Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

in wig, gown, and bands, stroll up and down it, is really pretty.

Before leaving these legal precincts, let us take a peep at a Committee Room of the House of Commons. As the reader probably is aware, if the town of Little Pudlington wishes to have waterworks of its own instead of being dependent for its water-supply upon its proud rival, Great Swabbington, it will have to apply to parliament for a bill, to enable it to obtain its desires. Of course every opposition to the passing of the Little Pudlington Water-works Bill will be offered by the inhabitants of Great Swabbington, who can scarcely control their indignation at the upstart conduct of the Little Pudlingtonians. A committee of the House of Commons will be appointed to enquire into the subject, and counsel will have to be feed, and witnesses brought up on both sides at vast expense-some of whom will of course swear that the supply of water afforded to Little Pudlington is ample, whilst others will affirm that it is scandalously deficient.

Half-a-dozen such contests are always going on at Westminster during May and June of any year. Should the reader wish to witness one of them, he must ascend the steps which lead from Westminster Hall to St. Stephen's Hall, and proceed across

the last-named hall till he reaches a flight of steps upon his right. These he must ascend, and he will then find himself in a long corridor, out of which open the doors of numerous committee-rooms. To each committee-room there are two doors, over one of which is inscribed Members' Entrance,' and over the other Public Entrance. Turning the handle of this last-named door, the visitor will enter a lofty, well-proportioned, and well-lighted room, the windows of which overlook the river Thames. Round a horse-shoe table he will see seated five gentlemen, the members of the committee of the House of Commons who have been appointed to enquire into the Little Pudlington Water-works Bill; and in the hollow of the horse-shoe table are placed two chairs, one for the witness under examination, the other for the short-hand writer, who jots down with unerring accuracy and with marvellous rapidity every word which falls from the witnesses' lips. Fronting the horse-shoe table there stand a narrow table and a row of chairs, designed for the counsel, who, their lucky stars being in the ascendant, have received briefs in the Little Pudlington Water-works Bill. All the leading counsel at the parliamentary bar, it is curious to notice, are veritable sons of Anak—it being a standing joke that unless a man is at least six feet in his stockings, he

cannot hope to attain professional distinction at the parliamentary bar. Of course the witnesses are examined, cross-examined, and re-examined before the committee by the counsel engaged in the case, much in the same way as they would be before a judge, save that their ignorance of the laws of evidence often makes the committee admit much testimony which a judge would refuse to accept.

Around the walls of the committee-room are hung roughly executed diagrams of the proposed Little Pudlington Water-works, and of the country round about that rising town. The floor of the committee-room into which the public have free access is crowded, you observe, with anxious inhabitants of Little Pudlington and Great Swabbington, who watch with breathless interest the witnesses as they give evidence, and look viciously at each other whenever a palpable hit is made by them. So the battle wages often for days, until at length some afternoon the room is cleared ; the committee deliberate in private for a few minutes; the public are readmitted, and the chairman of the committee announces that the preamble of the Little Pudlington Water-works Bill is proved. Of course the Pudlingtonians are overjoyed, whereas the inhabitants of Great Swabbington look angrily at their opponents, and vow in their wrath that the bill shall yet be thrown out by the House of Lords -for, be it known to you, my reader, that before the Little Pudlington Water-works Bill can become law, it must undergo, before a committee of the House of Lords, a similar ordeal to that through which it has just passed at the hands of the House of Commons. The inhabitants of Great Swabbington accordingly depart by the night-train from Paddington to that town, and, as they journey homewards, they piously thank God that they 'ave a 'ouse of Lords !'

One of the most amusing incidents which can occur in a committee-room is when a division is called in the House of Commons during a sitting of the committee. Bells are at once set ringing by electricity in each committee-room, to announce the fact of the division being called, and as only two minutes are allowed for members to reach the House of Commons from the committee-rooms, not a moment is to be lost. The instant, therefore, that the division-bell begins to ring in the committee-room, the counsel who is examining a witness drops into his seat as though shot, and each member of the committee, clutching his hat, runs for his life from the room. Of course the young and active members arrive in time to vote, but the old and corpulent usually come up only to see the door of the house banged in their faces—the result of which is that the inhabitants of Stoke Pogis observe with displeasure that 'the name of their old and esteemed member' (to quote the words of the *Stoke Pogis Observer' in recording the fact) does not appear in the division-list of last Tuesday, as we hoped it would have done, amongst those who supported the cause of the constitution in these present troublous times;' &c. Such are some of the scenes which are at present daily occurring in Westminster Hall. Before long, however, as the reader probably knows, the courts of law will be removed to the new Palace of Justice, which is to be reared upon the Carey Street site ; and when this is accomplished, the legal glories of centuries will have departed from Westminster Hall.

« AnteriorContinuar »