The Marquess of Normanby
said, he would take the opportunity of the Motion for reading the Order of the Day, to call their Lordships' attention to the subject of which he had given notice on the previous evening. In using the words, "call attention," he might possibly have employed an erroneous phrase, for looking at what had passed that evening and the previous night, he felt sure that not one of their Lordships who entertained a conscientious feeling as to the discharge of his legislative duties, could feel other than ashamed of the manner in which, from some cause or other, within the last few days—he would not say their legislative faculties had been called into action, but their machinery for law making had been brought into play. Since he had given the notice last night, he, having remained until an early hour that morning, when most of their Lordships had left the House, had seen several important Bills passed through those stages in which it was usually considered they received the most deliberation, and when the greatest number of alterations were made, with a degree of rapidity and inattention which could scarcely be imagined by those who had not witnessed it. Many measures—not less, he believed, than ten—had passed through the Committee in less than as many minutes, his noble Friend (Lord Shaftesbury), who usually officiated as Chairman of Committees, merely informing the House that each had a title and a preamble. While these proceedings were going on, having been absent from the House for the last two or three days, he was not aware whether or not the subject matter of those Bills had been before explained to their Lordships. He naturally concluded that it had, but on inquiring of some of his noble Friends near him, he discovered that the subject matter of those various measures had not been opened to their Lordships at all. He remembered very well in former years a noble and learned Friend of his, not now in his place, used to insist—and properly insist, as he (Lord Normanby) was quite prepared to admit, that his noble Friend (Lord Besborough) who at that time took charge of the Government measures in that House, should take a different course, and that the subject matter of every Bill should be opened and its principles explained on the second reading. That practice, however, appeared now to have become obsolete. He did not by any means wish it to be sup- 1790 posed that he complained of the rapidity with which his noble Friend (the Earl of Shaftesbury) disposed of the numerous Bills in Committee; on the contrary, he thought his noble Friend, supposing the object to be to avoid all consideration and discussion, displayed a very laudable activity, and deserved much credit for the effectual means he had adopted to prevent any humbug on the matter. It might be said that this hurry at the close of the Session was to a certain extent necessary. He admitted that it was so to this extent, that the business of the country pressed hard upon both Houses of Parliament during the last few weeks of the Session, and that they were then obliged to smuggle through Bills without discussion, in consequence of neglect in the early part of the year. But if he looked back to former Sessions, he found some reason for this pressure of business as the Session drew to a close; for he found that, with very few exceptions, some important measure or measures, involving much consideration — some great discussions involving large and important interests had previously engaged the attention of both that and the other House. But when he looked at the proceedings of the present Session, he had to ask what had been done—what measures had been passed — what great interests had been conciliated — what constitutional bulwark had been strengthened — what salutary reform had been introduced, or what in the whole results of the Session was he to look to, to account for the manner in which these numerous Bills were now, in the month of August, to be forced upon their attention? He would make a few observations as to the two Bills which had first drawn his attention to this subject, and compelled him to trouble their Lordships on that occasion. The first of these Bills was the Poor Law Amendment Bill, and the other the Metropolitan Buildings Bill, which their Lordships had passed on the preceding evening. Now as to the Poor Law Bill, they had heard from every noble Lord who took part in the discussion on going into Committee (most of whom, he was sorry to see, were not now present), that it was a measure of very great consequence, and the noble Lord by whom it had been introduced to their Lordships' notice had stated that it was a Bill that was looked upon with great interest and anxiety, and excited the sympathies of the country generally. It had been also said that strong and unjust prejudices existed 1791 in many quarters against the measure, while, on the other hand, it was asserted that many of these prejudices and objections were well founded. Place the matter, however, in the most favourable point of view, he would put it to their Lordships whether, in a measure such as this, it was not desirable that their Lordships' deliberations should be backed by public opinion; and whether it was possible that that could be the case when they looked at the circumstances under which they were now called upon to pass that measure at almost a few hours' notice? The noble Lord opposite (Lord Hardwicke) had said that their Lordships' House was the Assembly best calculated to discuss with advantage the provisions of a Poor Law Bill—and why? Because amongst its Members there were no less than eighty-three Chairmen of Boards of Guardians. This circumstance in his opinion, formed one of the strongest reasons for the attendance of those noble Lords during its progress here; but he should like to know how many of those eighty-three peers had been in attendance at the discussion of the previous evening, or when the noble Lord opposite (Lord Wharncliffe) first introduced the measure, and made his statement upon it? When this important measure, containing, as he was disposed to think, many improvements, at all events many very material alterations in the present law, was introduced to their Lordships at ten o'clock at night, how many of those peers who were Chairmen of Boards of Guardians, and therefore best qualified to give an opinion as to the working of the law, and as to any Bill brought in for its improvement, were present? It might, perhaps, be as well that they were not, but they must deal with a legislative assembly as they found it; and if it was thought that a good attendance of Members was necessary to consider measures of great importance with that effect which they deserved, it was surely the duty of the Government to introduce them when the attendance of Members in both Houses was fullest. So much for the Poor Law Bill; and now as to the Metropolitan Buildings Bill. He did not complain personally of the circumstance in this case, but it did so happen that though, perhaps with the exception of the noble Lord at the Table, no Member of this House was more regular in his attendance there than he (Lord Normanby) was; he was nevertheless absent on an annual engagement with a noble Friend of his, of which he was 1792 not ashamed, at that particular time when the Bill was introduced to this House, and in these two or three days hurried through all its stages. But what had been the case with regard to this particular measure? So long ago as the 11th of June he had spoken to his noble Friend opposite upon the subject, and had then stated to his noble Friend that the Bill had been before the House of Commons three months, and yet no progress had been made in it, and had requested him to urge upon his Colleagues in office the importance of its being sent up to their Lordships sufficiently early in the Session to enable them to consider it fully, for though he (the Marquess of Normanby) fully approved of its principle, and many of its details, still there were several of its provisions to which he entertained decided objections. He had thought it better that some general regulation as to buildings should be passed, and that they should not trust to partial legislation, and he was anxious that their Lordships should have an opportunity of considering the subject fully. Now, was the objection he had so urged upon his noble Friend a captious one? Were there not many and grave objections to the measure as it stood? The noble Duke (the Duke of Buccleuch) the other night had said, on moving the second reading of the Bill, that there was very valuable information in the Report of the Sanatary Commission, on which it was founded; but what would their Lordships think, when they were told that this Bill, introduced in the last week of July, and passed in the first week of August, proceeded in direct opposition to the recommendations of the Commission, of which the noble Duke was President? The great and material provision in this Bill was that relating to party walls; but what said the evidence before the Commission on that subject? That it was the least important, and, at the same time the most expensive of any alteration that could be made in regard to dwelling houses. Mr. Austin and Mr. Boden, he believed, stated in their evidence that the improvement in regard to party walls would add 16s. a-year upon every house in Manchester, while 5s. a-year would provide effectually for the improvement suggested, in regard to water and drainage. Yet his noble Friend called upon their Lordships to pass a Bill without consideration, and in a few days after its introduction, upon a subject intimately connected with the health of the people in every great town in this country, 1793 the provisions of which were in direct violation of the Report of the Commission upon which it was understood to be founded. Then their Lordships would naturally ask, was this Bill ever submitted to the Members of that Commission, and, if so, how was it that they now discouraged and discredited all the advice and recommendation which were given in their own Report? On this point, however, no explanation had been given, but all that their Lordships knew of the matter was that the Bill first appeared before them at the end of the month of July, and that at the beginning of August they were required to pass it. But what had they been doing during the previous five and a half months of the Session, that the Bill had not come up to their Lordships before? Where could Her Majesty's Government refer for the measures which had occupied their attention during that time? Two that had been passed with regard to England, and one in regard to Ireland, to which he should presently refer, was the full amount of their legislative business down to the month of July. One of these measures had been brought in by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack (the Lord Chancellor), a measure which did that noble and learned Lord great credit—the Dissenters Chapels Bill. He was aware that he differed from some of his noble Friends on this subject; but he was anxious to give the noble and learned Lord his best thanks for the introduction of this Bill, and also for the manner in which he had presented it to their Lordships' attention. There was also another Bill, which the same noble and learned Lord had brought in, for which he could not accord to him and his Colleagues in the Government the same credit as he gave them for the Dissenters Chapels Bill—he meant the Ecclesiastical Courts Bill. What was the history of that measure? His noble and learned Friend stated when he brought it in, that the measure was not what it ought to be—neither was it what he himself desired it to be, or what the Report of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners led their Lordships to expect it would be, but that it had nevertheless one merit which he hoped would entitle it to be received with favour by the House, and that was, that they might safely calculate upon its success. But where was the Bill now? Where was that success which had induced their Lordships to sacrifice that principle for which, in regard to that measure, they had all along contended? These were the only two attempts even at legislation their 1794 Lordships had made at the instigation of the Government, and with the exception of the measure connected with Ireland, to which he should presently refer, these were the only two bills which had varied in any way the inanimate vacuity of the last five and a half months. When the Speech from the Throne was, delivered, at the beginning of the Session, it was the general opinion that it contained less than any previous document of the same kind, and promised but little future legislation; but it was also thought that those who had framed that Speech knew well what they would be enabled to do, and that though they promised little, there was every reason to hope and expect that that little would be performed. But what was the fact? One measure, and one only, to which any allusion was made in the Queen's Speech had passed. He alluded to the measure with respect to the Bank Charter; and in regard to that question their Lordships had concurred with the House of Commons in determining in what proportion the capital of the country should be convertible into currency. Upon that measure it was not for him then to give any opinion; but many persons much better qualified than he was to form a correct judgment upon it, had pronounced it to be a most hazardous experiment. For himself, he believed it was good in principle, but he could not utterly disregard the opinions of better informed persons, and he, consequently looked upon the result with some apprehension. But the most precise direct promise in the Royal Speech was in reference to Ireland; but before he came to that promise, and to the inquiry how far it had been carried out, he would refer their Lordships to the only measure affecting any material change in that country, or calculated to give satisfaction and peace to its people, which had passed their Lordship's House, and for that measure he was also grateful to the Government; and not only was he grateful for the introduction of the Bill, but also for the alterations which had been subsequently made in it. He referred to the Charitable Bequests Bill, in which very great and important concessions had been made. As he had said, he fully approved, of that Bill. But under what circumstances had it originated? In any comprehensive view, on the part of the Government, of what was due to Ireland? No such thing; but from the circumstance of a charitable and worthy Protestant clergyman in Ireland, who had exposed himself to much obloquy with the party in power 1795 in that country, in consequence of laying before their Lordships, not claims of his own, but the claims of his poor Catholic fellow parishioners to 7l. 10s. a year. [A motion of dissent from the Lord Chancellor]. The noble and learned Lord shook his head, but he would not say that any alteration in the law would have been made but for that circumstance. [The Lord Chancellor: I beg your pardon, you are quite in error.] He (the Marquess of Normanby) was sure neither he nor any of their Lordships had any expectation that any such measures would have been introduced by the Government, for no such intimation had been held out in the Queen's Speech, or when the subject had been brought under the notice of the Government at the beginning of the Session. There was, however, one specific measure promised in that Speech, in reference to Ireland; and, in the paragraph of the Speech that alluded to it, it was stated:—I recommend to your early Consideration the Enactments at present in force in Ireland concerning the Registration of Voters for Members of Parliament.You will probably find that a Revision of the Law of Registration, taken in conjunction with other Causes at present in operation, would produce a material Diminution of the Number of County Voters, and that it may be advisable on that Account to consider the State of the Law with a view to an Extension of the County Franchise in Ireland.And certainly it was only natural that the Government should recommend this important subject to the early attention of Parliament. And why? Because four years had passed since they had forced it on the attention of Parliament. During the previous Administration they had taken the subject into their own hands, and had urged that no delay ought to take place in legislating upon it. After three years of power, therefore, it was natural that such a sentence should have been put into Her Majesty's Speech. But what had been the result? A Registration Bill for Ireland had been brought in by the Government, and withdrawn—and properly so, as the measure was one in no way calculated to give satisfaction or improve the law. But that it was prepared in such a manner, showed a degree of ignorance on the part of the Government as to what was calculated to give satisfaction to Ireland, and what was not, that was highly reprehensible. On a previous occasion he had alluded to the Landlord and Tenant Commission—a subject which had also been referred to 1796 in the Queen's Speech, and nothing that had since occurred had altered the view he had then taken in regard to that Commission. He had looked upon the appointment of that Commission from the first as a measure that was calculated to excite delusive expectations, and he had also considered that it was not necessary for the Government to adopt that means of obtaining information upon the subjects with which they were anxious to deal. Had they no other information at their command? Within the last three or four months they had had a publication containing valuable, but at the same time most alarming, statistical information as to the condition of the Irish people, viz., the Report of the Census Commissioners. That Commission divided the dwellings in which the population of Ireland lived into four classes. The lowest consisted of mud cabins with one room; the second, mud cabins with two rooms; the third class were small stone houses—farm houses in some cases; and all above that were placed in the first class. And what was the social condition of Ireland in respect to dwellings, as exhibited by this Return? In the rural districts 1¼ per cent. only of the population inhabited the first class houses, 13 per cent. the second class, 40 per cent. the third class, and 43 per cent. lived in the fourth class houses; that was, mud cabins with one room only; so that in point of fact, 83 out of every 100 had no better dwellings than mud cabins. In the civic districts the case was somewhat better, but even there only 7 per cent. of the people lived in houses of the first class. The Commissioners further stated that 40 per cent. of the population of the rural districts had farms averaging only from one to five acres each, and 7 per cent. only had farms exceeding 30 acres, while two-thirds of the whole population lived upon the produce of their labour—by which they mean mere manual as distinguished from skilled labour; for the Commissioners expressly stated that they had not included in this estimate skilled artisans; but they say that 43 per cent. of the people subsist wholly by mere common rural labour. It appeared from the same Report that the ignorance prevailing amongst this population was not so great as their Lordships might be led to believe from their very depressed circumstances; for though there was a large percentage of the whole labouring population who could neither read or write, it still appeared that there was a greater degree of knowledge existing amongst the population 1797 of Ireland than was to be found in some districts of England. The ignorance that prevailed in the lowest districts of Ireland was exceeded by the ignorance prevailing in some of the districts of this country. He did not accuse those who proposed the Commission of having meant to evade the consideration of the subject; but delay was sometimes sought for the purpose of enquiry, enquiry sometimes for the purpose of delay. But to return to the subject. The small amount of business which had been transacted—when they looked to see how little had been done on the subject of legislation in the present Session, he thought he could anticipate the staple retort—the tu quoque reasoning—which would doubtless be employed in reply, that it would be said that in former Sessions the same complaints precisely had been made. But he was prepared to show that these complaints had not been made with equal justice. When his noble Friend near him was at the head of the Government he had but a small majority in the other House, and there was a positive majority against him in this. At that time noble Lords opposite had the remedy in their own hands, and the noble Lord on the Woolsack was in the custom of bringing down the forces that he had at his command to render nugatory the measures he disliked, and to defeat the Bills that he did not approve of. But was the noble and learned Lord content with doing that alone? Had they heard no other objection from the noble and learned Lord except his disapproval of the principles of the measures submitted to them? Was there not also another objection urged by him—the time of the Session at which such Bills were proposed? "How," the noble and learned Lord said, "how can we examine these Bills? How can we have time to consider them, when a fitting opportunity has not been given for deliberation upon them." He did say that such an attack was formerly made upon the then Government. And then, remembering that, he bade them look at the proceedings of the last few days—he bade them consider what had been done in that time, and how the whole legislation of a Session was brought up and heaped upon them within the last fortnight. He did not say that this showed general mismanagement on the part of the Government; but if the present Government, with its great majorities, were, driven to such a course, it certainly proved great mismanagement somewhere. He did not 1798 mean to affirm that there were not difficulties to be contended against. Such there must be with every Government in this country—such there must always be with a popular Assembly like the House of Commons. He admitted that with such there must at times be a difficulty in passing Bills; but then that difficulty could not afford a palliation for what had occurred; for, if they looked to the Votes of the other House, they would see how often that House had been counted out, how much of time had been thus wasted, how many days had been thus lost, every one of which would, if devoted to legislation, have been most valuable to their Lordships. It might have been accident; but then, if it were, the accident had occurred upon some occasions when Notices of Motions were on the Books of the House of Commons, that it might have been inconvenient to Her Majesty's Government to have discussed—at least, this might be affirmed: that when Her Majesty's Government boasted of having such a commanding majority in the other House of Parliament, they might, at least, have availed themselves of the forces under their control, to have prevented the delays, the unnecessary delays in legislation. In moving, then, for the Returns, of which he had given notice, he must say, that he was induced to do so, because he thought their Lordships were worthy of much better things, than being converted into such a mere mechanical machine of legislation, as they seemed solely to have been used for the last few days. Bills had been submitted to their Lordships, without a single word in explanation being vouchsafed; and if his noble Friend opposite, who managed the Government business in that House, was not able to give details of some of the measures that were proposed, and was found incapable of answering questions put to him with respect to a few of them—if his noble Friend could not do this, if he had not time to make himself master of the details of the question he is to propose for your consideration, how, he asked, was it possible for their Lordships to make themselves acquainted with them? A Bill had, as he understood, on the night preceding, for he was not present at the moment, passed through Committee, without one single word been said with respect to it.
The Marquess of Normanby
continued. 1799 He deemed it right to call attention to this subject, as the evil was one that ought to be pointed out, and he believed was capable of being corrected. He wished that, when Bills were sent up from the other House of Parliament, they should come not in such a manner as would try the patience, but almost defy the comprehension of their Lordships. He was sure that in thus putting the case, he was but doing justice to the feelings of their Lordships; for there was not one of them who must not desire anxiously, faithfully, and entirely, to perform their duties, whilst at this moment it was impossible for them to do so. In the hope, then, of thus attracting their notice to this subject, he should conclude, by moving—That the Clerk Assistant do prepare and lay on the Table of the House, a Return of the Number of Days in each Month which this House has sat, the Days on which the several Public Bills came from the Commons, and the Days on which they passed their several Stages in this House during the present Session.
§ The Duke of Wellington
said, that the noble Marquess had, if he saw fit, a perfect right to refer to the state of public business, and to complain as to the manner in which it was disposed of in that House, and that proper attention was not paid to it. Now, he must say, that he was not aware that there was any inattention to the public business on the part of any noble Peer who represented the Government in that House. He knew that neither he himself, nor his noble Friend the President of the Council, nor the Vice-President of the Board of Trade, nor the Head of the Board of Control, were inattentive to the discharge of the duties that devolved upon them. Each of them attended to the immediate duties, and to the particular measures that belonged to them; and there was not any measure introduced into the other House of Parliament, of the subject of which either he, or some other Member of Her Majesty's Government, did not make himself master, and come prepared to answer any question that might be put to them there respecting it. It was certainly true, that it was not the invariable practice to open every subject in detail in that House; but it was the invariable practice to do so whenever the subject related to any matter that was considered of importance. There was no Bill presented to that House on which noble Lords might not receive every information that they re- 1800 quired; and there was no disposition on the part of Government to withhold any information they could afford. Further than this, he would say, that the business of Government in that House was done in a regular manner; the noble Lords connected with Government attended regularly; and for himself he could say, he attended them at the regular periods of the House meeting, until the regular period for its adjournment. He was always prepared to answer questions that might come under their consideration, whenever noble Lords might seek for information on any subject. He had to observe, too, that he took care to keep copies of every petition that required attention from any department of the Government of which there was no Member present in that House. He really then did not know what the noble Lord wished to complain of with respect to the conduct of Her Majesty's Government in that House of Parliament. It was quite true, no doubt, that he (the noble Duke) was not in the House last night, when a particular subject came under consideration. He had been there from five o'clock to eleven; and then, as he understood that no measure was to come under consideration except the Poor Law, which his noble Friend (Lord Wharncliffe) undertook the charge of, he had thought himself at liberty to leave, and had left accordingly. But, then, the noble Lord ought to recollect, that yesterday evening there were other matters of importance before the House—that the Poor Law Bill had been on the Notice Paper a considerable time, and that it was known it was to be taken into consideration on that night, and that it was to be brought forward when it came in its turn on the paper. His noble Friend was in his place, and ready to move the Bill, when the opportunity for moving it was afforded to him; but then the noble Earl opposite had given notice of another very important subject for discussion; and consequently, he did not think it quite fair to blame the Government for the measure being brought forward at a late hour, when other noble Lords were discussing other subjects. The other was a very pressing subject for discussion; but then he begged that the Government might not be blamed for bringing these measures forward at a late hour, when the early part of the evening was occupied with the discussion of other measures. He did not mean to follow the noble Lord through his review of the measures 1801 that had been before Parliament during the Session. He must say, that a considerable time in both Houses of Parliament had been employed in discussing subjects, which hon. Gentlemen and noble Lords thought to be important, and which certainly did deserve consideration from the House and the public; but he only begged to say, that it must not be supposed that the Government was the cause of the loss of time, or that they had caused the House to be counted out, or the time of the Session be misapplied, if the noble Lord chose to say that the time of the House had been misapplied. As to that House, his noble Friend and other noble Lords had introduced as many measures as, according to the usual forms of Parliament, they could introduce, or that they had any prospect of carrying through. As long as he had been in Parliament, there had always been some complaint as to the number of Bills originating in the House of Lords; and this was a state of things that could not be helped, as long as the present arrangement of both Houses continued what it was, and what it had been for more than 150 years. There was, however, one Bill which the noble Marquess had said was not originally a Government measure—that was the Charitable Bequests (Ireland) Bill. He begged the noble Lord's pardon—it was a measure that was deemed necessary by Her Majesty's Government. It was desired, early in the Session, that there should be a measure to enable persons to endow the Clergy of the Roman Catholic persuasion in Ireland: that measure rendered necessary the other measure to which the noble Lord referred. As to the other measure, the Ecclesiastical Courts Bill, it was true that they met a difficulty with respect to it in the other House of Parliament; but for these difficulties, no man in that House could be responsible, and he doubted whether any man in the other House could be responsible either, for if the noble Marquess would inquire, he might find that it would be impossible to state with exactitude what course would be taken in the other House with respect to any measure that might be presented to it. He had no objection to offer to the Returns or the information sought for by the noble Lord; but he must defend noble Lords and himself from the charge of neglect. He assured the noble Lord, that upon every measure they were prepared to give all the information of which they were capable, whether the measure was brought forward 1802 in that House, or was introduced into the other House of Parliament, by any servant of the Crown.
§ The Marquess of Lansdowne
said, that no one would imagine that the mismanagement which had occurred in the Government arrangements of the Session had occurred in consequence of any laxity on the part of the noble Duke. The noble Duke was most regular in his attendance in that House; there was no one who witnessed the proceedings in that House who must not bear testimony to the fact, and to the most useful and beneficial attention, which he gave to public business; but at the same time, he (Lord Lansdowne) must say that despite the noble Duke's attendance, it seemed to him that his noble Friend near him had ample grounds for the complaint which he had made. It was very easy, indeed, to say, that if any one wanted information they might ask for it, and they would obtain it. He had no doubt but that some noble Lord connected with Her Majesty's Government would be able to give some explanation as to these measures; but what was the use of obtaining such explanations, when no time for deliberation could be had? The just complaint that was now made he well knew did not now originate for the first time, for it was a matter in which all previous Governments were more or less to blame. It was a complaint for which additional ground was afforded every year, and it had at last risen to such a height that the House was become a mere court of registration for the Bills that were sent up from the other House of Parliament, for they came at a season of the year when it was impossible to expect, and impracticable to give, a full and deliberate attention to them. As to their measures of legislation, he observed to their Lordships that they would be actually astonished if they were to perceive what numbers of them there were which were merely directed to amend, not the old statutes, but the new laws passed in a hurry by themselves; and all which they seemed to think required a perfection which it also appeared to be manifest they were never destined to attain. If they looked to the recent statutes, they would be amazed to perceive what efforts there had been made to perfect their laws; and he must say, that if they were to judge of them by the continual "amendments" that had been made in them, they might 1803 naturally expect that they should at this period be brought to superhuman — to something like divine—perfection. For Session after Session they were passing Amendment Bills upon Amendment Bills, as if they never could amend too much nor too often. The desire for postponement, too, was most astonishing. Every measure was put off to the close of the Session, as if it was a part of their political faith that laws, like fruit, ripened best in the dog-days. He would give an instance of this feeling, and of its unfortunate consequences. In the early part of the present Session, a noble Lord, who had given his attention to a measure of great consequence, proceeded to occupy the then vacant ground, to cultivate the then sterile waste, by passing a measure upon the subject which had so long occupied his attention. No sooner had he done so than every body slept forward and asked him to postpone it. "Don't ask us," they said, "to consider the Bill now that we can consider it; but pray postpone it till we cannot." What was the consequence? Why, that the measure when it went down to the Commons in a very altered form was complained of there as crude and unsatisfactory, and as being sent at so late a period of the Session, that they had not time to consider the state of the law upon the subject. It was impossible—plainly impossible—that they could attain perfection in that which was brought forward, without the means of discussion. No later than the last night they had a most remarkable instance of the inconvenience of this mode of proceeding. He had, on the previous night, come up from the country for the purpose of opposing, unless it was modified or altered in some way, a Clause in the Railways Bill, which he was persuaded, but which he was sure was not intended, by the right rev. Prelate (the Bishop of London), would have the effect of inflicting an injury and an insult on the lower classes of their countrymen, by putting them on a different footing with the rest of the community. There was a concurrence of opinion on both sides on the subject. There was a general disposition manifested to promote the interests of the lower classes; but with this disposition there was felt on all sides a great difficulty to attain that object. There were various suggestions, and misunderstandings took place. A Clause was proposed and carried, and that 1804 in a way which he was sure noble Lords were unable to comprehend. He could not pretend to comprehend, when other noble Lords, accustomed to consider the phraseology used on such occasions, declared that there was a difficulty in doing so; and yet the request that a Clause of such paramount importance should be postponed for a single day, in order that it might be considered—a request that should have been granted as a matter of course—was refused, and refused solely on the ground of the state of the Session, and, of course, on account of the time at which the Bill had been brought up to their Lordships. Let them, then, see the situation in which they were placed by this crude and undigested legislation. It gave them laws that disfigured instead of doing honour to the Statute Book. It gave to them laws, and laws to amend the laws, changes and perpetual alterations; and their course in this respect reminded him of an eminent individual in this country, whose name he did not intend to mention, but who it was well known, had a good deal of money, which it was said he intended to distribute in legacies. In his old age, it was asked of him, how he occupied his evenings? The answer was, that before he went to bed he was engaged in drawing up his will and allocating legacies. And then it was inquired how he spent his mornings; and it was in undoing his will and altering the legacies of the night before. That, in his opinion, was very like the way in which they spent the early part of their Session. It was in curing the faults, correcting the errors, and remedying the defects in the Acts that were passed the year before, and considering how they might amend them. What, then, was the remedy? Something, he thought, might be done to remedy this evil by the Government introducing more Bills into that House with the simple expedient of leaving out the money Clauses. There might be blanks left for them, and by that means they might occupy the early part of the Session. He had more faith in this as a remedial measure than the noble Duke had; but whether adopted or not, he must say, that anything would be better than the present system of hurrying Bills through in the most slovenly manner —in a manner which often made him rejoice that the Strangers' Gallery was so small; for he really felt that sometimes he should be ashamed that the world should know how, 1805 in that House, Acts of Parliament were manufactured.
§ Lord Wharncliffe
was sure that it would be a great convenience if the business were performed at an early period of the Session; but he did not think that the fault was with that House. It was perfectly true that many Bills passed through that House without more than a few words of explanation. That was the usual custom with that House, and he believed it was the custom also with the House of Commons. Unless Bills were likely to attract a good deal of attention, Members were satisfied with a short explanation respecting them. At the time that he sat in the House of Commons he had seen thirty or forty Bills on the Order Book, and in a very short time disposed of, unless some one required explanation. As to the Railways Bill, the noble Lord had complained that it was a most important Bill, and that it had come up at a time when they could not sufficiently consider its enactments, and he had instanced that which had occurred on the preceding night. Now, it ought to be considered that before such a Bill as that would pass the House of Commons, not only must it have been considered most maturely, but it must have taken great time to mould it, so as to meet the views of those who were interested in it. If they considered the vast property that was invested in Railways, it must be plain that out of doors much influence must be exercised, and much trouble must be taken before parties could come to a good understanding with regard to it. That, then, was some excuse for the lateness of the period at which it was brought into that House. His noble Friend opposite had made it a matter of accusation against the Government that, at the opening of the Session, the Queen's Speech contained less promises of future measures than any Queen's Speech he knew of. He thought that was rather a merit than a fault. He had seen Queen's Speeches promise many things more than were fulfilled. Now what were the suggestions in that Speech, and how many of them had been brought to perfection. Well, then, how many of them had been brought to a conclusion in the course of the Session. It referred to the Bank of England, and its promise had been fulfilled. It then referred to the Irish Registration Bill. That was a measure that undoubtedly they had not completed. It was a measure that affected the interests of Ireland as well as of this country. It was a most important measure, and, as the 1806 matter was, did not press exceedingly on them. It was not a pressing case. It was one which they wished to take full time to consider, so that when they did propose the measure, they might hope it would give full satisfaction. Many objections had been made against it. They wished to consider how much weight ought to be attached to them, in order that they might make it the more palatable. These, then, were the only subjects mentioned in the Queen's Speech. But had they done nothing more? Were there not other measures—and, as he contended, very great measures—measures that were difficult to frame so as to ensure their passing? He asked their Lordships whether they did not consider the conversion of the Three-and-a-Half per Cents. a great measure? In his opinion it was the greatest financial operation ever carried since the beginning of Parliament: it dealt with a vast sum of money, and it was satisfactory to the parties concerned. They had brought in an Amendment to the Factory Bill, and they had also brought to pass in the House of Commons the Amendment of the Poor Law Bill. It could not be said, then, that this was not a fruitful Session. It had been a most fruitful Session. Yes, he repeated the word, it had been a fruitful Session. The Ecclesiastical Courts Bill had not passed the other House it was true; but then with respect to the Irish Charitable Bequests Bill, his noble Friend thought that he was the suggester of the Bill, on account of his Motion with respect to some 7l. 10s. 6d., which the Commissioners of Charitable Bequests had mismanaged. His noble Friend had certainly made out a case that these charitable Commissioners had been most neglectful, and that the body itself required alteration. But at that time that his noble Friend introduced the subject, the Government had that, in connection with another object, in view. They proposed a measure to enable Roman Catholics to endow their priests, and therefore they wished to have the means by which both objects could be effected—to enable Charitable Bequests to be made, and to have these endowments when it suited the Roman Catholics to establish them. [The Duke of Wellington: One was to be in aid of the other.] He did not mean to say that it might not be advisable that Bills should be sent up from the House of Commons at an earlier period of the Session, so that this House might have ample time to consider the measures prepared by the House of Commons, and 1807 perhaps be enabled to improve them. He did not know that there was much to regret in the circumstance that more Bills were not originated in this House, for such Bills were not received with so good a grace as to ensure to them so much chance of passing, as if they were commenced in the House of Commons. Whether, however, more Bills might not be originated in this House he did not know, but certainly they had not much encouragement, for he had over and over again seen the failure of Bills which were originated in the House of Lords. He had no objection to the production of the Returns.
The Marquess of Clanricarde
said, he could not acquiesce in the statement of a noble and learned Lord, who, on a former evening, identifying himself with the Government, said, "Whereas last year we promised a great deal, and did little; this year, we promised nothing, and have done a great deal." Nor could he give to noble Lords opposite all the credit they seemed disposed to claim for the measures they had introduced. As to the financial measures of the Government, he admitted them to be good; but when they talked of the conversion of the Three-and-a-Half per Cents. as an extraordinary measure, and one which nobody could have anticipated, he thought such language was more extraordinary than the measure itself; for everybody had calculated upon the adoption of some such plan. The noble Baron claimed credit also for the Factory Bill; but he must remind him, that the most important question connected with that measure—namely, education—had been totally omitted this year. With regard to the Ecclesiastical Courts Bill, it was said to be a very difficult Bill to carry. Nobody denied that; but what he and his noble Friends complained of was, that after that House had been prevailed upon, with a view to secure what they were told would be a great improvement of the law, to make great concessions of principle, even the meagre and mutilated Bill which was sent down from that House did not pass the House of Commons. With regard to Ireland, and particularly the Registration Bill, he admittted that that was a question which did not press, and that it would be better that the question should remain as it was than that the measure proposed by the Government should have been carried; but he must remind the Government that there 1808 was a time when the question of the Irish franchise was considered an important one; and so he still considered it, and felt it highly desirable that it should be taken up on a large scale. The Charitable Bequests Bill had also been referred to. Now, he considered that a most excellent measure, as an improvement on the old Board in Dublin. There were also Clauses, which, however had not been in the original Bill, but were introduced as Amendments, which were of great importance. He therefore gave great praise to the Government for the introduction of that measure; but it was a great mistake for the noble Lord, and also the noble and gallant Duke, to say that that Bill altered the law in Ireland so as to enable individuals to endow Catholic glebes. The Bill, when it passed, would give no greater facilities for such endowments than had existed, he believed, since before the Union, except that the party would have the advantage of the machinery of this particular Board. The law of the land, as it appeared, enabled an inividual, choosing his own trustees, and availing himself of the old Board, if he pleased, to endow a Catholic glebe, and leave it as he thought proper. With regard to the New Poor Law Bill, he thought that was a measure which might very well have been introduced in that House. It was said, indeed, that there was greater difficulty in passing bills which originated in that House than those which were brought forward in the other. He knew no reason why that should be so, but certainly the hurry and confusion—the hurly burly, as it had been called—in which they were compelled to pass measures at the close of the Session, was entirely owing to the Government, because a reference to the House of Commons would show that the Government could have had no difficulty in the course of the Session in forming a House any time when they chose to bring forward important measures. Their Lordships would find, if they chose to take the trouble of inquiring, that the days upon which there was no House, or when the House was counted out, were those upon which there was no important Government business, or when some motions were to be brought forward which might prove disagreeable or inconvenient to the Government. One consequence of the hurried manner of doing business at this period of the Session was, that there were some Bills of importance—the Duchy 1809 of Cornwall Bill and others—which were forwarded through their stages without a single word being said upon them. There was one Bill to which he wished to call their Lordships' attention. It was one of which they ought all to have made themselves masters, and yet he doubted if any of their Lordships' (he included the noble Lord who had moved it through its stages) had read its Clauses, except himself (the Marquess of Clanricarde). It was the Dublin Grand Jury Presentment Bill, a Bill consisting of 158 Clauses, and containing the principle upon which all the Grand Jury presentments throughout Ireland ought to be regulated. He said that the mode of conducting business in that House was not creditable to their Lordships, either as regarded the performance of their duty, or upholding their character with the public.
The Earl of Wicklow
said, that ever since he had sat in that House, he had always heard, at the close of the Session, such discussions as these, the same complaints of the lateness of the period at which Bills came before their Lordships, and the consequent impossibility of considering them properly, and recommendations to the Government to originate more measures in that House; but still it happened that at the close of every Session things were just in the same state as before. He believed that state of things arose from the natural position and circumstances in which the two Houses were placed, and he therefore regretted that noble Lords did not attend more punctually at this period of the Session, when it was known from experience that there would be most business to be done. He had heard his noble Friend, the noble Marquess opposite, with regret, say that he had an annual visit of a week to pay at this period of the year, and in fact that absence of the noble Marquess last week had deprived the House of the valuable assistance of his experience and diligence in the consideration of the whole state of Ireland upon the discussion of an important measure relating to that country, which was debated before precisely the number of Peers which was necessary to constitute a House, namely, six. Noble Lords complained of Bills being forwarded without explanation. Why all the Bills were accessible to themselves, and if they neglected to examine them, and allowed them to pass without asking for observa- 1810 tion upon them, they should not make that a ground of censure upon the Government. Then, as to the House of Commons not making a House, surely that was as much the fault of the party whom the noble Lords opposite favoured as of the Government, for they had equally the power of making a House whenever any business which they considered of importance was to be brought forward. He, therefore, thought the complaints which were made were without foundation.
The Marquess of Normanby,
in reply, said, that if he had been aware that the Bill to which his noble Friend had alluded was to be hurried through three stages during the three days that he happened to be absent last week, nothing should have prevented his attendance. But he had applied to the noble Baron to postpone the measure, and although there was no discourtesy in his declining to do so, yet the reason he assigned was the strongest possible proof of the justice of the complaints which he (Lord Normanby) had made, for the noble Baron said that it was so late that the measure could not pass this Session unless it was expedited. Before he sat down he wished to repeat a question which he had before put to the noble Duke opposite, whether the Metropolitan Buildings Bill had been referred to the Commission appointed to examine the subject? He would also suggest to the Government whether it would not be possible that that House should meet next Session at four o'clock instead of five. He was sure that by some means or other (the attention of the House having been called to the subject), an end would be put to the present legerdemain mode, as it might be called, of conducting the business.
The Earl of Haddington
said he hoped, if the House was to meet at four, the noble Marquess would not expect the attendance of those servants of the Crown who had laborious duties to perform.
The Marquess of Normanby
said he had himself had laborious duties to perform, and he had no hesitation in saying that the additional hour might be afforded.
The Duke of Buccleuch,
in answer to the question put to him by the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Normanby), said that the Metropolitan Buildings Bill had not been specifically referred to the 1811 Commission, but it was under the charge of his noble Friend at the head of the Woods and Forests department, who was himself a Member of the Commission.
§ The Motion was then agreed to.