§ On the motion of Viscount Morpeth, the following extract from the Queen's Speech was read:
§ "The reform and amendment of the Municipal Corporations of Ireland are essential to the interests of that part of my dominions."360
§ The noble Lord then said—Sir, in moving for leave to bring in a bill for the regulation of Municipal Corporations in Ireland, whatever may be the importance with which in my consideration the proposition is invested, or however desirable its adoption may be, it cannot certainly claim the attention of the House on the score of novelty. This I believe, that if I succeed in inducing the House to give me leave to bring in this bill, it will be the fifth measure of the kind which has been introduced here, all of which, except the very first, have been attended with very long—I will not presume to say tedious—discussions within, and protracted altercations between both Houses of Parliament. The grounds, therefore, on which this measure rests must be sufficiently familiar to every person whom I have the honour to address. They were originally laid down with great minuteness in the Report of the Commissioners of Inquiry into the state of the Municipal Corporations in Ireland, who detailed with great research and accuracy their views respecting the abuses and imperfections of the existing system, and the remedies which they recommended as most proper to be adopted for their correction. And since that time up to this day, so far as I am aware, those statements have neither been impeached nor questioned. But what would make it eminently superfluous in me to dilate at any length upon those grounds is the course which has been adopted by the great party mustered on the benches opposite, and assembled in still more formidable numbers elsewhere, who have in fact consented, on two separate occasions to the destruction, extinction, and alienation of all the existing corporate institutions in Ireland; and upon one other occasion, when the Bill was before us last year, they also did consent to their entire recasting and remodelling. I, therefore, feel, Sir, that it would be more than idle and impertinent in me if I were now to attempt to dispute grounds not only so often trodden, but which have been absolutely conceded; and that I should be doing what is much more in accordance, not only with my own pleasure, but with the pleasure of the House at large, if I confine myself exclusively to the mention of the points of difference in the details, and the modes of carrying the principles of the measure into effect, 361 whereby the Bill which I ask permission of the House for leave to bring in may be distinguished from what has before been mutually agreed on between both Houses of Parliament. And in doing so I shall only premise that while it is our strong wish to carry as far as possible, in all essential points, the assimilation of the law in this country and in Ireland, yet, wherever previous discussions in Parliament have shown that there is, on less prominent points, any neutral ground on which we can meet without sacrificing the essential interests—without sacrificing the origin and pervading spirit of the whole measure—the assimilation of the institutions of the two countries, in these cases we are prepared to embrace any such additional chance of promoting agreement and ensuring the ultimate success of the Bill. The main point of difference which existed between the two Houses at the end of last Session was the amount of the franchise which it was proposed should be exercised for municipal purposes in all the towns in which corporations were still to be left under the provisions of the Bill. And it will be remembered the House of Lords proposed "that this should be given by the occupation for twelve months of a tenement of the value of 10l. made up of the value at which it is rated to the relief of the poor, to the amount of landlord's repairs and landlord's insurance. The Commons proposed the occupation for six months of a tenement rated at 8l. (being such sum that one quarter addition, allowed for the expense of repairs, insurance, and other expenses, if any, necessary to keep it of that value, should make it amount to 10l.) It is proposed now to adhere to the franchise proposed last year by the Commons, with an additional provision that after three years, rating the English franchise shall be substituted." Now in the present Bill we adhere to the franchise of 8l. rating, proposed last year by the Commons, for towns to which it is intended to extend corporate rights and privileges; but as I think it was in the course of the discussion admitted very freely on both sides that it is desirable, where we have the means to identify the law and practice in the two countries, and that we were only withheld from adopting that course by the want of proper and indispensable materials, inasmuch as these materials have since been supplied by the enactment of 362 the late Poor-law for Ireland, which took place in the last Session, we propose, that wherever in the corporate cities and towns the poor's-rate has been established for the space of three years, then that every person occupying a tenement which has been rated to the relief of the poor for the three previous years shall enjoy the municipal franchise. With respect again to the nomination of the sheriffs, we adhere to the proposal made last year, that the councils may present three twice to the Lord-lieutenant, and that if he disapprove of all six he may appoint. We reject the amendment of the Lords, which placed the appointment exclusively in the Lord-lieutenant. We propose to retain the same number of towns as that of last year in the first schedule of the Bill, where corporations are to be continued by the express provision of the Act, and also to include in the second section the same towns as were agreed on at the end of last Session by both Houses, to which on petition the Crown is empowered to extend corporate institutions, and not only to these, but to any towns in Ireland of three thousand inhabitants. With respect to these boroughs in schedule B, the two Houses proposed to deal in different modes, and I think on hearing the different propositions which were recommended, it will be seen that the plan of each House was liable to some exceptions. The Lords proposed, "that upon the petition of a majority of persons qualified to be burgesses under the 10l. qualification, from any borough in schedule B, or any town in Ireland possessing three thousand inhabitants, the Crown might extend to that town the provisions of the Act, lowering, however, the qualification required for aldermen and councillors." Now, as we thought the 10l. rating too high even for the largest towns, it follows, a fortiori, that it would be overwhelming in the small and less populous towns in Ireland. "If no such charter were granted in twelve months, a further distinction was to be made between boroughs having property to the value of 100l. per annum, and boroughs not having property to that amount. In the former, commissioners were to be chosen by a 10l. constituency, of exactly the same kind as the burgesses of Schedule A; but their powers were to be limited to managing the corporate funds, and paying them over to any local board established 363 in the borough, for paving, lighting, &c., or if there were no such board, then applying them, under the direction of the lord-lieutenant, for the public benefit of the inhabitants. In these cases, the old corporation was to be dissolved, and if at any time the Crown should grant a charter of incorporation upon petition as above mentioned, the property was to be transferred to the Council, and the power of the commissioners to cease." Now, we think this provision to be at variance with the whole spirit and scope of the Bill, which is not to encourage centralized management, but self-government by the communities in the different towns in which it applies. "In boroughs which have not property to the amount of 100l., the present corporations to be continued, but all their powers to cease, except those necessary for the continuance of the corporation, and management of the property, to be applied as in the richer boroughs of Schedule B." We considered this proposition also objectionable, though not so much so as the others. The suggestion of the Commons was, "that in all the boroughs of Schedule B, commissioners should be elected as under the 9th Geo. 4th, and that the corporate property should be transferred to them, for the purposes of that act." So that it was objected, that it was not right, that towns should be compulsorily rated and taxed under the provisions of this bill, without any request being made by them to have it enforced with regard to them; and it was urged, that it was contrary to the spirit of our institutions, and the practice of our Government, to apply the power of taxation against the consent of those who were to be affected by it. We felt the force of this objection, and accordingly we propose, "that the Crown shall be empowered to grant the powers of the act to any borough in Schedule B, or any town having three thousand inhabitants, on petition, but without requiring the signatures of an absolute majority, and providing that the franchise may be such sum as may give a sufficiency of burgesses not less than 4l., and not exceeding 8l.; or, after three years' rating, the English franchise. In those boroughs which do not petition for twelve months, commissioners to be elected under the 9th Geo. 4th, to manage the property, and apply it for the benefit of the inhabitants, but without any power of laying a rate, their powers to cease at any time a char- 364 ter be granted." These, I think, are the salient points of difference between the bill which is now proposed and that which was ultimately agreed on last year after much discussion. With respect to the general question, I do not certainly mean to advance the assertion, that the question of municipal reform is the only remaining question essential to the welfare of Ireland; but I am stating no more than the simple fact when I say, that it is the only remaining one of the three great questions which have occupied so much of the attention of Parliament during several successive Sessions, and that we may indulge the prospect, that the removal of it will give room for the consideration of further measures, which, whether involving so much that is really important in abstract principle and national bearing or not, will perhaps be considered by many to be of a more immediate practical tendency; and which, though perhaps not appealing so much to the ordinary distinctions and watchwords of party, may perhaps affect more nearly the actual physical condition of the people. And when the principles of the measure which I now beg leave of the House to give one permission to introduce are so simple, so fair, and so just, I cannot deny myself the hope, that Parliament in its present Session will at last bring this much discussed, and much vexed question to a satisfactory and speedy termination.
§ Mr. Shaw
said, he would not offer any objection to the introduction of the measure proposed by the noble Lord, nor would he go into the statements which the noble Lord had made at any great length. The principal difference betwixt the measure of former Sessions and that which it was now proposed to introduce related to the franchise, and to the alteration which the noble Lord proposed in reference to that part of the measure he felt the strongest objections. The noble Lord seemed to expect, that the plan he now proposed would afford a better constituency, and that the elections would be conducted with less of party spirit. But he begged to refer the noble Lord to what took place at Limerick at the election of guardians under the New Poor-law as a specimen of what was to be expected under the Municipal Bill. It had been hoped, that the spirit with which that measure was discussed in Parliament would have had the effect of softening 365 down the party feelings and religious animosities which existed in Ireland. But on the occasion to which he referred, when the Poor-law Bill was put in operation in the county and city of Limerick, that hope had not been realized, and a different course to that which had been anticipated had been adopted. When the bill was to be put in operation, a political meeting was held, at which a Roman Catholic took the chair, and a list of guardians was prepared and forwarded next day to all parts of the district of which the union was to be composed; and, contrary to the wishes and feelings of the Protestant portion of the population and of many respectable Roman Catholics, that list, so prepared, was, on the day of election, carried identically as it had been prepared. Out of twenty guardians to be appointed for the county and city of Limerick, there were nineteen Roman Catholics elected. He thought, after the statement of that fact, the noble Lord could hardly entertain a hope that the elections under the Municipal Bill would be less free from party feeling than they had already become under the Poor-law Act of last Session. He was glad to hear from the noble Lord that it was the desire of the Government to give every attention to such suggestions as might be made for the improvement of the measure which he was about to introduce, and he trusted that the noble Lord would not raise any obstacles to whatever well-considered amendments might be proposed, on either side of the House. As to the towns to be retained in the first Schedule of the Bill, he did not clearly understand, from the noble Lord's statement, what the number was to be; nor had the noble Lord stated whether the provisions of the Bill were to extend to the regulation of the boundaries of the boroughs, or whether a specific measure was to be introduced for that purpose. He perfectly agreed with the noble Lord in the hope he had expressed, that as the other two great measures having reference to Ireland had been settled, and as the only point upon which there was a material difference of opinion in regard to the measure now brought forward had reference to the franchise, they might at last indulge a prospect of its final settlement. For his own part, however, he thought opposition should be given, not only to the franchise proposed, but to the principle of the mea- 366 sure. He thought still that it would have been better to extinguish corporations altogether in Ireland, and not to keep up the vast expense which they entailed upon the community; and he could state from his own knowledge that the present was not a measure desired by any large portion of the Irish people, and that no great anxiety had been manifested for corporations. As, however, the measure, had been so long under the consideration of Parliament, he admitted, that it was highly desirable it should be finally adjusted, and for himself he would give every assistance in his power for the attainment of that object. He should not then enter upon the amendments which he might ultimately deem necessary, but he should take the earliest opportunity of protesting against the proposition of the noble Lord of extending to Ireland the law of England, which gave, after a rating of three years, the franchise to every rated householder. He should reserve for the proper occasion whatever other observations he might have to make, and he also reserved to himself the full right of proposing any such alterations in the noble Lord's measure as he might deem necessary, and of making any motion which the provisions of the measure might in his opinion require.
§ Mr. William Roche
said, he felt it behoved him as representative for the city of Limerick to make a few remarks on the topic which the right hon. the Recorder of Dublin adverted to, and animadverted upon, in reference to the preponderating number of Roman Catholics appearing on the Limerick list of guardians lately appointed for the administration of the Poor-law in that city. He first begged to observe, that a public meeting had been previously held, at which he had the honour to preside, and where he trusted he acted with impartiality and he believed with satisfaction to all parties. It was called with a view to select and suggest a number of names out of which it was recommended to the constituency to make choice, but which, of course, could only amount to a recommendation, yet might tend to facilitate the election. Nor was he aware, that Catholic clerical influence had the slightest operation there or exercised even the slightest interference. In the rural districts he did believe the poorer rate-payers consulted their clergy ignorant as they, (the poorer rate-payers) necessarily were, of the nature and results of this 367 new law, and accustomed as they had been to resort to their pastors on all difficult occasions for sincere advice. This list of guardians he did not himself analyze as regarded the question of religion, because he considered the question of religion so utterly foreign from the purpose, and though a large majority of Roman Catholics happened to be thus nominated he believed the circumstance did not arise from any religious feeling or impulse but was owing, in his mind, to the rate-payers being better acquainted and more in communication with the gentlemen merchants and shop-keepers thus elected than with those of the Protestant community, and likewise probably to their knowledge and approval of the conduct of the gentlemen, thus chosen, on other public occasions, and at other public Boards. That what strengthened his opinion of the absence of any religious bias on the occasion, was, that in many other public institutions of that city (to several of which he belonged) he never could perceive, that the Catholic electors were actuated, at all, by creed, but by character—also that if religion, as was insinuated, had any influence in those appointments, the brother of one of the most popular Catholic clergymen there, would not be left out, though his name had been suggested for appointment. The guardians themselves, too, on selecting their dignitaries, such as chairman, vice-chairman, and deputy chairman, chose a Protestant for the first, a Catholic for the second, and a Quaker for the third, which surely evinced impartiality. But deprecating as he did the introduction of religion on occasions so foreign from its object, and in a manner so adverse to its interests, he hoped the time would ere long arrive, when it would be matter of indifference whether the directors of public institutions were of one creed or another, but solely whether they were worthy of the trust and fitted for the functions they undertook. And he would conclude by observing, that, the oftener those of different creeds were brought together and in the habit of mingling together, the sooner would these untoward feelings and ideas die away and disappear.
§ Mr. Wyse
said, he could confirm the statement of his hon. Friend as to there being no desire to exclude Protestants, but, at the same time, the result of the election at Limerick was not to be won- 368 dered at when they considered that this was the only political institution with respect to the management of which the people were consulted. Whenever the Roman Catholics of Ireland had been called upon to exercise the elective franchise, either in respect to the officers of county infirmaries or dispensaries, it was found that the religious opinions of the candidate, either on one side or the other, were not taken as the criterion, but the knowledge, the zeal, the abilities, and the character of those who were recommended to the vacant office, and whenever these qualities were found to exist, religious opinions formed no disqualification. He could bear testimony upon this point, especially in regard to the City of Waterford, and he believed, in fact, that the preponderance would be found on the side of those who were of the Protestant religion. He should like to know when there was to be an end of their hearing, that persons were only chosen for office in Ireland on account of their religion, and he thought that the imputations of such miserable motives proved the actual necessity of having those who had the management of public affairs in Ireland elected. They had been told, that concentrated power, such as the present corporations afforded, was necessary to defend the established Church in Ireland, but he thanked God they had arrived at a period when a more enlightened people prevailed, and when common ability was the only feeling which would operate in the choice of either Protestants or Roman Catholics for the office of guardians or any other office. Was it not clear that if the people were to pay rates for the good ordering and lighting of their towns the power of applying their money ought to be exercised by persons elected by themselves; and he rejoiced that the day had come when it was admitted that they were entitled to choose those bodies who were to administer their own local affairs. This was a principle recognised by every state, whether imperial or democratic, and which operated in Russia and Austria as well as in America. Ireland was the only exception; but fortunately the present corporations of that country would now be destroyed, and the certainty of this was what had led to the apparent apathy to which the right hon. Gentleman, the Member for the University of Dublin had alluded. It was, indeed, an act of charity 369 to destroy them, and not to allow them to linger on in a state of contemptible existence. They were neither alive nor dead, but hovering between both states. They could do neither good nor evil. Horses in Ireland were perishing, lands were uncultivated, and everything in a state which called aloud for some remedy. The sooner, therefore, they came to a decision upon something, and which he sincerely trusted would not be delayed beyond the present Session, the better for the people of England and the better for the corporations themselves. As soon as the House had pronounced a new law that law would be adopted—there would be no opposition to it—the people would feel that they had the means of managing their own affairs—they would learn a practical lesson in the discharge of their own affairs, and a closer union take place between this country and Ireland than had ever yet been experienced.
said, the noble Lord had indulged in something like a hope that the adoption of his Bill would lead the way to a more tranquil state of things in Ireland, so that the House having disposed of this last of the three measures (as the noble Lord called it) which had so long engaged both Houses of Parliament, they would then be able to direct their attention to some other measures of a more practical nature. He thought he might venture to ask the noble Lord what was to be understood by that remark? He believed he had heard a colleague of the noble Lord say, that the Irish Church question was by no means settled on a satisfactory footing: and if he referred to the accounts of recent proceedings in Ireland, he should find, that this question of Municipal Corporations was far from being the only unsettled point. It appeared that it was one only of six questions entertained by the Precursor Society. From the declaration of that society, of which the hon. and learned Member for Dublin was the leader, the House could ascertain what were those practical questions which would remain to be settled, even after the settlement of Municipal Corporations. In the first place, there was to be a complete assimilation of the suffrage to the suffrage in England, and the suffrage in England was to be extended to the furthest point possible. The next point was the ballot, for the Precursors insisted on the ballot. Then another point was 370 the total extinction of tithes and all other ecclesiastical exactions, whether they were called rent-charges or by any other name. So that that question, which was settled, as supposed by the noble Lord, last Session, remained in quite as unsatisfactory a state as before. He perceived, that the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer expressed some dissent. Why, did not the right hon. Gentleman know, that during the last autumn, meetings were held and attended by thousands and thousands of persons for the purpose of stating, that that measure was most obnoxious, and that it was to unite the gray coats along with the frieze-coated population in their antipathy to the Church? Such then were the ultimate practical measures to which they had to look forward as the groundwork of future agitation. The noble Lord had spoken of an identification of laws and interests between the two countries. But what was the identification aimed at by the hon. and learned Member for Dublin? He had long been calling out for "justice to Ireland," and he had at last given something like an explanation of what he meant by justice to Ireland. In that explanation he had embodied all the points already enumerated. "There must be," said the hon. and learned Member, "a due representation of Ireland; and I will be content with nothing less than 150 representatives for Ireland." He (Mr. Colquhoun) presumed that next year, taking the scale of population into account, there would be a demand for 200. But let the House listen to the manner in which the hon. and learned Gentleman expressed himself:—"Should the just prayer of our petition be granted, we are bound in integrity and good faith not to seek the repeal of the Union: we menace nothing, we threaten nothing; but if it be refused, the social elements of Ireland will never be settled into tranquillity. And then the hon. and learned Gentleman proceeded to say what ulterior measures he had in view, and one of these was the repeal of the Union. So that all that was to be gained by the settlement of this question, rather only the proposed settlement of it, was to embark afresh on a sea of agitation more extensive and interminable than ever, and which according to the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer, must lead to a severance of the legislative Union. Notwithstanding all the professions which 371 had been made about an anxiety for the exclusion of sectarian prejudices and religious distinctions, a recent election for poor-law guardians in Limerick had proved how far the reverse was the case. A large party there refused to elect men of property chosen from among both Roman Catholics and Protestants, and chose not only a majority of Roman Catholics, but insisted on men of extreme politics—men who were of the politics of the hon. and learned Member for Dublin. It mattered not how low they were in station, how deficient they were in property, or how wanting in every other qualification for the office; it was enough that they were violent members of the political union, enough that they joined in the shout for repeal, and in the demand for those extreme measures expressed on the Precursors' ticket; these men, and only these men, were deserving of the confidence of the people. The hon. and learned Member had taunted them with keeping up injustice. What would he say if in England all clergymen in all their churches and parishes were to read a list of twenty churchmen, and say to the people, "See that you do not vote for a Roman Catholic or a Dissenter, or for a Baptist, or an Independent, but for these men alone; and we throw out this significant hint, that if you do, you know there are penalties in reserve, more forcible and fearful than the penalties of the law, for resisting our mandate?"
§ Mr. W. S. O'Brien
could not concur in the objections which had been raised by the hon. Member who had just sat down, against the election which had just taken place in Limerick. There was undoubtedly a greater proportion of Roman Catholics than of Protestants chosen at that election, but, having had an opportunity of personally observing the elections throughout Limerick, he did not think it possible to point out an objectionable choice. As large a proportion of Protestants had been chosen as, probably, their state of property and other circumstances admitted of. He saw the list for Limerick, and he did not believe there was a single Roman Catholic on that list, and underneath the list was written, "Vote for the friends of the poor."
§ Sir R. Inglis
said, he should not have risen upon this occasion at all, had it not been said, that the noble Lord opposite was pledged to the extinction and de- 372 struction of the Corporations of Ireland. He was not so pledged, and he would always object to be considered pledged to any such proposition. He would not, offhand, consent to the extinction of corporations either in England or Ireland. When he reflected upon the purpose for which those corporations were instituted, he considered that every friend of the country, whether in reference to England or Ireland, was bound to give them every due consideration, that their importance required, whenevever they became the subject of investigation. The argument meant this, that by the creation of new municipalities, they would put into the hands of what were called the people of Ireland, a great legal power, and what that legal power was, the hon. Member for Dublin would tell the House. He, for one, would never consent to place any such power in any such hands. Though he should not divide the House, yet he refused to concur in being ranked with those who willingly allowed themselves to be considered as assenting to the destruction of Corporations.
§ Lord J. Russell
said it seemed hardly necessary that he should address the House upon the subject of Irish Municipal Corporations when there appeared to be no disposition to oppose the motion of his noble Friend; but as the subject of elections under the Poor-law Bill had been so much adverted to, he thought it necessary to say one word with respect to what had transpired at Limerick. It certainly appeared that in the election of guardians of the poor in that city, both parties made it in a great degree a political struggle, and the result was considered a great political triumph by the successful party. But in another town, in which an election for similar purposes had taken place, it appeared that the officers were elected about equally from each party; and that all the different religious sects into which the town was divided were fairly represented in the board of guardians. He thought this was an example much more likely to be followed generally throughout Ireland than the example afforded by the city of Limerick. It was much to be regretted that the electors in any town or city should employ the new powers given to them under bills of this description merely for political purposes; but with the exception of the instances to which reference had been made, he thought there was not a 373 disposition on the part of the constitueut body in Ireland to use their powers otherwise than in conformity with the Act. In a report which Mr. Hall had recently made upon the subject, that gentleman said, "That in the anticipations which he had ventured to utter in his former report, he had not been disappointed. The affairs of the unions, he observed, were managed by men of business and activity, and their exertions were solely directed to carry out the provisions of the Bill in the spirit in which it had been enacted by the Legislature, and altogether their conduct had been to him perfectly satisfactory." This testimony as to the mode in which the elections were conducted must be satisfactory to the House, and he only hoped, that all future elections would be carried on upon the same principle, for this was a law from which he anticipated the greatest improvement to Ireland would arise. He trusted, therefore, that neither party politics nor religious feelings would be allowed to interfere in any elections that might take place under it.
§ Mr. Sergeant Jackson
cordially and entirely concurred in the hope expressed by the noble Lord, that the elections of guardians of the poor in Ireland would not exhibit in future anything like party spirit. He did not wish to prolong the debate on the question now before the House, but he rose merely to say one word on the fact which was in controversy on both sides. The hon. Member for Limerick had said, that all Roman Catholics had there been elected on the board of guardians. He (Mr. Sergeant Jackson) was afraid that would not be found to be the fact. At the election in the poorest parish of the city of Limerick, namely, St. John's parish, the chair was filled by the Rev. Mr. Fitzgibbon, and therefore the hon. Member was mistaken in supposing that the Roman Catholic clergy had not interfered in the matter.
§ Mr. Barron
supported the proposition which had that night been brought forward by the noble Lord the Secretary for Ireland. Notwithstanding what had been stated by the right hon. the Recorder of Dublin, he (Mr. Barron) must observe, that during the last 50 years there had not been a single Roman Catholic elected into the corporation of the city of Dublin, and was not that fact, he begged to ask, sufficient to provoke a natural retaliation? Was it to be supposed that the Roman Catholics 374 would at once forget and forgive what had passed? Hon. Gentlemen opposite, who showed so bad an example of charity, ought now to be the first to come forward and say, "Now that the laws are altered—now that Roman Catholic disabilities are removed, we, in the spirit of conciliation, will now admit you." And he would ask the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Colquhoun), would this House have been jutified in refusing to grant to England and Scotland those corporations to which they were entitled, and which had been conceded to both those countries, because then, as now, there might be a Chartist Association sitting in London? Certainly not; and therefore it was a most absurd and vicious argument for the hon. Member to urge that corporations ought not to be granted to Ireland because certain portions of the people of that country were joined in looking for universal suffrage, vote by ballot, and other measures which might or might not be practicable. Their claims for those measures ought not to be an argument against the grants to Ireland of the same privileges as had been given to England and Scotland; on the contrary, he would say, that if hon. Members opposite wished to do away with just causes of complaint, and to weaken the agitation of the society to which allusion had been made, let them concede to Ireland that which she had a right in justice to demand, and then take their stand and declare they were determined to oppose those claims which they held to be unjust, improper, and impolitic—claims which they thought ought not to be granted to the English people; then would be the time to oppose the Irish people boldly and manfully on those other demands; but until hon. Members opposite came to that House with clean hands by granting to the people of Ireland their just privileges, they ought not to taunt them with making improper demands. It was for that reason that he protested against such arguments as had been made use of by the hon. Member for Kilmarnock, arguments which he was satisfied would have no weight in or out of the House, but of which he felt it his duty to expose the sophisms and absurdities. He trusted, that as all parties, with the exception of the hon. Baronet, the Member for the University of Oxford, were agreed upon the necessity of abolishing the existing corporations in Ireland, the House would see the common sense, the 375 justice, and the equity of granting equality of liberty to the people of that country, who he was sure would never be satisfied—and, indeed, as every honest man must think, ought not to be satisfied—until they were placed on an equal footing in every respect with the people of England and of Scotland. He hoped the day was not distant when men, throwing aside their ancient prejudices, would meet the people of Ireland on just and equal grounds, and that, as the law had abrogated religious distinctions, he would implore the House to abrogate those distinctions in act and deed, both public and private. Let hon. Members opposite set an example of charity, and not by withholding just rights excite a generous and a brave people.
§ Mr. H. Grattan
did not rise to prolong the present discussion, but to put a question; the answer to which, from the right lion, the Recorder of Dublin, might render it unnecessary for him to move an Amendment he had prepared to the motion of the noble Lord, the Secretary for Ireland. The question referred to a corporation of which he and the right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite were both members, and which, though it had been said to be dead, was, he could assure the House, alive and active—he alluded to the corporation of the city of Dublin. It might be in the recollection of the House, that during the administration of the Marquess Wellesley, certain persons, himself among the rest, had been enabled to proceed by law against that corporation, and to recover from it a sum of about 78,000l., by a decision of the Master of the Rolls in Ireland, afterwards confirmed here by the House of Lords. That debt was secured by debentures or bonds payable from the funds of the corporation arising from their lands and leases. Now the corporation had lately proceeded to dispose amongst themselves those funds which belonged to the holders of the debentures. One individual had got 300l., others different sums, voted to one another, and there was no security but that the funds would be wholly made away with, and that the creditors would get nothing. Now, he should be glad to know, if the right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite, without any offence to him, had given any legal opinion upon the right of the corporation so to dispose of its funds? He repeated, it had been his intention to move an Amendment to add 376 to the motion of the noble Lord, after the word "Ireland," that there be laid before the House a return of the several sums of money voted at a late meeting of the corporation of the city of Dublin, stating the names of the persons to whom granted, and the purposes for which granted, together with a copy of any by-law authorising the same. If the right hon. Gentleman opposite would say, that there was any such by-law, he would not now press his Amendment, but give notice and reserve it for to-morrow.
§ Mr. Litton
said, that the hon. and learned Gentleman who had just sat down was wholly unacquainted with the facts of the matter which he had brought under the consideration of the House. He (Mr. Litton) did know something of them; and the matter stood thus:—At one period there was a decree pronounced by the Master of the Rolls in Ireland, which had been affirmed by the House of Lords, for the sum of which the hon. and learned Gentleman had spoken, or some such sum; but if he had gone a little further for information, he would have found that all the debentures on which that sum was found to be due had been paid to the public, and that not one shilling of that which the corporation had been found to be indebted to the public, was now due. He (Mr. Litton) had frequently heard from the other side, statements made without consideration or accurate information; and he was happy to be in the House to contradict the statement made on the present occasion, and to affirm, as would appear by a reference to the records of the Rolls' Court, that on a motion for a sequestration against the corporation, time had been given by the Master of the Rolls to enable the corporation to obtain funds, and that when that motion was renewed, the answer given was, "that the money had all been paid off, except a few thousands; and that, since, the debt had been altogether redeemed." He should not have risen in this debate, if he had not felt called upon by a distinct recollection of the facts he had stated to negative, in the most distinct terms, the statement of the hon. and learned Gentleman. On the question before the House, there had been such an abundance of discussion, that he would not protract it; but this much he must assert, that to those who opposed the proposed substitution for the old corporations, was not attributable that want of 377 happiness and continued discord which prevailed in Ireland: it was attributable solely to the agitators of the country seeking to obtain, by bad means, objects of their own bad ambition, and who cared not what sacrifice they made of the happiness of the people in the achievement of those objects. He repeated, that every measure which emanated from that House, however sanctioned by unanimity, was made the ground of complaint by ill-minded agitators, for their own purposes. Even the Poor-law Bill, which had been hailed with delight here by hon. Members as a measure of benefit, and designed to ameliorate the condition of the poor, had been assailed by them in Ireland. Again, the tithe question, which last year had been settled by a great cession on the part of the Church—a cession far greater than many wished, but which was yielded to secure the settlement of the question—a cession by which his feelings had been outraged, for he never would have consented, and never could, conscientiously, assent to taking 25 per cent. from the clergy, but his friends and party had consented for the sake of settlement and arrangement—had also been re-agitated; and no sooner had the last Session of Parliament ended, than in every quarter of the country, agitation and Precursor meetings were held for the purpose of neutralizing all the good effects of that measure of conciliation, and of exciting the people against the clergy of the Protestant Church in Ireland. In the same manner, he repeated, had the Poor-law been condemned by those who here had supported it. To those, then, was attributable the misfortunes of Ireland—to those bad men who would not let Ireland be at peace, and not to those who conscientiously expressed their opinions of the necessity of maintaining the institutions of the country.
Mr. M. J. O'Connell
wished the hon. and learned Member to state, if he could name any Irish Member who had supported the Poor-law Bill in that House, and had denounced it in Ireland.
§ Mr. H. Grattan
said, new debentures had been given for the old debentures, and that the money had not been actually paid.
§ Mr. Litton
repeated, that cash had been paid, and other securities had been substituted for the originals, and, that the creditors of five years ago did not exist.
Mr. M. J. O'Connell
Will the hon. and learned Gentleman give an answer to the question I put to him?
said, that the hon. and learned Gentleman had dealt very largely in assertion, but he would take the liberty of quoting the words of the hon. and learned Member against himself, and hoped that the House would guard themselves against taking the assertions of any hon. Member as true who had no authority for making them. He was one of those who supported the Poor-law Bill; but the hon. and learned Member for Dublin opposed it; and although that hon. and learned Gentleman had great influence in Ireland, yet he would defy the hon. and learned Member opposite to prove, that that hon. and learned Gentleman had done anything against the Poor-law in a spirit in which it ought not to be treated. With regard to the question brought forward by his hon. Friend (Mr. Grattan), he did not think, that the answer to it by the hon. and learned Member was satisfactory. He had stated, that a part of the debt was paid either by cash or some other Irish securities. He trusted the hon. and learned Member would not attempt to palm an assertion on the House as a fact, unless he was prepared to show, that he had some ground for it. With respect to the bill before the House, he begged to express his great satisfaction, that the bill of the present year so far exceeded in principle any former measure on the subject. The rights of the Irish people, and the justice of their demands, were subjects of too ordinary a character to be dwelt upon by him, but he would assure the House, that let the Legislature proceed in the fairest manner, and with the sincerest wish to give peace and contentment to Ireland, they never would see those objects realized if they attempted to persuade the Irish people to be satisfied with less than what justice awarded to them, and what it was their province to demand. It would be premature to advert to the details of the measure now; but he begged just to observe, that the borough which he represented was very unfairly dealt with in the Bill brought forward last year, and he hoped in the present measure it would find that treatment to which it was entitled.
§ Mr. Litton
I again assert distinctly, that the original debt which the hon. Gentleman stated had not been paid, has been paid.
§ Leave given.