HC Deb 03 May 1824 vol 11 cc421-6

On the order of the day for the second reading of this bill,

Mr. Grattan

said, that he felt himself called upon to resist the further progress of the measure. It was not to be looked upon as an amendment of the law of last year, but as quite a new measure, regarding which the landed proprietors could not have been consulted. It bore most severely upon them, while it was completely in favour of the ecclesiastical party. It would be most fatal to the landed and Protestant interests in Ireland. He objected more especially to the clause respecting the appointment of commissioners, and to the power given to the lord lieutenant. In short the measure was altogether so objectionable, that he would move, "That it be read a second time upon this day six months."

Mr. Dennis Browne

justified the application of the powers given by the constabulary act, and assured the House, that in his own county the constables were impartially chosen, and that their conduct had given permanent peace to the district.

Sir J. Newport

wished the further consideration of the bill to be postponed until it could be entered upon more maturely. He had been disposed, in the first instance, to look at the measure in a favourable light, but was compelled upon consideration to arrive at the conclusion, that the present bill would augment all the evils of the act of the last session.

Lord Oxmantown

contended, that the agreement proposed in the bill was not fair towards both parties. The provisions of it were too much in favour of the clergy. Some more effectual measure of relief was necessary, and particularly with regard to the levying of tithes in kind. The bill was not only unequal towards the landed but towards the ecclesiastical interest; since it gave the extortionate clergyman a decided advantage, in any final arrangement by commissioners, over the liberal and considerate pastor. He was by no means in favour of the compulsory clause of last year, but he wished a fair option to be allowed.

Mr. Goulbourn

said, he was not desirous to shun any comments that might be made upon this measure by gentlemen on either side of the House; and was prepared, either now or in a later stage, to defend its principle, and to explain its details. The necessity of some amendment to the bill of last year was admitted on all hands, and those who wished to accomplish this object, as well as those who were desirous of correcting the errors and of supplying the deficiencies of the bill upon the table, must be equally anxious to resist the amendment of the hon. gentleman, in order that such changes as were required might be made in the committee. He was ready to allow that certain changes in the present form of the measure would be expedient. He had felt it incumbent on him to withdraw the clause requiring the oath, in consequence of the representations of several individuals, who had declared that they could not conscientiously take it. The objection taken to the penalty of 10l., on the score of its inadequacy, could furnish no ground for the rejection of the bill, though it might properly form the subject of consideration in the committee. The hon. gentleman had objected to the clause empowering the lord lieutenant to appoint a commissioner, in cases where two commissioners had been appointed by the parties, and one of them had declined to act. He thought this clause necessary to carry into effect the provisions of the bill; but, whether the same objects might be effected more advantageously by any other mode would be a question for the consideration of the committee. The presence of the rector in the vestry for the purpose of discussing the terms of the agreement, though he had no vote at the vestry, appeared an indispensable provision. With regard to the clause respecting the averages, the remedy might be insufficient; but this would be more properly the subject of consideration in the committee. The bill of last session had operated most beneficially in those parts of Ireland in which the greatest inconvenience had been felt from the claim of potatoe-tithe. He was satisfied, indeed, that, generally speaking, the bill had been acceptable throughout the country; and that the middling and lower classes were sensible of the advantages which they had derived from it. In those parts of Ireland in which the greatest distress had been felt, the measure was regarded as a source from which the greatest relief might be expected. The hon. member had made some allusions to one particular clause of the bill, which was generally designated "the trap clause." If the hon. member meant to say that the clause was calculated to ensnare individuals, by inducing them to enter into a composition for, a specific sum, and afterwards subjecting them to pay a larger, he called on him to point out a single instance in which it had had such an operation. The clause in question had been introduced with a view of protecting incumbents against any fraud which might have been committed by their predecessors. He agreed that many clauses of the bill were susceptible of considerable improvement; and he had no hesitation in saying, that if the House came to the discussion with a sincere desire of rendering operative the act of last session, that measure would be generally popular throughout Ireland.

Sir J. Newport

said, the question was not whether the act of last session required amendment, but whether the bill which the right hon. gentleman had introduced, really went to amend that act. He thought that the present bill, so far from amending the act of last session, was a deterioration of it. What was already bad was made worse by the proposed bill; and, on that ground, he thought it ought to be rejected. In his opinion, the only mode in which the bill of last session could be amended, would be to strike out every part of it, except the preamble, and substitute a new bill. It was idle to waste the time of the House in discussing a bill which was so essentially bad, that it did not admit of amendment. The object of the bill was, to shut out landed proprietors from the Vestries and to exclude them from all interference with concerns in which they were mainly interested.

Mr. Spring Rice

regretted that the discussion of this question should have taken place in the absence of many gentlemen who had taken a part in it, and who felt a peculiar interest in the topics connected with it. The right hon. gentleman opposite surely could not be serious in supposing, that because a particular act of parliament required amendment the House was bound to receive any amendment which he might propose. He objected to the principle of the bill, because it took away from landed proprietors the protection which was left to them under the bill of last session. The bill strengthened the hands and augmented the property of the Clergy, without giving any corresponding advantage to the landed proprietor. The act of last session gave to the inheritor of the land, if he were the occupant of the soil, an increased number of votes, in proportion to the amount of his property, but the present bill took away this privilege, and deprived him of that fair preponderance to which property was entitled. He would appeal to any landed proprietor in that House; whether he would permit any parish commissioner to send for his title deeds, and inspect them at his pleasure? And yet this was one of the clauses in this measure which was called an improvement. Even if his right hon. friend should consent to abandon that most obnoxious part of the bill, could he suppose that he would ever be freed from the responsibility of having even allowed it to be introduced? He hoped that the operation of the bill of last year would continue, and that opportunities would be afforded of remedying the inconveniences which had arisen. Many of the agreements which had been effected had been entered into in a state of total ignorance of their tendency. Upon the whole, he should give this bill his decided opposition.

Mr. Secretary Peel

thought that the speeches of the right hon. baronet, and of the hon. gentleman opposite, would have been much more appropriate if addressed to the committee. Almost all the arguments advanced applied to the bill of last session, and were therefore in favour of the present bill, which proposed an amendment. But, let the House examine a little in detail the speech of his hon. friend, who spoke last. His hon. friend had said, with respect to the composition, that many of the parties had been entrapped into their agreements: but his hon. friend must admit, that the number of appeals to the lord lieutenant and council was the most conclusive evidence as to the truth of the fact. Now, there had been ninety instances of composition, and out of these there had been but five appeals. Was it not clear, then, that five per cent was the extent of dissatisfaction. If the House were to examine the bill now before them, they would find that a very small part of it indeed was open to objections. By voting for the second reading of the bill, no member would be pledged to support all the enactments it contained, nor would he be precluded from adopting any amendments that might be proposed. The arguments which had been advanced, clearly proved the great importance of the subject; but he differed altogether from his hon. friend, as to the extent of the responsibility attaching to an individual who introduced a proposition. Every one was at liberty to propose a measure; but, if sound and serious objections were made against it, and he still persevered, then began the responsibility. By the forms of the House, seve- ral opportunities were afforded of proposing amendments. Then why should there be a responsibility, if a man yield to a more matured conviction? His hon. friend had said, that his right hon. friend could never escape from the responsibility of having introduced the clause relative to the inspection of papers and documents: but, he could assure the House that when his right hon. friend had come down to the House it had been his intention to propose the repeal of it upon examining the objections to which it was exposed. He therefore, hoped the House would pursue the ordinary course, and not resort to the extraordinary proceeding of rejecting a bill, which had for its object the improvement of a former measure before they had had an opportunity of understanding the amendments that were to be proposed.

Mr. Grattan

said, that, with all his opposition to the bill before the House, and deprecating, as he did, the principle on which it was founded, because he thought it inimical to the landed proprietors of Ireland, he thought it might be better not to divide the House upon it in its present stage.

The bill was then read a second time.