HC Deb 24 January 1832 vol 9 cc793-9

Mr. George Dawson rose to move for "Returns of fees claimed by the Secretary of the Lord Chancellor in Ireland and other public Officers upon the Issue of new Commissions to Justices of the Peace in Ireland, consequent upon the demise of the late King; and of fees paid by the Magistrates in England upon taking out their Commissions of the Peace, consequent upon the demise of the late King." These returns, the right hon. Gentleman said were connected with much more important matter than many would imagine. He had no wish to delay the House from entering upon the current business of the night; but still he felt it to be his duty to state some few facts. At present, on the demise of the Crown, the Magistrates of Ireland were subject to a heavy fine for the renewal of their commissions, while the Magistrates of England were subject to no such fine. He might be told that the demand made in Ireland by the Lord Chancellor's Secretary, of 2l. 13s. 6d., was a legal one, and he was ready to admit that it was legal with reference to new Commissions; but he contended it ought not to be demanded on renewals. The charge was felt to be a grievance and an exaction, and the impression was so strong against an exaction of such a character, that if it were persevered in, it would leave large districts in Ireland without any Magistrates at all. The House would per- haps hardly believe, that the counties of Donegal and Sligo were at that moment almost without Magistrates. And really the conduct of the Lord Chancellor of Ireland had been most extraordinary with respect to this subject. At the very moment when a great political meeting was to be held in Donegal, when there was every inducement to give the police all possible strength, the Lord Chancellor sent down an order suspending all the Magistrates who would not submit to this monstrous exaction. Such was the fact, and the Magistrates, indignant at such treatment, applied to the Government for an explanation, but they had received none. The state of things in Ireland was melancholy. There was, in fact, no legal government. If any one wished to appeal to the Chief Secretary, that right hon. Gentleman was no where to be discovered—he was non est inventus. But though there was no legal government in Ireland, there was an abundance of party. There were three parties. First, there was the Roman Catholic party, strong in numbers and physical force, and headed by the hon. and learned member for Kerry; then there was the Protestant party, which embraced almost all the respectability and independence of the country; and lastly, there was the Government party, managed by Lord Anglesey, Lord Cloncurry, Dr. Doyle, and Sir William Gosset. When Lord Anglesey became Lord Lieutenant great hopes were indulged, that he would do Ireland great service, but his whole government was a miserable failure—and the first happy day Ireland could hope for was that which saw him quit her shores, for, with the exception of the persons he had mentioned, and a very few more, no one was satisfied with the administration of the noble Marquis. But with respect to those fees, if the exaction of them was persisted in, for no other purpose, that he could perceive, but the putting 3,000 or 4,000l. in the pocket of the Lord Chancellor's Secretary, many Magistrates would not renew their commissions, and he had reason to believe that Derry and Tyrone especially would nearly be left without Magistrates. He asked the right hon. Secretary, how long such a system was to be kept up by the Government? They had been told respecting the tithes that if people would not pay them they would not; and perhaps he should be told the same with respect to those fees—if the Magistrates would not pay them they would not. These were some of the effects of the con- duct of the present Government, and as he mentioned them to show the importance of attending to the subject, so he moved for the returns with a view of affording information, and enabling hon. Members to examine into the matter.

Mr. Stanley

said, the right hon. Gentleman had put a question to him, and if the right hon. Gentleman had not wished to delay the current business of the night he thought he might have done so in much fewer words, and without raking up, as he had done, all the topics he could reach of angry discussions. With respect to the fees paid by the Magistrates of Ireland on the renewal of their commissions, they were not imposed by the Government, but by Act of Parliament. Government had nothing to do with them; and in looking into the Acts of Parliament on the subject, he was surprised to find that Magistrates in Ireland, in taking out new Commissions of the Peace on a demise of the Crown, were subjected to higher fees than the Magistrates in England were liable to on a similar occasion. A Magistrate in Ireland had to pay 2l. 13s. 6d. for such a renewal, while the sum which an English Magistrate had to pay was merely a nominal one. The manner in which the difference of the law in the two countries on this point had arisen was this:—The 1st George 3rd. c. 33, superseded the necessity of suing out new commissions in England on a demise of the Crown, but that Act did not extend to Ireland. By the 1st William 4th it was provided, that no fees should be payable for the renewal of commissions on the demise of the Crown, except for the labour actually done in making out such commissions, and that the Treasury should have the power of determining the amount of remuneration to be awarded for such labour. The fees payable for the labour performed were accordingly reduced more than one-half by a Minute of the Treasury, and thus the Magistrates of Ireland, instead of having to pay 7l.15s. 6d., had only to pay 2l. 13s. 6d. The greater part of the fees did not go to the Lord Chancellor's Secretary, but to the Deputy Clerk of the Crown in the Hanaper office. Although he thought that the labour alone ought to be remunerated, still he did not see what Government could do to relieve the present parties. He understood the documents to be prepared were very voluminous. Labour had actually been incurred, and it ought to be paid for. Since 1760 the attention of Parliament had not been called to this subject, but, now that it was, he would not say that it would not be proper to introduce a bill for the purpose of assimilating the laws in the two countries on the subject.

Colonel Perceval

said, he had been requested by some of the most respectable of his constituents to call the attention of the House to this subject. The right hon. Secretary had talked of the labour of making out those documents. There was very little labour in their preparation. They were a mere bit of parchment, with some printing on it, and one name written with a pen. He knew this to be the case, because he had had one of those renewals in his hand, and examined it, although he had not been fool enough to take up his own. The Magistrates of Ireland had been very differently treated in the reign of George 3rd. The Government of that day did not feel it necessary to exact burthensome fees to swell the pockets of the family of the Lord Chancellor. These fees were not merely odious as an exaction, but they were odious also because they were a tribute to the family of a man who had no claims to any such recompense. He was instructed to ask the right hon. Secretary if it was the intention of the Government to pass a short bill to relieve the Magistracy from this unjust charge? The duties of an Irish Magistrate were not easy or agreeable, and it was rather too much to call upon that body to pay thousands to enrich a family not deserving. A meeting was called in the county with which he was immediately connected, for the 11th of January, and on the 10th of January the different Magistrates received letters, informing them that they must renew their commissions immediately. Nor was that the only ground for complaint. The High Sheriff had required the assistance of the constabulary police, and the police had refused to attend, on the ground that they had instructions from the Government to the contrary. The High Sheriff appealed in writing, but he received a similar answer in writing. That looked as if it was the wish and intention of the Government that those who had acted as Magistrates should be maltreated and insulted; but fortunately they had sufficient friends to protect them. The High Sheriff had written to a Sir Something Gosset—calling for an investigation, and the High Sheriff had afterwards written to the same Sir Something Gosset, tendering his resignation; but in reply he had been informed, that nothing of the kind was necessary. He should take an opportunity of moving for copies of that correspondence, with a view of submitting such a motion upon it as might appear necessary.

Mr. Stanley

said, that his Majesty's Government would not at present promise to introduce any such Act of Parliament. On the contrary, he did not think that it would be just to take away the remuneration from those who had already undergone the labour of making out those Commissions, each of which, by the way, contained more names than the hon. Member had stated; for he believed it was necessary in the Commission issued to an Irish Magistrate to recite the whole Commission of the county. At the same time, as he had already said, he thought it would be a desirable thing to assimilate the laws in the two countries on the subject. With regard to the hon. and gallant Member's statement, that those fees went to recompense a member of the Lord Chancellor's family, he would not attempt to answer such a charge. He was sure the House regarded it at its full value. As to the letter which the hon. and gallant Member complained of, as having been sent to the Magistrates of Sligo, perhaps it would be a full justification for him to state, that the whole of the existing Commission expired on the 16th of January, and with respect to the police and constabulary force, they were expressly prohibited from attending party meetings, but they were assembled and ready to act on all occasions to preserve the public peace.

Colonel Perceval

maintained he was even critically accurate. He had himself been a Magistrate for two counties. The letter respecting the renewal in one was dated December 26th, and that respecting the renewal in Sligo was dated the 9th of January, two days before the meeting. Again, upon the subject of the police, he had a letter from the High Sheriff, containing a copy of the letter from the chief of the police. That letter the right hon Secretary might see and read. The right hon. Secretary was wrong if he imagined he (Colonel Perceval) would make any statement, either in that House or elsewhere, that he was not prepared fully to sustain.

Mr. E. J. Cooper

said, as it was not the practice to charge fees on the renewal of the Magistrates' commissions in this country, he held it to be invidious and improper that such a charge should be made upon the Irish Magistracy.

Sir Robert Bateson

expressed an earnest hope that relief would be afforded. The amount of the fees was not so much as the unfairness of the charges. The right hon. Secretary unfortunately knew little or nothing of Ireland: he never lived there. He believed the right hon. Gentleman had not resided in Ireland more than four days consecutively since he had been in office. If the right hon. Gentleman were better acquainted than he was with Ireland he would soon see its real interests. Looking at the conduct of the Government towards the Irish Magistracy, he should suppose its object was to get rid of the Irish gentry as Magistrates, with a view of appointing a stipendiary Magistracy, of such persons as would be entirely subservient to the Ministers.

Mr. O'Connell

said, the present regulations were made by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Dawson) who now complained of them.

Mr. George Dawson

assured the hon. and learned Gentleman that he was incorrect in his statement, as he had no doubt the right hon. Secretary would inform him.

Mr. Stanley

said, the Treasury Minute was made in November, 1831, but the scale of fees, in accordance with which that Minute was made, was settled by the previous Administration.

Mr. O'Connell

said, at any rate it appeared that the principle was laid down by the late Government, but now it seemed the good and worthy exclusive Protestant Magistrates were determined to enter into a conspiracy to resist the payment of those trifling fees. It must be admitted, however, that the charge was unquestionably too much; for the only trouble given to the officer was, the insertion of the name into the parchment document, and transmitting it to the party postage free.

Mr. George Dawson,

in reply to the statement of the right hon. Secretary for Ireland, admitted that it was perfectly true a great number of instruments had been issued by the late Administration immediately previous to their abdication of office, at, however, one-half of the usual rate of fees. But he could not see that the present Government had any right to throw the onus on the shoulders of that Administration, for the issue of any instruments since that period at the same rate, inasmuch as it was competent for them to order a still further reduction.

Mr. Hume

deprecated the general prin- ciple of demanding fees on commissions, a practice which pervaded all branches of the public service. He had before alluded to a case where the Captain of the Guard had pocketed a sum of 1,350l. by the issue of commissions. If he had known that he should have had such a favourable opportunity for detailing the facts of this case, which he begged to remark he had in a state of preparation, he would have brought down to the House the necessary documents for so doing. He was of opinion that means should be taken to compel persons who had taken fees on commissions to refund them. He implored Irish Gentlemen not to pay the exaction, for he was convinced it was illegal. Why should English Magistrates be required to pay but three or four shillings for their commission, while in Ireland they were called on to pay between two and three pounds?

Mr. Ruthven

concurred with the hon. member for Middlesex, that these fees ought not to be paid. The full charge for inserting the name of a gentleman in the Commission of the Peace in England was between 5l. and 6l., while in Ireland the sum demanded for the same purpose was above 10l., and the charge now complained of was merely for a renewal of these commissions on which so much had been said. To demand 2l. 13s. 6d. for such renewals was a gross imposition, and he, therefore, trusted Government would prevent their exaction by passing an Act for that purpose.

Mr. Hunt

said, whenever an imposition was detected, this excuse was immediately made, "Oh, we were not the first to practise it, our predecessors were guilty of similar conduct." He wanted to be informed upon what principle of justice 2l. 13s. 6d. was demanded from an Irish Magistrate for the renewal of his commission, when an English Magistrate had to pay but 5s. for the same renewal.

Motion agreed to.

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