HC Deb 30 May 1823 vol 9 cc602-9
Mr. Goulburn

moved the order of the day, for going into a committee to consider further of this bill. On the question being put, "That the Speaker do now leave the chair,"

Sir J. Nicholl

observed, that considering who were the framers of the present measure, he could not view it as an attack upon Tithes in the character of church property; more especially as the Composition was proposed to be applied to all tithes, and it was well known that a large portion of them, particularly in Ireland, belonged to laymen. At the same time, he must remark, that great caution was to be used in interfering with the rights of property of any description. Doctrines extremely alarming were set' afloat in the world. An equitable adjustment of all contracts was to be proposed. Principles in regard to church property had been stated, directly asserting that it belonged to the public, and was disposeable for the use of the state. Such assertions could only be considered as tending to measures of manifest spoliation and plunder. But a fair composition or commutation for tithes, did not necessarily bear that character. Plans of that sort had been proposed at different periods by some enlightened statesmen. Yet it should be recollected, that those plans, however specious at the outset, had always proved abortive, and difficulties of detail had always presented themselves which were found to be insurmountable.—After these experiments had been repeatedly tried, and considering that the evils from the tithe system in this part of the United Kingdom, were not of a mag- nitude sufficiently great warrant the introduction of a measure tending to very alarming consequences, he should have thought that a plan of the sort now proposed, if to be applied to England, would have been highly objectionable at the very outse.—But the case might be different as respected Ireland. In that part of the United Kingdom, evils so great might exist, as to justify an attempt to frame a measure for substituting a composition in lieu of the payment of the tithes in kind. The expediency, however, of the attempt, would depend on the magnitude and extent of the evils existing in Ireland. He protested, therefore, and the principal object of his rising was to protest against any inference, that because the progress of the present measure, as respected Ireland, was acquiesced in, a similar measure would be expedient for England. The circumstances of these two parts of the United Kingdom were widely different. They stood in this respect rather in contrast than parallel to each other—and he regretted that this contrast and the special circumstances in respect to Ireland, had not been more strongly marked and more distinctly stated in the preamble of the bill. He hoped that the preamble would be amended in the committee.

Objections to the measure had been started. He would not then discuss, or form a decided opinion upon them. He would only observe, that the objections on one side and the evils on the other, ought to be fairly considered and balanced. There were, however, two principles in dispensably necessary to be strictly adhered to and secured. The first was, that the substitute for the tithes in kind should be a fair and just compensation, and so adjusted as to be beneficial to both parties, the tithe-owner and the tithe-payer. This should be carefully guarded, even if the composition were to be purely voluntary; since it should be recollected, that the present owner of the tithes was to bind his successor, who would be to party to the contract.—The other principle was, that the substitute should be made to keep pace with the times in inference to the changes that might take place in the prices of commodities to the relative: Value of money. These two principles should be strictly attended to, and were indispensable.

Giving credit, then, to the framers of the bill, for intending to pursue these principles, and assuming that evils existed in Ireland to justify an attempt to model and modify a remedy, but repeating his protest against the expediency or such a measure for England, he should not oppose the Speaker's leaving the Chair.

The House having resolved itself into the committee,

Mr. Goulburn

said, he was anxious to remove any doubts which might have arisen in the minds of his right hon. friend, as to any intention existing of extending the operations of this bill to England. He could assure his right hon. friend, that no such intention had ever been entertained by any one. He would, however, put an end to the possibility of such a fear existing any longer; for he would now propose that the preamble to the bill should be postponed; and before the House was called on again to consider it, he would propose such an alteration in that part of the bill, as should completely guard the tithe system of this country from being affected by the measure now under consideration, should it be adopted by the House.

The preamble to the bill was then postponed. On the clause which provided that the rector, vicar, or other incumbent, shall return a list of persons having paid tithe to such an amount as will entitle them to vote in vestry,

Mr. Calcraft

objected to the clause, which, he contended, would throw the whole power of appointing the vestry into the hands of the incumbent, who would, no doubt, be careful to return in' his list no individual who was hostile to his own interests, or over whom he had not in some way a control. He was himself favourable to the principle of this bill. He considered it calculated to do much good in Ireland; but he feared that as at present constructed, the machinery was too complicated for it ever to work with effect.

Mr. Goulburn

said that the mischiefs which the hon. gentleman seemed to apprehend as likely to arise from too much influence being given to the clergyman were guarded against by the subsequent clause, by which any individual who considered his name as improperly omitted in the list returned by the clergyman, might, on application, to a magistrate, have it inserted, and become eligible to be appointed a vestry-man, having previously qualified himself, by complying with the other provisions of the bill.

Mr. Dennis Browne

objected to the bill altogether, and to this clause in particular.

Mr. Vesey Fitzgerald

strongly protested against such an arrangement as quite inapplicable to Ireland. There was a total want of machinery in the south and southwest parts of Ireland to carry it into effect. In some parishes there was not a resident magistrate. Besides, the clause would be open to great abuse, for any considerable lay-impropriator of tithes might from influence create vestry-commissioners, and check-commissioners from his own partisans, and thus collect tithes to what amount he pleased.

Sir H. Parnell

undertook to say, that in the part of Ireland with which he was acquainted, this measure would be hailed as a benefit. Although it might not be fit for that portion of the country which the right hon. gentleman had named, yet there were two other provinces which it would suit.

Mr. V. Fitzgerald

said, that in the county of Cork, which was five times as large as the county which the hon. baronet represented, such a measure was totally impracticable. It was monstrous to press, a measure designed to be of general application, with the fact that in two-thirds of Ireland it could not be acted upon.

Mr. Abercromby

suggested, as an improvement, that in the cases of parishes where arrears existed, and where, consequently, under the present clause, the whole of the tithe payers might be excluded from taking part in the vestry, the payment of the last year's arrears might be deemed sufficient to qualify for admission to the vestry.

Mr. Secretary Peel

said, be approved of the suggestion. As to the proprietors of agistment land, it was obviously their interest not to have anything to do with the appointment of valuers.

Mr. S. Rice

thought the contribution to the country rate might be made the test of the qualification of the vestrymen.

After some further conversation on this clause, it was agreed to postpone it.

Mr. Wetherell

objected to the principle of universal suffrage in the election of arbitrators. The vestrymen ought to be chosen by a portion of the tithe payers. He thought it would be better to take this clause into further consideration on the recommitment of the bill.

Mr. Peel

thought the argument of the learned gentleman did not apply to the present case. This was a voluntary and not a compulsory clause, with regard to land not now paying tithe being taken into the composition. If no tithe had been demanded for the last seven year, it was to be considered that for such land no tithe was demandable. The learned gentleman had talked of putting an end to the rights of the church. This measure had no such effect. It only gave a power to parties to enter into an engagement for 21 years, and at the end of that time the contract was to be put an end to.

Mr. Ricardo

observed that, by the present bill, land improved within the last 21 years was not to be tithable for such improvement; but as an adjustment was to take place every year, suppose a man possessed of poor land, to improve that land within one year after the passing this bill, he would become liable to pay upon his improved land, while his neighbour, having been so fortunate as to improve a year sooner, would be liable to no such burthen. This would be to give one person a preference, ruinous in its effect, to another. The bill might be favourable to Ireland, but it would be most injurious to the English agriculturist, as it would enable the Irish grower to grow corn cheap, and he might glut the English market, to the ruin of the English grower, unless a protecting duty was imposed on Irish corn.

Mr. Goulburn

said, the argument just introduced by the hon. member for Portarlington, was one quite beside the present question; though it would apply to any measure introduced with a view of assisting agriculture in any part of the empire. If the ground now laid by the hon. gentleman was sufficient to justify the imposing countervailing duties on Irish produce, a wide field would indeed be opened for imposing such duties, not only in Ireland, but in various part of this country. How would the hon. gentleman reconcile his proposition with the various instances which existed in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, in particular, of parishes relieved from the operation of the tithe system by special acts of parliament. According to the hon. gentleman's doctrine, we must have Custom-houses erected on the borders of those counties, and countervailing duties imposed, to keep up this beautiful system of equilibrium of price. He must at once strongly protest against this proposition of countervailing duties between England and Ireland, to counteract any advantage which might possibly arise to the latter country.

Mr. Benett

, of Wilts, though a considerable English grower himself, did not complain of the present measure, because it might, by chance, be beneficial to Ireland, at a small expense to England.

Colonel Barry

said, there was one part of the clause to which he must object; namely, that part which gave to the commissioners the power of raising the composition one-third above the present produce of the living. He should move to omit that part of the clause when they arrived at it.

Mr. Goulburn

contended, that it was necessary the commissioners should have a discretionary power; and that if, on comparing the average of the last three or four years, they should find the sum received by the clergyman not equal to the value of the tithe, they should have the power to fix a higher composition. Suppose a clergyman, from motives of humanity towards his parishioners, not to have taken so much for tithe as he was justly entitled to, and suppose the incumbent of the adjoining parish to be a man of different character, was it to be said, that in such opposite cases the commissioners were to have no discretionary power, but that the kindness of the one party should be taken advantage of for the purpose of deteriorating his property, whilst the severity of the other should operate in a directly contrary manner? It was not intended that the commissioners should be bound to give one-third; it was to be left to them to act as the justice of the case required. He was convinced, that, if a contrary course was adopted, this measure would, instead of proving a conciliatory one, increase discontent, as the parishes in which the Composition was fixed at the higher rate would, on comparison with others more favourably situated, complain, and with reason, of being hardly dealt with. He did not consider that this discretionary power could be lodged any where better than with the commissioners, and therefore he would support the clause.

Mr. Benett

thought that if the commissioners were to have the power of raising some livings, they ought also, if they thought fit, to have the power of reducing others.

Mr. D. Browne

strongly opposed the clause. It was said that the tithes were the main cause of the discontent in Ireland; and now the House was going to adopt a measure, by which they would be increased one-third in most cases.

Colonel Barry

then moved to leave out the particular words of the clause to which he had called the attention of the committee.

Mr. Daly

supported the amendment. The average would, he said, always be taken upon 1816, 1817, and 1818, which were all high years, and would give a very high average.

Sir J. Newport

was ready to give the clergyman as much as he now received, but no more.

Mr. Wynn

was against the amendment. Cases of modus might arise, in which the discretionary power might be necessary to enable the commissioners to act fairly by all parties.

Sir G. Hill

thought the clause was intended rather as a defence for the parishioners than as an advantage to the clergyman; for by it the commissioners were restrained from going beyond one third.

Lord Folkestone

said, the clergy would have a manifest advantage, as the composition would be fixed upon the payments made in a deteriorated currency, and the payments now would be in a currency restored to its proper standard and value.

Mr. Calcraft

thought the commissioners should have a discretion. He did not say whether it should be to the extent of one-third or not.

Mr. Goulburn

said, that to meet the wishes of his right hon. friend, he would propose that the following words be inserted—"That it shall and may be lawful, where it shall appear to the commissioners that the average is not the fair value of the living, for the said commissioners to add to such average any sum not exceeding one-third of the amount."

Colonel Barry

thought, that instead of a benefit to the people and clergy of Ire-land, the bill, if passed with such a provision, would prove a curse to both. He would give to the clergy what they now had, but no more. He could not agree to the amendment.

On a division, the numbers were; for the clause, 73; against it, 63.

Mr. M. A. Taylor

objected to the measure altogether, as inordinately increasing the revenues of the clergy, and particularly in Ireland, where the hierarchy was enormously overpaid, consider- ing the respective populations of the two countries. He hoped that the Irish members would closely watch the details of this bill.

Mr. Goulburn

joined with the hon. member in requesting the aid of the Irish members in the consideration of this measure. It was only by their aid that it could be rendered beneficial to Ireland. The hon. gentleman had said, that by the operation of this bill the incomes of the clergy would be enormously increased. The hon. member could not have read t he bill, or he would not have ventured on such an assertion; for there was no compulsion; the whole was voluntary; the bill did not go to impose any new burthens on the people.

Mr. R. Martin

observed, that the House had forced the government into this measure, and he had been a party in that force. He was decidedly of opinion, that the clergy were entitled to a fair compensation for whatever rights or property the bill might go to deprive them of; and unless that compensation was given, he was convinced the measure would never pass the other House of Parliament.

The chairman reported progress, and obtained leave to sit again.