Bills to Joint Committees, but in order if possible in some way or other that this Bill which had the support of the Government last session may be passed through. But why is an exceptional course taken in this case? The very same thing has happened in England as regards Boundary Bills—that the Houses have disagreed, but it has never been suggested that any such system as that now proposed by the Chairman of Ways and Means should be adopted. The first matter which he puts forward as an argument for taking this exceptional course is the importance of the Bill. I do not know that the Dublin Boundaries Bill has a greater principle at stake than other private Bills which have come before the House, but assuming that it is an important Bill, and I admit that it is, I should have thought that would have been one of the reasons why the settled practice and procedure of this House should not be departed from, and that the Bill in the ordinary way should go before a Committee of each House who should separately decide upon it according to their own independent view. Then it is said that we had last year a conflict between the two Houses upon this private Bill. There again I fail to see that that is any reason why this Joint Committee should be set up. The truth of the matter is, Parliament has laid down an ordinary procedure for these Committees; they have both to agree to the proposals made in a private Bill, and I fail to see how private rights will be infringed by the Bill coming before the Committees of the two Houses. That being so, I do not see how any constitu- tional conflict can arise, especially in a Bill of this character, that has not been raised in a Bill applying to England. The truth of the matter is, as I said before, this motion has an indirect object. It is an attempt to pass this Bill, if possible, at any cost, and I must say that I look with the gravest suspicion upon this matter, originating not in the case of an English Bill, but in the case of an Irish Bill, which led last year to a great deal of conflict, and which, although the Unionist Members for Ireland were against it, was largely supported by Her Majesty's Government. What on earth one Bill has to do with the other I entirely fail to see. The motion anticipates that, by this manœuvre of getting the Joint Committee, the Dublin Corporation Boundaries Bill will be passed, and therefore it will be unnecessary to pass the Clontarf Bill as a separate measure. As matters stand at present, the Chairman of Committees is absolutely in error when he states that the Clontarf Bill deals with the same subject matter. Clontarf is quite satisfied to stay as it is, whereas the Dublin Bill desires to swallow it up. So far as I am concerned in relation to this Bill, I protested against it last year, and I intend to protest against it this year. I am aware that Irish Unionists never got and never expect any support from Her Majesty's Government, but I think the least Her Majesty's Government might have done was to have let Parliamentary procedure take its ordinary course. I think for a Unionist Government, through their Chairman of Committees, to force this Bill on us and to make an exceptional motion in this case goes a little too far. I know in this matter I have have not the power which hon. Members opposite have. It rejoices me, as they come from my own country, that they are so powerful, and, though I differ from them, I think it is greatly to their credit. When I attempt to divide the House on these Irish questions I know I am in a futile minority. I admit it—no one more readily. Therefore I shall not divide the House upon this motion, but I desire at this stage to enter my protest against anything whatsoever being done in relation to this matter, and I firmly believe and state openly that I believe it is not clone with a view to any better procedure but to attempt to force the Bill through the House.


I am very happy to hear from the right hon. and learned Gentleman that he is not going to divide the House on this most reasonable motion. I merely rise to speak as a citizen of many years standing living in the City of Dublin, and as a ratepayer whose rates are not by any means inconsiderable. I confess in the interests of the City of Dublin generally and in the interests of Ireland at large, I am most anxious to see the Bill become law. I concur in every word that has been so ably and so authoritatively put forward by the right hon. Gentleman the Chairman of Ways and Means. The expense accompanying this attempt on the part of the corporation to carry a measure which would redound enormously to the advantage of Dublin, and, with Dublin, of the whole country, last year, was attended with almost disastrous consequences I saw it stated in an Irish newspaper a few days ago that the expenses incurred by the corporation exceeded £16,000 or £17,000, which all must ultimately come upon the ratepayers. If this is a good measure, it is hard to conceive any tribunal better fitted to deal with it than a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament. It is a pity that these private Bills do not go before Joint Committees in every case, because the idea of going over the same story first before a Committee of the House of Commons and then before a Committee of the House of Lords by the same counsel and resting on the same evidence, appears to me to be an old-fashioned anomaly. Some years ago, when there was a Commission appointed to inquire into Private Bill legislation procedure, there were very strong arguments put forward, and I believe there was a majority of the Commissioners in favour of substituting a Joint Committee. The idea of this Bill taking seventeen days in the House of Commons and afterwards fourteen days in the House of Lords, with the same evidence and the same procedure, when the whole thing might be halved and the expense might be halved, and a better result arrived at, presents a picture which I think should satisfy every impartial man that this motion ought to be acceded to. The City of Dublin is in the anomalous position of being hemmed in by four or five independent townships and munici- palities. No matter how its population increases, no matter what the demand there may be for houses for the poor and dwellings for the lower classes, all their efforts are thwarted and rendered impossible by the present geographical and municipal position of the town.


Order, order! The right hon. Member is not in order in going into the merits of the Bill.


I will not occupy any further time. The reasons have been put forward seriatim by the right hon. Gentleman, and I trust the House will agree now to carry this motion.

Question then put, and agreed to.

Resolved, That it is expedient that the Dublin Corporation Bill and the Clontarf Urban District Council Bill be committed to a Joint Committee of Lords and Commons.

Ordered, That a Message be sent to the Lords to communicate this Resolution, and to desire their concurrence.—(The Chairman of Ways and Means.)