HC Deb 15 May 1867 vol 187 cc592-600

Order for Second Reading read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, observed, that its object was not to re-construct the grand jury laws or change the incidence of taxation, but to remove anomalies in the present system, and prevent the making of another more satisfactory law. There were irregularities and deficiencies in the system which had crept in and which required correction, and which by their removal would establish stability, and make the law more in accordance with the views of the recognised exponents of public opinion. He meant especially the case of the associated ratepayers, who ought to act as checks upon the magistrates in the assessment of the public money. They were drawn from a list of the highest cesspayers, and they were selected by ballot at the sessions; there was consequently doubt as to those who were to serve. In many counties in Ireland it was most difficult to obtain a sufficient attendance of those cesspayers, and when they did attend, it was often found they came for a purpose, and were manipulated by the grand jury who prepared the lists. The principle that representation should go with taxation was therefore defeated. Now, as all local taxation should originate at the sessions, he desired to see them in a more responsible position. He proposed that they should be elected, like the Poor Law Guardians, by the ratepayers. He would also limit the number of magistrates, so that there should be no swamping of the associated ratepayers, and that ratepayers and magistrates might form a compact body with equal and co-extensive powers. The second section provided for the election of associated ratepayers in a manner named. To prevent, however, the too frequent repetition of elections, it was suggested that the Poor Law Guardians should form the body of the associated cesspayers, and to that he had no objection. He was ready to admit that in his own county (Londonderry) the machinery of the Bill might not work as well as in other places, but he proposed that there should be baronial committees with equal and co-extensive powers. A similar organization had been carried out in the county of Dublin, and with, he believed, the best results. If the House would go into Committee several useful Amendments might be inserted. For instance, he himself would move that some increased remuneration be given to the secretaries of grand juries, many of whom were now underpaid. Possibly the House might be of opinion that the measure should be referred to a Select Committee, and on that point he would agree, as his only object was to get rid of the anomalies and abuses of the present system.


seconded the Motion, and remarked that under no other system had such good roads been maintained as those of Ireland. 50,000 miles of high roads and by-roads were kept in admirable repair for £512,000 a year, which included the maintenance and repair of bridges and other similar works, and the approaches thereto. There was a debt of £4,000,000 sterling upon 26,000 miles of road in England, and yet in Ireland there were no debts and no turnpikes. He was glad, therefore, that the hon. Member for Londonderry had not proposed anything which would interfere with the present system of road repair and maintenance in Ireland. That system was plain, and the people were conversant with it. The cesspayers at road sessions had an interest in having the roads in good order, while they were interested in economical management, as they themselves would have to pay the principal cost. In England no new road could be undertaken without coming to Parliament at an expense of £600 or £700, whereas in Ireland the expense was little or nothing, all proceedings both by presentment sessions or before grand juries were conducted in public. The local knowledge of the resident gentry, the professional assistance of the county engineer, were available without expense. No works could be undertaken without first having received the sanction of the cesspayers. If approved of, their execution had to be advertised for public tender, and the lowest offer had to be accepted. At the assizes any cesspayer could challenge the work on its necessity, and have its merits decided on by the verdict of a petty jury, or if he questioned its legality, by the presiding Judge without any cost. The nomination of cesspayers to be associated with the magistrates at presentment sessions might lead to some doubt as to who was to serve; but as they had to be chosen by ballot out of double their number, he did not attach much weight to that objection, although he quite agreed that magistrates living at a distance and having no immediate interest in the district, could attend road sessions, and by their votes swamp those of the associated ratepayers. With regard to compulsory assessments, he (Colonel French) objected altogether to them. Was there either reason or justice in heavy taxation being imposed on the Irish counties by a fiat from the Castle of Dublin unaccompanied by either account or explanation. Why should the Lord Lieutenant be empowered to order the erection of enormously expensive buildings, far more costly than the pecuniary circumstances of the county warranted, such as lunatic asylums, gaols, &c., and their expenditure defrayed by those who neither sanctioned nor approved of the outlay. Why should the charge for lunatic asylums be taken from the poor rate, of which they formed a part, and placed on the county rate? Why should the counties be taxed for an uncalled-for and unnecessary audit by a Master in Chancery, already highly paid as a public servant? He would give a few out of many cases, showing the result of leaving this power to the Executive. In 1822 an order came from Dublin Castle to Roscommon that the collection of the county cess should cease on account of the famine and distress then prevalent. In 1835 the arrear was peremptorily called up, although many occupiers of 1822 were long since dead or had emigrated. In another case the cost of seven bridges was levied, although the county engineer proved that the foundations of some of them were not laid. The twelve counties bordering the Shannon were forced to pay £300,000 for improvements which were never effected at all. He seconded the Motion for the second reading; but declined to pledge himself to support all the details of the Bill, which ought to be introduced on the responsibility of Government.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Peel Dawson.)


objected, on behalf of the tenant farmers of Ireland, that they should pay the whole of the expense of the roads, and that the other classes — the landowners, for instance—should not contribute their fair share. The cost might be thought to be divided equally between the landlords and the tenants. The support of lunatics was divided between the two; but why, he asked, were not the other county charges also divided, and why should not taxation and representation go hand in hand? He would not be satisfied with any system that was not based on equity and fairness, and he asked the House to insist upon ample justice being done in those respects.


said, he did not think they could settle the principle of the grand juries of Ireland in a Bill introduced by a private Member, and that it was a subject which ought to be taken up by the responsible Ministers of the Crown. There were, however, some portions of the Bill in which he could concur, although in the main he did not think it went far enough to meet the demands of the case. The Bill proposed to deal with the constitution of the Court of Presentment Sessions; and secondly, to deal with the grand juries themselves. With regard to the first portion of the Bill relating to the election of associated ratepayers, and to the means to be taken to prevent magistrates living in other baronies coming and voting for or against an expenditure in which they had no interest whatever, he was willing to give it his support. He feared, however, that the second portion would be subversive of the present grand jury system, of which he had always considered the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Peel Dawson) to be a warm supporter. He feared that the operation of the second portion of the Bill would be to hand over the whole of the power of the grand juries to the proposed standing Committee. The hon. Member for Limerick (Mr. Synan) had given notice of his intention to refer the Bill to a Select Committee; but if that course were adopted, the whole of the grand jury system would have to be inquired into, and he contended that the present measure would not furnish a proper foundation for such an inquiry, although to inquiry he had no objection whatever.


considered the question of a change in manner of collecting cess was one deserving consideration; but he was far from saying that a change was likely to be beneficial to the ratepayers. There were several portions of the Bill in which he entirely concurred; other portions to which he could not give his approval. He agreed that it would be much better to refer the Bill to a Select Committee.


also expressed his approval of the first portion of the Bill, and his dissent from the second. He believed that the best course to adopt would be to refer the Bill to a Select Committee, and then to leave the matter in the hands of the Government, so that it might be dealt with in a more satisfactory manner than if left in the hands of a private Member.

MR. SYNAN (who had a notice on the paper to refer the Bill to a Select Committee)

, having pointed out the difficulties with which a private Member would have to contend in a matter of this nature, observed that the defects of the present grand jury system were three-fold. The first defect was, the want of a representative character in the grand jury itself; the second, want of a representative character of the associated ratepayers; and the third was, that the grand jury was merely a temporary and shifting body. The Bill now under discussion would deal with the second defect, and left the other two altogether untouched. In his opinion the grand juries ought to have a certain corporate existence. To the first portion of the Bill he was not disposed to object, and so far as his Motion to refer the Bill to a Select Committee was concerned, he thought it would furnish a sufficient basis for inquiry; but if the Government would consent to take up the matter he would waive his Motion.


joined in the recommendation of the hon. Member for Roscommon (Colonel French), and hoped the noble Lord would deal with this subject, because the Bill was not sufficiently comprehensive in its character.


said, the subject was one of such importance that it could not be adequately dealt with by a private Member, and he therefore hoped that the noble Lord (Lord Naas) would respond to the appeal made to him, and would deal with it in a comprehensive and satisfactory manner. In his opinion no legislation would be satisfactory which did not deal with the absence of sufficient representation on the part of the ratepayers and with the injustice of throwing the whole burden of maintaining roads and similar works upon the occupiers of the land, who had much less interest in them than the owner. The present system was regarded with suspicion and dissatisfaction by the people, who considered that the time had come for the re-arrangement and reform of the fiscal system in the counties of Ireland. In whatever legislation might be undertaken care should be taken for a complete representation of the cesspayers—a fair adjustment of the burdens of taxation between occupiers and owners, and such a change in the constitution of the grand juries as would convert the present evanescent into permanent and responsible bodies.


expressed his approval of many parts of the Bill, but was of opinion that other portions of it were open to considerable objection.


admitted there could be but one opinion as to the propriety of representation accompanying taxation; but, looking to the history of the grand jury system of Ireland, he had great doubts as to whether any great practical evil existed. There might be individual instances in which cesspayers and members of grand juries were actuated by selfish motives; but these motives operated to a less degree, perhaps, in the grand jury system than in any other. There might have been, as alleged, unfair manipulation of lists of cesspayers; but if it had amounted to a system there was sufficient public spirit to have exposed it. He could not admit that the grand jury system as it was now worked was one wholly and entirely removed from popular control. He believed the contrary was the case, and that, whenever anything was done to which there was great popular objection, the opinion of a Judge and jury was taken. With regard to compulsory assessment the House was aware that owing to the great mass of public works which had been constructed by Government loans, the system was to a certain extent inevitable. No doubt many of these works had cost more than they ought to have done. With regard to lunatic asylums he must remind the House that he introduced a Bill, proposing that they should be placed on the same footing as gaols and other institutions; but that Bill met with determined resistance and was defeated, and the present system was strongly supported by many hon. Members professing Liberal opinions. He could not believe that in any part of Ireland the grand juries wished to exclude from their deliberations the highest cesspayers; indeed, in the county of Mayo they were generally appointed. [Lord JOHN BROWNE: Always.] That might be a good rule in Mayo, but in other counties it would not work well; and he did not think it would be wise in future legislation to provide that the highest cesspayers should be selected. He agreed with the hon. Member for Londonderry (Sir Frederick Heygate) that great misapprehension prevailed as to the incidence of the county cess. He did not want to raise a question which had been warmly debated in the House in reference to the compound-householder—namely, in case an occupier paid the rate, what was the exact portion of the rate he really paid. It was a question on which great difference of opinion prevailed. He believed generally that when a charge was placed upon property, no matter whether the occupier or the owner paid it, sooner or later the great bulk of the charge came out of the pocket of the owner. There could not be any real and substantial doubt on the subject, and therefore, although it might be held that it facilitated the collection of rates, and the working of the grand jury system, that the whole rate or half the rate should be borne by the landlord, he did not believe that the tenant would realize the anticipated benefit, for it would be found eventually, as agreements and leases ran out, the rate would be laid upon the occupier in the shape of rent. When this was brought forward as a popular grievance he thought there was nothing in it; it was a mere question of machinery, and ought not to be put forward as an instance of oppressive and unjust legislation. He did not consider it any real or substantial practical grievance, and he believed that if the subject was practically inquired into a great deal of popular misapprehension would be set at rest. As to the Bill before the House, he feared that its scope was much wider than at first appeared. Practically, it upset the whole grand jury system in in Ireland. Now, it might be of public advantage that the grand jury, as a fiscal body, should meet more frequently than they did; but it would be certainly undesirable that that body, which represented the mass of the ratepayers, should delegate important functions to small committees of their own number. One great advantage of the present system—namely, publicity, would be thereby removed, and after a few years all the financial affairs of a county would fall into the hands of three or four individuals. He did not think any advantage would arise from passing the Bill during the present Session. Admitting that the whole subject was worthy of inquiry and consideration, he doubted whether that inquiry could be properly conducted except by a Committee appointed at the commencement of a Session, consisting of Members carefully selected, when all parties interested would have an opportunity of giving evidence. Nothing could be more unfortunate than that the House should hastily legislate on a subject upon which the greatest possible difference of opinion existed. He therefore suggested that the Bill should be withdrawn, and if at the commencement of next Session an inquiry was proposed, he should offer no objection to it. In suggesting the withdrawal of the Bill he should not be dealing frankly with the House if be did not state that he should not himself be prepared to introduce any measure on the subject, unless it was sanctioned by the Report of some such Committee; and, as there were other matters connected with Ireland which pressed for more immediate settlement, he thought it would be best not to proceed further with the Bill at present.


said, that the subject of the grand jury law had excited great attention in Ireland, where it was the opinion of the mass of the population that it was unfair that the great bulk of this taxation should come upon the occupier. Perhaps it was too late now to appoint a Committee; but he hoped the noble Lord would devote his attention to the subject, and would next Session introduce a Bill.


thought that the statement of the Chief Secretary was satisfactory, and suggested the withdrawal of the Bill, the noble Lord having promised to co-operate in procuring an inquiry.


joined with many hon. Members in the opinion which had been expressed that the subject was one too large to be dealt with in a satisfactory manner by an independent Member, and would withdraw the Bill, giving notice that at an early period in the next Session he would make an appeal to the noble Lord to assist in legislating on this important subject.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Bill withdrawn.