HC Deb 09 March 1868 vol 190 cc1227-34

Order for Second Reading read.


, in moving the second reading of this Bill, said, it would be in the recollection of the House that when the First Minister, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, proposed the Budget of this year, he mentioned the fund which was the subject of the present Bill as a fund which would come in as part of the Ways and Means of the year. After making that statement, it was objected by some persons interested in the question in Ireland that it would not be equitable that the fund should be so transferred; and it was arranged in consequence that a case should be prepared jointly by the Solicitor to the Treasury and the Crown Solicitor in Dublin, to be submitted to the Law Officers of England and Ireland. The case was one which required the examination of a great number of Acts of Parliament; and it was only in August last, after Parliament had separated, that the Opinion of the Law Officers was received. They were unanimous in opinion that, according to the equity of the case, the funds should be transferred to the Consolidated Fund, and they recommended, as it was a matter of some doubt, that the transfer should be effected under an Act of Parliament. The House would hardly expect him to go into all the clauses affecting the question, but would no doubt be satisfied with that Opinion. The fund which it was proposed to deal with arose from an accumulation of fines, penalties, and fees, which were for a series of years applicable in diminution of the contributions of the counties for the constabulary; but in 1851 the public took upon itself the whole burden of the constabulary, with the exception of some extra force employed, and the consequence was that, from 1851 to 1858, when another Act passed dealing with the question, these funds were not applicable in relief of the contributions from the counties. There was no question that they remained part of the revenue of the Crown, and that under the Civil List Act they ought to have been paid into the Exchequer. From 1851 to 1858 they were received and invested, and allowed to accumulate. Apart from the question of the authority of the Act of Parliament which affected the question, he thought the House would be of opinion that it was entirely wrong in principle that any Department of the State should have a fund accumulating over which it had control, and that such fund ought to be paid over to the Consolidated Fund, and if the Department required funds, they should come to the House to vote them. In 1858 an Act was passed making regulations as to the salaries of clerks of petty sessions in Ireland, and a clause was inserted under which the Irish Government had been advised that they had the power of employing the dividends of this fund in aid of the fund for the payment of those clerks. The wording of the clause was somewhat vague; and, in order to meet the objections which might be raised on the ground that the transfer of this fund to the Consolidated Fund deprived them of the dividends to which they were legally entitled, he had prepared the following clause, which might be inserted in Committee:— If any deficiency arises by reason of the conversion of the said bank annuities in the sums required to meet any payments which have at the time of the passing of this Act been legally made chargeable, either in the whole or in part, upon the dividends of the said annuities, the Commissioners of Her Majesty's Treasury shall, after all other monies or funds applicable to such payments have been exhausted, make good such deficiency out of monies to be provided for that purpose by Parliament. If a Committee of the House agreed to insert the clause, any objection which might be raised by persons interested in the salaries of petty sessions' clerks would be done away with.

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


said, he regretted to have to oppose a Bill brought forward by the right hon. Gentleman on the first night of his official appearance as Chancellor of the Exchequer; and he regretted this the more because he feared the Bill indicated a change in the disposition of the Government towards Ireland. When Lord Derby took office he promised that he would look upon all Irish interests with favour, and he was surprised to find it proposed that a sum devoted to local purposes and raised from local sources should be applied suddenly, without any notice, to the Consolidated Fund, and a Bill brought in to legalize what would otherwise be illegal. The right hon. Gentleman had some time since acceded to a Motion of his, and agreed to lay on the table of the House a Return of the Acts regulating the application of those funds; but he only in the Return presented, out of several gave two relating to the subject, and one which had nothing to do with it, while, in his speech, he had totally omitted to mention that, by these specific Acts of Parliament, a portion of this fund had been for years applicable to infirmaries and hospitals, and that it was by an Act passed by Lord Derby's Government in 1858 the fund was made applicable to the payment of petty sessional clerks. This is an attempt to undo the kindly legislation of Lord Derby. The right hon. Gentleman said he had obtained the opinion of the Law Officers of the Crown—that he had a right to appropriate this fund, but should lay on the table the case submitted to the Law Officers, for it is difficult to imagine what could have been laid before them, except a number of Acts of Parliament diverting this fund to other purposes than those to which it is now proposed to apply it. He, in a clause which seems added to the original draft of the Bill, proposes a kind of compromise—that the Treasury shall pay the charges to which the fund is liable, but this compromise proposed shows that this Act is nugatory, for if the interest—about £2,000 a year—is to be paid to the petty sessional clerks, what object has he in seizing on it? If he has the legal power at present to seize on it, why does he propose a Bill to legalize his doing so? If it was thought that Irish people ought to pay a part of the expense of the constabulary, it would have been much better for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to propose to levy a tax for the purpose. He believed that the accumulated fund amounted to £67,400, and that the interest would not do more than supplement the fees required for payment of the petty sessional clerks, and therefore the right hon. Gentleman can receive no more than the amount which he will have to pay. Then what is the use of transferring the fund to the Consolidated Fund, unless he ceased to pay the petty sessions' clerks out of it, then additional local taxation must be imposed? He saw objections to petty sessional clerks being paid out of the Consolidated Fund, which would throw much additional labour on the Treasury and any central authority. Why not leave a local fund for local purposes to be managed as at present in Ireland? Were the petty sessional clerks paid as proposed by the Treasury, in a few Sessions it would be asked why Irish petty sessions' clerks were to be paid from the Consolidated Fund? No Irish Member could defend it as the fact of the fund from which they derived the claim having been transferred to it would soon be forgotten. He felt sure that English country gentlemen would not sanction the principle of making up a deficient revenue from county rates, and therefore he moved that the Bill be read a second time that day six months.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(General Dunne.)


said, he could assure the House that the objection which had been raised against this Bill was a sound one. The right hon. Gentleman, in moving the second reading of the Bill, assuming that a portion of the sums received for fines and penalties in Ireland had always been appropriated to the payment of the constabulary, contended that, as those payments were now made out of the Consolidated Fund, he was justified in introducing this Bill to transfer this £67,000 to that fund. The assumption of the right hon. Gentleman was, however, entirely without foundation. It was clear from various Acts of Parliament that from 1827 to 1850 these fines and penalties were applicable to the support of local charitable institutions, and it was not until the latter year that they were declared applicable to the payment of the salaries of clerks of petty sessions. If words were introduced into the Bill providing that the interest of these £67,000 should for the future be applicable to the payment of the salaries of the petty sessions' clerks in Ireland, he would withdraw his opposition, otherwise he trusted that the House would acknowledge that there were exceedingly good grounds for resisting the measure.


said, he wished to point out to both English and Irish Members that if this sum of £67,000 were to be absorbed, the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman would amount to this—that hereafter the charges for the petty sessions' clerks in Ireland would have to be borne by the National Exchequer.


said, that the House by sanctioning the proposal of the Government would be pauperizing 452 gentlemen and their families. He trusted the House would mark its sense of this very petty Bill by rejecting it by a very large majority; if not, he should move a clause in Committee to meet the case of the petty sessions' clerks.


said, that the £67,000 was a fund, the whole of which was in existence before the Act of 1858 was passed, and the complications which had ensued had rendered legislation necessary. In 1836 the expenses of the constabulary were charged upon the Consolidated Fund, one-half of the amount to be repaid by the counties. It was subsequently provided that the Lord Lieutenant, if he thought fit, might direct the money received from fees and penalties to be applied partly towards the support of hospitals and other local charities, and partly towards a loan fund Board, and partly to the reduction of the county burdens. If, under that and subsequent Acts, the Lord Lieutenant had neglected to direct the payment of the money to these particular institutions, the money would at once have belonged to the Consolidated Fund. For a long number of years sums of money which ought under these Acts to have been paid into the Consolidated Fund had, instead of being so treated, been allowed to accumulate, and in 1853 they were invested. The Bill only proposed to do that which ought to have been done in former years—to pay over these sums of money to the Consolidated Fund, of which they rightly formed a portion.


said, if there was no question as to the legal operation of the Acts which had been referred to, what, he would ask, was the object of this Bill? He regretted to see such a Bill as this proposed by hon. Gentlemen opposite, who professed such a desire to promote the material interests of Ireland. The passing of this Bill would throw all the counties of Ireland into confusion.


said, the preamble of this Bill laid down a principle to which he could not assent, because it laid down a principle that might be prejudicially applied in the future. They should beware how they approved a principle which might lay the foundation for depriving the Irish people of the right of applying any monies in excess for local purposes in the future. The principle laid down in the Preamble was very objectionable if it were to be applied in its width, and he would remind hon. Gentlemen that the same principle, if sanctioned, might be applied to all the counties of England.


thought that this Bill ought not to be allowed to pass in its present shape. The destination of this fund was expressly provided for by the Act of 1858, which was introduced by the present Chief Secretary for Ireland. This Bill completely ignored the existence of that Act without repealing it. All the right hon. Gentleman did was to provide for the pensions of the present holders of these offices; but to be consistent he should carry legislation further. He trusted the right hon. Gentleman would not press the Bill to a division, but would re-consider it.


said, that with respect to the observation of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley), if the Preamble were faulty it might be amended in Committee. He held that the money with which they were called to deal had been forfeited to the Crown under the Civil List Act. With regard to the Act of 1858, he believed all that was given was the fund arising out of the accumulation of future fines. This Bill did nothing which affected them; but it sought to apply the accumulated fines, which constituted a surplus balance in the hands of the Receiver-General, between 1852 and 1858. When the case was submitted to the Law Officers for England and Ireland, the fullest opportunity was given to make out a case against the transfer of this fund to the Consolidated Fund, and it was their unanimous opinion that it ought to be so transferred. He believed it was very questionable whether legislation was really wanted, and whether the money might not have been transferred under the Civil Service Act, and it was only for the purpose of preventing doubt that the Bill was introduced.


said, that while he entirely agreed with the object of the Bill, the state of the question had not been fully explained, and he would do so without discussing dry interpretations of Acts. The fact is that the clerks of petty sessions in Ireland were paid in a peculiar manner. They received their salaries not out of the Votes of Parliament, but out of the proceeds of the stamps they sold; and if they did not sell enough for their salaries, the difference was made up out of this fund. On this fund their gratuities and superannuations were also charged by the Lord Lieutenant. What was the common-sense course of dealing with this question? It was to abolish the absurd system of paying salaries out of stamps, and to pay these gentlemen directly out of the Votes of that House. He suggested that the Bill should be withdrawn, and that another Bill should be introduced charging the salaries, superannuations, and gratuities on the Votes of Parliament, in the usual way. There would then be no objection to paying the fund into the Exchequer.


said, that the suggestion, of the hon. Gentleman was very good, if viewed in a certain light; but they knew, practically speaking, that when they had before them something with which the House ought to deal, it was much better to deal with it at once. All the labours of the Public Monies Committee, and all the attempts the House had been making for several years to get the public accounts into an intelligible position, would, in a certain degree, be defeated if there was opposition to Bills of this description. There was not the slightest doubt that this large sum was due to the Consolidated Fund, and ought to be paid to it. With regard to any legal claims on the fund, they were perfectly ready to meet them in Committee, and if the Bill so dealt with passed it would effect a great improvement, and be in complete accordance with all the steps the House had taken in deference to the recommendations of the Public Monies Committee. He therefore trusted the House would agree to the second reading.


said, he should vote against the second reading of the Bill, notwithstanding the appeal of the First Lord of the Treasury to the Report of the Public Monies Committee and he did so in deference to the authority of the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Childers) who acted as Chairman of that Committee. He believed that this was the single exception to the uniform course which the House had pursued with regard to payments of this kind; and he thought that it was the duty of the Government, when a case of this kind arose, to bring forward a measure to deal with the Act of 1858, by repealing any exceptional provision, and deal with these funds upon the footing on which other funds were dealt with.


said, he had hoped that the House would have received more information on the matter as to the state of the law. They ought to know to what fund this money legally belonged. He could now understand the nature of the right hon. Gentleman's appeal as to the important business that had to come on. He thought that this was not a happy inaugu- ration of the Irish policy of the Government, to begin with an Act which he must call one of Irish spoliation.

Question, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question," put, and negatived.

Words added.

Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.

Bill put off for six months.