HC Deb 23 February 1876 vol 227 cc765-88

Order for Second Reading read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read the second time, said, that it was introduced for the purpose of dealing with a subject which had of late attracted a great deal of attention in England, but which in Ireland was felt to be a crying grievance—he meant the system of county administration. In both countries the principle of the law was the same, and rested on a feudal basis. But there was this great difference in its application to the two countries—that in England the management of county affairs was in the hands of a large number of persons, the county magistrates as well as landlords; while in Ireland it was concentrated in the hands of the few magnates of the land. Again, the evil was much more marked in the latter than in the former country, inasmuch as in England the chief interest was fixed upon the great towns, while in Ireland the agricultural population possessed more relative importance, and consequently attention was chiefly directed to agricultural and rural interests. The grievance was, therefore, felt much more strongly in Ireland than in England. The present measure was brought in to give greater power to the rural population to manage their own affairs. The Chief Secretary for Ireland said last Session that this measure would, if accepted, work a complete revolution in Irish county affairs, and he (Captain Nolan) would have no objection to that expression if it was understood in the sense that a farmer who saw a sheep on its back and put it upon its legs again worked a revolution; but if it removed an evil and brought about a good result, no one would be likely to complain of its revolutionary character. The Bill was not directed against any class—indeed, one of its effects would be to permit of a class—the peers—who had not hitherto had any share in the management of county affairs, exercising in future some influence in their administration. He had reason to believe that the county management in Ireland was different from that of any other country. He had tried to obtain Returns showing exactly in what proportion the rates levied on land in Ireland were paid, but these were refused by the Chief Secretary on the ground that they would give a great deal of trouble in preparation. He believed that the tenants paid the whole of the rates, with a few exceptions—small tenancies, and where the landlord happened to be the occupier himself. He had made inquiry into the law of other countries. In Prance he found that county administration was divided between two Councils—the Council of the Department and the Council of the Arrondissement—the members of both of which were elected by universal suffrage. In Belgium and Holland the management was in the hands partly of the village commune, elected by those paying taxes corresponding to what would be paid on a rating of £9 a-year in this country, and partly of Provincial Councils, who were elected by those who paid in a rateable value of £7. a-year. In Germany the system was different, the object there being to establish a sort of balance between the urban and rural populations; the administration was, therefore, in the hands of a Board, half of whom were elected by the towns, a quarter by the larger landed proprietors paying on a rateable value of £80 a-year, and a quarter by the smaller landed proprietors and the peasantry together. In Russia, in 1864, a new system was established, and the Councils had been made elective, and whereas before that time 98 per cent of the local rates was paid by the peasantry, and 2 per cent by the proprietors, now 51 per cent was paid by the latter and 49 per cent by the former. In Spain the local management of affairs did not work very well, but the Provincial Councils were elective. Going to Australia he found—at least in Victoria and New South Wales—that the votes were given according to the rateable value of the land held; every man had a vote who was assessed, two if assessed at £25 a-year, and so on in proportion up to £75, which gave four votes—the most that any man could have. In Tasmania the management was more in the hands of the rich men, a vote being given for each £50 up to £500. In America (Massachusetts) there was a system of election of county commissioners for three years, and every one who paid county rates voted. Now in Ireland, where they were supposed to have more liberal institutions than abroad, they did not in their county management of affairs carry out the principles existing in foreign countries, for not a single member either of the Grand Central Board or of the minor Boards was elected. The Sheriff summoned almost at his pleasure all residents in the county he deemed fitted to administer county matters—he took 23 in all. He would not say that the Sheriffs of Ireland were a bad class, or that they wanted to work bad institutions in a bad way; but he would say that the system was open to the greatest abuses. If there were an elective principle in their institutions, the Sheriffs would not be placed in such difficult positions as sometimes now happened, for he did not think that any man could escape from imputations being cast upon him. Every farmer was, as a rule, excluded from the Grand Jury, although practically his class paid the local taxation. He had heard three arguments advanced for the retention of the present state of things. It was said that all rates fell ultimately on the landlords; but there were many cases where that could not be true, as, for instance, where new rates were put on after agreement with the landlord as to the amount of rent: there it was clear that the tenant paid them. Another of the arguments in support of the present system was that the baronial sessions were a counterbalance to the Grand Juries; but they were not a counterbalance. The members of the baronial courts were not elected by the baronies. Also the baronial sessions had comparatively little power, and for that reason frequently members of the baronial courts did not attend the baronial sessions. It might be said that there must be some reason why the Grand Jury system had continued to exist so long. Well, no doubt it was the love of power which induced the grand jurors to adhere to that system. It was originated in dark times, and ought to give place to such a system as that which prevailed all through Europe with reference to the management of local affairs. He thought very probably that many of those who formed the present Grand Juries would be sent to the Elective Boards. It might be said, then, what would be the use of making a change? The answer was, they would be in a different position. The object of the present Grand Juries was to leave matters as they were; that arose out of their love of power and patronage; but it would be for the House of Commons to consider whether they would allow that to prevail over that natural right of the people to have a fair representation in the management of their affairs. His Bill contained three principles—1st, that all members of the Board should be elected; 2nd, that no one elector should have more votes than the others—that was, he considered, a point of the greatest importance—and 3rd, that the qualification of each elector should be the same as that for electing a Member of Parliament. This stood at present at £12. No doubt that amount was rather high for Ireland, but he would be willing to modify or to give it up for a lower qualification. He had adopted it on the ground of expediency and economy, as the machinery for working the elections would be the same as for the Parliamentary representation; which on the whole had worked well. He trusted the House would accept this Bill, which was one of three now on the Paper having for their objects the improvement of the internal administration of Ireland. He would now move the second reading.

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


, in moving an Amendment that the Bill be read a second time that day six months, said, it was admitted that on the whole the present system of county management in Ireland worked well, and he opposed this Bill because it had for its object the abolition of that system. He would first call attention to the Preamble of the Bill, which stated in effect— That it was expedient that the control of the money raised for local purposes in Ireland should he under the supervision and direction of those who paid the rates. That implied that the ratepayers had not now that control. But he (Mr. Kavanagh), while he admitted that theoretically they had not, contended that practically they had. The hon. and gallant Member for Galway (Captain Nolan) had painted the picture of the Grand Jury system as he saw it, and he hoped the House would not object to his (Mr. Kavanagh's) painting it as he saw it. He submitted that, though the county cess was in the great majority of cases paid directly by the occupier, yet that it eventually came out of the landlords' pockets, because the rents they received were reduced in proportion to the rates paid by the tenants. No doubt bargains between landlords and tenants were made on averages; but if there were special presentments for malicious damage the tenants had to pay the extra rates. In fact, the expenditure of the county cess was controlled by the associated ratepayers and not by the Grand Jury of the county. He admitted that there were anomalies in the present system, and he was not there to defend those anomalies. They existed not in the manner in which the co-funds were expended, but in the way which, under the present system, the associated cesspayers and the Grand Jury were appointed. The power to appoint was vested in the High Sheriff. He had to call the Grand Jury together; and if he had been rightly informed there was no qualification required for a grand juror. That power in the High Sheriff was an anomaly. But it should be borne in mind that with the Grand Jury rested no power whatsoever of initiating expenditure. On the other hand, though the High Sheriffs had unlimited power, the force of public opinion was sufficient to check them, and to compel them to nominate as Grand Jurors only those who were possessed of property in the county, or agents to represent those proprietors who were unable to attend, or were disqualified from doing so. He was in a position to prove that the practice of packing Grand Juries, as some had believed, had never taken place in Ireland. He had never heard of a single case being substantiated by facts. He had now to deal with the case of the appointment of the associated cesspayers, with whom rested the whole power of initiating expenditure. At first sight it might appear that this appointment lay entirely in the hands of the Grand Jury, but when the real facts were examined, it would be seen that they had no discretion in the matter; they were bound to return the names of the highest cesspayers in each barony, excluding only those who had served the preceding year, and out of the names so returned by them the proper number of associated cesspayers to sit at baronial sessions were afterwards selected by lot, so that virtually in the hands of the Grand Jury there was no power which could be used for jobbing purposes; and this being the case, he maintained that all the arguments used by those who advocated the abolition of the system had broken down. He would next remind the House that a Select Committee of the House, appointed in 1868, reported in favour of the present system, with some slight modifications, and he would say now that he should he glad to give every assistance in his power to modify the system in some respects; but he would not abolish or destroy it. He believed that if the House would adopt the provisions of his own Bill—the third on this subject which stood on the Paper for second reading—the Grand Jury Laws (Ireland) Bill—the time-honoured institution of the Grand Jury system would be preserved, whilst every anomaly would be corrected and every blot would be removed from that system. The hon. Member concluded by moving the Amendment.


seconded the Motion.

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


I have listened with attention, Sir, to the speech just delivered in reply to the able and exhaustive statement of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Galway, with whom I have the honour to be associated in introducing this Bill to the notice of the House, and I fail to perceive that the speech in question affords any just grounds for the rejection of this measure. The arguments employed against the Bill are merely the repetition of the objections made to similar measures for years past; and the hon. Gentleman's defence of the present anomalous and unjust system apparently consists in the assumption that the Irish people should be quite content to have an irresponsible body, mainly composed of gentlemen sharing the political convictions of the hon. Member for Carlow, to administer the fiscal affairs of each county. There is no real attempt made to grapple with the provisions of this Bill; there is no evidence given beyond mere assertion that it is not needed, and there is no reference whatever to the fact that the overwhelming majority of the ratepayers of Ireland anxiously desire a change in the present system. It must be remembered that this is not what is generally termed a "sentimental grievance." It actually involves the expenditure of £1,300,000, levied each year from the Irish people, to the utter extinction of all control or authority over such expenditure on their part; and it must be remembered that it is no novel grievance either—one suddenly discovered by the Members of the Home Rule Party—for it has been the subject of agitation both in and out of Parliament for upwards of 40 years. And so strongly has it been urged upon Parliament that it has repeatedly led to the appointment of Select Committees of this House to inquire into, and report upon, the whole case. So far back as 1842 a Royal Commission was appointed, and after due and laborious investigation it reported strongly in favour of changing the system. Yet no change was made. The agitation still continued until Sir George Grey introduced a Bill in 1849 attempting to deal with the subject; but this, too, failed, upon a promise from the then Chief Secretary for Ireland that something should be done to remedy the grievance in the following year. The Session of 1850 passed away and nothing was done. At length, after the repeated failures of attempts by Sir Denham Norreys to deal with the question in 1855,1856, and 1857, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Limerick, then Member for Youghal, introduced a comprehensive measure in 1861, and boldly challenged the Government of the day to carry out the recommendations of the Royal Commission. He was defeated on a division, after a most important discussion, in which many leading Members of this House took part. At last the growing dissatisfaction compelled the appointment, in 1868, of another Select Committee. This reported for the mere retention of the system, but strongly urged the necessity of important changes to meet the well-grounded objections that had been made against it; and here I may remark that the hon. Member for Carlow stated that the Committee comprised eight Conservatives and nine Liberals who were supposed to be against the Grand Jury system. But I would remind him that Lord Carlingford, who occupied a seat on the Committee as a Liberal, was strongly in its favour, and that the only real opposition was given by the late Mr. Maguire, Member for Cork, and Mr. Blake, the late Member for Water-ford, who repeatedly divided the Committee, and succeeded in obliging it to bring in a Report which was virtually a condemnation of the system. But this condemnation was unheeded, and the grievance still exists. Surely this is a state of things that under no circumstances would be tolerated in England. It is well-known that without the fullest sanction of the ratepayers the smallest amount of public money could not be applied in England; in Ireland, on the other hand, we are still trying, after 40 years of agitation, to induce the Government to allow us some control over the disbursement of more than£ l, 250,000 annually of our own money. As regards the working of the system, so manifestly designed to exclude all popular control, the case stands thus—The Lord Lieutenant nominally, but in reality his advisers in Dublin Castle, appoints the sheriff for each county. The sheriff appoints 23 gentlemen at his own option, and without reference to any fixed rule, and this body constitutes the Grand Jury for the county, over the rates of which it has absolute control. In the presentment sessions, of which we hear so much, a' Grand Juror has practically the right to nominate, and actually does nominate the cesspayers entitled to attend for each particular barony; and it has been stated in this House that the opinions of the cesspayers so chosen on any project about to be submitted to such presentment sessions are well-known beforehand. Thus the system is purely one of selection, and in no case one of election. The Bill now under discussion, which has been prepared with the utmost care, provides machinery to supplant easily the present Grand Juries by County Boards of a strictly representative character, and which would enjoy public confidence. The Bill proposes to give each ratepayer at present holding the Parliamentary franchise a vote in the election of the members of the Boards. It should not be considered strange that men who are deemed eligible to elect Representatives having the power to tax the nation at large should also have a voice in the election of those who manage the local affairs of a county. And that they should be elected by Ballot ought to cause no surprise, seeing that the Ballot is now the law of the land. On the ground of economy this measure would be most advantageous, for it would tend directly to the consolidation of many institutions in the country, and the consequent reduction of the whole staffs of officials now maintained at a great expense. The Irish ratepayers know full well that there is no actual requirement for the prisons, bridewells, and asylums already existing in Ireland. On the whole question, however, I would ask the House to frankly meet the exigency of the ease. It has not been submitted to Parliament for the first time, and it has ever been moderately, fairly, and temperately pressed upon your notice. Do not then reject the measure, and so leave the Irish people no alternative but to think that on every case their wishes are to be utterly disregarded. The measure, if passed, will serve to remove a longstanding grievance, and to create a sound public opinion in the country by training the people in the management of local affairs, and, above all, it will materially contribute to prepare them for the great future which I am firmly convinced is in store for Ireland.


said, he would congratulate the House on the calm and considerate manner in which the subject had been brought before them; but he must point out the remarkable dissimilarity between this Bill and that introduced by the hon. and learned Member for Limerick (Mr. Butt). As between the two, he preferred that of the hon. and learned Member, and he could not but be surprised that the Home Rule Party should not listen on this question to their accepted oracle and leader, who certainly understood the matter much better than the hon. and gallant Member for Galway (Captain Nolan). The hon. Member for Wexford (Mr. O'Clery) had addressed his remarks against the whole Grand Jury system of Ireland, and not against this Bill. He (Mr. Conolly) could not admit that the Grand Jury system was universally disapproved in Ireland. Some there were who were opposed to it, but these were not of a high or influential class; while he could assert of the Grand Jury that they were a high-minded and honourable body. He should be glad to assist the hon. Member for Carlow (Mr. Kavanagh) in his efforts to improve that ancient institution, which—though not blind to its defects—he believed was high appreciated by the Irish people. Political agitators might sometimes include the Grand Jury system in their denunciations to swell the bundle of Irish grievances; but the people did not really care about the matter, and why should they fish in the troubled waters of political excitement for some chance body without either prudence, sagacity, or knowledge of the business in hand, to supplant one that was well qualified and had been long accustomed to the discharge of its functions? The compact circle opposite desired to dethrone what they called an oligarchy; but if they wanted to destroy the existing body, why did they not boldly strike at the Sheriff, who was its head? They did not directly attack the Sheriff because he represented the Crown; but if they wished to sweep away everything hereditary that they could lay their hands on in favour of something of an elective character, what was that but Republicanism?


rose to Order. The hon. Gentleman had no right to charge any hon. Members of that House with advocating principles which were opposed to the Constitution. He had no right to charge any hon. Member of the House with advocating Republicanism, and which charge, so far as the Home Rule Party were concerned, was destitute of any foundation whatever.


said, he did not wish to impute to hon. Gentlemen what they repudiated—all that he wished to put forward was that the elective principle, as opposed to the hereditary principle, was capable of that construction. In his own county there were names on the Grand Jury list which had been inscribed on it for 200 years, and he should regret to see an ancient and cherished institution, instead of being improved where that was necessary, ruthlessly destroyed. He believed that the people of Ireland had confidence in the gentry, and he should be glad to help his hon. Friend the Member for Carlow (Mr. Kavanagh) in his efforts to reform and improve the existing system—a system the operation of which he believed was beneficial to the country.


certainly was not offended with the last speaker for charging him with Republicanism, because he was not prepared to cut off the head of the Sheriff. It was not necessary in that House to deny that to advocate the elective principle was to advocate Republicanism, for that was the very principle upon which that House was itself elected. The vital question now before the House was, would they trust the Irish people to elect those who were to manage their county affairs? The hon. Member for Donegal said the people would have confidence in the gentry—yes, they would if they had the advantage of the elective system. The Grand Jury system was, indeed, a time-honoured institution, but only as a part of the criminal jurisdiction of the country—its sole legitimate function. The practice of also intrusting it in Ireland with the fiscal business of the county was only about a century old, and had sprung up in the time of the Penal Laws. The idea of extending such a system to the financial administration of an English county would not be tolerated for one moment. The hon. Member for Carlow had taken a position between the Bill of the hon. and gallant Member for Galway and his (Mr. Butt's) own Bill. It was perfectly immaterial whether they took his hon. and gallant Friend's Bill or his own that day, because they were not now discussing details, but a question of principle—the question whether the anomalous system which now existed should be maintained, or whether the people of Ireland should be trusted with the management of their own affairs—and the two measures were so far alike that they were both based on the elective principle, his own proposal being to enable the magistrates to elect one-third of the Council. Among the associated cesspayers there were often persons wholly unsuited for the duty they had to perform—persons, for instance, who could neither read, nor write, nor speak English. In fact, anomalies of the present system were plain and had long been recognized, and the Irish people, he thought, had good reason to complain of their continuance. In 1842 an able Commission considered this subject, and made recommendations in favour of reforming the existing system of the election of cesspayers, but up to the present time these recommendations had not been carried into effect. He should prefer that cesspayers should be elected in the Boards. The proposal to extend the powers of the Poor Law Guardians was not one which was likely to give satisfaction. For his own part, he had a great objection to throwing on the Poor Law Guardians duties not connected with the poor; and, moreover, the Poor Law Guardians were elected by a system of cumulative votes, in which the people thought property had too much influence, With regard to the ultimate tribunal of the Grand Jury, nobody could pretend to justify the monstrosity of the fiscal business of the counties being managed by such a body. The supporters of the Bill had been referred to as if they were making some revolutionary proposal, but there were there as true Conservatives, upholding the Constitutional principle that there should be no taxation without representation. In 1874 no less than £1,300,000 were raised and disposed of in Ireland at the bidding of the Sheriffs, without a particle of representation, and without any popular control whatever. The system did not work well, it created dissatisfaction among the people of Ireland, and it was their object to put an end to such a monstrous state of things. True, there were no noisy demonstrations in their favour—the Irish people had, perhaps, seen the folly of them; but he made bold to say that there was scarcely a single question connected with Irish administration which touched more fully the thoughts and sentiments of the farming classes than the Grand Jury question. Under that system the whole tax was levied on the farmers and occupiers of land, whilst the whole administration was left in the hands of another class. The Irish gentry would have far more real influence amongst the people if they were obliged to mix amongst them and take their own place at an elective Board. Popular representation had worked successfully in other parts of the kingdom, and yet it was denied to Ireland. Money was paid by farmers and occupiers of the land and administered by an entirely different body. Was that teaching the people self-reliance, the necessity for which had been so much talked about? The case of the Quarter Sessions in England might be cited against him, but it furnished no answer at all to the complaints now made, for the principle of representation in England differed materially from that in Ireland. The one issue before the House was whether the monstrous anomaly of the Grand Jury system should be continued, or whether the people were to be trusted to have a voice in the management of their own affairs. If the Bill was rejected its rejection would produce a feeling which certainly would not tend to attach the people of Ireland to the House of Commons.


said, he concurred with the supporters of the Bill in their demand for popular representation. It was a great pleasure to those Irish Members who sat on the Conservative benches to be able to co-operate with those who came from other parts of Ireland, in attempts to improve the administration of the law there. He was not to be frightened by a charge of Republicanism when the charge was founded merely on their desire to elect their representatives. It would not be tolerated for a moment in England that the Grand Jury should both levy taxation and administer it; and there could be no doubt that the effect on the people of having the control of public expenditure would be good. Hon. Members opposite, in dealing with the question, had to a great extent attacked imaginary adversaries, for he did not believe any one was prepared to defend the Grand Jury system in Ireland as it existed. It was admitted by those hon. Members who spoke on the last occasion when the Question was before the House, that there were some anomalies in the present system of the Grand Jury Laws, and a general wish was expressed that they should be remedied when the proper period should arrive. He must confess, however, that these grievances were rather theoretical than practical, for he believed that the opponents of the laws had never been able to show any substantial grievance in the present system. But, still, he agreed that it was time for some action to be taken on the question. It had long been before the public, and in 1868 a Committee had made recommendations on the subject which were certainly free from anything like class or party bias—they recommended the removal of a grievance which was felt to be gross and intolerable, yet Chief Secretary after Chief Secretary had been compelled to postpone from Session to Session the introduction of a remedy. The difference of opinion on this question arose from its being regarded from different points of view. On the one hand, the supporters of the Bill proposed to bring about the desired effect by sweeping away everything connected with the Grand Jury Laws. Gentlemen on his side of the House, on the contrary, in dealing with an institution venerable by its age and associations, and deeply-rooted in the country, thought it better to follow out the recommendations of the Committee of 1868, and improve rather than destroy. What the other side wanted would in his opinion he accomplished by the legislation which his side suggested and preferred. He agreed with the hon. and learned Member for Limerick, that the Board ought to be elected by the cesspayers, and the Bill which his party proposed to bring in, provided that it should be so elected in a mode suggested by several Members opposite when the subject was discussed a year ago, and this was that to avoid the inconvenience and disturbance of a second election, they should utilize the machinery which at present existed for the election of Poor Law Guardians. He thought they might fairly assume that those who would be elected would be of the class which now supplied the Poor Law Guardians, and they from the training they had received would be prepared for the fulfilment of their duties in case this Bill passed. As to the statement with regard to the fiscal duties of the Grand Jury, he understood that the fiscal duties were clearly defined by statute. Those powers were strictly limited to the approval or disapproval of presentments; they had no power of initiative. Assuming that the arguments which had been advanced were all that could be put forward in favour of this Bill, he did not think a case had been made out. for the Bill. He believed the object aimed at could be achieved by a much less sweeping measure. There had been no complaint on the part of the people of Ireland as to the manner in which the business had been conducted by the Grand Jury. On the contrary, he believed greater confidence was reposed in the Grand Jury than probably would be reposed in any Board that could be newly constructed. The Grand Jury was not a secret Court; its discussions were held before a very large audience of the cesspayers of the county, and he believed there was much less chance of what he might call a job receiving the sanction of a Grand Jury than of a County Board. The Grand Jury was a Court of Pinal Appeal, which had the effect of preventing anything being done hastily. He was of opinion, however, that the Grand Jury should be composed of the owners of property, and that they should not be represented by their agents, in order that the body might command confidence from the social status of its members: but he did not think it would be wise to establish an absolute prohibition, because there must be cases where the owners of property could not serve personally on the Grand Jury. There were cases in Ireland where whole baronies were owned by one person, and the owner might be a minor. It was desirable to have on the Grand Jury some one who knew all the circumstances of the locality—some one of experience—and, of course, this could not be the case where the owner was a minor. A great proportion of his own county belonged to a minor, and therefore he thought it would be unwise to exclude the agents of the property from sitting on the Grand Jury. He hoped the House would hesitate before it applied the knife to the institution, and that it would be found the recommendations of the Committee of 1868 could be carried into effect without embodying them in a Bill of this kind.


said, it was universally admitted that the present mode of conducting the fiscal business of the counties of Ireland was unsatisfactory, and he hoped the discussion would have the effect of still further pressing the subject on the attention of the Government, because it was hopeless, in his opinion, to think that any private Member could settle the question. Although the subject had been before them for a great length of time, nothing had yet been done, and he thought the reason nothing had been done was that hitherto they had been trying to do everything at once, and his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Galway (Captain Nolan) had begun at the wrong end, and was attempting to make an organic charge so sweeping that the practical result would be that nothing would be done. He denied that the powers possessed by the Grand Jury were so great as was represented. Any English Member who knew nothing save what he had heard in the discussion would imagine that the Grand Jury had the exclusive power to regulate what the taxation should be; but they had no such powers. The Grand Jury had the same control over the expenditure that the House of Lords had over Money Bills—they could only pass or reject presentments which had been made to them by the presentment sessions—they could not pass a single county presentment with the exception of those matters covered by special powers, like those given under the Coercion Act: they had no power to originate expenditure, and they had no power to alter a presentment. The public appointments at the disposal of the Grand Jury were very few, and were not lucrative; but he should like a different system than the present with regard to appointments to prevail. He denied that the question they were now called upon to vote upon was the placing of county expenditure under the control of elective Boards. That was not what they had to give their votes upon; because the hon. and gallant Member for Galway did not in his Bill place the control of expenditure under an elective Board—it did not attempt to deal with the subject of presentment sessions at all. If they wished to do anything practical they must begin with the bodies that originated the expenditure. He did not know how the House of Commons could be asked off-hand to transfer the powers of a Grand Jury to a new body; and he believed, if he was right in his view of the law, that if this Bill was passed it would lead to unlimited confusion, because the powers of old Acts which had long passed away would be revived. Again, if the Bill passed, it would still leave the Grand Jury in possession of power for voting money to certain institutions. The great object they should aim at should be to convert the baronial sessions into a representative body. On the whole case, he thought they were weakening their chances by endeavouring at once to upset the system which now prevailed, and although the fiscal business was not so old as some thought, yet the system had been in existence for a long time, and it was so complicated in its character that if they wished to deal with it effectually the Government must give up half the Session to the consideration of the question.


said, the hon. and learned Member for Limerick (Mr. Butt) spoke of the Grand Jury as a monstrous anomaly and as a grand old institution. How the legal mind could reconcile these conflicting terms it was difficult to imagine. The hon. and gallant Member for Galway (Captain Nolan) proposed to substitute for the Grand Jury a body of men elected by people who were too readily subject to party and religious influences, but before that could be done it would be necessary to adopt a new system of electoral laws, which should exclude all such religious influences, and provide that the interference of any clergyman should void the election as much as bribery did under the present law. He concurred with the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down in most of the observations which had fallen from him, and although he did not seek to maintain that the composition of Grand Juries in Ireland was entirely faultless—indeed, there was no public institution of which that could be said—yet he did not see how the Government could take away from those bodies the powers with which they were at present invested in compliance with the wishes of a party who were pledged to promote new institutions, and who, instead of improving the fine old trunk, would rear up some little shrub of their own growth which would very soon be choked by the discord which would exist around it.


said, he should vote for the second reading of the Bill, though he admitted that it required many Amendments. He supposed that it was undisputed that the present representatives on the Grand Jury did not really represent the body of the ratepayers; and he took it for granted that the Government were alive to the necessity of having in Ireland presentment sessions which really represented the ratepayers of the country. As to the Grand Juries, which he for one had never charged with corruption, because he believed they performed their duties with great credit to themselves, he would merely suggest, by way of compromise, that each presentment sessions should be allowed to select one from among their own body to sit upon the Grand Jury for the transaction of its fiscal business.


, while admitting that the present system of fiscal administration in counties in Ireland required reform, thought the question was one which could be dealt with satisfactorily only by the Government. All Irish Members who had spoken agreed that the cesspayers were not properly represented, and he thought the first step to be taken should be by the reform of the presentment sessions, leaving it to be ascertained by experience whether they would then work well with the present Grand Jury system. If that should turn out not to be the case, then the reforms might be continued, so as to give the cesspayers a real voice in the management of the fiscal business in counties. He saw no reason why Peers should be precluded from serving on Grand Juries.


said, he was in favour of giving the people of Ireland the same popular voice in the control of their local affairs which existed in England; but there was a foreign priesthood exercising influence in Ireland that could not be trusted, and it was to that circumstance that the complicated state of the Grand Jury laws was attributable. The hon. Gentleman was proceeding to dilate upon the paramount authority which, according to the Lord Chief Justice, was exercised by the priesthood, when—


called the hon. Member to Order, observing that his remarks were not relevant to the Question before the House.


proceeding in the same line of observation


rose to Order. He did not think the remarks of the hon. Member had anything to do with this Bill.


said, he was aware that his remarks had nothing to do with the Bill under discussion, but they were quite pertinent to the motives by which his vote would be actuated. In his belief the paramount importance of this foreign authority under laid the whole of the questions connected with Ireland, which threatened to give rise to interminable discussions during the present Session. In conclusion, he appealed to the Chief Secretary for Ireland to say how far, if at all, he recognized the existence and the influence to which he referred.


said, the question before the House was what kind of body for the purpose of local government and the management of local finance was best adapted for Ireland, and the institutions which other countries had adopted for this purpose had comparatively little bearing upon this question. In dealing with this subject we ought to attempt not only to secure that which in theory all would admit to be right—namely, that the cesspayers should be properly represented; but we ought also to bear in mind how far the present Governing Bodies had proved themselves economical, pure, and efficient in discharging their duties. He thought it could not be said that the County Grand Juries or even the presentment sessions in Ireland had been found wanting in these respects. In the evidence given before the Commissions and Committees which had investigated the subject there was the strongest testimony, even from adverse witnesses, as to the effective and economical working of the present system. We ought not, therefore, rashly and absolutely to sweep away a system which, however objectionable it might be in theory, had proved efficient in practice. The hon. and gallant Member for Galway (Captain Nolan) proposed to abolish Grand Juries as far as their financial powers were concerned, and to transfer those powers to County Boards, elected according to the plan described in his Bill. Some hon. Gentlemen seemed to entertain the idea that the Grand Juries had a real control over the whole of the £1,325,000 annually raised by county taxation. This, however, was not the case. The Committee of 1868 reported that practically the Grand Juries formed Courts of Appeal from decisions arrived at in the presentment sessions, and that they had comparatively little power in initiating local taxation, occupying much the same position towards the presentment sessions as the House of Lords did in relation to the House of Commons with regard to Money Bills. The fact was that the representative principle of Irish county government was to be found in the presentment sessions, and to alter the constitution of Grand Juries and make them a representative body while leaving the presentment sessions unreformed, would be much the same as if, in 1831, in order to secure a better representation of the people in Parliament, it had been proposed to make the House of Lords a representative body, leaving the House of Commons in its unreformed character. In the year 1875, out of £1,325,000 levied as Grand Jury cess, more than 50 per cent had, he believed been initiated at the presentment sessions, and had only been brought before the Grand Juries for confirmation and approval. Of this, £639,000 represented the expenditure on bridges and other works. Again, whatever was the constitution of the County Boards, a certain number of imperative presentments would have to be made by them. More than 14 per cent of the expenditure consisted of imperative presentments for the maintenance of lunatic asylums, for the valuation of the county, and the payment of the constabulary and the county officers appointed under statutes. If other items of the same kind were added, it would be found that, in 1874, nearly 25 per cent of the whole expenditure consisted of imperative presentments by the Grand Juries. Then there was an item of 8 per cent for prison expenditure. This was, to a certain extent, subject to the Board of Superintendence appointed by the Grand Juries, and it was still more subject to the law and the Government, so that the proposed County Boards would have no real control over that expenditure. Taking 50 per cent as the amount of taxation initiated by the presentment sessions, and the items he had mentioned as being imperative on the Grand Juries, it appeared that more than 87 per cent of the Grand Jury cess was beyond the control of the Grand Juries themselves. Consequently, it was a strong measure to propose to sweep away, for the sake of the remaining 13 per cent, a system which had taken deep root in Ireland, and which was very far from being as unpopular as the hon. and learned Member for Limerick had represented. Any real reform in the system ought to commence with the presentment sessions, which should be made, as they were intended to be by the law, really representative of the cesspayers. He adhered to the opinion which he had expressed with regard to that subject last year; and, in his judgment, the simplest mode of securing this real representation was that proposed to-day by the hon. Member for Carlow (Mr. Kavanagh). It was based on the Report of the Commission of 1842, of which the hon. and learned Member for Limerick had spoken in terms of deserved respect. It would prevent an unnecessary multiplication of elections, and unnecessary expenditure in making a new register of voters; and while it saved trouble and expense it would secure the services of men who had already proved themselves fit and proper representatives of the people. The body proposed by the hon. Member for Carlow would be almost identical in its constitution with the present Highway Boards in England and Wales. In this way we might secure a system of road management for Ireland properly representative of the cesspayers and as efficient as the existing system. We in England had, he was sorry to say, much to learn from Ireland in the matter of road management, for everyone must admit that whatever might be the anomalies of the present system in Ireland, the Irish roads were good, while the English roads were often bad, though managed at additional expense. The Bill of the hon. and gallant Member for Galway (Captain Nolan) proposed entirely to sweep away the existing financial powers of the Grand Juries. Now that was in direct opposition to the recommendations of the Commissioners of 1842 and 1868. In the hon. and gallant Member's Bill there was no provision for the representation of all the cesspayers. The hon. and gallant Member did not take into consideration cesspayers below £8, and even if the measure were amended so as to include them, a new register would have to be prepared at great trouble and expense. The proposal of the hon. and learned Member for Limerick was that each barony in every county should have four representatives, three to be elected by the cesspayers and one by the magistrates. There was also a provision that where there were more than 12 baronies in a county the Lord Lieutenant should have a vague power of reducing them to that number. In his opinion the hon. and learned Member's proposal would lead to such anomalies from the great difference in the size and rateable value of baronies in the same county, that it would be very far from being accepted as a reform by the people of Ireland. The proposal of the hon. and gallant Member for Galway was to amend the system of county government in Ireland at the wrong end. It had been universally admitted that that system required amendment, in order to secure a better representation of the occupiers, although it should not be forgotten that whatever might be said of the present mode of summoning the Grand Juries, the owners of property had not complained that they were unfairly represented by them. He should approve a scheme resembling that of the hon. Member for Carlow, although of course he did not pledge himself to all the details of his Bill. One point ought to be very carefully considered—namely, as to whether it was for the public interest that agents should be admitted as representing the owners of property. It was on the lines he had indicated that he should wish to see the question approached; and if he were asked why he had not fulfilled the promise he held out to the House at the commencement of the last Session, he might say that he had not anticipated those protracted debates on an Irish measure which had not yet faded from the recollection of hon. Members. He was not without hopes that if the necessity arose he should be able to deal with the question this year on the lines he had indicated; but in the meantime the Bill of the hon. Member for Carlow would have his hearty support, because without sweeping away a system which was old and, as he believed, popular, it dealt with those points which really required reform, and was the most certain way to provide for the cesspayers a fair and proper representation in the management of their local affairs.


said, he did not wish to take a division on his own Bill, because he thought it more desirable that it should be taken on the Bill of the hon. and learned Member for Limerick. For that purpose he would withdraw his Motion.


said, the Motion could not be withdrawn unless the Amendment was previously withdrawn.


objected to the withdrawal of the Bill.


wished all the Bills to be referred to a Select Committee.


believed that an improvement in the present system of Grand Juries in Ireland was imperatively required, but he did not approve of the proposals of the present Bill. As the Grand Juries were at present constituted, persons professing the Roman Catholic faith were—in the North of Ireland, at all events—excluded from all offices of emolument in connection with the collection of rates, the financial machinery of the counties, and the management of the local gaols and lunatic asylums.


denied that the corruption which had been represented existed under the present Grand Jury system. He admitted that some faults existed which ought to be corrected; but he could not support this Bill, because no proof of improper conduct on the part of the Board had been proved before the Committee that had inquired into the matter.


maintained, in opposition to the statement of the Chief Secretary for Ireland, that the money of the cesspayers was not economically administered by Grand Juries. On the contrary, jobbery appeared to be the rule. He believed the Bill before the House would remove many evils of the system, and he gladly accorded the second reading his support.


declared that he had never known an instance in which a Grand Jury had been guilty of jobbery, and he spoke from great experience.


spoke of the sectarian character of Grand Juries in the county of Armagh. There was only one Roman Catholic on it.


thought the Bill of the hon. Member for Carlow might be made a good measure in Committee.

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

Words added.

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

Second Reading put off fox six months.