HC Deb 30 May 1809 vol 14 cc792-800
Mr. Parnell

rose to move for the appointment of commissioners to enquire into the state of Tithes in Ireland. He said that he was authorised to consider the opinion of the house as favourable to an alteration in the system, inconsequence of the sentiments which were expressed by those who had opposed his former motion. The grounds upon which that was negatived were, because in the opinion of some members this period of the session was too late to entertain a specific plan, and because in the opinion of others there was a want of information on the subject. To meet the objections of the first description, he intended to bring forward a plan for a commutation of Tithes early next session, and to remove the objections arising from a want of information, he now moved for a commission. He said that a commission was preferable to a select committee of the house, because if we were to wait till the next session to appoint a committee, which would be necessary, nearly a whole year would be lost in making the inquiry, and besides a committee if appointed, could not well, sitting here, obtain the information which was wanted. Whereas a commission could proceed upon the enquiry immediately; and an inquiry to be made by persons appointed by the crown would be more agreeable to the body whose interests were immediately concerned, than an enquiry made by a committee of this house; and in this, as in all other respects concerning the mode of paying the clergy he wished to proceed in the way that would least offend their feelings. He said that there were several precedents for this mode of proceeding since the Union. Commissioners had been appointed to enquire into the state of the finances of Ireland, of education, and of prisons, and for trying controverted elections, all which inquiries naturally belonged to select committees, but which, in consequence of the distance of Ireland, could not so well be made as by commissioners acting on the spot.—The house should consider in coming to a decision on his motion, why any inquiry at all was wanting; if Ireland had continued to have a local parliament, no such inquiry could have been wanting, because each member would have been completely informed of the state of the tithes; the house then was bound to place the people of Ireland by an enquiry on the same footing as they would have been without one, if the Union had not taken place, and to remedy as far as it was able this great injury, which Ireland had sustained by the Union, of the legislature being ignorant of the condition of Ireland and of the nature of the evils of which she complained. Besides the house should consider this motion with reference to the petitions on the table, and feel that they were now called upon to give an answer to those petitions. When a specific plan of redress was proposed of the evil complained of in these petitions, it was rejected for want of information, and will the house, now that a mode of obtaining information is brought forward, reject that also, and say we will neither adopt a remedy for the evil, nor enquire into the nature of your complaints? If the house does so, it will do that in regard to the people of Inland, which his majesty would never do towards the meanest subject that petitioned him; for an instance was never known where a complaint was preferred to the throne, to which at least this degree of attention was paid to it, of giving for answer to the person complaining, that the nature of the complaint should be enquired into. The hon. member said, that he hoped, therefore, that the house of commons would not refuse to give the same degree of attention to the complaints of the people of Ireland, which was uniformly given by his majesty to the complaints of even his poorest subjects. He moved, "That an address be presented to his majesty, to appoint a special commission to enquire into the manner in which Tithes are collected in Ireland, and such other matters relating to the buying and collecting of Tithes in that country as they shall judge it proper to direct their attention to, and to report thereon."

Mr. R. S. Dundas

(secretary for Ireland) opposed the motion, upon the ground, that before they went the length of addressing the king to appoint commissioners to make such inquiries they should first be satisfied, that some practicable measure could be proposed and adopted, to remedy the evils complained of, and acknowledged to exist, in regard to the buying of Tithes. It would only tend to raise the expectations of the people, while they could not realise them. The hon. gent. must be aware, that the feelings and passions of many individuals were already too much alive upon this subject throughout every district in Ireland; besides, the house were not at present deprived of information upon Irish subjects. It might as well be said, that they could not legislate as to the Tithes of Scotland, without instituting an inquiry; whereas it was well known that a law was lately passed relative thereto, merely upon the statement of those acquainted with that country. He doubted of the expediency of the mode of inquiry proposed, and also of its necessity, as sufficient information could be derived from gentlemen connected with Ireland.

Mr. Maurice Fitzgerald

expressed his surprise at hearing such an opposition to this motion, as the former one had been opposed upon the ground of there being a want of sufficient information. With respect to exciting dangerous expectations in the minds of the people of Ireland, by the measure proposed, he could assure the right hon. gent. that they could only be excited by the continuance of the present system, and he was persuaded the inquiry would have quite an opposite tendency. There were parts of Ireland where the most serious disturbances had been excited within these last two years, upon this very subject; and he was sorry to say, such had been the case in that very part which he had the honour to represent. He was convinced the right hon. gent. when he became acquainted with the actual state of the Tithes in Ireland, would retract his opinion and sentiments in a future session. There were many abuses existing there, which did not exist here. From the sentiments generally expressed in the house upon a former night, he was sure that an inquiry would be the best preliminary to any measure that parliament could adopt to remedy those evils. He should touch upon a few of the grievances relative to the raising of Tithes in Ireland, in order that gentlemen might contrast them with the mode adopted in England. In many cases the tithes were collected by the agents of absentee clergymen in the most severe manner. It was also a general habit for clergymen to set them up to auction, and sell them to a respectable tenant, who employed another to extort the utmost from poor and unfortunate individuals. If such practices existed in England no minister would dare to resist a parliamentary inquiry. In Ireland, almost all the lower orders of the people subsisted by cultivating the soil, and it was upon them in particular this tax operated as a grievous burden. Even the potatoe garden of the peasant did not escape the most rigorous exactions. This was contrary to the principles of taxation adopted in any country whatever. Add to the severities of collection, the plan of apportionment was far from being equitable. In some counties, such as Ulster and Con-naught, the potatoe-gardens were not tithed at all. In Kerry, the tithe of potatoes was at the rate of 36s. per acre, and in two districts close to it, it was treble that amount. This he thought was a severe injustice. The disturbances of the White-boys were solely owing to the grievances of the tithe system in those counties, where arbitrary modes of exaction existed; while in others, where they did not exist, no disturbance had taken place. He did not wish to connect this inquiry with the question of religion, as he was convinced the catholics paid the tithes more freely and more willingly than the protestants. The former abstain from resistance, from motives of delicacy, and no political disaffection mingled itself with their conduct; the utmost they demanded, in any instance, was, that they might be allowed to deal immediately with the clergyman for the tithes. If the matter of tithes was to become the subject of future discussion, it was surely proper that the house should be prepared for it. In the views he had in regard to a commutation of tithes, he thought nothing but a complete commutation would ever tranquillize Ireland. It would put the established church on a happier footing, and would afford greater encouragement to agriculture. It was quite paradoxical that pasture land should be exempted from any pre- mium to the church. Indeed all the great landed proprietors, although more interested in the church establishment, were exempted from the payment of tithes, a circumstance which was most discouraging to agriculture, and an evil which could only be remedied by a commutation of tithes, by which every individual should pay his portion to the clergyman. Under these circumstances he should vote for the motion for inquiry.

Mr. Dundas

, in explanation, said, he never meant to convey any other opinion, than that this was a subject highly worthy of the consideration of parliament. He thought, however, that the inquiry proposed at the present time was altogether unnecessary.

Mr. Ponsonby

said, it would be highly satisfactory to know at what period government would think fit to make any inquiry, or adopt any measure upon this subject. Last session the Chancellor of the Exchequer had said, he had even gone the length of preparing a bill to remedy these evils; but this session he said it was so full of difficulties, that he had neither bill to propose, nor any measure to adopt. When his hon. friend (Mr. Parnell) moved for leave to bring in a bill, the previous question was moved, for the want of information; no information was yet procured, and now the house were told it was unnecessary.—The time was not far distant when that right hon. gent. and all others would find that information, as to Ireland, was indispensably necessary. The system of tithes was a subject of great importance, and surrounded with great difficulties, but not such as were wholly insuperable. The arguments used against adopting this measure, were the best reasons in the world for taking it immediately into consideration.—The longer it was deferred, the more was Ireland exposed to calamities and difficulties of every kind. Why did the right hon. gent. not take some step in the interval, since last session, to procure the information he wanted? Why did he now say, that on account of the difficulties and importance of the subject, he should take no step at all?—The subject was of such vital importance for the tranquillity of Ireland, as well as of this country, that he hoped his hon. friend would take the sense of the house upon it, and that government would not meet the house with the same ignorance next session as they did upon this one. As to exciting dangerous expectations, how could it be supposed that such a matter could be conducted secretly? It was impossible to proceed in any way without exciting the hopes and expectations of the people of Ireland upon this subject. The measure proposed by his hon. friend appeared to him to be both judicious and temperate. It applied to the crown, as to the head of the church, to inquire into this church property. It placed the nomination of the persons composing the commission entirely in the executive government, where it ought to be. He hoped that these repeated motions on this subject would at least have this good effect, that they would compel ministers to adopt some measure to ameliorate the situation of Ireland.

Mr. Grattan

thought that the Commission of Inquiry proposed would not have the desired effect, as it bad been generally found that such commissions were inadequate to the objects in view, and rather tended to discourage the adoption of a measure than otherwise. Even although such a commission were to deliver in a report, he should not be disposed to reckon it binding. He had seen many commissions appointed by the crown, but they had been found never to go to the root of the evil, and rather tended to recommend a feeble than an effectual measure. He thought that it would be better to move, next session, that a committee be appointed, and that the loss of this motion would not embarrass that one.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

did not think that the house were in ignorance with respect to the subject of tithes in Ireland; but he conceived that the difficulty was how to find out a practical mode of securing the property of the church. He had never objected to the former motion of the hon. member, on account of the want of information; but he objected to it, because it was not a measure, capable of being adopted for the reasons he then gave. He had not been remiss in making inquiries, and had even produced a plan, which however he afterwards found it necessary to abandon, as it appeared it could not have the effect desired. He could not be persuaded that any inquiry, either by commission or committee, would do any good, for they did not want information, but they wanted merely a plan of how to get the better of the difficulties they knew to exist.

Sir J. Newport

spoke in support of the motion. He thought the arguments used against it were very extraordinary. If they did not institute a previous inquiry, the house were attempting to apply a remedy, without knowing what was the nature of the disease, which appeared to be entirely a new mode of legislating. If the result of the commission did not satisfy the house, they might have recourse to some ulterior information. At all events, the noble lord opposite (Castlereagh) was bound by his former professions, at the Union, to find out some modifications to lighten the burdens of the poor oppressed people of Ireland. Instead of doing so, however, that noble lord appeared to forget all his pledges for the public good, and merely to attend to those that went to provide for individuals whom he had taken care to seduce to his own standard. That noble lord professed to be the follower of Mr. Pitt; sequitur non passibus equis. If he were so, he ought undoubtedly to perform the pledges which that statesman had made, as well as to perform those which he himself had undertaken. If ministers profess to be the successors of Mr. Pitt, let them come forward, with one consent, and redeem the pledges he had given, otherwise they could not pretend to be other than unworthy successors.

Lord Castlereagh

stated, that he knew of no pledge whatever that was made either by Mr. Pitt or himself, upon the subject of tithes, or upon the Catholic question. He should most distinctly deny that he ever had made any pledge as to Ireland.

The Hon. C. H. Hutchinson

supported the motion, and in strong terms deprecated the conduct of the noble lord opposite (Castlereagh), as to Ireland. He looked upon that noble lord as the parent of the Union, and he, in order to effect it, had made many promises; but whenever any question, as to the amelioration of the situation of Ireland came to be agitated, he either put a negative upon it, or moved the previous question. If the noble lord thought he should be handed down to posterity, either for private virtue, or public political conduct, he (Mr. H.) must beg leave to be of a contrary opinion. [Here was a cry of Order! order! and the Speaker interfered and observed, that it was irregular to allude to the private character of any individual of that house.] If (continued Mr. H.) the whole of the country were to stand up in support of that noble lord's conduct, he should be proud in standing single, and stating that he had grossly discharged that public duty which he owed to that country, called Ireland. How many years had passed since the Union, and yet nothing had been done to ameliorate its situation! No one of the expectations of its unhappy people had been answered, nothing but personal degradation had ensued. Absentees were greatly increased, the capital had been deserted by its nobility, and almost the whole of the great landed proprietors. Much had been promised to that country, but nothing had been as yet performed.

Mr. Parnell

said, in reply to the assertion of the right hon. gent. that a want of information had not been laid as a ground of objection to his former motion, that he could appeal to the recollection of several members now present, whether the Secretary for Foreign Affairs had not distinctly stated as the reason which induced him to negative that motion through want of information on the subject which prevailed in the house. If there was any doubt upon this point, he said it was cleared up by the absence of that right hon. gent., for he had a right to infer, that he was absent because he could not vote with his colleagues on this motion, in consistency with the opinion which he had given on the former motion. In answer to what the right hon. gent. had said, of his appearing not to be aware of the difficulties which attended the plan which he recently proposed, because he had not replied to the objections which he had urged to it, he said that the reply made to those objections by a right hon. friend of his, rendered it unnecessary for him to do so. He had said, that the plan of enabling incumbents to make leases for twenty-one years was a plan of no detail and of no difficulty. The fact was, that nothing would have been so easy as to have secured the successor to the incumbent making the leases against injury, because it would only have been necessary to have adopted the same regulations as those under which all tenants for life under settlements are controled in making leases of their lands, and then the situation of the successor to the incumbent making leases, would have been exactly the same as the situation of tenant in remainder under the established law. With regard to what the right hon. gent. had said about no inquiry being necessary, and of the competency of the house to discuss and decide upon any specific plan that may be brought before it, without any previous inquiry, he begged the house would not forget the declaration of the right hon. gent. when he should bring for- ward a specific plan next session, in order that his motion may not be opposed as his former one was, on a plea of want of inquiry and of information. The chief Secretary for Ireland had said, the proposed inquiry could do no good, because it was impossible that it could lead to any practical plan. To this doctrine of the impossibility of the house being able to discover any plan for a commutation of tithes he must protest; for though it might be difficult to say what plan was the best, still there were so many great authorities in favour of a commutation, and who had pointed out plans for effecting it, that it certainly must be in the power of the house, if it would sincerely set about the work, to discover some plan which would meet the evil complained of. The authority of Dr. Paley was quite decisive upon the subject; he had said that he knew of no measure so practicable, and of no alteration that would be so beneficial, as a commutation of tithes for corn rents. This opinion should therefore give the house reason to suspect, that the assertion of the right hon. gent. that no practical plan can be discovered, was wholly unfounded. He begged the house to consider, that they were now called on by his majesty's ministers to tell those who had sent petitions to this house, that the house would not inquire into grounds of their complaints; and he submitted to the justice and good sense of the house, whether, under the circumstances of Ireland and of the continent, this was an answer that ought to be given to them.

The house then divided,

Ayes 75
Noes 146
Majority against the Motion —71