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Colonies (Representation in the Imperial Parliament)
*MR. HEDDEBWICK (Wick Burghs) : I do not feel it necessary to make any apology for introducing a motion which, in my opinion, is worthy of the consideration of this House. But I cannot help feeling that the issues involved in that motion are of a gravity which might entitle hon. Members to expect that it should come from some quarter of the House which would give it greater weight than I can expect any words of mine to carry. But that defect which is personal to myself may, I hope, be cured during the course of this debate. I doubt if there is anything in modern history more amazing than the phenomenal growth of our Empire. I am not going into the story of that growth at length, but there are one or two facts connected with it which I wish to state, because I think they ought to be borne in mind in the consideration of the motion which is before the House. The area of the United Kingdom is, broadly speaking, about 121,000 square miles; the area of the British Empire, including feudatory States, Protectorates, and spheres of influence, approaches, if it does not actually reach, 12,000,000 square miles. The total area of our colonies, including Nigeria, is something like 7,674,175 square miles, or considerably more than half of the whole British Empire, and the total area of our self-governing colonies is about 6,686,960 square miles, and I think there can be no doubt in consequence of events which are now transpiring that a considerable addition will soon be made to that. It is very difficult to realise even in imagination the magnitude of these colonial possessions. If we take the single colony of Western Australia we find it covers 975,920 square miles. In that one colony the whole of
France, Germany, Spain, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, and the Netherlands might be spread out, and we might clip from the superfluous margin another kingdom,, equal in extent to Italy. If we pass from the Pacific to the Atlantic and take Canada, in that colony the whole of the vast Empire of Russia in Europe, of Turkey, Persia, and Afghanistan would disappear and leave enough of spare land to form another kingdom ten times the size of Greece. Roughly speaking, if Canada and Newfoundland be excepted, it may be said that all these great self-governing colonies have been either acquired or settled within the present century, and of all of them it may be truly said that the powers which they now exercise as self-governing communities have been conferred upon them within the last fifty years. Within the periods which I have just mentioned many changes, both Parliamentary and constitutional, have taken place in the State. We have entirely remodelled our electorate, enlarging it again and again until it may be said, without exaggeration, that the real sceptre of political power has finally passed into the hands of the people. But all through these changes is it not remarkable that no consideration whatever has been bestowed upon that Greater Britain which has been growing up beyond the seas, and that no effort whatever has been made to consolidate the Empire by widening the political basis upon which it rests sufficiently at least to give to these great self-governing colonies a voice in the Imperial Councils of the State? It is to raise that question and to give this House an opportunity for the first time, so far as I am aware, of considering, and I hope of affirming, the desirability of admitting these colonies to a share in the Imperial Councils of the State, that I have placed upon the Paper the motion that appears under my name. I would, at the very outset, express an earnest hope that whatever view on this motion may be held by individual Members, no one will let fall a word in the course of this debate which either directly or by remote suggestion is calculated to injure the pride or wound the susceptibilities of those kinsmen of ours across the seas, who have shown to the world so moving a spectacle of ardent loyalty and unmeasured devotion to the Crown. I desire hon. Members to observe that this
motion merely raises a question of principle; it proposes no scheme. I have no scheme of a practical nature to propose myself, and even if I had such a scheme I should not be in order on this motion were I to attempt to depict it. I deprecate at the present moment even the suggestion of a scheme, for in my opinion no scheme which any person could possibly suggest would have the faintest chance of success which was not hammered out in collaboration with our colonies. But there is another reason moves me to deprecate any attempt to sketch a scheme at the present moment. I feel that this is not a time in which we ought to attempt to hustle the colonies. We have been the happy witnesses of a remarkable growth of sentiment towards us on the part of our colonies, a sentiment which has grown up, which has brought forth blossom, and which has borne fruit like the magic tree of India before our wondering eyes. To attempt to force that growth or to prune it into some possibly unnatural and fantastic shape would surely be the greatest mistake in the world. But whilst I am debarred on this motion from entering into any details of a scheme, hon. Members who differ from me in the views which I hold will be at liberty to suggest any difficulties which might possibly operate against any scheme which could be proposed. Therefore, with the indulgence of the House, I will deal very briefly with some of the more obvious of these objections. Probably the first objection that would occur to anyone might be thus expressed: "It is not for us to take the initiative; it will be time enough to consider the question when the colonies prefer a request." I confess that is an objection to which very little weight, in my opinion, is to be attached. Do not let us under-estimate the value of a gracious act; even in politics it may sometimes prove happy in its effect. We may, perhaps with just cause, think little of ourselves and value lightly the privileges we enjoy, but we ought never to forget that this House is the "august Mother of Parliaments," that in the eyes of our race, wherever they may be, it is still the most sacred and venerated shrine of political freedom; and that we could do nothing better calculated to stimulate everything that is of good report in the public life of the colonies, nor confer any higher honour on our colonial kins-
men than by opening these portals to their chosen representatives. It is true that no formal demand for representation in this House has yet come from any of our colonies, but it is not less true that from several of them there has been a more or less strong pronouncement in favour of the proposition which I now submit. Canada, the greatest of them all, has certainly favoured the proposal. With the indulgence of the House, I will refer to a recent report of the Imperial Unionists of Ottawa. The members of that body form a patriotic organisation, and in their last report they advocate the framing of a Bill, to be submitted to the Imperial Parliament, for the political incorporation of outer Empire with an United Kingdom—the very object aimed at in the motion. The report goes on to say—
"Public opinion is being awakened to the necessity of a better system of providing such aid to Imperial defence, and our statesmen are being forced to face the problem of Imperial consolidation. Even those who have disapproved of Canada's active participation in the war against the South African Republics have done so because they believed that no assistance should have been tendered without first obtaining Imperial representation; whilst the Premier of Canada has expressed his belief in the possibility of Canada being represented at Westminster, and even the Hon. Mr. Tarté has declared that Canada should have a voice in the Empire."
Mr. Speaker, you have there a fact of which cognisance should be taken. The only discordant note in the general chorus of approval with which the proposal to aid this country with arms has been greeted by our colonies has come, it appears, from a small section in Canada, and proceeds from the feeling that without representation in the Imperial Parliament, and without a voice in deciding the issues of peace and war, there should be no military contribution. And I find in to-day's news a telegram from Sydney, in which Mr. Seddon, the Premier of New Zealand, is reported to have cabled to Mr. Lyne, the Prime Minister of New South Wales, with reference to Australian support of England—
"There must be no halting place. We must remain ever an indissoluble whole."
And then he goes on to express the earnest hope that—
"as Australia and New Zealand have proved sources of help and strength to the Empire, it will be found practicable to take them into the confidence of the Imperial Councils."
And if we may judge from the published
opinions expressed at interviews of the distinguished Australian gentlemen who are now in this country in connection with the Commonwealth Bill, it would appear as if the feeling in our Australasian colonies were scarcely less strongly favourable to the proposal than it is in Canada. Another objection that may possibly be taken might be put thus:—If you admit the Colonies, why not India with its vast area and enormous population? I quite feel the force of that argument, and for myself I am not opposed to the representation of India at the proper time. I think it might be a very good thing, it might help to convince our fellow-countrymen in India that a larger share of the government of India might with safety be entrusted to the natives. Within recent years we have had here two Indian native gentlemen who have been elected to represent English constituencies, and who are therefore entitled to vote upon every social, foreign, and constitutional question which can come before this House. I do not think that any hon. Member would be prepared to say that either of these two hon. Gentlemen were more distinguished by eccentricities than the ordinary English Member. But I feel that it is contrary to the political genius of the British people, even in great reforms, to take more than one step at a time; and I cannot shut my eyes to the fact that the difference of institutions, of the habits of life, and of the whole social fabric of India, and of our great self-governing colonies is so great as to make is impossible to deal with them on the same footing and at the same time; and therefore I have confined my motion to the admission of the latter. Another objection I have heard taken is based on the theory of representation and taxation. That seems to be a very serious stumbling block to many hon. Members. I cannot help thinking that to some extent that difficulty arises from a confusion of thought, springing out of the common phrase that "taxation goes with representation." If I may be permitted to say so, the true formula is, "No taxation without representation"; not "No representation without taxation." The whole thing is a mere general political axiom, and as a matter of fact we have now both taxation without representation, and representation without taxation. The formula is intended for home
consumption, and is in no way applicable to the colonies. There is no analogy between the position of a colonist who contributes to the taxes of his colony, although not to the taxes of this country, and that of a citizen of this country. But, as a matter of fact, the colonies do contribute indirectly to Imperial taxation. They maintain certain defensive forces and works, and pro tanto, they may be said to lighten the Imperial burdens we have to bear. I find that prior to the war in the Transvaal, Australia, New Zealand, Cape Colony, Natal, and Canada supported forces amounting to 80,000 men. In addition, these colonies have expended large sums upon fortifications and armaments for the defence of their capital cities and important harbours; and further the southern colonies have contributed annually £126,000 to our Imperial Naval Defence, while Cape Colony has recently voted the cost of a battleship, and Canada has offered a supply of seamen. If these contributions appear small, as compared with the vast total of our disbursements for naval and military purposes, it must be remembered that our colonies are relatively poor, and that their contributions are voluntary gifts. To all these things we must add that there are now 30,000 colonial troops fighting as Volunteers under the British banner in South Africa. The magnitude of the aid, moral and material, which has been given to us by our great colonies at the present juncture cannot be measured by the mere number of the troops they have sent to the front. But if it were thought desirable to turn what is a mere voluntary contribution into a certain and fixed quota, how could that be accomplished without admitting the colonies to our councils, and giving them a voice in the determination of Imperial policy? There are many other difficulties on which I do not wish to dwell, such as the apportionment of representation, if such a scheme were carried out. No doubt it would be difficult to apportion the representation, but that is an objection which would more aptly apply to a scheme than to a mere resolution affirming a general principle. After all these difficulties are not insuperable. If we take the case of the Commonwealth Bill, which the Australian colonies are about to submit to this House, we shall find that difficulties very similar in kind, and almost equally great, have been settled by Australian
statesmen in the course of three years. If that has been done by the statesmen of our Australian colonies, surely we may expect of our statesmen with their Imperial experience that they should, in collaboration with our colonies, discover a solution of such difficulties as have been mentioned. I pass to the consideration of the advantages which might accrue from the proposal. In the first place, I do not think that we should suffer in respect of social legislation. Our colonies have been free from the ancient growths of custom and tradition which have hampered our legislation from generation to generation. They have had a tabula rasa, on which to write what they pleased, and they have tried many experiments in social legislation which we are now only considering. Take for instance the question of State pensions. That question has been settled in New Zealand, but in the absence of colonial representatives in this House there was no one who could give the Committee on pensions for the aged deserving poor, appointed last year, any information as to the nature of that scheme and how it has worked out in New Zealand. Then again in the important matter of our fiscal arrangements, it might reasonably be expected that these might be improved from the experience of our colonies, had we colonial representation in this House. The closer we draw to one another the greater is the chance of mutual understanding and agreement. We must remember that Canada has already rearranged her tariff system preferentially in our favour, and I understand that the Ottawa Board of Trade is considering the terms of a resolution to be submitted to the Congress of Chambers of Commerce in London, in which a tariff for the whole Empire is suggested, with preferential arrangements between Great Britain and her colonies, the duties collected to be allocated to an Imperial Defence Fund. These things may be mere straws, but they show how the wind blows, and there can be little doubt that had we a really Imperial Parliament the fiscal arrangements of the Empire might speedily be revised, to the great benefit of our commerce in every branch. Then there is a much more important point than any of those mentioned. There is the question of Imperial defence. I think no hon. Member can have followed the events of the last few months without having become convinced of the supreme importance to the Empire
of unity of purpose and solidarity of action in Imperial defence. But how are these things to be achieved if every colony is to go as it pleases, to contribute or not to contribute, to control or not to control, as it chooses? The Prime Minister of Canada, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, who will be ever gratefully remembered by this country, has made some important observations on this point. He said—
"If the result of the action were that Canada would be constrained to take a part in any war of Great Britain he should strongly resent it. He claimed that in the future Canada should be in a position to act or not to act, to interfere or not to interfere, to adjust as she liked, and to exercise the right to judge as to whether the cause was just. Accordingly it had been expressly stated in the Order in Council sanctioning the dispatch of the Canadian contingent that this should not be a precedent for future action, should not be a precedent for a constitutional, or even for a colonial point of view."
Now, I do not wish to criticise these statements of Sir Wilfrid Laurier, but they are sufficiently grave to attract the attention of this House. For what is it that Sir Wilfrid Laurier claims? It is the right, as the Premier of a colony, to sit in judgment upon the Imperial Parliament, and to approve or disapprove, to assist or not assist in our decisions. I cannot help thinking that on this occasion of the Transvaal war it was fortunate that the judgment of Sir Wilfrid Laurier was in our favour. We are not loved too well abroad. I question whether in the history of the country, since the Seven Years War, there has been such universal hostility manifested against us as to day; and therefore I say it is a very fortunate thing that Sir Wilfrid Laurier and Canada, and our colonies generally, have pronounced in our favour. Had they not rallied round us, how much greater our difficulties would have been! But on 15th March, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, speaking at Ottawa, went further; he then said—
"What we did we did of our own free will; and as to future wars, I have only this to say, that if it should be the will of the people of Canada, at a future stage, to take part in any war of England, the people of Canada will have their way Of course, if our future military contribution were to be considered compulsory—a condition which does not exist—I would say to Great Britain, 'If you want us to help you, call us to your councils.'"
It seems to me that the position assumed by Sir Wilfrid Laurier is absolutely unanswerable. Are we not already approaching such a situation as he
presupposes? We shall always in future expect the colonies to help us. We are actually making arrangements to give hundreds of commissions in the British Army to our colonies; and if we do that, how can we say to Sir Wilfrid Laurier that he is not entitled to share our responsibilities for peace or war?
Attention called to the fact that forty Members were not present (Mr. HERBERT ROBERTSON, Hackney, S.). House counted, and forty Members being found present,
*MR. HEDDERWICK (continuing) : In connection with this particular subject of Imperial defence, we have also to recollect the extraordinary dimensions to which the cost of Imperial defence has grown. I do not think it is too much to say that though it is not actually beyond the capacity of the ordinary taxpayer, it already constitutes a serious burden. The British colonist, if not so rich as his relative at home, has yet shown himself capable of bearing a fair share of the burthen of Empire. But to insist upon this, or to accept it, involves a correlative right. You cannot share your burthen without sharing the right to say how the burthen is to be borne. There is the most important point of all, a point which is closely bound up with the question of Imperial defence, namely, the greater consolidation of the Empire. If we could speak to the world not only with the voice of the people of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, but with the united voice of the whole Empire, we should not only exercise a much greater influence abroad, but in my opinion the greatest possible guarantee we would provide for the preservation of the peace of the world. What are the ties that unite us now? These are the Crown, a golden thread with a breaking strain, and sentiment, the greatest force in human affairs, but a fluctuating clement. Colonial sentiment is now at white heat in our favour. We may do anything with it now. But how long will it remain in this malleable state? Great exaltation of feeling cannot in nature be long sustained. There will come a moment when the eloquent words of Sir W. Laurier will be forgotten, and only the memory of the wounds of war will survive. Then the question will be asked, "What are all our sacrifices for? What have we gained?" There must be something tangible to point to. We ought to learn a lesson 1140 from the history of our American colonies. We saved these colonies from destruction by the arms of France, and immediately afterwards they broke away from us on a trumpery detail of a tea tax. That illustrates the double danger of legislating at a distance and of relying upon so fluctuating an element as sentiment. The Australian Commonwealth Bill will shortly be laid upon the Table of this House. Suppose, for a moment, that we were to be so foolish as to mangle that measure on which the colonies have been labouring for three years, and on which they have set their hearts, is there any hon. Member who would undertake to say how long the fervid enthusiasm, for which we can never be too deeply grateful, would remain? What escape is there from such a calamity but co-operation in council with our colonial kinsmen? Again, it must be remembered that the immense development of our colonies is a new factor in the foreign policy of the State. It adds enormously to the problem of Imperial defence. Hitherto the foreign policy of the State, so far as I understand it, has been governed mainly by two ideas—the balance of power in Europe and the protection of the shores of the Channel. But to these must now be added the greater problem of the protection of the vast littorals of continents in remote seas. It might be expected if we had representatives of the colonies in this House that Imperial affairs would get more adequate consideration than now. Parliament, under the pressure of domestic affairs, tends to become more and more parochial. An outbreak of swine fever attracts more attention than a massacre in a protectorate; an order for the muzzling of dogs than the loss of Madagascar. The democracy must be saved from Shoreditch if it is to govern an Empire. Is it unreasonable to hope that with the presence of colonial representatives in Parliament the political horizon would be somewhat enlarged, and the tone of the public mind correspondingly elevated? I think we should also avoid great recurrent risks—risks which arise from European obligations such as the guaranteeing of the Asiatic frontier of Turkey, risks which might expose us to war at any moment, and involve our colonies in disastrous losses. Finally, I should say, whatever one may think of the proposal which I have made, and however we may be disposed towards the admission of the 1141 colonies to representation in this House, the thing itself is inevitable sooner or later. Our colonies have ceased to be mere colonies. With our consent they have stepped into the Imperial circle. They have fought for us and bled with us. Henceforth they can never be relegated to their old position again. We have entered into a path from which there is no return, and from which, were it still possible, return, in my opinion, is not to be desired. Already some of our colonies claim to have a voice in the settlement of the South African question, and we shall have to consider their wishes. We have taken them into partnership, and the bond which has been sealed by their blood cannot be broken. In my opinion the addition of their voice in the Imperial Councils of the State would be a gain to the Empire and to the Imperial Parliament. I beg to move the motion standing in my name.
*MR. TREVELYAN (Yorkshire, W. R., Elland) : I do not wish to add anything to the general argument brought forward by my hon. friend who proposed this motion. I think there can be very little doubt that the majority, indeed perhaps the whole of the House agrees in the theory of Imperial federation, or some sort of representation of the colonies, and that it will become in the near or distant future an absolute necessity. But what bars the way is time and the necessity for more practical suggestions than have hitherto been brought forward, and I do not in supporting this motion wish to discuss in the very least the forms which Imperial federation ought to take, nor do I suggest that there is any immediate possibility that it should be brought into practical political existence. It will be a matter of large statesmanship and long years before we can hope to have anything of the nature of imperial federation. We are going to discuss in a few weeks the Australian Commonwealth Bill, the idea of which has only been before the Australian public for, perhaps, twenty years, and it is only in the last ten years that any practical suggestions have been taking shape. What I want to suggest in reference to this motion is not so much that the Government should promise at this juncture to bring forward any sort of scheme of Imperial federation, but rather that there might be some sort of inter-
mediate policy this country might adopt before Imperial federation was brought before it for serious discussion. All I wish to do to-night is to plead for the beginning of something being done to recognise the right of the colonies to some sort of representation in our councils, and the last few months have been showing that there is serious need for it. Of course the loyalty of the colonies and their action at the present time shows their intense affection for the mother country, but that loyalty has not been entirely unquestioning, although it has been given as graciously as it could be given. In Canada statesmen like Sir Wilfrid Laurier and others have, with that caution which has always characterised constitutional statesmen belonging to our race, refused, even at this juncture, to commit themselves absolutely to following Great Britain in every war in which Great Britain possibly may be engaged. It is true that they follow us in the present war, but many of the Canadian statesmen have said that, in spite of their approval of this particular conflict, they will not commit themselves to join in every war which England may undertake. This was said very directly by Sir Richard Cartwright—
"I say that we are not, by any manner of means called upon to take part in every war in which England may engage. I say more, that it cannot be demanded of Canada, as a right, that she should contribute to every war in which the Empire is engaged under the present circumstances. What Canada has done has been a free gift, and therein lay its value and its importance to the Empire."
It is clear from that that even at this moment, when Canadians are so anxious to assist us, they will not commit themselves, in the same way as every part of the United Kingdom admits it must be committed, to accept the doctrine that under all circumstances will they be ready to assist England, and never can they accept that doctrine until they have some sort of representation in some common Parliament. I do not expect, and I think nobody expects, that the Government should make any sort of promise or engagement, or hold out any sort of hope that Imperial federation can be a matter of the immediate future. What I wish to ask is whether the Government could not do something as a sort of stopgap policy, to enable the colonies to feel that in this country, as well as through the different parts of the
Empire, there was an idea that we ought to be working at some scheme by which they might have representation. The suggestion I am going to make is not my own, or I should not venture to make it. It comes from a colonial source. It is that the Agents General or some other people in thoroughly responsible or representative positions should be allowed, not to have voting power, for it would be ridiculous to suggest voting power—it would mean so little—but that they or some others in a representative capacity should be allowed to have a voice in our discussions. They, in a sense, are representative politicians, and they would be more so if this privilege were in any way accorded to them. This suggestion, of course, is open to many very obvious objections. In the first place, it is open to the objection that we have not had in our Parliament in any age, I believe, representatives who have not had voting power. But the conditions are peculiar; the conditions are new. The colonies are beginning to demand representation. Nobody suggests at the present time that there is any hope that they should have any real, complete and effective representation, but this is only a suggestion for a period during which the Empire is considering the possibilities of Imperial federation. It is only a suggestion which would meet some of the requirements of the situation. There has been recently in Australia a demand for some sort of representation from a very important source. The most influential newspaper in Australia, the Melbourne Age—which is the first paper in Australia, has the largest circulation, and has the highest influence of any newspaper in the Australasian colonies—has declared that the colonies ought to begin to demand some sort of representation, and there is no doubt that the feeling, although it has not taken any very definite shape, is growing with extraordinary rapidity. We, at this moment, however, or very soon, are going to have an Australian Commonwealth Bill before us. That Bill is the product of the enthusiasm for Australian nationality; but, quite apart from this war, quite apart from the loyalty which has been called forth by this emergency in the last few months, side by side with Australian nationalism, there has been a strong growth of Imperial feeling, and I think, when public feeling is beginning to show itself through newspapers and other sources in
favour of some sort of representation, we ought in England to try to meet it. It is for that reason that I second the resolution.
Motion made, and Question proposed "That, in the opinion of this House, it is desirable, in the interests of the Empire, that the colonies should be admitted to some direct representation in the Imperial Parliament."—(Mr. Hedderwick.)
THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES (Mr. J. CHAMBERLAIN, Birmingham, W.) : I thoroughly appreciate the intention of the hon. Member who has just sat down and the mover in bringing this resolution before the House; and if their object is, as I am sure it is, to induce a closer union between the colonies and the mother country, I am sure they have no more strenuous supporter than myself. But, at the same time, I must say I doubt very much whether that object will be promoted by the introduction into this House of an abstract resolution on a question of the greatest complexity and importance, and by an academic discussion on such a resolution. The matter is one which, if it is to have a practical issue, must come, as all our great constitutional changes have come, gradually and with the full assent of all the parties concerned; and to attempt to stimulate it into a kind of hot-house growth by anything like a premature discussion appears to me to be distinctly a mistake. I agree entirely with what was said by the hon. Member for Wick as to the prodigious growth of our colonial Empire—a growth which is much more remarkable and admirable when we consider its effect upon the intelligence, power, and wealth of the great colonies than when it is looked at as a question of the extension of physical areas. I agree with him also, as we all do, in his recognition of the magnificent rally of the colonies to the cause of the Empire. They have shown—and I think the hon. Member did them some injustice when he said that they had answered to our call, because we made no call; they voluntarily offered, tendered the assistance which we have so gladly accepted and, great as that has been and valuable as it is, large as are the sacrifices it has entailed upon the colonies concerned. I believe that if in any stress, of difficulty, or crisis of our fate we did make a call on the colonies, their 1145 efforts would be immensely greater even than those they have already made. Of course, there is a counter claim upon us, a claim which every man in this House would most gladly recognise, and if there be any demand or any request which the colonies have to make to the mother country, nothing can be more certain than that such a request, such a demand, would be most favourably considered by the British Parliament. But have they made that demand? Have they made any demand or any request for such a proposal, such an alteration of our system, as is suggested by the resolution which is now before the House? It is an abstract resolution. It is a curious thing how shortly after Mr. Gladstone has left the House his great principles are forgotten by his party. If there was one thing which Mr. Gladstone more consistently urged than another, it was that upon the Parliamentary point it was a great mistake, mischievous, and even immoral, in a Parliamentary sense, to propose abstract resolutions unless the promoters of those resolutions were prepared to give something like a sketch of the general lines upon which they wish to proceed. The hon. Gentleman who introduced this resolution said that he had no practical scheme to suggest. I am bound to say I can imagine Mr. Gladstone under such circumstances pointing out to the hon. Gentleman the extreme impropriety of saying nothing as to the practical issue of the proposal in what is merely an abstract resolution. The hon. Member is both too vague and too definite. He is too vague because he has omitted to consider any of the difficulties which lie in the way of anyone who attempts to bring about or even to hasten the advent of Imperial federation. Then he is too definite because in his resolution he does indicate and practically does commit us to a particular form in which, not imperial federation, but Imperial representation is to be brought about. If the House were now to vote for this Resolution they would commit themselves to this proposition—that the only way to secure closer relations with the colonies, which we all desire, is by introducing some sort of representation of the colonies in the Imerial Parliament, and thereby he would exclude altogether the consideration of those proposals for a federal system which at one time or another have been under review by statesmen or others 1146 who have given their attention to the subject. Up to the present time, although, of course, there have been expressions by individuals, both by societies and individual statesmen and politicians in the colonics, there has been absolutely no definite suggestion, proposal, demand, or request on the part of any of the representative authorities of the colonies for any such change as is suggested in the resolution. I do not mean to say that such a change would therefore necessarily be unpopular in the colonies. Quite the contrary; I believe that they are at the present moment constantly considering the question, as we are here in this country, but up to the present time, at any rate, they have not propounded any particular method of dealing with the subject; and, much as I myself desire the object which the Member who has brought this resolution forward has in view, I am convinced that nothing would be more dangerous or more fatal to the success of that object than any premature discussion of details. It is a matter on which we have rather to follow our colonies than to appear to dictate or even to suggest to them. One thing our colonies may be assured of—that, however far they may be willing to go in the direction of Imperial unity, we shall be willing to follow. But, having regard to the extraordinary complexity of the situation, I do not think that the time has come when we are to suggest to them the form which I hope and even venture to believe before many years have passed that Imperial unity will take. I have said that the hon. Member who raised this question was not only too definite, but also too vague. At all events, he excluded a great number of suggestions which have been made. He is also too vague as to the resolution itself. Not by way of depreciating the value of the idea, but by way of pointing out to the House the extraordinary difficulty of discussing the subject at the present time, let me suggest to the hon. Member some of the points on which he has offered no answer whatever. This resolution is to the effect that "in the opinion of this House it is desirable that the colonies"—well, what colonies? In the first place the hon. Member has so far dealt with the matter that he has declined to include India, but he has said nothing about the Crown colonies.1147
MR. HEDDERWICK : It is perfectly true that I said nothing specifically of the Crown colonics, but I think I indicated that I dealt exclusively with the self-governing colonies.
MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN : But I must point out the difficulty in which the House would be placed if they committed themselves to the terms of this resolution without thoroughly understanding what they included or omitted. I quite understand now that he proposes to deal with the self-governing colonies. Very good. The next question that arises is this: He says that they should be admitted to some direct representation in the Imperial Parliament. Well, the Imperial Parliament consists of two Houses. In which House does he propose they should be represented, or does he propose that they should be represented in both?
MR. HEDDERWICK : There are two in the other House already.
MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN : I beg pardon. Surely the hon. Gentleman, who calls himself a Liberal, does not call that representation.
MR. HEDDERWICK : I quite admit the force of that; but I should regard Lord Strathcona and Lord Mount Stephen as the thin end of the wedge.
MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN : Although I believe there are no more popular colonists in this country than the two noble Lords the hon. Member has referred to, and although I am sure they enjoy the confidence of their fellow-colonists, I do not think, as a matter of constitutional right, Canada would consider it was fairly represented by the two noble Lords who have been created peers in this country, and who have not been in any sense the result of election by the colonists. The House is asked to pass a resolution of this kind, and I say the hon. Member is too vague. There is a great deal to be said for representation, if it is ever to take place, in this House. There is something to be said for representation in the other House; and it might be contended that representation in one House without representation in the other would be a very unsatisfactory way of putting the colonies on an equality with the 1148 people of this country. When you have decided in which House, or whether in both Houses, the colonies are to be represented, to what extent is that representation to go? Is it to be proportional to population? The hon. Member who seconded the resolution would apparently be satisfied with what he calls a stop-gap—I think a most unfortunate phrase—and he suggests that the representation should be by the appointment of Agents General to seats in this House alone. Well, with what object does the hon. Member seek this representation? He did not directly explain it. He left the House to infer. He said nothing could be more satisfactory than the action of the colonies towards the present war, and he quoted the action of Canada as an illustration, and he went on to say that Canada reserved to itself the right to decide whether in any future war it would extend the same assistance. Of course it does. Does he suppose Canada would occupy a different position if she had not been represented by Lord Strathcona or the Agents General? Does he suppose under these circumstances we should be entitled to say to Canada, "You shall no longer go as you please, but you are to accept the decision of this House, and you are to give us assistance and send your bravest sons to fight, because you are represented in this House by the Agents General"? The proposal is altogether inadequate to the object. It is absurd to suppose that a self-governing colony, with all its natural pride and independence, would sacrifice that independence for the sake of a single vote in this House. I do not for a moment criticise the point that it might be on other accounts desirable, at some time or another, that the representatives of the different colonies should be here with a voice, as a sort of advisory members. Yet I would point out to the House that by any such proposal as that they will not secure the object with which this resolution is moved; for it is quite certain that no colony would for a moment think of giving up its independence for such a representation. But I will go to another point. Assume that the Queen altered the constitution of this Imperial Parliament. Assume that we have given to every self-governing colony representation in this House in proportion to its population—I suppose that would be the 1149 ideal—and a certain representation in the other House also. Then what is this new Parliament to do? In the first place, what is to be its attitude towards the colonies? Is it to legislate for them? If not, what is the object of having this large representation? At the present moment the Imperial Parliament is constitutionally entitled to legislate for every colony. That is a constitutional principle which is admitted by all the colonies; but, at the same time, it is a constitutional principle which we do not often exercise. Therefore, the colonies would think that an enormous change was made if, in return for a proportionate representation, which would never be a majority in this House, we were to undertake to legislate for the colonies. Surely the idea is perfectly absurd. It is not in that way that the federation of the Empire is ever to be accomplished. We are not, in any circumstances, going to interfere with the domestic affairs of the colonies. But, then, are they to interfere with our domestic affairs? If you are to have this proportionate representation, although it would be always a minority in this House, it might be sufficient to determine a division. I was rather amused by something which fell from the hon. Member for Wick. He did not consider that that last objection was a difficulty, because the colonies were, he said, far advanced in social legislation; and he appeared to believe, and most ingenuously expressed the opinion, that they would always vote with the Radical party. I do not know how far that would commend itself to the House, if it were true; but I am bound to say that I do not think it is true. If the hon. Member has studied Canadian and Australian politics, he will know that words common both here and there have a different meaning in the two places. A Conservative in Canada or Australia is a very different person from a Conservative here; and, in the same way, a Radical there entertains very different views on particular questions from Radicals in the old country. Therefore, I do not suppose that it would be a permanent gain for either party. But it would be extraordinarily anomalous to have questions of great importance in our domestic legislation settled for us by hon. Members who, by the nature of the circumstances, would be insufficiently acquainted with our life and system. Another question is this—suppose that 1150 these representatives of the colonies come here, the only alternative to their taking part in our legislation would be that suggested by the hon. Member for Elland—namely, that they should speak but not vote. I do not mean to cast any ridicule upon that proposal, if it is thoroughly understood that all that is intended by such a change is to give the colonies an opportunity of stating their case on colonial questions and on questions in which they are separately interested. In such matters communication with the colonies is no doubt very desirable, although I am not quite clear whether it could not be better obtained by special delegations—such as that, for instance, which is at present in London on the matter of Australian federation—than it could be by representatives who would have to be appointed for a considerable time, and who might be more or less out of touch with colonial opinion after a while. But any such half-hearted representation as that would go a very short way towards the federation of the Empire, and would certainly not justify us in the slightest degree in imposing on the colonies the will of the majority in the Imperial Parliament on any questions in which they were interested. It would not advance one atom the present position, which is that these colonies, although they reverence the person of the Sovereign and are devoted in their loyalty to the Crown, are nevertheless, with that exception, independent sister nations, and their assistance is given to us voluntarily upon such occasions as that which we are witnessing to-day. But we do not pretend to have any power to compel that assistance. If the object of hon. Members opposite is to secure an arrangement such as the hon. Member for Elland seemed to suggest—that we should have the right to compel the colonies' contributions as the contributions of every individual taxpayer in the United Kingdom are compelled—all I can say is that they are proposing something very much more drastic than anything suggested by the present resolution. Have hon. Members considered what the result of the introduction of a large representation of the colonies into this Parliament would be upon our fiscal legislation? The hon. Member for Elland referred to a proposal which has been made by the London Chamber of Commerce for a fiscal arrangement with the colonies, which is, 1151 indeed, a proposal for an Imperial Zollverein. I have often been attacked for having, as it is said, proposed an Imperial Zollverein. I have never done anything of the sort. It is one of those recurring mistakes of which I am so largely the victim, and which it is hardly worth while to contradict until the occasion becomes urgent. All I have done is to point out, following the language used by Lord Ripon, my predecessor, that if there is to be any kind of fiscal arrangement with the colonies, the only form which I myself think would be viewed with the slightest favour in this country would be that of an Imperial Zollverein, in which there should be Free Trade between the whole empire, and duties of some kind as against other countries. But I have not proposed that; I have merely stated that that alone seems to me a proposal which might be seriously considered. What I wish to point out is that these proposals have been declared by the organs of hon. Members opposite to be an atrocious heresy—a heresy so great that the founders of it ought almost to be put in the pillory or carried to the stake. Are hon. Members opposite really prepared to consider such a heresy, which might be raised by the representatives of the colonies in this Parliament if they were to take part in all the discussions in which we engage? Lastly, there is another point which, to my mind, renders any further discussion on this subject at present undesirable. The hon. Member dealt with it very lightly. He said there is a Liberal principle that there should be no taxation without representation. I differ from the hon. Member when he says that the reverse is not also true—that there cannot be representation without taxation. The proposition of hon. Members opposite, although I know they do not intend it, will be taken by the colonies as a proposal that we should tax them; that in return for giving them a representation which would never be more than a minority in this House—at any rate for years to come—we should claim the right to tax them. All I can say is that that is a proposition which, if it were ever to be considered, should come to us from them, and should not be us. It would be most dangerous if it went abroad that we in this House—any of us who are in the slightest degree responsible on either side for the proceedings—gave the slightest 1152 support to any such proposition. I have ventured to point out my reasons for thinking that this discussion is premature, that it is necessarily academic, and that it might be mischievous. In these circumstances, I cannot but hope that the hon. Member may think fit, being probably satisfied with having laid the matter before the House, to withdraw the resolution. I should be sorry to have a division on such a resolution, because as to the object which the hon. Members undoubtedly have in view I suppose we are unanimous. At any rate, nothing would give me greater pleasure than during my period of office to promote or advance in any way that Imperial unity which has been the dream of all statesmen in recent times who have devoted any attention to the subject, and which I am sanguine enough to believe is not impossible of realisation, although it may be endangered by premature discussion.
*MR. HEDDERWICK : It is perfectly true, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, that this discussion has been academical, but there is no doubt, from the very manner in which the motion which stands in my name is framed, that I intended to do nothing more than to express a desire on the part of this House to meet any wishes on the part of the colonies which might be expressed at some future time. I cannot help feeling, in spite of the castigation, more or less merited, which some of the arguments used by me have received from the right hon. Gentleman, that the whole tone of his reply was really sympathetic. That being so, I am satisfied that all that can be gained by this discussion has been gained, and therefore I quite reciprocate his desire that no division should be taken on the motion. I feel that he has expressed very much better than I or any other Member of this House could have done our real feeling towards the colonies in this matter. I should just like to add, after what fell from him in respect of special delegations,, that while I for one, and I suppose every Member of this House, would be perfectly satisfied that any special delegation would receive adequate attention from the present holder of the Colonial Secretarial Office, yet in the past—and I am thinking now of the occasion of the New Hebrides difficulty—a special delegation from Australia was anything but properly received by the noble Lord who then pre- 1153 sided over the Colonial Office. I remember that instance well, because the character of the reception then accorded to the representatives from Australia made a painful impression on my mind at the time. Therefore I feel that the merits of special delegation very much depend upon the disposition of the gentleman who may happen for the time being to hold the office of Secretary of State. I beg, by leave of the House, to withdraw the motion.
Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
Private Bill Legislation (Ireland)
*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-
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.
MR. BANBURY (Camberwell, Peckham) : But how can you avoid the cost?
*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.
MR. PATRICK O'BRIEN (Kilkenny) : And so in Scotland.
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.
MR. PATRICK O'BRIEN : The motion is not intended as material for a Bill.
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.
SIR ALBERT ROLLIT : I would conduct the inquiry locally.1167
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. CALDWELL : There is the Scotch tribunal.
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.
Question put, and agreed to.
County Courts Bill
Order for Second Reading read.
*MR. MONK (Gloucester) : I beg to move the Second Reading of this Bill, which, generally speaking, may be said to extend the jurisdiction of county courts in common law cases from £50 to £500, and I hope the House will accord it a second reading, with a view to the measure being sent to the Grand Committee on Law. This Bill differs essentially from the Bill which I introduced in 1898. That Bill proposed to create special circuits as well as special machinery, besides increasing the limit of the jurisdiction, and would have cost the country something like £45,000 a year. The present Bill does nothing of the kind, as it deals simply with the extension of jurisdiction, the limit being reduced from £1,000 to £500, and the proposal for the establishment of special circuits having been eliminated. Last year the Attorney General did not object at all to the principle of the extension of jurisdiction, but objected to the machinery which is now eliminated from the Bill. I had hoped the Government might have brought in a Bill themselves; but in reply to a question which I addressed to the Attorney General the other day, he stated that the Lord Chancellor had neither the time nor the inclination to frame a Bill on this subject. This Bill will not cost the Treasury a single penny. It merely extends the limit in common law cases from £50 to £500; in equity cases from £150 to £500; and in Admiralty cases from £300 to £500. At the present moment in bankruptcy cases the jurisdiction is unlimited. The Bill is promoted by the Association of Chambers of Commerce, consisting of 100 Chambers, who have 1175 unanimously expressed their approval of this Bill at their recent annual meeting, and I believe the Members representing those constituencies will for the most part support the Bill. Under these circumstances, I would urge on the Attorney General the desirability of accepting the Second Reading and allowing the Bill to be referred to the Grand Committee on Law.
Motion made and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Monk.)
*MR. WARR (Liverpool, East Toxteth) : The object of this Bill is to enormously increase the jurisdiction of the county courts, while of course proportionately diminishing the work of the High Court. My hon. friend has said that the Bill has the support of 100 Chambers of Commerce, but I can assure him it has not the support of the Chamber of Commerce of Liverpool, and I doubt exceedingly whether it has the support of the Chamber of Commerce of such a large centre of population as Manchester. These great centres of population feel very strongly indeed that nothing——
*MR. MONK : May I point out that a resolution in favour of this Bill was unanimously passed at a meeting of the Associated Chambers of Commerce this year, when the representatives of the Liverpool Chamber were present.
*MR. WARR : That fact has certainly not been communicated to me; of course, I accept at once what my hon. friend has said, but I received a very strong resolution against the last Bill.
*MR. MONK : This is a different Bill.
*MR. WARR : The effect of this Bill will be to increase the jurisdiction in Admiralty cases from a limit of £300 to £500, and in other cases from £50 up to £500, and to confer jurisdiction in cases in which there is now none, so that in cases of great importance suitors will find themselves deprived of the opportunity of having their cases 1176 tried before judges of the High Court. and for juries of twelve accustomed to deal with such cases County Court juries composed of five persons will be substituted. That is not a proposal which will commend itself to commercial bodies in our great cities, and it will not commend itself, I believe, to the Law Societies. Personally, I object to the proposal altogether. I think it is a totally wrong principle. I know there is power of removal, to which I do not attach much importance. I doubt very much whether my hon. friend has sufficiently investigated the class of cases now tried in the High Court. I should imagine that 50 per cent. of them are concerned with amounts under £500. On these grounds I shall strongly oppose the Second Reading of this Bill.
MR. COHEN (Islington, E.) : I feel it is impossible for the House in the few minutes now remaining before midnight to give sufficient attention to a very drastic change in the procedure of our Courts, which will intimately affect the interests of every one of Her Majesty's subjects. Enormous interests are involved, and I think my hon. friend will see that it is unreasonable to ask the House of Commons to affirm a principle of this character without having had time, I will not say to study, but even to read and grasp the effect of this measure.
It being midnight, the debate stood adjourned.
Debate to be resumed on Tuesday, 1st May.
East India (Railways and Irrigation Works)
Address for "Return showing the estimated position as regards Capital Expenditure of the several Railways and Irrigation Works under construction in India on the 31st day of March, 1900, and the proposed Expenditure thereon during 1900–1901."—(Mr. Price.)
Adjourned at two minutes after Twelve of the clock.
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