HC Deb 31 July 1851 vol 118 cc1783-6

Order for Committee read.

House in Committee.

Clause 10.


objected to further proceeding with the Bill, as it contained a provision to which the majority of Irish Members were decidedly opposed—he meant the clause which gave a single magistrate the power of committing a prisoner for twelve months. He should move that the Chairman report progress.


hoped the Government would not proceed with the Bill. It appeared to him that it would be impossible to pass the Bill with full discussion during the present Session.


said, that they had now reached the 10th of thirty-nine clauses, and as there was not a single notice of amendments remaining on the paper, he thought it would be much better to proceed with it, and endeavour to pass it.


said, the principle of the Bill had been adopted by the House, and as it was calculated to effect a material improvement in the administration of justice in Ireland, he trusted hon. Members would not impede its further progress. However, if hon. Members persisted in amendments on every clause, it would certainly be impossible to pass it this Session.


was anxious to limit the principle of the Bill, for he considered it most objectionable that a single magistrate, sitting in Petty Sessions, should have the power of dealing with any offence short of treason or capital felony, and sentencing offenders to twelve months' imprisonment. He was satisfied that no one would venture to attempt to apply such a principle to England; and he asked the Committee to consider whether this was not rash, unwise, and unjust legislation?


said, that parties had the power of appeal against the decision of the magistrates; the hon. Member for Dundalk (Mr. M'Cullagh) had totally overlooked the provisions with regard to appeal, by which the principle of the Bill was guarded. There seemed to have been some personal pique between the hon. Member for Dundalk and the Lord Chancellor of Ireland as to the appointment of magistrates; and he hoped that hon. Gentleman would waive his personal feeling, and allow the Bill to proceed.


said, there was no foundation whatever for the statement the hon. Gentleman had just made. He was happy to say that he was on very good terms with the Lord Chancellor of Ireland, and he hoped he should ever remain so.


was glad that the hon. Member for Dundalk had called attention to this Bill, and he (Mr. B. Osborne) hoped that the hon. Member would persist in his opposition to it. It was, he thought a most objectionable thing to attempt to pass such a Bill, giving powers of so unprecedented a character to a single magistrate, at the fag-end of a Sesion, in a House of only forty-nine Members.


said, he must advert to the difficulty that there was in numerous districts in Ireland in getting two magistrates to meet; and he appealed to the Committee to pass this measure for the sake of the poor man, who had at present often to go with his witnesses from fifteen to twenty miles, at great loss of time and expense, and then found that there were not two magistrates present, and therefore his case could not be heard. The magistrates in many districts in Ireland were not able to leave their houses to attend potty sessions, because they could not meet their engagements in consequence of the loss of their property, the non-payment of their rents, and the universal bankruptcy of all around them. In other districts their property had been sold from them, and they did not feel it consistent with their duty to attend the bench under these distressing circumstances. A suggestion had been made that the number of magistrates should be increased; but he knew one district where every man who was qualified for a magistrate was already on the Commission; and in another district, where there were seven, eight, or nine magistrates; they would not attend benches. This Bill was the only mode of meeting these difficulties, and he begged the Committee to assent to it for the sake of the poor man who would not otherwise be able to obtain justice.


thought that if they continued to enact such laws as this, it was not very likely that the state of things in Ireland would be much improved. Laws of such an unfeeling and ferocious character were calculated to produce a feeling of intense hatred on the part of the poor against the rich, a feeling of hatred that would often work itself out in acts of re- venge, and the consequences in the end were, as they knew, most deplorable. The hon. Member for the city of Waterford (Sir H. Barron) seemed to think it was a misfortune that the people of Ireland could not find a magistrate. Now, he (Mr. Wakley) doubted whether the people had much to bs thankful for when they did meet with a magistrate. The people of England had no great liking for magistrates; but from what he had heard they had much greater reason to avoid their presence in Ireland than to seek for them. This Bill would subject to most severe punishment any person who "unlawfully and wilfully damaged or destroyed any fence of every description whatsoever." A poor man in getting over a fence might knock out a stone or commit other trifling damage; and who was to determine whether it was wilfully committed? The magistrate, who was empowered to inflict upon him the monstrous punishment of a year's imprisonment. He considered that this Bill manifested towards the people of Ireland a spirit which nothing could justify. If they manifested towards that people a kind and liberal spirit, he believed they would experience from them a grateful return and a ready acquiescence in any wise and salutary measures Parliament might adopt.


said, this subject had been discussed yesterday, when a division took place, and fifteen Irish Members voted for the Clause, and eight against it. He thought, therefore, that the Government could not he accused of forcing upon Ireland a measure which was very unpalatable to the representatives of that country.


regretted that the Government had not taken advice and withdrawn this objectionable clause. He was prepared to oppose the further progress of the Bill, as he would not be a party to introducing into Ireland a Bill which would be scouted out of England.


could recognise no distinction between the law in England, Ireland, and Scotland, and would therefore oppose this new and arbitrary power. The principle of the Bill would not be tolerated in England, and he was not prepared to commence it in Ireland. Let hon. Gentlemen remember that that House was a house of magistrates, and that they ought to take care how they attempted to increase their own powers. He would oppose the clause even at the risk of losing the Bill altogether.


most oppose the clause, on the ground that the severity of the proposed penalties was altogether disproportionate to the offence committed, and because it was introducing a most dangerous precedent.


believed that the description of the Irish magistracy given by the hon. Member for the city of Waterford (Sir H. Barron), was a very correct one. He believed that the whole of the magisterial and grand-jury system in that country was unsound.


was willing to admit that a good deal might be said against a portion of this clause, though he thought that it would work well in some parts of Ireland, in which there was at present a partial failure of justice. But it was pretty obvious that in the present temper of the Committee, if the Government insisted upon this clause they could not pass the Bill, which contained some provisions of a very valuable character. If hon. Gentlemen would go into the discussion on the rest of the Bill with the intention of passing it, he would, on bringing up the Report, omit the second section of clause 10; the effect of this would be, while leaving the present law untouched, to prevent any further extension of the powers exercised by a single magistrate. If this suggestion were agreed to, he would move that the Chairman should report progress, and would finish the Bill at the evening sitting.


said, that after the concession made by the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer, he would not press his Motion.

Clause agreed to.

House resumed; Committee report progress.