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all kinds of topics at the time of the House resolving itself into Committee, are specimens of the sort of invaa sion of the rights of private members which is proceeding from the side, not so much of the Government, as of the business already recognised as being of public importance. Such rules, however, must be very elastic, and their ultimate form, if they attain any ultimate form, will probably be rather determined by the exigencies of the country at the time, and not by constitutional considerations.
What is known as the “ half-past twelve rule,' after being tried in several sessions, was adopted as a Standing Order on the 18th of February, 1879. The rule is that except for a money bill, no order of the day or notice of motion be taken after half-past twelve of the clock at night, with respect to which order or notice of motion • a notice of opposition or amendment shall bave been printed on the notice paper, or if such notice of motion shall only have been given the next previous day of sit• ting, and objections shall be taken when such notice is
called. On the last discussion of the rule, it was by no means unhesitatingly supported by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who represented the Government; and it is probable that on the whole the rule rather operates in favour of private members than of the Government. Members of the Government are likely to be more persistently in their places than average private members, and a vast quantity of formal Government business which is never seriously opposed might be delayed, under the new rule, by any single member of the House putting down his name as an opposer. The business of private members, on the other hand, can benefit very little from the absence of casual interruptions of this
sort, as it has no chance of being successfully terminated without the overt support of a substantial and vigilant majority of members. On the whole, the rule betokens a salutary disposition to check an indolent, superficial, or servile mode of getting through its business, with which the load of modern legislation might be likely to familiarise the House.
One of the most practical forms in which the multitude of business before Parliament in modern times, and the perplexities attending its satisfactory discharge, are represented is to be found in that part of Parliamentary practice which relates to Private Bills. When it is remembered that one class of private bills covers almost the whole field of Government interference with burial-grounds, charters and corporations, churches or chapels, cities or towns, Crown, Church, or Corporation property, fisheries, gaols, gas-works, letters-patent, markets and police, and the other class includes almost the whole field of like interference with bridges, canals, railways, docks, drainage, embankments, harbours, piers, streets, turnpike roads, tramways and waterworks, it is seen at once that, while every other branch of legislation tends to become simpler through the acceptance of uniform principles, or to be superseded by the fact of its having been finally accomplished, there is an almost infinite field open in respect to private bills. They tend to become numerous as the arts and inventions which improve human existence become numerous, and to grow intricate as the forms of human association and the fine gradations of competing interests increase in variety and complexity. There is a true and justly apprehended danger that in no long time the business of so-called private bills will absorb the main attention of the
two Houses, to the comparative neglect of questions of general policy, home and foreign, and at the expense of all the time and energy at the disposal of their members. And yet, in view of existing emergencies and well-established policy, the Houses can now neither refuse to legislate, nor—if they would prevent corruption, tyranny, and injustice of the most flagrant sortwithhold the employment of all resources required to enable them to judge wisely and administer skilfully. The question is thus raised to one of great constitutional importance, and the practical modes of dealing with it at the present time must here be adverted to in some detail. It concerns, in fact, not only the general functions of the two Houses of the Legislature, but the essential rights in respect of personal liberty, property, and liability to taxation, of all members of the community. The right to govern, the mode of government, and the duties of the governed, are all involved. And yet the procedure with respect to private bills has hitherto almost escaped the notice of constitutional writers.
It does not appear that there has ever been any authoritative effort made to define what is a public and what is a private bill. Sir Erskine May I enumerates the chief cases which have occurred since 1828 in which a practical difficulty has been experienced in determining to which rank a bill belongs; and while it is broadly understood that bills having in view only the particular interest or benefit of private persons or groups of persons,—as public companies, corporations, parishes, cities, or even counties,-rank as private bills, it is yet true that
' Parliamentary Practice, chap. xxiv.
Procedure in the Case of Private Bills. 93.
most bills concerning the metropolis have been treated as public bills ; that bills concerning Edinburgh and Dublin have been treated as public or private according to their objects; that in 1839 three measures for improving the police in Manchester, Birmingham and Bolton were passed as public bills ; that in 1856 a bill concerning the harbours of Dover, Ramsgate, Whitby, and Bridlington, and abolishing certain tolls and repealing local Acts, was held to be a public bill; and that in 1861 the Red Sea and India Telegraph Bill, which amended a private Act, was introduced and proceeded with as a public bill. The main distinction which governs the procedure applicable to the case of a private and of a public bill respectively is, that while, with regard to all measures whatever, the Houses do their best to protect vested interests, and to prevent unforeseen injury being inflicted on individual persons, in the case of a private bill the judicial or administrative aspect of the Houses is (at least in its earlier stages) the more prominent, and in the case of a public bill the purely legislative.
The standing orders of the two Houses with regard to private bills resemble each other in their general purport. Their provisions are extremely minute, and have to be rigidly adhered to by the promoters of the bills. The utmost pains are taken that every competitive interest shall secure a hearing, shall be efficiently advocated, and, in case the bill proceeds, shall be, if possible, compensated. Examiners are appointed to scrutinise the bill and the documents appended to it in their earliest stage, so that the time of the members of the House who form a Select Committee on the bill may not be wasted in discussing schemes which are inherently imperfect. Careful provision is made for the supply of
maps, plans, and books of reference for the information of the House and of opponents to the bill. The petitioner for the bill is obliged to make a general declaration,—to be deposited in the Private Bill Office on or before a certain day,—of the powers which are to be given by the bill; and in the case of bills for the incorporation of companies, the financial structure of the contemplated company must be given with clearness and exactness. Precautions are taken that the utmost publicity shall be secured by public advertisement, and that the fact of the petition for a bill shall be fully made known in good time to all persons who may conceivably be affected by the bill. Finally, by a standing order of July 1858, the Commons agreed that this House will not insist on its privileges, with regard to any clauses in private bills sent down from the House of Lords,
which refer to tolls and charges for services performed, 6 and are not in the nature of a tax. This resolution has been held to extend to turnpike, harbour, drainage, and other similar bills, and the effect of it has been to enable bills which must before have been introduced in the House of Commons, to be introduced in the House of Lords.
The inordinate growth of private-bill legislation must lead within no long time to some decisive measures for relieving the Houses, and especially the House of Commons, of the engrossing burden which it casts on members. It is not of any service to contrast the importance of private and of public bills; and therefore it does not help the matter to assume that when their claims come into competition those bills which have an apparently more limited object must give place to those which seem to be of more universal concern.' Any such mode of treating political questions neglects the facto