§ Sir John Newport
rose, he said, pursuant to the notice he had given, to move several resolutions on the subject of Grand Juries in Ireland, and expressed his regret that the subject had not been taken up by some Member who could do it much more justice than was in his power. No man was more fully impressed with the great importance of this subject to Ireland, and with the necessity that some alteration should be made in the present Grand Jury system of that country; at the same 910 time he felt that he had not strength sufficient to undertake the task of attempting that reform in the system which he knew to be necessary. He had, however, great satisfaction in knowing that the Government was fully impressed with the great importance of the local taxation of Ireland, and was disposed to do all in its power to remove the evils complained of. He had, therefore, the less repugnance to bring forward the subject in the absence of the right hon. the Secretary for Ireland, and were he to wait until that right hon. Gentleman should have taken his seat, it would carry the Motion much beyond that time at which it ought to be submitted to Parliament. The great importance of this subject, and the necessity of reforming the present system, had been both admitted by a Committee of that House. In the Report on the State of the Poor in Ireland, printed by order of the House in July, it was stated:—The Grand Juries of Ireland assembled at the Spring and Summer Assizes, in addition to their criminal functions, are intrusted with the entire civil administration of county expenditure. They levy the funds from whence the salaries of public officers, the expense of prisons, bridewells, and police are defrayed —they supply funds for the hospitals, infirmaries, lunatic asylums, and dispensaries— they decide upon making and repairing roads and bridges—they audit the accounts of all past expenditure under these several heads. Thus, the Grand Juries in Ireland are not only charged with the duties performed by the Grand Juries in England, but, in addition, exercise functions performed in this part of the empire by Magistrates at Quarter Sessions, and are intrusted with Powers reserved under the English system for the legislature only. The Grand Juries decide what works shall be undertaken—the price at which such works shall be executed—and the individuals who shall become responsible for their completion. The taxation levied for these various purposes, is raised from the actual occupiers of the land, and by collectors, who are armed with the summary power of distress and sale. At various times the subject of Grand Jury presentments has been considered, both in the House and in Select Committees. In 1815, 1816, and 1822, inquiries have been instituted from which some remedial measures have originated, but as the reports of both Houses of Parliament in 1825 specially directed the attention of the Legislature to the state of the Grand Jury laws, and as a further report was made to the same effect in 1827, your Committee feel justified in assuming that there is still an admitted necessity for a more effectual reform than has been yet applied to correct the acknowledged imperfections and abuses of the present system.After this acknowledgement of a Select 911 Committee of the House, it was hardly necessary for him to take up any time in proving that some reform of the system was required. He should, therefore, only point out some parts of the system which, more than others, called for the immediate interposition of the Legislature. It appeared from returns which had been laid on the Table of the House, that the amount levied by Grand Juries in Ireland in 1810,was 607,000l.; in 1821,755,000l.; in 1825, 843,000l.; in 1829, 845,000l., and upwards. Thus the sums levied in about twenty years had increased upwards of 200,000l., and such an immense amount of local taxation in a country like Ireland, called for the most serious attention of Parliament; more particularly as the whole of this revenue was raised and expended without any control whatever being exercised over it by those on whom the heaviest portion of the burthen fell. The powers of Grand Juries were originally confined to levies of rates for repairs of roads and bridges; gradually, however, they were extended to other objects, the expense of which ought properly to be borne not by the tenant or temporary occupant of the land, but by its permanent holders. The whole burthen, however, fell upon the tenant—who was not allowed to exercise any control whatever either in originating the tax or in directing its expenditure. It was a curious fact and well worth the consideration of the House, that a magistrate who had not the power to direct any expense in the county exceeding 40s. in amount, must possess a qualification of 100l. a-year in land—while a Grand Juror, to whose power of taxation there was scarcely any limit, need possess no higher qualification than a freehold of the value of 40s. A remedy for the defect in this part of the system might be found by altering that clause in the Act which directed the Sheriff to return the grand panel of the county. By that Act the Sheriff was directed to make, at Michaelmas, a return of persons possessed of freeholds of at least 40s. in value, to form the grand panel, and if the qualifications for a grand juror were raised from 40s. to 200l. in land, it would have the effect of getting a set of men as grand jurors, whose interest it would be, not to tax the county in any case but one of necessity. One great objection to the present system of taxation, was its inequality—the occupier of bad land being rated just the same according to the 912 extent of ground, as the occupier of good land, and on this principle twenty-three men had authority to tax the county to an almost unlimited extent. He had reason to believe that it was the intention of Government to take some steps to remedy this evil, and the late Secretary for Ireland undertook to bring in a bill to regulate Grand Jury assessments. Whether the same measure was to be adopted by the present Government he knew not, but he hoped the remedy would be on an extensive scale. The present system was defective in almost every part, and could Dot be remedied by any very light measures. The reform ought to be sweeping and extensive. Believing that several other Members wished to address the House on this subject, who were much more able to do so than he was, he would then submit his resolutions, in the hope that the House would adopt them as the basis of the remedies it might be disposed to apply. He would first move that the Report from the Select Committee on the state of the poor in Ireland, presented the 16th of July this year, being a summary of the first, second, and third reports of the evidence taken before that Committee, be entered as read; which being done, the right hon. Baronet moved the following Resolutions:— "That it appears from returns laid before the House, that the amount of levies under authority of the Grand Juries in Ireland was in 1810, 607,000l.; in 1821, 755,000l.; in 1825, 843,000l; and in 1829, 845,000l. and upwards:—That the Grand Juries under whose authority these sums are levied, are impanelled at the will and pleasure of the several High Sheriffs, and are not subject to any other than the lowest freehold qualification of 40s., for discharging the duties of that highly responsible office: That the whole of these levies are discharged by the occupying tenantry of the country, and are not subjected in any manner to their intervention or control except so far as may be effected by the circuitous and expensive means of traverse: That the powers of Grand Juries, originally confined to the formation and repair of roads and bridges, have been largely extended to various other highly important and most beneficial objects, of such a nature as more properly to demand a provision for their discharge from the permanent owner of the land than from the temporary occupant; That it is incumbent 913 on the Legislature to bestow their early and zealous attention on the examination of the whole of this system and the correction of its abuses—on the establishment of accurate and regular inquiry into the imposition and destination of these taxes, and the due control of their expenditure— on the equitable division of the burthens of this taxation between the several parties concerned, and on affording to the payers of the taxes adequate powers for checking abuses and controlling the expenditure proportioned to the rate in which they are contributory to their discharge."
§ Mr. Maurice Fitzgerald
concurred with his right hon. friend in his view of the great importance of the subject he had introduced to the notice of the House, but he did not concur with him in the regret he expressed that it had not fallen into abler hands. No Member of the House was more competent to the task—and no member from Ireland had ever exerted himself more strenuously or more diligently than his right hon. friend in every measure which could promote the interests of his country; and particularly in endeavouring to reform the abuses which had grown up in its local systems. He did not mean to offer any opposition to the motion of his right hon. friend as there was quite enough on the records of the House, not only to justify, but to demand the interference of Parliament, for the purpose of correcting the evils of which he complained. It would be a great improvement if part of the power now exercised by Grand Juries were taken from them, in order to relieve them from much labour and improve the criminal jurisdiction which they exercised. With the jurisdiction however they had a power of taxation equal almost to that possessed by Parliament. Having this multiplicity of business, it was impossible that Grand Juries could give that attention to each of their duties which its importance demanded. This would be readily conceived when he stated, that it was in evidence before the House that, taking the number of presentments made by Grand Juries, and the time they had bestowed on the whole — the average amount given to each, did not exceed five minutes. Considering the great importance of some of those presentments, embracing, as they often did, very important local alterations, and involving an expenditure of many thousands of pounds, such a brief portion of time was far too 914 short for that consideration which ought to be given to them. It was impossible that justice could be done in such haste. One important matter in the Grand Jury system was, that Jurors might tax the county to any extent, without taxing themselves; for as the system now stood, Grand Juries might tax a county to an unlimited extent, without possessing a single acre of land in it. This was so much at variance with every principle of taxation, that if that were the only evil of the system, the House ought to devise some measure of relief. The whole system was condemned by a report of a Committee of this House. The defects of it were admitted by Grand Juries themselves, who had repeatedly called for the interference of Parliament to correct those defects. That part of the power of Grand Juries which enabled them to assess the county for carrying on works in order to give employment to the poor—ought to be amended, because it was wholly inadequate to its object. It was impossible for him to convey an adequate idea to English gentlemen of the peculiarities of this part of the Irish Grand Jury system. The principle acted on was that of giving to the least possible number of persons employment requiring the least possible quantity of human labour. Supposing that of the sum of 845,000l. levied in the counties in Ireland last year, one half was applied to works for the purpose of giving employment to the poor, the other half being for the necessary expenditure of the counties, that sum, if applied on sound principles, would effect a very consider- able change in the condition of the labouring poor in Ireland. But how was it applied? Why, the whole of the public works in Ireland were carried on with a credit of six months; or payment was not made till the expiration of six months i after the work was completed. Those, therefore, who carried it on must have funds of their own, but the Grand-Jury work was a sort of charity, and therefore it was done at such a low rate of wages to the poor persons employed, as almost to defeat the object, that of giving useful employment to the poor. In this respect great reform was necessary. All public works should be paid for in ready money, and to a departure from that sound principle much of the misery in Ireland might be attributed. He owed an apology to the House for taking up so much of its time on a matter which might seem to many hon. Mem- 915 bers to possess only local interest; but he knew no question more important to Ireland than that of giving employment to its poor. It was also of considerable importance to this country, for the large numbers of poor who came over here from Ireland in search of employment, contributed to the distress now felt in many parts of England. He was bound to admit, that under the circumstances of the two countries, the great influx of Irish labourers here was prejudicial. At the same time, he would not have any restriction put on the free intercourse between the two countries, for they deceived themselves who imagined, that the evils of immigration from Ireland could be cured by any other remedy than that of giving the Irish sufficient employment at home. Another circumstance which he could not omit to notice, and he adverted to it because it must be looked in the face, in devising any measure for the employment of the poor of Ireland was the evil of absenteeism. That so many of the owners of the soil of that country should spend the incomes derived from it in other countries, was an evil of which Ireland was every day more and more sensible. There were many absentees, whose great liberality and laudable endeavours to give employment to the poor on their estates deserved great praise, and tended, as far as they were concerned, to lessen the evils of absenteeism; but these were only exceptions to the general practice, which they made appear so much the more mischievous. This at the present moment was a topic of much agitation and excitement in Ireland; and, without any desire to add to either, he must admit that the evils of absenteeism were such as no country in the world could long bear up against. They were evils which nothing could cure. He was disposed to deal with the subject in such a way as to mitigate, in some manner, the evils he could not wholly remove. As he could not compel the absentee to reside in Ireland, he would at least oblige him to do that which he would be disposed to do of himself if he remained in Ireland—contribute to the means of giving employment to the poor. Ireland was so peculiarly circumstanced, that with the greatest national advantages for the profitable employment of capital in commerce, as well as in manufactures, she was devoid of that capital which would call forth her great natural resources. This evil absenteeism 916 had tended to increase and aggravate. He knew that it was a favourite theory with many gentlemen who viewed the influx of Irish poor here as an evil—that the establishment of a system of Poor-laws in Ireland would prevent that influx. No opinion could be more erroneous; and he would pledge himself, when the proper time came, to prove, incontestibly, that the establishment of Poor-laws in Ireland would greatly increase the influx of able-bodied Irish poor into England. He hoped that English gentlemen would be brought to consider the subject more attentively, and he was persuaded that they would admit that neither this nor any other system would be sufficient to do away with the evil of want of employment in Ireland—that nothing would cure that want, but employment itself. In the reports to which his right hon. friend had referred, certain principles were laid down with respect to employment, in every one of which he fully concurred. Under the last Administration it was his intention to bring forward a plan for the employment of the poor in Ireland. It was not a plan hastily thrown out, but the subject of serious and attentive consideration for eleven years. He submitted it to the noble Duke lately at the head of his Majesty's Councils, and to several Members for Ireland, all of whom expressed their approbation of it in strong terms. That plan had the sanction too of his right hon. friend (Sir R. Peel), and it was intended to bring it forward after the great question of relief from civil disabilities on account of religion had been settled. It had also been submitted to the Marquis Wellesley when in Ireland. The only difference between the Duke of Wellington and himself on the subject was this, the noble Duke wished the introduction of the measure to be cautious and gradual, whilst, in his opinion, it ought to be immediate. It would be recollected that in the years of scarcity in Ireland, various measures were adopted by Government for the relief of the poor —and here he must do his right hon. friend lately at the bead of the Home Department, the justice of noticing the very great readiness with which he listened to and promoted every humane suggestion made at the time, to relieve the poor in that country. Sums of money were at that time advanced for the purpose of giving them employ- 917 merit, to which his right hon. friend assented; but at the same time strongly pointed out the danger of such precedents, and shewed that they ought not to be followed on future occasions. In that opinion he concurred, as a general principle; while it must be admitted, that the advances were a great relief for the time, and had a very salutary effect on the condition of large masses of the labouring poor. He admitted, that the public taxes ought not to be permanently applied to local improvement. Any capital so applied ought to be repaid with interest, by the county for the benefit of which its application was intended. Still he must contend, that from the sums of public money which had from time to time been advanced for public works in Ireland, much benefit had been derived; and experience shewed, that such advances might be repaid with interest. But these sums were generally applied through commissioners who had not a permanent existence, and who did not possess sufficient knowledge of the country. The interposition of Government on those occasions was a political interposition. Any measures of that kind he should deprecate in the application of funds for the employment of the poor which should have no reference to party politics, nor party patronage. He did not say, that the advances he referred to were so made; but he mentioned this, for the purpose of expressing his conviction that everything of the kind should be studiously avoided. The want of resident proprietors being the great evil affecting Ireland, to remedy that as far as possible, measures of a general and extensive nature should be adopted. If, as one of these, he should propose an advance of capital, it should be on the principle of repayment, with interest. He would not take it from the public treasury, nor make it part of the funded or unfunded Debt. The capital to be applied to the improvement of Ireland should be laid out so advantageously as to yield a profit over and above the sum necessary to pay the interest and the principal of the loan. In the various counties in Ireland, there are different classes of tenants, and different modes of levying the assessments in each county. The present modes are objectionable, as they constitute a heavy tax on the occupying tenantry. It was not consistent with the spirit of humanity to compel the 918 pauper population of Ireland to pay these rates. He could reconcile it neither with a feeling of humanity, nor with a sense of justice, that such a system should be tolerated, that the tenant should pay all the amount of the tax, and the control over it rest entirely with the landlord. He gave notice some time ago of his intention to bring the matter before the House, as it had occupied a considerable portion of his time and attention; and being then a member of the Administration, he had reason to believe that his plan met with the approbation of the Government. No efficient measure could, in fact, be brought into operation without the assistance of the Government; and he should be happy to abandon to it the measure he proposed. The Ministers might make use of it with any amendments they pleased to adopt; and he would most readily give up all the details and documents he had prepared on the subject. He should have proposed an alteration some years ago, but he found considerable difficulty in adjusting the mode of assessment; especially as it regarded the different forms in which lands were held. He could not overcome this inconvenience until, in the course of his inquiries, he met with a very able man, whose knowledge on all matters connected with English taxation and statistics was unequalled, who pointed out a course which obviated most of the difficulties connected with taxation of this nature. The plan was founded on practical inquiries into the situation of Ireland — as to the best means of making its resources available, and of improving the condition of that country, whose situation he deeply lamented. Through his means, a mode of overcoming one of the greatest difficulties Ireland had to contend with had been devised, and there was every prospect that we should be able to overcome it. The great difficulty was in equalizing the mode in which the rate was levied, and taking care that it was properly distributed over the whole district. The remedy suggested was not only applicable to the particular circumstances of this case, but also to all property and all occasions. Suppose you had a proper valuation of the land and the soil made—and this by-the-bye, was being done at the present time, but which valuation must be completed before the plan suggested could be carried into operation, it was proposed that on the valuation of the land being completed, the different 919 parishes should be rated according to the interest they had in the land, or according to the difference of the value of their tenure. It was proposed to do this on the same principle, as the insurance-offices advance money on mortgage. The money raised on each parish by the most just method he could invent, he would place in the hands of commissioners, to be appointed by the Government. Such gentlemen would be above the local prejudices and the local interests which now sometimes led the members of Grand Juries astray, and always exposed their conduct to imputations. Such a tax, too, it was obvious, would be subject to revision at different periods; and such a plan would completely remove all the difficulties of the case. By this means the tax could be shifted with ease from the tenant to the owner. He trusted Government would take the plan into its consideration. It was his intention to bring it formally before the House, but, on referring to the Notice-book, he found that there was not a vacant day until after the adjournment, which, he understood, was to take place next week. Being without information on this point, he had been compelled to avail himself of this opportunity to take part in the discussion on the motion of his right hon. friend, and to introduce some topics not perhaps directly connected with the matter immediately before the House. The subject was of material importance, as far as it was connected with the situation of Ireland. It was impossible to let the matter rest as at present. There had been several committees and numerous reports on the subject, which had led to the belief, that the House intended to do nothing but report, and had no idea of legislating on it. He believed, however, that it was the wish of the present Government, as it was the intention of the late Administration, to bring forward some practical measure. The condition of Ireland would daily grow worse, if Government did not turn its attention to the subject, and bring forward some measure for the improvement of its local institutions. He would not say, "act hastily and unadvisedly," but unless it did something, the danger and risk would increase. If there were a spirit of mischief existing in that country, he could trace it to nothing else than a want of employment; and until that was provided, the condition of the people could not be improved. Some means ought to 920 be adopted to make available their resources, both natural and artificial—resources hardly equalled in any country in the civilized world. It was the bounden duty of the Legislature, as well for the sake of England as of Ireland, to exert itself to accomplish that. He wished to place Ireland in such a situation as that she could have a part, both in the difficulties and the resources of the State. She had hitherto suffered from the subtraction of her produce by her absentee proprietors, and her manufacturers had been ruined, to support that narrow system of monopoly which had been considered necessary for the improvement of England. The House must not merely improve the condition of the people, but also effect a complete alteration in the system of policy. He trusted that, during the long recess of the holidays, Ministers would consider the matter, and soon after the re-assembling of Parliament be prepared with some measures to submit to the attention of the Legislature.
Sir John Walsh
did not mean, after the, able statements of the right hon. members for Waterford and the county of Derry, who had entered so fully into the details of the subject under the consideration of the House, to encroach upon its time by stating the grounds which induced him to support the Resolutions of the right hon. Gentleman. He should be glad to see the right hon. member for Kerry bring forward those ulterior measures which he appeared to contemplate, for the system was so bad as to render anything short of a complete revision an inadequate remedy. He would venture to notice one expression of the member for Kerry's speech—an apology which he made, but which he (Sir J. Walsh) hoped he would never think it necessary to repeat, for occupying the attention of the House with an exclusively Irish question. As an English Member, he wished to declare, that he did not understand the meaning of such an expression. There was no such thing, politically speaking, as an exclusively Irish question; every Irish question was more or less an English one. One reason for a reform of the present system, which had great weight with him, and which neither of the right hon. Gentlemen had noticed, was the moral effect which would be produced upon the peasantry by the removal of so many causes of suspicion and prejudice against their superiors. It 921 was very important to every State, that its institutions should be such as to cultivate the relations of harmony, confidence, and affection, between the upper and lower classes. From the unfortunate, the false position, in which the Grand Juries were placed—from the unlucky manner in which petty, private, personal objects were mixed up with the performance of their public duties, they could not escape the imputation of personal motives in the discharge of their public duties. A new line of road sometimes described a most inexplicable curve in approaching the lodge-gate of one Grand Juryman. A new and valuable contract for some public work was conferred upon the tenant or dependant of another. Such charges had been grossly exaggerated; they formed, he believed, the exception, not the rule, and Grand Juries had generally been conscientious in the performance of duties which ought never to have been confided to them. But it would be an important benefit, resulting from the abolition of the system, that these grounds of suspicion and jealousy in the peasantry would be entirely removed, and that the gentry would no longer be exposed to the odium of such misrepresentations. To one remark he wished to bespeak the attention of the hon. member for Waterford; the consideration, namely, of this measure, with reference to another, of which that hon. Member was almost the solitary advocate. This subject was of great local importance to Ireland; it was a measure of substantial amelioration; it was brought forward on one side, and met by the other with the most eager and sincere desire to adopt the improvement. He might venture to assume, that every Irish question was discussed in the House with a zealous desire to decide it on its merits, with an anxious wish to benefit the sister country, and with a total absence of all party feeling— of all private and personal motives. He would put it, however, to any Irish Member—to any one conversant with the former history of the Irish Parliament— whether, if the hon. Member's domestic legislature were then sitting in its place at Dublin, such would be the spirit in which this question would be considered? When the House remembered how many local interests were concerned, how intimately the Grand Jury and the Irish Representatives would be connected, it could not doubt that this question would excite 922 numberless intrigues, and the greatest irritation and excitement throughout the country. This view, of the justice of which he felt a strong conviction, might perhaps convince the hon. Member that important benefits might be derived from a general, comprehensive, and powerful Legislature, which a local Parliament could not confer.
§ Mr. James Grattan
wished, before he alluded to the Resolutions of his right hon. friend, the member for Waterford, to complain of the conduct of his right hon. friend, the member for Kerry. He had sat long in Parliament, and long had this system been complained of; year after year had it been confirmed by laws,—it was, in fact, the creature of the laws,— and yet his right hon. friend had never till now proposed his plan of relief. He only now stated, that he had a plan, when the other right hon. Gentleman had submitted his Resolutions to the House. That plan, however, seemed of little value, for before it could be made available, a general survey must be made of Ireland. [Mr. Fitzgerald said, that was not necessary.] He certainly understood his right hon. friend to say so. The House had just ground of complaint, that subjects of this sort were brought forward for discussion, night after night, producing no practical good. On this occasion his right hon. friend came forward with his plan, and communicated to the House a series of Resolutions, which he called upon it hastily to sanction. This was not acting consistently, to call upon the House to agree to Resolutions condemning a system, without immediately suggesting another in its place. It ought not to be forgotten, that this system had been growing up for several years, and had been encouraged by numerous Acts of Parliament. The Grand Juries in Ireland might be considered as so many local Parliaments, and their loss would be materially felt. But let him not be misunderstood, he was no advocate for the present system of Grand Juries; though he certainly believed that, in most instances, the members of those bodies were as anxious properly to discharge the duties of their office, as any hon. Members of that House. The right hon. Gentleman wished for a new mode of levying the local taxes, and said, that not a single gentleman was examined before the committee up-stairs who did not exclaim 923 against the present system. That might be the case, but he was not, therefore, justified in calling upon the House to censure and destroy a system which had been in force upwards of one hundred years, without first providing a substitute. At present the people were enabled to procure, by the means of Grand Juries, those measures for which, under other circumstances, it would be necessary to apply to Parliament, which. is always done in England. If Grand Juries were abolished, their duties must be transferred to some other bodies. The right hon. Member stated, that in consequence of the mode in which the Grand Jury assessments were levied and distributed in Ireland, little good was done, but had he devised a better system? Some of the evils might be easily remedied, but he objected to such a sweeping change, especially as it was not clear that good would result from it. The question would be settled in a much more satisfactory manner, and in a much shorter time in Dublin, where the Legislature could readily examine witnesses, and procure documents, and the matter could be discussed much more advantageously there than in this country. The subject, however, had no reference to the question of the Union. The Grand Juries were a sort of local Parliament, which, perhaps, might be spared, and he should be willing to take the powers from them if he could find bodies better able to discharge their duties; but he was not aware, nor had the right hon. member for Waterford mentioned, any bodies that could supply their place advantageously. The situation of Grand Juryman was far from being enviable, for their duties were obnoxious and disagreeable. The office was of such an unthankful nature that few persons who serve would not willingly resign. The charges, indeed, brought against those bodies were, for the most part, utterly destitute of foundation. He had served repeatedly on Grand Juries, and had often seen instances of the most disinterested conduct. That, however, was not the time to go into the details of the merits of the establishment. His right hon. friend, to whom Ireland was under such great obligations, had not, perhaps, much practical knowledge of Grand Juries, and he had exaggerated their defects. He stated that, on an average of a few years, 800,000l. had been expended annually by these bodies, and that nearly one-half 924 was expended for purposes for which it was not originally intended that Grand Juries should provide, or on objects highly useful and important, but which ought rather to be paid for by the permanent owner of the soil. The Grand Juries, however, ought not to be blamed for these acts, as they were compelled by law to make the presentments on oath; and he believed, in most instances, it would be impossible to make them with a greater regard to the public service than at present. He would not take upon him to defend all the acts of those bodies, and he should not be sorry to see an alteration, but he should most strenuously oppose any measure which would throw the power into the hands of Government. Any system of Boards appointed by Government would not only be found to be infinitely more expensive, but also liable to the strongest objection on principle. Any system which would take the power out of the hands of the resident Irish gentlemen would not be desirable, as it must have a tendency to increase absenteeism. The great object to be aimed at for Ireland was, to give the gentlemen of Ireland an interest in the management of the country. His right hon. friend, he knew, was averse from absenteeism, and, like him, conceived that absentees were great evils; but his plans would increase absenteeism. To take away from the gentlemen the power of regulating the local taxes would lessen their motives to reside in the country, and would increase the number of absentees. On the whole, the evils were great, but not so great as to require the system to be entirely abolished. It would be idle and vain to talk of a beneficial measure for Ireland, which had not for its basis to induce gentleman to reside on their estates. The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. M. Fitzgerald) talked of his plans for the improvement of Grand Juries, but why had he not brought some measure forward for that purpose during the thirty years that he had been in Parliament, instead of letting the evil increase to its present magnitude? He was satisfied that an Act of Parliament containing a very few words, would do more to correct the evils of the system than a voluminous, or rather a number of voluminous Acts. He had himself brought forward a proposition to levy the rates on an improved system, three years ago, and to his surprise the right hon. Gentleman 925 had forgotten it. He was, probably, not in the House at the time, for he certainly took no part in the Debate. One evil, which imperiously called for the interposition of the House, was the power exercised by the Commissioners for Public Works in Ireland. The expenses of these fell extremely heavy on the Irish counties. The Grand Juries made a presentment, money was advanced from the Consolidated Fund much too liberally, and a heavy debt was contracted. With respect to the Resolutions, the right hon. member for Waterford called upon the House to agree to his declaratory propositions, condemning the present system, without at the same time bringing forward his remedy; and the House would act very inconsistently if it agreed to these propositions, and did not pass some measure to remove the alleged evil. It would be a great reflection on the House, that it admitted the existence of a great evil, and did not immediately provide a remedy. The principal improvement which could be made in the constitution of Grand Juries would be, to have a more frequent change of members. The same persons serving nearly on all occasions as Grand Jurymen had been the cause of a great portion of the prejudice on the subject. It was considered that they formed a sort of packed body—a species of corporation, and the consequence was, that their proceedings were viewed with great jealousy. This was a difficulty which could easily be remedied; for instance, by electing so many gentlemen from each Barony every year, and by a constant change taking place, the feeling that they did not assess themselves fairly would appear, as it really was, utterly groundless. With respect to the expenditure, a much greater and more efficient check might be had by increasing the number of the returns to be made by the Surveyors of Works; but the complaints on this point were greatly exaggerated. These were the principal objections, all of which could be easily remedied. There were, he admitted, great evils, under the present system; but at the same time he was bound to say, that equal or greater objections might be made to all the systems yet devised.
§ Mr. Maurice Fitzgerald
denied, that he had made any attack on the character of Grand Juries. He had admitted that the members of them had good intentions, but the system under which they worked 926 was so bad that it was impossible they could execute their duties.
§ Sir Robert Peel
wished to make a few observations on the course of the proceeding rather than on the substance of the Motion. The right hon. Baronet had proposed five Resolutions in detail, calling on the House to affirm several important matters. The House should be careful how it affirmed those matters; and he would therefore suggest, that it would be better, before affirming those matters, that the House should see the Resolutions in print, and have an opportunity of well considering the subject. He objected, then, to the course adopted by the right hon. Baronet. The object of the Resolutions was, to declare that the lessee should not pay the cess, which should be paid by the lessor. He wished the House of Commons to declare that the occupier ought not to pay the assessment; but surely the interval between the House of Commons making that declaration and passing a bill to impose the payment on the other class should be as short as possible. When the right hon. Baronet remembered the agitated state of Ireland, he would himself see the propriety of not condemning one system by a resolution of that House before the Legislature were prepared to establish another. His right hon. friend (Mr. M. Fitzgerald)knew that he did not agree to all his views. He objected to establishing any Board, whether under the Government or not, to regulate local taxation. Local taxation should, he thought, be regulated by local authorities, which he preferred to any Board. The object, he thought, should be, to establish a local authority, but to place that authority under certain restrictions, and subject its acts to revision. Certainly he objected strongly to the present plan of allowing one individual to name all the members of these little Parliaments, as the Grand Juries were called. All the objections to Select Vestries applied with great force to a body of twenty-three persons, selected by one individual. He wanted to see the people of Ireland take an interest in such institutions themselves, and he should like to see them establish, with certain checks, institutions for local expenditure such as were in England. He did not wish to see the body to which this power was intrusted very numerous —it might nearly approach the number of an English Grand Jury. He wished next to separate the judicial power from the 927 power of levying taxes. If twenty-three gentlemen asserted that a tax was necessary, or if they, as the taxing body, should feel objections to any tax proposed, he should not be disposed to prefer the decision of any other body, particularly if they were taken from the land-owners, and the land-owners were to be, as was proposed, the rate-payers. On this body, however, there ought to be a check. It should have the absolute power to levy taxes for useful works; but, to have an assurance against jobs, two means might be employed so as to ensure that the money was expended properly. He would give a veto to some Board on any project involving a large expense—such as several thousand pounds; and he would not allow the work to be done, except by public contract. He knew no other body so likely as this to determine correctly what works were useful. Then there ought to be, on the part of the public authority, a power to compel the Grand Jury to give an account of all the money expended. He could not see in this case any objection to give such a power to the Government; and he did not know why the Treasurer of the County should not be called on to render an account of all the money he was authorised to expend. These were the great principles on which he would proceed. With respect to advancing money for public works—though he admitted that, in particular cases, it had been advantageous—he could not give his assent to it as a general system. To give 100,000l. to relieve urgent distress might be necessary; but to employ the public funds to find employment for the people, was likely to stimulate population beyond its due proportion. It would interfere with the natural demand for labour; and, as the stimulus could not be continually and perpetually applied, it must end in a convulsion and greater distress than it was intended to relieve. It could not confer a permanent benefit on the country. Moreover, to advance money on a great scale for carrying on public works, would not accord in any manner with the general financial system of this country. In conclusion, the right hon. Gentleman apologised to the House for the length of his remarks, and expressed a hope that they would not be considered as at all tending to undervalue the exertions of the right hon. Baronet, or lessen the importance of the object he had in view.
§ Mr. O'Connell
thought the views of the right hon. Baronet who had just sat down deserved attention. Every person admitted, that the present system was monstrous. He had never heard any Gentleman defend the system except the hon. member for Wicklow. The principle was bad. It was taxation without representation, and those who levied the taxes were not the payers. In many instances the Grand Jury had no concern with the law. He had known a case where taxation to the amount of several thousand pounds was levied by a Grand Jury, five of whom had been discharged under the Insolvent Debtors' Act. Was it not a shame that ninety acres of bad land should pay as much, as had been stated by a right hon. Gentleman, as 1,000 acres of equally good land? Great praise had been frequently bestowed on the Parliament for its attention to Irish matters, but here was an abuse existing for thirty years without any remedy. Was Ireland to be grateful for that? He did not think she ought to be, unless her gratitude was political gratitude, which had been defined, to be a lively sense of future favours. He admitted the propriety of having local authorities, but those who assessed the taxes should be the taxpayers. Ireland was divided into baronies, and the plan he should recommend would be this:—He would have each barony select two men when any public works were necessary, who should make a presentment for them to the Assistant Barrister, and he would give to these two men and the Assistant Barrister the power of settling the maximum of the assessment. Their presentment should go before the Grand Jury, who should have no power to enlarge it; but if they disapproved of it, they might diminish it. The Grand Jury should then have the power to order the works to be executed, but by no other means than by contracts publicly announced and publicly formed, and the contractors should be obliged to pay their labourers in money. This would be a constitutional means of improving the system. He would say, that at present the discontent in Ireland on account of the Grand Jury system was excessive, and could not, perhaps, be exceeded. He was happy to hear the right hon. Baronet's good wishes to-night, but he would rather have had some good deeds from him before he went out of Office.
§ Lord Althorp
agreed with all the Gen- 929 tlemen who had spoken as to the great importance of this subject; and admitted, that it was necessary that the Government should turn its attention to the matter. The right hon. Baronet who had introduced the subject, confined himself to the evils of the Grand Jury system; the right hon. Gentleman who spoke subsequently (Mr. M. Fitzgerald) had discussed many of the peculiarities in the condition of Ireland. He meant to confine himself to the subject before the House, and he would say, that the Government would be very happy to receive the plan which the right hon. Gentleman said he had formed for the improvement of that system. It was admitted that the evils of the system were great, and they were principally caused by the fact, that the rates were imposed by persons who had to pay no part of them. That was not what ought to be. It was contrary to sound principles, and was open to many objections. He did not, however, think the plan recommended by the hon. and learned member for Water-ford would answer the object proposed. It would be very complicated, and be exposed to many difficulties. In England the parish roads were indeed kept in repair by each parish, but each parish was liable to be indicted if the roads were not kept in good order. In Ireland, he believed, the great difficulty was, to find fit and proper persons to execute any local system, and constitute local bodies. There was no difficulty of that kind in England, where the people had long been accustomed to manage their own affairs. He would not pledge himself to any decided course, nor give a decided opinion what ought to be done. He believed, however, that his right hon. friend, the Chief Secretary for Ireland, had a Bill prepared to improve the Grand Jury system, and the Government hoped that it might be carried into effect with great advantage.
§ Mr. G. Dawson
admitted, that the principles of the system were bad, but he denied that the Grand Jurors who carried it into execution were corrupt. The materials were good, but the plan was bad. Landlords ought to have the power of levying these taxes, and that system would be no improvement which took that power from them. It was proper to keep up their connection with the county, and their interest was deeply concerned in the proper administration of the county funds. Under the present arrangement of 930 the business transacted before the Grand Juries, it was impossible for them to devote more than two minutes to the consideration of each presentment, and it therefore followed, as a matter of course, that great laxity and many abuses crept into the administration of the county-rates. In his opinion, much of the difficulty at present experienced by the Magistrates, and many of the abuses of the system, might be got rid of by appointing a number of Magistrates in each county to assemble twice a year, for the transaction of no other kind of business than that connected with presentments, and the application of the rates collected for public purposes. This would, he was satisfied, be productive of the best effects; for he could not agree with those who thought the Irish counties were wantonly and extravagantly rated for county purposes. In point of fact, a much larger sum was collected in the English counties, under the name of County-rates, than the whole of the sums which were said to be so illegally taken in Ireland. By a return made a short time ago to that House, it appeared, that the County-rates of England amounted to something considerably above 2,000,000l.; and yet the system which prevailed in England was that which it was wished the Legislature should extend to Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by protesting against the plan of the Knight of Kerry, for placing the funds of the counties under the control of Commissioners.
§ Mr. Wyse
admitted, that the members of Grand Juries were very honourable men; but such was the vicious system, that the most honourable men could not act virtuously, at least their conduct could not possibly have the appearance of virtue. The evils of the present system were immense, and they all arose from those who levied the rates and administered them being irresponsible. He was opposed to the system suggested by the member for Kerry; but he approved of the principle of that suggested by the member for Waterford though not of its details. He thought the better plan would be, to divide the powers of the Grand Juries into two parts, leaving to the Magistrates the judicial power which they at present exercised, and permitting the rate-payers to elect from the whole body a certain number, to whom they would be willing to commit the administration of 931 the county funds. In fact, he would give the rate-payers the power to tax themselves, by means of a committee of Magistrates elected for the year; but he objected to a board of any kind, as a delusive scheme, which would perpetuate the abuses the Legislature wished to remove. The principle he would follow in reforming the Grand Juries of Ireland should be the same as he would follow in reforming that House—he would give to the people a full and an open election of those who were to represent, or to tax them. He was satisfied that by no scheme, though many palliatives might be found, would the evil be effectually cured, unless the principle were acted on, of giving to the rate-payers a full and efficient control over the whole i of the money raised. While he was on this subject, he would say, that he approved of the system of loans which the right hon. Baronet had condemned. He thought, that, in the present condition of Ireland, it would stimulate the people to industry, and provide permanent employment, without burthening the country with any of the evils of pauperism. All that Ireland wanted was, to have her revenues properly brought into use, and he was quite satisfied that advantage might be procured, from the advancement of money by way of loan, without the loss of a single shilling to the lender. In consequence of the declaration of his Majesty's Ministers, that they were determined to take the subject under consideration, he would abstain from troubling the House with any further observations; but he would take leave to say, in conclusion, that he was happy to find that the administration was disposed to turn its attention to the condition of Ireland, and he hoped the people of that country, when they heard that Parliament was in reality and in good earnest occupied with those questions in which they had an interest, would feel that the day of retribution which they wished for was come, not in wrong and in bloodshed, but that it had brought forth an earnest desire to promote their welfare as a division of the empire, and to develope, to its utmost extent, their almost unbounded national resources.
Mr. Owen O'Connor
expressed the gratification he felt at finding that at length we had a Government which was willing to lend its attention to the complaints of the people of Ireland.
§ Mr. W. O'Brien
was of opinion, that 932 the plan recommended by the Knight of Kerry would, on inquiry, be found the fittest for the proper management of the County-rates, and the best calculated to get rid of the evils of the present system. Objections might, of course, be raised to commissioners, such as the right hon. Gentleman proposed; but he was convinced that the plan would destroy the improper powers vested in the Grand Juries; and if the right hon. Gentleman (the Knight of Kerry) had entered more into a detail of his plan and of the course to be pursued by the commissioners, he thought many of the arguments against it would have been obviated. One good effect of placing the management of county-rates in the hands of commissioners would be, to ensure ready money to the labourer, while it would, at the same time, secure the effectual execution of all public works at half the present expense.
§ Mr. Spring Rice
suggested to his right hon. friend the propriety of withdrawing the Resolutions, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer had declared it to be the intention of Government to take the subject under its immediate care.
§ Sir John Newport
had not entertained a hope that the Resolutions would be carried; but he was satisfied with the attention bestowed on them, and would withdraw them.
§ Resolutions accordingly withdrawn.