HC Deb 17 July 1843 vol 70 cc1215-23
Mr. Ewart

rose to call the attention of the House to the state of public business, and the expediency of adopting some decisive course respecting it. Considering the quantity of bills now before the House, the important quality of those bills, and the lateness of the period of the Session, he thought he was justified in this proceeding. Let the public only observe the number of bills now before the House, and those in reserve, and they might expect the House to expire of a plethora of legislation. He took the Order-book, and found in it—the Coalwhippers Bill, the Factories Bill, the Municipal Corporations (Ireland) Bill, the Ecclesiastical Courts Bill, the Fines and Penalties (Ireland) Bill, two Apprehension of Offenders Bills, Hackney-coach Bills, Excise Bills, Arms Bills, and many more than he should be justified in enumerating. But he called attention, also, to the quality of some of these bills. Their length and vast importance rendered their enactment almost impossible in the present Session of Parliament. First, then, was the Factories Bill. To this bill there were two obstacles. It was his duty to apprise the right hon. Baronet (Sir James Graham) that the objections of the dissenters to this bill were not yet removed. The remaining educational clauses of the bill involved principles which they deemed obnoxious. He was convinced that the resolute resistance already made to the more extended clauses would be renewed and repeated against the remaining ones. The factory clauses also were objected to. There was, therefore, a twofold opposition to this bill. To two other bills of great importance considerable objections would be made. He meant the Ecclesiastical Courts Bill and the County Courts Bill. They involved two principles which many Members of the legal profession thought should be decided before the bills themselves were entertained by the House. Those principles involved the question of local and central jurisdiction. On this question there was the greatest variance. The Bankruptcy Bill of last Session (so justly complained of in the country) involved a jurisdiction partly local, partly central. The Ecclesiastical Courts Bill established a central jurisdiction; the County Courts Bill a local one. On which of those three questions was the jurisdiction of the county to be based? The question should be settled before such measures were proceeded with. Instead of giving us those legal reforms, the Government urged on the Irish Arms Bill. He thought the lawyers had a right to say Cedant arma togœ. There was, also, a bill promised at the opening of the Session which, far from attaining its maturity, was not yet in its infancy, nor had ever seen the light. He meant the promised Poor-law Amendment Bill. On measures so important as these he thought he was justified in asking for the decision of the Government. Much had been promised in the present Session— little had been performed. Important measures had been announced, introduced, delayed, and abandoned. The House had sat unceasingly. They had only appeared to advance, without doing so. It was like soldiers beating time— all motion, and no progress. He thought it was time for Government to decide on their future line of proceeding, and he therefore called on them to do so.

Sir J. Graham

could assure the House and the hon. Member that no one could regret more than he did the postponement of the public business. He did not intend to cast reproaches on any one in consequence of this; for hon. Gentlemen, in bring forward motions which impeded the Government business, considered that they were only performing important duties which had been imposed upon them by their constituents. He might, perhaps, be allowed to mention that, with respect to the Corn-laws, the debates on that subject alone occupied either seventeen or nineteen nights. Several nights also—he did not recollect the number—which had been devoted to the Irish Arms Bill, had been taken up with preliminary discussions, so that the Government could not go on with that measure. With regard to the Factories Bill, the House was aware that, when he introduced that bill before Easter, he was anxious at once to proceed with it; but he had been induced to delay it from time to time at the earnest requests of Gentlemen opposite. The delay in proceeding with that measure was contrary to the wishes of her Majesty's Ministers, who yielded to the pressure of hon. Members, as they were anxious that the measure should receive the fullest consideration. Again, in consequence of the opposition and alarm that had been raised against certain parts of that bill, he had withdrawn the chief clauses. After this he had not thought it necessary to press this measure forward immediately, but he still hoped to pass it during the present Session. He believed that some parts of that measure deeply involved the interests of the working classes, he therefore should be most unwilling to postpone it. With respect to the Poor-law bill which he stated at the end of last Session he intended to introduce, he would only observe that he did not think that, at that late period of the Session, it would be necessary to bring it forward. Much matter involved in it had been fully discussed last year, when the Poor-law commission was renewed for five years; and although he was anxious to pass the measure, he did not conceive that it would be expedient to press it at this late period of the Session. He was most anxious however, that the Irish Poor-law bill should pass, and he hoped that, without much further delay, it would be sent up to the other House of Parliament, and would become law before the end of the Session. With respect to the Ecclesiastical Courts Bill and the County Courts Bill, he was not at present prepared to make any statement on the part of the Government, but he did not abandon the hope of their being passed during the present Session.

Lord John Russell

hoped, if not to-day, that at some early day the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government would declare what bills he intended to go on with. The right hon. Gentleman when he was in opposition, was accustomed at about that period of the Session to ask, first Lord Althorp, and more recently himself, what measures the Government intended to proceed with, and what measures he intended to postpone. At the present time there were several bills before the House of very great importance, and it would be impossible to discuss the whole of them. With respect to what had fallen from the hon. Member for Greenock, the right hon. Gentleman said, that there was a bill before the other House to remove certain doubts as to the law of Scotland with respect to the appointment of ministers to churches there. He might be told that it had been fully discussed in the other House, but he understood that the noble and learned Lords who had given such elaborate judgments in the Auchterarder case, namely, Lord Brougham and Lord Cottenham, had stated, that that bill was not declaratory of the present law. After the very learned judgment of those two noble and learned Lords, who were of course so fully acquainted with the matter, and after their declaration that this measure introduced a new description of law, it would be for the House to consider what should be the future law relative to the Church of Scotland. With respect to other bills, he thought that the House should be informed whether it were intended to proceed with the Ecclesiastical Courts Bill. That measure had been greatly altered since its introduction, and be bad been informed by some of those persons whose arguments induced him to vote for the second reading of the bill, that it was now in such a state, that it was doubtful whether it would not do more harm than good if it were passed. Another measure was the County Courts Bill, the principle of which had not yet received any discussion in that House. With respect to the Factories Bill, he thought that upon the declaration of the right hon. Baronet that he intended to abandon the educational clauses in that bill, that the right hon. Baronet would have struck out of it all clauses which should enforce a compulsory form of education of the children employed in the factories. That had not been done. He thought that the House should be informed with as little delay as possible, by the first Minister of the Crown, what bills he intended to proceed with, for in a very short time a great many Members would be gone into the country, and if the measures were then passed they could not be satisfactorily discussed. As for the bill for the alteration of the Poor-law, alluded to by the hon. Member, he must say that he and the other supporters of that measure had some ground of complaint against the right hon. Gentleman. When this bill was before the House last year, the right hon. Gentleman, when he postponed it, stated that he was determined at any rate to carry through the House the part of the measure for the renewal of the commission. Although as a supporter of the Poor-law Bill he was not opposed to the renewal of the commission, still he thought that such alterations should be made in the power given under it as were proposed in the bill, and which he thought, if carried, would prove satisfactory. The right hon. Gentleman then declared, that although he had been prevented proceeding with the latter clauses of his bill, in consequence of the late period of the Session, that he would, at the very earliest period of the present Session, again bring them forward. At the commencement of the Session this might have been done, for there was no great pressure of business, for all the estimates, including the miscellaneous, were agreed to, after less discussion than he ever remembered to have seen them pass with. He did not think that it was fair conduct to the House not to introduce this bill, and he also thought that the House had a right to complain of the manner in which measures had been introduced and then altered and abandoned in the manner in which they had been.

Sir R. Peel

did not think that the comments of the noble Lord were justified by the facts of the case. The noble Lord said, that they had got through the estimates at a very early period of the Session. True, but the noble Lord did not take into his consideration the number of government days which had been given up, in order to allow postponed discussions to be proceeded with. This had very much contracted the time which otherwise would have been devoted to the discussion of Government measures. He thought that there was a growing tendency on the part of the House to go on with adjourned debates more than formerly. It was not now considered an unusual circumstance to have prolonged debates for four or five days. If so many hon. Gentlemen persisted in arguing on the Corn-laws, or on any other subject, for so many nights, it was, of course, less in the power of Government to bring forward the measures which it had introduced, and which it was anxious to carry. The Government had performed its duty with respect to the Ecclesiastical Courts Bill and the County Courts Bill, and it must be left to the House to determine whether ample opportunities remained for the consideration of those measures. The House had sat eight or nine hours every day, and the noble Lord must be fully aware, as he had long been a Minister of the Crown, of the difficulties that a Member of the Government had in reconciling his duties in that House, with a desire to give way to the accommodation of other Members. During the present Session he could not help feeling that there had been more than the usual impediments in the way of the Government proceeding with its measures. As for the measure respecting the Church of Scotland, which would probably be sent down from the other House, he attached very great importance to it, and he thought that it was most desirable that it should pass during the present Session. He, therefore, should use all the influence in his power to induce the House to assent to it. He agreed with the noble Lord, that at that late period of the Session the Government should, at as early a period as possible, state what measures they intended to pass. He thought all the measures before the House of great importance, but they had arrived at a period when it would be necessary to consider their relative importance, and to determine which should be proceeded with. He would therefore take the opportunity of stating at a very early day what measures he intended to go on with, and also those which he should abandon for the present Session.

Mr. Berrial

said, that the utmost discontent prevailed throughout the country at the right hon. Baronet having retained any of the educational clauses of the Factories Bill.

Sir J. Graham

begged to say a few words, he had been charged with want of faith, by the noble Lord, with reference to the clause relating to education in the Factories Bill, which it was proposed to retain. He would assert, that he had said nothing whatever, in announcing the changes contemplated in that measure, which justified so harsh an accusation. The clauses which he announced were to be retained, did not at all warrant the noble Lord in casting this imputation against him. The object of the clauses which he retained, was to regulate the conduct of education under the law as it now stood, and was binding upon all persons engaged in factories. The noble Lord seemed to think, that this was the first time compulsory education had been thought of, but this was not at all the case. There was no new arrangement in the clauses as they now stood, except the provision which had been introduced rendering inspection on the part of the officers appointed by the committee of education necessary before certificates could be granted to any schoolmaster. He would assert positively, that these clauses stood in the bill quite apart from the education clauses. He should take an opportunity of consulting his colleagues with reference to the propriety of proceeding with the Factories Bill this Session, and he would state the result to the House as soon as possible. He would repeat, the accusation against him of breach of faith in respect to this matter, was a most unjust, a most unfounded one. And the noble Lord, not content with making a charge against him as to the Factories Bill, accused him also, of breach of faith with reference to the announced Poor-law Amendment Bill. He would, of course, admit that there had been frequent reference to this subject, and he had been pressed to declare, that he would bring forward a continuation measure which should mitigate the rigour of the New Poor-law; but he had stated distinctly, that with hardly a single exception, the clauses of the bill which he intended to introduce, would be identical with those of the bill which became law last Session. He added as distinctly, that he believed the stringency of that measure, as it now stood, was essential to its efficacy, and that he was not prepared to depart from the principle of that measure. He added, further, that the details of the contemplated measure would be the same as those which were omitted from the former bill, more especially with respect to the Gilbert unions, which he proposed to abolish. He had reason to believe, that the proposal for abolishing those unions was one, which, as on a former occasion, would lead to protracted debate. The hon. Member for Derbyshire, for instance, who in the last Session, showed himself most opposed to the abolition of these unions, had, in the present Session, when the hon. Member for Evesham gave notice of a motion pressing the New Poor-law Amendment Bill on the Government, given notice, as an amendment on that motion, that he should move, that such a measure be not proceeded with this Session, if the Gilbert unions were to be affected, It was most painful to him, that the noble Lord should have thought it consistent with, nay something more than consistent with, imperative upon him in the discharge of his duty, to impute to him conduct so unworthy. The accusation which had been thrown upon him was a most painful one, coming from such a quarter; but the pain he felt was greatly mitigated by the consciousness that he had in no degree deserved the charge. He deeply regretted, however, the bitterness of feeling which had been manifested on the part of the noble Lord.

Lord J. Russell

explained, that after the declaration which had been made on a former night by the right hon. Gentleman, the House had a right to expect, that all the clauses with reference to education should be omitted from the bill altogether. He had certainly expressed this opinion, and he adhered to it; but he did not remember that he had accused the right hon. Baronet of a breach of faith. As to the compulsory nature of these clauses, he had not said, that compulsory education was being introduced for the first time in this bill; he had on the contrary, frankly admitted that these compulsory provisions were founded on the existing law.

Mr. Hume

said, there could be no doubt, that out of doors the general opinion was, that the right hon. Baronet intended the withdrawal of all the clauses respecting education. The right hon. Baronet greatly deceived himself if he thought the paltry alterations be proposed would satisfy the people. His only efficient plan would be, to withdraw the measure altogether, and prepare another of a more comprehensive and liberal character. There was every disposition to make allowances for the difficulties which Government had to contend with in carrying a really good measure upon this subject, but there was just reason to complain of the manner in which the right hon. Baronet and his colleagues sought to force upon the House measures of the most unconstitutional, and, in every point of view, objectionable character. While they made no effort to carry forward measures of a popular and useful description, such as the County Courts Bill, and the amendment to the New Poor-law; the Arms Bill, that most unconstitutional and oppressive measure, was forced upon the House, to the loss of many a night. As the Opposition would not suffer them to do gross injustice to Ireland without a check, Government seemed determined to do no good for any part of the country.

Mr. T. Duncombe

was glad, at all events, to find that the Gilbert Unions were not to be interfered with this year. He would suggest that the pruning knife which Government had lately been using so vigorously, could not be applied to a better purpose than in cutting down the Ecclesiastical Courts Bill. They might rely upon it, there was no measure which would give them so much trouble as that, if they persevered with it. Their own Lord Chancellor said, he would not sanction it at this period of the Session. As to the Arms Bill, no Amendments the Government or the Opposition could introduce into it would make it otherwise than most exceptionable.