HC Deb 05 December 1837 vol 39 cc602-9

Lord John Russell moved, that the passage in the Speech of his late Majesty delivered in 1836; and the passage in the Speech of her present Majesty, referring to the Municipal Corporations in Ireland, be read.

The clerk at the table read the passages as follow:— You are already in possession of the Report of the Commission appointed to inquire into the state of the Municipal Corporations in Ireland, and I entertain the hope that it will be in your power to apply to any defects and evils which may have been shown to exist in those institutions a remedy founded upon the same principles as those of the Acts which have been already passed for England and Scotland."—Speech of William 4th, Session 1836. The Municipal Government of the cities and towns in Ireland calls for better regulation."—Speech of her present Majesty, Session 1837.

Lord John Russell

Sir, it is on the passages just read from the Speech of his late Majesty, and from that of our most gracious Queen, that I propose to found the motion which I am about to bring before the House, in doing which I do not consider it necessary for me to enter into any detail of the reasons and arguments which naturally suggest themselves. I take my ground as regards this Bill, on what has been the declaration of this House in former Sessions. The first occasion on which this measure was brought directly under the notice of the House was that in which the passage appeared in the Speech of his late Majesty, wherein he expressed his hope, that we should be enabled to base the Municipal Corporations in Ireland on similar principles to those on which the Municipal Institutions of England and Scotland had been before established. That passage, which was not intended to excite, which was not framed with an idea that it would excite, opposition, did provoke disagreement in this House, and an attempt was made, on the Address in answer to the Speech being moved, to get rid of those words which declared that the "same principles" which were applicable to England and Scotland, should be applied to Ireland. It was proposed to leave out those words, and to assure his Majesty only, that they would attend to the general defects in the institutions. Though that opposition was not expected by us, yet we did state at once, and without hesitation, that we could not consent to carry an Address to the Throne which laid it down as a principle that the Irish were unfit for that liberty which the people of England and Scotland were already enjoying. On that motion the House decided, by a majority of upwards of forty, in concurrence with the Speech of his Majesty, and against that proposition of the other side of the House, which denied altogether, that popular rights and popular control, should be the principles on which the Municipal Institutions of Ireland should be founded. I will refer further to the divisions which took place in the House during the late Session, which clearly showed the determination of the House on that important subject. The first division was on the amendment of the noble Lord, the Member for a division of Lancaster (Lord F. Egerton),who proposed, that instead of regulating and improving the Municipal Corporations of Ireland, that instead of extending to them the popular principle, they should be abolished altoge- ther. The number who voted against that amendment was 307; the number in its favour was 243, giving a majority of 64. When, again, the other House of Parliament declared that they were of opinion, that these corporations ought to be abolished, and they sent down to this House clauses framed with considerable skill for the purpose of entirely putting an end to Corporations of any kind in Ireland, and placing the power enjoyed by those Corporations in the hands of Commissioners named by the Crown and other bodies, we contended, that the vital principle of popular control should be preserved. The division on that occasion was 318 to 232, giving us a majority of 86. In the next Session of Parliament, the Session of the present year, there was only one division on the subject. That division was taken on an instruction moved by the same noble Lord who proposed the abolition of the Corporations, when there appeared in favour of his motion 242, and against it 322, giving a majority of 80. Now, Sir, I say, that the question having thus been three times under the consideration of the House, having been proposed twice by a Member of this House, and having been a third time taken into consideration upon the amendments of the Lords, with a view to seeing whether we would concur in their opinion—I say the opinion of the late House of Commons was decidedly declared, that whatever amendments might be made as to the details of the Bill, the same principle which was acted on in framing the Municipal Corporations of England and Scotland ought likewise to be applicable to those of Ireland. Sir, I ground my present, proceeding on that fact; and, until I hear that, in this House, other sentiments are entertained, I shall presume to think, that in bringing in this Bill, the present House will conform to the opinion of the late House of Commons, and that they will maintain, whether against Members of this House, or whether against Members of the other House of Parliament, that we do not consider the people of Ireland so much "aliens," as to induce us to refuse them a participation in the great privileges enjoyed by the other inhabitants of the empire. Having mentioned the number that voted for and against that measure in the last Parliament, I will state likewise the opinion of an individual, a Member of this House, which I think strongly expressive of the sentiments that were entertained by those who do not concur altogether or ge- nerally with her Majesty's Ministers. It is contained in an address to his constituents, the independent electors of the Northern Division of the county of Derby, and it is signed "George Crewe." The hon. Baronet states, that in the last year (1835), he had voted against this Bill, but that he had since that period deeply reflected on the subject, and examined it under all its bearings, and the result had been, that so far as regarded himself individually he had felt dissatisfied, and that in the present Session he could not reconcile his mind to the adoption of the plan proposed by the party with whom he generally concurred. He should, therefore, vote for the extension to the people of Ireland of the principle of the municipal corporations as they existed in England and Scotland. Now this, Sir, is the sentiment of an individual, which no doubt might be considered of little value if he had been one constantly acting with the ministerial party in this House, or if he were one of the Representatives for Ireland, contending for the privileges of his native country. But coming as it does from one who has always voted with the other party, I must consider that it shows, and that strongly, too, a great want of confidence in the course his own party have taken. I hold this to be a sufficient reason for not calling the attention of the House to either the principles or the details of the Bill which I have the honour to propose. In introducing the measure of last year I took occasion to enter into the whole question of the Government of Ireland. I did so because there had been a large meeting of persons calling themselves the Protestants of Ireland, falsely so calling themselves, inasmuch as they were but a small part of the Protestants of that country. They, however, did send forth certain denunciations against the government of Lord Mulgrave—denunciations which no Member of either House proposed to bring under the consideration of Parliament. I, therefore, myself thought it necessary to bring under the consideration of the House, at the earliest possible period, the manner in which that Government had been conducted, leaving it to the House to decide on the merits of the question according to the facts and the arguments. But that course which last year was pursued by the opposite party, and which I denounced as wanting in boldness and courage, has not been the course, I am happy to say, which has been pursued this year in either House. This year (as every one knows) they have thought pro- per to bring forward the charges they have to make against the Government of Lord Mulgrave directly in the other House of Parliament, and I am content to leave the defence of the Government to the impression made by Lord Mulgrave's speech on that occasion. After that speech I think it unnecessary on my part to say a single word in defence of the Government of that noble Lord. I am ready to declare now, as I have declared before, that as regards his Government I am prepared at all times to be judged by his conduct—that I hold myself responsible, so long as I am Secretary of State for the Home Department, for the general conduct of the Government of Ireland, and I shall never shrink from the defence of those acts of which Lord Mulgrave has been the author during the period of his Government in Ireland. Sir, not only with regard to this general inquiry, but in other respects, hon. Gentlemen have taken a more decided part than they did last year. They have thought proper, and I give them credit for so doings not only to impugn the general conduct of Lord Mulgrave, but individual acts of his Government. We had the other night one of the best specimens that could be afforded of the grievous acts of partiality and oppression with which the Government of the noble Lord has been charged. For the last two or three years we have heard of nothing but the monstrous acts of oppression and the dreadful acts of partiality and injustice of which the Irish Government have been guilty; and when a question is selected to be brought forward, it is natural to suppose that hon. Gentlemen will select the strongest which they can find. It would be absurd to suppose that they would take a light case. The proceeding which was made the subject of debate the other night was, no doubt, one of the strongest which could be alleged against Lord Mulgrave, and I leave it to the impression it produced on the House to decide how far that case is to be considered as established. I leave also to the hon. and gallant Colonel who brought it forward all the glory of having so done. Such being the state of the case, I feel under no necessity at the present moment for entering into the principles and details of the Bill I propose to introduce, founded as it is on the mature deliberation of the former House of Commons. I think it equally unnecessary to enter into any defence of the Government of Lord Mulgrave—a defence which those who are his enemies have taken out of my hands, and managed a great deal better than I could hope to manage it. I, therefore, Sir, now move for leave to bring in a Bill for the better regulation of the Municipal Corporations in Ireland.

Mr. Shaw

said, that he had listened with great attention to the noble Lord, anxious to learn something of the principle or details of the measure the noble Lord was about to introduce; but the noble Lord said something of the divisions of last year, a great deal about the case of Mr. Blake, and appealed to the sympathies of the hon. Gentlemen on his right for a cheer for Lord Mulgrave; but not one word about the Bill of which he had moved the first reading. The House would feel that that was not an appropriate occasion for him to discuss with the noble Lord the general condition and government of Ireland; but he could not avoid saying, in reply to the noble Lord's observations on the case of Mr. Blake, that that was not by any means selected as a sample of the various and just complaints which might be adduced against the Irish Government; but had merely been brought forward by his hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Perceval) to redeem a pledge he had made to his constituents, and was of a local and personal nature. With reference to the conduct of the Irish Government, he (Mr. Shaw) would not on any proper occasion shrink from the fearless avowal and support of his opinion, in direct opposition to the praise of Lord Mulgrave, by which the noble Lord had elicited the cheers of his Irish supporters. With respect to the measure itself then under consideration, the only clue the noble Lord had given of its contents was, desiring the clerk at the table to read as well the part of the speech delivered by his late Majesty in 1836 which related to municipal corporations in Ireland, as the extract of the speech from the Throne of this Session, on the same subject, for the purpose, as he must suppose, of marking the striking distinction between them, the former having stated an objectionable principle as the foundation of the measure upon which an amendment had been moved to the address, and the House divided, whereas the latter, her present Majesty's declaration, that "the government of the cities and towns in Ireland called for better regulation," was no more than had already been affirmed by him, and those with whom he acted, in voting for the abolition of existing corporations, and pledging themselves to apply such remedies to their defects as could obviate all just causes of complaint, insure the impartial administration of justice, and provide for the good local management of the cities and towns in Ireland. He trusted that the noble Lord was prepared to proceed pari passu with the other two Irish measures that had been mentioned in the same paragraph of her Majesty's Speech. The noble Lord had laid upon the table a Bill for the relief of the Irish poor: of the Irish Tithe Bill the House had not as yet heard; nor one word on the untoward subject of the appropriation clause. But he was, for one, prepared to say, that if the property of the church in Ireland was placed on a secure basis, and if a standard was fixed for the franchise, independently of the oath of the voter, a custom that had led to so much evil and crime in Ireland, by the Poor-law Bill or other sufficient means, then he should desire to see those constantly-recurring and irritating Irish discussions brought to an end, and the three great Irish questions which they involved, safely, satisfactorily, and finally adjusted. He must, at the same time, observe, that, apart from political and party motives, he verily believed that there was no anxiety on the part of the Irish people generally for these new corporations. Where were the petitions or any expression of public feeling on the subject? Were they unexcited by those who only looked to ulterior objects, and desired that measure but as an instalment for their accomplishment? The sober-minded of both parties, he was persuaded, would prefer that the administration of the local affairs of the cities and towns in Ireland should be managed in a business-like and economical manner by local boards for the purpose, to being encumbered with the expense of corporate establishments, and suffering the irritation of frequent election canvassings, and the constant trials of party strength. On the other hand, perhaps an undue importance had been attached, from old associations, to the establishment of corporations, provided only that other institutions were first rendered secure, and a safe foundation was found on which to rest the elective franchise, without reference to the oath of the party seeking to establish his justification. He thought that it would be highly convenient as well as just, considering the great importance and population of the city of Dublin, and by analogy to the course pursued in London, that there should be separate legislation for the cor- poration of Dublin. He had taken a sheet of paper to note down the heads of the Bill as they should have been stated by the noble Lord; but as the noble Lord had not favoured the House with any account of the measure, there was nothing for him (Mr. Shaw) to note down, or consequently to say, on that point. He would, therefore, only further observe, that while he did not oppose the introduction of the measure, he reserved to himself the right to take such course as he might think fit on any of its future stages.

Leave given.