4 NOVEMBER 1916, Page 3



Ma. BALFOUR BROWNE, who led the Parliamentary Bar for a good many years until the war virtually put an end to Private Bills, has written an entertaining and instructive volume of reminiscences. The idle reader will be amused at his stories, though they are not all new— witness the famous anecdote of Lord Young, who, in reply to Mr. Alfred Austin's modest assertion that he kept the wolf from the door by writing poetry, said : " What, by reading your poems to him ? " He has, too, a talent for vivid character-sketches, not always kindly. Thus, of a Mr. B., who was a junior, ho writes :-

" He was a little round podgy man with a face which generally smiled in fat dimples. He was a director of a dozen or fourteen little railway companies, which he made thorns in the sides of their bigger neighbours by means of Bills in Parliament and applications to the Railway Com- missioners. It was through these that ho gained his business at the Bar. . . . I have seen B.'s round fat face, when the lines were all round curves, reduced to angles of sorrow, his eyes with tears in them, and his button mouth of a tremble when some harsh word was said to him in Committee. He had, I have no doubt, an excellent smiling heart inside his little body, and when he died wo missed the little ball of a man who used to roll about the Committee-rooms."

Of the redoubtable Sir Edmund Beckett, Lord Grimthorpe, who quar- relled with every one and left £1,562,500 and an ill-drawn will for his heirs to fight over, tho author says

:- "-Whatever his hand found to do, he did it with all his might and often botched the performance.. . . When I knew him, he was at tho height of his professional reputation and also of the somewhat sinister repute he had made by his cavilling pen. He never seemed to have a doubt upon any subject, and one might have said to him, as was said to another cocksure person, ' I wish I was only as certain of one thing as you are of everything.' He was above middle height, stern-looking, slightly aquiline, and wore, when not in robes, an old-fashioned coat with a stuck-up, ecclesiastical-looking collar. He was and always had been self-assertive, and that is a useful but unamiable quality. But he deserved his success ; for although he was hard and stern he was as quick as a needle, could cross-examine some timid people into fits, and not only carried it with a high band over witnesses but sometimes bullied even the Committees. I never was with a leader who could take and use a good point from a prompting junior better."

Beckett, besides being the leader of the Parliamentary Bar and a de- spoiler of old churches, was a great clock-maker and designed " Big Ben." He was a friend of Dent, the clock-maker, and unluckily helped to prepare his will, which was disputed and sot aside. This incident gave Hawksley, the engineer, a rare chance of getting the better of Beckett.

The eminent engineer " was being cross-examined by Sir Edmund Beckett and was asked, with a sneer at his omniscience, which was, I admit, pronounced, ' Is there anything you don't know about, Mr. Hawksley ? " Yea,' he said, out of one side of his mouth, in his high squeak of a voice ; ' yes, Sir Edmund Beckett, I don't know anything about clocks or wills.'

Another of the author's old leaders was George Venables, who broke Thackeray'a nose in a fight at Charterhouse, and was said to have been

the original of George Warrington in Pendennis. Venables did a great deal of journalism and wrote verse. According to Mr. Balfour Browne, he gave Tennyson a line for The Princess. Book IV. begins, after a lyric, with-

" There sinks the nebulous star we call the Sun, If that hypothesis of theirs be sound "-

and the second line was furnished by Yenables. If that be so, neither he nor Tennyson can be congratulated on it, any more than Wordsworth can on his contribution to The Ancient Mariner, which the author cites as a parallel. Of the late Samuel Pope, as able and popular as he was corpulent, we are told :-

" He used to measure his oratorical displays—for he was really some- thing of an orator and his speeches were exhausting—by the number of collars which they reduced to wet rags. A one-collar speech or a two- collar speech—and it sometimes sent more to the laundry, notwith- standing a fan with which he used to arm himself. And in his moments of triumph he used to speak of getting a great speech, not off his con- science, but off that part of him which was more conspicuous than his conscience—although his conscience was there all the same."

It is rather comforting for the layman to be told that this shrewd and experienced lawyer once admitted to a lees of £220,000 in gold-mining speculations, adding : " But, Balfour Browne, if a geed thing turned up to-morrow, I would go in for it." The late Lord Alvenitone is rather cruelly treated by the author, who attributes his old friend's success more to luck than to intellect. The Into Lord Davey is incisively

described as

" a wizened little man whose eyes seemed only two of his wrinkles ; he ' peeped through his eyes,' but he was a man with the quickness of a

• Forty Years at the Bar. By P. II. Balfour Browne, I.C. Loodon: Rabat ;calm ti a. tkl. act.]

fencer and the penetration of a rapier. He had a superior sort of sniff. He was a man who found the door into tho House of Commons the narrow gate. He was not destined to popularity, and even at an election meeting was called by some dissentient a slimy toad.' But he really was too good a man ior a rough and tumble platform."

We have quoted enough to show that Mr. Balfour Browne is a severe censor, and that ho will not please the families of his old associates by his caustio wit.

There is another side to his book which, if leas amusing, is of more importance. Mr. Balfour Browne discusses the merits and demerits of Private Bill legislation with much frankness. Ho is, of course, opposed to the drastic changes that have been proposed. The present system is admittedly cumbrous anti expansive. Any scheme for a new water or gas supply, for the extension of a railway or docks, or for the enlargement of a municipal area has to be investigated by two Select Committees in the two Houses of Parliament. " Rightly to be great is not to stir without great argument," says Shakespeare, and Parliamentary counsel therefore talk for days about the schemes which they are supporting or opposing, and they are liberally remunerated for their pains. The Select Committees may be composed of able and broad-minded men, or they may not. Mr. Balfour Browne testifies to their general intelligence, but ho also tells a story of a noble Chairman who, having had a railway scheme explained to him with the help of a large plan through several sittings, suddenly inquired on the third day, "with quite an interested air" : "What is that rod lino on tho map ?" The Commons Committee after patient inquiry may sanction a sehomo which the Lords Committee will afterwards reject, or tho reverse. Each Select Committee is a law unto itself, within the fairly wide limits of the Standing Orders, and there is no continuity in the decisions of these haphazard bodies of legislators. Almost every large scheme that we can remember—for example, the Manchester Ship Canal --- has been rejected more than once by Private Bill Committees before passing into law, and the enterprise has thus been saddled at the outset with a burden of law costs amounting sometimes to a hundred thousand pounds, or even more. Ambitious municipalities absorbing neighbour. ing villages and urban districts have suffered severely in this way. If we mistake not, the city of Glasgow, when it last extended its borders, found the total costs equivalent to a fourpenny rate. The author remarks on this point that "it is a sound principle that the alteration of the existing law—the abrogation of existing private rights . . . should not be made too easy and cheap for the promoters of private Bills, for even the opposition to and resistance [of them] in Parliament may put private persons to very considerable expense— and the wanton promotion of such Bills ought not, it is felt, to be encouraged." Of course that was the argument formerly used in support of the old system, still maintained in Ireland, of granting divorces only by a separate Act of Parliament for each case, in order to deter married persons from trying to dissolve partnership. But the difficulty in the case of Private Bills is to devise a better method of procedure. The Board of Trade would no doubt like to be given sole control of n II local enterprises, but neither the municipalities nor the railway and dock companies would welcome such a proposal. It was thought that Private Bill legislation would be simplified when the Board of Trade was allowed to hold an inquiry into any new local scheme, and, if it approved, to bring in a Provisional Order by which Parliament might sanction the scheme. But it has been found, in the case of large munici- pal annexations such as those which have made a Greater Birmingham and a Greater Plymouth, that procedure by Provisional Order in- volved three inquiries, first before the Board's inspector and then before the two Houses of Parliament, instead of two. Moreover, the Houses do not hold themselves bound to confirm the recommendation of the Board of Trade ; for instance, the Board advised that Liverpool should be allowed to annex Bootle, but Parliament declined to do so. In one case at least, so Mr. Balfour Browne tells us, the Board of Trade made a recommendation which was exactly the reverse of that made by its own inspector after a local inquiry, so that the Board's judicial character is somewhat suspect. As long ago as 1872 it was proposed that " a permanent tribunal of a judicial character " should replace the Private Bill Committees, and on the face of it this seemed sensible enough. But the House of Commons had already been disillusioned by its new Court of Referees, composed of paid experts who were to inquire into the engi- neering details and estimates of schemes brought before Parliament. This Court, says the author, " worked so badly and increased the cost of litigation to such an extent that its functions were soon restricted to determining the question of the right of petitioners to be heard in their petitions." The Court of Referees still exists in a modified form, and has accumulated a mass of contradictory decisions, but it has not done anything to simplify the question of the Private Bill. We need not therefore ascribe merely to professional bias the author's preference for the existing system, although there seems no good reason why each Private Bill, however modest, should have to run the gauntlet of two Committees of Parliament when a Joint Committee would make as fair a tribunal, in most cases, as could be desired at half or nearly half the cost.

Mr. Balfour Browne says that a golden rule for the Parliamentary counsel is " to be careful of your opening "—a rule laid down by the late Mr. Hope Scott on the ground that " if once you get your case well into the heads of the Committee, it takes a great deal of evidenoe and argument to get it out again." He makes the curious remark, in segard to a set of hostile witnesses for whom his client had a profound mistrust " I daresay they came from South Wales or were pilots, to whom the accuracy of any statement is a matter of secondary im- portance." We do not remember to have heard the pilot libelled in this connexion, though the gibe at the " expert " as the superlative Ear is familiar enough. There is a world of meaning for barristers who want to get on in the author's anecdote of the town clerk who resigned Lie post and joined the Parliamentary Bar :- " Not very long ago, he was playing golf with one of the junior `silks ' ; he was getting the worst of it and said, you have greatly improved in your play. I used to be able to give you a stroke a hole and then beat you.' Yes,' said the wise K.C., `but that was when you were Town Clerk of —.' " Mr. Balfour Browne has a great deal to say about the long feud between Parliament and the railway companies, and the ways in which the Courts and the Railway Commission between them have whittled down the protection which the community thought it found in the guarantee against " undue preference " being given by a company to any customer or in the provision that a company should afford " reason- able facilities" for receiving, forwarding, and delivering goods. The question is somewhat technical, but it is vital to every large trader, and the author's sarcastic review of the position is well worth reading. So, too, is his explanation of the modern legal device by which a land- owner may secure more money for his land than it is worth, on the theory that the land has " a special adaptability " to the purpose for which the expropriating corporation or company requires it. He cites, for instance, the case of a barren foreshore, almost covered at high tide, which was valued by the owner at £100 an acre when it was pro- posed to make an ocean dock at that place ; and he refers to another case of an aerodrome in which a pebble beach and the flat ground at the back were said to have " a special adaptability " for purposes of aviation, and therefore to be worth much more than any one supposed. Mr. Balfour Browne says some instructive things, too, about arbitra- tions, which tend to be as costly as lawsuits. Like all good lawyers, be warns us not to go to law. He himself was once defendant in an action, which he won—but never again. " I think," he adds, " we might say to those who are going to law what a Scotch minister said to a couple that waited on him to be married. 'My friends,' he said, marriage is a snare to many, a pleasure to few, and a disappointment to all. Will you risk it "