HC Deb 25 February 1834 vol 21 cc764-76
Mr. O'Connell

rose, pursuant to the notice he had given, to move for leave to bring in a Bill for the better regulating the Corporation of the city of Dublin. He had obtained leave the last Session of Parliament, and had prepared the Bill; but apprehending that his own local knowledge was not sufficient in some of its details, he had submitted the Bill to his constituents, both in public meetings which were held for the purpose, as well as having published it in the newspapers. He knew that this Bill would give entire satisfaction to the great majority of the inhabitants of the city of Dublin, and the reform in the Corporation would, in their opinion, be a practical measure of the utmost utility. Therefore, at present, the Bill came before the House fortified with the circumstances;—first that he had got leave before to bring it in; and next, that the object of it was one which his constituents entirely approved of, and anxiously desired to see realised. He ought, therefore, not to apprehend opposition to the measure, and he believed none was intended on the part of the active, able, and learned Gentleman whom he had succeeded in the representation of the city of Dublin. He had, therefore, every reason to suppose he should not have any difficulty in prevailing upon the House to grant the leave he sought for. His only apprehension upon the subject was of a personal nature, for the discussions lately, on many measures proposed, had turned, not on the merits of the subject, but on the merits of its advocate. He therefore felt it his duty to apologise to the House, though it was naturally his duty, as one of the representatives for Dublin, to bring in any measure which might be considered as useful to the city of Dublin. However useful it might be, if there were any opposition to it, by the Government the could not flatter himself for an instant with success. It was for him to show that leave ought to be granted, and for its opponents to find out pretences and excuses for interrupting the course of right and justice—pretences and excuses, he should be able to show, which must be of the most flimsy description. Let the House see what enabled him to bring the Bill before the House. They were told something in the King's speech of Corporation I abuses. They had heard a great deal about these abuses in the last Session of Parliament, and had been told that the Reform Bill was a valuable and practical measure, because it would enable them to introduce Reform into the Corporations of the British dominions. The Corporations which required that Reform principally, were those of Ireland and Scotland. The case of Scotland was a grievous one, from the form in which the Corporations existed; and yet these Corporations were superior to the Irish Corporations. In Scotland the members of the Corporation were resident in the town, generally of the same feeling with the community; and though there might be some difference in their political sentiments, there was no religions animosity between them and the inhabitants. Scotland was free from some of the worst evils of the close Corporation system. It was not so, however, with Ireland, and the Irish Corporations. There all the evils which affected Scotland existed, with the addition of their being inflamed to the highest degree; at the same time that they were debased by being mixed up with religious dissension, occasioned by the unjust preference of one persuasion over those professing a different creed. Such were the evils peculiarly attaching to the corporate system in Ireland. But of all the Corporations in Ireland, the Corporation of Dublin was the worst, and it suffered under the accumulation of these disadvantages. It was so circumstanced that the evils which in other cases pressed most heavily, were in this case most severely felt. The courts being held there, and the Sheriffs being appointed by a monopolising corporation, and chosen from a favoured religious persuasion, all the evils to which he had referred were mixed up so as to produce the worst possible consequences. Such was the situation of Dublin; such had hitherto been the situation of Scotland; such was now, emphatically, the situation of Dublin. Scotland, however, had obtained a Corporation Reform. A complete Reform, at least as far as was intended by the Reform Bill, had been given to the Scottish boroughs. Edinburgh, which was formerly a close borough, had now a proper constitution. The city was now identified with the Corporation. Why had not Dublin had the same? He should show, that Dublin more required such Reform. It ought to have had it the moment the Reform Bill was passed—as soon as the present Administration came into office. And the Reform, if any, must be an effectual one—a Reform adapted to the peculiar construction of the Corporation, and of the laws under which it at present existed. The Corporation of Dublin (unlike that of Edinburgh) did not depend on charters only. It had ancient charters, to be sure, as well as modern ones, but it did not stand on charters alone. It had been the subject of regulation by Acts of Parliament—by more than one Act of Parliament. It had been peculiarly the creature of the Legislature—it had been framed by Acts of Parliament, regulated by Acts of Parliament, and altered by Acts of Parliament; and it was, therefore, emphatically the creature of the Legislature. He could not here be met by being told, that the abuses of the corporations of Ireland were remediable by any general propositions from the Committee appointed to inquire into the state of Corporations. No general measure of that Committee could alone remedy those evils. The circumstances attending the Dublin Corporation were exclusive, and must be dealt with, in reference to the Acts of Parliament relating to Dublin. His plan of a Bill, (and if they meant to do an act of justice to Ireland they would sanction it) was, that they should have a specific act in respect to the Corporation of Dublin. There being already two Acts of Parliament which regulated the Corporation of Dublin, the Parliament was the place where the question relative to that Corporation ought to be settled. There was this advantage with respect to the Corporation of Dublin—they were not called upon to create, but simply to alter and amend the existing system. There was in the Corporation of the city of Dublin a Lord Mayor. There was also an upper house, where the twenty-four Aldermen of the city transacted the public business. There was also a commons' house, and the number of Common Council amounted to 141. The Corporation, therefore, had all the necessary forms and features for an efficient Corporation, and it was only necessary that the right of election and the right of representation in the Court of Aldermen should be restored to the citizens of Dublin, to make the Corporation all that it could be wished. He was not asking for a Bill to undermine or destroy the Corporation; all he wished was, to make that a reality which was now only a mockery and a means of oppressing the inhabitants. He wished to call the attention of the House to the state of the case. He knew that as it was a case connected with Ireland, it would not claim that attention which it merited. How often had he been taunted by English Members, who said, "Why don't you bring something practicable forward, and we will support you?" Well, he would now try whether they were in earnest. Whatever hon. Gentlemen might think of other measures which he thought necessary to bring forward, there surely could be no doubt entertained as to the practicability of the present one. It was easy to see, from the attention which hon. Gentlemen were paying to the subject, that it was an Irish question. He would not, however, be either deterred or dispirited by their inattention; he had a duty to perform, and he was determined to go through with it. It was impossible for any man to have a stronger case than he had; but he should soon have an opportunity of seeing, by the decision on the question, the value of a strong case in that House. He had before stated, that the frame of the Corporation of Dublin was popular; the skeleton was perfect; but it required to be filled up. It required a new spirit to be infused into it, in order to restore it to its natural healthy state. There was no such thing as a right to freedom in Dublin—so the Courts of Law had lately decided. It had been alleged, that a right to freedom was acquired in three ways—by birth, servitude, and marriage. The Corporation tried the question in the Court of King's Bench, where it was decided that no such thing existed as a right to the freedom of the city. [The hon. and learned Gentleman being here inaudible by the noise in the House, paused for some moments.] He had paused, that he might not interrupt hon. Members in their conversations. Certainly it was a presumptuous thing of him to call their attention to this subject. There was in the Corporation of Dublin this worst feature of a close borough—self-election. The members of the Corporation could withhold the freedom from whomsoever they pleased, or they could confer it upon whom they pleased. There was no qualification. The lowest of human beings, even the criminal in the dock, was equally eligible with the highest man in the land. There were, therefore, two features in the Corporation of the City of Dublin—exclusiveness and religious intolerance. The Corporation of Dublin was, in its nature, in the first instance, exclusive, for it had the power of having as many members as it thought fit, while it had also the power of having as few as it chose. Ought that to be permitted? Was it not an anomaly in the constitution? What was the consequence of this power of exclusion? It was, that, in a population of above 200,000 there were only 1,900 free of the city; so that that inconsiderable portion of the inhabitants—inconsiderable, whether wealth or character were considered as well as numbers—had the whole power, privileges, and immunities, of the City of Dublin, with its 200,000 or 300,000 inhabitants, entirely in their own hands. They had the election of aldermen, mayor, and sheriffs of the capital of the country, where all the Courts of Justice held their sittings. The other obnoxious feature in the Corporation of the City of Dublin was, its religious exclusiveness, founded upon the worst and basest bigotry. In the year 1792 or 1793, about forty-one years ago, the Legislature enabled the Roman Catholics of Ireland to become freemen of the several Corporations of that kingdom; of course Dublin as the principal city, had the first right to be free. From 1793 to 1834, how many Catholics, he would ask the House, were admitted to the freedom of Dublin? He did not desire to know how many were admitted to the mastership of guilds, or the offices of mayor, aldermen, sheriffs, or other civic dignity, but merely how many were admitted to the simple freedom of the city? The House could not answer, perhaps; but he could. There was not one—not a single one! He earnestly implored the House to see what a feature—a monstrous revolting feature—this was on the double monopoly enjoyed by the Corporation of the City of Dublin. It amounted, in point of fact, to a complete exclusion of the whole Catholic population. It was not because there were not honest, industrious, wealthy men among the consecutive generation of 200,000, which had come on, disappeared, and been again supplied in that City, for the contrary was acknowledged even by the Corporation itself; but it was because they were Catholics, and because the Corporation was actuated by the worst feelings towards that class. The Catholics of Dublin had shown themselves possessed of industry, integrity, loyalty, and all the qualifications which could dignify human nature; but all had been spurned by this Corporation, which for forty-one years had excluded the Catholics from the enjoyment of their municipal rights. In addition to this, they were told, that they could not compel the Corporation to do justice. Would not the House interfere? He entreated them to do so, though, if he had any bad feeling to gratify, he should wish them not to interfere. This was a monopoly even among the Protestants, for, out of the whole number, only 1,900 enjoyed it. They were, likewise, told of the excessive anxiety of this House to do justice to Ireland in practical matters. Here was an opportunity of showing this anxiety, by removing a most odious monopoly. And of what nature was this monopoly? Why, it was the appointment of the sheriffs; and how the monopoly was exercised, in this respect, every Irishman knew. These Sheriffs appointed the Juries, and through them the administration of justice between man and man was most scandalously perverted. Could they be surprised at the peasantry breaking the law, when they who had to administer it made it a mockery? He knew, and the fact was sworn to before the Commissioners of Inquiry, that instances had occurred in which Juries chosen by these Sheriffs had tried the question brought before them, not upon its merits, but by the favour which was felt by a particular class to one of the parties in the suit. In every county in Ireland there was an immense quantity of local taxation. This taxation was disposed of exclusively for the benefit of the Grand Jurors themselves, or, at least, for the benefit of their families and neighbours. The Sheriff had the entire appointment of the Grand Jury, and the Grand Jury had the levying of the local taxation. In 1791, the Grand Jury of the City of Dublin taxed the citizens to the amount of 2,100l. But let them see what had happened since that time. The Grand Jury cess of the City of Dublin amounted, in 1827, to 25,246l.; 1829, to 27,303l.; 1830, to 28,306l.; 1831, to 29,663l.; 1832, to 32,151l. This was the last return that was made, and they would perceive, that this taxation had been progressive, and that the taxation had increased upwards: of 1,000l. per annum. But who had to pay this amount of taxation? Certainly not the 1,900 freemen, many of whom were not even householders. Thus this narrow Corporation had the power of regulating the taxation of the 300,000 inhabitants of Dublin. Would they allow this state of things to continue? Let them not give the Irish mere words—let them not confine themselves to hopes—for "hope deferred maketh the heart sick;" but let them give, at least, a practical proof of a disposition to confer some benefit on Ireland. During the sixteen years that elapsed previous to Catholic emancipation, there was not a single Catholic admitted upon the Grand Jury. Subsequent to emancipation the case was just the same. The Roman Catholics got no greater share of emancipation from the hands of the Dublin Corporation than if the Act had not passed at all. From 1829 to the present period, there had been 316 persons on the Grand Jury of the City of Dublin. How many Catholics did the House think there were amongst the number? Why, just seven. Why should this be the case? It did not occur from any ineligibility. The principal merchants of Dublin were Catholics; the principal part of the commercial wealth of Dublin was in the hands of Catholics; and he knew some three or four Catholic merchants in Dublin who could buy the Corporation out and out, and who, after paying its debts, and purchasing its assets, would still have a fortune left. During this period, out of the 316 Grand Jurors, there were but 115 persons; for several of; them served on the Grand Juries year after year. In the return he found that Alderman Perrin served thirteen times, Alderman Warner fourteen times, Alderman Smith eleven times, and Alderman Abbot nine times. What a system was that! Would they permit it to continue, by refusing him leave to introduce his Bill? The only pretence that could be given was, that the Commissioners of Inquiry had; not yet presented their Report; but that was an idle pretence. Let the House look to the time that was likely to be spent before that Report was laid upon the Table. The hon. Gentleman, who was at the head of that Commission, Mr. Sergeant Perrin, than whom there was no better common lawyer, had written to him (Mr. O'Connell) a letter which he had only received that morning, in which he stated that he had accepted retainers for a circuit. That, of course, meant that he would be engaged in every cause. He could not possibly be in that House before April, and it would take a considerable time to consider of and draw up the Report; then how could there be time to pass the Bill through that House, after considering the Report? Another fact was, that the Dublin Corporation had the supply of the water to the whole city of Dublin, which was secured to them by several Acts of Parliament. It was thought that the Legislature, in giving them such a power, would at all events have fixed a maximum of rates. They had done so, certainly, to the houses of the gentry, but upon the manufacturer, the distiller, and the brewer, the Corporation had the power to charge what they liked, and they had charged most handsomely. Government was called on to interfere—they would not. The Court of Chancery was applied to, to allow the remonstrance to lie—it would not. The matter was laid before the House of Lords, and it was ordered to lie there. What was the consequence? Why, the Corporation of Dublin actually levied 45,000l. more than they were entitled to levy. The city of Dublin was governed under the operation of two Acts—there was first the Act of Settlement, the 17th and 18th Charles 2nd, c. 22. The Cromwelian adventurers wishing to contract the Corporation completely, passed an Act for the purpose of putting it under their regulation, and empowered the Lord-lieutenant to regulate the Corporation for twelve months. How were the guilds in Dublin represented? The different trades were entitled to a separate representation, yet the shoemakers had three attorneys to represent them, and all the guilds were represented in like manner, by attorneys, attorneys' clerks, and half-pay officers. Were such abuses to be allowed to exist one twelvemonth longer? Was another year to pass over, and the citizens of Dublin be subjected to a body that had the exclusive power of taxing them as they chose? Would that first article of life, water, be still exposed to a high tax, and the people prohibited from enjoying even that luxury with which nature herself supplied them. When he told them of the disaffection of the people of Ireland, of the disfavour the Government of the country was in, and of the species of distinctions that were made between both countries, were they to prevent him from putting an end to this most monstrous monopoly? A more plundering Corporation than that of Dublin never existed; and he called upon them to say, whether they would not therefore adopt some measure to redress it. If it had been in this country, or in Scotland, the Legislature would never have permitted mischiefs to such an extent to exist for so long a period. In England the Corporations were statutable, but this Corporation was entirely legislative, and was a creature of the Legislature. He would say three words as to the nature of his plan. He had already stated, that the form and elements of the Dublin Corporation were already in existence. He, therefore, did not propose any violent alteration. He would divide Dublin into eight districts, each of which should return three Aldermen, except one, which should in its turn elect four, beginning with No. 1. This would give twenty-five Aldermen. The Aldermen should be elected from the Common Council; and he would give his reason for this presently. He would have each of the Aldermen hold office only six years, in order to prevent that body from becoming an oligarchy. Each ward or district should return eight members to the Common Council; this would make sixty-four. The merchants' company should return eight; but then it should really be a company of merchants. This would make seventy-two. Each of the other twenty-four guilds should return one member each to the Common Council, making in all ninety-six. He would have the right of election to be in the 10l. householders; in a word, he would place it upon the same footing with the election of Members to sit in that House. In the Common Council so elected, he would place the right of electing all public officers, such as Sheriffs, &c., to be taken out of their own body. He would also vest the appointment to all places of emolument in the Common Council. The election of Lord Mayor he would leave on the same footing that it was, or at least was to be, in London. By thus increasing the importance of the office of Common Councilmen, they would soon find that that body would be filled by respectable and trustworthy citizens, from whom all other appoint- ments would emanate. The police was altogether a separate establishment; the paving board was also a separate establishment. It was admitted, that there was much of extravagance in the collection of the various amounts; they were collected at a charge of from 8l. to 17l. per cent. By his plan there would be only one Board, and the revenues would be collected at from 2l. 10s. to 3l. per cent. But he would insert a clause in the Bill declaring that there should be a separate account kept in the Bank of Ireland for this money; and that whoever paid his taxes into the Bank within twenty-one days of their being due, should be allowed to put the 2½ per cent allowed on collection into his own pocket. He was sure that this appointment of one Board only would produce a saving of 50,000l. a-year to the country. [Mr. Littleton: I calculate it at 25,000l.] The right hon. Secretary admitted, that, at least, 25,000l. would be saved. He (Mr. O'Connell) thought it would amount to 50,000l., and in a little time to much more. He begged pardon for having detained the House at such length. The hon. and learned Member concluded by moving for leave to bring in a Bill for the better regulation of the Corporation of Dublin.

Mr. Littleton

, in what he had to say, would not detain the House more than a few moments, because he was sure that, as the hon. and learned Member proceeded, the House became quite convinced that the present was not the most fitting-opportunity for the introduction of the Bill to which the hon. and learned Gentleman's Motion referred. He begged to remind the House, that the hon. and learned Gentleman had never raised his voice in favour of Corporation Reform, before Government announced the intention of appointing a Commission of Inquiry into the state of the existing Corporations. To the Government belonged the merit of originating that inquiry; the merit of cordially approving of it belonged to the hon. and learned Gentleman. He trusted the House had not forgotten what passed on this subject during the last Session. The hon. and learned Gentleman, at that period, moved for leave to bring in a Bill similar to the one he now proposed to introduce, and his Motion, after much discussion and objection on the part of several Members of the House, was agreed to, on the con- dition that the Bill should be introduced forthwith, in order that the Commissioners then about to be appointed, might have the advantage of knowing what reform the hon. and learned Gentleman proposed to make in the Corporation of Dublin. However, the hon. and learned Member, though he obtained leave, never thought proper to introduce his Bill; and what, security had the House that the hon. and learned Member would not, in the present Session, pursue the course he had adopted in the last? One of the reasons which induced the Government last year to accede to the hon. and learned Member's Motion, was the belief that a separate measure would be required for the reform of the Corporation of Dublin. They had, however, since ascertained that such a mode of proceeding was not necessary; and he had the authority of Mr. Serjeant Perrin, whose opinion on such a matter was entitled to every confidence, for stating, that it would be unnecessary to pass more than one law for the whole of the Corporations in Ireland. The hon. and learned Member had spoken of the importance of ingrafting the consolidation of the collections of the local revenues with any measure which might be passed for the amendment of the Corporation of Dublin. He entirely agreed with the hon. and learned Member in that opinion; but it would be expedient first to settle the principles by which the Reform of the Corporation should be regulated. Under these circumstances, he felt it his duty to oppose the Motion of the hon. and learned member for Dublin, and the more especially as he expected that the Report of the Corporation Commissioners would very shortly be presented to the House.

Mr. O'Connell

wished the House to consider what effect the refusal of his Motion would produce in Ireland. None of his statements had been contradicted; and the only reasons offered for rejecting his proposition were, that he had made a similar one last Session, and that, a general measure on the subject was about to be introduced. Much as he respected Mr. Serjeant Perrin's talents, he could not allow that that Gentleman would be able to amend the Corporation of Dublin by any other mode than the introduction of a separate measure. That Corporation was regulated by statute, and any enactments for its reformation, if contained in a general measure, must be kept distinct and separate from the rest. But why should he trespass further on the time of the House? The existence of the grievances and abuses which he had exposed was admitted. No answer was made, or even attempted to be made, to his statement, yet he might rest assured that his Motion would be rejected by a triumphant majority.

Mr. Barron

felt convinced, that the commission the appointment of which was recommended, and having at its head a highly-gifted and honourable man—he meant Mr. Serjeant Perrin—would present a report to Parliament which would be entirely satisfactory to the people of Ireland. With this conviction strong in his mind, and representing, as he did, a large city, the inhabitants of which were greatly interested in the proceedings of the Corporation Commissioners, he thought, with all due deference to the hon. and learned member for Dublin, that the people of Ireland would be glad to see one general measure of Reform introduced, instead of a series of separate Bills, applicable exclusively to particular places. If the hon. and learned Member were allowed to introduce a Bill with reference to Dublin, what reason could be shown why he should not be permitted to propose a Bill solely applicable to the city of Waterford? He really did not understand why the hon. and learned Member should attempt to make a difference where no real distinction existed, and thus needlessly occupy the time of the House. Such, at any rate, was his opinion, and he would not shrink from avowing it, though it might excite the scoffing of the hon. and learned Gentleman. He trusted the Motion would not be persevered in, for if carried, so far from answering any good purpose, it would tend to destroy the feeling of satisfaction with which the people out of doors were disposed to regard the labours of the Corporation Commissioners.

Mr. Hume

wished to know at what period the Government expected to be enabled to propose a general measure with respect to Corporation Reform? If it would not be practicable for them to introduce any such measure in the present Session, they surely could not refuse the hon. and learned Member the privilege of bringing in a Bill to reform the Corporation of Dublin.

Lord Althorp

said, that he understood his right hon. friend (Mr. Littleton) to state, that the Report of the Commissioners would very shortly be presented to the House. Of course, when it should be presented, the House would proceed to take it into consideration. The Government had not as yet seen the Report of the Irish Commissioners, but they never would have directed those gentlemen to inquire into the state of the Corporations, if they had not intended to follow up that inquiry by some legislative measure. The hon. and learned Member had complained that his speech had received no answer. He (Lord Althorp) admitted that it had not received any answer, and for a very good reason—the Government had no wish to deny that, the Corporation of Dublin required reform; but he did not think it expedient to pass a separate measure for the Corporation of Dublin, for the Commissioners' Report might soon be expected, and a general measure applicable to the whole of Ireland would be founded on it.

Mr. O'Connell

said that, in consequence of what had fallen from the noble Lord, he should ask leave of the House to withdraw his Motion.

Motion withdrawn.