§ [SECOND READING.]
§ Order for Second Reading read.
MR. BRYNMOR JONES (Swansea District)
said in moving the Second Reading of the Bill that it simply involved the question whether it was or was not expedient to extend the operation of the procedure provided by the Scotch Act to the municipalities of Wales. The Bill for Scotland which was passed in 1899 was the direct result of the Report of a Select Committee of the House in 1898. The present Secretary for Scotland in introducing the Bill said—Now the Goverment feel quite certain that any legislation which is held out 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 hon. Members who represent here Irish and Welsh constituenees, although I do not think this is a question of nationality but of convenience.This Bill was introduced 0in response to that appeal. The substantial reasons upon which the Report of the Select Committee were founded was the need of greater despatch and greater economy and more efficient inquiry in regard to matters which had been habitually treated by Parliament as matters for private Bill legislation. Under the Scotch Provisional Order system, they 751 had first to make application to the Scottish Office for a Provisional Order; secondly, in case there was opposition or in case the Scottish Office thought there was need for it, a local inquiry took place, and thirdly, there was the confirmation of the Provisional Order by a Provisional Order Confirmation Bill introduced under the auspices of the Scottish Office. The corporation or other persons seeking Parliamentary powers had to apply for a Provisional Order in the terms of a Draft Provisional Order laid before the Secretary for Scotland. That had to be laid before the Clerk of Parliaments in the House of Lords, and the Private Bill Office in the House of Commons, and thereupon the Chairman of Committees of the House of Lords and the Chairman I of Ways and Means Committee in the House of Commons had to consider the Draft Provisional Order and report to the Secretary for Scotland whether or not, having regard to the subject matter of the Provisional Order, the promoters of the Order should be allowed to proceed under the Act of 1899, or by private Bill, according to the ordinary practice of Parliament in such case. If the Report were to the effect that it was not a matter which ought to be carried out by Provisional Order, but by a private Bill, the Secretary for Scotland practically ceased to have any control in the matter, and the promoters had to proceed by private Bill. Otherwise, there was an inquiry, in case of opposition, which was held in Scotland, conducted by a Parliamentary panel consisting of Members of the House of Lords and the House of Commons, or by an extra-Parliamentary panel appointed by the Secretary for Scotland from gentlemen who understood the business. A Report was then made by this Commission to the Secretary for Scotland, and if it were in favour of the Provisional Order, the Order was put into a Provisional Order Confirmation Bill, promoted by the Secretary for Scotland. It was in respect to the selection of the Commission that the promoters of this Bill by Part III. proposed some exception to the practice adopted in the Scotch Act. It was a great tax on Members of the House to have to go away to other places to discharge the duties which they usually discharged in the upper rooms of that House, 752 and they proposed the establishment of a joint counties board, selected by various county councils of Wales corresponding to the extra-Parliamentary panel under the Act of 1899. He did not regard Part III. as a necessary part of the proposed legislation and if the Bill was accorded a Second Reading and went to a Committee they would be glad to listen to representations from the President of the Local Government Board on this point. He maintained that this legislation had been successful in regard to Scotland, where he had served oil Commissions, there being not the slightest difficulty with regard to counsel, experts, etc., and people came forward almost voluntarily with evidence. Clearly local inquiries were much more satisfactory than those conducted by Committees upstairs. Wales was an economic entity at any rate so far as private Bill legislation was concerned. Glamorganshire and Monmouthshire were two of the most progressive counties in the Kingdom and the private Bill legislation which had come from Wales and which might be anticipated in the next few years was much larger than could be anticipated from any equal area in any part of England, except perhaps Lancashire and Yorkshire. It was not to be expected that in a matter of that kind there would be any popular agitation, but speaking on behalf of municipal authorities and local authorities generally, he was perfectly certain that there was a genuine demand for greater despatch, for greater economy, and for better inquiry into the schemes with which the Bill dealt.
He might give an illustration or two of the grievances of which the local authorities complained. A Bill was brought in the previous year which was promoted by the District Council of the Llandrindod Wells, a well-known health resort. The Bill asked for certain powers in the interests mainly of the visitors and very considerable expense was incurred. Eventually it was thrown out on financial grounds. Of that he did not complain, but the burden on the ratepayers was heavy, and that would have been much less had the inquiry been held locally instead of in London. Pwllheli suffered very much in the same manner. The town clerk of Cardiff, which was the 753 largest town in Wales, said the Bill would be a great boon and added that the greatest opponents, in his opinion, would be the members of the Parliamentary Bar who derived big fees from private Bill legislation and could not attend to their work at Westminster and be down in the country at the same time. He did not know whether he was actuated by what the late Herbert Spencer called "professional bias" but the Town Clerk was a little unfair in speaking of counsel only. There were such persons as Parliamentary agents and expert witnesses. The town clerk went on to say that when public inquiries had been held in Wales, there had not been the slightest difficulty in obtaining professional and expert evidence of the highest character. There could be no doubt that the saving would be immense. At present Parliamentary Bills were put into groups, and it was impossible to say within two or three days when any particular one would come before the Parliamentary Committee, and the result was that witnesses had to be kept waiting. Wales had everything to gain by such a measure as this, because a Bill meant thousands of pounds and a Provisional Order often cost under £100. To this statement of the town clerk of Cardiff he was able by the courtesy of the hon. Member for East Glamorganshire to give the following details of expenses incurred by the Cardiff Corporation within the last few years, Cardiff Corporation Act, 1884, cost £9,627, the Cardiff Corporation, Act 1894, £10,680, and the amount paid by the Corporation from 1890 to March, 1903, was, for obtaining Parliamentary powers £20,205, and for opposing Parliamentary Bills £7,022, a total of £27,227. Those figures gave one pause. There seemed no reason in the nature of things why when local authorities were demanding powers in the general public interest of the ratepayers, there should be this enormous cost for private Bill legislation, whereas in regard to public matters the legislation cost nothing at all. He begged to move.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."754
§ MAJOR WYNDHAM-QUIN (Glamorganshire, S.)
said the hon. Member had made out, in his very interesting speech, a good case for the Bill, and he was glad to give him his hearty support. The principle involved in the Bill was a very sound one seeing that it; sought to remove from the Committee room upstairs inquiries which could be held with very much more advantage in the localities affected. He spoke rather: feelingly on that matter with regard to his own constituency. Reference had been made to the great expense involved in bringing Bills before this House, and he doubted whether any constituency had suffered more in that respect than his own. Very good results were likely to follow the appointment of a Commission under Part II. of the Bill, as it stood to reason that inquiries held on the spot would be more thorough and searching than if held in the House of Commons, and nobody would regret the removal of such inquiries to the country except, possibly, the learned gentlemen and others who would be engaged on the cases in London. The expense involved in the present system was really a scandal. Witnesses had to be brought from remote parts of the country and maintained in London: eminent counsel had to be engaged at huge fees; and Parliamentary agents had to be employed whose services were the reverse of gratuitous. There was no great magic in the existing practice, and if a better one could be devised it ought surely to be adopted. In the present measure three matters would require to be carefully: safeguarded. First, that any tribunal should be efficient and command the confidence of those whose interests were involved; secondly, that it should be impartial, and above all suspicion of either partisanship or political bias; and thirdly, that Parliament should certainly possess the final control over the findings of the Commission. With the exception of Part III., he thought the measure ought to be supported in all quarters of the House. Personally, he objected to the constitution of the county councils board, not because lie feared that the county councils, being largely composed of gentlemen politically opposed to himself, would not discharge their duties with absolute impartiality, 755 but because it was more than likely I that occasions would arise when they would be interested parties in the inquiries that had to be held. The county councils had quite sufficient work to do already, and no good purpose would be served by imposing fresh duties upon them. It had been stated that Part III. was not an essential portion of the Bill, and he believed that that view was shared by many hon. Members opposite. If that was the case, and the promoters were willing that Part III. should be withdrawn, he could see no reason why the Bill should not go forward, and eventually confer a real benefit upon the people of Wales. He suggested that the whole question should be referred to a Select Committee. If that were done he believed there would be found in the present proposals the elements of a good and useful measure: applicable, not to Wales only, hut also to England.
§ MR. HENRY HOBHOUSE, (Somersetshire, E.)
who was indistinctly heard, was understood to say that, although this Bill came before the House as a private measure, it involved a question of considerable national importance, affecting the devolution of private Bill business in every part of the country. The clauses in Part III. seemed to embody the embryo of Welsh Home Rule, and had probably been introduced more out of compliment to the national sentiment of the principality than with any desire to press the principle involved as a practical question on the attention of the House. Part III. might be either treated as mere ballast to be thrown over to secure the further passage of the Bill, or insisted upon as an integral portion of the measure. If the latter course were to be adopted, he thought the House ought to pause before consenting to the Bill. He would be the last person to say anything against the administrative abilities of the county councils, but he had always drawn a considerable distinction between employing them as administrative bodies and as legislative bodies, even in the humble department of private business. In regard to Parliamentary Committees, it had hitherto been insisted upon that Members taking part in the inquiries should have no local or personal interest 756 in the matter under consideration. That was a most valuable principle. Part III. however, contained no such provision, and he rather doubted whether, with all their virtues, the county councils in Wales would always be careful to select persons who had no local or personal interest in the matters of inquiry. At any rate, some such provision ought to be inserted. Moreover, he did not think that public feeling in the country generally was ripe for giving any legislative power to county councils or to bodies of county councils. [An HON. MEMBER: This is not legislative.] Inquiry was the first stage of legislation, and it might lead to conflicts between the House of Commons and the Welsh county councils. Recent proceedings on the part of certain Welsh county councils in respect of education were not likely to induce the House to assent very readily to giving them legislative or quasi-legislative powers. He believed the remainder of the Bill was well worthy of consideration, especially from the point of view, not of nationality, but of convenience. Local inquiries in many cases were most desirable in the public interest. Every Member of experience could recall cases in which it would have been a great advantage to have had the inquiry in the locality directly concerned. At present Committees had to rely upon photographs taken at any angle, and with any focus, and upon the contradictory statements of witnesses, whereas a view of the particular locality would at once settle the matter. It had always been a matter of much regret to him that, under the somewhat narrow reference to the Select Committee a few years ago, they were unable properly to consider or to make any recommendations with regard to the extension of the Provisional Order system. Many of the matters dealt with by private Bills could be quite as well investigated by a good inspector representing the Government Department. As a rule the proceedings under Scotch Bills were not strictly local inquiries, and they did not go to the town where the actual matter arose.
His hon. friend had covered a great deal of ground in his speech, but he had not given to the House any indication as to the extent to which private legislation was required in Wales. 757 He had been told on very good authority that the number of Welsh private Bills introduced annually did not amount to more than ten or twelve, and many of the questions in those Bills could be very well dealt with by a Provisional Order. There were other questions such as the Barry Docks which could not be dealt with by a Provisional Order because commercial interests were involved which affected not merely Wales but England as well. His point was that if they analysed the amount of Welsh business ordinarily before the House and excluded matters which were too important to be dealt with by a Parliamentary Commission, there was very little business remaining to be dealt with, and this Bill proposed to set up elaborate machinery which it was hardly worth while establishing for such a small amount of business In great centres like Manchester, Newcastle, and Plymouth, there was much more business. The Irish case was much stronger. Ireland had more Bills and was put to more expense, and it had a separate Bar and separate local government and other laws. Those centres were more remote from London than Cardiff, and therefore the expense was much greater in bringing witnesses from Ireland than from Wales. All these matters pointed to the necessity for an inquiry into the working of the Scotch Act which had been in operation now some three or four years, in order to see to what extent it could be applied to the rest of the kingdom. Such an inquiry might result in useful proposals being made calculated to benefit the other parts of the United Kingdom. He did not think the Government were averse to inquiry, and in his opinion a Select Committee might evolve some constructive proposals which would have the effect of relieving future Parliaments, and at the same time benefiting the localities concerned. He begged to move the Amendment which stood in his name upon the Paper.
§ COLONEL KENYON-SLANEY (Shropshire, Newport)
said he had great pleasure in seconding his hon. friend's Amendment. He represented a large English county immediately bordering on Wales, and the history of that county had been 758 a somewhat significant one. It used to be the duty of the county of Shropshire to carry out prompt punishment on the Welshman who ventured across the border. Things had most happily changed, and now the whole tendency of England was to throw open her borders to the Welsh and invite them to cross and share in the advantages which some of them could get by leaving their own country and transferring their services to the other. There were some points in support of the Amendment which he wished to urge both from the local and the general point of view. He understood from the able introduction of the Bill by the hon. Gentleman opposite, that there was a general disposition felt by Members from Wales to throw over Part III. He would say at once that if Part III. was not to be thrown over, the opponents of the measure would have a different kind of opposition to offer from what they would give to it in its modified form. But they could not get away from the fact that Part III. was in the Bill. It would have been wiser if the promoters had never put it forward, because it might be taken as an indication of what the Welsh Members desired, and as a warning as to the direction in which they would move if they could. Part III. was Home Rule, and to that he and his friends absolutely objected, and they were obliged to meet it with strong opposition. Apart from that, assuming that the suggested county board was free from the taint of Home Rule he could not conceive how it would be possible to form a county board which would be clear of local interest, if not personal interest, in the questions with which it would have to deal. Hon. Members knew that there were no matters on which local feeling ran so high as on such matters as bridges and railways, and it was desirable to have an impartial body to deal with them. The proposed board would not very long retain the confidence of those who had to come before it. He understood, of course, that the nature of the Bills submitted to it would be extremely limited. They would be only those purely appertaining to Wales, but hon. Members could understand how very difficult it would be, in many cases, to draw the line between Welsh interests 759 and the interest of those counties which were on the borders of the Principality.
In regard to the advantages which might be supposed to be gained by Wales, or the country generally, by this proposition, ho should like to say a few words. It was generally acknowledged that there was considerable congestion of private business, and that it would be well to have some system of devolution for the better treatment of the congested matters, Would the devolution proposed under this Bill for dealing with that congestion be really advantageous and conducive to the good conduct of the business? As to the amount of business to be dealt with, his hon. friend had put forward some figures which would be touched by this Bill if it came into play. He himself had taken some trouble to ascertain the average number of Bills which could be dealt with locally. He was informed that the average number of Bills from Wales during the last few years was about ten. [An HON. MEMBER: No.] That was the information he had received from what he believed to be a reliable source. Of these ten, five would be railway Bills. Very few railway Bills could possibly be dealt with under this proposition because they would almost invariably touch the interests of places outside of Wales. If that information was correct, there would remain about five purely local Bills that might be dealt with under this proposal, so that they would be setting up very large machinery to deal with a small amount of work, while they would not practically touch the question of congestion by this particular form of devolution. Would there be gain or loss by such devolution as this? The balance lay in the convenience and the general advantages supposing this Bill were to pass in its present form. He was told that the general convenience of counsel would be better consulted by these measures being still dealt with in London. He was a distinct advocate of local talent, and he thought it would be a good thing if the fees which poured in a great stream into comparatively few pockets in London could be better distributed. But he wondered whether it would be altogether popular with local solicitors and local witnesses. He had heard, sometimes, of considerable expressions of pleasure and 760 satisfaction on their part at the prospect of a local Bill coming to London, and witnesses had not regarded the present system as a matter on which they should take offence. [An HON. MEMBER: What about the ratepayers?] These gentlemen seemed to have some means of getting round the ratepayers. He doubted whether, if they were to take the opinion of local solicitors and witnesses, there would be a strong body of evidence in support of this proposal. As to expert witnesses, it would, of course, be easier for them to give evidence here than to have to travel down to some corner of Wales in order to give it. The proposed procedure, therefore, would not result in any real economy in pounds, shillings, and pence from the point of view of the ratepayers.
Reference had been made to the success of the system of procedure in Scotland. He wished to state one or two points showing that the position in Scotland was cardinally different from that in Wales. He was given to understand that the great mass of the business under the Scotch Act was conducted at Edinburgh and Glasgow—two large centres convenient of access for those concerned in the matters dealt with. The greater part of the success of the Scotch measure had been due to the way in which those who represented this House there had discharged their duties. The hon. Member who introduced the Bill spoke very warmly of the fact that the counsel who appeared before him in Scotland were not less qualified and eminent than those who appeared before him at Westminster. There was a large Scotch Bar which was allways available on the spot for conducting this business. Was there a Welsh Bar? [Cries of "Yes."] He knew that Wales was overflowing with legal talent, but he did not know that they could talk of a Welsh Bar as distinct from the English Bar. Scotland was a little more self-contained than Wales, and Scotch Bills were much more likely to deal with questions pertaining to that country than would be the case in Wales with respect to Welsh Bills. They might say that the Scotch Bill ought to be applied to Ireland. He thought there was a close connection between the position occupied by Scotland and the position that might be occupied by Ireland under a measure of this 761 sort, but it did not follow that, because the position of these two countries was analogous, an experiment which had worked well in Scotland ought to be applied to Wales. He quite allowed that there was very good reason for urging that the system of devolution ought to be carried further than at present with general good results and convenience. But if these advantages were to be obtained, then it must be by the creation of convenient areas or districts in different parts of England and Wales where there was a local centre easy of access. That would be better than taking up the line of demarcation suggested by the Bill before the House. Lancashire and Yorkshire, for instance, might claim to be treated as an area for the purposes of private Bill procedure. Therefore, while it had not been shown that in consequence of the Scotch success the scheme should be applied to Wales, he thought a case had been made out for devolution to be applied to the whole Kingdom in respect of certain areas. He hoped he was the last person in the world to suggest that, there should be less esprit de corps among hon. Members for Wales. As an old soldier he always recognised the value of esprit de corps; but he urged that a big change, such as was contemplated by this Bill, ought not to be made in the interest of one portion of the United Kingdom. He urged that the general convenience of the United Kingdom must override any attempt to apply it to any single portion of the kingdom.
The Amendment of his right hon. friend, which he was seconding, was based on the right of the whole kingdom to have equal treatment in this matter. Many hon. Members had had considerable experience of some of the difficulties attending the passing of private Bill legislation in this House. He had not very long ago to take a considerable part in the passing of a private Bill which had been discussed at great length by Committees upstairs for more than a year. He had only too vivid recollections of the inconveniences and cost of that, procedure, and he had an ardent desire that the inquiries into such Bills should be conducted on the spot. But under this proposed measure he 762 would have to meet the same difficulties, while his neighbours across the border in Wales would be deprived of them. He was quite sure that hon. Gentlemen from Wales would be willing to extend to the English people the privileges which they asked for themselves. Would not the substitution of areas, as was suggested by his right hon. friend, be as good for Wales as if Wales were treated as a separate entity—assuming convenience of access and ability to collect evidence at a given spot with the greatest ease. He found that the capital of his own county, Shrewsbury, was perpetually made use of as the meeting place of gentlemen interested in great Welsh questions. Many hon. Members from Wales were frequent visitors to that town, and his townsfolk were always glad that they should meet there to discuss questions relating to Wales. But, if Shrewsbury was at present the most convenient spot for them to meet, it would be equally convenient for the work of private Bill devolution. They would then get rid of the little rift in the lute and be able to adjust any little differences between themselves and their neighbours in Wales. He understood that the Amendment moved by his right hon. friend was almost more than favourably regarded by the Government and that there was no desire to accept it in an indirect way. He understood that if the Amendment were generally approved of, the Government would be willing to adept it as their own, and give effect to it by the immediate appointment of a Committee and take steps to carry out whatever decision the Committee arrived at. If that were the case, might he join in the appeal of his right hon. friend to the Welsh Members to meet them in this case, and so bring about as soon as possible a more complete arrangement on this matter? The English Members would, in that event, owe them a debt of gratitude for having raised this question, which would undoubtedly lead to many material advantages.
To leave out from the word 'That' to the end of the Question, and add the words 'this House, while recognising that further devolution of its powers in connection with Private
Bill Legislation may be desirable, considers that such devolution should be preceded by a full inquiry into the manner in which The Private Legislation Procedure (Scotland) Act, 1899, has worked, and the extent to which it is capable of application to the rest of the United Kingdom.'"—(Mr. Henry Hobhouse.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. STUART WORTLEY (Sheffield, Hallam)
said that he approached the consideration of this Bill as Chairman of the Committee which passed the Scotch Bill. Being, therefore, a friend to the more practical proposals of the Bill before the House, as distinguished from those of a more visionary character, he only regretted that there had been any kind of admixture with the principles of this Bill of anything of the nature of the merits of the artistic, literary, ethnological, or economic independence of Wales. Hon. Members from Wales must remember that the day might come when they might have to insist on the unity of Wales with Great Britain, in such a case as that when Mr. Gladstone said that "the distinction between England and Wales, except in the recital of an Act of Parliament for the purpose of indicating their unity, was totally unknown to our Constitution." That was on the occasion when he moved the Redistribution Bill in 1884, when a proposal was made to reduce the representation of Wales, a representation which might come in the future to be defended by Welsh Members on grounds very opposite from those they were taking now. To insist on any separate and distinct claim of Wales in regard to private Bill legislation was not necessary to the hon. Gentleman's argument, and therefore it was that he was happy to meet him to a great extent in regard to the merits of his proposals. In considering this question he started from three fundamental principles. One was the good old principle that justice, so far as possible, should be brought to a man's door. They must not forget that though in all these cases they were granting a private law they had at the same time to inform themselves of the local state of affairs and exercise a judicial function. That was the principle under which the Judges from the very earliest times were sent down to the localities to exercise jus- 764 tice near a man's door and at the same time to avoid splitting the national law into local customs. The second principle on which the House should proceed was that local inquiries should be so managed as to discourage appeals either to that House or elsewhere. In other words, the persons holding the inquiry should command such confidence that their decisions would not be appealed against. The third principle was that they must not lose sight of the sovereignty of Parliament and the fundamental principle that Parliament must he the supreme Legislative Tribunal. Therefore he was not in favour of fancy tribunals.
He did not agree with the right hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment that it would be just the same if an inspector of the Local Government Board were to go down to the country to make an inquiry. They had called before the Scotch Committee Sir Robert Mowbray, who had unrivalled experience as Chairman of the Committee of Selection, and they gave him an opportunity of stating his objections to the Scotch Bill. They found his objections proceeded upon a total misconception of what the ultimate effect would be of the proposals of the Bill. He said they would never get Members of Parliament to go to Stornoway in the middle of winter. That was not the intention or the effect of the Scotch Bill. In the first place, as regarded the season, a little business management would avoid having to undergo the rigours of winter in Stornoway or anywhere else, and an enormous mitigation of the hardships was secured, if the case was brought to such a centre as Oban, which might form a centre for many of cases from the Highlands. He was not aware whether cases were heard at Inverness, but Inverness might form another centre. This was not really a Welsh question at all. It was a question really of saving expense to suitors upon the old principle on which the Judges were sent on circuit, and the same principles applied to cases from Carlisle, Newcastle, Plymouth, and other distant portions of England. The case of Ireland undoubtedly presented great difficulty; and should the House ever tackle the question of Irish private 765 Bill legislation, it would probably be prepared to go much further in the direction of establishing local institutions than it would in the case of either England or Wales. He had stated the fundamental conditions which should govern private Bill legislation. A Committee of four Members of the two Houses might be difficult, but a Committee of two would be convenient and would command local confidence. Hon. Gentlemen should not forget the attributes which attached to Members of the two legislative bodies of the country. If Members attending Private Bill Committees proceed to the duty under proper conditions, and surrounded with every circumstance of dignity and comfort when they were engaged in discharging such high and important functions, he would be surprised if there would be any difficulty in getting Members to act. They might have an extra-Parliamentary panel if necessary; but he hoped the inquiries in the main would be conducted by Members of both Houses, if only because the ultimate decision would be in Parliament. If only there was a certainty of getting Members to serve, there would be no necessity for a Statute at all. All that would be necessary would be an Amendment of the Standing Orders to the effect that Private Bill Committees of either House might sit elsewhere than at Westminster, and during periods when Parliment was not in session. He did not see why the Bill should not proceed to Second Reading, and why a proposal which had been so reasonably submitted should not have the affirmation of the House of Commons.
§ MR. J. H. LEWIS (Flint Boroughs)
said he believed that nearly every Member who had carefully considered the question of private Bill legislation held the opinion expressed by the Prime Minister when he was Secretary for Scotland, that the present system of private Bill legislation by Committees of the House of Commons and House of Lords was utterly absurd, expensive, and antiquated. The Lord Advocate for Scotland, speaking in a debate on the Scotch Private Legislation Procedure Bill, had stated that—Even in the case of unopposed measures the present system was both cumbersome and 766 expensive, that it was far more favourable in its treatment of the large opponent than of the smaller. They were accustomed to see cases in which the smaller interests were simply bludgeoned by the great corporations, either railway or municipal corporations, and the way in which opposition was sometimes treated was a great scandal. The smaller interests were kept dangling week after week while the larger interests fought, and at the last moment, when the adjustment of clauses was reached, there was an undignified scramble, and the smaller interests were scarcely listened to.It was not surprising that under these circumstances the question should have been repeatedly raised in Parliament, and it was generally agreed that the List Parliament acted wisely when it passed the Scotch Private Bill Procedure Act. This was by no means the first time that this question had been brought forward with specific reference to Wales. Amendments had been moved to the Speech from the Throne on more than one occasion complaining of the absence from the Government programme of the year of any proposal for legislation affecting the special interests of the Welsh people, and it was a remarkable fact that those debates had, on nearly every occasion, in the end narrowed themselves down into a demand for better facilities for private Bill legislation for Wales. A very strong case for such a reform had been made out, and the proposal had been well supported by Welsh Members sitting on both sides of the House.
There appeared to be some misconception on one point. It was supposed that the claim of Wales was not strong enough to justify Parliament in giving it separate treatment. In this matter Wales had quite as strong a case as Scotland, which had for years enjoyed the reform which Wales sought to obtain, and a much stronger case than that of Ireland, which had been repeatedly admitted by the Government. During a period of six years before the Scotch Act came into operation the number of private Bills applied for was as follows—Ireland 80, Scotland 130, Wales 140. Therefore Wales, as regards the number of private Bills, stood second out of the four nationalities of the United Kingdom. The case for reform had been admitted so far as Ireland was concerned. Now the number of private Bills from Wales during the last ten years was more than twice as numerous as the number of Bills 767 from Ireland. The case of Wales for reform was therefore stronger than the case of Ireland, which the Government regarded as proved. If evidence from Wales had been taken before the Select Committee of 1888 it could have been shown that the case of the Principality for private Bill legislation was just as strong as the case of Scotland or Ireland. In Wales, owing to the rapid growth of seaside resorts on the North and West Coasts and the great development of industry and consequently of population in South Wales, the demand for parliamentary powers was increasing. But the objection most frequently taken to giving Wales some power to deal with this question was that every part of the country should have the same powers. To that principle he had not the least objection. It was all a question of ripeness of public opinion and of finding suitable areas. The right hon. gentleman the member for Croydon, when he was President of the Local Government Board, went much further than the modest proposal which the Welsh-Members submitted to the House. He proposed to confer upon county councils, however small, large powers of making Provisional Orders. That proposal was defeated by the Municipal Corporations Association, but the proposal now made stood on a totally different plan, and the objections to the proposals of 1889 did not apply in this case. They asked that, in an area so large that no municipal corporation could feel any jealousy of it, a cautious and tentative movement, surrounded by safeguards as to consent which amounted to practical unanimity both in Wales and in Parliament, should be effected in the direction of cheapening procedure in private Bill legislation on the principles which had already been adopted and accepted by the House and which had worked satisfactorily in Scotland. The provisions of the Scotch Act had been closely followed throughout. The only new feature in this Bill was the proposed substitution of a joint board of the Welsh county councils for the purpose of making local inquiries. If this were adopted, it would do something to relieve Members from the strain of Parliamentary work. Their unnatural hours of work, from two to twelve, were bad enough. Most of them had already 768 more than enough work to occupy their mornings, and the strain of attending at Private Bill Committees in addition to Parliamentary work was very heavy, and what made it worse was that the hearing before Private Bill Committees was concentrated into a part of the session, a number of Committees were held at the same time, and sometimes leading counsel were retained on practically every Committee, a result which was not satisfactory to promoters, opponents, or Committees. Once, many years ago, a leading Parliamentary counsel was seen walking in the Park, and, when a friend who met him showed some surprise that he was not at work, seeing that he was retained to appear before every Committee, he replied that he was doing equal justice to all his clients.
They heard constant references to the necessity for devolution, and no; one denied that necessity, but the moment any practical action in that direction, however small, was proposed, the instinct of power at once asserted; itself, with the result that the functions of Government were unduly centralised at Westminster, and that they had drifted into Government by bureaucracy. What danger could there be in the proposals contained in Clause 8, which provided that if the Welsh county councils unanimously resolved to appoint a joint board, the local inquiry should be undertaken by that Board. It could not be carried into effect if a single Welsh council was unwilling, nor could it become law if either the House of Commons or the House of Lords opposed it. Majorities in the House of Commons varied, but in the House of Lords the majority was as immutable as were the laws of the Medes and Persians in the ancient world. This Bill was surrounded by all the safeguards which the most timid statesman could possibly need.
One of the most important and most valuable features of this Bill was that it extended the Provisional Order system, which was far less expensive than the private Bill system. It was very seldom found necessary to appeal against a Provisional Order. From 1888 to 1897, 1,980 Provisional Orders were dealt with, and seventy-five—less 769 than 4 per cent.—were appealed against. This meant a great saving of expense, the House fees for private Bills being very heavy. In the case of an ordinary unopposed Bill, the House fees of the Lords would be about £125, those of the Commons about £85, making a total of £210. In the case of a local authority seeking to promote a Gas Bill—one of the simplest private Bills that could be brought before Parliament—even if there was no opposition, the House fees in the Lords was about £100, and in the Commons about £80, making a total of £180. These, of course, did not include London agents' charges, which came to a very much larger amount, and to them must be added the fees and expenses of local solicitors, counsel, experts, and witnesses. He remembered the case of a simple Water Bill to which there was hardly any opposition, which cost £2,000, although the solicitors and engineers retained by the promoters cut down their costs to one half. If a Bill was opposed the House fees were very heavy. The fees of the House of Lords, if a Bill took ten days in Committee, were £142, and in the House of Commons £379, making a total of £521 for House fees alone. These were some of the fruits of a system which threw an entirely unnecessary burden upon the ratepayers of many a small town. But excessive House fees were, after all, only a very small part of the grievance. What private Bill legislation cost under the present system was illustrated by the case of one great dock scheme in South Wales. He had been told on good authority that the promoters spent £180,000 in obtaining Parliamentary powers. How much their opponents spent was not known, but he was assured that it was considerably more than the sum spent by the promoters. He had received some very interesting information from various parts of Wales with reference to the cost of private Bill procedure. For example, the town of Cardiff had since 1890 spent £20,205 in obtaining Parliamentary powers and £7,022 in opposing private Bills. Swansea had spent £16,812 in the same period, and most of the large urban communities of Wales had spent proportionately large sums. But they 770 did not base their case for reform in this regard so much upon the expenditure of powerful commercial syndicates, or of great urban centres with a very heavy rateable value, which meant that the cost of obtaining Parliamentary powers imposed a comparatively light burden on the shoulders of the ratepayers. Their complaint was that the smaller towns were subjected to oppressive and unnecessary taxation. This was a special hardship in the case of watering places which were compelled to provide a good supply of water, electric light, drainage, and other necessities of civilised life for themselves and for the visitors upon whose custom they depended in the summer season.
The following were a few instances showing the heavy burden laid on many small towns on this account. He naturally selected examples in North Wales. Colwyn Bay had since 1890 spent the sum of £7,923, equivalent to a rate of 6¼d. in the £ for the period during which the loan was repayable. Barmouth, for the promotion of one Bill for the purpose of obtaining a supply of water, had to pay £3,551 equivalent to a rate of 1s. 2d. in the £ for ten years, and this was not the only burden which that town had to bear in consequence of the high cost of private Bill legislation. Prestatyn, in Flintshire, was a small but rapidly growing seaside resort. It cost the town £2,250 to secure Parliamentary powers for obtaining a supply of water, equivalent to a rate of 1s. 3d. in the £ for five years. These instances would suffice to show how heavy was the burden which small and growing communities had to bear, and how public money which could have been utilised for important public purposes had been, owing to the existing state of the law, thrown away in purely unproductive work. Welsh coast towns were at the present time feeling acutely the burden of heavy rates. In many cases works of a permanent and reproductive character had within recent years been undertaken on a large scale, and this had resulted in very heavy indebtedness. The local authorities had deemed the works for which they had borrowed absolutely necessary for the health and comfort of the inhabitants and the visitors. But what 771 the ratepayers grudged, and with good reason, was that the cost of obtaining necessary Parliamentary powers imposed upon the rates a burden of unproductive expenditure. One great source of avoidable expense was the cost of bringing hosts of witnesses up to London and keeping them there. Committees only sat five days a week and five hours a day; there was often considerable uncertainty about the time when the witnesses would be required, and they frequently had to wait for days before they were called, if they were called at all. If the inquiry were local, a considerable share of this expense could be saved, witnesses who from old age or infirmity were unable to come up to London could be heard, and, more important still, the Committee would be able to inspect the place to which the Bill related; they would thus be able to dispense with much of the evidence that would otherwise be required, and would have better materials for arriving at a sound judgment, The Scotch Private Bill Procedure Act had been passed five years ago. The testimony of all connected with its working was that it had been a great success, had caused injustice to no one, and had saved much needless trouble and expenditure. They asked that a similar Act, similar in principle although not in every detail, should be passed for Wales.
§ COLONEL PRYCE-JONES (Montgomery Boroughs)
said it had not been his intention to make a speech on that occasion, but the hon. Member who last addressed the House had so often referred to the harmless nature of Part III. of the Bill that he could not refrain from joining issue with the hon. Member on that ground. Part III. provided that, if the county councils unanimously so decided, they could have a joint board to deal with local Bills affecting Wales. The provision at first sight seemed harmless enough. But let the House remember that the Welsh county councils had unanimously agreed to withhold rate aid from all elementary non-provided schools in the Principality, and although a minority was strongly opposed to that policy their views had no attention whatever. Was it the intention of the promoters of the Bill that a similar state of affairs should be possible in regard to 772 private Bill legislation? There were not many Welsh Conservative Members of Parliament, but on their behalf he wishes to point out that the interests of the rural and urban districts often differed materially, and a joint board would not ensure an adequate representation of both their interests. He hoped, therefore, that Part III. of the Bill would be withdrawn. If that were done the measure would receive the unanimous support of all the Members for Wales. Personally he was strongly in favour of devolution in the case of Welsh private business, but he feared that as this Bill was framed it would enable the majorities on the county councils to tyrannise over the minorities, and therefore unless Part III. was withdrawn he hoped the Government would reject the measure.
§ MR. EUGENE WASON (Clackmannan and Kinross)
said he was convinced, from his personal experience both of private Bill work and the work of the Police and Sanitary Committee in the House of Commons, in which he had served a long apprenticeship under the Chairmanship of the President of the Local Government Board some twelve years ago, as well as of the working of the Scottish Act, that the private legislation of Scotland was done as well and efficiently by the Commissioners as it could be done by the House of Commons. Opinion in Scotland was unanimous that the Act was an unqualified success, and there was every reason to suppose that a similar measure would be equally beneficial to Wales. Of course it was absolutely necessary that the control of Parliament must be preserved, and it was preserved by the present Bill; but if a Private bill, after having been heard before the Commissioners, was re-debated in the House, the procedure would be useless. In the case of Scotland attempts had been made, in the House, to reverse the decisions of the Commissioners, but in every instance the good sense of the House assured that no injustice had been done, had refused the proposed rehearing. There was a popular idea that it was a remunerative thing to be a Commissioner. The modest remuneration was £1 a day for subsistence money and travelling expenses, and the Commissioner was not even allowed 773 to charge a "tip" to a porter. Clearly it was not very remunerative employment on which to take away a Member of that House from his home and Parliamentary duties. He hoped the House would give the Bill a Second Reading. There was no intention on the part of hon. Members for Wales to deprive any part of England of the same privilege should they desire to have it. He believed that an extension of this system of devolution would be of great advantage to the community and a great saving of the time and labour of the House. He did not consider there was any necessity whatever for an inquiry into the working of the Scotch Act.
§ MR. EDWARDS (Radnor)
also hoped most sincerely that the Bill would be read a second time. Much had been said by hon. Members opposite with regard to Part III., which they alleged to be the thin end of the wedge of Home Rule. He thought there was far too much fear expressed as to the effect of that particular provision. After all, it only proposed to substitute the members of a joint county council board for Commissioners appointed under the ordinary Scottish procedure. It only, in fact, substituted one kind of official for another, and, if this Bill were open to the suggestion that it savoured of Home Rule, the Scottish Bill was equally liable to the same suspicion. The hon. Member for Shropshire had spoken round and round the Bill: he seemed to be favourable to it and yet he managed to urge a great many arguments against it. They were to his mind rather out of date, and had they had any force in them they would have been fatal to the passing of the Scottish Act on which this Bill was based. He pointed out the difficulty which would prevail of distinguishing between matters solely Welsh and those which affected adjoining parts of England, but the same difficulty surely existed in the case of Scotland, but, in fact, in actual working it had not been found to exist under the Scottish procedure. The opposition to the Bill was very ingenious; it was an attempt to smother it with kindness. Everybody seemed to be in favour of it yet somehow or other the Bill did not appear likely to get through. The hon. Member for South Glamorgan 774 told them that if they could only get rid of Part III. the Bill would not be objected to, and the hon. Member for Shropshire said the same thing. Well, he was bound to say that the fear of injury to be created by that part of the Bill was very much exaggerated. But even if Part III. were dropped would they be any better off? They still had to deal with the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Somer set, who wanted to shelve the whole thing by having an inquiry held into the procedure under the Scottish Act. He believed the Government were willing to accept the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman, but having regard to what had been said in that House with regard to the Scottish system there did not seem to be any necessity for an inquiry. The Scottish procedure had, in fact, worked well; there had been no complaint made in regard to it, and the present Secretary for Scotland, when he brought in the Bill establishing it, clearly contemplated, the extension of the system to other parts of the United Kingdom. He said he quite looked forward to the time when it would be found that the procedure initiated by the Scotch Bill would be justified by its adoption by the vest of the United Kingdom. He added—Scotland is ripe for this Bill; but I do not think that that can be said of any other part of the United Kingdom.Well, he did not think the right hon. Gentleman was right there, for in Wales they were ripe for this Act. They were entitled to claim that this House should give them this Bill which they were now asking for. The Bill was absolutely based on precedent. They were following the Scotch Act, and were not asking the House to take any very serious plunge of a dangerous kind. The controversy had been over Part III. of the Bill, and there the fears of hon. Members were not justified by the facts. The Bill was really a measure of a kind which they all said they were anxious for. It was a small sample of devolution. Hon. Members opposite said they were quite ready for a system of devolution; but he noticed that when they gave them a concrete instance of devolution, they had some particular reason why it should not take effect. Devolution was obviously desirable, 775 because it relieved the burden on Parliament and the Government Departments, and developed capacity for local self-government, which was very important. The extension of local self-government not only relieved the central Administration, which was a good thing, but it also strengthened the local authority to which the power was transferred, because by increasing the importance and adding to the dignity of that authority they attracted better men to do its work. When the Scotch Act was before this House, Mr. Courtney, a Member who possessed experience and knowledge of such matters second to none, said that so long as private Bill legislation was connected with that House it would be uncertain, dilatory and costly. Those were three damaging charges to bring against the private Bill procedure in that House, and accepting them as based on fact, it was high time that the system was changed. Like the hon. Member for the Swansea District, he could say that people in his constituency had had experience of the inconveniences of the present private Bill procedure, and it was these inconveniences they wanted to avoid in future. Many proposals which came to Parliament for inquiry could very well be dealt with on the spot. Decentralisation such as that proposed would serve as a public advantage and as a means of cheapening legislation. There was no doubt that the debts of municipalities were largely added to by the present costly system of private Bill legislation, and because this Bill would tend to relieve them in that respect he heartily supported its Second Reading.
§ SIR JOSEPH LAWRENCE (Monmouth Boroughs)
associated himself with the views of the hon. Members from Wales in advocating this Bill. Those of them who had had the somewhat painful experience of the costliness of private Bill legislation could hardly fail to be impressed with the necessity for some such measure of devolution. He had a keen remembrance of some twenty years ago, in connection with the Manchester Ship Canal Bill. As one of the founders of the scheme, he and his friends had to face an expenditure of some hundreds of thousands of 776 pounds in carrying that Bill through Parliament during three sessions. He also had a recollection at or about the same time of the enormous expenditure that was occasioned to the people of South Wales in the promotion of the Barry Docks Bill. He thought it would be a graceful concession on the part of the Government if they could see their way to assent to the Second Reading of the Bill, and, by affirming its principle, to that extent lay the foundation of some arrangement by which private Bill legislation could be dealt with for the whole of the country hereafter. A beginning had to be made somewhere, and the hon. Member for the Swansea district had shown how it could be dealt with in Wales, where they had a distinct area. If any scheme was hereafter proposed for the whole of the Kingdom, the country would have to be divided into areas, on lines similar to those suggested for Wales and Monmouthshire. As to the objection which was felt to Part III. of the Bill, he understood the other side were willing to waive that if the Bill were read a second time. In any case, whatever alteration was needed in the machinery of the Bill, so long as the principle of devolution was preserved, could very well be left to the Local Government Board to arrange with the promoters. It was unnecessary to detain the House further by labouring the principle of devolution, as that would only be proving a self-evident proposition, since there was a general consensus of opinion that something in the direction of devolution must be attempted.
§ MR. THOMAS SHAW (Hawick Burghs)
said that in view of the express reference to Scotland in the Amendment he might be permitted to speak of the working of the Act of 1899 in the North. It was a mistake to suppose that that Act was introduced in anything like the shape in which it emerged from the House. It had to be drastically altered, and its final appearance was the result of consultation with all quarters of the House. When that Act was before the House much the same kind of argument was put forward as on the present occasion. Fears were expressed that Members would not be found ready to go to Scotland, and 777 those fears had been proved to be groundless. On behalf of all classes in Scotland he desired to thank Members of both Houses of Parliament for their services since the Act came into operation, and to none were they more grateful than to the hon. Member for Clackmannan and Kinross. As to the experience of Scotland, he could state it in a very few sentences. In 1901 thirteen Bills were locally tried, in 1902 nine, and in 1903 twelve, and when it was stated that those twelve Hills dealt with such matters as water supply, railway communication, markets, slaughter-houses, tramways, police, and corporation details, it would be seen that they were most usefully dealt with in the localities concerned. The Commissioners sat for eighteen days in 1901, seventeen days in 1902, and twenty-one days in 1903. The experience had been so satisfactory that if anyone suggested a reversion to the old system it would be thought that he had taken leave of his senses. With regard to the present measure, there appeared to be absolute unanimity on the part of Wales, with a plea for annexation from Monmouth. He entirely agreed with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Hallam Division of Sheffield, that justice should be brought as far as possible to the doors of the people, that the duplication and triplication of appeals to this House should be discouraged, and that the superiority of Parliament should be recognised. He rather objected to the extra-Parliamentary panel. He viewed with considerable alarm any proposition to increase the extra-Parliamentary panel if it was not a substantially elected panel like that appointed by the county council. In Scotland the supplementary panel had been resorted to on rare occasions, and he should look with hesitation upon any proposal for an increase of a nominated panel. The framers of the Bill had carefully copied an extreme example of Scottish caution contained in the Scottish Act, but the restrictive power allowed to Chairmen of Committees had been carried to a dangerous extent. Sub-section 2 of Clause 2 had been copied from the Scotch Bill and it provided that—If it appears from the report of the Chairmen that either of the Chairmen i3 of opinion that the provisions or some provisions of the 778 draft Order do not relate wholly or mainly to Wales, or are of such a character or magnitude, or raise any such question of policy or principle, that they ought to be dealt with by private 15ill and not by Provisional Order, the Local Government Board shall, without further inquiry, refuse to issue the Provisional Order, so far as the same is objected to by the Chairmen or Chairman.That was conferring a somewhat dangerous power upon the Chairmen of Committees. With regard to the Scotch Bill the only point upon which he could discern any dissatisfaction in Scotland was that there were not more Bills in the shape of Provisional Orders, and the Chairmen of Committees seemed to be getting too firm a hand in relegating matters to private Bill inquiry instead of to Provisional Order inquiry. In the year 1901 they rejected seven measures, in 1902 seven, and in 1903 they rejected eight or nine measures. He recommended his friends from Wales to look carefully at the language of Sub-section 2 of Clause 2, which appeared to him to give an exclusive power to the Chairman of Committees in both Houses which was of a somewhat dangerous kind. He would ike to see more inquiries conducted in Scotland, and even though a Bill affected in a slight degree interests on the other side of the border, when the substance of the Bill dealt with a Scottish matter. Moderation had been the order in his Welsh friend's proposal, and if precedent was followed this Bill should be passed. The Amendment asked that a Select Committee should inquire into Scotch experience which was only three years in extent, and which could be stated in a very few sentences. At the time the Scotch Bill was before the House it was said that they were introducing a Scotch revolution and that what was being asked for Scotland would be demanded for Northumberland and other places. Nevertheless Scotland persisted and got its own measure and it had done very well. He did not see why the Government should not reject this Amendment and accept the Bill.
§ MR. WILLIAM JONES (Carnarvonshire, Arfon)
said that as far as he could gather from the tenor of the debate almost every hon. Gentleman who had spoken had declared in favour of the principle of the Bill, and they were 779 all most emphatic upon the point of revolution and relieving the congestion of private Bill legislation in Parliament. Every hon. Member who had spoken for Wales was also in favour of the Bill. The hon. Member for Sheffield had urged the Government to adopt the principle of the Bill and give it a Second Reading, lie did not see why the Government; should not adopt that course, and the right hon. Gentleman might then send it to a Select Committee as a measure representing the unanimous opinion of the whole nation.
§ SIR SAMUEL HOARE (Norwich)
said the hon. Member opposite stated that more Provisional Orders might very well be granted to Scotland, and he urged the House to take a more liberal view of this question. That re-opened a matter which he ventured to bring before the House when the Bill for private legislation for Scotland was first proposed. At that time he told the House that, if they began by allowing certain questions to be decided in Scotland by such a procedure as the Bill set up, they would very soon have a demand for an extension of that procedure to other parts of the country. Of course when the Bill came up for the Second Reading he found that many objections he had to the measure had been removed, and he voted for it, but at the same time he pointed out that, if they gave this Bill to Scotland, they might have a similar demand from Wales and various portions of England, and that it would constitute a very great change in the whole of their private Bill procedure. He asked the House before accepting the Bill to satisfy itself that the Scottish system had worked satisfactorily. His own experience led him to suppose that there had been difficulties in its operation, and created doubts in his mind whether it would be wise to divide the United Kingdom into sections for the purpose of private Bill inquiries. From the experience he had had through sitting as Chairman of a Committee of the House, he was inclined to think that the Act did not work satisfactorily. He remembered particularly two Scotch Bills relating to one or two localities in reference to harbours on the same coast, and they took the Bills together. There was a 780 third Bill connected with the same question being dealt with in Scotland, and he was obliged, as Chairman, with the approval of his Committee, to call attention to the difficulty in coming to a decision with reference to those two Bills, because the third Bill was being investigated in Scotland. That was evidence that they did require some inquiry to see whether, in every case, those Bills which had been decided upon in Scotland by the procedure laid down in the Scottish Private Bill Procedure Act were satisfactory. The hon. and learned Gentleman said it was desirable that they should have those inquiries as near to the doors of the people interested in the matter as possible, and he implied that he would like to see all the private Bill legislation carried out in Scotland.
§ SIR SAMUEL HOARE
said they often had to consider cases where the local feeling was extremely strong. The hon. and learned Gentleman had stated that they were very much indebted to certain hon. Gentlemen who had assisted them in these Committees. When the Committee of the House dealt with railways and canals, if they took a group of Welsh Bills one year, next year they would take a group of English Bills or Scotch Bills. He still thought there were many advantages in such questions being dealt with by a Committee of the House, and if they were going to extend this system of private Bill procedure in various districts they should do so with very great care and caution. He wished to know whether it was an easy thing to get Members of Parliament to go down to take these local inquiries. If such inquiries were held in Wales or in the north and south of England they might find the tax on Members of Parliament more than they would be able conveniently to carry out. The House should remember that this proposal for Wales meant a proposal for dividing England into various sections for these inquiries with reference to Private Bill legislation, and he thought that would prove a very serious matter. At any rate he thought the House would be well advised 781 to ascertain exactly, not merely from hon. Members representing Scotland, but from the officials of this House, whether the Scotch Bill had worked in everyway satisfactorily. He did not see that the adoption of this Amendment would cause any long delay. His own experience was that difficulties did occur owing to the fact that one Bill was being decided in Scotland whereas it was their duty to decide on two other Bills closely allied to the same subject elsewhere. He quite appreciated the reasons why hon. Members from Wales had brought forward this Bill, but, if they wanted a really good working Bill, he did not think their interests would be in any way injured by waiting until they had ascertained how the Scotch Bill had worked.
§ MR. MUNRO FERGUSON (Leith Burghs)
said he did not know whether it would be possible to have a Return showing what the burden of private Bill legislation had been upon Members of the House at Westminster. His hon. friend had referred to the tax upon Members involved by having to go to Scotland to take inquiries. He should be very sorry for the hon. Member if he had to go so far north, but he thought Scotch Members would be found ready to make up any Committees in Scotland. The working of the Scotch Act had been so fairly described by hon. Members representing Scotland that he would not detain the House further upon that subject, but he felt it would be a great advantage, in dealing with this question, if they could know exactly what the burden of this private Bill work was upon hon. Members who were doing the ordinary work of the House. In considering this point, he thought the right hon. Gentleman opposite would admit that the work entailed upon Members of this House with respect to inquiries and Committees and Commissions of all kinds was much greater than it used to be. Most admirable inquiries had been held in late years by the various Departments, and the only regret was that more of those inquiries had not been transformed into law. When he served upon the Private Bill Committee he did feel that it was a disadvantage to Members of this House, and he concluded that so far as they 782 could limit the work of private Bill legislation so far would it tend to the efficiency of the work of Parliament. The time of Members of Parliament would be far more usefully employed upon other work than that of private Bills. He did not think there was any harm in the provision for adding to the Committee some members from the outside, because they were frequently able to fall back upon men admirably qualified to serve on such Committees who were not Members of Parliament. The Scotch Act had reduced the work laid upon Parliament, and what had been found to work admirably in Scotland might very well be extended to other portions of the United Kingdom. He would remind hon. Members representing England that in Scotland they had suffered much inconvenience in the past through having to bring local matters to London for inquiry. Local inquiries were of especial importance to outlying portions of the kingdom which were a long distance from London, and he was sure that what had worked well in Scotland would work well in Wales.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. WALTER LONG,) Bristol, S.
said he was sure they would all regret the absence of the hon. Member for Cardigan, who had taken such a great interest in this question. The hon. Member who moved the Second Reading of this Bill had done so in a speech of fairness and moderation and great clearness, and he had dealt with it as completely and clearly as it was possible for anyone to put the case. The speeches which had been made showed conclusively that there was a general desire in all quarters of the House that some solution of this question should be found. He did not suggest that the Welsh Members were not fully justified in pressing their own case on behalf of the Principality, when they had been fortunate enough to find an opportunity of introducing the question at a comparatively early period of the session. He did not intend to say anything which would in any way depart from the agreeable and uncontroversial tone, or from the line of general agreement which had been so marked in recommending this Bill to the House, but while not departing from the line of general agreement with 783 the principle, he would point out some of the difficulties that stood in the way of actual and practical acceptance of the Bill, The hon. and learned Gentleman who moved the Second Reading of this Bill observed that he had on many occasions enlightened the House upon the history of Wales and her claim to be regarded as a separate entity for various purposes. It had been said by some hon. Members that this Bill contained a proposal in Part III. which was open to the suspicion of Home Rule. He did not think he needed to take up any time debating that side of the question. Part III. was an entire departure from the Scottish precedent, and if that were retained he should feel bound to resist the Second Reading. He did not stay to consider the suspicion that this part of the Bill contained a germ of Home Rule; he thought that a joint board of county councils would not be the proper authority for the purpose of inquiry. The hon. and learned Member who moved the Second Reading said he had himself been appointed as a Commissioner in Scotland and had attended more than once. From that hon. Members would see that the Scotch procedure adopted a principle which was departed from by the Bill before the House, because under the Scotch procedure the Commissioners were drawn from this House from all parts of the United Kingdom, whilst the proposal under Part III. of this Bill proposed that the Commissioners shall be drawn only from Wales. That was one of the most important principles of the Scotch proposal and one which they could not accept in its altered form in this Bill. He was not sure whether Part III. was considered to be an important part of this Bill or not. An appeal had been made to him to allow this Bill to be read a second time and to be sent to a Select Committee. It was impossible for him to consider that appeal so long as the retention of Part III. of the Bill was in doubt. If they were to consider solely the application of the Scotch principle, in whole or in part, that appeal might be well worthy of consideration, but if in conjunction with that proposal, there was a proposal to set up a joint county board in which would be vested powers which were now vested in the Commissioners, then the situation was changed, and so far as the Bill was concerned his duty towards it was to oppose it.
784 He thought, of course, that the general question, which he ventured to say was of greater and wider importance, was not affected by considerations restricted to the Bill. His hon. friend the Member for Clackmannan had referred to the experience which they had had as members of the Police and Sanitary Committee. He ventured to say that no one who had served on that Committee and who had had experience of the work, would say at the end of two or three years that he had not formed the impression that there must be considerable devolution in regard to the discharge of the private Bill business of the House. His hon. friend would remember that when they finished their labours last year, when he had the privilege of being Chairman of the Committee, they discussed more than once whether it would not be competent or desirable for them to make a Report which would tend in the direction of some reform of that kind, and they only abstained from making a Report because they felt that it was not within their proper function to take that course. That experience made him sympathetic towards any proposal which had for its object the devolution of the private Bill work of the House, but that experience carried them further than the proposals in this Bill. His right hon. friend who moved the Amendment, pointed out with unanswerable force, and with the knowledge which he possessed above the majority of his fellow Members, that there ought to be an even greater reform than that connected with the adoption of the Scotch system.
The private Bill work of this House ought to be divided into two classes. Already there was with respect to some of the local work the Provisional Order system. He was confident that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton, if he had been present, would have said, as he had often said before, that any real reform in regard to private Bill work ought to be partly in the development of the Provisional Order system and partly in the direction of the Scotch procedure system. The hon. and learned Gentleman the late Solicitor General for Scotland, did not appear to have carefully read the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for 785 East Somerset, and in the second place he appeared to misapprehend altogether what the Amendment asked the House to say. The hon. and learned Gentleman said he could tell the House in a few minutes what the experience of Scotland had been in regard to private Bill business. They believed the new system had worked admirably there, but what the House wanted to know was whether the system could be applied to other parts of the Kingdom. The hon. and learned Gentleman suggested to the House, and, he had no doubt, with full justification, that if the Act had been a great success in Scotland, it was not so much due to the inception of it on that aide of the House as to the correction of it on his side. They would not now discuss where the larger share of the honour rested but be content with the knowledge that the Act had been a success. He would indicate one detail which would show to the House how different were the circumstances of England and Scotland. He could not say off-hand how many Bills had come before the Scotch procedure panel.
§ MR. WALTER LONG
said that the House would realise that the demand for local legislation was very much greater in England than in Scotland. The number each session from England and Wales was something like 200. That showed at once how dangerous it would be without further information to apply to the other parts of the kingdom a system which had worked well in regard to a dozen Bills. The need for a remedy was realised by all who knew how large a proportion private Bills formed of Parliamentary work. The number of private Bills, it was true, had not increased very much in the course of the last ten years, but they had become very much more expensive than they formerly were. As the hon. Member for Leith had pointed out, there was not only a large demand on the time of Members in connection with Committees on private Bills, but there was an increasing demand for Committees to inquire into abstract questions and general Bills, and it was difficult to get Members to 786 form the Committees which were required. There was, undoubtedly, in all quarters of the House a general consensus of opinion that reform was required, and that the Scotch system gave them, at all events, a good basis to go upon. The question they had to discuss was not whether in the abstract the Scotch system had been successful, but whether this Bill which proposed to apply the principle to Wales as it was now applied to Scotland, should be read a secondtime or not. He could not give his consent to Part III., but he did not know whether hon. Members desired that the Bill should be read with that as an integral part of it, or on the understanding that it was dropped. He thought that consideration would affect the view in regard to the Bill of many of his hon. friends on that side of the House who had supported the principle of devolution, but who had consistently condemned Part III., which proposed to set up a body on lines of which they did not approve.
He would not stop now to discuss; Part III., because he wanted to tell the House the line which he thought they ought to follow. What they wanted to know was how far they would be justified in accepting the Bill as an expression of the desire that there should be a further reform of private Bill procedure and of the way in which that reform should immediately proceed. Hon. Members who had supported the Second Reading had in almost every instance admitted that if this Bill were adopted for Wales it must obviously be adopted for other parts of the country. Let the House remember what the position in that case would be. He took Lancashire and Yorkshire, the two counties which were most frequently referred to. The hon. and learned Gentleman who moved the Second Reading said he thought that Wales required to ask for more legislation than any other part of the kingdom of equal size and population. That was strictly accurate. The figures were somewhat remarkable. The population of Lancashire was a little over 4,400,000, and the Bilk from that county were twenty-one; the population of Yorkshire was 3,500,000, and the Bills were eighteen; and Wales with a population of 1,700,000 had thirteen Bills. He asked the 787 House to remember what they were asked to do. They were asked to provide new machinery which would make it cheaper, simpler, and easier, to get private Bills through. The Scotch system which they were asked to adopt reserved to Parliament not only the ultimate control, but the right of exercising an independent discretion over those Bills, and the link with Parliament was formed in a valuable wav by having Members of Parliament on the spot to hold the inquiries. If there was a case for Wales, there was obviously a case for Lancashire and Yorkshire, and for the rest of the country. Hon. Gentlemen cheered that, and they said they were willing to concede it. He had no doubt they were. He was addressing himself to the practical question. If they were going to have panels for Lancashire and Yorkshire, and other counties, or combinations of counties, there would no longer be any trouble about insufficient accommodation for Members of this House. There would be ample room because Members would be sitting in provincial towns doing their work there.
It was because he believed the adoption of the narrow principle of this Bill would weaken rather than strengthen the case for reform that he agreed with h is right hon. friend in asking the House to pause before adopting it. He was rather surprised to hear the hon. and learned Member for the Hawick Burghs urge that the case of Wales stood practically on all fours with that of Scotland. It would not be denied by hon. Gentlemen opposite that he did his best to help Wales at the time of the passing of the Welsh Intermediate Education Act. He could well understand that on such a question as that, in regard to which local sentiment differed so much in the Principality from what it was in the adjoining counties, there was necessity for exceptional legislation, but he found it more difficult to realise the need of the demand on the part of Wales for separate treatment in any other case. Scotland and England were on the question of local laws totally different. Scotland had her own Bar, and her own laws. The system of local government there was quite different from that of England, and if he might say so without disrespect to his own part of the United 788 Kingdom, it was very much better. The public health law in Scotland differed from that of England. But in Wales the system of local government, was the same, and the public health law was the same. For purely administrative purposes England and Wales were one, and he could not see what justification there was for a special tribunal to deal alone with Wales. Not only that, but it seemed to him that Wales had no special claim if they looked at the question from a practical point of view. Surely they were more likely to get a good reform if they endeavoured to find a system applicable to the whole country than if they gave Wales this system, and left the rest of the country to be dealt with afterwards. When his hon. and learned friend the Secretary for Scotland brought in the Scotch Bill he laid it down that the principle that nationality ought not to be the guiding principle in setting up a special system for private Bill procedure. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the Hawick Burghs said they did not want any more information about the working of the Scotch Act. But they did want to know whether there was a difficulty in obtaining the services of Members of Parliament, whether the number of Members who served might not be decreased, and whether the extra-Parliamentary panel might be increased, and they desired to have some information with regard to that portion of the work which was done by the Government Departments before any application was made to this House. They also wished to know whether it would be desirable to divide England and Wales into two or three areas, so that panels of Commissioners might do the whole of the private Bill work in those areas. That was not an unreasonable suggestion to make. He would not refuse this Bill a Second Reading on the ground of sentiment; but if it was proposed to carry the Bill through its subsequent stages, then he thought it would make it, more difficult for them to deal with the whole question.
He did not believe there was in any quarter a disposition to say "No" to this demand, if it was established that Wales ought to have separate treatment for herself. The suggestion had been made that the Amendment of his right 789 hon. friend was a dilatory Amendment. He had to say in the most emphatic way, speaking not only for himself, but for the Government, that in accepting and adopting the Amendment of his right hon. friend, they not only did so in no dilatory spirit, but with the most emphatic repudiation of anything of the kind. It would be said, no doubt, by those who wished to be controversial, that the Government were not enthusiastic in this matter, and they might be asked why they did not bring forward the proposal themselves. The answer was obvious. There were many questions which they, like every other Government, would like to deal with, but they could only deal with a certain number. Nobody on this side of the House denied to hon. Members from Wales all the credit they deserved for the industry which had led to the production of the Bill. This was an opportunity which should be utilised not only for the benefit of Wales, but for the whole United Kingdom. They believed that hon. Members opposite should accept the Committee as a genuine and bona fide proposal. The Committee would be immediately set up, and the reference to it could be so drawn that the inquiry would not be of a prolonged character. The result of the inquiry might be to give the House a practical proposal, and that, surely, would be something gained from the point of view of Wales. The hon. Member for Carnarvon had suggested that the Bill should be read a second time and sent to a Select Committee, but there were difficulties in the way of adopting that course. If the fact that the Bill was read a second time was to be regarded as a precedent, he thought that would be rather a dangerous course to take, because it would mean the adoption of a principle without careful examination of the way in which it was to be worked out. That was an objection which might be placed on one side, but if they sent the Bill to a Select Committee they could not then send to the Committee the reference which his right hon. friend had suggested.
§ MR. WILLIAM JONES
said he understood that the Amendment suggested that there should be a Select Committee 790 appointed to make inquiry. Why not send this Bill to that Committee?
§ MR. WALTER LONG
said he was afraid that would be impossible. The reference to the Select Committee would be to inquire into the working of the Scotch system, and how far it was applicable to other parts of the kingdom. He spoke subject to correction, but he did not think that their Parliamentary procedure would enable them to refer to that Committee a Bill which dealt only with a portion of the subject. He would undertake on behalf of the Government that this Select Committee should be appointed with the least possible delay, that the reference to it should be one which would promote its work and not postpone this question, and that the Government would be prepared, to the best of their ability, to give effect to the recommendations of the Committee. He suggested, in order that hon. Gentlemen opposite might save their Bill that the debate should be adjourned That would keep the Bill alive, and, if the Select Committee were to report in favour of granting to Wales a separate private Bill procedure, it could then be referred to the usual Committee or its further examination. He believed that course would meet the needs of all concerned. Were the Welsh Members asked to give up very much when they were; asked to accept that proposal? If the Bill were read a second time did they believe, with their knowledge of the working of the House, that it was the least likely it would go any further? They would wrangle where there was no need to wrangle. All that was wanted was to find the most practical way to do what they all desired to do. He hoped, he was sure, that the House would believe that he made this proposal in the utmost good faith, and not with the least desire to save the face of the Government. If they went to a division on this question, which he sincerely trusted they would not do, hon. Members would vote as they thought fit, and without any pressure from the Government So far as he was personally concerned he would support the Amendment, but he would not do so out of any feeling of hostility to Wales, nor even out of any actual dislike to the proposal in the Bill. 791 What was wanted was the division of the country into two or three areas, for the purpose of the classification of local government work. If that were done, Parliament might be relieved of much of the work which could not be overtaken now. The reform must be extended, not only to Wales, but to the rest of the United Kingdom.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE (Carnarvon Boroughs)
said he was very glad to hear the President of the Local Government Board declare that he was prepared to make this an open question.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
said he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would accept the suggestion of the hon. Member for Carnarvon. So far as he could see there would be no difficulty in applying the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman by way of an Instruction to the Select Committee; and, supposing the Second Reading was taken, it did not commit the House to Part III. What be was afraid of was, that if the Amendment was accepted and the Bill rejected, the scope of the inquiry would be limited. His hon. friend wanted an inquiry into the best method of dealing with private Bill procedure, not only for Wales, but for the whole of the United Kingdom, whereas the hon. Member for Norwich would confine the inquiry exclusively as to how the Act had worked in Scotland, The Scotch system could not really be extended to every part of the United Kingdom; but if they were going to inquire into 200 or 300 Bills, and send Members here, there, and everywhere 792 during the session, the system would be unworkable. He did not object to an inquiry into the working of the Scotch system, but he thought the inquiry ought to go beyond that, and examine into every other method of procedure. It was perfectly clear that something ought to be done. It was really a perfect scandal that so many little towns had been practically crippled for generations owing to the cost of private Bill legislation. He knew of a town in Wales where the Local Government Board forced upon it a very extensive waterworks scheme, when they ought to have been contented with a much more modest scheme. The population of that town was only 1,000 or 1,200, and it cost them £2 or £3 per head for the purpose of obtaining the powers which the Local Government Board forced upon them. The rates had increased 10s. in the £, and the town was on the brink of bankruptcy. The hon. Member for Shropshire supported the Amendment and seemed to argue against the Bill. The hon. Gentleman appeared to object to Shrewsbury being made a common meeting ground for Welsh Members and others who desired to cheapen private Bill procedure. He remembered that the Welsh princes visited Shrewsbury once in every twenty years or so to burn the town, and he was not surprised at that, if the ancestors of the hon. Gentleman used to make speeches about Wales like he did. He trusted, therefore, that the President of the Local Government Board would give them a Second Reading of the Bill in order that the whole matter might be discussed upstairs. In regard to Part III., that was in the hands of the Government. He understood that his 793 hon. and learned friend did not object to the elimination of Part III. of the Bill, but it must not be taken that they agreed to its elimination because they thought it was not the best way of carrying out what they desired. He hoped the Government would consent to the course he had suggested.
§ MR. HENRY HOBHOUSE
said that the proposal of the hon. Member opposite was agreeable to him, and he asked leave to withdraw his Amendment in order that it might be moved as an Instruction to the Select Committee.
§ SIR FREDERICK BANBURY (Camberwell, Peckham)
said he thought it would be out of order to commit a Bill to the Select Committee with an Instruction to inquire into something which had happened in Scotland, wholly outside the Bill.
§ SIR CHARLES DILKE (Gloucestershire, Forest of Dean)
said that there were precedents for committing two Bills not consistent with one another.
§ MR. SPEAKER
said he understood it was proposed that the Bill should be read a second time, and then committed to a Select Committee. That of course could be done but no Motion for appointing the Committee, or for an instruction to that Committee, could be made without notice. He would consider the terms of any such Motion when it appeared on the Paper, but, speaking generally, he thought it would not be found impossible to carry out the Intentions of hon. Members, either by way of an ordinary Instruction, or by way of a substantive Resolution referring the other 794 subject-matter to the Committee which was dealing with the Bill.
§ MR. WALTER LONG
said that by leave of the House he would suggest a way out of the difficulty they were in. He accepted the perfectly fair declaration of the hon. Member for Carnarvon. He understood that by mutual agreement Part III. of the Bill would be put on one side without prejudice. [Mr. BKYNMOR JONES: I said so.] The Bill would then remain simply a proposal for the reform of private Bill procedure, following the example of Scotland. The question was how to secure that the Bill would not be destroyed, and at the same time to keep the field open for a wider inquiry. He suggested that the Bill should be read a second time and referred to a Select Committee, but that it should be understood that that Committee should not be asked for until the reference had been agreed upon on the lines of the Amendment moved by his right hon. friend.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed to a Select Committee.