, in rising to call attention to the system of Private Bill Legislation; and to move—That this House adheres to the Resolution of March 22nd 1872, that the system of Private Bill Legislation calls for the attention of Parliament and of Her Majesty's Government, and requires reform; that this House, while maintaining the ultimate control of Parliament over Private Bill Legislation, is of opinion that a Tribunal, to take the place of Private Bill Committees, should be created which should investigate the facts and deal with the evidence relating to Private Bills, and, so far as possible, in the locality affected by such Bills, whether in England, or in Scotland, or in Ireland, and report thereon to Parliament,said, that, in bringing this Motion before the House, the best thing he could do was to recall to the House the position in which it stood with regard to this Resolution, and also with regard to the general circumstances which surround the question of Private Bill legislation. For 50 years there had been continual dissatisfaction and grumbling with regard to the manner in which Private Bill legislation was carried on. The matter had frequently been brought before the House. Committee after Committee had sat to consider what was the best means of amending the present state of things. The Library was full of material and valuable information, for nearly all the information which could be obtained had been already secured. But they were no further on than they were 50 years ago. In 1872 the question came nearer solution than it had done before or since. In that year the right hon. Gentleman the Chan- 1555 cellor of the Duchy of Lancaster brought forward a Resolution in almost identical terms with the first part of the present Motion. The right hon. Gentleman brought the matter before the House in a speech which had been practically the text-book of the subject ever since. The Resolution was carried, and it was declared to be the opinion of the House that the system of Private Bill legislation called for the attention of Parliament and Her Majesty's Government, and required reform. Twelve years had passed since then, and something like £9,000,000 had been spent on Parliamentary litigation. They had had a series of haphazard and unsatisfactory decisions, and small towns and centres of industry had been prevented from carrying out useful projects owing to the expense of Parliamentary contests. Great monopolist Railway Companies had crushed out their humbler rivals, and all that time the Resolution of the right hon. Gentleman had remained a dead letter. Last year the matter was revived. The old arguments were brought up, and the familiar figures were again quoted. The discussion was an interesting one, but the Resolution proved abortive. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, speaking on behalf of the Government, had practically accepted the first Resolution which was on the Paper, and the Speaker was on the point of putting the Question, when, by the interposition of an hon. Member, whom he was glad not to see in his place on the present occasion, the House was counted out, and so another year was lost, nearly another £1,000,000 was spent, more doubtful decisions were given, and they were no further on than they were before.
But though no direct results ensued from the discussion of last year, he could say with confidence that there had been very material indirect results. He had received communications from many parts of England, from Ireland, and from Scotland, calling attention to the unsatisfactory arrangements that existed at present, and pressing him to bring the matter before the House, and not to rest until the Government had taken it up with the intention of dealing with it in a thorough manner. In Ireland the grievance was one of old standing, and it was a real and very serious grievance. A few years ago many Bills were intro- 1556 duced by hon. Gentlemen from Ireland; but these Bills came to nothing. The same excuse was always given, that it was impossible to legislate for one part of the Kingdom alone. The grievance still remained. Only last year the hon. Member for Tyrone (Mr. T. A. Dickson) stated that the present system of Private Bill legislation was fatal to the industrial resources of Ireland. He did not think the hon. Member said a word too much in making that statement. On February 21st, at a great meeting of the Associated Chambers of Commerce, a Resolution brought with much force before the meeting by a well-known gentleman from the Sister Kingdom was carried in favour of such a proposal as he now submitted to the House. In his own country—Scotland—and he thought every Scotch Member would agree with him—the grievance had been long and seriously felt. Prom the great distance that Scotland was from the Metropolis, the grievance was felt there even more keenly than it was in this country. From the large burghs—Edinburgh, Greenock, Dundee, and other places—he had received urgent requests to go on with this Resolution. At a great national meeting upon a cognate subject, the magistrates of all the principal towns in Scotland brought forward this matter, and urged it upon the meeting. From the smaller burghs the complaint was universal. The complaint was not that the expense of Private Bill legislation was excessive, but that it was absolutely prohibitory to anything like industrial enterprize. In one burgh which he knew intimately there was a demand for a new water supply. The drinking water was not sufficient, and summer visitors who would come to that town were prevented from coming because the water was so scant. That was a small burgh, with a modest income; it could not face a Parliamentary contest; it would be bankrupt if it did. Another burgh wanted to get a better means of lighting; but the authorities were afraid of the expense. In another flourishing burgh, which had been isolated for many years because it stood apart from the main stream of enterprize, the inhabitants had, with great difficulty and trouble, succeeded in raising sufficient capital to start a branch railway connected with the main line; but if any landlord, through whose land this rail- 1557 way would pass, should oppose the scheme, the result would be that the whole of the capital that had been subscribed for the construction of the railway would be eaten up by a Parliamentary contest. The consequence was that that burgh, which was eager to be connected with the centres of industry, and to keep itself abreast of the increasing prosperity of Scotland, was condemned to isolation, perhaps to decay, not owing to a want of energy or enterprize on the part of the inhabitants of the burgh, but owing to an old-fashioned system of legislation, without a parallel in any civilized country, which so taxed the enterprize and industry of the town that they could not push any matter in that direction for fear of bankruptcy. Hence it was that he had received many letters urging him to bring this matter before the House; and these letters must be his excuse for obtruding the subject again on the attention of the House.
Last year the House treated him with kind indulgence, and he took that opportunity of expressing his thanks to the House for its courtesy on that occasion. He knew he must not again trespass at any length on the indulgence of the House. His object that night would be not to repeat what he had said before, but only to state such new facts as had come to his knowledge and were before the House and the country since last year.
The objections to the present system were threefold—that the expense was ruinous; that the decisions of the Committees were uncertain and unsatisfactory; and, above all, that the public time of Members of Parliament was occupied and engrossed by matters which they were not specially fitted to inquire into, and they were thus deprived of the opportunity of attending to matters which they were much better able to understand. Last year many instances were cited of the extravagance of the present system. These arguments were not gainsaid, and they could not be gainsaid. What was said was that this extravagant and expensive procedure belonged to the old time—to the bad old days of railway speculation and railway legislation. But was this so? Last year they had no official data of recent date on this matter. There were some isolated cases adduced; but they were brushed aside as being excep- 1558 tional. Since last year one or two remarkable cases had been before the Committees, and the House had got a series of official Returns which gave very valuable and useful information upon that point. Of the isolated cases he should only mention one, and that was the scheme of the Manchester Ship Canal. That Bill occupied much time, and proved abortive. It was thrown out in "another place" without any reason assigned for it. The Committee of the House of Commons found that "the Canal would afford valuable facilities for the trade of Lancashire, and ought to be sanctioned." The Committee of the House of Lords found, according to the usual formula, that "it was not expedient to proceed with the Bill in the present Session of Parliament." No spark of light or guidance, no reason assigned why it was not expedient; but it was merely stated that it was not expedient, and no kind of assistance was given to the promoters to help them in bringing forward a more satisfactory scheme. The Bill was 39 days in Committee of the House of Commons, and 10 days in Committee of the House of Lords. The cost of the scheme was not included in the Returns before the House, because the Returns only came down to the end of 1882. But hon. Members would see that in the case of a Bill that had been 49 days in Committee, attended by most of the talent and experience of the Parliamentary Bar, the expenses could not have been trifling. But they were not altogether without guidance. Evidence was given only yesterday, by the promoter of the scheme, to the effect that the costs of the Canal Bill to the promoters amounted to over £60,000, and they proposed to raise an additional sum this year, which would bring the expenses of the two years' contest up to something like £100,000 for the promoters alone. And when it was remembered that the scheme was opposed by all the great Bail-way Companies in the North of England, he did not think that he exaggerated when he said that the whole cost of the two Bills would be between £150,000 and £200,000. There was an-other scheme before a Committee last year—namely, the Barry Dock scheme. That Bill was 27 days in the Committee of the House of Commons, and the Preamble was found proved unanimously, 1559 without calling upon counsel for the promoters to reply. It then went to the Committee of the House of Lords; it remained there 16 days, and it was thrown out without any reason assigned. They did not know whether that Committee was unanimous or not. There was no record. The consultations were held, as was usual, with closed doors, and we were left in darkness whether there was division of opinion or not. If the Bill had been before a Court of Law, they would have known how the opinions of the Judges had gone. In Committees we did not know. We were left behind a thick veil, which it was impossible to penetrate—even if it were decorous to attempt to do so. That Bill, he was informed, cost the promoters over £30,000; but he did not know the cost to the opponents. He thought be had shown that the expenses of modern legislation were not less costly than in the bad old days of railway legislation.
But there was a stronger argument to be gathered from the Returns before the House. The first of these Returns was a Return of the expenses incurred by Railway, Gas, and Water Companies in promoting Bills in Parliament from 1872 to 1882. There was a similar Return from Canal, Tramway, and Dock authorities; and a further Return from Town Councils, Local Boards, and other local authorities. These Returns, he was bound to say, were not entirely satisfactory. Some of them were redundant, and some of them were defective. They were redundant inasmuch as they gave in several instances the expenses, comparatively trifling, of Provisional Orders, which had not been asked for; and they were defective inasmuch as several Railway, Tramway, and Dock Companies had sent in no Returns at all. But, as they stood, they showed the following figures, which were to his mind somewhat startling. During the years from 1872 to 1882 Railway Companies had spent on Parliamentary litigation £3,900,000; Gas Companies, £356,000; Water Companies, £380,000; Canals, the modest sum of £40,000; Tramways, £375,000; Harbours and Docks, £360,000; Municipal Boroughs, as far as they had got Returns, and Local Boards, £1,300,000; making a total in 11 years, as returned, of £6,700,000 spent in promoting Bills in Committees of the House of Commons and of the House of Lords. But 1560 this did not represent the whole, as there was no Return from landowners and others who must have spent large sums in defending their interests. Taking an average of £28,000 a-year for these unknown quantities, which was a low average, they would be well within the mark if they said that there was a total in those years of £7,000,000 spent in Parliamentary litigation, and they would not be much above the mark if the annual expenses were put at £750,000 a-year. He found that in the old years, from 1856 to 1861, the average spent by Railways was £250,000; but in the 11 years since then they had spent £350,000, or £100,000 a-year more. Gas Companies had spent in the old time £13,000 a-year; in the new time they had spent more than double, £32,000. Water Companies in the old times spent £14,000 a-year; in the new time £34,000. The leading Railway Companies—excepting the London and North-Western Company, which gave a defective Return—had an average expenditure, from 1856 to 1861, of £82,000 a-year; in the second period it was £128,000 a-year. Those figures hardly bore out the view that those great expenses were only incurred in the old time. He thought they might say, with the old adage, that these expenses had increased, were increasing, and they ought to be diminished. He had found that in those 11 years 14 Railway Companies had spent among them £2,500,000; six English boroughs, and not the most important, spent £200,000; and two Scottish boroughs (Glasgow and Greenock) no less a sum than £138,000 in this species of legislation. Attention had been directed to these Returns in some of the leading organs of public opinion; and the leading organ, which had always been a true friend to any attempt to remedy this serious grievance, had pronounced these expenses to be "stupendous;" and he did not think hon. Members would consider that epithet too strong. During the last 50 years, from £35,000,000 to £40,000,000 had been spent in the Committees of the House of Commons and the House of Lords in litigation. The money had been paid to procure Parliamentary sanction for useful industrial enterprizes, and it was the public who paid this money, through shareholders of the various Companies concerned. Of 1561 course, the shareholders paid the money in the first instance; but the Directors did not wipe off those sums as bad debts. They recouped themselves by charging heavy freights and heavy tariffs. They were constantly hearing in the House of exorbitant railway charges. Those who represented the agricultural interests in this House were continually calling for some legislative enactments to compel Railway Companies to charge more moderate rates. But there was no use in asking the House to pass compulsory tariffs. They should ask the House to relieve them, and to relieve itself at the same time, by going to the root of the matter, and by changing this expensive Parliamentary tribunal. The House and the public could be relieved by the establishment of another tribunal that would do the work at half the money and with twice the efficiency.
He would not dwell upon the second count of the indictment—namely, that the decisions of the Committees were sometimes injurious and unsatisfactory. That was proved in 1872, and it was proved last year, and nothing had occurred to disprove it. It was admitted that Committees of this and the other House brought great industry, great zeal, and the highest sense of honour to bear upon their inquiries. But they were a fluctuating Body, and therefore must have less experience than would be the case with a permanent Body. They were also, for the most part, unfamiliar with the rules of evidence, and they were unable to hold their own against the strongest Bar in existence. It could not be said that the Committees, either of this or the other House, were a thoroughly satisfactory Body to give a decision on difficult and delicate questions involving large pecuniary interests. But he would not press that point further.
The first and second objections that he had alluded to were crying evils—namely, the heavy expenditure and the unsatisfactory decisions. But there was another difficulty, and that came nearer home to them—the Parliamentary difficulty. The difficulty of manning these Private Bill Committees existed in both Houses. Twenty years ago Lord Redes-dale had practically admitted the difficulty, because he stated in Committee that he was only able to take a fraction of the Bills for initiation in the House 1562 of Lords, owing to the impossibility of manning the Committees in that House. The difficulty still continued. The average number of Bills which the House of Lords could undertake was only about one-third of the whole. The other two-thirds were therefore left for initiation in this House. In this House they were in no better position. It was admitted, on all hands, that the work of the House was excessive, and was more than they could undertake or carry out satisfactorily. The recent Autumn Session was an admission of the fact that they could not go on as they were doing. They had passed Rules which were more or less efficacious; but the important result arising from the Autumn Session was the establishment, as an experiment, of the machinery of the Grand Committees. They had now had a discussion as to the re-establishment of those Grand Committees; and, as far as he could judge, the universal opinion of the House was that those Committees were important institutions, and that in all probability, if they were successful this year, for the future they should have not two, but several Grand Committees. The question therefore was, how were the Grand Committees and the Private Bill Committees to go on together without clashing? Last Session there was a very serious case of clashing between those Committees. The hon. Member for Mid Somerset (Mr. R. H. Paget) was appointed Chairman of a Railway Committee. He was also an invaluable Member of the Standing Committee on Law. On one occasion, it so happened that the hon. Member had to preside at the Railway Committee upstairs at the same time that he had to move certain Amendments in the Law Committee downstairs. He had to do one thing or the other, and he adjourned the Railway Committee. That adjournment was at great public cost. The witnesses and counsel were there, and the machinery and paraphernalia of the Committee were there. The matter ended in the only way in which it could end—namely, in the hon. Gentleman being discharged from the Chairmanship of the Railway Committee, and the Railway Committee being deprived of the services of an able and experienced Chairman. If he might be allowed to give an instance from his own experience, he might state that he had served on a Private Bill Committee 1563 last year, ably presided over by the right hon. and gallant Admiral the Member for the Wigtown Burghs (Sir John Hay). His hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire (Mr. Cochran-Patrick) was also a Member of that Committee; and it so happened that when the Committee was sitting the Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Bill was under discussion in the House of Commons. In this Bill all the Scotch Representatives and the whole Scotch nation were much interested. There happened to be a number of Divisions on that Bill in Committee, in which they, the three Scotch Members sitting on the Private Bill Committee, considered it their duty to take part. There was the difficulty experienced by the hon. Member for Mid Somerset (Mr. R. H. Paget) of being in two places at once. Their duty to the House called them to attend to the Private Bill Committee upstairs; their duty to their constituents called them to take part in the Divisions downstairs. They were torn in pieces by this conflict of duty, and he feared that both the Committee and the constituents suffered in consequence. Asking pardon of the House for this digression from the subject, he would express the hope that they might have an expression of opinion from the right hon. Baronet the Chairman of the Committee of Selection (Sir John Mowbray). So far they had not been favoured with the right hon. Gentleman's opinion; but they had the opinion of an active Member of the Committee of Selection on this subject—the hon. Member for Portsmouth (Sir H. Drummond Wolff)—that the existence of the Grand Committees had the effect of doubling the work of the Members. That was a very important admission, and he did not think it was too much to say; because he believed it would come to be a question, not whether they were to abolish the Private Bill Committees, but whether, owing to the difficulty of manning them, they would be able to continue them. There was another question which he wished to ask the House, and that was, had the public the same confidence in the decisions of the Private Bill Committees that it was at one time supposed to have? And in this connection he would cite the view of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Raikes), who last year admitted his apprehension that 1564 the present practice was losing the prestige and the confidence that used to attach to it in the eyes of the public. He thought there were few hon. Members who did not share that apprehension. They were told that the Committees of the House of Lords inspired more confidence than the Committees of the House of Commons, because they were a more stable Body. That might be so—he did not know; but if they considered the number of Bills that of recent years, and especially the last two years, had gone through this House and been thrown out in "another place," it would seem that the increase was remarkably greater. Prom 1870 to 1881 there were only two Bills on an average each year which had passed the House of Commons, and which were thrown out in "another place;" but in 1882 no less than eight Bills were thrown out, and last year six were thrown out, by the House of Lords after passing this House. He did not know whether this or the other House was right; but it looked as if this wholesale destruction of Bills tended to show that the confidence in "another place" of the wisdom of the Committees of this House might not be quite so strong as it used to be. And he did not feel quite certain that they, in this House, had absolute confidence in their own Committees. Everyone was aware how debates in the House on the second reading of Private Bills had multiplied. And what still more showed that the House had not the same confidence its Committees it once had was, that they had now continual Instructions to Committees which, though not unheard of at one time, were unusual. If the public and Parliament were losing confidence in these Private Bill Committees, what defence remained for them? If the question came to be whether the Private Bill Committees or Grand Committees should give way, there could be little doubt how the verdict would go. The verdict would be in favour of devolving the work of this overtaxed Assembly on the Grand Committees. It would not be in favour of continuing a system which entailed stupendous expenditure, which was unsatisfactory and uncertain, which wasted the precious time of the Members of Parliament, and which had apparently lost the confidence of Parliament and of the public.
1565 Before concluding, he wished to make a few observations in reference to the Resolution he submitted to the House, because it differed in some material respects from those of last year. Then he submitted three Resolutions. The first was in general terms, and was the same as the beginning of the present Resolution, and that was carried at the instance of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in 1872. The second Resolution proposed three Commissions—one for England, one for Scotland, and one for Ireland; and the third Resolution proposed an appeal from these Commissions. The scheme formulated by these Resolutions was subjected to severe criticism, and it was then obvious to him that the opinion of more experienced Members was not favourable to it. He had, therefore, this year withdrawn the second and third Resolutions, and proposed to substitute one general Resolution. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster objected to the three Commissions, on the ground that there would not be work for them. His (Mr. Craig-Sellar's) present proposal was that there should be only one Commission to deal with this work, and that there ought to be a Scotch and Irish branch of this tribunal for dealing with Scotch and Irish Business. He did not know if his idea would meet with the approval of his Colleagues from Scotland. They had in Scotland 13 Judges of the Supreme Court. Their work, no doubt, was considerable; but, as compared with the work of the Judges in England, or even in Ireland, it was not excessive. It seemed to him that one of these Judges might very well be detailed to act as the permanent element in the Scottish branch of the tribunal, and he might be assisted by two assessors, either mercantile or engineering, or men of high position in other Professions. His idea, further, was that this Scotch branch should take evidence and deal with the facts in the locality, assisted by the local Bar, and in some small cases by local solicitors. He felt certain that that would be a satisfactory tribunal in Scotland, and he had very little doubt a similar tribunal would be successful in Ireland. In England his idea would be the extension of the Railway Commission, or something in the fashion of the Railway Commission might very well be appointed. They ought to be men highly 1566 paid, so that they would be above any sort of suspicion. There was no difficulty upon that score, as far as funds went, because, according to the Returns which had been presented to the House of the fees paid to the House of Commons and the House of Lords, there was a sum of £70,000 a-year which was available for the purpose of paying this tribunal and all its staff and branches. The plan would work in this way—Bills would of course come before this House as at present, they would go before the Examiners, would be read a first and second time, and, instead of being sent to Committees upstairs, they would be sent to this tribunal, which would report to Parliament, and the Bills would then go through the other stages of Parliamentary procedure. He had not mentioned the question of appeal, because he did not want to cumber the Resolution; but if such an appeal as was suggested last year should be thought necessary, a Joint Committee of both Houses might be appointed. By this scheme the time of 100 to 150 Members of Parliament would be saved, objections to Private Bill legislation would disappear, and the public would regain confidence in the decisions of Parliament in these matters. He had no doubt that this scheme, like that of last year, was an imperfect one. The main objection, however, which was urged last year he had met as far as he could; and as to the other objection, concerning the preliminary work, he had not attempted to deal with that. This House was jealous of any attempt to curtail its jurisdiction. He did not propose to do that. He proposed to relieve it of troublesome and vexatious work, which it did in a clumsy and unsatisfactory way, and with a vast expenditure of time and money. If the Government were to propose a more unceremonious and sweeping method of dealing with this private legislation, he should give them his hearty support. He believed public opinion was ripe for its being taken in hand and dealt with thoroughly; but a private Member could not do it. A private Member could only call attention to a real grievance when it existed. He could ask the House to change an old-fashioned system, which interfered with enterprize in small and not over wealthy communities, and tended in these communities to stagnation and decay, and he could invite the House 1567 to relieve itself of work which it did in an unsatisfactory way. But no private Member could formulate a scheme of reform of the internal machinery of this House which would be approved in all its details. That was a work which could be done only by a responsible Government, and the present Government was just such a Government as could deal with this matter in a thorough and satisfactory manner. He trusted the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who had long taken such a deep interest in this matter, would be able to accept the Resolution, and that he would give the House an undertaking that the Government would really deal vigorously and seriously with the question, so that ere long they might see this long-standing grievance swept away; that they might see the old system, with all its deadening influence on industry and on enterprize in small communities, disappear; and that they might have in its place a new and better system, inaugurated by the right hon. Gentleman himself, which would command the confidence of Parliament and of the country. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving the Resolution of which he had given Notice.
§ MR. HORACE DAVEY
said, he cordially seconded the Resolution, without committing himself to all the details of his hon. Friend's speech. He had been reproached for taking up this subject on account of his lack of practical experience, but that was to some extent a qualification; for if he had been a more regular attendant upon Private Bill Committees it might have been said that he was selfishly seeking his own relief at the expense of his public duties. He believed there was a very general feeling in all parts of the House that some reform was necessary. With regard to the solution of the problem as to what would be the best line in which reform in this matter could be best and most usefully carried out, it appeared to him that it rested between a proposal for legislation by means of Provisional Orders and a proposal to transfer the inquiries to an external Body of Commissioners. He owned that he was in favour of the second of those two modes; in the first place, because it would involve very much less change than the other; and, in the second place, because he could not think that legislation by 1568 means of Provisional Orders would be satisfactory, either to the House or to the country. It must be remembered that the House exercised extraordinarily little control over these Provisional Orders, and in his experience there was very rarely any discussion or debate upon them. The inquiries upon which they were based were all conducted before they came to the House, and there was no opportunity of giving instructions, or laying down any principles on which the inquiry should be conducted. Then, again, Private Bill legislation would become more and more a matter of routine in the Department in which it was conducted; and considerable jealousy might be felt, both in the House and in the country, if that great and most important part of the duties of Parliament were handed over to a Public Department. He did not say, however, that there would be any grounds for any such jealousy. That being so, he would feel more confidence in the inquiry being conducted after a Bill had been brought into the House. The first great requisite which, in his opinion, ought to be aimed at, was to maintain the control of the House over Private Bill legislation. He thought it most important that the House should keep in its hands the guidance and control of the general policy which was to be followed in dealing with the subjects with which Private Bills dealt, and that there should be free scope for the expression of local opinions by the Constitutional means of the voice of the Representatives of the localities in question. What the nature of the proposed external Body should be, how its Members should be chosen, and what their numbers should be, were all matters of detail, though they were most important. Speaking for himself, he thought that inquiry by a single good Commissioner would be better than inquiry by two or three, for this reason—that one competent Gentleman would give his undivided attention to the inquiry, instead of dividing the responsibility and attention with two or three others. As to the qualifications of this Commissioner, he should think he ought to be a Gentleman with a practical acquaintance with the conduct of inquiries of the kind, and with the elementary rules of evidence at least, and also with engineering and financial questions. As to the question of local 1569 inquiries, that seemed to him entirely a matter of comparative convenience and comparative expense. Where it would be necessary to retain the most eminent engineers and counsel it would probably prove less expensive to conduct the inquiry in London. On the other hand, he could conceive other cases where questions of fact, upon which the evidence of local witnesses might be required, would occur, and where it would be less expensive and more convenient to conduct the inquiry in a particular locality. The House should, however, remember that in proposing this Resolution it was not intended to put forward any matters of detail. The only object was to submit to the House some general principles upon which that reform, which he believed the majority of the House desired and regarded as necessary and expedient, should be conducted. He begged to second the Resolution.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "this House adheres to the Resolution of March 22nd 1872, that the system of Private Bill Legislation calls for the attention of Parliament and of Her Majesty's Government, and requires reform; that this House, while maintaining the ultimate control of Parliament over Private Bill Legislation, is of opinion that a Tribunal, to take the place of Private Bill Committees, should he created which should investigate the facts and deal with the evidence relating to Private Bills, and, so far as possible, in the locality affected by such Bills, whether in England, or in Scotland, or in Ireland, and report thereon to Parliament,"—(Mr. Craig-Sellar,)
§ —instead thereof.
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ SIR JOHN KENNAWAY
said, he thought that the hon. Member who introduced this Resolution could scarcely have considered how vast was the change they were asked to inaugurate. That change was not so simple a matter as the hon. Member appeared to imagine. The difficulties which attended Private Bill legislation arose, in a great measure, from the inherent character of such legislation, and not from the character of the present tribunal. The hon. Member condemned the existing system on the ground that it was uncertain and expensive. It seemed to him, however, 1570 that the result of a demand for legislation in connection with which a question for consideration was how far public policy sanctioned interference with private property must inevitably be to a great extent uncertain. As to the question of expense, he would ask whether the costs incurred in cases like that of the Manchester Ship Canal Bill, or the Barry Docks Bill, were out of proportion to the interests involved? Whatever tribunals might be set up in lieu of the present Committees, great Companies would always employ the best counsel to represent them, and would not hesitate to incur great expenditure in the prosecution of their aims. The necessity for a great expenditure was in some degree a guarantee of the bona fides of the promoters of new schemes. Bogus schemes were not brought forward when large sums must necessarily be spent. As to the demand made upon the time of Members by Private Bill legislation, he might point out that while, 20 years ago, the average number of Private Bills, opposed and unopposed, which were introduced, was 600, the average for the last few years was only 300. In 1882 there were 159 opposed Bills, there being 145 Members on the Committees appointed to consider them, the average of their service being six days each; and in 1883 the number of Bills was 131, the number of Members 112, and the average of service nine days each. The hon. Member who had brought the Resolution forward expressed the opinion that the Private Bill Committees did not now command the confidence which was formerly placed in them. He feared that this loss of confidence, if there were such loss, not only attached to the Committees in question, but also to the discussions and decisions of Parliament itself. The hon. Member had cited eases in which discussions had been raised in that House on the Motion for the second reading of certain Bills approved by Committees; but that such discussions were raised did not show a want of confidence in the decisions of the Committees, but rather that the House was desirous of undertaking all the work which it could possibly get through, and disliked parting with any of its powers. It should be borne in mind, also, that the questions which had been mentioned as having been discussed in the House last Tuesday were exceptionally im- 1571 portant. Surely the Parks Bill and the Ennerdale Railway Bill were fit measures for discussion in the House? He quite agreed that useful schemes ought not to be rendered abortive in consequence of the expense attaching to proceedings before Committees; but it was a matter for consideration whether the new tribunal proposed by the hon. Member would have the effect of lessening the present expenditure. It was very doubtful whether it would have that effect. Local inquiries were anything but cheap, as was shown by the costs of Election Petitions, which used to he heard in London. Counsel who would be content with a refresher of 10 guineas in London expected 50 guineas in the country. If the House should consent to delegate its powers in the manner proposed, it would be necessary to lay down a scheme of policy for the guidance of the Commission. Such a Body would have to adopt either the American system, which allowed one railway to be made by the side of another, or to follow the practice of guarding against undue competition capital laid out with Parliamentary sanction. Before Parliament parted with its present powers, it ought to be clearly shown that the Body to whom those powers would be committed would give by its decisions as much satisfaction as had hitherto been given by the Committees. He trusted that the House would, at any rate, only part with its powers by way of experiment.
§ MR. BAXTER
Sir, as one of the oldest Members of this House, and a close observer for 30 years of the working of the Parliamentary machine, I wish in a sentence to express a deep feeling of obligation to my hon. Friend the Member for the Haddington Burghs (Mr. Craig-Sellar) for having devoted so much time and attention to this subject; and also to express my cordial and complete concurrence in the Resolution which he has moved to-night. That Resolution falls naturally into three parts—first, it states that the system of Private Bill legislation requires reform; then it proposes the establishment of a tribunal, not to act altogether independently of Parliament, but to do the bulk of the work, which, I submit, is perfunctorily performed by the Private Bill Committees; and, in the third place, it proposes that Parliament should lay down a rule that it is not necessary 1572 in all eases that the evidence should be taken in London, but may, when circumstances permit of it, be taken on the spot. I was very glad to hear the speech delivered by the hon. Member who has just sat down (Sir John Kennaway), because he has not ventured to oppose the Resolution of my hon. Friend; but, on the contrary, has accepted the fact that the present system of conducting the Private Business of this House has been condemned by the public, and all he has done is to interpose cautions and objections which, I hope, will be listened to when, at a time not far distant, this system is changed. We are supposed here to be an Imperial Parliament, and yet a very large portion of the time of the House of Commons is devoted to objects not only of a quite local character, but of comparatively trifling importance. There might be some principle involved in the Ennerdale Railway, or the railway across the parks; but these were not questions to which a couple of evenings of the House of Commons ought to have been devoted. We met last year and altered our form of procedure in a very mild manner, as I humbly think and said at the time; and allow me to say now what I said then—that unless we are prepared to go a great deal further in that direction, we shall have an irresistible cry for Home Rule, not only from Ireland, but from Scotland and other parts of the United Kingdom. My hon. Friend stated that the principal thing done in that Session was to create Grand Committees. Well, I look forward not only to these Committees being appointed year by year, but to the gradual extension of their work; and I put it to the House, if we are to continue the system of Grand Committees, how will it be possible to get Members to attend Private Bill Committees, and decide upon Railway and Gas Companies? I am sure that statement will be borne out by my right hon. Friend the Chairman of the Committee of Selection, who is very much put about to get Members at the present time. A tribunal, no doubt, will have to be extremely carefully appointed. My hon. Friend does not lay before the House any definite scheme, but says it is for the Government to bring forward legislation upon this subject. I am unable to see that there is very much difficulty. I am quite per- 1573 suaded that a Committee of Gentlemen appointed by the Committee of Selection, or by this House—Members who have devoted for many years a great deal of attention to Private Bill Business—would be able to prepare a scheme which would be entirely acceptable to the House and satisfactory to the country. My hon. Friend has laid a good deal of stress upon inquiries being made occasionally or frequently in the localities interested, instead of in London. It is not proposed that in all cases evidence should be taken in the country; but in some cases it would be an enormous advantage. I must warn my hon. Friend the Member for the Haddington Burghs that be will encounter a good deal of opposition to his proposal, not only from gentlemen in London who have vested interests in having all the evidence taken here, but from many gentlemen from all parts of the United Kingdom who have been in the habit, year by year, of coming up to London at the public expense, and who seem, if you talk to them about this matter, to consider that as one of the rights of citizenship. This proposal of my hon. Friend, I warn him, will not be so popular in the country as he supposes. Nevertheless, I think it is a perfectly proper one. The expense of Private Bill Committees—you may defend it if you choose—is discreditable to us as a nation. I am quite sure that on the ground both of efficiency and economy it would be very desirable to hold local inquiries on the spot. A great deal of expenditure might be saved, and very useless and unnecessary journeys. The House, on former occasions, has declared its condemnation of the present system; and I earnestly hope that the Government and the House will pluck up a little courage to-night, and, by accepting the business-like Resolution of my hon. Friend, secure the desired change.
§ SIR JOHN R. MOWBRAY
said, that the hon. Gentleman, in his desire to call attention to a matter of the greatest importance and a real grievance, had used very strong language, because he spoke of the deadening influence of those Committees. But when he looked at the railways which had been created under the system, the hon. Gentleman would see that he had rather exaggerated. The hon. Gentleman had, however, done well to call attention to a 1574 subject which twelve years ago, in the opinion of the House, required attention. He himself looked at the matter in the same light as Lord Winmarleigh, then Colonel Wilson Patten, when, as Chairman of the Committee of Selection, he occupied the post which he (Sir John Mowbray) now held. Colonel Wilson Patten, speaking on Private Bill legislation on the 22nd of March, 1872, said that great difficulty was experienced owing to the small number of Members from which the Committees were selected, that none of the right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Benches could be selected at all, and that there were sometimes as many as 21 or 22 Members on one Select Committee. There was an increasing indisposition on the part of new Members to serve on Private Bill Committees. One said he was sent to the House to attend to Imperial questions, another that he was between 50 and 60, and was approaching the time when he should be entitled to exemption. But there was no such rule now about exemption. Some 40 years ago Sir Robert Peel said that private Members were to learn their business in Parliament by attending Private Bill Committees. There were, however, every year increasing difficulties on the part of the Committee of Selection to find Members willing to serve. It was vain to tell him that the number of Private Bills was less last year than in former years, for there was every year an immense mass of work to be got through, and an increasing indisposition on the part of Members to do the work. The number of Select Committees was increasing. There was hardly a subject which it was not proposed to refer to a Select Committee. Then there were the Grand Committees. His hon. Friend the Member for South Devon (Sir John Kennaway) had said that the Grand Committees might not be so active this year. That might be so.; but the House had resolved that there should be these Grand Committees, and 163 able and competent Members had been told off to sit on them, and they naturally said they could not be in two places at once. Then there was another matter—the number of Royal Commissions. There was a Royal Commission for improving the dwellings of the labouring classes—in fact, there were Royal Commissions of all sorts, upon 1575 which the most active Members of the House and of the Front Benches pat. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Dodson), who for many years had been Chairman of Ways and Means, had, he believed, prepared a scheme, some 12 years ago, for dealing with this subject; and as there was no one who had greater experience in this matter than that right hon. Gentleman, the Government would be very well able to propose a plan. Let the House have a small Committee to deal with the question, and let them say that it was the duty of the Government to come before the Committee with a definite scheme. He hoped the hon. Member for Haddington Burghs would be satisfied with having brought the subject forward, and that he would not think it necessary to pledge the House to any particular principle on that occasion.
§ MR. LAING
said, he thought that the experience he had had as a Member of the Railway Commission, as a barrister practising at the Parliamentary Bar, as a Member of many Committees of that House, and lastly as Chairman of a Railway Company, constantly involved in contests before Parliamentary Committees, would enable him to point out the real difficulty there was in adopting the proposal of delegation to a new tribunal outside Parliament. If all Private Bill legislation consisted of local and comparatively trivial matter, and of mere questions of facts or evidence, no doubt that delegation might be adopted with considerable advantage; but by far the larger portion of such legislation dealt with matters which really involved public policy a great deal more than mere facts or evidence. Railway legislation was, no doubt, the most important class of Private Bill legislation. It was one of the largest questions of public policy it was possible to conceive. The amount of capital involved in railways, according to the last Return, was £740,000,000 sterling, and the passengers numbered 624,000,000, of whom 533,000,000 were third-class passengers. There were probably not less than 1,000,000 shareholders in the railways of the United Kingdom, and the amount of public travelling was about equal to 20 journeys a-year for every man, woman, and child in the United Kingdom. It was necessary to provide the cheapest travelling con- 1576 sistent with public safety and a fair return to investors, and that question clearly turned upon matters of principle and policy, and not upon matters of detail. Supposing we had a revival of trade in the next few years, with an increased prosperity of railways, and a scheme were brought forward for a rival scheme to the London and North-Western going from London to Birmingham, Manchester, and Liverpool, close alongside the existing line, could anybody conceive of that scheme, involving property to the value of a very great many millions sterling, being referred to the Railway Commissioners? He could not conceive a question in which the public were more largely interested, or with regard to which, if a mistake were made in legislation, they would suffer more in future years. That was a question which almost equalled in magnitude the Budget of the year, or a good many municipal reforms. He was not sure if a Representation of the People Bill involved much larger issues. On such questions as the creation of a new and large line of railway, no tribunal would have any weight or authority, unless it was represented by a Minister of the Crown in the House of Commons. Many years ago, when he was at the Board of Trade, an attempt was made to create a tribunal by which the Board of Trade should make Reports to the Committees, pointing out the bearings of the Bills on public interests. That tribunal was as good a one as was likely to be created; but it broke down, because the parties interested had not confidence in the decisions, which were not given by Parliament, or by Committees representing Parliament. He did not say that the present system was perfect, or anything like it; and he thought the great defect was that the public interest was not sufficiently represented. The contests before Committees were contests between two opposing parties, fighting for their own interests, and with no one to represent the public. But, at the same time, and he spoke in the hearing of many Railway Directors, who would concur with him in saying that, on the whole, the decisions of these Committees had been very fair as between the contending parties, and that the questions brought before them had been very thoroughly thrashed out. Still, it was necessary in some way to strengthen 1577 the system, so that questions of public policy should be kept better in view. Therefore, he agreed with the right hon. Gentleman opposite that this was a large and complicated question, which required to be taken up by the Government, and referred to a Select Committee or a Grand Committee. The one suggestion he would make was that the question might be considered, whether it might not be possible to amalgamate the Committees of the two Houses, and have in each case one Joint Committee, and so reduce the labours of Members of the two Houses by one-half. He did not think the House could pass the Resolution now proposed while the matter remained in its present state; and while considering that the House was much indebted to the hon. Member for bringing the matter forward, he thought it would be well if the Government could, in another Session, when they would, perhaps, have more time, endeavour to prepare a scheme which would be more practical than that of his hon. Friend, which he was afraid could only be called a pious aspiration.
§ MR. GREGORY
said, he was afraid his acquaintance with Parliamentary Committees was of quite as ancient a date as that of his hon. Friend (Mr. Laing). It commenced in 1840, and only terminated at the period when he had the honour of entering the House as a Member. Of course, during that period considerable changes—and he might say considerable improvements—had taken place in the tribunals before which he had formerly to practise. Parliament also, during that time, was relieved of a considerable amount of that Business which before that relief took place it was compelled to deal with, because the system of Provisional Orders was introduced; and that met the objection which had been urged that, to a considerable extent, Parliament was called on to deal with matters of local or trivial interest and importance. This was, to a great extent, dealt with by Provisional Orders issued by the Board of Trade, and confirmed by the House. Another thing his experience before Committees led him to mention, and that was that Parliamentary Committee contests had not repressed trade and enter-prize, as was stated by the Mover of this Motion. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Craig-Sellar) particularly referred to Ireland, 1578 which country, he said, had suffered so very much from the withdrawal of capital, and failure in the development of her resources in consequence of the great expense of conducting a Bill through Committee. Now, he (Mr. Gregory) remembered, during the period he was in practice, that he was engaged on Irish Bills over and over again, and certainly the Parliamentary contest did not prevent the introduction of capital and enterprize into Ireland. Railway Bills, Gas Bills, Water Bills, Improvement Bills of various kinds, were brought into the House, because there was confidence in the future of Ireland. It was not the true reason to give that the investment of capital in Ireland had been checked by the expense of obtaining powers from Parliament; but the check had come from the want of confidence in the country itself. As regarded England, they knew there had been no great check to enterprize in consequence of promoters having to approach Parliament for the necessary powers; but, on the contrary, the Bills had increased both in number and in the magnitude of the capital involved. According to his experience, the tribunal to whom these Bills were submitted was not, on the whole, unsatisfactory. There was the Panel of Chairmen, for which competent Chairmen were selected year after year, with their traditions and experience to guide them, and precedents upon which they could act; and associated with the Chairmen were three or four Gentlemen selected from the House. He would not say there was not a growing difficulty in obtaining Members to sit; but he was sure that difficulty could be met by the suggestion thrown out that they should not rely on a single Committee, but have a Joint Committee of both Houses. When this proposal was made some years ago he entertained some doubt of it; but experience had altered his opinion in favour of such an arrangement. Some years ago a Committee was selected from the two Houses for the purpose of considering some large schemes for the amalgamation of some of the large Railway Companies, three Members being selected from the House of Lords and three from the Commons. Of the latter he happened to be one, why he did not know; but happily those who sat beside him were Members very well versed in their Busi- 1579 ness, and formed a somewhat strong tribunal. That Committee sat on these schemes, and heard the evidence fairly and fully; but he remembered in one case an attempt was made to get the scheme passed as an unopposed one, the opposition being withdrawn. That, however, did not satisfy the Committee, or in any way affect their decision. They considered they represented public interests, and were determined to have the case fully discussed, and on the showing of the promoters the Committee threw out the scheme, and several others were dealt with in the same way. Now, if that Committee had been unsatisfactory having regard to the large interests concerned, some appeal would have been made to Parliament; but the finding of the Committee was never contested, and not a word was said about it in either House. Experience, then, was in favour of the proposal for an amalgamated Committee of the two Houses. By that means material relief would be given to the Committee of Selection in nominating Member's to serve. But what was suggested by the hon. Member (Mr. Craig-Sellar)? He suggested that the Railway Commission should deal with certain Bills, a sort of roving Commission to deal with others, and special Commissions to deal with Scotch and Irish Business. Now, the Railway Commission would certainly not be a satisfactory tribunal for England. And would there be much lessening of expense by this reference to special tribunals, even if they sat locally? He very much doubted it. In the first place, the hon. Gentleman's scheme would not touch the preliminary expenses, the surveys, the notices, and general getting up of the scheme. Those would be common to both systems, whether an inquiry took place before a Commission or before a Committee of the House. And where were the great expenses subsequently? It would be said the fees to counsel and witnesses. If they had undertakings with large capital they would have heavy fees to counsel, for the promoters would have the very best in their Profession, and their labours must be remunerated at the highest rates. The same observation applied to the evidence of experts, the expense of which had increased materially of late years. Engineers, chemists, and analysts were paid higher than they were years ago, and they would not reduce their 1580 charges by the experiment of a country Commission. Indeed, if the inquiry were held in the country he was inclined to think the expenses would be heavier. Counsel and experts would require higher fees for travelling. There would be all the hotel and travelling expenses, and possibly these gentlemen would be detained in the county town many days before they could give evidence. He would not say the present system could not be improved, and was very much of the opinion of his right hon. Friend (Sir John Mowbray), that a proposal in reference to the subject should emanate from the Government, and be fairly considered by a Committee composed of experienced Members. Such an investigation would be valuable, and might lead to a result which would remove all the difficulties complained of; but he did not believe the proposal the House now had before it would lead to more efficiency or to a reduction of expense. Expenses might be lessened in other ways. Fees to experts were, perhaps, too high, and even to counsel. [Mr. WARTON: No, no!] Well, that was a matter upon which he could entertain his own opinion. At all events, if he was right, it was a matter that could be dealt with. He did not wish to press this at all; but he would support his right hon. Friend (Sir John Mowbray) in pressing the importance of the subject on the consideration of the Government, without pledging themselves to the particular scheme now before them.
§ SIR EDWARD COLEBROOKE
said, that, as one who had served for many years on Committees of the House, he thought they should pause before they adopted this proposal. He had some experience in the active Business of the House. Twenty years ago, an attempt was made to lighten the labours of Select Committees by substituting separate inquiries through Referees to be then first established. He sat on the Commission then appointed, together with the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. They worked like slaves, gave reasons for their decisions, and laboured every day in the week through a whole Session upon preliminary inquiries; but they found in the end that those inquiries did not shorten the labours of the Committees one jot. They were, therefore, discontinued. He 1581 mentioned this to show that mere preliminary inquiries did not give any guarantee that they would in any way shorten the labours of Parliament. As to the question of defects in the present system, he agreed largely with the hon. Member (Mr. Craig-Sellar), and the public were of opinion that the system was liable to great defects. From the first time he had been in Parliament the public mind had been agitated in order to find a substitute for the present system; but no person had yet proposed any scheme to remedy the evils complained of, or provide anything better for the system which now prevailed. There had, however, been some advantages in the system, and he did not agree with the hon. Member as to these Select Committees being so weak. He had sat on Bills in which a dozen counsel were engaged, and had had to face them all; but he had not found them so very troublesome. On the contrary, he had always found them ready to give assistance to the Committee. There were some people who gave a great deal of trouble—namely, the agents who flooded them with evidence, which it was difficult to check; but he thought this was an evil that would arise even more largely if Private Bills were sent before a tribunal of the country. After all, the Select Committee was an elastic tribunal, and the decisions of the Committees one year were often quite the opposite of decisions of Committees in the following year; but there were advantages in that, for great questions of public policy often arose, and the policy of the country frequently varied. The greatest of all the difficulties in this matter was that of getting Members who could work consistently with the other duties of Parliament, and it might become necessary for Parliament to introduce some changes in view of that. He did not believe that it would be found possible to constitute a satisfactory tribunal outside of Parliament. Even the hon. Gentleman who introduced the subject hesitated at suggesting this, because his proposal was in favour of an intermediate course. The hon. Gentleman admitted that the question of principle must be decided in both Houses. Questions like the water supply of the Metropolis involved matters of principle as well as details, and Parliament would never consent to delegate its power of deciding on them. 1582 All these Bills, therefore, would require to be considered by Parliament as a preliminary to their being referred to the new tribunal; and the result, as it appeared to him, would be to increase debates in both Houses. Then he did not see how the new tribunal could overtake all the Private Bills in one Session. Thereafter they would have them brought in one Session, be considered by the new tribunal in the course of the year, and then brought on again in the next Session. Neither labour nor expense would be saved so far. The hon. Member spoke of a nice little inquiry conducted in a town with a local Bar; but the great interests would not be satisfied with the local Bar. They had had some experience of this in connection with Election Petitions; and they found, as the result of introducing the local tribunals, that the expense was doubled and even trebled. Then there must be an appeal, so what the public were to gain he was quite at a loss to know. The hon. Member modestly said that he did not intend his proposition as final, and that he hoped the Government would come forward with a solution of the difficulty. Why, the Government had been invited to do so for the last 10 years. If the hon. Member would bring in a Bill, and see what scheme he could arrange in concert with the Government, he would be glad to suspend his opinion, and he believed the House would do the same; but he must say that it was rather a lame conclusion to arrive at to say—"Here is a difficulty, but we cannot trust ourselves to devise a remedy, and must leave it to the Government." He could only express a negative opinion in regard to the proposition of the hon. Member, and express the hope that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster would be able to throw some light on the subject.
§ VISCOUNT LYMINGTON
said, be objected, on public grounds, to the proposal to refer Private Bills to. any tribunal outside that House. Reference had been made to the waste of public time occupied in the discussion by the House of such questions as the Ennerdale Railway and the Southampton Cemetery. He fully endorsed the view that the House was not the proper place in which the details of a purely private or of a local matter could be conveniently discussed. At the same time, there were often raised in Private Bills, 1583 as there happened to be in the eases alluded to, questions of principle—questions of general importance—which he should be very sorry to see relegated to an outside Body in the nature of a Commission. The question of balancing public rights with private interest involved all sorts of conflicting principles; and to impose on a delegated authority the duty of reconciling these principles, and of administering powers at once so tremendous in their relation to the State and to the individual, would be to lay upon it an almost insuperable tax. He admitted there were faults in our present system. For instance, no rules of evidence were imposed upon the Parliamentary lawyers, and the cost of our present procedure was excessive. No doubt there were many defects, and he believed some might be met by appointing Joint Committees of the two Houses on Private Bills; but until a definite scheme were proposed likely to commend itself to the House and the country it would be premature to adopt the Resolution.
§ MR. DODDS
said, he considered that the present system was in many respects unsatisfactory, and if the Mover and Seconder had propounded to the House any feasible scheme in substitution of that which existed at the present time, he would have been very happy to have voted with them. The hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Davey) had suggested the appointment of a Commission comprised of an engineer, a financier, and a gentleman of the Long Robe, to go down to the country to inquire into the different private schemes which were from time to time promoted. But how many of such Commissions would be required to inquire into the two or two hundred Private Bills which were introduced into Parliament in the course of a Session? If there could be established local tribunals, such as were suggested, he should be glad; but he doubted their feasibility. The trial of Election Petitions was a very different matter. Usually, 19 out of the 20 witnesses resided in the immediate locality; but that was not the case with Private Bills. The great majority of the witnesses who were called before Select Committees were skilled witnesses, who, for the most part, resided in London, and who could not be got to go into the country except at great expense. It had occurred to him that there was one plan which might be adopted with ad- 1584 vantage. From time to time, as in the case of the Channel Tunnel Bill of last year, and in other cases, Joint Committees of the two Houses of Parliament had been appointed to inquire into the merits of private schemes. He could not understand why the same principle should not be adopted in the case of all the Private Bills introduced into Parliament. He trusted that his suggestion would receive the serious consideration of the Chancellor of the Duchy.
§ MR. PULESTON
said, that the Motion only dealt with a part of the much larger question—the question—namely, of the whole Business of the House. It seemed to him that the Government might very well take into consideration the system adopted at Washington, in the United States Congress, in which every Bill was relegated to a Committee. They had a Standing Committee appointed by the Speaker on almost every subject, every Member of Congress being on one or more of those Committees.
said, the right hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Baxter) had observed very truly in his speech that the chief opposition against such a measure as that proposed by his hon. Friend would be on the part of persons who had vested interests in the present system, such as Parliamentary solicitors and barristers, the officials of the great railways, the experts who gave evidence before those Committees, and people of that kind; and they had seen some indication of that already in the speeches that bad been delivered. They had seen the barristers and Railway Directors arrayed in opposition to the proposal. It was quite easy to understand why such persons should prefer the existing system; but the matter was one that ought to be settled by the public, and he was satisfied that the public, especially the public of Scotland, were strongly in favour of a material change. The further a place was from London the more keenly it felt the necessity for a change. In Scotland, for instance, they could not come to Parliament for a Private Bill without bringing up lawyers, experts, and local witnesses an average distance of 500 miles. The consequence was that in many cases people had to forego their Bills altogether, on account of the cost which must attend obtaining them. He could add many cases of the same 1585 kind as had been mentioned by his hon. Friend the Member for Haddington (Mr. Craig-Sellar), in which localities had to do without much-needed improvements. Several hon. Members opposite had endeavoured to show that there was no foundation for the complaint by referring to the great amount of legislation that was done, and the great development of railway enter-prize throughout the country. But it was not in connection with great public measures that the hardship was felt so much as in regard to small improvements in small localities, which were of great importance to those localities, though not of general interest, and which could not be carried out in Scotland without incurring an expenditure equal to two or three years' rates of the district. In the interest of justice and sound policy, it was the duty of the House to attend to the interests of smaller bodies and remote localities as much as to those of wealthy Corporations and central communities. Last year the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, in opposing the Motion brought forward by his hon. Friend, especially that part of it referring to local tribunals, had pointed out the small number of Bills that came from Scotland as a reason why no such Body should be appointed for that country. But the smallness of the number of Bills was due to the present system. It was the expense and the difficulties to be encountered which prevented such improvements. He had no doubt that they would have many more Bills submitted to any tribunal they might set up, before which schemes involving no great amount of money could be disposed of without incurring great expense. One argument in favour of change had not been mentioned—namely, that the present system gave a great influence, a preponderating power, to large Companies and Corporations. The purse of a large railway or a large Corporation was practically exhaustless. It could meet the expense and carry on the proceedings for many days without inconveniencing itself; but an unfortunate private person was in a very different position. He had known cases where private persons whose interests were seriously affected by proposed public works, and who might have set up a strong case why those works should not be carried out, had been prevented by the heavy expense from 1586 giving effect to their objections. In justice to that class of persons and to the small burghs, they required some very material change. His hon. Friend had referred to public opinion in Scotland on the subject. At the great national meeting held not long ago in Edinburgh on the subject of Scottish legislation generally, the feeling was unanimously expressed that some change of this kind ought to be made in justice to distant places. The only answer that they had heard to-day to that demand was on the part of Gentlemen who had more or less remote connection with the law, to the effect that the expense of investigations conducted there would not be less than they were at present. They founded that argument on the assumption that it would be necessary to send down first-rate counsel and first-rate experts from London. Well, there were first-rate counsel elsewhere than in London; and if a tribunal of this kind were set up in Scotland, the Scottish Bar could afford men quite as able to carry on the work as any London counsel. He believed the same was true in regard to Ireland. So, likewise, in the matter of experts. Indeed, he thought it would be a positive advantage that some difficulty would be placed in the way of the employment of the very highest men except in the most important cases. For all ordinary purposes there was plenty of talent in the country to deal with these inquiries; and, conducted in that way, they would not cost 10 per cent of what they cost at present.
§ MR. DODSON
said, he cordially joined with those who had bestowed praise on his hon. Friend the Member for the Haddington Burghs (Mr. Craig-Sellar) for having again brought this very important subject under the attention of the House, and for the very able, lucid, and interesting manner in which he had done so. Notwithstanding the speech of the hon. Member who had just sat down, he thought anyone who had sat with him (Mr. Dodson) in that House for some years must know that if there was one man in that House who had shown more anxiety than another to effect root-and-branch reform in the system of private legislation, it was himself, and he thought he was hardly open to the rebuke which the hon. Member had passed upon him in that respect. It was quite true that he 1587 had not been able to support in its integrity the proposition made last year by his hon. Friend the Member for the Haddington Burghs. But as to the first part of the hon. Member's last Resolution—that the system of private legislation called for the attention of the Government and of Parliament, and required reform—he had cordially concurred in that part of it, and concurred in it still. The present system of private legislation was open to the objections that had been brought against it—namely, that it was costly, lengthy, and haphazard in its character; and if it was not more so than it really was, it was owing to the ability, the industry, and the self-devotion of the Members of that House, and especially of the Chairmen, who served upon those Committees. There was another matter that had not been spoken of to-night, and that was that every Bill had to go through the ordeal of a Committee of each House. Usually, when a case was tried before two tribunals, the second tribunal was in the nature of an Appellate Court, and there was an appeal from the first to the second, on the ground that the facts had not all been brought to light, or on the ground of some error on the part of the first Court. But in the case of the Committees of the two Houses, it was in no sense an appeal. One of those Courts was in no way superior to the other. They were co-ordinate tribunals; and the case was tried before the second, not by way of appeal, but simply by way of the dissatisfied party who had failed with the first insisting, if his purse was long enough, on taking his chance with the second. It had been said—"Why should you not have recourse to a Joint Committee of the two Houses, and let every Bill be settled once for all by one Committee? "The objection to this was that it would in no way provide for that which ought to be provided for—namely, the means of obtaining an appeal should there be grounds for it. Another reason given for dealing with this subject was the desirability of relieving Members from a class of work for which most of them were not especially suited, and setting them free for other and more important matters that were more truly the work of Members of Parliament. It must be remembered in connection with this that the proper Parliamentary work of Members was constantly growing year by 1588 year. Parliamentary questions necessarily increased with the growth of the country and with their closer political and commercial relations with other parts of the world; it, therefore, became more difficult year by year to find an adequate number of Members able to devote themselves to the task of private legislation. Those were reasons which appeared to him, amongst others that had been urged, to constitute grounds for a reform of private legislation. With regard to the Amendment which had been submitted by his hon. Friend, they must remember that if they agreed to this Resolution they would be bound, not by the speech of his hon. Friend, but by the terms of the Resolution; and he must say that the second part of the Resolution, whether his hon. Friend so intended it or not, appeared to him to point too much in the direction of that which they had had experience of already, and not very satisfactory experience—namely, preliminary inquiries. They had had a system of preliminary local inquiries established by Lord Dalhousie. It was supposed that that would relieve the Committees of this House of a very great deal of work; but it had simply added the expense and labour of a preliminary inquiry to the double trial before the two Committees of the Houses. The experience of the Referees, as had been pointed out by the hon. Member for Lanarkshire (Sir Edward Colebrooke), had been in the same direction, and that attempt had had to be abandoned after a trial of one or two years. He would not go into the scheme that he had himself proposed many years ago for the reform of private legislation; but he would simply say that it appeared to him the main points to be aimed at in relieving Parliament of this labour, and giving the public a cheaper and more efficient system than it had at present, was to establish an external tribunal which should in the first instance hear all parties and settle the schemes, and that the schemes so settled should be subject to an appeal to the strongest Parliamentary tribunal that could be found. It appeared to him that that was the key-stone of any real amendment in the present system. As to the course which he, speaking on behalf of the Government, felt constrained to propose to the House in reference to the Amendment of his hon. Friend the Member for the Haddington 1589 Burghs, he very much agreed with what had fallen from his right hon. Friend the Chairman of the Committee of Selection (Sir John Mowbray) in respect to one very important point. He had always thought that if any effectual amendment was to be made in the Rules of the House as to the conduct of either Public or Private Business it must be submitted to the House on the responsibility of a Government. He agreed with his right hon. Friend that if private legislation was to be substantially amended, it must be when the Government had time and leisure, and determination, to take the initiative and make the subject its own. He need not say that it was out of the question that the Government should undertake to do anything of the kind in the present Session. That was not saying that the Government ought not to do it when it could find time and opportunity to give the subject the consideration it deserved, and the House had the time and opportunity to entertain it. He would not be seduced into committing himself to the proposals of his hon. Friend; but, while declining to accept those proposals, he would not be understood to preclude them from future consideration, or to pass any condemnation upon them whatever. Technically, no doubt, the question before the House was the Amendment of his hon. Friend; but, practically, as they all knew, the question to be decided was whether they should to-night proceed with the Business of Supply. Therefore, in saying "No" to the Amendment of his hon. Friend, he was simply hoping that the Government Business for to-night, which was Supply, might be proceeded with with the least possible delay.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Main Question again proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."