HL Deb 12 April 1886 vol 304 cc1287-91

(No. 48.) (The Lord Houghton.)

Moved, "That the following Lords be named of the Select Committee:—

E. Cowper. L. Wigan.
E. Camperdown. L. Methuen.
L. Ashford. L. Houghton.
L. Balfour of Burley. L. Lingen.
L. Rayleigh.
agreed to (The Lord Monson).

Moved, "That the Lord Bramwell be named of the said Select Committee;" agreed to (The Lord Wemyss).

Moved, "That the Lord Wolverton be named of the said Select Committee;" agreed to (The Lord Houghton).


, in rising to move— That all petitions presented before the 15th instant against these Bills be referred to the said Select Committee, and that the petitioners have leave to be heard before the Committee by their counsel, agents, and witnesses in support of the allegations of their petitions, said, he hoped that the Committee would not only be authorized, but instructed to adopt the course which he recommended. In 1882, no Committee of their Lordships had sat; but in the other House a Committee was appointed, and did all its work in eight days. It could hardly, therefore, be said that, if his Motion were adopted, the Bills would be much delayed. Witnesses were examined and counsel appeared before the Committee of the other House; and in all his long experience he had never known a case in which the evidence was so entirely in one direction, and the conclusion at which the Committee arrived in the other. Of course, all the Town Clerks were in favour of the claims of Corporations, and against those of the Companies; but he did not know what qualifications they had to give evidence on the subject. But men like Sir John Lubbock, the late Sir William Siemens, Mr. Spottiswoode, late President of the Royal Society, Sir Frederick Bramwell, and other eminent men gave evidence unanimously against the Compulsory Purchase Clause, as certain to be fatal to the development of electric lighting, and their evidence might as well have been given at Jerusalem. Four years' experience had proved that they were right, and that until new regulations were laid down there would practically be no public electric lighting. The noble and learned Lord concluded by making the Motion of which he had given Notice.

Moved, "That all petitions presented before the 15th instant against the said Bills be referred to the Committee, and that the petitioners have leave to be heard before the Committee by their counsel, agents, and witnesses in support of the allegations of their petitions."—(The Lord Grimthorpe.)


said, that the proposal of the noble and learned Lord to give all Petitioners against the Bills an absolute right to appear before the Committee by themselves or their counsel or agents would entirely place the Committee in the hands of such Petitioners. He felt bound to oppose it on the ground of the waste of time which would be caused if it were carried. He would suggest instead, that the Petitioners be left in the hands of the Committee, and for that purpose he would move to strike out all the words in the noble and learned Lord's Motion after the word "Committee," and to add in place thereof— And that the said Committee have leave to hear such petitioners as they may think fit by themselves, their counsel, agents, or witnesses, in support of the allegations of their petitions.

Amendment moved, To leave out all the words after the first "Committee") and insert ("and that the Committee have leave to hear such of the petitioners us they think fit by their counsel, agents, and witnesses.")—(The Earl of Camperdown.)


said, he thought that the scope of the inquiry ought to be limited in some way; but, at the same time, it was indispensable, in his opinion, that the Petitioners heard ought to have the assistance of counsel, for their Lordships would not be as fit as professional men to grapple with expert witnesses. The Government had so nominated the Committee as to have a majority on it; and he hoped the House would not leave them in the unfortunate position they would occupy, if counsel were not present to examine and cross-examine witnesses. Above all, they must take care to prevent the proceedings before the Committee degenerating into a Gas fight, when Gas Companies had no locus standi.


said, he agreed with the noble Earl who had moved the Amendment (the Earl of Camperdown) that, as the Motion stood, the Committee would be obliged to hear any Petitioners against the Bill, whether they had any locus standi or not. For instance, the Gas Companies might insist on calling witnesses, to show that it would be a hard thing for their shareholders if the Electric Light Bill passed. He, therefore, supported the Amendment, considering that, otherwise, the inquiry could not be satisfactorily conducted by the Committee.


said, he thought that the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Camperdown) had made out his case, that the words of the Motion were somewhat too stringent and peremptory for the purpose in view. On the other hand, the noble and learned Lord behind him (Lord Grimthorpe) had fairly shown that a thorough inquiry was necessary; because, otherwise, justice could not be done to the public in a matter where expectations had been disappointed. He thought that what was required was a form of words to signify that the House desired full scope for all bonâ fide Petitioners being heard, without depriving the Committee of some discretion in the matter, without which they would be placed in a most undignified position.


said, he was quite willing to amend his Motion in the manner suggested.


suggested, as a further Amendment, that the time for presenting Petitions against the Bills mentioned in the Motion should be the first day after the Easter Recess, instead of the 15th instant.

Amendment moved, To leave out ("before the 15th instant") and insert ("on or before the first sitting day after the recess at Easter.")


said, he would remind their Lordships that the Government had been, originally, against the appointment of any Committee whatever upon the matter. However, a strong Committee had been appointed; and, while there had been an understanding that the Committee should not resort to a course of proceeding which would lead to a great delay, full discretion should, he thought, be left with them as to whom they should hear by counsel and witnesses. He, therefore, supported the Amendment. If the discretion was left them in one matter, surely it might be left in all.


said, that the Bill was not one affecting individual rights; and, while his old prejudices and predilections would prevent him desiring unduly to limit the hearing of counsel, he did certainly think that it would not be well to pass a Resolution compelling the Committee to hear by counsel and witnesses everyone who petitioned against the Bill. It would be best to leave to the Committee discretion in the matter. There was no alternative between leaving a full discretion to the Committee as to the parties and the witnesses they should hear, or compelling them to receive whatever evidence should be tendered to them by persons whose only claim to be heard was that they had petitioned against the Bill. The latter course would lead to great waste of time, and be very unsatisfactory. If their Lordships had not sufficient confidence in the Committee for that purpose, they would do well to appoint another in which they had.


supported the Amendment.

On Question, agreed, to.

Motion, as amended, agreed to.

Ordered, That all petitions presented on or before the first sitting day after the recess at Easter against the said Bills be referred to the Committee, and that the Committee have leave to hear such of the petitioners as they think fit, by their counsel, agents, aud witnesses.