§ *LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
My Lords, in moving the suspension of the Sessional Order of the 12th March 562 with regard to the First Reading of Provisional Order Confirmation Bills, I will trouble your Lordships with a few words of explanation. I should not attempt to interfere with the operation of this Standing Order except upon good cause shown. I should at once agree that the onus of proving the necessity of suspending the Standing Order lies upon those who propose it, and I should not suggest that at this period of the session a Standing Order should be suspended for a Bill of this kind, unless the Department promoting it had every reason to believe that the Order would be unopposed. Important interests are involved in the Bill referred to, the object of which is to hand over to the County Council of the county of Gloucester a canal which is out of repair. The canal was authorised in the last century, but has fallen out of repair, and in 1893 the company owning the navigation published a notice of their intention to close it for through traffic. A large number of the local authorities concerned thought this would be disastrous to the community, and a trust was formed of several county councils and urban district councils to see if the undertaking could not be resuscitated. That trust have spent £15,000 upon this waterway, and have come to the end of their resources, but the County Council of Gloucester are anxious to avoid the abandoning of what they regard as an undertaking important to their district, and the object of this Provisional Order is to hand over the canal to that county council. No objections to the Order were received after many weeks of advertisement. Careful inspection has been undertaken at the hands of the officers of the Board of Trade, and the Law Officers of the Crown had to be consulted upon certain points. Under those circumstances a considerable amount of delay has taken place, but I assure your Lordships that it was unavoidable delay, for which neither the promoters nor the Board of Trade were responsible. The notice to suspend the Standing Order was put down in perfectly good faith, the Board of Trade believing that there would be no opposition. Since that time, however, an intimation of opposition has been handed to me. I do not know whether that intention is really to be carried into effect, or whether the gentleman giving the notice really proposes to petition against the Bill. If he intends 563 to oppose it I would at once say that it would serve no useful purpose to proceed with the suspension of the Standing Order, but I should like to be quite sure that the opposition is really intended before, on behalf of the County Council of Gloucester, I abandon what I know is earnestly desired by them and what I believe will be for the public interest. To put myself in order, I move the suspension of the Standing Order; but as to whether I shall persevere in the motion, I shall be largely guided by what is said in the House, and by the opinion of the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees, who has the best right to speak on this matter.
§ Moved, "That the Sessional Order of the 12th March last, 'That no Provisional Order Confirmation Bill originating in this House shall be read a first time after Tuesday, the first day of May next,' be dispensed with in respect of a Bill to confirm a Provisional Order made by the Board of Trade under Section 45 of the Rail way and Canal Traffic Act, 1888, in the matter of the Thames and Severn Canal."—(Lord Balfour of Burleigh.)
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
My Lords, I venture to hope that the House will hesitate before suspending the Standing Order in this case. I believe it will be generally admitted that it is undesirable to suspend the Sessional Order except where the object is a public one, and where it is quite clear that no private interests acquired by previous legislation or otherwise will be prejudicially affected or interfered with by reason of the Provisional Order. This, of course, professes to be and is a motion on the part of the Board of Trade for a Bill to confirm a Provisional Order, but in reality it is not for any public purpose. It is, as the noble Lord has himself told us, practically the Bill of the Gloucester County Council. What may be the intention or the proposals of the Gloucester County Council as contained in this Bill we do not know, because the Bill has not been published. It is not laid upon your Lordships' Table; and I must say, in passing, with regard to the procedure of the House, that I venture to think it would be a good thing if, when it is proposed to suspend a Standing Order in the case of any Provisional Order Bill, the Bill itself should be laid on the Table and circulated, so that your 564 Lordships should have an opportunity of seeing what there is in the Bill.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
. Possibly that is a good objection; but I think that in these cases some effectual means ought to be taken in order to inform the House, and persons who may be interested, what object the Bill is intended to achieve. This Bill proposes to take a canal from a Trust to which it now belongs, and to make an Order for abandoning the canal, and, after that Order has been carried out, then to proceed to dispose of the canal otherwise. I am not interested at all in this canal, but after looking over the statements of the Board, of Trade in promoting the Bill, and what the private individual has set out who is opposing it, I felt satisfied that it was a proper case to which to call your Lordships' attention. This private opponent, opposed the Bill which was promoted by the Trust in 1895 and obtained certain terms, which were conceded to him by agreement. If this Bill goes forward it will conflict with the clauses of the Act of 1895, under which these terms were obtained. I can tell the noble Lord that the private opponent certainly does intend to oppose the Bill, and to persevere in his opposition. I was a little surprised when the noble Lord said that the Board of Trade had received no notice of opposition. I have had an opportunity of reading a long letter from the Parliamentary agent of the opponent, which was addressed to the Board of Trade, and which, though it did not contain! the words "I object," recited the circumstances at very considerable length,, and pointed out how objectionable such a proceeding as this on the part of the Board of Trade would be, and how it, would injure his client. Under these circumstances I would appeal to the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees, whether it is not proper that the usual course should be taken in this case. Why should the Gloucester County Council not proceed in the ordinary way? The Bill undoubtedly affects certain existing-rights. It is, properly speaking, a private Bill, and why should it not be proceeded with in the ordinary way as a private Bill? I submit that this is not a 565 proper case for the suspension of the Sessional Order, especially as the House is in entire ignorance of the contents of the Bill.
THE CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (The Earl of MORLEY)
My Lords, I take up very much the view of my noble friend behind me on this question. There is nothing irregular in the proposal being brought before your Lordships' House in the form of a Provisional Order; the irregularity consists in the Provisional Order being two months late, according to the Sessional Order of 12th March. I quite agree with what fell from my noble friend behind me, that the fault of the delay does not rest with the promoters nor with the Board of Trade, and I was quite prepared, from what I heard from the promoters, to make no objection to the Bill being introduced. But since hearing from the agent of the private individual who opposes the Bill that there is serious opposition, I venture to express the opinion that it is not a case where the Sessional Order should be dispensed with. We are now practically at the end of the first week in July. The Bill originates in this House, and if there is serious opposition it is impossible for it to be seriously considered. Under these circumstances it is hardly worth while suspending the Sessional Order in respect to this Bill.
§ *LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
After the expressions of opinion which we have heard I shall not persevere with my motion, but I should like to say that up till yesterday, so far as I can ascertain, no notice of opposition was lodged at the Board of Trade. I did receive a letter yesterday afternoon from the gentleman who I understand is to oppose the Bill, and on that I consulted with the Board of Trade. Under all the circumstances, although I greatly regret the necessity for postponing it, and although I believe the public interest will suffer, and that the damage to the waterway will be greater next year than it is this year, I have no option but to ask your Lordships to allow me to withdraw the motion.
§ Motion (by leave of the House) withdrawn.
§ The LORD CHANCELLOR acquainted the House that the Clerk of the Parliaments 566 had laid upon the Table the Certificates, from the Examiners that the Standing Orders applicable to the following Bills have been complied with:—
§ Local Government (Ireland) Provisional Orders (Housing of Working Classes).
§ Local Government Provisional Order (Housing of Working Classes).
§ Local Government Provisional Orders (No. 11).
§ The same were ordered to lie on the Table.