HC Deb 07 August 1925 vol 187 cc1699-702
The CHAIRMAN of WAYS and MEANS (Mr. James Hope)

I beg to move, in page 261, line 25, to leave out the words "for the execution of a work."

This, and the other Amendments on the Paper, represent a proposal to increase the fees on the promotion of Private Bills. It is felt that certain services which are rendered by the House in the promotion of Private Bills might pay a little more, in particular when the promotions involve large capital sums, and that those fees should be made proportionate to those sums. That is the main object of these proposals. They do not involve very much money. They mean only a small contribution of some thousands a year to the revenue. We have gone into the matter very carefully, and now ask for the authority of the House to carry these proposals into effect. The increase will be very small.


I do not profess to be qualified to express an expert opinion, but it is rather surprising that, on the last day of the Session, the Chairman of Ways and Means should come down with a proposal which appears to lay a heavy charge upon private persons or upon local authorities who are promoting Bills before this House. I would like to know what consultation has taken place. For example, there was a case in which I was very much interested lately. The City of Edinburgh sought to amalgamate the town for which I was the Member, and very heavy charges were laid upon the town and the city by this process. The Scottish people always complain a great deal about having these matters brought up to London to be discussed, and would desire to have them discussed locally. Are they to be told now that, in addition to the hardship of having to come to London to have these matters discussed in this Parliament, they are also by a Motion which, with great respect, the right hon. Gentleman explained perfunctorily to the House of Commons, to have their charges increased, to what extent we do not know, when local authorities come before the House for private legislative purposes? We must know more about this proposal before it can be adopted. I would suggest that the right hon. Gentleman should either give a fuller explanation of the matter to us, or refer it to a Committee representing all parties and the three countries concerned, Northern Ireland. Scotland and England. I do not know what consultation has taken place, and the matter deserves further consideration.


As I understand this matter, it is one which has received the attention of the Association of Municipal Corporations for a long time past. I believe that they were under the impression that the fees were to be raised in every case where Parliamentary sanction was sought, but as I understand it now there will be no increase of fees unless the Bill proposes to apply for powers in reference to sums exceeding £1,500,000.


There will be certain charges for services rendered, like copying, and certain charges for extra days in the Court of Referees.


That I quite understand, and in view of the information which has come to the Association of Municipal Corporations I believe that they do not now press their objections, at any rate, to the proposal which the right hon. Gentleman is now submitting to the House of Commons.


I would like to support the objection raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Leith (Captain Benn). I feel that we should receive more information regarding the proposals which, at any rate, though they may not place very heavy additional burdens on the ratepayers, do place an additional load on them. Moreover, while there is an objection from the ratepayer's point of view, there is an even more valid objection from the point of view of private undertakings. Under the proposals, as I understand them, these fees are to be increased by anything from 20 to 33 per cent, where the powers sought under a Bill involve more than a certain sum. In regard to promoters who promote Bills and do not appear by counsel, their daily fees will be increased by no less than 100 per cent. That increase does call for some explanation on the part of those who are asking the House to sanction this arrangement. I support the appeal that this matter be referred to a Committee or some other body, so that the House may be in full possession of all the facts and all the reasons for this very substantial increase in fees.


I hope that the House will assent to this small addition. It has been under discussion in the Treasury, with the Chairman of Ways and Means, for a long time past. We have drawn attention to the fact that the Private Bill procedure of this House is costing the public something like £30,000 a year. We pressed for very much heavier additions to the fees, £4,000 or £5,000 a year more than the Chairman of Ways and Means could see his way to adopt. This particular proposal is a modification of our request. It does not raise the fees all round; it deals only with certain special cases.

Captain BENN

Have any Scottish authorities been consulted? The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the Association of Municipal Corporations, but that is not a Scottish body.


On behalf of Scotland, I wish to protest against this method of rushing an item of this sort through the House at a moment's notice, when there are very few Members present, and when we least expected that a proposal of this description would be brought forward. We must have regard to the fact that we have just dealt with a number of Bills from the west of Scotland. Clydebank asked for an extension of area in order to meet housing demands, and Glasgow asked for an extension of area in order to meet similar clamant demands, These Bills have cost the west of Scotland over £250,000, but still the voracious appetite of the average Englishman in wringing money from us in the west of Scotland is not satisfied.


Probably I can appease the hon. Member for the moment. This Motion has been on the Paper for some days, and I have put it there in order to deprive anyone of a grievance as to notice. The usual diligence of the hon. and gallant Member for Leith (Captain Benn), in studying the Order Paper daily, has been at fault on this occasion. The only reason why I want to get this Motion passed is that the Amendments to the Standing Orders could be printed before the autumn. I shall be very glad if hon. Members will give an exhaustive study to the proposal during the Recess, and I am sure that they will then be convinced of its reasonableness, and will see that it is fully justified. But in view of the objection taken by hon. Members from Scotland, I will not persist in the Motion.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.