HL Deb 02 September 1835 vol 30 cc1250-63
Viscount Duncannon

moved the second reading of this Bill, the object of which was to assimilate, as far as possible, the Irish to the English system. There was this difference, however, that in Ireland the Revising Barristers were not, as in England, to be appointed by the Judges, because, as the Judges were the persons to whom an appeal could be made from the decision of the Barristers, it was proper that they should be appointed by others than those who were to review their decisions. The salary of each would be 300l. a year; but that would occasion no increased expense, as the Assistant Barristers now received 100l. a year each additional for these duties, which would in future be performed by a much smaller number of Revising Barristers. He called attention to the 54th Clause, which went to obviate the necessity of a claimant swearing that his property was of the value of 10l. a year over and above what he received from the tenant. This had never been intended by the Reform Act; and the nature of the objection was well understood, for when the Reform Act was discussed, there was a debate and discussion on this very Clause.

The Earl of Limerick

said, it was too late in the Session to bring forward a measure of this description which was so complicated in its details, that even the noble Viscount, with all his acuteness, seemed to be ill-prepared to explain them. Its professed object was to assimilate the law in Ireland to the law in England; but its effect would be to disfranchise the honorary freemen. It was evident that the last Clause was drawn by some master-hand, for some master-purpose. The voting power would be thrown completely open by it.

Lord Plunkett

did not think his Majesty's Ministers so much to blame as the noble Lords opposite appeared to consider them, for bringing some of their measures forward so late in the Session. It was surely not their faults that a certain portion of the Session was consumed without their being able to bring this or any other measure under the consideration of Parliament. The noble Lord who had just sat down had stated his objections to the Bill, and had said he would move an Amendment to the effect, that it be read a second time this day three months. It appeared to him, however, that the more convenient course would be for them to allow the Bill to go into Committee, and then it could be seen what objections noble Lords had to the details, and to what extent they could be removed. The last Clause was the one which seemed to be the most objected to. Now the oath in the Act 10th of Geo. IV., which was the Emancipation Bill, required, that a freeholder should state not merely that his freehold was worth 10l. but that a tenant would be able to give him for it 10l. over and above the rent he paid. When the Reform Bill was under discussion, it was agreed by those opposed to the Bill, that if it were required that a voter should merely swear that his property was of the bonâ fide value of 10l. a year, they would let in a class of voters who were not much better than the 40s. freeholders whom they had disfranchised. That was the argument; and an Amendment was moved, for the purpose of changing the oath proposed in the Reform Bill, and restoring the oath in the Bill of 1829. The Amendment was discussed at considerable length, after which the House divided upon it, and the result was, that the oath in the Reform Bill was adopted, in order to remove the gross inconveniences which had been found to exist in the Act of 1829. According to that Act, the individual claiming to be qualified must deduct the amount of his rent, the value of his labour, and his capital, to get at the clear value of his property; and in addition to its being of the clear bona fide value of 10l., he must be able to swear that another person would offer to give him an additional 10l. for it. Thus, under this system, instead of the yearly value of 10l. giving the franchise, the property must be of the value of 20l. Their Lordships would find, that on the 26th July, 1832, the question was discussed. As he had stated, the oath in the Reform Bill was objected to, but, after argument and division, adopted; therefore their Lordships, in arguing against the construction put on the oath in the present Bill, were arguing against the Reform Bill itself, and not against any novelty. The oath in the Reform Bill made no alteration with respect to freeholders; it left them in the situation in which they were before; but it did effect an alteration as regarded the holders of leases. The oath in the Reform Bill was admitted by all to be the oath required to be taken by leaseholders, but the freeholders must take the oath provided in the former Act, because the Reform Bill, by an oversight, was not operative on the freeholders.

The Earl of Wicklow

said, he should think from the manner in which the noble Viscount introduced the Bill, from the great difficulty the noble Viscount appeared to feel in explaining its provisions to their Lordships, that he entertained little expectation that it would receive the sanction of the House this Session. He would venture to say, that a Bill more mischievously framed, more pregnant with injury to the people for whom it was intended, a Bill more evidently got up at the declaration of an individual, whose great object was to hold the Government of that country in abeyance, he had never seen introduced into either House of Parliament. He had before abstained, as much as any one, from adverting to the power of that individual; his opinion had been, that to notice him in that House was calculated to give him an undue importance; but his power had increased till it had risen to such a pitch, that it signified little what was said of him in this House. If the noble Viscount, in the height of his good-nature and kindly feeling, or prompted by feelings of mere gratitude to that individual, had addressed the learned person in language of this kind, "Sir, you have been the prop and stay of my Government, to you we owe our places in the Administration, to you we owe it that we were enabled one moment to stand before the feelings of the people of England and maintain our places, therefore I feel that it is due to you to confer on you some mark of my favour; and in order to show our gratitude for your services, we will enable you to draw a measure that will suit your purposes, a measure that will place the Government and the power of Ireland at your disposal,"—if the noble Viscount had addressed that individual in that manner, it would have been impossible for him to frame a measure better calculated to effect such an object than the one he held in his hand. The noble and learned Lord opposite advised them to go into Committee on the Bill; he said, "You who admit, that some of the details are not objectionable, ought not to throw the Bill out on the second reading." He objected, however, to go into a Committee on any Bill, the principles of which he considered so objectionable as those contained in this measure. The twelve Judges were unanimously of opinion that the qualification in the Emancipation Bill of 1829 was required under the Reform Act. The effect of the present measure would be to supersede the Assistant-Barristers, who were of high station and respectability, and on whose honourable decisions the fullest reliance might be placed, by the appointment of barristers of five years' standing, individuals who would naturally look up to those on whom they were dependent for appointments. The new qualification would admit every holder of a cabin with an acre of ground attached to it. There was no holder of a cabin with a little land from which he derived the subsistence of himself and family, who would not easily persuade himself that it was worth 10l. to him, and who would not consider that, without being guilty of perjury, he might come forward and take the oath which it was necessary for him to take in order to register. He admitted that some of the clauses of the Bill would be an improvement; but the others were so objectionable that he should give his support to the Amendment for the Bill being read a second time this day three months. If he was asked would he sanction the bad principle of the measure for the sake of one or two minor amendments, his answer would be that he should prefer a continuance of the present state of things. He would not for any such consideration sanction vicious principle, a principle, which, if recognised and established by law, would place the whole of the power of the State in the hands of a mischievous faction. For the second reading of such a Bill he certainly would never give his vote: on the contrary, he would oppose it to the utmost of his power, and begged leave to move that it be read a second time that day three months.

Viscount Melbourne

I wish, my Lords, to say a few words, in consequence of what has just fallen from the noble Earl regarding a certain individual, whom he asserts he has not mentioned in this House before, and whom I presume he mentions now because he thinks it serves his purpose to do so. My Lords, when similar allusions have come from other quarters, I have not taken the slightest notice of them. I have not considered it necessary for me to notice them; but I must be permitted on this occasion to make a few remarks in reply to the observations which have been made by the noble Earl. The noble Earl, with a great deal of that sarcasm in which he is always extremely fortunate and felicitous, said that we owed a tribute of gratitude to Mr. O'Connell for the support he had afforded us, and that we relied on him to protect us against the indignation of the people of England. ["Hear, hear."] What! by that cheer is that statement meant to be maintained? Is it meant to say that—is it meant to say that we stand only on the support of Mr. O'Connell? ["Hear"] His Lordship paused for some seconds, after which he proceeded with great animation. Are, then, the English representatives nothing? Is that body in the House of Commons who has honoured us with their support, nothing? Is the general voice and opinion of the people nothing? Is the impression as to that opinion, manifested by the great majority of this House having forborne to take direct measures for our removal, nothing? I say again, is that nothing? And is the noble Earl indeed justified in saying that we stand alone for support on the Irish Members to whom he thought proper to allude? He asserts that this measure is brought forward at the dictation of Mr. O'Connell; and he has attributed to me an attempt to give over the Government of Ireland to his guidance and his domination; but I will ask your Lordships whether anything he has stated in the course of his speech—whether any of the objections that have been urged to the provisions of this Bill—whether any observation that has been made on this side of the House bears out the great and high-sounding pretension of the exordium of the noble Earl's speech? I deny that I have any desire to increase the weight or extend the influence or power of the individual who has been alluded to in Ireland. But when the noble Earl was speaking as he did of influence, power, and weight, he forgot, surely, what form of Government we live under; he forgot that we were governed by popular assemblies; he forgot that we live under a Government which is, in a great degree, popular, and which has become more so of late years, this being the result, not so much of the measures that have been introduced, as of the general and still increasing feeling of the country. And measures not having produced altogether this state of things, in which we live, it is impossible that the opinions of persons possessing great influence, great weight, and great authority in the country, can be a matter of perfect indifference either to the Governments whom they support, or to the Governments to whom they are opposed. I am not willing to say anything disrespectful of the Government which preceded that of which I have the honour of being at the head, and I know not whether the noble Earl was a friend or an enemy to that Government, or whether the Government was the friend of him or the enemy of him, but I will state this, that I never observed any such indisposition in that Government to popular support. I never observed any such unwillingness to court it, to seek for it, to throw themselves upon it. It appeared to me that the whole object of that Government was to try to manage and control the people; the whole of their measures were, in my opinion, a series of clap-traps such as were thought calculated to win and gain over the people. I say, then, that it is not fair in those who undoubtedly pursue that policy—it is not fair in them to cast on those who do not pursue that policy, who deny having pursued it, imputations which certainly they could not deserve, and which I for one entirely repel. The noble Earl has not stated a single fact which bore him out in the assertions which he made. The noble Earl spoke as if the party of the learned Gentleman to whom he adverted was the very extreme party in this country. I deny that we are led by them; but I know this, that we are governed by other Ultras, that we are subject to their domination and their guidance, and that we are forced to adopt the measures of a majority who are led by the more violent, blind, and unyielding of themselves. The observations of the noble Earl do not apply to us, but there is a party to whom they do apply. I say there is a party who are led by the most violent among them to the adoption of measures which they must themselves disapprove—measures which they know to be extremely unwise and extremely imprudent. From the manner in which this House before conducted themselves with regard to Bills which every body admitted were for the benefit and advantage of the country, I shall not be surprised, on the contrary I expect, to see them some day supporting the measures on this side which they have opposed on that. In that way I find one consolation. It is encouraging to know that opinions though vehemently expressed, are not irrevocably fixed or obstinately maintained. I say, then, that, in my opinion, there is another party, and they exercise as injuriously the power which is unhappily placed in their hands as would the party which was first the subject of remark, and whose opinions I as little approve as any man.

The Duke of Wellington

said, since he had the honour to sit in that House he had avoided—at least he had endeavoured to avoid—any personal allusion to individuals not present. He believed it never had happened to him—if it had he did not remember it—to mention the name of the particular individual to whom the noble Viscount had referred. He entertained his opinions of that person as well as other noble Lords; but, at the same time, it was not his habit to speak ill of anybody, more particularly behind his back. The noble Lord, however, had been pleased to compare the violence of the party on whose conduct his noble Friend had animadverted, with the violence of another party on which he and his friends—so the noble Lord meant to insinuate—were dependent for support. All he could say in reply to this was, that they had not depended for support on any party, but that one consisting of the loyal subjects of the King. He had never depended for support on any party or any individual who had been convicted of a misdemeanour, and having been convicted of a misdemeanour, was afterwards promoted by the Ministers of the Crown. With respect to this Bill, it appeared to repeal that which was considered, at the time it was enacted, in the year 1829, as a solemn compact—as a final arrangement entered into with reference to those individuals of whom this gentleman who had been named, was supposed to be the leader. The measures adopted subsequently, in the year 1832, to which he wished not to refer, but he was called on to do so by the way in which they had been spoken of by the noble Lord—those measures in the year 1832, had placed in the hands of that individual a political power notoriously such as never was possessed by any individual in this country, during all the different ministerial revolutions which had occurred from the earliest down to the present. It was notorious that the individual in question exercised a power in another place such as never was known to exist before under any circumstances. What would be the necessary consequence of this Bill which the noble Lord had brought forward, and accused them of having rejected from this House? The consequence of it must be to increase still further that very power which was established by the Reform Act. And this was what the noble Lord came down and boasted of, and reproached them forsooth that they were looking out for popular support when they were in office. It was true they did propose several measures which, when they took office, they thought would be satisfactory to the country, but they were measures growing out of others which had been passed previously. They were not the result of measures which had been introduced by themselves, but he believed that they would prove satisfactory as far as they went, and they professed themselves ready to take into consideration any other measures which appeared necessary for the redress of grievances or the reform of abuses. As to courting popularity, that which the noble Lord accused them of doing, the noble Lord had not neglected to do himself—he brought forward in the first instance measures which were still further to establish an influence which he must know could not be otherwise than injurious to the country. He had not intended to address the House at all on the subject, and had said no more than he considered necessary.

The Marquess of Clanricarde

said, that the noble Duke had stated that this measure would prove injurious to the country, but the noble Duke had also made a remark which he felt confident that he would not have made on reflection, it was—that Ministers knew the Bill would be injurious. Their Lordships ought to bear in mind that there were great faults to be found with the present system of registration. As regarded the qualification, this Bill was more to declare what it ought to be than to alter it, inasmuch as at present by different barristers it had been differently decided in various parts of the country.

The Legislature meant the freehold to be worth 10l., and not 10l. over and above that value. If the reason urged to induce their Lordships to throw out the Bill was that it had been introduced at a late period of the Session; if this was a just cause to reject the measure, the House ought to have refused to assent to most of the measures which had received the sanction of the Legislature for the last thirty or forty years; most Bills originated in the other House, and it was necessarily a late period of the Session before they could be sent up to their Lordships' House. It was very well for noble Lords to talk of extreme parties, but what would the country think and say when they were informed that merely the support of such parties was deemed a sufficient reason with that House to reject measures which had been maturely considered and sent up by large majorities of the other House. Constant allusions were made to Mr. O'Connell, and the Government were censured because they received the support of that Gentleman. Thank God, in this free country, a man by the exercise of great talents and attainments must ultimately possess power and influence. Such was the case with Mr. O'Connell; but when the Government was charged with having given that person the influence he possessed in Ireland, he must reply that it was his firm conviction that the great portion of the power possessed by Mr. O'Connell was owing to the conduct of the party on the opposite side of the House. When noble Lords alluded to the persons that individual was said to have great influence over in another place, he would recommend them to recollect that those hon. Gentlemen were representatives of the people. In a great many of the measures advocated by Mr. O'Connell and his supporters it was impossible to deny that he was supported by the opinion of the majority of the people of Ireland. He repeated, this was a free country, and public opinion must not only have great influence, but, when expressed in the proper way—through the representatives of the people—must be attended to. He could not help reminding noble Lords that the late Administration had brought forward many measures which they had opposed in former years. He would not say that this was the case with all the measures of the late Government, but certainly it was the case with several. Amongst other mea- sures, they brought forward a Bill to alter the tithe system in Ireland, which was almost exactly the same as that of the previous Government, and which they had rejected last year.

Lord Fitzgerald and Vesey

could not allow the question to be put without making a few observations upon the manner in which the opposition to this measure—which had been so coolly examined, and of which such moderate views had been taken by his side of the House—had been characterised by the noble Marquess. He was willing1 to rest his argument against the Bill on the grounds that had been urged for it by the three noble Lords who had supported it. He was satisfied, from the language used by the noble Viscount at the head of the Government, that he had not read the Bill which he was so desirous to promote. The noble Viscount complained of allusions being made to individuals, and then indulged in observations which it would be difficult to characterise as anything else. He did not oppose the Bill, because he believed that it would add to the influence of any individuals—although he believed that might be a good ground of opposition—but because it was his firm conviction that the most imminent danger would result from so great an alteration in the law as would be made by it. If he believed that the Bill would deprive many persons of the franchise which the law conferred on them, he was bound to oppose it. And also, if it gave the power of voting to those who had that privilege taken from them by the Act of 1829, he believed it was a good ground of opposition. He was satisfied that both these results would be the consequence of this measure. He would appeal to the noble Lords who supported the Bill for disfranchising the 40s. freeholders, whether they believed that the Catholic Relief Bill ever would have passed if it had not been accompanied by the measure of disfranchisement. Noble Lords opposite, when they alluded to popular support, forgot that the Catholic Relief Bill would not have succeeded, had it not been recommended to that House, and to the people of England by the noble Duke, and if reliance had not been placed on those measures which accompanied it as securities. He could confidently appeal to his noble and learned Friend the Chancellor of Ireland on this point. He did not oppose the Bill from any narrow views, or from any party considerations. He was satisfied that if carried it would not diminish the expense of elections. If they allowed only two days to take the poll, and even greatly increased the number of polling-places, it would be easy to create disturbances so as to prevent persons voting. It was very well to say that the law of England and Ireland on this subject should be assimilated; but they ought to recollect that the circumstances of the two countries were very different. A clause at the end of this Bill altered the character of the voters; it rescinded a considerable portion of the Act of 1829; it declared that to be law which was directly opposed to the opinion of the Irish judges, and it went against repeated decisions of Parliamentary Election Committees. Before such great changes were made, the utmost caution should be used; and certainly ought not to be consented to by that House, when the measure for the purpose had only been sent up from the other House a few days before the prorogation was expected. It was not an unfair objection on the part of noble Lords, that they should be able to consider the enactments of this Bill before they gave their assent to it. The noble Marquess stated that noble Lords had rejected the most beneficial measures proposed by the Government, not on the grounds they had stated, but merely because they formed a majority of the House. There was no doubt that several measures had been postponed, in consequence of the late period of the Session at which they had been sent up to that House, and many of them had been so postponed at the earnest entreaty of the noble and learned Lord (Lord Brougham). The measures, therefore, could not be said to be postponed with a view of embarrassing the Government. One of the Bills which had been postponed for a few days, had for its object the altering the whole system of police in the city of Dublin, and this had been put off in consequence of the noble Viscount, who had charge of it, stating that he was not aware whether or not the Corporation of Dublin were aware of its contents, but he said he would write to Dublin to make the inquiry. The noble and learned Lord, the Chancellor of Ireland stated, that he knew the Corporation of Dublin was aware of the nature of the Bill, because one of the police magistrates of that city had written to him to ask for a beneficial appointment under it. Surely if any party was to blame for the postponement of this measure, it was his Majesty's Ministers. One of the measures rejected was a Bill to alter the constitution of the Irish Constabulary. That was a most admirable force, as had been admitted by noble Lords opposite, but the noble Viscount who had the charge of that Bill stated, that it was desirable to take the appointment of constables from the magistrates, and confer it on the Government, but he had not thought proper to state any reasons for this proposal. Other noble Lords, as well as himself, entertained great doubts as to the propriety of this change, and above all at such a late period of the Session, when they had no opportunity of communicating with their several counties, and when the Bill apparently cast a slur on the Irish magistracy. The noble Marquess said this was a measure of importance, and was rejected from party feelings and for party purposes, and yet they had yesterday been told by a noble Lord, that the measure had been prepared a twelvemonth ago, and was on his table when he was Secretary for Ireland, but had not been brought forward, because he anticipated that it would meet with the opposition of an individual to whom many allusions had been made. Had noble Lords on his side of the House ever admitted that they had abandoned measures which they deemed necessary or advantageous in consequence of the opposition of that individual. The noble Viscount at the head of the Government, in alluding to the conduct of the Opposition, had made some observations which he felt bound to notice, and which could not be noticed by the noble Duke, who he trusted would excuse him for taking up the subject in his presence. If the noble Lord had recollected the character of the Opposition in that House—the spirit which had actuated the noble Duke at the head of it, and the sentiments which he had uniformly expressed—and it was difficult to imagine how the noble Lord could forget this, when his noble Friend was sitting before him—he must have felt that there was nothing of a personal or party nature in his noble Friend's opposition, and would have abstained from his allusions. With reference to those measures which the noble Lord had described as a series of claptraps for popular applause, he would hardly deign to tell the noble Lord what he felt when he heard the expression, but he would ap- peal to the noble Lord, and ask him whether such language was worthy his station and character, and was becoming, when he remembered the high character of the right hon. Gentleman who was at the head of the late Government? When that right hon. Gentleman addressed his constituents on the formation of the late Administration, he expressed his views with respect to the principles of Government which he thought should be pursued, and then stated that although he had opposed the Reform Bill, yet as that great measure had received the sanction of the Great Council of the nation, he should not feel himself justified if he did not follow out its principles, and exert himself to improve as much as possible the institutions of the country, which, by the popular character given to the Legislature by the Reform Bill, required extension and improvement. In what respect, in the course of his Administration, did he depart from the opinions thus laid down? His right hon. Friend had, amongst other measures, proposed one for the relief of the Dissenters, which was likely to be carried, but which the noble Lord, when he became the head of the Government, abandoned. The noble Lord had brought forward a measure for secularising a portion of the property of the Irish Church, and also one which, if carried as introduced, would have destroyed every municipal corporation in the country, without regard to rights or ancient customs. Now he would put it to the noble Lord, whether he would like to be told that he advocated these measures—not as the noble Lord had alleged, because he wished to march with the feelings of the country, and to adapt the institutions to the circumstances of the people—but merely as claptraps for popular applause? The noble Lord should allow to others the same degree of credit which he assumed to himself. The noble Lord, in allusion to the support he received from Mr. O'Connell, asked whether the support of the people of England was nothing? whether the public feeling was nothing? He (Lord Fitzgerald) would reply, certainly not; but the noble Lord should recollect that it was not by the votes of the representatives of the people of England that he had been placed in his present situation. Therefore, he contended that the noble Lord owed his present possession of office mainly to the support of those to whom allusion had repeatedly been made. With out their aid and assistance, Lord John Russel would have been in a minority in every division on the subject which led to the retirement of the late Administration. He was the last man to examine the nature of the majorities in the other House, and nothing could be more unconstitutional and dangerous than pursuing this course. The noble Lord, however, had adopted this course himself. He had asked whether the voice of the people of England was nothing. The voice of the people of England was overborne—their representatives were in the minority on the occasion to which he alluded. It was, therefore, not too much to say that the motion would not be carried without the support of a certain party. He hoped when the noble Viscount left office, he would do so on grounds as high and as honourable as those which actuated the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the late Government, whose measures he had described as a series of claptraps.

Lord Wharncliffe

denied that those who opposed the Irish Tithe Bill of last year in that House supported a similar measure this year, when brought forward by his right hon. Friend, the head of the late Government. The principles of the two measures were essentially different. In the measure of the present Government a surplus was to be disposed of which it was impossible could ever arise. After the language of the noble Lord, it would not be unfair to apply the term claptrap to this surplus, and argue that it had been promised for mere party purposes.

The House divided on the original Question: Contents 27; Not Contents 81: Majority 54.

List of the CONTENTS.
Lansdowne Radnor
Glenelg Headfort
Auckland Plunkett
Melbourne Conyngham
Holland Strafford
Duncannon Foley
Lichfield Dunally
Clanricarde Queensberry
Hatherton Mostyn
Minto Richmond
Howard of Effingham Teynham
Leitrim Bishop of Bristol
Albemarle Ilchester.

Bill put off for three months.