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COMMITTEES ON PRIVATE BILLS.
Report from the Select Committee of the House of Commons, on the Constitution of Committees on Private Bills.
Youb committee, duly impressed with the great importance of the subject, and convinced of the universal and earnest desire of the house to adopt some modification of the constitution of its committees on private bills, equally with a view to the convenience of its own members and to the satisfaction of the public, submit to the house the following observations on the matter referred to their consideration:
The most frequent grounds of complaint against committees have been, that protracted and expensive investigations have been attended solely by members whose constituents were locally interested in the results, or, in some cases, by members who have themselves had an individual interest in the subject of bills; while it has not unfrequently happened, that the final decision on the clauses and on the reports have, at the very close of committees, been settled by numerous other members, who, from their absence, have been ignorant of the information obtained during the earlier stages of the proceedings. But your committee feel it their duty to observe, at the outset of their report, that no small portion of this admitted evil is attributable to the course commonly adopted by the litigant parties themselves, who, if their object be of a magnitude to inspire cither great hopes of profit or apprehensions of loss, and the subscription fund be large, will resort to every expedient and device to protract inquiry, with, the determination either to drive their opponents from the field by expense, or to render it impossible, for want of time, to pass the bill into a law. Such a course of proceeding renders a constant attendance on committees almost impossible. While it necessarily harasses and fatigues the members of the house, it is destructive of the ends of public and private justice, and loudly calls for some specific.regulations, without which it will be in vain to expect an entire rare of the evils incident to the present system. But as this evil has not arisen from the mode in which such
committees arc constituted, the suggestion of a remedy would not properly find a place in the observations of your committee.
It is evident, however, that whatever portion of this mischief may be caused by an almost exclusive attendance on committees by such members as are either directly or indirectly personally interested in the issue of the proceedings, may be obviated by giving such a constitution to committees, as shall have a tendency to exclude such as may be thus deeply interested, and afford the best chances of an impartial, and, at the same time, an adequate attendance.
Under the present system, each bill is committed to the member who is charged with its management, and such other members as he may choose to name in the house, and the members serving for a particular county (usually the county immediately connected with the object of the bill), and the adjoining counties; and consequently it has been practically found, that the members to whom bills have been committed have been generally those who, in one or other of the modes above specified, have been most interested in the result.
If in the case of a projected canal, or a road passing through two or three counties, the friends of the bill discover, that among the members serving for the division of counties to which the bill is committed a majority are likely to support it, they rest satisfied with the constitution of the committee; but the same reason produces a very different feeling in the opponents of the measure, who never fail to procure some member to open the committee, by moving in the house, " that all who come shall have voices j" a step justifiable, and perhaps indispensable on their part, but which, far from diminishing the evil, not unfrequently augments it tenfold, by inviting all the interested parties in the house to take part in the business of the committee, which necessarily terminates in the prevalence of the strongest party; for they who have no interest of their own to serve, will not be prevailed upon to take part in a struggle in which their unbiassed judgment can hnve no effeet. Injurious as such proceedings are to the ends of justice and the character of parliament, your committee are satisfied they are so naturally incident to the present constitution of committees, that no permanent improvement can be obtained, except through some changes in the formation of the committees themselves.
The first point, therefore, they would recommend to the consideration of the house, is the propriety of abstaining hereafter from complying with the motion, "that all who come have "voices." It is important to observe, that the practice of opening committees by that process is of modern adoption; and the inconveniencies that have resulted from it have been so generally felt and acknowledged, that it is unnecessary to offer any arguments against its longer continuance.
With respect to the precise form and manner in which it may be advisable to re-model the committees, more doubts may exist. Abstractedly considered, that mode would undoubtedly be most desirable, which should assimilate committees, by a limitation of numbers, and an exclusion of all bias from interest, to the form and character of juries. But the accomplishment of that which is desirable, must necessarily be considered with reference to practicability. And although, if it should ultimately prove necessary, every consideration of the personal convenience of members should be disregarded, your committee are unwilling, in the first instance, to recommend any plan which might be thought to draw too largely on their time, or to impose labours which might be unwillingly submitted to, or duties which might be imperfectly discharged.
Most of the plans which have been brought under the consideration of your committee, have been founded on the principle of ballot, accompanied, as it necessarily must be, by compulsory regulations for enforcing attendance. But the necessary service on the numerous select committees always sitting, charged with the investigation of subjects frequently of the highest national importance, the official engagements of many members of the house, the mercantile and professional avocations of others, the employment afforded to many members representing populous manufacturing counties and places by the local or commercial interests of their constituents, the advanced ages of others, and, above all, the unavoidable occasional absences of members from attendance in parliament, are so many reasons against the adoption of such a principle, if any less objectionable can be discovered. These considerations, added tn those of the great number of private committees, which are more likely to increase than to diminish, and the length into which the investigation before them will, under any regulations, be sometimes protracted, all conspire to render select committees obtained by ballot, and kept to a forced attendance by compulsory regulations, a question of doubtful policy and practicability.
It appears, however, worthy of consideration, whether a division of counties formed on a new principle, accompanied by a permission in certain cases to strike a limited number of names from the list, might not be found to obviate much of the evil complained of. W'ith this view it is submitted to the house, that each bill should be hereafter committed to the member intrusted with its management, and to the members serving for the county or place immediately connected with the project, and to as many of the adjoining counties as may contain, as nearly as may be, sixty members: and that to this number should be added other counties containing about sixty more members, taken indiscriminately from other parts of Great Britain and Ireland. If voices are no longer to be allowed to all who attend committees, it seems highly desirable that provision should be made for the attendance of a fair proportion of Irish and Scotch members on committees on English bills, and of English members on Irish and Scotch committees. Ac-' cording to the existing lists of the divisions of counties, made under the direction of the speaker about twenty-five years ago, there are in some instances above two hundred members from adjoining counties at liberty to attend committees, while in others there are not more than between sixty and seventy. By preserving the principle of committing bills to a limited number of members from adjoining counties, the house will retain some security for an adequate* attendance of members, possessing local knowledge on the subject, on its committees; while the admission of an equal number of members from other parts of Great Britain and Ireland, will have a tendency to correct any prevalence of bias on the minds of members serving for counties with which any particular project may be connected.
Should it be the pleasure of the house to adopt this suggestion, and to request of the speaker that a new distribution of the counties may be formed on this new principle, especial care should be taken not to include in any one list too large a proportion of members representing any one particular description of interest; and it may be well to remark, that with a view to prevent the supporters or opponents of any intended bill from submitting c.v parte statements to members before the assembling of parliament in each session, it would be expedient to make, sessionally, some alteration in the distribution of the counties, to which neither party could have access till after parliament had met.
But as it might still happen in some cases of committees so constituted, there might still be found members who had deep personal interests in the questions at issue, it appears right to your committee that an arrangement should be made, by which any party petitioning in favour of, or against the whole or any part of a hill, who should among other matters pray that the committee might be still further limited, should be entitled to procure such limitation. The parties in such case might be appointed to appear at a given time, and place, before the member intrusted with the management of the bill, and there having previously selected some member, should, through his agency, he at liberty to reduce the list by strikingout, not exceeding fifteen members on each side, which would then leave ninety at liberty to serve; a number which your committee does not consider too large, when they reflect on the necessary absence of some members, and the unavoidable avocation of others. They conceive that a number of mem. hers sufficient to form a quorum, might be selected from the list so struck, who might be prevailed upon voluntarily to undertake an impartial and judicial investigation of the points to be brought before the committee, the proceedings of which would be entirely under their own direction, and which would not be subject to be controlled, at the conclusion of a laborious inquiry, by an intrusion of members ignorant of all that had passed during the previous proceed, ings.
Should a trial be given to the plan recommended, it is the opinion of your committee, that the members serving for the county, city, or place, from whence a bill may proceed, or through which a projected canal or road of any description may pass, should in no case be liable to exclusion from the committee on the bill.
Your committee cannot close its report without adverting to a practice which has grown up in committees, and which they deem as contrary to the intentions of the house as it is manifestly incorrect in principle. Measures have occasionally l>een frustrated by committees striking out of hills the essential clauses, or by adjourning to a distant day, and thereby attaining frommak. ing any report. It would be unwise, even if it were possible, to attempt to prescribe to the judgment of committees with respect either to the rejection or the insertion of clauses; but the house is entitled in all cases to a report of the proceedings of its committees, and it therefore appears necessary that the house should adopt some resolution on this head.
21st June, 1825.
JOURNALS OF THE HOUSE OF
Substance of a Report from the Select Committee of the House of Commons, appointed to examine the Progress made in the General Index to the Journals of that House, extending from the Union of Ireland to t/te Demise of his late Majesty, and in continuing a similar Form of Index to the present Time.
Tue committi'e lay liefore the house a detailed account from Mr. Riekman, under whose direction and superintendence the new index has Ik en conducted, and recommend that as this use
ful and laWious work is now completed to their satisfaction, the balance which remains due should he paid to those who have been engaged in carrying it on. They also concur in Mr. Rickman's recommendation as to methodising and compressing into one volume the two volumes of Dunn's Iudex of the Journals from from 1/74 to 1B00. Having had an opportunity of examining a synthetical table of the whole course of business in the house, which had b**-n arranged during the time that Lord Colchetier was speaker, they deem it a most useful addition to the improved index, and have accordingly directed that it should be prefixed to the volume. The committee speak in high terms of the accuracy with which the new index has been printed.
Substance of the first Report from the Stint Committee of the House of Common*, appoint**! to inquire into the State and Contlitiou of tVPrinted Reports, and other Papers, pre+nted to that House, and who were instructed to consider and arrange such Reports as it mm* be proper to print in Volumes, in addition U those which have been already so printed, and prepare an Estimate of the Expense of Print. ing the same; also to consider of pruriduui some proper Place for the safe Custody of On printed Books and Papers, affording convenient Access to the same, for the L'se tf Members • and who were also instructed lo consider the best Means of providing additional Accommodation for Committee Rooms, with the least possible Delay.
The object to which the committee first directed their attention was the committee rooms. which they declare are wholly inadequate u> the existing necessity. On a single day. in the course of the session, four committee; met an public, and thirty on private business ; nineteen of the latter having been fixed to meet in oar room. They recommend the immediate addition of at least ten committee rooms. Tor confined space of the present library brine afeo productive of similar inconveniences, they abe recommend that a new, large, commodious, and accessible library should I* provided. The site which the committee point out as the man commodious for the new committee rooms and library is the court bounded by the Thames, the long gallery, the painted chamber, and the house of commons. As it will he necrssary to remove the official bouse of Mr. Ley, the clerk of tie house of commons, the committee observe, that a temporary resilience must lie provided for that gentleman, and advise that a new official residence should be built for hh= in the «]iace lying betm'een the north entrance M Westminster Hall and the river.
The second report of the same committee contains the minutes of the evidence of Mr. Benjamin Spiller, George Whittam, esq., and John Sonne, esq. The evidence of Mr. Spiller, the librarian of the house of commons, establishes the insufficiency of the library for its purpose; that of Mr. Whittam, the clerk of the journals, the insufficiency of the place of reception for the journals; and that of Mr. Soane, the expediency of selecting the spot, comprehending part of Cotton Garden, between the Long Gallery and the river, for the purpose of building new committee rooms, and a library for the house of commons.
The following is the third report of the same committee:—
In obedience to the order of reference, your committee have proceeded to inquire into the state of the printed reports and papers presented to the house. Referring to the report made by the select committee, appointed for a similar purpose in 1803, they directed an arrangement to be made of selected reports, similar to that adopted in the collection of fifteen volumes already printed. Tins arrangement will be found in the Appendix. The reports comprised in this catalogue have all been presented during the period from the year 1801 to the present time. The importance of the subjects that have engaged the attention of parliament during the interval, renders the reports, both of committees and of commissioners, of the greatest public interest. In these reports various ques. tions are discussed relating to the administration of justice, the privileges of parliament, arts and manufactures, agriculture and trade, education, criminal law, and police; and it is obvious, that the preservation of documents of this description, and their arrangement in such a form as to be available for the purposes of reference, are of the greatest importance. The same motives which induced the house in 1803 to reprint a selection of the reports then existing, appear to your committee sufficient to warrant a continuation of the series. But as a very considerable number of copies of these reports are still preserved in warehouses, your committee do not feel themselves warranted at the present moment in recommending to the house the commencement of such an undertaking.
Three hundred and seventy-three volumes, including all papers, have been printed by the authority of the house since the year 1800, of which the most valuable reports, both of committees and of commissioners, contained in this collection, might all be comprised in thirty folio volumes.
A reprint of these reports your committee consider deserving of the attention of the house at some future period; and they consider, that
with regard to the sessional papers hereafter I the reports, that is, a classification by subjects,
annually printed and arranged, a certain number of perfect copies should be preserved unbroken. The necessity of some such arrange. ment will be apparent by a reference to the evidence of Mr. Hansard, who has informed your committee, that only, one complete copy of these papers is at the present moment in his possession. Your committee recommend, that at the close of every session complete sets of the printed papers should be deposited in the library of the British Museum, the Bodleian and Cambridge university library, the library of Trinity College, Dublin, and the advocates' library at Edinburgh.
Whenever the house shall conceive it expedient to direct a reprint of the reports, your committee conceive that the proceedings of commissioners, whether appointed under statute or in consequence of an address, should be included in the new edition ordered. Previously to the union with Ireland, few reports of this description were laid before parliament; but, since that period, many subjects of the greatest importance have been subjected to this mode of inquiry; and the same principles of selection should direct the arrangement of the reports of commissioners and the reports of the committees of the house. A general index to the sessional papers has been prepared by Mr. Hansard, the printer to the house; your committee recommend its completion to the accession of his present majesty, and consider it necessary that it should be printed for the use of the house.
The set of printed papers now deposited in the custody of the clerk of the journals, being more complete than that in the care of the librarian, your committee recommend that it should be transferred to the library, as a place of more convenient access and reference.
Whenever a reprint of the reports is directed, the house will have to consider how far it is expedient, in the new series, to adhere to the size and arrangement adopted by the committee of 1803. The difference of cost between an edition in the larger folio, and one of the same size as the sessional papers, lias been stated at fifty per cent; a consideration of considerable importance in a work of magnitude and expense.
The classification to which your committee have referred applies at present, except in a few instances, to reports only. It has occurred to your committee, that a similar classification might with much utility be adopted as to the papers. Those of each session are arranged with as much attention to similarity of subjects as the case admits; and, for the papers of each session, perhaps no better arrangement could be adopted. But it appears to your committee, that where the papers of a period embracing several sessions are to be preserved, a classification, similar to that which is adopted in regard