HL Deb 21 March 1901 vol 91 cc636-9

My Lords, I beg to ask the Secretary for Scotland a question of which I have given him private notice, namely, whether it is the case that the meeting of the Commissioners under the Private Legislation Procedure (Scotland) Act, fixed for the 22nd instant, is to be held in Edinburgh;. whether it is the case that three Provisional Orders referred to the Commissioners relate to localities in the West of Scotland; whether the actual inquiry in this case is to take place in Edinburgh or in the localities; and whether, under Section 6 of the Act, it does not rest with the Commissioners themselves to fix the place of inquiry. These are rather important questions for those who are interested in Private Bill procedure in Scotland. This is the first meeting which the Commissioners hold under the Act, and it is therefore important that the procedure should he in all respects such as may form a good precedent for the future. The holding of the inquiry in Edinburgh for those Bills which concern the West of Scotland, appears to be rather an unfortunate mode of procedure, because it would seem to indicate that it is the intention in future to hold all inquiries in Edinburgh. If that is the case, it really means that we do not have the advantage of the Parliamentary counsel in London, but have to take Parliamentary counsel in Edinburgh. The intention of the Act was that the inquiry should be held as near the parts concerned as possible. Without saying a word against the excellence of the Parliamentary Bar in Scotland—if there is a Parliamentary Bar—I would point out that in Aberdeen, Glasgow, and other towns in Scotland, there is plenty of legal ability and forensic power, and lawyers in those parts of the country might easily take up the cases in which those parts are interested. That, I submit, is the intention of the Act, and I hope the Secretary for Scotland will be able to state that it is not intended that all future inquiries shall be held in Edinburgh. If that is the intention it will be necessary to amend the Act. Section 6 of the Act lays down that, subject to a General Order, the Commissioners shall hold the inquiry at such place in Scotland as they may determine, with due regard to the subject-matter of the proposed Order, and the locality to which it relates. An inquiry in Edinburgh in the case of these Bills affecting the West of Scotland would not be held in a place with due regard to the subject-matter of the proposed Order and the locality to which it relates.


My Lords, I have to thank the noble Lord for his courtesy in giving me notice yesterday of his intention to put this question. It is the case, as stated by him, that under the Act passed the year before last, it does rest with the Commissioners to fix the place at which the inquiries are to be held. The circumstances under which Edinburgh was fixed for the first inquiry are as follows: The panel of Lords available was only secured on the 12th of the present month, and it was found impossible to get the requisite four Commissioners from the Members of the two Houses by the 14th instant. If we had delayed beyond the 14th, there would not have been time to have the inquiry before the natural Easter recess. Under those circumstances, and keeping in view the importance of holding the inquiry into a group of Orders before Easter, and to the requirement contained in the General Orders that seven clear days notice of the time and place of the inquiry must be given, I thought it undesirable to delay the announcement of the place of meeting. I therefore consulted the noble Lord who I knew would be, in all probability, and has been since, appointed Chairman of the Commission, as to the place that would be most convenient. Four out of the seven Orders which are in the list of those set down for inquiry in Edinburgh come from places for which Edinburgh is certainly the most convenient place of meeting. There are three others—one relating to Hamilton, one to Ayr, and one to Ardrossan—included in the group; but we knew that the opposition to the Hamilton Order was about to be withdrawn, and we only included that pro forma in case the opposition was not withdrawn. Since that time the opposition has been withdrawn, and it will go on as an unopposed Order. With regard to the other two Bills, we did what we could to consult the promoters. In the case of the Ayr Bill, the promoters preferred Edinburgh to Ayr, Glasgow, or any other place, and neither in that case nor in the case of the Ardrossan inquiry, have I received any intimation that the parties concerned would have preferred that the inquiry should be held in any other place.

It is not my intention to guide the Commissioners, who may hereafter be appointed, in the direction of fixing Edinburgh as in all cases the place of inquiry. I think it most probable that the next inquiry will take place in Glasgow; but, of course, that is not yet decided, and cannot be decided until the Commissioners are appointed. I can only say, generally, that in all future cases, when the system which has just been inaugurated is in working order, it would be right and proper that the parties concerned should indicate to my Department any views they may have as to where the inquiry should he held, and I would pass them on. It is not our intention to concentrate the inquiries in Edinburgh; but in the case to which the noble Lord has referred, owing to pressure of time we thought it on all grounds less undesirable that the inquiry should be at once appointed for Edinburgh than that it should be postponed until after the Easter recess. I hope my answer will be satisfactory to the noble Earl, and I can assure him that I am anxious to do the best I can for all parties.