HL Deb 17 July 1838 vol 44 cc276-83
Viscount Melbourne

, in moving that the report of the Committee on Municipal Corporations (Ireland) Bill be received, said, that their Lordships had, in the Committee, introduced into the bill numerous and complicated amendments, some of which were of a very technical nature, and could only be judged of with reference to the local circumstances of that part of the kingdom to which they were to be applied. As these amendments were only proposed last Thursday, it was impossible for him, or for his noble and learned Friend on the woolsack, to give any decided opinion with respect to them on the present occasion. At the same time he begged leave to say, that though he was very far from concurring in the propriety of some of them, yet if they were adopted and persevered in by their Lordships, he should not regard them as forming a reason why he should not proceed with the bill; and he would not, therefore, abandon the measure on account of their adoption. He, however, repeated what he had said on a former occasion, that the amendment introduced by their Lordships, establishing as a qualification for the burgesses under the bill, the occupation of a tenement rated at 10l., including repairs and insurance, appeared to him very objectionable. They all knew that the actual value of a tenement was far beyond the value at which it was rated. He held in his hand a statement of the actual value of many houses in different towns in Ireland—in Belfast, in Dublin, in Limerick, and others, by which it appeared that the actual value of tenements was far, very far, beyond the value at which they were rated. Such was the case in England, and such, he apprehended, was the case everywhere; and he believed, that it was perfectly certain, that the value of a tenement rated at 10l. would probably vary from 12l. to 15l. By adopting the amendment which had been proposed, their Lordships would consequently be establishing in Ireland a qualification which was evidently a great deal too high, and which, he feared, would have the effect of constituting governing bodies for the corporate towns in Ireland, not much less exclusive than those at present in existence. If that were the case, their Lordships must perceive, that their own expectations with regard to the working of the bill would not be answered, and that they would be passing a measure which could neither be satisfactory to the country, nor answer the ends for which it was intended—viz., the establishment of a free and regular government for municipal towns in Ireland, based on the principle of popular election, including and bringing into its sphere and operation all that was generally respectable, and entitled to have a share in the government of those towns. He was aware that the great body of their Lordships had adopted the amendment, under the impression, that a high qualification was very advantageous in aiding those principles which were generally considered as Conservative. He did not know on what ground it was, their Lordships formed such an opinion. They had already tried an experiment of that kind in Ireland. They had raised the freehold qualification in counties from 40s. to 10l., and making all allowance for the means by which the franchise was procured, for the perjury which was said to exist, and the false valuations said to be palmed on the revising barristers, still it was impossible, he apprehended, to deny that that change was a considerable raising of the county qualification in Ireland. Now, he begged their Lordships to consider whether the effect of raising the franchise, had been such as they had expected; and whether, in point of fact, it had not strengthened those opinions and principles which they never wished to strengthen? Had they then any reason to expect a dissimilar effect from a similar provision with regard to municipal voters? He begged to say, that he entirely objected to the amendment, which he considered would be a great source of strife, and blemish in the bill, calculated to countervail its advantages, and to prevent its proving ultimately satisfactory. But, at the same time, as their Lordships' opinion in favour of the higher qualification had been so distinctly expressed, and supported by such a large majority in Committee, it was not his intention again to stir the question, to propose any amendments to the bill on the present occasion, or to take the sense of their Lordships again on the subject. But he gave notice, that he should, on the third reading, move the addition of a certain number of towns to schedule A; and also the addition of another schedule, containing several other towns, to which he thought corporations and municipal government ought to be given by the bill, with a lower rate of qualification. He now moved, that the Report be received.

Lord Brougham

wished to say a few words, having been accidentally prevented from taking a part in the former discussion on this bill. He concurred with the noble Viscount in what had just fallen from him, and he confessed, that he was greatly disappointed in the two amendments of his noble and learned Friend. His noble and learned Friend, instead of forcing corporations on some towns, proposed to give those towns means of obtaining corporations on application to the Crown, in the meantime vesting the corporate power in certain commissioners. He thought with his noble and learned Friend that the towns in schedule B were too numerous, and that by granting corporations to all they would be going too low. For the same reason in the schedule of the Scotch Burghs Reform Bill in 1833, he had yielded to the opinions of a noble Earl for whom he entertained great respect: he had given up some of the towns in the schedule, and instead of having gone too far, he thought that if he had given up eight or ten towns more, in which it had been found impossible to work the measure well, he should have improved it. For the same reason, then, that he had in 1833 consented to alter the Scotch bill as it came from the Commons, he would agree to an alteration of schedule B in the present bill; but if they struck out all the towns in that schedule they would be going too far. The natural line was to keep in the schedule all the parliamentary boroughs. They were of some consequence and importance. He would leave the residue to petition; and even if there were any parliamentary boroughs of a small class they might be omitted; but all cities and towns of consequence, or of any extent, ought to be included in the bill. So much for the first amendment of his noble and learned Friend. To the second, which was of far more importance, he had a more serious objection He would not go over the ground taken by the noble Viscount; for, undoubtedly, though they might talk of a 10l. franchise, yet if it were regulated by the rate it would amount to 14l. in real value. It was immaterial for the rate what was the value; and whilst noble Lords said, that they would give a 10l. franchise, they adopted a test which would exclude all 10l. houses, and would really give a franchise of 12l. or 14l. or 15l. Another reason why he (Lord Brougham) differed still more from his noble and learned Friend was one to which he would call his noble Friend's serious attention. The noble Lord wished to include in the 10l. the landlord's repairs and insurance; and therefore he did not say in words, but held out that it was not a 10l. house, but one of lower value. Perhaps an 8l. house would be accepted.

Lord Lyndhurst

said: By no means, quite the contrary; he meant only a house which was let for 10l. bonâ fide, the tenant paying those taxes which usually fell upon the tenant, and were usually paid by him.

Lord Brougham

continued: What he wanted, then, to caution noble Lords against was, the supposition that what was applicable to England was applicable in the same degree to Ireland. The test proposed might, for aught he knew, be excellent in England, but circumstances were different in Ireland. How little effect would repairs and insurance have in raising the value in Ireland? Whoever thought that a 10l. tenement would cost much to keep it in repair? Whoever heard of a landlord in Ireland repairing such a tenement? In the next place, who would lay out much upon its insurance? But if any one did, it was not likely that it would cost more than 2s. 6d. per cent., and supposing that a 10l. house was worth 200l. the insurance would only be 5s. a year. The fact was, however, that the rate was only ls. 6d. per cent., another instance of a most impolitic tax in England, and the consequence would be, that they would find the qualification to be a very high one, and that it would not be a rated value of 8l., but a real value of more than 13l. or 14l. But what he wanted to know, and what he could not understand, was, why there was any qualification? There was none in England, where it was only required that the householder should be rated for a certain length of time. In Scotland there was a 10l. franchise, he admitted, but why was it necessary there? Because there was no rate as a test, and it was considered desirable to establish the same parliamentary and municipal qualification to prevent a double registry; but that was not the case in England; no qualification was necessary here, from the large cities down to the smallest towns: being a householder for a certain length of time was sufficient, and every holder of a house had a right to vote. They had tried the experiment; they had found the result; there had been no riot, no confusion; there had been no annoyance to one class more than another; there had been no partiality shown for one class over another; for although under the excitement of the first election, as under the Reform Bill, one class had been preferred, yet the distinction had become less and less; but since, in Liverpool and other towns, a large proportion of the councillors included in the new elections, he believed nearly one-half, were of opposite politics, he thought that this good working of the system ought to be well considered and to be freely taken into account in framing the Irish measure. These opinions led him to think, that they ought to have adhered to the bill as it was sent from the Commons. On the merits of the measure itself he thought that it was of importance, but in one point of view it was most important, as being a bill which was intended as a measure of peace, and conciliation, and kindness, towards Ireland. He did not say, that if they passed the bill with his noble Friend's amendments, it would not be received as a boon, yet to a certain extent its reception would be less gracious than the manner, perhaps, in which it was intended to be given, and, certainly, than it ought to be passed; to a certain extent it would not be received with favour, and therefore it might fail in a great measure of producing tranquillity and contentment in Ireland. As, however, the noble Viscount did not propose to take the sense of the House against the amendments, he would not do so himself.

Lord Hatherton

entertained so strong an opinion upon this bill, that he hoped to be allowed briefly to state his objections to the arrangements by which it was sought to effect the object which noble Lords had in view. In the first place, he thought, that if the franchise, as it stood in the bill sent up from the Commons, was not thought fit to be retained, yet that the noble and learned Lord had not fixed upon a proper remedy. He thought that the 10l. franchise might have been retained, as a temporary basis, and that when a continuous rating of three years should have taken place that this should be substituted. This was the case under the English bill, and this would have been equal justice, and it would produce no disadvantage. He thought, also, that the noble and learned Lord had taken another bad mode of effecting his object. He could not see the reason of introducing the columns of insurance and landlords' repairs to make up the value of 10l. Why was this cumbrous method adopted of making the valuers state each of these doubtful particulars in the accounts? They ought, in his opinion, to have concurred in some general deduction from the rated value of 10l., and they should then declare that the balance, whether 7l. 10s. 8l. or 9l. should be the amount of this qualification; this would have been a far simpler and a better plan. Another objection which he had, was, that they would be establishing to a certainty a higher qualification in Ireland than in England; this they would do for the reasons stated by the noble Viscount (Melbourne) and the noble and learned Lord (Brougham), but also because there was at least one-third difference between the value of houses in the two countries. He had lately had an opportunity of consulting competent valuers, and he found that even in the cities of Dublin, Cork, and Waterford, where rent was higher than in other parts, there was certainly a difference of one-third between the rents of houses there and similar houses in England; and was it not then unjust to give a qualification of a higher value to the poorer country? He believed also, that it would be found, that in England the household voters under the municipal franchise instead of being fewer in number than those under the Parliamentary franchise were much more numerous. A return of the number had been made to the other House, by which, though imperfect, he found that six or seven cases for comparison might be selected, where there were no freemen, and where the boundaries of the towns for each franchise were alike. In the two towns of Leeds and Stockport, the Parliamentary and the Municipal boundaries were coterminous. In Leeds, the number of 10l. Parliamentary voters was 5,894, whilst those under the municipal franchise amounted to 17,530; and in Stockport, where the Parliamentary electors numbered 1,278, the municipal voters amounted to 3,320. In Liverpool there were freemen, so that there was no means of comparing the numbers by the return; but in Bridport, he believed that the numbers were nearly the same in both lists. At any rate he was safe in supposing, that the number of the municipal constituencies in England was one hundred or two hundred per cent. greater than the number of 10l. Parliamentary electors. His noble and learned Friend (Lord Lyndhurst), who had exhibited his usual ability in moving his amendments, had slurred over this part of the case in a few words, by saying that he meant to establish the same franchise in Ireland as existed in Scotland; but why was this the case; because there were no poor-rates there. It might be said, there were no poor-rates in Ireland; but they would soon be in existence there, and the natural amendment would have been to have made a temporary provision for the qualification, and then, after the poor-rates had existed for a few years, to have made continuous, rating the basis. Was it not unjust, that the Municipal franchise should be higher, or even the same as the Parliamentary? Was there no difference between the necessity in each case? What was required under the Parliamentary franchise was, that the voter should be able to judge of public measures, and of the fitness of public men in national affairs; but all that was required under the Municipal franchise, was, that the voter should be able to tell whether the town was well and rightly governed, whether the local affairs were properly conducted, whether the charities were properly administered; and he said, that the most unlettered and unlearned individual in the town was as capable of forming a right opinion as to who was best to trust and to vote for in his own town for town affairs as the clergyman, the banker, the attorney, or the best educated man in the borough. He believed, that there was some fear of Catholics promoting Catholic ascendancy by pursuing a just cause, but he thought that it was niggardly and improper to legislate on such grounds. He considered it both foolish and shameful to give a higher qualification to Ireland than was required in England. For these reasons he objected to the noble and learned Lord's amendments, although he would not object to the settlement of these too long unsettled questions upon the basis now proposed, the ground of his acquiescence being, that it would not be possible for many years to retain the test which was now proposed, for so surely as the system of rating should be a few years in operation, would the Irish have strong grounds for re-opening the question. They would appeal to their Lordships for justice, and he thought that their appeal to the justice of that House, and upon such grounds, must be attended with success.

Report received.