§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.
§ LORD WAVENEY
, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, that a Bill dealing with the same subject was introduced into their Lordships' House in the year 1874. That Bill, 933 however, was rejected. The objects of the Bill of 1874 were larger than the present Bill, and, besides dealing with the appointment of sheriffs, dealt with the question of clerks of the peace. The present Bill had passed through the other House with the assent of all parties, and its object was to give to the municipalities of Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Waterford, Kilkenny, and Drogheda, which were counties in themselves, the right of appointing sheriffs, now enjoyed by such corporations in England. Care had been taken to eliminate from this Bill the features which had excited suspicion and disapproval among their Lordships in a similar measure. For example, instead of giving to the six municipalities the sole right of appointing a sheriff, they were merely to select three qualified persons, one of whom would be appointed by the Lord Lieutenant. Another point which this Bill dealt with was the jury panels. The sheriff now had the power of partially appointing the jury, and this measure now proposed to do away with that power. It was further provided that the office of sheriff should not be deemed one of profit, and that no person should be disqualified from being elected an alderman or a councillor of the borough by reason of his having been appointed sheriff, nor should any person be disqualified from being sheriff by reason of his being an alderman or councillor. Another provision in the Bill would enable corporations in Ireland to grant the honorary freedom of their boroughs. At present they could not confer this honour, but there seemed no valid reason why they should be subject to this disability. For reasons also which their Lordships would understand, Clause 10 of the Bill provided that no person who had been convicted of felony should be capable of being elected to the rank of honorary burgess. The advantages of the Bill were so manifest that he had little doubt it would receive favourable consideration at the hands of their Lordships, and therefore he moved with full confidence the second reading of the measure.
§ Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(The Lord Waveney.)
THE EARL OF LIMERICK
, in moving, as an Amendment, that the Bill be read 934 a second time that day month, said, he was intimately acquainted with one of the cities in Ireland affected by the Bill, and he must say that, after making careful inquiries, he had not found that there was any great anxiety felt about this Bill. Nor was he aware that any Petitions had been presented to their Lordships in favour of the Bill. He admitted that, to some extent, this measure was an improvement on the Bill of 1874—namely, that the clerks of the peace were not included in it. But some of the other provisions rendered it more objectionable than the other Bill was. His noble Friend opposite had not in any way attempted to state that the election of sheriffs by town councils would be good in itself, but simply advocated it because he said it existed in some towns in England, and therefore he thought it ought to exist in Ireland. Now, he thought that nobody would urge more strongly that the circumstances of England, and Ireland were not exactly similar than the hon. Gentleman (Mr. M. Brooks) who introduced this Bill in "another place." He must say that he thought the election of sheriffs by municipal corporations would add considerably to the difficulties which already existed. He feared that persons would not be chosen because of their personal fitness to discharge the duties of the office, but that they would be chosen to carry out the law for having sailed very near the wind in a political sense. With regard to the city with which he was most acquainted, he could not feel any confidence that the elections would be conducted in a manner that would add to the dignity of the city. He remembered an election at which the room in which the town council met was occupied by a furious mob, and a town councillor in a sworn examination said he was unable to exercise his vote, because his life would have been in danger if he had done so, and he believed that this case was not a solitary instance. He could not believe that a Bill of this description would tend to promote the dignity of the sheriffs. He knew it would be said that this Bill differed from the previous Bill, inasmuch as that the corporations were not to elect the sheriffs, but were to recommend three persons to the Lord Lieutenant for election. He must call the attention of his noble Friend opposite to this, because it 935 appeared to him that the title of the Bill was at variance with the Preamble. The title said that it was a Bill to extend to the municipal corporations of Ireland the same privileges as those enjoyed by corporations in England. Now, he knew of no case in England in which a corporation or any other body had to recommend three persons for an office, as was proposed by this measure. He considered such a provision to be mischievous, and more mischievous than any other provision in the original Bill, because it would be perfectly competent to select two men of straw who would fulfil the requirements, and a third person who might be most objectionable. In such a case the Lord Lieutenant would naturally have to elect the objectionable person, and it would appear to the world as if the Lord Lieutenant had selected out of the three candidates the person who might be most objectionable. He should like to ask his noble Friend opposite why two cities, which he believed were also counties, had been omitted from the Bill—namely, Carrickfergus and Galway? Besides all the objections he had named, he should most strongly appeal to Her Majesty's Government, and the noble Duke who was Leader of that House (the Duke of Richmond), whether it was right that a Bill which was objected to, and rejected on a division by their Lordships the year before last, should be read a second time on the 10th of August, when, if all they heard was true, the sitting of Parliament would end on Wednesday next. He hoped their Lordships would not assent to the second reading of the measure.
§ Amendment moved to leave out ("now") and add at the end of the Motion ("this day month".)—(The Earl of Limerick.)
§ EARL SPENCER
said, the noble Lord complained that the Bill came on for second reading at so late a period of the Session. It was true that his noble Friend behind him (Lord Waveney) had reproved the Government for reading another Bill a second time at so late a period of the Session; but he hardly thought that the noble Lord who had just sat down could compare that Bill with the present measure. The Bill which was now before their Lordships was one which had been debated in that House before, and there could be no difficulty 936 in carrying a simple measure like this even at this late period of the Session. He thought they ought to consider that this measure had excited considerable interest in Ireland, and had also attracted considerable attention "elsewhere," and he therefore thought that some slight discussion should take place on it. He desired to put before their Lordships the reasons why he should not follow the noble Earl into the Lobby on his Motion for the rejection of the Bill. He said that whenever they found a grievance was felt by a particular law, and whenever they found that by altering that law they were not in any way endangering the State, then he thought it was right to assimilate the laws of England, Scotland, and Ireland. Then he thought that all those requirements were to be found in the Bill now before their Lordships. In England they found a very considerable number, he thought as many as 20 corporate towns which had the ancient privilege of electing their own sheriffs. Some of those towns were very small; but when they went across the Channel they found larger and more important towns which had that privilege taken away from them; and, further than that, they knew that it was considered to be a great grievance by those municipalities across the Channel that those ancient privileges had been taken away from them. There would not possibly be any danger to the State in carrying this small measure. The sheriff's office in Ireland was an office of dignity. An Act had been passed this year—he meant the Juries Act—which would now become the law of the country, and he felt sure it would do great good in Ireland by removing the impression which existed in the minds of many persons as to partiality in the election of juries. No doubt, the sheriffs had the power of partially selecting the juries; but this Bill would take away that power altogether. This Bill was introduced into the other House in 1874, and after a discussion was referred to a Select Committee, and it came out from that Committee with some Amendments. On that Committee were the Chief Secretary for Ireland (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach), his Colleague, the late Chief Secretary for Ireland (Lord Carlingford), and the present Lord Chancellor of Ireland (Dr. Ball), and he thought their Lordships would incur a serious responsibility if 937 they rejected a measure approved of by such distinguished persons. The noble Earl opposite had asked why Carrickfergus and Galway were not included in the Bill? He believed the simple reason was, that they were not corporate towns. He hoped the Bill would be read a second time.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR
said, that, although the Bill came before the House at a very late period of the Session, the question with which it dealt was a very simple one. It was introduced by a private Member in the other House, and as such was opposed by the Government, but after undergoing a considerable amount of modification they were able to accept it. The Bill in its then form contained the principles which were recommended and adopted by Parliament in 1838–9 for the assimilation of the laws of England and Ireland on the subject, and the Government were prepared to support it in that, as they had done in the other House. He must add that he thought there was some ground for the objection that it was not altogether in accordance with its present title and Preamble, and he would, therefore, suggest that those should be altered.
§ LORD REDESDALE
said, it was at least unfortunate that the Bill should have come up to their Lordships' House at so late a period of the Session, when there was hardly an Irish Peer present.
§ On Question, "That 'now' stand part of the Motion?" Their Lordships divided:—Contents41; Not-Contents 14: Majority 27.
§ Resolved in the Affirmative.
§ Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House To-morrow.