§ Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [5th February], "That the Bill be now Read a Second time."
Amendment proposed, to leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, in order to add the words:—
this House declines to Read a Second time a Bill to consolidate and amend the Laws relating to Public Health in Scotland which does not provide for the rates under the same being levied one-half upon the owners and the other half upon the occupiers of land in burghs as in counties; and which does not permit of the acquisition of land compulsorily for Public Health purposes by an Order of the Local Government Board of Scotland without resort to Parliament."—(Mr. Caldwell.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ On the Question, "That the Bill be Read a Second time,"304
§ MR. JAMES BRYCE (Aberdeen, S.)
asked why the Bill did not consolidate all the law relating to public health in Scotland. It consolidated, nearly all the law, but the provisions of the Act of 1891 were left out. It would be obviously for the great convenience of those who had to refer to the Bill that there should be a complete consolidation, and that no part of the provisions regarding public health should be left out.
§ MR. PARKER SMITH (Lanark, Partick)
said the Bill might more properly be discussed in Committee than in the House, but he desired to raise the question how far it ought to apply to burghs as well as to counties, and what the effect would be of the provisions of the Bill which were applied to burghs as well as to counties. It had been the view of many persons that it would be more convenient to have a separate measure of public health for burghs and counties. It was clear, however, that those who represented burghs would not wish to put any obstacle in the way of the Bill passing, and it was desired to have the benefit of the Bill for burghs and not to delay it by raising any difficulty on the point in the passing of this Bill. There was one difficulty in regard to the application of the Bill to burghs, which was raised in the Memorandum of the burgh officials. He should like to know whether the Lord Advocate was prepared to give his attention to that Memorandum, and whether in Committee they might have the satisfaction of hearing the Lord Advocate on that point. Would the Lord Advocate give his consideration to the question of overlapping in the provisions of the Bill with the provisions of the Burgh Police Act, and the question how far the Act of 1867 applied? In the case of sewers and water the provisions of the Bill would overlap in the burghs the provisions of the Act of 1892; and if the matter was not put into much clearer and more specific form, than at present in the Bill, there would be a great deal of confusion and complication in the future.
§ * THE LORD ADVOCATE (Mr. GRAHAM MURRAY,) Buteshire
said that when the discussion took place the other day several hon. Members complained that he had not introduced the Bill by a preliminary statement to explain what was exactly being done. He thought perhaps the best justification of what he did was 305 to be found in the Debate which ensued. He thought that a Minister in charge of n Bill who had the advantage of the courtesy of the House in being allowed to choose his own time to speak, was bound not to trouble the House unless he had something In say. If would have been surplusage on his part if he had prefaced this Bill with any long statement, because everything he could have said was said in the Memorandum prefixed to the Bill. As to the material with which the House had to deal, it was clearly explained in the Memorandum prefixed to the Bill, and hon. Members would find in the Bill itself that there was a marginal note opposite each clause showing the source whence it was derived and bow far the old legislation of 1867 had been altered and departed from. As to the reasons why the Government had adopted this or that in the Bill, he thought the hon. Member forgot that the Bill had been discussed at considerable length last year in another place, and that it represented therefore the outcome of very careful consideration before a very competent Committee. He could not doubt therefore that hon. Members would think that the Government had acted wisely in beginning at least with the Public Health Bill as it left the House of Lords last year. The only alteration they had made had cropped up in one or two matters which had occurred in the meantime, like the scandal connected with the interment of a body in Aberdeen. The Government had tried to meet that case; but there was no alteration in the principle of the Bill as it left the House of Lords. In the discussions there were no Second Reading considerations advanced at all. The hon. Member for Banffshire made a speech, not on the Bill before the House, but on a Bill of some years ago, on a matter outside the scope of public health, which was introduced by Mr. Seymour Keay. The hon. Member for Dundee drew special attention to Clause 57, with the object of calling attention to the position in which Dundee was at present with regard to a private Bill which was at present before a Committee upstairs. The hon. Baronet rather indicated in the discussion which arose on this Bill that the Lord Advocate constituted himself responsible for the counties as against the burghs. He disclaimed any such intention. The view of the Govern- 306 ment as to Dundee was that it ought not to be allowed in a controversial question to go ahead of the general law. He assured the Member for Dundee that the Government had a perfectly open mind with regard to the clause in question, and they were perfectly willing and anxious that it should be fully discussed when the Bill was sent to Committee. The points rinsed by the hon. Member for Lanarkshire (Mr. Caldwell) also were each and all strictly Committee points. He called attention to the question of a special drainage district. On that he would only say this, that no doubt there was in the Bill a distinction made between burghs and counties. There was at least a reason for that distinction, for, although it was quite right that, if a special drainage scheme was inaugurated in a part of a burgh, the inhabitants in that part should not be called upon to pay for drainage elsewhere, yet that would not he always just in the counties, because a part of a county might be constituted into a special drainage district, and then, by executing some minute works at very small cost, might obtain exemption from the burden in the other parts of the county towards which they ought to contribute. But upon that point, as upon others, the Government had not absolutely made up its mind, and would be very glad to listen to any representations and arguments in Committee. With regard to recreation grounds, the hon. Member forgot that since the passing of the Public Health Act of 1867 there had been a Public Parks Act, and the provisions of that Statute really gave him what he wanted, and it would be unnecessary to go any further in a Bill of this sort. The hon. Member also reverted to the matter of the Standing Joint Committee. Well, the Government did not think it advisable to disturb the settlement made in the Act of 1889, but all these points were Committee points, and not proper subjects for Second Beading discussion. [Cheers.] The only other point was that on which the hon. Member founded his Amendment, which had been put and negatived. He (the Lord Advocate) did not wish to take advantage of that fact, and, in courtesy to the hon. Member, he would say a few words on the subject. It raised the question of rating. In burghs, the option was given to rate 307 either Upon the occupier or the owner and the occupier. Again, he must disclaim any intention to stop discussion on that subject in the proper place—the Committee. The hon. Member made a slight slip in stating what the law was, for he said there could be no levying in a burgh half upon the owner and half upon the occupier, unless there was de facto a prison assessment. He could not but think that the hon. Member had not had his attention called to the 63rd section of the Prisons Act of 1877. That Act abolished prison assessment altogether, because it put the maintenance of the prisons on the State Imperial funds. But in Section 63 there was a general provision which said that in any Act of Parliament where an assessment might be levied in the manner of the prison assessment, then it should be legal for the assessing body, whoever they were, to put that assessment half upon the owner and half upon the occupier.
§ * THE LORD ADVOCATE
replied that he did not think so, for the hon. Member said that it had been decided by the Court of Session that they could not put the assessment half on the owner and half on the occupier.
§ * MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! The question of the division of rates has been disposed of by the decision of the House on the Amendment, and that cannot be discussed again.
§ * THE LORD ADVOCATE
said he was sorry that he had digressed, although he might say he had done so knowingly, because he had not wished to take-advantage of the hon. Member in the matter, and had wished to show the hon. Member how the matter stood. The only other Members who spoke were the Member for the Blackfriars Division (Mr. Provand), who echoed what was said by the Member for Lanark, and the Member for Mid Lothian (Sir T. G. Carmichael), whose remarks were of that discursive and complimentary character that they called for acknowledgement rather than reply. Accordingly, he had practically nothing more to say on the Second Heading. The question on the Second Heading was, shall we have an Amendment of the Public Health Law of Scotland? They were all agreed on that, and he could assure hon. Gentlemen that the Government should certainly 308 consider the details, as far as they related to public health, as matters of no party moment at all. But they would try to hold an even hand between what sometimes might be the conflicting interests of counties and burghs, and the Member for Partick (Mr. Parker Smith) might rest assured that careful consideration would be given to the memorial to which the hon. Member had referred. He hoped the House would now allow the Bill to go to a Second Reading. [Cheers.]
§ * MR. J. B. BALFOUR
said he was sure that no one wished to stand between the Mouse and the Second Reading, because he thought the Bill was one which would be very beneficial to Scotland. The provisions of the existing Act were somewhat antiquated in many respects, and he was glad to observe that in this Bill advantage had been taken of the various legislative Measures which had since been passed into law. It was true that this was a Bill rather of detail than of principle, and therefore anything like prolonged Second Heading discussion would be both unnecessary and inappropriate. [Cheers.] At the same time, he hoped his right hon. and learned Friend would not object to what had been done by his hon. Friends who spoke the other night, because it was quite usual, even on such a Bill as this, to call attention to some of the more salient and important points, and he did not understand that anything more was intended by his hon. Friends. [Opposition cheers.] His own object in rising was to ask one or two questions. The Lord Advocate did not propose to repeal the Amending Act of 1891, but he (Mr. Balfour) was sure that his right hon. Friend must know that some difficulty had been experienced in working the provisions of the Act of 1891 along with the provisions of the other Statutes relative to public health. There had come under his own cognisance cases in which it was by no means easy to work in the provisions of that Act with the other statutory provisions dealing with the same subject. He would, therefore, suggest to the right hon. Gentleman, as a matter for consideration in Committee, whether it might not be more convenient to amalgamate the provisions of the Act of 1891 with those of this Bill. Reference had been made by the Member for Partick to a memorial from the burgh officials. There was a great deal in that Memorandum 309 that was well worthy of consideration. ["Hear, hear!"] He would not say that he would go the length of having two separate codes—one for the county and one for the burghs—but they should see that there was nothing in this Bill which would stop the power to assess for works done under the Act of 1867, and that there should not be anything like overlapping of powers, because no doubt there had been some difficulty in that respect, but that was a matter for Committee also. ["Hear, hear!"] The Amendment of the Member for Lanark being' rejected, a discussion on the subject of rating' would be inappropriate, therefore he would merely put it to his right hon. Friend whether the question of dividing" the rate in burghs was not very well worthy of consideration. [Opposition cheers.] The whole tendency, not only of recent legislation, but legislation in Scotland for a very considerable time, had been in that direction, as in the case of the Roads and Bridges Act, the School Acts, County Council Act, and Parish Council Act, and all the assessments in counties under this Bill would practically be so divided. There was a proposal in the Bill which seemed to him a very good one. It was that the Roads and Bridges Act should be the standard, instead of the poor-rate standard, and the question would seem to be whether there was any sufficient reason for not extending that principle, which was practically made universal in counties, to burghs also. The assessing power was very considerably increased by this Bill, and that was quite right, because the necessities that had to be provided for had increased. Under the Act of 1867 the rate was limited to 3d., and in the Act of 1891 to 6d. It might hardly be worth while to have division of rates for very small sums like that; but when a shilling rate was assessed for the same purposes, it might well become a matter for consideration. ["Hear, hear!"] He also ventured to point out that some of the improvements on which the larger rate would be leviable would tend, he thought, to enhance the value of property. If that were so, it seemed to be an additional reason for, at all events, giving very careful consideration to the question of whether the whole rate should not be symmetrically divided. He 310 also desired to press on the consideration of his right hon. Friend the question of whether the provisions for the taking of land for public purposes under this Bill were not too complicated. The most recent provisions dealing with this matter were all in the direction of simplification. This was the case in the Burgh and Police Act of some four or live years ago, the Parish Councils Act of 1894, and in other Acts. No one would wish property to be taken without giving fair compensation, and the safeguards in these various Acts seemed amply sufficient for the purpose. The long and tedious and extremely complicated provisions in the present Bill, however, would render the acquisition of land for public purposes practically prohibitory.
§ SIR CHARLES CAMERON (Glasgow, Bridgeton)
said he should he very sorry to do anything to impede the Second Reading of this Bill, which certainly was a step in the right direction. He regretted to see, however, that the Lord Advocate proposed to refer the Bill to the Standing Committee on Law. He would ask him to reconsider his decision in that matter.
§ SIR C. CAMERON
said he only wished to point out that, if the course proposed by the Lord Advocate was persisted in, a very large number of hon. Members for Scotland would have no opportunity whatever of taking part in the Committee discussions.
§ Bill read a Second time.
§ *THE LORD ADVOCATE moved "That the Bill be referred to the Standing Committee on Law, Etc.,"
*DR. FARQUARSON (Aberdeenshire, W.) moved, as an Amendment, to leave out the words, "the Standing Committee on Law, Etc.," in order to add instead thereof the words
a Committee consisting of all the Members representing Scottish constituencies, together wit It Fifteen other Members to he nominated by the Committee of Selection.
This Bill, he said, affected in the most minute and complicated way every constituency in Scotland, and therefore he held that every Member for every constituency in Scotland had a, right to ex-press his opinions in Committee upon
the details of the Bill. He said it was right and proper that this Bill should not be discussed at any very great length on the Second Reading, because he thought they were all agreed on the general principle. They all admitted that a Bill of this kind was very much needed, and he thought they might, congratulate the Lord Advocate and the Government on having brought it in. But if this Bill was approved in general principle it was essentially a Bill of detail which must be carefully and anxiously examined, either in Committee or otherwise. Every Scotch Member should have the right to criticise this Bill in detail. That, might be done in Committee of the whole House; but the Bill was, in his opinion, far too technical in its character to be argued in that way. Another course was that proposed by the Lord Advocate, but he would point out that as at present constituted there were only eight Scotch Members of the Standing Committee on Law, and even with the 15 added afterwards by the Committee of Selection there would be only 23 Scotch Members out of 72. Therefore, it was quite plain that a great many Members, perhaps those most deeply interested in this question, and those who had the right to discuss it, would be excluded from any opportunity of doing so. He thought the consideration of a Bill of this kind—long, elaborate, and bristling with intricate and difficult details—would be a great undertaking for the Standing Committee on Law. No time would be saved by the adoption of this course, because the 55 or 56 Members who had been excluded from the Committee's deliberartions would naturally feel it their duty, in the interests of their constituents, to renew the discussions at great length when the Bill came downstairs again. Then there was the proposal which he made in the Amendment he had moved. There were several reasons in favour of that course. The first was the great and admitted success of the two cases in which they had had this Grand Scotch Committee working upstairs. Another argument was that this Bill affected, in the most minute and complicated way, every constituency in Scotland; and therefore, he claimed that every Member for every constituency in Scotland had the right to express his opinion upon it. It was necessary to watch Bills of this
class very carefully in Committee, with complete and intimate local knowledge. It was unnecessary for him to use many arguments in favour of the principle for which he was now contending, namely, that Scotch Members should be given a small Measure of Home Rule in the shape of a Committee upstairs, where they could Debate deliberately and harmoniously the principles and practices which they themselves understood. He remembered how useful on a previous occasion the 15 added Members were. Those Gentlemen gave the Scotch Members the benefit of their experience, but he thought they in return were benefited by witnessing the practical and admirable way in which Scotch men could do their business when they did it in their own fashion. Perhaps it would have been better if he had moved that a Scotch Grand Committee should be established, to which all Scotch Bills should be referred, but he thought that the Select Committee he suggested was sufficient for the purpose of considering this one particular and individual Measure. He could hardly believe it would be contended there would be a majority of Scotch Members hostile to the Government. That might be so, but he thought he was justified in saying that none of his colleagues would desire to Debate a Bill of this kind from a Party standpoint. But if the argument he had mentioned were used he would be quite willing that the whole of the 15 added Members should be Tories, so that the Government should have the majority. He wanted to make this a good Bill, and in order to give every Scotch Member an opportunity of debating it, he moved the Amendment which stood in his name.
§ MR. J. W. CROMBIE (Kincardineshire)
said he, had always made it a point not to do anything to unnecessarily delay the progress of business. Because he agreed with the principle of the Bill, he abstained from saying anything on the Second Reading. How had his virtue been rewarded? That in all probability he would have no opportunity whatever of discussing some important details of the Bill in which his constituents were interested. When, they were treated thus by the Government it was rather apt to upset one's ideas of being virtuous in his conduct in the House. He had been told by Members older than himself that they 313 could not get anything unless they could show that they kept business back. The proposal of the Lord Advocate was to submit this Measure to the Grand Committee on Law. That Committee consisted of 68 Members, eight of whom were Scotchmen. He did not wish to say anything disparaging of the 60 English Members, but was it possible for them to grasp with ease the intricate details of a Scotch Bill, which taxed all the abilities of Scotch representatives. His hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeenshire had suggested that the Bill would come before the House again on Report. But even then, there would not be an opportunity of discussing some important details of the Bill. One question which greatly interested the people of Scotland was that of rating. He understood that under the Rules of the House the question of rating could not he brought up on Report. For these reason he heartily supported the Amendment.
§ * THE LORD ADVOCATE
said he was unable to accept the Amendment, and he could not help thinking that his hon. Friend had proposed it under a misapprehension of what was and what was not possible according to the forms of the House. The Amendment was to send the Bill to a Committee consisting of Scotch Members, with 15 Members aided. The hon. Member admitted that this was a Measure of such complicated details that it was quite unfitted for consideration by a Committee of the whole House. But the course which he proposed would send the Bill to a Committee of the whole House. He asked, as a point of order, whether it was possible under this Motion to set up a Scotch Standing Committee.
§ * THE LORD ADVOCATE
said it was a matter of elementary knowledge that when a Bill went to a Select Committee it came back to the Committee of the whole House. Therefore, was it a practical proposal that the Bill should be first sent to a Committee composed of the Scotch Members with fifteen Members added, and then come back to the Committee of the whole House? There was no such thing in existence as a Scotch Grand Committee. In 1894 a Scotch Grand Committee was set up and the Bill which was referred to it was exempted 314 from the Committee stage of the House. That was not possible in this case. There was a good precedent for sending this Bill to the Grand Committee in Law. He had been a member of that Committee for some years, and he well remembered that the Irish Public Health Bill was most satisfactorily discussed by that Committee, as he had no doubt this Bill would be. No doubt the Committee of Selection would lake care that the added Members were nearly all, if not all, Scotchmen. As to the question of rating, if the hon. Member for Kincardineshire was not one of the added Members, and if the Grand Committee on Law did not settle the question of rating in a way which commended itself to him, he could move that the Bill be recommitted, and thus again raise the point. For these reasons he could not see his way to agree to the Amendment.
MR. CALDAVELL (Lanark, Mid)
said that Lord Advocate Macdonald proposed, in regard to the Burgh Police Bill, a, very sensible plan, which was covered by this very Amendment.
§ * THE LORD ADVOCATE
Lord Advocate Macdonald made that proposition in 1886, and the Burgh Police Bill passed in 1892. We want this to pass speedily.
§ MR. CALDWELL
said that the Bill which was passed into law was really the Bill which was passed by a Select Committee of the House. That Bill was passed through the House after one day's discussion, and remitted to a Select Committee consisting of all the Scotch Members. At least, every Scotch Member who desired was on that Committee. The Bill was carefully considered by the Select Committee. It was a good many days in Committee, and it was discussed in a manner that gave satisfaction to the Scotch Members on both sides. It was not passed; but the reason was that the House was going in the next Session to engage in dealing with local government, and they therefore considered it undesirable to deal with a Bill which might be modified in the following Session. In 1892 a Bill was brought in which was practically accepted by all the Scotch Members. It. was all very well to say that if this Bill was committed to a Select Committee it would still have to pass through, the Committee of the House. They had had a Bill to-day the size of this, and what was 315 the result? Because they gave a fair opportunity to every Scotch Member the Scotch Members accepted it, and the Bill passed through Committee and the Report stage in one sitting. That would be the result probably if this Bill were sent to a Select Committee. Every Scotch Member would know that he had the opportunity of being heard, but if the Bill was sent to the Standing Committee they would have a vast majority of English Members on it. Fifteen oilier Members would be added, and Members from the other side, and six Members from that side, of whom two must be Irish Members. [Cries of "No!"] Oh, yes. He had no doubt the Irish Members would insist on their rights. He had never known them not to claim their rights. [Lauhter.] Thus they would have a, Bill which only concerned Scotland dealt, with by a Committee the great majority of which would be English and Irish Members. Was that fair, that the Scotch Members should practically have no voice in the matter? The Government might drive the Bill to the Standing Committee, but they would find it a different thing to pass it into law after. If the Bill were forced in that way he wished the Lord Advocate much joy when he came to the Report stage on a Bill with 175 clauses. But did they think they could drive a Bill like this through, in opposition to the wishes of the people of Scotland? Hon. Members were treating this as a Home Rule matter, but there was no Home Rule about it. There was nothing for the Government to be afraid of. There was no party advantage with the matter at all. It was simply whether the Scotch Members were to be, given a hearing on a Bill dealing with the public health of Scotland. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ SIR WILLIAM PRIESTLEY (Edinburgh and St. Andrews Universities)
said, there were two or three points to be kept in view in reference to this Commit tee. In the first place, it should not be on party lines; in the second place, the Committee should not be too large; and lastly, it should comprise those who knew something of the subject. If such men as his hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeen, or his hon. Friend the Member for the Bridgeton Division of Glasgow, who were conversant with matters concerning health were likely to be excluded, there might be some ground for 316 this contention of his hon. Friend opposite, but he thought the Committee of Selection might be trusted to nominate suitable Members, and the House would do well, therefore, to accept the proposal of the Lord Advocate.
§ SIR HENRY CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN (Stirling Burghs)
said the hon. Member had laid down one or two rules for their guidance. First, the Committee was not to be too large; but he did not seem to be aware that the Committee suggested by his hon. Friend would not be so large as the Committee suggested by the Lord Advocate. Then he said they should take care that the Committee comprised those who knew something of the subject; but this Bill affected not merely technical experts, but the great mass of the people. While he should be glad to see the hon. Member on the Committee, be had a certain suspicion of technical information. For these reasons they wished to see the Bill in one form or other referred to a Committee upon which every Scotch Member would have an opportunity of expressing his opinion. There was nothing he and his Friends desired but to see the Bill pass into law, and, further, they wished to see it passed improved. This being a matter which went home to the daily interest, health, and comfort of the people at large, it was eminently a question which ought not to be dealt with by a restricted number of the representatives of Scotland. He did not know that 15 Members, as proposed by his hon. Friend, was precisely the number that should be added. When on a previous occasion a Bill of this character was referred with great advantage to a Committee of all the Scotch Members, the House added such a number of Members as made the Committee a reflex of the distribution of parties in the House, and whatever number was added now it would certainly not be more than 15, because the Scotch Members were now more equally divided in politics. ["Hear, hear!"] The principal precedent was the Bill for the establishment of Parish Councils. That was generally considered a non-contentious Bill, though he admitted there were many points in that Bill which closely approached a political character; but every point in connection with that Bill was discussed with the greatest desire to 317 avoid political differences, and the divisions on Amendments did not follow party lines, but represented the honest opinions of individual Members. [Ministerial laughter.] The crack of the party whip was not heard, and the result was an harmonious settlement of a great and difficult question. ["Hear, hear!"] This Bill was far more completely exempt from anything like a suspicion of party feeling. What in the world could politics have to do with contagious diseases, public nuisances, and questions of that kind; ["Hear, hear!"] Therefore, he would have thought this was an occasion when they might freely adopt the precedent established in the last Parliament. The Lord Advocate had taken the point, which he thought was little more than a formal one, that on the former occasion a special Grand Committee was set up. It was true that such a reference as his hon. Friend advocated did not supersede the consideration of the Bill in Committee of the whole House; but did the right hon. Gentleman suppose that when all the Scotch Members had spent days and perhaps weeks, over the details of the Bill, there would be any or much discussion in Committee of the whole House? In such circumstances that stage would be little more than a matter of form. He would remind the right hon. Gentleman that that monument of legal ingenuity, the Burgh Police Act, passed the House with the greatest ease, although it had to encounter the full danger of the Committee stage; and the same thing would happen to this Bill if the course proposed by his hon. Friend were adopted. ["Hear, hear!"] Seeing that there was only this one Bill relating to Scotland before the House this year, he did not see that there would be much advantage, in setting up a special Grand Committee. The Government would gain in more ways than one by adopting his hon. Friend's suggestion. In the first place, it was only just and right that the representatives of the people of Scotland should have ample opportunity of making the Bill conform to their views and needs, and in the second place, the time of the Government would be saved; for if the Bill was not referred to a Committee in which all the Scotch Members would have an opportunity of bringing their views to bear, the right hon. Gentleman might be perfectly certain that on 318 the Report stage a good many Members would have a good deal to say. He did not propose to open the question of referring a Bill which could rightly be called political or contentious to a Committee of this sort; but in the case of a Bill such as this, which was of a purely non-contentious character, it would be a great advantage to adopt the course proposed. He regretted that the Lord Advocate had refused to consider this proposal. If the Government had their way the Bill would go to the Standing Committee on Law, on which very few Scotch Members could sit, and all the other Scotch Members would be excluded from all power of taking part in its discussion. Therefore not only would the Bill be subjected to the danger of elaborate discussion in the House—and a discussion not nearly so effectual as that which would take place in Committee—but there would also remain among those affected by the Bill a feeling of regret and disappointment, because their interests had not been considered. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. T. F. HALSEY (Herts, Watford)
said that in plain English this was a proposal to revise the Grand Committee established in the last Parliament after many days of contentious debate. As he was, perhaps, in the absence of his right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford University, the oldest Member of the Committee of Selection, he would like to say a word on the subject. The Committee of Selection were, of course, ready to discharge to the best of their ability every duty the House placed upon them, and he ventured to think that up to the present they had discharged their duties to the satisfaction of the House—["hear, hear!"]—but at the same time he thought they had a right to ask that if this Motion was carried they should have some more definite instructions from the House as to the course to be adopted. They endeavoured to make these two Grand Committees microcosms of the House, so that the exact condition of Parties might be reflected in them. But they could not make a Grand Committee consisting of all the Scotch Members with 15 others a microcosm of the House. The only way would be to select the whole of those 15 Members from one side of the House, but that would be a very invidious tiling to do. The matter would be further complicated because, if they were 319 to pursue that course, the Irish question in regard to such matters would at once be raised. It appeared to him that there was hardly any necessity at all for this Motion. He could assure his hon. Friend the Member for Kincardineshire that if the Motion were not carried he would not be shut out, for he would be one of the first Members to be selected as an expert. The practice of the Committee of Selection in regard to Select Committees had been to select any Members whose names were on the back of the Bill to be considered, who showed any interest in the question by having taken part in the Debates, or who were acquainted with the subject, without reference to the side of the House on which they sat. He ventured to think the House would do well to refer this Bill in the usual manner to the Grand Committee cm Law, but if the House should decide to accept the Motion of the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire he urged, on behalf of the Committee of Selection, that they should give some definite instructions to the Committee of Selection as to the principles on which they should go in choosing the proposed 15 Members.
§ MR. AUGUSTINE BIRRELL (Fife, W.)
said the only reason he rose to take part in the Debate was in order to curry favour with the Committee of Selection. [Laughter.] It seemed that no Scotch Member had got the least chance of being put upon this Select Committee unless he took part in the Debates.
§ MR. HALSEY
said the hon. Member was entirely mistaken, and he could venture to promise the hon. Member that in all probability he would be put on the Committee.
§ MR. BIRRELL
said that in that case he had already acomplished what he had had in view. [Laughter.] He congratulated the Committee of Selection for the intelligence they displayed in discharging a solemn public function. He thought that Scotchmen would prefer that questions of this kind should be submitted to all the Scotch Members—["hear, hear!"]—instead of their being dealt with in the random, sporadic, and very childish mode which had been described by the hon. Member. He must say he was utterly surprised at the course taken by the Lord Advocate. A number of them had, in the innocence of their hearts, entered into obligations to 320 County Councils, medical authorities, and other persons interested in their constituencies, to put down and support Amendments when this subject came into Committee, and they had been conjured by them not in any way to delay the Second Reading of this great Bill, in order that at the earliest moment it might come under the discussion of all the persons interested. Now they found that there would not be that opportunity for discussing the matter which they had expected. The Bill was to be referred to the Standing Committee on Law, which was a more unwieldly body than would be a Select Committee composed of all the Scotch Members. This Bill had undergone every fortune possible to a Bill except that of being passed, and had been mentioned, he believed, in 11 Queen's Speeches. Now that they had a good opportunity of putting on the Statute-book this Session a Bill which Scotland had for years demanded, their hopes were in a fair way of being frustrated by the action of the executive officer in charge of the Bill. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. R. G. WEBSTER (St. Pancras, E.)
said he had been a Member of the Committee on the Burgh Police (Scotland) Bill, and he knew that on that Committee the English Members had to coach themselves up in the very difficult questions they had to consider, which it was difficult for an Englishman to grasp. He did not think that during the two or three years that that Bill was in Committee they had any Party votes. He ventured to urge on the Lord Advocate that it would be desirable to send the present Bill to a Committee composed of Scotchmen, instead of to the Grand Committee on Law.
§ MR. T. R. BUCHANAN (Aberdeenshire, E.)
said they were much indebted to the hon. Member for the support which he had given them, especially as the hon. Member had had experience of the working of a similar Committee to that which the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire wished to set up. This Motion proposed to set up a Committee upon which all Scotch Members would have seats, with the addition of 15 Members of other nationalities. The great merit of such a proposal was that it secured that the Bill would be considered by those who knew about it, and those 321 who cared about it, and it would be a far more competent body to deal with the Measure than the Grand Committee on Law. They had heard about the non-party character of that body, with which they all agreed. They were all agreed also that the Bill was not a Bill of principles but a Bill of details. The great point, however, was that the Committee which was to consider this Bill should be composed of Members who knew something about the Bill, and who were interested in the Bill; and he denied that the Grand Committee on Law, even with the addition of 15 Members, whom he supposed would be all Scotch Members, could be described as a body of that character. The Grand Committee on Law consisted of 68 members, eight of whom were Scotch Members. Who were those eight? Mr. Asquith, Mr. J. B. Balfour, Sir Robert Finlay, Mr. Haldane, Mr. John Morley, Mr. Graham Murray, Sir Robert Reid, and Mr. Parker Smith. Those were amongst the ablest of the Scotch, Members; but it would be observed that six out of the eight sat on the two Front Benches; and he might be permitted to say that his hon. Friends the Members for Haddington (Mr. Haldane) and Particle (Mr. Parker Smith) were also distinguished in having Front Bench minds. [Laughter.] Did those eight Members at all fairly represent the character of the Scotch Members of the House? Or could even the addition of 15 other Scotch Members so dilute the Scotch contingent on the Committee as to make it a lair representation of the Scotch representation in the House? They would only have 23 Scotch Members out of 83, or only a quarter of the Scotch Members on the Committee, and they could not expect that the consideration of the details of the Bill, affecting town and country alike, by such a Committee would give satisfaction. He would earnestly urge upon the Government, if they wanted the Bill to be a satisfactory piece of legislation and to bring Scotch public health legislation up to a proper standard, to send the Bill for consideration to Members who cared about it, and who knew about it, and thus have at least one piece of legislation that would give some satisfaction to the people of Scotland.
§ MR. PARKER SMITH (Lanark, Partick)
said the most important point at 322 issue in the formation of those Committees was the point that they ought to be a microcosm of the House at large. It was for that point they fought most bitterly in the last Parliament, with the result that 15 Members were added to the Grand Committee on Law, so as to make it as representative as possible of the House of Commons. He contended that the Committee now proposed to be appointed would not be a microcosm of the House; and while, no doubt, the main points of the Bill would be divided on on non-Party lines, no Minister would care to accept the responsibility of steering the Bill through Committee unless he had a majority on whom he could rely on a pinch. There was a question as to how many Scotch Members would appear on the Grand Committee on Law. There were in the first place eight Scotch Members on the Committee, and in the next place there were 15 to be added to it, who probably would all be Scotch Members. But there was a further possibility. It was a common thing for an hon. Gentleman who was interested in a particular Bill before a Standing Committee to effect an exchange with a friend who was a member of the Committee and had a seat on the same side of the House, and he did not think in the case of this Bill Scotch Members would have much difficult in finding English friends who would be glad to give their places on the Committee to them. When the question of setting up a satisfactory Scotch Standing Committee was discussed before it war, suggested that there should be a Committee, limiting it to a fixed number, say 80, Laying down, as the first principle that it should be a microcosm of the House, and that, subject to that principle, as many Scotch Members as possible were to be added to it. If there were a Committee of 80 it would not be possible to put on all the Scotch Members and keep the Committee a microcosm of the House; But they could certainly put on all the Scotch Members on the other side who wished to take part in the discussion on the Bill, and still keep the Committee a microcosm of the House. Why should all Scotch Members be included on the Committee? What share would the right hon. Member for Montrose Burghs take in the discussion of the Scotch Public Health Bill?
§ SIR ROBERT REID (Dumfries Burghs)
said that, for about ten years he had been trying to get some Scotch Committee appointed to which all Bills relating to Scotland might be referred. The present was a much more limited and moderate proposal. The case which had arisen was one of the extreme examples of the absurdity of the present practice of the House. This Bill was admittedly uncontroversial; there was no Party capital to be made out of it; it was exceptionally important to Scotland; it did not affect any other part of the United Kingdom; it was necessarily unintelligible to Englishmen; and there were a large number of Scotch Members eminently qualified and anxious to deal with the Measure. Yet the Government refused to submit the Bill to the willing Members, and sent it to a high and dry Standing Committee on Law, on which there were only eight Scotch Members, and to which only 15 more could be added. This was simply a result of the prejudices of the House springing from the recent Home Rule controversy. The Lord Advocate had correctly pointed out that if this Bill were sent to a Committee of Scotch, Members it would have to come back to the House as from a Select Committee. But that would be no obstacle to the passage of the Bill. If the Scotch Members had a fair chance of putting their views before the Committee, the Government would have no further trouble. Scotch Members did not obstruct Scotch Bills; and there was not a Scotch Member on the Opposition side of the House who did not wish the Bill to pass into law. ["Hear, hear!"] But he objected altogether to the Bill being referred to the Standing Committee on Law with only 23 Scotch Members out of 62, and he should divide the House on that point, ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. C. B. RENSHAW (Renfrew, W.)
said that in the course of the consideration of this Bill, subjects leading to considerable contention might be introduced, and it was essential that the Government should have upon the Committee the full majority to which they were entitled. As to referring the Bill to the Standing Committee on Law, he approved of the proposal. It was desirable, not only to have Members qualified by technical knowledge on the Committee, but also 324 Members of legal experience, who could advise the Committee on questions of the administration of the Public Health Acts of 1875 and 1891. Ominous threats had been uttered by hon. Gentlemen opposite as to what would happen when the Bill came back from the Committee; but he believed that the common sense which predominated among Scotch Members dealing with Scotch legislation would prevail in this case. As all Scotch Members were anxious to have the Bill, lie believed that they would agree to help its progress.
§ MR. J. G. HOLBURN (Lanark, N.W.)
said that the assistance not only of legal experts, but also of those who had practical experience of the administration of the Public Health Acts, would be necessary in discussing this Bill. He hoped that nothing would be done by any Scotch Member to endanger the passing of the Bill, but that the opportunity of putting the Public Health Law of Scotland on a sound and satisfactory basis would be seized. It was essential, however, that every Scotch Member should have a chance of considering the Bill in Committee. Even those Members who had no special knowledge of their own would be able to contribute to the discussion the suggestions of their localities in regard to the particular points on which those localities had found difficulty. He himself had a strong desire to be on the Committee to which the Bill was to be referred; because he had had many years' experience as the Convener of a Public Health Committee. He knew the difficulties which beset localities under the present law. He hoped this Measure would not be considered in any Party spirit by the Scotch Members; and that they would put the Public Health of their country before any consideration of Party advantage.
§ MR. LEONARD COURTNEY (Cornwall, Bodmin)
said he was conscious of the temerity of an Englishman intruding in this Debate. But one or two references had been made to the conduct of a similar discussion a few years ago, and he ventured on that account to intrude. His hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeen said he had recanted from the position he took up in 1894. He believed his hon. Friend was under a mistake. The position he took up in 1894 325 was this. Sir George Trevelyan proposed to set up a Standing Scottish Committee composed of all the Scotch Members. He himself ventured to insist, following the lead of the present Leader of the House, on the prime necessity for making every Standing Committee a reflection of the balance of Parties in the House. It would be impossible to conduct business on any other arrangement than that. He said in 1894 that if they made their Grand Committees correspond with the balance of Parties in the House, then he should be quite ready to consent to putting on the Committee as many Scotch Members as could be put upon it. But when a change was made in 1894 in the direction he indicated, in the composition of the Committee, he at once ceased his opposition. That was not a recantation. In considering the proposal now before them they must remember it would be a precedent. They could not with reference to one section of the House adopt a precedent which I hey were not prepared to follow with respect to other sections. But if they adopted the principle of making the Grand Committee correspond to the balance of Parties in the House, then they could freely go on with that principle in reference to other parts of the kingdom. They had had no expression of opinion from the Government of the real merits of the controversy. As the Lord Advocate had said, if they referred the Bill to a Select Committee as proposed, the Bill would come back to be considered again in Committee of the whole House. But if they referred the Bill to a Standing Committee, they would be saved from the consideration of it in Committee of the whole House. If they had a Standing Committee of 81 Members, and if the Committee were divided according to the balance of Parties, they would have 54 Members from the Government side and 27 from the Opposition side. The latter might be all Scotch Members, while the 54 would include almost every Scotch Member, and would still leave a balance of legal and expert persons sufficient to satisfy the requirements of the hon. Member for Renfrew and also the desires of the Scotch Members opposite. Not everyone desired to be on the Committee, and among the number he believed the hon. Member for West Fife.
§ MR. BIRRELL
I did not express any opinion at all. I rose in order to ingratiate myself with the Committee. [Laughter.]
§ MR. COURTNEY
I understood my him. Friend rose to ingratiate himself so that they should not choose him. [Laughter.]
§ MR. BIRRELL
If you so understood, you quite misconceived my sense of public duty. [Renewed laughter.]
§ MR. COURTNEY
, resuming, said that, at any rate, there were Scotch Members who did not desire to be on the Committee. He suspected his right hon. Friend the Member for Mont rose was one of them. [Several Hon. MEMBERS: "He is one now."] He was not on the Committee he himself had in contemplation. This was not a Party matter, and they might come to an agreement. He appealed to the Leader of the House not to shut the door to an agreement. It was of the greatest possible importance in respect of the conduct of affairs in the House that they should be able to organise Grand Committees which would satisfactorily take business from the House itself, and if they could do that with respect to local Bills, they would be going a great way to facilitate the transaction of business. This was a happy way of introducing the principle once for all of having a Standing' Scotch Committee. If they assented to the principle that such a Committee should be set up they would not only get this Bill passed through, but it would have a good effect in saving the time of the House in future, through the organisation of machinery which would be most useful in regard to other Bills. What was the difficulty of doing it? It offered no inconvenient precedent. The Government of the day would always have command of the Committee, and they might very well start an experiment in connect ion with this Bill which would be most fruitful in the future. He had observed that the Scotch Members who had spoken had not spoken with enthusiasm of the Standing Committee on Law. He thought there were other Scotch Members, without respect to the part of the House in which they sat, who would concede that the adoption of a Scotch Grand Committee on the principle he had laid down would be very satisfactory to them, not only in reference to this Bill, but to the carrying 327 through the House of other Bills dealing with Scotch matters. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ Question put, "That the words 'the Standing Committee on Law, etc' stand part of the Question."—The House divided:—Ayes, 193; Noes, 95.—(Division List, No. 155.)
§ Main Question put, and agreed to. Bill committed to the Standing Committee on Law, Etc.