HC Deb 12 August 1839 vol 50 cc196-207

Lord John Russell moved the Order of the Day for the consideration of the Lords' Amends on this bill.

Mr. O'Connell begged

to ask the noble Lord if the report was true, that more troops had been withdrawn from Ireland

Lord John Russell

said, it was true, His noble Friend at the head of the War Department, had been in communication with the Commander-in-chief of the forces in Ireland, who informed him that if there was any necessity for it, he could readily spare more troops, and another regiment had been sent for. The noble Lord then said, that in moving the adjournment of the consideration of the Lords' Amendments in the Municipal Corporations (Ireland) Bill to this day, he had stated at the same time, that it would not be advisable to take objections to the bill on the question of privilege, and send it back on that ground to the House of Lords. The only other course which remained, was to bring in a new bill, either now or at the commencement of the next Session of Parliament. He thought there were very strong objections to bringing it in at the present period. It was a very complicated and voluminous measure, and several clauses had been inserted in the House of Lords, with regard to the effect of some of which he was not positively able to form an opinion. Besides, the absence of a great number of Members on both sides of the House, who had taken a leading part in the discussions, made it unadvisable to introduce a new bill at the present moment; and as he did not propose therefore to introduce a new bill this Session, it would be extremely inconvenient to discuss the particular clauses o provisions of the bill which it might be afterwards deemed proper to introduce. With respect to the question of privilege, he did not think, that it formed in this instance an objection so important, or that it referred to clauses of so essentially important a character, as to be necessarily fatal to the bill; and they might at ail events be provided for in another bill. With respect to other parts of the bill, he thought they might be able to come to some agreement as regarded some of the amendments made by the other House; while in reference to others of those amendments, there might still remain some difference of opinion. But on the whole, he entertained a strong hope, that before a long period of the next Session had elapsed, they might be able to frame some measure by which the anomalies and disadvantages with regard to the existing corporations in Ireland might be done away with. The noble Lord concluded by moving, that the amendments be taken into consideration that day three months.

Mr. Shaw

had understood the noble Lord to say on a former occasion, that, assuming the House was not disposed to differ from the amendments proposed by the House of Lords, in order to get rid of the question of privilege, he should introduce a new bill, either during the present, or at the commencement of the next Session of Parliament. It appeared, that the noble Lord had decided to postpone the introduction of any measure to next Session, and to that purpose he did not object. He agreed with the noble Lord, as to the impolicy of entering into any discussion of the subject at present.' But there was one single point on which he wished to set himself right. It appeared from what had passed on this subject a few nights since, that his hon. Friend the Member for the University of Oxford, and the hon. and learned Member for Dublin, had both assumed, that he had a peculiar favour for this bill. Now, the contrary was the fact. He was desirous of the abolition of all the existing corporations in Ireland, without adopting others in their place. He believed, that it was impossible, that the cities and towns in Ireland could be well regulated by such institutions, while party spirit existed to the extent it did at present, and he was the more convinced of this, from the exhibition of party spirit which had taken place at the recent elections of guardians under the Poor-law Act. But as regarded the present bill, believing, that the leaders of the Conservative parties in both Houses, had agreed to the terms of settlement as it now stood, he had waived his own sentiments in deference to theirs, and was prepared to yield to it, rather than allow matters to remain in their present unsettled state—the cause of constant alarm and annoyance.

Mr. O'Connell

I am now quite convinced, as the right bon. Gentleman has taken the trouble to repeat it in the course of his speech, that he is an enemy to the present bill; but, I must say, that the right hon. Gentleman has taken rather an odd way of shewing his dislike to the measure by endeavouring to persuade the noble Lord to accept it. With respect to the exhibition of party spirit which the right hon. Gentleman complains of being exerted in the election of Poor-law guardians in Ireland, I am quite ready to discuss that question, and I am ready to show, that while the popular party generally returned Protestants to serve as guardians, the anti-popular party had not returned one Catholic. The party spirit to which the right hon. Gentleman referred is thus fostered by the non-grant of corporate reform. I am glad, however, to understand, that both Houses are agreed as to a basis of corporate reform for Ireland. I am quite ready to suppose, that the Conservative party in both Houses are agreed, with one or two exceptions, to support this bill, because there could not be a worse bill than it is in its present shape. Why should it not be similar to the English bill? The people of Ireland demand a bill similar to the English in every respect. A majority in this House will grant such a bill. A majority in the other House will reject it. But their conduct would not be less unjust on that, account, less injurious, less oppressive to the people of Ireland, nor less a violation of the legislative union between the two countries. The hon. Member for Fins-bury, in his farewell speech for the Session, enumerated twelve grievances which remained unredressed, and for withholding which, he considered the people of England and Scotland had strong grounds of complaint. I voted for that motion of the hon. Member for Finsbury, although he did not say one word for Ireland. The hon. Member said, that all reformers were agreed on demanding the redress of the grievances of which he complained, and in blaming the conduct of this House. I think the hon. Member wrong in attributing to this House the blame of having refused to repeal the Corn-laws. The Chartists did not ask for a repeal of those laws. On the contrary, one of the great faults of the Chartists is allowing themselves to be carried away by their leaders to oppose a repeal of those laws. I, therefore, think the noble Lord was quite right in throwing off the charge against this House in so far as regarded that question. But how could they justify their neglect of Ireland? I am as free as any man to admit, that there has been great amelioration in the conduct of affairs in Ireland. The executive Government in Ireland has done everything in its power to promote peace and tranquillity, and to satisfy the people. But our first complaint against the Reform Bill is, that you passed the Coercion Bill, and that you began by treating us not only in a contemptuous, but in a despotic manner. We may be ready to forgive your conduct at that time—we can never forget it. Our next complaint is, that the Legislature which passed the Reform Bill for England did not concede the same franchise to Ireland. And there is not the least prospect of any amelioration of the Irish Bill, not to speak of its assimilation to that of England. Nineteen only of every hundred of male adults possess the franchise in England. Five out of every hundred enjoy it in Ireland. This percentage, too, is not made up of the voters in counties, but of the freemen in cities; so that, looking at the electoral strength of Ireland, as confined to the counties alone, it does not consist of one per cent, of the adult male population. Can any man say that the two countries are under the same Government? And what prospect is there that this state of things will be changed? Though a majority of this House may be disposed to do us something like justice, all your efforts will be frustrated by the other branch of the Legislature. I do not believe that this country was ever visited with an aristocracy so disposed as the present to carry nothing for the benefit of the people, to reject every measure having such a tendency, and to exercise oligarchical tyranny in a manner unknown to England, and never experienced in any country, except by the state of Venice, in the decline of its power and authority. Though the oligarchical power may be growing stronger and stronger, the aristocracy of England is greatly mistaken if it suppose that a reaction is not at hand. It is impossible that the rational people of this country can submit much longer to the absolute and unlimited control of those who are under no responsibility, and who are acted upon by no popular influence. What is the situation in which Ireland now beholds herself placed? You can do nothing for her. You first restricted the franchise, and the measures which you have passed of late years only aggravate that evil. The Poor-law tended to diminish still further the small number of voters in the country, and the Municipal Bill, from which some extension of the suffrage might be expected, does not counterbalance the loss which she has suffered under the former bill. But what am I saying? You have given us no corporate reform. For the first two years the proposal of the opposite side was, that all the corporations of Ireland should be annihilated. Having admitted that their continuance can be no longer justified, for the last two years they have substituted a plan for continuing them under another shape. And the last bill is the worst of the two which have been brought forward; for in a clause not printed by the House of Lords, but introduced on the third reading, the old nominated burgesses are to be continued in the small towns; and in the larger towns, instead of giving the freemen the franchise, according to the English bill, every person who chooses to claim the right, though he may not have it, will be admitted. During the present Session I asked for leave to bring in a bill to put the Irish and English franchise on the same footing. How was my proposal met? Was I supported by the Government? The noble Secretary for Ireland opposed me. He did so, as is the noble Lord's custom, with courtesy, and in no disparaging spirit, towards the country to which he refused this boon. It was opposed by the other side in the way in which anything favourable to Ireland is received by them. But neither party was content to grant us any relief, and thus I was compelled to abandon my plan, and the Session has now passed away without any benefit being obtained for Ireland. And has Ireland deserved: this treatment? When was Ireland so tranquil, when were offences so few, when was peace so easily preserved? The right hon. Gentleman tells us that there are 8,000 police in Ireland. This is certainly no great discovery, seeing that there have been 7,000 there these twenty years; but with these 7,000 there frequently were 20,000, 30,000 and 40,000 soldiers. Now, 7,000 or 8,000 are all that are necessary; and if the constabulary were so arranged as to be able to afford guards for the gaols, you might take away 5,000 troops to-morrow without endangering the public peace, or in any way injuring the public service. This is the state of Ireland, and how is she recompensed for it? In what way is encouragement given to the people of Ireland to manifest a spirit of allegiance and attachment to the Throne? Is this House willing to take such a course? The majority of this House may be inclined to do something, but the moment you proceed to give effect to your wishes you will be stopped by the House of Lords. We are thus treated with contumely, and almost with contempt. But though we have no prospect of altering this state of affairs, do you imagine that eight or nine millions of people will sit down quietly in despair. You are totally mistaken if you do. When the people of Ireland see that the Legislative body, so far removed, is occupied with other concerns than their affairs, and is divided by party; when they see that sectarian bigotry, the characteristic feature of English Toryism, which pervades the land, manifests itself in public discourses, and shows itself in the votes of this House (as the Education question demonstrates, beyond the possibility of rational denial), who is to blame them if they look to what you may consider impossible, to what I know to be difficult, but to what I deem ultimately and? certainly practical—the restoration of their own Legislature? I am aware I am open to derision for making that prophecy; but I know what are the materials for working it out. What chance have we of better treatment under the present state of things? See how strong the Tory party is becoming. When they are reinstated in power, can you send away regiments from Ireland? Instead of having troops to spare for Canada, and for putting down the disturbances in England, you will have to send more regiments over to keep the peace in Ireland. It is but three nights ago, according to accounts to which it is perfectly legitimate to refer, that the abominable and horrible practice of packing juries obtained the sanction of the other House of Legislature. It would be necessarily adopted again by a Tory administration, were it to resume power. Specimens of the most extraordinary ignorance have certainly been given by the newspapers, in the speeches which they have published as having been delivered in a late debate. To one speech, in the Morning Chronicle they have attached no less a name than that of Lord Brougham; and it does not appear from it that the noble and learned Lord was aware, that the right of peremptory challenge was taken away so long ago as the reign of Edward 1st. It was there enjoined, that the Crown should challenge no juror without assigning a cause, to be decided by the judge. But this law has been ever since evaded. How? Why, the judges who, in every era of our Constitution, have stood by power, authority, and oppression, and who never showed themselves friends of the people, instead of allowing counsel for the Crown to challenge jurors (which the law prohibited) have said, "You may set them aside," and thus, by altering the words of the Statute, they have in effect repealed it. And since that period, the Crown has continued to avail itself of the power of setting aside jurors. In England, it has been used with moderation and caution; and in latter years it has never been complained of. Public decency was never outraged in England by the exercise of that privilege to the extent that it has been in Ireland. In the speech to which I. have alluded, the Morning Chronicle makes Lord Brougham say, that the Crown never exercised the right of challenging in cases of misdemeanour. Heaven help the man 1 He gave in this statement the strongest proof of his ignorance; for in the case of Dr. Sheridan, the Catholic delegate, the right had been exercised to this extent, that no less than sixty-three of the first merchants in Dublin were set aside. And when the second delegate was put on his trial, it was proved that, in order to avoid the indecency of again challenging the jurors, the list was sent to the Castle, and the names transposed by Sir Charles Saxton, in such a way as to meet his wishes. This fear of openly setting aside jurors; this kind of "tribute which hypocrisy paid to virtue," though a most unjust and grievous proceeding, admitted the impropriety of the practice adopted on the first trial. I have myself seen jurors constantly set aside by the Crown. I have remonstrated out of court with Mr. Barrington, the solicitor of the circuit on which I went, on this course. His answer was, "I only follow the advice of counsel, who says I must do so and so, and I perform my duty accordingly." And certainly no man ever did his duty more properly than the Crown solicitor of the Munster circuit. And here I must allude to an attack which has been made upon one of the best judges that ever sat upon the bench. I am safe in saying so, though he is a personal friend of mine. He is a man who has won the good opinion of every one. He is a judge who dispassionately hears whatever causes come before him, and deliberates upon it fully. He makes no exhibition of flippant harlequinade. He has no wish to parade himself—no affectation of mixing the law which he understands, and which some other judges do not, with a variety of topics having no connection with the case upon which he is called on to adjudicate. He neither makes the tribunal over which he presides an object of ridicule, nor himself, as a judge, an object of contempt. He never hunted for place so ardently as to seek it from opposite parties. He was a young man when Lord Castlereagh was in office. He never asked the man from whom he differed in politics for promotion, as the reward of his public services. He never sought a chief-baronship, or any other office, from those opposed to his views. Why, if one wished to point out contrasts between judges, I don't believe that a more powerful one could be presented than in the conduct of my hon. and learned Friend, Sir M. O'Loghlen, and that of a late Chancellor, whom I had once the misfortune to see on the bench in this country. The entire profession are unanimous in the praise of Sir M. O'Loghlen as a judge; and if there be anything which distinguishes the upright discharge of his duty more than another, it is total absence of that vulgar and sectarian prejudice which has been charged upon him in his absence. He is one, too, who would reject with scorn the miserable and paltry expedient of pandering to any prejudice by levelling against any man unheard, so abominable a calumny as that which has been levelled against him. This is not the place to reply to the speeches which have been published by the newspapers of that debate; but I don't recollect anything so tarnishing the administration of justice to have occurred of late years, as the foul attempt to calumniate that excellent person. And on what was this calumny grounded? On the fact, that Sir M. O'Loghlen wished to get rid of the scandalous practice of packing juries. He desired that the sources of justice should be pure, and that the victim of the law should not be the martyr of party. I ask any Gentleman in this House, whether there is anything which so disposes the people to illegal violence and dissatisfaction and disloyalty, as the supposition that trials instituted for the punishment of the guilty and the protection of the innocent should be contaminated by party strife, and become the victory not of justice and truth, but of party malevolence? It was for endeavouring to put an end to such scenes that Sir M. O'Loghlen was calumniated. Here is the letter for writing which, sentence has been pronounced against him:— It is not my wish that you should exercise the privilege of setting aside a juror, except in cases in which a juror is connected with the parties in the case. You will not set aside any juror on account of his political and religious opinions; and you will be pleased, in every case in which you may consider it necessary to set a juror aside, to make a note of the objection to him. The right of challenge, let it be recollected, still exists, where the least bias can be shown; for the juror mast, in the language of the law, stand indifferent as he stands unsworn. ALL Sir M. O'Loghlen insisted on was, that religious belief should not form a ground of objection. And is there a man in this or in the other House who will say that a juror, who is unconnected in any way with the parties in a cause, and cannot be supposed to be tinder any improper influence, should be set aside purely on account of his religion or politics? I should be glad to see the man who had the audacity to make such an assertion in any English assembly. What! set a man aside for his religious opinions! Say to one man, stand aside because you are Protestant—to another, stand aside because you are a Presbyterian—to a third, stand aside because you are tin Unitarian—and to a fourth, stand aside because you are a Papist! What is this but to introduce a miserable conflict into a court of justice? And yet the other House of Parliament has solemnly recorded a vote, condemning a man who maintains that religious feud and political animosity shall not pollute the temple of justice, and that no jury shall be packed, and no jurors set aside without some ascertained cause. What a frightful prospect does the restoration of Gentlemen of the other side present? Then the old system of packing juries would be again called into existence. You must in such cases send regiment after regiment to preserve the peace, which is now secured by the confidence of the people in the Government. And heaven knows the poor people are not without provocation to violence. One noble Lord (the Earl of Courtown), the other day turned fifty-three families out of their homes and off his estate. Not a farthing of rent was due to him. The tenants were ready to secure him the highest value of the land. This offer had no effect. This large number of people were turned out on some dreary and deserted common, without a morsel of food to sustain, or covering to shelter them. They intended—God help them!—to resist. Seeing their houses torn down, and themselves thrown on the world, without a refuge, is it wonderful that they should be driven to distraction? Their priest interfered, and assuaged their anger. They promised him to bear their wretched lot with quietness, and they are keeping their promise. But are you surprised at disturbances when such is the treatment of the people? Can you not suppose it possible, that the people would rush into any association which promised them some defence for their holdings? Do you not think that they may even be induced to join the Riband Society, of which we have heard a great deal, but of which nobody can say what it means, The only rational thing about the Riband Society is their nomination of me to a high office. But I am sorry to say, that all my forces disappeared as I run my eye through the evidence. Mr. Rowan arranged a foul conspiracy in his own mind, but it disappeared like an idle dream the moment the tangible tests of date, party, and place were applied to it. Though month after month was spent in this foolish inquiry, so far from establishing that property was insecure and life unsafe under Lord Normanby's government, it proved directly the reverse. I am glad of the exhibition on that account; but I confess I tremble at the thought of persons, in the confidence of the assembly which instituted that inquiry, could in any way agree to hold the reins of power in this country. There may be many things disagreeable in the position of Ministers; and not the least is the unreasonable urgency of their Friends. But they have a great duty to perform. They have to preserve Ireland to the Crown of our gracious Sovereign, God bless her. I, therefore, hope that they, at least, will not desert the responsible position in which they are now placed. Though I see nothing done for my country—though those who assert her rights may be treated with ridicule much more than respect—I do not feel the least apprehension, or the smallest tendency to despair. I know how the public mind in Ireland is concentrated not on the maniac movements of the Chartists, but on a determination to obtain her rights. And here let me ask you, if Ireland had chosen to encourage Chartism—if the people had appeared in arms at different places—and if they had talked of the torch and the dagger—what security would the proudest amongst you have at the present moment? I don't mean to terrify nor even to threaten, but the stoutest heart might well be alarmed if the Chartist violence gained that firmness and courage which a reinforcement from Ireland would naturally impart. I rose to protest against the manner in which this country treats Ireland. I rose to declare that we demanded not what this aristocrat or that may be pleased to assign us, but the common privileges of Englishmen. I think the noble Lord ought to distinctly meet the question of freemen next year; and if the other House think fit to reject this proposal, on them be the folly and crime of such a course. I call for the English franchise, Viscount Morpeth did not mean to go into the question of the Poor-law; but, in answer to the statement of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Shaw), he thought it right to say, that though, undoubtedly, in some instances, there was an exhibition of party feeling with regard to guardians (which was inevitable in such a state of society), yet the general proceedings by no means justified the imputation of a partizan or sectarian spirit. This was the opinion of those actually engaged in the administration of the law.

Sir W. Somerville

expressed his deep regret that this bill was still further delayed. Notwithstanding what was said on the opposite side, he knew that the loss of this measure would excite a deep feeling of disappointment. He deprecated party-spirit in the administration of the Poor-law, but violent proceedings were not confined to one side.

Mr. Shaw

, in explanation, begged to state that he had not asserted that the Poor-law guardians of Dublin were not persons of respectability; what he said was, that their election was governed by a violent and angry party spirit. With respect to what had been said by the hon. and learned Member for Dublin in reference to the Earl of Courtown, he requested the House to suspend its judgment until he had the opportunity of explaining the circumstances to which the hon. and learned Gentleman referred, and of which he had as yet heard nothing.

Motion agreed to.

Consideration of the amendments put off for three months.