§ Viscount Melbourne
, in rising to move the second reading of this bill, said, that although he deeply felt the importance of the subject itself, and of the motion he was about to submit to their Lordships, he yet thought, on account of the frequency of the debates that had taken place upon the question, it would be unnecessary for him to obtrude himself upon their Lordships' attention longer than a few minutes. When their Lordships recollected the recommendations that had proceeded from the Throne.—when they considered that four bills on the subject had been already introduced into the other House, and sent up to their Lordships, and had received their Lordships' sanction—that the general principle of the measure had been four times sanctioned by their Lordships—it would be conceded that the subject was, at least, stamped as worthy their Lordships' consideration. When it was borne in mind, that in no quarter whatever that he was aware of, had any objection been made to the main principle of the bill, which was the abolition of the corporations of Ireland as they at present existed—when no person had ever argued that it was possible those corporations could, under present circumstances, and in these times, continue in their present exclusive character—it became necessary to consider what could be efficiently substituted in their stead. It was, then, not very necessary for him on the present occasion to take up much of their Lordships' time by arguments on the general principle of the bill, nor indeed to enter much, into detail, so far as regarded those particular provisions of the bill which had theretofore, in common with the main principle, received the concurrence of their Lordships. He would, however, briefly beg their Lordships' attention to one or two points. Last Session, a bill had been sent up from the other branch of the Legislature, in which their Lordships had thought proper to introduce great alterations. The bill so altered was returned to the other House, and he must say, that there appeared to be a strong disposition in that assembly to meet their Lordships upon many important points. The matter then only failed of 1161 being terminated on account of the great length to which the Session had then extended, and the utter impossibility of settling a matter of such great importance in the exhausted state in which Members of Parliament at that time were. There were likewise some parliamentary objections raised to some of the alterations that had been introduced by their Lordships. Under these circumstances, it was thought wise and expedient to introduce the present measure in to the other House at a very early period of the Session. It passed through the other Housed not indeed with a great deal of discussion, but, at the same time, with divisions upon every important stage of its progress. Those divisions, however, were supported by small minorities, and the bill was carried through by very largo majorities, and he might add, with the support of the principal persons on both sides of the House. There was upon the whole what might be called a general concurrence in the other House to the sending up the present bill to their Lordships. It had also come before their Lordships at an early period of the Session, and the consideration had hitherto only been deferred in consequence of unfortunate circumstances, over which neither the noble Lords on the other side nor himself could possibly have had any control. Upon the whole, however, he did not regret that such a delay had taken place, because it gave a hope that they were at last about to bring to a conclusion this irritating and long litigated question. He earnestly hoped that it might be determined upon the most mature deliberation, by as large an attendance of noble Lords from all parts of the country as could by possibility be procured, and under circumstances that could not afford the slightest ground for any accusation of haste, precipitation, or surprise. It was, as he had before said, unnecessary for him to waste their Lordships' time by stating those things with which they were already familiar, namely, the scope and objects of the bill. Some of the provisions differed somewhat from those of the bills which had been theretofore introduced into their Lordships' House, but upon the whole, the measure was pretty nearly in substance the same as former bills. Schedule A was the same. With respect to the boroughs in Schedule B, the bill at once dissolved the corporations, but did not establish any others in 1162 their room. At the same time, power was given to her Majesty, upon the petition of the majority of the inhabitants, to establish corporations. With regard to the corporate property of those boroughs in schedule B, in which commissioners were already appointed under the 9th Geo. 4th, the administration of that property was given by the bill to those commissioners. With regard to those boroughs in which there were no commissioners, the bill made the provision which was adopted in a former Act of Parliament—namely, it divided those boroughs which had more than 100l. a year property from those which had less. With respect to those which had more than the 100l., the bill gave them power to establish a set of commissioners for the regulation of their property, but in those boroughs which had less than that sum, the property was to be administered by the guardians of the poor in aid of the rates, and for the general purposes of the borough. It appeared to him that those points were more clearly and distinctly set out in the present than in former bills. It was unnecessary for him to go into those points upon which differences had theretofore arisen in the consideration and discussion of this subject between their Lordships and the other House. One great difficulty was the qualification. The qualification in the present bill, was that which had been adopted on a former occasion—namely, a 10l. rating in those boroughs which were in Schedule A, and 8l. in the other boroughs. That rating was to continue for three years, and then the same qualification was to be established as in the English Municipal Corporations Bill. There was another point that had given rise to much discussion—namely, the rights of the freemen, which they complained were taken away from them. But it was conceived that ample protection was given by the 6th clause of the bill to all those rights which ought to be protected; and it likewise guarded against some abuses which were likely to arise from the provision that had been proposed by the other side of the House. Another point upon which objections had been taken, was the mode of appointing sheriffs. Now, the Government had not, in the present bill availed themselves of the suggestion which had been adopted by their Lordships in the bill of last year. It would be in their Lordships' power, if it seemed good to them so to do, to introduce that provi- 1163 sion; but in that respect, as well as upon the point of the general and permanent qualifications for the boroughs, her Majesty's Ministers had made the proposals upon their own principles—principles with which he would conclude the observations he had felt it right upon that occasion to make to the House. Indeed, taking into consideration all those circumstances to which he had adverted—bearing in mind particularly that the sanction of their Lordships had been already given to the principle of the bill—he should not have thought it necessary to take up so much of their Lordships' time as he had done, if he had not gathered from remarks that had been made on a recent occasion, that there now prevailed in some quarters a stronger feeling against the present bill than had been prevalent on former occasions. He would then state that the general ground for passing this measure was, that they should not refuse to Ireland, when it could with safety be granted, that which had been conferred upon and carried into effect in this country. He, for one, had never held such language, nor approved of it when used by others, as that all the evils which had pressed upon Ireland—the destitute condition of her population, and the crime and violence which unfortunately did at times prevail in that country, were to be attributed to her connexion with England, and the impolicy and misrule which had characterised her Government. He had certainly never used such language, and he moreover should consider the use of such language to be highly imprudent, seeing that it could be productive of nothing but annoyance and irritation. As to exact equality between the laws and institutions of the two countries, he had always held that it was necessary to consider a variety of circumstances, such as the differences of situation, and various others. But, at the same time, he had always held that it was of the highest importance that the same degree of confidence should be understood, if possible, to be reposed in the Irish people—that with respect to rights, privileges, and immunities, it was of the last importance they should be placed upon the same footing with this country—that there should by no means be any difference between them, unless there was a clear, distinct, and intelligible reason shown for such difference. It was upon these grounds, generally, that he proposed 1164 in this bill, that the English franchise should come into operation at the end of three years, and upon these grounds he proposed that the mode of appointing the sheriffs should be that to which he had alluded; conceiving as he did that nothing now existed that rendered that mode less fit to be adopted than it was on any former occasion. The noble Viscount concluded by moving the second reading of the bill.
§ The Duke of Wellington
would follow the example of the noble Viscount in recommending their Lordships to give a second reading to the bill on the table and allow it to go to a committee, in order that they might consider the details of the several provisions. The noble Viscount had stated the grounds on which their Lordships were induced to consider it expedient that the existing corporations should be abolished in Ireland, as they had been in England. It was true that this expediency, which had been felt to exist last year, had been disputed in the course of the present Session by the noble Marquess near him (the Marquess of Westmeath), who had presented various petitions on the subject; and who had moved for certain returns, in order that their Lordships might see whether or not there was any evidence of misconduct on the part of these corporations. However, he should, on general principles, and whatever might be the result of the examination of those papers, be averse to the continuance of corporations in Ireland acting upon that exclusive spirit on which, it must be obvious to all, those corporations had acted for the last fifty years. Under these circumstances, he was from the commencement reconciled to the abolition of the Irish corporations, and he had understood that no objection existed on their part to extinction; but the only question was, whether the borough towns in future should be governed as the other parts of the country had been governed, or whether their affairs should be regulated by new corporations, composed of elected members, which, according to the apprehensions of some persons, among whom he confessed he was one, were likely to be just as exclusive in a contrary sense as the existing corporations had been found to be for the last fifty years. From the time this measure had been introduced, he had been seeking, in common with their Lordships, for a mode of avoiding this 1165 evil; that was to say, he had been searching for a mode of establishing a government for the towns in Ireland by election, which should be free from an exclusive spirit. His noble and learned Friend (Lord Lyndhurst) had proposed a system for the government of the towns with which he should have been perfectly satisfied—namely, the extinction of the corporations altogether. This plan was, he believed, entirely satisfactory to Ireland, to their Lordships, and to a large body of persons in the other House of Parliament; but it was finally rejected by the House of Commons, and there certainly appeared no prospect of being able to induce that House to adopt such a system. He did not find that the plan now proposed for the establishment of new corporations in Ireland was very satisfactory to that country, and before he sat down, he would take the liberty of reading a list of towns which had petitioned their Lordships and the other House to be exempted from the operation of the bill. The people did not like the prospect which this bill held out, Of being subjected to a large and unlimited taxation. They would prefer to go on as they had hitherto gone on; but at all events they would prefer to have no corporations at all, to the establishment of such bodies as those which it was proposed to form under the present bill. At the same time, he would recommend their Lordships to enter on the consideration of the measure with a view to make it perfect if possible, and they would then have an opportunity of considering in committee these petitions to which he had alluded. The abolition of the corporations was not the only point debated at an early period of these discussions. It was thought desirable, both in this and the other House, that a mode should be adopted of fixing the qualification of the burgesses who were to elect the municipal bodies, which should be independent of the qualification by oath. He was afraid that it had been found that the qualification by oath could not be depended upon in that part of the empire; and therefore, though he had given his assent to the adoption of the principle of forming new corporations, he never agreed to the details of any measure, until he perceived, by the establishment of a Poor-law in Ireland, the existence of some system according to which the qualification of claimants to vote in municipal elections 1166 might be clearly made out. But what had happened since the Irish Poor-law Bill had been passed? It had not been fairly carried into execution. The boards of guardians, under whom the Poor-law Bill was to be carried into execution, had not been fairly elected. The Poor-law Commissioners had not performed their duty on that point, and the Government had not obliged them to perform it. The qualification depended on the valuation of property, and that again depended on the independence, honesty, intelligence, and fair dealing of the valuator. Let them have an inquiry into the mode in which the valuators had been named; and it would be found that the law had not been properly carried into execution, purposely to avoid the necessity of fixing fairly the qualification of the voters for municipal corporations. There ought to be some examination into this subject, and the present bill ought not to be passed until some Parliamentary enactment was adopted, guaranteeing that the law would be fairly carried into execution, and that the qualification of the voters would not be mere paper. An amendment had been made on the Irish Poor-law Act, of which he conceived he had some right to complain. He had stated that he had no objection to an amendment consistent with the principle of the act; but when he had gone out of town on public business, and when it was known he could not attend in their Lordships' House, this amendment, which altered fundamentally the principle of the bill of the preceding session with regard to the election of guardians, was proposed and adopted on the third reading of the amended bill, and without notice to any one. The opinion of the law-officers of the Crown had been taken upon the point, and he had read that opinion since the subject was last discussed; he would not give one pin for their opinion; it did not apply to the subject in any one respect. What it said was this—that the operation of the 85th clause of the bill of the former year was not at all affected in its relation with the 82nd clause; but the amended clause in the new bill, which enabled persons to vote for guardians of the poor without paying their rates, remained, and was not affected by the 85th clause of the former bill. In reality, therefore, a trick was played on that House; and so the bill remained till this moment on the statute-book. The noble Viscount said, it was only to last 1167 for three years, yet were their Lordships urged to pass this measure through committee upon the faith of these very guardians being elected by persons who had not paid their rates, and could not pay them, under the amended clause introduced into the bill of last session without the knowledge of any body, and most particularly without the knowledge, and in the known absence upon public business, of the person who had taken the principal part in its discussion. He hoped their Lordships would read this bill a second time; but it was impossible that they should pass it through committee without knowing with accuracy how this whole affair stood with respect to the election of guardians and the due execution of the law in Ireland; because if that law was not strictly carried into effect, their Lordships would be placed precisely in the same situation as when the bill was introduced four years ago—that is, without any measure of qualification for burgesses, or any mode of ascertaining the qualification but that which he earnestly recommended no man to trust to—the oath of the party himself. He believed he had given a pretty accurate account of how this bill now stood with reference to the Poor-law Bill. There was indeed another measure which would come under consideration at some future period, namely, the Irish Tithe Bill, also in some way connected with this subject: at least so far connected with it, that both by their Lordships and the other House of Parliament it had been considered that this measure should not pass until the tithe question had been settled. There was some little reason for complaining that the Irish Tithe Bill, as well as the Irish Poor-law Bill, had not been fairly carried into effect; and he therefore earnestly recommended that their Lordships should not part with the consideration of this bill before they took care to ascertain how both questions stood, and especially with respect to the election of guardians and the appointment of valuators. The noble Viscount, in introducing this measure, had declared what he conceived to be the duty of her Majesty's servants on the subject, and stated generally the nature of the clauses of which the bill was composed. He (the Duke of Wellington) certainly did think it extraordinary, this question having been before the country for six or seven years, the subject having been considered, reconsidered, and discussed in 1168 every shape by both Houses of Parliament, he did think it extraordinary that this bill should not have reached them in some one or other of its former shapes, containing those provisions on which both Houses had previously agreed. There were some points on which both Houses had agreed last session, and even in former sessions, which were altogether excluded from this bill. He would take, for instance, some of the points which had been referred to by the noble Viscount himself. There was the proposition with respect to the nomination of the sheriffs by the lord-lieutenant instead of by the town-council, an amendment proposed by their Lordships, and agreed to by the House of Commons, he believed in 1835 or 1836; he had a note of it.—[Viscount Melbourne: I don't deny it.] Then, he should like to know why the noble Viscount did not try to get his majority in the House of Commons—he begged pardon—not majority, but friends, in the House of Commons, to adopt that proposition instead of that which had been inserted in the bill now before their Lordships. Was it a just and proper principle, or was it a bad one, that the sheriffs, the officers of justice, should be named independently by the Crown, and not appointed by popular election? Which proposition was most consistent with the constitution of the country? [Viscount Melbourne: The sheriffs are chosen in England.] He put the question with respect to Ireland, and he asked whether it was more fit that the sheriffs should be named by the Crown, or at a popular election? The next point to which he would advert was the question of the freemen. He wanted to know whether the noble Viscount had looked over the clause in relation to freemen, which was inserted in the bill of 1838, and if so, why it had not been introduced into this bill? It was agreed by the House of Commons in 1838, and re-introduced by their Lordships in 1839; yet the bill was now sent up with a provision in that respect entirely new. There was another point most important as to time. There had always been a discussion in these measures with respect to counties of cities. Here again, he had the satisfaction of thinking that the two Houses in Parliament had agreed in separating from the city the rural part of what was called the county of the city, in respect of all judi- 1169 cial and fiscal matters. The House of Commons did not adopt an amendment made by their Lordships to that effect last year, only because it was conceived in some way to interfere with the rules and regulations usually enforced with respect to taxing clauses; but he did think that a Government desirous of carrying measures, and at the same time of maintaining harmony between the two Houses of Parliament, would have tried (their Lordships having by mistake introduced a regulation inconsistent with the ordinary mode of regulating such matters) to induce the House of Commons to adopt those regulations which had been previously discussed and introduced into this bill in former Sessions. But no such thing; the bill came up in another shape, without any regulation on that subject. In the mean time another bill which was to be part and parcel of this measure, had been introduced only on the 10th of April, the Municipal Corporation Bill having come up to that House on the 10th of March. Yet their Lordships were now called on to read this bill a second time, and at an early period to go into committee upon it, knowing nothing about the other measure but what they could learn from the newspapers, and having no knowledge whatever of what the regulations were to be on this most important subject. He had several objections to other details of this bill, into which, however, he would not at present enter, because he would not detain their Lordships. He had satisfied himself with referring to those which had been noticed by the noble Viscount, his object being to show the spirit in which these transactions had been carried on between the two Houses of Parliament by her Majesty's Government. There was another point on which he must trouble their Lordships with a very few words—he meant the clause which gave her Majesty the power of granting new charters of incorporation on the prayer of a majority of the ratepayers. That was a majority, however, not of the payers of rates, entitled to be burgesses, nor of persons of property, who were to be taxed, and who must bear the expense of these corporations, but the majority of ratepayers, every person being a ratepayer, who was liable to be rated under the Poor Law. Really, this was making a joke of the security of property altogether in these corporations. Put they were told this was a very po- 1170 pular measure in Ireland. He begged to lay before their Lordships the list of petitions which had been presented for and against the bill. Belfast had petitioned against the bill, and in favour of vesting the corporate property in commissioners, Galway, for vesting the property in commissioners, and to be transferred to schedule B. Clonmel, another important town, had petitioned to be transferred to schedule B; Sligo, to be transferred to schedule B. St. Paul's, St. Michael's, St. Mary's, St. Bridget's, and St. John's, Dublin, for vesting the property in commissioners; the guilds and companies of Dublin against the bill generally; Waterford, for vesting the property in commissioners; Kilkenny, to the same effect; Londonderry, to the same effect, and another petition for the bill; Cashel, for vesting the property in commissioners, and another petition for the bill as it stood; Maryborough, for vesting the property in commissioners; Cork and Limerick, against the boundary clauses; Armagh, for a qualification of 10l. rental, exclusive of taxes; Liverpool, against the bill generally, also one in favour of it as it stood; Warrington, Hull, and Bath, against the bill; Carlisle, one petition against, and one in favour of, the bill; the corporation of Dublin, against the bill generally; and then there were various other petitions on the subject of compensation. He had a few words to say to their Lordships on this subject of compensation. The noble Viscount promised that this bill should contain the same provision other bills did before, for awarding compensation to the holders of offices under these corporations. He would earnestly recommend their Lordships not to part with this bill without seeing such a clause positively introduced. There was another remarkable omission in the present bill; the amendments introduced into the bill of 1838 required a strict audit to be held of the accounts of the receipt and expenditure of these corporations; he believed that a clause to this effect had been agreed to: now, he wanted to know whether it was necessary, for the sake of popularity, that there should be no provision in the present measure for auditing the accounts. Nothing was so essential to the fair operation of the bill as a strict audit of the accounts, and yet the clause was not adopted, merely because it did not suit the views of a certain party in another place, and in Ireland, 1171 He should require the bill to be amended in many respects in committee; but, notwithstanding the want of those amendments, he earnestly recommended their Lordships to give this bill a second reading. Let their Lordships amend the bill when in committee as far as lay in their power, and he gave notice, for one, that if the bill were not amended to his satisfaction, he should feel himself justified in saying "not-content" to the third reading.
The Marquess of Normanby
did not feel himself called upon to detain their Lordships with any observations upon the general question, after the declaration which their Lordships had just heard of the noble Duke's intention not to oppose the second reading of the bill, and he (the Marquess of Normanby) should not, indeed, have risen at all upon the present occasion had it not been for the misapprehension under which the noble Duke appeared to lie with respect to what he (the Marquess of Normanby) had intended to convey on a former evening, as to the opinion of the law officers of the Crown upon the operation of the 5th section of the Poor-law Amendment Act of last Session. What he intended to say was this, that the opinion of the law officers of the Crown was not restricted, as the noble Duke appeared to suppose, but went to the full extent of saying, that the act of last year conferred no right whatever of exemption from the restrictions imposed by the Act of the year before, and that it was now as necessary as it was previously to the passing of the act of last year for persons to have paid all their rates before they could vote at an election of guardians. He could not but regret, that the noble Duke had already formed an opinion that the Poor-law commissioners had not fairly carried into effect the provisions of the Act, especially as the noble Duke had, on a former occasion, entreated a noble Marquess opposite to wait until the pipers on the subject were produced before hr pronounced an opinion. When those papers were before the House their Lordships would see, that the Poor-law commissioners had fairly carried out the spirit of the Poor-law Act, and in such a manner as not to be justly chargeable, either collectively or individually, as regarded the commissioners to whom the task of carrying this Act into execution had been principally intrusted, with any negligence in the performance of their duties. It would 1172 also appear, that there was no ground for any imputation either upon the intentions or the success with which the provisions of the measure had been carried out, especially when allowance was made for the novelty of the circumstances; and the more inquiries were made the more it would appear, that this opinion met with general concurrence throughout Ireland. Having thus endeavoured to correct a misapprehension, for which he might, perhaps, have been himself to blame, and having said a few words on behalf of absent parties, upon whom, perhaps, a somewhat hasty censure had been cast, he should merely say, with regard to the petitions to which the noble Duke had referred, that he had himself petitions to present in favour of the bill from several places from which the petitions referred to by the noble Duke had proceeded, and from Clonmel among others; but he had postponed presenting these petitions, considering that they referred more particularly to the details of the measure, and would therefore be more properly presented on the House resolving itself into committee.
The Earl of Winchilsea
said, that differing entirely as he did from the noble Duke near him, and from so many noble Lords with whom he was politically connected, and with whom he should feel happy to concur, if he could do so consistently with his own honest and conscientious views upon this bill, which although it was clothed under the specious garb of a measure to regulate municipal corporations in Ireland, would be found fraught with the greatest evils, not only to that country, but to the best interests of this Protestant empire—entertaining these opinions, he felt bound to lay aside all private feelings for the purpose of discharging his duty to his country by opposing this bill. He viewed this measure as one calculated to destroy all the existing Protestant corporations in Ireland, which he considered as the outposts of the Established Church. If their Lordships looked at the events which had occurred in their own time, they would find that the aid which the corporations of Ireland had afforded to the Government of the country at different periods had enabled England to maintain the superiority of her laws in that part of the empire, and to suppress the flames of rebellion, which but for this assistance, would have involved 1173 the country in the conflagration of a civil war of too awful a character to contemplate. If a noble Marquess who had at a former period filled the office of Lord Lieutenant (Marquess Camden) were in his place, he would have asked that noble Marquess what was the situation of Ireland in the years 1830 and 1831, and whether the timely aid afforded by the corporations of Ireland had not enabled that noble Marquess to put down a rebellion in that part of the empire; he would have further asked what would have been the situation of Ireland if those corporations had not then existed, and above all, what would have been its situation, if the power of those corporations had been placed in the hands of those agitators who were bent on subverting all the institutions of the country, and who used the political power conceded to them by England for the purpose of severing the legislative union between the countries. An easy answer might be given to such questions. The page of history would have been stained with oceans of blood shed in the suppression of rebellion. If a measure could be framed which would only give an equality of civil rights, he would withdraw his opposition, for he had before said, and he now repeated, that sound policy would consist in removing every cause of dissension between the two contending parties, who entertained towards each other animosities, not only of a political, but of a religious character. He was prepared to contend, that if their Lordships passed this bill, the 10l. qualification would undoubtedly throw the whole political power into the hands of an individual who, together with the priesthood of the country, continued agitating that part of the empire, and emphatically and boldly declared that they would never desist from agitation till they had cast from their necks the yoke of England. These were empty threats now, but they would not be if this bill passed into a law. He looked at Dublin, which might be considered as a favourable instance for the Protestant interest, and he found, that out of 15,000 10l. houses, 9,700 were in the hands of the Roman Catholic party. The bill would establish a democracy characterized by ignorance and religious intolerance, and to this democracy the Established Church would be surrendered; and if it were surrendered in one part of the empire, how was it to be maintained in the rest? His honest 1174 conviction was, that the Church had tended to the moral greatness and the moral strength of this country, and he therefore resisted so irreparable an injury to its best interests as he believed this measure would inflict. On a former occasion he had asked their Lordships to consent to the extinction of all corporations in Ireland, because he thought, that by removing the causes of enmity they would be conferring a greater benefit on Ireland than by introducing a measure which would perpetuate religious animosity. He looked at the working of the New Poor Law in Ireland; that was a measure which might have been expected to be carried into execution in a spirit of Christian charity, and without being disgraced by party or religious hostility; but, looking at the manner in which the Poor-law guardians had been elected, it was evident that no one dared give his vote in opposition to the dictates of the priest. How much more would this influence be exerted by means of the power given by the bill to municipal corporations, which would be institutions solely of a political character. Believing that no alterations which could be made in the bill would reconcile him to its provisions, he felt it to be his duty to move that the bill be read a second time that day six months.
The Marquess of Westmeath
seconded the amendment, but did not think it necessary to trouble the House with any observations upon the principle of the measure, inasmuch as it appeared probable that the second reading would be carried. He wished, however, to explain the reason of his taking on this occasion a different course from that which he had previously pursued. He had hitherto been contented to follow the steps taken with regard to this subject by those to whose opinion he always felt disposed to give the greatest weight; but, in consequence of the events which had lately taken place in Ireland, he thought there was greater cause at present for apprehension and alarm than there had previously existed, and that greater alarm was now felt in Ireland, and particularly in Dublin at the provisions of this measure, because it was generally reported and believed that a certain individual, a Mr. So-and-so, had a hand in it. For though the noble Viscount opposite had denied that there was any confederation between himself and this Mr. 1175 So-and-so, yet they appeared to understand one another's tastes and sentiments so extremely well, that the people of Ireland could not look on without feelings of apprehension. It used to be said, that the country had no right to inquire into the proceedings of this Mr. So-and-so, but now there was hardly an appointment connected with the Irish Government which did not, through some channel or other, take place by means of Mr. So-and-so's influence. The noble Marquess, the Secretary for the Home Department, said, that the elections of guardians had been in all respects fair, and that such was the general opinion in Ireland. Now, he might be supposed to know something of the opinions entertained in Ireland, he must say, that this statement neither coincided with his own observation nor with his opinions. He hoped, that the Poor-law commissioners had done their duty; but, since his opinion was challenged on the subject, he must say he did not think they had. Mr. Nicholls was, no doubt, a most respectable man, and if his duties were confined to this quiet country, perhaps a more proper person could not be found to discharge them; but, with the greatest respect to Mr. Nicholls, he did not consider him the best person that could have been selected to discharge the duties required by the Irish act. If the bill went to a committee, he should give it his best attention; but, unless it was greatly altered, he should oppose the third reading.
The Earl of Mountcashell
felt sorry to differ from those under whose banners he was proud to fight, but felt it his duty to oppose the second reading of this bill, which he despaired of seeing moulded into a shape which could be beneficial to the country. It would lead to the dissolution of the union, and the establishment of Popery in that country. He was satisfied that nothing could be done in the committee to remedy the evils which this bill would produce. He objected to it, because he considered it dangerous to the rights which were now vested in the corporations; because it would increase the power of Popery and of democracy; because, as he conceived, it contained a variety of clauses that were highly opposed to the constitution of this country; because it gave power to the nominees of the mob to pass most objectionable bylaws, to which, as far as he could see, 1176 there were no limits; because they might declare Protestant schools to be nuisances, and there was nothing to check that power; and because it authorized the misappropriation of public buildings by the new corporations, and there was no reason why they might not turn some of them into nunneries or Roman Catholic chapels.
§ Viscount Melbourne
said, that with respect to the general objections of the noble Earl opposite, to this measure, it was not his intention, after what had been said on the subject, to offer any observations; but he begged leave to put it to him to consider, if he were to proceed on the principle of the test of opinion of the majority of inhabitants of that country, and did not conceive that they could be intrusted with the conducting of their own affairs in the corporations, how it was possible to continue the government of Ireland on the principles of freedom? He certainly must say, that being most sincerely anxious for the success of this measure, he was happy to find that the noble Duke opposite had given his support to the second reading. At the same time he was sorry to hear the tone and spirit of many of the noble Duke's observations, and sorry for the manner in which that support was given. However, he trusted that on further consideration the noble Duke would not find there were such strong objections to this measure as he had stated. The noble Duke had said that the New Poor Law had not been carried fairly into effect in Ireland: he had said that neither the Poor Law Commissioners nor the Government had done their duty. That was indeed a strong accusation, and was entirely contrary to the accounts which he had received of the manner in which the law operated. But he trusted that on more mature consideration the noble Duke would see that his objections were rather hastily urged and were entirely without foundation. The noble Duke had also objected to this bill because it had come up in a different shape from the bills that were introduced in previous sessions; but it must be remembered that when bills had to be re-drawn, even by the same hand, it frequently occurred that the persons who drew them thought they could put them in a much better form than that in which they formerly stood, and rarely was it found that they were couched in the same terms. The question, indeed, was not whether they were in the same shape, or contained the same matter, 1177 but whether, on the whole, the arrangement was not better, and whether they did not carry out all the objects which it was intended they should carry out? The noble Duke had also said, why was there not introduced into this bill the clauses which were formerly urged in this House, and in particular the clause in respect to freemen which was passed in this House in the year 1838? Now, the Government had stated heretofore, over and over again, that they did not understand that clause. When they allowed it to pass, it was per incuriam, per negligentiam; they did not perceive its bearings; but when they did see that it would have an effect far beyond what at first appeared, and that the House of Commons had also agreed to it per incuriam without understanding it, they immediately took the objection to it. As the clause now stood in the bill, it answered all the ends they had in view, and at the same time avoided all those consequences to which they thought the previous clauses led. But with respect to this matter of freemen and sheriffs, he knew that the House of Commons had consented to agree to this alteration; but then it was for the sake of carrying the bill through. The noble Duke had asked him why he had not called on some of his Friends in that House to propose such a clause as was formerly sent down? But he would allow him (Lord Melbourne) to ask him in return why he did not call on some of his own friends in that House to propose such alterations as he considered ought to have been made? It might just as well be expected that the noble Duke should have urged the adoption of this particular clause, as that he (Lord Melbourne) should have done so. With respect to not introducing provisions into this bill relative to the taxation of rural districts, it had not been done, because it was, he believed, the intention of the House of Commons to introduce another bill on that subject, and at no very distant period. Whether there should be a charter or not (as we understood) was fairly left to the rate-payers: but, although there might be a majority of petitions in the other House of Parliament against this bill, it was difficult to say whether they came from a majority of the people or not. The bill might perhaps not be popular in Ireland, but whether popular or not, it appeared to him to be a wise and prudent measure, and would 1178 give to that country a local government based on the principle of popular representation.
§ The Duke of Wellington
said, that the noble Viscount had said something about his having made a charge against the Poor-law Commissioners. Now, he was prepared to make good that charge. The Poor-law Commissioners were called on by the New Poor-law to make regulations in respect to the guardians. Had they made such regulations? Or had the Government required them to do so? He said they had not; nor had the Poor-law Commissioners performed their duty. There was another thing. There could not be a doubt that there had been great abuses in the election of those guardians, and in the appointment of valuators; and a noble Friend of his had stated to the House, on a former occasion the mode of proceeding in those appointments and elections. Why, those commissioners had great powers given to them under the original act in respect to the board of guardians, so as to put them out and appoint others if they did not perform their duty. Had they performed that duty? Men who had power under an act of Parliament ought to exercise that power, and were responsible for the consequence if they did not. He wanted to know whether the Poor-law Commissioners had exercised their power. He thought they had not, nor that the Government had urged them to do so. With respect to the other points mentioned by the noble Viscount, he begged the noble Viscount's pardon, but the original bill that came up from the other House, in regulating those corporations, contained a clause, giving to the Lord-lieutenant the power of appointing the sheriffs, and the principle was admitted in this House, and adopted in the House of Commons: and when the noble Viscount said, that he might have recommended this measure to some of his friends in the other House, and got them to introduce certain clauses, and that it was just as reasonable for him to have followed that course and spoken to some of his friends in that House on the subject, he would remind the noble Viscount that there was this difference between them—that he did not bring in this bill. He had to take it into consideration when it came before him; but the noble Viscount had to superintend the bringing it in, and carrying it through this House as 1179 well as the other House of Parliament And he thought that, if the noble Viscount and his colleagues considered this matter a little more, it would have occurred to them that it was desirable to see on what grounds the two Houses were agreed, and to insert in this bill the clauses on which they did not differ. If they had done that, the noble Viscount would have had something to stand upon; whereas, in this case, he had nothing to stand upon. The noble Viscount had altogether excluded from the bill those matters on which they were agreed, and then said, that he ought to have desired his friends in the House of Commons, whether he had one or not, to propose the insertion in the bill of those clauses. Then, in respect to the freemen's clause, he was surprised to find, that after the discussion which had taken place upon it by all the great lawyers in that and the other House, two years had elapsed before the noble Viscount had discovered the meaning of it. The noble Viscount might have given some other account of the non-introduction of that clause, which had been agreed on last year, and had only been rejected on some slight irregularity. He really must say, that they had not had quite fair play on this bill in this session of Parliament. The bill was brought up in such a form, that it was most difficult to understand it; it was in no such shape as they had seen it in before—not at all arranged, and many important points which had been agreed on were omitted. All he could now do was to recommend the House to agree to the second reading, but he begged to state his determination on going into committee to propose several amendments.
§ Viscount Melbourne
said, that the noble Duke had spoken as though he had stated that nobody understood the meaning of the clause with respect to freemen which had been inserted in the former bills. Now, what he stated was much more modest, for he had only said that the Government did not understand it. But he believed that those who drew it and brought it in, understood the meaning of it very well.
The Duke of Newcastle
denied, that Parliament had any right to divest any portion of her Majesty's subjects of their corporate privileges, and he objected to the bill upon that ground.