HL Deb 21 March 1884 vol 286 cc413-9

, in moving that the Examiners' Certificate on this Bill be referred back to the Standing Orders Committee, said, that he might mention that a large number of Petitions had been presented asking their Lordships to suspend the Standing Orders with reference to this Bill. For his own part, he wished to say that he would not have been a party to any such Motion. He felt very strongly that it was their duty to uphold the authority of the Standing Orders Committee; and he had, therefore, limited his Motion to requesting the House to refer the Examiners' Certificate back to the Committee. He was not speaking on the merits of the Bill, nor on the fact that the Bill was of some importance and interest to a very large community. It was a Bill, as their Lordships were aware, for the connection by an independent railway of the important termini of Northern lines between London, Reigate, and Brighton. He did not think, however, that the mere fact of the Bill being of great importance would excuse any Member of that House in coming forward to request that the Standing Orders should be displaced; but in this case he thought that there had been some misunderstanding on the point raised by the Standing Orders Committee, and on that-ground only he would ask that the certificate be referred back. The Bill had failed to satisfy the Committee on six points; but the first four might be omitted, as they were not insisted upon by the Committee; the chief point was the definition of two children under 12 years as equivalent to one statute adult being used. This had led to the number of persons who would be displaced being stated at 111 less than the actual number. It had, undoubtedly, been an error to use this expression in a Bill of this sort to which it did not apply. The Bill had, however, been amended in that respect, and the amendment had been made before Parliament assembled. The Bill, after having passed the Standing Orders Committee of the House of Commons, had been rejected by the Standing Orders Committee of their Lordships' House on what appeared to him the very insufficient ground that a technical error appeared to have been committed by the Referencer. He now only asked their Lordships to refer the Bill back to be considered by the same Standing Orders Committee as had considered it before. A similar Motion to that which he now made had been adopted in the case of the London, Chatham, and Dover Railway Bill of 1866, and also in that of the South London Tramways Bill of 1881.

Moved, "That the Examiners' Certificate be referred back to the Standing Orders Committee."—(The Earl Cadogan.)


said, he regretted that the noble Earl had thought fit to bring that case again under the consideration of the House. Nothing could be more important than that proper attention should be paid to the proceedings of the Standing Orders Committee, consisting, as it did, of 40 Peers. The decision of the Committee on that matter was unanimously come to, after two considerations, by all the Members who were present. It was worthy of notice that the Bill had passed the Standing Orders Committee of the House of Commons, and the error had been discovered by their Lordships' Committee. The point was of considerable importance. They had had a discussion in the House, the other day, in regard to the dwellings of the poor, and as to the number of persons who were displaced by railway and other works, and it was essential that accurate Returns should be furnished by the promoters of Private Bills. In this instance an erroneous Return of the persons to be displaced had been made; and although it was said that it had been corrected, it was necessary, if the evils of over-crowding were to be guarded against, that the Standing Orders of the House should be properly upheld.


said, he attached as much importance as any of their Lordships to the necessity of adhering to the Rules regulating Private Business; but, as he understood, one of the functions of the Standing Orders Committee was to allow Bills, where errors had been made of a technical character, and which were not injurious to public or private interests, to be heard on their merits in spite of those technical errors. Though himself a Member of the Committee, he was not able to be present on the day when the decision was given; but he believed that the error which had been made was not of sufficient importance to prevent the Bill being heard on its merits, and that no charge of mala fides could be substantiated against the Referencers. No doubt, the promoters were to blame for the manner in which they had scheduled the persons who would be displaced under the provisions of the Bill, and there was no excuse for the mistake; but the mistake had been corrected before the Session opened, and the difference of the numbers in the original and in the amended Schedule was not great. It was stated that all persons within the limits of deviation should have been scheduled as persons to be displaced; but this was not in accordance with precedent, and he cited a number of Bills promoted in the present Session, with the object of showing that although in two cases three houses were taken within the limits of deviation, no persons were returned as displaced, while in a third case 19 houses were taken, but only 26 persons were displaced. He, therefore, ventured to say that the error that had been committed was not a material one, and was of no great public or private interest. If the error was corrected at the time no mala fides existed, and he thought the promoters had acted entirely according to all precedent. The Committee, therefore, might reconsider their decision.


said, he could not support the Motion. He did not see how the proposal which had been made could be carried out, because its object was to refer the Bill back to the Standing Orders Committee. If their Lordships referred the Bill back to the Standing Orders Committee no new evidence could be adduced. All that could be done was to produce the evidence that had already been taken. As the Committee had heard all the evidence of those persons whose conduct was impugned in the matter, he could not understand why they were to be expected to alter the decision which they had come to on a previous occasion. This circumstance might happen. If the Bill were again referred back to the Standing Orders Committee, all the Members of the Committee who were not present on the first occasion might attend and outvote those who had attended at the first hearing, and who had listened to the whole of the evidence. There were numbers of people opposed to this measure who had abstained from taking further steps because they understood that by the decision of the Standing Orders Committee the scheme was at an end. It would be unfair and unjust to them to refer the matter back. He thought it would be very unwise to alter the decision of the Standing Orders Committee unless very strong grounds existed for doing so.


, as one of the Members of the Standing Orders Committee on the occasion referred to, said, he would like to say a few words. He had no doubt the Bill was rejected mainly because the promoters of the Bill failed to comply with the Standing Order No. 38. He might say for himself that he could not leave out of his mind the fact that their Lordships had attached in the present Session very great importance to this Standing Order. Commissions had been appointed to inquire into the houses of the poor, and the point that had been specially brought forward in connection with this matter was the character of the Returns under discussion. The noble Marquess (the Marquess of Salisbury) the other evening moved that in every case of a Private Bill these Returns should be presented to the House. As to the non-compliance of the promoters of this Bill with the Standing Order, he had no doubt whatever. Would the House consider for a moment what it was the promoters actually did? They were directed in the Standing Order of the House to make a Return of the number of persons whom they would probably displace. Nothing could be more simple or more clear. It was perfectly well known to Parliamentary agents. What had been the course taken in this case? The person referred to was the Parliamentary agent, whose name was on the back of the Bill. Instead of complying with their Lordships' Standing Order he went to another Statute, which they found was the Passenger Statute, and he picked out of that a definition of the character described as "statute adults." When the agent was asked to return the number of the persons displaced, he replied that he would displace a certain number of "statute adults." If the examiner had not been sufficiently careful to look at the term "statute adult," and to point out to the Parliamentary agent that the Return was incorrect, it would have come before their Lordships' House. The case, he thought, was perfectly clear, and no one could dispute that it was an infringement of a Standing Order of importance. What had been the course taken by the noble Earl? The Committee heard all the evidence fully, and the noble Earl asked which of the noble Lords present would move that this Standing Order be suspended. No one responded, although there were seven or eight noble Lords present, and the whole matter fell to the ground. The noble Lord opposite was a Member of the Committee, but was not present, and, having failed to hear the evidence, now sought to reverse the unanimous decision of the Committee.


said, his information was obtained from the shorthand-writer's notes.


said, their Lordships would be creating a most inconvenient precedent.


said, he was convinced, from his experience with railway matters, that they would be creating a very inconvenient precedent if they adopted the suggestion of his noble Friend (Earl Cadogan). Unquestionably the Standing Order had been infringed. It was said that the mistake that had been made did not justify the Standing Orders Committee in rejecting the Bill. The Committee had come to a unanimous decision on that point; and the House was now asked, upon necessarily incomplete information, to reverse that decision. If such a course were adopted, Railway Companies and others would never be certain as to when their opposition and their vigilance could be relaxed. He hoped the Motion would not be pressed.


said, he could not agree that this was a case in which they were asked to act on imperfect information. He thought the information in the possession of the House was of such a nature as not only to afford them no justification for overruling the decision of the Committee, but to show that the decision of the Committee was perfectly right, and that it would be entirely wrong to reverse it.


said, he did not ask the House to overrule the decision of the Committee. He asked that the House should refer back this Report to the same Standing Orders Committee.

On Question? Resolved in the negative.


said, he thought that sending back the Report was a reversal, if not in form, yet in substance. It seemed to him that what was done by the promoters of this Bill was absolutely inexcusable. The Standing Order was explicit; it required that the Return should state the number of houses to be pulled down, and the number of persons, so far as ascertainable, to be displaced. The person who sent in the Return either wilfully or accidentally looked up some other Act of Parliament, and based his Return according to an imaginary definition in that Act. This was a wilful and perverse departure from the Standing Order. But he also thought that the spirit and intention of the Order had been departed from in another point, not less important. That Standing Order required that in the case of a Bill by which power was sought to take 15 houses or more occupied by persons of the labouring class, the promoters should deposit a statement of the number, description, and situation of such houses—that was to say, of all the houses to take which power was sought—and also the number of persons to be displaced. He did not see how the object of such an Order could be satisfied, without stating the number of persons who might be displaced by any possible exercise of the powers sought to be obtained by the Bill. What had been done was not to give, or pretend to give, the number of persons inhabiting the 902 houses, but to give the number of persons inhabiting some indefinite part of those houses, which, according to the present ideas of the engineer or promoters of the Bill, they at present contemplated taking. But they asked for power to take all the houses; and they would not be bound, if they obtained that power, to adhere to the present ideas of the engineer, which rested in probable intention only, and did not depend on any matter of fact, capable of being ascertained at the present time. The information given in the Return was, therefore, nugatory. He hoped that the Standing Orders Committee would never be satisfied with anything less than a Return showing the whole number of persons occupying all the houses which a Bill sought power to take.


, with some diffidence, ventured to take a different view of the meaning of the Standing Order from the Lord Chancellor. He (the Earl of Kimberley) contended that what the Order contemplated was that there should be a statement of the number of persons which the Railway Company promoting the Bill thought would probably be displaced. It was extremely improbable that all the houses within the limits of deviation would be taken. In submitting a Return of the number of "statute adults"—a phrase perfectly well understood—instead of the persons to be displaced, he did not think there could have been any intention to deceive, otherwise they would have gone a step farther; and it seemed to him, therefore, that it would not be very unreasonable to allow a project of considerable magnitude from being heard upon the merits. The other House had, in this case, dispensed with compliance with this Standing Order, and he thought it would be well if they did the same.