HC Deb 07 August 1840 vol 55 cc1389-94

A conference was held with the Peers, when their Lordships delivered to the Commons their reasons for not agreeing to certain amendments in the Municipal Corporations Bill (Ireland).

Their Lordships' reasons having been read,

Viscount Morpeth,

in moving that the House do not insist on those amendments, in disagreeing to which the Lords had declared their intention to persevere, said, that he had hoped the Lords would have accepted some at least of those which, in his opinion, would have been a considerable improvement to the bill. In that hope he had been disappointed. But, under all the circumstances, and in the desire to see the general principle of the bill brought into operation as soon as possible, he did not intend to ask the House to persevere in the amendments they had made. He had no doubt, however, that early in the next Session, he should have to move for leave to bring in a bill to amend this bill on which so much of the time of both Houses had been expended; and that in consequence of some of the amendments made by the Lords, and their rejection of those made in that (the Commons) House. Some of the amendments of the Lords would have the effect of preventing parts of the bill from coming into operation for a year, and others for fourteen or fifteen months. He regretted this, but he repeated, that even with those amendments, it would be better to let the bill come into operation.

Mr. Shaw

said, that he had no desire to revive discussion on that long-litigated question then about to be disposed of, but he trusted the House would allow him a few moments' indulgence to explain a matter connected with it that was personal to himself. His conduct in respect of that measure had, both in this country and Ireland, been made the subject of the grossest misrepresentation; and, indeed, he must say, so far as the press was concerned that the misrepresentation was grosser and greater by a portion of the press in both countries connected with his own political party than with that of his opponents; but, to pass by other charges which he would not stop to notice, the point which, he wished to explain, would serve as a sample of the rest, and had reference to an amendment made by the House of Lords in the clause which related to his office, as Recorder of Dublin. That was denounced as a job, and he was, besides, accused of having entered into a private negotiation with the Irish law officer of the time to secure the interests of his own office, while he was inattentive to those of others. In a few words, he would put the House in possession of what the facts were upon that part of the case. When a noble and learned Friend of his, in another place, referred to an agreement made, that the court in which he sat as Recorder of Dublin was to be unaffected by the Municipal Corporation Bill, the noble Lord did not mean any personal or private agreement between him and the Irish law officers, for none such had ever occurred. What his noble Friend had alluded to, had passed publicly in that House between his right hon. Friend, the Member for Tamworth, and the late Chief Baron, Mr. Woulfe, then Attorney-general for Ireland. Up to the year 1837, the various bills introduced to regulate municipal corporations in Ireland had made no provision whatever for the administration of justice in Dublin, and had they passed in that form, the effect would have been that the court in which he sat would have been abolished, without any substitute being provided, and it would have been left to the discretion of the new town-council whether there was to be any sessions court at all in the city of Dublin, and thus the gaols and the prisoners, about which hon. Gentlemen and noble Lords had recently appeared so very solicitous, and the whole question of the administration of justice in the metropolis of Ireland, had been overlooked in the Irish Municipal Bills brought in up to 1837. Then it was that his right hon. Friend (Sir Robert Peel), in his place in the House, pointed out the absurdity and monstrous consequence of the omission, and Mr. Woulfe (the Attorney-general for Ireland) at once, on the part of himself and the Irish Government, disclaimed all such intention, and undertook to introduce a clause preserving all the powers and jurisdiction and rights of the court in which he presided unaltered, and that was the whole compact on the subject, which was strictly performed by Mr. Woulfe introducing the clause accordingly. So much, then, for the private bargain of which he had been accused. And then, as to the job as it was called. He certainly objected to that clause, so introduced by Mr. Woulfe, as the Irish law officer, being altered, in breach of Mr. Woulfe's undertaking, as was for the first time attempted by the present Solicitor-general for Ireland and, as he could not but think, in an indirect and unworthy manner. The job, he thought, was on the other side, and the amendment of the Lords defeating that merely left tie clause as Mr. Woulfe had introduced it. He would not then enter upon the question, whether or not it was fitting that the Recorder of Dublin should be eligible to sit in that House; let that question be discussed on its own merits; and he would also then abstain from a topic on which he felt much more deeply, the rather because he thought the question had been unfairly treated by a noble Marquess, one of her Majesty's Ministers, who was evidently uninformed on the subject—namely, whether or not his judicial duties had been at any time in the slightest degree made subservient to his attendance as a Member of Parliament. He would only observe, that his court was regulated according to the best of his judgment and ability, without reference to any other duty. Upon that point, he would be always ready to justify himself from attack, whether made in Parliament or elsewhere. He might be permitted to add, that for the ten years that he had been a Member of that House, he had never passed a month without sitting in his court at Dublin, and had never risen leaving one single case either on the criminal or civil side of his court in arrear—that he had never voluntarily left untried either a prisoner or a civil case that was ready, or could be brought forward for trial. With regard to the bill generally, he would only repeat what he had not failed to say on every occasion of its discussion, that he regretted that the corporations in Ireland had not been altogether abolished. He was not sanguine as to the working of the measure, particularly in the first instance; still he felt, that the time was come when the settlement of the long-vexed question must be attempted; and when the bill had once passed, he felt, that it would be the duty of all parties, however much they might have differed on the subject, and whether connected with the old or the new corporations, to act in the spirit of a sincere desire to give effect to the law, and to render it as far as possible conducive to the peace and good local government of the cities and towns to which it was to be applied.

Mr. Pigot

after what had fallen from the right hon. and learned Gentleman, felt it necessary to offer a few observations. He owned that he was much surprised to hear from him that up to 1837 there had been no provision in any of the Irish Municipal Corporation Bills which had been introduced for the administration of justice in Dublin. Now, it so happened that in every one of those bills there was a clause providing that recorders of towns should sit in their respective courts once a month, and oftner, if the Lord-lieutenant should deem it necessary. [Mr. Shaw—That was under the new act.] Was it meant that Dublin should be under a distinct legislative measure? But admitting that it was to be an exception to the general rule, had any undertaking to that effect been entered into by the law officers of the Irish Government? When he heard, in 1839, of such an undertaking, he applied immediately to the late Chief Baron Woulfe, who denied having entered into any such undertaking, and said that he considered the Government quite free to take any course with respect to the Recorders Court in Dublin which it might think most beneficial to the public. Finding this, he with the full consent of the noble Lord (Lord John Russell), introduced the clause which had been sent up to the Lords and which their Lordships had rejected. Knowing this, he would beg to ask how was it that the right hon. and learned Gentleman ventured to state that he had done that in an indirect and underhand manner? He had stated publicly that he considered the clause necessary for the due administration of justice in Dublin, and from that opinion he did not now mean to recede. The right hon. and learned Gentleman had charged him with having done this in an indirect manner, with the underhand view of excluding him from a seat in that House. What reason had the right hon. and learned Gentleman for believing that he or the Government with which he was connected would shrink from the introduction of a clause to that effect if he or they considered that such a clause would conduce to the more speedy and effective administration of justice? He could assure the right lion, and learned Gentleman that he would not for an instant shrink from that duty if he felt called on to perform it. His object in the clause he had brought in was to prevent the chance of an accumulation of prisoners in Newgate, Dublin, one of the worst ordered prisons in the empire. In one month last year there were 210 prisoners in that gaol, of whom 106 were females. It was therefore of the utmost importance that such accumulations should as far as possible, be prevented in future. It was on that ground, looking to a great public object, and not to anything personally affecting the right hon. and learned Gentleman, that he had taken the course to which the right hon. Gentleman objected, and to the propriety of that course he still adhered.

Mr. Shaw

in explanation, repeated his statement as to what had been objected by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth, in 1837, on the absurdity of omitting a provision for the administration of justice in Dublin. On that statement Mr. Woulfe, then Attorney-general undertook to introduce the clause. That clause was brought in without his being consulted on it, and all that had been done in the Lords was to reinstate it as it had been introduced by Mr. Woulfe. As to the accumulation of prisoners in Dublin gaol, he did not deny that there might be such a circumstance at times, but he would repeat that he had held a court of Sessions once in each month for many years, and that at the close of each sessions he had not left one person or one cause untried which was ready for trial, and that he considered was fully sufficient for all the purposes of justice.

Viscount Morpeth

considered it preposterous to contend that there had been anything indirect or covert in the introduction of that provision to which reference had been made. It formed part of the bill, and was openly discussed in committee by the right hon. and learned Gentleman himself. It was introduced with a single view to the interests of the population of Dublin; and, although he had not thought it neces- cessary to insist on a disagreement to the Lord's amendment in that respect, the subject would very likely be brought forward again next Session.

Motion agreed to, and amendments of the Lords adopted.

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