HL Deb 24 March 1809 vol 13 cc793-6

Previous to entering upon the orders of the day,

Lord Auckland

called the attention of the house to a topic which lie deemed of considerable importance, viz. the hasty and rapid manner with which a number of Public Bills, some of them of great national I importance, were hurried through both houses of Parliament, particularly their lordship's house, so as to preclude the possibility of any thing like a deliberate and adequate discussion of the subject-matter of these acts. This he thought was a serious grievance, and to which some remedy should be applied. As an instance of the justness of this position, he stated, that within the last month no fewer than seventy five Bills, all of more or less public importance, had come up to their lordships from the house of Commons, where, from the nature of things, they could not receive the necessary degree of deliberate discussion. He had farther to remark, that important Public Bills were frequently sent up to that house from the other house, at periods of the session when it was impossible, either from the thin attendance of peers at those periods of the year, or from the very advanced period of the sessions, when in fact they were drawing to a close, to consider of and discuss those measures in that full and deliberate manner which their importance called for. He did not mean to impute blame to any noble lord, or particular individual; but he trusted that what he now suggested would induce noble lords to turn their attention to this point, and, as far as a remedy could be applied in such a case, to set seriously about it.

Lord Grenville

rose, and supported what had been advanced, as worthy the most serious attention of Parliament. He deprecated what he conceived to be the hasty and careless manner in which several bills, particularly of late, had been carried through the house of Commons; and referred to a case in the Votes of that house then lying on the table, where a most serious mistake had been made by one of the clerks in a Public Bill; and the ground on which he excused himself was, that he was not allowed sufficient time to read or go through the bills correctly. If such therefore was found to be an allowable excuse on the part of a clerk, how much more hurried and pressed for time to consider and discuss the respective measures, must have been the members of the legislature? The manner in which many bills had been hurried through that house also was what he must deprecate, as tending to deprive their lordships of their due weight and share in the exercise of the legislative functions, and as seeming to render that house little more than as a chamber to register the acts of the other. Of the practice of sending up bills from the house of commons so very late in the session as to preclude the possibility of adequate discussion, he must join his noble friend in reprehending. This was a grievance particularly to be complained of in the last session, when nearly one half of the important Public Bills passed during the whole, were sent up to that house during the last three weeks of the session.

The Earl of Liverpool

did not conceive it necessary at present, particularly as no question was regularly before the house, to enter into any detailed considerations of the topic to which the noble barons adverted. There evidently was of late years, in consequence of the unprecedented increase of the commerce, wealth, and internal prosperity of the empire, such an increase and accumulation of legislative acts and regulations, of more or less importance or necessity, as unavoidably to afford less time for the detailed consideration or discussion of each particular measure; and this was an unavoidable consequence. In the present session, their lordships would have to consider that the other house of parliament was engaged so closely, for an unexpectedly great length of time, in the discussion of a topic of a very different nature from those which ordinarily came under its consideration, so much so as to leave, comparatively, very little time for deliberation upon measures which it was necessary, from circumstances, should be adopted at an early period of the session. With respect to the accumulation of legislative acts, to which he had referred, it perhaps admitted of some degree of remedy, by merely adhering to the principle of generalization instead of particularization, and of avoiding to interpose legislatively, except in cases of commensurate necessity. This was a principle which he would wish to see more acted upon than it was of late years; and as to the inconveniences of which the noble lords complained, he agreed with them, they were such as called for as extensive a degree of remedy as was practicable, and for his own part he would willingly assist and co-operate with any noble lord in endeavouring to counterac the evil.

The Earl of Moira

approved of the sentiments expressed by the noble Secretary of State, towards the close of his observations; he fully agreed with what was said by his noble friends near him on the subject of so serious a grievance; but he could not avoid remarking the silence of the noble lord as to the circumstance of such a large portion of the bills passed should have been suffered to take place in the last three weeks of the last session.

Lord Auckland,

in explanation, enforced his former remarks. He agreed in much of what fell from the noble secretary of state, particularly as to the great increase of the wealth and commerce of the empire, a consideration which, perhaps, could not be better exemplified than in the circumstance, that in the year 1761 only twenty-nine public bills were passed; and in the last four weeks of the present session, no fewer than seventy-five bills passed the legislature. As noble lords seemed to coincide with him that something was proper to be attempted in the way of remedy, he would move for the appointment of a committee to inquire into the number of public and private Acts which have passed through both houses of parliament within a given period, and to report their opinions thereon to the house.

The Lord Chancellor,

however he acknowledged the propriety of endeavouring to apply some remedy to the inconveniences complained of, begged the noble lords to recollect that it was of the most serious importance to consider what that remedy should be; and he trusted his noble friend would not press such a motion as he had notified, at present, but afford time to noble lords to consider more maturely upon the subject.

The Duke of Norfolk

suggested, as one part of a remedy so much to be desired, that parliament should be assembled earlier in the winter, and not prorogued until near the end of January, which obliged it to keep sitting during some of the hot months of summer.

After some further conversation between the earl of Liverpool, lord Grenville, and lord Auckland, the latter consented not to press his intended motion at present.