HC Deb 01 May 1861 vol 162 cc1357-61

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."


said, he rose to move the Previous Question, not that he had any hostility to the principle on which the Bill might be alleged to be founded, but because it was introduced precipitately, not for any present necessity, and on no other grounds than those afforded by the Report of a Royal Commission which had been issued twenty years ago, and which the hon. and learned Member for Youghal was endeavouring to galvanize and resuscitate after so long an interment. It was felt that, though the existing grand jury system had worked very well, it had some theoretical defects; but that was no reason why a hon. and learned Gentleman who had unsuccessfully asked for an inquiry, but now thought himself competent to legislate at once upon the same grounds on which he had formerly only thought himself justified in asking for information, should be allowed to legislate in haste, when there were in preparation papers which would throw considerable light on the question, and when there were already other Bills before the House which dealt with the grand jury system. There was really no urgent necessity for legislation on the subject, and, therefore, they might well wait till a well-considered measure could be introduced under Government auspices. In the meanwhile it was enough to have a really workable and generally beneficial system, which, though not theoretically perfect, had practically stood the test of time. In one county, forming one-sixth of the whole of Ireland, though 1,000 miles of road bad been made, and all the previously existing roads were kept in good order, the expense had been reduced by 8 per cent. Throughout Ireland, taking the average of five years, the expenditure had not increased as compared with that of thirty years ago; showing that the administration had been most economical. In other instances it was found that where the mileage had been trebled, the expense had only increased by one-fourth. The proposer of the Bill had not given them any information as to how the new system was likely to work. Under the present system these matters were under the direction of small bodies (nominated, he was willing to admit), but under the proposed system Poor Law Guardians were to be associated cess-payers, the result of which would be that the increase of the working bodies would necessitate the building of court houses. In the county of Donegal there were six baronies and eight unions, so that instead of a small working body they would have some thirty or forty people assembled, a fact which would rather obstruct than help forward the business. The tax was one of great importance, and required more cautious legislation than was likely to be derived from legislation on the spur of a moment. There was no popular feeling in Ireland for immediate legislation, and it would be better to wait till the Under Secretary for Ireland had sufficiently considered the matter, and was prepared to introduce a well-considered measure which would command the support of both sides of the House. There had been only twenty-eight petitions presented in the course of twelve years on the grand jury question, and the numbers both of petitions and of signatures had been increased till, in 1856–57, there was from the whole of Ireland but one petition with two signatures, when, on other questions there were many petitions with numerous signatures. In the year 1857–58 there were none, and in the year 1859–60 there was again a petition from two gentlemen, and no doubt they were the same as in the former year. Probably they had got tired waiting, and having a copy of the old petition left, thought they might as well use it. Mr. Smith O'Brien—a gentleman who would be admitted to be a gentleman not likely to overlook a real Irish grievance—said that the grand jury system, though it had some defects, was at least free from more serious evils, and was not considered to be a practical grievance. He should ask the hon. Gentleman to postpone the Bill till Government could bring forward a comprehensive measure, though he would admit that the House owed a debt—a small debt certainly—to the hon. Member for drawing attention to the subject; but be hoped the hon. Gentleman would not force them to a division, the result of which would, perhaps, be painful to his feelings.


said, he concurred in the opinion that legislation on the subject was desirable, and there were points to be urged in favour of both the Bills which had been brought in on the subject; but he thought that any alterations in the law could be done better by Government, the peculiar sources of information at their disposal placing it in their power to deal more effectually with such great social questions. Both measures were so intricate, and the amount of change was so out of proportion to the necessity, that he was inclined to regard both as inopportune, and he should join in the appeal to the hon. and learned Member (Mr. Butt) to postpone the matter. Otherwise he should vote for the Previous Question.


said, he could not yield to the suggestions of hon. Members. The hon. and learned Member (Mr. Longfield) had misunderstood the state of the law and the object of his Bill. He had never asked for inquiry on the question to which the Bill related. He had certainly asked for inquiry as to the grand jury system generally, but hon. Members then said, "Do not go into so wide a question, but bring in a Bill upon a particular point." He had done so, and the present proposal did not at all interfere with the general grand jury system. As to the petitions, he had presented one from the county of Leitrim with over 3,000 signatures. The defects were not theoretical only, and his Bill would remedy an acknowledged grievance. It was intended to remove anomalies which no Member of the House would attempt to defend. The first defect was, that persons having no interest in a barony could attend the presentment sessions and outvote the resident magistrates. That was one grievance he proposed to remedy. The other evil he proposed to remedy was the mode of election of the associate ratepayers. At present they were elected, not by those they were intended to represent, but by those they were intended to control. The representation which existed was much the same as if the House of Lords should govern the expenditure of the country. In respect to the other Bill before the House, he must object to the machinery proposed to be established, which he, thought, far less convenient than that proposed in his measure. Both Bills, however, might be referred to Committee, or to the same Committee, when all questions of detail could be considered fully. If the House should reject the Bill that would not be his fault. The responsibility of the rejection would rest on the House. But he should not do his duty if he did not press the question to a division.


said, it was impossible to take the Poor Law Guardians as a substitute for the Grand Jury, as the parochial districts were not conterminous with the baronies, and in some cases not even with the counties. He wished to know whether Government were prepared to introduce a measure of their own, or whether they would adopt the Bill. He thought that the Bill would be unworkable, whereas the present system worked effectually. He should, therefore, vote against the Bill.


said, he was surprised to hear the arguments which had been used against the Bill. Let Englishmen consider that £1,000,000 a year was raised by the grand juries of Ireland, who were in no way responsible to the people. He held that representation and taxation should go together, and the Bill before them provided the smallest modicum of representation of the people. The people had not petitioned on the subject, because they had got tired of petitioning.


said, that questions of county finance were not at any time very encouraging, but let them consider the position they were placed in with respect to this question. When his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Butt) moved for a Committee, he was told that he had better bring in a Bill, the Committee being objected to, on the ground that they had all the information before them. At that time he (Mr. Cardwell) said that if the hon. and learned Gentleman would leave the matter in the hands of Government he would introduce a Bill, or if the hon. and learned Member would introduce a Bill, he would give any assistance in his power. There were now before the House two Bills, that of the hon. and learned Member for Youghal (Mr. Butt) and that of the hon. Member for Roscommon (Colonel French). The former was met by the proposal of the Previous Question, and probably the other Bill would be met in the same way. Now, if the proposal for a Committee was to be met by the suggestion to bring in a Bill, and the Bill by a Motion for the Previous Question, what encouragement was there to any hon. Member to attempt to legislate upon an important and difficult question? The Bill would certainly require considerable alteration to meet the objection that the electoral districts were not conterminous with the baronies, but that was a matter of detail that might be dealt with in Committee. He should support the second reading of the Bill.

Whereupon Previous Question put, "That that Question be now put."

The House divided: —Ayes 66; Noes 86: Majority 20.

House adjourned at five minutes before Six o'clock,