HC Deb 18 March 1870 vol 200 cc209-10

said, he rose to ask the Chief Secretary for Ireland, Whether, in view of the large and increased powers proposed to be given to Magistrates presiding at Petty Sessions in Ireland under the Peace Preservation (Ireland) Bill, the Government have taken into consideration the present constitution of the Irish magistracy; and, whether the Government consider the mode of nominating to and the constitution of that body satisfactory; and, if not, are the Government prepared to take immediately all the necessary measures to revise the list and the mode of appointment, so as to secure for that body the respect and confidence of the Irish people?


Sir, the Question of my hon. Friend points to the very constitution, in its most essential character, of the unpaid magistracy in Ireland; and he raises his superstructure upon an assumption wholly inadequate to bear it—namely, upon the assumption that large and increased powers are to be given to the magistrates of petty sessions by the Bill introduced last night. The powers proposed to be given by that Bill to the magistrates are of a very definite character, including only certain offences, that I may call police offences, capable of being dealt with in a summary manner; but the Question of the hon. Member threatens, as I said, the very existence of the unpaid magistracy appointed by the Crown upon the recommendation of the lieutenants of counties. Now, all who know Ireland, know that the institution of an unpaid magistracy is beset in that country by social difficulties happily unknown here; the majority of the class from whom the magistrates are drawn belonging to one religion, and the great majority of the people belonging to another, and I have no hesitation in saying that the lieutenants of counties would be well advised if they were to take all fair and proper opportunities of reducing this inequality. I also think all Governments should use their influence to that end. But I am not prepared to say that the Government will undertake to consider so vital a change in the institutions of the country as that pointed to by the Question of my hon. Friend. With respect to the last part of the Question, the revision of the list is yet going on. The process is necessarily slow, because such a revision requires great care, with a view of clearing the list of the names of persons who ought not to be there, or who had ceased to be able to act.