HL Deb 13 February 1832 vol 10 cc249-57
The Earl of Wicklow,

in rising to call the attention of the noble and learned Lord opposite to the question, of which he had given notice, begged to impress upon him, and upon the House, the deep importance of the subject to which it would relate. In the situation to which Ireland was reduced, it had become an urgent and practical question whether that country was to be deprived of the great distinguishing feature of British jurisprudence—an unpaid Magistracy; and whether, in consequence, the whole course of the administration of justice was to be stopped by the closing of the inferior Courts; and the Government be compelled to supply their place by the appointment of stipendiary Magistrates. The Justices of Peace in Ireland complained, and, bethought, with much reason and justice, that they were required to pay fees on the renewal of their commissions, which were not only much higher than the fees charged to Magistrates in this country, but which were in themselves illegal. If their complaint was well founded, Government was bound, not only to protect the Magistrates of Ireland from this attempted injustice, but to vindicate them from the aspersions which had been cast upon them in another place, where, upon no other ground than their resistance to what they considered an unjust exaction, their conduct had been described as similar to that of the peasantry, who, in defiance of the law, resisted the payment of tithe. When he before called the attention of the House to the subject, he had entered into some details respecting it, which he would not now repeat. He had then hoped to elicit some information upon the subject from the members of the Administration in that House. He had, he regretted to say, been disappointed. Circumstances, however, remained unchanged. The Magistrates of Ireland, or at least the great majority of that body, still refused to submit to this extortion, and did so under the strongest impression that the demand was illegal. He was glad, at length, to see his noble and learned friend, the Lord Chancellor of Ireland, in his place; for he felt confident, from his great talent and experience, that he would duly estimate the importance of the subject, and be willing to pay to it the attention it deserved. He now begged to ask the noble and learned Lord if he had any reason to expect that the Magistrates of Ireland would soon be induced to return to the discharge of their customary and necessary duties?

Lord Plunkett

was satisfied, that the noble Lord had made this appeal to him from no unfriendly motive, but the very contrary, and he would reply to it in the same spirit. Whether he should afford the noble Lord that satisfaction which he was desirous to obtain on this subject, he could not tell; but this he begged to say, before he went further, that the state of this case was much altered since the noble Lord had, on a former occasion, adverted to it in that House. With respect to the grounds on which the payment of those fees was resisted by the Magistrates in Ireland, he apprehended that they had not been correctly stated. A great number of the Magistrates had certainly declined to pay those fees, but amongst the grounds assigned by them for doing so, as far as they came to his knowledge, there was no allegation that the fees were illegal. The Magistrates in refusing to pay them merely stated, that they conceived that there was great injustice and impolicy in their being called upon to pay fees on the taking out of their commissions, which were not required of the magistrates of this country. That was the ground, as far as he had understood the matter from the Magistrates of Ireland, on which they resisted the payment of those fees, and not on the pretence of their being illegal. Now, with respect to that point, he begged to say a word. At the time the Magistrates in Ireland made those complaints, the law in Ireland differed from the law in England on this subject: all fees on demise of the Crown, with very few exceptions, having been abolished in England by Act of Parliament, and espe- cially by the 1st of William 4th. That was a law, it was to be recollected, passed under the late Administration, and there existed a Treasury minute which had been made by the Lords of the Treasury under the late Administration, in reference to it. He did not mean to say, that for that law, and for that Treasury minute, his Majesty's present Ministers were not responsible: what he meant to say was, that all he had to do was, to the best of his judgment, to execute the law of the country. One of the provisions of the Act to which he had just adverted was, that compensation should be made to several persons who would be entitled to certain fees on the demise of the Crown, and for the labour then performed by them. On that Act the Treasury sat, and in the month of September, 1830, that minute was made, to which, before he sat down, he should call the attention of their Lordships. Since he had arrived in London during the last week, he had, for the first time, heard it alleged, that the fees which the Irish Magistrates had been called upon to pay could not be legally demanded. It was his bounden duty to see, that no illegal fees were demanded by those persons or officers who might be considered as peculiarly under his control: if it appeared that any illegal fees had been so demanded, it would, in that case, have been his duty to have instituted an inquiry into the matter. But no such allegation was made by the Magistrates in Ireland on the subject, and it was not, as he had already said, until his arrival in town, within the last few days, that he had heard that an allegation to that effect was made in another place. The fees in question were payable to the Lord Chancellor's Secretary, his purse-bearer, and train-bearer, and to the hall-porter. He had no reason to doubt the legality of those fees, the more especially as the commissioners who had been appointed some years ago to inquire into the courts of justice in Ireland, and who in their reports censured some fees as unjust, and said they were such as ought not to be enforced, had not passed any such censure on the fees in question. In fact, those fees had existed from time immemorial. They were to be found in the list of fees published by the House of Lords in 1734, and they were legally payable under an Act of Parliament passed at that time. He was not, of course, under such circumstances, to be held personally responsible for the fees demanded in his office, unless he had reason to think that such fees were illegal, and should not be demanded. The insinuation that had been thrown out, that the fees were larger than they ought to be, and that he had acted in this affair in a manner that he ought not to have done for the interest of the receivers, because the individual who filled the office of his secretary was his relative, was an imputation, be believed he might say, totally unworthy of his character, and he was sure that he might safely oppose the whole tenour of his life to such an unwarranted charge. It had been remarked by a learned person in another place, that the Lord Chancellor of Ireland's Secretary only received a salary of 500l. a-year, and that learned person did not know what became of the remainder of the allowance usually appropriated to the person who held that situation. He was sure that that learned individual could not possibly mean to convey by such a statement as that, that he (Lord Plunkett) would endeavour to make up for a deficient salary to his secretary by the enforcement of illegal fees, or by any unworthy or unjustifiable means of such a description. The simple facts of the case were these:—When Sir Anthony Hart was appointed Lord Chancellor of Ireland, he named Mr. Long to be his Secretary. When he succeeded Sir Anthony Hart in that office, he nominated his nephew, Mr. M'Causland, to the situation of his Secretary—a person who, he would take upon himself to say, was perfectly competent to discharge all the various duties of that office. However, Mr. Long having had much experience in that situation, and several Barristers having expressed a desire that he should continue his services to the Court, at his request, Mr. Long agreed to assist his Secretary, and on that condition he agreed, that his secretary, out of his emoluments, should pay Mr. Long 500l. a-year. Mr. Long having already filled the office, and being well acquainted with its duties, he thought it right to secure his services, and he would leave it to their Lordships' judgment to say whether he had not been warranted in doing so. He begged, once for all, to say, that he did not in any manner share in the emoluments of any person appointed by him. Of course no such charge had been preferred by any gentleman against him, but he satisfied his own mind in making the declaration. It had been said, that the demand for those fees was illegal, as the warrants were not made out at the time. He should not trouble their Lordships at present with a discussion as to whether they were legal or not, but he begged to say that he certainly considered them legal. The warrants signed by him on the demise of his late Majesty were thirty-two in number, for the thirty-two counties in Ireland. There were not warrants for each individual Magistrate, but the warrants in question contained the names of every Magistrate in the particular county to which such warrant was addressed, and it appeared to him that a warrant for the whole of the Magistracy was a warrant for all the Magistrates individually. The usual course, then, for each particular Magistrate to pursue was, to apply for his own warrant to the office of the Lord Chancellor's Secretary, which warrant was not signed by the Lord Chancellor, but by the Secretary. It was then sent to the Clerk of the Hanaper, and then the dedimus was granted, without which the Magistrate could not act. As he had already said, he had never heard it asserted that the demand for these fees was an illegal one until he arrived here last week, and the moment that such an assertion reached him, he put the matter in train for the purpose of obtaining the opinion of the Attorney General of Ireland with regard to it. It was under the Treasury minute of September, 1830, over which he had no control, that those fees were demanded; and, under such circumstances, he (Lord Plunkett) had no right, to interfere with the legal claims of those who demanded those fees, or to tell them that they should only demand the same fees that were enforced in England. It was said, that the labour in this instance had been exceedingly little, if any at all. Now, he could assure their Lordships that the clerks in his Secretary's office had, during the last four or five months, been laboriously employed, ever since the measure of appointing Lords Lieutenants of counties in Ireland had taken place, in maintaining a continual correspondence, under his (Lord Plunkett's) superintendence, with the Lords Lieutenants of counties there, the Assistant Barristers, and the Clerks of the Peace, on the various subjects connected with the administration of justice in their respective counties. The Treasury minute, made under the late Administration, and to which he should now refer their Lordships, was dated September 28, 1830. The Lords of the Treasury having met on that day, proceeded to consider the Act of Parliament which had been just passed relative to the fees payable on the demise of the Crown, and he would read an extract of the minute which they had made on the subject. The extract was to the effect, that the Lords of the Treasury, considering the number and variety of the instruments that were to be renewed on the demise of the Crown, did not think it possible to fix the remuneration for each individual case, but that they deemed it more advisable, that in all such cases there should be a specific average rate of remuneration awarded proportionate to the amount which the person making out such an instrument would be entitled to claim under ordinary circumstances, regard being had to the labour required in the preparation of the said instrument. The minute proceeded to state, that it was the opinion of their Lordships, that in all such cases, a moiety only of the fees payable under the Act should be paid to all such persons, as being a due and proper remuneration for the labour performed. He (Lord Plunkett) was not aware of the existence of this minute until he heard of it from his noble friend (the Secretary for the Home Department). That noble Lord, immediately after the accession of the present Administration to office, wrote to him (Lord Plunkett), as to the necessity for having the Commissions of the Magistrates that had expired on the demise of the Crown renewed. In reply, he stated to the noble Lord that there would be no delay on the subject, but that it would be necessary for the Lords of the Treasury to fix the remuneration for making them out. Accordingly, his right hon. friend the Secretary for Ireland, wrote to the Lords of the Treasury, to know what that was to be. The Lords of the Treasury then made a minute which was dated the 4th of November, 1830, confirming the principle of the minute made in the previous September, and stating that such remuneration should be given as was sufficient to compensate the officer for the actual time and labour employed in preparing such instruments. Copies of these minutes were transmitted to him in Ireland, and it was then for the first time that he was aware of their existence. On perusing them, he had no doubt that their meaning was, that a moiety—that was to say, that one-half—of those fees that had been hitherto pay- able should be paid for the preparation of those instruments, and his right hon. friend, the Secretary for Ireland, had also no doubt that the Act of Parliament, and the Treasury minutes made under it clearly and explicitly meant that one-half of those fees should be paid. However, on his (Lord Plunkett's) arrival in London last week, he found, to his great surprise, that it had been stated in another place, that it was the opinion of the Lords of the Treasury that there should be no compensation given, unless for the actual labour done; and, on inquiry, he found that such really was the case, and that a minute had been made by their Lordships so far back as January, 1831. The noble Lord having read that minute, which was to the effect he had mentioned, proceeded to say, that if this minute had been issued in the previous November, instead of the one that he had already read to the House, none of the mistakes that had taken place would have occurred. He had given orders to have the fees to the purse-bearer and the train bearer discontinued, and he had sent orders to his Secretary to demand that amount of remuneration only which was due for the actual labour done, in accordance with the principle laid down in the Treasury minute of January, 1831. The noble Lord would now see what he meant when he said that the state of this case had been much altered since he had adverted to it on a former occasion. He trusted that he had satisfied the House that he had acted in this matter merely under an erroneous impression, in consequence of his not having been made aware of the existence of the Treasury minute of January, 1831, and he begged to thank the noble Lord for having afforded him this opportunity to make the explanation that he had given to their Lordships.

Viscount Lorton

congratulated their Lordships on the statement just made. It promised a speedy settlement of the question which had excited the deepest interest, and produced the most alarming consequences, in Ireland. The Magistrates were fully borne out in their opinion, that the fees demanded were illegal, by the explanation that had been given by the noble and learned Lord.

The Earl of Wicklow

said, he had not received an answer to the question which he had put to the noble and learned Lord, namely, whether, under existing circumstances, Magistrates would be willing to take up their warrants? The explanation given by his noble and learned friend afforded him at least one piece of information, as it proved to him that the right hon. Secretary for Ireland ought to have been better acquainted with the subject than he appeared to have been; otherwise he would not have thrown out those gross aspersions on the Magistracy of Ireland, in which he had thought fit to indulge. That right hon. Gentleman ought to have attended to the situation of Ireland during the four weeks which had elapsed in the recess. Why the right hon. Gentleman had not done so, he could not tell; but it was a fact worthy of notice, that it was precisely during those four weeks that the mistake or misapprehension had occurred, and had he been acquainted with the circumstance, it might have been satisfactorily arranged. If there were any thing in the atmosphere of Ireland so hot and fiery that the right hon. Gentleman could not bear it—if his constitution were not salamandrine enough to endure the climate—he had better retire from the office, and make room for those who would attend to its duties.

Lord Plunkett

said, that, in his opinion, he had given a very plain answer to the interrogatory of the noble Lord. He thought that the Magistrates ought to have submitted to the inconvenience of paying their fees, whatever question might afterwards have arisen, and thus have maintained their usual situation in society. They should not, on the mere allegation that justice was not done to them as it was done to the Magistracy of England, have abstained from paying the fees, and continuing to perform their important duties. Now, however, that the matter was explained by the last Treasury minute, he had no doubt that the Magistrates would proceed in their usual course.

The Marquis of Clanricarde

thought that the observations which had been made with respect to the right hon. the Secretary for Ireland were wholly uncalled for. So far as he knew that right hon. Gentleman, personally, or by reputation, he was the last person who could fairly be accused of neglecting his duty. There never was a Secretary for Ireland who possessed more ability, or who, in the performance of his duties, evinced greater zeal, application, or attention.

Lord Cloncurry

observed, that looking back to the old time, and the old system, mere paupers were not unfrequently elected to the magisterial authority in Ireland, for the purpose of serving party and political purposes. He believed that at one period, about a moiety of the Magistracy stood in that situation. At the demise of George 3rd, not more than one-third of the Magistrates paid their fees. He was certain that no Gentleman of property and respectability would refuse to pay those fees. The former fees, though exorbitant, were discharged; but how? Why they were handed over silently from one Member of the Government to another.

The Earl of Limerick

denied that the statement of the noble Lord, with reference to persons formerly placed in the commission of the peace in Ireland, was correct. The noble Lord asserted, that during a long period in the reign of George 3rd, paupers were named as Magistrates for political purposes. He never knew that persons of that description had ever been placed on the list of Magistrates; he was not aware of any political purposes that the Magistrates were called upon to serve. Gentlemen were appointed to save the country from rebellion, and to prevent any set of persons, high or low, from overturning the constitution of the land; gentlemen were selected who would not associate with the rabble, or with those who encouraged them in the infraction of the law. When the noble Lord said, that a moiety of the Magistracy, at the time of which he spoke, were paupers, and were appointed merely for party purposes, he ought to have known better than to make such an assertion.

Viscount Clifden

was sorry to differ from the noble Earl who spoke last, but he believed that no doubt existed as to the appointment of improper persons to the Magistracy of Ireland.

The Marquis of Westmeath

said, the Magistrates, than whom a more zealous or praise-worthy body did not exist, refused to pay the sum demanded, though it was small, because they considered that it was an improper charge.

Here the matter ended.