The Marquess of Westmeath
then rose to move, pursuant to his notice, for a Select Committee to inquire into certain elections of poor-law guardians in Ireland. He had felt himself impelled by a sense of duty to bring this subject under the notice of their Lordships, though he would readily admit 1005 it was a very dry one. Their Lordships would recollect that in the session before the last a hill passed through Parliament for the relief of the poor in Ireland. The language in this House on that occasion was that of congratulation on all sides, because it was said, that party views and feelings could not be allowed to enter into the question, and that the only consideration was the benefit of the poor. The Act in the outset provided a certain constituency for the election of Poor-law guardians in Ireland, and in another part directed all persons who were liable to the county cess should vote in the first instance of such an election. It appeared, however, that Parliament, relying, as he supposed, on the commissioners to be appointed for the purposes of the act, did not direct any scrutiny into the manner in which those votes were tendered. But their Lordships would be surprised to find that those commissioners had not prescribed any rules on the subject. A bill was introduced in the last session by a Member of her Majesty's Government, the effect of which, according to his reading, was to do away with all the stringent provisions which Parliament had intended in the Poor-law Bill to apply to that part of the subject, and to insure that all elections should take place under the influence of these boards, though it was described merely as a bill to rectify former errors, and regulate certain matters relating to the quarter sessions. Into that bill, as had been only lately discovered, a clause was introduced on the third reading, without any of her Majesty's Ministers having alluded to it, which provided that all persons who were liable to pay the poor-rates should be entitled to vote for the Poor-law guardians. Now, their Lordships would have to infer from his statement, that the conduct of the Government as to the patronage given to them by this act, was not only unjustifiable, but that positively a high crime attached to them in that respect. Now, the Poor-law commissioner for his part of the country, a Dr. Phelan, who, as he was informed, had been an apothecary first in Dundalk, and subsequently in Clonmel, had, it appeared, after he had been appointed to his responsible situation by the Government, attended a meeting which was exclusively composed of Roman Catholic priests. That was the qualification he had shown for the confidence which the Government had reposed in him. In the county of Westmeath, a few months after 1006 the different electoral divisions of the county had been made, in July, 1838, that same Gentleman had, on his own authority, at the instigation, no doubt, of the Roman Catholic archbishop and his clergy, undertaken totally to change that arrangement, and thereby after the effect of the rating. He spoke of that arbitrary act to show the manner in which that Gentleman had acquitted himself. He also understood that in the county of Louth Dr. Phelan had proceeded to divide all the large properties, so as to assist the Roman Catholics by dividing those properties into fractions, and thereby reducing their influence. Having alluded to the part the Roman Catholic clergy had taken in these matters, he might say that their whole conduct was marked by a reckless indifference to the peace of the country and the expense of having contested elections. In fact, three-fourths of these elections had been made objects of contest through the influence of the priests against the wishes of the landed proprietors. The next subject he would call their Lordships' attention to was the appointment of returning officers. He thought he was correct in stating that the noble Lord the present Secretary for Ireland had urged the necessity of making those appointments as much as possible from among high constables. Now, in the county of Clare a gentleman named O'Connell was made returning officer, and the following account, with which he had been furnished, would show the partial manner in which that gentleman had acted:—At the Poor-law meeting held in Ennistimon, in the county of Clare, on the 4th of September, 1839, Mr. Charles O'Connell, being returning officer, was charged by Mr. George Macnamara with partial conduct, when Mr. O'Connell said, 'I will now tell you what I did. In the first instance I gave notice by printed bills, that as there were a good many persons paying cess whose names did not appear on the constables' books, and who were entitled to vote, if they came to me with a certificate, signed by their landlord, or a certificate from a Roman Catholic clergyman, stating his own knowledge of it, I would give them voting papers. He also caused this to be proclaimed by the public bellman during the fair-day of Ennistimon—a day which was of course a public one, and on which it was to be supposed both landlord and tenant would be present. He did not think that by any possibility he could more effectually ascertain the right to the franchise. When he was first appointed he went to Kilrush and explained to Mr. M'Donnell, the returning officer there, 1007 the nature of his plan, and he had the gratification to say he had pleased Mr. Hawley, one of the assistant ccommissioners,It further appeared in evidence, at an inquiry held by the Poor-law Commissioners, that the priest of the parish recommended from the altar the names of the persons who ought to be elected as Poor-law Guardians; and still further, it appeared that Mr. C. O'Connell, he being the returning officer, harangued the people after mass, and said,As returning officer, I am precluded from interfering with the election of Poor-law Guardians, but vote for the men that the priest desired you.Now, the instructions of the Commissioners to the Poor-law returning officers concluded thus:—In conclusion, the commissioners desire to remind you of the responsibility you incur by the acceptance of this office; your duty is easily performed, if you only bring honesty of purpose, impartiality, and reasonable activity to the task. On the other hand, if you should be guilty of wilful carelessness or disobedience of the commissioners' orders, or if you should manifest any disposition to use your office and the means it gives you to influence improperly the return of any candidate, you will forfeit your title to any remuneration and expose yourself to the penalties prescribed by the 102d section of the act. These penalties may be enforced by any one; and it would be the imperative duty of the commissioners to take proceedings against you if complaint of wilful misconduct should be substantiated. All persons employed by you are equally bound to observe strict impartiality and a conscientious obedience to the directions they receive, and it will therefore be incumbent on you to warn them of the penalties they will incur by an opposite course.The Poor-law Commissioners having taken up the subject had then given the following opinion as to the wilful misconduct of Mr. O'Connell:—Poor-law Commission-office, Dublin,October 16,1839.Sir,—The Poor-law Commissioners desire to inform you that the Assistant-Commissioner in charge of the district comprising the Ennistimon Union, having inquired into the charges made by you against the returning officer, Mr. Charles O'Connell, except those in your letters of the 22d of August and the 5th ult, which, it appears, you did not press, they have received a report thereon, together with the evidence which was taken on that occasion, and they are of opinion that the charge of having addressed a meeting of the cess-payers at the 1008 chapel of Chanay on the 18th of August last, as asserted by you, has been proved against him, and the Commissioners have therefore written to him, expressing their strong disapprobation of such an interference on his part, and their reprehension of the observations which he then made, and he has been informed that a repetition of such conduct would be held to disqualify him from filling the office of returning officer in future. By order of the board, W. Stanley, Assistant Secretary.J. Macnamara, Esq.The following further quotation from the instructions of the Poor-law Commissioners to the Assistant-commissioners would put their conduct in its true light:—The board feels it to be its duty, under the heavy responsibility devolved upon it, to point out to the Assistant Commissioners the vital importance of their avoiding even the semblance of party bias, either in politics or religion, which are unhappily the two great points of disseverance and contention in this country. The commission has been constituted for the benefit of the whole community, not of a part or party, and it cannot be too constantly borne in mind that it is only by acting up to this principle in appearance as well as reality that public confidence can be secured, and the great object of the Commissioners be realized.After laying down these creditable rules, what would the Commissioners say for not dismissing Mr. C. O'Connell? Who could appeal to such a body in expectation of justice? And yet, notwithstanding the proof of partial conduct which had been given, Mr. C. O'Counell still filled the same situation. The next flagrant case to which he would allude, was slated in papers which were now lying on their Lordships' table. It was the proceeding at the election of guardians in the Clonmel and Clare divisions. Mr. Butler had been appointed returning officer for the Clonmel division, and the liberal clerk of that district had circulated vast numbers of names, signed, he believed, by a Mr. Ronan, who recommended that out of that list, the poor law guardians should be put in nomination. It appeared however, that at the meeting a person named Lawrence Davis, who was qualified to do so, had put in nomination two persons; but during the election, the name of Davis was withdrawn by somebody or other, as recommending those guardians, it being supposed that it was done because they were objectionable to the liberal party. The appointment of Mr. Butler, he must add, had taken place at the instance of Dr. Phelan, to whose character 1009 and conduct he had previously called their Lordships' attention. As to the election of poor law guardians in Dublin, nothing could exceed the violence which had been practised upon that occasion, and there existed the strongest reason to believe, that upwards of fifty of the voting papers had been forged. He should only trouble their Lordships with referring to one specimen of the spirit in which these elections were carried on. A Mr. Campbell, a gentleman of high respectability, was put in nomination. Opposed to him was a candidate of the name of M'Kenna. Pending the election a placard was issued in which this question was put to the electors: "Where was Campbell when the repeal of the Union was agitated? Was not M'Kenna at his post?" Hence it was evident that the character most in demand for a poor law guardian was that of a political agitator. In one of the unions of the county of Limerick, two individuals, one named Gaffney, the other Gubbins, were rival candidates. The election of the Protestant candidate was opposed with every species of violence and threat. The Roman Catholic electors were told that all Protestants were children of hell, and descended from Henry the 8th. In Youghal, five guardians were elected, all of whom had previously been nominated from the altar. In the county of Leitrim a case had attracted his particular attention, from having occurred in a parish near Carrick-on-Shannon, where he possessed some property. On the occasion of the election he called his tenants together, and advised them to elect such guardians as were solvent men, for if the guardians became defaulters, the inhabitants would be liable to pay the rate over again. He thought that one Roman Catholic ought to be elected; and he stated to his tenants, that he should not oppose the election of any respectable Roman Catholic whom they might wish to choose; but as he had so much property in the parish, he thought that his recommendation of another guardian ought to be accepted. The inhabitants of the parish all quitted him with the most perfect willingness to be guided by his advice, for they saw that it was just and rational, and he felt persuaded, that they would not have disregarded his suggestions, had they not been assailed by that sinister influence so prevalent in Ireland. The person whom he had proposed, on the next occasion of his meeting the priest of that parish, was accosted by him in these terms, "How 1010 dare you presume to let yourself be put in nomination without my consent?" This was followed by the most violent language. When the man went home, he found that his father's displeasure had been raised against him by the representations of the agitating party, and his father refused to let him enter his dwelling, till he gave a distinct and positive assurance that he would not allow himself to be put in nomination. He could mention twenty cases in the same county where the conduct of the priests at those occasions, had been the most outrageous that language could describe. There was one instance, however, in which their influence was equally indubitable, though their violence was not quite so conspicuous. A man had been put in nomination, against whom no objection was felt by either party, but he was not elected, the priest accounting for his rejection by saying to him, "Why did you not apply to me, and you should have been elected without difficulty?'' Before he sat down he wished to call attention to the proximity of the poor-houses in some places. At French Park, in the county of Roscommon, or rather in its vicinity, there were three poor-houses within nine miles. It would be for the noble Marquess (Normanby) to make out the best case he could, but he professed himself much at a loss to imagine what that case could be. He moved, that a select Committee be appointed to inquire into the election of certain poor law guardians in Ireland.
The Marquess of Normanby
had given notice, that whenever this motion came before their Lordships he should oppose it, still he hardly expected that the noble Marquess would have thought of coming forward with a case so weak and frivolous as that which the House had just heard. He was sure the House would pause before they agreed to such a proposition, upon statements so vague, and in all respects so unsatisfactory. He hoped that noble Lords would recollect, that a distinction ought to be drawn between decisions of the Poor-law Commissioners in England and the cases in Ireland, in which there had been no representations or remonstrances offered. He also hoped, that they would not forget the imputations thrown out, that a clause had been smuggled into the present bill, allowing persons belonging to different electoral divisions, to vote according to the scale on which their property had been rated in each. Now the clause in question, had been copied from the 81st 1011 clause of the original bill. The noble Marquess had said, that the Government had made certain appointments in compliance with a, pressure from without, and a sort of undue influence which they dared not resist. That he begged to deny. With regard to Mr. Phelan, for instance, whom he believed to be a most respectable man, and by his qualifications and talents peculiarly fitted for his office, he was not appointed by the Government, nor in consequence of any force applied to the Government in any way; but the commissioners of their own free will, upon a due estimation of his abilities, appointed him. In fact, he could state, that the Government had refrained from even giving any recommendation of any person to any one of these appointments. Therefore, if the noble Marquess should succeed in carrying his motion, it would not be because it was necessary or desirable, but because it would take the form of a party motion. He believed, that there never was perhaps a more difficult and delicate task undertaken by any body of men, than that which had been performed by the Poor-law Commissioners for Ireland; nor could it have been executed with more zeal, ability, and, as far as the experiment had yet proceeded, with more success. He feared, that the noble Marquess hardly took sufficient pains to inform himself upon the matters which he ventured to bring under the notice of their Lordships, for he should be able to show presently, that the noble Marquess had omitted a most important fact, either from ignorance or from some other cause. The first complaint showed, that after all there was but little advanced to induce their Lordships to agree to this motion. The noble Marquess had brought forward that motion upon public grounds, and perhaps was not aware, that it was rather extraordinary, that the first complaint was against a gentleman who was employed in his own neighbourhood; and the case which the noble Marquess had made out with respect to that gentleman was, that he had made some unpleasing division of the property of the noble Marquess, though, as he (the Marquess of Normanby) had been informed, the property in the district could not otherwise be divided. [The Marquess of Westmeath: I did not say a single word with respect to my own property.] He had understood the noble Marquess to refer to Mullingar. He certainly did not specifically mention it, but it was involved in the inquiry which was made, He be- 1012 lieved that the noble Marquess had shown no want of courtesy to the gentleman, or that there was any ground of complaint on the other side. But the property of the noble Marquess was not sufficient in itself in that district to make a division of itself, and it was there placed with that of some other gentlemen. If the noble Marquess was dissatisfied with that arrangement, he ought to have referred the case to the commissioners, rather than to have brought it in this shape under the notice of their Lordships. With regard to the remarks of the noble Marquess upon the interference of the Roman Catholic priests, it should be remembered, that for many years the priests had been the channels for the administration of the spontaneous charity of the benevolent; to them also the poor of that persuasion had been in the habit of going as their last resort. Therefore, it was not unnatural, that both the yeomanry and the peasantry, upon the introduction of a measure so entirely new to them, should appeal to the priests for information and advice; and he would tell the noble Marquess, that a more rigorous hand than his, would be required to wrench the people from the influence of the priests; and one reason why he was most anxious to press upon their Lordships the impolicy of agreeing to this motion was, that the effect of it would be to drive the priests to further interference. If there was any doubt upon their minds—if they were at all wavering as to what course they should pursue—he repeated, that the effect of agreeing to the motion of the noble Marquess, would be to induce the priests in their present position to resort to further interference. The office of guardian of the poor was not a desirable office; neither power nor popularity was attached to it; and if it had already been found difficult to get persons of that class which the noble Marquess would prefer to act as guardians, he felt assured, that it would be much more difficult to get such persons to become guardians hereafter. The case of Mr. Charles O'Connell had been much dwelt upon by the noble Marquess, and it was one about which he (the Marquess of Normanby) had written to Ireland, and he was therefore enabled to declare, that the noble Marquess had committed several mistakes in his relation of the facts. It was true that Mr. Macnamara had made some complaints against Mr. C. O'Connell, and as those complaints were written complaints, he thought their Lordships ought to have the papers before 1013 them before they granted a committee to inquire into the case. Mr. Macnamara was a respectable gentleman and brother of Mr. Macnamara, M. P. for the county of Clare, and the principal persons engaged in the transaction out of which the complaint had arisen, were persons of the same political party, being the two Members for the county of Clare, and he trusted very good friends. The origin of the affair was this:—Mr. Cornelius O'Brien, the other M. P. for Clare, had been rejected as an ex officio guardian by a partisan of Mr. Macnamara; and of the three accusations which were brought against Mr. C. O'Connell for his interference on that occasion, two were withdrawn; and, therefore, the noble Marquess had stated that which had never been brought under the notice of the commissioners.
The Marquess of Westmeath
The Poor-law Commissioners expressly stated in their letter, that they had found him guilty.
The Marquess of Normanby
was coining to the second charge. The Poor-law Commissioners did censure Mr. C. O'Connell, and most properly, for having addressed the voters at the election of guardians. But it appeared, that though it was quite true he had addressed them in the chapel in which they were assembled, he did not do so in his capacity of returning-officer, as it was stated he had acted; the duties of his office having ceased, he ought to be considered as acting in his private capacity. The case of Mr. Falconer was one in which much indiscretion was manifested; but he was nevertheless a very respectable man. But, however respectable either he or Mr. C. O'Connell might be, he thought it was Clear that there was no indisposition on the part of the commissioners to correct them when wrong. Indeed, the only cases which the noble Lord had made out with any degree of success, were those which had been properly taken up and censured by the commissioners. With reference to the Clonmel case, he must say that the noble Marquess had shown, either unpardonable negligence in collecting information, or most lamentable ignorance of the subject. He doubted not that the noble Marquess believed all he had stated, for he had exclaimed, "What possible course could these persons take except that of bringing their case before Parliament?" But would the noble Marquess have said that, if he had known that the very case of the election of guardians for Clonmel, was at that moment before the Court of Queen's Bench in Ireland, 1014 having been brought thither by a criminal information? The question was, whether Mr. Lawrence Davis had or had not signed a certain paper, and he there made an affidavit that he did not sign it; and if the question was not so far set at liberty for their Lordships to judge of it, that was because the prosecutor had required the case to be postponed until next term, which term was not yet arrived. But the noble Marquess desired that their Lordships should take this case and others out of the law courts, and decide upon it by a select committee. He could hardly think they would agree to any such proposition. With regard to the case of Air. Butler, which was under the consideration of a court of law, if he had neglected his duty, if he had violated his instructions, he hoped he would be punished. But he trusted that their Lordships would not be induced by the noble Marquess to interpose their authority, and interfere with the courts of law. He doubted not that whatever committee might be appointed by their Lordships at any time, that committee would do its duty faithfully and fairly; but in the present state of the Poor-law in Ireland, much of its salutary operation and ultimate success would depend upon the authority and weight of the commissioners. It was the duty of their Lordships to pause before they consented to a motion for a select committee, to inquire into cases which had been dealt with by the Poor-law Commissioners, or which were under litigation, and, therefore, brought forward in that House before the proper time, besides others which it would appear were without foundation. Their Lordships, he trusted, would well consider the fearful evils which would result to that important measure, the Irish Poor-law, if they were to take the course proposed by the noble Marquess. It could not be denied that there were some incidents which were to be regretted. It was to be regretted, for instance, that a noble Lord opposite, feeling disposed to become a guardian of the poor, could not be elected, though in the midst of his own tenantry: but then he could not see how by any motion or proceeding of that House, the election of a noble Lord could be compelled. Upon all these grounds, he could not but earnestly implore their Lordships to give this motion a direct negative.
§ The Duke of Wellington
said, the first part of the subject which had made an impression on his mind was the alteration made in the Act of Parliament. When that 1015 Act was before their Lordships in the shape of a bill, and read a second time upon the motion of the noble Viscount opposite, he (the Duke of Wellington) stated that he for one had no objection to the amendments of the Irish Poor-law Bill, as stated by the noble Lord opposite, as he considered, from his statement of them, that all the amendments proposed were consistent with the enactments of the original Act of Parliament. That was stated on the 25th of February, upon the second reading of the bill; on the 26th the bill was considered in committee, and no amendments were made when it was committed; the report was made on the following day, the 27th; and the bill was read a third time on the 28th, on which day the amendments were introduced of which the noble Marquess had complained. Now, the noble Marquess had complained that that amendment was inconsistent with the original Act of Parliament. It certainly did appear on reading the clause that persons should not have the power of voting for Poor-law guardians with-out having paid the rates, which the original Act of Parliament required they should pay previous to their voting for the election to this office of guardian. He was aware that there was a doubt whether the 85th clause of the original Act did not govern the new clause introduced into the Amendment Act. He understood that there existed a great difference of opinion on that subject. He was sure that he heard a similar question argued in that House between his noble and learned Friend who sat behind him and the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, when the London and Westminster Metropolitan Police Bill was before the House, and it appeared at least doubtful whether or not a proviso in a former Act of Parliament governed the enacting clause in a subsequent Act of Parliament. The noble Marquess, however, who had just addressed their Lordships, admitted that there was a doubt on the question, and that doubt ought to be cleared up. All that he could say was, that he must beg leave to call to the recollection of their Lordships the part which he had taken when the Irish Poor-law Bill was brought into Parliament. He had certainly supported that measure, and had proposed many amendments in it, and he believed that the amendments which he had proposed, and had persuaded their Lordships to adopt, were the means of getting the measure through that House, and of obtaining for it the sanction of the other House of Parlia- 1016 ment. He must say, therefore, that when he first heard of this amendment he did not consider himself very well used, because he had consented to a bill to amend the former act solely on the ground that no amendment was to be introduced inconsistent with the enactments of the former bill; and it certainly did happen that he was out of town, on his public duty, in another part of the country, in Hants, where he was her Majesty's lieutenant, for three days, on the 26th, 27th, and 28th of February, on which days this bill went into committee, was reported and read a third time, the amendment being made neither in the Committee nor on the report, but upon the third reading. He certainly must say this, that he was thoroughly convinced that the noble Lord ought not to have carried an amendment of this description, more particularly in his (the Duke of Wellington's) absence, if there was any doubt on the subject. He confessed that he had looked at this amendment with a good deal of suspicion. He had every reason to believe, when the Poor-law Bill was passed in 1838, that it would have been fairly carried into execution by the Poor-law commissioners, and that the plan pursued in this country would have been followed in Ireland; and further that when such sacrifices were made on the part of the proprietors of Ireland which they had manifested the intention to make, political partisanship would be kept out of the affair altogether, and that the law would be really administered for the benefit of the poor, and to promote the objects which Parliament had in view in adopting the measure. Now, he could not say that he was satisfied that that had been the case, and he confessed that he had looked at this particular measure with suspicion, because there was no doubt whatever that it did alter the complexion of the original measure; for the 85th clause of the act did not govern the new clause introduced into the Amendment Act. That, then, was one ground on which he should certainly be disposed to vote for the Committee proposed by the noble Marquess. With respect to another ground stated by the noble Marquess, he was perfectly aware that those Acts of Parliament—namely, the Poor-law Act in England, and the Poor-law Act in Ireland—afforded great facilities for ascertaining all that passed in respect to the execution of the act between the commissioners and those who were employed under them in carrying the act into execution, The whole business was 1017 carried on in writing, and nothing could be so easy—as copies were required to be kept—as to procure copies of the correspondence which had taken place. Under these circumstances he must say, that whenever a case had to be inquired into, in which the conduct of the commissioners was involved, it was expedient that the House should, in the first instance, have before it the correspondence between the commissioners and the persons whose conduct was complained of, in order that the House might see exactly where the mischief lay. The circumstance, however, of a noble Lord, a Member of that House, not having been elected a guardian, was certainly not a matter for inquiry before a Committee of that House, unless some charge was meant to be brought against the commissioners for their conduct on that particular occasion, and he did not understand any such charge to have been made. He certainly thought it desirable that the inquiry should be limited to those papers before the House, on which the House could form its judgment with respect to that particular act of Parliament. He should think that it was so obvious that the clause in the Amendment Act did make a material alteration in the meaning of the original bill, that he should suggest to the noble Marquess the Secretary of State the propriety of introducing a bill to declare what the meaning of the act was and that it was not intended to after the meaning of the original Act of Parliament. He should, therefore, suggest the convenience of postponing the debate for a certain time, in order that time might be given to inquire if there were any papers which might be produced, and also to give the noble Lord an opportunity of bringing in a declaratory bill.
§ Viscount Duncannon
said, that as far as he recollected, it was stated to him that there were some reasons why the amendment Bill should pass before a certain time. He recollected perfectly well that he objected at the time when the bill was introduced to move any amendment which would make an alteration in the original bill. The Gentleman who drew the bill stated to him that the amendment which he then proposed was absolutely necessary to carry the objects of the bill into effect; but he had assured him that it would make no alteration whatever with respect to the governing clause in the other bill. He could assure the noble Duke that it was only upon that ground that he had introduced the bill.
§ The Lord Chancellor
remarked, that by the 81st clause in the original act the number of votes was made to depend on the quantity of property which a person bad in an union. A difficulty was occasioned by these words, as it did not explain what number of votes he would have in each electoral division. The amendment subsequently made was to remove that difficulty. That was the whole object of the clause, and he had no doubt that was the whole effect of it. The clause spoke of the election as to take place under the provisions of the former act, and the 85th clause of that act provided that no person should vote unless he had paid rates for six months.
The Earl of Wicklow
thought there could be no doubt that the two clauses, the 81st of the original bill and the clause which had been alluded to of the bill of last Session, were precisely the same. But with regard to the 85th, which was the protective clause of the original bill, he feared that the interpretation that would be put on the clause of the bill of last Session would be, that it went to repeal the 85th clause of the original Act. He agreed with the noble Duke (Wellington), that if there were not some satisfactory statement made by the Government, it might be necessary to go into committee, in order to ascertain the meaning of the clauses; but he hoped that would be avoided, and, if they could obtain such a statement, he trusted that his noble Friend (the Marquess of Westmeath) would not press his motion to a division. He knew nothing that was likely to be more prejudicial to the well working of the Poor-law Act in Ireland, than the appointment of a committee such as that proposed. If such an inquiry were entered into now, before the measure was in full operation, it would lead the people of Ireland to suppose that it was intended by their Lordships to make some radical change in the measure itself. He, for one, should deeply regret that such an impression should go forth, and, therefore, without very strong grounds being shown, he could not agree to the appointment of a committee. He hoped the Government would make an inquiry upon the subject, as to the effect of the clause of the bill of last year, and, if they found that there was not sufficient protection, that they would bring in a declaratory act. He thought, also, if such an act should be found ne- 1019 cessary, there were other alterations which might be effected at the same time. At present, it was not imposed upon the returning officer to allow a scrutiny in the case of a disputed election. He knew a case in which a scrutiny had been demanded, and was refused by the returning officer. The party then appealed to the commissioners at Dublin, and their answer was, that the officer had acted perfectly right, and that the Act of Parliament did not require that he should give any satisfaction to the party complaining. If they were to have the principle of popular election, it ought not to be left to the returning officer to declare who was elected, without giving the unsuccessful party the right of scrutinizing the votes. He was aware that it was true, as his noble Friend had stated, that improper persons had, in some cases, been appointed as returning officers. He did not mean this as a charge against the commissioners; but he thought they ought to guard against the impression going abroad, that the election depended upon the will of the returning officer. Another matter that required amendment was this:—In the bill it was provided that a certain number of magistrates should act as ex officio guardians. Now there were instances of ex officio guardians being also elected by the rate-payers as guardians. The consequence of this was, that that balance of power which was intended by the Legislature to be given when they provided for the election of ex officio guardians was to a certain extent lost. No doubt some strong facts had been brought forward by his noble Friend (the Marquess of Westmeath) in moving for this committee; but he thought those facts would scarcely justify the inquiry proposed. There was no occasion for a committee to ascertain that the priests in Ireland exercised a most undue influence in the election for guardians. But the same complaint of improper influence on the part of the priests existed with regard to the election for Members of Parliament. That was an evil, he might almost say, inherent in the state of society in Ireland, and which time alone could cure. The people would, he trusted, ere long, rely on their own judgment; but he was quite confident the appointment of the committee his noble Friend proposed would not have the effect of establishing any plan that would be successful in removing the evil. He had had some experience in the 1020 conduct of the commissioners, and so far as that experience went, he was bound to bear his testimony to the highly satisfactory manner in which, as far as they were concerned, the bill had been carried out. He had seen the instruction that had been given by them to their sub-commissioners, and in which they were directed to pay especial attention to the wishes of the landlords and the proprietors of the soil. He hoped his noble Friend would not persevere in his motion; if he did, he could not support him.
The Marquess of Normanby
had not the least objection to state that, if there were any doubt as to the construction of the clause of the act of the last Session that had been alluded to, he should be willing to bring in a declaratory bill to set that doubt at rest.
The Earl of Glengall
remarked that, if the facts of the case had been accurately stated, and he had no doubt they had, by his noble Friend, he saw no reason why their Lordships should not enter upon the investigation proposed. No one could deny that many irregularities had taken place in the election of guardians under the Irish Poor-law Bill. He thought that the Clonmel case, which had been brought forward by his noble Friend who originated the motion, was of itself a sufficient reason for appointing the committee. But there was much more in this matter of the election of guardians than at first met the eye. The valuator was chosen by the guardians, who might be improperly returned; and in the hands of the valuator rested, in a great measure, the Parliamentary franchise, as he had the valuing of the property out of which that franchise arose. The primâ facie case was such as made out clearly the necessity for an inquiry into it by their Lordships. Mr. Butler, it appeared, had elected the Poor-law guardians, and to return the favour the Poor-law guardians elected Mr. Butler, their nominator, as the valuator of the town. The Poor-law commissioners, however, defeated their object, and refused their acquiescence in this appointment. The Poor-law guardians, determined in one way or other to repay the compliment conferred, proceeded to another election; and who did their Lordships think they returned as valuator of the town? Why, Mr. Butler's own nephew! These were facts which he knew he could prove at the bar of the House; and he, therefore, 1021 thought a case for inquiry was fully made out.
The Marquess of Londonderry
thought that the contradictions which the noble Marquess opposite had given to the speeches of the noble Lords on his side of the House, and the contradictions which they had in turn given to the speech of the noble Marquess, were sufficient causes for an inquiry into this subject by a committee. In the north of Ireland, and especially in that part of it with which he was most particularly connected, Mr. Gunstone, a gentleman of the most exemplary character, had gained universal approbation by his conduct as Poor-law Commissioner. In the south of Ireland, however, the case, he understood, was very different. If one of the cases stated by his noble Friend near him (the Marquess of Westmeath) were correct, the necessity for inquiry was apparent. The noble Marquess on the opposite side had said, that the statement of his noble Friend who opened the debate was a very weak one. Now, he would tell the noble Marquess that his reply to it was still weaker. His speech was mere milk and water. It was perfectly insipid. He was not suprised that the noble Marquess was not fond of having committees appointed to examine into the state of affairs in Ireland. They had not been quite so satisfactory to the noble Marquess as they had been to the country at large. The country at large was convinced, that great good had been accomplished by the committees already appointed to inquire into the state of Ireland.
§ The Duke of Wellington
in explanation, said, there was only one case, that of Mr. Butler, of which the papers were now before the House. He knew nothing of the case of Charles O'Connell. He also begged leave to submit to their Lordships, that the case of Mr. Butler was at present under inquiry in the courts at Dublin. With respect to the propriety of altering the act as had been suggested, the noble Marquess had declared his readiness to inquire into that point, and to bring in a declaratory act, if the present act were ambiguous or insufficient for the objects for which it was intended. It might be necessary to have all these cases inquired into; but let us have all the papers first, and if we find that either the commissioners or any other parties are to blame, 1022 then, but not till then, it may be proper to institute further inquiries.
The Earl of Fingall
said, that no man could have acted more fairly and uprightly than Dr. Phelan. He had obtained his situation as assistant-commissioner, in consequence of a book which he had written on the medical charities of Ireland. He believed that no good, but that considerable harm, would arise from any inquiry at present into the operation of the Poor-laws in Ireland. The noble Marquess, who brought forward the motion, had spoken much of the exertions and of the influence of the Roman Catholic clergy in Ireland. It was impossible to deny the existence of such exertions and of such influence. But then such exertions and such influence were not confined to the Roman Catholic clergy exclusively. They were exercised without restriction on the other side also. The fact was, that in Ireland every man was a partisan, and that in that country a struggle was now going on, which, as long as it lasted, must produce such exertions and such influence. He was aware of one union, the Union of Kells, where all the ex-officio guardians appointed were Protestants. In thirteen districts included in that union, there had been no contest showing the good feeling which prevailed, and of thirty-two elected guardians, seventeen were Roman Catholics; not, he thought, an unfair proportion.
The Marquess of Headfort
defended the conduct of the Catholic priests. He held in his hand a paper relative to the union of Ballyborough, in the county of Cavan, from which it appeared that the electors, being Catholics, had elected Protestants as guardians. He was convinced that this motion, if granted, would produce great mischief in Ireland.
The Marquess of Westmeath
in consequence of the suggestion of the noble Duke, was not desirous to persist in his motion; on the contrary, he would postpone it till further information was laid on the table. He declared that he was not actuated by party motives in bringing this subject forward. If he did not receive a more satisfactory answer than he had done that evening, he would proceed with his motion after the Easter recess.
§ Motion withdrawn.