HC Deb 10 August 1835 vol 30 cc219-30

The House went into a Committee of Supply.

On the Motion that 22,423l. be granted for the support of the Chief and Under-Secretary's office, (Ireland)

Mr. Hume

contended that they had arrived at the period when they should get rid of the office of Lord-lieutenant of Ireland. The Irish Court had produced great mischief, as it had always been the focus of party feelings and animosities.

Mr. O'Connell

observed that before they took away the Lord-lieutenant from Ireland they should first do justice to the country—full, ample, and complete justice. They should treat Ireland as Scotland had been treated—they should not give to his country a stingy proportion of benefits. Let them for instance compare the Reform Bill for England with that of Ireland. Were they aware of the decision of the Carlow Committee, that no man should have a vote under 25l. a-year? There was a jealousy—a fear of admitting the people of Ireland to an equality. It was said, it would be an increase of the popular power in Ireland; and why should there not be an increase of that power? Why should the people of Ireland be placed below the people of England? Corporation reform had been got in Scotland. Why were not the people of Ireland treated in the same way? Reform in the English Corporations was now lingering in another place. Did they think that that would have occurred if the Irish Corporation Bill was not to follow it? In this case, as in many others, the words of Spencer were verified, that "Ireland was reserved as a special curse to England." He hoped that the Government would persevere with the Irish Corporation Bill. If that Bill should be mutilated in another place, yet they would take what they could get as an instalment, and the next year they would, with the same Government, look for the remainder. He was bound to say that they never had in Ireland a Government, until the present, who heartily and entirely concurred with them, or were inclined to go the full length of the desires of the Irish people for equalisation. It was said by the hon. Member for Middlesex, that the office of Lord-lieutenant had been a focus for party—it might also be the focus for liberality, and such he believed was the case with the present Lord-lieutenant, who was received with enthusiasm in every part of the country that he visited. As to the Reform Bill, he would say more of it, if the noble Lord who had been Secretary for Ireland at the time was present; but at the time that that Bill passed, there was an evil genius over the destinies of Ireland. But now, for the first time there was a disposition to do justice. The King's representative was received cordially, and the Assizes proved the country to be more free from agrarian and political offences than it had been for thirty-five years. It was the grievances of that country that had produced agitation. Let them do entire justice to the people in the country, and the power of the agitator would be taken from him.

The vote agreed to.

On the question, that 25,400l. be granted for the expenses of the non-conforming, seceding, and Protestant Dissenting Ministers in Ireland,

Mr. Sharman Crawford

wished to call the attention of his Majesty's Ministers to some gross frauds which were practised Under this grant. For instance, money was drawn, purporting to be for three congregations in Dublin, whilst only one of them had been in existence for the last twenty-years. And in a parish in the county of Antrim a salary had been drawn in the name of the rev. Mr. Rice, although that Gentleman had separated himself from the congregation in that parish for more than twenty years. He rose merely to make these statements, and not for the purpose of offering any opposition to the grant.

Viscount Morpeth

said, that very recently his attention had been called to these special cases, principally, he believed, through the instrumentality of the hon. Gentleman. If the statements that had reached him were true, they were undoubtedly abuses which required correction. At all events, he would undertake to ascertain the facts of these cases.

Dr. Bowring

objected to the grant altogether. He thought it inconsistent in Protestant Dissenters to benefit by a principle of the injustice of which they complained. In his opinion no religion ought to be paid for by the State. The Presbyterians of Ireland ought to set the example of letting each religion support its own Ministers. Many of them indeed had, and some of the clergy had refused to be pastors over flocks which consented to receive the Regium Donum.

Mr. O'Connell

bore testimony to the excellent character of the Presbyterians and the Protestant Dissenters in Ireland. He should not have objected to the grant had it been for twice the amount. By the way, the Protestant Dissenters amounted to about 620,000, and the grant to them was 25,000l. The members of the Established Church numbered only 851,000, but the income allowed to them was 550,000l; and the House was told that after a suit- able provision for them, it was impossible there could be a surplus. If for the cure of the souls of 620,000, 25,000l. was sufficient, he would ask what, according to Cocker, ought to be the allowance for 851,000. Let this question be solved, and they would soon see whether there was not a surplus.

Mr. Roebuck

was opposed to the grant. The hon. and learned Gentleman had compared the Protestant Dissenters to the members of the Establishment; but he would compare the Roman Catholics to the Dissenters, and say, that as the former did without any grant, none ought to be allowed to the latter.

Mr. Pease

opposed the Motion.

Mr. George F. Young

said, it was not candid in the hon. and learned Member for Dublin to omit to state that the Established religion was not supported by grants from the House but by endowments.

Mr. O'Connell

said, that made no difference, it was national property.

Mr. Wakley

supposed that he must join with other hon. Members in not opposing this grant. He begged to state, however, that such grants as these prevented the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer from taking the tax off newspapers. He gave notice that next Session he would divide the House on every similar Motion, unless the Newspaper-tax were taken off.

The vote was agreed to.

45,000l. was granted to defray the expenses of the police.

On the question that 3,358l. be applied for public works in Ireland,

Mr. Fitzstephen French

could not allow a vote of this description to pass over without observation. He would call the attention of the hon. Member for Middlesex to the paltry vote of 702l. here proposed for the improvement of the Shannon, and the maintenance of its works. They had heard that hon. Member, with some surprise, this evening, in the simplicity of his ignorance, taunting Ministers with extravagant expenditure in Ireland when in reality, reduction had been carried to an extent producing considerable inconvenience to the mercantile interests of that country. He really could hardly look over the items of this vote with common patience; 710l. for the improvement of the Upper Shannon, when the Report of the Committee on this river, which sat last Session, recommended an outlay of something about 100,000l. the Chancellor of the Exchequer intimated across the Table, no specific sum had been mentioned.) His right hon. Friend was right that no specific sum was stated in figures, but it was distinctly stated in words. On referring to the Report he found the Committee thus expressing themselves:—That it appeared to them a large portion of this river in the hands of the Government (the very part of it which the vote now before the House related to) was in a very unsatisfactory condition, and that they recommended the Government should be called upon to put this part of it into an efficient state for the purposes of trade, and to fulfil any obligations to which they might be equitably liable. Now, by the able Report of Mr. Rhodes, the engineer, by whom, under the direction of Government the improvements on this river were projected, a report which only required to be generally known to be generally appreciated he found the improvements on the Upper Shannon, which the Government were called on by the Committee to undertake, amounted to something near two-thirds of the sum requisite for the entire river, viz., 154,000l. The House might, probably, or indeed, from this estimate might be naturally led to imagine that the term Upper Shannon embraced but a small and inconsiderable portion of the river, and that the works on that portion of it were in perfect order. Those who were unacquainted with this magnificent river, unequalled as it was in the British dominions—and he found that, even amongst those then present, there were many—would learn with astonishment that it embraced the river from Athlone to its source, about 100 miles; in it were the lakes Lough Ree, Lough Forbes, Lough Boffin, Lough Bordernig, Lough na Honge, and Lough Allen; and this was the part of the river declared by Mr. Williams to be deficient to an extent scarcely credible. In all the incidents of navigation, for nearly 100 miles of its length, not a sail, not a boat was to he met on its waters; no appearance, no indications of capital or utility; it flows unheeded and unproductive. Was this paltry, contemptible 710l., a fit sum to appear in the estimates for so great, so important an object as giving to the united kingdom the benefits of the navigation of this great river? was it to be suffered still to remain to the public a sealed book? Nothing but the notice which stood on the book that night in the name of his right hon. Friend of his intention to introduce a Bill for the improvement of the Shannon prevented him from entering fully into the subject, determined as he was to avail himself of every opportunity of drawing the attention of the House to the neglected state, and at the same time to explain to them the magnitude and capacities of this river. He would wait for the introduction of that Bill, and then should he find it necessary he would trespass on them at some length. At present he would content himself with expressing a hope that the Bill about to be introduced by the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be comprehensive and liberal; that gold would no longer be placed in the scale against the peace, prosperity, and welfare of Ireland; that a system of legislation would be adopted founded on a knowledge of the condition of the country; that neither narrow views, nor mistaken economy would tempt the right hon. Gentleman to refuse that assistance which was necessary to prepare the way for the profitable application of capital. Let him fear not the liberality of this House for the attainment of an object which would equally promote the manufacturing prosperity of England and the agricultural welfare of Ireland. They would falsify the almost unanimous declaration of the late Parliament of their determination to assist Ireland. They would willingly assent to a measure which would give security to England and tranquillity to Ireland, and render the political agitation of which they so loudly complained of, comparative insignificance.

Vote agreed to.

On the Question that 6,000l. for compensation for the Inspecting Commissioners of Excise be granted,

Colonel Sibthorpe

said, he should move for a return of the compensation given to all the new-fangled Commissioners, including the Municipal Commissioners, than whom he could not conceive a more worthless or mischievous body. This would give him an opportunity of showing up the exparte statements of the Commissioners—the dishonest and unfair statements of the Commissioners—and the inducements held out to them to make these one-sided statements. This would furnish him with an opportunity of exhibiting the expense, and the mischief, of what he always called, and would call to the death, the workings of the infernal Reform Bill—that vile engine of robbery and oppression. Yes, he should have an opportunity of exhibiting to the community how far the expenses of that rascally measure were commensurate with the expectations entertained of its suc- cess by the people. It was said it would be a great benefit to the people, but the people had not yet shown that they experienced any great benefit from it. They only suffered a fleecing on its account, in the way of taxation to pay Whig-Radical Commissioners. But it was all fair for Government; they were only struggling to keep their places, and they would, of course, support their own Commissioners.

Mr. Francis Baring

observed, that this Commission had been appointed for the purpose of ascertaining the mode in which the ordinary Commissioners conducted their business, and certainly the least suitable persons to be appointed for such a purpose would have been those Commissioners themselves. It had, therefore, been considered necessary to appoint extra Commissioners, and their labours had unquestionably fully remunerated the charge which the country had to meet for them.

Vote agreed to.

On the Question, that 110,000l. be granted to his Majesty to defray certain charges hitherto defrayed out of the countyrates,

Sir Thomas Freemantle

considered it discreditable to the Government to enter into a kind of partnership with the counties for defraying expenses which ought all to be borne by the Government. He was of opinion, that the whole sum should be remitted to the agriculturists who were suffering great distress.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, if the proposition were a discreditable one (which however he utterly denied) it had originated with the Committee, and not with his Majesty's Government. If the hon. Gentlemen opposite were so anxious for the agricultural interest, how was it that they had not put a vote on the subject into their own miscellaneous estimates, and thereby have shown their attachment by deeds instead of by words? This proposition of the expense of prosecutions of criminals had been adopted, by the Irish Government with the very best effect. Indeed, how could it be otherwise; the local interest must be identified in such cases with the general interest. The Government did not talk as loudly as other parties on the subject of their anxiety to succour the distress of the agricultural interest, but it had been, and would be found to be, as anxious as any hon. Member on the Opposition benches to afford to that great interest any just measure of relief to which it was entitled.

Sir Harry Verney

observed, that the Committee had recommended the defraying of burthens which fell upon the agricultural interest by the public.

Sir Thomas Freemantle

said, that he was far from thinking the local Magistrates co-operated as they ought to do in endeavouring to keep down the county-rates. He thought the best results would follow from sending down a special officer to enforce the general observance of a uniform rule as to these expenses, and that a very important saving would be effected in the local Government.

Mr. Hume

contended, that no boon should, or ought to be given to the agriculturists so long as they were suffered to possess the odious monopoly in food granted them by the existing Corn-laws. These ought, injustice to this great manufacturing community to be forthwith repealed. He agreed that a public functionary sent down, as recommended by the hon. Baronet, would effect much good, by introducing a general rule and a strict scale of expense in these cases of prosecution. He wished the House to remark, that the Committee which sanctioned this change from the old law and practice were all of them agricultural Members. He protested against this vote, as one altogether uncalled for by the circumstances of the times. Government would not be justified in making any concession in favour of the agricultural interest, unless they were prepared, in the first instance, to yield up the unjust monopoly they now possessed in supplying this kingdom with the staff of life.

The Attorney-General

remarked, that within his own time, the prosecutor used almost always to defray the expenses of the prosecution. He felt that in this grant of 110,000l., 80,000l. of which was to defray one-half of the expenses of prosecutions at Assizes and at Quarter Sessions, the Government had redeemed the assurance it had given, that it was anxious to relieve any burthens which pressed peculiarly upon the agricultural and rural districts. He had, however, yet to learn, that these parties were more interested than any other of his Majesty's subjects in bringing criminals to justice. This, it was clear, was an object which must be of equal interest and of as deep anxiety to persons possessed of funded property, and more particularly to those possessed of personal property and effects, to secure, as any other members of society.

Lord Sandon

thought, that upon the I whole the Government plan was a good one: but expressed his hope, that every means would be adopted for diminishing the expenditure in future.

Colonel Sibthorpe

said, that the agricultural interest could not have worse friends, or rather more bitter enemies, than his Majesty's present Ministers. The Poor-law Bill, for instance, was one of the greatest hardships that had ever been inflicted on the people. As a Magistrate, he had refused, and would continue to refuse, to enforce the Act in certain cases, for he could not see why any individual, male or female, who had lived in a state of respectability, should be compelled to go to the workhouse, instead of receiving some assistance from the parish. His Majesty's Ministers had not done a single beneficial act for agriculture. If they had, he would sit on their side of the House, disclaiming all party feeling.

Mr. Kemeys Tynte,

adverting to the Poor-law Amendment Act said, that at a general meeting, before the passing of the Act, in the county which he had the honour to represent, there were but three hands held up against it; and that it was now generally acknowledged that it operated uniformly well.

Mr. Bennett

regretted to see the enemies of the agricultural interests seize on so trifling an occasion as the present to inveigh against that interest. How was it possible that they could now say, that the high price of corn affected the manufacturing interest? Nevertheless, and in spite of facts, the hon. Member for Middlesex persisted in his attempt to run down the agricultural interest. The present was the first time at which any boon, however trifling, had been proposed for the land, and he hailed it with great pleasure. There could be no doubt, however, that the whole expense of the poor ought to be borne equally by persons possessing property generally, and not by the landholders alone. The Legislature had refused to give the agricultural interest a paper currency, which would have been a great benefit to them: let them provide that the Poor-rate should be levied on the general fund of the country, a proposition which he hoped he should soon see carried into effect. That would be a substantial benefit to agriculture.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

thought the observation of the hon. Member for Wilts had no reference to the question before the Committee. This was not a period to waste time in irrelevant discussions.

The Marquess of Chandos

thought that the vote was one which ought not to be pressed at such a moment as the present. He trusted that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would allow some further time for its consideration. It was not usual for such a proposition to be brought forward in the estimates.

Mr. Wallace

thought that the expense of prosecutions should be made a general charge upon the country at large, and should not be discharged out of the county rates.

Vote agreed to.

68,000l. was proposed to be granted to make compensation to individuals for losses sustained by the fire at the Custom and Docks, Dublin.

Mr. Alderman Thompson

opposed the vote, on the ground that the parties to whom the money was proposed to be given ought, in common prudence, to have insured their property, and failing in that point of prudence had no claim for compensation from the country.

Mr. O'Connell

defended the vote, and maintained that the parties had a bonâ fide claim according to law. A judicial decision had been given upon the subject, and could not be contravened.

Mr. Aaron Chapman

opposed the grant, and contended that the Act of Parliament, under which the question was tried, did not apply to the case of fire.

Mr. Francis Baring

said, that the question was tried before Mr. Justice Crampton, who laid it down, that if the jury were satisfied the fire was the result of wilful misconduct on the part of the Custom-house officer, then the case came within the meaning of the Act. The jury did decide that the fire was the result of wilful misconduct; this grant, therefore, was only in accordance with the law.

Mr. Robinson

was not disposed to resist the claim after what had been stated to be the law, as he did not think it would be right to impugn the decision of the jury.

Mr. Shaw

said, that as the case had been adjudicated on by a court of law, he thought it would be hard that the merchants should be deprived of the advantage of the verdict they had obtained.

Sir Thomas Freemantle

did not think this was a case in which the public were bound to make good the loss sustained. The Act had expired before the action was brought, and he considered the Government to have gone beyond their duty by allowing the merchants to have the benefit of the Act, as if it had not expired. It was a favour conferred on merchants to allow them to bond their goods without paying duty, therefore the public ought not to be liable for any loss that might occur by accident.

Dr. Bowring

would not object to the vote, though he could not but express his anxiety and alarm at the awful responsibility which this vote was about to impose upon the public.

Mr. Poulett Thomson

said the public would not be rendered liable unless proof could be afforded that the property was destroyed by wilful misconduct on the part of the officer. He admitted, however, that until the decision in this case was given, he was not aware that such a construction could be put upon the Act of Parliament, and he was glad to find that the general opinion of the House was, that a necessity existed for introducing a measure to protect the country from being subject to the charge arising from fire in bonded warehouses. At the same time no one could justly object to the present vote.

Mr. Goulburn

considered that the Government had improperly given advantage to the parties claiming compensation. The Act under which they claimed had expired; the Government allowed the merchants of Dublin the benefit of the Act as if it had not expired, but they deprived the public of the benefit of the same Act of Parliament which subjected the officer, by whose negligence the fire was occasioned, to prosecution. The jury consequently, were relieved from all check on account of the liability to which they would have exposed the officer, and were open to the unrestrained influence of sympathy for the merchants who were sufferers by the calamity. But he would contend that the Act in question did not contemplate the occurrence of an accidental fire arising from the negligence of the officer; it only applied to a distinct and positive act of wilful injury on the part of the officer. He believed that the Government had been over-persuaded by those who advocated the cause of the merchants in this transaction. This grant would establish a very dangerous precedent; and he, therefore, agreed that it was necessary some Bill should be introduced upon the subject.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

denied that his noble Friend (Lord Althorp) was either inveigled or outwitted on this occasion; he did only what was just in allowing the question to go to a jury in the manner it had done.

Mr. O'Connell

said, that so far from its being a favour to the prosecutors to be allowed to bring the case before the jury in the manner in which it was brought forward, every effort, on their part, was made to try it as a criminal question against the officer; but they were not allowed to do so.

The Attorney-General

said, that a better opinion had been pronounced with reference to the construction of the Act than that of the Law Officer of the Crown. It was the opinion of the learned Judge who tried the cause. If, however, the authority of the humble individual who was then addressing the House were any confirmation of that decision, he should say, that he entirely concurred in it. The public entered into an implied contract with the owners of the goods in question to preserve them. They were placed in the warehouse of the public; they were destroyed by the negligence of a servant of the public, and the public were bound to remunerate the owners.

Mr. George F. Young

feared that the opinion which had just been stated by the hon. and learned Gentleman would have the effect of spreading dismay and alarm among the proprietors of warehouses and the holders of Dock shares. If the principle were laid down that any warehouse-keeper was responsible for goods in his possession destroyed by fire, they would be subject to a liability they had never knowingly incurred, and which had never attached to them before.

Vote agreed to.

Several other votes were agreed to.

The House resumed. Committee to sit again

Mr. Brotherton

rose apparently with the intention of moving the adjournment (it was half-past twelve o'clock); but on the Speaker proceeding to read the other Orders of the Day, resumed his seat.