would take the opportunity of their Lordships being about to proceed to the Order of the Day for the second reading of that very important measure the Irish Municipal Bill, to make a few observations to their Lordships in connection with the measure, and at the same time to state the course which he intended to pursue with regard to it—a course so entirely different from that which other noble Lords would probably take, whether they opposed the principle or the details of the bill, that he felt it would be more fair in him to address their Lordships thus at the preliminary stage. Be the merits of the measure ever so great, be it ever so unexceptionable, be its principle ever so clear or the details ever so perfectly framed, his objection to it was still the same:—that this was the 22nd of July—that they had been sitting there wellnigh six months, and had hardly done anything in point of legislation during that time, and yet that they were now called on—as usual, he must admit, for this was no new complaint, it was one he had himself made two or three years ago, and the evil had been increasing from year to year during the last twenty years—to proceed at once to legislate upon a subject of the very highest importance. He did not complain more of the present Government than of any others; but the evil had become so positive that he felt their Lordships were reduced to the necessity of taking some 598 effectual step to apply a remedy to this great and increasing mischief. He was not unmindful of what had been said by a noble Friend of his behind him, that the complaint was one which he had heard every year since he had been in office; but he said increasing mischief, because it was the nature of the evil to increase unless the appropriate remedy were timely applied. He repeated, that after having sat six months, they had done nothing: they had debated a great deal, appointed committees of inquiry into some important questions, passed some private bills; but, as regarded their legislative functions, they had literally done nothing. With the exception of the noble Duke (the Duke of Wellington) he was perhaps the most constant and regular attendant of their Lordships' House; and he would take upon himself to say, that they had not ten times during the whole Session sat until eight o'clock, and he was quite sure they had not sat five times so late as ten. The bulk of the business had generally been over soon after seven o'clock; so that, in fact, it could not be said that they had done anything but wait for measures to be sent up from the other House. To show the situation in which the House was now placed with regard to measures sent up at this late period from the other House, he need only refer to the printed list of business for this day. There were no less than ten or eleven important measures standing for second readings or some equally important stage; and if by their being disposed of or proceeded with was meant that their Lordships should discuss and come to a resolution after duly weighing and inquiring into the subject, it was utterly impossible that those which were appointed to be the proceedings of the day could be the proceedings of the day, if by the clay was meant the legislative day of seven or eight hours. This was the list:—Municipal Corporations (Ireland) Bill, second reading; Metropolis Police Bill, second reading; Custody of Infants Bill, committee; Pleadings in Courts (India) Bill, committee; Beer Act in part Repeal Bill, re-commitment; Prisons Bill, report; Bankrupts' Estates (Scotland) Bill, report; Church Discipline Bill, third reading; Indemnity Bill, third reading; Soap Duties Drawback Bill, third reading; and Stannaries Courts (Cornwall) Bill, third reading. An hon. Friend of his behind him observed that some of these 599 must of course be put off. Exactly so, they must be put off. That was the very thing he complained of. Look at the first measure on the list—The Irish Municipal Bill. It contained no less than 256 clauses, some of them perfectly new clauses. [Lord Ellenborough: One hundred and twenty-four are new.] Some of them remodelled, but upwards of fifty absolutely new. It formed on the whole a volume (a great part of which they had not seen before, and of the remainder of which they knew little except by the experience of former years) containing more pages than there were in the statute-book for the first 38 years of the reign of Elizabeth. Now was it fair to call on the House of Lords to discuss so many measures all at once? Was it fair to call on them to discuss more than one at once? Was it even fair to call on them to discuss so important a measure as the Irish Bill to-night, when it was only printed on Saturday—a day, probably, of recreation to most of their Lordships, who no doubt found themselves as much jaded with doing nothing, as others elsewhere no doubt were with doing so much. Was this a right mode of dealing with a subject of such vast importance—one which the experience of past years showed it would be impossible for them to carry through without the greatest controversy, both on its principle and its details? It might be answered that the bill had only just come up from the other House, and that other things had prevented them from sooner sending it up to their Lordships' House. But what measure could there be requiring precedence more than this? Assuredly it was most important in itself; and if the promoters of it were to be believed, upon it depended the peace and good government of the corporations of Ireland; and moreover it had already been waiting three years for precedence; and the subject which it embraced formed part of the Speech from the Throne at the commencement of the Session. Surely this was a strong case for its having been brought in earlier. A noble Friend reminded him that the bill was first introduced in the other House in February. If so, what had they been doing in the other House—that Temple of Themis, or of whatever exceeding halt and lame deity presided over it? What could they have been doing during the six months they had sat, if they had been unable to send up earlier this mea- 600 sure, described as of so high importance, and which was indeed expressly referred to in the speech from the Throne? But if this bill at last obtained precedency, it would seem that there were more to come; that although their Lordships' table now groaned with ten or eleven enormous bills, they were to have at least ten or eleven more. Indeed, six or seven had been brought up to-night; and the next ten days would, in all probability, force up many more from the same laboratory of immature legislation, all bearing the marks of the same immaturity, or of being half made Thus it was, that within one week or a fortnight their Lordships were overwhelmed with measures which the other House had taken the whole Session to discuss, and with regard to which they were expected to discharge their duty as if they had had the six months to consider them. Was it right, safe, or expedient, that this should be? Was the Legislature to consist of two Chambers or but of one Chamber? He (Lord Brougham) had heard it said by some, that the House of Lords ought to be abolished—that it was a nuisance in the Constitution. This opinion he had always combatted, although he had frequently felt himself bound to differ from their Lordships, and had never said behind their backs half so much as he had taken the liberty respectfully and firmly to state in their presence. It was a most pernicious proposition, and so anomalous, that he would rather see a republican government, than a government composed of the Crown and the people with no intermediate legislative body. Ridiculous and absurd as he conceived that proposition to be, he yet thought their conduct more so who advocated the retaining the House of Lords as a branch of the Constitution, who called upon them to act as lawgivers, and exercise their deliberative functions, yet brought before them those measures at such a time, in such a mass, and in such a shape, as made it physically impossible in any legislative body to decide upon them. Was it, then, supposed, that the functions of their Lordships' House might in another manner be dispensed with? That, in fact, the bills came up from the other House in so perfect a state, that no revision, alteration, or correction, was required in them? On the contrary, they came up, for the most part, in such a shape, that he defied the most devoted admirer of proceedings elsewhere, or even 601 the authors of the measures themselves, to deny the necessity for their being roost carefully examined when they came under their Lordships' consideration. The more misshapen and deformed were the offspring, the more they always seemed to seize upon the hearts of their parents; yet he defied even the authors of those measures themselves to show, that they came up in a state that did not require revision and correction—that, in fact, they were not oftentimes in a state which rendered it absolutely dangerous to allow them to pass into laws without those necessary operations being performed. To give an instance—there came up in one year two bills, the title, heading, and amendments of each of which applied to the other; and so those bills would have stood in the statute-book to this hour, had not the mistake luckily been discovered just before the prorogation. And then what was done? Why a bill was passed by which it was enacted, that certain parts of the one bill were to apply to the other bill. This he knew to be a fact from the statement of the Speaker of that time. In another case a bill was introduced to amend the administration of criminal justice from and after the October ensuing. This bill, although full of good points, and containing many most excellent provisions, gave an extraordinary power by which any single judge, though he might not have heard a word of the evidence offered on the trial of a prisoner, might the very next morning send for the prisoner and alter his punishment. Their Lordships threw out the clause containing that provision, and what was the consequence? Why the other House were so angry at the change being made (though it was not a money bill) that they threw out the whole bill, and the measure did not pass till a year ago. Now, any one acquainted with the constitution of the two Assemblies must be aware, of what invaluable use that House was in correcting and amending the bills that came up from the other House. It was not enough merely that their Lordships should agree in the principle of a bill and approve its details, because there might yet be a vast deal of matter in the bill (of the kind to which he had just referred) requiring amendment. But if they were to meet every day for the next fortnight or three weeks, when the Session would virtually terminate by the absence of noble Lords, it was impossible that the measures now on the notice-paper 602 for the next two days would receive even the semblance of a fair discussion. He had already read a list of the business for to-night. He would now read what was set down for Tuesday:—"Prisoners' Trial Bill, second reading; Lower Canada Government Bill, second reading; Registers of Births, &c., Bill, second reading; Election Petitions' Trial Bill, Committee; Tithes' Commutation Acts Amendment Bill, third reading; Supreme Courts' (Scotland) Bill, third reading." But, notwithstanding that there were all these measures already there for discussion, the Government had not, it seemed, done introducing bills. Instead of, at all events, finishing the measures brought forward early in the Session, they were actually introducing totally new ones. It was but the day after he had postponed his Education Bill at the suggestion of his noble Friend, on account of the advanced period of the Session, that a Member of the Government in the other House did not hesitate to get up in his place, and introduce a measure—one quite new to the Legislature—respecting inland bonding and warehousing—a measure which he happened to know was of great importance, from the circumstance of his having already had two deputations from the city complaining of it. In one week after, as late as Friday last, the Under-Secretary of State introduced a measure of considerable importance, and they were now told to expect the speedy introduction of a bill to effect an object of a great and most important kind—the establishment and organization of a constabulary force for the whole kingdom. He really must be allowed to express his hope, that at this period of the Session, their attention would not be called for the first time to a question so extensive, important, and difficult. A bill for the establishment of a general constabulary force was one, he conceived, which might, with the utmost propriety, bye been first introduced in that House—it was no money bill. What was the practical result of the observations which he had addressed to their Lordships on this subject? That unless they at once proceeded to take the remedy into their own hands, they would always be treated n this manner. Year after year was this intolerable mischief on the increase. They were left during five months with nothing to do, and then the other House sent up to them more than could be done in five or six 603 times the interval that elapsed before the end of the Session. The accumulation bad never been so great as it was this year; and the bill now before the House was a glaring and unparalleled instance of the evil he complained of—taking all the circumstances together—considering the fact of the subject having been introduced in the speech from the Throne, and that this bill was sent up to them at the eleventh hour—it was a mockery, and nothing less, to call them a deliberative body, and yet to render their deliberation a physical impossibility, by withholding from them the subjects on which they were to deliberate. Let them be treated as cyphers—told, that they should not exist at all as a deliberative body—commanded merely to register the acts of the House of Commons-never called upon even to look at a bill, much less to examine and improve it: all this he could understand. But to be treated as a deliberative assembly—to be called upon to examine measures—to be told, that they must discuss the principle of each measure in the House, and its details in Committee: to have all this responsibility thrown upon them, and at the same time to receive from the other House so many measures when it was a physical impossibility fully to discuss even one of them, was a mockery, and an insult on their understanding. The remedy was in their Lordships' own hands. Let them show, that if bills came up at this season of the year, they would not pay attention to them. Without in any way entering into the merits of such measures, or deciding on them, let them be rejected on the ground of the advanced period of the Session, and on that ground only, unless good reason be shown, why they could not earlier be brought up from the other House. Let this course be once resolutely pursued, and he would answer for it, that in the next Session bills would be introduced in the proper place, and those introduced in the other House would be brought up to their Lordships at a convenient period in the Session. These observations he had held it his bounden duty to make in consequence of what passed two years ago. The House at that time allowed him to introduce certain changes as to the mode in which private business should be transacted in that House. At the same time he took occasion to call their Lordships' attention to the evil of which he was now complaining, 604 but he did not then suggest a remedy; he now, however, ventured on the credit of having then at least helped their Lordships to an effectual mode of improving the practice of the House with regard to private business, to ask them now to take a decided course with respect to public business also, as the only mode of practically and effectually working the cure of an evil the extent of which all admitted, and of which no man could deny the importance. On the one single ground which he had stated, he should oppose the second reading of this bill, and he begged at the same time to notify, that he should on the same ground oppose many other bills, in the hope that he would be supported in a course of proceeding which he was satisfied was the only one by which their Lordships would recover the full exercise of their legislative and deliberative functions.
§ Viscount Melbourne,
in rising to move the Order of the Day for the second reading of the Irish Municipal Corporations Bill, would, in the first instance, observe, that the observations of his noble and learned Friend, as he himself had admitted, were not new. They applied to a state of things that had existed almost ever since Parliament itself had existed—a state of things of the origin of which no account could be given, although the subject had often been discussed in that House. Of the many conjectural reasons for the practice that had been suggested, the most natural appeared to him to be, that it was a habit of assemblies of the kind, in all parts of the world, to allow the really practical measures to accumulate and gather together until near the close of the Session. At the beginning of a Session a representative assembly, and the other House of Parliament particularly, was usually occupied with party operations and contests. And when his noble and learned Friend said, that bills might be introduced in their Lordships' House, he surely must be aware of the reasons why it was neither convenient, politic, nor expedient, to originate measures in that House. His noble and learned Friend, in a very ingenious speech on a former occasion, seemed disposed to enlarge upon the advantages of large majorities of the other House. He (Lord Melbourne) did not entirely agree in all that had fallen from his noble and learned Friend on the subject; but at the 605 same time it could not be doubted, that a bill coming up to that House, with the sanction of the opinion of the other House, would have more effect than a measure merely introduced in their Lordships' House in the first instance. If his noble and learned Friend had wished not to add to the evil of delay he would not have made the speech he had made on this occasion. The course which he recommended was by no means a new one to their Lordships—it was one which they were virtually very much in the habit of pursuing. There could be no argument more effectual with their Lordships against a bill than that which urged them to throw it out on the ground of the lateness of its introduction, for their Lordships were by no means very ready to pass any bills, except those which they felt it would be neither wise nor prudent not to pass. At the same time he must be allowed to say, that the observations of his noble and learned Friend, applied less to the present bill than they would apply to almost any other bill that could be brought up; because their Lordships would remember the great principle and the main provisions of the bill had already been before them in three successive Parliaments, and had been with tolerable impartiality discussed and considered by them; nay, had been to a great extent sanctioned and recognised by them; and although it might be very well, for the sake of rational argument and to produce an effect upon the eye, to hold up a large bill, and, as it were, SEíKTLKWC, yet such a mode of arguing was very fallacious, and particularly so in the case of this bill, which might be said to be, in almost all its main points, the fruits and product of the combined wisdom of that and the other House, and one on very few points of which there could be a difference of opinion. With respect to this bill, it was their own doing; and the principal bulk of it consisted in those amendments which their Lordships had introduced, and therefore it was a measure, in fact, to which the observations of the noble and learned Lord would apply with much less strength and force than to any other which might be sent up from the House of Commons. He had thought the measure was so far agreed upon by their Lordships, that but for the expressed intention of the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Roden), who had declared his intention to take the sense of 606 the House upon it, he should not have thought himself called upon to address any observations to the House upon the subject; and he should not now feel himself bound to waste much of that time which the noble and learned Lord had shown to be so precious, and in which they had so much to do, in referring to this question. That the corporations of Ireland required revision—that they were framed upon a principle of exclusiveness which did not suit the present day, or the laws or the rights of subjects of all classes of society, he thought had been completely and entirely admitted. It appeared to him that such was the case both in this country and in Ireland. It was admitted by the corporations themselves; and, with the exception of Dublin, he knew of no demonstration having been made in opposition to the bill on the part of any corporate town in Ireland. It was unnecessary for him, therefore, to urge any further arguments as to the general principle on which the bill was brought forward. As to the provisions of the measure, the main point of difference between them and the House of Commons was the qualification clause. It was sent up from the House of Commons with a clause proposing a 5l. qualification; their Lordships returned the bill with a 10l. clause; the House of Commons differed from the principle embodied in the provision proposed to be made, and, in consequence of that circumstance, the bill was lost. It was now sent up with an 8l. clause, which was proposed to be adopted for three years, the principle adopted in England being also proposed to be carried out, and that was the point now for consideration. With regard to another part of the bill, that concerning the boundaries, their Lordships having incorporated certain provisions upon this subject in the measure, the House of Commons had agreed to them, and had sent up the bill, having adopted the suggestion which had been thrown out. The other great point was, the nomination of sheriffs. There were several other minor subjects of consideration, but this was the one which afforded most matter for discussion, although it did not affect the general principle of the bill. The House of Commons had sent up the bill, containing a provision, that the town-council should name three candidates, of whom the Lord-lieutenant should select one. Their Lordships, however, had differed 607 from that provision, and had placed the nomination in the Crown. From that the House of Commons differed, and had now sent up the bill with their original proposition. The other point was, the provision for appeals against valuations by those who valued for the purpose of assessing for the poor-laws. These were the points which remained to be discussed. The House had had the bill under their consideration for three years, and had adopted its provisions over and over again, being convinced of its necessity. There had been much difference of opinion upon it, and much vehemence of discussion, perhaps more than the importance of the subject justified; but he hoped that the House would now fairly consider the question, with a view to its termination, and he sincerely trusted, that if the Government should carry this measure, it would settle the question beneficially for the country.
The Earl of Roden
had, Session after Session, carefully guarded against its being supposed that he agreed to the principle of the bill, and he had always thought, that it was opposed to the good of the country in which its provisions were to be carried into effect. He found that in the preamble of the bill it was recited, that "whereas divers bodies corporate at sundry times have been constituted within the cities, towns, counties of cities, counties of towns, and boroughs of Ireland, to the intent that the same might for ever be and remain well regulated and quietly governed; and it is expedient that the charters by which several of the said bodies corporate are constituted, should be altered in the manner hereinafter-mentioned:" or, in other words, that they should be so constituted that the effect would be, in his opinion, that they should no longer answer the purpose for which they were originally intended, namely, the good government of the people. On the contrary, a system of government, similar to that which had been established in England, would be adopted in Ireland; which, in his opinion, would be only calculated to call into increased action all those religious differences and party feelings which now existed in that part of the kingdom. He begged to ask, whether it were necessary to establish a corporation in every town where there were 3,000 in. habitants? For his own part, he thought, that such a provision would call into ex- 608 istence normal schools of agitation, sedition, and repeal, and, in short, every means by which disturbance might be produced, to the detriment of the country. Every witness who had given evidence before the committee up-stairs, from the Marquess of Wellesley down to the humblest individual examined, had all traced the evils of Ireland to the system of agitation which was continually kept up in that unhappy country. The language of one and all was this, that political agitation was the parent of outrage. And was not the proposed plan of electing officers of these corporations in the different parts of the country the most likely means of producing this agitation which could be conceived? He would ask any one who had any doubt of the truth of this to look at what had passed during the late election in Ireland, and he would name two of the counties in which the greatest agitation appeared to have been produced—he meant Sligo and Roscommon. There it was sworn, that before the election the happiness which existed could not be paralleled in any other country; and yet, since the agitation which had been produced by this election, such was the state of society that the gentry were unable to visit one another after nightfall, and many of them on going out from home were obliged to be constantly armed. He could refer also to the election of commissioners under the 9th Geo. 4th., which had produced equal mischief. Even the elections, which had taken place under the act recently passed for the poor-law commissioners, had been made the subject of political agitation throughout the different towns in Ireland. The House was congratulated on that bill being passed—that at least there was one measure from which all party-feelings and party-spirit would be absent. But the moment it quitted that House it ceased to sustain that character. In many of the towns where the poor-law guardians were chosen, what were called "priests' lists" were sent about, and all who were not named in those lists were excluded from being elected. This had been the case in many places, but more especially in Dublin. One would have supposed that if property had had any influence in securing the appointment of proper persons, it would be in that city; but the spirit of party feeling and religious animosity, had been carried to a great extent there, proving that agitation could be 609 fed by the best measures and till it was ruinous to the best interests of the country. Was it possible, then, that the House, with the evidence before them to which he had alluded, would consent to pass a measure which must make bad a great deal worse, and which must prove that this proposed system of municipal corporations could not safely be carried into effect. It was proposed to erect municipal corporations in every town where there were 3,000 inhabitants, and which might apply to be incorporated. These persons would have the appointment of the magistrates—of the mayor. Here was a most serious case. Here was the dispenser of justice appointed, chosen by the town council. This council, it would be found, would be chosen from the "priests' list," judging from analogy, at least from the existing system; and then, he begged to ask, what chance there would be for justice—what security there would be for the lives or the properties of the people? But further, the election of the mayor and town council was to be annual; so that there was to be an annual renewal of agitation, and of the means of increasing it. Under the provisions of this bill two powers were to be conferred on the magistrates to create new officers, and to give what salaries they pleased to those officers; so that in Dublin they might appoint the lord mayor from among themselves; perhaps the individual selected might be the greatest agitator in Ireland, and they might choose to give him an immense salary. The same power might be carried out in reference to all other officers, and he thought that the House could not, therefore, fail to come to a conclusion that this bill would be most dangerous in its effects. He called upon the noble Viscount and his coadjutors to remember the important responsibility which rested upon them, he called on them to retrace their steps, and to avoid proceeding any further with a measure which would increase the political evils of Ireland. He thought that the observations made by the noble and learned Lord opposite were of themselves a sufficient answer to this motion; but even if those arguments founded upon the late period of the Session at which the measure was brought forward, and the short notice given to the House for its discussion, were deemed unsatisfactory, he thought that when the powers to appoint magistrates were considered, coupled with the recent 610 events in Birmingham, their Lordships would pause before they committed themselves so far as to adopt this measure. It appeared to him a most provident circumstance for the safety of Ireland, that the unhappy event to which he had referred had occurred just at the present time, because, it was obvious that if such insecurity existed within five hours of the control of that House, the condition of the small boroughs in Ireland, of which the House could have but little knowledge, would be still more unfortunate. It was impossible to describe the state of panic which had seized upon the minds of the people of Ireland in reference to this measure. They conceived it to be a bill calculated to crush them, and that it was one under the provisions of which all justice would be denied them. He believed that they commanded the sympathies of the people of England, Scotland, and Wales; and further, that the bill if it passed would be the heaviest blow which had been given to Ireland. Therefore he felt it to be his duty to raise his voice against it, and to protest against its second reading. He hoped, from the circumstance which had taken place, from the events which had occurred in Birmingham, and from the petitions which had been laid upon the table, against this bill, even should it go through committee, and be there altered so as to render it much less hurtful than now, the House would be induced to throw it out on the third reading. He would conclude by expressing his determination to take the sense of the House upon this bill.
§ Lord Stuart De Decies
regretted much the course taken by the noble Earl who had just addressed the House. He well remembered the observation made in another place by a right hon. Gentleman, recently about to become Premier, that Ireland presented more difficulties in his way than Jamaica, which had abdicated its legislative functions, or than Canada, in which a civil war was still smouldering, or than India, in which open war had commenced; and he had no doubt that the difficulties arose from that party which the noble Earl represented in that House. The noble Earl had objected to the corporations which might be created under this bill, that they would become so many normal schools of agitation. He (Lord Stuart) thought very differently, or he would not support it. Nothing he depre- 611 cated so much as the renewal of agitation. He remembered that which was raised on the subject of the repeal of the Union, and in favour of a domestic Legislature. The friends of the union of the two countries had the greatest difficulty in overcoming that agitation, but there was one argument which had much effect. They said, that Parliament had but recently been remodelled, and that it was but fair to give it a trial, and they said, there could be no doubt that whatever civil privileges or municipal rights might be granted by the Legislature to England or Scotland would also be given to Ireland. This brought upon them the ridicule of the advocates of repeal, and they were called "the wait-a-whiles." However, at length came on the motion of Mr. O'Connell for the repeal, which was met by those celebrated resolutions which, as far as they went, tended to verify the predictions of the opponents of repeal; but had those predictions been since realized in giving municipal rights to the people of Ireland equal to those given to Great Britain? Let the bill then on their Lordships' Table, answer that question. Did they suppose, that because the repeal cry had remained silent for the last four or five years, that it was to remain quiet for ever? Did they suppose that the Irish, unless their wishes were attended to, would not seize the first favourable opportunity of urging that question? and the occasion they would seize upon would be when those who opposed their wishes should again come into power. He would recommend the noble Lords opposite, on the grounds of expediency as well as of justice, to withdraw their opposition to this measure, if they would preserve themselves and their country from much future embarrassment. The noble Earl opposed the bill on the ground that the abolition of the Irish corporations would be prejudicial to the interests of the Protestant Established Church. [The Earl of Roden: No. I am for the abolition of all corporations.] The noble Earl had made a remark on the great danger of the Protestants being excluded from the corporations through the influence of the priests, and if his argument did not mean that that would endanger the Protestant Establishment, he did not know what it did mean. He was sure, that the maintenance of the existing corporations against the express wishes of the bulk of the people, would be infinitely more dangerous to the 612 Established Church than their abolition; for where existed the great security of the Irish Protestant Church Establishment but in the Legislative Union? But if the Imperial Legislature, acting on the advice of the noble Earl, continued systematically to oppose the wishes of the people, then would the people systematically oppose those establishments that were distasteful to them. The noble Earl's motion, if successful, would drive the Irish to the adoption of one or two alternatives—either to the Repeal of the Union, or to the destruction of that very Protestant Establishment which the noble Earl desired so much should remain a bar for ever to the Irish Municipal Corporations.
§ Lord Lurgan
could not have believed, had he not heard it, that the noble Earl would have been the man to make a motion for flinging out a bill which had for its object the reform of institutions, the name of which was synonymous with all that was most corrupt and profligate. The municipal institutions in Ireland in their present state were mischievous to society; they were most faulty in their principle, and in their proceeding, in their constitution, and in their practice. Such was the character of those municipal institutions, as at present found in Ireland, that when this matter was referred for inquiry to the Irish municipal commission five years ago, they were told to use all possible despatch, so great and pressing were the evils, in order that there might be some legislation on the subject in the next Session of Parliament. Such being the character of these corporations, he owned he was surprised to find that any noble Lord in that House, and more especially an Irish Peer, should make a motion which had for its object the upholding of institutions such as these had been reported to be by that commission. The noble Earl had stated, that he was not for upholding these municipal corporations, but that his object was to abolish all corporations; but, in the course of five years, the noble Earl had taken no step towards their abolition. He must say, that they were not afraid to meet the question, if they were started by the noble Earl. If their Lordships would but look at the inquiry of the Irish commissioner, under any of its heads, he was sure he was not making a bold statement, when he asserted, that under any one of those heads would be found enough to justify and to invite prompt le- 613 gislation. The evils complained of had never been contradicted, and were of such a nature that it was quite impossible for their Lordships, without incurring serious responsibility, and inflicting serious injury on the country, to pause in providing a remedy for them. About ninety-nine municipal institutions had exercised corporate functions during the last century: but since the legislative union a good many of these had become defunct or were scarcely worth the mentioning; deducting these there were about fifty-nine corporate bodies now existing in Ireland, and in only about twenty-three of these was there anything like a commonalty or freeman-ship. The remaining thirty-six corporations, to which were committed the duties of magistrates, the power over the police, and the control of a considerable income, were altogether without any control; they were irresistible, self-elected bodies. Now, when the noble Earl asked their Lordships to throw out this measure, he asked, was the state of these corporate bodies a proper one, or was the state of the municipal government in Ireland such as the noble Earl would call on their Lordships to uphold. [The Earl of Roden:—No.] The noble Earl said, no and the noble Earl did not mean to uphold these sinks of corruption. Had he ever taken any one step to move their Lordships to abolish them? He had done no such thing. [The Earl of Roden:—I voted against them.] Yes, but that would not suffice to get rid of these corporations; they were too deeply rooted in the country to be got rid of by the mere vote of the noble Earl. The noble Earl knew what he was about, and when he was in earnest and wished to accomplish a point, he knew as well as any noble Lord in that House that something more than a vote was necessary. If bodies of this kind were under no control, the consequence must be mismanagement and loss of property, and by the operation of the system a very considerable amount of corporate property had been lost to the public. This was a most serious offence, and it was their Lordships' duty to rectify this, and look after the property. Many of the corporate estates bad been grossly mismanaged, many of the Members of the corporate bodies granting valuable leases to themselves at low rates, and depriving the public of all advantage; and their Lordships were called upon to allow these sinks of corruption to exist till doomsday. 614 But the very head and front of the offence which these corporations presented to his mind was, that they were exclusive bodies, and were banded to shut out, upon sectarian grounds, the great mass of the Irish people. That was quite intolerable; and he was sure that their Lordships, upon reflection, would be disposed to agree with him, because so long ago as the year 1793 a bill was passed for the repeal of the statute by which the Roman Catholics were excluded from the corporations of Ireland, but up to the present day, or at least to the day when the Municipal Corporation Commissioners made their report, the Catholic population of Ireland had reaped no practical advantage from the abolition of that system of exclusion in 1793. He said this confidently, because though the Roman Catholics might have been admitted in some boroughs to the freedom, they were everywhere altogether excluded from the governing body; and even when they had been admitted to the freedom of the town, they had been admitted, not as a matter of right—no such thing—but in deference to the influence or popularity of some leading man in the corporation, and out of compliment to him. This was an odious system of exclusion, which ought to be got rid of. Why should Roman Catholics be excluded. They brought a perfect equality of civil worth, and when, therefore, people talked of admitting them to corporate rights as a matter of favour and kindness, he said that the favour was insulting and the kindness odious. In Ireland they much wanted local government; the want was pressing and urgent, for under the present system, every object of utility and civil government must be effected by local Acts of Parliament, by separate local commissions, and by separate bodies, who were frequently but little fitted for the duties they were to perform, and who were often conflicting. So what they wanted was a good system of corporations; and if their Lordships looked to the case made out, they would be obliged, he thought to come to the conclusion, that these odious rotten corporations must be abolished utterly, and that new ones should be established and founded on a system of general admission to the body of freemen on the one hand, and to the governing body on the other. Believing, then, that these evils could only be met by some such measure as the present, he should 615 give as hearty a vote as he ever gave in his life for the second reading of the bill.
§ The Duke of Wellington
said, it appeared to him that the noble Lord who had just spoken with so much ability, and who had so lately taken his seat among their Lordships, had not yet acquired a knowledge of the history of this measure; and also that the noble Lord had entirely misunderstood the speech of his noble Friend (the Earl of Roden). His noble Friend did not defend the Irish corporations; he did not desire the continuance of those corporations on their present footing—nay, on the very ground stated by his noble Friend it had been admitted that the existence of those corporations ought to be abolished—namely, on the ground of the exclusive plan on which they had been governed. This all their Lordships would admit. In fact, a measure had been proposed by his noble and learned Friend (Lord Lyndhurst,) of which the object was to put an end to all the corporations of Ireland, and to govern the country according to the principles of the common law of the country. That measure was not approved of by the other House; but it was passed by their Lordships, and he believed that his noble Friend voted for it. Indeed it appeared to be the fixed opinion of the other House, as it was also of many of their Lordships, that certain corporations ought to exist in Ireland, founded on an electoral principle. For his part, he was formerly of opinion that the best mode of governing Ireland was to abolish all these corporations. He was of that opinion, and he entertained that opinion still, but he had given up his own opinion to the opinion which generally prevailed in the other House, and which also prevailed among a great number of their Lordships, as soon as he found there was a prospect of forming, in each of the towns where a corporation was to have existence, a constituency which might be formed on some system of rating, or on any principle whatever, except on the perjuries of those who claimed to have votes as burgesses in these corporations, and on the perjuries of those whom they might produce to support those claims. He had lived long enough in this world to have an extreme dislike of revolutions. He did not like to take power one day from one set of men, who had held it for centuries, and the next day transfer that power into the 616 hands of men who had never held it. In Ireland, however, he conceived that it was now possible to find a system of qualification, by which provision would be duly made for the division of power between the two classes of inhabitants of that country, and by which the peace and the good government of those towns would be secured, and, conceiving this, he was anxious to support any measure having such an object in view. On these grounds, then, and having supported the Poor-law Bill for Ireland, and hoping that the good working of that measure might afford the groundwork for a qualification adapted to this other measure, he had supported it in the last Session, and done everything in his power to amend the bill as sent up to their Lordships from the other House, so that when it left their Lordships, it might go down to the other House again in such a shape as might be best calculated to attain the object he had in view—namely, the good government of the towns of Ireland, rather than the satisfaction of those views to which the noble Lord (Lurgan) had adverted with so much eloquence. Eloquence, of this kind, however, he must confess, never made any impression on his mind. He had no notion of a repeal of the union, or of any measure of that kind, the carrying which, he thought, depended in a great measure on the Government of this country, where he hoped always to see the Government strong enough to oppose and defeat the passing of such measures. But with respect to the bill before them, when the noble Lords on his side of the House adopted the principle of election for the formation of these corporations, he was in hopes that those on the other side would have met them half way, and, that before now they should have agreed on a system which might have given security for the results which they had in view for Ireland, and which he declared were none other than the peace and good government of the country, and the contentment of every class of its inhabitants. This he had expected and hoped, but here they were on the 22nd of July, for the first time in this Session, taking a measure of this kind into consideration—a measure which contained 265 clauses, of which 124 clauses had never been before their Lordships previously, containing as they did very nearly 124 new principles, and he must say, that feeling as he did, averse from this bill, for 617 the reason alone which had been stated by the noble and learned Lord, he should have been disposed to vote against the second reading. There was certainly not time to go through the whole bill. He was perfectly aware of the misconstructions which might be put upon the conduct of public men, and the use which might be made of such misconstructions out of doors, but still he could not recommend their Lordships to reject the second reading of this bill on the 22nd of July. What he did recommend, was the considering of the measure in committee, and, if possible, the making it such a bill as ought to pass, and as might be calculated to attain the objects they had in view. But he must say, that many of the topics adverted to by the noble Earl who moved the second reading that day six months, had a very great effect on his mind, for he could not avoid looking around him, he could not avoid seeing what was passing at Birmingham, and what was passing in other corporations—he could not avoid adverting to these effects of what was called corporate reform in this country, and he could not but think, that these circumstances furnished stronger reasons than before existed for caution in effecting any change, and for taking care, that the corporations of Ireland should not be invested with the power for mischief which they would have under this bill. If it were not to come out of the committee much amended, and if it were not to come out such that he could vote for it, consistently with his ideas of what was a security for good government in Ireland, and for the contentment of the people in general, then he must vote against it in all its future stages. With respect to the speech of the noble Lord who had last addressed the House, it was obvious, that the noble Lord, and he spoke of the noble Lord with the respect which was due to his character, and to the abilities which he had shown that night, did not know much of the history of this measure, or he would not have talked about giving powers with respect to harbours, and watching and lighting, and so on. These were not the things intended, but what was to be the result of the measure as originally framed, was to establish certain Roman Catholic corporations for what is called the municipal government of those towns to which the bill applied, and to these corporations he believed it 618 was intended by this bill to give as little to do as possible. If the bill did not come out of the committee very materially altered, he should most undoubtedly advise their Lordships to reject it, for the circumstances of the moment were not propitious for entering into a discussion by conference with the House of Commons upon a bill of this description. It seemed at present likely, that Parliament would not sit for more than a fortnight longer, and he was sure that a fortnight was not sufficient to amend this bill in such a manner as was necessary. Under these circumstances he should recommend their Lordships to vote for the second reading of this bill, passing by for the present the amendment of his noble Friend, to go into committee upon the measure, to consider its provisions well, and to introduce such amendments as would render it fit for the government of the corporations of Ireland, and produce contentment in the country. If it should not come out of the committee in such a shape as that good might be expected from its passing, then he would recommend their Lordships to adopt a motion similar to that made by his noble Friend.
The Earl of Wicklow
had not been induced to come to the determination to vote for the second reading of this bill by the arguments of the noble Baron who had addressed their Lordships to-night for the first time (Lord Stuart de Decies). As to the cry of repeal, which the noble Baron had said would be raised if the bill were rejected, he entertained for that cry and its supporters the most sovereign contempt. He was satisfied, that it never would assume a dangerous shape from the efforts of faction in Ireland, if those efforts were not prompted and encouraged by the madness of the people of England. Nor did he anticipate that danger which his noble Friend (the Earl of Roden) dreaded from the establishment of institutions which his noble Friend expected would prove to be normal schools of agitation. He thought, that the best means of checking agitation, and diverting the minds of the people of Ireland from mischievous pursuits, would be to supply them with proper occupation in the interesting subjects of municipal regulation. He did not support this measure on the ground that it was demanded by the people. He cared not in the least whether the people of Ireland desired the measure or not, he 619 should think the worse of them if they did not, for he could not believe, that any people would be so indifferent about those institutions, which were the proofs of liberty, but he never would consent, that any measure which it was thought necessary to adopt for the promotion of public liberty in this country, and the improvement of its institutions, should be refused to the people of Ireland. It had always been his desire, that beneficial measures, more especially those which would extend popular liberty, should not be confined to England. Besides, he considered this bill as a corollary from the Act of Emancipation, and he could not imagine how those who had supported that measure could deny their assent to one which might be regarded as a direct consequence of it. Having determined to concede to the people of Ireland the benefit of free municipal institutions, he should not be induced in committee to make any alterations which, while in semblance bestowing those institutions, would, in fact, take them away. It had been said, that this measure was designed to transfer political power from the hands of the Protestants into those of the Catholics, but he saw nothing in it to warrant that inference. Considerations of party ought not to sway them in attempting to remodel those institutions. There were no provisions in this bill which would take away the power from any individuals on account of their principles. If the bill should have such an effect in any case, power would be obtained in proportion to the influence of the candidates. If the greater share of power should be found to rest in the hands of the Roman Catholics, it would be because they were the most numerous. Some noble Lords appeared to be hostile to this bill, because it had not come up to them at a proper time. That might be a good argument in the case of a bill which could have originated with their Lordships, but the present bill was one that came peculiarly within the province of the other House, and of which the representatives of the people were the most fitting judges. He saw that this bill contained many improvements on that of last Session, and it appeared from what the noble Viscount opposite had said, that it had been the object of the framers to meet the wishes of their Lordships. If the insertion of the new clauses, which so much swelled the bulk of the bill, arose from the opin- 620 ions expressed by their Lordships last year, certainly that ought to have great effect in inducing them to adopt it. The noble Duke below had said, that the total abolition of the Irish corporations would be a great improvement. He (the Earl of Wicklow) was not disposed to deny this, believing, that in the present state of society these institutions were by no means so necessary as they had been, but he never would be a party to enforcing this principle in Ireland when it had not been introduced into England.
§ Their Lordships divided on the original motion:—Contents 59; Not-Contents 8: Majority 51.
|List of the NOT-CONTENTS.
§ Bill read a second time.