HC Deb 07 August 1885 vol 300 cc1511-22

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Clauses 1 to 3, inclusive, agreed to.


proposed the following Clause:— On the date of the passing of this Act, George Augustus Hamilton Chichester, commonly called the Earl of Belfast, shall cease to hold the office of clerk of the peace for the county of Antrim, and, until the appointment of his successor, the duties of the said office shall be discharged by the deputy clerk of the peace for the said county, and the new clerk of the peace shall he appointed as if a vacancy had been caused in the said office by the death or resignation of the said George Augustus Hamilton Chichester, who shall be awarded, out of the salary and emoluments of the said office, a pension of fifty pounds per annum. The hon. Gentleman said, he thought it would scarcely be denied by anyone that this gentleman should never have been appointed to the office he now held. Thirty-five years ago it happened that the Lord Lieutenant of the county of Antrim was the uncle of George Augustus Hamilton Chichester, and in pursuance of a system which had long obtained in Ireland the noble Lord thought he was quite at liberty to appoint whoever he liked Clerk of the Peace of the county without any regard at all to the public interest. Therefore by a flagrant act of jobbery the Lord Lieutenant of the county conferred the office on the Earl of Belfast, at that time Mr. Chichester, a person who had no qualification whatever for the office. The office of Clerk of the Peace required considerable qualification. The person holding the office should have the legal qualification of a solicitor in order to discharge the duties efficiently. Mr. Chichester possessed no qualification for the office at all, and since his appointment he had not resided for a year or even a month in county Antrim, or any other part of Ireland. But the job, having occurred so long ago, might now be pardoned if the person had had the common decency to devote himself to the performance of his duties. He (Mr. Sexton) had looked through the official records, and he found that the address of the Clerk of the Peace of County Antrim was Great George Street, Westminster, London. The Earl of Belfast was actually without an Irish address deputing his duties as he did to a person to whom he paid a salary of £200 a-year. He (Mr. Sexton) believed the emoluments of the office amounted to £1,600, so that the Earl of Belfast pocketed £1,400 a-year and lived in London. The Earl of Belfast appeared to be one of the persons who thought that offices paid for by the money of the people were made for the purpose of finding places for the sons of the aristocracy. Such a thing as duty never entered into their minds. Transactions of this kind might be suffered in past times, but the days for tolerating them were gone. The duties of Clerks of the Peace were now far more important than formerly. The franchise had been extended to the general body of the people, and he was not surprised to hear bitter complaints from County Antrim with regard to the manner in which the duties of the Clerk of the Peace had been discharged. The law intended that on the 22nd of July the lists of voters and claimants of votes should be published, so that every man in the county should have an opportunity for 13 days of examining the lists in order to see that the names which ought to appear there did not appear. He was informed that for nine days after the time prescribed by law there had not been published any list of the voters in North Antrim. Was it to be pretended that this man who had hold office for 35 years, who had never taken the trouble to live in Ireland, but who had taken the trouble to receive in all £56,000 out of the public funds, should any longer retain the office? Was it to be said that the Earl of Belfast, by his neglect and his atrocious disregard of the public interest, should be allowed to deprive the people of Antrim of a right they were by law entitled to—namely, the right of 13 days' inspection of the list of voters? He asserted that if the Earl of Belfast had not disfranchised a great many people in Antrim he was practically responsible for their disfranchisement. He might be told this was a patent office, and therefore could not be disturbed. It was a patent fraud. Parliament could do what it pleased, and therefore he asked the Attorney General for Ireland (Mr. Holmes) to give him the aid of the Government in putting an end to this scandal, and securing to the people that due discharge of the duties of the office of Clerk of the Peace for the county of Antrim which they demanded. He claimed that the holder of this office should be a solicitor, that he should live in the county, and be a gentleman not above the common honesty of devoting himself every day to the duties of the office. That was not an unreasonable claim. If the Government were not prepared to assent to such a claim he asked whether the Lord Lieutenant would use his influence to induce the Earl of Belfast to perform the duties of his office or else resign? The people could accept no other terms. He had made provision in the clause for the payment of a pension to the Earl of Belfast of £50 a-year, and that he considered very ample and liberal considering that that nobleman had done no- thing at all except drawn £56,000 from the people.

New Clause (Clerk of the Peace of County Antrim to vacate office,)—(Mr. Sexton,)—brought up, and read the first time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the said Clause be read a second time."


said, he believed the Earl of Belfast was appointed to the office of Clerk of Peace for the county of Antrim in 1849, and that at the time he was appointed to the office it was in the gift of the Lord Lieutenant of the comity. The tenure by which he had held the office and held it still was a tenure for life. At the time he was appointed he had the right conferred by statute to appoint a deputy, and that right he exercised. A deputy had attended to the duties, and assuming that the deputy performed the duties properly the terms on which the appointment was originally made were complied with. He (the Attorney General for Ireland) was prepared to admit at once that the tenure of office was not a satisfactory one; but the Committee would bear in mind that in the year 1877 an Act of Parliament was passed for the very purpose of meeting the objections to which the hon. Member had called attention. That Act provided that in future the duties of the office of Clerk of the Peace and Clerks of the Crown should be performed in person, that the power of appointing a deputy should be abolished, and that for the purpose of getting rid as quickly as possible of Clerks of the Peace and Clerks of the Crown who did not perform their duties favourable terms should be given as an inducement to them to resign. In most of the counties of Ireland the terms which had been offered had been accepted, and now, in most instances, Clerks of the Peace and Clerks of the Crown were performing their duties in person. There were one or two gentlemen who retained their appointments on the old terms, having appointed deputies. He did not think Parliament would be disposed to go further than they had gone by the Act of 1877. Now, if the gentleman who had been appointed by the Earl of Belfast to perform the duties of Clerk of the Peace in County Antrim had not performed the duties properly, another question, of course, would be opened up. The hon. Member (Mr. Sexton) had said that the lists of voters in North Antrim were not published within the time prescribed by statute; but the hon. Gentleman was, no doubt, aware that in some of the counties of Ireland, where the Clerks of the Peace had been most efficient, there had been necessarily a delay of a day or two in the publication of voters' lists. He (the Attorney General for Ireland) did not say that the Earl of Belfast's deputy had discharged his duty properly, and neither did he say the gentleman had discharged his duty improperly. That ought to be the subject of inquiry, but ought not to be a reason for the Committee accepting this clause without inquiry. He would undertake to make the necessary inquiries. It might be shown to the satisfaction of the Government that the non-publication of the lists within the proper time was owing to circumstances over which the deputy had no control. In that case he was sure the hon. Gentleman would not wish any penalty to be imposed. He asked the hon. Gentleman, having regard to the Act of 1877 and to the fact that the change he desired had in great measure been carried out, not to press his clause.


said, he should advise his hon. Friend to go to a division, and he should not be surprised if Her Majesty's Government found, as the result of that division, that the House of Commons would not tolerate any longer these absurdities. He would venture to say that if a report of this discussion could appear in the English newspapers at any length to-morrow, the English people would be astounded at the fact that in the present day there existed a man who could get £56,000 of public money without performing a day's or an hour's work for it—who was appointed as far back as 1849, who received £1,600 a-year, and, therefore, had had as much as £56,000 for doing nothing. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton) told them that not only did that gentleman do nothing, but that he did not even make a pretence of doing anything, and did not often reside in Ireland—as a matter of fact had no address in the country. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General for Ireland was evidently guilty on all the counts of the indictment passed on him. He had said there was an Act passed in 1877, and that that Act should have provided for the compulsory retirement of the Earl of Belfast. Well, if it did not, that was no argument against their doing it now, but, on the contrary, was an argument in favour of its being done now. With regard to the question of neglect of duty, he often found that officials in Ireland were guilty of irregularities in a manner which would not be permitted in any other country in the world. Would anyone credit it that a law could be passed enfranchising householders of counties, and that an official drawing £1,600 a-year without residing in the country could be allowed, by neglecting his duties under the Act, actually to disfranchise county householders? He (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) took it that by this time the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General for Ireland ought to have made out some case against the statement of his (Mr. T. P. O'Connor's) hon. Friend the Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton). This was by no means the first time that the hon. Member had made a complaint against the manner in which the Earl of Belfast and his deputy discharged their duties. The hon. Member for Sligo, who was a most careful investigator of facts brought before his notice, would not have ventured to have brought these charges against the Earl of Belfast if he had not known that they were true. What were these facts? Why, that during the interval between the 22nd of July and the 4th of August persons were to be put on the lists who were entitled to be there, but that in County Antrim seven of the 13 days' interval passed without the people knowing whether they were on the lists or not. That was an intolerable state of things, which should certainly not be allowed to last for another year. He thought the Committee should now go to a division, and felt sure that when they did the right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite would find that he was not generally supported.


said, he thought that if the hon. Gentleman the Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton) would amend his clause so as to provide that the Earl of Belfast should get his pension on the scale of the Act of 1877 it would be satisfactory to all parties. The position of the Earl of Belfast was rather pecu- liar. He was—as had been pointed out—a gentleman who neglected his duties, but who had figured a great deal in the Law Courts in London. He had figured a great deal in the Divorce Court, and as to his wife's portion—for not paying his wife an allowance he had undertaken to pay her. On those grounds he was not a very desirable sort of person to have in an official position; but besides that his position was more satisfactory than it was formerly, because on the death of the late Lord Donegall he became entitled on reversion to a considerable property. It would not, therefore, be so much a grievance to him to be compelled to retire now as it might have been in 1877, when, so far as he (Mr. Biggar) knew, he had no means except his salary as Clerk of the Peace. Now he had a valuable property which he could mortgage, and there was not the slightest doubt he had mortgaged it. If the Government would agree to an amendment of the clause to the effect that the pension should be regulated according to the Act of 1877, it would be satisfactory to all parties.


said, that what had been proposed by the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down (Mr. Biggar) would be a very fair solution of this difficulty. No doubt, if the Amendments, as proposed by the hon. Member for Sligo, were carried, they would affect other people. Other Clerks of the Peace appointed under the old system, who still held their appointments, and performed their duties most satisfactorily, would also be affected. Under all the circumstances of the case, the suggestion of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Cavan was an extremely fair one—one which would meet the circumstances of the case of the Earl of Belfast, without hitting other people who were performing their duties satisfactorily.


asked whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General for Ireland would undertake to inquire as to the delay in preparing the lists, and if he found that it had been wilful would remove the officer?


said, he would undertake to inquire as to the delay in preparing the lists, and if it was found to be wilful would take such steps as it was in the power of the Government to take to deal with the matter. He did not know what steps could be taken; but if they found that there had been such wilful neglect of duty as had been described something would be done.


asked whether the Government was going to support the right of this gentleman to prey any longer on the public Treasury? He (Mr. Labouchere) had heard of Belfast, but he certainly did not know that there was an Earl of Belfast. This Earl of Belfast might be a most respectable gentleman—he might be, or he might not be; but even if he were the most respectable of human beings, why was he to continue to prey in this manner upon the public Treasury? He had received £56,000 already; he employed a person to do his work to whom he paid £300 a-year; he never went near the scene of his duties; he did nothing; and now they were asked in the clause of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Sligo to give him a small pension to enable him to retire. Though this was at the present moment the rump of Parliament, the Government were passing through Bill after Bill after the Appropriation Bill had been read a third time, quite contrary to all rule. Seeing that they were taking this course, however, he thought they should accept the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Sligo, which was a most reasonable one, and should not seek to upset it by their mechanical majority. [Laughter.] Yes, "mechanical majority," for at that hour and at that period of the Session a Government—even a Government in a minority—always had a mechanical majority waiting upon it. The Government seemed disposed to reject this reasonable proposal, and to force the House to pay this £1,600 to an absentee Irish landlord for doing nothing. They had heard of an alliance between the Conservative Government and the Irish Party. How long would that last if these monstrosities continued. Did not his hon. Friends the Irish Members know that if the Liberals had been in power they would have accepted the clause of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Sligo? He hoped that would enlighten his hon. Friends, and that now they would know what they had to expect from a Conservative Government.

Question put.

The Committee divided:—Ayes 15; Noes 46: Majority 31.—(Div. List, No. 280.)


said, he begged now to move the second clause on the Paper in his name, which was in the following terms:— From the date of the passing of this Act no clerk of the Crown or clerk of the peace in Ireland shall be awarded any pension on quitting office, unless he shall have personally discharged the duties of his office, and resided within the county for which he was appointed to act. He should think that failure to discharge duty, or absence from the county for which a Clerk of the Crown was appointed to act should procure dismissal; but as this was only a Pension Bill he would not propose a clause of that kind. He kept within the scope of the Bill by proposing that in case of failure to discharge duties or absence from the county there should be no pension awarded. He was strongly convinced that the time had come when a most strict observance of duty by a certain class of servants in Ireland was necessary. Those who had to deal with the franchise would have to deal with much larger bodies than was formerly the case; and he could not contemplate with equanimity such a state of affairs continuing as that in which officials charged with the management of the franchise were allowed to leave their districts altogether. Such a state of affairs was not to be tolerated, and he thought the House, whatever was done this year, should certainly put a stop to it next year. In the case of Major Wynne, Clerk of the Peace for the county of Sligo, Chief Justice Morris at the Sligo Assizes had found the books in such a state that he had to call the Clerk of the Peace to his presence. His Lordship fined the Clerk £20, and £20 for as many two hours as he was absent. He (Mr. Sexton) did not know how many hours elapsed before Major Wynne appeared, but however long it was nothing had been levied. Irish officials had a certain easy, familiar way of settling differences of this kind amicably amongst themselves. There was a certain freemasonry between the Judges and the other officials engaged in the administration of the law. It was reported to him from Grange, in County Sligo, that the lists of voters which should have been published on the 22nd of last month had not been published on the 1st of this month. He did not know whether they had been published yet—he rather thought they had not. The law said that the lists should be prepared on the 22nd of July, and 13 days' interval was allowed for persons to get on the list. Ten days of that period had elapsed when he was informed that the lists had not been posted, so that the people even then had only three days instead of 13 to examine the lists. What was to be done with those people? Suppose a man whose name ought to be on the list found that it was not on, and pointed out the error too late. He would not be able to make a claim, and he would, therefore, be without a vote at a time, from a Parliamentary point of view, more critical than any other in the history of Ireland. What reparation could be made to such a man? If, on the other hand, a man's name was on the list which should not be there, and it was too late for either of the political Parties to get it struck off, what reparation could be made to them? Certain electors had gone down to Sligo to find out why the lists had not been published. They made inquiries, and were first told that the lists were published. The visitors, however, convinced the Clerks that that was not the ease. Then it was said that the Clerks of the Unions had not sent in the Returns, but that was found to be inaccurate; and, finally, it was said that the printers had not been able to do the work. But why had they not been able to do it? They had had as much time as anyone else. No matter what the list was in Sligo the Nationalists were going to win; but, he would ask, was this not a proper case for complaint? In mentioning the case of Sligo he had other gains elsewhere in view. He would forbear from giving any further details and particulars; but he would ask that the counties should be relieved of the burden of these officials, and that Major Wynne should be removed from an office which he had been proved unfit to hold.

New Clause (Award of pension to depend upon personal discharge of duty,)—(Mr. Sexton,)—brought up, and read the first time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the said Clause be read a second time."


said, that if the hon. Member would allow him he would refer to the last portion of his speech first. The Clerk of the Peace for the county of Sligo was a gentleman of the name of Wynne; but he could tell the hon. Member that before he had put this matter on the Paper the Government had felt it necessary to call upon that gentleman to explain his conduct in regard to the duties of his office, and an investigation on the matter was proceeding. If it was found that he had been derelict in his duty he would not escape censure, and, if necessary, he would be removed from his office. If it was found that he had been remiss in his duties, he would be dealt with in such a way as to show that no favour was shown to anyone. In future Clerks of the Peace would not be entitled to delegate their trusts to deputies; but he would remind the hon. Member that there were a few Clerks in Ireland who had been appointed under the old system, and they had appointed deputies, as they had a perfect right to do, who were carrying on the business with the greatest efficiency. He thought it would be a hard thing that a gentleman who had held such an office for some time, and had had the right to appoint a deputy, and whose deputy had performed the work with efficiency—that he should have new burdens put upon him by a clause of this sort. He and his right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary for Ireland (Sir William Hart Dyke) were opposed to this method of doing business, and he could assure the hon. Member that no further appointments of this kind would be made. At the same time, was it desirable to interfere with an existing system under which somebody did the work efficiently?


regarded the speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman as generally satisfactory. With regard to the general question, he quite agreed that it was not desirable to interfere with the discharge of the duty by a deputy where the deputy was doing his duty well. If they would not pass this clause, however, he wished to know whether there was any objection to the Lord Lieutenant addressing a letter to those gentlemen, and to point out to them that they were to remain in their counties and perform their duties personally?


pointed out that under the Act of 1877 it was necessary that the Clerk of the Peace should attend personally; but it was not necessary in any way that he should be permanently resident in the county.


remarked that they would see what effect this discussion had between that and that time next year. In the meantime he begged leave to withdraw his clause.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Bill reported, without Amendment.


Perhaps the House will allow me to take the third reading of the Bill now.

Motion made, and Question, "That the Bill be now read the third time," put, and agreed to.

Bill passed.