HC Deb 11 July 1833 vol 19 cc560-70

On the Motion of Mr. Littleton, the Order of the Day for the further consideration of the Report on this Bill was read, and it was ordered to be recommitted.

On the Question, that the Speaker leave the Chair,

Colonel Conolly

said, that he had hoped that the unanimous wishes of the Irish Members which had been so unequivocally expressed, would have induced his Majesty's Government to have delayed the further progress of the measure for the present Session. The Bill was really so crude, that if persisted in the country would have all the inconvenience of a change, without any of the benefits of an improvement. He believed, that all the Irish Members who were in the Committee were most anxious that the measure should not be persevered in; and he therefore hoped, that his Majesty's Government would show some deference to the opinion of those gentlemen, whose local knowledge certainly entitled their opinion to respect and consideration. He also trusted, that his Majesty's Ministers would give the Irish Members credit for not wishing to impede their views, and for being anxious to lend their assistance to the introduction of a better measure in the course of next Session. These continual changes in the Grand Jury laws of Ireland operated most prejudicially, and though he (Colonel Conolly) did not object to a change in the present law, any alteration now made should be permanent. The present measure was partial in its operations, impracticable in its details, and left the root of the evil untouched. He hoped that though he differed on many subjects with his Majesty's Ministers, they would notwithstanding give him credit for being solely actuated in his opposition to the Bill then under consideration, by a wish to forward a better digested measure than that before the House. He thanked the noble Lord (Lord Duncannon) for the exertions he had used to accomplish a good purpose, but he would ask him, whether he thought that such a chaos as the present Bill had not greater claims to novelty than utility; and whether, supposing such a measure to be passed, he considered it likely to give satisfaction to the people of Ireland?

Mr. Ruthven

disclaimed the idea that the speech of the hon. Member who had just sat down was to be taken as the sentiments of the people of Ireland, or their Representatives, the Irish Members. He hoped the noble Lord opposite would afford Ireland the benefit of a full consideration of the Bill this Session, despite the suggestion of that hon. Member; and also, that even at that late stage, he would not refuse to receive and adopt any useful suggestions which it would be wise to incorporate with the Bill. The Grand Jury Law, as it stood at present in Ireland, was the fertile parent of innumerable hardships and of much misery, and the sooner even any of them could be got rid of the better. Though the present Bill had a great many objectionable parts, it was better than the existing system. It had also some very good parts; and if he were called upon to particularize one above another, he would point out the abolition of the unchristian and impolitic practice of multiplying oaths.

Lord Duncannon

said, he thought it would be highly improper in him to withdraw the Bill, after it had been so long before the House. It was before the House last Session, and was then printed and sent to Ireland, and soon after the commencement of this Session it was again introduced by his right hon. friend present, the Colonial Secretary. It had also been two months before the Committee, and had had as much discussion as any Bill that was ever introduced. He would detail a few of the alterations which the Bill would effect; it would associate those who paid the taxes with the Judges of the petty Sessions, and thereby give them an interest in all works to be performed; it would, by the appointment of surveyors in each county in Ireland, give to those who paid the rates an assurance, that the money raised was not more than requisite; by compelling all public works to be done by contract and open tender, it would assure the taxpayer that such works were performed at the lowest expense. One of the great complaints against the present system was, that all the business of the country was done by the Grand Jury, with closed doors; but the present Bill would compel the Grand Jury to act in open Court, and in the presence of the public. He thought the Bill would effect a very great improvement on the present system. He did not say, that some of the clauses might not be capable of yet further improvement, and if so, such alterations as might be necessary could be made in the Committee.

Sir Edmund Hayes

said, the argument of the noble Lord, that the Bill, having now been so long before the public ought to be persevered in, appeared to be of very little value; for if that part of the public principally interested in the measure looked upon it with dissatisfaction, the very fact of their disapproving of it, after having had so much time to examine its provisions, afforded a strong reason for believing that it would not be beneficial. The hon. member for Dublin (Mr. Ruthven) was extremely sensitive on behalf of the Committee; and thought their labours would not meet with due consideration, if this Bill should be abandoned. But the hon. Member forgot that the unanimity of the Committee upon the impracticability of the measure was a strong reason for postponing it. They introduced some alterations and improvements; but they gave it as their opinion, that the framework of the Bill was such as to render it incapable of practical operation. It was a great mistake to suppose, that those Members who urged the Ministers to delay the final adjustment of this question until the next Session did so for the purpose of adhering to the old system; they considered a change necessary; but even those who had been most loud in their complaints in Ireland, agreed that the Bill now before the House was not a practical improvement, as it left untouched some of the evils most complained of, and substituted a complicated and cumbrous machinery for the evils which it professed to remedy. No change in the Grand Jury system could be satisfactory, which did not include an Amendment of the compulsory assessment. At present a moiety of the taxation of the country was imposed without the control, and independent of the wishes, and perhaps the wants, of those who pay it. Presentments for public buildings, and other objects, were now sent down by the Government to the Grand Jury; and, whether the Grand Jury adopted or rejected them, they received the fiat of the Judge. Not only could the Grand Jury exercise no control over them, but they had all the odium of imposing taxes in which they had no concern whatever. No measure would be satisfactory to him which did not make some alteration in this system. He would therefore suggest to the noble Lord the propriety of withdrawing the Bill. In the next Session of Parliament the Committee might be reappointed to report generally upon the laws now in existence with a view to bring in a Bill founded upon such a Report. He could assure the House, that he made this proposal simply for the purpose of procuring a measure likely to be permanent and give satisfaction to those most interested. If the noble Lord would not consent to the postponement, he should feel it to be his duty to take the sense of the House, and would move, "that this Bill be further taken into consideration this day six months."

Mr. O'Connell

said, he would, for various reasons—some of which he would state—support the Amendment of the hon. Member who had just sat down. The opposition to this Bill was obviously not founded upon any party feeling; for Irish Members who differed upon other matters, had agreed in opposing this Bill. His first objection to this Bill was, that it left the compulsory assessment on the counties of Ireland. In this way the Grand Juries of Ireland discharged the highest and most important function of Parliament, without any parliamentary responsibility. These Grand Juries, which were wholly irresponsible, had the power of putting their hands into the pockets of the people, and over the money thus taken from them they had no sort of control. The consequence of thus putting the Grand Juries in the condition of the oppressors of the people, was, that great dissatisfaction was felt against the gentry of whom they were composed. The moral effect of this was very bad, and the unconstitutional principle it involved was equally objectionable. He (Mr. O'Connell) proposed that the further consideration of this measure should be postponed in order to get rid of this power of the Grand Juries in toto. They did not want Grand Juries for such a purpose. The public works, for which the compulsory assessments were made, should be undertaken by the Parliament, after they had been freely discussed and determined upon. If public works were necessary, they should be so carried on as not to tarnish the names or the character of the Grand Juries. It should be seen, too, how much of the cost of these works ought to be borne by the public purse, and how much by the agriculturists; for it was upon the latter body the expense would now be thrown; and whatever opinion might be entertained of the distress or prosperity of other interests, the Committee on Agriculture had had sufficient proofs of the distress of the agriculturists of Ireland. Again, there was another principle laid down in the Bill, an excellent principle, but encumbered by so many provisions, that it would be impossible to work it; and therefore it would be necessary to postpone the measure, in order to make such alterations and modifications as would ensure that admirable principle being brought into fair play. The principle he referred to was, that presentments should no longer be given to favourites of the Grand Jury. No one could defend the present system, by which the favourites of the Grand Jury were fattened. He, himself, knew two families who had made fortunes, and purchased estates out of their jobs in road-making, though the roads they made were now not to be distinguished from the surrounding bogs. The Bill proposed to make the contracts open, and to make the lowest tender for the work. But how would that principle work? Why, not at all, for there were such a number of tedious and vexatious conditions to be complied with, that no man could possibly submit to them with the uncertainty of obtaining the presentment after all. A man would submit now to go through them, because as the favourite of the Grand Jury, he was sure to get the presentment as his reward; but when this was rendered uncertain by making the contracts open, and taking the lowest tender, no man would submit to this trouble and expense as a preliminary to his obtaining the work. He wished, that this part of the Bill should be better considered and simplified, so as to render the good principle capable of working. Again, this Bill treated with contempt the great constitutional principle, that no man shall be taxed without his own consent. If a man in the street set this principle at defiance, and put his hand into the pocket of another, he was sent to the Old Bailey for his reward; but if he should do it under the form of law, he would prosper by it. 80 it had been and still was in Ireland. Grand Juries should, in his opinion, be elected by the cess-payer. Again, it was a complete delusion to say that tenants from year to year should not pay the cess. If they did not, what would be the consequence? Why they would get notice to quit, and thus this very Act of Parliament would operate in increasing the uncertainty of tenure in Ireland, which was the great cause of all the evils and disturbances in that country. Families could subsist only by having land, and the more the tenure was made uncertain, the greater would be the mischief. The Secretary for Ireland would, no doubt, in the vacation, spend a great deal of his time in Ireland, and he would then, with the assistance of a noble Lord (Duncannon), who patronized the Bill, and whose assistance would be invaluable, have the advantage of making himself master of all the facts; and be able, next Session, to bring forward a Bill which should be complete and efficacious. He certainly should not consider any Bill efficacious that did not separate the compulsory principle from the principle of real taxation; and, in the next place, that did not introduce—not by disguise—not in a kind of collateral view—but directly, emphatically, and practically, the principle of representation going with taxation. On these grounds he should support the principle by delaying the Bill.

Mr. Thomas Wallace

could not see why the measure should be pressed forward at the present advanced period of the Session. The postponement of the question for one year could add little to the existing evil. He admitted, that the whole system wanted remodelling, but the question was, whether such remodelling should take place in haste, and against the consent of those hon. Members of that House who were most deeply interested in the subject, and who were better acquainted with the effects of the present system, and the change in it proposed by the Bill now before the House, than English Members could be by any possibility. Great difficulties would arise from a hasty arrangement of this most important subject, all of which would be avoided by a postponement until next Session, the propriety of which he would earnestly urge upon his Majesty's Government.

Mr. Littleton

would not give a peremptory opinion on the subject, but must confess, that he thought the utmost necessity prevailed for the adoption of some new measure. Looking at the present measure with an English eye, it appeared to him to be founded on principles worthy of recognition. The principle of taking the powers from the Grand Jury which they now enjoyed, and the conducting the business in open Court, was a point of such importance, that he thought it expedient, that the House should allow the Bill to go into Committee. In his opinion, the most important part of the Bill was that which would let in the light of day upon the proceedings of Grand Juries; no course being, in his opinion, better calculated to effect beneficial results than allowing their whole proceedings to be open to the public eye. What points called for improvement might be looked to in Committee, and he trusted, that the Committee would be appointed, in order that the true principles of the Bill might be understood, its merits appreciated, and its errors amended.

Mr. Sheil

objected to the principle upon which the Bill was founded. There was, notwithstanding the decision of the preliminary Session, an appeal given to the Grand Jury, whose adjudication would under the provisions of this Bill, be final. The Grand Jury was appointed by the Sheriff, upon whom it was made obligatory to select three at least from each barony; and this anomaly would arise, that in the county of Louth there would be only five Grand Jurors so selected, while in the neighbouring county of Meath there would be no less than eighteen out of the twenty-three to constitute the Grand Jury. He contended that, on the principle that those who taxed the people should be elected by the people, the Sheriffs ought to be so chosen, instead of being nominated by the Judges; and unless representation accompanied taxation in this Bill, it would be most injudicious now to proceed with it.

Mr. Finn

was quite sure, that the Bill had been drawn up with an intention to do good; but he would implore the Government to give time to the Irish Members to consult their constituents, so that they might come to a proper and satisfactory conclusion.

Lord Ebrington

said, that those who now opposed this Bill had been amongst the loudest and foremost to call for amendment of the Grand Jury Laws of Ireland, and he maintained, that if this Bill did not effect all that some might desire, it did embrace some considerable and important improvements. It did, amongst other valuable improvements, recognize the principle, that in such matters taxation should follow representation, though the principle might not be carried out to the extent required by the hon. and learned Members opposite. There might be objections to the Bill, but he had not expected to hear it objected or intimated, that the Bill was a hasty measure. After all that had passed, and after the condemnation on all hands of the present Grand Jury system of Ireland, he called on the House to allow the Bill to proceed, that it might be seen that the principle of the Bill had the sanction of this Mouse.

Lord Oxmantown

should oppose proceeding further with the measure, because he considered it in its details to be impracticable. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Ireland had not answered one of the objections to the Bill which had been urged by the hon. and learned member for Dublin. That hon. and learned Gentleman showed distinctly, that the Bill could not work; but to that portion of his speech the right hon. Secretary had not given any reply. The measure came before the House under circumstances of the most extraordinary nature. It was introduced for the purpose of amending the Irish Grand Jury Laws. It was referred to a Committee up stairs, who, after a laborious investigation, agreed unanimously to recommend its withdrawal. But the noble Lord (Lord Duncannon) said, let us now go into Committee and make such alterations in the Bill as will render it a wise and salutary measure. Now he would ask, could the House in Committee do that which was found to be impracticable by a Committee up stairs? It was impossible, even supposing the Bill to be passed, that it could come into operation before next Summer Assizes, and he there-fore trusted, that his Majesty's Ministers would consent to its withdrawal. Let them employ competent persons in the mean time, who, by inquiring into the subject, and consulting with those most conversant with the details connected with the system of Grand Jury Law in Ireland, might be prepared early in the next Session with a measure calculated to remedy the abuses which no man doubted had existence. He should hope, that Ministers, seeing, that gentlemen from Ireland of every shade of political opinion, concurred in recommending the withdrawal of the measure for the present, would concede; but if they persisted, he hoped, English Members would not insist on forcing a measure upon Ireland which the great majority of Irish Members reprobated.

Mr. Henry Grattan

said, when the Bill was first introduced, and its principles explained by the right hon. Gentleman, now Secretary for the Colonies, the hon. and learned member for Dublin expressed his concurrence in them ["No, no,"from Mr. O'Connell.] He understood, that it was so. However, it appeared, that after two months the Select Committee had been unable to come to any conclusion upon the Bill, although they had the working of the present system before them [Mr. O'Connell "no no."] He was not a Member of the Committee, but he understood, that the Committee had all possible information before them. He saw no use in delaying the Bill. If any portion of it could be adopted now, it would do great good, particularly that part relating to the appointment of surveyors. Because the Select Committee were blind to the merits of this Bill, he saw no reason why the whole House should be equally dull. Its defects might be remedied in Committee.

Mr. Perrin

regretted, that the Select Committee on the Bill had not received the advantage it might have received from the advice and experience of the hon. member for Dublin. He did not admit, that the operation of the Bill would lead to any nomination of two or three tenants, as had been described by the hon. member for Dublin. His hon. and learned friend, the member for Dublin objected to the Bill, but why did he not suggest something better? He approved of the principle, which was founded on economy and justice, and so must every man who knew anything of the system of the Grand Jury in Ireland. It separated the fiscal from the judicial duties of the Grand Jurors, and which, in his judgment, was an exceedingly great improvement. These were the principal features in the. Bill. He would assist his hon. and learned friend, the member for Dublin, in any practical improvements of the details; but he hoped and trusted, that the Bill would not be thrown out.

Mr. Fitzgerald

wished, that the Bill should go into Committee, when, if no one else did, he would move as an Amendment, that none but baronial Magistrates should make a cess, and that the people should not be overpowered by the influx of Magistrates from other districts, as was now frequently the case.

Mr. Lefroy

said, there was one ground on which he should press the postponement of the measure. The right hon. Secretary for Ireland in the course of his observations said, that he could only look upon the measure with an English eye—it was in fact the only one with which the right honourable Gentleman could see at all, he not having had an opportunity of seeing with any other. He hoped, however, that the right hon. Gentleman would be enabled, from his own experience, to introduce a measure upon the subject. There was such a conflict of opinion at present, that if the right hon. Gentleman proceeded with the measure, he would find himself quite perplexed. He trusted, therefore, that upon these grounds the right hon. Gentleman would agree to the postponement.

The House divided on the Amendment—Ayes 45; Noes 78; Majority 33.

The House went into Committee pro forma—then resumed. The Committee to sit again.

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