HL Deb 22 July 1897 vol 51 cc685-90

On the Order to go into Committee on this Bill,


said he understood it was necessary that the Committee stage of the Bill should be taken so that Amendments agreed to by the Select Committee to whom the Bill was referred might be inserted in their proper places. But he thought it right to say that he did not intend to ask the House to proceed further with the Bill this Session. It was no doubt introduced late in the Session, but when it was referred to the Select Committee he hoped the Bill would be placed on the Statute Book this year. But the proceedings in the Select Committee occupied longer than he anticipated, and after one of the Amendments made in the Select Committee, he felt it would be hopeless for him to ask Parliament to proceed further with the Bill this Session. The majority of the Amendments made by the Committee dealt with points on which he was willing to accept the decision arrived and the structure and framework of the Bill had not been greatly interfered with by the Amendments, which, on the whole, were in the direction of preserving more strict control over legislative proposals, which would come before Parliament by Provisional Order, than was at first proposed. The threatened attack on the position of the Secretary for Scotland in the Bill was not carried to extremities, and, indeed, in one rather important particular. An important function was laid on the Secretary for Scotland, which he himself would not have asked Parliament to intrust to any executive officer—power in connection with the Chairmen of Committees to prevent opponents front being heard before Parliament unless they could show good cause. One Amendment made by the Select Committee he regarded as of great importance. It related to the method of forming the tribunal to sit in judgment on proposals placed in the hands of the Secretary for Scotland. As introduced, the Bill proposed that there should be a tribunal of three persons —one of whom was a Judge of the Court of Session or a Sheriff, aril to be Chairman; and the other two gentlemen chosen for their fitness and skill in affairs of this kind. In this way a panel was to be formed from whom Commissions were to be chosen for each inquiry. The selecting body was to consist of two persons selected by the conveners of counties in Scotland, and two persons selected by the convention of Royal Burghs, and they were to sit with the Secretary for Scotland and consider the claims and qualifications of possible Commissioners to be placed on the panel, front whom the Commission for each inquiry would be selected by the Secretary for Scotland. That proposition did not meet with general acceptance. A legal chairman was objected to in many quarters, and the proposal that the select body should be appointed by the convention of Royal Burghs was also a good deal criticised. After considerable discussion another clause was proposed by him, which would have had the effect, while still maintaining the selecting body on the lines originally suggested; it would have had it composed as before of two members elected by the conveners of counties in Scotland, and two sent in by town councils of cities and burghs above 15,000 in population at the last Census. As the proposal for a legal chairman was to be abandoned, he suggested that the selecting body should have the duty laid upon it of providing not only for the panel of ordinary Commissioners, but the panel from whom the chairman should be chosen. He attached great importance to the selection of both these panels by a small and quasi-judicial body, which would feel the responsibility of acting judicially. It was also proposed that the selection of the panel should be made in this way—that all the counties and burghs in Scotland with a population above 15,000 should each nominate one. There were thirty counties having separate county councils, and 27 or 28 burghs, which would have been qualified under that provision. That would have resulted in a panel of 60 persons being selected. But the method proposed was not so satisfactory as the one he suggested, because there would have been no possibility of conference between the respective selecting authorities. They would each probably have selected a respectable gentleman known to themselves, who might or might not have special qualifications. They would feel no special responsibility in selecting a fit person, and he did not think a tribunal selected from a body so chosen would have commanded general confidence. However, that proposal was carried against his by five to four. He could not make himself responsible for it, and he was, therefore, obliged to face these two alternatives—either to abandon the Bill or ask the House to reverse the decision of the Select Committee. Earlier in the Session he should have had no hesitation in selecting the latter of these two alternatives. But if he did that now, and the Bill had to pass through the other House, it could hardly be expected to become law this Session. So he had decided to ask the House not to proceed further with the Bill. On one other point an Amendment was made and was carried against him. Probably it was only a fair corollary of the decision to which he had referred, that the persons composing the tribunal for each inquiry should not be remunerated for their services beyond payment of out-of-pocket expenses. If it was difficult in Parliament to obtain Members of that House and the House of Commons to serve on Committees when resident in London, it would be found doubly difficult to induce gentlemen qualified for the work to go to parts of Scotland in which they were strangers, and away from home, at a time when it might be inconvenient, and do irksome work and drudgery without receiving remuneration. He did not regret the introduction of the Bill in its original form. He believed it had been recognised by most of those interested in solving the question in Scotland as an honest attempt to deal with a somewhat difficult and intricate subject, the difficulty and intricacy of which, he thought, was not always fully recognised by all those who set themselves up as authorities in regard to it. In regard to the future, he thought this question could not be allowed to rest where it was. He believed the demand for a certain amount of devolution of private Bill legislation to tribunals sitting locally would increase rather than diminish, and that Parliament would have to deal with it. He hoped and believed the introduction of this Bill would lead to a discussion of the whole question in Scotland during the autumn, the result of which would be to ripen opinion on the subject and place the Government in a more favourable position for dealing with it on a future occasion. He might, perhaps, be allowed to express his own personal hope that it would be found possible to re-introduce a Bill on the subject at an earlier period next Session, and, in the light of the experience they had gained, that they might be able to carry it to a successful conclusion. ["Hear, hear!"] He begged to move in the meantime that the House resolve itself into Committee.


thought that, as the Secretary for Scotland had announced the withdrawal of the Bill, it would be mere beating of the air if he were to attempt to debate the subjects he had raised. He would only say he thought what had been desired had been gained—namely, that a definite proposal should be placed upon the Paper, should have been before their Lordships' House, and should go before the people of Scotland interested in the matter, in the Recess, so that they might form their opinion upon it, and aid the Secretary for Scotland in producing another Measure in a subsequent Session of Parliament. He was sure the noble Lord would find there was a general desire on the part of Scotsmen of all parties to further a satisfactory change in this important question, and that they would welcome his efforts in this direction. As to the noble Lord's remarks on the question of the panel, he would remind him that this had been the crux of the difficulty in all proposals to change the present system of dealing with private Bills. He thought the fault of his noble Friend's proposal was that be designed a much too elaborate system of indirect election. A system of as simple a. direct election as could he arrived at, which would give a sufficiently large body of sufficiently practical persons to form a panel from which individual commissioners should he chosen, was what they should aim at. He did not think his noble Friend's proposal with regard to the panel was one which commanded the assent of Scotsmen, and he did not think it was one which would have produced satisfactory results in the future. He believed the proposal in the Bill as it stood was after all the better proposal. It. was not novel, for it had been proposed before, that these subjects should be dealt with by men chosen by the Town and County Councils, and he trusted that in another Session of Parliament they would be able to deal with it in a satisfactory manner.


thought the Secretary for Scotland had obtained the object in view in introducing this Measure. He agreed with the noble Lord who had just spoken that it was extremely desirable a definite project should be brought. before those interested in Scotland, and the matter thoroughly discussed during the autumn. He thought the noble Lord might be congratulated on having attained that object. Of course it. was impossible to carry such a Measure this Session. He hoped when the Bill was introduced again the provisions would be a little fuller than they were. It seemed to him there were several omissions in the Bill that would require a. fuller statement in any new project that was, brought before Parliament. He could but say he should only be too happy to give any assistance in his power, and he should like also to say he must not be. understood to be bound absolutely by the decision which the Committee had arrived at, or to the exact forms of the Bill, anxious as he was to simplify and render cheaper the process by which private Bill legislation could be accomplished.

Motion agreed to; House in Committee accordingly. Amendments proposed by the Select Committee made; Standing Committee negatived.