There is to my knowledge only one instance in which a parliamentary body has by itself produced a method of procedure having primary reference to the observance of principle and the maintenance of right, and that is the English method of Private Bill Legislation. This is used where-ever application is made to Parliament for the grant of powers of local government or for the authorization of public works or undertakings or services that require the use of highways or the exercise of powers of condemnation. The procedure which resembles a judicial proceeding, leaving only slightly more room for discretion, has been fully described by Mr. Lowell in his work upon the Government of England (chapters 19 and 20), and the details are set forth with great fullness in Mr. May's Treatise on Parliamentary Procedure. Its main points are: fixed forms of application, notices to adverse parties, precautions against the grant of novel powers, examination of schemes by official experts, and regular hearings, - all laid down in an elaborate code of standing orders. Nothing like it has even been developed in connection with special legislation in the United States. It is to be noted that the system in England originated in the House of Lords, a permanent body, and was apparently due in the main to the efforts of one peer, who for many years was chairman of the committee in charge of private bills; its excellence commended itself to the House of Commons which adopted substantially the some procedure.
The private bill procedure in England has elicited the admiration of all foreign students, although its great expense is a serious flaw. When it is,however,considered with reference to its applicability to legislation in general, it appears after all as a very specialized instrument. What is done in England by special acts is done in the
United States under general statutes, so that the machinery of legislation in particular cases is entirely dispensed with and the observance of general principles secured in a much simpler manner. England has preferred not to grant the power required by public service companies by general provision and was therefore compelled to substitute a scheme of Parliamentary administration. Legislation being used for the purpose of administration, it seeks to attain administrative uniformity, and this the private bill procedure in the main accomplishes. Prima facie, each scheme has to conform to stereotyped standards and care is taken that deviations are not sanctioned inadvertently; but from time to time new clauses appear which gradually become common and thus pave the way for new norms. Thus a special report on police and sanitary regulation bills made in 1898 (Commons Papers, 1898, vol. 2, no. 291, p. 355) said that the time had arrived for including in a public bill many of the clauses then frequently introduced in private bills and invariably accepted by Parliament. Private bill legislation, in other words, is an excellent way of preparing general legislation, but of course not to be thought of as simply a means toward that end. Our general railroad and banking acts have likewise grown upon the basis of special acts, but the abrogation of special acts has nevertheless been desirable and advantageous. When, moreover, we examine the standing orders governing private bills, we find that they cover none of the fundamental principles of legislation which are enforced by our courts as constitutional limitations (nondiscrimination, public purpose, compensation, etc.) and the index in May's Treatise does not even contain such words as property, vested rights, injury, or compensation. The standing orders secure procedural safeguards, and substantive principles are left to custom, tradition, and the conservative sense of Parliament. Even as respects procedural safeguards, the private bill is treated as an issue between petitioners and certain definite and particularly interested contestants; outsiders representing the general public have a "locus standi" only under considerable restrictions; only the public government departments are given ample opportunity for notice and supervision. A report of 1902 calls attention to the desirability of an examination of unopposed bills in the public interest and in the interest of economy, since it may be to the interest of no private individual to oppose a measure (Commons' Papers, 1902, vol. 7, no. 378, p. 322). As a means of guarding general public interests the system has therefore not been adequately tried, and it will be observed that in England it has never been applied to general legislation involving matters of public policy, not even to the committee stage of deliberation which is reserved for the technical improvement of measures. Altogether, while the English system of private bill legislation is valuable for its purposes, its purposes have otherwise been accomplished in America, and the needs of general legislation are not served by it. Sec. 6. Improvement of Legislative Procedure. It would probably be a great mistake in any event to try to force a higher quality of legislative work by imposing through the constitution new procedural requirements. The present rules of procedure have been devised by the legislative bodies themselves in accordance with their supposed needs; the placing of a number of them in the constitution has added little to their effectiveness, but has increased the technical grounds of objection to the validity of statutes, and the most elaborately framed safeguards will prove unavailing if not supported by tradition or by a strong legislative conviction of their wisdom and necessity. If an improvement can be effected by procedure, it should be done through the medium of voluntary and flexible house rules. Appropriate requirements regarding the introduction of bills might lead to greater care in preparation and fix responsibility; but the gain would probably be confined to matters of style and form.
A very noteworthy scheme was presented in 1913 to the Legislature of Illinois but failed to become law. The bill provided for a joint legislative commission composed of the governor, lieutenant-governor, speaker of the House, chairmen of the Committees on Appropriation of the Senate and the House, chairmen of the Committees on Judiciary of the Senate and the House, together with five other senators and five other members of the House. The purpose of this commission would have been to prepare in advance of a legislative session a program of legislation with drafts of bills on subjects investigated by the commission, and the commission was given power to that end to appoint special committees of its own members or others, to study particular problems and draft bills. Nothing short of actual experience could determine the value of such a plan or the alterations that might be required in it, but it will be noted that it forces nothing on the legislature and creates no new constitutional problems.