HL Deb 13 July 1885 vol 299 cc384-91

in rising to move that the Bill be committed to a Committee of the Whole House, said, that the question involved was one of great importance to Ireland, and also affected the Standing Orders of the House. Some explanation was, therefore, required of him in asking that the Bill, which had already been referred to a Private Bill Committee, should be committed to a Committee of the Whole House. The Bill related to a scheme called the Cork, Coachford, and Blarney Light Railway. It was introduced under the Tramways General (Ireland) Act of 1883, an Act intended to develop communication between different parts of Ireland. It incorporated various provisions of previous Acts relating to tramways, which were passed in 1860 and 1861, but added important provisions with regard to local and Imperial guarantees, and enabled the Imperial Government to join the Local Authorities in the carrying out of schemes. The Act enabled any promoter of a tramway scheme to bring the scheme before the Grand Jury of the county where the tramway was to be made, before whom counsel might appear. The Grand Jury in such case had full power to hear the promoters and opponents, just as in the case of an ordinary Provisional Order. After the Grand Jury had heard the scheme discussed, and had passed the Order, it went up to the Privy Council in Ireland. The Board of Works and the Treasury wore required to make a Report on the line to the Privy Council; and after that had been done, if the scheme was not opposed, that ended the matter. If, however, the line was still opposed, an Order was required to confirm it, and the scheme consequently went before the Lord Lieutenant in Council. If the Privy Council approved the scheme, it then came before Parliament as an Order to be confirmed. In the Act of 1869 there was a section — Section 14—which distinctly stated that all these Orders were to be treated with every respect as Public Bills. He did not propose to go into the merits of the particular Bill the subject of the Order; but he would state shortly what was the procedure followed. The scheme was taken before the Grand Jury of the county of Cork and the Grand Jury of the county of the City of Cork, both of which bodies were interested in the measure. The Grand Juries having sat for two days considering the scheme, and hearing the case for the promoters and opponents, unanimously passed an Order in favour of it. It was then found that some irregularity had taken place in the Order, and a short Act of Parliament had to be passed to rectify it. After that Act was passed, the measure again went before the Grand Jury, and they again unanimously passed a presentment in favour of it. It then went before the Privy Council, where its merits were inquired into by three very distinguished members of that body— namely, Mr. Justice Lawson, Lord Justice Fitzgibbon, and Vice Chancellor Chatterton. They also sat for two days, and having heard counsel for and against the measure, unanimously passed the scheme. Now, under one of the Stand- ing Orders of their Lordships' House—namely, Order 95—it was laid down that every opposed Provisional Order should be referred to a Private Bill Committee consisting of five Peers. This was called a Provisional Order Bill, and under this Standing Order it was, for the third time, referred to an authority for investigation. Counsel were heard for and against the Bill, and witnesses were called and examined. This third inquiry was at Westminster. This course, he ventured to point out, was not consistent with the 14th section of the Act of 1860. Provisional Orders were of various kinds—they were granted under the Labourers Act of last year, under the Public Health Act, 1878, and several others under the Act of 18G0. No reference was made in the Act of 1860 to a Private Bill Committee of their Lordships' House. Under the Act of 1860, the schemes brought forward were of a public, and not of a private, character. If their Lordships looked at the way the inquiries were curried out, they would see that these schemes were different altogether from those for which Provisional Orders were obtained under other Acts. There was the unprecedented mode of investigating a Bill and of bringing it before the Privy Council in Ireland, before whom counsel for and against the scheme were heard. He, therefore, thought it was the intention of the Act of 1860 to have the cases heard locally, and not to have them brought before Private Bill Committees of their Lordships' House. He pointed out that it would always be in the power of their Lordships to challenge a Bill when it was brought before them in the House, and send it to a Committee; but if all Orders under these Bills were referred as a matter of course to Private Bill Committees, instead of encouraging improvements in Ireland as they ought to do, they would impede improvements. He maintained that this was a Public and not a Private Bill, and that the interests of the ratepayers had been most carefully looked after locally and before the Irish Privy Council. There was no precedent for such a procedure as had been followed in this case. There had been no fewer than four inquiries held on this Bill. Thus, the intentions of the Acts of 1860 and 1883 had been frustrated, and instead of facilities having been afforded for the construction of light railways and tramways, which, were so much needed in Ireland, penalties were, in effect, imposed. These costly and elaborate inquiries had spread consternation in the South of Ireland. He would only add that nothing would do Ireland more good than the encouragement of such enterprizes as the one before them; and if their projectors were discouraged, one of the best methods of improving Ireland would be destroyed. He hoped their Lordships would agree to the Resolution he now begged to move.

Moved, "That the Bill be committed to a Committee of the Whole House."—{The Earl Spencer.)


said, he felt it his duty to oppose the Motion. It was rather extraordinary that for the first time they should be asked to determine what should be done in relation to an Act passed in 1860. What the noble Earl proposed was contrary to the Standing Order and the practice of the House. The Bill referred to was discussed by a Committee of that House, and was rejected by that Committee more than a month ago. The Standing Order was distinct that this was a Private and not a Public Bill, and it was clear the question had been disposed of.


contended that the Bill was essentially a public one, and that a grave error had been committed in taking possession of it in the Private Bill Department. When all the conditions imposed by the Lord Lieutenant in Council were fulfilled, the Lord Lieutenant was obliged to take up the Bill as a public one, and the Statute directed that it should be dealt with in all respects as a public measure. The object of the Act of 1883, which incorporated the Act of 1860, was to give every encouragement to these small undertakings, and to relieve them of the enormous cost which attached to the investigation before the Private Bill Committee of the House. He knew one small undertaking where the investigation failed, but had cost £14,000, and it might have obtained legal sanction at home for an expenditure not exceeding £500. When the Act in question was passed it was pointed out that what was wanted was a system of light railways, the merits of which could be investigated on the spot—rail- ways which would be of great service in conveying the agricultural produce of Ireland. After a scheme had been examined on the spot by the Grand Jury, who could tell in five minutes whether it was a project that ought or ought not to pass, and again investigated before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, it would be unjust and unnecessary to have further inquiry in Parliament. The Standing Order referred to by the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Redesdale) related to Private Bills, but this was not a Private Bill; and he (Lord Fitzgerald) contended that the Standing Order was not intended to apply to such a Bill as this, which had none of the characteristics of a Provisional Order Bill, and was more properly to be called a Bill to confirm an Order of the Lord Lieutenant and Council. If there was no opposition to one of these tramway schemes it became the law of the land without the intervention of a Confirmation Act. The House would be going in the teeth of the letter and substance of an Act of Parliament if they determined on considering this as a Private Bill.


said, he remembered that when last year he was most anxious to have an alteration made in a Bill of this character, the noble Lord the late President of the Council (Lord Carlingford) said the proper time to make this alteration would be when the Bill was before the Select Committee.


I was wrong.


The noble Lord on that occasion said that it would be dangerous to say that the Provisional Order Confirmation Bills were to be treated as Bills which could not be opposed in their Lordships' House. He (Lord Inchiquin) considered that if they refused to send the present Bill before a Private Bill Committee they would be taking away many of the safeguards they now possessed for proper inquiry. It would be most dangerous if these Bills could not be opposed before their Lordships' Select Committee. The measure was merely a Public Bill in the sense that it was contained in a Provisional Order. If their Lordships refused to send those Provisional Orders before a Private Bill Committee they would be breaking down all the safe guards of legislation. The appeal in such a case as this ought to lie, not to the Privy Council, but to Parliament.


said, the matter was one of exteme importance, because if their Lordships wished to affirm a practice which was opposed to a Public Act of Parliament, in a matter which largely affected the local interests of an important Irish district, they would be giving an immense impulse to the claim for a greater degree of local self-government in Ireland. The proposal of the noble Lord opposite was opposed to both the spirit and letter of the Act of 1860. The effect of not agreeing to the Motion of the noble Earl beside him would be that Parliament, after making elaborate provisions to enable these public works to be executed, and after providing safeguards for their authorization in a way not required in other cases, would convert these elaborate provisions into additional obstacles and additional sources of expense by requiring parties to come over from Ireland to England with their witnesses, and to submit again to the inquiry which had been conducted in Ireland. The clause in the Act of 1860 provided, in a manner different from anything to be found in any of the ordinary Acts as to Provisional Orders, that a Bill to confirm an Order of the Irish Privy Council made under it, which only needed Parliamentary confirmation when opposed, should be "treated in all respects as a Public Bill." What had been done, no doubt through inadvertence, was to treat this, in every material respect, in the same manner as if it had been a Private Bill. Nothing could be more directly contrary to the Act. And why had this been done? Simply because the Standing Orders of this House, as to Private Bills, were, in general terms, made applicable to Bills for confirming Provisional Orders. But the Act of 1860 did not, as far as the letter went, call an Order in Council, made under it, a Provisional Order; and, as to the substance, not only was it beyond the competency of this House, by any Standing Order, to repeal an Act of Parliament, but the Standing Order clearly had reference to those cases only, which were numerous, in which Acts of Parliament, authorizing Provisional Orders to be made, subject to confirmation, had expressly directed that, when opposed, they should be dealt with as in the case of Private Bills. He had referred to these Acts, and he had made out a list of not less than ten of them, including the English and Irish Public Health Acts, and the English Tramways Act, which contained clauses to that effect. Nothing could be in more direct contrast than these Acts, and the Irish Tramways Act of 1860. No doubt, any Public Bill might be referred to a Select Committee; but that could only be done upon Notice given by the House itself; and if any Motion to refer this Bill to such a Committee had been made, the House might, and no doubt would, have been asked to reject it, on the ground that, by granting it without some very special reason, they would defeat many of the best objects of the Tramways Acts.


said, in answer to the noble and learned Lord (Lord Fitzgerald), that, so far as he knew, the Committee had no objection to the guarantee rate. They rejected the Bill simply on the merits, and would have done so whether the Bill involved a guarantee or whether it did not.


said, he hoped the House would not assent to the proposal of the noble Earl. He had been a Member of the Committee to which this Provisional Order had been referred; and the Committee considered that it would be exceedingly hard on the ratepayers of the district, who had exercised their right of coming to Parliament, if the evidence, which had satisfied the Committee that the Order ought not to be proceeded with, should be altogether ignored, and the unanimous decision of the Committee set aside.


said, if the question turned on the merits of this particular Bill ho should not interfere; but it was very obvious that the Standing Order had a wider application than this particular measure. It was obvious that the framers of the Statute intended to substitute for the ordinary and somewhat cumbersome proceeding of a Private Bill some compendious form of local investigation; and he thought it must be assumed that the Legislature, in passing the Bill in the form in which it stood, was familiar with the distinction between Private and Public Bill legislation. The Act of 1860 distinctly said that these Orders should be treated as Public Bills, and surely this meant that they were not to be treated as Private Bills. He could not help saying that he heartily concurred in the argument of the noble and learned Earl (the Earl of Selborne).


said, the greatest possible confusion had been caused by two Acts that had been hurriedly passed at the very end of the Session of 1883, with the very best intentions, but with unsatisfactory results —namely, the Tramways Act and the Labourers Act. In regard to this Bill, it had disappeared from their Lordships' Paper a month ago. If it were to be revived at all now, it ought to be by a Motion to refer it back to the same Committee, or to refer it to another Select Committee; but he hoped they would not agree to proceed with it as a public measure. On the whole, they had better abide by the decision of the Committee, and leave the matter where it stood.

On Question? Their Lordships divided: —Contents 95; Not-Contents 20: Majority 75.

Resolved in the affirmative; Bill committed accordingly to a Committee of the Whole House on Thursday next.