HL Deb 26 February 1847 vol 90 cc506-13

said, that in the absence of the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Lansdowne) yesterday evening, he gave notice of his intention of putting a question to him that night on the subject of public business, to which it would be well for the convenience of their Lordships and the country, if Her Majesty's Government could give an answer. He adverted then to the state in which public business appeared to be in the other House, and to the state of no business in which their Lordships' House appeared to be at the present time. This was the sixth week of the present Session of Parliament, which had sat at an unusually early period, and no business had come before them except some temporary measures for the relief of distress in Ireland; and at that very moment, with the exception of the business which stood on the "Votes" for that day—the notice of his noble Friend (the Earl of Eglintoun), and the Bill for granting indemnity to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland—not one single Notice and not one single Bill was on their Lordships' "Votes," or was ready to be submitted to their consideration. And from what he could learn of the proceedings of the other House, it would appear that in the course of that night, and of the next week, the principal business—indeed almost the exclusive business—would relate to the provision for the Estimates, which would make no advance in public business, and would not facilitate any measure with regard to Ireland. The Irish measures for providing permanent relief for the distress in that country, were, as he believed, postponed to a period so late as the 8th of March, and he thought it impossible they could pass through the House of Commons earlier than some time between the 15th and 22nd of March, which would be very near the Easter recess. It appeared to him very much to be regretted that their Lordships should have arrived at so late a period of the Session without making any progress in public business, and without having any business of importance before them. He admitted that, looking to the Speech from the Throne, the promises and expectations of business to be brought forward that Session, were not of a very extensive character; for, with the exception of the measures for the relief of distress in Ireland, the only measure mentioned in that Speech was a sanatory measure for the health of towns. He was very well aware that, in consequence of the jealousy of the House of Commons, which, as he now and always thought, was carried to an extreme, not to say to an unnecessary and inconvenient extent, great difficulties existed in originating measures which should contain money clauses, such as those relating to the health of towns or to the improvement of the law, or like that under the care of his noble Friend with respect to convict discipline, which might, as he thought, very properly and very successfully, be originated and discussed in their Lordships' House with much greater advantage in the first instance than elsewhere. If that were done, their Lordships would then have more leisure at the end of the Session to consider the mass of business which was generally thrown upon them in July and August, and which was in consequence got through very hastily and carelessly. The questions he therefore wished to put to Government were—first, whether it was their intention to introduce any measures of importance for their Lordships' consideration; and if so, of what nature they were, and at what period between this time and the Easter recess they would be brought before the House?—and secondly, whether, as far as Government could form an opinion on the subject, it was likely their Lordships would have any business of importance sent up to them before that time from the other House of Parliament?


could assure the noble Lord he would be very glad to give him any information on this subject. When the noble Lord made a complaint that more business had not been transacted at an early period of the Session, he only repeated what had been said, from time to time, when the noble Lord was himself in office, up to the present Session, when it could be met with a much more satisfactory answer than before. Within the last hour, he (the Marquess of Lansdowne) had looked over the Journals of the House, and it appeared that much more business had been transacted during the last six weeks of this present Session, than for a corresponding period in any other Session when the noble Lord was in power. He would not select the last Session, because the noble Lord was not then in office; but going back to the Session before, in 1845, when he was in office, and looking to the Speech from the Throne, which announced many measures of importance, he found the following results. Parliament met on February 14. Taking the first seven weeks of that Session, he found that the following were the legislative proceedings for that time:—On February 24, the Bill for the Abolition of Deodands was read a first time; on the 28th, the Bail in Error Bill was read a second time; on the 10th of March, the Jewish Disabilities Bill was read a second time, and Pauper Lunatics (Ireland) Bill a first time; on the 14th, the Jewish Disabilities Bill was read a third time, and the Stamp Duties Assimilation Bill a third time; and on the 17th, the Property Tax was read a first time, and the Pauper Lunatics (Ireland) Bill a second time. But not one of those measures was passed, with the exception of one, the Jewish Disabilities Bill, and the Stamp Duties Assimilation Bill. That constituted the whole of the business for more than the first six weeks of the Session 1845. He did not make the statement as any attack on the Government of that day to which the noble Lord belonged, and which was, no doubt, desirous of bringing business before their Lordships' House, but for the purpose of calling to his recollection that in that, as in every Session, very great obstacles existed to the introduction of Bills to their Lordships at an early period, which might account for the circumstance that for nearly seven weeks in 1845 they had actually introduced and passed but one Bill. He would now state the Bills which had passed during the six weeks of the present Session. Parliament met on the 19th of January. No less than six important Bills, instead of one, had passed through all their stages up to this time: the Buckwheat Importation Bill, the Distilling from Sugar and Brewing from Sugar Bills, the Chelsea Pensioners Bill, the Destitute Persons (Ireland) Bill, and the Navigation Laws Suspension Bill. All these measures had passed through every stage in their Lordships' House, and he could confidently assert they constituted altogether an infinitely larger amount of important business than had ever been passed during the first six weeks of any past Session. He did not mean to say that this was in itself an excuse for neglecting to bring forward measures at the earliest possible period of the Session; and he wished to take that opportunity of stating to their Lordships how public business stood with respect to the views of Government, and for the purpose of giving the noble Lord every information in his power. He had hoped that some business would have been brought before their Lordships; but obstacles had arisen to it—partly from the very important discussion in the other House, which had not been brought to a successful termination—he meant the long and protracted debate on the question of assisting railways in Ireland by Government money, which had caused great delay to the progress of business. In consequence of it Parliament was brought to a stage of business when it was necessary to consider the financial condition of the country; and in doing so their Lordships would perceive that, in point of fact, the other House was considering Irish business, because though its immediate progress might be delayed by the consideration of the Ways and Means of the year, the existence of Irish distress—now admitted by all parties—required very large sacrifices of public money for its relief; and it therefore became indispensable to acquaint the other House with the extent of that demand, and to take the sense of the House upon it, with a view to facilitate the entertainment and progress of the measures for Ireland, which could only be considered with reference to large financial questions. These were the reasons which made it impossible to bring on the Irish measures before the 8th March; but he could state confidently that those Bills would be proceeded with on that day. As to the time they would take to pass through the other House, and as to the discussion which would arise upon them, he need hardly say it would be impossible to state positively when it would be brought to a close. It was not correct that no notice of public business to be brought before the House had been given to their Lordships. He stated a few days ago that one Irish Bill, which had undergone great alteration on the part of his noble and learned Friend (the Lord Chancellor), and which required to be weighed with the greatest care, for the purpose of enabling proprietors to sell parts of their estates, would be laid very soon on the Table. Much progress had been already made with it; and the noble Lord must recollect how many communications there had been necessarily received on the subject. It was also the intention of Government to introduce some very important Bills with respect to the administration of the penal laws, the reformation of criminals, and the improvement of prisons; but the consideration of the sanatory condition of towns could not be originated in that House—they must take time to consider the subject; and the noble Lord was aware there were great obstacles in the way of introducing measures in that House, owing to the jealousy, often, as he thought, unnecessary, with which their conduct was watched by the other House in matters of that kind.


observed, that the time which had elapsed since November might have been employed in the preparation of those Bills. He regretted that more measures had not been introduced into their Lordships' House, and saw no reason why certain classes of Bills should not first be submitted to their Lordships, provisions in regard to penalties being reserved for the consideration of the other House. He was glad to learn that there was a prospect of legislation on the criminal law; and when he observed that unprofessional persons were proposing measures on the subject (Sir John Pakington's Bill in reference to juvenile delinquency was an example), he felt inclined to press for the appointment of a Committee to take the whole matter into consideration. But for the notice just taken of the subject by the noble Marquess, he (Lord Brougham) certainly should have proposed a Committee upon the matter which he opened to their Lordships when presenting the Liverpool petition last week, and he did not know whether he should not do so still, as he had received several important communications since, and among the rest an entire denial of some parts of the results of the Liverpool experience.


said, if blame were attached to Her Majesty's present Government for not bringing forward measures in that House at an earlier period of the Session, with much greater weight it would attach to those Governments who had preceded them, who had been strong, and had known themselves to be strong in that House. And the less ground of complaint was there of a Government who felt that they were weak. With reference to the two Irish measures which were now before the other House of Parliament—one being a Bill for granting a million and a half of money to the Irish landlords, on the security of their estates; and the other, a Bill for making very great and important alterations in the Irish poor law—the noble Lord at the head of the Government had stated that these two Bills must go pari passu through that House. If this were not the case, he (the Earl of Wicklow) had no doubt that one or the other of them would come up to that House long before the Easter recess; but by thus coupling them together, in order to send them up at one and the same time, the probability was that unless the Poor Law Bill was considerably altered, they would neither of them come up at all during the present Session. Now, he denied that the Government had any right thus to couple the two Bills. The Bill for making advances to the Irish landlords was connected with, and formed part of, a question which was passed last year. When the late Government brought forward their Corn Bill, they promised that it should be accompanied by certain other measures which would be for the advantages of the landed interest of the united empire. These measures they called measures of compensation for the passing of the Corn Bill. One of them was for advancing two millions of money to the landed proprietors of Great Britain; the other for advancing one million to proprietors in Ireland. The latter Bill, however, was drawn up in so faulty a manner, that a pledge was given at the close of the Session that it should undergo amendment on the reassembling of Parliament in the present year. As regarded that Bill, therefore, he contended that the Government had no right whatever to keep it back, and to say that it must come before their Lordships pari passu with the Poor Law Bill, and which Bill might not pass at all; thus inferring, that if the one did not become law, the other should not be given to the country. Now, this was all very well as far as a half million of the money was concerned, which was an increase on the original sum intended to be granted; but as to the million, he denied their right to postpone the measure, for it was to be given as compensation for the measure passed last year.


said, it was quite true that an impression had existed that it would be desirable to consider the measures to which the noble Earl had alluded—namely, that for advancing money to the landlords, and that for altering the Irish poor law, together, inasmuch as the first would afford very great accommodation to the landlords, whilst the second would impose a burden upon their property. The noble Earl had stated that one Bill was entirely independent of the other; and so far as related to 1,000,000l. out of the 1,500,000l., which the Bill proposed to appropriate for the advantage of Irish landlords, the noble Earl was quite correct; but he was not correct with regard to the benefit to be derived by the landlords under the Bill as formerly passed, and under the Bill as it was now proposed to be passed. It was true that in the last Session, and under the late Government, it was announced in this and the other House of Parliament, that a sum of 1,000,000l. was intended to be advanced to the Irish landlords for the purpose of drainage in Ireland, and at the same time that 2,000,000l. were to be advanced for the like purpose to the landlords of Great Britain. But the present Bill was not merely a Bill which was promised last Session, for the purpose of extending that benefit to entailed estates in Ireland; but a larger amount of benefit was proposed in this Bill to be granted to landlords, by greatly extending the objects for which the advances were to be made, so as to include every species of substantial and permanent improvement that could be made on any estate. This Bill being regarded as a sort of compensation for the other, it was deemed advisable that the two should be considered together; and he had no doubt when the measure came into operation, their Lordships would find that it worked very beneficially for the permanent and substantial improvement of Ireland.

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