§ The Duke of Wellington
said, that he was surprised the noble Marquis had not moved the repeal of the Act of the 4th of George 1st, instead of bringing in a Bill partially to repeal it, and admit Catholics to the rights of freemen of that Corporation. When he had taken up the subject he had sought to do away with the Bill altogether, as it was inconsistent with the spirit of the law now adopted towards the Roman Catholics of the United Kingdom; and it was only by inadvertence, when he brought in the Catholic Relief Bill, that he omitted to propose to repeal this among the multitude of other obnoxious Statutes which that measure got rid of. He wished to draw their Lordships' attention to the preamble of the 4th of George 1st, with a view to show the true meaning of that Act, and how inconsistent it was to allow any part of it to remain in force: the preamble stated the great importance of the loyalty and fidelity of the garrison of the town of Galway to the Protestant interest; it also set forth the disposition of the majority of the Corporation to favour Popery, and to create freemen favourable to that religion. Among the various enactments there was the very important one, that four Magistrates of the county of Galway, being Protestants, should have jurisdiction as Justices of the Peace within the county of the town, and that from the 40s. freeholders, being Protestants, should be selected the Juries to try offences committed within the town. And further, that any Protestant artizan or tradesman resident within the town 681 for seven years, should, at the expiration of that term, claim as a right his freedom both of the town and the Corporation upon taking the oaths. There could be no reason whatever, that such an anomaly as any part of this Bill should continue, when the 40s. freeholders throughout Ireland generally had been disfranchised, unless it was with a view to admit into the Corporation of Galway a body of 4,000 or 5,000 persons of the lowest class, who would claim the right of voting for Members of Parliament. On account of these reasons, it was evident the Bill of the noble Marquis was altogether at variance with the 4th of George 1st, and it never could be consistently engrafted on it. The better way, therefore, was, to repeal the old and offensive law altogether, for which purpose he should beg to move as an Amendment, "That from and after the passing of this Act," at page 3, line 2nd, there be inserted the words "the whole of the above-recited Act to be repealed."
The Marquis of Clanricarde
said, he was somewhat surprised at the course pursued by the noble Duke. If his amendment were carried, it would effect a great and extraordinary change in the Corporation and constituency of the town of Galway. The noble Duke proposed to repeal the whole of the Act of the 4th of George 1st, but it was not only by virtue of that Act, but by a charter granted by Charles 2nd, that the freemen of the Corporation had a right to return Members to Parliament. Even prior to that by some centuries, in the reign of Richard 2nd, about the year 1376, they had received a charter from that Monarch. There was evident proofs that the borough of Galway was a Corporation, not only by virtue of various charters, but also by prescription. Previous to the Act of the 4th of George 1st, the right of admission into the Corporation was enjoyed by all persons resident in the town. In 1715, however, the matter had been brought before the Irish House of Commons, who had resolved, that the freemen of the several trades of the county of the town of Galway were part of the constituency; and, therefore, as such entitled to vote for the town this was of course subsequent to the charter of Charles 2nd, by which the privilege of voting was to be obtained, either by admission into the inferior guilds, or by admission to the Corporation. This charter was afterwards followed by the Act of 4th George 682 1st, which gave the right of admission to the freedom of the town and Corporation of Galway, and also to the Company or Corporation to which their respective trades might belong, without the payment of any fees, to artisans of all descriptions who had followed their trades for seven years within the town, and which also exempted such persons from certain Corporation taxes and fines. This, then, was the footing on which the Corporation of Galway now stood, and he knew many Protestant freemen who had supported their right although the guilds of their trades had fallen into disuse, and notwithstanding the opposition of the Corporation of that place. The noble Duke did not dispute the policy of putting the freemen of both religions on an equality, but he adopted the novel principle of legislation, that because a certain wrong had gone on for some time it was necessary to take away an unquestioned right which had previously existed and been exercised. There was another very important reason for not repealing the Act of 4th George 1st, for it enabled the Lord Lieutenant to appoint four additional Magistrates, besides those of the Corporate body, to which, before, the Magistracy had been entirely confined. This power had been most beneficially exercised on several occasions. So far from violating Corporate rights by passing the Bill now before them, their Lordships would be only protecting existing privileges. It was the Corporation of Galway which had violated Charters; they had been guilty of peculation, and were insolvent. The Corporation had made no complaints of injustice being done to them by this Bill worth notice, and the petitions that had been presented, and public opinion, were decidedly in favour of the Bill. It had been said, that a number of persons had been excluded from the right of voting under the 4th George 1st, but there was no proof of the number being large. It was, however, for their Lordships to consider, whether by the repeal of the whole of the Act under which the Protestants had enjoyed the right, they would consent to commit an act of great injustice. He felt assured the Committee would not think of upholding a monopoly which had prevented individuals of a particular class from locating in Galway, and which had obtained the whole power and control over the municipal affairs of the town. The prayer of the whole respectability of the 683 town and its vicinity was in favour of the Bill now before their Lordships.
said, as far as he understood the argument of the noble Marquis, he appeared to object to the amendment proposed by the noble Duke, because it would tend to disfranchise certain Protestant freemen who had obtained the right of voting under the 4th George 1st. He assured the noble Marquis there was no such intention on the part of those who proposed the total repeal of that Act. At the same time there would not be the least objection, if the Amendment was carried, to preserve the right of voting to those individuals for their lives, such a proposition was perfectly consistent with justice and reason. As to himself individually, he was ready to acknowledge, that he had great objections to disfranchise any person, but the noble Marquis had no such scruples, for he had recently voted for the disfranchisement of upwards of fifty boroughs without the electors having been guilty of any offence. He (Lord Ellen borough) had voted for the second reading of the Bill now before them, because, after the passing of the Catholic Relief Bill in 1829, he considered the principle of this measure, which went to equalize the franchise between persons of both religions, Protestants as well as Catholics, was a proper one to be adopted. The 4th George 1st, for certain reasons stated in the preamble, drew a distinction between Catholics and Protestants, and gave the latter specifically certain rights. If that was so now, when every other distinction between the two religions had been abrogated, it was quite right that an Act which kept up local distinctions should be wholly repealed. He, therefore, was of opinion, that the course recommended by the noble Duke was the safest, and he thought it was a better plan to expunge from the Statute-book an Act totally at variance with the spirit of the present times towards Roman Catholics, than to engraft on it an Act like that proposed by the noble Marquis. The Bill proposed to enfranchise a certain number of persons of the Roman Catholic persuasion, and to give them the rights of freemen of the town of Galway; but it should be recollected that, according to the assurances of his Majesty's Government, a Reform Bill would soon pass into a law which would destroy the rights of those very freemen; and if the predictions he heard were true, they would 684 never be called on to exercise their votes' unless the calamity, which God forbid, occurred—namely the death of the hon. member for Galway before the next Session of Parliament. He could not understand why this Bill was brought in, instead of one for the repeal of the Act of George 1st; and if it were supported by his Majesty's Ministers, he could only say, it bore the appearance of being a most scandalous job.
§ The Duke of Wellington
said, he did not understand that the Charter gave the right of voting to those freemen claiming that right in respect to the exercise of their trades; but in order to form a correct opinion of the Charter it ought to be before the House. He was ready to admit there was a Resolution of the Irish House of Commons in 1715, which stated, that persons holding their freedom as artizans had the right of voting, but then the Act of the 4th George 1st passed two years after, in 1717. Now, with respect to the difference which existed between the Act and the Resolution, it might be accounted for easily, because in framing the enactment it was found necessary, in all probability, to revert to the terms of the Charter. If there were any persons whose interests would be effected by the total repeal of the obnoxious Act, let a special provision be made in their behalf. He wished everything to stand on the same footing with respect to Galway as before the passing of that Act; that would leave the whole question respecting the Corporation open for decision hereafter.
The Marquis of Clanricarde
said, after the remarks that had been made, he wished to state some facts relating to the local situation of Galway itself, and his connection with that district. In the first place, there was the town of Galway itself, and then there was the county of the town, which extended some distance round it, and contained a numerous population. His property was in the county of the town, and a considerable number of persons who resided in it had the right of voting. Another gentleman was in the same situation with himself as to property and influence, and there were several smaller proprietors who possessed a less number of tenants. His influence was, therefore, considerable as it stood at present, but this Bill would let in so many town voters, that it would be completely swamped by their number; this was the 685 best answer he could give to the charge of this Bill being a job on the part of Ministers.
said, he thought it impossible that the noble Duke's amendment could be adopted, because, if the whole of the 4th of George 1st was repealed, the power of appointing Magistrates for the town of Galway would be taken away. He wished also to suggest to the noble Duke, that he was in error as to the constitution of the Corporation of the town of Galway. The noble Duke appeared to suppose it was only regulated by the Charter of Charles 2nd; but he assured him that was not the case. The Corporation, to his knowledge, held their rights under more than one Charter. Indeed, there could be no doubt but that it was a borough by prescription, and if the whole of the 4th George 1st was repealed, it would create great inconveniences with respect to the municipal government of the place. For the last century the facility of obtaining the freedom of the place had been possessed without a question, and so long as these facilities had been enjoyed exclusively by Protestants there had been no objection to them. The change of circumstances, however, consequent upon the great measure of Catholic Emancipation had made it necessary that this privilege should be extended to Catholics. The noble Baron (Lord Ellenborough) however, considered that because a measure might be hereafter introduced which would ultimately do away with, or at least, alter the principle of voting in Corporations, therefore it was a work of supererogation to confer the right of voting by means of this Bill on the persons who would be entitled to it; but really no such thing would take place, because the rights and privileges of such persons would be continued for their lives, and, therefore, if they once got possession of them, they would, of course, retain them.
said, all he had contended for was, that if the Reform Question was to be brought forward again next Session, these parties would stand precisely in the same position they did now. They were not freemen at present, and the effect of that measure would be to declare that such freedoms would not in future be allowed to exist.
§ The Duke of Wellington
said, that by the 7th of George 4th, the Lord Lieutenant could authorize the Lord Chancel- 686 lor to appoint four Justices of the Peace for Galway, and that obviated any inconvenience that could arise from a repeal of the Act alluded to by the noble and learned Lord.
said, the noble Duke was quite right as to the provisions of the Act he had quoted, but the appointment could only take place under particular circumstances, and much inconvenience might arise if vacancies in the event of the decease of any of the present Magistrates could be only filled up by the Lord Chancellor, alter application to the Lord Lieutenant in Council. With respect to the noble Baron's remark that it was inconsistent to bestow a franchise now, to take it away next year, he had not shown that it was to be taken away, and therefore his remark went for nothing.
said, he would persist in saying, that it was inconsistent on the part of the promoters of the Reform measure, which went to abrogate Corporate rights, to create a constituency of that character at present.
The Earl of Mulgrave
said, he considered it perfectly consistent with the promoters of the Reform Bill to pass this measure, and he regretted the noble Baron had not put the House in possession of his sentiments when that question was before them, rather than now deal out his bit-by-bit speeches on a subject of so important a nature.
§ Amendment negatived, and the Bill went through the Committee.