§ [UNDER THE PRIVATE LEGISLATION PROCEDURE (SCOTLAND) ACT, 1899.]
MR. PARKER SMITH (Lanarkshire, Mid)
moved that this Bill be referred to a Joint Committee of Lords and Commons. 231 He said the point he had to raise was a novel one, but of some general interest with regard to the working of the Private Legislation Procedure Act of Scotland. Under that Act several inquiries had been held in Scotland, and this was the first occasion on which opponents had asked to be heard in this House after having been unsuccessfully heard in Scotland. The question which the House had now to determine for the future was, What were the rights that opponents had to be heard here after they had been heard in Scotland? He contended that, according to the express provisions of the Act, any opponent whose opposition was not simply frivolous had a right to be heard here. It was not a question of asking the House to upset the decision of its Committee, but it was a question of the right of having a second hearing, which was given by the Act of 1899. The Scotch Committee of Members of both Houses was a strong one, and he would hesitate very much to ask the House to pronounce any final opinion upon the merits of a question that had been heard and decided by that Committee. All he wished to point out was that the duty of the House was not to decide on the merits, but to send the matter upstairs to a Joint Committee as provided for by the Act. The Arizona Company was a company of Scotch domicile. He knew nothing about it or its directors. It had had a very chequered career, but it was now getting into smooth waters, and was much more prosperous. It had found that it had outgrown its original memorandum and articles, and, by general consent of the shareholders, it sought to put the matter straight by Parliamentary powers. Being a Scotch company, it had to present a petition to the Secretary for Scotland for a Provisional Order. Then, under the terms of the Act, an inquiry was held in Edinburgh. One provision which was strongly opposed by certain of the shareholders was a general indemnity for the directors for all their acts in the past, so as to make a clean slate for them. There was a certain transaction which took place many years ago, and which was challenged, by which 10,000 shares of £5 each were issued to certain gentlemen as fully paid up, when, in fact, no cash was paid. Petitioning shareholders said this was improperly done, 232 and the case of the directors was that this issue was part of an elaborate compromise, and was in the interests of the company, and therefore a reasonable piece of business on the part of the directors. The Committee supported the view of the directors, and declined to make the alteration which the petitioning shareholders demanded, and which would have left the question of this issue of shares open to challenge in a court of law. Those petitioning shareholders had since this hearing commenced an action in the Court of Session, and he could not see who could go into this question except a court of law. It would be an extremely strong measure on the part of this House to interfere and pass an absolute indemnity without knowing anything about the merits, for that indemnity clause would make subsequent investigation by a court of law impossible. In asking for a second hearing he was merely asking the House to carry out the provisions which it laid down for the conduct of these matters in the Act of 1899. Objection was taken that the local hearing should be final, but in the discussion on the Bill the Lord Advocate had clearly pointed out that upon unopposed orders there was to be no second inquiry in London but that upon opposed orders there should always be the possibility of an opponent coming to this House. Of course the opponent had to run the risk of the costs if he were unsuccessful.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be referred to a Joint Committee of Lords and Commons."—(Mr. Parker Smith.)
§ MR. THOMAS SHAW (Hawick Burghs)
said that he desired to meet the motion with a direct negative. The House had substantially devolved its private Bill business to local committees of inquiry, and he read with dismay the statement made by the Lord Advocate the other night that he would heartily support the motion of his hon. friend that an appeal to a tribunal of this House should be allowed in these cases. That statement contained the minimum of comfort with the maximum of in 233 accuracy. He had read the speech of the Lord Advocate on Tuesday with dismay, and he ventured to say that it contained the minimum of comfort to the Scottish people and the maximum of inaccuracy. The Lord Advocate cited certain utterances of Members of the House, and he said that they expressed the views of Members of the House when the Act passed through Parliament. Nothing of the kind. There were no utterances in the House of Commons with regard to the law as it now stood. The law was the result of a compromise in the House of Lords. When the compromise was arrived at in the House of Lords on the 27th July, 1899, Lord Balfour of Burleigh said—While I could not myself view with acceptance or favour the doing away with the second inquiry altogether, I am quite willing to consider proposals that may be made for the purpose of preventing such an absolute power being placed in the hands of those who, having had one inquiry, wish to repeat it over again before another tribunal.He wished to ask why the Government had now taken up such a different line. He should like to say that up to the present the Act had been a conspicuous success in Scotland. The proceedings had worked well, and the public in Scotland were satisfied with it; but if the present proposal were carried all that would be substantially undone, and he felt bound to enter a prompt and emphatic protest against such a suicidal course. The Bill before the House had been affirmed by the two Chairmen of the Houses of Parliament to be a Bill of no great magnitude, of no great public importance, and a Bill which involved no question of public policy. It had been inquired into locally by a joint Committee of the two Houses, and the House knew perfectly well that, if the two Houses had again to select a powerful and influential Committee, that joint Committee would be exactly the Committee to be chosen. Why, therefore, should one little clause of one little Bill be again put to the hazard by the proposal of the hon. Gentleman? There was no need to talk about the merits of the Bill; he wanted to destroy at once what would be a very bad system. He had read certain petitions presented against the Bill, but he positively declined to enter into the 234 merits of the questions raised in them. He did not find that there was any suggestion that the matter was not argued to the full before the Committee of the two Houses in Scotland, and no new fact was now before the House. If the principle of the motion were affirmed, they would be in a worse position than they were before. Under the old system there was an appeal from a Committee of one House to the Committee of the other, but now it was proposed to have an appeal from the Committee of both Houses to another Committee of both Houses. He wanted to be loyal to the Act. Clause 9 of the Act did not give any absolute right of appeal. There was a clause in the original Bill to the effect that a Bill should, if notice were given, be again referred to a joint Committee. They protested against that on the ground that it was a senseless proposal, and on the 20th of June he himself moved its rejection. There was an interesting debate, and, of course, the Scottish Members were swamped by the English Members, nine out of every ten of whom had not heard the debate at all. Thirteen Scottish Members voted in favour of a re-hearing and thirty-one against. On the 4th July he again moved the exclusion of the clause on Report, and the result was that thirty-six Scottish Members voted in favour of the exclusion of the clause, and only nine were found to support it. Then the Bill went to the House of Lords. It was absolutely and unmistakeably clear that Scotland wished the local inquiry to be a final inquiry, and a compromise was arrived at in the House of Lords by which it was provided that good cause should be shown before there should be a rehearing. The meaning of this day's proceedings was that the Government were not loyal to the compromise arrived at in the House of Lords. They were supporting the reaffirmation of a principle which was emphatically rejected by four votes to one of the Scottish Members. That was not fair to Scotland; it was not fair to the House, and was not loyal to the actual provision in the Act. Therefore he protested against it. The Act provided many precautions. The two Chairmen of the Houses of Parliament should decide whether a Bill was a big Bill or only an insignificant measure. 235 That was done, as he maintained, very drastically. Seven important Bills from Scotland had been cut out from the benefits of the Act, by the Chairmen.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! It appears to me undesirable, and indeed out of order, to criticise the action of the two Chairmen of Committees.
§ MR. THOMAS SHAW
said it was not his intention to criticise their conduct. It was merely an argument as to why a new Committee should be appointed. He found in the list of excluded Bills three great Scottish Railway Bills. The difference between the two classes of Bills was that the large Bills had to go before two Committees, and if there was any principle of that kind the result would be to give a better procedure for the larger Bills, but the little Bills would be worse off. There would have to be two Committees sitting twice, and what would be the proceedings of Committee No. 1 if they had to be revised by Committee No. 2? Neither trouble, expense, nor harassment would be saved. The proposal as to costs was ridiculous. What was required was to protect the little litigant from the large, overbearing litigant, who did not care what cost he was put to if he got his desire; the proposal struck out all the benefits of the measure in those particular cases. He objected to the way in which the Government treated their own offspring. The Bill having once seen the light was going to receive its death blow at the hands of the Lord Advocate. He desired the House to make this new departure on different grounds; he asked them to say that there must be either some new facts exposed by the petitioner or some gross blunder committed by the Commissioners or some error proved, before such a thing was allowed. Unless some common-sense rule was laid down of that kind the Act passed two years ago would be of no use whatever.
§ *MR. J. E. GORDON (Elgin and Nairn)
said he hoped the matter would be treated without any party prejudice. A right had been created under the Act, of an appeal by an opponent of a Provisional Order to this House, but 236 in this case he submitted insufficient ground had been shown for such an appeal. The only reason for reconstituting a fresh Committee would be, firstly, that the Commissioners had committed a mistake of procedure—no such allegation had been made; secondly, that some new facts had come to light which were worthy of the consideration of this House—and that was not suggested. The hon. Member for Partick had not explained to the House how this small indemnity clause arose. That compromise happened in 1884. The sum under discussion was not £50,000, the £50,000 was only the nominal value of shares which in 1884 represented a cash sum of £6,000. An action for £220,000 had been entered recently with respect to this amount. In 1884 the shares were worth £6,000; at that time the company was in low water, and the shares worth about 12s., but could anybody say that a claim worth £6,000 in 1884 was worth £220,000 now? The claim had been before the courts, and already in 1898 it was in the hands of an agent who was no stranger to the fortunes of the company, and who, in fact, was a director. When the indemnity clause was put into the Provisional Order it was only by the goodwill of the Commissioners that this gentleman was allowed to bring in his claim; he exhausted his case before the Commissioners, and ran dry in the sands of argument; he absolutely failed to substantiate his objection. The House was now asked to grant a rehearing. He appealed to the Lord Advocate under the circumstances to leave the decision to the House and allow them to use their common sense on this matter.
§ The LORD ADVOCATE (Mr. A. GRAHAM MURRAY, Buteshire)
said he could not disguise from himself the fact that this was a matter for the decision of the House alone, and all he sought to do was to impress upon the House, first of all, what it did when it passed this particular section of the Private Legislation Procedure Bill, and, secondly, what would be the consequences of its decision one way or the other. The point they had to deal with was a point of procedure, and the House should not be led away by the fact that this 237 Bill was of a particular class. The reason of the Bill was that the company was domiciled in Scotland, and, like many other companies, it had entered into proceedings which were afterwards found to have been irregular; in the meantime there had been immense transfers of share interests, and the proprietary interests in the company had been largely altered. The company came to the conclusion that it could not surmount its difficulties without Parliamentary powers, and the reason it had to go to Scotland for its private Bill was that the company was registered in Scotland. He was absolutely at one with the promoters that the Bill should be passed, but he disagreed with them as to the merits of this particular clause; it was, however, inquired into by the Commissioners, who decided that the clause should stand, and the last thing that he should attempt to do was to go behind the decision of the Commissioners. But persons who were affected by the decision of a Committee were not always satisfied, and the question for the House to decide was what was the position of a gentleman whose case has been heard by a tribunal and who was not satisfied and who appealed to the House of Commons? He would remind the House that the original scheme of private Bill legislation procedure was by way of Provisional Order, and it was afterwards to be decided by the Chairman of Committees which Bills were to be proceeded with by way of private Bill, and which by Provisional Order; after that the Provisional Orders were to have local inquiries. It was at first intended that those inquiries should be made by extra-Parliamentary tribunals, but that was subsequently altered, and the tribunals were to be composed of Members of Parliament, the number if necessary to be augmented by extra-Parliamentary members. Anyone who was dissatisfied with the action of the Commissioners at a local inquiry was to be allowed to lodge a petition with the Secretary for Scotland and come up to this House. There was to be in every case a confirming Bill, just as there had been under the old system, and as soon as the machinery of a confirming Bill was introduced it became obvious that every step from the first 238 inquiry leading to a possible second inquiry should be taken in this House, and it was necessary that a motion should be made in the House in order that the matter should be taken before another tribunal. It was afterwards suggested that, having an extra-Parliamentary Commission, it would be as well to do away with appeals altogether. There were cross currents of feeling in all these matters, and an Amendment to that effect was defeated, and a provision was embodied in the Private Bill Procedure (Scotland) Act to the effect that a person who appeared before a local tribunal and was not satisfied should have a right to go to another tribunal. The words of the Act were these—If, before the expiration of seven days after the Second Reading of a Confirmation Bill, under the immediately preceding section, in the House in which it originates, a petitions be presented against any Order comprised in, the Bill, and if, upon motion made, either House do resolve that it is expedient to inquire into the propriety of assenting to the prayer of the said petition, the Bill shall, subject to the Standing Orders, be referred to a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament.Therefore, they were in the same position as an unopposed Bill in that case. It must not be supposed that he was standing here arguing that the House had not perfect power to refuse this motion. He absolutely conceded that. The point for the House really to determine was on which side the onus should lie. Was the true meaning, looking to the history of the Bill, that a gentleman who wished to appeal to the Joint Committee must come here and must, through the mouth of some hon. Member, perhaps, show to the House that he had got what might be called a proper case upon the merits to be referred, or was it the other way? He could not help thinking that the true intention of the House was to alter the meaning, and he did not think that there was anything more emblematical of that than the course which the hon. Member for the Border Burghs had taken. If he had said that no man had a right to have a second inquiry opened, and if he had gone into the merits of that, that could have been understood. The hon. Member for the Border Burghs said that he pronounced no opinion upon this whatsoever; for aught he 239 knew it might be the most crucial case for an appeal.
§ MR. THOMAS SHAW
Perhaps my right hon. friend will allow me to say that I have read the petition through, and I did not see any new facts which were not fully considered by the Committee. Having done that, I decline to alter what the Committee of both Houses has decided upon.
§ MR. A. GRAHAM MURRAY
asked whether there could be any appeal when there were no fresh facts. According to the forms of the House, the only procedure was by motion. As the hon. Member knew very well, no stage could be got here without going through the forms of the House. Therefore he was doing the hon. Member for the Border Burghs no injustice, but was merely quoting his own speech in which he said he conspicuously declined to go into the merits of this question.
The first view the right hon. Gentleman sought to impress upon the House was that, inasmuch as the House had come to the conclusion, rightly or wrongly, that there should be an appeal from the tribunal below, that appeal ought to be given as an ordinary right, unless somebody was in the position of being able to say that it was a case which ought to have been debated on appeal. He hoped he had made himself clear upon this point. Then he asked the attention of the House to another matter. What would the practical effect in this House be of taking either the one view or the other? As to the end they all had in view, he thought there was no disagreement. Their view was that the House should not be saddled with discussions upon these matters. The view taken by the hon. Member for the Border Burghs would, he thought, excite far more discussion. They had only got to deal with the man who was dissatisfied, and who had been beaten down below. The man who was dissatisfied would always feel that he had a prima facie case, and it was not too much to suppose that if he thought that, he would be able to find some hon. Member of the House to voice his case for him. The hon. Member says he had read this statement from cover to cover, and he did not see why 240 there should be a second appeal into the merits of the case. In every case there must be a discussion upon the merits. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition said practically as regards this question, that if the procedure was to be to go to a tribunal below, and then to a tribunal above, it would have been far better to have had the old system. The right hon. Gentleman could not have said that if he had had the figures regarding our experience this very year. This year there were thirty-one Provisional Orders deposited at the Secretary for Scotland's office. Of these six and a portion of the seventh were by the decision of the Chancellor kept from Parliament. That left twenty-five and a portion of the twenty-sixth to come under the new procedures. Of these twenty-six no less than twenty-three were withdrawn. One had been refused by the Committee, and eleven, including that one, had been inquired into locally. Four of them had been read a third time in both Houses without further inquiry, and one-fifth of them had passed the stage in which an inquiry was impossible. A second inquiry was possible in five other cases, but there was no probability of any further action being taken. Therefore it practically came to this, that, out of the whole twenty-six cases disposed of, there had only been one appeal. That surely contrasted favourably with what would have happened under the old system, where in every case there would have been an appeal to the second House. They had not lost sight of the fact that appealing was a very grave matter, for they particularly put in, with the assent of the House, a clause as to costs, which was very much more stringent than anything which had so far obtained in Parliamentary practice Hon. Members were perfectly well aware that, according to the rules of the House, costs could not be given against an opponent, unless he had been somewhat vexatious. The clause they had put in was one which would be a safeguard against appeals being taken upon frivolous pretexts. That was the whole matter. He agreed entirely that it was a matter for the House and not for the Government, and he hoped the House would pause before it decided in 241 the way it had been asked to decide by the hon. Member for the Border Burghs. He believed that if the decision of the House was in accordance with what the a hon. Member for the Border Burghs asked, the result would be what the House wished to avoid—namely, these discussions would come on at the time of private business in order to see whether a Bill had been sent upstairs or not. After all, a member of the public would only enjoy something analogous to the old right he had, which was the right to appeal to the second House when he was dissatisfied with the decision of the lower tribunal.
§ *MR. EUGENE WASON (Clackmannan and Kinross)
said that as one of the Committee there was one point which had not been brought before the notice of the House, and that was that the petitioner who objected to the proceedings here now had no locus standi before the Committee, but the matter was considered fully by the Committee who gave him a locus standi. The case was fully and ably argued by counsel, so that the Committee had the whole circumstances of the case before them in dealing with it. He thought it was right to bring that fact to the notice of the House. He could well understand that if the petitioner had not been heard he would have had a right to come to Parliament and ask, in justice, that his case should be gone into. The hon. Member for Elgin and Nairn had so fully stated the facts that it was not necessary that he (Mr. Wason) should state more than that the Committee were absolutely unanimous, and, as had been well pointed out, no fresh facts had been brought forward which were not before the Committee that had already adjudicated on the matter. He thought also the House ought to be reminded of the sea of litigation in which the Arizona Copper Company had been concerned. The case in dispute went back to 1884. He did not suppose that many of the parties to the dispute were alive at the present time. It would be a case of going against the trustees and executors of deceased people, and the Committee thought it would be unfair and unjust, after this long lapse of time, that the proceedings should be gone into again. 242 There was a special point which had been mentioned by the hon. Member opposite that he would like to emphasise, and that was this—the petitioner told them that he was a shareholder from 1882, and had continued so without any break-down to the present time, and that he had attended all the meetings of the company. He was present at the meeting at which this very agreement was read, of which he now complained, and from that day down to the present time he had never lifted his finger in the matter. The company had got some advantage under the agreement then entered into in respect to the deferred shares, and it would be wrong that any person should have the right to approbate and reprobate the agreement entered into. A memorandum had been sent round the Members of this House which was an extraordinarily misleading document from first to last. There was no better-known principle of law than that it was the interest of the State to put an end to strife and litigation. This litigation had continued too long, and now that the company was in smooth water he hoped the House would not lightly reopen the matter. It had been thoroughly gone into by a special Committee, and unless good cause was shown the House should not grant the petition.
§ *SIR HENRY FOWLER (Wolverhampton, E.)
said he thought a great reform was effected in connection with private Bill business when the Private Bill Procedure (Scotland) Act was passed, and he should like to see the same principle applied not only to Ireland but to England. But if the doctrine of the Lord Advocate was accepted he thought a fatal blow would be struck at the working of this system of devolution. The right hon. Gentleman's argument was that wherever a party who had appeared before a Committee was dissatisfied he was entitled as a matter of course to come to this House and get an appeal to another tribunal. The facts were simply these. A joint Committee of both; Houses had unanimously decided upon the facts and merits of this case. Sup posing that were done in connection with an ordinary Bill, would the House entertain a proposal on the facts of this case for recommitting the Bill 243 to another tribunal composed of Members of this and the other House? It was not an appeal from an inferior to a superior authority that was asked. It was an appeal to the same authority—to another Joint Committee composed of different men. What they did in 1899 was to maintain the practical supremacy of Parliament, and they provided that in a case where it could be shown that an injustice had been done Parliament should have power to direct recommital. It was not, however, to be a matter of right for a petitioner to have another Joint Committee of both Houses appointed to try the case again because the decision had not been satisfactory to him. He did not consider that was contemplated, but the practical effect of what was proposed would be to upset this most beneficial mode of procedure, which, as the Lord Advocate had shown, had worked most satisfactorily in all the Scotch cases which had come before the Committee. He was glad the right hon. Gentleman had stated in unmistakable terms that this was an open question to be decided by the House, and that it was not to have any element of party in it. In the interest of the successful working of this mode of procedure they should adhere to the decision the Committee had already come to.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR, Manchester, E.)
My right hon. friend the Lord Advocate has quite properly stated that this was a question for the House to determine, and what are the principles upon which the House ought to determine it? We are all agreed, as I understand, that in so far as it is possible there should be devolution of this private Bill legislation to the locality. We are also all agreed that in the last resort this House must keep its grip upon the private Bill legislation, whether it be for Scotland or for Ireland or other parts of the United Kingdom. I believe we are agreed upon a third point, namely, that the system ought to be worked so as to give as little trouble to this House as possible. One of the things we chiefly want to avoid is these debates at the time of private Bill business, which waste a great deal of very valuable time, and do not always show the House of 244 Commons at its best. How is that end to be attained? I confess the question is not easy of solution. The right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down and others who have spoken seem to think that it is perfectly clear that the best way of avoiding debates in this House is to say that there should be a good prima facie case made out in favour of the appellant, and that there can only be an appeal when cause is shown. I am not sure that that is the way to avoid debates in this House. If we take the opposite view, and say that unless there is a very strong case against appeal the appellant should go forward, it would probably avoid debate, or, at all events, there is a good deal to be said for the view that it would avoid debate, because under the Act there is a heavy penalty imposed upon a person who makes a frivolous appeal. I do not believe that the number of those-appeals would be great. I really think that unless there is a very strong prima facie case such an appellant would havevery summary treatment from the Joint Committee, and if the Committee agreed, as they probably would, with the local Commission, the appellant would be mulcted in heavy costs. Although it might throw a little more trouble upon the Joint Committee, it would probably relieve this House of a great many debates on the question whether or not sufficient cause had been shown for an appeal. I do not believe that it is possible, without further experience, to decide really which line of action would work best. I certainly do not think that the case is as clear as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Wolverhampton appears to think. We are all agreed as to what we want. We are all agreed as to the end to be achieved. We are largely agreed as to the machinery by which it should be attained, but the one point on which there is a difference of opinion must be decided by hon. Members, who have quite as much means at their disposal for coming to that decision as the Government can have. Personally, I shall vote with my right hon. friend the Lord Advocate, but I admit that the case is one of great difficulty, which should be left; to the House itself to decide.
§ *MR. BLAKE (Longford, S.)
said the main moving cause for the passing of the 245 Private Bill Procedure (Scotland) Act was to procure cheapness and finality in dealing with these measures. The demand from Scotland was based on the ground of the expense and protraction of the proceedings under the former system. There was also another object which Parliament tried to meet, and that was devolution. The proposal of the Bill originally was that the trial should take place before an extra-Parliamentary panel, so that members of this House might be relieved from their labours as members of Private Bill Committees. That was embodied in the Bill when it went to the Committee to which it was referred, but the members of this House were disinclined to part with their power of adjudicating through Parliamentary Committees; and although, as the Lord Advocate had said, the Act contained the useful power of filling up the tribunal from an extra-Parliamentary panel, yet the wish of both Houses was that the tribunal should be a Parliamentary one. The result was that instead of relieving Members their burden was increased, for they had to go to Scotland instead of the parties coming to Westminster. The gains were the cheapness of one single trial before a Joint Committee sitting on the spot over two trials by two Committees sitting at Westminster. He had heard suggestions made with reference to appeals from the Committee outside and the Committee below to the Committee above, but he did not understand this language. The Committee in this case was a Committee such as they had had some experience of in late years in reference to peculiarly complicated and difficult Bills, in which the sense of both Houses of Parliament was that they were best disposed of by the formation of a Joint Committee of both Houses. And in such a Committee, so constituted, he thought a higher degree of representation and efficiency was likely to be attained than would be in the ordinary Private Bill Committee. Not a lower but a higher degree of representation was attained, and knowing something of the principle of action and the care which was taken with reference to the formation of Private Bill Committees by the Committee of Selection, he would say that the Committee, anxious 246 always to get the best Committee it could, exercised, and, he believed, rightly, peculiar care in the effort to make the panel up of the best possible material for the trial of those new Bills. He had no doubt the House of Lords did the same thing, and, therefore, they had the best that could be done in the way of the formation of the tribunal. He wanted to know if, instead of this Joint Committee which had been formed under the operation of this Act, it had been formed by the resolution of both Houses of Parliament with reference to some special highly complicated question, they would have heard the suggestions, except for the gravest possible cause, not merely alleged, but established here, to set up a new Joint Committee? He held that the suggestions made from the Benches opposite were not merely opposed to the letter but also to the spirit of the Act of Parliament, and that they would be destructive in effect of what was the intention of the Act of Parliament. They had practically lost already in the course of the passage of the Bill so much of devolution as would have relieved the Members of this House from acting. They gained in recompense for that loss the fact that the Committee was of the same order and quality, chosen with the utmost care, to which they were accustomed to give reverential respect. There was no ground at all for the proposal which had been made. It would be destructive of the larger part of the advantages of this Act that, as a matter of course, there should be a new reference, because one of the parties to the trial simply was dissatisfied. The defeated party was always dissatisfied. Let him, to use the French proverb, have license to curse his judges, but no absolute right to appeal. Parliament decided to deal with this reform with especial regard to the question of economy. Large and important questions in which it might be supposed that the litigants on either side had a full purse, and in which great interests were to be determined, were left to the old and cumbersome machinery of Parliamentary Committees. This Act was a poor man's Act, in which economy was of great consequence; and he said deliberately that in those classes of cases there was 247 great mischief done by appeals. Better occasionally have an erroneous decision than have an appeal in which lawyers get the oyster and litigants the shell. If there was indicated prima facie that so serious an injustice had been done as to justify that that evil of a new trial shall be admitted—for evil it was to have another trial—Parliament had power to interfere. He did not agree with the view of the Member for the Border Burghs that Parliament ought to interfere only in case of new facts. No. Occasion might arise—grave occasion—for interference in case of miscarriage of justice, or mistake of policy, on the facts before the Committee. He left Parliament as the Act left it, full power, but to be exercised only for grave cause shown, He was quite sure that ought to be the general impression, unless the House was seduced by the argument of the Leader of the House and of the Lord Advocate with reference to the saving of its time. It was suggested that they must do this thing in order to avoid debate. That contention was abandoned now. It was acknowledged there might be debate, and the question was upon what the issue was to be. Was it on a simple allegation that A or B was dissatisfied and wanted a new trial? Did they suppose it was only the disappointed litigant they could dissatisfy? They would dissatisfy the successful one by the course proposed. If they told him they were going to allow the case to be tried all over again, he would come here and say the unanimous verdict of the Committee was publicly attacked, and he would ask leave to defend the verdict, and enquire whether they were going, because A or B said he was dissatisfied, to put him to the expense and trouble to come to London and have another trial before both Houses of Parliament. Of course, they would have debate in support and in opposition to the motion. Let not this House inflict by such a suggestion as was now made a great and permanent evil. Let it not destroy to a large extent the efficiency and usefulness of this Private Legislation Act, even if by adopting that course they would save a little time and trouble. They would not in faith save time or trouble. 248 But anyway their first duty was to be just. It was to relieve the people in a distant part of one of these islands from an intolerable injustice that they passed this Bill; and let them not now on a ground that was fallacious destroy that relief and renew and aggravate the injustice.
§ SIR WALTER THORBURN (Peebles and Selkirk)
said there had been no attempt to show fault on the part of the Committee, and therefore it was a great misfortune that the motion had been proposed. He believed the Committee was one of the most competent that could have been appointed to deal with the Bill. He could state from personal knowledge that the decisions of the Committee had given the greatest satisfaction to all parties. He was very glad that the Government had intimated that this was not a Government question, and that the House was left to decide. He felt perfectly sure that the common sense of the House would decide that this appeal should not be granted. He was not a shareholder in the company, and he had no interest in the matter beyond the proper working of the new Act. He felt sure that if the appeal was allowed it would have a most disastrous effect on the working of the Act, and would give rise to most unmitigated complaint throughout Scotland. Something had been said about the waste of time in the House through discussions on private Bills. He believed that, if the House emphatically rejected this appeal, in future appellants would think twice before they did likewise. He thought no better means could be adopted for stopping vexatious appeals than to record the verdict of the House against this appeal.
§ MR. RENSHAW
said he regarded the right of appeal as one of the most important features of the Act. He believed that a greater blow would be struck at the new private Bill procedure for Scotland by the House refusing to admit the appeal than by admitting it. Very likely the rehearing would be adverse to the appellant, and he could not imagine anything more useful to the future progress of private Bill legislation in Scotland than that the first application for a re-hearing should be granted. He must support the pro- 249 posal that the Bill should be referred to another Committee, but he regretted that such an important question as that of devolution should have been raised in connection with the matter now before the House.
§ Dr. FARQUHARSON (Aberdeenshire, W.)
said he would ask the House to pause before committing itself to a motion which would have the effect of absolutely destroying the Private Bill Procedure (Scotland) Act which was passed with so much care two years ago. Nothing would be more adverse to the working of the Act than that the decision of the Committee, which was come to after careful inquiry, should be overturned in this House, perhaps on a snatch division. The hon. Member for Partick had given no reason whatever for the faith that was in him, and the Lord Advocate had brought forward the most extraordinary plea he had ever heard in this House, that the proceedings of a Committee of both Houses of Parliament could be overturned at the instance of a cantankerous and wealthy litigant. He believed that the granting of the appeal, instead of lessening confusion, would make "confusion worse confounded." He was bound to say that the Act had worked a great deal better than he expected. They were very careful in this House not to interfere with the proceedings of Committees upstairs, and he believed it was quite as much their duty to respect the action and authority of this Committee in Scotland.
§ *MR. STUART WORTLEY (Sheffield, Hallam)
said he had great difficulty in making up his mind how to vote on the very important question before the House. He, as chairman of the Committee which sat on the Private Bill Procedure (Scotland) Bill, took a very strong view that where a tribunal consisting of Members of the two Houses of Parliament had sat locally, the House should not, without an extremely strong reason, interfere with the decision which had been arrived at. To act otherwise would not be putting the Joint Committee in a proper position. He was bound to say, from the evidence given to the Select Committee that that Bill was not the class of Bill which that 250 Committee expected would invariably be sent to Scotland at all. Although the company might be domiciled in Scotland, the shareholders might be resident in England or Wales, or even abroad, and even the property of the company was situated in another country. The only possible doubt in his mind was whether an injustice might not be done to, for instance, the shareholders of the company, who owing to the proceedings taking place in Edinburgh might not have received the necessary notices. He was, however, inclined to stop the proceeding on the Bill at that stage.
§ MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)
said that what had occurred to-day had fully justified his action in calling attention to this Bill. The subject before the House was of more importance than many matters which engaged the attention of Parliament. His chief object in rising at all, after such an exhaustive discussion, was to explain the ground why, while agreeing thoroughly with hon. Members for Scotland, he was unable to vote with them. He was of opinion that Bills such as that before the House ought not to be decided locally at all. Bills dealing with the reconstruction of companies and Bills containing an omnibus clause of indemnity for actions which might have been breaches of the Company laws should not be referred to local tribunals. If the practice were to arise of sending such Bills to local tribunals to enable company promoters and directors to evade and defy the Companies Acts, the door would be open to all kinds of abuses. It was on that ground, namely the nature of the Bill, that he could not vote on the present motion. He might say that the discussion fully justified those Members of the Irish party who viewed with considerable doubt the proposal to extend the Scottish system of private Bill legislation to Ireland. When he ventured to call attention to the matter the other day, he was jumped upon by the Lord Advocate, and was accused in one sentence of being in blank ignorance of the provisions of the Act, and in the next of having taken an unduly active part in its discussion. These were inconsistent charges, but neither of them was true. The Irish Members, of necessity, took great interest in the working of the Scotch 251 Private Bill Procedure Act, because they were promised or threatened with a similar system in their own country. The speech of the Lord Advocate, in which he expressed his bitter disappointment at the working of the Act, was a considerable justification for the action of the Irish Members in hesitating before going blindly for the extension of the system to Ireland. Whatever difficulties were experienced in working the system in Scotland, those difficulties would be increased tenfold in Ireland, and the discussion which had taken place had fully justified the attitude of the Irish Members.
§ MR. A. GRAHAM MURRAY
said that, while the debate had not altered his own opinion, still, the opinion of the House was so obviously on one side that he would ask his hon. friend to withdraw his motion.
MR. PARKER SMITH
said that in view of the opinion of the House, he asked leave to withdraw his motion. ["No, No."]
§ Question put and negatived.
§ Bill to be considered to-morrow.