"That the Committee of Selection do nominate a Committee, not exceeding Fifteen Members, to be called the Local Legislation Committee, to whom shall be committed all Private Bills promoted by municipal and other local authorities by which it is proposed to create powers relating to Police, Sanitary, or other Local Government regulations in conflict with, deviation from, or excess of the provisions of the general Law:
That Standing Orders 124, 150, and 173A apply to all such Bills:
That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers, and records:
That Four be the quorum:
That if the Committee shall report to the Committee of Selection that any Clauses of any Bill referred to them (other than Clauses containing Police, Sanitary, or other Local Government regulations) are such as, having regard to the terms of reference, it is not in their opinion necessary or advisable for them to deal with, the Committee of Selection shall thereupon refer the Bill to a Select Committee, who shall consider those Clauses and so much of the Preamble of the Bill as relates thereto, and shall determine the expenditure (if any) to be authorised in respect of the parts of the Bill referred to them. That the Committee shall deal with the remaining Clauses of such Bill, and so much of the Preamble as relates thereto, and shall determine the period and mode of repayment of any money authorised by the Select Committee to be borrowed and shall report the whole Bill to the House, stating in their Report what parts of the Bill have been considered by each Committee:
§ That the Committee have power, if they so determine, to sit as two Committees, and in that event to apportion the Bills referred to the Committee between the two Committees, each of which shall have the full powers of and be subject to the instructions which apply to the undivided Committee, and that Four be the quorum of each of the two Committees."1226
§ Mr. BOOTH
I think that this is a convenient Motion upon which to ask for a lead from the Chairman of Ways and Means with regard to private Bill legislation in this Session. On Thursday last there was a list of twenty-four Bills, most of them important, called immediately after prayers, and I took the responsibility of arresting the progress of a considerable proportion of those Bills. My object was not in any way to waste the time of the House, but to have this discussion and to obtain the explanation which I hope we shall now receive. When the Prime Minister took the time of private Members he supported his Motion on the ground that in a War Session the House could not be expected to turn its attention to matters with which it dealt in the ordinary way. He did not take away the time of private Members on the ground that the matters with which those Members dealt were unimportant—indeed, he agreed that in normal times they were very important—but he took the time away on the ground that this was not a convenient time to have those controversies. But the private Member now sees a long catalogue of important Bills about which there may be a great deal of controversy. The Prime Minister's words in this regard were very striking. He said:—In regard to a large number of these private "Bills. … many of them are designed for objects of public utility, and I think it would be a very great pity if the wheels of private Bill legislation were altogether stopped in consequence of the War, while, at, the same time, going as far as my hon. and learned friend to say, that if the particular private Bills raised questions of a public character, and of a contentious nature, the Government will naturally feel disposed to present further progress."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd February, 1915, col. 74.The Government are in possession of the whole time of the House, and I think we are entitled to ask that some indication should be given to the House before it passes a Bill on the Second Reading as to how far that phrase of the Prime Minister is intended to carry. I put a question to my right hon. Friend to-day, and his answer was eminently satisfactory to me. I cannot quote it, but it will be in the OFFICIAL REPORT to-morrow. He indicated that it was difficult to judge always in regard to these Private Bills whether they are contentious merely upon domestic matters, or whether they are controversial because they raise public questions, and he stated that, in his judgment, the best way was to test that on Second Reading. That is exactly what I want. That is why I did not allow the Bills to go through sub silentin. I thought that we should 1227 endeavour to ascertain that on Second Reading, and that the House was entitled, in this extraordinary difficulty, to rely in a large measure upon the guidance of our respected Chairman of Ways and Means.
In most years these Bills go through Second Reading generally without a word. It is very seldom indeed that there is any discussion here; but when they are fought in Committee by paid counsel, the various people concerned awake to the fact that legislation is on. Questions arise, and when the Bills come back to this House, there is frequently a Debate and a severe fight on the Report stage and Third Reading. I submit that this year it is within the power of any organised minority to kill any one of these Bills; at any rate, that is a danger against which I wish to guard. As I read the Prime Minister's speech, if an organised body in the House opposed on public grounds a Bill on the Report stage or Third Reading, the Government would not allow that Bill to go any further. I think, therefore, that an appeal should be made to the House that any opposition of that kind should be brought forward on Second Reading, before the expense of the Committee stage had been incurred, and before the time of hon. Members in a Session of great strain had been taken up by attendance at the Committee. I am not in a position to suggest to the Chairman of Ways and Means how he should find out whether such opposition exists. One idea that struck me was that all the main Bills should be put down to be dealt with at 8.15, not with a view to inducing Members to withdraw their opposition, nor in the hope of getting Bills through in the absence of their opponents, but in order that the House might see what the matter of controversy, if any, amounts to.
I will mention four fights which took place last Session upon Bills which had been in Committee. There were the Celluloid Bills—I am not sure whether they all went to Committee. The point of controversy was that of public interference with private enterprise. It was argued that if a city had advanced rules with regard to these industries, the people concerned might go to country places where the local authorities were not so alive. Then there was the Manchester Corporation Bill, opposition to which was raised by people interested in open spaces and commons preservation. On the Swindon Improvement Bill a controversy was raised on the 1228 ground that it was a national duty to preserve waterways, and that that Bill was abandoning it. On the Great Eastern Railway Bill the Members of the Labour Party raised a point which was not exactly within the four corners of the Bill, but which they thought they were entitled to raise—and undoubtedly they were by the forms of the House—as to the treatment of its servants by that railway company. The House so far approved of their raising the question that it supported them in the Division, and the Bill was thrown out, which I think is the best proof that they were not bringing up a point without substance. I submit to the House that in this Session in particular, when it is in the power of any strong resolute body to have a Bill defeated by a controversy which is undesirable, it is the more incumbent upon us to see that nothing goes up to Committee except Bills in regard to which there is a common understanding that they shall have fair play and the decision of the Committee shall be restricted. I do not want to press my point further. I am rather making these remarks in order that the Chairman of Ways and Means, who, I hope, sees the extraordinary nature of the position this year, as distinguished from any other, may give a lead to the House. I can assure him, although I have taken a very keen interest in these Bills so far, and have slopped their progress. I am very much prepared, with the rest of the Members, to put confidence in the advice that he may choose to give.
§ Mr. JONATHAN SAMUEL
Before the Chairman of Ways and Means replies to the remarks of the hon. Member for Pontefract, I should like, in a word or two, to warn him against conceding the principle which the hon. Member for Pontefract has demanded. If he does so, I am afraid that many of these Bills will fall through this year. I understand that the hon. Member for Pontefract is asking that we shall have a general Debate on a private Bill, or Bills, that any Member may take exception to during the Session.
§ Mr. J. SAMUEL
I know, but it is not very often taken advantage of. If, however, the principle is accepted that a Bill that anyone takes exception to on some minor point is to be treated as suggested, naturally there is a chance of that 1229 Bill being opposed successfully. I should like to take exception to what the hon. Member behind me said with regard to the Bill Committees upstairs. I have for several years sat on these Committees, and for the last two years I have been on the Local Legislation Committee. I can assure the hon. Member that the Members of that Committee are not influenced by the speeches of counsel to the extent that he suggests. I believe that the Members of the Committee really sift the evidence to the best of their ability, and give judgment according to the facts presented to them. Some hon. Members may think that all these proceedings before Committee are a waste of money, but we have to get some evidence on these Bills. I should like to see some of these Bills go through this year for certain reasons. To my knowledge some of them are very important—very important indeed. I do not see my hon. Friend who is one of the representatives of the county of Durham, but in one case there is a Water Bill before the House in which the local authorities are really demanding that the company should go in for a great water scheme, because last year there was a water famine, and not only a famine affecting the health of the people but leading to the stoppage of works. That in itself is a very important matter to the local authorities. There is another argument which I am quite sure the Prime Minister could never have had in his mind when he made his original statement, that that statement should apply to private. Bills as we, understand them. I know that the hon. Member for Pontefract put a question to the Prime Minister following that statement. But look at it. If the hon. Member for Pontefract had been a member of a town council and had been engaged, like some of us have been, in the preparation of these Bills—
§ Mr. J. SAMUEL
Some of these Bills take practically two years to prepare before they come here. Members of the House should understand that.
§ Mr. J. SAMUEL
I do not think the hon. Member for the College Division of Glasgow would apply that to a Water Bill coming from the Glasgow Corporation. If he did I am certain they would punish him in Glasgow. The fact is that the practice 1230 in this House is for hon. Members to challenge Bills not affecting their own particular subject. That is what really comes about. Corporations, and local authorities especially, spend large sums of money in the preparation of plans, etc., before they come here. In addition they spend large sums on Parliamentary agents, a thing which cannot be helped because it is the law. Let me put this point to the hon. Member for Pontefract—it is very often an important one. Take a Railway Bill. There are Railway Bills coming before the House which will affect a very large number of districts, or large parts of the county, or of the country, with a huge capital expenditure. The hon. Member for Edinburgh interrupts, but this is really a most serious matter. If a matter affected Edinburgh, I venture to say the hon. Member would take a part in it. Members work and canvass for their particular Bill to get through, and to do so are prepared to destroy some other Bill.
I think that is very unfair. The other point I wish to make is this, that after the War is over I believe we shall have trade depression, more or less. I think it is as well now that both local authorities and railway companies should obtain powers this year so as to prepare for increased expenditure when we have the trade depression. That is a factor that I hope the House will take into consideration and give these Bills a hearing, for really, in my opinion, every one of them ought to go upstairs. They ought there to be sifted fully as to whether or not they should become law. I hope, very strongly indeed, that this very unwise thing will not proceed. Personally, I have never taken any part in it myself, although I have worked upon local authorities as long as any man in this House, and very much longer than a large number—for thirty-three years. I think it is a very great mistake for Members to challenge Bills down here before they go upstairs to be considered by Committee. These Committees are appointed for that purpose, and I can assure the hon. Member for Pontefract that when these Committees sit to consider these Bills they bring an unbiassed opinion to bear upon them and judge the Bills according to their value and prospects.
§ Mr. WARDLE
There may be a good deal of truth in what the hon. Member who has just sat down has said, but there is also something to be said from the point 1231 of view of the hon. Member who has brought forward this Motion. Certainly I cannot subscribe to the doctrine of the last hon. Member, that all Bills of this character should be allowed to go upstairs and to have their Second Reading without the possibility of challenge in this House. In such a case undoubtedly many wrongs would remain unrighted. I quite agree that in the main, and in the majority of cases, the practice should be allowed. Where there is nothing in Bills that is not of a vitally contentious nature, then, of course, they should be allowed to go upstairs; in some of those cases, where it is a matter between one locality and another, the matter can probably be best thrashed out in Committee. But the Second Reading of this kind of Bill is the only opportunity that this House has to consider whether the powers granted to corporations and railway companies in the past have been carried out in a proper manner. The hon. Member for Pontefract referred to a Great Eastern Railway Bill which last year was thrown out. We have it before us to-night. I hope there will be no objection to that Bill going through. So far as I am concerned, having had something to do last year with what took place, I sincerely hope we shall allow this Bill to go through. It is a very important Bill. I am sorry the Noble Lord who represents the Great Eastern Railway Company is not present in his place, for he has met the railway men during the present crisis handsomely. Even in regard to the dispute which we had last year over the Bill he has now, I am glad to say, agreed to reinstate the person who was then in dispute. Under these circumstances, therefore, I hope there will be no objection raised to this important Bill going to Committee.
§ Mr. WATT
I have only one observation to make, and it is this: I cannot see why the House should allow the Bills of corporations and municipalities to come into this House and pass through without comment in a Session such as this. Private Members of this House are not permitted this Session to bring in any measures in which they are specially interested. They have been precluded, by the exceptional measures taken, from bringing in any pet schemes in which they or their constituents are interested. That is a very drastic measure, and in the face of it, I think, corporations and municipalities should be put in precisely the same category as hon. 1232 Members themselves and their constituents. I cannot see why a special privilege should be given to municipalities and corporations to bring in their measures. As a rule in normal Sessions, as the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Wardle) has just said, this House is willing to give private Bills a Second Reading and to send them upstairs, there being an opportunity of granting or refusing the Bill on Third Reading. An opportunity is given to this House under those circumstances of discussing the merits of Bills, and I venture to think that measures, if they are promoted this Session, should at least come before the House and be freely and fully discussed. As to an observation of the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. J. Samuel) that all of us are intimidated by our corporations—
§ Mr. WATT
And that we dare not oppose the measures of our own corporations, I may say that that may be the rule at Stockton-on-Tees, but it is not the rule of the city which I have the honour to represent. It is a matter of history that a Member of this House studiously and persistently blocked a measure brought in by his own corporation of Glasgow. I hope the hon. Member will not apply his own experience to others.
§ The CHAIRMAN of WAYS and MEANS (Mr. Whitley)
I agree with the hon. Members who have spoken, that we must regard this as an exceptional Session, and I think that that fact has been borne in mind already by the promoters of private Bills. That is shown by the fact that the number of private Bills brought forward this Session is less than one-half the number usual in a normal Session, and I think hon. Members may take it that that in itself is a proof that, generally speaking, promoters have not brought forward Bills this year except in cases where the matter was urgent and required to be dealt with. I would point out to hon. Members that, amongst the reduced number of private Bills, there are a considerable number which are directly consequential on what this House itself did last year. For instances, there are some Bills promoted by local authorities for the acquisition of gas undertakings. The reason for those Bills is that last Session gas companies came forward with proposals which were at the time opposed by the local authorities, and this House only passed those Bills on condition that the local authorities should 1233 be given an opportunity of purchase in the ensuing Session of Parliament, and, therefore, it would be most wrong, in my view, that we should repudiate the obligation we ourselves have imposed.
I could point out a number of Bills—Gas Mills, Water Bills, and Municipal Bills—which are in that position, in that proposals contained in them arise out of what this House imposed in the last or preceding Session, and therefore it is a matter of our own honour that we should contrive, even in an exceptional Session, that Bills of that character should go forward. In fact, if they do not, some of these local authorities will lose by the lapse of the Session rights which we ourselves undertook they should have. It is not proposed, as I understand it, in any way to take away from the House the right to discuss a Bill, if it so desires, on Second Reading, provided it is in conformity with the rules of the House. At the same time, I think I may make this appeal to the House, that in a Session of this character both the discussion on Second Reading and the work of the Committee upstairs should be as expeditious and business-like as is possible. For my part, I should not in the least wish to restrain any proper discussion on Second Reading, but I certainly would rather deprecate any which is not in the public interest and I necessary. The hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Booth) referred to an answer given in the House to-day by the Prime Minister to a question that he put.
I understand that the Prime Minister asked me, as Chairman of Ways and Means, to undertake the duty of pointing out to the House any Bills, or provisions of Bills, which, in my opinion, come under the definition of being of a public character and of a contentious nature. If the House so desires it, I am willing to undertake that duty, provided the Bills proceed as far as Second Reading. I think Bills of that character are of extremely small number, but I am quite willing, if the House desires it, to undertake that duty. My view quite coincides with that expressed in the House to-day, that the ordinary and necessary municipal work should proceed and that those Bills which are for the benefit of the districts concerned, and the country generally, should not lose by the fact of the particular character of the Session this year. But in cases where I find proposals of magnitude, which would come under the definition of the Prime Minister, I will 1234 undertake either to ask the promoters before Second Reading, or, if it should come on for Second Reading, to point them out to the House and take action accordingly.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Resolved, "That the Committee of Selection do nominate a Committee, not exceeding fifteen Members, to be called the Local Legislation Committee, to whom shall be committed all Private Bills promoted by municipal and other local authorities by which it is proposed to create powers relating to Police, Sanitary, or other Local Government Regulations in conflict with, deviation from, or excess of the provisions of the general Law:
§ That Standing Orders 124, 150, and 173a apply to all such Bills:
§ That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers, and records:
§ That four be the quorum:
§ That if the Committee shall report to the Committee of Selection that any Clauses of any Bill referred to them (other than Clauses containing Police, Sanitary, or other Local Government Regulations) are such as, having regard to the terms of reference, it is not in their opinion necessary or advisable for them to deal with, the Committee of Selection shall thereupon refer the Bill to a Select Committee, who shall consider those Clauses, and so much of the Preamble of the Bill as relates thereto, and shall determine the expenditure (if any) to be authorised in respect of the parts of the Bill referred to them. That the Committee shall deal with the remaining Clauses of such Bill, and so much of the Preamble as relates thereto, and shall determine the period and mode of repayment of any money authorised by the Select Committee to be borrowed and shall report the whole Bill to the House, stating in their Report what parts of the Bill have been considered by each Committee:
§ That the Committee have power, if they so determine, to sit as two Committees, and in that event to apportion the Bills referred to the Committee between the two Committes, each of which shall have 1235 the full powers of and be subject to the instructions which apply to the undivided Committee, and that four be the quorum of each of the two Committees."