HC Deb 01 August 1833 vol 20 cc264-9
Mr. O'Connell

said, that something which had occurred in the discussion of the last Motion made him anxious to introduce the Bill of which he had given notice. It had been observed, that in the Bill that had been just now the subject of discussion, Ireland was not included. Why, the Corporations of Ireland were so various in their constitutions, that it was impossible for any general Bill to be made applicable to all of them. The Corporation of the city of Dublin depended upon no one single form of Constitution, but every form united; so that without putting an end to it entirely, and making another, there would be no means of making it the subject of a general Bill. But in his opinion this should not be done, for it had all the elements of good government, and they wanted nothing but the proper means of remedying particular defects. The objection to the Corporation was, that it was not the Corporation of the city of Dublin, but of a small part of Dublin. It was the Corporation of a persuasion and a party. The remedy was, to make it the Corporation of Dublin generally, for it was the inhabitants at large who were liable to be called on for the means by which the town was to be maintained and protected. The elections of Magistrates had been popular up to the time of the usurpation. Two or three attempts had been made to deprive the people of that power; but they had been defeated. At that time, however, the whole of the power of Government was thrown into the hands of the Board of Aldermen, who had, at the same time, the privilege of self-election given them; in other words, they filled up their numbers by their own election, in consequence of which the influence of the people over them was completely destroyed. Things continued in that state up to 1759, when the Legislature interfered, and gave the right of election of the Corporation officers to the citizens at large, but accompanied that gift with the condition of oaths, which prevented many from availing themselves of the privilege thus conferred. The Corporation had consequently become corrupt in two ways; first, by the gradual dropping off of the old freemen; and next by the manner in which the new freemen were made. The right of birth or servitude did not entitle a man to the freedom of the city. That freedom was in the gift of the Corporation; and no man could demand it as his right, but only as a matter of favour and grace. The consequence was, that the number of freemen became very small—there being only 1,900 registered freemen within Dublin, the city of the county of Dublin, and within seven miles thereof. Now, the population of the city of Dublin was 300,000; so that the House would see how small a proportion constituted the body that had the government of the city in their hands. Another feature which characterised the Corporation of Dublin, was its exclusiveness in matters of religion. The hon. and learned Member read an extract from the Report of the Commissioners, for the purpose of showing the evils which had arisen from that exclusiveness; observing, that all the Grand Jurors of the county and city were appointed by the Corporation, and that the Sheriffs were likewise their nominees. In the year 1792, Catholics, by an act of the Legislature, were rendered eligible to Corporate offices; but it was well known, that they had never been invested with any. To state briefly the objects of his intended Bill, he should just inform the House, that it embraced a plan for dividing Dublin into eight wards: that the basis of his proposed constituency would be 10l. houses—giving, he expected, in the first instance, an electoral body of at least five thousand. He proposed further, that there should be three Aldermen for each ward, and eight Common Councilmen; which, with a certain number of Common Councilmen elected by the Guilds at present existing, would give the present number of ninety-six Common Councilmen. The Guilds he should propose to retain, for the purpose of their regulating matters concerning their own trades respectively. His object, he begged it to be understood, in introducing this Bill, was not that it should be carried through in the course of the present Session; but that it should now be merely read a first time—that it should stand over till next Session—and hon. Members would, during the vacation, have ample time for considering its provisions.

Mr. Littleton

said, that with the understanding that the Bill should not be pressed beyond the first reading during the present Session, he would not offer any objection. It might at first view appear, that one general measure might be made to apply to the case of Irish Corporations generally, but upon reflection he was sure it would be evident to hon. Members, that the case of Dublin required a Bill expressly for that city. He was sure, likewise, that they would agree with him in thinking, that for Dublin there was required such a Reform in the Corporation, as would insure for that body the respect and sympathy of the inhabitants of that city—a matter of peculiar importance in a country circumstanced as Ireland was. In saying thus much, however, he requested that it might not be construed into giving any opinion upon the provisions of the Bill.

Mr. Shaw

said, that but for the speech of the right hon. Secretary for Ireland, he might have been satisfied with the reasons assigned by the hon. member for Northampton (Mr. Vernon Smith) on the last motion, against that now made by the hon. member for Dublin—for when it had been proposed to introduce a measure on this subject relating to England, the argument used on behalf of the Government was, that at the lime a Commission was issued to make inquiry into Corporations it would be premature and absurd to legislate before the result of that inquiry was known. That, however, was equally applicable to the present case, and he would refer on the point to the Report of the Select Committee on Municipal Corporations, which stated, 'Your Committee are not enabled to offer any final suggestions as to the remedies which ought to be adopted; and being of opinion, from the defective state of their inquiry, that even those cases which they have examined ought to be subjected to further scrutiny, they have abstained from pointing out particular defects, or animadverting on particular testimony, while there is a possibility that a different colour may be given to the case by future investigation.' Yet while upon these grounds the Government very properly resisted the Motion of the hon. member for Tiverton (Mr. Kennedy), with regard to England, the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Littleton) appeared so extremely anxious for the patronage of the hon. and learned member for Dublin (Mr. O'Connell) that while it was admitted the Bill was not to be carried into a law, nor to proceed a step further, the Government was a consenting party to its being printed under the sanction of the House—he (Mr. Shaw) presumed as a sort of written instructions by the hon. Member (Mr. O'Connell) for the conduct of the Commission that had been just appointed to inquire into the Irish corporations. He really must say, that a greater delusion was never practised than that Commission, if the pretence was, that they were to give an unbiassed opinion on the subject—for though he (Mr. Shaw) was free to admit their individual respectability, yet from the chairman, (his hon. and learned friend the member for Monaghan), down to the last named Commissioner on the list, there was not one of them who would not enter upon the investigation with his mind notoriously prejudiced, and his opinion completely made up against all Corporation interests and privileges. It would, in his mind, have been better had the Ministers at once taken upon themselves the responsibility of legislating against the Corporations, than have attempted this mockery of fair dealing to cover their real designs—and he should prefer, that the hon. and learned Member should directly nominate the corporate officers, to having those officers chosen by his irresponsible nominees—which would be virtually the effect of the plan the hon. and learned Member proposed. He would not so far countenance the sort of trifling which he considered the present course to be, between the hon. and learned Member and the Government, as to discuss the merits of a measure which there was no intention to proceed with. He would only remark, in reference to the observations of the hon. Member upon the officers appointed by the Corporation, that it could not be alleged, that they were in general found to neglect their public duties, and, as to the formation of the Juries he could say of his own knowledge, that many of that respectable class, of whose omission Mr. O'Connell complained, did not attend upon being summoned. It also would appear, that the increase of the presentments alluded to by the hon. Member, was principally on account of items over which the Grand Jury had no discretionary power.

Lord Althorp

said, that the Government, in appointing the Commission, were influenced by a feeling, that they did not possess the necessary information, or the materials requisite on which to found an extensive measure of legislation. It was necessary that, in some way or other, that information should be obtained. He was, in the first instance, disposed to think a Committee the proper means of inquiry; but it was found, that a Committee could not exercise all the necessary powers, and, accordingly, that plan was given up. Subsequently a Commission was issued, and under all the circumstances, he was sure the House would agree with him, that it was calculated to answer all useful purposes. He was sure, that the Commission would report on matters of fact alone, and no men could be better qualified than the Commissioners were to accomplish the purposes for which they were selected.

Mr. Lefroy

said, that the very grounds stated by the noble Lord (Lord Althorp) made it incumbent on him, if he had any regard for the consistency of his Government, to oppose the Motion of the hon. and learned member for Dublin. It was impossible for the House to legislate satisfactorily without inquiry, and if so, what was to become of this Bill after it should be laid on the Table? It was manifest, that at this late period of the Session nothing could result from it. It therefore appeared to him to be a most preposterous and childish course to adopt, to introduce a Bill for the sole purpose of gratifying the fancy of the hon. and learned member for Dublin. He (Mr. Lefroy) trusted, the right hon. Secretary for Ireland would not unite with the hon. and learned Member, and sanction the introduction of a Bill which had for its object the overthrowing of the Corporation of Dublin.

The Solicitor General

did not agree, that it was an objection to a Bill that the hon. Member who introduced it did not intend to press it in the Session in which he brought it forward. He himself had found the advantage of such a course. He had brought in Bills at the close of a Session, not intending to do more by that than to put the House in possession of the nature and objects of them, by having them printed, and he was happy to say, that one of such Bills had lately received the Royal assent, and was now the law of the land; and he hoped, that the others would have a similar result. The case of the Corporation of Dublin was sui generis, and he did think, that without any interference with the Commission appointed, that case might be made the object of a separate measure.

Mr. O'Connell

, in reply, bore testimony to the honour and integrity of the Commissioners appointed on the subject of Corporations. He admitted, that they were men not likely to mix up their political opinions with their public duties. Indeed, he was sure, from his own experience, that though men might be appointed from a coincidence in the political opinions of those who appointed them, it did not follow that they, in the discharge of their duties, would allow themselves to be influenced by any other feeling than by a conscientious discharge of those duties; and he would, as an illustration, mention the case of the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Shaw, the Recorder of Dublin), who, though he might have been selected by a political body, acting in that selection from political feelings, had never, in any instance, allowed the discharge of his duties to be influenced by any feeling but that of a high sense of justice. As to bringing the Bill forward in the present Session, he would only state, that his object was to put the House in possession of it, and to give full knowledge of it to all parties concerned.

Leave given to bring in the Bill.