§ Order for Second Heading read.
Motion made, and Question proposed—
That the Bill be now read a second time.
To leave out the word 'That,' to the end of the Question, in order to add the words, 'no Measure intended to improve the procedure for obtaining Parliamentary powers in matters relating to Scotland can be deemed satisfactory which practically excludes the Parliamentary representatives of Scotland from all part in the hearing of evidence for and against the grant of such powers,' instead thereof."—(Sir Charles Cameron.)
§ SIR C. CAMERON
This is a Bill which in many respects is the same as the Bill brought in last year. The principle of the Bill brought in last year was that it sought to supersede the control of Scotch legislation by Parliament by the control of Departments. And in the case 528 of an opposed Provisional Order, it provided that the Secretary for Scotland, should there be opposition which in his judgment was not vexatious or unreasonable, should direct the inquiry. That is to say, he was to be the judge as to whether there should be an inquiry or not. Then, again, the duty of dispensing the Standing Orders was entrusted to the Lord Ordinary, and in the Bill as amended it is intrusted to a Select Committee and a Member of the Local Government Board for Scotland. In this present Bill Parliamentary control is reasserted and the dispensing of Standing Orders is proposed to be dealt with by the Chairman of Select Committees. In the Bill of 1898 the panel from which the Committees were to be selected to act under this Bill was constructed in the most fantastic fashion. It was to consist of two representatives of Conveners of Counties and Provosts, and the Deputy Clerk Registrar was to decide as to the person elected in case of an equality of votes; the Secretary for Scotland and four representatives of the County Councils, and it provides for a panel of twenty persons and a reserve of ten others, persons qualified by experience of affairs, whatever that phrase may mean. The Secretary for Scotland was to select two persons from the panel. The Sheriff was to be elected Chairman, whose judgment upon points of law was to be final. That was a Constitutional Bill proposed last year. This year there is a very great improvement. The panel is to be struck by the Secretary for Scotland, assisted by the Chairmen of the Select Committees of the House of Lords and the House of Commons, so that in that respect a certain amount of Parliamentary control has been substituted for outside interference. Another improvement in the Bill at present before the House, as compared with the Bill of last Session, is presented in the procedure in cases of opposed Orders. That improvement was embodied in the Bill of last year as amended in Committee upstairs, and deserves some merit. Provisional Orders, as in the other Bill, are granted by the Local Government Board in matters of Gas Supply, Piers and Harbours, Electric Lighting and Tramways, and they are granted by the Scotch Office and Local Government Board for Water Supply, including powers to take Land, 529 Sewers, Roads and Streets under the Burgh Police (Scotland) Act 1892, and Public Health (Scotland) Act 1897, Amalgamation of Burghs, under the Police Act, 1892, and alteration of the number of Burgh Committees, under the Local Government Act of 1889, and in matters of River Pollution under the same Act. Under those respective Acts there were different forms of procedure, so in the Bill of last year it was proposed that a new procedure should be laid down, applicable only to Orders under the Bill itself, and which introduced further confusion and complication in Provisional Orders, greatly to be regretted. An Amendment was introduced in Committee and was adopted, which to a certain extent improved the Bill. It is now proposed with regard to Provisional Orders returned from the Scotch Office, that when they are brought before Parliament, if opposed, they shall be referred to a Joint Committee of both Houses. That is an improvement, but the provision does not go far enough; it leaves the Board of Trade Orders to be dealt with, as they are at present; it leaves Gas, Piers, Harbours, Electric Lighting and Tramways just where they are. I do not know why these Orders should not be taken over by the Scotch Office. There is no reason why Parliament should keep up this confusion for the benefit of the Board of Trade. We dislike the intrusion of English Departments into the management of Scotch affairs. Take an example of it. Take the case of Education. Do any honourable Members think that the Education Committee here control Education in Scotland? Not a bit; but when you come to Industrial Schools and Reformatories the English system is adopted. In the case of Woods and Forests, again, the English Department is constantly interfering, and the Board of Agriculture with its Muzzling Order in Scotland has not achieved any greater popularity. There may be some reason for leaving the question of Light Railroads in the hands of the Board of Trade, but absolutely none for leaving the questions of Piers and Harbours and Local Tramways in the Bill before the House. We are told by the Parent of the Bill that in the case of Railways it is not intended to deal with them by way of Provisional Order, but small local lines would almost certainly be dealt with under this power. If the Commis- 530 sion is to deal with Local Light Railways, why in name of common sense can it not deal with Tramways? I should be obliged if the Lord Advocate would kindly tell me that. Whatever might be the intention of the Bill of last year, the intentions of its promoters was clearly set forth, for it is stated that—It enables Parliamentary powers to be obtained without coining to Westminster if both promoters and opponents are content.I should like to hear from the Lord Advocate whether that assumption of contentedness is to be required in connection with Provisional Orders under the Bill now before the House, or whether, as one would be inclined to assume, it is to be compulsory; and there is to be no exception to it,except under the provisions of this section it shall not be lawful to apply to Parliament for powers which may be obtained by Provisional Order in the terms of this Act.Now I wish to know from the Lord Advocate whether there is any change in the minds of the promoters of the Bill, or whether the same opinion as that set forth in the Memorandum in the Bill of last year is to be taken. If this Act be compulsory, then this Bill takes away an important right from Scotland—the right to petition the House for leave to introduce a Bill, and I think so long as this new scheme remains in the experimental stage an option should be given as was always intended under the Bill of last year. I shall not quote the opinions of the Faculty of Advocates of Edinburgh. But what do the Faculty of Proctors of Glasgow say? They suggest "That the Bill should be altered so as to authorise any persons to apply for a Provisional Order under it for any purpose for which they may at present apply for a Private Bill"; leaving it open to promoters to proceed by Private Bill if they desire. An extension of the Provisional Order system on those lines would be a great boon to both the promoters and opponents of Private Bills, the great majority of which are either unopposed or only opposed on matters of detail, which promoters would still have the option of proceeding by Private Bill where a serious contest was expected. It would further relieve the Secretary and Chairman from the duty of deciding the somewhat difficult question of the character or magnitude of particular measures, and in practice would be found to be more 531 useful than the scheme set out in the Bill. I entirely concur with what Lord Morley said, and I trust that the Bill may be altered, at all events, in the sense that as long as the scheme proposed remains in an experimental stage, this option shall be given to promoters and opponents of Bills, as was clearly intended in the Memorandum of the Bill last year. I have said that the Bill has been amended largely by the excision of a great deal of officialism connected with it. But I think that there is still far too much officialism in it. There is too much Secretary of Scotland in it. It is all very well to rejoice in having a Secretary for Scotland, a noble lord who from his elevated position may be considered not to be influenced by any local feelings and jealousies, and who is answerable to no constituency. But it is not always so. Under the last Administration the Secretary for Scotland was Member for the constituency I have the honour to represent. I shall not pursue the analogy further, lest it be thought that having established myself in his place as Member for the constituency, I wish to establish myself also in the other office. Scotland was moved to the depths by the report that she was about to lose Lord Balfour of Burleigh, and that he was about to proceed to the far East to fulfil some important post. I do not know whether that emotion was owing to the prospect which such a bereavement would inflict on the country. But assuming that his Lordship had gone to the East, and that his place had been filled up by the honourable Member for Partick, or by the honourable Member for South Lanarkshire—and both are very possible and very satisfactory men—do you for a moment suppose that if a Provisional Order was brought forward in which Glasgow had interests on one side, and Par-tick had interests on the other—do you think it possible for public confidence to find faith in the doings of the Secretary for Scotland, who would judge of the propriety of going on with the Provisional Order, or modifying it, or stopping it, while ho was representing one of the constituencies whose interests were involved, and it may be whose warm feelings were enlisted on the one side or the other? There is, I say again, far too much Secretary for Scotland in the Bill. But my cardinal objection to the Bill is in the con- 532 stitution of the panel. It is true that it is an improvement on last year, which was certainly about as ingenious a departure from everything connected with the business of Parliament as mortal mind could have devised. There is an improvement in the Bill in this respect this year. Two responsible Parliamentary officers, the Chairman of the Committees of Ways and Means in the House of Commons and the Chairman of Committees of the House of Lords, are associated with the Secretary for Scotland in the selection of the panel. But what are the Chairmen to do? I believe the Chairman in the House of Lords is not merely the Chairman of the Committee of Selection, but is the Committee of Selection itself. I believe it is he who allocates the peers on the various Committees. But in this House what has the Chairman of Ways and Means got to do with the appointment of the Members of Committees? Nothing at all. The appointment is made by the Committee of Selection. In any case, why should we have the Chairmen of Committees to select a panel? What is the duty the Ghairman of Committees is to perform? He may be supposed to have some know-ledge of the Members of Parliament, and he may be presumed to be able to say that this honourable Gentleman or that would be a good man for the panel. But the panel that is proposed to be constituted is one in which Members of Parliament figure to a small extent indeed. It is to be constituted of "persons qualified by experience of affairs," but Mr. Hooley would have been eligible to serve on the panel under that definition. The Secretary for Scotland was questioned before the Committee upstairs by the ex-Attorney General as to the composition of the panel.What," he was asked, "do you contemplate would be the class of persons who would be appointed for the panel?And his Lordship replied—They may be the best men one gets upon County and City Councils, and it might possibly be that some Members of the House of Commons who had cither retired or had lost their seats, and had a certain amount of experience, might be willing to do this class of work.His Lordship was again questioned by the Chairman of the Select Committee:Does your Bill contemplate that these questions relating to matters in Scotland should be tried by Scotchmen and by Scotchmen exclusively?533 His Lordship replied—It is not absolutely necessary that they should be Scotchmen; but I think the majority would be.Now you see that the noble Lord contemplates, as an improvement on the best men of the City Councils and the County Councils, discarded or retired Members of Parliament, and that these should be Scotchmen. But what Parliament wants is not men. qualified by experience of affairs generally, but men qualified by experience in Parliamentary affairs. Under the Bill, 'however, it is proposed that Members of Parliament shall have a very infinitesimal share in the work. The proposal is that the Secretary for Scotland, with the Chairmen of the two Houses of Parliament, is to nominate a panel of twenty-five men, qualified by their experience of affairs. And the Bill goes on to say that the Secretary for Scotland and the two Chairmen of Committees shall nominate these men from the panel for each Commission. But, Sir, it is provided further that two of the members of the Commission shall not be Mortimers of Parliament, but paid members, and it provides still further, that the third may be a paid member, and therefore there may be no Member of Parliament at all on the Commission. Was there ever such a proposition made before, that Parliament should delegate its functions altogether to some inchoate body, of whose composition nobody knows anything except that to the extent of one in three it cannot contain a single Member of either House of the Legislature?
§ * THE LORD ADVOCATE (MR. GRAHAM MURRAY,) Buteshire
The honourable Member will pardon me for interrupting him for a moment. There is an error about that. Under the Bill there must be two Commissioners not being Members of either House of Parliament, who may be paid. That is a Treasury Clause, but it does not mention that there cannot be more than one Member of Parliament on any Commission.
§ SIR C. CAMERON
I am very glad to get that admission from the right honourable and learned Gentleman. I have read the clause again and again, and I can make out of it no other meaning than what I have stated. I do not intend to discuss mere words. What 534 I want to get at is the intention of the Government. If what the right honourable and learned Gentleman has just stated is the intention of the Government it is a distinct improvement on my interpretation of the clause. What would be the course to be pursued in the selection of the Commission? I was a member of the Council of Selection in this House for many years, but I do not want to say anything about its procedure, except what has been stated by the right honourable Gentleman the Chairman of Committees, whose absence from the House at the present time everyone regrets. He told the Committee upstairs that Scotch Members were never put on Committees to consider Scotch Bills. That is a very simple rule, and one which probably Scotch Members do not object to, for they get free from all the annoyances in canvassing in connection with these Bills. I do not think that anything would be more likely than that the Chairman of Committees would pursue the course which has been so long followed by the Committee of Selection in this matter. In that case Scotch Members would be altogether absolutely excluded from hearing the evidence in connection with the inquiries into Provisional Orders under this Bill. Even if the rule was not to apply, look at the proportion the Scotch Members bear to the entire membership of the House. They are one in ten, and that means that their chance of having a look in at these inquiries on legislative matters exclusively relating to Scotland would be something like one in every ten Commissions. The Chairman of Committee of Ways and Means gave some interesting evidence to the Committee upstairs. He informed the Committee! that he had gone over all Scotch private Bills last session. There were twenty-one of them, and of these twelve might have been dealt with by way of Provisional Order had the Bill passed through Parliament in its then shape. Well, if you had a separate Commission for each of these Provisional Orders that would give something like one and a-half Scotch Members and one and a -half Scotch Peers per annum a small share in connection with these Commissions. But if the Provisional Orders were grouped, as most probably would be the case, and, if each group were dealt with by one Commission, then that would further reduce the share of Scotch Members of Parliament in 535 regard to a very important portion of Scotch legislation. I hold if Parliament is to delegate its functions, it should delegate them to Members of its own body. This was the principle recognised by the right honourable the First Lord of the Treasury in the Bill which he introduced in 1892, dealing with private legislation in Ireland as well as in Scotland. In that Bill he proposed to set up a. Commission of Revision consisting of the Chairmen of the Committees of the two Houses, two Peers, and two Members of this House— in each case the Members of each House to be chosen by the Committee of Selection. That is the line on which all delegation from the House should go. Lord Balfour of Burleigh said to the Committee last year that a more satisfactory tribunal than any other could be formed of Members of both Houses. The Member for Wigtownshire, addressing his Lordship, said—I understand you to say that in itself you would have no objection to a Committee drawn from a panel of the Members of both Houses, and that the Commissioners should consist of a Joint Committee drawn from a pane! of both Houses.His Lordship replied—I do not see any objection on principle to that.Then the Member for Wigtownshire pressed his Lordship—Could not I get you to say a little more: that it would be the best possible tribunal that could be constituted?Lord Balfour said—I think it would be a very good tribunal, but I am rather hopeless upon the question of its being practically possible.But if it could be got?asked the Member for Wigtownshire. Lord Balfour—If it could be got I should be glad to see it put into the Bill, and the Bill passed.The Member for Wigtownshire—And it would probably command in Scotland a greater confidence than would be extended to any other tribunal?Lord Balfour—I think that if the Bill were to be passed with that tribunal it would be well received in Scotland.
§ SIR C. CAMERON
That is exactly my point; and I am very glad to see that the Lord Advocate agrees with the Scotch Secretary on it also. The sole objection to it was said to be the difficulty of getting Members of Parliament 536 to serve on these Commissions; and that was based upon the evidence given by the then Chairman of the Committee of Selection on a point which appears to me to be altogether wide of the mark. The right honourable Gentleman gave evidence to the effect that there was considerable and growing difficulty experienced in getting Members to serve on private Bill Committees. He went on to say that there was no difficulty in getting Members to serve on Select Committees and on Royal Commissions and Departmental Committees, the work of which imposed a greater inroad on their time, and put them to much greater inconvenience than in the case of Private Bill Committees of the House. But what is the reason of that? The reason is the utter weariness of the work of the Private Bill Committees. Except in the case of the Chairman of the Committee, who is of some importance, other Members associated with him practically take no part in the proceedings except to listen, and very often they know nothing of the places to which the Bills before them refer. Probably they have not sat on a Bill of the same sort before, and they are compelled to sit right up to lunch time listening to reiterated evidence, of little or no interest. No wonder they do not like to serve on these Private Bill Committees. It is said that they send to the Chairman of the Selection Committee to excuse themselves. Of course they do. We know that every man, after he has been a few years in Parliament when he gets a note from the Secretary of the Committee of Selection asking him to serve on some Private Bill Committee, will reply that it will be more convenient for him to serve at the end of the Session. They are eager, however, to serve on Select Committees, because the subject interests them, and on Royal Commissions, because that confers on them a certain amount of importance, and they can do good work on them for the country, and therefore they do not grumble at the sacrifice of time. There is a good deal of human nature in Members of Parliament. They do not care for the wearisome, monotonous drudgery and the constant and imperative work of the Private Bill Committee-. without even having as much as the consolation of a newspaper paragraph. But put them in the position to do useful work; let them go down to Scotland to look after some important measure or 537 Scotch Office Provisional Order Bills, and they would not complain. I believe it is a libel on the patriotism of the Scottish Members of both Houses to say that there will be any difficulty to get three or four men to serve on the panel. After all, what is the work of Private Bill Committees? It appears from the return issued last year that only 154 Members out of the whole House of Commons served at all during the preceding Session on Private Bill Committees, and that the average of their work was nine and a third days each. That is not killing. But, said the Chairman of the Committee of Selection, Members, if they were asked to serve on Provisional Orders Commission, might object on the ground that it is not in their bond; and that they did not engage to go in for that sort of work. But Parliament does not last for ever; and if they did not engage in the last election they would engage at the nest election, or their constituents would know the reason why. As to the House of Lords, I do not know that anyone supposes its Members are overworked, and that a few extra days per annum would be any great hardship for them. Now, I quite agree with the Secretary for Scotland in the evidence he gave before the Select Committee last year, that the Commission should be composed of Members who have no interest in the locality to which the Provisional Order applies. That must be so. But if you can get County Councillors and Town Councillors, and retired or defeated Members of Parliament who are still Scotchmen sufficiently free from interest to form the Commission, surely among ail the Scotch Members and Scotch Peers you could get men equally devoid of interest in the particular corner of Scotland to which the Provisional Order might apply. I do not believe there will be any difficulty in the matter. At the worst, if the Bill is set up with a proper Parliamentary panel, such as I speak of, and if you could not get a sufficient number of Members to serve it would be time enough to try something else. To commence at once by subverting the whole principle of Parliamentary delegation is beginning at the wrong end. In the discussions last year the Lord Advocate twitted me with having criticised the proposed panel, but with having made no contribution towards the solution of the objections I had raised to it. I venture now to make such a contribution which may be accepted or re- 538 jected. The Secretary for Scotland must have a panel. He will not be happy till he gets it. In 1898 the proposal was that the Conveners of Counties and Provosts and Lord Provosts of the Burghs should nominate a panel, and that the Secretary for Scotland was to select two from that panel to form a Commission. Now, the Chairman of Committees and the Scotch Secretary are to nominate the panel of twenty-five, and then, by some hanky-panky, to select two or three men out of the twenty-five. He does not at all know what the men are to be. They should be Scotchmen, although that is not absolutely necessary. And they should be men experienced in affairs, although a considerable number of them, at ail events, those best paid, will not be Members of Parliament at all. Now, why should the noble Lord go wandering through these unconstitutional paths in search of this panel or that? The system of Parliamentary delegation is quite well understood in Parliament, and has worked satisfactorily for many years. Parliament is extremely jealous of delegation to Private Bill Committees. It was customary often to appoint an official referee to strengthen a Committee. At any rate, that was said by courtesy to be the reason of the appointment. Many years ago a question of an official referee voting on a Private Bill Committee, and affecting the decision of that Committee, was brought before the House by my then colleague, Mr. Anderson, and the House disallowed the referee's vote, and from that day to this a referee has never been allowed to vote on a Private Bill Committee. As I have said, I would have been content with a Parliamentary Committee or a Parliamentary delegation to make the inquiry proposed under this Bill. I would go further than the noble Lord the Secretary for Scotland, who wants Scotchmen on these Commissions. Why not let the Scottish Constituencies select their own Parliament panel? They have done so already by sending up to this House seventy-two Members to look after their interests in Private as well as Public Bill legislation. Why not allow them to select? In the House of Lords, Scotland is also represented by the Representative Peers, and if they are not sufficient they could be added to. The Representative Peers and the whole of the Members returned to this House would constitute a grand panel. Then lot the 539 Committee of Selection in each House apportion these honourable Members and noble Lords into district panels, taking care to choose men who are not personally or directly interested in any particular district, to constitute the panel for that district. Let the Secretary for Scotland divide Scotland into groups of counties, two or three groups will suffice, and when he comes to apportion the panels in this group of counties or that, let the Committee of Selection, if the House is sitting, nominate the men to be sent on the Commission; and if the House is not sitting, you would fall back on the machinery of the Bill, and allow the Scottish Secretary and the Chairmen of Committees to make the nomination. As the two Houses are co-ordinate in their powers, the Chairmen of the Commissions could be alternately nominated from the one House and the other. As I have said before, it is a gross libel on the Scottish Members to say that there would be any difficulty in getting them to serve on this panel. Last year there were twelve Bills which would have been Provisional Orders under the present scheme, and the work divided between the Scottish Members, and probably fifty Scottish Peers, would have been a mere bagatelle. In cases where the Government thought that the question to be dealt with was of such technical difficulty or importance as to require assistance, by all means let the Secretary for Scotland appoint an official referee. Let him sit along with the Commission, but do not let him vote on the Commission. In this way the traditions of Parliament would be maintained, and the ambition of the Secretary for Scotland to have Scotchmen on these Commissions of inquiry would be realised. And the new departure, as to the desirability of which most of us are agreed, would then be carried out in a way that would command the confidence of the country, instead of being committed to a tribunal without form and void, comprising, it may be, not a single Member of Parliament, imposing an unnecessary charge upon the Exchequer, and nominated as it would be practically by the Departments of Government, instead of by the recognised machinery of the Upper and Lower Houses of Parliament. I beg to move the amendment standing in my name.
§ DR. CLARK (Caithness)
I have great pleasure in seconding the 540 Motion of my honourable Friend the Member for Camlachie. This is probably the most revolutionary, and, to use the word in its normal meaning, the most unconstitutional Bill ever introduced into this House, either by the Government or by a private Member. I do not think, so far as the principle of the Bill is concerned, that anybody has ever asked for it—not even Mr. Vary Campbell. If you want to know where the whole machinery of the Bill comes from you have only to read the evidence of Mr. Vary Campbell before the Committee of Lords and Commons. But even Mr. Vary Campbell had not the audacity to suggest to the Joint Committee what the Government are now proposing to this House. They have produced many revolutionary things before this House, but this is by far the most revolutionary of all their propasals. I well remember the present Lord Justice General ten or a dozen years ago, when he was Lord Advocate, bringing in a Bill with a plan of his own. I took great credit to myself, after listening to the then Lord Advocate's speech, of becoming a party to that Bill, because he told us that there was a strong feeling in Scotland in favour of Home Rule, at any rate, in favour of Private Bill Legislation Home Rule. I have always thought, and I think now, that there is a strong feeling in Scotland in favour of Public Bill Legislation Home Rule. The Lord Advocate then told us that the Government meant to deal with the question in four different Bills, and that that was the first. That Bill got into Committee, and, we spent many weeks upstairs over it. We had to come downstairs to get special rules to guide us, and to abrogate the old rules which then governed the work of Committees. The result was that a compromise was attempted, and my right honourable Friend the present Leader of the Opposition then, on behalf of the Scotch Members, made a proposal to the Government which, if they had adopted, would have disposed of the question on terms that would have been satisfactory to everybody in the House and everybody in Scotland except Mr. Vary Campbell and the Parliament-house clique who wanted the £3,000 a year appointment. These gentlemen thought they would be able to rush the scheme through, but they were unable to do so. And what was the other 541 reason? The other reason which has been put forward in favour of a change in Private Bill Procedure is, that the present system is too costly. The part of the Bill objected to is a small item, viz., expenses of bailies and town councillors coming to London. Bailies and town councillors are like Members of Parliament. As my honourable Friend said, they have their weaknesses, and one of their weaknesses is to come here and have a nice holiday while promoting a Bill or opposing a. Bill. I think there ought to be local inquiry. Unfortunately, however, all the methods proposed by the Government of the day during the last dozen years—with the exception of the Bill suggested in 1892, but never read a, second time—have been based on radically bad lines like the present Bill. Now, what does the present Bill do? I may say that from the time that the Joint Committee of Lords and Commons sat in 1884 or 1885 until now we have endeavoured in all legislation, both when we were in power and opposition, to make it unnecessary for either Town Councils or other public bodies to come to Parliament at all. We have really been in favour of what is good in this Bill, namely, the giving to Government Departments the right of granting Provisional Orders upon the old lines. I understand that the Government and the Lord Advocate are desirous of passing the Bill just as Mr. Disraeli did a certain Bill in 1867, when I think Lord Derby said that the only word in the Bill that remained since it was brought in was the word "whereas." If that is the case, I am quite willing to support the amendment of my honourable Friend, and give the House1 or the Committee1 the chance of "licking" the Bill into shape. Now, since the inquiry of 1884 a great deal has been done to prevent the Bills of Town Councils coming to Parliament by providing for local inquiries before the Sheriffs on a number of matters. In 1889 the Local Government Bill was brought in, giving great powers to Local Authorities. We wanted to give to Local Authorities the power to take land compulsorily for public purposes by Provisional Order, but the then Government opposed it. Since then they have given way. Then we had the Public Health Bill, 1897. Now any public body can, by Provisional Order, secure a supply of water and acquire land, without the aid 542 of Parliament, and the same power is given in regard to sewers, roads and things of that kind by Provisional Orders also. By the Housing of the Working Classes Act and other measures we have increased the power of the Local Authorities, and even Parish Councils have the right to take land for the recreation of the people. Fifteen or twenty years ago, therefore, there was much more reason for a Bill of this kind; because at that time the Local Government and other Public Health Bills had not- been passed. But what I would like to see would be that principle extended, and in so far as this Bill will extend it, the measure is worth considering. But what is the principle of this Bill? It is difficult to discover what it is, because you have got so many questions concerned in it. It seems to me that the biggest principle is that it takes away from Scotchmen the right of coming to Parliament to have a grievance redressed or to obtain improvements. Englishmen, Irishmen and Welshmen will still be able to come to Parliament, and this House will still be able to pass Private Acts of Parliament for England, Ireland, and Wales, but it will cease to pass any Act, except under most exceptional circumstances, for Scotland. We shall have a voice in English, Welsh, and Irish private affairs, but none at all in our own. This is a very curious condition of affairs. I say that the principle of the Bill is to take away our right of coming here, and to make us go somewhere else. What will be the effcet on Parliament? It will take from Parliament the inherent right to determine whether certain things shall be done or not—a right which has never been given up until the present time—and vest it in the Secretary for Scotland. The source of all legislation in this country, from the commencement of Parliaments until now, has been this Parliament, and you are now asked by a. Conservative Government to take away all the powers you now have, and place them in the hands of the Secretary for Scotland. The Bill is a blow at the principle of central government, and if it is carried Parliament will have to surrender its right to legislate. The right to legislate will be placed in the hands of the Secretary for Scotland, who will determine whether certain monopolies and concessions shall be given or withheld. When persons come to Parlia- 543 ment for a Private Bill, they invariably ask for some monopoly, some concession, some special right; and if this Bill had been limited to measures brought forward by public bodies—Town Councils, County Councils, and bodies of that kind—I for one would not have opposed it. We must, however, remember that from 1887 to 1897 practically 300 Bills came before Parliament, one set being Railway Bills, another Corporation Bills, and another Bills giving concessions and monopolies. Now we place in the hands of the Secretary for Scotland alone the right to determine whether certain privileges and monopolies shall be given. But what is the scheme? The scheme is that the Secretary for Scotland and the two Chairmen of Committees shall first appoint a panel composed of men of experience of affairs. Well, I do not know the extent of the work of the Chairman of the House of Lords, but the work of the Chairman of the House of Commons is very hard indeed, and if there is any real work attached to the duties you propose to place upon him, you are placing it in the hands of a person who cannot do it. Now the present Chairmen of Committees are Englishmen, and I do not know that even the Secretary for Scotland has much experience of affairs in Scotland. It is not therefore probable that these three gentlemen can personally know anything of the men they are going to appoint. Some of our Secretaries for Scotland do not know very much about Scotland, so that the result will be that they will be very much in the hands of the permanent officials. The panel is to be appointed for five years. In trying an experiment of this kind the panel should not be appointed for more than one year, or at most for three. It appears to be desired that two-thirds of the panel shall consist of men out of Parliament, and one-third of those in Parliament, because arrangements are to be made for the payment of two Members out of three. Men appointed will hold local inquiries, and then report to the Secretary for Scotland, who may modify the decision as much as he pleases. Then comes a very curious condition of affairs. The men who have opposed a Provisional Order locally may desire to oppose it at Westminster, but they have no right to do so. Their rights have been abrogated by the Secretary for Scotland. I am not sure that we 544 require to make our Chairmen in the future much more partisan than they have been in the past, but this system will rather play into the hands of the other side, because the Chairmen of Committees, whether we have a Liberal Government in power or a Conservative Government, will, in the other House, belong to one Party. Now, what ought to have been done in a case of this kind? One would have thought that a Constitutional or Conservative Government would make changes tentatively; that they would bit by bit give them a, trial. Instead of this we have got a revolutionary measure brought in. The Bill is the skeleton of certain proposals, but we have not the machinery for carrying them out. I hope we shall have this machinery before the Third Reading and the report stage, so that we can understand the rules which are to be framed in connection with the measure. At the present time it is very difficult for anyone to understand it. I happen to know something of the way in which the system of giving power to Ministers to grant concessions works in other countries, such as Belgium, Norway, and France. You have always associated with it terrible scandals, and I have no doubt whatever that if this Bill passed we should have as many scandals here. I have been a Member of this House for many years, and I have never heard the slightest whisper about honourable Members' votes being influenced by interests until lately. But now we ought to be frank. Lately two cases have occurred—one on the great oil question and another on the telephone question. We have had the case of a gentleman who was Postmaster-General arranging the licence for giving a private company a monopoly, and, very unfortunately and unwisely, I think, he joined the directorate of that company afterwards. That is a type of the scandal to which I refer.
§ SIR C. DALRYMPLE (Ipswich)
May I ask, Sir, what the honourable Gentleman means by a type of scandal with reference to the case he has mentioned? My right honourable Friend was Postmaster-General when the concession was granted to the Telephone Company, but it was not till four years afterwards that he became a director. I want to' know what the honourable Member means by the words "a type of scandal" connected with this matter?
§ DR. CLARK
I have said that you have had in countries where this system exists Ministers giving concessions to companies and causing scandals, and I said that the right honourable Gentleman gave a concession of monopoly to the National Telephone Company and afterwards joined the Board of that company, and that he has been putting questions and acting on behalf of that same company in this House. I am only stating a fact.
§ SIR C. DALRYMPLE
I want to know, Sir, what the honourable Gentleman means by a scandal in connection with the matter to which he has referred. I have nothing to do with what happens in foreign countries. What I want to know is what the honourable Gentleman means by a, scandal in connection with the Telephone Company. He has taken an illustration, and I want to know what is the ground for the statement he has made in connection with that illustration.
§ MR. STUART WORTLEY (Sheffield, Hallam)
On a point of order, Sir, may I ask, whether the honourable Gentleman's illustration has any relevancy whatever to the Second Reading of this Bill; and whether, even assuming it to be accurate, it has any reference to the subject of the Bill?
§ * MR. SPEAKER
I did not catch the word "scandal" when it was used, or the reference in which it was used, because an honourable Member happened to be asking me a question at the moment; but the matter which the honourable Member is now going into seems to me very remote from the Bill. As regards the explanation which the honourable Member has just given of his meaning, he has not in that explanation said anything unparliamentary, and I am not in a position to call him to order for that; 546 but I think he had better devote himself to the question before the House.
§ SIR C. DALRYMPLE
I beg to ask you, Mr. Speaker, whether, under cover of an illustration in reference to a matter very remote from the subject in hand, the honourable Gentleman is at liberty to suggest that there was something in the nature of a scandal in connection with the conduct of a. Member of this House who is a, Privy Councillor, who happened to be Postmaster-General at the time the contract was made with the National Telephone Company, and who is now absent from this House? I desire to ask, what is the scandal which the honourable Member in his very far-fetched illustration refers to in connection with my right honourable Friend?
§ * MR. SPEAKER
To speak of an honourable Member's conduct, with reference to a particular matter in which his honour is assumed to be involved, as a scandal is, I think, an offensive and unparliamentary expression, and if used ought to be withdrawn. The honourable Gentleman has a, perfect right to deal with the conduct of any honourable Member in this House, but he must do so in language which is parliamentary and on an occasion when it is relevant.
§ SIR C. DALRYMPLE
I beg to ask, Sir, whether the honourable Gentleman is not aggravating the case rather than improving it by suggesting that I am fighting hard for the reputation of my right honourable relative?
§ DR. CLARK
I withdraw that phrase unreservedly, and I apologise to the honourable Baronet for using it. Let me explain the words I used. I said I had never heard until lately any whisper of this kind of thing. I did not offer any opinion regarding the action of the right honourable Gentleman, but I contended that if you place officials in a position where their private interests and public duty——
§ * MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! If the honourable Baronet refers to the same 547 facts, he referred to before and says these are types of scandal, he is acting contrary to my ruling. I must ask him to withdraw, and I beg he will not repeat the expression.
§ DR. CLARK
Then, Sir, I withdraw the statement altogether. I withdraw the argument. I had no intention of reflecting on the right honourable Gentleman. He is a gentleman I have great respect for in many ways, and he has a large experience in this House. He has been a Minister, and I am very glad to have this opportunity of saying that in using the words "this type of scandal" I did not mean to say that what he had done was a scandal.
§ MR. COCHRANE (Ayrshire, N.)
Mr. Speaker, in the few remarks that I will venture to address to the House, I shall try to confine myself as closely as possible to the Debate in which we are engaged, and that is the Second Reading of this Bill, and to avoid those details which should be discussed in Committee, but which, I think, honourable Members are apt to be led into on an occasion such as this. Mr. Speaker, an impression is gaining ground in this country that honourable Members on this side of the House are, in consequence of the Debate which took place last year, somewhat lukewarm in their interest in this Bill. I think that is a very erroneous impression. It probably arose because we were many of us anxious that the Bill should pass, and with that view we abstained from speaking upon it in the hope that we should facilitate its passage into law. As far as I was concerned, I was very anxious to speak on this Bill, but for the reason I have mentioned, and also because I was obliged to> attend an engagement in Scotland, I was unable to take part in the discussion. Sir, I do not think the opposition to the Bill was of a very formidable character. No doubt honourable Members who represent large interests in Scotland, and who thus have special means of ascertaining the views of those particular interests, expressed opinions which were tinged to a certain extent by the views represented to them by their boards and shareholders, but I do not believe those feelings are held by the people of Scotland in general. I think the very strongest opposition to this Bill last year came from honourable 548 and learned Members on this side. I think honourable and learned Members on either side have some of those qualities which are always, or often, attributed to Scotch people, and that is, that they are very canny. Their view, without imputing to them any motives which are not strictly in order, may be affected if they think some Members of their profession will be injured. Well now, Sir, the honourable Baronet the Member for Bridgeton (Sir Charles Cameron), who addressed the House, alluded in his interesting speech, in which he went into many details, to the opinion of the honourable Baronet the Member for Oxford University (Sir John Mowbray); and he endeavoured, if he will allow me to say so, rather to distort that opinion into one hostile to the provisions of this Bill. But, Sir, I do not think that the words themselves will bear such an interpretation.
§ MR. COCHRANE
Perhaps I misunderstood the honourable Baronet. But I thought the right honourable Baronet distinctly gave his weight and opinion in favour of some such delegation such as that which we are now discussing, because, after discussing the difficulties of the present system, and after paying well-deserved tributes to Members who serve on Committees, he said he thought there must be a change, and that sooner or later Parliament would have to transfer its jurisdiction on, private Bills to some external tribunal. I think then that this Bill is fortified by the opinion of the right honourable Baronet, who carries more weight on questions of this kind than most other Members. The honourable baronet opposite drew a picture of the difficulties of attending Select Committees upstairs, and he pointed out the loss which honourable Members suffer in not being able to obtain satisfactory luncheons, and also of being deprived of paragraphs in the papers. I do not think that those arguments will weigh very strongly in this House; but when the honourable Baronet went on to say that Scotland now selects its own panel, and deals with its own Private Bills, I think that is far from the practice of this House. I will read a list of Scotch Private Bills which now await consideration. They are the Ayr Burghs, Edinburgh Corporation, Highland Water, and Leith Harbour and 549 Dock Bills, and I cannot see that in any of these Bills Scotland selects its own panel, because, as a matter of fact, there is not one single Scotchman sitting in any of the Committees.
§ SIR C. CAMERON
I do not think the honourable Gentleman need pursue that line of argument. I said exactly the opposite. I said that Scottish Members were not on Scotch Committees.
§ MR. COCHRANE
Then I think this Bill will be a distinct improvement, because, under it there will be an opportunity for Scottish. Members and Scotsmen to consider Scotch Private Bills. A great deal has been said as to the opinion in Scotland one way or another. It would be too much to say that Scotland is unanimous, and I do not suggest that we shall ever be unanimous on any single point, but there is a very strong feeling in Scotland in favour of the principle of this proposal. A conference sat in Edinburgh last year which was attended by men of very considerable weight, who all declared themselves unanimously in favour of the principle of this Bill, and I believe there is a general and universal feeling that small Scottish interests which are now apt to be neglected upstairs, would receive their due weight in inquiries held locally. An honourable Member opposite said that this was an Advocates' Bill. I do think the advocates have some grievance in this matter. My heart does not grieve for them, they can possibly take care of themselves; but I think one's sympathy ought to go out to young advocates in Edinburgh, many of them men of considerable energy and ability, who are absolutely briefless, while there is a plethora, of business in a sort of congested district upstairs, in which money is coined just as if it were Klondyke; and when it is proposed to transfer this business to where young Scottish advocates can take a share of it, the temptation to support such a proposal is very strong, and within reasonable limits perfectly legitimate. If Private Bills were relegated to Scotland many capable men would be found to conduct them. There is one point which I wonder Scottish Members have not dealt with more fully, and that is the extravagance of the present system of Private Bill legislation. The report issued last year 550 asked whether it was fair to place on the industries of the country such a, tax as the amount expended on Private Bills. It is really a very serious question that the annual sum expended on fees, as shown on the Report, should leave a net profit of some £32,000 a year, and although it may be quite true to say that a great many of these fees are paid by large railway companies and large industries, they are ultimately paid by those who employ the railway companies and purchase from the industries. But even a more striking point of view has been brought out, and that was an illustration given to the House by an honourable Member, who was well-known to take an enormous interest in. this question. I refer to Mr. Craig Sellar. His reference to the years from 1872 to 1875 was a very striking one. He showed that the expense of Private Bills during that period by promoters amounted to £1,294,000, and he suggested as a reasonable estimate that another million might be added for the expense of the opposers of the Bills. Then that return was further carried down by a return in 1892, showing for the previous six years a very similar state of affairs, and altogether we may come to the conclusion that Scotland spends about £100,000 a year on Private Bills. Some honourable Members say that it is as cheap to conduct a Bill in London as in Glasgow or Edinburgh. Striking evidence on this point was given in a report issued in 1888, which contained figures which went to show the expense of a local inquiry and an inquiry in London. From that return it appears that fifty-four witnesses examined in Glasgow only cost the moderate sum of £105, whereas forty-nine witnesses brought up to London cost £2,380, and sixty-six witnesses brought up on another occasion cost the very large sum of £5,000. There is a very wide margin between £105 for fifty-four witnesses in Glasgow and £5,000 for sixty-six witnesses in London. Then again, in a conference which took place in Edinburgh in the spring of last year, and which was attended by various gentlemen of considerable weight, the President of the Scottish Chamber of Agriculture gave a somewhat striking instance with refer-ance to a Bill which was tried by a Committee upstairs. It was not a very-large Bill, but it cost between £3,000 and £4,000. He himself was a witness, 551 and he said that when he entered the Committee room he saw plans spread out on the wall, and two gentlemen trying to ascertain the course of the Tay. Then he went on to compare the expenditure on the Bill with the cost on local inquiries, such as that held by the Light Railway Commissioners in Perth, which only cost about half the expenditure on the private Bill. Having pointed out the disadvantages of the present system, I would venture to ask whether the present Bill provides the best remedy. This is not a new Bill to any of us. It went through the House of Lords in 1897. It was discussed by a, Committee of the House of Lords, and it was discussed by a Committee of this House last year, and the present Bill is the offspring of these two discussions. It has been blessed in advance by the right honourable Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, who, speaking to his constituents at Dunfermline, gave unqualified praise to the principles of the Bill, and also expressed well-merited confidence in the ability of the Lord Advocate and the noble Lord the Secretary for Scotland to produce a Bill. I hope the Bill will fully meet his views on the question of Private Bill legislation in Scotland. I rather thought I detected a tone of sadness in the speech of the right honourable Gentleman that the Bill was not in his own charge, as he regarded this question of Private Bill Legislation for Scotland as being his own peculiar offspring, and ho rather regretted that the "union of hearts" had been so very chary in legislation as far as Scotland was concerned. This Bill having then been discussed by various Committees, and having, as I think, a very great amount of public opinion behind it, we may for a moment consider whether its provisions are likely to carry out all that we wish. According to the return we have seen, we find it will be applicable to a very large number of cases. The return itself shows that there are thirty-two different headings under which Provisional Orders can be obtained. We know that although a very large number of Provisional Orders are obtained, over 300, very few of them are contested. Only eleven were challenged during the last five years, and in only two cases where challenged were Confirming Orders refused by this House. That is a testimony to the value of Provisional Orders; but the great diffi- 552 culty alluded to by previous speakers is the discovery of an adequate tribunal for inquiring into these Private Bills on the spot. That is really the crux of the position. What we wish is that we should have Commissioners which will command respect, who will not always be changing, but yet be changed often enough to meet with the wants of the country. The country itself is constantly changing. New railways, electricity, telephones, applications for water power, are wanted all over the country, and it would be a great mistake to have stereotyped and hide-bound Commissioners. One blot on the Bill of last year was that the direct influence of Parliament was not sufficiently represented on the panel. This year I think the Government have hit on a very happy medium which, with one very slight improvement, would satisfy all legitimate views in this direction. As I understand the Bill, the Secretary for Scotland and the two Chairmen of Committees are to select the panel of twenty-five gentlemen to serve as Commissioners, and, as far as I understand the Bill—the Lord Advocate will no doubt correct me if I am wrong— every Member of Parliament who wishes to serve as a Commissioner must be nominated on this panel among the twenty-five. That, in my opinion, would leave a very small proportion of representatives from this House. My right honourable Friend interjected a remark in reply to a question by the honourable Baronet in which he said that although only two Commissioners will be paid, it was quite possible to have more than two Members of Parliament serving on a Commission, but if only four or five Members are elected for the panel it will be a very difficult thing to have two or three cut of the number on every single Commission appointed. If my right honourable Friend would go a little step further and keep the panel apart from the panel of this House, and would allow the Committee of Selection to select Members on that panel, to supplement the other Commissioners, I think that would increase the interest and control which honourable Members of this House have in Committee work, and it would overcome very many of the objections in regard to Scottish Members not being sufficiently represented on the Commissions I hope I have made myself clear on that point to my right honourable Friend. The honour- 553 able Baronet suggested that there would be a difficulty in honourable Members serving in Scotland. I do not think he need have any apprehension on that point. As he himself said, we all are very patriotic, and where duty calls us we shall no doubt be willing to pack up our golf sticks and take a share in the local work committed to us. I really hope that this Measure, with the very alight alteration I have suggested, will pass into law. I think it will simplify procedure, give an increased interest in various local matters, safeguard smaller interests, and finally, and one of its chief merits, which I do not suppose will attract any sympathy on the other side of the House, it will take away any weight that ever attached to the fantastic proposal which sometimes emanated from the other side of the House "of Home Rule All Round." I will gladly support this Bill.
* MR. T. SHAW (Hawick Burghs)
Mr. Speaker, I welcome the testimony conveyed by the speech of the honourble Gentleman who has just spoken, that the fact is now acknowledged that the Scottish Members are not unwilling to serve on local inquiries in Scotland itself. That was a very great difficulty in the way, and it was thought by some high constitutional authorities that it was an objection that really could not be overcome, and that it would be an impossibility to find representatives from Scotland to serve on those Committees. I am rejoiced to find now that the consensus of opinion is that the contrary is the case. One of the observations of the honourable Gentleman was that this Bill practically before it came into existence was blessed by my right honourable Friend and Leader. Now this Bill is like every other Bill upon this topic. The Bill of this year is radically different from the Bill of the year before, and I do not think the honourable Gentleman will be able to extract from any observations made by my right honourable Friend a blessing in anticipation of a Measure he had never seen. The subject before us is one of very great importance to Parliamentary procedure itself, and certainly to Scotland, even on constitutional grounds. It is quite true, as the honourable Gentleman has just remarked, that Scotland has considered and reconsidered this subject, and has come to a settled 554 conclusion; but I would beg the House to observe what are the limits to that conclusion. So far as I have been able to discover in Scotland, the conclusion has been almost universally in favour of the substitution for the present system of a system of local inquiry. But there unanimity, so far as my experience goes, stops, and when we come to the constitution of the tribunal which was to be substituted for a Parliamentary Committee, then indeed we are on delicate and much-contested ground. Scotland is very willing, and indeed very anxious, to have a system of local inquiry, but only on condition that the substituted tribunal should be a strong and impartial tribunal and should really and truly represent the mind of Parliament itself. For my own part I would venture to recommend to the House and to my honourable Friends near me, to accept the Second Reading of this Bill, in the hope and trust that the Government will approach it in a non-Party spirit, in order to avoid danger on the subject of the tribunal. I do not need to affirm that a local inquiry would be better than an inquiry at Westminster. The honourable Gentleman has cited certain figures, showing the expense of the present system. I think, however, that might be an exaggerated consideration. Where I find expense is likely to be saved is in one particular, and one particular chiefly, and that is that one inquiry should be substituted for two. I think there will be a real saving of cost in that respect. But it is most unfortunate that this Bill in all contested enquiries makes elaborate and somewhat confused preparations for a double inquiry. I find very high constitutional grounds taken up by certain objectors to this Bill. It is said, for some reason or other, that the Government have resolved to deprive Scotland of her right to petition Parliament. I am bound to say I cannot agree. It appears to me that the real meaning of the Measure in that particular is that Scotland is not deprived of her right to petition Parliament, but that the Bill suggests that that right should be exercised through a fresh channel and under a fresh name, viz., the Provisional Order system. But no existing right would be curtailed. The real trouble of the Bill begins at section 2. We had expected that there would be full and ample treatment of the subject of Private Bill legislation. But we find in section 2 555 that there is a very considerable limit instantly put on the scope of the reform, and I question whether the agitation in Scotland, such as it is, and it seems an agitation within definite limits, and within certain peculiar channels, would ever have taken shape or assumed anything like national dimensions if it had been thought that at the will of either Chairman of either House of Parliament there could be imposed a most serious impairment of the scope of these local inquiries. And yet I am bound to say that that is nothing more nor less than what the Section describes. I think the, merits of the Bill are contained in the first part of the 6th section, which provides for local inquiry, but section 2, which provides for the limitation to certain subjects of these inquiries I take, to have been inserted in the Bill to avoid the cardinal objection of many people who take alarm at the highly exceptional proposal made, on the ground that by this step the whole system was about to be changed. I recognise without objection that the Government have adopted the line of taking one step at a time so far as this local inquiry is concerned, and limited as it is, I am quite willing to accept it. The other question, however, to my mind, is one which is of very much greater importance, and that is—What is the new body which is called a Commission to do in the sense of representing the views of this House? Unless you have a Commission which represents the will and mind of the two Houses of Parliament you will undoubtedly be paving the way for a conflict between that Commission and the real will of society as represented in this House. It is necessary to consider this, for in all these questions of Private Bills the real point to be considered is how far and within what limits shall the private interest of individuals yield to the public good according to the views represented in the two Houses of Parliament. That is literally a good and sound constitutional doctrine, and we have had furnished to us the dictum of Sir Erskine May, whose opinion I will venture to quote. He says—This union of the judicial and legislative functions is not confined to the forms of procedure, but is an important principle in the inquiries and decision of Parliament upon the merits of Private Bills. As a Court it inquires 556 into and adjudicator upon the interests of private parties; as a Legislature, it is watchful over the interests of the public. The promoters of a Bill may prove beyond a doubt that their own interest will be advanced by its success, and no one may complain of injury, or urge any specific objection; yet, if Parliament apprehend that it will be hurtful to the community, it is rejected as if it were a public measure, or qualified by restrictive enactments, not solicited by the parties.Parliament has the power to invade the domain of private interests because it represents the justly predominant rights of society as a whole; but that power carries with it a very large measure of responsibility, both in its use within Parliament, and also, as it is proposed in this Bill, in its delegation to an extra Parliamentary authority. My great objection is, in the main, that I fear under these provisions for setting up an extra Parliamentary Commission, this whole power of delegation is too lightly and too confusedly parted with by the scheme of this measure. The mind of Parliament on the whole, roughly but directly, is representative of public spirit, and public spirit has its retrogression or advance, its adaptation and its movement. It still remains to me a very startling thing to find in this Bill that, after all, there is a delegation of power by Parliament for a fixed period of five years to a body of men of whom we know nothing, but whom, for better or worse, we are to take on trust as nominated and delegated by three eminent officials of the Government. The one man who will know will be the Secretary for Scotland, but I question the prudence or the right of Parliament to shuffle off this responsibility on to one man's shoulders, however eminent that official may be. One of the sections of this Bill suggests a crowd of difficulties, namely, section 1 which provides for the formation of this Commission. Who will these men be who will have to try these Bills? Who will the one man be? He will not be the Chairman of the Committees of this House, or the Chairman of Committees in the House of Lords, but the real man who will know is the Secretary for Scotland, and practically none but he, and I question very much the right of Parliament to do this, and I challenge the whole scheme which is embodied in this proposal that Parliament for a fixed period of five years should throw the whole of this responsibility upon the shoulders of 557 one man. This extra Parliamentary Commission will, if it goes the way of all the Commissions of this kind of which we have had experience, get clogged in its movements by precedents. With regard to procedure, precedents may be of great value, but in other respects they may be also a public danger, for under the sacred name of precedents you get the errors of one year of the action of a Commission made the excuse for or the inducement to errors in the next year. The whole freedom of the movement of Parliament, and the whole responsiveness of Parliament to public spirit, will be lost, and there will be a danger in the sense that Parliament will not represent, but utterly misrepresent, the mind of society at large. No doubt we have a concession in this Bill to the extent that at least it appears permissible to have one or two Members of Parliament upon it—I presume Scotch, Members. My idea is that this Bill would be passed with acclamation if it were not yielded as a concession but as an absolute right that Scotch Members of Parliament should sit upon that Commission. There need be no trouble about the selection, but let the people of Scotland select their representatives when they elect their Members of Parliament, and then, so far as this House is concerned, they would be the persons who shall be the quota on the Commission to be substituted for the present arrangement. What then would I practically suggest? I suggest that, if the present arrangement under the Bill is continued, what will be found by experience will be this: that even although you put one Member of Parliament on it, or if you put two Members of Parliament upon it, the lot of these Members will not be happy, because they will be overmastered by the official element which will grow in strength from year to year, and that which is responsive to the public mind of the country will get cramped and dwarfed in its operations as the Commission proceeds. After considering and reconsidering the whole schemes my fixed opinion is that the Houses of Parliament should combine once for all in a Joint Committee to do this work itself, and to do it on the spot. I do not think that there will be any difficulty found in working out that scheme. I do not fear that the Members both in this House 558 and in the other House would not be found fit, and ready, and most willing to undertake these great duties. There is another reason to recommend it besides the constitutional one to which I have referred. The system is practically admitted that Scotch Members never try a Scotch case. That state of things in which Scotch Members are practically de-barred from trying Scotch Bills is a public scandal against which I beg respect-fully to protest. Scotland is treated as if the whole interests of Scotland were contained in a small parish, and that every Scotch Member was personally and locally interested in every Bill that affected Scotland. The thing is ridiculous, and I hope there will be no objection upon the part of the Lord Advocate to very carefully consider if something cannot be done upon the line which I have suggested, and have the whole of the Scotch Members as the panel available. I will mention before I sit down one conspicuous advantage which its adoption will have as bearing upon the Bill now before us. What is the most unsatisfactory portion and what is the most confused portion of the present Bill? It is full of trouble, and I am referring to Sections 7, 8, and 9. Here is the procedure: Substantially all we care about in this matter is contested Bills. Now there will be a contest locally under the operation of the clauses to which I have referred. But then, if the local tribunal passes the preamble of the Measure, the trouble and the confusion and mischief of extra expense begin over again. There is procedure provided for by a memorial from the very same persons who have been contestants, and who have been beaten in the local inquiry. And, in the next place, if in the opinion of certain officers of State that memorial or prayer is not unreasonable or vexatious, the whole battle has to be fought over again before a Joint Committee of the two Houses of Parliament. Where are we in these circumstances? Why, we are just back to the point where we started from. We want by a new procedure to abolish the double expense of inquiries before the Houses of Parliament, and what we require in the case of strongly-contested Bills is a new procedure which would be a single and final inquiry, without going through a further inquiry with all its concomitant expense and worry. I say that it is clear that the reason for this being done, and 559 the reason for a Joint Committee sitting afresh upon these measures, is because Her Majesty's Government are convinced that the verdict of the Commission will be just as I have said, not representative of the mind of Parliament itself. That being so, there would be another inquiry, and the whole expense would be doubled, and probably trebled, for no reason whatever that I can see. In the first instance, you should institute a Joint Committee, and charge it with the duty of visiting the spot and pronouncing what ought to be a fair verdict as to whether or not that Measure should be passed into law. I venture to say that if this Joint Committee were to try locally there would be no disposition on the part of anybody to question the verdict, and an enormous saving would be effected, because there would be no retrial, but a first and final verdict would be obtained. I have not spoken, as my right honourable Friend will observe, antagonistically to what I think is the real merit of this Bill, but I thought it only fair to contribute the view which I have formed after much consideration as to what would be the best tribunal to try these local inquiries. I recommend a fair consideration of the amendments to this Bill in this sense. By doing so, Parliament would retain its control of what it. should not lightly part with, and Scotland would obtain the real judgment of Parliament upon her private affairs in a manner which is at once single, economical, and promptly conclusive. It is because I think this Bill, while providing for local inquiries, is capable of amendment—which although drastic will certainly be for good—in the sense which I have indicated that I, for one, shall vote for the Second Reading of this Measure.
§ * MR.CRIPPS (Gloucestershire, Stroud)
I must say that I look upon the proposals of this Bill as dealing with an extremely important matter. I recollect the Leader of the Opposition pointing out last Session that the policy and principle comprised in a Bill of this kind should not be taken as applicable to Scotland only, but should be applied to the whole of the Private Bill procedure. Starting from that point, I think it would be well to see what the real difficulty is. Why has there been this difficulty? Why has it become necessary for a very large number of Committees and Commissions 560 to be appointed to consider this subject? And why do we find, as regards these Commissions and these Committees, a great variety of inconsistent suggestions? The real difficulty is this —and I think we have got to face it— that the subject matter of Private Bill procedure is legislation, and the proper place to deal with legislation is this House or the Houses of Parliament. If it was not for that primary difficulty the secondary difficulty about which we hear, the formation of a proper tribunal, really would not arise at all. And why not? Supposing the business delegated was business of an administrative character only, or supposing the business was of a judicial character only. Can anyone think for a moment that there would be the slightest difficulty in getting a tribunal to deal with matters of administrative or matters of judicial import? But the difficulty is that the subject matter of these Private Bills is legislation, and legislation is a duty as well as a privilege which ought to be exercised only under the control of Parliament. As has been pointed out by the honourable Member who has just sat down, if you substitute for this a system of devolution you will get a tribunal not in touch with the public opinion of this country, to which powers of legislation cannot be given by the public opinion of this country. And so they may become either stereotyped or revolutionary, and apply principles quite different, and which this House would not apply. As a mere matter of principle this is a very important point, if we look at it from this point of view. My objection to this is not that I would not desire to see—and heartily welcome—anything that I consider a real reform as regards the privileges of this House, or the interests of litigants or suitors. My objection is that here we have a wholesale tendency with a very important part of our legislative business to transfer it to a mere official tribunal, and that is the basis of my objection. On the other hand, when I look to the character of the new tribunal, I find one which, in my opinion, will be undoubtedly less satisfactory than the Committees of this House to deal with these exceedingly important questions of Private Bill procedure. Now let me carry the views I am expressing upon this point a little further. There really have been two or three criticisms which I want to deal with My first point is against dele- 561 gating the powers of this House in dealing with these questions of Private Bill legislation to another body, and in favour of the desirability of this House retaining the powers which are now exercised under its control. First of all, it has been argued—I think unjustly argued—that there is some necessity for delegating these legislative functions, because this House has not got sufficient power to deal with questions of that kind. I think that a suggestion of that kind cannot be supported for a moment by the real facts of the case. Surely anyone who has had experience of the working of the business of this House must know that we have a very large surplus of power which we waste in all sorts of directions, apparently with everybody's approbation, under existing conditions. I am not complaining of that, and I do not want an Act of Parliament passed every day. But when you are talking about the power of this House, to suggest for a moment that we have not got sufficient power to deal with the legislative wants of the country, and that we could not give a great deal more time to it if required, is entirely inconsistent with the facts of every day life, and with what is constantly passing in this House. To use an expression which has almost become classical in the mouth of the late Home Secretary, even the greatest megalomaniac for legislation must admit that he has ample opportunity in this House; but at any rate, if not, it is within the resources of the House that ample opportunity could be given. But there is another point as regards this Private Bill legislation. It only affects this House as a whole as regards second reading discussions. We know that this Session there have been two or three important Bills, containing principles of vital importance, which have been discussed on the second reading as regards matters of Private Bill legislation. I know that some people, in their anxiety to press on other matters, think that this is an objection, but to my mind it is one of the strongest arguments in favour of this House retaining the powers which it possesses at the present time. In a very large number of instances questions involving most important principles are discussed in this House, and which ought to be discussed; and sometimes the principle is accepted and sometimes rejected, and then that particular proposal can go no further. As far as Committees was stairs 562 are concerned, we have had suggestions that there is a certain amount of disinclination on the part of Members of this House taking part in the work of the Committees upstairs; but I do not believe it, and I do not believe that this House, at the present time, is one iota worse than it has been in the past in this respect. I do not believe that there has been the slightest tendency to deterioration in this regard, or that matters are worse considered at the present time than they have been at any time in the past, and I have had twenty years' experience of this class of work. Now I desire to make good my main proposition, that when we are dealing with these questions of Private Bill procedure we are really dealing with questions of legislation. I admit that if you can separate matters which are merely administrative and those which ought to be treated in a judicial spirit, they should not come before this House at all. In the case of the Divorce Bills, as soon as you reduced that subject to a judicial basis the Measure left—and properly left—this House altogether. I do not think that there is any half-way in this matter, and either you must delegate these powers absolutely on the ground that they are not matters of legislation, or else this House ought to assume its responsibility and carry out its duty, and thus prove that our control is a real one and not a sham, which I think I can show it is in the case of the present Bill. Just consider what sort of questions might, under the provisions of this Bill, be taken outside the control of Parliament. Take, for instance, a, question of franchise, which may be dealt with in Private Bill legislation. It may be said that we have got a, certain safeguard in the Chairmen of Committees in both Houses. That, however, is no real safe-guard so far as this House is concerned, and we ought not to allow any person, however eminent, to come between our legislative responsibilities and duties. I will take another case—alterations in police law. Now that is a very good argument to take. Under this Bill, quite outside the power of Parliament altogether, you might have very important principles of criminal law introduced into certain parts of the United Kingdom—I know I am dealing with Scotland—without the slightest control as regards this House at all. I appeal to Members of this House, and I ask, Can there be any more import- 563 ant topic with which we ought to deal as affecting the liberty of the subject? Could you have a better illustration than that? Let me take another illustration. We know very well that the question of municipal trading is very much to the front at the present moment. I do not think this is desirable, but it is an extremely important point, and one which deserves the careful attention at the present time of those who wish to press the tendency still further, and of those who think that the tendency has been pressed too far already. Are we going to delegate such powers on a great question of that kind?
§ SIR R. REID (Dumfries Burghs)
Parliament at the present time has very little control in such matters.
§ * MR. CRIPPS
I think I can give a very good answer to the right honourable Member. I will take this very matter with which we are now dealing, because it is a matter which has come before the House. What has been done? The attention of Members is called to it, and in consequence of that a special Committee is appointed to deal with this very important question. Now why is that done? Simply because the matter comes before this House. This House assumes the responsibility, and we have to deal with a question of that sort; but had it not been for that control this matter might have been decided without our authority. Let me take another illustration, and that is the one taken by the Member for the Border Burghs, the late Solicitor-General. What is the most important issue when you come to the details? It nearly always is whether the private interest or the public interest is to prevail, and that is the principle issue. I am not going to give any opinion as to any particular case, whether the one interest or the other ought to prevail, because that would be outside my present argument, but what I do say is this—that such powers ought not to be delegated from this House, but ought to be dealt with by this House and by its Committees. As the right honourable Gentleman opposite has pointed out, you may get a great conflict of opinion and ideas as between what the representatives of the people require and what the Commissioners may do. The control of the House has been constantly exercised 564 in these matters, and this has enormously altered the industrial position. I can speak of my own experience before Committees upstairs, for I know the sort of argument which prevailed twenty years ago upon discussions between private and public interests. You have had a great alteration in this respect, and you have had a march of opinion in accordance with public spirit. It does seem to me that we ought not to give up our responsibilities and our duty upon questions of this character. The first objection which has been raised to the present system—and very naturally raised —is the question of expense. I agree that this is a most important question. It is entirely wrong on questions of this kind that either rich or poor citizens, more particularly poor citizens, should be put to any unnecessary expense, and therefore we have to see what are the causes of the expense as regards the existing tribunal, that is, this House, and whether they are likely to be remedied under the proposals made by the Government. So far as existing expenses are concerned, I put them under three heads. The first cause, and the most important one, is the House fees, I wish to say that in my opinion the House fees—that is, the fees charged by this House in connection with our Private Bill legislation—are little less than a scandal. They are really a survival of a time when the people who fixed the fees got the benefit of them. They are a survival of that time; and can anything be more scandalous, more necessary to reform—and it ought to be reformed at once—than that on business of this kind we are making the large profit referred to by the honourable Member for North Ayrshire? I have had illustrations given to me by a gentleman whose name will be received with every respect in all parts of this House, a gentleman who is the doyen of Parliamentary Agents, I mean Sir Theodore Martin. First of all he gave me three Bills of a merely charitable kind. One of them was merely the expenditure of certain charities at Birmingham, another was in connection with Shakespeare's birthplace, and another was merely to apportion out certain sums between two charities. In each of these cases, where all the other expenditure was merely nominal, I find the House fees were £100. Now, what possible reason is there for charges of that kind; and charges of this kind can be done away 565 with without any Bill such as is proposed at the present time. And these charges, mind you, are the main source of expenditure. Let me take another case. I think the House ought to look at home. You cannot get the most ordinary unopposed Bill, other than a charitable Bill, through the House at the present time without you charge fees to the extent of £200. It is perfectly monstrous. Some small locality wants some reform which is comparatively of a trifling kind. This House immediately mulcts them in the penalty of £200; and then it says that expense will he saved if you alter the character of the tribunal. So it would if you get rid of monstrous fees of that kind. But they are not incidental to our procedure. They have grown up, and whether this Bill is passed or not, they ought, in my opinion, to be got rid of. The next source of expenditure is our Standing Orders, and I do not believe, myself, that if you change the character of the tribunal, the expenditure under the head of Standing Orders will be any less than it is at the present moment. As regards any large proposal you have to have expensive plans prepared by engineers, in order that everyone may have sufficient notice of what is going to be done. But what economy is likely to be brought about under this Bill? If outstanding Orders go too far they ought to be reformed and revised, but what is necessary to give due information to a Committee of this House will be equally necessary to the new tribunal. I cannot imagine where any single economy can be effected under this head of what is called Standing Order expenses. There is one other matter to which reference has been made, in a very good-humoured way amongst others, by the Member for the North Ayrshire Burghs, one other source of expenditure, and that is counsels' fees. I want to say this: I think a personal discussion between the English and Scottish Bar is much to be deprecated. I am not going to discuss this question upon such a basis. I want to state my experience, and that is that the fees of counsel do not depend on the tribunal, but on the importance of the business involved, and if you have large interests of that kind, at times involving even millions of pounds or hundreds of thousands of pounds—if you have large interests of that kind to be discussed before any tribunal, people will take the best counsel they can— 566 whether of the English or Scottish Bar, I do not draw any distinction between the two—and you have to pay for them, just as if you take the best surgeon or the best professional man of any class, you have to pay, and it is idle, to my mind, to suggest any economy on questions of this kind. If what I have said is accurate, why should a paid tribunal really be more economical than an unpaid and voluntary tribunal, in which you have the services of our Members upstairs? In the nature of things there is no reason at all—absolutely none at all in the nature of things. I think it is a very poor compliment to the reforming vigour of this; House, that instead of reforming our own procedure, instead of bringing it into accordance with modern views, instead of cutting down this wholly unnecessary and scandalous expense in certain directions, we take the other course, and are seeking now to get rid of legislative responsibilities. There is one other point. I said at the outset that there were certain matters which should be dealt with under the Pro-visional Order system. At the present time, as a, matter of fact, you can deal with a very large number of topics in Scotland under the Provisional Order system, gas, water, piers and harbours, electric lighting, alteration of boundaries of counties and parishes, tramways, town improvement schemes, sewers, roads, alteration in the numbers of town councils, powers under the Rivers' Pollution Act. If you take all these matters, which can be dealt with under the Provisional Order system, you will only leave outside their purview the important business with which this House ought certainly to deal itself. It may be you ought to have some further devolution under the Provisional Order system which at present exists. No one would state an exhaustive negative to a point of that kind. But what is far more striking, I think, when we are dealing with this matter, is this, that these powers at the present time to a great extent are not utilised. What we are now seeking to do is what we so often do; we are seeking to get up provision after provision without taking any care to see whether the existing provisions are sufficient for the purpose at which we want to arrive. I should like to ask the learned Lord Advocate, when he comes to reply, what is there which is outside the present Provisional Order system, because 567 this is said to be an extension of that system, which ought not to be dealt with as a legislative matter by this House. Can anyone contend that railways ought to be dealt with as a mere local matter? And so far as other questions are concerned, town improvements and matters of that kind, they can all be dealt with under the Provisional Order system, without some special new powers are asked inconsistent with the general law of the land; and if some new powers which are not governed by general law are required in some particular locality, are they to be granted without the legislative sanction of this House? There can only be one answer. I do not believe that when honourable Members think this out, and consider what it means, these new legislative powers outside the general law of the land—I do not believe that honourable Members will be content to delegate powers of that kind to any outside tribunal. On all other grounds it is admitted that the present tribunal is sufficiently satisfactory. There is no criticism either as to the manning of the tribunal or as regards the conduct of honourable Members, and although the unsuccessful suitor naturally, from time to time, is angry with the Judge before whom his case has been tried, that is only human nature—I have always understood it is admitted—that questions of this kind when decided upstairs before Committees of this House, are accepted as decided in a way satisfactory to all suitors and parties concerned. Now, let me say one or two words in conclusion upon the particular character of the present Bill. Of course, I do not intend to deal with matters which will be mere questions for the Committee. I want to deal with matters which are questions of principle, and before sitting down I wish to indicate what my view would be in dealing with questions of this kind very shortly. I want to see whether we cannot reserve our responsibilities and duties, and at the same time do all that is necessary to meet certain legitimate criticisms which have been offered from time to time as regards this Private Bill procedure. Now, Sir, take the matter of clause 1. I will read to the House shortly what the words are—Any matter affecting public or private in terests in Scotland, for which they are at present entitled to apply to Parliament by petition.568 Any matter affecting public or private interests; that is to say, you may ask this new tribunal to legislate, very important legislation may be undertaken in all these various matters, for all private or public interests, which may be brought before the House at the present day. I dwell upon that for this reason. I do not for a moment say that you could not make a right discrimination as between matters to be dealt with in this House, and under either an extension of the Provisional Order system or some system of local control. But that is not this proposal; the proposal here goes a long way outside that, it goes to any matter affecting either public or private interests, and that I say, is far too wide. Under the next head I need go into, we have the question of notice. Some notice apparently will be required under the existing system, but I think that paragraph 2, or section 2, is entirely unconstitutional, and not only is it unconstitutional, but it is giving a fictitious appearance as though we reserved control, which we do not really reserve. And why do I say that? I would rather, for my own part, as I said before, that if we are not going to deal with our responsibilities we should get rid of them altogether. But what we suggest here, both in regard to constitutional principle and its working, may be unsatisfactory in the highest degree. When you get to consider whether a matter is a question for legislation in this House or not, it is to be decided by one or other of the Chairmen, or, I think, both Chairmen. We do not elect our Chairmen for purposes of that kind. We ought not to delegate to any Member of this House any such decision as that. He is elected for an entirely different purpose. I may pass, I think, this criticism upon it. I see here my right honourable Friend the Member for Bodmin. Supposing for the moment that he still occupied the honourable position he held as Chairman of Committees of this House. We know what his opinion is upon this point. We know that he would in substance delegate everything, because he has told us so. His opinion has never been disguised. You may get another Chairman who holds exactly the contrary view. You may get another who, being a Conservative, thinks it right to stick to Conservative principles. I never quite understood the criticism of my right 569 honourable Friend upon the Conservative character of my argument last year, whether he meant it as eulogy or criticism—I take it as eulogy. Supposing you have some one of Conservative principles occupying the important position of Chairman of this House; what will be the position? One year a matter is delegated, the next year nothing of the kind. This House will not have the slightest control as regards continuity of procedure. You will have to depend from time to time on the individual view of the particular Chairman, who is not appointed for this purpose, who has none of the qualifications to decide matters of this kind, and very often is appointed for some very different reason than his knowledge of Private Bill procedure. Then let me take the next point: it is in section 3. I do not want, as I say, to deal with these matters, except as a question of principle. After all, I think I need not deal with that, but will go direct to paragraph 4, which deals with the question of the formation of the Commissioners. Surely the Commission as constituted here is nothing but an official nomination, outside of any question in this House. Is it likely that the Chairman of this House will have any knowledge of what Members in Scotland have had experience? Is not it really ludicrous to suggest that our Chairman, with all his excellent qualities, has time to consider the character of various craftsmen with whom he has never been brought into contact? I think one cannot help seeing that under this paragraph 4 the only person who is likely to nominate will be the Secretary for Scotland himself. Now I daresay the right honourable and learned Member opposite thinks that all right, and I think it would be much better than this system. What can be worse than the illusion of thinking we have some control over these panels because our Chairman has some voice? That is an illusion which is childish, it seems to me, for our House to have anything to do with, and if we are to change a system of this kind, at least let us change it in accordance with some of the principles of common sense. I say the only person practically who will appoint these Commissioners is the Secretary of State for Scotland, and although I have heard what has been said by one or two honourable and learned Members opposite, is it really likely that under these circum- 570 stances the Members of this House will take any part in these inquiries? I cannot bring myself to believe it. And I think we have a most extraordinary suggestion in sub-section 3 of clause 5. Are we to subordinate our public interests here to the mere action of Commissioners upon some question of this kind? I am arguing from this point as though the proposal here might be equally well applied either to England or Wales as to Scotland. And although there may be something in the view of the honourable and learned Member for the Border Burghs, by which we might devise a system under which Members of this House would go about on local inquiries, I believe myself it is an impossible view. There is nothing to be said for this hybrid proposal here, that a Member of this House, in a minority on the Commission, should be called upon to give up his legislative and public duties, and be constituted a member for the time being of the Commission, however long his services may be required. Then I come to clause 7. I have had a good deal of experience of every form of tribunal in this country, of local inquiries, as well as inquiries upstairs. The effect of clause 7 is simply this: it is not founded upon the Provisional Order system at all. I am not objecting to the present Provisional Order system. I think it might be extended in certain directions. Under the present Provisional Order system this House maintains legislative power. Under this Clause 7 it does not maintain it at all. It is a mere accident or incident whether a, question ever comes before this House in the course of the inquiry, and there might be a question of extreme public importance to which there is no opposition in the ordinary sense. It might be arranged as between the two parties, and very likely would be, as a matter of fact, and under those circumstances the Provisional Order which may be ordered can be made without any reference to this House at all. I say that is wholly wrong, and I say there ought to be maintained in its entirety the control of this House over the greater questions which really are legislative in character. And more than that. I find, even if there is opposition, you leave it for the Secretary for Scotland to decide whether a matter is to come on and be discussed before this House, or his fiat only may be sufficient to have the 571 power of an Act of Parliament. Let me pause for one moment at this point, and express my view of the gravity of the questions with which we are dealing. Many criticisms are being applied to the conduct of this House. I think myself the time has come when a great assembly of this character is more or less on its trial. Surely that is not the time when we ought to give up the duties and responsibilities which we as legislators ought to exercise, and on very important questions. The whole social and industrial system of this country has been practically worked up to its present position under these various Private Acts of Parliament. The Private Acts of Parliament during the present century have been as important, if you look at the life—the social and industrial life—of this country as a good deal of our public legislation; and, constitutionally, this is not a small question. It is all very well to say you are exaggerating. I think it is a constitutional question, and that the privileges of this House and the duties of this House ought to be most carefully guarded. It is the duty of this House to deal with these questions. It is the privilege of this House not to be overawed by mere official interference. We know the operation of the French system of official tyranny, and the only safeguard, to my mind, in the long run in this matter is the power of this House, which decides what legislation shall be carried, and which has ample power to call in question from time to time the conduct of officials. I think that is of extreme importance, and I have ventured to address the House at some length because I think I may claim a very large experience on questions of this sort. Let us do this: let us first of all decide how this matter ought to be dealt with, let us first of all decide what are the questions which we ought to deal with here. Let us retain these questions in our own control, reforming our Standing Orders, and if there are other matters not comprised in the present Provisional Order system, if there are questions merely of administration, or questions of merely judicial inquiry, I should be the staunch-est advocate of taking questions of that kind away from this House and placing them before some impartial tribunal. And even if we are to go further upon this matter of delegation, let us delegate wholly; either let us maintain our power 572 so that we can exercise it in a proper manner, or delegate it to some satisfactory tribunal. What I dislike in this Bill, although I recognise the ability and energy of the right honourable Gentleman the Lord Advocate, is that illusory element which runs through it. The illusory element is this, that we are supposed to maintain our power although we have no effective control; we are supposed to maintain our responsibility, but we have no effective way of exercising it.
§ SIR R. REID
I wish to address the House for a very short time, because the matter has been a good deal discussed in different Sessions of Parliament. The honourable and learned Gentleman opposite has made a very able and very eloquent speech. If I was asked to assent to the broad principles that he has laid down, I should give my assent to a good many of them. What I do not see is that his extremely logical and powerful arguments lead me to the conclusion, so far as I can gather, at which he has arrived. I think it is perfectly true that you cannot commit to a bureaucratic body created by the will of the Secretary for Scotland, coupled with one or both of the Chairmen of either of the two Houses, powers of doing more than passing, so to speak, purely administrative Measures. It is perfectly true that if you want to deal with important Private Bill legislation, you ought to have a substantial hold upon it, by means of its being empowered to comply with the opinions and wishes of Members of Parliament. Look for a moment at the expense, and we also complain of this, that on all Measures of a Private Bill character our people have to come up to London, whereas the inquiry would be better done, and it would be easier for us, if it were held in the locality itself. That is the gist of the complaint. My honourable and learned Friend has mixed that up with eulogies of the present existing Committees, and with grave apprehensions of what would follow if we devolved our business to irresponsible and unknown persons. The real remedy is keeping our control, keeping it by committing this business to those persons to whom it naturally and legitimately be-longs, the legislative business being kept to the persons who are sent to Parliament for the purpose of legislating. I say nothing at all of the House of Lords. The 573 House of Lords are Members of the Legislature under the present law, the same as we are. Let us recognise that fact. Let us ask that the Committees who are to deal with these Bills which are brought forward shall be Members of the two Houses of Parliament. Let them go down to Scotland for the purpose of discussing these Bills, and then we shall have the complete control which my honourable and learned Friend so much desires, the control that is to be exercised by the Imperial Parliament. Now, Sir, that is the very point upon which I endeavoured before the Select Committee to obtain the consent of Lord Balfour of Burleigh, the present Secretary for Scotland, and it was largely because of the reasons stated by the honourable and learned Member for Stroud that I pressed this upon the attention of the Secretary for Scotland, and the Secretary for Scotland expressed his preference for the very solution of the question which I have now been urging upon the House. And I understood the Government admit in the fullest terms— I have no authority for the statement, but statements are in the air sometimes, in Committee Rooms, and we know very often that statements in the Lobbies and the Committee Rooms are very well founded—it was at any rate believed that the Government were prepared—whether rightly or wrongly I do not say—last Session to accept this principle and pass a Bill into law, with a panel consisting of Members of both Houses of Parliament, if they could have succeeded in getting it through last year. I only hope if that is so it will be made apparent in the course of the discussion. That is the real objection of my honourable and learned Friend. The right honourable Gentleman the Member for Bodmin, who was also a Member of the Committee, manifested considerable objection to the idea of Members of Parliament being sent down to Scotland for the purpose of holding these inquiries, and, as a reason for that objection, he asked what would happen if England, Scotland, and Wales wanted the same thing to be done? Had we better not wait till they ask for it? If the thing is useful for us in Scotland, and if the House is willing to give it to us, why should it be refused to us, because of some possible unknown future demand from England, Scotland, Ireland, or Wales? If in the future any 574 of these countries should desire it, and if it be found that the labours thrown upon Members of Parliament are too great in consequence, the new system can then be considered in the light of the experience we have derived from trying it in Scotland. It has been suggested that Members of Parliament would not care to travel to remote parts of the United Kingdom for this purpose. But may I suggest that to some extent London is very remote from parts of Scotland. I cannot, and I do not, for one moment, believe that Members of this House would refuse to go down to discharge these duties. I believe there would be no difficulty raised on their part, and still less likely is there to be any refusal on the part of Members of the House of Lords, who certainly are not overtaxed by their legislative efforts. I certainly am not a particular admirer or advocate of the privileges enjoyed by the Peers, which, of course, it would not be in order for me now to attempt to discuss, but I should be indeed surprised if seven or eight Peers could not be found who would be willing to devote a few weeks to the discharge of duties laid upon them by Parliament, even if such duties did involve their spending the time in the desolate and barren wilderness of Scotland. They usually go down to Scotland in August, and I would suggest that if they went a month or two earlier, they would find it much more pleasant. The truth is, there is no possibility, in my opinion, of getting these questions settled by officially appointed panels. There is no other means of doing it than by having the work done by Members of Parliament, and if that course be adopted, Members who are sent to Scotland will be able to come back and report to the House upon any particular Bill or any matter requiring special attention.
§ MR. ELLIOT (Durham)
This has been described as a revolutionary Bill, but I think I am justified in pointing out to the House that the subject has not been brought forward with revolutionary speed. When it was first introduced years ago by Mr. Craig-Sellar contemptuous reference was made to it, but gradually the value of the proposal has come to be appreciated, and I must say I think it will not redound to the credit of the Government if this carefully thought-out method is not passed into law in accordance with the oft expressed 575 wishes of the people of Scotland; and the fact that the Government possess such a large majority makes it all the more reasonable to expect them to carry the Bill through. We have had many interesting speeches on this subject tonight. There were the speeches of the honourable Member who moved the rejection of the Bill, and of the seconder, and I think the House will agree with me that there was danger of Members being led away by their somewhat crude objections. We have had, too, a most interesting speech from my honourable and learned friend, the Member for Stroud. But, after all, what were the objections which were advanced? It was put before us most forcibly that we must, at all hazards, guard the legislative functions of this House. What are those legislative functions? Does the action of Members of Parliament become legislative simply because they are legislators? If honourable Members go down to Scotland to hold an inquiry into the facts of some local circumstances—whether a Bill shall pass or not, or whether some specific measure shall be taken then and there, or whether the general interest shall prevail or not—is such an inquiry, in substance and in fact, legislative in its nature? Does it not approach infinitely more to judicial work? Members will have to test, listen to, and weigh "evidence, and I ask my honourable and learned Friend opposite whether he supposes that necessarily three Peers sent down to Scotland to hold a private Bill inquiry are more likely, because they are Peers and Members of the Legislature, to arrive at a right conclusion of the facts than the persons who, under this Bill, will be jurors and appointed members of a panel entrusted with the duty of trying these matters? The Chairmen of the Committees of the two Houses are surely well qualified to find the right persons to undertake these duties, and I do not think it will be suggested that three Peers are more likely to come to a better, more just, or wiser conclusion, than those who will be appointed under this Bill. My honourable and learned Friend opposite, the Member for Dumfries, rather criticised the energetic and hardworking disposition of Peers, and I do not think that he goes quite so far as I do in my appreciation of the public work done by Members of the other House. May I point out that the Earl 576 of Jersey has been sitting for a very large number of days without remuneration as Chairman of the Light Railways Commission. I believe those sittings have extended over sixty days, and that is only an example of the willingness evinced by Members of the other House to perform their public duties. We are told that this is a revolutionary proposal to delegate the legislative authority of Parliament, and that this proposed tribunal is something entirely new. But it must not be forgotten that this House has already parted with its authority in these matters, and that the last and greatest instance in which it did so was by the establishment of the Light Railways Commission. There land is taken compulsorily without the authority of this House, and the whole thing is properly and successfully conducted before a tribunal which knows what it is doing. We have been told that the Second Reading Debate on Private Bills is a protection in the public interest. I am not going to say that it is not. But it is within the experience of all of us how these things are managed. I come down to the House and have put into my hands in the Lobby, or perhaps I have received them a few days before, the Reasons for and against a certain Bill. I have no means whatever of testing the opinions expressed in the document, and I have to give my vote on ex-parte statements and without knowing anything of the facts. I venture to say that there could be nothing less satisfactory than this dealing by Members of Parliament with such questions as these, without a proper knowledge of the facts. There is a kind of superstition that attaches in this House to the qualities which necessarily belong and adhere to Members of Parliament. I am inclined to ask, are we elected with a view to anything of this kind? I say we are elected to serve on great public grounds upon one side or the other, and we are not elected for any reason whatever which would tend to make us better fitted to conduct judicial work on a tribunal such as this, for a tribunal it is which the Bill will set up. I was a little struck by the able speech of the Member for Ayrshire, in which he supported the Bill. He was rather inclined, unless I mistake him, to press the Government to secure that as far as possible the panel from which these new judges are to be chosen, should consist of Scottish Members.
§ MR. COCHRANE
That was not quite my point. It is proposed, under the Bill, that the panel shall be composed of twenty-five gentlemen, and that some of these may be Members of Parliament. It seems to me, the Bill is thus unduly limiting the number of Scottish Members of Parliament, and I thought it might be desirable to give power to the Secretary for Scotland, or the Chairman, to add any other Members of Parliament he might think desirable.
§ MR. ELLIOT
I completely apprehend the substance of my honourable Friend's remarks. Scottish Members, he pointed out, were rigidly excluded at present when Scottish Private Bills were being considered in Committee, and he went on to argue that the panel should be formed of Scottish Members.
§ MR. COCHRANE
I did not say Scottish Members, but Members of this House, although I think that a very considerable proportion of the panel should be Scottish Members.
§ MR. ELLIOT
Yes, but that would be a very considerable departure from the practice of this House. There I join issue with my honourable Friend. I say, let us put these Provisional Order Bills before the best tribunal that we can create. If there is a valid objection, as there seems to be at the present moment, to placing Scottish Members on the tribunal for considering Scottish Bills., how would that objection be changed if we set up a new tribunal of which Scottish Members would form a considerable proportion? It seems to me that the House is generally drifting in the direction of the devolution of business, and I maintain that what the House has to do is to give its mind seriously and effectively to the proposition as to how the best tribunal can be created. That is the great question we have to try. After all, the rights of Parliament are protected by the provisions in clauses 8 and 9 of the Bill. I am sorry to say I have never had the experience of the honourable Member for Stroud. I have looked at the work of Committees from both sides of the table, and have also observed the action and procedure in the ordinary Courts of Law. There was this great difference between them, that before Parliamentary Commit- 578 tees in the House of Commons, counsel are in a stronger and more powerful position in respect to the Judges, that is, to the Members of the Committee, than the position occupied by counsel before the learned Judges of the Queen's Bench Division. I venture to say that very few people would contest the conclusion I have arrived at on that point. Well, my honourable Friend the Member for Stroud has spoken of the difficulty in getting honourable Members to serve on Private Bill Committees; but he never referred to the great changes which have taken place of late years in the duties of Members of this House. Members have now to serve on Grand Committees. These Grand Committees take up a great deal of time of Members, who cannot be in two places at once, and who have their hands full of proper public legislative work. I say that to send them down to Scotland on Provisional Order inquiries would be to raise very great difficulties indeed. I regard this Measure not as a mere Scottish Measure. I have always regarded it as a matter which does not concern Scotland alone. There is a Scottish grievance to some extent, but there is also, an English grievance, and an Irish grievance. I am delighted, of course, that Scottish Members, by their energy, have advanced the cause as regards Scotland. In two or three years we can see how this Bill will work, and there is no doubt that other localities distant from London will insist that inquiries into local matters can be more cheaply and quickly and conveniently held in the localities themselves than in a, place 400 or 500 miles away. I look at this Bill as a great step forward, and I do not appear here in any apologet is sense as supporting the Measure. It is not a revolutionary Measure, but it is a new departure in the right direction. Let us, for any sake, pass this Bill this year. If there are faults in the tribunal, as there is likely to be, that can be amended. But I say we have been long enough engaged on this question, and let us pass the Second Reading, let us carry it to the Grand Committee, and finally pass the Third Reading in July or August.
§ On the return of Mr. SPEAKER after the usual interval,
§ DR. FARQUHARSON (Aberdeen)
I admit there are some grievances attaching 579 to Private Bill procedure, but too much has been said as to the unwillingness of Members of Parliament to discharge their duty. That duty does not all consist in speaking in this House, or addressing public meetings in various parts of the country. I maintain that Members of Parliament are glad and patriotically willing to carry out all their duties. With all deference to the great authority of the late Chairman of the Committee of Selection, I think too much stress has been laid on the reluctance of honourable Members to serve on Private Bill Committees. I think the Committee of Selection has always endeavoured, and I believe with success, to ease the burden which lies on honourable Members, and to give them an opportunity of serving where they can do best work; and I am sure that some honourable Members, at any rate, would rather resent being removed from this class of work. My honourable Friend has asked what special sanctity was there about Members of Parliament, and would they give their decision with greater independence than an ordinary panel? My view is that Members of either House, sitting on these Commissions, would command more general confidence than a Commission composed otherwise—a confidence which Committees of this House have always sustained both inside and outside Parliament. They would be men who have experience of this House, who know something of the rules of procedure, who would be saturated with the traditions of this House. Moreover, the proposal of my honourable Friend the Member for Glasgow would carry out in some degree a continuation of the present system, which, I am bound to say, I would like to see maintained. I have been always consistently opposed to the class of legislation embodied in this Bill. I rejoiced to hear the vigorous speech of the honourable Member for Stroud. He has given this Bill the most determined and skilful opposition, and has made very much such a speech as I should have liked to have done if I had his great authority and forensic and Parliamentary skill. If I had the chance I would vote against the Bill, and I would only vote in its favour from the point of view that we look at it as a ricketty skeleton, which, if it stands moving from this House, might be carefully carried upstairs, and there be clothed with flesh and blood and enabled at 580 some future period to rank as a workable Measure. It has been pointed out already that under the existing Provisional Order system we have to regulate local affairs as regards gas, water, rating, and a large number of purely local matters. But these have not been sufficiently worked out or carried out under the regulations we now have, and my view is that if we more effectively and completely developed existing Provisional Order powers., and above all, if we cut down to some reasonable and decent degree the fees now charged, and from which we make an enormous profit—then, I think, without a Bill of this kind we could get nearly all the reforms that are wanted. There is very little use in fighting against the large cohorts of the Government, but I hope we shall have another opportunity of thoroughly discussing the provisions of this Bill, which affects every district of Scotland. Every Scottish Member ought to be entitled to be heard upon it. Why not send it to a Committee consisting of all the Scotch Members?—a plan which was carried into effect with such admirable results in the case of the Scottish Local Government Bill. In such a Committee honourable Members would be able to fight out the various provisions in the Bill in the interests of their constituents. But if we cannot have that, I hope we shall have an opportunity of discussing it down here on the floor of the House. I speak from a selfish point of view, because I, myself, and the honourable Member for Stewartry, being Members of the Selection Committee, could not sit on a Grand Committee and take part in its consideration of the Bill. Well, I have always objected to this sort of legislation, not because I have a little Conservative twist in the corner of my mind, but because I think the present system works so well that we should consider very carefully whether we should change it or not. The experiment this Bill inaugurates—for it can only be regarded as an experiment—is of a somewhat doubtful and dangerous character. We know perfectly well why the Committees of the House of Commons now inspire so much confidence. The Committee of Selection is under an experienced Chairman, and I am bound to say that their mode of choosing the panel is such that the wit of the right honourable Gentleman opposite, great as it is, will not be 581 able to devise a better. In these Committees upstairs there is no trace of self-interest, there is no money payment, the interests of the personality of the Members and their Constituents never come into play for a single moment, and the decision of the Committee is practically the decision of Parliament. But the Committee to be established under this Bill will not have that backing and that authority, and it is just possible it will not be entitled to that respect. The proposed alteration, as I have said, is a large experiment of a somewhat doubtful character, because it involves such great constitutional changes. We have heard already, and the warning cannot be too often repeated, that it will prevent any one applying by petition to this House or to Parliament as a whole for a Private Bill or to oppose such a Bill. As the Chairman of the Committee of Ways and Means said,It is an entirely new departure from the constitution of this country.Every individual has the right of petitioning the House; Private Bills are all brought in on petition. It is an entirely new thing to say to a man "You shall not petition the House of Commons.'' Then again, this Bill will remove some of the privileges and responsibilities of Parliament and Parliamentary control over some important work. And it takes away from honourable Members of the House of Commons some interesting work. Then it gives a legislative and in some respects autocratic authority to the Secretary for Scotland. Lord Morley said, speaking of the constitutional difficulty:I think in most cases it would not be a difficult task, but it seems to me to put the Chairman in rather a difficult and anomalous position. At present Mr. Lowther and act really as agents for our respective Houses of Parliament. In this Bill we shall be acting as individuals. We are appointed by our Houses, and we are responsible only to the House, and under the present system at any moment our decision can be questioned by the House. So far as I know, this is the first instance of the Chairman of Committees or the Chairman of Ways and Means being mentioned in an Act of Parliament, and it seems to me that that opens up rather a serious and important question.Now, these are large changes. No doubt it is perfectly true, as the late Attorney-General said,We must wait until these things are demanded by the rest of the kingdom; but we must remember that we are laying down the 582 lines on which other parts of the United Kingdom will eventually demand their rights—if we can call them rights—as we now have them under this Bill.The Chairman of Ways and Means stated that very plainly in his evidence, although I am bound to say, reading between the lines of the evidence of the two Chairmen, they do not seem to be enthusiastic about the prospects of legislation on these lines, and they were not too dogmatic in their criticism of the proposals of the Bill. The Chairman of Ways and Means once said that although he would be able to do the work under this Bill, if it were extended to England and Wales it would be impossible for he and his colleague to carry out the enormous amount of work that would be thrown upon them. I am bound to say that this kind of legislation can only be justified from one or two points of view. The first is, Is it wanted? is there any evidence of a demand for this class of legislation] And the other is, Is it necessary? One Member on the other side said that it was wanted, and that it was necessary. At the very outside the number of Scottish Private Bills, including Provisional Orders, in recent years has never been more than 36. The only demand that I can see is that an experiment, which will eventually have to be extended to other parts of the country, is asked for; but the evidence which I have seen from that demand is of a very sketchy and general kind. It seems confined to a clique of Scotch lawyers and to a few corporate bodies who send to us at this time large masses of printed matter. But I do not see any general desire for a very revolutionary, sweeping and drastic measure of this kind. I admit that there is a sort of vague general demand for a reduction of the fees and expenses of local inquiry. I think that when this House, or any Committee of it, comes to close quarters with any Bill or proposal to amend the present law, it will be found that the criticisms are of a very severe and damaging kind. I looked through the evidence given last year and I cannot say that anyone gave the Bill then a whole-hearted support, and the criticisms on it were certainly very damaging. We have had two Committees on the subject and many speeches, and much 583 evidence taken, and I must say there has been very little enthusiasm about the matter at all. Of course there is something flattering in the idea of Home Rule, and there has been a good deal of inflated rhetoric about the expenses of town councillors coming up so long a distance to give evidence. There is an idyllic picture of a Home Rule Committee, chiefly com-posed of Edinburgh lawyers going down to the district to allow local witnesses to have the opportunity to give evidence, of course with no fees at all. This is very charming and a beautiful contrast to the roseate hues of a poetical imagination of what the Bill would effect in lessening costs. But I lam bound to say that this ideal will not be borne out by experience, so far as I can judge by any evidence I have had before me. If this charming picture were correct, and a millennium about to be established by it, I certainly would not oppose the Bill. I am, however, very sceptical indeed about the reduction of costs. It is quite evident that if we have big fights in Scotland they will be conducted in the present big way, with specially-briefed and highly-paid lawyers, agents, and scientific witnesses, and as these will have to go to the country, their fees will be larger instead of less. Nor do I think the small local inquiries will be very cheap. The notorious examples of expensive local inquiries, one in Glasgow and the other in Aberdeen, are in the minds of Scottish Members. Scottish lawyers are not likely to charge smaller fees than English if they are men of equal capacity. Well, are there not some other drawbacks to local inquiries? I dare say some of my friends have seen a very excellent statement sent out by the Town Clerk of Dundee. He says—Local inquiries would encourage useless objections and stimulate unwarrantable opposition. Inquiries, instead of being shortened or made more satisfactory, if conducted locally would be protracted and become more expensive.Another Gentleman, speaking with much greater authority—the second greatest authority in this House—the Chairman of Committee of Ways and Means, says—I believe the reason why local inquiries have failed to satisfy those who are in favour of cheap procedure is because at a local inquiry so many people think they are entitled to come and have their say, and the result is that you get all sorts of parties appearing. The inquiry is in their immediate neighbourhood, it costs them nothing 584 to appear, and they come and join in the fray, and it leads to enormous waste of time and great expense to the parties.Again, these new tribunals will not have the experience and advice of officers of Parliament, and their decisions not having Parliamentary sanction and influence at the back of them will no doubt be questioned. This brings me to the question of tribunals. I am very loth to say anything which would insinuate any possible sniff of party influence, believing that the Secretary for Scotland will always work for the most elevated principles and motives, but there are people outside who take a more degraded view of human nature, and who may suggest the influence of party-mongers in the selections. And, further, the pecuniary element coming in is rather unfortunate. It would be much better if all the work were done by Members of Parliament for nothing. I am inclined to think that Members of Parliament would willingly undertake the work of holding these local inquiries. I think a little trip to Scotland in the Recess would be more of a pleasant experience to them than otherwise. I have delightful recollections of an excursion I once made as a Member of a Departmental Committee, and would willingly accept the invitation for another most enjoyable tour. If the Bill goes into Committee upstairs, I will do my little part to make a better Measure, and to clothe the skeleton in flesh.
§ MR. PARKER SMITH (Lanark, Partick)
I am glad in this discussion the statement has been put before the House that this question is not a purely Scotch question, but a constitutional question affecting very deeply both Parliament itself and the whole country. I shall endeavour to look at the matter from that point of view, and, putting aside the merely Scottish details, deal rather with the larger aspects of the question. Sir, undoubtedly the scheme has general support in Scotland, but while it is a splendid catch-word, there is very serious opposition to be considered from those who are more in a position to know the real rights and wrongs of the question. We have had lately, for example, a resolution from the Parliamentary Committee of the Glasgow County Council, which, I think, expresses the opinion of one of the bodies most concerned in the passing of large measures of private legislation into law. There has been a circular, too, from the Glasgow Procurators, which 585 expresses the opinion of a set of gentlemen who are well able to give an unprejudiced view of the situation. We know, too, what is the position which has been taken up by other great promoters of private legislation, such as the railway companies. The railway companies are bodies for which I feel less concerned than I otherwise might, because we know that nearly all the matters in which the railways are affected will remain as they are at present. Therefore I do not feel myself concerned to deny or question the light - hearted allegations of one honourable Member that some honourable Gentlemen were actuated by their interest in railways to some extent. It certainly is not so now, because we know, since the sittings of the Committees last year, railways are practically unaffected by the working of this Bill. But, Sir, this Bill opens up a very large question. Practically, it cuts off the subject from its constitutional right to approach Parliament for special legislation, and requires him in future to acquire permission from officials. Now, Sir, that is contrary to the previous general practice of Parliament, for in most cases the system of Provisional Orders, with which we are so familiar, was an optional method of procedure. But what is much more serious is, that the proposal cuts Parliament off from the control of legislation, except in particular cases where there happens to be opposition. That, I think, is absolutely contrary to the whole principle of Provisional Orders. The very meaning of the words "Provisional Order" is, that it only has provisional effect until such time as it is confirmed by Parliament. If you are going to take away the confirmation of Parliament, you take away the whole meaning of the phrase itself. In the case of a Provisional Order, there is a local inquiry, and then a Confirmation Bill. In nine cases out of ten the Confirmation Bill is a mere form, but there is always a possibility of opposition from the individual concerned under the Provisional Order, and also of opposition upon general grounds. Then, again, there are certain wideawake Members in this House who are always on the look-out for flaws in the Bills, so that it is not only what is discovered, but what is prevented, in the Bills which has to be considered. It is just the same in the criticism of the Estimates. By vigilant criticism of the Estimates you knock out or prevent a number of things being put into them which would 586 otherwise be found there. When there is a possibility of questions being brought before the House many things will not go into a Provisional Order that might otherwise be smuggled into it to the detriment of the public interest. Sir, you cannot always depend, as this Bill seems inclined to do, upon private opposition raising points of public importance which ought to be raised. That was brought out very effectively in the course of the evidence before the Committee last year. There was a case raised there in Mr. Chandos Leigh's evidence that I should like to mention to the House in order to show that you cannot depend on private opposition to know whether a Provisional Order ought really to be passed or not. This was emphasised by Mr. Chandos Leigh in his evidence. He said—All unopposed Bills are, of course, very carefully gone into by Mr. Gray and myself; in fact we always feel that we are there to watch the public interest. I can give an instance of that now. I need not necessarily name the Bill, but it is a heavy Tramway Bill. There was actually an agreed clause between the corporation and the promoters of the tramway, of which the agents said ' This is agreed'; I looked at it and I found from first to last it altered the general law, it was so serious a matter that, although the agreed clause was brought in at the last moment and we were just proving the preamble, I begged Mr. Lowther not to go on with it. I took the Bill over to Lord Morley and Mr. Gray, and the end of it was that they not only cut out all I objected to, but three-fourths besides, yet that was an agreed clause. I mention that to show that we do not pass over those things.Those who are not familiar with the practice are apt to look upon Private Bills as if they were questions between litigants, but that is not the case. There is a close survey by the two Chairmen of Committees and their counsel of all unopposed Bills, while the Home Office and the Local Government Board also raised points which concern them. Now, I should like to ask the Lord Advocate what is to be done under this Bill. Are the Chairmen of Committees still to scrutinize the unopposed Bills in the same way as they do at present? Under the examination proposed in section 2 of the Bill they are not, for in future it is only the question of the tribunal with which the Chairmen will be concerned, and not, as at present, whether the clauses conform with the general law accepted by Parliament or whether they do not. As I understand the scheme of the Bill the Secretary for Scotland is to exercise this scrutiny, and to see whether 587 unopposed Bills are in accordance with the general law or whether they are not. Now, Sir, if that is the case it seems to me mischievous to have two independent legislative authorities granting powers on different grounds. It seems to me to be wrong that the Chairman should measure out what should be allowed in England, and the Secretary for Scotland should measure out what should be allowed for Scotland. I think the authority should be the same in both Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. Then again, Sir, I should like to ask what you are going to do under the scheme of the Bill with the reports of the different Departments upon Private Bills. These are no mere formalities. The different Departments make careful and searching reports with regard to the unopposed Bills. Difficulties occur even now—if I may quote again from the evidence of the Speaker's counsel—in reconciling the desires of the promoters with the Reports of the Departments. He says—As a matter of fact the Home Office and the Local Government Board are most particular about these clauses in Private Bills, and their reports are most voluminous; in fact, about one clause with regard to gas in a Gas Bill the Home Office have been very stiff-backed, and for a whole month would not allow that Hill to pass. I had three interviews with Sir Kenelm Digby, and the same with Sir Matthew White Ridley. At last we had actually to take it to the House of Lords, and we had Lord Morley, Mr. Lowther, Sir Kenelm Digby, and Sir Matthew White Ridley all there, and that was to decide the form of one particular clause. I only quote that as one instance (I have plenty more) of the very great care that is taken that clauses should be very properly settled. That was an unopposed Bill.Now, Sir, I want to know how these reports are going to be dealt with under the scheme of the Bill. I know something about these reports, because I have had the honour of acting as Chairman of Committee on a good many of these unopposed Bills. The reports come before us, and we, as a Committee of the House of Commons, are responsible to this House and nobody else. We are perfectly free to criticise and consider the reports of the Departments, and when we have to pass over the recommendations of a Department we are here to defend ourselves. But do you expect the Commissioners whom you send into the country under this Bill to be equally independent in considering the merits, and disregarding, if they think fit, the recommendations of 588 the Home Office or the Local Government Board? I do not think they will. I think you will find that they would feel themselves bound to accept the recommendations. I must say that I do not think these recommendations ought always to be accepted; I think sometimes they require to be rejected. It would also be more awkward for the Secretary for Scotland to reject the recommendations, say, of a Department such as the Home Office, than for those of us who are a Committee of this House. Therefore, Sir, I think that you require as a final arbiter in these matters the supreme body of Parliament, and you ought not, as at present, to make it a mere question of accident whether there is opposition or not. Now, Sir, there is one other point that I must mention, and that is the question of the small opponent. In most cases, the small opponent wants to make the best bargain he can; but there are cases where some individual, or some representative body, is prevented by the expense of this House from making itself heard. For example, the district guardians may have views as to the advisability of a railroad, but may not be prepared to go to the expense of opposing the railway in Parliament. This Bill does not meet the objection in the least in cases of that sort, which all rest on Bills which will not be referred to the Commissioners at all, but which will be kept here and be dealt with in the same way as at present, by the Committee upstairs. Nobody suggests for a moment that all Bills shall have to be heard locally, and the power which is put in the draft of this Bill is for the purpose of keeping all large Bills here, and the local objectors, I suppose, will be in the same position as at present. Now I think the remedy to that ought to be considered, and the one which I should suggest is to have a preliminary local inquiry; that is a remedy which would meet a great deal of the difficulty which is felt in Scotland in the case of all Bills which are to be heard and dealt with up here. Of course the objection to that would be that it is a mere useless rehearsal of what is to take place here afterwards, but that would be put right if you prohibit the men who appear there from coming hero. The man whose interest was small would appear before the Sheriff just as a District Councillor does, and state his case. The Sheriff would make a report of the matters as he heard them, 589 and that report would be read by the Committee, just in the same way as a report of a Government Department would be read. A procedure of that kind would give a local hearing to many who were only interested to a small extent, and would meet a real grievance. In the report of the Glasgow Faculty of Proctors a suggestion was made that in all cases after deciding on the preamble of a Bill there should be an adjournment for a week, so that all persons who had objections to the clauses, and not to the preamble, might object without being put to the expense of being present at all the arguments upon the preamble. That is a way in which small objectors might be met. Another part of the Bill in which the objections have not been touched by the Government is that which was dealt with so ably by the honourable Member for Stroud. I do not wish to enter into that at all, but I do think that there are few questions so difficult to discuss in this House as the question of the fees upon Private Bills which are brought up before us. Then there is a proposal which would really meet most of the objections—the difficulties that are felt in regard to this Bill, if the Government will only accept it; it is that this Bill should be in the first instance made optional. This is arrived at on the ground of protection with regard to the smaller interests which was made by the Lord Advocate last year; but as I pointed out, the smaller interests are not protected by this Bill. They are left just where they are at the present time. I wish that the Lord Advocate would, after the evidence of last year, reconsider this point. It is obviously certain that under this Bill, if it passes, all big Bills will be kept here. The evidence of the Chairman of Committees, already referred to, is most interesting upon that point. He took a sample of the Scotch Bills of last year; but of 20 Scotch Bills, he said, only 12 would be such as could be sent down for the purposes of a local enquiry, but the eight biggest he would under any circumstances have kept here; so that nearly half the Scotch Bills would be kept here, just as they are at present. Since reading the evidence of the Chairman of Committees, the promoters of the Bill have not in any way attempted to alter the words which govern the definition of Bills to be sent down for local enquiry. They have kept those words exactly as they were. The 590 effect of the present Bill, therefore, with the present Chairman of Committees in power, will be that all Railway Bills, and most Corporation Bills and most Police Bills will remain here as at present. Why should not the Government acknowledge this and give an option, which, after all, will have almost no effect other than this Bill will produce? Why do they put upon those who promote Bills the whole burden of going through a double set of preliminaries, those prescribed by this Bill, and those prescribed by the present Standing Orders, when in most cases, even in the first year, it will be certain that the Bills will be kept here, and in nearly all cases after one year, they will know by public assent whether the Bills will be kept here or sent down to the country? It is the central view of the Glasgow Committee. The view of the Stirling Corporation is that this option ought to be given; that the promoters of a Bill ought, when they know it is a large Bill, and that nothing will be gained by a local hearing of the question, to be able to bring it here. Now I have tried to point out a few of the most definite criticisms that I have to make upon this Bill. There are certain points which I think necessitate the holding of a local enquiry in the districts concerned, but I do strongly object to this House giving up its control with regard to Scotland on exactly the same ground as I should object in the case of the United Kingdom to its giving up its legitimate control over what is called private legislation. We may delegate anybody to do our work as much as we please. We do so now, and I have not the least objection in the world at the present moment to send down three or four gentlemen "who are experienced in affairs," whatever that phrase may be, so long as the ultimate decision remains in our hands, so long as we have control and keep matters before us, so that we can have a word upon questions of importance that arise. Where you have large questions involving a great deal of controversy, these local enquiries, I think, cannot diminish expense. Then I would wish to leave the question of whether the matter must be fought out here, or whether it can be settled by a local enquiry in the hands of those who are concerned in the Bill, and the promoters. Our habit has been in these matters to proceed step by step, and when we find an option is working properly 591 and successfully, to make it compulsory. I say the way to establish a new and untried power is to give an optional power first, and if we find that it is winning the confidence of the country, then who can make the power permanent, and send before it everything with which we think it competent to deal.
§ * MR. MUNRO-FERGUSON (Leith Burghs)
It is evident from the discussion to which we have listened to-night, that there is a considerable divergence of opinion on both sides of the House with regard to the matter now under discussion, a divergency of opinion which does not seem to be mitigated since that which we had upon a similar matter last year. On the last occasion I said most of what I have to say upon the subject of the Bill, and I can assure the right honourable Gentlemen opposite that on this occasion I shall not take up the attention of the House for any length of time. But since the last discussion took place there has been a report of the Select Committee, and the Committee has, I think, laid claim to the fact that there is a choice between the panel which is proposed by the Government and the appointment of a Commission consisting of Members of Parliament to go to Scotland to hold an enquiry into Private Bills there. I think last year, while the discussion was going on, the honourable Gentlemen opposite made a good deal of fun of Members of Parliament going down to Scotland, and the right honourable Gentleman, the First Lord, looked upon it as something very chimerical, but that has not been the view of the Select Committee. The view of a substantial minority, at all events, after having inquired into the matter, is that the constitution of the tribunal—that being the main point—that the tribunal shall be composed of Members of both Houses, and they point out that the public confidence in the impartiality of the tribunals, which has been extended to the House of Commons Committees in the past, would be accorded to a commission so constituted. The objections, which are analysed in the report, to a commission composed in that way, were that there might be an insufficiency of Members of this House, and the Committee reported that that would not be so, and it is also suggested that there would not be a sufficiency of Peers, but I have had an expression of opinion from certain 592 Peers who think that there would be no difficulty so far as the House of Lords is concerned. Therefore, if a Commission can be formed, the main objections to the procedure under this Bill would be remedied. Why should we not have a commission composed of the Members of both Houses? That is the one point I would like to urge the Government to consider. It cannot be denied by the right honourable Gentleman that there are objections to the Bill as it stands. It may be said that there would be objections to any form of procedure, and with that I might possibly agree, but the main disadvantage of the devolution proposed by the Government would be remedied if you could have a Parliamentary Commission, and as it would be remedied in that way I do hope that even now at the eleventh hour the Government will reconsider its determination to propose the panel as laid down in this Bill. The Secretary for Scotland is himself favourable to the proposal, and the evidence given before the Select Committee is so strongly in favour of a Parliamentary Commission that one is almost surprised that that form of procedure is not recommended in the Government Measure. The Bill as it is brought before the House is, I still think, founded on absolutely wrong lines. Devolution is essential, and I am quite against the honourable and learned Member opposite, who thinks that there is not a sufficient case for devolution. It is not a matter entirely of the integrity of the tribunal, it is a matter of the convenience of the promoters and opponents of a Measure; the difficulty of small objectors coming up here, which has been so ably put forward by the Lord Advocate, is one with which I entirely sympathise. So far as the proposals of the Bill go, I am in entire sympathy with the objects of the Government, but I am absolutely opposed to the procedure set up. The right honourable Gentleman, I know, is against the idea of this tribunal being described as a Board, but it is a Board nevertheless which is proposed to be set up under this Bill. A panel composed of "persons experienced in affairs" are to act as Commissioners under this Act. I want to know what "experience of affairs" the Commissioners should have. Will anybody assert that where there are salaries to be given away, unpaid Members of Parliament would be put upon the Commission, when paid Members could be placed upon it? It is no Party Question. But 593 men "experienced in affairs" might be men who had some experience of sacrifices made by them for the Conservative Party, and their claims will be very strongly urged, and paid Members will be most certainly appointed, and only those Members who are so appointed will bring contentment. Therefore, I say that this proposal of the Government means a Board, and nothing but a Board, a new form of bureaucracy, a form of government which has been extended to Scotland only too generally for many years past. It is not the fault of any one Government. I remember the right honourable Gentleman pointing out that considerable practice had been made in that direction by the Party on this side of the House. That is true; but the difficulty on the part of Scotland, owing to the difficulty in getting adequate discussion of Scotch affairs in this House, is that a system of bureaucracy has crept in which is undesirable, and I oppose this proposal. Whilst I am entirely in favour of the principle of devolution, I am of opinion that it can only be satisfactorily carried out by Parliamentary devolution, and I shall always protest as earnestly as I can against this system of Boards and the perpetuation of this principle of bureaucracy.
§ MR. ORR-EWING (Ayr Burghs)
The speech delivered by the honourable Member is one which is in very strong contrast to that delivered by the honourable Member for Stroud. The honourable Member was hard pushed, because, as he said, all that he could say was that under this Measure important Bills would naturally be referred to the Private Bills Committee, as at present. The honourable Member for Stroud drew a most horrible picture as to the mistaken policy in allowing such a thing as the alteration of criminal law without the sanction of Parliament, and I think the honourable Member for Stroud was tight, and that no such alteration should be allowed to be possible under this Bill. I am thankful to the Government for having brought in a Bill at all dealing with this matter in two consecutive Sessions. The Bill brought in last year was not accorded such a reception as to encourage the Government in taking further steps in the matter; but I am glad that the Opposition has been gauged at its proper value, and has not been taken by the Government to be the true opinion of the 594 Scottish people. The Opposition this year is based upon the same lines as that of last year. Roughly speaking, there is no opposition to this Bill at all. Members on both sides of the Houses have agreed that -in detail the Bill is a good one, and I do not think that in this House there is a single man who is an out and out opponent of the Bill. Last year it was referred to a Select Committee, who made some very valuable suggestions, most of which have been adopted. They objected to the panel of commission which the Government have encouraged, but every time a Bill has been brought in for the purpose of dealing with Private Bill legislation for Scotland, the panel of commission has always been objected to, and in my humble opinion, however the Bill might be drafted and whatever panel of commission might be set up, it always will be objected to. I think it would be much more fair for honourable Members to say that they are not in favour of such a Bill and vote against it. The panel that it is proposed to set up is objected to, and I have heard honourable Members say that they would prefer that the whole of those who are on the panels should be Members of Parliament. The honourable Gentleman who has just sat down said devolution is necessary, but if you had a panel composed entirely of Members of Parliament, would there be any devolution at all? and if you are to have all Members of Parliament, and if there is to be a local enquiry, are you going to send Scotch Members? because, if so, the honourable Member for Bridgeton knows perfectly well that you are going against the practice which applies here in appointing Members to the Committee on Private Bills because, as he knows perfectly well, if there is a Scotch Bill to be dealt with, no Scotch Member is placed upon the Committee. These are all points to be considered in Committee, however, and I shall pass over that. Then there is the question of expense; some contend that it would not be less than it is at present, and that it might be greater, but that is based on the assumption that Counsel will be brought from London to attend these enquiries, but it is admitted that there are several learned Gentlemen practising at the Scotch Bar who might be able to take charge of these matters, and I think we have only to look at 595 one specimen in this House to admit the force of the Scotch Bar, and there are many who sit on the other side of the House — the Member for Mid Lanark, for instance—who show what Scottish lawyers can do. There is an instance of a great railway Company which shows that they do not shun a local enquiry, but in fact prefer it to an enquiry before the Private Bills Committee. I refer to the Northern and South-Western Railway who wished to extend their line. They did not come to this House, they preferred to have a local enquiry under the Light Railways Commission. They are not going to build a light railway, but a heavy railway. They had the option of coming up to this House or of taking the chances of a local enquiry. They preferred the latter. In matters of importance they are of advantage to small district or local authorities who are prevented from bringing forward their views because of the expense entailed by coming up here. I have no doubt that the utmost advantage will be taken of this Act by small districts, and that it will be of very great benefit to them. As regards the powers given to the Secretary for Scotland and the Chairman of the Boards and Committee of Ways and Means, there are some Members who think that some day or other we may have honourable Gentlemen very differently occupied to the way in which they are at present, and that they may be so saturated with revolutionary principles as to over-ride the interests of private individuals and other bodies. I think we might take the other view because the class of Gentleman who occupies so important a position is likely to be such that that is never likely to occur. I thank the Government for bringing in this Bill, and I trust that they may be able to carry it through, as I am certain that it will not only prove to be of inestimable advantage to Scotland herself, but it will also be to England and to Ireland, inasmuch as it will relieve this House from dealing with a vast amount of Scotch business with which it has now to deal.
§ CAPTAIN SINCLAIR (Forfar)
The honourable Member who has just sat down has delivered a very luminous and interesting speech, but, Mr. Speaker, not only is it the fact that this measure has received a very lukewarm reception, even 596 on the Ministerial side of the House, but it is also a fact if we go through the literature of this subject and the evidence and Report of last year and the Report of the Joint Committee in 1888, that it is incontestable that no healthy support can be got from either of the Reports for this proposal. In the first place it seems to me that the whole reception of this Measure and of the other measures which have preceded it are radically wrong. This is not a Scottish Bill. It is a Bill which proposes in view of certain difficulties and inconveniences, not only to those attending the inquiries of Bills by us, but also having regard to the increase of work in this House, to deal with the difficulty from two points of view, and to say that it regards Scotland alone, and that the proper line is to divide up business by nationalities, is not in accordance at all with the Report of the Joint Committee of 1888 or with the full burden and spirit of the evidence given last year. In the first place, what is the business it is proposed to transfer? On an average it amounts to between 10 and 14 applications for legislation every year, and the proposal of this Bill is to set up what the honourable Member for Leith called a new Board and a new Department, with additional officials to deal with this microscopic amount of business which would only give a microscopic amount of relief either to this House or in the direction in which relief is sought by Scotland. It is said that there is much evidence of the wish of Scotland to have this Measure. I confess I have utterly failed for years to distinguish any real tendency or desire on the part of Scotland for a measure of this kind at all. The people of Scotland do recognise what has been recognised in one Act of Parliament after another for the last ten years—that there are a great many small matters of business and legislation for which they do not wish to come to this House at all, and the House has recognised that by giving definite prescribed and therefore safe powers to smaller municipalities in these matters. The last instance was in the Public Health Act of 1897, where for many purposes under the Act detailed in Parts 2 and 3, the powers of the Act which include the provision of mortuaries, hospitals, drains, sewers and various other matters of expenditure, were given in a definite, prescribed and very safe way to local Municipalities, and they obtained 597 the object which they wished to obtain in that way without coming to this House at all. In that sense the people of Scotland do wish further devolution and an ex-tension of powers, but when it comes to a matter of considering whether improvement can be made in the procedure of this House, we are dealing with matters of an entirely different magnitude and construction wholly absent from these minor matters, which can be safely given over to these local bodies to be dealt with. Perhaps I may say a word in continuation as to what the people of Scotland really want. They object to nothing in the present procedure except the expense. There is no objection to the tribunal whatever, and I fail to see how this Bill is going to remove the burden of the expense which now falls on the people of Scotland. It is right enough and perfectly true, if you choose to have a tribunal of Commissioners of this kind established, which would have a great deal of work to do, and which would be distributed over different parts of the United Kingdom, that there might be a saving of expense, but as it stands at present the applications for Provisional Orders which will come before this new tribunal being about 12, it is impossible for the Government to show that there would be any saving in expense in its establishment when com pared with the present state of things. I have been through the applications this year with the officials of the House and they come to 14, which I understand is a heavy number, the usual number of Provisional Orders from Scotland being about 12. I am perfectly well aware of the fact that the fees of the House are not exacted on Provisional Orders, but the real burthen of expense comes from two sources, one the fees of the House, and the other the elaborate notices which have hitherto been customary in these matters. Then I come back to the point I have already mentioned. Where we could have a saving would be, if matters of business could be safely relegated to Scotland and Ireland and other parts of the United Kingdom you would have no fees to pay and you would have less elaborate machinery as regards advertisement notices and everything else. In the general objections to this Measure I share most heartily, chief among them being that we are more or less handing over legislation from the cognisance of this House. After all there is a distinct 598 tendency, so far as I can observe, to clear matters out of this House. Everything that comes before Parliament nowadays, as far as details and arrangement of business are concerned, is left to the particular Department concerned. In Educational matters a very wide discretion is given to the Department, and in this matter of Private Bill procedure also it is quite possible that in a few years a very large amount of work will be left to a Department. A tendency is growing up and developing in many of these Departments of legislation and administration which perhaps we did not anticipate. It is a great loss to the House and the country that these matters are removed from its scope as public interest in them is killed, and I think generally it is a great pity that this tendency should not be more definitely recognised, and if necessary combated. There is a further point I should like to mention. It seems to be assumed by some honourable Members on this side, and I am sorry to find myself in disagreement with them, that all objections to this Measure would be removed if the tribunal were a peripatetic commission of Members of Parliament. That would not at all meet the difficulty. Whatever may be the work done by individual Members of Parliament, it cannot be contended for a moment that the responsibility and the work falling on them are not increasing every year. There are complaints made frequently in this House that opportunity is not given for the discussion of this and that subject, that public attention is not turned to certain proposals, such as the Indian Budget and other matters. I think it would hardly be likely to commend itself to the House that a joint or a single committee of Members of Parliament should be constituted as a tribunal. What an extraordinary position we should be in ! Take an application for a Provisional Order for public land. Under the Act, if there is an inquiry, I apprehend it would be undertaken by an Inspector. Surely it is not contemplated that this Parliamentary, peripatetic tribunal should hold a local inquiry of not very much greater magnitude than that carried out by an Inspector. It is improbable that the two Houses would over consent to such a proposal as that. Dealing with the subject matter of this Bill, we are dealing with very unimportant business. It may be a very important and necessary thing 599 to consider the necessity for a change of procedure in this House, but as a matter of fact the original proposal of the Joint Committee of 1888 did not proceed on the lines of this Bill at all. It proceeded on lines of general relief and general change in the business of the House. As it is now, there is a strange disinclination on the part of large municipalities to come in under this Bill, and whether an option is given by the Government or not, those powerful bodies will have the greatest objection to conducting their legislation in this manner. I have no doubt the Government will be ready to give way to them on that point, but it will reduce the scope of the Bill by three-fourths of the business, as 95 per cent. of private business belongs to large municipalities and to the railway companies. The line on which the Committee of 1888 proceeded was a line of general relief to the House. If the House has too much Private Bill business to do, let it secure relief by handing over all the railway business to a permanent tribunal, and as a corollary to the relief, to extend the powers of the smaller municipalities and local authorities through out the United Kingdom. That is the right line to follow. If we seriously intend to take up this question of Private Bill Procedure, we have no right to make an experiment on Scotland. I do not believe from the evidence that there is any wish for this or that method of procedure in Scotland. As a matter of fact, there have been four or five Bills since the Joint Committee of 1888, and I very respectfully blame the Government for bringing forward another of these Measures without giving us any indication that they have any mind of their own or policy in the matter, or that they are prepared to stick to the Measure. I think we are entitled to ask for some guidance. Year after year the same wretched proposal is brought before the House, and last year not a word was said upstairs in hearty support of it. The Lord Advocate with most admirable skill endeavoured to minimise all kinds of difficulties and to reconcile, as far as he could, all kinds of disagreements, but no one reading the evidence could say with confidence that the Government proposed any real solution. I am strongly in favour of devolution so long as it can be wisely and safely applied, but I am also in favour of doing nothing which would interfere with the procedure of this House, 600 which has hitherto given satisfaction. It is because I wish for devolution rather than any of the expedients mentioned in the Debate, and because I believe the Bill to be feeble and wrong in principle, that I intend to vote against it.
§ * MR. COURTNEY
The honourable and gallant Member who has just sat down has recognised that the subject-matter of this Bill is not one affecting Scotland alone. It affects Scotland in the first instance, and I may be excused for venturing to intrude on what is mainly a Scotch Debate, because the subject is one I have thought over for a very long time, and I was a Member of the Committee which considered it last year. The honourable and learned Member for Stroud stated in a very able speech that all his large experience and hard reasoning on the subject-matter of this Bill, had led him to a conclusion entirely in favour of the principle of the existing system, with perhaps some amendments in detail. A more conservative argument in favour of things as they are has rarely been addressed to this House. My own consideration has led me to a very different conclusion. I hold the opinion very strongly that it is necessary to remove, so far as possible and as much as possible, Private Bill business from this House. No mere changes in detail would seriously affect the mischief. So long as the procedure in connection with private business is inextricably connected with the business of this House, at almost every stage, so long must it be uncertain, dilatory, and costly. The initial stage is connected with the sittings of this House, some of the things to be done by the Bill have to be referred to the House, and finally the Bill has again to be sanctioned by the House, so that the whole proposal is connected with the Parliamentary Session. That in itself must add to the expense, but what is more, it affects these proposals with an air of mystery. They are shrouded in some measure from parties in the country who are mainly interested, and who look on going to Parliament as a great business which involves considerable expense. Simple matters of local interest, which might be settled in accord with local feeling at very slight expense if removed from reference to this House, must and will remain accompanied with all those drawbacks so long as their connection with this House exists. What are the reasons why my honourable 601 and learned Friend upholds things as they are? He said this is a Legislature. We are a legislative body and therefore we are bound to maintain our legislative authority. In the first place by far the larger part of this Private Bill business is a litigation instituted between the private rights of ownership possessed by a particular person and the claim made by another person to divest him on terms of compensation of that ownership for purposes of local utility. That cannot be called legislation except by a very strained interpretation of the term. It is a comparison of the relative claims of private persons, one moving in the public interest and claiming the interests of the other who is resisting that claim. The House at large generally leaves the whole business to be argued by the persons for and against the application before a tribunal upstairs chosen as a judicial tribunal, and with whose conclusion the House refuses to interfere. In nine cases out of ten the process is a judicial proceeding, and what happens in the House does not affect the essential part of the procedure upstairs. My honourable and learned Friend referred to cases where bodies applied for powers exceeding or at variance with the general law, but I do not suppose that under the form this Bill will ultimately take all proposals for private Bills will be at once referred to external tribunals. My honourable and learned Friend assumes that will be so, but it is not so in the Bill as it stands. It is true that the first clause says everything should be done in a particular fashion, but a subsequent clause provides for an elimination and discretion on the part of the Chairmen of the two Houses and the Secretary for Scotland, and I can see that such applications as that of a muuicipal authority for extra police regulations are of a character to be retained in this House. The safeguards on which my honourable and learned Friend relics are extremely illusory. Take an illustration of what our Committees have done. There was the Eastbourne case, which perplexed magistrates so much that we had to have it back here to be undone. We said we did not do it, that it was done by a Committee, and that the House at large would not have permitted it if it had known it was being done. That is an illustration of the sort of control we now exercise. Our own experience has red bit by bit to the abstraction of one 602 subject after another from the ordinary course of procedure here, and they are investigated by departmental agents of the Board of Trade or the Home Office, and on the report of those agents that a case is proved the Provisional Order is drawn up and is passed through the House. My honourable and learned Friend does not object to that. But a great many cases of the same character are still excluded, and they are excluded by some technical or accidental difference which excludes the jurisdiction of a particular department although there is no difference whatever in the principle. A case came under my own notice last year. A borough wanted to take over a Water Company established in the borough. Under a private Act it would have been able to have done so by a Provisional Order and would have saved money, but unfortunately the Company had some provision affecting the right of a land-owner in the next parish, and although Parliament cannot touch his interests at all, it was necessary to resort to the procedure of an Act of Parliament. It is not quite accurate to describe the present proposal as a development of the Provisional Order plan, as the essence of that plan is that there should be a reference to Parliament in the last resort. But in this Bill such reference depends on the Chairmen of the two Houses and the Secretary for Scotland. But I am prepared to say that in many cases the Provisional Order might wisely and judiciously be altered by making it a fixed Order. I cite in support of that the experience we have had under the Light Railways Act. Under the Act Bills are made Private Acts by the sanction of the Department after inquiry by the Commissioners, and I have never heard any criticism of a hostile character in reference to such a procedure. If therefore we go on the Provisional Order system, as under the Light Railways Act, we shall simply leave Provisional Orders to be confirmed by the Department after hearing, if necessary, the parties who have appeared before the Commissioners and who may appear again before the Department. That is satisfactory in cases under the Light Railways Act. Then the question is raised:—Is it sufficient to have this control so exercised without reference to Parliament? An honourable learned Gentleman insisted upon having Parliamentary control, though he would 603 accept the preliminary investigation of the facts before a local tribunal. Now, what is the nature of the Parliamentary control? That Parliamentary control is to be combined with local investigation by sending down a deputation from the House to make inquiry. I do not stop to ask whether it was possible to get the Members to go down. I think the honourable and gallant Gentleman who has just sat down was quite right, and certainly with regard to it the Chairman of Committee of Selection, and the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees in the other House, last year pronounced that that plan could not be worked. Let it be supposed that the suggestion of the honourable and learned Gentleman the Member for Border Burghs is put into operation, and that you send down a deputation to investigate. Is their investigation and conclusion to be final or not? Nothing was said upon that point by the honourable Member for Border Burghs.
MR. T. SHAW
I am afraid the right honourable Gentleman did not follow the latter part of my argument. The Joint Committee of both Houses should give what I call a first and final verdict on the matter.
§ * MR. COURTNEY
In that case it would pass the Order. It would not be a Provisional Order, but a final Order. I want to repudiate the notion that you get under that any Parliamentary control, for you only get the control of four Members of Parliament, and how can it be said that these four Members represent the mind of Parliament? What assurance have you got that their action is the action which Parliament would take? All you can say is that they have been transplanted, for they may arrive at a totally different conclusion from that which Parliament in its wisdom would arrive at. All that would be secured is the bringing of a number of minds familiar with Parliamentary experience to the discussion of the question, but that control could be secured by the supervision of the chiefs of the Government Departments, with the assistance of the three of the chief Parliamentary officials, after being examined by such a body as the Light Railways Commission. It could be secured by the Board of Trade, acting through its President, who is connected—and whose Secretary is 604 also connected—with Parliament, if you bring that Parliamentary atmosphere into the consideration of the question, for then they are responsible to this House. You do in that way secure that Parliamentary touch and contact which the honourable and learned Gentleman the Member for Border Burghs desires. Upon these grounds I have arrived at the conclusion that what is wanted would be secured by having the appropriate Bills sent to be tried by a local tribunal, which I believe would be quite sufficient for the purpose if it was analogous to the Light Railways Commission; and after such an inquiry it might be considered by the Department responsible for that business and reported to this House, the heads of which are in touch with Parliamentary life. That is necessary if a concession is wanted to the feelings and jealousies which animate this House, and you may require that the final stage of the Bill should not be left at the official stage, but should be brought before the House. How rarely in the experience of the Light Railways Act is there any question of a Provisional Order being ratified, and you certainly have to consult the feelings of this House by first restricting the question to go for consideration to these external tribunals in the fashion I have stated. As to these external tribunals, this is the question in the Bill before us. My honourable Friend the Member for Durham said it was a scandal that we should go on for so many years without making any progress, but I think with that motive we shall any this Bill through and make a start. I believe that we shall still find many of the proposals of this Bill to be redundant, if not encumbrances, and they will be dropped, and we shall work through experience with the simpler system. Of course, I concur in the | criticism of my honourable and learned Friend the Member for Stroud as to the Chairmen of Committees as they are introduced in this Bill. I myself, if I were Chairman of Ways and Means, should be most reluctant to undertake the first task of separating the Bills which are received under the Bill to be sent before the tribunal, but when we came to the question of picking out and choosing those 25 Gentlemen—who are at least 22 Gentlemen too many—when we get these 25 Gentlemen, and I am called upon by the noble Lord, the Chairman of Committees in the other House, and the Secretary for 605 Scotland as to the choice of those Gentlemen, I feel that I should abandon my part of the business in despair. I do not know how anyone could bring the necessary knowledge to the transaction of that very delicate function of choice, and certainly the Chairman of this and the other House have quite enough work on their hands without being troubled with this other duty of making this choice. May I ask the Lord Advocate for an explanation of a very small matter? But it is a new point, and it may be of great importance in the Bill, for everything in an Act of Parliament is significant, and the judges are bound to give significance to everything, and if they find a variation of phraseology in one part as compared with another, they endeavour to attach some meaning to it out of deference to the intention of Parliament. Now in the fourth clause of this Bill it is provided that the Chairmen of Committees of the two Houses are to act jointly with the Secretary for Scotland, and in another place it is provided that the Secretary for Scotland is to act jointly with the Chairmen of Committees. If it means the same thing we had better have the same form, but if it means different things then I should have thought that it would have been better for the Secretary for Scotland to have chosen the 25 Gentlemen, and the Chairmen of Committees to have given their approval. I confess that in my judgment the electing of these 25 is a mistake. You may select this number, but before five years are over I think that you will find that they are 22 too many. I think the proper plan would be to select two or three Commissioners, such as the Light Railway Commissioners; and in reference to their conclusion discretion might be exercised just as is the case with the President of the Board of Trade in reference to light railways, the Secretary for Scotland being responsible to this House. By this means we may arrive at something which may be of great use to all parts of the country, to Ireland and to England as well as to Scotland. The honourable Gentleman who has just sat down complained that Scotland was being made the base of this experiment. They are a wise people, and they desire in other matters that their affairs should be managed in a different fashion, and I only wish my own countrymen felt the same resentment against the present system, -which is a hindrance to the development 606 of trade and of our country in many ways. This scheme, such as it is, will, I have no doubt, be accepted for the reason stated by my honourable and learned Friend, the Member for Durham, that something must be done. We want to see the Bill through, therefore let it go through, and let it be tried. It will do no harm, and it will do some good. It will create a simpler form of machinery in the future, and I accept this Bill as an experiment which will lead to a beneficial conclusion.
§ MR. GRAHAM MURRAY
In spite of what was said by the honourable Member for Leeds and the honourable Member for Forfarshire, I cannot help feeling that I am in a much better position this year than I occupied when I had to defend the Bill which was introduced last year. My right honourable Friend who has just sat down has said, near the end of his speech, that he does not think anybody is enamoured of this Bill, but I recognise in that that my right honourable Friend has said so many pleasant things about it that it was quite impossible that he should not have a relapse before he sat down. I remember that last year he enjoined me to be of good courage, and intimated that he was very anxious to have what is described as a day out cross-examining the Chairman and the Secretary for Scotland. We agreed with him, and he had his day, or rather his days, and the result is that he has come back and has practically entirely blessed this Bill, only that he looks forward to the Bill only as a prelude to his own scheme, which is that of taking the machinery of the Bill as it is, but changing the Commission proposed to a permanent Commission with a smaller number of Members. No doubt, nominally, of these Amendments before the House, there is an Amendment which, I suppose, in form is destructive to the proposition that the Bill be now read a second time. If the honourable Baronet who moved the Amendment had devoted himself seriously to his Amendment, I should have thought it necessary to point out that really the present scheme is, at any rate, a great improvement upon our present Parliamentary procedure, because, while at present there is practically no possibility of any Scotch Member having any say on a Scotch Bill, under the scheme of this Bill there would at least be the possibility. 607 I should have thought it necessary to point out that his Amendment does not deal with any grievances, because there has been no complaint from Scotland that Scotch private legislation has been dealt with by Englishmen, Irishmen, and Welshmen, rather than by Scotchmen. But, as honourable Members know, the complaint has been of a perfectly different description. I am, however, entirely relieved from bearing upon these topics, because honourable Members who were in the House when the honourable Member for the Bridgeton Division moved his Amendment will recognise that he moved it in a speech which was not against the Second Reading of the Bill at all, but was really a speech which proposed a Committee Amendment, namely, to take the Bill as it stands and to alter the constitution of the tribunals by making it entirely consist of Members of Parliament. That Amendment was seconded by the honourable Member for Caithness in a speech which showed such a total disregard or ignorance of the provisions of the Bill that I really cannot follow his arguments at all. It is sufficient to say that he describes the Bill as giving Ministers power to grant concessions, and he illustrated that by a reference so unfortunate that I am glad to think his withdrawal has dispensed with any necessity for my dealing with that speech. But the real speech against the Second Reading of the Bill was delivered by my honourable Friend behind me, the Member for Stroud. Well, I am not altogether surprised at that speech, because the honourable and learned Member was well content with the way Private Bill legislation was now carried on, and we all remember where he was cradled and where he was bred. My honourable Friend was particularly anxious to make it clear that his speech was not entirely of a negative character, but that it was somewhat of a positive nature, But after all, what was the nature of his criticism, and what was his counsel of perfection? I put it to the House that his counsel of perfection was this: "Leave procedure exactly as it is, and reduce all fees except counsel's." But at the same time, my honourable Friend no doubt supported his view in a speech of very great ability. I may rest myself contented upon the fact that he has not had, I think, any support except from the honourable arid gallant Member for Forfarshire, in the direction of going against 608 the principle of the Bill altogether. But at the same time I do not propose to shelter myself on that plea, but I shall deal as shortly as I can with some of the arguments put forward by the honourable Member. I agree with him and others in saying that it is not a Scottish question. It is a House of Commons question. My honourable Friend's chief argument is this, and I hope I am putting it fairly: He said that the primary difficulty was that the subject-matter of other Private Bills was legislation, and he said, for I put down his words at the time, "I object to this wholesale transfer to a mere official tribunal of this power of legislation." Now I ask, is it a fair description of what is effected under the provisions of this Bill, to say that it is a wholesale transfer of powers to a mere official tribunal? I want to deal with this argument that there is no right to delegate what is really legislative work. The honourable Member for Stroud went on to say that delegation is only proper when the work is not legislative, but merely administrative or judicial, and as an illustration of what is properly judicial he cited the case of Divorce Bills. I am quite aware that the honourable Member for Durham and my right honourable Friend who has just sat down, take exception to my honourable Friend the Member for Stroud's definition of what is really legislative work. Their argument was very plain, and I will leave that argument where it is. But let me pass that, and let me suppose that the honourable Member for Stroud is right. I take simply his own criterion, that is, the criterion of the Divorce Bills. Does the honourable Member not see that every word of his own speech is an absolute condemnation of the Provisional Order system? He does not object to the Provisional Order system; he does not deny that by Provisional Orders you can get Gas and Water Bills, and Bills relating to piers and harbours. Now I ask him, is gas a question of right or wrong, or is a harbour or a pier a question of guilty or not guilty? And yet, tested by his own idea of a Divorce Bill, it is perfectly wrong for this House to have delegated its powers on questions of gas or water or harbours and piers, in the matter of a Provisional Order.
§ MR. GRAHAM MURRAY
My honourable Friend draws a distinction between Provisional Orders, because he said that in Provisional Orders you have control, and under this system you have no control, and he further said, "I want a real and not a sham control." I cannot help thinking that my argument up to this point is justifiable, because the question of whether the control is effectuated or not, is a question of the provisions of the Bill. My point is that my honourable Friend's view is right, that if delegation of anything which was not either purely administrative or purely judicial, such as divorce work, is wrong, then it was wrong to have given up the control of procedure and allowed people to proceed by way of Provisional Order in regard to gas, water, piers, and harbours. Then I come to the question as to whether there is a sacrifice of control, which sacrifice you do not find in the Provisional Order system, but before I come to that, let me say that there is one form of control which my honourable Friend seems to attach particular weight to, and that is in reference to discussions on question of principle on the Second Reading. I think it has already been pointed out by the honourable Member for Durham, that anything more unsatisfactory than a Second Reading discussion and division on a Private Bill in this House can scarcely be imagined. You do not know anything about it, and you find that you have been more or less "peppered" with literature on both sides; you are buttonholed in the Lobby in a way which you never are in regard to a Public Bill, and our ideas are in a state of confusion when we go into one Lobby or the other. But besides that, what is the argument which generally prevails upon the question whether one is to vote "aye" or "no" on a Private Bill? Is it this great question of principle which is supposed to be amalgamated in the Bill? I think the real question which determines votes on the Second Reading of a Private Bill is, "Shall we give them a chance of getting upstairs?" That is the question upon which the Measure turns in this House, and accordingly, I say, the Second Reading control in this House, though theoretically and nominally perfect, is practically no control at all.
§ MR. GRAHAM MURRAY
I was dealing with my honourable Friend's Second Reading argument as to control, and he gave as an illustration one of the Bills of this year. I remember the Bill which took most time this year was the London Water Bill, and there was a very long discussion upon it, and there were great questions raised as to whether it was right that the County Council should be the water authority, and whether they should go as far as Wales for water. But how was that solved? It was not solved by this House coming to a determination on the question of monopoly trading. It was solved by the old expedient of saying that the proposals of the water company should go upstairs, and that something else should be put in after the Commission had reported. Now let me come to the question as to whether there is a sacrifice of control in this Bill which we do not find under the Provisional Order system, and the question which was asked me in reference to the control of the Third Reading by my right honourable Friend the Member for Sheffield: What is the difference between the system under this Bill and the system of Confirmation Bills and Provisional Orders? There is one difference, and one difference alone. In the case of there being opposition, it is an absolute right on the part of the opponent to insist that there should be a Confirmation Bill in this House which he may oppose, and upon which he gets the verdict of this House. Of course I am quite aware that the actual inquiry, when the Bill comes before this House, is not the old method of two inquiries—one by each House—but it is an inquiry before a hybrid Committee of both Houses. That, of course, is a distinction of principle, and does not concern the question of Parliamentary control. Therefore, I think my right honourable Friend the Member for Bodmin made a slip when he said that by the assent of the Secretary for Scotland there would be a Confirmation Bill. If there is opposition, the opponents have an absolute right in the Confirmation Bill which will necessarily be presented, and they have an opportunity of coming and opposing the Measure before this House. If the intention to give that right to opponents is not expressed in 611 the Bill, it will be amended so that it will do so. I am quite aware that one loophole still remains. It is quite true that merely vexatious memorials may be put forward simply with the idea of gaining time; and I am aware that that one loophole still remains. It is quite true, however, that under the procedure of this Bill, if there is no opposition, then you do not need a Confirmation Bill, and at once the Provisional Order becomes law, and that theoretically does away with the control of Parliament. But for all practical purposes, what is the difference between that system and the Provisional Order system at present? If a Provisional Order or a Confirmation Bill is unopposed, what happens to it? It goes before the Unopposed Committee, and no possible opponents are asked to attend there, and it appears on the Papers of this House, and it is passed in the ordinary way as an Unopposed Bill. My honourable Friend has had a wide experience in these matters, but I will challenge the honourable Member for Stroud to produce any one case where a Member of this House has suddenly interposed and has raised a discussion in order to show the control of Parliament upon an unopposed Confirmation Bill. If it has not done so, the position is exactly the same under the one system as under the other. I may pass over, I think, some of the arguments of my honourable Friends, because they are arguments, concerning the demands which are made on the time of Members of this House, and it is only a matter of justice to say that I do not put forward this Bill on those grounds. The real truth is, as the honourable Member for Dumfries has said, that the gist of what is wanted is the provision for a local inquiry. And remember the local inquiry is anxiously wanted by people in Scotland, not only upon the question of expense, but for other reasons too. They think that in many cases the tribunal which will conduct the local inquiry will have a greater chance of making itself acquainted with the true circumstances of the case than a tribunal sitting far away, and they think also that it will give those opportunities of appearance on the part of the small opponents of Bills which they do not get under the present system. The honourable Member for Aberdeenshire quoted a sentence of the Town Clerk of Dundee, in which he said that local 612 inquiries stimulate objections. I am not at all astonished that that is the view of the Town Clerk of Dundee. I know no man who is so sorry to meet somebody who can be as big as himself, as the Town Clerk of Dundee, and he is entirely on the side of the big battalions, and therefore I do not wonder that he objects to the provision. But the local inquiry and control we believe are best secured by the Provisional Order system; and I would like to remind honourable Members upon this matter that we do not stand exactly where we did last year, for at least we have the unanimous recommendation of the Select Committee. I would just like to remind the House of what the Select Committee said. The honourable Member for Forfarshire cannot find in the Select Committee's Report anything in favour of the Bill. I do not think he can have read the Report. What do they say? And this, remember, is a unanimous Report—The present Bill differs from all former Bills in respect that it does not propose to alter the procedure in respect to Provisional Order Bills, but rather seeks to provide a method of obtaining Provisional Orders which shall have the effect of an Act of Parliament in all cases subject to such procedure, leaving other matters to be dealt with by Private Bill. By an almost unanimous decision, your Committee came to the conclusion that the scheme of the Bill is preferable to any scheme not embodying the Provisional Order system.Well, that unanimity I think is very fairly reflected in the Debate in this House to-night. Honourable Members may laugh; but who has spoken? Of course I agree that the honourable Member for Stroud is against it, and the honourable Member for Forfarshire is against it, but on the other side the honourable Member for Dumfries is entirely in favour of this Bill, and I acknowledge with great pleasure the services which I think the honourable Member for the Border Burghs, who, as I understood, spoke in the name of the Bench upon which he sits, and who undoubtedly advised [Sir H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN dissented]—well, the right honourable Gentleman shakes his head, and I am very sorry to find he has gone back from that benevolent mood. I will take the right honourable Member as only representing himself. But he at any rate advised those who sat near him to vote for the Second Reading, and the tone undoubtedly of his speech was entirely in 613 favour of the Bill as a Bill, though no doubt with an appeal to us to alter our views upon the question of the constitution of the tribunal. But that is not, of course, subversive to the principle of the Bill, or against the Second Reading of it. He also, I think very rightly, called attention to the fact that it is really out of the question to say that this is any taking away of the constitutional right of Scotchmen to apply to Parliament, and that what is done under the Bill leaves them still the right to apply to Parliament, although in a somewhat altered name. He was not quite sure that he quite approved of section 2, because, he said, he thought that rather cut down the privilege of local inquiry. But I may remind him that the reason for section 2 is this. It is not only the one which he seemed to give, that we were anxious to move one step at a time, and not entirely to abolish the old system, but it was also this, that we do recognise the necessity of Parliamentary control. We have been very anxious in framing the provisions of this Bill to maintain Parliamentary control, and to keep in this House those things which we think ought to be kept in this House, and accordingly we have included the Provisional Orders in this scheme instead of making it a scheme of Private Bill legislation altogether. That brings me to the other question which has been alluded to, and which really is my honourable Friend's only real objection to the Bill, and that is the constitution of the Commission. May I say here, first of all, that quite inadvertently we have infected honourable Members with a certain misapprehension as to the constitution of this Commission. They have fastened their eyes upon the clause in italics, sub section 2 of section 5, which is a Treasury Clause, which provides payment for two of the Commissioners, not being Members of either House of Parliament, and they have read that as if by that we necessarily meant that there were always to be two paid Members and only one unpaid Member; and by the same process of reasoning, though it is not so apparent, they have come to the conclusion also that upon the panel of twenty-five we really meant to put very few-Members of Parliament. I think one honourable Gentleman in speaking of the subject has talked of four Members of Parliament out of the twenty-five.
§ MR. GRAHAM MURRAY
Yes, in the event of his not being a Member of either House of Parliament. I am sure the honourable Member must see why that clause is put in. We had, of course, to make some arrangement with the Treasury, and the view was, that any Member of Parliament who served ought not to be paid, and accordingly the phraseology, "not being Members of either House of Parliament," is only really a rider upon the power of payment, and has not anything to do with the suggestion as to what are to be the numbers of the Members of the Commission as between Members of Parliament and other people. There is no such suggestion intended, and if these words are in any way misleading, we shall be most happy to alter them. The reason for the third Member is that, of course, there might be circumstances in which we cannot get a Member of Parliament, and then we do not want our scheme to break down, and so it was necessary to make provision in exceptional circumstances for the possible payment of the third Member. At any rate, I can assure the House that certainly in the mind of the framers of the Bill there was no intention to suggest that the ordinary constitution of the Commission should be two paid Members to one unpaid Member, nor was there any idea that Members of Parliament should be so very limited in number as honourable Members have thought. The honourable Member for the Border Burghs said particularly that he feared that any tribunal composed of anyone else but Members of Parliament would be hampered by precedent, and you would have a conflict between the decisions of the tribunal and what he called the general feeling of public opinion as represented by Members of this House. May I point out to him that, after all, the panel is only to be fixed for five years, and so far as precedent is concerned I should think that a Member of this House would be just as much troubled by precedent during his term of office as a member of a tribunal which sits for five years. But, at any rate, I am rather inclined so far to welcome the argument of the honourable Gentleman, because I think he will agree with me that that at least disposes of the argument of the right honourable Gentle- 615 man the Member for Bodmin, because it is entirely against the idea of a fixed tribunal. The right honourable Member for Bodmin thinks that the ultimate solution of this will be three. He says that 22 of these men are useless. Take three: there you have enough, and keep them there for ever. I would like to point out that at least he would not satisfy the honourable Member for the Border Burghs. Well, the real truth is, Mr. Speaker, that I personally have never been at all opposed to the employment of Members upon this Commission. The honourable Member for Leith said that I had made fun of his proposal last year. I do not think I made fun of it at all.
§ MR. GRAHAM MURRAY
I have never heard of peripatetics being the cause of fun. I had thought they were rather philosophers. But I may appeal to this; in the Draft Report which was brought up and prepared by myself, I notice that in paragraph 5 I say—The minority of your Committee were of opinion that the tribunal should be composed of Members of the two Houses of Parliament. This proposal has much to recommend it. Your Committee believe that the confidence in the impartiality of the tribunals, which has been felt in the past in regard to Parliamentary Committees, would be extended to a Commission so composed, and they would be in touch with Parliamentary feelings, which could not fail to be of high advantage.I do not think that is making fun of the proposal, and, as has been pointed out, the Noble Lord the Secretary for Scotland expresses himself very much in favour of the employment of Members in his evidence. But then, Mr. Speaker, we here as a Government propose what we hope to be a practical measure, and I say it would be an act of madness for us to have proposed a tribunal composed only of Members of Parliament—to have risked our all with this Measure upon a tribunal composed only of Members of Parliament, when we had staring us in the face the evidence given last year by the Chairman of the Committee of Selection in this House. My honourable Friend the Member for Stroud, and my honourable Friend the Member for Durham, and the honourable Gentleman the Member for Forfarshire— all of them have lifted up their voices and said that they did not consider it a prac- 616 tical proposal to send down Members of Parliament. Well now, in that case, wishing to do our best with the Bill, and wishing—I do not take any shame in saying it—to be as conciliatory as we could be, what did we do? I think we have taken the most excellent way. We have said we are perfectly willing to have Members of Parliament. After all, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and we shall find out who is right when we see whether Members can be got or not. But we are not going to risk our scheme by not having somebody else, and therefore we have associated with these Members of Parliament other men upon whom this work can be devolved if Members of Parliament are not forthcoming. The honourable Member for North Ayrshire made a very excellent suggestion to-night. He was anxious that we should not in any way limit the time of Parliament, and he made a proposal that instead of putting Members of Parliament upon this panel of 25, we should take a panel of other people, a smaller panel than 25, and then you could go to the actual panel which was to be taken for the particular inquiry, from which the Chairman would be at liberty to select not only the panel which we constitute in the Bill, but also from Members of Parliament. All I need say is I should not like to give any pronouncement upon that proposal at this moment. I should be very glad to consider that matter, and perhaps my honourable Friends on the other side would meet and see whether that would in any way meet their views. I must say—if I may say so respectfully—that I never heard a more unbusinesslike proposal than was made by some honourable Member (I have forgotten his name), when he proposed that we should try it with Members of Parliament, and then, if that broke down, that afterwards we should get an amending Bill and try some other way. We really are not going to so risk our own credit and so risk the convenience of Scottish promoters of Private Bills as to initiate a system with the possibility of a breakdown staring us in the face. Accordingly, the scheme of the Bill has been to meet honourable Members on the other side, who are entitled to our respect, and who are entitled to consideration of their schemes as far as possible. We are perfectly willing to work this scheme by means of Members of Parliament, but at the same time we must insist that there 617 should be that reserve power which should prevent the breakdown of the Bill if the prophecies of certain honourable Members are light. I have confined my remarks up to the present to dealing really with the principle of the Bill and what is the main provision of it. There were a great many other points which were acute, all of which I am sure honourable Members have duly noticed, but they really were Committee points. What I put to the House is that this scheme has this great merit, that there is so little dislocation of the existing system that if it were found not to work you could go back upon what we have done without any practical harm. The honourable Member for Caithness-shire made a sort of bombastic utterance as to repealing this Bill in the next Parliament. I am not much troubled with that, because whatever Government comes into power I do not think it is probable he will have the direction of it. It has not been the custom, I am glad to say, of successive Parliaments simply to repeal everything that has been done by the Governments before in office. There is in the Hill this peculiarity. If you get a new state of affairs, if you repeal this Bill, and if you create this great dislocation, it is one great merit of the scheme, in my humble judgment, that we leave our Parliamentary procedure untouched, and, therefore, if it was found that the scheme of the Bill and the extension of the Provisional Order system did not work, there would be really no dislocation in again reverting to the old system. The other keynote of this Bill has been that I think we have recognised what has been pressed upon us by many honourable Members to-night, that this is not a Scotch question; and, therefore, although I have not heard it commented upon by any speaker to-night, I am certain the House will recognise that this is a system which is capable of indefinite extension to all other parts of the kingdom. There is no part of the provisions of this Bill which might not be quite as easily extended to either England or Wales, or to any part of England or Wales or Ireland, and that, Sir, is a question which I think is a House of Commons question, and surely one of great merit. Mr. Speaker, on the whole I must say that I am not at all disappointed with the reception which this Bill has had, because I recognise, although it is very easy to criticise details, that really, with the 618 exception of the honourable Member for Stroud, there has not been a speech made against the Second Reading of the Bill at all. The honourable Member for Forfarshire said that he could not recognise that there was any great cause for this legislation in Scotland. All I can say is he must have kept his eyes very much shut, and his ears too. I have known Scotland quite as long as he has, and there is scarcely a public body in Scotland which has not agitated in favour of this Measure. We have the fact that year after year the principle of this Private Bill Procedure reform has been passed by immense majorities in this House. I have my doubts as to whether the honourable Baronet will go to a division. If he does I am sure he will be triumphantly beaten, and I hope that on this occasion we shall not only get the Second Reading of the Bill, but that this Session will not pass without its being-added to the Statute Book.
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL - BANNERMAN (Stirling Burghs)
The right honourable Gentleman expressed some fear lest I should be found to have gone back from what he described as the benevolent attitude which I at one time assumed toward this Measure. I thought it right in the interests of caution not to commit myself to making a direct response to his appeal, and in the interests of the same caution I decline to be altogether responsible for all that my honourable and learned Friend the late Solicitor-General for Scotland said, but I do not know that the right honourable Gentleman will be very disappointed with me before I have finished. The honourable Member for North Ayrshire has dug up some autumnal speech of mine in which he says I blessed this Measure in anticipation. I assure him it was not the Measure I blessed: it was its author. I blessed the right honourable Gentleman, and I said there was no one than he more calculated to bring this matter, which has been gradually ripening, to a successful issue. It yet remains to be seen whether he has acted up to what I thought might be his attitude. Well, Sir, certainly the Lord Advocate takes a sanguine view of the discussion to-night when he speaks of the unanimity reflected in the discussion, because I have not discovered any two Members on either side of the House who agree on the Bill at large. I certainly am not myself able entirely to agree with any 619 honourable Member that I have heard speaking upon it. That is the result of having had about 12 years of wrangles and discussions over this subject, a process which is sometimes assumed to be the best prelude to safe and lasting legislation upon a particular subject. Sir, there are two aspects to this question. There is the Scotch aspect and the public aspect. From the Scotch point of view, it is simply this. The Scotch people have a strong desire to have a cheaper and easier method of obtaining the benefits that are got through Private Bill legislation, and they wish to have the inquiries on these subjects held locally. But here let me make a distinction, which I have often drawn before, of this subject in the House. There is a great distinction between the large railway companies and other wealthy corporations on the one hand, and the necessities of individuals and of local authorities on the other hand. So far as railway bills are concerned, I find that they constitute about three-fourths of the Scotch Private Bills which come up to this House. Is there any grievance connected with the railway business? I confess that it seems to me to be slight, if it exists at all. It was said, I think, in a comic opera, that every Englishman is born a little Liberal or a little Conservative. Everyone in Scotland is born either a partisan of the North British Railway or a partisan of the Caledonian Railway. The rest of the community are either wholly indifferent, or else attached to one or two of the other railway companies, and they range themselves as occasion may serve -on the side of one or other of these great companies. Now, my view of this matter has been greatly eased since I was informed some years ago by one of the most important directors of one of those companies—who is no longer in the House of Commons, although we have had a good many of them here to-night on both sides —that we need be under no feeling of pity or alarm for the fate of the poor man who has to oppose a Bill promoted by one these companies, because the rival company always pays his costs whatever happens. If that is so—and I believe to a large extent it is so—I do not know that there has been for a number of years so much hardship in connection with that large part of Private Business. The side of the question which really affects the people of Scotland is the municipal side, 620 the promotion of small Measures of utility brought forward by local authorities and others which are really of immense benefit to the community, and it is there that the expense and the trouble of having to come to London, and the doubt of the sufficiency of the inquiry when they get to London—it is there that these elements press upon the minds of those engaged, and they seek relief; it is there, I think, more than in any other quarter, that relief is sought in some way from the present cumbrous and costly system. I am rather pleased to remember that a good many years ago I moved an amendment to a Bill of this sort in the House of Commons, in which I said that the proper relief was to be found by reducing the foes, by extending the system of Provisional Orders, and by increasing the powers of municipal authorities. I take credit to myself, or to those who suggested that excellent amendment to me, for having foreseen what was going to occur, because these are the directions in which we all with one accord are moving now. My honourable and learned Friend the Member for Stroud, the stoutest upholder of everything that exists in these matters, has no word to say for the fees and for the costs imposed by the Standing Orders of the House.
§ MR. CRIPPS
Perhaps my right honourable Friend will allow me to say that I have always advocated a reduction of the fees, as I did to-night.
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
But there is this difference. We have done a great deal in Scotland in the way of extending the powers of local authorities under several Acts passed within the last two or three years. We have done a great deal in the way of increasing the facilities for obtaining Provisional Orders. Now we have this scheme of the Government, which differs very much from the system of Provisional Orders under which a Departmental Inquiry is conducted in a very simple manner before a tribunal consisting of one officer of the Department. When that simple inquiry is made, the matter is submitted for the approval of the House. The proposal of the Government is for a solemn tribunal of three Members, and if a scheme is rejected by that tribunal it goes no further, but if it is approved it has to come before 621 Parliament, and mar be submitted to a second costly inquiry before a joint Committee of the two Houses. In that way I am afraid very little will be gained to the public. I am very strongly of opinion that it is necessary to maintain the control of Parliament over the whole of its business. I agree with the spirit of what has been said by my honourable and learned Friend the Member for Stroud. The Lord Advocate, I think, disputed the efficiency of the control of the House of Commons in many ways. He said our Second Heading Debates on Private Bills were unsatisfactory, and seldom had very much real effect. He quoted instances this Session, but he did not quote the instance of the Electric Powers Distribution Bill, which was thrown out by the House on the very ground that they considered the proposals in the Bill were contrary, not to the interests of any individual locality, but contrary to the general public interests throughout the country. It is the general public interest that this House represents. It is not a question of individual interests, but the House has to see that what is proposed is not contrary to public policy. Therefore it is that we must be very fastidious as to the tribunal which is to be established if any change is made. This year the Lord Advocate has made a very obvious effort to meet the opinions expressed on both sides of the House last year. I recognise the right honourable Gentleman's desire to do so, but I doubt whether with all his ingenuity he has been successful. There is to be this panel of 25. Why 25? There were 12 Apostles, and I should have thought that number would be better. And who are to be these persons with a knowledge of local affairs? There is a dreadful hypothesis put forward that there may be a desire to fetch out of the limbo into which they have gone old Members of Parliament who have retired, or who have otherwise left this House. I remember Lord Beaconsfield once, on being found fault with for having made a certain appointment which it was said ought to have been given to a man with expert knowledge of trade, said—There are two kinds of retired tradesmen— the tradesman who has retired from trade, and the tradesman from whom his trade had retired.There are also two kinds of Members of Parliament, and I do not think that some of them would be any better qualified 622 than other people. The real objection to the proposed remedy is this. The panel is to be chosen by the two chairmen, who know nothing about them, and by the Secretary for Scotland, who possibly knows a great deal too much. It would be bad enough if it were to be a purely honorary position, but they have a chance of being selected for a paid appointment, and, that being so, I am afraid you will have a great many competitors for the office, and when it comes to the final selection of the actual tribunal, what a pressure there will be! I should be disposed rather to recommend what the right honourable Gentleman seemed to reject — that is, that the Government should trust to the employment for this purpose of Members of Parliament only, and have no panel, but choose from the Scotch Members as required. I know that my right honourable friend the Member for Bodmin does not approve of any such proposal, and does not believe it possible that Members can be found to go down to Scotland for that purpose, and he thought that, if they could, it would be taking them from their proper sphere of duty. The right honourable Gentleman made some observations which opened up one key, at all events, to the difficulty. He pointed out, and he was quite justified in doing so, that a great deal of the cost, hurry, and high pressure of the conduct of Private Business arises from the fact that such Business has to keep pace with, and wait upon, the convenience of the Public Business of the House. But, is there any reason why Private Business should be confined to two or three months of the year? Is this not a large part of those— I will not call them abuses, but peculiarities—attaching to the practice of the Parliamentary Bar, which is crammed into so short a space of the year that those who practise at it are overworked, and probably, on the whole, overpaid, not for the work they do, but paid to a degree which would not be necessary if the time had been more evenly distributed? Is there any reason why this class of business should not be extended beyond the Session? Why should there not be some arrangement whereby some portion, at least, of the long Recess should be utilised? Every step taken in that direction will make it easier for Scotch Members of Parliament to attend, and I do not think there would be any of the difficulties in the way of securing their attendance which have been suggested. 623 There is a strong feeling in Scotland for a local inquiry, and I am convinced that the only tribunal that will fulfil the two conditions which would give what is wanted by litigants and the public in Scotland, and at the same time maintain, not only the traditional power, but the essential and wholesome control of Parliament over these matters, is one composed of Members of Parliament. I trust, therefore, the right honourable Gentleman will be able, when we arrive at the Committee stage, to practically carry out that change, and if he does I can assure him that to the best of my belief the feeling of opposition to the Bill or the greater part of it will disappear. I hope the honourable Baronet the Member for Glasgow will be satisfied with the discussion that has taken place on his Amendment and will not press it to a Division.
§ MR. CALDWELL (Lanark, Mid)
This Bill is simply a continuation of the Bill of last year, which was condemned, perhaps, as much as the present Bill. It was remitted to a Select Committee, but the Select Committee were informed that it was not the intention of the Government to proceed with the Bill last Session. Under these circumstances very little interest was taken in the proceedings by the Committee. The Lord Advocate has practically admitted that if there is to be delegation at all, that delegation ought to be to Members of Parliament in the first instance. The proposal of the Bill to delegate the Private Bill business of Scotland to a Commission composed of non-Members of Parliament with no practical experience of legislation, and out of touch with the constituencies, involves a constitutional change of great magnitude. It is true that this House has delegated its legislative functions in respect to the Light Railways Act, but it must be remembered that the Railway law is very well defined, and that only questions of detail have to be decided by the Light Railways Commissioners, who number only three, whereas under this Bill you would have 25 Commissioners. In the case of the Light Railways you are dealing with one subject, and you have three men appointed who are qualified to deal with that subject, but in the case of this Bill you are dealing with every question that might come up under the system of Private Bill Legisla- 624 tion. There is a very great difference between the Provisional Order which is issued under the present circumstances, and what is termed the Provisional Order under this Bill. Under the present system you have in the first instance a local inquiry of a very informal character. It is held by only one Commissioner, and there are no questions of locus standi or Standing Orders, and the result is that those inquiries made previous to the issue of a Provisional Order give general satisfaction. I would ask the House to observe the difference between an inquiry under the system proposed by this Bill. In most cases of importance there would be an appeal to Parliament. The local inquiry under this Bill would be much more costly, and under the proposed new arrangement the smaller interests would not be able to reach Parliament if the Secretary for Scotland and the right honourable Gentleman are of opinion that an appeal to Parliament would be unreasonable or vexatious.
That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time and committed for Monday 10th April.