HL Deb 27 July 1838 vol 44 cc702-17
Viscount Melbourne

rose for the purpose of moving, that the Municipal Corporations (Ireland) Bill be read a third time. He had before stated, with reference to the amendments which had been introduced by their Lordships into the bill, that though he had a considerable objection to many of them, he had resolved not to be prevented by that circumstance from proceeding with it, or from taking those steps which were necessary to its being submitted in its present amended form to the other House of Parliament. But in adopting this course he felt called on to say, that a further consideration of those amendments introduced by their Lordships in the Committee had rather increased than diminished his objections to them, for he could not help perceiving in them a great increase of the difficulties in the way of the final success of this measure. He would not go into any detailed examination of the amendments, but would content himself with stating generally, that he could not concur in them. There were some of them, however, particularly those which in point of length might be considered the principal ones—he was alluding to such as settled the boundaries of the boroughs in the bill—which he considered an improvement. In saying this he begged not to be understood as pledging himself to them as they were laid down, but he did certainly concur in the principle of the measure settling the boundaries, because, unless they determined this matter when the general question was pending, they knew by experience, that when they came to arrange it afterwards local feelings and local opinions rose up against the boundaries proposed, and constituted a mass of opposition which it was very difficult, if not impossible, to overcome. But there were introduced in the course of this bill many amendments relating to the rights of freemen—to the incoherent rights of freemen—amendments relating to the administration of charities, amendments relating to appointments in the boroughs: there were many amendments in relation to these matters which he considered in the highest degree objectionable, and which, he would say, appeared calculated and intended to frustrate this bill as a measure of reformation, for while they seemed to give municipal Government to the towns of Ireland, they preserved as much as possible of those former abuses which it was the object of the bill to reform and remedy. As he said before, he would not go through them in detail; on the present occasion he would do no more than state most distinctly, that he differed from very many of them; that he apprehended they were not likely to meet with concurrence elsewhere; and, he trusted, if the bill returned to them altered in this respect, that their Lordships would be prepared to consider the alterations in a fair spirit, and with the intention of rendering the bill such a measure as would be calculated to effect the objects with a view to which it was framed. The great difficulty of all—the difficulty which he had felt from the beginning—was the amount of the qualification. To the alterations in that respect he had always stated, that the insuperable objections which he entertained were, that the qualification as it stood at present was too high, and the diminutions in value were so perfectly and entirely uncertain, that it was impossible to calculate them. It was, indeed, a measure of double speaking. It was intended to say to one party it was a considerable diminution of the value of the franchise, and to the other, that it was no diminution at all. It was intended to say to the one party it would be a 10l. franchise, and to the other it would be under, considerably under, 10l. He repeated, that it was a qualification of a most uncertain value; and with respect to so important a matter as the qualification, he thought that something unquestionable, that something more definite and certain, that something of a fixed meaning, should be introduced. Entertaining these objections to the qualification, he was determined not to move any of those amendments which he gave their Lordships notice he should move at this stage of the bill, because, the qualification being so objectionable, it did appear to him that it would be better for those towns which were not included in the schedule—that it would be more agreeable to the inhabitants of those towns—for so he was informed it would be by those who were best acquainted with their feelings—that it would be more acceptable to let them rest on that clause of the bill on which they might, if they thought proper, apply for a charter of incorporation. He purposed, then, instead of forcing a corporation on such towns, that they should be left to determine, according to their own judgment and experience of the working of the bill, whether they would apply for a charter of incorporation or not. It appeared to him, that the rules laid down in the bill for determining the boundaries of those boroughs which should hereafter apply for and obtain charters of incorporation, would be found extremely inconvenient and objectionable. They were taken, he apprehended, from the instructions given to the boundary commissioners, which were found inapplicable in many instances to the present measure, and which it was not expedient, therefore, that they should lay down for their guide. Under these circumstances, it was not his intention to move any amendments on this stage of the bill. The bill was unquestionably a concession on the part of their Lordships. It bespoke an alteration of the opinion which the majority of their Lordships had held in former years—it bespoke an abandonment of principle which heretofore they were very resolute and determined in maintaining. Now, it might be right in them to take their stand on principle—it might be right in them to oppose themselves to popular clamour or to popular feelings—it might be right in them to oppose measures which were wished for by ever so great a majority of the people; but there was nothing so unwise, there was nothing so absurd, there was nothing so imprudent, as when they were prepared to make a concession not to make it general and sufficiently extensive. There was nothing so unwise as not to take care that they obtained the object for which they gave way; there was nothing so unwise as when they were trying to come to a settlement not to make it on such terms as were likely to be satisfactory, and, therefore, lasting.

Bill read a third time.

Lord Brougham

could not conceive by what legerdemain the bill had been read a third time. He had not heard the question put, and, therefore, would probably be allowed to proceed. His intention was to move the omission of certain amendments which their Lordships had made in this bill, and which he considered to have a most injurious effect. He agreed with the noble Viscount that the whole of the amendments, with the exception of the boundaries fixed by the bill, which he considered a great good, and with another exception to which the noble Viscount had not adverted, but which he thought another important improvement, namely, the reduction of the number of the boroughs to which corporations were to be given, and the addition of others that might obtain charters of incorporation by application—with these exceptions he objected to all the amendments referred to in the speech of the noble Viscount, and on the same grounds as those on which the noble Viscount objected to them. He also principally objected to the amendment with respect to the qualification. He agreed with the noble Viscount that this was a measure "of double speaking." It was meant to say to the Opposition side, "See, we are raising the qualification to 10l.; and it was meant to say to the Ministerial side, "We are lowering the franchise from 10l. to something between 7l. and 8l." It did neither the one nor the other. It would be a delusion if it did one and not the other, for one side would be deceived by it. If it lowered the qualification to 8l., the other side would be deceived, for they were told, that it would raise the qualification to 10l. If 10l. were the sum, the Ministerial side would be deceived, because they were given to understand, that it would lower the amount to 8l. What, however, was the fact? Why, that it would be neither 10l. to please that side, nor 8l. to please this, but it would be 13l., or 14l., or 15l. Perhaps, on that side, such an increase would not be objectionable; they would probably say, when they made the discovery, that they were agreeably disappointed. But, they must confess to having been deceived, for they had been told the amount would be 10l., and would find it half as much again, while those on his (the Ministerial) side of the House would say, "You gave us to understand the amount would be 8l., but we find it almost double." But the great question was, would that satisfy the people of Ireland? Ought it to satisfy the people of Ireland? He would say, no; they would not be satisfied with it—they ought not to be satisfied with it. What was there across the Channel which made the nature of the Irish people so different from that of the people of England, that the former were not to be trusted with a lower qualification than one of 15l., or 10l., or say 8l., while all the municipal affairs of this great country, with its population of every conceivable variety, and every degree of wealth, agricultural, commercial, and manufacturing—while here, where the infinite variety of circumstances made it more difficult to give a qualification without any property at all, every man in a town, who had a roof over his head, was allowed to have a voice in the management of the municipal affairs of that town. This was a just, a wise, a humane principle of Go- vernment, for it gave to the people who paid the taxes, who suffered by the abuses—it gave to those who were most interested in lowering the taxes, who were most concerned in lessening the abuses—it gave to them the power of engaging in the administration of their own affairs, and of keeping watch and ward over the conduct of their fellows, which was a great constitutional principle in these realms. That constitution originally knew no property qualification at all. All freeholders, to the extent of the fraction of a farthing, had, up to the middle of the fifteenth century, a voice in the freeholders' court in choosing delegates to represent them in the Parliament of their country. Till then there was no qualification, and the qualification which was subsequently adopted was low compared with this, because, though what was 40s. in Harry the Sixth's reign was equal, perhaps, to 40l. in the present day, yet so tender was Parliament of anything that could encroach on the privileges of the people, so determined were they not to raise the qualification when the value of money was altered, that they stood by that sum of 40s., as if it had not been equal to the value of 40l., and the 40s. freeholder had now as much right to vote as had the 40s. freeholder in the reign of Harry the Sixth, and he would say, a most wise and constitutional principle it was. Because, depend on it, there was not a more pernicious course to be taken by any government than to make too manifest the distinction between the small number of men in whom the property of the country was invested, and the immense body who had liberties to defend, who had rights to be encroached on, who had their little property—they had a property in their labour—to enjoy, and to be protected by the Government under which they lived; but, above all, who were the sinews of war, whose blood gained our battles, whose sufferings in distressful times were the sufferings of the nation, though only labourers, though not freeholders of 40s., though not householders of 15l., 10l., or 8l. They were the men whose sufferings were the sufferings of the country—they were the men whose energies were the strength and glory of the country. He would say, then, that it was as perilous as it was unjust to draw an ideal line, and treat in a different manner the proprietors of estates and the possessors of property on the one side from the la- bourers on the other side of the line. How many years' purchase did they suppose the property on the right side of the line would be worth, if they ceased to return the affections of that class from which their soldiers were derived, and who occupied the left hand of the ideal boundary? No prudent law-giver would draw that line. If they did, it would be at the peril of the highest interests in the country, They had, therefore, wisely, as well as justly, abandoned that line. There was no such distinction drawn in our Municipal Bill. Three years ago they gave their assent to the principle, that all men occupying a house, whether of the value of 10l., 10s., or 10d., had an equal voice in the election of their municipal officers. Now, he would ask, why was not that rule extended to Ireland? It was most inconsistent with all former policy, most repugnant to all principles of justice; it was a most partial, unfair, and unsafe view of their legislative duties, to adopt one rule for Ireland after having adopted another rule for England. Had they seen, in the three years' experience of the working of the English measure, any reason to repent of what they had done for England? Quite the reverse. All the alarms which were in the first instance entertained about universal suffrage in the boroughs here had been found utterly groundless. Had there been more public meetings held, more petitions presented to Parliament since that time, for extending the Parliamentary suffrage, in consequence of the extension which had been granted in municipal suffrage? There had been, no doubt, petitions presented since that time to Parliament for household suffrage, for universal suffrage, for the vote by ballot; but these had been not only not more numerous in extent and in point of signatures, but they had been fewer in both respects in the three years since 1835 than they were in the three years preceding 1835. Apprehensions, too; had been entertained of riotous mobs and tumultuous meetings as the result of that measure; but such evils were anticipated only by those who were ignorant of the English character. The English were a people with whom kindness was all influential; the more they had conceded to them the more kindly disposed they became to those whom they regarded as their well-wishers. The more they became attached to their Government as to a parental Government, the more they felt a personal interest in that Government—the more it became, as it were, their own concern. This was a feature in the English character, which should never be lost sight of by a wise Government, and which should always actuate them to do everything in their power to conciliate the people, and give them a feeling of personal interest in the Government of their country, making them feel that they were part and parcel of the constitution of the realm. It was the policy of a wise Government to inspire not only the proprietors of the country with such a feeling, but, above all, to make those who were not proprietors feel it. The holders of property were of themselves apt to entertain this feeling; but it was that large majority of the community who were not holders of property whom it was the policy of a wise Government to do all in their power to conciliate, and to inspire with the feeling that they were part of that constitution under which they lived, and which they were called upon to support, and of which, let it be well understood, the knell was tolled if that class once ceased to support it, let the exertions of property and factitious power be what they might. For these reasons he held, that the experience of the past three years was against the present policy, and not for it; and for these reasons he considered that the principle of the English measure ought to have been extended to Ireland, and that it ought not to have been deprived of that which was its brightest quality. All reason, all theory, all experience, induced him to wish, that the English principle should be applied to Ireland, and to protest against the amendments which the noble Viscount had unhappily acceded to. There was one portion of these amendments which was peculiarly calculated to offend and irritate the Irish people, and practically to frustrate the whole plan of reform; it was that by which weighers, market clerks, and all similar officers were to be retained in office, just as though the bill had not passed. The great object of municipal reform was to eradicate abuses; yet the first thing done in this Reform Bill was neither more nor less than to enact by law that the very authors of the abuses which called for suppression, were to be continued in the offices which it was declared they had so grossly abused. These abuses were the gravamen of the charges against the present sytem, yet the children and champions of these abuses were to be continued in their offices. What an absurdity, what a mockery, what an outrage upon the feelings of the people of Ireland. On these grounds, as well as upon others, he deeply lamented the course which had been taken. In conclusion, he would say, that whether this measure was to be considered as grounded on truly wise, and sound, and consistent and abiding principles of legislation, calculated to bear the test of experience; or, whether it was only to be regarded as a measure for effecting the minor, but still most important, object, of conciliating the Irish people, of appeasing the discontents of that long ill-governed country, and of drawing out her prodigious internal resources, by giving her tranquillity and security, in which ever way he regarded the measure, he equally disapproved of the alterations which had been made. They were conceived in a spirit hostile to the constitution, repugnant to the principles on which their Lordships passed the English Municipal Reform Bill three years ago, and pregnant with the seeds of discontent and bitter disappointment.

The Duke of Wellington

said, that the noble and learned Lord had entered upon a discussion of the general principles of Government in respect of this bill, but he proposed to discuss the bill upon the principles of the bill itself, and he should make but one observation on what had been said by the noble and learned Lord, which was, that when the noble and learned Lord came to propose a Corporation Bill for another part of the kingdom, when he was sitting on that woolsack, and supported another on a subsequent occasion, he did not propose the one or support the other, on the principles which he had urged against the amendments proposed by his noble and learned Friend (Lord Lyndhurst). In the first case, the noble and learned Lord proposed a very large qualification, and in the other case, it was true the qualification was but small, but it was accompanied by the conditions of residence for a certain period, and the payment of rates, and, it was well known, that a house was not rated unless it was of a certain value. But then the noble and learned Lord came to the House and told their Lordships to follow the example of England, and to let every man have a vote who paid a tax, forgetting the example of his own measure now in existence in Scotland. But that which it was their Lordships' business to provide for, was a reform of the Municipal Corporations of Ireland, in which it was said, that great abuses had prevailed, and in which it was clear, that those views which the Legislature had formed many years ago, so far back as 1792, or 1793, had not been carried into execution. On these grounds it was, that he had always considered it desirable to make an alteration in these corporations, and he thought it right to avow fairly, as he had said before, that he considered that it would have been a better arrangement for Ireland to put an end to corporations altogether, and to have submitted the government of that country to the Sovereign of this great empire. He was now, however, willing to allow of Municipal Corporations in Ireland, consistent with the general constitution of the country, taking care that it should be such a reform as would give security to a large body of persons in that country, in whose hands power had been placed for some time past, but, in whose hands, he was sorry to say, it did not subsist at the present moment. At the same time, therefore, that they were framing and carrying this and other measures; he had thought it his duty to assist in devising such a scheme as would insure a fair distribution of power in that country, so as to give security to life and property, and to put an end to the perpetual disputes by which that country had been kept in a state of agitation. The noble and learned Lord and the noble Viscount opposite, had complained of the amount of the qualification for the suffrage proposed by his noble and learned Friend and both had characterised it as a deception. Now, he did not think it possible for any man to state in more clear language than his noble and learned Friend had done the principles upon which his amendments were framed. His noble and learned Friend stated, that the qualification was of the same amount as the suffrage which existed in Scotland. He stated also that certain deductions were to be made, and he stated the authority for those deductions, founded upon Acts of Parliament, upon the instructions of the Poor-law Commissioners, and the charges of judges to juries. It was impossible for any man to pretend that he was deceived as to the meaning of his noble and learned Friend, when he proposed a 10l. franchise. But the noble and learned Lord, and the noble Viscount thought this suffrage too high. They did not, however, propose a lower one, The noble Viscount said, that he would not propose to insert certain towns in the schedule of the bill, but he would leave it to the towns themselves to ask for a charter of incorporation under the provisions of the bill. He thought the noble Viscount did wisely in this. With regard to what the noble and learned Lord opposite, had stated, as to the effect of the English Municipal Bill, he must say, notwithstanding the panegyric passed by the noble and learned Lord, that he did not much admire these Municipal Corporations. It was very true that there was much more tranquillity—that was, the tranquillity produced by a certain watch and police, which maintained tranquillity in the streets at a very great expense. But that was not necessary in Ireland, nor was that proposed to be done either by the Bill itself or the amendments to it. He believed, however, that with respect to what was called social tranquillity, no such thing existed in those corporate towns, and that there was nothing but political squabbling and agitation from one year's end to another. He believed, that that social tranquillity which some time back, made England the most desirable place in the world in which a man could live, was fast disappearing, and he sadly feared that before long the increase of political agitation would put in hazard the capital which was in existence in this country. Then it appeared that there was another point embraced in the amendments, to which the noble Viscount and noble and learned Lord opposite both objected, and that was with reference to the permanency given to the existing Commissioners. He (the Duke of Wellington) did not exactly know to what the noble and learned Lord had alluded; it was certainly true, that the Commissioners for borough charities were to be preserved by the amendments which had been proposed by his noble and learned Friend (Lord Lyndhurst) and for his (the Duke of Wellington's) own part, he thought that those amendments were the very best amongst those proposed by his noble and learned Friend. He thought that a gross mistake had been committed, in the English Municipal Corporation Bill, on the subject of the borough charities; and he for one would certainly never have consented to leave those charities in the doubtful situation in which they were in fact left on the passing of that measure, if he had not believed that the noble and learned Lord opposite (Lord Brougham) would have been able, in the then following Session of Parliament, to propose a bill for the regulation and management of those corporation charities. That, however, had not been done, and since the Act passed, the English Municipal Corporation charities had been and still remained under the direction of the Court of Chancery, and as far as he had any knowledge on the matter from general report, he was sure that it was impossible for anything to be worse managed than were those charities. And if report spoke truth, the funds of those charities had in many instances, been applied to purposes of corruption both in municipal and Parliamentary elections. Such, at least, he had heard, had been the case. He therefore rejoiced that in this bill, it was otherwise provided, and that until arrangements were made for the future management of the corporate charities, they were to be kept in the hands of the parties who held them up to the present moment. This provision followed, he believed, in all respects, the exceptions made in the Scotch Municipal Reform Act. The noble Viscount opposite (Viscount Melbourne) had expressed his anxiety, that when this bill came back from another place with the alterations which might then be proposed, their Lordships would feel disposed to meet those alterations with a sincere desire to come to an agreement on the measure. He (the Duke of Wellington) had no doubt whatever but that their Lordships would meet the views and wishes that might be expressed by the other House with every sincere desire to concur in them, if it were possible to do so consistently with their Lordships' ideas of what was most fit and most desirable for the interests of Ireland. But he (the Duke of Wellington) confessed that he should be very glad to hear from the noble Viscount or his colleagues exerting their influence to conciliate the feelings of the other House in relation to this branch of the Legislature. He should be glad to see an instance of this being done. He considered that in all their reforms, care should be taken, (and he confessed that the noble and learned Lord opposite, Lord Brougham, in all the reforms that he had proposed had taken care) that no vexatious tyranny should be exercised upon any individual; that no person should be deprived of his property or his means of existence and living by the violence of a faction that might have for the time the upper hand. The noble and learned Lord had invariably taken care to introduce a proper clause for compensation, to provide for every man deprived of his office or means of living, in consequence of the reforms introduced by the noble and learned Lord. He must say, that the noble Viscount and her Majesty's Government ought to have done the same in this case; they ought to have taken care that in consequence of this reform no man should suffer or be destroyed by the success given on this occasion, to the adverse party in the state. He mentioned this, because there was scarce a day passed that did not bring him accounts from poor men and from others, stating that they would lose their offices under these arrangements, that they would be deprived of emoluments to which they had a right to look forward as rewards for their services, by the arrangements made under the Bill. He would state one instance with regard to which he believed, a noble Friend of his intended to move an amendment—a case which came to him yesterday. The Lord Mayor of Dublin, who had served within a month or two of the whole period of his office, would, on its completion, as the law now stood, be entitled to receive 1,000l. This remuneration he would lose by the operation of this Bill. But, besides this, having served the mayoralty, he would be now entitled to the emoluments of the office for one year as President of the Court of Conscience. This was again in remuneration for his services in the civic chair during the past year and all this he would lose by the operation of this bill. Now, it was well known that this House had no power to provide compensation, or to make any arrangement for satisfying claims of this kind and he must contend that it was incumbent on her Majesty's Government when they brought forward such measures as the present in another place, to consider well these claims, and to take care that these individuals should not become victims to these reforms, nor deprived of that remuneration to which they had every claim for services performed. He had troubled their Lordships much longer than he intended, but he could not hear what had been said by noble Lords opposite, without stating these few words, and declaring that he should firmly support the Bill, as it was now amended by his noble and learned Friend. It would be his duty to attend to any future proposals that might come up from another place, where he did hope some consideration would be manifested both for this House and for those who would still be the victims of the measure when passed into a law.

Lord Brougham

, in explanation, said, that he had not given up his views that there ought to be no qualification. If the bill had not been altered, it contained a 5l. qualification. That qualification he (Lord Brougham), however, was not satisfied with; but for the sake of conciliation, he, in common with many other noble Lords near him, had given way. He, however, still claimed the benefits of the experience they had had of the English Corporation Bill, and the consequent extension of the same principle to Ireland. He went entirely the full length with the noble Duke, in partaking of any unpopularity that might follow an act of justice; and not only would he protect those rights, not only for the sake of justice and humanity, but, as a sincere Reformer, on grounds of policy, for he had always thought that the greatest mistake Reformers could commit, was to lie unjust—for to be so, would be to raise a host of enemies to reform.

The Earl of Wicklow

would not do justice to his own feelings, if he did not make a few observations on the subject under the consideration of their Lordships. He was glad, that noble Lords had agreed to reform the corporations of Ireland; but he could not agree with the noble Duke, that if this bill were passed in its present shape, it would allay agitation on this subject in that country. He feared the mode in which this bill was framed, would only increase agitation; because it would be considered as an offence and insult, that only eleven towns were to have corporations. The design of relief fell far short of what was expected; and therefore he could not help expressing his regret, that the noble Viscount should have abstained from bringing forward the subject of which he had given notice. The fact was, that instead of leaving his amendments to be proposed in another place, the noble Viscount ought to have brought them forward himself; and he must be allowed to say, that he did not think it either wise or prudent to allow the proper functions of their Lordships' House to be superseded in this manner. The noble Viscount ought to have proposed his own amendments; and if they were defeated, and afterwards adopted in another place, why then he would be justified in reproposing them in a more forcible way. He said this, because he wished the number of towns to which municipal corporations were granted to be increased; but while he entertained this wish, he never could consent to a low qualification—a low franchise would not, he was persuaded, be judicious in Ireland. It might, as an abstract principle, be good to remove all corporations from the Irish towns; but such a course, he thought, would not be desirable in practice, as they were institutions to which the people were attached by long habit. In fact, they could not deprive the towns of Ireland of corporations without danger; and this being his own opinion, he must say, he wished the noble Viscount had persevered in his intentions. There was one observation of the noble and learned Lord on which he wished to remark. The noble and learned Lord said, that the franchise now proposed, was a deception on both sides of the House; that one party were deceived in supposing it a 10l. qualification, and the other if they imagined it would be reduced to 7l. or 8l. Both parties, he said, were deceived, because it was neither the one nor the other; but in fact a 13l. franchise. He must deny that. If the qualification were to exceed 10l., certainly it should not have his assent; but the noble and learned Lord was in error on the subject, and he fell into this mistake by applying the circumstances of England to Ireland. The rating in the two countries would be widely different; and his belief was, that as the rating in Ireland would not exceed the value, as was the case in England, the qualification proposed by his noble and learned Friend would not, in fact, be more than a qualification of something between 8l. and 9l. It might be advantageous to the working of this bill, if their Lordships were at once to decide upon a 9l. franchise; but, as it might not be convenient to adopt that course now, he was prepared to support the bill as amended.

Several alterations were made, and clauses were added.

The bill to be passed on the following Monday.