HC Deb 14 July 1836 vol 35 cc218-25

The House went into Committee on the Grand Juries (Ireland) Bill.

The Clauses to 78 were agreed to.

On Clause 79 being proposed, which provides for the salary of surgeons of county infirmaries in Ireland,

Mr. Smith O'Brien

complained of the monopoly of the College of Surgeons in Ireland, and hoped some means would be speedily adopted to abolish it.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

did not undervalue the proposition of the hon. Member for Limerick. The monopoly was not defensible, and indeed it was perpetually violated in practice.

Mr. Macley

said, if the Irish Members would bring forward a proposition for a reciprocity of action between the medical institutions of the two countries, should have his support.

Mr. Smith O'Brien moved, that that part of the clause be omitted. He did so on behalf of Irish surgeons who studied in Edinburgh and elsewhere, and who would be precluded by the clause from acting as surgeons to dispensaries, inasmuch as they wanted the testimonial of the Irish college.

Colonel Perceval

said, that nothing would be done to prejudice the interests of the Irish College of Surgeons. He had no wish that it should possess any exclusive privileges, but they should first ascertain whether any exclusion was practised towards Irish surgeons by subscribers to infirmaries in England.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that in dealing with an Irish Bill in Committee, it was impossible to go into the discussion of the whole question, and inquire what was the practice in England. He was prepared to support the amendment of his hon. Friend, the Member for Limerick, because he considered monopolies were indefensible on principle.

Mr. Wakley

said, that with respect to the Edinburgh examinations, they were much more rigid than those of London or Dublin. There was more exclusion in Ireland than in England; for in the latter country Irish surgeons were permitted to practise in English hospitals, whilst the medical officers of the army and navy were precluded from practice, and were met with a negative, which had the injurious effect of limiting the choice to men who received their medical education in the Irish college.

Amendment withdrawn. Clause agreed to.

On Clause 82, which requires the grand jury to present for the repayment of sums advanced, by the Lord-Lieutenant to defray the expenses incurred by boards of health, being proposed,

Mr. Callaghan

said, that this was a clause to which his constituents had a decided objection. It was an ex post facto law. It had a retrospective tendency, and was, in his opinion, unjust both in principle and effect. The object of the clause was evidently in- tended to compel grand juries in Ireland to present for sums of money whether they were inclined or not. Certain sums of money had been advanced by Government during the prevalence of cholera. This money was expended for the purpose of putting a stop, not to a local but a national scourge. The people did not consider themselves accountable for the repayment; but the promoters of the bill wanted to take these monies from the people through the grand juries. Certain sums had been advanced to Limerick, to Cork, and other places, these sums the Government had claimed at the hands of the grand jury, and which, under the direction of the judges, the grand jury has invariably refused to present. The city of Cork had 10,000l. so advanced. When the cholera broke out there the inhabitants applied to Government for advice and assistance. They were told to establish a board of health, and then to call on the Lord-Lieutenant for an advance of money. They did so, and in addition to the grant of 10,000l., they had expended several thousand pounds raised by voluntary subscription. They thought it was a very great hardship to be called on to pay this money now. They thought that as they had exerted themselves both in person and purse to put a stop to the ravages of the disease, that the expense should be borne by the country at large, and not by a community which had already subscribed to the extent of their means. The clause would press with peculiar hardship on those who had only lately come into the possession of houses and lands, inasmuch as those who occupied them during the prevalence of the cholera would be totally exempted, whilst the present possessors would be obliged to pay. On these grounds he opposed it, and would move, by way of amendment, that the word hereafter be inserted.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

never heard so singular a definition of a clause as that given by his hon. Friend. When these sums were granted, the people knew that they were to repay them, and therefore he could not see the injustice of asking them to discharge a debt they were morally and legally subject to. His hon. Friend said, the money should be paid by the public at large. This was a doctrine he could not assent to. When disease broke out in Ireland, and when money was required to allay it, how could he call on English Members for advances of public money, when the people for whose benefit it was expended afterwards refused to refund it.

Mr. O'Brien

said, that in every town affected by the cholera the clause had excited much surprise. It would be exceedingly harsh as regarded the occupiers of small tenements. He supported the amendment of his hon. Friend.

Dr. Baldwin

was instructed by his constituents to oppose the clause. He could not deny that the money had been advanced, nor could he say that it was not fairly due; but he would request the Government to consider the circumstances of the case; and if they did not remit the whole sum, he hoped they would make the repayment of it as light as possible.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

could have no sort of difficulty in agreeing to the suggestion of the hon. Gentleman who spoke last; the government would certainly render the repayment as little oppressive as possible.

Mr. Wakley

said, the people of England were exceedingly anxious for the introduction of poor-laws into Ireland, but he thought, if advances of public money were to be made from the consolidated fund every time contagion broke out in Ireland, they would soon demand the enactment of a poor-law in that country.

Colonel Perceval

said, Sligo had suffered more than any other town in Ireland by the fearful visitation of cholera. The Government advances amounted to upwards of 13,000l.—more than 2,000 of the inhabitants had been carried off in six weeks, and he thought it would be cruel to exact that sum from the survivors. He suggested that the words "they are hereby required" be struck out.

Mr. O'Loghlen

observed, that when advances were made from the consolidated fund, the grand jury was bound to provide for the repayment. The clause was not retrospective. It only recognised a right which the Crown possessed, at present, to enforce the payment of money so advanced. The grand jury was bound to present the sums, and in the event of their refusing, the judge had the power of inflicting a penalty on them for neglect of duty. It might, however, be wise for the Government to extend the time for repayment. He would suggest that a proviso be added to the clause, to the effect that the payments should be made by instalments as the grand jury should deem fit.

Mr. Fitzstephen French

would not enter into a discussion on the circumstances which had occurred at the assizes of the county which he had the honour to represent. It would be his duty at a late period of the evening to bring the whole matter under the consideration of the House. He considered the amendment, and the assurance given on the other side, would meet with the approbation of the different Gentlemen who had spoken of the peculiar hardship on their constituencies. He had chiefly risen for the purpose of condemning, in the strongest manner, the monstrous and unconstitutional doctrine attempted to be put forward by the right hon. the Attorney-General—a doctrine which the right hon. Gentleman was much mistaken if he imagined would ever receive the sanction of that House or of the British public—that judges were authorised to inflict fines on grand jurors for refusing to violate their oaths. Did the learned Gentleman, when he so flippantly laid down the law, know what was the oath of a grand juror? Was he aware that he was sworn not to present any thing which ought not to be presented? He would recommend him for the future to be more careful how he let such opinions fall from him. It was not the first time he had heard him avow them. Let him not for a moment imagine that he would be able to establish a system in Ireland which had cost Lord Strafford his head. He denied the right of the judge to inflict a fine. He denied he had the power, and notwithstanding the high opinion he had of the judge's office, and of their legal knowledge and constitutional conduct, he trusted the day would never come when such a power would be vested in them.

Mr. Callagkan

trusted the House would not imagine that he had unnecessarily given rise to this discussion. The proviso was a great improvement, and he thought it would be satisfactory. He denied, however, that the grants in question were made on the faith of a grand jury presentment, as stated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The money was advanced under a special Act of Parliament for preventing the spread of contagion, and the question was an open one—whether the money should be repaid or not? The Act stated, that the grand jury may present, but it did not render it imperative on them to do so.

Clause agreed to.

On Clause 97 which provides compensation for person maimed, and to representatives of persons murdered,

Mr. Fitzstephen French

said, that the clause appeared to him as an attempt to establish the ancient Irish erick—a sum of money to be levied off the county, to the estimated value of the person murdered. The right hon. Gentleman, when he framed the clause, had, probably, in his mind the request made by Maguire to the Lord Deputy, on his threatening to send a sheriff to Fermanagh—that before he set out his erick might be settled in case his head was taken off.

The Attorney-General

observed that the clause was simple a re-enactment of the old law. Clause was agreed to.

On Clause 118, which reserves to Grand Juries power to present for advances for public works,

Mr. Fitzstephen French

would state to the House the reason which induced him to oppose it. He intended to move an amendment, the effect of which would be to prevent claim for debts alleged to be due, from being advanced against counties in Ireland, in cases where they had remained undemanded for ten years. He confidently anticipated that the injustice he was anxious to prevent, entitled him to the support of the House. At the Assizes lately held in the county Roscommon, the Crown Solicitor, amongst other claims, advanced one for a presentment to re-pay the sum of 6,750l., alleged to have been advanced to certain persons for public works in that county. The Grand Jury rejected the presentment, on the ground of its not being a debt due by the county, but by particular individuals. The Grand Jury said, that had the claim been made in any reasonable time, when it might have been possible for them to know to whom the money had been advanced, and by whom it ought to be paid, they would willingly have passed a presentment to have it levied off these persons. The landed property of the county had changed hands very much since 1821, when the money was advanced, and to saddle a townland with such an enormous amount of debt, would not only be unjust, but compel individuals to discharge claims or debts contracted by other people, years before they came into possession. The Return was, in many instances, incorrect. One townland was returned amongst the defaulters, in which the cess could be proved to have been paid. An application had been made to the going Judge of Assize, who stated, that he considered the Act imperative on the Grand Jury to present, but that it seemed to him a case of great difficulty and hardship. He could see no cause for the Government allowing such a period to elapse without advancing the claim. He felt the hardship of the case, but he feared it could not be remedied. In this case the Grand Jury refused to present, and after several days' consideration, and after consulting his brother Judge, his Lordship did not feel it necessary to interfere further in the matter. The Chancellor of the Exchequer might ask, was it fair to saddle the people of England and Ireland with the debts due by the county of Roscommon. He denied the debt was due by the county of Roscommon. Had the Grand Jury been convinced that such was the fact, it would have been discharged without a moment's hesitation. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving, "That in all cases where money alleged to have been advanced by the Government shall have remained ten years unclaimed or un-demanded, that it should not be imperative on the Grand Jury to present."

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

opposed the amendment. He was willing to agree to any proposition that would save the public money, but he could not support nor consent to the views of his hon. Friend.

Amendment withdrawn.

Clauses up to 138 were agreed to.

House resumed.