§ LORD STANLEY OF ALDERLEY
said, there was a subject of considerable importance which he wished to bring before their Lordships—he referred to the state of Public and Private business before Parliament. In respect to the Public business, it was pretty nearly concluded. In the other House the Appropriation Bill had been read a second time last evening, and there was no need that the proceedings of Parliament should be protracted much longer in regard to Public business. With regard to Private business, it was desirable that some mode should be adopted by which parties interested in Private Bills might not be put to inconvenience. It was obvious that if any of those Bills met with any determined opposition they would occupy a considerable length of time, and Parliament in that case would be obliged to sit without having any Public business before it. He thought, however, that if the Session were prolonged to suit the convenience of these parties the country, which was expecting an immediate dissolution, would think itself hardly dealt with. He had ascertained that at that moment there were sixty-four Private Bills which had not received a second reading. How many of those were opposed or were not it was impossible for him to say. But what he wished now to do was to call the attention of the Chairman of Committees to the state of Private business, in order that he might make himself master of the facts some day next week, and be able to inform their Lordships in how short a time the House might be able to dispose of 692 them. It would be for their Lordships' consideration whether they should, under the circumstances, follow the same course as that on a former occasion—in 1857 and 1859—namely, to pass a Resolution by which parties having Private Bills might be enabled to take them up in the ensuing Session of Parliament at the stage at which they were left now, or whether it would be desirable to adopt any other course with respect to the Private business before the House. He thought it right to say at the same time that their Lordships were not to blame for anything that might have occurred in respect to Private business. On the contrary, he believed that their Lordships had disposed of all the Private Bills that had been sent up as expeditiously as could be reasonably expected.
§ LORD REDESDALE
said, he hoped he should be in a position, probably on Monday, certainly on Tuesday, to speak pretty confidently as to the number of Private Bills that would be opposed in Committee. He did not think that there were quite so many as might be expected. He had seen some of the agents that day, and they all desired very much to proceed with their Bills. He had certainly a great objection to the plan of suspending Bills. It had been done on three occasions; but two of these—in the instances of 1857 and 1859— afforded no precedent for the adoption of a similar course in the present case; in 1857 the Resolution was adopted by the House on the 20th March, and the dissolution took place on the 21st. Therefore, in that Session, it would be observed, that all the Bills came to the New Parliament precisely in the same state as they would have done if the Session had begun in February; and the only change was that whatever had been done before that period was done as if Parliament had just met. In 1859 the dissolution took place just a month later—namely, on the 23rd of April; but still in that case the Bills all stood on the Notices for the year. Therefore there was no objection in that case, and very little inconvenience would have arisen even if the House had decided that the Bills should commence de novo. In 1847 the business before the House was extremely heavy, and as early as the 3rd June a Select Committee was appointed by that House to consider the subject. The Committee recommended that an option should be given to the parties to suspend any Bills they might have before Parliament if they 693 thought proper. That Resolution having been adopted by the House of Commons on the 10th June, the parties were required to give notice on the 18th June whether they wished their Bills to be suspended or not. Now the option was very different on the present occasion. On the occasion of 1847 he entered a protest against proceeding at all with the Resolution, on the ground that it was very objectionable that one Parliament should bind another. He thought that the principle was a bad one. And there was this objection to it, that whereas in some instances competing schemes might have been rejected, and one Bill adopted in preference to another, it was in the power of those persons who had promoted those schemes to bring in improved schemes of the same character in the next Parliament, and the parties to them might demand to have their schemes heard in connection with the others. At the same time the House was placed in a great difficulty, the public business being nearly at an end, to finish the private business as soon as it was desired, although he did not think it would take very long to dispose of the private business in the ordinary way. Under these circumstances he must leave the matter in the hands of the House for their decision. The House would sit to-morrow, and be should then move the following notice on Standing Order 179, sec. 1:—That this day shall be considered as a sitting day with respect to any petition praying to be heard upon the merits against any Bill mentioned in either of the two classes of Private Bills, except to any such Bill which was read a first time on Friday last.The effect of that Order would be, that all petitions to be heard against Private Bills must be presented on Monday next.
§ THE EARL OF DERBY
said, he thought it unfortunate, when a course of so unusual a character was proposed, that some notice should not have been given to their Lordships of the intention to submit a Resolution of this kind in order that the parties immediately interested in the Bills to be affected by it might have an opportunity given them of stating their objections to such a proceeding if they thought fit to do so.
§ LORD STANLEY OF ALDERLEY
said, that he had not proposed any Resolution—he had merely made an inquiry of the Chairman of Committees as to the state of private business, and suggested whether it might not be expedient to fol- 694 low the same course as that adopted under similar circumstances.
§ THE EARL OF DERBY
repeated, that the House ought not to be called upon to pronounce an opinion upon a question so important without previous notice. The proposition, or rather the suggestion, of the noble Lord was, that the House should allow all Private Bills not disposed of by Committees of their Lordships' House to stand over until next Session, and then to be taken up from the stage in which they now wore. The noble Lord had cited certain instances in which he said that course had been adopted. But he (the Earl of Derby) doubted that these cases were analogous to the present position of Parliament. One of the cases was that of 1859, when it had become indispensable that a dissolution should take place in the spring of the year, owing to the then state of parties, and it was therefore desirable that some provision should be made in order to prevent the private business then before Parliament being unnecessarily affected; but, in the present case, there was no reason why Parliament should be dissolved or prorogued before the business was gone through in the ordinary way. It might be very convenient to the Government, and to the Members of the other House of Parliament, that they should not be kept a long time in suspense, and that the elections should take place without delay; but that was not a sufficient reason for the adoption of such a course as that suggested—a course that would necessarily expose the parties immediately interested in those Bills to much inconvenience. He did not know what the state of the private business was; but he had not heard any reason assigned for the adoption of so unusual a course as the prorogation of Parliament, without any apparent cause, at the end of June or the beginning of July, and to call upon the parties promoting those Private Bills to suspend their proceedings in respect to them now, and to resume them in the next Session, when a new Parliament would be assembled. With regard to the suggestion made by his noble Friend, he (the Earl of Derby) wished to know whether he was to understand by the notice which the Chairman of Committees had given that he intended that their Lordships should meet tomorrow to consider the subject.
§ THE EARL OF DERBY
said, all he wished to know from Her Majesty's Go- 695 vernment was, whether they meant to propose to-morrow any specific course of proceeding founded upon any specific grounds, and if such was their intention he was anxious to know what those grounds were?
§ LORD CHELMSFORD
said, that the noble Lord opposite stated that the public business would probably be soon disposed of, and that the public would become impatient if the House should continue sitting after that time, and he suggested a mode of disposing of the remaining private business. But he must remind their Lordships there was still some public business of much importance to be transacted in the shape of a great number of appeals that were yet to be heard. Now, it would be a great hardship to the parties concerned in those appeals if Parliament, in consideration of what it called the public business being disposed of, were to be prorogued before there was any absolute necessity for such a course. He, therefore, entered his protest, on behalf of the parties whose cases were ready to be heard, against the proposed unnecessary prorogation of the House before the proper time.
§ LORD STANLEY OF ALDERLEY
said, he had merely made the suggestion to his noble Friend for the purpose of obtaining information as to the position of the private business before their Lordships' House; and he mentioned the course adopted by Parliament under similar circumstances on former occasions, and left it to their Lordships to consider what would be the most desirable means to take for meeting the difficulty in which Parliament was placed.
THE DUKE OF MONTROSE
said, that the noble Lord had stated that, seeing that the private business would occupy a longtime if they proceeded to dispose of it in the ordinary way, he thought it was extremely desirable to close the Session at once. He (the Duke of Montrose) could not assent to so unusual a course being adopted without some strong reason being shown for its necessity. Why, he would ask, was there this great hurry? The noble Lord opposite spoke of the natural end of the Session, but that natural end was usually the middle of August, and not the end of June. There could he no good reason for imposing upon parties who had had their Bills before the House of Commons for six weeks or two months the hardship and inconvenience of having further proceedings suspended until next year. The proposition of the Government was a 696 monstrous one, and was not justified by any absolute necessity.
§ EARL RUSSELL
thought that, according to precedent, after the Appropriation Bill had been introduced, after all the Votes in Supply had been taken, and after all public business had been disposed of, it was not usual to delay the prorogation simply for the sake of private business and appeals. Such was not the case in 1859. The public knew that the present Parliament had been in existence for six years, and that it was not usual to continue seven years, and therefore the general expectation was that there would be a speedy dissolution. The promoters of Private Bills were, therefore, quite aware of the chance to which they were exposed.
§ THE EARL OF MALMESBURY
said, that the delay suggested was not one of weeks but of days. The case of 1859 was not applicable here, because then it was absolutely necessary to know at once what was the opinion of the country, and then very little inconvenience was produced to the promoters of Private Bills, because they knew that, as the dissolution must necessarily be followed by the meeting of the new Parliament, within forty days their business might be resumed. But now they were told by an authoritative journal, The Times, that Parliament would not meet until February; so that there would be a recess of seven months, during which time all those interested in private business and appeals would be left in a state of anxiety and suspense.