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in our own times the demand for reform has produced general changes and amendments of the law, these private statutes are suffered to remain in force, and to obstruct as far as may be the course of improvement. Science has conferred on our generation the secret of obtaining by artificial means, whenever it is needed, a supply of water, of light, and of motive power, almost without limit, and the engineering skill and commercial enterprise of the age place these great discoveries at the service of all. Water and gas works, canals, railways, telegraph wires, want only a sufficient demand to insure their ready supply; but,' says our restrictive system of legislation, skill and enterprise and local demands must remain passive till for each several scheme the solemn sanction, the form, the ceremony, and the expense of a • Private Act of Parliament have been obtained; and all must remain in the back-ground who are not sufficiently wealthy ' and sufficiently influential to obtain this special sanction.'

A Private Act of Parliament requires the same solemn ceremonial as a Public General Statute. The Bill must pass both Houses of Parliament and be read three times in each before it receives the Royal Assent. Different, however, from a Public Bill, a Bill for a Private Act can only be presented after a formal petition; and the standing orders in the case of railway and other bills of a similar kind require a great deal of preliminary procedure before the petition can be received, a variety of notices to be duly published and served on the landowners through whose property the works are proposed to be carried, and minute plans and books of reference relating to such property to be deposited. After the matter has passed the ordeal of a formal examination by the Examiner, and the Bill has been read a second time, it is referred in each House to a Select Committee, who, we are told, have on some occasions had before them as many as 400 witnesses to establish the cases of the various contending parties. Proof of every point in the case must be twice given, be it of the very gist of the inquiry, or the merest technicality,—the House of Lords takes no notice of the evidence given in the Commons; since 1847 the standing orders of each House have been nearly identical, but the privileges of the two Houses, the order and course of Parliament, require the tedious and expensive ordeal to be gone through twice, the Lords' House requiring further the personal attendance of witnesses even as to those matters which in the Commons may now be proved by affidavit.

The quantity of valuable time at present consumed in all these solemnities is a matter of no trilling consideration. We do not refer to the time of the lawyers, engineers, or witnesses engaged in promoting or opposing a scheme before Parliament, and kept sometimes a month in attendance previous to the case being called on, and detained for weeks afterwards whilst the drowsy proceedings of the committee may last. The liberal remuneration of all these gentlemen goes far to compensate them for the inconvenience; we care only for the public, who are the real sufferers.

The ordinary legitimate duties of the majority of our legislators are light compared with those which arise out of Private Bills. By the House of Commons returns it appears that during the last five years the latter have exclusively occupied the time of the average number of 100 Select Committees. In the Session of 1846 there were 500 sittings of Select Committees, as many as twenty-four being held in one day, and the average number sitting daily being seventeen. In the present year, when a far less amount of private business was disposed of, the 197 opposed bills are shown to have taken up more than 2000 hours of the time of the Legislature in their investigation. Such a consumption of time, coupled with an ill-concealed disrelish for the subjects and the individuals that consume it, tends to add the testimony of Honourable Members themselves to that of the public who are looking on, that a Select Committee on a Private Bill is about the most objectionable tribunal that could be devised for these investigations. Whatever contempt was expressed thirty years ago for Bentham's denunciation of our system of Private Bill legislation as a waste of valuable time for bad purposes, there are few Honourable Members, at the present day, who act as if they dissented from his opinion. Notwithstanding the suggestion of the late Sir Robert Peel to young members to seek in Railway Committees an initiation into the duties of statesmen, the profitless and unappreciated drudgery of a month's attendance on Group A. B. C. or D. deters any member from serving who has a decent excuse to justify his absence.

The sanction which our system requires for works of enterprise and public utility cannot, however, be withheld. The labour of wading through the details of such an enormous mass of investigations must be undergone, and Parliament thus distracted from its constitutional duties, is compelled to postpone or neglect measures of national importance ;- our foreign relations — the army and navy — the amendment of general abuses

the reform of the civil service — the claims of the colonies the emergencies of the State, the Church, and the People. Waste

of time is a serious evil. Next to this, if not before it, is the extravagant waste of money. The cost of so much special


litigation is now becoming a matter of public outcry. It is ruinous to many; it is prejudicial to all: --- we leave out of the question the expenses of obtaining a judicial construction on so many thousand special statutes conflicting with the general law

we contine ourselves to the mere cost of calling them into existence. We have now before us a few samples of Parliamentary expenses which may serve as data to go by in calculating the sum total of this expenditure within the present reign.

The town of Bury required, eight years ago, certain local works to be effected with a view to the comfort, health, cleanliness, and security of its inhabitants. A Special Act of Parliainent was determined on; and that high sanction was gained at a cost of 36971.,—a sum which, it has been stated, would have gone far to effect all the alterations required in the town. Local Courts Acts, it seems, used to cost 1000l. a piece; and Bills for supplying towns and villages with water, or effecting local improvements, about 500l. ; which sum would be at least doubled in case of opposition: the Parliamentary charges upon this necessary of life thus bearing a large proportion to the whole expense of obtaining it.

The Statute Book contains about 70 Special Acts for Liverpool alone. At the commencement of the present reign, the conflict between the various provisions of this body of statutes made it necessary for fresh statutes to be procured; and no less a sum than 100,0001. was incurred in the Parliamentary expenses.* Belfast harbour was twice, within seven years, improved by Act of Parliament; and the Parliamentary expenses were 10,1861. The Parliamentary costs of the Hull Dock Acts were about 50,000l. ; while the Corporation of London, who, in keeping together their patchwork municipal system, are peculiarly addicted to proceedings by Private Bills, hesitate not to lay out many thousands at a time in Parliamentary opposition to an unwelcome improvement. Their resistance to the Bill for the removal of Smithfield Market, for instance, drew up ds of 6000l. out of the City funds; and Her Majesty's Government, who were the promoters, had to expend a similar amount in order to carry it through both Houses. Even this large expenditure, however, is a trifle compared with that habitually incurred in the case of Railway Bills. Mr. Baxter, the solicitor of the Great Northern (Evidence before Select Committee, 1847, § 160. 182.), states that the Parliamentary expenses of that

Report Select Committees H. C. on Private Bills, 1846, Ev. of Mr. Rushton, p. 61-7. The details of these expenses are given in the Appendix to this Report.


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Company, before a spade was put into the ground, amounted to 432,6201. The directors of the South Eastern Railway Company have recently announced to the shareholders, that their Parliamentary Law Expenses for nine years, in endeavouring to beat off competitors after their work was finished, amounted to 479,7111. 7s. 11d., or the average of 53,301l. per annum.* The second Report on Railway Act Enactments informs us (p. 19.),

-that 'the Eastern Counties Railway, which is fifty-one miles in length, cost 45,1901. in Parliamentary expenses alone. The • Parliamentary expenses of the London and Birmingham Rail

way has been estimated at 650l. per mile: of the Great Western at 10001.


mile.' Mr. Peto mentions one instance within • his own knowledge, where, though the line was utterly im• practicable, and the Bill never went beyond the Standing

Orders Committee of the House of Commons, the solicitor's 6 • account, which did not include the expenses of engineers, and • various other outlays, amounted to no less a sum than 82,000l.' From another source we learn that, in the case of the Worcester and Hereford Railway, extending over only twenty-nine milest, and started with a capital of only 580,000l. (estimated as more than sufficient to complete the whole work), the Parliamentary expenses amounted to 250,0001., or one-fourth per mile more than the average cost of the entire construction of railways in the United States.

The personal inconvenience to members in attending Select Committees, and the enormous costs which Private Bilis occasion, are, however, after all, of secondary importance to other evils, which the present system gives rise to,-evils arising from the mode of enacting Local and Personal Laws, and their subsequent operation on the General Law.

Montesquieu, in a chapter of his · Spirit of Laws, specially devoted to the subject of the British Constitution (lib. xi. ch. vi.), points out the inevitable evils arising from a union of legislative and judicial powers in the same body. Some writers have ridiculed the gloomy prophecy of this French philosopher, that England will perish when the legislative power becomes more corrupt than the executive; but modern experience tends, no less than historical facts, to show, that Montesquieu really touches upon a vulnerable spot in our Constitution. When a Parliamentary Committee undertakes to adjudicate on conflicting private claims,- when, as will be seen over and over again in

* See Report of Directors, published in Herapath's Railway Journal, Sept. 9. 1854.

† Herapath's Railway Journal, Sept. 1853.

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the reports before us, - Parliament acknowledges itself incompetent to discharge efficiently the functions of judge,- when it is considered that members of Select Committees incur no direct responsibility, and that, if even devoid of pecuniary interest, they are open to personal bias, local influence, and individual solicitation, -it must be admitted that we possess very slight security against corruption.

The journals of the House of Commons show that in times gone by the system of private legislation did lead to Parliamentary corruption. We must not forget that those journals record the fact of even the Speaker being tempted by the sterling coin of the Corporation of London to connive at an iniquitous Coal Tax Bill, passing through Parliament under the deceptive title of • An Aet for

Relieving the City Orphans.' There yet exist a variety of resolutions on these journals of a more recent date, ominously denouncing attempts to bribe or corruptly influence Members with regard to Private Bills; and there are not wanting cases which have come before our ordinary tribunals, where Members of the Legislature have entered into formal bargains, for valuable considerations in money, not to oppose a Private Bill.

The reign of the railway kings and the days of railway speculations will not soon be forgotten : those days when the mania for scrip was epidemic, seizing alike the humble citizen and the lordly aristocrat — when the allottees were not only those who appeared openly as promoters, but too often the Senators who sat in judgment - when dukes entered the share market, and M. P.'s in crowds became provisional committeemen -- when Lawyers and Parliamentary Agents made fortunes by their personal influence with Honourable Members — when millions were expended in Parliamentary expenses, and shares were reserved, and funds expressly allotted for secret service. This, at all events, afforded grounds for pondering well on Montesquieu's remarks, and believing that Bentham might in his time have felt justified by personal observation in characterising a Select Committee of the House of Commons as a judicature (to use his own peculiar phraseology)' as to all points of appro*priate aptitude rendered notoriously in the highest degree unapt, and in particular in respect of moral aptitude; in one word, by corruption.'

Supposing, however, that the rough language of Bentham is inapplicable to our times—that Parliament contain none but the most immaculate Members - that bribery is out of the ques

* Constitutional Code, lib. I. ch. xvi. s. 4. VOL. CI. NO. CCY.


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