HL Deb 15 August 1836 vol 35 cc1222-6
Viscount Melbourne

, in moving the second reading of the Corporate Property (Ireland) Bill, said, that the main objects of the Bill were to restrain the corporations in Ireland from any alienation of the corporate property, or the exercise of any patronage they might possess, until Parliament should have legislated on the subject.

The Duke of Wellington

declared, that he never could consent to be a party to the statements contained in the preamble of this Bill. There were points also in the enacting clauses to which he most decidedly objected, but he could not allow even this stage of the Bill to pass without expressing his entire dissent from the statements contained in the preamble, since he considered the measure both unprecedented and contrary to justice.

Viscount Melbourne

observed, that the Bill merely went to provide a remedy for the loss of the Municipal Corporations (Ireland) Bill; and with regard to the preamble, so much objected to, it merely recited facts. He would read it: —"Whereas it is fitting and expedient that provision should be made forthwith against the wasting of the estates of Corporate towns in Ireland, their corruption and abuses, until such time as Parliament shall provide a remedy." That there had been great abuses in the corporations of Ireland could not be denied, or why was it that noble Lords opposite had, in the early part of the Session been so desirous for the total abolition and destruction of corporate bodies in Ireland? Noble Lords opposite could not refuse to assent" to the recitals in the preamble. Those recitals were merely statements of facts; those facts he had considered to have been admitted by noble Lords opposite, and he very much doubted whether this measure was either unprecedented or contrary to justice.

Lord Lyndhurst

begged to say, that he, for one, had never admitted the existence either of corruption or abuse in the corporate bodies of Ireland. The grounds upon which he contended for their extinction was, that they were administered on party principles. As to corruption and abuse, they never had been admitted by noble Lords on his side of the House. On the contrary, they had stated that they had no evidence of any such corruption or abuse on which they ought to act. It appeared to him that this was a most extraordinary Bill, even independent of the terms of its preamble. What were its enactments? Why, first, that any contract fraudulently made by these corporate bodies should be null and void. Were they not so even by the operation of the law as it stood. The second declaration of the same enacting clause was, that where a corporation disposed of its property for an inadequate consideration, such disposition should be wholly null and void. But the clause contained no provision whatever for the repayment of the purchase-money; so that if he, or any other person, contracted with a corporation on the present principles, to buy their estate for 5,000l., and that it turned out the consideration money was inadequate by 200l. or 300l., he, or the purchaser, whoever he might be, would become a mere trustee for the corporation, and have no means of recovering his purchase-money, but by a suit in equity, and when he had obtained his decree, the corporation might be without funds. Could anything be more unfair, unjust, or absurd? What was the next provision? It enacted, that with respect to conveyances so pronounced null and void, that Parliament might in the next or ensuing Session, provide some means for calling them in question. Now the courts of justice were open for purposes of this kind. Why should they legislate to provide a mode of proceeding which was already in existence? or, if proper to legislate at all upon the subject, why empower the Legislature to do that which they had the power of doing without any present interference? The second clause of the Bill enacted, that if any appointments were made, which should eventually be deemed unnecessary, and the parties holding them should be removed by any subsequent Act of Parliament, such parties should not be entitled to any compensation. Was it not better to leave this matter to the judgment of Parliament when it came to legislate on the subject? He did not mean to say, that he opposed the second reading of the Bill, but the objectionable parts of the preamble must be struck out, and the clauses remodelled in Committee. The Bill comprised only one page, and was the most singular specimen of legislation ever sent up to that House of Parliament.

The Earl of Falmouth

protested against the use of the words "corruption and abuse," contained in the preamble of the Bill, on no better evidence than the report of the Commissioners. The Bill went further than the measure of last year, and he objected to it on constitutional grounds, and on the first principles of justice. He never could suffer a Bill of this nature to pass, he never could sanction so abominable an assumption of facts as the preamble of this Bill set forth.

Lord Holland

said, the House had had some experience of what the noble and learned Lord (Lyndhurst) meant by remodelling a Bill. The noble and learned Lord had not spared the ruffian Bill, as the Irish Corporation Bill had been termed; and now he was about to embrue his hands in the blood of this little infant measure, which was, in fact, a child of his own. Noble Lords opposite had told the Government over and over again, last year, that they were ready to meet the Government half way, and to do anything to enable them to consider the matter this year, if necessary; but now they said "No;" and what, he would ask, was the reason for pursuing such a course? It appeared to him that the noble and learned Lord seemed to want to disgust the people, and indispose them to that House; the people would say—" That cruel tyrant, who has done away with so many of our Bills, is now diverting himself with killing a fly." After he had washed his hands in the blood of so many important Bills, he had now come to destroy this little innocent. Why, the noble Lord said he would do so in Committee. Indeed, noble Lords on his (Lord Holland's) side of the House had nothing to do but to lament over the destruction of the Bills which had been brought into the House this Session. If the noble and learned Lord was sincere in his views—if this Bill was such as would disgrace the statute-book, why attempt to new-model it in Committee? Why did not the noble and learned Lord vote against its second reading? The noble and learned Lord had been silent as to the amendments he intended to propose; but he, judging from the thunder of his index to the second reading, could not doubt that those amendments must be terrible indeed, and fatal to the Bill; and then the whole murder would out, and show that the intention, all along, had been to keep up those notable corporations, which, during the discussions last year, were allowed to be corrupt and full of abuses, and, as the noble and learned Lord now said, were completely under party government, just as they were, and to give to a party a triumph.

Lord Lyndhurst

said, that really there was no pleasing the noble Baron who had just sat down. If noble Lords on his (Lord Lyndhurst's) side of the House objected to the second reading of a Bill, his cry was, "Read the Bill a second time, and go into Committee;" if, on the other hand, they should read the Bill a second time, and go into Committee, that course was objected to. The noble Baron had expressed some alarm that this Bill should be altered, it was so small; it was an insect to be sure, but then it had a poisonous tooth, and he wished it to go into Committee, in order to take away its poisonous power. As to the remark, that we (continued the noble and learned Lord) shall disgust the country, and indispose the people towards this House, because we will not agree to measures unjust in character—to Bills which, in their very preambles, are libels on his Majesty's subjects—Bills which are inefficient in some of their clauses, unnecessary, unjust, and atrocious in others, I am sure that we shall not offend or displease the people of England, if, in the discharge of our duty as Legislators, we watch over every Bill that is sent up to this House, and do not send out any Bill of which we do not approve conscientiously, and believe is consonant with the principles of the laws and constitution of this country. I am sure the course we are pursuing is much more likely to recommend this House to the country than the careless course of legislation recommended by the noble Baron.

Lord Holland

thought, the inconsistency with which be charged the noble and learned Lord, lay in the fact, that, in agreeing to go into committee on the Bill, he had stated his arguments against the whole principle of the Bill, its preamble, and groundwork of it; that course was quite as inconsistent as if he threw out the Bill, on its second reading, on matters of mere detail. As to the manner in which the country would judge of the noble and learned Lord's conduct, he wished him joy of the great advantage he would gain by so altering this Bill as to lose it.

Lord Ellenborongh

said, that he and his noble Friends on his side of the House did not wish to protect abuses or to prevent their extinction; on the contrary, they had shown by the amendments of last year, in which the House of Commons did not think proper to acquiesce, that their object was to remove the abuses which really existed. At the same time he and his noble Friends could not agree with the preamble of the Bill impugning, as it did so unjustly, the Corporations alluded to; and though they might agree to the second reading, that would not deprive them of the right of altering such of the details of the Bill as might appear to be objectionable.

Bill read a second time.