HC Deb 04 July 1906 vol 160 cc61-4

Motion made arid Question proposed, "That the Order [June 15th] for committal of Fatal Accidents and Sudden Deaths Inquiry (Scotland) Bill to the Standing Committee on Law, etc., be discharged, and that the Bill be committed to the Standing Committee on Trade, etc."—(The Lord-Advocate.)

MR. MITCHELL THOMSON (Lanarkshire, N. W.)

objected to the Motion upon the grounds that the Bill was essentially a legal measure and therefore it should be considered by the Standing Committee on Law. The House would see that the question at issue was really a very important technical question; it was nothing loss than whether, in order to carry out the principle of the Bill—about which they were not quarrelling— changes should be made in the machinery of the Scottish legal system, and if so, what those changes should be. A question of that kind was not a proper matter to be dealt with by the Standing Committee on Trade. On the other hand, the gentlemen on the Standing Committee on Law were, many of them, members of the legal profession and a great number of them were Scotsmen. He had examined the composition of the Standing Committee on Trade and he found that something less than 15 per. cent. were lawyers and a fewer number still were Scotsmen. It was absurd to submit a question such as the one before them to a Committee so composed. He knew they would be told that the step was being taken to avoid a congestion of business on one Committee and a total absence of business on another, but what he complained of was that the Government should have allowed such a state of things to come about. He asked the right hon. Gentleman not to press his Motion, because such a step would hardly fail to create a feeling of prejudice in Scotland.


explained that the Law Committee were at present fully occupied with the Fertilisers and Feeding Stuffs Bill and that there were four other Bills to follow for their consideration, all of which would take some time. In fact the Standing Committee on Law was completely blocked. On the other hand the Standing Committee on Trade was absolutely idle with nothing to do. Under these circumstances he thought one could hardly blame the Committee of Selection for asking the Standing Committee on Trade to get on with this Bill. The only observation which seemed to have any substance in it, put forward by the hon. Gentleman who opposed the Motion, was that the measure had nothing whatever to do with trade. He would point out that the Bill was one which advocated inquiry into all kinds of accidents in industrial occupations, and therefore he contended that it was very suitable for the consideration of the Standing Committee on Trade.


said that the Dogs Bill, the Prevention of Corruption Bill, and the Irish Intoxicating Liquors' Bill all passed the Standing Committee on Trade in one day much to the credit of the promoters of the measures and the opposition, but it left the hands of the Committee practically free. It was very unfair to allow one Committee to be over burdened whilst another remained without anything to do. Further, he would remind Members opposite that there would be fifteen Members specially selected, and very carefully selected, who would be thoroughly competent to deal with the Bill. The Standing Committees had worked very well, and he did hope the House would be willing to make their task as light as possible.

MR. A. J. BALFOUR (City of London)

agreed that the work of the Grand Committee should be distributed as equally as possible, and no one would deny that the Standing Committee on Trade was composed of men of authority and position, who enjoyed the confidence of the House. The point his hon. friend behind him had raised, however, was not that one Committee should be over-burdened and another left idle, but that the Bill in question was clearly of a legal character only, and therefore should not be handed over to the consideration of the Standing Committee on Trade and taken away from the Standing Committee on Law. The arguments of the Lord Advocate, with regard to the commercial aspect of the Bill, was the most far-fetched he had ever heard in his life. He presumed that the Bill was not confined to accidents in industrial working. He thought reform was needed in the Scottish practice, which in some respects was perhaps behind the English practice. That did not make it other than a legal Bill, and he thought his hon. friend was fully justified in pressing upon the House that the Bill should be sent to a Committee upon which there were a larger number of members competent to deal with this particular class of problem than they could expect to find on the Committee on Trade.


said the case put forward by the hon. Member opposite rested upon the supposition that the Standing Committee on Trade and the Standing Committee on Law were separated by a great gulf in that they were of a totally different character one from the other, and that one dealt with all legal questions, and the other with all trade questions. When the hon. Gentleman had been a little longer in the House he would know that the difference between the two Committees was purely nominal; he would further know that this action had been taken on the recommendation of the Committee of Selection, who had power to add to any Committee in respect of a particular Bill fifteen Members possessing special authority or having acquaintance with the class of subject to be dealt with. Let fifteen law Members be added to the Committee on Trade and they at once had a nice legal body. That would be a great disappointment, however, to all those who looked at this question not from a technically legal but from a trade point of view. The most important part of the Bill was to lay down a method of obtaining improvement in the conduct of industrial labour so as to avoid accidents, and it was not a mere question as to how the law officers of the Crown should deal with it; it was one which more particularly concerned the processes of trade. But he stood upon what he first said, that the distinction between the two Committees was most shadowy and practically illusory. When the Committee of Selection had advocated a certain course, to endeavour to set it aside on the ground that a Bill involving legal points should go to the Committee on Law instead of the Committee on Trade was surely not a proceeding which deserved o much support as it had received from the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. DALZIEL (Kirkcaldy Burghs)

expressed regret that the Government had not thought fit to carry out the promise given at the commencement of the session that there should be a Scottish Grand Committee. Had that been done they would not now be discussing this matter, and the existing Grand Committee would not be so overburdened with work.


said he had not perhaps fully realised that this course was undertaken at the request of the Committee of Selection. As it had been made quite clear that this was not an action taken by the Government, whilst he should still protest as strongly as before against the action, he did not propose to ask the House to divide.

Question put, and agreed to.