HC Deb 04 June 1840 vol 54 cc925-30

The Order of the Day, for the House to resolve itself into Committee on the Grand Jury Cess (Ireland) Bill read.

On the question, "that the Speaker do leave the Chair,"

Mr. Sergeant Jackson

rose, in pursuance of his notice, to move that it be an instruction to the Committee to divide the bill into two bills—the one to provide for fiscal objects, and the other for the administration of justice. Previous to entering into a discussion on the merits of the measure itself, he would avail himself of that opportunity to reply to the sarcasm cast upon his side of the House on Monday last by the noble Lord, the Under Secretary for Ireland, that they wished to impede the progress of this bill on account of its dependence upon the Irish Municipal Bill then before the other House. It was plain, from the repeated postponements of this bill by the Government, that the Government was most anxious not to expedite it. With regard to the bill itself, as it now stood, it had two objects—the one to join districts to counties for fiscal purposes, and the other to provide civil jurisdiction for the districts thus joined. These objects had better be provided for in separate bills. The fiscal objects which it was intended to accomplish had never been introduced into the Municipal Bill till the 19th of April last year. They had been objected to at that time as an innovation by no means advantageous to the bill itself. Hon. Gentlemen on his side of the House thought, that the Grand Jury ought not to be deprived of the functions they enjoyed before, and had moved in consequence in the Committee, that the clauses so depriving them of their functions be expunged. Their objections, however, had been overruled in that House. The bill then went up to the other House of Parliament. The same objection was made to those clauses in that House, and there they were struck out. The bill then came back to the House of Commons, and it was the opinion of the Speaker, that the alteration which their Lordships had made in the fiscal clauses was an interference with their privileges, and therefore the Government gave up the bill at once. When the Municipal Bill was again introduced this year these clauses were not included in it, but instead thereof, this Grand Jury Cess Bill was submitted to the House. Now, by introducing these fiscal clauses into the same bill which provided for the administration of justice, it was quite clear that the Government would lose the bill in the same way that they lost the Municipal Bill of last year. If, therefore, the other parts of this bill were necessary to the Municipal Bill, they had better detach the fiscal clauses from it. There were several towns, for instance Cork, Limerick, and Galway, which had rural districts attached to them. These districts, which were now severed from those towns, would not be added to the counties contiguous, and would thus be left without justices, without sheriffs, without coroners, and without sessions, and therefore the legislation contained in this Grand Jury Cess Bill was absolutely essential to the bill before the other House of Parliament, in order to provide for the administration of justice. It was, however, one of the strangest specimens of legislation he had ever seen. The first clause took away from grand juries all power of cess, the second transferred that power to the town councils. There were clauses in the present bill which were directly contradictory to some of those of the Municipal Reform Bill for Ireland. The Corporation Reform Bill provided, that there was to be no change of boundaries as regarded grand jury presentments, while this bill contained a clause to an effect directly contrary. If this bill were not divided into two parts, he warned the noble Lord that both the municipal Reform Bill and the Grand Jury Cess Bill would be lost. The House of Lords had struck the fiscal clauses out of the Municipal Reform Bill, and it was now proposed to re-insert them in this bill. The result would certainly be, that if the bill were not divided, the measures would be thrown out by the other House. For these reasons he should beg to move that it be an instruction to the Committee to divide the bill into two bills, the one to provide for fiscal objects, the other for the administration of justice.

Mr. Pigot

admitted, that there was an inconsistency between the clauses of the two bills. But did the learned Sergeant mean to lay down the principle that a bill passed into law could not be altered or amended by another bill passed during the same session of Parliament? There was nothing in the present case contrary to the usual practice of Parliament. Connected with this bill there were two questions perfectly distinct. One was, whether or not Parliament would repose in the new town-councils the duties and responsibilities which such municipal bodies would possess. The other was, whether or not the boundary clauses formed a necessary part of the Municipal Reform Bill. He contended that this bill must be viewed as a single and indivisible measure, and that neither of its parts formed a necessary branch of the measure of corporate reform. The clauses settling the jurisdiction were rendered necessary by the changes which the bill itself would introduce. The hon. and learned Sergeant wished to relieve the rural districts from all contribution to the borough funds, and throw the whole burden on the inhabitants of the towns, proposing that the town-council should levy a rate for one purpose, and the grand jury for another purpose. He had no hesitation in saying, that if his hon. and learned Friend carried his point, municipal reform would give the greatest dissatisfaction to the towns of Ireland; it would be regarded rather as a curse than a blessing. What led to the course which was adopted in the last session of Parliament, he would mention in two or three words. The bill which was introduced in the beginning of 1839, was precisely as it had been agreed upon between the two Houses in the preceding session. The jurisdiction of the grand juries remained precisely the same, but after the bill was introduced, in the February following, very strong representations were made to the Government of the propriety and usefulness of annexing the liberties to the counties which they adjoined, and leaving the new municipalities to legislate for them. Upon considering the subject, the Government thought that there was only one course which it was proper to pursue, and that was, to assimilate the new municipalities to the municipal councils in England, and give them the power of levying a borough rate to defray those expenses which the corporate property was not sufficient to liquidate. It followed as a necessary consequence, that if these municipalities were to experience heavier taxation, they must have the complete control over the funds raised. Unless, therefore, it was intended to abandon former engagements, and to introduce a new element of dissension into the discussions on the Municipal Reform Bill, he did not think that those who led the Opposition on the other side of the House would agree to the course which had been proposed by his hon. and learned Friend.

Mr. Sergeant Jackson

, in explanation, stated that his object was to separate the rural districts of counties of cities, and counties of towns, and throw them into the counties at large. He wished them to be separated for all purposes, including those of Parliamentary representation and municipal arrangement. In proposing this course, he did not wish to occasion any inconvenience to the noble Lord, or any embarrassment to the Government. He had objected to proceeding with the bill the other night, because it was his strong opinion that it was most inconvenient to the public service to bring on business on which any discussion was expected after twelve o'clock at night.

Motion negatived. House in Committee.

Bill passed through the Committee.

The House resumed. Report to be received.