HC Deb 09 August 1838 vol 44 cc1113-22

A conference was held with the Lords, and Lord Morpeth and the other managers on their return, reported that the Lords, having taken into consideration the reasons given by the Commons for disagreeing to several amendments inserted by the Lords in the Irish Municipal Corporations Bill, did insist upon some of their amendments to which the Commons had disagreed; that they disagreed with some of the amendments which had been made by the Commons; that they agreed to some of the Commons amendments without amendment; and that they agreed to some of the Commons amendments with amendment.

Lord J. Russell

moved, that the amendments with the Lords' reasons, should be read; which was done by the clerk at the Table.

Lord J. Russell

said, that he thought that they could gather from what had been read the general purport of the amendments which had been made by the Lords. It appeared that they had so far agreed to the Commons amendments, as not to in- sist upon the provisions made for the charitable trust, further than that the present trustees should continue until October, 1840. To some other clauses the Lords had also agreed, and they had not insisted on other amendments. It appeared, however, that with respect to the principal clause, on which there was a difference of opinion between the two Houses, that on the clause respecting the franchise, the Lords wished to retain the bill in exactly the same form as it had been previously sent down; and, feeling that this question alone was of so much importance, seeing no hope of inducing the Lords to recede from the franchise they had proposed and to accept the present bill, not being himself disposed to go any further in the way of concession, having made what he considered great and important concessions, he thought that in the present state of the bill he should not carry on the controversy with the House of Lords any further, and that he should postpone the bill for consideration to another Session of Parliament. It seemed from the Lords' reasons for objecting to the amendment relative to the franchise, that they differed from this House because they thought that it was not desirable to establish a new variety of municipal franchise, but that they ought to adopt one already in existence. Now, if this were the opinion of the Lords, they might take the franchise which had already been adopted as the franchise in England, and which was the most wholesome and the best that had ever been adopted by Parliament. They were, however, precluded from considering the adoption of the English franchise, because it was founded upon a previous rating of three years; no other reason existed than that it was impossible to adopt the franchise at the present time; and he thought that they might advantageously consider in another Session of Parliament whether, avoiding any new mode—or, as the Lords said, any new variety—of franchise, which was therefore unpalatable to the other House, there might not be discovered another, founded on principles already adopted, and closely resembling that which had been found salutary and useful. He did not wish to give any definite opinion upon this subject now, but this did occur to him, upon reading the reasons which the Lords had stated for disagreeing to the present bill. Without referring to the other alterations made by the Lords with respect to this bill, agreeing, as he should do, if the franchise had been settled, that there were several amendments upon which they (the Commons) might have given way, and there were matters upon which it was not impossible for them to have agreed, but they could not do so on the matter of the franchise. Considering, then, that the Lords did require for Ireland a franchise of a far higher kind than was known in the corporations of England or of Scotland—seeing no reason why this higher franchise should be adopted, and thinking, as he could not help thinking, that this would be regarded in Ireland as a proof of distrust, and that the foundation of the refusal which had been made two years ago of any reformed corporations in Ireland still subsisted—and thinking that with this prevailing notion the bill would be unpalatable to the great mass of the people in the towns, who, instead of being trusted, would be marked with suspicion and distrust, he had no other course to take than to move that the amendments should be further considered that day three months. In doing so, however, he must say, that he should be sorry to make this motion if he considered all chance of procuring corporations as hopeless. He thought, however, that in the course of the discussions this year they had got rid of some of the great obstacles to a settlement. In the first place, they had removed the objections which had been entertained to elected corporations existing in Ireland; and secondly, the Lords and Commons had agreed in a great many of the provisions of the bill. He need not further debate the subject; but, in giving up the hope of successful legislation this year, he did so with the satisfaction of reflecting that differences between the two Houses were not so wide as in former Sessions they had been upon this subject. The noble Lord concluded by moving, that the Lords amendments should be further considered that day three months.

Mr. Shaw

regretted much to hear the course which the noble Lord had taken, and were it not for the state of the House and the lateness of the Session, he would have opposed the unusual proposal and would have opposed proceeding in this summary way. He was sorry, that the noble Lord had not given time for due consideration, Scarcely had the time for the conference passed, when the noble Lord rejected the bill, without giving an opportunity to the parties interested to consider the subject. He objected to acting in the summary manner which the noble Lord proposed, and he must say, that in so doing the noble Lord incurred the whole of the responsibility. ["Oh, oh!" and Laughter.] Hon. Members laughed, but he did say, that all the concessions had come from his side of the House, and it was monstrous for the noble Lord to say, that he had made concessions. The noble Lord might say this to throw dust in the eyes of his friends; the noble Lord had undoubtedly changed his views, but it was on another subject, connected with Irish tithes; the noble Lord had made great concessions in that, which were satisfactory; and the course which the noble Lord had taken was conducive to the best interests of the country, but it was monstrous for the noble Lord to keep this subject in the background, and then to maintain, that he had made great sacrifices on this question. The sacrifices had not only been made by the great party in this country which had been long opposed to these views, but in Ireland every influence had been used to procure assent to these concessions. The noble Lord had sent up to the other House a bill with a 5l. franchise; this was true: but surely the noble Lord had forgotten, that he proposed in his own bill to give a 10l. franchise, and that in 1836 a 10l. franchise had been agreed upon. Now all that they (the Opposition) contended for was, a 10l. franchise, and all the difference between them and the noble Lord was, as to making it up. The noble Lord admitted, that this difference was trifling; but then, if it was immaterial, why did not the noble Lord give way, especially after the concessions which had been made by the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Tamworth, concessions which had even surprised the noble Lord? As to the observation of the noble Lord, that the proposed franchise was unknown, all that they desired was the same as existed in Scotland, the same as was the Parliamentary franchise in Ireland, a 10l. bona fide franchise, and for that they sought only the best test. And here he would make an observation which he had not had an opportunity of making before, that in the city of Dublin a recent valuation for the police-tax had taken place, and he had no hesitation in saying, that the valuation for the rating under that act would be found to equal the real value, and, indeed, in some instances, the rated value would be found to be more than the real. On one point the Lords had agreed in substance to the alteration which had been made by the House. He knew, that no great value had been set by the Lords on the alteration as to trustees, and as great objections had been made, and motives had been attributed which he knew to be groundless, he was glad, that the Lords had consented to the Commons' amendments. For his own part, although be agreed in thinking, that the concessions should have been made, he held to the opinion which he had formerly entertained, that if they could do so without offending any national prejudices, it would be better, that the old corporations should be done away with altogether, and that the business should be transacted by commissioners. He had from the first said, that there was no strong feeling upon this subject in Ireland: it had been mixed up with other subjects, but the absence of complaints was the best proof, that there was no real anxiety. He again entered his protest, not so much against the proposal as against the summary manner of the noble Lord. The Gentlemen on that side of the House did not expect any such precipitate proposition, and it might at least have been preceded by the reading of the whole of the Lords' reasons. There was no real difference between the two parties, except as related to the franchise, and with respect to that all they (the Opposion) required was, that it should not be nominal but real, and he thought, that it was not unreasonable for them to expect, that such a concession should be made by the noble Lord.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that the objections of the right hon. Gentleman were objections in form and objections in substance. When the right hon. Gentleman expressed surprise at the course which had been adopted, he would remind him, that the same course had been taken in the year 1836, with the approbation of Members on both sides of the House. In 1836 the Lords' amendments were read as they now had been, and their further consideration was postponed for six months; but when the right hon. Gentleman said, that the adoption of this course was a matter of surprise, he must say, that out of that House there was not any expectation, that the result would be different, and the right hon. Gentleman could not be serious when he said, that he expected any other to be taken. So much for the matter of form. Now as to the substance. He thought that Ministers were entirely justified in the course which they had taken. Their object had been the contentment of the people of Ireland, and it was much better to allow the House to consider the whole question, than under the colour of passing a bill which would content the people of Ireland, to sanction what would lead to directly opposite results. They would, indeed, be deceiving the House and the public, and acting, he would not say insultingly, but disrespectfully, towards the people of Ireland, if they, thinking that this bill would not produce contentment, were to permit it to pass. For that they would be answerable; and when the right hon. Gentleman said, that with them rested the responsibility, he must say that it would do so, if they accepted, under the colour of reform, a measure which would not produce it. Then, indeed, their motives would be suspected, and their good faith brought in question. The objection which had been made to the English franchise did not appear to be one of principle but only of time. The right hon. Gentleman had attributed to them a disposition to keep this question open, as a bone of contention between the two sides of the House; but the right hon. Gentleman was not entitled to take that ground. If Ministers had adhered to the 5l. franchise this accusation might have been raised, though he did not think that even then it could have been fairly and justly applied; but when Ministers had made every endeavour to meet the question, and when, as the right hon. Gentleman admitted, the difference between them was very slight, he had no right to say, that they left this question as a bone of contention. If the money value were concurred in, yet even then he would have preferred their own proposal to that of the Lords, which was bad, because it would lead to perpetual contests, would cause much false swearing, the tampering with surveyors, and it would introduce the same objection as the Gentlemen opposite entertained to the Parliamentary franchise. The right hon. Gentleman said, that he wished only for the same franchise as the Scotch; but the Scotch franchise of 10l., without the rating clauses, and the Irish franchise of the same amount, with those clauses, would be an entirely different thing; and as to the reference to the city of Dublin, even if the right hon, Gentleman proved that the rated value equalled the real, this would not show anything, for it was on the valuation under the Poor-law Bill, and not for the police tax that the franchise proposed by the Lords was founded. On these grounds, he believed, that if they postponed this bill they would be able to obtain a better adjustment of the question; and they had shown, that although Government was willing to make any concession which could be regarded as reasonable to obtain a settlement, yet that they would not consent to any concession which was inconsistent with the principles on which they had acted with regard to this bill.

Sir R. H. Inglis

declared, that he also was much surprised at the course pursued by the noble Lord opposite; but, as the bill was to be again brought before the House next Session, he hoped, that the speeches which had now been made upon the subject would be remembered, and that the House would be troubled with less discussion of an irrelevant nature.

Mr. O'Connell

, as the representative of the city of Dublin, felt it to be his duty to offer his thanks to the Government for the very unceremonious manner in which they had treated this matter; and, if it had been possible to adopt a still more unceremonious course, he hoped, that they would have done so; for the bill was an insult, and was intended as an insult, to the people of Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman opposite had talked of the concessions which had been made on that side of the House and he had said, that he was the instigator of them; but, in so doing, he had attributed to himself a merit which did not belong to him. He talked of his concession. Why, what concession was it to the people of Ireland? They were asking for their rights, and they demanded them. They treated with ineffable contempt every attempt to deal with them in any way other than that in which England and Scotland had been dealt with; and it was a robbery to keep their rights from them; and it was base in the extreme to adopt any measure which should have that effect. To do so was to deprive them of their rights, and he looked upon the individuals who so acted as the persons who really desired the repeal of the union. The people of Ireland demanded an equality of rights. That was what they wanted. Then it was said, that the noble Lord had made concessions on the Tithe Bill; but how had they been received? He was an advocate for the granting the million for compensation for tithe arrears, but he now bitterly regretted having taken that course, because, if they were to believe the reports which reached them, the bill would come down to them with some of the most important clauses so altered that, if the case was as it was represented, there was no reason why the bill should not be treated as unceremoniously as this measure had been treated; and, he hoped, if it should prove as he anticipated, that the Tithe Bill would share the same fate as the Municipal Corporations Bill. He knew the right hon. Gentleman was sorry, that this bill could not be agreed to, because it contained clauses sanctioning that which was one of the greatest evils which existed—the fictitious franchise. It did contain such clauses, and he was sorry, that he had lost the opportunity when the bill was under discussion to move their exclusion. When they were before the House he let the time slip for doing so, and the right hon. Gentleman took especial care to refuse to allow him to go back, although it was only three lines. He hoped these clauses would not be continued in the Government bill next Session, and if they were not, and the right hon. Gentleman should move their insertion, he would have an opportunity afforded him of proving to demonstration that they were of a highly improper nature, and that they were calculated to produce the most serious mischiefs in Ireland. Many of these persons had been admitted to be freemen of Dublin, and to exercise the fictitious franchise, although they had obtained their freedom by neither birth, servitude, nor marriage. He hoped, however, that when the new bill should be introduced the noble Lord would propose the English franchise, for he was sure that it must come to that. There would be no difficulty at all, for they would then have the assessment to the poor-rates, and what was now spoken of merely in anticipation would then be in existence. It would be easy to create an identity as to the three years' residence, because it would be easy to make the qualification consist only in a dwelling in a house rated under the bill, and therefore they could have the English franchise complete. If that franchise should not be sufficient, why, they would have no reason to complain, for the English submitted to it. They would then take the concessions of hon. Gentlemen as nothing, and their conciliations as vain and empty propositions. Then there never was a more perfect illusion than the idea which had been suggested that the people of Ireland were careless about this measure. They had enough to care for, and they would be in the greatest want of any feeling of respect for their own rights if they did not take an interest in this matter. What a mockery was that very corporation of Dublin to which the right hon. Gentleman himself belonged, It was really the greatest offence that could possibly be offered to common sense and justice that it should have been allowed to continue so long. It had been abandoned by all its former supporters, who would have been content to have seen it annihilated, and both its friends and its enemies had long since voted for its being dissolved. He did not wish to delay the House any longer, but he would say, that the Irish people demanded the English franchise, and that they would never be content until they obtained it.

Mr. D'Israeli

was sorry that another bill was to be introduced upon this subject next Session, for he thought that sufficient time had already been expended upon it. The House had now been sitting nine months, and what had they done? The effect of all their labours amounted almost literally to nothing. The necessity for sitting so long was the great attention paid to Irish affairs, and measures in reference to that country were introduced which were not called for by the necessities of the country, but which were brought forward and supported merely for the purpose of keeping a party in power. But what was the result? They were now separating after a Session of nine months' duration, and they left Ireland in a state of smouldering insurection. He felt the difficulty of saying much on this subject; but after the false hopes which had been excited in the country, he would venture to make one observation on the state in which the country would be left. They were about to meet their constituents to give an account of themselves and their conduct; but what could they say when the only result of their nine months' sitting, the ordinary period of gestation, had produced nothing but this abortion—this strangled offspring of the noble Lord? For ten years they had been tampering with Ireland, and they had done nothing towards bringing those disorders which still existed to a termination. They had governed it by a miserable minority, and they now governed it by a treacherous majority. They had denounced a gentleman from the throne as a traitor, and they had since offered him the highest situation in their power; but he had triumphed over them, and had refused to accept it. He asked them, if they would come forward again and again with this miserable state of things in existence? He would use the words which had been employed by the hon. and learned Member opposite, and which therefore he supposed would be considered parliamentary, and he would say that the course the Government had pursued was a most profligate one.

Sir Hussey Vivian

said, that from observations which had fallen from hon. Members, it would be thought that the people of England did not feel any interest in this measure; but he felt it his duty to say, that at the time of the election, the people appeared to be anxious about nothing so much as that justice should be done to Ireland. He was glad that this bill, which did not secure that justice, and which did not put the people of Ireland on a footing with those of this country, had been rejected.

Motion agreed to, and Bill put off.

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