The Earl of Wicklow
said, that in rising to put a question to the noble Viscount regarding the state of the Irish Magistracy, he had no wish to augment the embarrassment in which he knew the noble Viscount and his colleagues in the Government were now placed by the difficult and dangerous situation of Ireland; but, for several days past, he had been anxious to gain some information on the subject, though he had refrained from troubling the noble Viscount with any questions, in the hope that he should hear, directly or indirectly, something that would be satisfactory upon the subject. It was unnecessary for him to draw any picture of the present wretched condition of Ireland. One whole province, in the centre of the kingdom, was in actual hostility to the laws of the country, and marshalled and arrayed against the forces of the State, at the bidding of a set of demagogues and Jesuits. Religious animosities were revived, and were glowing with a malignity unprecedented even in that country. He was aware, that the noble Viscount might allege, in answer to his observations, that if there were now no Magistrates in the Commission of the Peace in Ireland, it was not the fault of the Government; and the noble Viscount could make that allegation with perfect truth. He was aware, that it was necessary for Magistrates at the commencement of a new reign to receive new Commissions. He was aware, that the fees on those new Commissions were regulated by Act of Parliament, and that they were 769 not placed at the disposal of the Executive Government. He was also aware, that he might be told, that the Government of Ireland was guilty of no fault in preparing these new commissions of the Peace. He knew that the old Commissions were not cancelled until due notice had been given to the Magistracy, that the new commissions were ready to be issued. But it was a libel on the Magistracy of Ireland to suppose, that any portion of them, in refusing to take out those new commissions, were influenced by a wish to reduce the paltry fees paid upon them. He knew that these fees had been reduced from 10l. to somewhere about 3l., and he would not degrade the Magistracy by stopping to vindicate them from the charge of being reluctant to pay so insignificant and wretched a fee. He thought it right, however, to state the reasons which he had heard advanced as the real grounds for their refusing to take out these commissions. They had learned that the fees paid by the Magistrates of England, under similar circumstances, were much less than those which they were called upon to pay; and they thought that the fees in Ireland ought to be reduced to a level with those in England. They also conceived, but erroneously, that the necessity for taking out these commissions arose out of the act of last Session for the establishment of Lords-lieutenant in the different counties of Ireland: for they supposed that they had all received new Commissions at the accession of his present Majesty, William 4th. They conceived, too, and on this point they were equally mistaken, that all these fees were the perquisites of the Secretary of the Lord Chancellor of Ireland. He was sorry that they entertained any such notion. For that noble and learned Lord he entertained great respect. He believed him to be as honest and upright a statesman as he knew him to be an able and eloquent orator. It was the misfortune, however, of Lord Plunkett, that the unpopularity of the Government to which he was allied was visited at present upon his head. He was sure that their Lordships must see the necessity of remedying the evil which had arisen out of the operation of these reasons. Let them suppose what would be the consequences, if any one county, even in this tranquil country were left entirely without a Magistracy: and then let them judge how aggravated these consequences would be when such was actually the case in Ireland. He had that morning received a letter from 770 the paymaster of the militia regiment which he had the honour to command, informing him that he could not transmit the requisite affidavits, owing to the want of a Magistracy in the county to attest the signatures. He had also received a similar letter from a very respectable quarter, stating, that from the want of a Magistracy, the most ordinary magisterial acts could not at present be performed. He would add, that if an assault, or even a murder were committed—and there were such things as assaults and murders in that part of the world—there were no Magistrates at present before whom the informations could be sworn. He therefore rose to ask the noble Viscount—not what measure he had in contemplation, for there was no time now for contemplation, but, what measure he had in preparation or in progress, to remedy this evil, and to induce the Magistrates to resume their functions?
§ Viscount Melbourne
begged to acquaint the noble Earl, that he had no measure either in progress or in contemplation upon the subject. He hoped that the statement which the noble Earl had just made would remedy the evils of which he had complained; for the noble Earl, in that statement, had explained the misconceptions on which he was convinced the magistracy of Ireland had refused to pay these fees, and to take up their commissions. The noble Earl had begun his question with a series of observations, not of the most regular character, in which he had drawn a picture of what he was pleased to denominate the painful state of Ireland. Undoubtedly there were dangers in the present condition of Ireland; but, without following the noble Earl into the discussion which he had somewhat irregularly introduced, he would say, from what had come to his own knowledge, that the noble Earl had painted those dangers in too deep colours, and had attributed to them a more violent character than that which they really possessed. He trusted that the noble Earl's statement would teach the Magistracy of Ireland what course they ought to pursue. The Act of the 1st of King William 4th, cap. 43, did away with all fees payable on the renewal of commissions which expired on the demise of the Crown, but it also stated, that the officers who prepared those commissions should have due compensation for such fees upon terms to be settled by the Lords of the Treasury. The Lords of the Treasury accordingly had fixed the terms of that compensation; they had reduced the fees 771 from 10l. to 2l. 13s. 6d., and the Magistrates were in error when they supposed that this was a larger fee than that which was paid for the performance of a similar duty in England. The Commissions of the Peace in Ireland were placed on a different footing from the Commissions of the Peace in England. A Commission of the Peace in England was addressed to the individual Magistrate only; but in Ireland, it was a commission which included the name of the individual in a commission that was made out for all the Magistracy of the county. Therefore, as it was a work of some time and some labour, the fee charged was not too large a sum for the remuneration of the officer who settled the commission. He trusted that the Magistrates of Ireland, when they read the statement of the noble Earl, would listen to the dictates of reason, and would not deprive the country of the benefit of their services. On these grounds he thought that all further comment upon the observations which had fallen from the noble Earl was quite unnecessary.
§ Earl Grey
trusted, with his noble friend, that the good sense of the Magistracy of Ireland would remedy the evil of which the noble Earl complained. As there could be no doubt but that the fees charged were legal, he did not see how the Government could interfere. At the same time, he wished to remind their Lordships, that a bill had been brought into the other House some years ago by General Ponsonby, which had for its object to do away with the necessity of renewing Commissions of the Peace on the demise of the Crown, but that Bill was altered in its progress at the suggestion of the late Lord Castlereagh, and its operation limited to the accession of George 4th, in consequence of the number of commissions which had been issued during the Regency. He would make no further remarks on the noble Earl's statement with regard to the unpopularity of the Government and the Lord Chancellor in Ireland, than to observe, that it was unfortunate in this case that unpopularity attached to the Lord Chancellor's Secretary, who received only 17s. 6d. out of the sum of 2l. 13s. 6d. which was to be paid on the renewal of the commissions.
The Earl of Wicklow
deemed the answer of the noble Earl so far satisfactory, that he hoped the Irish Magistracy would be induced by it to take out their commissions without delay. At the same same time, he must express a hope that these fees would be assimilated in England and Ireland.
§ Viscount Melbourne
said, he was not aware that any difference existed between the amounts of fees as payable on the renewal of commissions in both countries.
The Marquis of Westmeath
said, from his own knowledge he could assert, that the principal objection to renewing these commissions arose from the amount of fees charged upon them.