§ SECOND READING.
§ Order of the day for the Second Reading read.
§ * THE SECRETARY FOR SCOTLAND (Lord BALFOUR of BURLEIGH)
My Lords, I do not think I need detain the House many minutes by going over the history of the various attempts which have been made to legislate upon the subject dealt with by this Bill, nor do I think I need say much as to the general case for legislation of this kind, because both Houses of Parliament have, by their attitude in regard to the Bills which have been before them, practically admitted that there is a case for this legislation. So long ago as 1888, a Joint Committee of both Houses was appointed to discuss this question, and endeavoured to find a remedy for some of the grievances and difficulties which were then admitted to exist. The minority of that Joint Committee recommended that a remedy should, be found by attempting to extend the system of legislation by Provisional Order, and it is largely upon the report of the minority of that Committee that this Bill is founded. In 1897, a Bill on the same general lines as this Bill was pre- 441 sented to your Lordships' House, and after being discussed by a Select Committee, was passed through all its stages and sent to the House of Commons. In 1898, a Bill very much the same as the one which was passed by the Select Committee of your Lordships' House was introduced in the House of Commons, and referred to a Select Committee of that House. The Select Committee did not report until so late a period of the session as to prevent more progress with the Bill last year. This year the Bill has again been introduced into the other House of Parliament, and has, after a careful discussion in Committee of the whole House, passed through all its stages. It is that Bill which I now ask your Lordships to read a second time. I think the best course I can take, and the one most convenient to your Lordships, is to briefly indicate the chief changes which have been made by the other House of Parliament since the Bill was passed by your Lordships in 1897. Generally, I may say, that all those changes have had for their object the strengthening of Parliamentary control over projects of private legislation. Notices for Provisional Orders may, under the Orders to be prescribed under the provisions of this Bill, be somewhat shorter, simpler, and less expensive than notices for Parliamentary Bills; but it is in the power of either House to prescribe, by Standing Order, that if these schemes for Provisional Orders are rejected as Provisional Orders, or, rather, if it is agreed that they are not to proceed by Provisional Order, the same notices with some additions may be accepted for the Private Bill which will then be introduced. In the second clause, it is left to the Chairmen of Committees, as before, to decide, according to the character or magnitude of the proposals put before the Secretary for Scotland, whether they may or may not proceed as Provisional Orders, and to those words are added others to further secure that nothing shall be done contrary to the ordinary policy of Parliament. The Chairmen of Committees will also decline to sanction proceeding by Provisional Order if the projects are said to raise any question of policy or principle. The power of dispensing with compliance with Standing Orders, which in the Bill of two years ago was to be vested in the Lord Ordinary of the Bills in the Court of Session in Scotland, is, 442 under this Bill, placed in the hands of the Chairmen of Committees of the two Houses of Parliament. The main difference in this Bill is in regard to the appointment of the panel from whom the Commissioners to conduct each particular inquiry are to be selected, and as regards the method of choosing the individual Commissioners for each inquiry. There are now to be two panels. There is to be one, called in the Bill the extra-Parliamentary panel, which is to be formed by the Chairmen of Committees of the two Houses, acting jointly with the Secretary for Scotland. They are to nominate twenty persons qualified by their experience of affairs to act as Commissioners under the Act, and the panel will be reformed at the expiry of every period of five years; but in addition to that panel there is to be what is called the Parliamentary panel—that is, that either House of Parliament may provide, by its own Standing Orders, for the formation of a panel of its own Members, from which the Commissioners for each inquiry may be selected. That panel is not limited in numbers. All that is said about it is that it is to be composed of Members of both Houses of Parliament, and that they are to be chosen by the Chairmen, or by the Committee of Selection under the Standing Orders. There is a provision in the clause that, if possible, when a particular tribunal is to be formed for trial of a scheme in a locality, Members of the Parliamentary panel will be, in the first instance, chosen; but, if it is not found possible to get them to act, then the extra-Parliamentary panel may be drawn upon so as to avoid failure in the inquiry. I am not at all sure that the changes which I have just indicated will be entirely satisfactory. In my opinion, for what it is worth, I still prefer that the first inquiry in the locality should be by the extra Parliamentary panel, but it was perfectly clear, during the passage of this Bill through the other House of Parliament, that there was a very considerable reluctance on the part of Members of the House of Commons to part with their power, oven to the small extent that was proposed. In my opinion, the better method would have been to have had the first inquiry in the locality by persons chosen as I have indicated, and to have left the final control of Parliament to be brought in by means of the Joint Committee, as was then proposed. But, as I 443 have said, there was very distinct reluctance on the part of the other House to see any power whatever pass away from it in this respect, or that in any respect the grasp of its Members upon Private Bill business should be loosened. To a certain extent this feeling was accentuated by an amount of professional opposition to the proposals contained in the Bill; and while I think the scheme, as it now appears in the Bill, is somewhat less elastic, and somewhat less satisfactory than that which was first proposed, it has been accepted by the Government, and we shall do our very best to make the scheme operate successfully. I think I have indicated sufficiently the changes made in regard to the formation of the panel, and to the method of choosing members for each inquiry. The other main changes in the Bill will be found in Clauses 7, 8, and 9. Clause 7 deals with the future course of schemes which have been the subject of local inquiry, and, in the case of those schemes, it is now proposed that all the Orders require the sanction of Parliament. The scheme of the Bill of 1897 was that if the Secretary for Scotland, after inquiry, or without an inquiry in cases where there was no opposition, issued an Order, it should have the effect of an Act of Parliament, unless a memorial was presented by the opponent praying that the Order should not become law without confirmation by Parliament. The scheme of the present Bill, as embodied in Clause 7, is that in no case shall an Order have any validity until confirmed by Parliament. The procedure in the course of those Bills which have not been the subject of local inquiry differs, and the form in those cases is regulated by Clause 7, the provision being that, if any alteration has been made since they were first presented, they shall be re-deposited with the Treasury, with the Clerk of the Parliaments, and any such other public Department as may be prescribed; and the Confirmation Bill shall be submitted to Parliament, and shall be deemed to have passed through all its stages up to and including the Committee stage, and shall be ordered to be considered in the other House of Parliament as if coming from a Committee. In the case of Bills which have been the subject of a local inquiry, or where the opposition has been withdrawn after inquiry held, or where, although there has 444 been no opposition, the Secretary for Scotland has ordered an inquiry, the procedure is to be by a Confirmation Bill, to be referred to a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament. In other words, Clause 9 of the present Bill corresponds to Clause 8 of the Bill of 1897, and, although in various particulars these clauses differ, they agree in this, that if a Confirmation Bill is opposed, it is to be sent to a Joint Committee of both Houses. I do not conceal from myself that this second inquiry was opposed in another place, and a very considerable amount of pressure was put upon the Government to abandon it, and to leave the procedure, even in the case of these Bills, to be, as I understand it, something the same as that which is now provided by Clause 7. I am bound to say that I think there would be serious disadvantages in that course. As I have indicated, I think the Bill, as it now stands, is less elastic and less satisfactory than the scheme which was placed before the other House of Parliament; but, whatever may be its disadvantages in that respect, I am of opinion that to make no provision at all for a second inquiry would be a somewhat serious innovation in Private Bill legislation, and I should view its adoption with great reluctance. There are, undoubtedly, cases in which things are done at the first inquiry which may affect the interests of persons who are absent. I think it is only right that there should be some appeal to provide for a reconsideration of matters in a case of that kind; and as Clauses 8 and 9 are intended to deal with those schemes in which there will be, in all probability, greater opposition, I am of opinion that if you make no provision for an inquiry by Committee under those circumstances, you will put a considerable premium upon, and give a considerable inducement to, the discussion of Private Bills and Provisional Orders either in this House or in another place. I think your Lordships will agree with me that anything which would have a tendency to bring, about that result ought to be greatly deprecated. I also think that if you do away with the second inquiry, you will inevitably bring about this result, that the Chairmen of Committees will be much less willing to allow large and important schemes, which, however, are local in their character, to be dealt with in the locality, and will prefer to maintain 445 the system at present in existence, which provides for the inquiry first in one House and then in the other. On the other hand, I am bound to say that I think there is a little too much power placed in the hands of a single objector or of a large corporation, whether public or private, to object to schemes and bring about an increase of expense, and I am willing to consider any method whereby not such an absolute power of objection should be given to an individual objector as is the case at the present time. I know from private communications that the noble Earl opposite, the Earl of Camper down, has been considering this matter, and therefore I have made this observation with a view of explaining to the House that, while I could not myself view with acceptance or favour the doing away with the second inquiry altogether, I am quite willing to consider proposals that may be made for the purpose of preventing such an absolute power being placed in the hands of those who, having had one inquiry, wish to repeat it over again before another tribunal. At the same time, when we are to some extent trying what is in the nature of an experiment, it would not be wise to do away altogether with the power of having a second inquiry. My Lords, I do not think I need explain further the provisions of the Bill. I have not gone over every verbal change which has been made because they are very numerous, but I think I have indicated with accuracy the main changes—the important changes—which have been made since your Lordships saw the Bill last, and I hope this attempt to cure what has undoubtedly been felt to be a great grievance in Scotland will be successful, and that, at any rate, your Lordships will to-night give a Second Reading to this Bill.
§ Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a".
§ LORD TWEEDMOUTH
My Lords, I am sorry I cannot offer my congratulations to the noble Lord opposite on the probable sufficiency or sufficiency of this Bill. In the first place, it seems to me that it deals with a very small fringe of the subject. Again and again has the present system of Private Bill legislation been brought before the two Houses of 446 Parliament, and in the other House, at any rate, strong expressions of opinion have been registered that some change is necessary in that system. I believe that a far more effectual system could be provided if it were proposed to deal with the whole of the Private Bill legislation of the three kingdoms, rather than merely with that portion which affects Scotland. So far as Scotland itself is concerned, I must protest that this Bill does not satisfy the just expectations of Scotland. We consider, and we have pressed that view, that in Scotland we should have the control of those matters which are dealt with by private legislation in our own hands, just as we have our own systems of law, education, Church government, and our own Establishment. We think that, in matters affected by Private Bill legislation, we, as Scotchmen, should have the power of dealing with them for ourselves according to Scotch ideas. So much for the general question. My noble friend has explained the various stages of incubation of this Bill, whose germ was to be found in the minority Report of the Committee for which my noble friend himself was responsible. That germ was cultivated in three sessions of Parliament—in a Select Committee of your Lordships' House, in a Select Committee of the House of Commons, and in the passage of the Bill through the other House this year. I think the Bill bears, on the face of it, a sign of the many hands that have been at work upon it. I think it is, at the best, but a "cobbled" Bill, and I would earnestly appeal to my noble friend to endeavour, during its passage through your Lordships' House, to remove from his handiwork some of the patches and long tacking stitches which are still to be found upon it. I think, in considering the provisions of this Bill, I may divide its proposals under two heads—its proposals as regards unopposed and opposed Bills. So far as unopposed schemes are concerned, I at once say that I think the Bill will prove effective, and may, indeed, facilitate the passage of such measures. At the same time I feel that the proposals in this Bill give guarantees, so far as unopposed measures are concerned, that they will receive sufficiently careful attention because they have to go first to the Scotch Office, then to the two Chairmen of Committees, and, finally, before the Provisional Order becomes law, even if 447 there is no local inquiry, they have to receive the sanction of Parliament. But there is one remark I would like to make on this head in passing, with regard to the position of matters which are at the present moment dealt with by means of Provisional Orders from the Scotch Office itself. I think that, so far as those schemes are concerned, there will be some difficulty, and probably some additional expense, because, as I understand the Bill, while Provisional Orders issuing from other Departments in the State do not come under this Bill, yet Provisional Orders issuing from the Scotch Office in all cases come under the Bill, and therefore the work of the Chairmen of Committees will be considerably increased.
§ * LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
I think the noble Lord is mistaken. Provisional Orders under the existing system will only come under Section 9, so far as they are applicable. The effect is that Provisional Orders, instead of having to go through a Committee of both Houses, will go to a Joint Committee if there is a Parliamentary inquiry.
§ LORD TWEEDMOUTH
As I read the Bill, and I have read it carefully, it seems to me that all Provisional Orders issuing from the Scotch Office will have to be dealt with under this Bill in future.
§ * LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
Only those which require confirmation by Committee; but this, of course, is a matter for the Committee stage.
§ LORD TWEEDMOUTH
I now come to the much more important question of opposed schemes under the Bill, and I venture to ask your Lordships' assent to the proposition that the procedure under the Bill will be more cumbrous, more lengthy, and more expensive than it is in the case of Bills that now have to pass the ordeal of both Houses. Let me cover, step by step, the procedure which opposed Bills will have to pass through. In the first place, you have the issue of notices, as in the case of Private Bills, and I was glad to hear from my noble friend that it was intended to do something to lessen the cost of the issue of notices. This is 448 a question which I have already called your Lordships' attention to. I am sorry, however, that nothing to this effect appears in the Bill; I should have liked to see some provision inserted to ensure that something in this direction would be done. The application for the Order has to be lodged with the Scotch Office. It then goes before the Chairmen of Committees of both Houses, and they have to deal with it in a very serious manner. They have to give it their very careful consideration, because it becomes their duty to decide whether it is a proposal which ought to be dealt with by a Provisional Order or go through the ordinary formalities of a Private Bill. These stages must involve expense and fees in the two Houses.
§ LORD TWEEDMOUTH
I should have thought that if the officials of the two Houses, with their expert advisers, were required to examine into the proposals for legislation, they would require some remuneration for their pains; but, if the chairmen are able to give their services in this respect for nothing, so much the better for the promoters of these schemes. Let us suppose that the proposal is passed by the Chairmen of Committees as being one which may proceed under this Bill, but that there is opposition to it. It is then sent to a Commission which has to sit locally. That Commission, in the first instance, is to be composed of two Members from each House of Parliament. Supposing it were found impossible to secure two Members from each House, then the places on the Commission are to be filled by Gentlemen taken from the extra-Parliamentary panel. Either from one source or another you get your Commission formed, which has to go down and inquire into the subject on the spot. This local inquiry, I venture to say, will not be very much less expensive than the one which takes place at Westminster. I quite admit that the individual expenses of particular local witnesses will be loss, but I think the number of those local witnesses will be greater, and you must also remember that in any important Bill you will have the promoters and opponents of it bringing down expert 449 witnesses from London, who will, in addition to their usual fees here, require to be paid extra fees for going into the country and giving evidence. Then it is supposed, I fancy, that a great deal of the work will be done for these commissions by members of the Edinburgh Parliament House; but I do not think you will find those members willing to give their services at fees very much lower than the Members of the Parliamentary Bar here, and when you come to the cases of rich opponents and rich defendants you will have them bringing down to the local inquiries leaders of the Parliamentary Bar here to fight the cases for them; and you must add to that the further expense of the commissioners. Let us suppose that the scheme is passed by the Parliamentary Commissioners, sitting locally. It comes back again to the Secretary for Scotland to introduce a Confirmation Bill into Parliament. The opposition again arises, and the Confirmation Bill is sent to a Parliamentary Committee consisting of two Members from each House, before whom the whole subject has to be gone into again from the very beginning. Who will tell me that the expense of these two inquiries put together will be less than the expense of the two inquiries held within the four walls of Westminster itself? The Bill, if it passes the second inquiry, goes through the ordinary stages and becomes law. To put forward the scheme contained in this Bill as a method to simplify procedure and reduce expense will not command the assent of any thinking person. It may be said to me, "You profess that you are desirous of seeing a change. You have criticised the proposal; have you anything to suggest in its place?" I would suggest as a remedy the very thing which my noble friend has objected to—namely, that the second Parliamentary inquiry should be done away with altogether. I will give my reasons for that opinion. In the first place, you will have a Parliamentary inquiry sitting locally which will have heard all the evidence.
§ * LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
Not necessarily a Parliamentary inquiry locally; it may have been by the extra-Parliamentary panel.
§ LORD TWEEDMOUTH
I am going to suggest presently that the extra-Parlia- 450 mentary panel should disappear altogether. You would probably have had a Parliamentary inquiry locally, and have had the question thoroughly gone into by the two Chairmen of Committees. You will have had the matter well sifted before them, and they will have decided that the scheme in question is not of first-class importance. I understand the whole object of the Bill is that all measures of first-class importance should be compelled to go through the ordinary procedure as it exists at the present moment.
§ LORD TWEEDMOUTH
The Bill says that—If the Chairmen report, and it appears from such Report that either of the Chairmen is of opinion that the provisions or some provisions of the draft Order do not relate wholly or mainly to Scotland, or are of such a character or magnitude, or raise any such question of policy or principle, that they ought to be dealt with by Private Bill and not by Provisional Order, the Secretary for Scotland shall, without further inquiry, refuse to issue the Provisional Order, so far as the same is objected to by the Chairmen or Chairman.If that does not mean that the Chairmen are to decide whether a Bill is of sufficient magnitude to require Parliamentary inquiry under the present system, I do not know what it means. It does mean, in my opinion, that they are only to pass those Bills for action under this proposal which seem to them not to be of first-class importance. That is a matter on which I should be glad to hear the views of the noble Earl the Chairman of Committees in this House. Opinion in Scotland is certainly very strongly in favour of the omission of this second inquiry, and I have to-day presented a petition from the Convention of Royal Burghs supporting the omission of Clause 9. I would remind my noble friend that on the Division in the House of Commons the number of Scotch Members who voted in favour of the omission of this clause was 36, and only nine against. I think that shows that there is a strong feeling in Scotland in favour of the omission of this second inquiry. The first inquiry should be a Parliamentary inquiry, and I would pro 451 pose that Clause 4, which provides for the formation of an extra-Parliamentary panel, should also be deleted. It is said that it would be difficult to find Peers and Members of Parliament who would be prepared to serve on this local Commission. I do not agree that any difficulty would be experienced. Peers and Members of Parliament will, I believe, be quite ready to serve on the Commission, and probably more willing than they would be to sit here in this House. The sitting will probably be shorter to begin with. If an excuse is wanted for Members of either House declining to serve, it will be found in the fact that there is an extra-Parliamentary panel. I estimate that there will not be much necessity for many of these Commissions during the session. I have in my hand an interesting Return which was presented to the House of Commons last year. It is a Return giving all the details with regard to private Bills for the last seven years prior to August 31 1897. I find that, so far as Scotland is concerned, the average number of private Bills for the seven years was only twenty-two per annum. Of those twenty-two private Bills which received the Royal assent, only eleven came before the Committees as opposed Bills. I think it is only fair to assume that of the opposed Bills a considerable proportion would be schemes which would not be considered to come within the operation of this Act at all, and which would have to go through the ordinary form of procedure. If these figures may at all be relied upon as showing the amount of private Bill applications in the future, as regards Scotland, I should say that there will not be more than half a dozen proposals annually to form subjects for local inquiry, and probably two or three of these will be grouped together. I earnestly press careful consideration of the suggestion that the second inquiry at Westminster should be eliminated from the Bill. I want to say a word as to the proceedings before the Chairmen of Committees, because it does seem to me rather difficult to understand from the Bill exactly what those proceedings are to be. In the original Bill which my noble friend introduced into this House any one single opponent was allowed to raise opposition before the Chairmen of Committees. That provision has disappeared from this Bill, and the clause now stands as follows: 452The Chairman of Committees of the House of Lords and the Chairman of Ways and Means in the House of Commons (in this Act referred to as the Chairmen), shall, if the two Houses of Parliament think fit so to order, determine all matters of practice and procedure which will enable them to take into consideration the draft Order, and to report thereon to the Secretary for Scotland. Provided that with a view to such report the Secretary for Scotland shall forthwith inform the Chairmen of any dissents from or objections to any of the provisions of the Order which have been stated in the prescribed manner and within the prescribed time.What I want to know is, is it simply intended that the Chairmen shall consider the provisions of the scheme as they appear on paper? Are they merely to be required to take a primâ facie view of the case, as presented on Paper, or are they to make themselves acquainted with the facts? I think this is a very important point. Judging by Clause 17, it seems as though it were intended that they should go beyond a primâ facie view as presented on Paper, because Clause 17 says:If any objection to any draft Order is made to the Chairmen on the ground that the undertaking proposed to be authorised by the Order will destroy or injure any building or other object of historical interest, or will injuriously affect any natural scenery, the Chairmen shall consider such objection, and may, if they think fit, either report to the Secretary for Scotland that such objection raises an issue or issues which ought to be dealt with by private Bill and not by Provisional Order, or refer such objection to the Secretary for Scotland or to the Commissioners, as the case may be, who shall give to those by whom it is made a proper opportunity of being heard in support of it.I do not see how the Chairmen are to: form a satisfactory opinion on these points without having some evidence before them as to the particular facts of the case. It ought to be made clear what the duties of the Chairmen are to be. If it becomes necessary for them to take evidence, either on the subjects contained in Clause 17 or on other matters, then the stage before the Chairmen becomes a serious one, and one which will materially add to the expense. I am sorry I am not in a position to take a more active opposition to the Bill. I know it is useless to attempt to throw the Bill out, but I have felt compelled to register my opinion that if this 453 Bill is passed the procedure for opposed Bills will be found more complicated, more lengthy, and more expensive than the present system.
* THE EARL OF MORLEY
My Lords, I propose in the observations which I shall make on this Bill to follow the example of my noble friend who introduced it, and not argue in any sense as to whether the Bill is expedient or desirable. I take it that that has already been settled in both Houses of Parliament. I shall, therefore, confine my remarks entirely to the details of the Bill, and to the points in which this Bill differs from the Bill of 1897. My noble friend opposite began by criticising the Bill on the grounds that it did not leave the whole of the procedure of Scotch Private Bill legislation to the Scotch people themselves. We are dealing now with legislation, and not with administration, and there is no legislative body in Scotland which could properly deal with the mass of business which has to be dealt with by Private Bill legislation. Therefore, that contention seems to me wholly futile. Your object is, as I understand it, that your legislation shall be confirmed at Westminster, but that the procedure should be rendered as cheap and as convenient as possible. This Bill differs in one most essential point from the Bill of 1897. That Bill gave Parliament practically no control over the private legislation of Scotland. I say that advisedly, because it did not provide for a Confirmation Bill. My noble friend opposite does not approve of confirming Bills, but my own opinion is that it would not be right for Parliament to give up the control which it at present has over Private Bill legislation. I would call attention of the House to the fact that you are dealing, not with administrative work, but with legislative work. Every Private Bill alters the public law in some particular, and in favour of some individual or company, and gives them powers and privileges which they have not got under the general law.
* THE EARL OF MORLEY
The House of Commons now agrees, and we have in this measure provided for a Confimation Bill. I know my noble friend has a difficult task in endeavouring to reconcile the two opposite views—the one which would keep the control as far as possible in the hands of Parliament, and the other which would enable an outside tribunal to deal with this matter. It is an extremely difficult and complicated question, and, if I do not think this Bill has dealt with it in a wholly satisfactory manner, I do not wish to in any way accuse my noble friend or his advisers of want of ingenuity or ability in framing it. Practically, the Bill before us is an extension of the provisional order system with certain variations. Those variations are twofold. First, the local inquiry is to be conducted by a special tribunal of a rather curious and mixed character; and, secondly, when the Confirming Bill comes to Parliament it is to be dealt with in one inquiry by a single Committee instead of two, an economy which I am in favour of. This process does not apply to all the Bills which originate in Scotland; it only applies to those Bills which are taken by the Chairmen out of the purview of direct Parliamentary interference. You, therefore, have a certain number of those Bills dealt with by Provisional Orders. I confess that it seems to me that a much more simple method could have been adopted—namely, the extension very largely, if you think fit, of the power of the Secretary for Scotland to issue Provisional Orders in the ordinary way. Under this system you would have an inquiry by an official of the Scotch Office, instead of an expensive local inquiry. I believe that you would in that way greatly diminish the expenses on unopposed Bills, which I admit will be less under this Bill than under the present system. The great blot on the Bill now before your Lordships is that it is absolutely incapable of further extension. I should have preferred a system which would have been capable, if opportunities arose, of extension over the whole of the United Kingdom, and I believe the system of Provisional Orders, as at present worked, would be capable of that extension to a very large extent. I am anxious not to indulge in any carping criticisms of the Bill, but I think it is right for me to state to the House any difficulties which seem to be in the way of the working of 455 the machinery which it is proposed to set up, and I feel compelled to refer to the duties which will be placed on the Chairmen of Committees under this Bill. The Chairman of Committees occupies a somewhat peculiar position. He is only appointed for the session, and I have some doubts whether, when Parliament prorogues, he has any position at all. That may be a more or less academical question, but what is not at all an unimportant point is this—that he never acts as of himself. Every decision and every act which I take, as Chairman of Committees, is an act of the House, and one which the House can, at any moment, criticise and modify. Everything I do should, be done as an officer of the House, and as the mouthpiece of the House. I quite admit, my Lords, that this Bill greatly improves the provisions which deal with the duties of the Chairman of Committees. In Clause 2, it says distinctly that the two Houses shall determine all matters of procedure and practice which will enable their chairmen to take into consideration the draft order, and I attach considerable importance to the fact that a copy of the report which shall be made by the chairmen is to be laid as soon as possible before both Houses of Parliament, because this brings the action of the chairmen at once within the knowledge of Parliament, and Parliament can then take any step to alter the decisions arrived at. There are other duties of a somewhat independent nature placed upon the chairmen of committees, and I hope your lordships will not for a moment think that I am at all desirous of shirking any duty, or of assuming any responsibility which the House may think fit to place upon me. Nothing is further from my wish, and I can assure my noble friend who is in charge of the Bill that it will be my desire as far as I possibly can to assist in enabling the Bill to work satisfactorily. It is not my wish to raise any difficulties in the way of carrying the Bill into effect. It is right, however, to point out that difficulties may arise. I think my best plan, if your Lordships will bear with me a short time, will be to trace an Order in its progress from the time the petition is lodged with the Secretary for Scotland until it finally passes through your Lordships' House. The first process is in Clause 1, which makes provision for the lodging of a petition for a Provisional 456 Order with the Secretary for Scotland. After this Bill has passed, no one in Scotland can, under any condition, come directly to Parliament for any purpose except in the case of Estate Bills. I should like to know whether my noble friend thinks it is necessary, having in view the fact that in Clause 1, sub-section 1, it is imperative that any public authority or persons desirous of obtaining Parliamentary powers shall proceed by presenting a petition, to retain, at the end of Clause 2, the fifth sub-section, which says that except under the provisions of this section it would not be lawful to apply to Parliament by Private Bill for powers which may be obtained by Provisional Order in terms of this Act. It seems to me that, having in view the earlier words of Clause 1, the words in the fifth section of Clause 2 are unnecessary. It may be a prejudice, or some superstitious fear of violating the Constitution, but it seems to me undesirable to place in a Statute words to the effect which I have just read. There is one objection, and one preliminary objection, for which I see no solution—namely, that every Order, whether it is clear that hereafter it must be turned into a Bill or not, must go through the preliminary stage of presentation to the Secretary for Scotland instead of going direct to Parliament. It, of course, originates in a difficulty which has been found when any scheme for private legislation has been in process of manufacture—the extreme difficulty of separating those schemes which ought to proceed by Provisional Order from those which ought to proceed by a Bill. But there is this fact, that where it is quite obvious that a scheme must be hereafter turned into an ordinary Parliamentary Bill, it must, all the same, in the first instance go through the Secretary for Scotland as a petition for a Provisional Order. Now comes the question of the second clause, which seems to me to raise a very important point. The second clause lays down that after the petition has been lodged, and the order drawn, it shall be sent to the two Chairmen of Committees to consider whether it is a proper subject for an Order, or whether it should go through the ordinary process of a private Bill in Parliament. I need not say that that is an extremely responsible, and, I think, a somewhat difficult task for the Chairmen to perform. I do not, 457 however, say that it is an insuperable one. I take it that, as a rule, or at any rate when this scheme first comes into operation, the Chairmen of the two Houses will, in case of doubt, be inclined to give the benefit of the doubt to Private Bill procedure. But what are the cases which the Chairmen are to rule must go through the ordinary Private Bill process? They must be "of such a character or magnitude, or raise any such question of policy or principle, that they ought to be dealt with by Private Bill and not by Provisional Order." The words "such character or magnitude" are rather difficult to interpret, and I should be glad to hear the views of my noble friend in charge of the Bill on this subject. Take the case of large housing schemes. large drainage schemes, or large municipal schemes of any kind which would involve an expenditure of many millions of pounds. Would the Chairmen be bound, owing to the magnitude of those schemes, to decide that they should be dealt with by Private Bill? This is a difficult point, but one which, will, I suppose, right itself in time. With regard to the words in the clause, "or raise any such question of policy or principle that they ought to be dealt with by Private Bill," I would point out that the chairmen have power to approve of a certain part going on by Provisional Order, and certain other parts being cut out and proceeding by Private Bill. Take questions of police, questions of local government, and sanitary matters. There may be a very important provision in one of the large Municipal Bills which deals with sanitary matters or with police matters in a manner very different from the general law. I take it that in that case the chairman would be bound to cut the clause that dealt differently with these matters than the ordinary law out of the Bill. I should like to ask whether promoters would, in that case, be entitled to bring in the clauses which the Chairmen had decided should not be proceeded with by Provisional Order as a separate Private Bill, because in that case you might have a large municipality with a Provisional Order under the Secretary for Scotland, and at the same time a private Bill being conducted in the same session. This is a difficult matter, but, as I have said, I do not think the problem is an insuperable one. I have no doubt, as time goes on, the custom will become stereotyped, and we shall get to know 458 what matters it is desirable shall proceed by Private Bill. My noble friend opposite asked what would be the character of the inquiry before the Chairman of Committees. That is difficult to say, and I can only give the noble Lord my impression, which is, that the inquiry will be merely a reading of the Bills, and, if there is any doubt as to certain points in them, information will be sent for. I can hardly think it will be necessary to hear witnesses. If it were, it would add another and very expensive stage to the Bill, and would give myself and my colleagues, at a time when we are extremely busy, far more than we could do. Unless there were special circumstances that required further explanation, I take it that it would be easy to ascertain in which direction the Bill should proceed. There is one point I should wish in this connection to call the attention of your Lordships to, and it is rather an important one, though one of detail. It is the question of time. I do not think it will be possible, under any conditions, to allow these petitions to be presented at any time during the year. It will not only be extremely inconvenient, but, what is far more important, it will not be safe or fair to those who may wish to oppose the Orders. At the present time it is well known by every one that Private Bills have to be deposited at a certain period of the year—the end of November. At that time solicitors and agents are on the look out for all schemes that are afloat. It would lie extremely undesirable to keep these people on. tenterhooks all the year round, and keep them constantly on the lookout for notices of Orders which might possibly escape their notice altogether. I think it is important that there should, be some fixed period of the year when these petitions should be deposited with the Secretary for Scotland. There is another point. Supposing the Orders are, under the direction of the Chairman of Committees, to be turned into Bills. It follows that they must be deposited, before the session begins, otherwise you will have wasted a session and also valuable labour. I would, therefore, suggest that it would be necessary to have the petitions for the Orders deposited some time in December, not very much, if at all, later than the Bills are now deposited, especially if, in accordance with this Bill, the Chairmen are, in addition to. 459 the Bills, to have before them the dissents and objections to the provisions of the Order which may be sent to the Secretary for Scotland. I would suggest to my noble friend, for his consideration, whether it will not be necessary to make provision, in Clause 2, or in some other convenient clause, in the event of a dissolution or prorogation, for the continuance in office of the Chairmen of Committees till the beginning of the following session, otherwise there might be a period when important work would be going on with no one to attend to it. In the progress of the Order the next point is that the Order has to pass what we call the Standing Orders. The examiner is to certify that the Standing Orders have been complied with. I presume the examiner is to be one of the examiners of the House, and it does not seem to me that it will be very difficult, if the proper times of the year are taken, for him to perform this work, but I anticipate that he will have to journey to Edinburgh, or wherever it may be, to certify that the Standing Orders had been complied with. But the dispensation of the Standing Orders rests entirely with the two Chairmen, without any appeal from them. It is not the responsibility in this matter which I should be very much afraid of, because I take it that in most cases the Standing Orders may not be of a very important or crucial character, but I suppose it would be possible for an opponent to oppose before us the dispensation of the Standing Orders, and in that case, of course, it would be necessary for us to hear their agents as we do in the Standing Orders Committee. In the case of the two Chairmen differing as to the dispensation of the Standing Orders, there is no provision in the Bill by which that difficulty can be solved. Now comes the local inquiry. If the Chairmen consider that the Order ought to be dealt with in Parliament as a Private Bill, it goes its usual course; but if, on the other hand, it is sent back to the Secretary for Scotland to be dealt with as a Provisional Order, the first stage, after the certification of the Standing Orders having been complied with, is the local inquiry. I was somewhat surprised to hear my noble friend opposite speak so strongly as to the expense of local inquiries. I agree with him that it may even be much more expensive to take expert witnesses to the 460 localities where the inquiry is to take place, than to bring the ordinary witnesses to London, but I would ask your Lordships to remember that the argument cuts at the root of all reforms of Private Bill Legislation, which have invariably tended in the direction of local inquiries. Whether the proposed inquiry is the best one we can conceive is for your Lordships to consider. As to the question of an extra Parliamentary panel, I differ from the noble Lord opposite, who stated that that part ought to have been omitted from the Bill. In my opinion, such a panel will be absolutely necessary, but in the nomination of the panel, although I am not unwilling to perform any duties the House may assign to me, I apprehend some difficulty, for in effect it will mean that I, knowing little or nothing of Scotland and Scotch affairs, will have to accept the nominees of the Secretary for Scotland. Again, I am not so sanguine as my noble friend that it will be an easy matter to find a sufficient number of Peers to perambulate Scotland to hold these local inquiries. If the inquiries are to take place during the session they will take Members from their duties at Westminster; if during the recess, your Lordships know the difficulty there will be in getting Peers to sit. Moreover, it does not seem to me to be the duty of Peers to travel about the country and inquire into matters of this kind. I have been able to impress upon noble Lords that it is their duty to attend Committees here, but I cannot say that I should look upon it as their duty to make these inquiries outside the walls of Westminster Palace; and I would suggest, for my noble friend's consideration, whether, if it is decided to maintain this Parliamentary panel, the Peers should not be chosen by the Committee of Selection. It does not seem to be part of my duty as Chairman of Committees to choose this panel, especially when we have a body in both Houses who are better fitted to perform it. I should like to call my noble friend's attention to the words in Clause 5:The Chairmen shall, with due regard to the character and magnitude of the provisions in the proposed Order or Orders, appoint four Commissioners for that purpose, and shall at the same time nominate one of the Commissioners as Chairman.I do not see the least meaning in those words. Does it mean that I am to 461 graduate the capacity of the Committee to the importance of the Orders? I think, if that is all it means, it had better be left out, because it is clear that whether I or the Committee of Selection will have to choose the Commissioners it will be in all cases our duty to choose a suitable Committee. I therefore suggest that these words are perfectly without meaning and unnecessary. Even if my noble friend's surmises are correct, and we are able to get Peers and Members to take these long voyages into Scotland to inquire into these matters, the composition of the Committee is a matter of importance and causes no little anxiety. It is necessary, in addition to having the actual members of the Committee, to have a really experienced and competent Chairman. I am very much afraid, if you look at this House—of course, I cannot speak as to the House of Commons—and deduct Ministers and ex-Ministers, noble Lords who are too old to undertake these duties and noble Lords who are abroad, you have not a very large number of noble Lords left who have special ability to act in these matters, and they are generally men who are chairmen of their county councils or employed in public business of great importance, which would render it absolutely impossible for them to undertake the duties laid down in this Bill. I do not wish to be desponding about this Parliamentary panel, but so far as I can tell from my experience, I am not at all sanguine that you will, at any rate in this House, get very satisfactory results from this clause. Therefore, my Lords, I am strongly of opinion that the extra Parliamentary panel should be maintained. In fact, it appears to me that it would be almost better to have allowed the Bill to remain as it was when it left your Lordships' House in 1897. I should like also to know if my noble friend has considered whether these Committees are to be assisted in any way by counsel or clerks of experience. Of course, Committees in your Lordships' House have constantly the opportunity, if they so desire—which is not often—of consulting my own counsel, and they have experienced clerks who can at once instruct them and give them any information they require. Though this is rather a question for the General Orders, I throw it out for the noble Lords' consideration, and I would suggest the desirability of appoint- 462 ing some standing counsel. Now we come to the fourth stage of the Order, where it blossoms into a Confirmation Bill. If unopposed it shall be deemed to have passed through all its stages up to and including Committee, and shall be ordered to be considered as if reported from a Committee. There is no Committee stage in the House, and therefore, if any Amendments are made, they must be inserted when the Bill is reported to the House. As I understand, in the case of an opposed Bill, the Bill will go through all its stages and will be referred to a Joint Committee. I think this will save a great deal of expense and time, and be satisfactory. I do not, however, agree with my noble friend opposite that there is no cause for a second inquiry. In the first place, we are not quite certain how the tribunal which makes the first inquiry will work out; and I would suggest that during a certain number of years, while the Act is in the experimental stage, it is necessary, in order to avoid injustice, that there should be a Court of Appeal, or rather a Court of Rehearing from the local inquiry; and I therefore am decidedly in favour of the proposal to refer the Confirmation Bill, in the case of opposition, to a Joint Committee of both Houses. I think the second inquiry is rendered necessary because Amendments and agreed clauses may be introduced at the first inquiry which may prejudicially affect the interests of third parties who may not have been injuriously affected by the Order as originally framed. My noble friend said one reason why the second inquiry would be unnecessary would be that the Bill would have been not only inquired into locally, but would have been carefully read by the Chairmen of Committees. That is quite true. But your Lordships must remember that the Chairmen have no opportunity of hearing any evidence. They have no means of knowing whether anyone is injured, or whether any interest is prejudiced by anything in the Bill. Though the Bills may not be many, and although they may be small, surely that is no reason for saying that in small Bills an injustice should be possible. I think there is very great danger, if you have no such Committee as that, of having questions relating to Private Bills constantly raised in the House, and I cannot possibly conceive of a worse tribunal for deciding questions 463 of this kind than the House, which must, of necessity, act on ex parte statements and without having the evidence before them. On this ground, I am decidedly in favour of the second inquiry, as provided in the Bill. I would ask my noble friend whether, in Clause 8, it might not be desirable, even if there had been no opposition and no inquiry held, that there should be some means given of enabling an opponent or supporter of a Bill, who is dissatisfied with the decision of the Secretary for Scotland, to appeal to Parliament, because it might happen that the Secretary for Scotland had introduced important Amendments, or made the granting of the petition for the Order conditional upon the promoters complying with certain conditions which might have a very evil effect on either the opponents or promoters. I cannot find in the Bill that the Secretary for Scotland has any power to refuse a petition, neither can I find that he has power to modify the Order except on the recommendation of the Chairmen or certain public bodies. I cannot help thinking that I am wrong in this matter, but I have read the Bill carefully and cannot find that any powers are given to the Secretary for Scotland in this direction.
* THE EARL OF MORLEY
In summing up I should like to refer to the duties of the Chairmen. In the first place, they will have to road petitions and see if the Order is to be proceeded with as an Order or as a Bill. That means rather careful reading, because they may, as I have said, reject part of a Bill. We shall have to read the Orders without the advantage of seeing the agents as we do at present. It will be somewhat difficult to avoid refusing to allow the insertion in an Order of any matters that are against general legislation. So far as that goes, it will almost inevitably result in the Chairmen having to be more particular in reading these Orders than they are at present. The second point is that they are, if they think fit, to dispense with the Standing Orders if they are found not to be complied with; and. thirdly, they are to choose the extra Parliamentary panel, and, in connection with the Secretary for Scotland, the Commission which is to try 464 this case. Then, when the Orders come into your Lordships' House, they are again to carefully read them, with the modifications introduced, and make recommendation to the Secretary for Scotland. I am afraid this will add considerably to the work, because we shall have to read not only all the Bills as they come in, but we shall have to report. Moreover, we shall not have the same powers which we now possess of discussing the Bills with promoters. I was rather staggered, on reading Clause 17, to find that I was the guardian of the buildings of historic interest and the picturesque beauties of the Highlands, and I am sure this duty would be much better left to my noble friend the Secretary for Scotland. I do not see how it is possible for the Chairmen of Committees to decide a question of this kind, which is entirely one of taste and evidence. I would suggest that the Secretary for Scotland should be substituted for the Chairmen. Clause 16 saves the present power of making Provisional Orders whether by the Secretary for Scotland or the Board of Trade. As I read the clause, the present powers of the Secretary for Scotland to make Provisional Orders remain exactly the same, except that the Bills, when they come to Parliament, shall be referred to a Joint Committee instead of having to go through two Committees. Sub-section 2 of this clause saves the powers of the Board of Trade, but here let me point out an anomaly. The Board of Trade have now power to give Orders for harbours up to £100,000. Under this Bill, however, the Secretary for Scotland would be able to frame an Order for a harbour of any size he liked, providing the Chairmen did not say it was big enough to go to Parliament. It certainly seems an anomaly that the Board of Trade, who are experts on this subject and the harbour authority for the country, should be restricted in this particular manner, while the Secretary for Scotland, who has no expert advisers, would have authority to give an Order for a harbour costing half a million or a million of money. That is a point which requires looking into. I must crave your Lordships' pardon for having mentioned so many matters which are more fitting for Committee, but I have called attention to them on the Second Reading because I have no right to address your Lordships when the House is in Committee. I have 465 in my observations endeavoured to avoid unnecessary criticism, and I assure your Lordships that, although I think they will be responsible, and in some cases very difficult, I shall be most anxious to perform those duties which the House chooses to put upon me under this Bill. I shall be only too glad to co-operate with my noble friend in endeavouring to render the operation of the Bill satisfactory. I see some difficulties in the way of the working of this now scheme of Private Bill procedure; but on the whole, with the exception of the panel, about which I am in doubt, I think the general scope of the Bill is more satisfactory than the Bill which was before your Lordships' House in 1897.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
After the Debate which has taken place on this Bill, and more particularly after the full and exhaustive examination of the Bill by the Chairman of Commiitees, it is not necessary for me to offer more than a few observations to your Lordships at the present stage on this subject; but there is one point I wish to bring under the consideration of the House. This is a Bill on which it is extremely desirable that we should have the assistance and advice of the noble Earl the Chairman of Committees, who has better means than we have of forming a judgment upon the merits and demerits of the Bill. We shall be deprived of the advice and assistance of the noble Earl if he is in the chair during the Committee stage, and, therefore, I hope some means will be found whereby the noble Earl will be in a position to give the House the benefit of his help upon the details of the Bill, and also to move Amendments in the direction which he has foreshadowed. I am not sufficiently acquainted with the forms of your Lordships' House to give an opinion on this matter with absolute certainty; but I think, if we were to take the Committee stage pro formâ, and discuss the Amendments on Report, we should be able to obtain the assistance of the noble Lord, and that would be a very great benefit to the consideration of the Bill by the House. I should like to know the opinion of the noble Lord in charge of the Bill in regard to this proposal. If he consents to it, I will move the necessary motion. Like the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees, and others who have 466 spoken, I greatly prefer the Bill in its present shape to the shape in which it was presented to us on a former occasion. I think it is absolutely necessary, for the protection of petitioners and objectors, that this House should retain in its own hands the control of all legislation which has reference to property; and it seems to me, also, that it must necessarily be wrong and unfair to the official himself to impose upon the holder of a political office the duty of dealing with legislative details which must expose him to a great deal of solicitation and trouble. This Bill avoids that difficulty. The fact that the Secretary for Scotland and the Chairmen of Committees are placed in a foremost position with regard to this matter, gives the House and the country considerable security that matters will be dealt with under proper control, and in a proper manner. With regard to the panel, I rather agree with my noble friend (Lord Tweedmouth) that there will not be such difficulties as is supposed in obtaining the panel. I think the number of Bills will not be great, and I venture to hope that you will find sufficient Peers and sufficient Members of the other House who will be willing to make the necessary exertions, and go to Scotland when required; but there is a special mention in the Bill of Scotch Members of Parliament. It is provided that nothing is to disqualify Scotch Members from sitting on such Commissions. I think that is a very proper provision, but I hope there is no insinuation in it that Scotch Members are to be preferred for this purpose. In dealing with Private Bills, I do not know whether by accident or design, the Chairman and the Committee of Selection, in choosing their Committees, take care to seldom place on those Committees Peers who are connected with that portion of the kingdom to which the question to be discussed relates. I think, as a general rule, that is a wise course to take; and if there is anything in these words which is likely to indicate that Scotch Members are to be preferred in the consideration of Scotch questions, I should enter a strong protest against it. I shall only refer to one other matter, namely, the second inquiry. As the Bill stands, after an Order has been considered locally by a Commission it returns to Parliament, and a Confirmation Bill is to be laid on the Table. I am, of course, speaking of the case of an opposed Order. If a peti 467 tion is presented, the Bill, subject to the Standing Orders, is to be referred to a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament. That gives an opponent the absolute power to insist upon a separate inquiry by a Joint Committee of both Houses. Having been defeated before the Commission, he has a right to demand a Joint Committee of the two Houses of Parliament. I cannot say with my noble friend (Lord Tweedmouth) that I should be willing to do away with that second inquiry altogether—I think it would be a great mistake to do so, for the reasons which were given by the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees, if for no other reason; but, at the same time, I think we are going a little too far in giving an opponent, who presumably has been defeated at the first inquiry, the right to insist on a second inquiry by a Joint Committee of both Houses. It may be pointed out that at the present time, under a Provisional Order, everyone interested has a right to ask for a Committee in either House of Parliament, but this is not quite the same as the case of an ordinary Provisional Order. This matter will have been considered by the Chairmen and the Secretary for Scotland, and they will have arrived at the decision that it is a matter which is not so important as to require to be dealt with by a Bill, and have authorised an inquiry by Provisional Order. That inquiry will have taken place, and it seems to me a little too strong to give an opponent the power to insist, at his own free will, that there shall be a second inquiry by a Joint Committee of the two Houses. A solution has occurred to me, and it seems a very simple one. It is, that when this petition is presented, the procedure should not be left, as it is now, to the opponent himself, but that the House should decide, after seeing the petition, whether it was desirable to further inquire into the allegations of that petition, and if they should decide that there were primâ facie reasons for further inquiries, or if Amendments had been introduced after the first inquiry, there should be a second inquiry. I shall submit an Amendment to this effect for the consideration of the House at a later stage. Clause 17 did not belong to those who framed the Bill, but was the work of Mr. Bryce, a private Member in the other House, and he is responsible for 468 the form which it at present takes. I think a very natural and proper suggestion might be that this question should be referred, with other questions relating to the Order under consideration, to the Commission appointed to inquire into the other matters.
THE MARQUESS OF LOTHIAN
My Lords, I only rise to say that I strongly concur in the views expressed by my noble friend opposite as to the extreme desirability of the Chairman of Committees being in a position to discuss this Bill, and I hope some means will be found for giving effect to this suggestion. However, if the proposal of the noble Earl is adopted, that the Committee stage should be taken pro formâ, and the Amendments moved on Report, no noble Lord—not even the noble Lord in charge of the Bill—will be able to speak more than once, which will be most undesirable. The only way out of the difficulty would be to resolve that the noble Lord in charge of the Bill should be allowed to speak as often as he liked on Report, the same as in Committee.
§ * LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
The noble Lord opposite (Lord Tweed-mouth) said that Scotchmen should be allowed to decide these matters entirely amongst themselves, but he did not say distinctly what sort of substitute he would place in the Bill to take the place of the present provision. That may be some new form of Home Rule which we may yet have to have explained to us. I will make him this offer, that if he will move to reject Clause 17 at the next stage I do not think I shall put any particular obstacle in his way. With regard to the future stages of this Bill, I have consulted my noble friend, the Chairman of Committees, since he has spoken, and I think I am right in saying that most of the objections which my noble friend has taken are points of detail and of drafting. I will confer with him before the Committee stage is taken, and I think I shall be able to meet his views on many of the points. The Committee stage will be taken on Tuesday and the Report on Thursday. By that time the noble Earl will be out of the Chair, and any of the points he has, raised which have not been dealt with in 469 Committee can be taken up on that occasion.
THE EARL OF KIMBERLEY
I am sure everyone must desire to have the assistance of the noble Lord, the Chairman of Committees, who is able to give us the soundest advice in regard to this Bill. The same difficulty which has been present in the mind of the noble Earl occurred to me, and it has been suggested to me that there is no Standing Order of the House which will prevent the Chairman of Committees from leaving the Chair, and standing by the Table to address the Committee in a similar way to that adopted by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack when he addresses the House. If that is possible, I think it will solve a difficulty which is a very serious one.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (The Earl of HALSBURY)
I am not aware of any reason why the Chairman of Committees should not take part in Debate and express his opinion. If there is no precedent for it, I think it will be most convenient that we should make one.
§ On Question—agreed to.
§ Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Tuesday next.