HL Deb 12 April 1859 vol 153 cc1617-24

Order of the Day read.


moved that the Standing Orders be suspended in order that he might afterwards move that the Bill should be recommitted to the same Committee that had already reported on it. His reason for adopting this course was, that the House had made an order that the petitioners against the Bill should be heard; but he had since presented a petition from the same opponents complaining that they had not been heard; and whether they were to be heard or not was the question. This Bill, which originated in their Lordships' House, was for regulating the watermen and lightermen on the river Thames. There was an ancient Company of Watermen and Lightermen which had enjoyed certain privileges under successive Acts of Parliament from the time of Henry VIII. down to the reign of the Queen. It was sought by this Bill to deprive this ancient Company of its privileges, and these parties were the petitioners against the Bill, and whom the House had ordered should be heard. The Committee sat on the 29th of last month, when the case of the petitioners was opened, and evidence was tendered on their behalf. On the following day the Chairman announced that, having read the Reports from the Board of Admiralty and other public departments, they thought the promoters had made out so strong a primâ facie case for the Bill that the Committee had come to the determination not to proceed with the evidence in support of the Bill, but to enter upon the case of the opponents. That course was accordingly adopted, and on the 4th of this month the opponents gave evidence against the Bill; but afterwards, on the 11th of April, though there remained several witnesses to examine, and without hearing counsel, the Committee cleared the room, and afterwards announced that they had come to the conclusion that the preamble of the Bill had been proved. This appeared to be a very unusual and unfair course to pursue. The Waterman's Company was a very ancient one, and consisted of 6,000 members, and they were at least entitled to be fully heard before the Committee. There could be no disparagement to the Committee in saying that they had decided under mistake, and that the matter should be referred back to the same Committee for reconsideration.

Moved—That the Standing Order (No. 179, sec. 5) be dispensed with on the Bill.


said, that in the absence of the noble Chairman he would endeavour to state to their Lordships the grounds upon which the Committee had arrived at their conclusion. In the first place he must be allowed to state that the opponents of this Bill came forward to defend a monopoly, and that therefore the onus of proof lay with them. The objections which had been urged against the decision of the Committee were two— first that counsel had not been heard; secondly, that witnesses in opposition had not been called. With regard to the first objection he could only say that if the public knew how little weight counsels' speeches had with a Committee, he was quite sure that neither the opponents nor the promoters of a Bill would incur the expense or the delay of employing counsel. When it was complained that counsel had not been heard, it became the duty of those who complained to show that the conduct of counsel themselves had been quite regular. But the fact was not so. When the Committee had heard the evidence in favour of the Bill, they called on the counsel of the petitioners to state his Case. This he declined to do, stating that he should prefer to produce his evidence in the first instance. Some fourteen or fifteen witnesses were then produced to show that the navigation of the river Thames required peculiar skill. The Committee asked for evidence on some new points. Three other witnesses were produced; but their evidence went merely to the same point, that the navigation required skilled labour. If the Committee had declined hearing further evidence, it was with a view to save unnecessary expense; and as it was, he feared the Bill would hardly pass before the prorogation. The allegation in the petition respecting the security of life and property, he was prepared to meet with a direct negative; for all the regulations hitherto enforced by the watermen's Company would now be enforced by the Board of Conservancy of the Thames. The fact that a man was a freeman of the Waterman's Company was no proof that he could manage a lighter or wherry; for many obtained their freedom without having been once on board a lighter or wherry. The object of the Bill was to destroy the monopoly of this Company. It was said the Company was a nursery for the navy; but this was not the case; and as the Company did not fulfil the conditions on which its privileges had been granted, those privileges ought to be withdrawn. The Bill had been strongly recommended both by the Admiralty and the Board of Trade; and he hoped that it would be: allowed to proceed.


vindicated the decision at which the Select Committee had arrived. The impression upon the minds of the Committee was that the counsel for the opponents gave up his cause and that he did not ask to be heard, and, therefore, of course was not refused. After the withdrawal of the learned counsel the Committee paid every attention to the case of the opponents and inserted clauses for their protection.


said, he would not go into the merits of the case; but he would ask whether it was regular to refuse to hear the counsel for the opponents? He thought it was most irregular. The noble Lord said that the proceedings of the opponents were irregular because they called their witnesses first, and then proposed that counsel should address them. There was nothing irregular in that; but if there was it was the duty of the Chairman to have called attention to the fact.


He did call attention to it.


said, however that might be there was nothing irregular in, the course pursued by the opponents.


said, after all he had heard on the subject he was not satisfied that the Committee had erred in the matter, and he would now ask their Lordships whether it would be wise to put the promoters to the expense and inconvenience of another hearing. But if it were thought that there should be a rehearing of the case he for one would be very willing to sit on the Committee again.


said, the department with which he was connected had had the matter under its consideration, and was of opinion that it was entirely one of evidence and ought to be decided by a tribunal in the nature of a Select Committee, and not by a department of the Government. On the whole he was inclined to think that the Committee had, erred in not giving a hearing to the counsel for the opponents of the Bill. Whenever: he was on a Committee, and if it happened that he had made up his mind before the conclusion of the case, he felt it his duty to listen all the more patiently to all that could be said on the other side—though he must own that he seldom heard anything to alter or modify his first opinions. It was perhaps true that the opponents of the Bill had endeavoured unduly to pro- tract their case; but still he thought they had cause to complain, and it would therefore be better to send the Bill back again to the Committee, who might reconsider it and make a report before the prorogation.


said, the Committee had given the Bill their fullest consideration and were guided in the conclusion to which they had come partly by the report from the Board of Trade, but much more by the evidence laid before them. When they called upon the opponents of the Bill to open their case, their leading counsel, Mr. Hope Scott, was not present, being engaged, he supposed, in some other Committee, and Mr. Serjeant Bellasis, who he supposed had not got his talk up, declined to go on as his substitute. The Committee then listened to no fewer than fourteen witnesses, including the master, the warden, and other officers of the Company, who all produced one and the same story, going over the same matters again and again usque ad nauseam. The Committee repeatedly called, through their chairman, for some fresh light upon the matter; none whatever was afforded them. The question then came to this—would they recommit the Bill to afford Mr. Hope Scott the opportunity of addressing them, as he happened to be elsewhere when it was the proper time for him to do so? If the House thought the Committee had erred in judgment, and that the Bill should be recommitted, then he must ask their Lordships to relieve him from serving on the Committee. It would be a great hardship on the promoters to recommit the Bill at all, but it would be a still greater hardship to the Committee to send them to rehear the case with the slur on their character that they had got tired of the case and would not hear all sides.


said, that a chief consideration in this matter was the effect it would produce on the public at large as to the character of their Lordships' proceedings. It was impossible, after what they had heard from the members of the Committee, to doubt that the Committee had decided without hearing the counsel for the opponents, and he did not wonder therefore that they should have complained. At the same time he thought the noble Lord who had just sat down was quite right in declining to serve again on the Committee, and he thought after what had passed in the Committee it would be a mockery to send the Bill back again to that Committee at all. He would suggest that the Rill be recommitted, and that another Committee be appointed.


said, their Lordships had hitherto placed implicit confidence in their Committees, and had never, except under very grave and peculiar circumstances, interfered with any decision they had come to. It was obvious that great discretion must be given to those to whom their Lordships delegated its private legislation, as to the amount of evidence they might think fit to listen to on any particular point. In the present case it would undoubtedly have been better if the Committee had heard Mr. Hope Scott; and it would perhaps be prudent to refer the Bill back to them, in order that they might hear counsel on behalf of the opponents of the Bill.


begged to disclaim any intention of throwing a slur upon the Committee, but undoubtedly he thought that to send the matter back to the same Committee would be only to ensure a confirmation of the decision already arrived at, and he did not consider it would be a slight or slur on the Committee to refer it to another one. It was in fact nothing more than like a motion for a new trial.


observed that the whole difficulty had arisen from the conduct of the counsel; and if the Bill were recommitted, it ought surely to be accompanied by a strong expression of their Lordships' opinion as to the extent to which Committees were to be subjected to the caprice of counsel.


said, the question with which their Lordships had to deal was one of considerable difficulty. On the one hand they would be most anxious to uphold the character of their Committees; but, on the other hand, they would be no less anxious that the decisions of those Committees should enjoy the confidence of the public. He had himself had a very large experience on Committees of the other House, and it had always been his practice to listen with the utmost patience to all that could be said by that party of whose case he had begun to form an unfavourable opinion. At the same time it occasionally happened that the opposing party would try to defeat a Bill by delay; and a rule had been laid down by the Commons' Committee not to allow the same point to be proved by more than two or at most three witnesses. In the present case the Committee had been placed under a great disadvantage by not hearing an opening speech from counsel, to direct their attention to the salient points of the evidence. He therefore thought that the Bill should he recommitted; and without the least reflection on the Committee which had already sat and whose decision would very likely turn out to be right, he did not think it would be satisfactory, after what had passed to refer it back to the same Committee.


thought that as the Committee had fallen into the perhaps very natural error of not hearing counsel, the Bill ought to be recommitted. At the same time he could not agree that the noble Lords who had formed the old Committee were likely to be so prejudiced that it was at all necessary to send the case before a new one. To appoint a new Committee would moreover be most unjust to the promoters of the Bill, because their case would have to be begun again de novo, and they would thus practically be mulcted in a heavy sum for an error of which the Committee, and not they, had been guilty.


said, he regarded this Motion as very similar to what was well known in the courts of law, namely—Bending back an award to be reconsidered by the arbitrator. That was his original Motion. But when he heard one member of the Committee say that the onus was entirely on the petitioners—an old established Company, with all the Acts of Parliament for their title—and another that his mind was made up, and a third that he had conclusively made up his mind, he (Lord Campbell) was disposed to change his Motion and move for a new Committee.

Motion agreed to. Said Standing Order, sec. 5, dispensed with accordingly.

Moved,That the Bill be re-committed; agreed to.

Moved, That the Bill be re-committed to the "same" Committee which reported on the Bill on the 11th instant.


said, that after what had fallen from the noble Lords who formed the Committee it would be useless again to refer the Bill back to them, and he therefore should support the appointment of a new Committee.

On Question—Their Lordships divided: —Contents 13; Not-Contents 28: Majority 15.

Granville, E. Chesham, L.
Grey, E. De Ros, L.
Overstone, L.
Sydney, V.
Ponsonby, L. (E. Bess-borough.)
Belper, L.
Somerhill, L.(M. Clanricarde.) [Teller.] Sundridge, L. (D. Argyll.)
Stanley of Alderley, L. [Teller.] Wodehouse, L.
Wycombe, L. (E. Shelburne.)
Cleveland, D. Gough, V.
Marlborough, D. Hutchinson, V. (E. Donoughmore.)
Norfolk, D.
Strathallan, V.
Bath, M.
Exeter, M. Campbell, L. [Teller.]
Churchill, L.
Carnarvon, E. Colchester, L.
Graham L. (D. Montrose.) Collville of Culross, L.
De Tabley, L.
Harrington, E. Downes, L.
Leven and Melville, E. Kingsdown, L.
Lonsdale E. Redesdale, L. [Teller.]
Rosslyn, E. Rossie, L. (L. Kinnaird.)
Saint Germans, E.
Stanhope, E. Wensleydale, L.
Dungannon, V. Wynford, L.

Resolved in the negative. The Committee to be named by the Committee of Selection.