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Second Reading

Volume 218: debated on Tuesday 21 April 1874

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Order for Second reading read.

, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, he thought a simple statement of its provisions the best argument he could use to induce the House to assent to its principle. The object of the measure was to give to corporations in counties, cities and towns in Ireland the same privileges as corporations in counties, cities, and towns in England enjoyed. In the shape in which he intended ultimately to present it to the House, the Bill dealt with only two offices, those of the High Sheriff and the Clerk of the Peace. There was in the Bill at present a clause restoring to the corporation of Dublin the right of electing their Recorder as the corporation of London now elected theirs; but he thought there was an answer to that analogy. In a Bill professing to claim equal privileges for the two countries, he could scarcely avoid making that claim for the corporation of Dublin. But the Corporation of London was not included in the English Municipal Reform Bill. All the corporations which were included in it lost the privilege of electing their Recorders.' Therefore, he could not rely on that accident as entitling him to claim that privilege for the City of Dublin, and if the House read the Bill the second time he intended in Committee to move the omission of that part of the measure. As to sheriffs and clerks of the peace, he had an unanswerable case. From ancient times wherever there was a corporation in a county or town, that corporation possessed the right of electing its own sheriffs. On the reform of municipal corporations, the right was retained in England, while in Ireland it was vested in the Crown. Whatever might have been urged for this on the principles of a policy which he hoped was bygone, the distinction could not be justified in the present state of political feeling. Exclusive of the City of London, which elected sheriffs not only for London but for Middlesex, there were 20 English corporations which enjoyed the right; while in Ireland not a single sheriff was nominated by popular election. Could English Gentlemen assign any reason for this difference? The six or seven towns to which this Bill applied lost that privilege when the corporations were thrown open to public election, and the appointment was transferred to the Crown. He did not want to quarrel with the decision of the House on his proposal to allow Irish corporations to be elected by household suffrage; but that decision had made more odious the distinction between the two countries, for in England corporations elected by household suffrage enjoyed a right denied to Irish corporations elected on a very high franchise. In Kilkenny the corporation was elected by 272 burgesses; while in Lichfield, with a population about one-third that of Kilkenny, there were 1,000 burgesses, the sheriff being elected by an assembly chosen by household suffrage, while Kilkenny was denied that right. He asked, ought Irishmen to be satisfied with this? It might be called a light matter; but none of these things were light matters. It was a galling badge of inferiority to Irishmen to feel that a privilege conceded to an English was denied to an Irish city, and it could only be justified on the principle of treating Ireland as an inferior and conquered nation. In introducing the Irish Municipal Reform Bill in 1837, Lord Russell, a statesman still honoured in this House, said the question was whether the Irish people were fit to enjoy Constitutional rights, or whether they should be proscribed as unfit to enjoy the rights of Englishmen, and be proclaimed an inferior race of beings. The same issue was now raised, which no figures or ingenuity could evade, as was done the other night by urging a difference between the two countries as to the number of £4 or £5 occupiers—considerations by which the principles of the Constitution had been frittered away. Against Irish remonstrances, the class vested with the inheritance of the ancient charters had been fixed in Ireland on a narrow and exclusive franchise: but the persons so intrusted with corporate rights were plainly entitled to the same rights as English corporations. He thought that the decision come to by the House the other night with regard to the other Bill which he had proposed was an unanswerable argument in favour of the passing of the present Bill. For the sake of the peace of Ireland and of this country, for the sake of the union and the affection which, ought to exist between two members of an Empire which he hoped might long remain united—if it did not it would be the fault of this unwise and invidious legislation—he asked English Gentlemen whether they were prepared to treat him because he was an Irishman as an inferior being, and to treat his countrymen as an inferior race. The hon. and learned Gentleman concluded by moving that the Bill be now read a second time.

wished, first of all, to say that the Bill rejected on Friday night was not rejected from a desire on the part of any Member to deprive Ireland of any privileges conceded to England, but because the circumstances of the two countries were so different on that point that a franchise in Ireland would swamp property by numbers which had not that effect in England. The Bill now before the House might be considered under three heads. With regard to the Recorder of Dublin, he did not wish to make any remarks upon that point, because he understood the hon. and learned Member to say that he would not press it in Committee. But he might remind the hon. and learned Gentleman that, in addition to the reasons which he had himself given against his own proposal, there was this difference between the Recorder ships in London and Dublin—that whilst the Corporation of London paid the salary of their Recorder, four-fifths of the salary of the Recorder of Dublin was paid by the Crown. It, therefore, seemed reasonable that the Crown should have the power of appointment. But with regard to the matters which the hon. and learned Member proposed to leave in his Bill—namely, the transfer of the power of appointment of sheriffs and clerks of the peace from the Lord Lieutenant to the municipal authorities, it was true that in England, in boroughs having their own courts of quarter sessions, the Town Councils had the right of appointing their cleric of the peace, while in Ireland the appointment was vested in the Lord Lieutenant. Looking at the second reading of the Bill as the admission of a primâ facie case, he had no reason to offer why the practice in Ire-land should not be assimilated to that in England. At any rate, the point might fairly beconsidered in Committee, though technical questions might then arise as to the duties and position of clerks of the peace. With regard to the appointment of sheriffs, it occurred to him that some of the most important duties of the sheriff in Ireland had been taken away by the recent Jury Acts. But those Acts were at present merely temporary, and the whole question of juries in Ireland was under the consideration of a Committee which was only appointed last night; so that until the question had been settled it might be doubted how far it was advisable to deal with the mode of the appointment of sheriffs, who formerly selected jurors. This, however, was not a sufficient ground for his opposing the second reading of the Bill, as this point could be fully discussed in Committee, in the presence of the Attorney General for Ireland, who was now detained elsewhere by other duties. Subject to the understanding that both these questions could be discussed in Committee, he had no objection to offer on the part of the Government to the second reading. He hoped they would hear no more of a charge; which the hon. and learned Member for Limerick (Mr. Butt) was hardly justified in making—namely, that proposals made in respect of Ireland were dealt with on a different basis from that which was adopted in the case of England. He could assure the hon. and learned Gentleman that neither the Government nor, so far as he knew, any Member of the House, had any wish to deal with Irish measures except upon a fair and reasonable footing, and with an anxious desire to arrive at that solution which was best for the interests of Ireland.

expressed a hope that attention would be given to the details of the Bill in Committee, more especially to the proposal to vest in corporations the right of appointing clerks of the peace, because he was not at all certain that the duties of clerks of the peace in England and in Ireland were identical. With that observation, however, he was glad that the Government had assented to the second reading of the Bill.

observed that as to the appointment of clerks of the peace, he thoroughly concurred in the decision at which the Government had arrived—namely, that under certain conditions those appointments might he vested in corporations. He trusted, however, that the decision would not be held to confer upon those elective bodies any vested right in the appointment of those officers; and for this reason—that the late Government, after carefully considering the subject, had arrived at the conclusion that the office of clerk of the peace in counties and counties of cities might very well be abolished altogether, and the duties combined with those of the clerk of the Crown. That conclusion was embodied last Session in the County Officers Bill, but time did not permit of its being proceeded with. He trusted that Her Majesty's Government would take an opportunity of considering that question, and believed that if they did they would arrive at the same decision. If they should, the present concession to corporations ought not to be a barrier to giving effect to that view. With respect to the concession as to the appointment of sheriffs by the corporations, he could only say he was extremely glad that they had been able to come to that decision—if, indeed, they had done so—as the right hon. Gentleman had intimated that that part of the question might be open to further consideration, He could, however, hardly imagine that the Government, having assented to the second reading of the Bill, would in Committee oppose its most important clause. If the appointment of sheriffs was struck out, there would be nothing left but the power to appoint clerks of the peace, and to confer honorary freedoms he could hardly suppose, there tore, that the Government would refuse their assent to the principal provision of the measure. He must say, however, that had the Government arrived at a different conclusion, he should have felt considerable difficulty as to the way in which he should vote. The hon. and learned Member for Limerick (Mr. Butt) had said that all the powers in reference to the selection of jurors had been taken away from the sheriffs. That was so under the existing Act; but then it should be borne in mind that a Committee had been just appointed to review that Act, and there was no saying what alterations in the law might be made. The sheriffs, however, had the absolute selection and nomination of grand jurors, whose duties were intimately connected with the administration of justice, and he was glad that the Government thought that the selection of so important a body could now be virtually intrusted to a popularly elected body. No more gratifying testimony to the state in which the present Government found Ireland could; be borne than was shown by the course which they had taken in regard to this Bill.

said, he could not help expressing the pleasure with which he had heard the speech of the right hon. Baronet the Chief Secretary for Ireland. It seemed to him inconceivable that there was any truth in the rumour that the Government intended to pooh-pooh the Bill, for its principle was the principle of assimilation, which to his mind conveyed the principle of Union. The principle of action in that House was to determinedly oppose what was known here as Home Rule, and the more determined they were in that direction, the more resolved they should be to encourage and appreciate measures for Ireland of a remedial character promoted in the Imperial Parliament. The more strenuously they opposed separation, the more willing should they be to welcome overtures towards assimilation. The Bill went a small way; but it was impossible to overrate the importance of its acceptance, as an indication of the future policy of the Cabinet. Ireland had always been a difficulty to English Governments, and particularly to all Conservative Governments. Happily, that difficulty was now removed, because the present Government was in as smooth water as any former Government had been, and it was a matter of congratulation to all those who valued the peace and contentment of Ireland to see a course taken by the Government which not only met the approval of both sides of the House, but would be approved on both sides of the Channel.

said, that the other night the Government thought fit to oppose the second reading of a Bill to assimilate the Irish municipal franchise to that of England. He was glad that on this occasion the right hon. Gentleman did not think it desirable to pursue a similar policy. The Bill to which he referred—

I rise to Order. The hon. Gentleman, I submit, is not entitled to refer to a Bill not now under discussion.

I think I am entitled to refer to it for the purpose of showing the manner in which these questions have been dealt with in this House. On that occasion—["Order."]

said, the hon. Member was not in Order in alluding to a former debate of the present Session.

said, he should then confine himself to the Bill under discussion now; but seeing that the principle involved in both cases was the same, it was difficult to avoid illustrating the one by the other. The present was a particular Bill and a small Bill, but it had, no doubt, been carefully considered by the Government, and he hoped that the larger and more important Bills that would be brought before the House would be dealt with in a similar spirit. After all, there were only seven corporations in Ireland, and the Bill did little more than put into the hands of those corporations the power of selecting their own sheriffs, and give the appointment of an important paid officer, the clerk of the peace. He was glad that that patronage had been taken away from the Castle at Dublin; for it was mainly through those small offices that the whole country had been corrupted, and its Parliamentary representation demoralized. [A laugh.] Hon. Gentlemen opposite might laugh; but if they had read the history of the Union they would have seen that the policy which those appointments were to aid was deliberately intended for the corruption of Ireland, and had, unfortunately, only too well succeeded in its object. The Bill was to his mind inferior to others of its kind which would be brought forward, and unless the principle of assimilation could be conceded by both sides of the House, and they would lend their aid in extending to Ireland the privileges which larger measures would confer, there would be little advantage in passing this particular Bill.

said, that as a friend and well-wisher to Ireland, he desired to express the great satisfaction with which he had heard that it was not the intention of the Government to oppose the second reading of the Bill. He had not been aware that the hon. and learned Member for Limerick (Mr. Butt) intended on Friday night to bring on the second reading of his Bill for assimilating the municipal franchise to that of England, or he should have taken the opportunity of urging upon the Government the desirability of entering upon a course of conciliatory policy towards Ireland by consenting to the second reading of the Bill. He hoped that what had taken place that evening would prove to be the inauguration of a series of measures showing-high statesmanship, which he well knew no man in the House was better qualified to introduce than his right hon. Friend at the head of the Government. He was not a friend of what was ordinarily called Home Rule; although, looking back on the past history of his country, he almost hesitated to think that the Union, established by Pitt in 1800, had been the means of conferring great benefits upon Ireland. He could not say that the prophetic words of that great statesman, Grattan, had not been realized to a wonderful extent. The noble words which Pitt, with the most disinterested motives, and a sincere desire for the welfare of Ireland, used when introducing the Bill for the Union on the 2nd of April, 1800, merited attention, He said that his object in laying it before Parliament was—

"To calm the dissensions, allay the animosities, and dissipate the jealousies which have unfortunately existed: as a measure whose object is to communicate to the sister kingdom the skill, the capital, and the industry which have raised this country to such a pitch of opulence; to give to her a full participation of the commerce and of the constitution of England: to unite the affections and resources of two powerful nations; and to place under one public will the direction of the whole force of the Empire."—[Parl. History, vol. xxxv. p. 40.]
He (Sir Eardley Wilmot), then, would go further, and say with reference to the sacred compact then made—and upon the foundation of which the Union was established—namely, the maintenance and preservation of the Established Church of Ireland—if Pitt, when he used those words, could have foreseen that a statesman equal to himself in power and ability would ever consent to the introduction of a measure by which that sacred compact would be broken asunder, he would rather have cut off his right hand than propose the Union to the House. Here they were, however, with the Union before them, and certainly, also, with many of the results which Grattan had anticipated. Now, too they were confronted by the Home Rulers, of whom he wished to speak without the least disrespect, and, indeed, he was ready to give them credit for upright and honest intentions, fully believing that they had the interest of their country at heart. After this lapse of time, however, it was impossible that the Union, which had been brought about with so much care, could be dissolved. The Union was a final and inviolable settlement from which there was no return—"Vestigia nulla retrorsum"—Nor could Ireland ever have again her separate Legislature. But though it was now impossible to put an end to the Union, it was their bounden duty to introduce and carry to completion all measures that were calculated to promote the interests of Ireland, and develop more fully titan had hitherto been done the material and internal resources of the sister country. The prosperity of Ireland had been checked, her industry damped, and her wealth drained from her. All that had been foreseen, and therefore it was that he for one would support to the utmost, not only measures introduced by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Limerick, but every other measure which he conscientiously felt would bring the people of Ireland into an equal state of prosperity with ourselves. He agreed with the hon. Member (Mr. Mitchell Henry) that the system of administration which existed in Ireland was not the form and mode of government which ought to continue any longer in that country. The appointment of a Lord Lieutenant fostered and promoted party feelings, party jealousies, and party animosities to such a degree that he would appeal to his right hon. Friend at the head of the Government to say whether he would not sooner or later, introduce a measure by which that state of things should be put an end to. He should like to see a member of the Royal Family permanently installed there as Viceroy, but without any political character, like our own Sovereign in England; which would tend to the return of that resident wealth and influence and nobility to Ireland, which now found a permanent home in the attractions and luxuries and pleasures of this country. The present office of Lord Lieutenant was, as they might say, merely a sham. It was not the first time he had avowed that opinion; and he did not hesitate to say it was from a strong feeling of attachment to Ireland—he having many friends and some relatives there, admiring the many noble qualities possessed by her people, and knowing their loyal and generous feelings—that he urged these views upon the House, assuring them that if we did not take an unfair advantage of Ireland. Ireland would give us in return the strongest feelings of love and affection. He cordially supported the second reading of the Bill. He was glad the Government meant to allow the Bill to go into Committee, and only hoped they would take the same course on a future day, when the hon. and learned Gentleman's Bill to assimilate the franchise in the boroughs of Ireland to that in the English boroughs came on for discussion.

was happy to say that he entirely disagreed with the observations of the hon. Member who had just sat clown. He congratulated the hon. and learned Member (Mr. Butt) on having achieved, with that brilliant strategy which he had already exhibited this Session, a third triumph of party feeling. He (Mr. Leslie) had a horror of Bills such as the one now before the House, which he believed were, in common with many others that were to come, both plausible and mischievous. The sister of this Bill, now happily entombed, had the same peculiarities, for while it pretended to assimilate the law of Ireland to that of England, the hon. and learned Member took care not to make known how totally different were the circumstances between the two countries. He detested Bills of this kind—possibly from a superstitious veneration for the principles of the old Constitution, which could never be departed front without danger to public liberty. He would not detain the House, especially as he appeared to be arguing against the wisdom of the Government, which was far from his intention. But he must hazard one more observation. In a speech which the hon. and learned Member for Limerick (Mr. Butt) delivered not long since, he complained of a grievance which now no longer existed—namely, that Irish questions were put off to the dead hours of the night, that it was frequently 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning before they came to be considered, and he added "that there were then only the dregs and refuse of the House of Commons left to transact Irish business." These were the hon. and learned Member's words, and he could not deny them. [Mr. BUTT: Hear, hear.] He (Mr. Leslie) appealed to the "dregs and refuse" of the House to show real respect for, and fair appreciation of the true interests of Ireland by voting against the second reading of the Bill.

remarked that the hon. Member for Monaghan (Mr. Leslie) had informed them that he detested this Bill, but he did not give them any particular reason for doing so.

"I do not like you, Dr. Fell;
The reason why I cannot tell,
But this I know; and feel full well,
I do not like you, Dr. Fell."
The hon. Member detested the Bill, and there his argument began and ended. The speech of the hon. Member was a perfect contrast to the genial, kindly, and generous remarks of the hon. Baronet (Sir Eardley Wilmot) who had just spoken, and said that if he had been in the House the other night he would have voted for the second reading of the Municipal Franchise Bill. He congratulated the Chief Secretary for Ireland upon having had the courage to make the promise he had done in reference to this Bill. He would not refer to bygone debates; but the right hon. Gentleman must have gained great experience within the last few days, and he regarded in his altered conduct an honest desire to repair the mistake of a previous evening. He rejoiced at the support which the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Ireland gave to the second reading of the Bill, the frank manner in which he expressed himself in reference to Ireland, and in his declaration that he would in the present Session do all in his power to promote the interests of that country. Such a declaration deserved the acknowledgment and support of Irish Members. The secret of the difficulty which Conservative Governments had previously had in governing Ireland was that they were hampered by a section of their own followers from one corner of Ireland, who made up in the force of their acrimony for what they lacked in point of numbers. The right hon. Gentleman would find the history of the government of Ireland studded over with instances of a mistrust of popular government. He would find the greatest possible errors on the part of the authorities at the Castle in performing duties which ought to be entrusted to local bodies. They had recently taken over the power of appointing prison warders, and in one of the Dublin prisons a schoolmaster was appointed who could neither read nor write, whilst a master weaver was sent down from the Castle who had never seen a loom. The whole system in Ireland was cursed with this marked distrust of popular government, and the people of Ireland viewed with the greatest jealousy this constant withholding from them of privileges and rights which they could obtain by transferring their domicile to the other side of the Channel. He trusted that Her Majesty's Government would prefer having the support of such hon. Gentlemen as the hon. Member for South "Warwickshire (Sir Eardley Wilmot), whose kindly feelings Irish Members were most happy to reciprocate, to relying upon the co-operation of that small contingent whose Representative had spoken that night.

Motion agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed for Tuesday next.

said, he hoped that some facilities would now be given for proceeding with the Bill as the Government had given their sanction to it. He most cordially accepted the assistance which the Government had afforded him, and he hoped that he might look upon it as a kindly intimation of the friendly feeling of the Government towards Ireland.

desired to ask the Prime Minister, whether the Bill could not, after what had occurred, be dealt with as a Government measure?

It appears to me that some business ought to be reserved for hon. Gentlemen opposite.

House adjourned at a quarter before Eight o'clock.