HL Deb 17 June 1836 vol 34 cc576-82

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, accompanied by a considerable number of Members of the House of Commons appeared at the Bar, and desired a conference with their Lordships, on the subject-matter of the Amendments made by their Lordships to the Bill entitled, "An Act for the Regulation of Boroughs Corporate in Ireland."

The Conference was held as requested; and on the return of the Peers appointed to confer with the Commons, the Marquess of Lansdowne read the reasons stated by the Commons for disagreeing to their Lordships' amendments, to the following effect:— In discharge of the high trust committed to them by the Constitution of this realm, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland feel it to be their duty to guard against the establishment of any principle inconsistent with the maintenance of the good correspondence and understanding between the two Houses of Parliament, which is essential to the due administration of the laws, and the settlement of all classes of the King's subjects, and the security, honour, and dignity of his Majesty's Crown. In considering the amendments made by the Lords in the Bill for the regulation of Municipal Corporations in Ireland, the Commons are bound to advert to the mode of procedure adopted by the other House of Parliament. The Bill passed by the House of Commons provided for the regulation of Municipal Corporations in borough towns in Ireland, and was framed upon the principle of reforming existing abuses, but of preserving within certain cities and towns in Ireland a system of municipal government. It appears from the Minutes of the House of Lords that, in pursuance of an instruction from the House, the principle of the Bill has been altogether altered in Committee, and a change of title has been consequently rendered indispensable. By the Bill returned from the Lords, it is proposed to abolish Municipal Corporations throughout all Ireland, and to place the management of all corporate property under Commissioners appointed by the Lord-Lieu- tenant of Ireland, and holding their offices during his pleasure. The Bill, as amended, founded on a new principle, bearing a new title, and varying in its enactments from the Bill sent to the other House of Parliament, must, therefore, be considered as an original measure. The Commons are far from questioning the undoubted right of the Lords to exercise their undisputed powers and privileges in modifying or rejecting legislative measures submitted to them; but as the due and careful examination in each House of Parliament, of the principle and details of all legislative enactments passing through the various stages as prescribed by the orders, ancient usages, and constitution of Parliament, is essential to the making of just laws, and as such due and careful consideration is rendered difficult, if not wholly impossible, if original Bills are transmitted in the form of amendments from one House of Parliament to the other, the Commons trust that the course pursued on the present occasion by the Lords may not be drawn into precedent But while the Commons have felt it to be their duty to state the reasons which preclude them from agreeing to the Bill as amended, yet, from an earnest desire to maintain undisturbed that good understanding and correspondence between the two Houses, which they consider as essential to the well-being of the British monarchy, and from a conviction of the evil consequences of leaving great and admitted grievances without present and adequate remedy, they have proceeded to take into their consideration the Lords' amendments, in an earnest hope that such a measure may be thereon founded, as shall meet the concurrence of the other House of Parliament, as shall be consistent with the principles of legislation adopted in the reform of the Municipal Corporations of Great Britain, satisfying the just expectations of his Majesty's subjects in Ireland, and thereby maintaining and strengthening the Union between Great Britain and Ireland. Because the Commons cannot consent to abolish a branch of the institutions of this free country, which is coeval with the earliest connexion between Great Britain and Ireland, which is founded upon charters granted by his Majesty's royal predecessors, and is recognised by the Statute law of the realm, at various periods, more particularly in the Act of Settlement and the Act of Union between Great Britain and Ireland. Because, as the Imperial Parliament has passed laws for Great Britain, reforming the existing Corporations, but providing a permanent system of municipal government, the Commons are not prepared to consent to any enactments for Ireland, irreconcileable with those sound principles which have given ease and contentment to the inhabitants of the corporate cities and towns in Great Britain, and have been conducive to the common weal. Because it appears to the Commons essentially necessary to the best interests of Great Britain and Ireland, and to the maintenance of the Legislative Union between the two countries, that the same general principles of legislation should be applied to both parts of the empire, subject to such modifications as local circumstances may render indispensable or expedient. Because, if the rights, immunities, and franchises, granted and continued to Municipal Corporations in Great Britain, are in Ireland abolished or withheld, the Commons are apprehensive that a spirit of distrust and discontent will be produced in Ireland, lessening the confidence reposed in the decisions of Parliament, endangering the public tranquillity, and thereby impairing the strength, the resources, and the security of the British empire. Because the Commons consider the discharge of local duties and the enjoyment of local privileges, under a system of self-government, as established in the Acts for the reform of the Municipal Corporations of Great Britain, to be among the most efficient guarantees and securities for peace, good order, and contentment, and to afford the surest means of directing the active ambition of the free subjects of a constitutional monarchy to just and legitimate objects, thus insuring obedience to the laws and an attachment to the constitution of the realm. Because the conduct of the several Corporations in Ireland, as set forth in the Reports presented to Parliament, has been such as to render it wholly inexpedient to continue in office, by one general enactment, all the servants of such Corporations, intrusted as they are with the performance of duties highly important to the mercantile and commercial interests of the several cities and towns in Ireland. The Commons disagree to the amendments of the Lords, by which members of the Corporations other than the officers of such Corporations may claim to receive compensation. Because the grant of such compensation, without reference to the duties of office performed by the party claiming compensation, is unprecedented, and likely to lead to injurious results. Because the payment of pensions, allowances, and annual sums, without reference either to the time at which such pensions, allowances, or annual sums were granted, or to any public services rendered by the persons to whom such grants have been made, whether supported by an alleged established usage or a previous resolution, may entail on the cities and towns of Ireland charges created contrary to law, unsupported by any just authority, and may thus continue and sanction abuses of trusts, augmenting the local burthens, and diminishing the revenues applicable to the common good. Because these enactments of the Lords, if not amended, are wholly at variance and irreconcileable with the facts of the case, as appearing on the face of the Report of the Commissioners presented to both Houses of Parliament. Because, if the malversations and abuse of trust by existing Corporations be such as to impose an obligation upon the Legislature to extinguish or remodel all such Corporations, a continuance of the existing corporators in the discharge of their duties is inexpedient and unjust. Because the property of many of the existing Corporations has been granted in trust for paving and improving several of the cities and towns in Ireland, and for other public uses, and consequently these enactments would continue the powers of the existing Corporations, or of the governing bodies and leading members thereof, by a law which proposed to provide for their absolute abolition and extinction. Because these enactments would, in some cases, have the effect of converting a terminable trust or office into an office or trust for the life of the party, and that not in the case of persons appointed or elected with such intent, but for the benefit of such as are casually in office on a given day. Because such enactments might create an impression, that whilst the legislature proposed to abolish the existing Corporations, care was taken to continue and to sanction the powers and authority of the existing corporators. Because the estates and personal property of Corporations being granted for local purposes, will be most advantageously administered by those who are at once locally interested and locally responsible. Because in so far as these corporate funds are applicable to the purposes of paving, watching, and lighting, and other analogous public services, which must otherwise be provided for by local taxation, it is just that the parties authorised and empowered to impose these local taxes should also be intrusted with the management and application of the corporate estates. Because the effect of placing the management of these estates and funds in the hands of Commissioners, holding office during the pleasure of the Lord-Lieutenant, would be the creation of an undue influence in the several cities and towns inconsistent with their freedom and political independence. Because the transfer of the right of nominating various public servants and officers from a local authority to Commissioners holding office during the pleasure of the Lord-Lieutenant, will increase the patronage of the Crown, unsupported by the suggestion of any adequate grounds either of necessity or of expediency. Because the enactment that such surplus revenue may be applied to the public benefit of the several towns, is vague and indeterminate, and leaves too wide a discretion to the nominees of the Lord-Lieutenant. Because it is proposed in this enactment to sanction the appropriation of corporate revenues to the uses of local boards or of trustees, acting under a statutable authority, and the public revenues of the cities and towns may thus be applied to purposes of limited usefulness, by which the general interests of the inhabitants may not be promoted. Because this enactment may sanction a misapplication of the corporate funds from the public purposes to which they were originally destined, and to which, for the benefit of the country, they should still continue to be applied. Because, if the conduct of the existing Corporations in Ireland has been such as to render their abolition not only expedient but indispensable, the continuance in office of the nominees of such Corporations, without reference to their character or qualifications, cannot be justified. Because such offices are connected with the administration of justice in Ireland, and should therefore be removed from local influence, and placed under the immediate authority of the Crown. Because the effects of the Lords' amendments would be to give to several of their officers a more permanent title in their several offices than that which they now possess. Because the effect of such an enactment would be, to give to the officers in question a more extended interest in their offices than that which they now enjoy. Because the officers appointed by or under the authority of the existing Corporations of Ireland are not in all cases the best qualified persons to be continued in the exercise of functions connected with the administration of justice. Because such officers have been appointed by the corporate bodies, whose abuse of trust is proved by the Report of the Royal Commission, and is admitted by both branches of the Legislature. Because such offices relating to the administration of justice ought not to be exposed to animadversion or suspicion. Because the effect of the Lords' amendments will be, in some cases, to convert an office held during pleasure, or by annual appointment, into an office held during good behaviour, thereby creating a new and extended title, for the benefit of the officers of existing Corporations. The Commons have felt it to be incumbent on them to state the foregoing reasons for their disagreement with certain of the amendments sent to them by the Lords. In the Bill, as now amended, the Commons have consented to confine the establishment of town-councils to twelve considerable cities and towns, of which the wealth and importance render them well-suited to such a system of local government. The Commons have further provided for the local government of twenty cities and towns of lesser extent and population, by applying to them the enactments of a statute especially relied upon in the amendments of the Lords. Within these, several cities and towns it cannot be doubted but that the wealth, the intelligence, and the public spirit of the inhabitants, will supply both a constituent and a representative body fully qualified for the performance of local duties. The Commons have excluded from the immediate operation of the Bill, as returned from the Lords, eighteen towns in which the necessity of legislative interference is less apparent. The Commons have thus endeavoured to maintain a good understanding between the two Houses, by not insisting on many provisions contained in the Bill as it originally passed their House. The amendments to which the Commons have still felt it their duty to refuse their concurrence are such as appear to them to be wholly irreconcileable with the principle of the Bill as introduced, and no less at variance with the principles adopted in reforming the Municipal Corporations of Great Britain. From these leading principles, the Commons think it would be inexpedient, unwise, and unjust to depart. In an Address carried by both Houses to the foot of the Throne, a determination was expressed to preserve inviolate the legislative Union; but, at the same time, to remove all just causes of complaint, and to promote all well-considered measures of improvement. Were the present Corporations of Ireland, or the governing bodies thereof, to be continued in the exercise of their functions, proved and admitted, as has been, their scandalous abuse of trust, the Commons feel that a just cause of complaint would remain unremoved; and if a Bill were permitted to become law, extinguishing in Ireland all traces of these Municipal Institutions, which have existed for upwards of six centuries, and which at no former period, even during internal commotion and civil war it was ever proposed to abolish, the Commons do not conceive that enactments of such an unprecedented nature would come within the description of those well-considered measures of improvement which Parliament has pledged itself to promote.

On the Motion of Viscount Melbourne, it was agreed that the Municipal Corporations (Ireland) Bill, as returned from the Commons should be taken into consideration on Friday next.

The Earl of Haddington

said, he was present in the Committee-room during the Conference; and it appeared to him, that the Conference was not conducted after the usual manner, or according to the Standing Orders of their Lordships' House. The Lords appointed to manage the Con- ference stood uncovered, instead of sitting covered during the ceremony.

The Marquess of Lansdowne

admitted the statement of the noble Earl to be correct; but said, it was from inadvertence only that the customary form had been departed from. During a great part of the Conference, the Lords stood up with their hats off; but, in the first instance, when the Commons entered the room, they were seated. He apprehended that no advantage would be taken of the circumstance.

Subject dropped.