HL Deb 14 May 1840 vol 54 cc71-3

Lord Kenyon moved the Order of the Day for counsel to be heard on the Municipal Corporations (Ireland) Bill.

The Marquess of Lansdowne

was desirous, before their Lordships proceeded further, to occupy their time for a few moments while he pointed out the precise state of this question. He had no objection to the motion which the noble Lord had made for calling in counsel to be heard at the bar. But, although considering how often the principles and details of this bill had been before the House—considering how often that principle had been adopted by the House, without the petitioners having claimed or obtained permission to be heard at the bar—though under these circumstances, he himself thought that it would not be a hard measure towards the petitioners, if he opposed the calling in of counsel on this occasion, seeing that no such favour was accorded to them before—yet, looking to the importance which some noble Lords attached to the reports of commissioners respecting particular corporations and their particular conduct on certain points—he was not unwilling that an opportunity should be afforded to those corporations to repel and disprove, by evidence, if they could, any allegations affecting their private interests, which were to be found in the reports of those commissioners. But, when he re- flected, that when permission was granted to be heard by counsel on a bill affecting the municipal interests of this country generally—when he reflected, that with reference to the English Municipal Corporation Reform Bill, permission was only accorded after much discussion, on a distinct understanding (an understanding agreed to by noble Lords of high authority who urged the expediency of hearing counsel at the bar on that occasion) that counsel were not to be heard against the principle of the bill, but only against the details of the measure, as affecting the interests of the parties for whom they appeared—reflecting on this, he submitted to their Lordships, that some more plain and distinct statement than that which they had received should be made, that counsel in this instance should not extend their arguments to the principle of the bill then before their Lordships, except where it might happen to be inseparably connected with the details of the measure, in the same way as an understanding was distinctly come to in the case of the English Municipal Bill. He did not introduce these observations improperly or unnecessarily; for he knew no practice or precedent more inconvenient, should it be established, than that of admitting counsel to be heard at their bar on principles of general legislation, or against the principle of any particular measure—to argue, for instance, before their Lordships on this occasion, that municipal government by self-constituted bodies was fair and responsible government, contrary to the principle of this measure. Therefore, he wished to elicit some plain, clear, and explicit declaration, so that the counsel should understand the course which they were to take at the bar. This was important to the counsel themselves, but it was still more important to the proceedings of their Lordships hereafter, lest anything should be done that might be quoted as a precedent, where, in argument at the bar, the principle of a measure was permitted to be impugned. He hoped, that either the noble Baron who made the motion then before the House, or some other noble Lord, would give such an assurance as he referred to. On the occasion of the English Municipal Reform Bill a noble and learned Lord (Lord Lyndhurst) whom he did not see in his place at that moment, stated, that he was authorized to say, that counsel would enter into no argument against the principle of that bill; and he wished that some declaration to that effect should now be made. For his part, he thought that it would be more consonant with the regularity of their proceedings, as the objections were to be against the details of the bill, that counsel should be heard in the committee, instead of before going into committee. He wished it to be distinctly understood, that the arguments of counsel were not to be directed against the principle of the bill, but solely against the details, for the purpose of rebutting, if the petitioners could rebut, particular allegations contained in the reports of the commissioners.

Lord Kenyon

assented to the principle that the arguments of counsel should be directed against such wrong as the petitioners apprehended they would suffer under this measure, if carried into effect. He was willing, that counsel should be heard in the same manner, as counsel had been heard with respect to the English Corporation Bill.

The Marquess of Westmeath

was of opinion, that the observations of the noble Marquess ought rather to have been made when her Majesty's Ministers gave their consent that counsel should be heard, than at this late moment, because it must be clear to every one, no understanding of the kind now called for, having been entered into, that counsel had prepared themselves to take an extensive view of the bill. Counsel had been engaged for different parties, some for the corporation of Dublin, others for other corporations, and he knew not how, when so many interests were affected, that counsel could refrain from touching on the principle of the bill. He, therefore, could not agree to any such clouded and unsatisfactory understanding.

Lord Ellenborough

was of opinion, that the understanding which prevailed in the case of the English Corporation Bill should be implicitly adhered to on this occasion. The more correct course, however, would perhaps be to instruct counsel as to the course they should take when they appeared at the bar. This would prevent the possibility of their having a debate in the middle of counsel's speech as to the admissibility of the line of argument he might be taking.

Counsel called in, who addressed their Lordships at considerable length, against the Bill.

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