Page images
PDF
EPUB

met to introduce two measures for amending the system of assess

ment of rates-another of the subjects glanced at in the Speech : from the throne. One of these was a Bill to provide for uniformity of assessment in the metropolis. The Union Assessment Act of 1862 only applied to unions, and there were in the metropolis several parishes, which, although existing side by side with unions, were yet excluded from its operation. The Bill accordingly proposed to enable those parishes, which were twenty-two in number, to establish union assessment committees, and to place them thus on the same footing with the seventeen unions to which the Act of 1862 applied. The Bill also sought to accomplish another object. At present the poor-rate, the county-rate, and other rates in the metropolis were levied on different principles, but this Bill would place them on the same footing, and, if possible, establish one basis for local and imperial taxation within its limits. The right hon. gentleman, in bringing in the Bill, entered into details of the provisions to be adopted for the attainment of a common basis of action. The Bill would lay down a maximum scale, leaving a discretionary power below the amount. The Board would not have power to hear appeals as between unions, but a paid assessor would be appointed for that purpose.

Mr. Goschen also moved the introduction of a Bill for amending the law with respect to rates assessed upon occupiers for short terms, and, having described the widespread dissatisfaction among the working classes at the abolition of the system of compounding, stated that the Government proposed that the rate-book should still be the basis of the register, and that the occupier should still continue to be rated, but that he should be allowed to deduct the full amount of the rate from the landlord. It was proposed that the rate should be paid in quarterly instalments, and that no rate should exceed two weeks' rent, so that no tenant would be obliged to pay a greater amount for rent than that which it would be in his power to deduct from his landlord. It was also proposed that the Bill should have a general application, and not be confined, as the existing law was, to boroughs only.

In the discussion which arose on the introduction of this Bill Mr. Bright referred to the case of Birmingham, where 5000 distress warrants had been taken out, entailing great distress upon the people-distress aggravated by the conviction that it was wholly unnecessary.

Another measure, of which the initiatory steps were taken before Parliament entered upon the engrossing subject of the Irish Church, was the Bill for the better repression of crime, which was produced by the Government to meet the urgent demands of the public for a more effectual protection of life and property, and a more vigorous mode of dealing with that dangerous class who make crime their regular trade and pursuit, preferring to prey upon the industry of others rather than to exercise their own. In order to facilitate the progress of this Bill it was determined to introduce it first in the House of Lords, under the charge of Lord Kimberley, the Lord

Privy Seal. The noble lord, in moving the first reading of the Bill, stated at length the principles on which the Government proposed to legislate for the repression of crime, inasmuch as their intentions involved a considerable change in the criminal law. The noble earl traced modern legislation on the subject. He said that on account of remonstrances from Western Australia, the Government in 1864 gave notice that transportation would entirely cease in three years from that date. Accordingly transportation had now ceased, except in the case of Gibraltar. The system of releasing convicts on ticket of leave followed. The noble earl proceeded to refer to the Commission which inquired into the subject some years ago, and the recommendations of which formed the basis of the Act of 1864. The ticket-of-leave system had been very successful under Colonel Henderson. Real, hard, patient industry and good conduct were required to be shown by the convicts before they were released. In the case of the three convict establishments, the earnings of the convicts in the value of work done had nearly been equal to the entire cost of their maintenance. With regard to the supervision of licensed convicts, as it was intended to propose still further supervision, it was important to inquire into the existing system. At present the supervision was far from effective, one of the defects being the want of better communication between the police in different towns. He thought there was no occasion for alarm as to the condition of crime, for so far from there having been any great increase, there had been rather a decrease, comparatively with the growth of population. Notwithstanding this his lordship submitted there were two reasons for further legislation on the subject—one general and one special reason. The general reason was, that the country had by greater experience seen the necessity for it, and the possibility of repressing it. With regard to convicts, there were at present 1566 men on ticket of leave, and 441 females. In ten years' time it was estimated there would be 3000 convicts on ticket of leave. Having quoted statistics relating to other criminals, his lordship proceeded to discuss the question, how could they deal with this enormous mass of crime and this army of criminals? It had been suggested that men who had been convicted several times should be kept in penal servitude for life. He could not endorse that principle. The best mode which he thought of dealing with the men under life sentences was, when they became old and infirm, to remove them from public works; and if not to release them, simply to place them under restraint and exclude them from the public eye. His lordship thought that a certain class of confirmed criminals should be put under a special code of laws, and that the burden of proof of an offence should be transferred from the prosecutor to the defence. The main principle of the measure which he was about to propose was that any man, after having been repeatedly convicted, should be able to be called upon to show that he was earning an honest living; and if he failed to do that, then that he should be amenable to inprisonment. The Bill proposed to extend police supervision, and to throw on the criminal the burden of proof that he was leading an honest life. A register would be kept of all the licences granted, and any person holding one might be summoned by the police before a magistrate, and called upon to show that he was earning an honest livelihood. Failing to do so, he would then be remitted to undergo his original sentence. In the case of persons convicted of felony a second time, it would be a part of the sentence that they should be subject to police supervision for seven years, and during that period they might be summoned by the police to show that they were pursuing a decent calling, and in default be imprisoned for one year. A similar provision would apply where licensed convicts were found in suspicious circumstances and about to commit a crime. For third convictions the sentence would never be less than seven years' penal servitude. In the case of receivers of stolen property, after the first conviction they would be required to show that the goods were not stolen, and would not be allowed to plead simple ignorance of the fact. The Bill also dealt with the case of vagrants. It would not interfere with the liberties of the innocent, while it would circumscribe the movements of criminals and greatly strengthen the administration of justice.

The scheme thus described by Lord Kimberley was received with considerable approval by the House, but some noble lords suggested the reference of the Bill to a Select Committee. This, however, was objected to, as being likely to cause the “shelving” of the measure, and it was resolved to discuss the scheme more fully at the next stage. The second reading having been moved on a subsequent day, a debate took place. Lord Romilly analyzed the measure, and pointed out some points in it which required consideration. He threw out a suggestion in order to the eradication of the criminal class—which now was principally recruited from the families themselves of the offenders--that the children of felons should be removed from the control of their parents and educated at the expense of the State. The present opportunity might also be taken for securing more equality in the punishments inflicted by magistrates at the different Quarter Sessions.

Lord Hylton thought even the present obligation on ticket-ofleave men to come up at certain intervals for inspection proved a great impediment to their keeping honest employment. This Bill would increase that evil.

Lord Shaftesbury praised the objects of the Bill, but feared that in shutting up all avenues to honest occupation it might drive criminals to desperate courses. The provision of the Act of 1864 obliging them to report themselves to the police was, on the testimony of Sir Richard Mayne, useless or mischievous. This Bill extended still further the principle of supervision, and would put excessive powers in the hands of the police. The numbers of the class actually living by crime had, he believed, been exaggerated. The direction which measures for the repression of crime ought

take would be in the way of adopting still more stringent measures in relation to the receivers of stolen goods. He differed from Lord Romilly's proposal that the State should take possession of the children of felons, who were by no means sure, he declared, to become felons themselves; although he believed a right scheme of education was the best expedient for the prevention of crime.

Lord Carnarvon defended the principle of supervision. It was not a novel principle, nor was it liable to the charge brought against it of cruelty. The central registry proposed by the Bill, and which he thought its keystone, would regulate and temper the supervision. A registry established at Liverpool had, he had himself ascertained, a very beneficial operation. He objected, however, to the central registry being placed under the control of the Chief Commissioner of Police. The head of such a department ought to be intermediate between the latter official and the convicts. He criticized, also, the provisions of the Bill as to penalties for repeated offences. He thought we did not inflict long enough terms of imprisonment, and that the term ought to be increased with each conviction. Imprisonment for life would often be the most advantageous to the country in the case of confirmed criminals, and even to the men themselves.

Observations on the provisions of the Bill were made by Lord Airlie, who desired that it should be extended to Scotland, and by Lord Houghton, who deprecated the extension of the principle of police supervision, already harsh, and always liable to be abused. If supervision would extirpate crime, he would acquiesce in such an infraction of the liberty of the subject; but he had no hope that this would be its effect. The Bill he considered was really not that of the Government, but of Sir Walter Crofton, and it had been framed after an Irish pattern, not adapted to the circumstances of England. He would have preferred to see parts of it at least referred to a Select Committee.

The Duke of Cleveland thought that a public discussion of the Bill was preferable, and made some criticisms on Lord Carnarvon's arguments.

Lord Kimberley explained, and maintained his statement, that convict labour had defrayed the prisoners' maintenance, on which some uncertainty seemed to exist out of doors. He defended the provisions of the Bill for police supervision, which he declared were the main features of the measure. He argued they were not open to Lord Shaftesbury's censures, and would be less likely than the present system of reporting to the police to hinder the retention of employment by licensed convicts. It would not, he thought, be practicable or right to adopt Lord Carnarvon's advice to increase the amount of punishment for every new offence.

The Bill was then read a second time, and subsequently underwent a full discussion in Committee.

CHAPTER II.

“TAE DISESTABLISHMENT OF THE IRISH CHURCH ”—Predominance of this question

over all others during the Session- It forms the standing subject of discussion in Parliament and in the country-Time occupied from the introduction to the passing of the Bill — The Prime Minister moves for leave to bring in the Measure in Committee of the whole House ou March 1- Elaborate and lucid statement of the plan of the Government made by him - Remarks of Mr. Disraeli - Great Debate on the Second Reading, wbich is continued for three nights by adjournment-Mr. Disraeli moves the rejection of the Bill-Summary of the leading Speeches on each side

- Impression made by those of Sir Roundell Palmer, Mr. Bright, Dr. Ball, and Mr. Gathorne Hardy-Majority of 118 in favour of the Second Reading-Sensation caused by this result Analysis of the Division-Contemporaneous Debates in the House of Lords on the Condition of Ireland, and on the Coronation Oath - Impor. tant Statement by Earl Granville on the latter subject- Adjournment of the two Houses for the Easter Recess-Discussion of the Irish Church Bill in Committee for many nights between Easter and Whitsuntide-Statement of the principal Amendments moved, and Divisions taken, during this stage of the Bill - Questions of Reservation of Glebes, Compensation to Curates, Redemption of Rent-charges, Terms of Compensation to Maynooth, and other points-Steady and Uniforin Support of the Government by the Liberal party-Some Concessions are made by Mr. Gladstone, but no material Amendments carried - The Bill is passed through Committee before Whitsuntide -Subsequent passage of the Measure-Debates on the Report, and on the Third Reading, which is carried by a Majority of 114—The Bill is sent to the House of Lords.

The affairs of Ireland and the Irish Church formed the great occupation of Parliament during the Session of 1869. The importance of this question threw all others into comparative insignificance. From the 1st of March to the end of July the same engrossing topic engaged the thoughts and formed the standing topic of discussion among politicians of every class and grade, both within the walls of Parliament and without. The speeches, articles, and arguments to which this great controversy gave rise might fill volumes; the materials which it afforded for discussion, invective, and declamation appeared to be inexhaustible. We propose in this and the following chapter to make such a selection as our limits will allow from the very copious records of the Parliamentary debates, with the view of presenting to our readers a fair specimen of the arguments urged on either side in the controversy, and exhibiting the progress through all its prolonged stages of the great measure which, to the surprise of many, the Government found it possible to carry to its consummation within the ordinary limits of a Session. Before entering, however, upon the history of the disestablishment Bill, it will be proper to mention that the Government, presuming on the indications which appeared of a more tranquil and settled condition of the country, allowed the Act for the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act to expire. They also, in reply to questions which were addressed to them in both Houses respecting the Tenure of Land in Ireland, avowed their resolutior

« PreviousContinue »