§ SERJEANT HEMPHILL (Tyrone, N.)
I rise to move the resolution, notice of which appears on the Paper. I do not think it will be necessary for me to occupy the time of the House at any very great length, because the resolution embodies a principle which I flatter myself will be acceptable to both sides of the House. It certainly has this advantage, that it is free from any colour of a party character. It also has this further advantage, that though dealing with Ireland it does not seek to impose any burden upon the Imperial Exchequer. The resolution points to a grievance which has been felt for a very great number of years in Ireland, and which only requires to he stated to satisfy every fair-minded and impartial man that a grievance does exist. I do not expect that even if I carry this resolution it will be possible to found upon it any legislation this session, because, in answer to a question put a few days ago, the First Lord of the Treasury, though his tone appeared to me to be sympathetic, stated that it was not the intention of Her Majesty's Government to bring in any Bill this session dealing with the question of Irish Private Bill legislation. There is another reason why it will not be necessary for me to discuss this question at any very considerable length, and that is that a similar question was debated very fully and very ably last session in connection with the measure dealing with Scotch Private Bill legislation which was passed into law. Many of the arguments advanced on that occasion by able and eminent Members from that part of the United Kingdom apply with even greater force to Ireland. I do not in this resolu- 1154 tion ask the House to extend the scope of that measure to Ireland, because I would rather see how that Act operates before I adopt altogether its details. I confess that as far as I have been able to give attention to that particular Act, it seems to me that a simpler mode of attaining my end might by some exercise of ingenuity he secured. I say that this is a grievance which has been for a very long time felt in Ireland. It is a very remarkable thing that it is as old as the union itself, because at that time one of the difficulties foreseen by the promoters of the Act of Union was the hardship it would be to Ireland to have Private Bills passed by the United Legislature sitting in London instead of having local inquiries and proceedings taken for that purpose in the country itself. A letter which appears in the Memoirs of Lord Castlereagh, written by the Duke of Portland to the then Lord Lieutenant, immediately before the union, contains this remarkable passage, to which I call the attention of the House—One of the greatest difficulties, however, which has been supposed to attend a project of union between the two kingdoms is that of the expense and trouble which will be occasioned by the attendance of witnesses in trials of contested elections or in matters of private business requiring Parliamentary interposition.It is singular that 100 years ago this difficulty should have been foreseen. It was foreseen, I suppose, because it was obvious and did not require any very great amount of prophecy. Long since, in 1868, this House obviated one of the difficulties there pointed out in regard to contested elections, and got rid in that way of a very crying grievance. But passing on from that which is now ancient history, I, in looking up this matter, find that more than thirty years ago a Bill was introduced for this very purpose by an hon. Member from Ireland. Other matters intervened, and that Bill, like a great number of other Irish Bills brought in with a view to remedying grievances or supposed grievances, fell still-born, and nothing came of it. But the question notwithstanding was kept alive and has never slept from that day.
§ Attention called to the fact that forty Members were not present. House counted, and forty Members being found present,
§ SERJEANT HEMPHILL (continuing)
This grievance has never slept, and so far 1155 back as 1882 the Associated Chambers of Commerce at a meeting held in London passed a resolution complaining strongly of the existing system on the grounds set forth in this resolution. Those grounds were the great waste of the time of Parliament, the delay to the suitors, and the heavy costs and charges attending the promotion of Private Bills. That was in 1882. On the 12th March, 1888, some of the hon. Members present may recollect a Select Committee on this question was appointed to inquire into the whole subject, and among the members of that Committee were the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose and the hon. and learned Member for North Louth. That Committee did not arrive at any conclusion as to what the means of obviating this grievance should be, but two or three alternative methods were suggested. My resolution does not at all involve the adoption of any one or other of them. But the members of that Committee were all agreed as to the evils of the present system. These evils may be summarised in this way. If a Private Bill is promoted from some remote corner of Ireland, a place which, perhaps, many Members here have never heard of, the promoters must have counsel in London, and, owing to the peculiarity of the procedure before Parliamentary Committees and the enormous crush of Parliamentary business attendant on that system, they are obliged not only to employ counsel who have a monopoly, and are, consequently, more expensive than they otherwise would be, but also to employ, instead of one or two counsel, as in an ordinary case, four or five, to ensure the attendance of any one of them. Another point upon which the Committee agreed, as a cause of delay and a source of grievance, was the shortness of the daily sittings and the uncertainty of the time at which any given Bill would be taken up. The consequence of this is that witnesses from a remote part of Ireland may be kept waiting day after day and week after week before they are put into the witness box. A third point is what has been adverted to before on some occasion in this session—the twice-told tale before a Committee of the House of Commons and then before a Committee of the House of Lords, or vice versâ—going over the same story, through the same evidence, with the same counsel. Then last, and perhaps 1156 greatest, the enormous expense involved by the costs of witnesses, the costs of deputations that come over in connection with the Bills, and the costs of Parliamentary agents in London. These sources of expense it is impossible to minimise and impossible to overrate. A very experienced gentleman, well known in Dublin and every part of Ireland, gave evidence before that Committee, and he pointed out that even in the case of uncontested Bills evidence was required, and the cost was most unreasonable. In the case of one company it was necessary to get a Private Bill merely to obtain additional power to borrow money, and that Private Bill cost the company £1,233. Such a measure as that ought not to have cost the company a £50 note. The same company had to pay £796 for an opposed Bill, and £378 for another which was unopposed. This evidence was given by a man of business, who produced the vouchers, and there can be no question about the facts. There was a short Bill from the county of Cork to indemnify a grand jury for exceeding their powers, and that Bill cost £490. They also had another Bill the opposition to which cost nearly £1,000. We need not go very far to look for other instances, because within the last two years we have had two Bills in particular which startled us. The Dublin Boundaries Bill was the subject of two debates in this House, and that cost the corporation supporting it over £16,000. One body of Commissioners who opposed that Bill had to pay also about £8,000 for their opposition, and to this must be added the costs of three or four other townships who opposed it. I may mention that the cost of promoting this abortive Bill before a Committee of this House and the House of Lords tots up to nearly £45,000. It is impossible for any country to progress with such a millstone round its neck that is involved in the promotion of these Bills. Then there was the Bill for the Amalgamation of the Railways, which also led to nothing, and the cost to the different companies concerned was something enormous. In the course of that Bill the eminent counsel who is at the head of the Parliamentary Bar—Mr. Pope—stated that the cost of the inquiry was about £5 a minute. It was further stated that the cost to the promoters was about £400 a day. There were a number of Private Bills before the House last 1157 session, and they were all promoted at very great cost. One of the things pointed out during the inquiry into the Belfast Drainage Bill in 1897, where all the witnesses examined came from Belfast at great expense, was that all this money could have been saved by a local inquiry. In the height of the railway fever an anecdote is told of one eminent Parliamentary counsel who held briefs for twenty-three Committees, all of them sitting at the same time. He was leisurely walking up and down the corridor and another counsel asked him, "How do you happen to be here when these cases of yours are going on, and so many people want you?" His reply was, "It doesn't matter; I can only be there in one case at a time, and so the other twenty-two have no right to complain." That illustrates the disadvantage at which parties are placed by being brought to London. The three or four leading counsel at the Parliamentary Bar are like the young doctor in one of Smollet's works, who represented himself as being so busy that if he were cut up into a thousand pieces he would have plenty of work for each piece to do. I wonder that this hardship has been endured so long. It has been wittily said that the bringing up of country witnesses does some good at all events, because in the case of Railway Bills those witnesses from remote parts by coming to London make their first acquaintance with champagne and turtle. Waterford in particular has been victimised by the present system. In the year 1875 Waterford had an improvement Bill and it cost them £2,100. In 1889 a Bill was brought in by that corporation to enable them to borrow money, and the cost of that measure was between £900 and £1,000. They had to oppose another Bill in 1895 which cost £589, and in the same year the City Corporation Act cost them £2,168. The cost to Waterford in 1887 of opposing the Dublin, Wicklow, and Wexford Railway Bill was £475, and the cost of their opposition in 1898 to the Fishguard and Rosslare Railway Bill was £1,200. That is quite enough to prevent places like Waterford making any progress, for it leaves them no alternative but to submit to unjust and unfair legislation because the ratepayers will not stand the oppression of such heavy costs. In the year 1899 the Waterford Cor- 1158 poration opposed the amalgamation of the Great Southern and Western Railways at a cost of £2,146, the burden of which fell upon the ratepayers of the city of Waterford, which is by no means a wealthy corporation.
§ SERJEANT HEMPHILL
By having a local inquiry, where counsel would get only the same fees as in ordinary cases. Counsel in Ireland are not like the Parliamentary counsel in London, who seem to be able to get any fee they like to ask. There is no doubt that the fees at the Parliamentary Bar are enormous, but they are not too much, because the counsel are obliged to work very hard during a short period of the session. In the case of a local inquiry in Ireland there would be no such fees, because counsel would be paid on the same scale as if they appeared at any other tribunal. Irish counsel would be familiar with the localities, and they would offer their services at considerably less fees than the great Parliamentary leaders at the Bar in London. I am sure if the hon. Member for Peckham were as well acquainted with the profession as I am he would appreciate this distinction without the necessity of this lengthy explanation. That is one part of the expense, but the expenses of the witnesses are the material part. Then again the expenses of the Parliamentary agent would be saved altogether. It has been stated that the average number of English Private Bills is between 300 and 400 every session, and hon. Members can well imagine the delay which is involved in promoting Private Bills. I have avoided in my resolution stating how this particular mischief can be remedied, but I want the House to affirm that there is a grievance to Ireland in not having a cheaper tribunal. I claim for my resolution the advantage that it may be supported by the most vehement opponent of Irish Home Rule, because that question is not involved in it. There are a great number of hon. Gentlemen opposite who are bitterly opposed to the idea of Home Rule for Ireland, and I want to disabuse their minds of any suspicion that this resolution involves the affirmation of the principle of Home Rule. 1159 You passed the Act for Scotland last year which took away from the Committees of this House, in the first instance, the passing of these Private Bills. The House can carry this resolution without weakening its position either for or against Home Rule, although I firmly believe that we shall ultimately succeed in obtaining that great consummation of our political life. There is nothing in this proposal of mine which will either obstruct or facilitate Home Rule, but it is a proposal of obvious justice. By affirming this resolution you will facilitate legislation in this House. This is not a lawyers' question, for Grand Jury after Grand Jury have passed resolutions pointing out the evil of the present system in Ireland. The Chambers of Commerce both in England and Ireland have unanimously passed resolutions calling attention to the grievance under which we labour in not having a Bill similar to that which was passed last year for Scotland. I do not ask the House to pledge itself to the details of any scheme, but simply to affirm the existence of this injustice, and if this resolution is adopted it will facilitate the passing of legislation in future sessions. I beg to move the resolution standing in my name.
§ MR. CALDWELL (Lanarkshire, Mid)
I rise for the purpose of seconding this resolution. The subject is one with which I am not unfamiliar, and I am exceedingly curious to know what answer can be given against it by the Government. This will be an illustration of the different way in which you treat Ireland. This resolution does not commit the House to any definite plan, but it simply affirms that some change is necessary with a view of economising the time of Parliament and reducing the expenses of suitors. That was the very object of the Scotch measure dealing with this question which was passed last year. When that measure was under consideration it was pointed out that many parts of Scotland were so far from the centre of Imperial Government that it involved a great expense to those promoting Private Bills in Scotland, who were required to come down with their witnesses and employ counsel in London. It was also pointed out that the expenses of promoting Bills in this House were very considerable, and these grievances were the foundation of the Scotch Private Bill Procedure Act. It 1160 was passed to enable people in Scotland far removed from London to have a local inquiry in regard to Private Bills, so that they might have an opportunity of investigating the matter on the spot. That was one of the great arguments so far as the Scotch Bill was concerned. The next point was that it would be very much cheaper, and when I state these facts I am using the arguments of the hon. Member below the gangway, and also the arguments of the Government, that it was in the interests of Private Bill legislation that there should be a local inquiry on the spot. Not only did you provide a local inquiry, but you preserved the authority of Parliament all the same, because anyone may appeal against the local inquiry. If there be opposition to the Bill then it must of necessity come to this House. A Private Bill here has to go through the House of Commons and the House of Lords, but if it be a Bill brought up from Scotland, where there has been a local inquiry there can only be one joint inquiry of the Lords and Commons upon it, so that the expense is very much less than if you had two inquiries. That was the principle of the Bill, which the Government contended was in the interests of Scotland. These Committees are taken as applying more particularly to Ireland, which is further away from London, and where the people, as a whole, are not so wealthy as in Scotland. There are unanimous recommendations from Committee after Committee in favour of this principle, and yet when it comes to the point it is said, "Oh, Ireland is different." I am surprised that the First Lord of the Treasury is not in his place, when he himself, in order to reform the Private Bill procedure, brought in a Bill which embraced the three countries. So far, then, as the principle itself is concerned, there is the fact that a Unionist Government brought in a Bill to place Ireland on the same footing as Scotland, and I shall be surprised indeed if from the Government benches any hon. Gentlemen gets up for the purpose of saying that this resolution to give to Ireland that which the Government gave to Scotland last year, and which they intended to give to Ireland some years ago, is one that cannot be accepted. If you say that Ireland is not to get this, that would show at once how differently you treat Ireland to any other portion of the Empire. I cannot conceive it possible that there should be any 1161 adverse decision in this matter, and the only way in which I could account for such a thing is that a minor member of the Government has received certain instructions with regard to this matter and is unable to go beyond his instructions. It is not, I think, fair or proper to delegate a matter of this kind to a minor member of the Cabinet. We all know perfectly well how the Attorney General for Ireland will split hairs and talk about the great difference between Ireland and the other portions of the United Kingdom, but he cannot get over this important fact, that Ireland is in the same position as regards the principle of this motion as Scotland. We have got a separate Bill for Scotland, and now we are asking for a separate Bill for Ireland, and there can be no reason why Ireland should be treated differently from Scotland in a case of this kind. I shall therefore second the resolution.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the present system of Private Bill Legislation for Ireland constitutes a serious grievance to the interests of suitors from that country, and requires alteration, with a view to economising the time of Parliament, preventing delay, and reducing the heavy costs and charges attending the promotion of private Bills at present, and that legislation with this view is urgently required."—(Mr. Serjeant Hemphill.)
§ SIR JAMES HASLETT (Belfast, N.)
said the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman was made now, when a Unionist Government was in power, and it was supported by the hon. Member for Mid Lanark, who was anxious that the relief the proposal made in regard to Ireland should be extended to Scotland. But the hon. Gentleman had failed in the past to suggest or propose himself such a Bill for Scotland. It was complained that counsel engaged in the advocacy of Private Bills before Parliamentary Committees seldom attended to their duties, for they were continually popping out of one committee-room to another. Well, he had known counsellors in the little town of Belfast holding briefs in Crown Courts and Record Courts taking fees in both when they were only able to attend to one court. In certain respects Ireland had been relieved from heavy expenditure in regard 1162 to Private Bills by the Provisional Order system.
§ SIR JAMES HASLETT
said he was aware of that, but, speaking after thirty years experience of coming to Parliament for the passing of certain local Bills, he had come to the conclusion that the expense was very considerable, and this was especially felt when the community concerned were quite agreed upon the removal of a grievance. But he thought that in certain cases Parliament afforded a fair basis for settling contested Bills that a narrow and limited tribunal would not. While he was anxious to extend a system of local inquiries, he was not prepared to give up the right of appeal to Parliament. But in some simple cases, where small Bills were brought forward, it ought not to be necessary to have proof of their necessity being given in London, and, if so, then certain heavy charges should be borne by Parliament. But the right hon. Gentleman who moved the motion never stated what the machinery should be for taking evidence locally, whether in the Court of Assize or before a Recorder or a chairman of quarter sessions.
§ SIR JAMES HASLETT
said that was true enough, but there had been a series of resolutions brought forward on this subject, and no suggestion had been made by the right hon. Gentleman as to the local tribunal to which Private Bills should be referred. If he meant that a representative of the Local Government Board of Ireland should be the tribunal, then that would be a mistake, for what would a representative of that Department know of the wants and idiosyncrasies of a given locality? He thought that by a judicious enlargement of the Irish Local Board minor Acts might be satisfactorily disposed of, while still retaining the right of appeal to Parliament. There had been an inquiry into this very subject, and he regretted that the Report made had been utterly futile, because it failed to cause any change to be made in the present system of Private Bill 1163 legislation. The Report of the Committee of Inquiry left them in the dark, like the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman this evening. He would suggest that there should be a small Committee of Inquiry into the whole subject. This was not a party or a political question, and such an inquiry should be conducted so that it might devise a scheme by which the Private Bill legislation of Ireland should be improved and the cost of it minimised. As to the motion of the right hon. Gentleman, it was not a step forward, and whether it were adopted or not would not help the matter in the least, and, therefore, he could not see in it the promise of any real advantage.
MR. FIELD (Dublin, St. Patrick)
said that the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down had not made quite clear the line which he took upon the resolution; he first of all went a certain distance in favour of the resolution, and then harked back. The subject matter of the resolution before the House was in no sense political; it was purely a matter of business and a social question. As a member of the Corporation of Dublin he protested against the enormous expense to which his city had been put in respect to Private Bill legislation; thousands and thousands of pounds had been spent in Dublin on Private Bills, and it ought to be the business of this House to find out some more economical method of dealing with those matters. It was inaccurate to say that only certain sections of the community in Ireland were interested in this resolution, because, as a matter of fact, some of the strongest Unionists in Ireland at the present moment were its firmest supporters. The principle once acknowledged, the reform would be easily carried out. It was not the duty of the private Member to do more than initiate the motion, it was for the Government to find a remedy for this state of things. The expense of Private Bill legislation was a barrier against and prevented necessary improvements. The hon. Member gave two instances of the unnecessary amount of expense involved in having to come to London to obtain powers. The Act of 1893 for the drainage scheme of Blackrock cost the promoters £7,248, and the opponents £2,824, and when it became necessary to introduce an amending Act in 1896, it cost a further £2,400. So that in con- 1164 nection with the main drainage of Blackrock, a work which was absolutely necessary, there was an initial expense of £7,000 before anything could be done, and the whole matter could have been much more economically dealt with in Ireland. In another case, where a flood had carried away a small bridge, a Bill was brought before Parliament to re-build the bridge, and the costs of obtaining the Act were £5,000. The amount of the contract for erecting the bridge was £500. It was maintained by the Government that Ireland enjoyed the same liberties as England and Scotland, but that was not so—especially with regard to Private Bill procedure, and he hoped a satisfactory assurance would be given with regard to that matter. He had great pleasure in supporting the resolution.
§ SIR ALBERT ROLLIT (Islington, S.)
I hope it will not be thought out of place if I, as an English Member, support this resolution. So long as the Imperial Parliament legislates for Ireland, it becomes the duty of that Parliament to listen to the exposition of any evil connected with administration in Ireland, and to do the utmost to redress any real Irish grievance. This is a grievance of long standing, and I think we ought to show a disposition to do all in our power to remedy it. Reference has been made to public opinion on this question. I have been brought in contact with many public bodies who have convinced me that not only in Ireland, but in England, public opinion is universally in favour of the proposal. The hon. Gentleman who introduced the resolution spoke of what the Associated Chambers of Commerce had done eighteen years ago. It had passed unanimously a resolution in favour of such a scheme, on the motion of one of the leading members of the Dublin Corporation, who was a strong Unionist, and the motion was seconded by an equally strong Unionist. I believe that every Unionist from Scotland would vote for it. I should like to add that, whatever may be said of the system of Private Bill legislation, it is not altogether without objection in this country. It has, however, one great advantage in dealing with difficult and delicate subjects of all kinds, and that is the unimpeachable character of the tribunal. If a mis- 1165 carriage occasionally takes place, as in the case of the Huddersfield tramways, no one impeaches the Parliamentary Committee or its disposition to do its duty. But while that is a great advantage, there are many great disadvantages. The cost is simply enormous, and is a deterrent in many cases, and frequently prevents the carrying out of great local improvements. My hon. friend has asked how could that be met? I say it could be met by more local legislation. If the inquiry was made on the spot, and the evidence taken on the spot, it is manifest that that would be an easy way of reducing the expenditure. As an illustration of the great objection taken to the present system, even by rich municipalities, there was a case the other day of an unopposed and by no means difficult Bill, where the House fees and counsels' expenses amounted to thousands of pounds. Hence the popularity of Provisional Orders instead of Private Bill legislation. But Provisional Orders are not always applicable to all cases. All these objections are very strongly accentuated in the case of Ireland. The mere matter of distance decides that point. Distance means time, and time moans cost, and that constitutes a great tax on Ireland, and we ought to put an end to the present system. There was a case of the burning of the Court-house at Cork, and a Bill had to be obtained for the rebuilding of it, the cost of which was out of all proportion to the actual cost of the rebuilding. Scotland has got the advantage of an experimental system which is answering very well so far as we can hear. Why should we delay giving a similar system to Ireland? An objection was made to the resolution as being academic. But it assorts a principle, and if the principle is conceded it might be passed into law some day. I grant that possibly it is desirable that there should be a Committee appointed. I take it that all that the right hon. Gentleman who introduced the resolution desires is to take the sense of the House in favour of a great public advantage, and if that sense is expressed his object will be attained, and we will be on the road to the assimilation of Private Bill legislation in the various branches of the United Kingdom, and towards the amelioration of the relations between them.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR (Liverpool, Scotland)
If my right hon. friend goes to a 1166 division I shall support him. I honestly say that I acquiesce in this proposal rather than feel enthusiasm for it. I quite agree that the expense involved in Private Bill legislation in this House approaches to a scandal, and is a very serious tax on Ireland. I understand that the cost of the Railway Amalgamation Bill was calculated at the rate of five guineas a minute, which must have amounted to a very serious tax on the shareholders of the two companies, as the inquiry went on for some time. Therefore, on the merits there cannot be much difference of opinion. The reason why I will vote for it not with enthusiasm, is that my right hon. friend may be inclined to think that this resolution means a little more than it does. If anyone is under the delusion that a mere change in Private Bill legislation would satisfy the national aspiration for self government in Ireland, he is mistaken. I think it necessary always to raise a voice of warning on this question, because so many people in this country are inclined to think that a little concession here and there, and a small sop thrown here and there, is all that is required to deal with the Irish question. The question goes a great deal more deeply than that; and although I will vote for the resolution I do so regarding it as no step whatever either to advance or to satisfy our national aspirations.
§ MR. BANBURY
The hon. Gentleman has told us that while he intends to vote for this resolution, this resolution would in no way gratify the national aspirations of Ireland. Now, I have nothing whatever to do to the national aspirations of Ireland. I thought this was a practical question as to whether or not measures of Private Bill legislation could be carried on cheaper than now. I was not aware that the national aspirations of Ireland had anything whatever to do with the case. The hon. Member for South Islington has told us that, in his opinion, it would be advisable to alter the Private Bill procedure, but, at the same time, he also told us that the Parliamentary Committees that now exist afford the most impartial tribunals which can be imagined. But then he says that they are rather expensive. I listened with great anxiety to hear from him what tribunal could be cheaper and at the same time as impartial.
§ MR. BANBURY
I am not aware that a local inquiry would be so impartial as those in this House. It seems to me, as a practical man, that if you wont before a tribunal which is impartial and popular, although expensive, it would be, in the long run, cheaper than to go before a tribunal which may be impartial, but, at the same time, incompetent. The right hon. Gentleman who moved the resolution fell into the same error as the hon. Member for South Islington, because he did not allude to the tribunal which he proposed to set up. I believe the late Mr. Gladstone said that there were no more dangerous things than abstract resolutions. I do not know anything which could be more adequately described as an abstract resolution than that now before the House. The hon. Member for Mid Lanark told us he was not unfamiliar with the present circumstances. I do not know any subject with which he is not familiar. I have heard him during the seven or eight years I have been in this House give an opinion on every subject under the sun. His opinions may be wise and show great learning; but while he himself said he was not unfamiliar with the subject he did not enlighten us with regard to his views as to the new tribunal to be set up.
§ MR. BANBURY
Well, the Scotch tribunal was only set up last session. Would it not be advisable to wait a little longer before we set up another tribunal for Ireland? I have no means of knowing whether the Scotch tribunal has been successful or not. My hon. and gallant friend near me informs me that the Act has not yet come into operation, and therefore the advantages of the Scotch tribunal cannot be quoted, because it is not yet in existence. Therefore, I am quite correct in saying that we ought to wait a little longer. Moreover, we must also remember that Scotsmen are eminently practical men and great economists. Only last night we heard of Scotsmen who are willing to take a post on the Lunacy Board, and not anxious to take the salary, and, when it was shown that so many men were anxious to do their duty for nothing, the Lord Advocate practically withdrew his Bill. The right hon. Gentleman opposite said there was great expense 1168 attendant on the present Private Bill procedure, and that counsel were paid fees for cases in which they did not appear. That undoubtedly is a scandal; but I was going to say, did you ever hear of any counsel who did not take fees in every case? [An HON. MEMBER on the Irish benches: Not in Ireland.] My hon. friend says "Not in Ireland," but I do not see that Irish counsel are any better than English counsel. If an Irish counsel were to get a fee for not attending a case, he would do so; and I should do the same myself. I think it would be advisable before we came to a division on this question that we should get from some hon. Member opposite some information as to the precise tribunal wanted. If he can set up a tribunal which has all the attributes which everybody in this House admits that a Committee of this House has—namely, impartiality, leisure to attend to the question before it—and at the same time a tribunal which will conduct the inquiry cheaper, I shall be happy to vote for such a resolution. But so long as it is a mere abstract resolution I shall be obliged to vote against it.
§ MR. J. H. M. CAMPBELL (Dublin, St. Stephen's Green)
Inasmuch as I am in active sympathy with the principle of the motion introduced by the right hon. Gentleman, I wish to mention very briefly my reasons for supporting it. In the first place, it is clear that, apart from politics, the Chambers of Commerce of Dublin, Belfast, and Cork, and all the leading commercial men all over Ireland are entirely at one in this matter. I think we have only to consider some of the cases mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman who moved the resolution to see that some reform is imperatively required. It is not merely that these inquiries before Committees of this House involve the parties concerned in enormous expense, but unquestionably they have had the effect of preventing in recent years many reforms which small local bodies and towns have shrunk from embarking upon. There is one matter which has tended very greatly to increase the expense of local bodies in Ireland coming to this House. They have found that it is not safe to rely exclusively on the undivided attention of eminent English Parliamentary counsel. Our Committees sit for a brief period in the year, and 1169 numbers of them sit at the same time; and thus leading counsel have their attention divided over several Committees. It is found, therefore, impossible, for any consideration or reward, to secure the undivided attention of the leaders of the Parliamentary Bar. But over and above that, they have found by experience that English counsel are at a loss when they come to deal with matters purely local in questions affecting Ireland, and accordingly it has become the practice for years past to engage Irish counsel to aid the English counsel to either oppose or support an Irish Bill. That involves the payment of very large fees to the Irish counsel, because they have to leave all their other cases behind them in Ireland, and are compelled to give their exclusive attention to the work here. But it is not merely on the ground of expense that we are in favour of the reform embodied in the resolution, because there is no division of opinion amongst us in regard to this matter, and I have never heard of any man engaged in commerce or in the professions who is not in favour of it. Take the case of the Railway Amalgamation Bill. For weeks the managers, the principal servants and officials were all detained here from their ordinary business, which they had to entrust to subordinates. And then public men who could have assisted the Committee in their deliberations could not come over here and spend weeks waiting to be called. I do not think it is right to twit the right hon. Gentleman on introducing an abstract resolution. On an occasion of this kind it would be impossible to go into the details of a scheme which would carry out our ideas. We have already had before us the analogy of the Scotch Private Bill Procedure Act. Some of us may think that that is not the thing we should like in Ireland; but it seems to me that the resources of this House should be quite equal to devising some system which would have all the benefits of a Private Bill Committee—I yield to no one in my admiration for that tribunal—and by which those Committees of the House of Commons should meet for a certain period of the year in Ireland, and there take evidence. I should imagine that even in England we might find hon. Members of public spirit and with sufficient time to give to the consideration of Irish Bills. At any rate, the suggestion would get 1170 rid of the difficulty referred to by the hon. Member for Peckham, of obtaining tribunals of the same impartiality and ability as the present Committees. Having regard to the fact that Royal Commissions have travelled all over Ireland, and that many Members were glad to take part in these Commissions, I cannot, for the life of me, see how the House could not devise a scheme by which the Committees should sit in Ireland, take evidence, and discuss the Bills there. I hope I am not impeaching on the principle of the right hon. Gentleman's motion; but I would not care to see large measures of railway or municipal reform entrusted to the consideration of local bodies in Ireland, especially having regard to the fact that financial and other considerations might arise, as I suppose they do in England and Scotland. It is for that reason that I make the suggestion, which is perhaps not a new one, that hon. Members of this House returned for English or Scotch constituencies should be formed into small Committees who would go to Ireland and hold their inquiries there on Irish Private Bills. That would secure to the parties concerned, both opposing and supporting, that ability and impartiality which are the characteristics of the Committees of this House. The convenience of the witnesses would be consulted, and the expense of the Committees could be easily defrayed by the State, which expense would be nothing compared with the enormous additional cost that is heaped on local bodies in Ireland, which are compelled even on small sanitary matters to come over to this House with an array of counsel to take part in an inquiry that may last for days. I do trust that the Leader of the House will give some hope and some encouragement to all classes in Ireland, who I again say are unanimous on this question, and who cannot see in it any suggestion of party or political advantage.
§ MR. DAVID MACIVER (Liverpool, Kirkdale)
This question is of special interest to me, as a director of a great English railway company having Irish connections. There were amalgamation Bills promoted last session by our Irish railway friends which were in the interest of enabling the services to be well performed. Speaking for the Great Western 1171 Company, we were anxious to do our part. We were anxious that the steamers from Fishguard to Rosslare should be as good as it was possible to make them, and we were anxious that the service in Ireland should be as good as it is in England. But the result of the inquiry upstairs was that every manager and the principal officers of every Irish railway were kept away from their proper work and detained in London, not for days and weeks but for months. I am afraid to say how much that inquiry cost. It was an abortive inquiry, and I cannot help thinking that if this House had sent over a small Committee to inquire on the spot they would have arrived at a decision at a much less cost; and that it would certainly have been a very different decision. There is another reason also why I am specially interested in this question. I had the honour of a seat in this House during the days of Isaac Butt, and I well remember the early days when the question of the demand for Home Rule first came into public notice. A motion for inquiry was brought forward by Mr. Butt and seconded by Mr. King Harman, and I remember that one of the strong points in favour of that motion was the expense to which Ireland was put in connection with Private Bill legislation. I felt then as I feel now, that that was a very real grievance. But I also remember that at the time to which I refer there was an Irish Member in this House named Mr. Delahunty, who represented Waterford City, and when I expressed my regret to him that £20,000 should have been spent on an inquiry upstairs, in which the City of Waterford was interested, which might have been much better dealt with across the Channel, he said, "Troth, Mr. MacIver, that's not what we want at all, at all. The witnesses were Irish, and they got the money." I mention that because it tends to show the unreality of some of the arguments which are put forward in favour of Home Rule and it does seem to me that we ought to cast aside every consideration of that kind. We have nothing to do with the national aspirations of my hon. friend the Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. T. P. O'Connor), and others like him. I do hope that the House will not regard this motion as in any sense a party question, but will fairly consider whether some change 1172 should not be made with regard to Private Bill legislation, more or less on the lines of the resolution before the House—a change which would apply not only to Ireland, but to every remote district on this side of the Channel, where an inquiry on the spot would cost much less, and at the same time result more satisfactorily than in the Committee Rooms upstairs.1
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. ATKINSON,) Londonderry, N.
One of the most interesting items revealed to-night in this debate is the new-born enthusiasm for the application of the Scotch Private Bill Legislation Act to Ireland. I am informed by my right hon. friend the Lord Advocate that when he was endeavouring to pass that Bill through this House he not only received no assistance from hon. Members from Ireland, but, on the contrary, that that measure met with most severe criticism. Not less remarkable than that enthusiasm is the enthusiasm of the hon. Member for Mid Lanark, who, having settled all Scotch affairs, is now proceeding to settle all Irish affairs. I understand that during the passage of the Scotch Bill the hon. Member did not even damn it with faint praise, while now he seems to be burning with enthusiasm that a measure on which he looked so coldly should be extended to Ireland.
§ MR. CALDWELL
The Attorney General for Ireland misrepresents the facts. I was in favour of the Bill passing, and by my silence I helped it to pass.
§ MR. ATKINSON
Then the hon. Member considers that he can best assist a Bill by his silence. I acknowledge, frankly, my gratitude for the interest he has taken in Ireland. I do not know whether, if I may use a military metaphor, the pressure on my right hon. friend will be relieved by the hon. Gentleman turning his attention to Irish questions. I do not despair of seeing the hon. Member putting questions to the representatives of the Irish Office, or, perhaps, asking supplementary questions to the questions of the hon. Member for North Kerry. With reference to this abstract resolution, my right hon. friend who introduced it is, as far as the Irish Government are concerned, preaching to the converted and pushing an open door. 1173 In fact I think I might, with some justice, accuse him of having stolen our clothes, and I do not know that they fit him particularly well. It has been well known for years in Ireland that the present Irish Administration are most favourable to the introduction and passing of a Bill dealing with Private Bill legislation. That was, I think, well known, and even to-night I feel as if someone else was feasting on a dish I had intended for my own delight, because I myself was looking forward to quoting some day some of the figures quoted to-night in favour of the motion. But while every Irishman that I ever met is in favour of the abstract proposition of passing a measure for Private Bill legislation for Ireland, I never met two Irish men who ever agreed on the particular kind of measure that should be passed. That is why an abstract resolution of this kind is really worthless and to a certain extent meaningless. Everyone who has really approached this question with an anxiety to solve it, and who has endeavoured to frame a scheme, has found that the real and substantial difficulty is the creation of the tribunal which is to sit locally to inquire into these matters. I venture to say that, if the different Members who have spoken to-night were asked their opinion as to what kind of tribunal should be created, no two of them would agree. My hon. and learned friend would apparently not agree with the kind of tribunal which my right hon. friend who moved this resolution would approve of. That is the real difficulty. Whether the tribunal should be composed of Members of this House or should be composed partly of Members of this House and partly of Members of the House of Lords, supplemented by individuals selected by some functionary or other, are all matters of difficulty, and under all these circumstances the Irish Government have thought it wise to wait until they see what will be the effect of the operation of the Scotch Act, which will come into operation at the beginning of next year. [Cheers.] Several hon. Members rather cheer that statement; have they any definite opinion themselves? [An HON. MEMBER: It is not our business.] The hon. Gentleman says it is not his business, and it is very lucky for him it is not, because if it were he possibly would not discharge it to his own satisfaction or to the satisfaction of others. We, at all events, have thought it wise to see 1174 how the measure, which is more or less of a tentative character, succeeds in Scotland, and to see what kind of tribunal will be ultimately set up. With the abstract resolution of my right hon. friend the Irish Government are entirely in sympathy; we quite accept it, but we reserve for a future occasion the task of putting it into concrete form.