HL Deb 06 July 1840 vol 55 cc438-51

The Municipal Corporations (Ireland) Bill was recommitted.

On the proposition that schedule A be agreed to,

Lord Wynford

rose to move as an amendment that Dublin be struck out of schedule A, with the view of excepting that city altogether from the operation of the bill. If this schedule passed in its present state, that for which certain persons were so clamorous, viz., equal justice to Ireland, would not be done. Their Lordships, in passing the English Corporation Bill, had thought fit to exclude the city of London; and, upon the same principle, he would now call upon them to exclude Dublin from the operation of this bill. It was the opinion of many persons of authority that the corporation of Dublin ought to be left as it was; and the present hon. and learned Member for Dublin, when some years ago he was examined before a Committee of the other House, gave it as his opinion that no change was required. The corporation of Dublin was essentially different from other corporations with which this bill proposed to deal. Funds to a very large amount had passed from one generation of freemen to another for specific persons; that property was the private property of the corporation, and had been handed down to the present freemen by their predecessors for Protestant purposes, and for Protestant purposes only, and the parties by whom this property was left would rather have allowed it to go into the hands of any party than of that into whose hands it would probably fall by this bill. If the corporation of Dublin were not excluded, the bill would tend to shake the foundation of all property. He had presented to their Lordships a petition signed by no less than 7,000 persons, strongly protesting against the principle of this bill, as it affected Dublin. No charge of mismanagement could be brought against the corporation of Dublin. In one case, in which a large defalcation of the funds was charged against the corporation, the House of Lords, in opposition to the highest legal authority in Ireland, had, upon appeal, decided against them, and had pronounced that the funds in question were trust, and not private funds; and what was the consequence? The money, to the last farthing, was paid back. No charge had been made out against the corporation of improper conduct. Then, on what ground did the bill propose to deprive the freemen of Dublin of the rights they now enjoy? It was objected against this corporation that it was exclusive in its character. His answer was, that those corporations had been originally established for the purpose of giving support to the Protestant minority, who were in favour of the English connection, as against the Catholic majority, who were opposed to that connection, and who were anxious to do all they could to destroy it. It was known to their Lordships, that that majority was still anxious for Catholic ascendancy in Ireland; and their Lordships were aware also that the Roman Catholic priests of Ireland had been charged with the most scandalous conduct in their endeavours to influence elections in that country. There was now nothing like a fair and free election in Ireland; he alluded more especially to the elections for guardians under the Poor-law Act. It had been shown that in several instances the Roman Catholic priests had denounced from the altar those persons who wished to vote in favour of Protestant Gentlemen as Poor-law guardians—an office in no way connected with politics or religion, but altogether one of charity. The corporation of Dublin must be exclusively Protestant or exclusively Roman Catholic, and he was persuaded that it would become the latter in a very few years if this bill passed. The connection between the two countries could only be preserved by maintaining these corporations exclusively Protestant. Deprive those institutions, by this bill, of the advantages of Protestant ascendancy, and in a few years, the connection between Ireland and England would cease. They had tried the experiment in one town in Ireland (Tuam), and the effect had been that the corporation had become Roman Catholic. It showed them how a Catholic corporation would deal with the property that came into their hands. The present corporation of Tuam had diverted the funds of that corporation from Protestant to Roman Catholic purposes. It had let property of the value of 400l. a year to the Catholic archbishop, for an object exclusively Catholic, for 250l. a year. If the bill were suffered to pass without thus amending the clause, the effect, he was convinced, would be, that the corporation of Dublin, becoming, as it necessarily must become, a political body, with a strong desire to acquire power for that class of religious professors of which it would principally consist, would be enabled, by calling together delegates, to discuss and decide upon questions of great pith and moment of a legislative character, and assume the character of a separate legislature and a political convention. He would implore their Lordships to pay that attention to the subject which it demanded. It was a question whether they would establish and organize a powerful corporation, which must be principally composed of Catholics, in the capital of Ireland, which, by being so constituted, would be enabled, not only to call meetings on every public occasion, but also to carry whatever resolutions it pleased, whether in opposition to the Government, or in its support. Finally, they ought to reflect that by establishing a body so powerful in that country as that of the corporation of Dublin must be, there could be but little doubt that the designs of those disaffected to British connection would be promoted, and the political union of the two countries endangered. He should, therefore, move that the words "the corporation of Dublin be omitted from the schedule."

The Marquess of Normanby

This was the first time it had been proposed to omit Dublin from the operation of Corporation Reform. The noble and learned Lord had made a novel proposition, but had brought forward no new matter in support of it; for his speech was only a repetition of what they had so lately heard stated with so much ability at the bar of the House. One novelty, however, the noble and learned Lord had introduced. He had found out that this introduction of Dublin into the bill must be displeasing to Mr. O'Connell: and he (Lord Normanby) had never heard that Mr. O'Connell had moved the omission of Dublin from the schedule of this bill. The opinion of Mr. O'Connell, to which the noble and learned Lord alluded, had been delivered six years ago, and it was not unlikely that he had then anticipated that a reform of the corporation of Dublin would have preceded that of the other corporations of Ireland. The noble and learned Lord said, that justice would not be done to Ireland unless Dublin, like London, had a separate bill for itself; but London had already had a reform more like what this corporation reform would make Dublin, than Dublin was at present. In the speech which had recently been delivered at the bar of the House, it was said that all the witnesses examined before the corporation commissioners were notorious partisans, and that many of them were without character. But the majority of these witnesses were actually the officers of the corporations. Such a charge of falsification of evidence was therefore perfectly groundless. If they looked at the evidence of Alderman Montgomery, they would find that there was no foundation for the statements which the learned counsel had made at the bar. The noble and learned Lord had said that on a former occasion he (Lord Normanby) had pledged himself to prove the misconduct of the corporation of Dublin; but what he had said was, that he would endeavour to give the best reasons in his power against the motion which the noble and learned Lord had now submitted to their consideration. That, however, was a very narrow ground on which to defend this bill, and it was not on that account alone that this bill was brought forward. He thought the conduct of the corporation of Dublin in Tegard to the pipe water-rate was fraudulent, that was, malversation of public funds. But the noble and learned Lord, it would appear, had been instructed that this was not an agreeable part of the case of the corporation. The learned counsel at the bar had also said, that there had been no misconduct, but he had not said a word about the pipe water-rate. In regard to that rate the facts were these: in the reign of George 3d. an act was passed to enable the corporation to levy a rate for laying down pipes for supplying Dublin with water. Now, what had the corporation done? They had voted themselves 1,500l. a year under this act, because, as they said, they had advanced money at separate times to procure a supply of water for the town. Under the Metal Main Act the corporation was required to keep separate accounts, and to submit them at stated periods to the Lord-lieutenant, but no accounts had for eight years been rendered. They had, however, voted them- selves another 1,000l. a year, and, moreover, the Lord-mayor and treasurer had, allowed themselves a per centage. They had then, in place of that per centage, voted 1,000l. a year to the Lord Mayor, and 1,000l. a year to the treasurer. The fact of the corporation of Dublin being in debt to the amount, at the lowest calculation, of 200,000l. and, according to other calculations 300,000l., was pretty good proof that they had not managed their funds in the most judicious manner. But the point of the greatest importance was, that the corporation was exclusive. The sheriffs who were appointed by the corporation, were actually obliged, in order to show that they had not in the slightest degree abandoned those extreme principles, and those strong prejudices, upon the faith of which they were elected, to propose and drink a specific toast which was notoriously offensive to the Roman Catholic population of Ireland. Those prejudices, he regretted to say, operated throughout the whole system of the administration of justice, and even affected the appointment of grand juries when they happened to be connected with the corporation. The noble and learned Lord had alluded to the corporation of Tuam as an exclusive corporation, because the great majority of its members were Roman Catholics. Now, although it would be fair to apply such a test to the corporation of Dublin, in order to prove it was exclusive, it was not applicable to the case of Tuam, because there the population was entirely Roman Catholic. If their Lordships really wished to show favour to a body which was the most exclusive of all the corporations of Ireland, and which was also the most delinquent,—he did not mean as to personal dishonour, but as regarded the mismanagement of the corporate funds—if they wished to show favour to such a body as that, then would they agree to the motion of the noble and learned Lord. But if their Lordships did agree to that motion, they must not expect that the country for which they were legislating and the other House of Parliament with which they were legislating could consider their Lordships sincere in their endeavours to settle this question. He hoped, however, that their Lordships would show by a large majority, that they were sincerely desirous of settling a question of so much importance to the prosperity of the sister country.

The Earl of Carbery

said, that the valuation which had taken place in Dublin under the Poor-law Act had been set aside in the case of upwards of 300 houses, for the purpose of raising their valuation, and thereby conferring on the occupiers of those houses the Parliamentary franchise. And who was to be found at the head of those upon whose supervision and recommendation that change had been made? No less a person than Mr. Seaton, an electioneering agent of Mr. O'Connell's. With that simple fact before his eyes, he could arrive at no other conclusion respecting this bill than that it would have the effect of transferring the power at present possessed by the Protestants into the hands of the Roman Catholics, and of establishing Popish domination in Ireland.

The Earl of Wicklow

had listened with attention to the speeches of counsel at the bar, and to those which had been made that evening by noble Lords near him, and he confessed he could see in them no arguments in favour of the present motion, however there might have been in favour of the bill. If any motion of the kind ought to be made, it should in his mind be for the exclusion of all the other corporations excepting Dublin, which seemed all along to have been the principal corporation in view with the projectors of the bill. The bill was framed particularly for Dublin to which he thought it applicable, while he did not see any inapplicability in it to the other towns. He could not therefore support the proposition of his noble and learned Friend. It was said, that this bill transferred power from the hands of one sect to another, but in his opinion it transferred power from a section to the great body of the people. He did not consider that the power would be transferred so much to the Roman Catholic as to the Radical party, which greatly preponderated in Ireland. Protestants would be found in the corporation of Dublin and those of other great towns, though perhaps not in Tuam, which had for the most part a Roman Catholic population. He considered that any change which might take place would be less of a sectarian than of a political character. He admitted that the altered circumstances of the present time rendered corporations almost unnecessary; but at the same time, if they were retained in this country he was of opinion that a similar principle of legislation should be extended to Ireland. That country was now too strong to be governed in any other manner than by applying to it the principles of the British constitution, and he, for one, would never give his consent to any other course. The effect of the proposition made by his noble and learned Friend would be to throw out the bill altogether, for it would be a mere mockery to pass the bill with the exclusion of Dublin. He had been opposed to the exclusion of Galway; but if a motion were made to exclude from the operation of the bill any town in which the majority of the inhabitants were opposed to becoming burthened with the expense of municipal institutions, it should have his support.

The Marquess of Westmeath

supported the amendment. He considered that it was an act of great injustice to include Dublin in this bill, for there was nothing in the evidence collected by the corporation commissioners to bear out the charges which had been made against the corporation of that city. He had no objection to the introduction of a bill for the purpose of amending any defects which might be shown to exist in the corporation of Dublin, but, as he said before, none of the allegations of that sort had been made out in the reports, though the commissioners had not been most properly selected, as the names of Mr. Purin and Mr. Hudson, and the nature and bearing of the questions proposed to the witnesses would show. The charges against the corporation, he would again repeat, had not been made out, and there was not a single fact in either report which should induce their Lordships to hang a dog upon. With respect to the case of the sheriff, the noble Marquess (Normanby) had stated, that the conduct of the sheriff in the election of juries proved the exclusiveness of the corporation. He denied that the sheriff could misconduct himself with respect to the election of juries. The noble Earl (Wicklow) had stated, that the corporation would consist of the Radical party. Was it not fair for him to state that that party would be the poorest? He could prove that the houses inhabited by the Radical party were of the poorest description. He thought he had answered pretty nearly the noble Marquess's speech. He begged their Lordships to hear his warning voice—by passing this bill they would be jumping into an abyss which they were not prepared to sound. The noble Marquess might try to turn what he had said into mirth, but he could not answer it.

The Earl of Glengall

objected to the enormous amount of the corporation funds (150,000l.) being thrown into the hands of the Repealers and enemies of both Ireland and England; for if their Lordships thus transferred these enormous sums he was prepared to say, that the connexion between Ireland and England would very shortly be dissolved. It was the state of things in Ireland at this moment which made him hostile to this clause. The state of society in Ireland now was totally different from what it had been at any other period. They had the Repeal Society organized in full force, and also the Riband Society; and if the funds of these corporations were given to these men, he did not hesitate to say that it would not be long before Ireland ceased to form an integral part of the British empire. What had been the cause of all these societies failing in attaining their objects in former years. It was the want of funds. He contended that this kind of societies when before in existence in Ireland had invariably tended to produce insurrections. All these societies had formerly merged into the Society of United Irishmen—a society which had produced the most disastrous consequences in Ireland. He contended, that the Society of United Irishmen and the Society of Repealers were the same in their objects. There had of late appeared in Ireland a new power in a new class of priests. They were a totally different description of men from the ancient priesthood, who were generally a respectable class of men. The present order of priests were sprung from a lower class of society—from the sons of small farmers; and it was now known, that to become priests there was no surer road than the political violence of their parents. The young priests were the first at the polling booths at elections, they were the first at elections of Poor-law guardians, and they would be the first in the elections of town councillors. They would be the persons who would elect the town councillors and others of the city of Dublin. If these men gave as much time to circulating the truths of their religion, as they did to circulating seditious papers, he should not complain of them; but they ap- peared to have thrown away the Prayer-book for the Dublin Evening Post, and to have taken up the Pilot instead of the Douay Bible. There was not a man in Ireland who did not believe that the Corn Exchange agitators had all the power and the patronage of Ireland in their hands. It was a most unfortunate state of things when persons of indifferent repute were placed in situations of responsibility, and when agitators should have the power of distributing rewards and emoluments. He would wish to ask, was not the Vice President of the Board of Trade a Repealer? [Laughter.] He begged, that noble Lords would not laugh at, but answer him. He had himself heard that right hon. Gentleman declare that he was so in the court-house in Clonmel. Let there be a complete assimilation in the municipal laws of England and Ireland, and he would be perfectly satisfied, or let them give Ireland Lord Stanley's bill, and they might then have as many corporations as they liked, Dublin included.

The Duke of Wellington

would confine himself to simply stating the grounds on which he should give his vote on this question, which was merely that the word "Dublin" be omitted in the bill. The speech of his noble Friend, who had last addressed their Lordships was against the entire bill, and against the corporation system in Ireland, and certainly there was no man more firmly of opinion than he was that it would have been better at first that no corporations whatever should be created in Ireland. That was his opinion originally; but, however, in another place, another opinion prevailed so strongly, that he had yielded his own opinion, and it was now the duty of the noble Lords opposite to take care that the bad consequences which his noble Friend apprehended did not follow from this bill. That to which he would now address himself was the amendment which had been moved by his noble and learned Friend on his left. After their Lordships had had this subject before them during five years, the corporation of Dublin had thought proper this year to present a petition against this bill, and to employ counsel to plead their cause in support of that petition. He must say, that their cause was most ably pleaded, and he should certainly have expected that the noble Lord who moved to call counsel to the bar, or his noble and learned Friend, would have thought it proper to examine witnesses in support of what was stated by counsel, if either of them had intended to found on that statement such a motion as had been made by his noble and learned Friend. No such thing, however, was done, and it appeared by what fell from the noble Marquess, whose statement had not been contradicted, that the learned counsel was not supported by the fact in a great part of what he said. He confessed, he should be very desirous, if he could possibly find the means of preventing the great mischiefs which he apprehended might be occasioned by the establishment of a corporation in Dublin. He certainly should be very sorry to see a society such as existed in Dublin at the present day, and which he hoped would continue to exist there, placed under the government of such a corporation as might be elected if great care were not taken to prevent it. He entreated their Lordships to look closely into the powers given by the law, and particularly at the powers of taxation, and to take care that such great powers should not be lodged in hands which might abuse it. They must, however, consider the state in which the question stood, and considering that, they must, he thought, not vote for the amendment of his noble and learned Friend. Let the bill go through the Committee, and let amendments be introduced into such parts of the bill as would remedy and avert the inconveniencies which might result from lodging great power in the hands of those persons who, however they might be called responsible by the noble Lords on the other side of the House, were responsible to nothing but a wild democracy, which tyrannized over every rank in society. He should vote against the amendment proposed by his noble and learned Friend, and he should do so for the reasons which he had stated. He was prepared to go into every other part of the bill, and he should endeavour to send the bill down to the House of Commons as perfect as it could be made.

The Bishop of Exeter

rose to do an act of justice, if not to Ireland, at least to an Irishman. It was with very deep regret, that he had heard the noble Duke say, that in consequence of an allegation in a single part of the learned counsel's speech being contradicted by the noble Marquess, the whole of that speech must be laid aside. He must say, that this was not like the usual mode in which that just man, the noble Duke, dealt with questions that came before him. He did not believe, that Alderman Montgomery could have said, that he sat on the grand jury with three Catholics, but the short-hand writers of the corporation told the members of the corporation so, and also the learned counsel. With regard to the toast which the Sheriffs of Dublin gave, there was no greater reason for taking exception to it than to the church service which was performed on the 5th of November. He objected to this bill, because, as the noble Earl opposite had avowed, the power of the corporations would be transferred from Protestants to Roman Catholics. The noble Earl said, that the democratic principle of election was the essence of a reformed corporation. The noble Earl said, that he believed the corporations would not be exclusively Catholic; but exclusively radical. Now, as he believed, that a large portion of the great Conservative body opposite would vote against the amendment, he hoped it would not be upon the principle professed by the noble Earl. He meant cordially to support the motion of his noble and learned Friend.

The Earl of Wicklow

must protest against the misconstruction which had been put upon a passage in his speech by the right rev. Prelate. He had never asserted, that his reason for supporting the bill was that these corporations would be composed of "Radicals." He had admitted, that in all probability they would be found to be Radicals, in the first instance, and that the change to less violent principles would not be so immediate as the change which had taken place in the remodelled corporations of England.

The Marquess of Lansdowne

could state, with the most perfect confidence to their Lordships, that the learned counsel who had addressed them from their Bar on behalf of the corporation of Dublin, had been utterly mistaken as to every particle of that evidence upon which he was called on to comment. He made this statement deliberately, after having referred to the evidence in minute detail. The learned counsel had boldly stated, that no instance of malversation, nor the slightest ground of complaint, could be adduced against his clients. Now, to disprove this allegation, it was only necessary to refer to the testimony of Alder- man Beresford, that "the boundaries had been in many instances altered and diminished, that perpetuities had been lost through the negligence of the members of the corporations, that leases in perpetuity had been renewed at nominal rents, that renewals of leases had taken place for two houses where there was a conveyance made of 24 or 25 houses; that their estates, in short, had been mismanaged for a period of 50 years, that a prejudice had been created in the public mind, that leases would be given to none but corporators, and that, in point of fact, leases had very often been made to corporators." Alderman Smith came after this witness, and confirmed his testimony as to all these subjects. This was the virtuous corporation that sent counsel to their bar, to ask on what possible point they could be found fault with? Why, not less than 240 streets and 60,000 poor inhabitants had been robbed of their pipe-water by this immaculate corporation, as was recorded upon their Lordships' journals. They derived large funds from the "shippage and anchorage," and not one shilling of this money had been applied to the improvement of the navigation of the river. He appealed to the right rev. Prelate's sense of justice as to his opinion of the mode in which they had administered the most sacred and solemn of all their functions, that which had relation to the administration of justice. They had farmed out the court of conscience, and their sole solicitude had been for the enlargement of the fees. He had little fear of the working of this measure in Dublin more than in the other towns of Ireland, and he objected strongly to leaving out Dublin, because there was before their Lordships a quantity of evidence, with regard to the corporation of that city, to make out a case for a measure of reform for that body itself, independent of any other corporation. It was not, however, upon that ground he stood, but upon the broad principle of introducing and enforcing a principle of local government, founded not on self-election, but on the free election of persons, to remain responsible to the public for their conduct and for the management of the funds intrusted to their care. He must, therefore, vote against the amendment of the noble and learned Lord.

The Marquess of Londonderry

wished merely to defend the learned counsel who had recently been heard at their Lordships' Bar from the attacks which had been made upon him, and to state the reasons for the vote which he was about to give. That learned gentleman, as he had himself stated, was prepared to prove every statement which he had made; and he must say, therefore, that the remarks which had been made by noble Lords opposite were not justified. With regard to the question before the House, he was disposed to vote for the motion of the noble and learned Lord near him, because he had reason to believe that if Dublin were excluded from the operation of this measure, that person who was master of the Government would not allow the bill to pass.

Lord Wynford

said, in reply, that he thought the remarks which had been made by noble Lords opposite in regard to the learned gentleman who was heard at their Lordships' Bar were perfectly unjustified. That learned person held the highest character, and was prepared to prove the truth of every statement he had advanced, if their Lordships would afford him an opportunity of doing so. He should leave his motion in the hands of their Lordships.

The House divided:—Contents 35; Not-Contents 82:—Majority 47.

List of the CONTENTS.
Buckingham Bayning
Marlborough Bexley
Newcastle. Bolton
Cholmondeley Braybrooke
Londonderry Faversham
Westmeath. Grantley
EARLS. Kenyon
Bandon Rayleigh
Brownlow Wodehouse
Carbery Wynford.
Dartmouth BISHOPS.
Eldon Cork
Enniskillen Exeter
Falmouth Gloucester
Glengall Llandaff
Warwick. Lincoln
Gort. Oxford.
List of the NOT-CONTENTS.
Canterbury. Wellington.
Dorset Clanricarde
Leeds Headford
Lansdowne Barham
Normanby Bateman
Salisbury. Brougham
EARLS. Byron
Aberdeen Clonbrock
Brecknock Colborne
Camperdown Cottenham
Charlemont Dacre
Clanwilliam De Ros
Clarendon Denman
Devon Ellenborough
Gosford Foley
Haddington Gardner
Harrington Hatherton
Howard of Effingham Holland
Ilchester Kinnaird
Kingston Leigh
Leitrim Lilford
Lonsdale Lurgan
Minto Lyttleton
Moray Methuen
Munster Mostyn
Powis Poltimore
Rosebery Portman
Spencer Ravensworth
Scarborough Rolle
Wicklow. Stafford
Bolingbroke Studeley
Duncannon Vaux
Hawarden Wenlock
Hereford Wharncliffe.
Lismore BISHOPS.
Melbourne Chichester
Torrington. Durham
BARONS. Lichfield
Ashburton Salisbury

The remaining schedules and preamble agreed to.

House resumed. Bill to be reported.