The Witnesses: background to Parliamentary Process

The passage of private bills enabled much of the infrastructure of the nineteenth and twentieth century’s to be built, and the Bute Docks was no exception.  Find out more about the Parliamentary process involved, and why people from Cardiff were travelling to Westminster in order to give evidence to Parliament.

Evidence from opposed private bill committees formed a significant part of the material examined by our group at the Parliamentary Archives.  They used the Private Bills Witness Database in order to find individuals that had given evidence to Parliament on a number of Acts relating to the Bute Docks, and then tried to find archival material relating to selected individuals at Glamorgan Archives. 

They discovered that many individuals from Cardiff travelled to Westminster in order to give evidence to the committees.  This included people from different social classes.  Our group researched one witness, David Morse, who actually worked on the docks.  He was a pilot and it was his job was to guide large ships safely into the docks.  They also researched Edward Priest Richards, further up the social hierarchy.  He was a local solicitor and the agent of the marquess of Bute.  Please read to find out more about how private bills were passed and why these people travelled to London to give evidence.

Much of the infrastructure built during the nineteenth and twentieth century’s, such as docks and railways, was built following the passage of private acts.  These conferred certain necessary powers, such as those of compulsory purchase, onto specific individuals or organizations.  Many of these bills were opposed by petitioners, which resulted in the bill being considered by an opposed private bill committee.  This was in order to protect those whose interests may be adversely affected by the passage of the bill.

Opposed bill committees heard speeches from counsel both for and against the bill, and evidence from witnesses for both the promoters and the petitioners.  This evidence was transcribed and is kept in the Parliamentary Archives.  The committee had to adjudicate between the interests of the promoters and the petitioners, balancing their rights with the public interest.