HL Deb 01 May 1885 vol 297 cc1267-72

presented Petitions with respect to this Bill, and moved— That the Examiners' Certificate of noncompliance with the Standing Orders be referred hack to the Standing Orders Committee. The noble Marquess said that the Bill was in this position—that it had not been before the House upon its merits, as it had been rejected by the Standing Orders Committee. These Petitions asked for leave to re-introduce the Bill. They were from Gravesend, Northfleet, and from workmen who were members of Associations in the Metropolis. There was a Rule of the House that by a certain day in January a sum of money should be deposited by the promoters of a Private Bill. The money was usually borrowed from some Insurance Company or stockbroker, and repaid the next day. In this case it was alleged that the person whose business it was to negotiate for the deposit being made was so seriously ill in January that the deposit was not paid until the middle of March. There was nothing more than that to justify the rejection of the Bill. The promoters complained that their opponents did not give them any notice of their opposition, but reserved their fire until they got before the Committee, and then the Bill was rejected upon a technicality. It was a Bill in which the inhabitants of the locality took a great interest, inasmuch as in the event of its being allowed to go forward employment would be found for a large number of workmen now out of work at the East End of London, for it was a matter of notoriety that thousands of people in that district, although willing to work, had no work to do, and were prolonging their existence in a state of semi-starvation. It would be extremely advantageous to them if work could be found, and if capital were allowed to be expended upon this work; and it was the wish of the Petitioners that all the obstacles raised against the expenditure of this capital should be removed. There were capitalists who were willing to expend the money. No objection was raised to the Bill by landowners or other persons in the neighbourhood, and the only objection came from the East and West India Docks, which might be called, without any disrespect, the rival shop over the way. The people who were suffering were not so much the contractors, but the thousands of workmen to whom employment would be given. It was by a technicality of the very slightest character that this Bill was not allowed to go forward. He did not wish to cast the slightest censure or blame upon his noble Friend at the Table (the Earl of Redesdale), or upon the Members of the Committee themselves; but it had been well said that all self-imposed rules should be sufficiently elastic to avoid inflicting injury out of all proportion to the irregularity they sought to arrest. Punishment was, no doubt, a very good thing; but it should be inflicted with some reference to the magnitude of the offence, and on the right person. But in this case the punishment of stopping these great works was inflicted for a very trivial breach of a technicality, and really fell not on the capitalist, but on the unfortunate men who would be employed. That was the case he had to lay before his noble Friend, and he asked him in this case to temper justice with mercy. It had happened two or three times that these Standing Orders had prevented the investment of private capital, and that at a very critical period. He did not in the least appear in the position of a rebel against the despotism of his noble Friend, but he appeared rather as a suppliant to his mercy; and he exhorted him not to press the technicality in this case, when there were hundreds and thousands of starving men looking with anxiety for the decision of the House.

Moved, "That the Examiners' Certificate of non-compliance with the Standing Orders he referred back to the Standing Orders Committee."—(The Marquess of Salisbury.)


said, he was sure their Lordships would feel that it was with great regret that he rose to oppose the Motion of his noble Friend. He thought the Rules of the House ought to be supported; and if they could be got rid of simply because they happened to be an inconvenience to one party to a Bill or the other, they would practically be of no use. There was one matter with regard to this Bill which he felt he must bring before their Lordships, and that was that a Bill with this very object was brought in last Session, and was dropped. The same Bill was brought in this Session, and the pro-motors failed to perform the duty of paying up the deposit money on the day fixed by the Rules of the House, and did not do so until two months after that day. The important question in this case was, Why was not the deposit paid? It was said someone was too ill; but it was clear that those parties who were acting as promoters of the Bill were not themselves actively concerned in providing the means of carrying it on. The Standing Orders Committee before which this Bill came was a strong one, and came to a unanimous conclusion against the Bill; and he believed there was, practically speaking, no instance in which the House had set aside a Standing Order in the way proposed. He thought the decision of the Committee was right; and those who were opposed to the Bill would be put to great inconvenience and expense if they were not supported, as they believed the matter had come to an end.


wished to point out that the Standing Orders Committee came to the decision at the end of March; and if there had been a desire to appeal against it, it should have been brought on before the 1st of May. It would be a great injustice to the other side to reverse the decision after such a long period had elapsed.


agreed that it was unfortunate that at a time when a great deal of distress prevailed an Order of that House should have, even indirectly, the effect of diminishing the amount of money that might be thrown into the labour market. There was, however, no guarantee that if the Order were reversed the Bill would pass and be carried into execution. The breach of the Standing Order that was committed was a very distinct breach. A deposit which ought to have been made in January was not made until March. Two months, therefore, elapsed, during which the opponents of the Bill naturally believed, that it had been dropped. It would be a considerable hardship to the opponents of the Bill if they were now to be suddenly called upon to renew their opposition.


said, he hoped the House would not feel itself obliged to act in strict accordance with the techicalities of the question. The Committee were, of course, compelled to adjudicate according to the strict letter of the law; but the House might take a broader view, and consider the merits of the case as well as the technicalities, particularly when a considerable amount of work could be found for those who were in want of it.


observed that six of the Peers who had for med the Committee were present, and that not one of them had shown any intention of receding from the judicial decision to which the Committee came. It was necessary that Committees of that character should, in justice to both parties, act according to the Rules laid down; but they did not consider themselves rigidly bound by technicalities, and considered judicially whether sufficient reason existed for suspending the Standing Orders or not. The noble Marquess asked the House to reverse the decision of the Standing Committee, on the ground that the scheme advocated by the promoters of the Bill would provide employment for certain persons who were now suffering from distress. He would remind the noble Marquess that if money was prevented from going in a certain direction for the employment of labour, it was almost always certain of so going in some other direction, and thus the same result was reached in the end. He hoped that the House would support the Standing Orders Committee in their action in this case.


said, the noble Earl seemed to treat with great contempt the fact that he had appealed to their Lordships on the ground that if this Bill were proceeded with work would be supplied for those who were starving. He would leave the noble Earl in full possession of that opinion. He was aware of the necessity of supporting technicalities; but, after all, they were not the Alpha and Omega of the matter. In regard to the present case, he would say that the distress which prevailed should make the House pause before determining to adhere rigidly to technicalities. It was said that the course which he advocated would be unfair to the opponents of the scheme; but it should be remembered that its opponents were, after all, only a rival Dock Company. He feared that by a rigid adherence to their rules in this case, and by stifling an enterprize which was said by the inhabitants of the locality interested to be of great importance, they would not increase the people's estimate of the action of Parliament.


refused to be guided in his conduct in this matter by the ex parte statements of the noble Marquess to the effect that the merits of this scheme were so very remarkable. Anything said on the merits must be an ex parte statement. If he were instructed by the opponents to say that the scheme was a very bad one, and if, therefore, he strongly urged the House to maintain its Rules, he thought that was an argument which would not be listened to by their Lordships. The fact was that the Rules had been laid down for the protection of the public; and if they were good rules, as they were ably and fairly administered by the noble Earl the Chairman of Committees (the Earl of Redesdale), they ought to be complied with.


observed that his noble Friend (the Marquess of Salisbury) never asked their Lordships to suspend the Standing Orders on the ground of the merits of the scheme; but simply told them that the scheme, if carried out, would give a vast amount of employment, and on that account alone he asked to have the certificate of noncompliance referred back to the Standing Orders Committee. He (the Earl of Milltown) trusted, under the circumstances, that the House would assent to the proposal.

On Question? resolved in the negative.