HL Deb 19 May 1903 vol 122 cc1073-8

Commons message considered (according to Order).

Moved, "That this House do concur in the following Resolution communicated by the Commons, viz, 'That it is expedient that the Port of London Bill be committed to a Joint Committee of both Houses.'"—(The Duke of Devonshire.)


My Lords, I do not rise to oppose the Motion which the noble Duke has moved, but I think I am justified in commenting upon, and asking for some explanation of the difference of procedure that has been adopted in this case, and which was adopted in regard to the London Water Bill of last session. That Bill, so far as two Bills can be alike, was exactly the same as this Bill. Both deal with great London interests, and deal with them in the same way by municipalising them, and by appointing a great body on which the municipal authorities are largely represented; both compulsorily take over great services which have been carried on by private companies; both involve heavy charges on the rates, and transfer great interests from private bodies to these new bodies; both are partly public and partly private Bills, and it is recognised that they require to be dealt with in a special manner. Last session we were told that it was impossible for your Lordships to join with a Committee of the other House to consider the London Water Bill without that Bill being first introduced in this House and read a second time. Some of us took exception to that course, and said we thought it altogether superfluous and unnecessary. That, apparently, is the view that has been taken by His Majesty's Government and by the authorities of the House on this occasion. Of course, we are very glad to find that our views have been adopted, but, at the same time, I do think some explanation is required as to the reason for this change of front, and also as to whether this procedure will be adopted in similar cases in the future. The only reason I can conceive for this change, is that possibly it may be said that the present Bill is less contentious than the London Water Bill. But I do not think that the question of procedure should be governed by the consideration as to whether a Bill is more or less contentious or not, but should be governed by the character of the Bill itself. Indeed, I think that even on this point the Bills are very much alike. It is possible that the London Water Bill did give rise to a little more opposition than the present Bill, but the opposition to both Bills is of the same character. In the case of both Bills the general principle was accepted, and the real contention was and is on the constitution of the authority to be set up. Last year it was rightly insisted that the Committee to which the Water Bill should be referred should be essentially a judicial Committee that should examine it with perfect freedom from bias. I think I am right in assuming that exactly the same sort of Committee will be appointed for the consideration of this Bill, and that it will be a Committee, not chosen so that all sorts of opinions should be represented upon it, but chosen on account of the judicial qualities of the Members to deal with the Bill in an entirely impartial manner. I should also like to ask what will be the form of procedure in the Committee itself. As I understood in the case of last year's Bill, the House of Lords being joined with the House of Commons involved the appointment of a noble Lord as Chairman of the Committee, and also involved the procedure of the House of Lords being adopted in the Committee. I think that gave rise last year to some little misunderstanding which I hope will be avoided on this occasion. At any rate, I should like to be informed as to what the exact form of procedure will be, and whether in the case of this Committee, when the Bill has not come before your Lordships' House, the Chairman will of necessity be a noble Lord.


My Lords, perhaps I may be allowed to reply to the observations of the noble Lord, because it was somewhat on my suggestion that the course taken with regard to the London Water Bill last year was adopted by the House. I would point out that at the present moment there is no Standing Order referring to procedure before Joint Committees. A Joint Committee is not recognised by any of the orders of your Lordships' House. The consequence is that the procedure relating to these Committees is dealt with according to practice, and practice not of a very old date. My noble friend is perfectly right when he says that up to last year, the practice was that when the other House sent up a message to ask your Lordships' House to join in sending to a Joint Committee a Bill that had originated in the other House, that course was adopted without any further step being taken. That was the case in regard to such Bills as the Railway Rates Bill, which was referred to a Joint Committee two or three years running. Latterly the same course was adopted with regard to one or two private Bills, especially the Dublin Bill, and another relating to an amalgamation of railways in Ireland. But none of those Bills contained any definite principle upon which your Lordships' House would desire to express any opinion. The Water Bill of last year was of a totally different character from any Bill, so far as I know, that up to that time had ever been referred to a Joint Committee. It was, as my noble friend said, a Bill of a hybrid character—that is, a public Bill, but involving interference with private property which made it necessary that, in addition to the public stages in the Whole House, it should pass through the stages that are necessary for a private Bill to go through, namely, a Select Committee. I was consulted on the subject, and it seemed to me that there was this difficulty—your Lordships were sending to a Select Committee a Bill the principle of which you had never approved. I still think there was something in that contention, and that your Lordships' House ought to have an opportunity, if it desires to do so, of expressing an opinion on the principle of a Bill before the details of it are sent to a Select Committee. I quite admit that with that view an absolutely unparalleled arrangement was made. Two identical Bills were introduced, one in each House, and when your Lordships had given a Second Reading to the Bill introduced into this House it was assumed that you approved the principle of the Bill, and that when a message came from the Commons begging your Lordships to refer the Commons Bill which was an identical measure, to a Select Committee, you could do so, having already assented to the principle in your Lordships' Bill. I quite admit that that was an absolutely unprecedented procedure, but, as I say, the object of it was to enable the House, if the House thought fit, to express an opinion on the principle of the Bill on the Motion for its Second Reading. I am bound to say the House did not take that view of it. The House preferred not to discuss the Bill on Second Reading before it went to the Joint Committee, but preferred to defer the discussion until the Bill came up in a matured and altered form from the Commons.


We only accepted the formal Second Reading on the distinct understanding that we would be able to raise the principle on the Second Reading of the Bill when it came up from the other House.


I admit that. But I thought myself that it was right that the House should have an opportunity, before the Bill was referred to a Select Committee, of expressing an opinion upon its principles. As the House did not wish to discuss that Bill on Second Reading before it went to the Joint Committee, it seemed to me, and I think to many of your Lordships, unnecessary to repeat that experiment. Although I quite agree with my noble friend that the question of whether a Bill is contentious or not, should make no difference in the matter of procedure, if the House did not wish to take advantage of a Second Reading debate in the case of so contentious a Bill as the London Water Bill, a fortiori it would not wish to take advantage of a Second Reading debate in regard to this less contentious Bill. It, therefore, seemed to me that it would be better on this occasion to revert to the procedure which was adopted in the case of the Railway Rates Bill. The matter is not regulated by any Standing Order. The procedure by Joint Committee, which I think is a very useful one in many cases, has not been crystallised sufficiently to form any rules upon it. It is usual for a Member of your Lordships' House to preside over a Joint Committee, but there is nothing to prevent the Committee from electing any other Member whom they think fit. As to procedure, the procedure which has been invariably adopted is the procedure which prevails in your Lordships' House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

And a Message ordered to be sent to the Commons to acquaint them therewith.

House adjourned at twenty-five minutes before Seven o'clock, to Friday next, half-past Ten o'clock.